From Metacognition to Mindfulness

Early in my teacher training we focused on metacognition: helping students acquire knowledge about their own cognitive processes. When students understood how they perceived and processed information, they could use this understanding to help themselves best learn.

I think of mindfulness as metacorpulcognition: understanding how our bodies and minds interact. I notice how this interaction affects the way I perceive and process information. Neuroplasticity, or flexibility of the brain, allows us to reshape the physical structures involved in this interaction. I am amazed at our brains’ ability to form new neural connections, particularly the positive changes that can result from mindfulness practice. I like taking caring of my brain, along with the rest of my body, mind, and spirit.

If you want to read more about this, you can check out my page on the science supporting mindfulness.

In the meantime, just breathe deeply. Pay attention, on purpose, to what you are experiencing right now. You are taking care of yourself, which is good for you on a deep level, and for those around you. Just pay attention to what you’re experiencing right now. And right now.

And right now.



Above me, the morning sky wakes bright and clear blue. But looking east, the thick mountain cover that’s ordinarily snow or rain-clouds is a different color, hanging ominously north to south. A heavy gray-smudged orange haze blankets the Sierra. Smoke.

The morning news reported that the Rim Fire threatens the city of San Francisco’s drinking water supply with ash. Homes, wildlife, and vast stretches of land, including Yosemite National Park, are in danger. Time lapse film of the rim fire,

created by the National Park Service, is savagely beautiful when viewed on my computer. But close-up, homeowners and firefighters might not have the same reaction. I didn’t, when I packed my car in Colorado, ready to flee with my dogs and family from oncoming fire.

Seeing smoke hanging in the sky reminds me that my reactions to reports on television news are brief. Sometimes I follow up by donating to relief funds for victims of shootings, hurricanes, flood and other disasters. When the High Meadows fire in Colorado spared us, I spent time volunteering with other families, evacuated children sheltered at the high school while their parents worked with insurance representatives or tried to salvage belongings. I brought water bottles and snacks to firefighters. It helped me feel not quite so powerless in the face of disaster.

Life on this planet of ours includes sad, even shocking events frequently enough that I have come to value proactivity. Regular donations to the Red Cross, for instance. A frequent prayer for all people, everywhere, in any difficulties they may face. Lovingkindness. Chesed. Blessings.

I feel compassion for those who suffer. (Including an occasional “Poor baby” just for me!)

A mindfulness colleague in my meditation group once quoted Shinzen Young: Suffering = Pain x Resistence. (S = P x R). In other words, there will be events that cause us pain. Pain is a natural part of existence. When I was learning to carve nature scenes into the covers of wooden boxes with my exacto knife, I slipped and cut my hand. I had a choice in how to react:

“Owwwwwuh! I am so clumsy! Why can’t I ever learn something new without a disaster? And look at my hand. It will never be beautiful again after that cut. I’ll probably have a big, ugly scar. Oh, it’s going to hurt so badly if lemon gets on this cut…”

You know. On and on. Like that. But I had another choice:


In both cases, the cut hurt. But in the first example, I multiplied my pain. Lately I’m starting to realize there’s enough pain, just being alive, without multiplying it. It makes me appreciate good days and good friends.

Today, as I lift my eyes to the hills, I’m sending special Sierra thoughts and prayers in their direction. And, as usual, in yours.

Filling Up The Cup

Sometimes we writers, and all humans, really, need to refill our cups of creativity and abundance. I did just that this week in Carpinteria, California, with two of my best friends from Colorado. But as beautiful as the setting was, I do that wherever I am with them. Sitting with really good friends is like sunshine on the stormiest days of our lives. We know there will be days like that. We know we can weather them together, even if we are far apart. We are connected. I am grateful. On stormy days, when my toes are frozen, or have been stomped on and hurt, this day, today, this warm sand, will still be a part of me. Because I wasn’t distracted. I wasn’t doing anything. I was just being, with friends, at the beach. I am just being.

Being a Mindful Writer

Why do writers write? Because it isn’t there.
~Thomas Berger, playwright, and author of Little Big Man, Neighbors, and others.

You  know how there are times when your mind is so full of all the things you need to juggle that you forget something important?  So weighted with schedules and tasks that you feel like you did a lot, but nothing well, or completely?  It’s hard to feel creative, and particularly, to write well, when your mind is full of distractions.  That’s one difficulty that mindfulness helps overcome.

Today I found someone who’s addressing the interaction between mindfulness and writing!  Here’s the link: Mindful Writer  I don’t know this writer, and this isn’t a commercial for him. But I’ve read some of his writing, and it’s proof that he’s onto something.

Mindfulness is pretty simple. It’s quieting your mind, and being both relaxed and focused at the same time. Practice helps you focus completely on the present moment, noticing all the little details. You can concentrate on something beautiful, or the way that grape tastes and feels on your tongue. It clears your mind of distraction, creating relaxation, concentration, and creativity. A great state of mind for writing. (Or pretty much anything.)

Here’s a moment of beauty for us both.  And by the way, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Mindfulness for Kids, and others!

Quote for the day: 
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. 
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
 ~ The Dalai Lama

When Losing Words was being published, the editor let me know that one other author was going into print with professional initials after his name.  For this piece, I’m listed as Melinda Bennington, BSW, M.Ed., instead of just Melinda Bennington.  I wouldn’t usually include post-nominals like that in a literary publication, but the subject of the poem is gerontology-related, and we thought it made sense in this instance.

I’ve taught in public school, but recently had the opportunity to combine my interests when I was invited to co-lead a Mindfulness for Children group in private practice outside Washington, D.C.  What a treat!  The person with whom I’ve been working is a wonderful Ph.D. practitioner, and simply a kind, compassionate, competent, fun person.  (You tend to run into people like that in education and in the helping professions.)

There’s research that shows that children who’ve been trained in Mindfulness strategies can see improvements in executive function, behavioral regulation, and self-concept. 😀 I’ve found secular Mindfulness meditation to be a mini-vacation for my body, mind and spirit.  And as a writer, taking time to clear the mind has helped me become more productive and creative.

It can also help with pain management. Here’s some research on meditation and pain for those, like me, who need proof:  National Institute on Health article

The bad thing about pain is it hurts.  The good thing is it’s made me more compassionate toward others who experience it, too. 

Here’s a resource for grownups who’d like to try simple meditation at home.  Guided simple meditation from Quiet Mind Cafe

Information for people interested in Mindfulness for children is:
Susan Kaiser Greenland’s Inner Kids website and
New York Times mindfulness article

Namaste! 😀