A 'Goldie' moment a day keeps anxiety at bay

9th March 2012 at 00:00
The Private Benjamin star is marching mindfulness into schools

At the age of 11, Goldie Hawn began to worry that the joy was seeping out of her life. "I was already seeking," she says. "I felt a connection to joy. I just felt it was something I never wanted to lose.

"I made it my intention never to lose that joy in play or abandon or excitement over little things. I had a great belief in the universe, and I always knew that love was the answer."

Now, half a century on, she is taking this same deliberate appreciation of life into British schools, in an effort to make all children as conscious of joy as she was.

"Those of us who've lived long enough can remember a time when it seemed idyllic," the star of Private Benjamin, Overboard and The First Wives Club says. "Today, with technology, they're not spending enough time outside. They don't have enough free time.

"Parents are also, I guess, fragmented. Because of our emailing, our texting - it's stealing a level of intimacy in our families. Connection, human connection. We need to bring humanity back to the human."

All hair, smile and Hollywood tan, Hawn is on a British tour to promote her book, 10 Mindful Minutes. The book - essentially a digest of self-help neuroscience-lite - and the programme of mindfulness it advocates are currently being used in several British primary schools.

The programme begins by suggesting that children learn how the brain functions, using terms such as "Wise Old Owl" to describe its different areas. "We know, and our children need to know, more about the greatest computer ever created, which sits right on our shoulders," she says.

"The symphony of the brain is very, very complex. But there are things like neurotransmitters, dopamine emission, what does the brain look like in its happiest state, what does it look like when it's angry, what are the reasons why we can't remember. We're learning so much and I think we have to start sharing that with our children."

Her sentences are often meandering journeys, beginning in one place, ending somewhere quite different and taking the scenic route in between. This despite her own mindfulness practice: she will, she says, often excuse herself, go into the bathroom and just stare at a wall for a few minutes.

The programme recommends a series of similar, if better- located, exercises. There are mindful breathing techniques, as well as instructions on how to look, listen, move, eat and smell mindfully.

"We, as human beings, have this incredible ability to self- recognise," she says. "There aren't many mammals on the planet that have a lot of self-recognition. If we just develop that ability to become self-aware, then you get to know yourself better. You get to witness yourself."

Next, children should examine their own emotions, savouring happiness, appreciating sadness and understanding the role played by fear. This is coupled with cognitive behavioural therapy-like positive thinking. "I felt that, if children were relaxed, focused and relatively stress-free, that not only would be an add-on to teachers' time, which is very precious in the classroom, but children would not be as receptive in what we call a stressful or frenzied state of mind."

Ultimately - if convolutedly - this is the point: that everyone benefits from occasional breathing space. "It's in my nature to be an excavator of the mind," Hawn says. "So I've gone on my own emotional digs. I just think human beings are magnificent creations.

"When you look at when society has fallen, when empires have fallen, it's usually because man has fallen, ethics have fallen, compassion has fallen. The power of human is extraordinary."


In her own words

"Your brain," you can tell your child, "is like all the stuff that's under the hood of a car - the engine and all the electrical parts that make everything work... But your brain isn't made of metal and wires, just like your body isn't made of glass, steel and rubber like a car."

Make up a new game with your children called the Kindness Game. It goes like this: say that from now on you are each going to do at least three acts of kindness per day.

Whenever you pass by someone on the street or in another car, play a game with your children that starts with, "I wonder what that person is feeling?"

After watching the events of September 11 unfold... I wept. I knew this event would certainly traumatise the tender minds of children watching an American flag fluttering in the smoking ruins. How could they possibly understand?

My parents ... relished my innate happiness and daydreamy nature, never once chastising me for writing "Love Goldie, x" at the end of each (unfinished) paper, or for colouring everything in yellow.

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