Tag Archives: meditation

More about Meditation and Mindfulness for Students

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More about Meditation and Mindfulness for Students

Not long ago I posted about how much students need mindfulness and meditation to cope with the stress of modern living. I am happy to say that the trend toward teaching children about meditation and living mindfully continues to grow, as evidenced by these recent articles:

One of San Francisco’s toughest schools transformed by the power of meditation – “In the first year of Quiet Time suspensions at Visitacion Valley – which has 500 students aged 11-13 – were reduced by 45%. By 2009-10, attendance rates were over 98% (some of the highest in the city), and today 20% of graduates are admitted to the highly academic Lowell high school – before it was rare for even one student to be accepted. Perhaps even more remarkable, last year’s California Healthy Kids Survey from the state’s education department found that students at Visitacion Valley middle school were the happiest in the whole of San Francisco.”

De-Stress for Tests – from Clemson University’s The Tiger – “Meditation: A few minutes of meditation is always better that none. You can even set aside just five minutes. Studies show that meditation brings stress levels down while simultaneously boosting the brain’s ability to focus, and can even improve memory recall.”

App Teaches Teens Mindfulness Skills – from the University of Arizona’s UA News – “While mindfulness-based resources increasingly are offered for adults, adolescents have received less attention. University of Arizona postdoctoral research associate Tami Turner has designed a mindfulness-based mobile app and is in the midst of a pilot study investigating the associated benefits for its users.”

Deep breathing critical to students’ well-being – “Young students have learned to control anger, stress, anxiety and fear through learning mindful breathing. Calmer Choice has many benefits for us all and belongs in the schools.”

Mantras before Math Class – “Over the past 10 years, small meditation programs have started cropping up at public schools around the country, in major cities like Los Angeles, New York,Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. They’re most often found in low-income areas, where stresses have a way of compounding…It’s hard to change the circumstances that create this kind of stress, though plenty of people are trying. But if you teach kids to meditate in the meantime, the thinking goes, you can help them reduce the stress itself. That reasoning always made sense to me, as someone who has been practicing TM since childhood and seen the research on adults, especially for stress-related problems like heart disease. Struggling schools need lots of things: better food, stronger math programs, and higher-quality teachers, to name just a few. One of those needs seems to be a way to reduce stress so kids can absorb information and go into the world as well-balanced, successful people.”

Parents and schools teach meditation to kids – “Asking a child to sit still for meditation doesn’t sound like a recipe for easing stress. Yet more families are making a few shared minutes of quiet contemplation a part of their daily routines. When handled with flexibility and a sense of humour, they say, the practice can calm their children, reduce stress and anxiety and help them focus.”

School board brings in meditation expert – “The Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board (HSCDSB) is hosting a conference for Northeastern Ontario educators focused on meditating with children. Christian meditation pioneer Ernie Christie will be the facilitator of the full-day conference. A native of Australia, Christie pioneered Christian Meditation with Children, along with Dr. Cathy Day, fourteen years ago.”

Kids use meditation, mindfulness to de-stress – “The exercise at Highland Presbyterian Church Nursery and Weekday School is an example of how some schools are using mindfulness – the practice of focusing one’s awareness on the present moment – with or without meditation, to help students center themselves, combat stress and treat others with kindness. The goal is to give children “coping skills for life,” said Patricia Salem, a counselor at St. Agnes Catholic School, which has had a mindfulness program for about three years.”

Mindfulness meditation may improve memory for teens – “Adolescents assigned to a mindfulness meditation program appeared to have improvements in memory in a recent study. ‘These results are consistent with a growing body of research in adults that has found mindfulness meditation to be a helpful tool for enhancing working memory capacity,’ said Kristen E. Jastrowski Mano of the psychology department at the University of Cincinnati, who coauthored the new study.”

