“I felt really calm,” said one 7th grade student. “I felt like I was far away from the problem. It felt really good,” said another. “I didn’t want it to end,” laughed another. It seemed as though a magic wand was waved over the 35 students in our “Circles of Compassion” class. Seriously! On a meter for energy they went from a high of 10 to a calm of 1. Just ten minutes earlier they were buzzing with heightened energy and chatter from our previous activities and were having difficulty settling into this activity laughing with self-consciousness and uncertainty. The magic wand? Guided Visualization. I was looking at 35 students melted into their chairs or places on the floor like wax dripped off a candle. There was no chatter or case of the “sillies”, no wiggling. Only complete, sweet calm.
Guided visualization, also known as "guided imagery" or “guided meditation”, is one of the most powerful techniques for positive change which can be tailored to help us accomplish specific goals such as personal transformation or achievement, deep relaxation, healing, and so much more. With eyes closed and listening to relaxation music in the background, the students listened to the imagery described using all the senses (seeing it, hearing it, feeling it…), and created a movie in their mental images to experience and affirm calm and peace, while sending compassion to an event that may be replaying in their minds about what someone may have said or done to them which impacted them negatively. With effective breathing techniques also supporting the process to work its magic, their bodies began to melt into deep relaxation.
Social emotional learning
Self-management or self-regulation is a critical piece in social emotional learning. When it comes to bullying and relationships, sometimes the things people say and do can get us “off our game plan” because we feel hurt, sad, angry, or scared. It can lead to feeling powerless and upset. Amazingly, our mind cannot tell the difference between an actual ‘real-life’ event and a vividly imagined one. The body responds physically, emotionally, and mentally whether it is responding to events actually happening (for example, being bullied) or being visualized (replaying the incident of being bullied). When we can get stuck in our thoughts about the negative experience it can have a negative impact on our bodies and minds over time.
Feeling in control
Today’s guided visualization allowed an opportunity to experience an effective life-skill for feeling in control of ourselves in a proactive, positive manner. By experiencing a positive guided visualization we actively choose which thoughts we focus on and our conscious minds become programmed by our subconscious minds by focusing on creative, possible, peaceful outcomes, as did the students in this activity. In just 10 minutes the students experienced mindfulness in a body scan to release tension; sent a bubble of love and caring to surround their personal incident to release aggressive thoughts and replace them with compassionate intentions in their practices to get “Compassion-Fit;” and affirmed the belief within themselves that they have the power to choose their thoughts and outcomes, while connecting with their goodness by acknowledging “I …am …calm”; “I …am …peace”; “I …am …kind”; “I …am …compassion”; “I …am …changing the world.” This is why the student responded “I felt like I was far away from the problem. It felt really good.” He was able to remove himself from an unpleasant experience and choose a peaceful, healing response to it.
You Can’t Be Peaceful and Aggressive at the Same Time!
One of the profound results from this activity is moving from thoughts and feelings of anxiety and stress (brought on by such things as bullying) to experiencing and enjoying the feelings of inner peace. When we are stressed due to the actions of others we give up our power to experiencing peace. When we proactively use strategies to shift our thinking and responses we take back our own power. Feeling in control can positively impact all areas of our lives, emotionally, socially, and academically (The control, in this case, is for positive purposes where it is used for positive intentions.) We can’t feel at peace and we can’t experience peace if we are having thoughts or images which are aggressive, angry, sad, worried. We get to choose. The benefits of guided visualization are long lasting, including feelings of deep relaxation, emotional and physical healing, enhancing creativity, increasing creativity, improving performance and skills, increasing confidence, self-empowerment, developing compassion, and so much more. Wouldn’t it be amazing to start the school day in classrooms school-wide with youth being able to release stress and feel peaceful while opening up their hearts and minds to prepare for learning?
We are filled with a wondrous resource within ourselves to draw upon anytime it’s needed to experience calm and peace. This gift often goes unopened or ignored yet it can be one of the best gifts we use when opened. It’s tucked right there within us. By practicing this with our youth they will grow up understanding the benefits because they actively experienced it! “I …am …calm”; “I …am …peace”; “I …am …compassion”; “I …am …changing the world beginning with myself.”
Watch for the next blog: Get Compassion-Fit!
Learn how the Circles of Compassion humaniteam at Sutter Middle School in Folsom, CA will be taking on the challenge to get Compassion-Fit!
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Dee DiGioia resides in El Dorado Hills, CA and is currently teaching "Circles of Compassion" Teen Leadership program at Sutter Middle School in Folsom, CA