Giving Presence

As we cross the threshold from the holiday of giving thanks to the holiday of giving presents, I offer encouragement to include in your giving this year—in addition to whatever actual “presents” you may give—the gift of your actual presence both to your loved ones, to strangers and lastly, but not least, to yourself. “Easy for you to say!” you may well respond. “It’s the $@#! Holidays!” (Or: “Have you seen my $#@! in-box??”)

How do we find our own presence within; how do we re-discover what some would call our higher Selves, our own souls … in the midst of the busy-ness of this season, and of our overall lives?

We know when we have touched this place of quiet feeling, a sense of assurance arises within, and our problems seem smaller, solutions more evident, or we are content to simply enjoy life as it is, now, no matter what our circumstances.

"We know when we have touched this place of quiet feeling, a sense of assurance arises within, and our problems seem smaller, solutions more evident ... "

Our children benefit, our spouses, our families, our colleagues.

I have learned for myself that the how is as simple as stopping. In my work of late, I’ve been using the term “surrender.” Surrender in the very best sense, meaning we stop trying to control everything around us (a futile task!), and even what is within our own minds. We stop. Emotions may continue, energies in the body. Chaos may swirl, still, for a while. But we do not need to continue to feed our thoughts, which add complexity to the storm. We can stop.

What is here, under this surrender, within this stopping? Under thoughts of what must be done, what we must do, what we must achieve, or change, and how we can prove our worthiness, or disprove our unworthiness? What is under, beneath, within, before and after our “to do” list, whether accomplished or not?


Beautiful Sunset - Ami Chen.


Within simple presence, when the mind is quiet, we discover the universal feelings of connection, love, peace—and a fulfillment that includes all others in its gentle embrace. When “me” and its non-stop trajectory is lost, when self-concept is forgotten, even if only for a moment, we are actually found.

I am very fond of the authors Hugh and Gayle Prather (Hugh has now passed on). They reflect in their book, Spiritual Parenting, on the idea that the Christian holiday at this time of year is perhaps particularly joyful because it celebrates the birth of a child.

The child’s mind, the child’s innocence, the child’s feeling all are not actually lost as we age. They are obscured by thought. It is that richness of mind and connection to life Jesus referred to when he said, “Be like the little children.”

I believe our gathering together and preparations for the holidays reflects our deep desire to feel love, to feel connected, to feel delight, to feel presence, to feel a sense of the sacred. Indeed, most of our efforts in life are directed subconsciously toward these goals. Ironically, and wonderfully, we can stop at any moment and find this presence is already here!

" ... We can stop at any moment and find this presence is already here!"

Perhaps we must first become present to ourselves before we can show up as present for our families … What does this mean for you today? An unscheduled walk in the woods, or by the ocean? A hot cup of tea, and your favorite chair? A good lie down in bed? A moment with your pet, or on your meditation cushion? Or perhaps simply slowing down in whatever activity you find yourself in, now.

Ask yourself (and tell no lies!): Does what you think needs to be done really need to be done? And if so, does it need to be done today? This minute? Is there something more important, more essential that could be discovered first—that might pave the way gently for good things to come?

Your present—your presence—gifted to yourself. I suggest this is this best gift you could “give” this holiday season. We could make a pact. I will give it to myself, if you will give it to yourself. What do you say?

Ami Chen Mills-Naim is author of The Spark Inside and State of Mind in the Classroom (revised, 2nd printing due in 2016). She leads the “Everyday Satsang” drop-in class through Santa Cruz Yoga. Next class is Sunday, Dec. 13, 2-4 pm at 1010 Fair Ave. Suite E. Class fee is $15. Ami also provides personal and professional coaching, is a global speaker, and leads retreats, webinars and trainings via the Internet and in person. Find more at


On School Violence and What We Can Do

The side gate to my childrens' elementary school yard is now locked. This feels unfortunate to me, because this remote entry to the school's sports field is lovely. It shares terrain with a university campus, and the walk to the school gate includes a country road that rises up from an elegant, old entry at the main street, marked by carved white posts from some other era. Majestic trees and wild meadow rise beyond. It's a rural, poetic corner of our city and we are lucky to have it here, by our school. I'll miss this walk, past the old gate, up the road and into school.

