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Mindfulness in Making

At its core, mindfulness is the idea of focusing on the present moment. If you're picturing this:

man meditating

you're not alone. Meditation and yoga are two commonly-practiced techniques, or methods, for engaging in mindfulness. But let's think outside of the box a bit.

There are an infinite number of ways to practice mindfulness, just as there are endless benefits to doing so.​​ Anything you do that engages your mind and senses completely, focused entirely on the process of what you are doing, is a mindfulness practice.

Over the past five to ten years, there has been growing momentum among the Maker Movement which is a focus on creation and innovation by individuals and groups. Depending on whom you ask, the movement encompasses everything from food to music, with traditional arts and crafts as its foundation and new technologies as its tools. To me, the idea of joining the movement seemed like something I would want to do if I ever had a lot of free time. To some extent, that might be true; there are definitely varying degrees of involvement possible in any activity, hobby, or movement.

But who is a maker?

Makers, whether in their own homes or in a designated makerspace (link to list of Seattle makerspaces), consciously create things and derive joy from that process. Children are invariably makers: towers from blocks and snowmen from mashed potatoes. Makers also share their creations with others.

I am a maker when I bake or create a meal to share with my family. Let me be clear. On weeknights, when I get something on the table while supervising baths and packing lunches, I am not making. There is nothing mindful about that process. I am a maker on a Sunday afternoon when slightly tweaking a banana bread recipe that is otherwise a soothing ritual to carry out: cream the butter, mash the bananas, a dash of almond extract instead of vanilla today?

As a parent, shared creation is one of my greatest joys. My daughters love to cook, and they are starting to have their own ideas about how to build on the knowledge we have in recipes and learn together. When I'm in a relaxed, mindful state, I am also much more free to let them construct their own knowledge. It's one thing for me to tell them that chocolate chips probably won't taste great in Thai peanut sauce. It's a completely different experience for me to say "Okay, I agree that chocolate and peanut butter are delicious together, but I'm wondering how it will go with the other flavors. Why don't we try mixing some in a separate bowl to taste it first?" Those mindful parenting moments build us up as individuals, and they build our relationship.

[It also gives me a valuable space in which to fail in front of my children. More on that in a future post, but let me say for now that our one attempt at pasta-making ended in something that looked more like biscuits but with a chewy texture. I'd like to get back on that horse soon... ]

In other settings, the maker movement has become tied in with the concept of STEAM (Science, Technology, Art, and Math) education, as a targeted form of project-based learning. Essentially, learning-by-making develops critical thinking and group interaction skills through a process of collaborative creation. It also teaches use of new technologies such as 3D printers and cloud-based sharing alongside time-honored skills like sowing and woodworking. I find it hopeful and exciting that more students are learning to engage with each other and the world with empathy and intention.

For most of us, being a maker doesn't mean changing anything that we're actually doing. We all create and share our creations. Seeing ourselves as makers can change the way we feel about our daily tasks, especially if they can become creative processes that we love and share with each other.

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