As we continue our journey toward being more mindful and embracing our emotions in healthy ways rather than pushing them away, my daughter and I are reading many more books about this practice. It’s such a different way of life from most Western families, so at first it feels really foreign—even after practicing meditation together for years! Anger is one thing that our family can regularly do—we just have not necessarily handled it very well, until now.
A lovely book about mindfulness for children is Lauren Alderfer’s Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda. We have previously learned about mindfulness from the panda Stillwater in the books Zen Shorts and Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth, but this book goes a bit farther. Instead of engrossing us in a story—which was wonderful in the Muth books, mind you—Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda actually walks us through the practice of mindfulness, explicitly explaining how to do this every day.
Monkey approaches Panda and asks how the animal is able to stay both happy and calm every day. The book does not use “he” or “she,” but merely Monkey and Panda, which I absolutely love. There’s no gender segregation or implied wisdom from one sex to another, and the book can easily apply to any audience. Panda tells Monkey that being happy and calm come when you live now—not tomorrow or yesterday. Panda eats, sleeps, works, and plays, and though Monkey does these things, too, Monkey thinks about other things while doing them (for example, eating while working). Panda tells monkey that to be happy and calm, you only think about what you are doing right then and there, all of the time, and Monkey loves that so much that Monkey decides to do the same thing right then and there.
My daughter immediately asked if we could buy this book, since I borrowed it via interlibrary loan, and to read it again. I think it was worth the loan just for that! But I also love this approach and it’s simple enough for both kids and adults to learn from it. If our culture was just a bit more mindful, I think it could do us all a lot of good. In the meantime, I’m going to be mindful today by eating only while eating—not while working or reading, as I normally do. You have to start with baby steps!