This locking happened because some apparently confused individual (adult/male/vagrant) was coming onto campus and stealing childrens' backpacks. One can just barely imagine why. What was this man after, sandwiches? ... Gummy bears? Goldfish crackers? Bits of twigs and leaves, barrettes, journals, baseballs, gloves, notes to BFF's? ... Fifty cents, or two dollars?

Perhaps these spacious, colorful containers seemed to promise so much, with their bright decorations and primary colors, thrown about haphazardly outside of classrooms, bulging out from walls on hooks, carelessly left unzipped by trusting, oblivious children.

The school shooting/massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, of course, sealed the deal on the gate in December. And although nearly all other boundaries of school property--north, east, much of the south--remain wide open to the wind, families, vagrants, domesticated and wild animals, birds and all else, a gate that can be locked, now is.

"The sad truth," he said, "is that someone who really wants to hurt people probably will."

At our most recent PTA meeting, the school principal stated that ideas for further school security were being mulled over--including: possibly enclosing the entire school in fencing. As a concerned mother, I found myself interested.

But our principal also noted that in Newtown, the only entry point to the school was a set of locked double doors (the shooter blasted through these) and the rest of the campus was also secured, locked.

"The sad truth," he said, "is that someone who really wants to hurt people probably will."

We have many Israeli friends, and some are in shock that the entire school is not patrolled by armed guards. Of course, we are not in Israel, and while all ideas for and about our childrens' safety must be considered, it also sadly true that in a heavily armed and defended world, there really is no such thing as true and permanent security--for anyone.

Is there any other way that we can be vigilant? What can be done by ordinary, concerned people, parents and educators in this moment and every moment?

Actually, there is an "invisible" factor that plays into our own protection and that of others.

After the hard, insane, horrific reality that was Newtown, and is nearly all violence in our society, what I will say here may sound like clouds or cotton candy.

But I venture that this invisible factor, this common denominator for all human beings, and their safety and well-being, trumps all others.

It is our own thoughts, our own states of mind. Setting aside, for the moment, the major role that Thought plays in building a case within the mind of a perpetrator of violence (misguided, painful, distorted thoughts); we can, as ordinary people, pay immediate attention to our own states of mind.

When we are consumed by personal thoughts, worried thoughts from the past, or anxious projections into the future, when we are not present, it is nearly impossible to be attuned to our surroundings.

Alert, without unwarranted fear, conscious of where our bodies are in time and space (as well as other bodies), attentive to the energies of those around us--these all comprise an attuned, responsive state of mind that can alert us to real threats in our environment, or to the "off feelings" of an individual.

I worked with men and women, boys and girls, who had committed horrible crimes, some they had been charged with, and some that had not yet been discovered. One boy was accused of killing his own father.

I worked for several years for a county system teaching principles of Mind, Consciousness and Thought. I went regularly, willingly, happily, into environments some may consider dangerous. These included the county jail, juvenile hall (minimum and maximum security units), correctional ranches for adolescents, and schools for adjudicated youth.

I worked with men and women, boys and girls, who had committed horrible and violent crimes, some they had been charged with, and some that had not yet been discovered. One boy was accused of killing his own father. One boy put an innocent bus driver in the hospital. One boy set fire to animals.

In the midst of these populations, two things helped me stay safe: One was a deep respect for the core resilience and health of each individual, no matter the charge, a basic respect that was felt from me and therefore returned to me. Two, simply staying in a state of presence, clearing thought, not projecting fear (not creating fearful thoughts), and also not being afraid to acknowledge when an inmate (or even correctional officer!) was acting in an inappropriate way, or putting out a strange energy.

Inmates felt safe and confided in me, even when the secrets they shared were twisted or offensive, or when they shared deeper fears that might be embarrassing.