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Meditate Your Own Way

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At the risk of appearing silly, I confess that I adore coloring books. They represent a piece of childhood to which I unrepentantly grasp tightly – they have the same effect on me as a hot, buttery bowl of pastina. Such memories of a simpler time of pure joy bring warmth to my spirit these many years later. (Second confession: I had a big bowl of pastina last week and it tasted like a big hug from my Mom.)

But the marvels of coloring books don’t end there. I find coloring to be a mind-freeing experience. It occupies the wild monkey in my brain that threatens to derail my meditation practice. While Mr. Monkey Brain is busily scribbling between the lines and trying to decide if the next shape should be burnt umber or brick red, the rest of me focuses on meditating. When my meditation period ends, I have all the usual benefits of meditation. And a pretty picture to hang on my fridge.

Q: Why is this guy wasting my time talking about coloring books?

A: This guy apologizes if you think he’s wasting your time. I’m not always quick to the point. I am sorry. The point is this:

If it works for you, keep working it.

Why would you do otherwise? If you have found a routine that supports your meditation, and your meditation is helping you to live a mindful and fruitful life, praise be! Marvelous! Keep it up.

If you think it matters one iota to me that some people think I’m childish for playing with coloring books, think again. Darn tootin’ I’m childish! I’m also a practitioner of meditation for more than 25 years, in no small part because I’m willing to try new things (and old things, like coloring) and stick with them if they work for me. No matter what anyone else thinks. It’s my time on the cushion, not theirs.

So shake your groove thang. Lay on your back. Walk laps around the high school track. Mow the lawn. Juggle chainsaws. As long as it helps you to meditate well.

More food for thought:

The Zen of Adult Coloring Books

A Guide to Walking Meditation – Thich Nhat Hanh

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Students need meditation more than ever

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My daughter is a sophomore in college. Among many eye-opening experiences I have had as a parent of a college student is discovering how stressful college has become.

In some ways, it is an exponential continuation of the experience of middle and high school, which seemed to me to be way more stressful than when I was that age. Granted, my 30th high school reunion was a couple of years ago, so perhaps my memory is dim. But I don’t think it is — I believe young people today are much more stressed in school than used to be the case.

All the more reason why students need to be taught meditation from an early age. I frequently share articles about meditation programs for students on the Dharma Beginner Facebook page and Twitter feed because I believe that meditation training is as essential — more essential, perhaps — to students as any academic subject they study.

The importance of meditation instruction and practice extends well beyond educational performance (though it is undeniably valuable in that regard). Young people need meditation to support their lives outside the classroom even more. School generally will end by the early 20s, but life will continue well beyond that.

Join me in supporting school-based meditation and mindfulness programs wherever you find them and in spreading the good word about their benefits.

Just a few examples…

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Nobody’s perfect

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I like men’s ties; buying them is a weakness of mine. I’m particularly fond of Brooks Brothers ties.

I once bought a tie at a Brooks Brothers store but when I got home and put it on, it looked like an entirely different tie. It looked like a really unattractive tie. What was I thinking when I bought it? I began to understand why it had been on sale.

I was going to take it back for a refund, but kept putting it off. It hung in my closet for months before it dawned on me why I didn’t return the tie.

It was a reminder to me that no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes. Even Brooks Brothers can make an unattractive tie. And that’s absolutely okay.

I need to remember sometimes to show myself grace when I mess up. No one is harder on me than I am. I am very quick to beat myself up for the slightest shortcoming.

Meditation offers me perspective on my “errors” and helps me to see that they are usually no big deal, just a part of living and learning. Meditation allows me to be nice to myself, essentially to say to myself, “No biggie, my friend. Don’t think about it a moment longer.”

Making mistakes, taking a wrong turn, flubbing your lines – it’s all natural. We should expect to screw up. It’s truly unavoidable. Keeping that in mind takes a lot of the sting out of the moment of discovery. Rather than reacting, “Oh no! What have I done? I’m such an idiot!” we can respond, “I knew that was going to happen. We all make mistakes.”

Even Brooks Brother can make an unattractive tie. Even I can make the mistake of buying it.