Attention to my own thoughts and state of mind did two things. Inmates felt safe and confided in me, even when the secrets they shared were twisted or offensive, or when they were sharing deeper fears that might be embarassing. I was able to observe situations that "needed to handled" and handle them, without fearing consequences to myself. I reported a correctional officer or "counselor" at juvenile hall who was acting inappropriately in my class. I reported an adult male who was dating an underage teenager at a school where I worked. Once (outside of work) I saw a man acting strangely, lingering outside my childrens' gymnastics class, and I reported this to staff at the parks and recreation department.

I am not holding myself up as some kind of saint or hero. I have many colleagues who have taken similar responsibility, and acted more bravely than me. Many of you, dear readers, have probably stepped up to the plate many times. And I make mistakes. I still can get caught up in thinking and cloud my own mind. I am not perfect, but I gain clarity day by day, month by month and year by year.

My point here is that each one of us has the potential to discriminate between thoughts (or states of mind) that are helpful to ourselves and others, that can be protective and guide us, and thoughts that simply clutter the mind and render us ineffective and "absent." Even thoughts that might cause us to harm others.

With mental clarity, we emanate a neutrality and compassion that those around us feel and respond to. Perhaps a bullied child can confide in us. Perhaps even a bullying child can.

With mental clarity (a quiet mind) it is more obvious when something needs to be addressed, and we can move past fears and doubts about speaking up. With mental clarity, we emanate a neutrality and compassion that those around us feel and respond to. Perhaps a bullied child can confide in us. Perhaps even a bullying child can. Certainly more so when we are not caught up in our own mental storms, judgments, moods and urgency to move into the next moment.

Finally, we must open our collective mind to greater hope and possiblity for people who suffer from mental illness--hope that goes beyond destigmatization. With the relatively recent introduction of the power of Thought into Western "mental health," the field of possibilities has opened. In my work, I personally know, have followed, and communicated with so many people who suffered tremendously with even severe diagnoses, and have found peace of mind, gentleness and freedom for themselves.

... the value of mental clarity and peace of mind, and the possibility for a deeper and deeper sense of presence has, in the 20th century, become a vibrant, profound and far reaching dialogue.

My own non-profit specializes in teaching the role of thought and state of mind to families, schools and communities. We teach the fundamental innocence, mental health and neutrality that exists within all of us, and that we can reach out to and help "grow" in others.

Globally, however, the role of Thought, the value of mental clarity and peace of mind, and the possibility for an ever deepening sense of presence has, in the 21st Century, become a vibrant, profound and far reaching dialogue that I have heard coming from all corners. I believe this dialogue, and what it reveals, will go a long way further toward protecting ourselves and our children; toward loving ourselves and each other; and therefore toward ending school violence, and every kind of violence, than locking the gates.


Teaching a Child with ADD/ADHD about the Mind

Dear Mystical Mama,

I know you suggest that to live in your health, as a parent, is the best course.

[Note: in 3 Principles psychology, this means "mental health," as in: a quiet mind, receptivity to insight, grounded feeling states (when possible!), & love. --M.M.]

But, besides this, do you know of how to best describe the principles, say, to a 5-year-old? Or what to suggest to parents on how to explain the principles to a five-year-old diagnosed with ADD or ADHD? Can a five-year-old with extreme hyperactivity, impulsiveness, short attention span, etc. grasp or understand how their own mind works?

If so, how would one explain it to the child themselves? Do you explain in story form, parables to them ...or is it fine to just live in it yourself? How do you explain the principles to your own children? Just curious here.

--Robert "Walking Rabbit"

Dear Robert "Walking Rabbit"

and Dear Parents, everywhere! We cannot underestimate the importance of "putting our own oxygen masks on first." (See the two posts below.) Indeed, how will we teach our children about their minds, when we do not even know how to handle, or understand our own?

Are we not all a little ADD/ADHD from time to time? Can we investigate within ourselves, becoming gently curious, as to why? What occurs in Thought to create a sort of "running mind?" How is it that we can run to the store and spend all kinds of money on unnecessary items in a sort of frantic frenzy--what is that state of mind? Or, what creates the need to always be stimulated by some form of entertainment, be that people, TV, books, radio, Internet, and now, gotta-love-it Facebook?

And what happens when, rather than respond and react to this sort of running thinking, we simply allow this mental frenzy to be, understanding that our Health lies beneath this, our Health is the container for this ... ?

Children, it's been said many times, also respond mostly to how we are, much more so than to what we say. This is actually true for adults, too, is it not? We respond to each other's energy. Thus, our own calm-mindedness, our own grounding, guides us around our children, and helps them to calm down, too.

My dear friend and 3 Principles colleague, Gabriela, used to work closely with autistic children. She noticed that the children "behaved better" around those adults whose energy was present with them, who were Mind-full with them (and here I mean the "big Mind" as Mr. Banks defines it.) Finally, our own grounding and understanding speaks to our effectiveness with children if we do decide to share: How attached are we to their "changing" and "getting" what we are saying? How urgent do we become in trying to share our message? Is our trying to teach them really our way of trying to save or protect ourselves somehow? Are we overly invested in the whole thing?

Therefore, do put your own oxygen mask on first! As another wise colleague, Elsie Spittle, has written: "When we change the way we see things, the things we see seem to change." And the "problems" we see in our children look far less insurmountable. In my own case, with my own children (4 and 6), many problems have simply disappeared with the withdrawel of my worry and attention. I "kid" you not!

Finally, please note that I am not advocating walking around in a false kind of "calm," in which you are stirring and unhappy underneath, but showing a placid face. We are going for total self-honesty here. This must be first, above all: self-honesty, ruthless self-honesty. And being truly calm-minded does not mean that one's physical actions are slow and evenly paced, somehow. It simply means that all action comes from the place of wisdom, within.

OK, now, I will actually answer your question Robert. (Geez! I know!) ... What are these many diagnoses for our children--and ourselves--that we face today? I am by no means the expert, but are they not all made up names to describe some condition we believe is somehow the same across individuals? As we have created the words "tree," "faucet," "lawnmower," so have we created "ADD," "manic-depressive," "bi-polar," "anxiety disorder." It is also true that when we rely on the word to convey meaning, we lose touch with the reality of our own, or our child's situation now. We stop exploring for ourselves, we stop observing. Let the experts handle that, we say. What do I know?

Do I believe that children and people with ADD can learn about their own minds? Yes. Do I believe they have mental health and wisdom? Yes. We have a 14-year-old with an ADHD diagnoses in a school with us now who can sit for 45 minutes as we talk about the 3 Principles in his classroom. His teacher says this is phenomenal. How is it so? Because we don't care if he does or not, actually. Because we love him anyway.

Now, I am not arguing for or against medication. I have seen Wisdom point in both directions on this one. But I am suggesting that a "diagnosis" is merely the current and latest thinking of a society that, generally speaking, does not really understand itself at all.

Can a five-year-old learn how their own mind works? Yes. Can we teach them directly? Yes. Can we use a parable? Yes. Is it enough to just live the Truth ourselves? Yes.

I have done all of the above with my own older daughter, and I notice that if I am invested in her learning, or anxious about her learning, she tends to tune out. When our dialogue takes place within a context of love and real curiosity, she gets a lot of it, as do I. But truly, what has been most effective for me is moving into the space and spirit of Love, for myself, within myself. Love for Life, Love for myself, Love for her. So healing. Love is Mental Health.

One final story: I worked with a mother of three rambunctious and "diagnosed" young boys (two of them were.) She wound up with some of the Sydney Banks DVD's and played them on her television one day--just for herself really. She told me that as Syd talked, the boys started to slowly stop what they were doing and come around the television to listen.

And so it seems that the truth is the truth is the truth--for us all. And it can emerge in our families in many forms, "principles" or not. Going back to check our own feeling state, (do we move from Love or anxiety?) is the key. If we are not getting oxygen, we have no oxygen, really, to give to our children, or anyone else, no matter what words we use.

I appreciate and invite your further comments or questions.

With Love,

Your Mystical Mama