 

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Meditation and Mindfulness Are Catalysts for Growth

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My daughter is taking chemistry during her freshman year at the University of Southern California. That gave me reason to try to recall what, if anything, I could remember from having taken chemistry umpteen years ago in high school. I remember something about “covalent bonds,” though I can’t for the life of me remember what they are. And I remember the term “catalyst.”

That word, catalyst, kept bouncing around in my brain the rest of the day. It occurs to me that meditation and mindfulness training are catalysts for our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Meditation and mindfulness spur growth in our lives where it might not otherwise occur, and they increase the pace and magnitude of our personal growth.

The point of meditation practice, and of living mindfully, is not to be an expert meditator or to be really in the moment. Instead, being experienced at meditation and being in the present moment enable us to achieve goals in our lives that we otherwise would not be able to. The goals vary from person to person, but the “chemical reaction” is the same when meditation and mindfulness are introduced as catalysts: they empower us, strengthen us, support us, embolden us, and spur us on to do wonderful things.

Fearlessness Is Not the Absence of Fear

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I just read a column by Laura Huckabee-Jennings titled, “Mindful Leadership Is Fearless Leadership.” It got me thinking about the following question: Is it counterintuitive that the route to fearlessness is to open yourself up to fear?

At the risk of giving away the punchline, I think the answer is no. I understand how one might ask, “Isn’t fearlessness a state of being free of fear? If you open yourself up to fear, how can you be free of it?” My view, however, is that freedom from fear is not the same thing as not having any fear. It matters not what we do, we will always have fear. It is a normal and inescapable human emotion, intricately wrapped up in our awareness that all things change and that our lives are finite and, all things considered, startlingly brief.

My definition of fearlessness is “not controlled by fear.” I believe, therefore, that the path to fearlessness does not lead away from our fears but, rather, directly toward them. Instead of fleeing our fears, we need to take them on and embrace them.

The first step toward fearlessness, in this view, is acknowledging that you have fears. Everyone has fears, but not everyone is afraid. Fear is normal; living in fear is not. Because fear is a natural part of being human, there is no way to rid yourself of it. so be mindful that there is nothing wrong with feeling fear. It is no better or worse than any other emotion.

Thus, the second step: treat yourself with compassion. Feeling fear does not make you defective.

Third step: open yourself up to your fears, be mindful of them, and allow yourself to consider them as dispassionately as you can. Like other emotions – and perhaps even more, because it is so vivid and visceral – fear has a way of floating to the surface when you meditate. Don’t force it away! (At least, not right away.) Try to sit with it for a while, focusing on how fear makes you feel, how it affects you physically. Is your pulse quickening? Breath becoming shallower? Sweat breaking out on your forehead? Face flushing and heating up? True, those are not “pleasant” physical feelings, but they are normal. Your meditation practice can help you cope with them so that you can examine the fear itself: Where does it come from? Is the source of the fear real or imagined? In other words, is something else going on under the surface that is the actual source of these feelings, masquerading as something else?

Treat this exercise like getting into a cold lake – dip your toe in first if you’d prefer, rather than diving in headfirst. The first time, maybe just sit with the fear for a minute and then move on. Next time, maybe sit with it a little longer. In this manner, you arrive at a time when you can face the fear head-on without the urge to flee. 

That is fearlessness. It is not the absence of fear, or freedom of fear. Fearlessness is freedom from fear.

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Why do I meditate?

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Why do we meditate? It’s a question raised in a recent column by Bruce Davis. The answer he received from Buddhist teacher James Baraz was, “Wow!” If you want to know what he meant, I encourage you to read the piece. I just want to use it as a leaping-off point for reflecting on why meditation is a part of my life.

I started meditating in my mid-20s when I was testing a calling to the priesthood. That testing had three parts: prayer, study, and action. I was praying for God to reveal the path I should take; I was studying what it meant to be a priest and spiritual guide; and I was getting first-hand experience with the work of a priest by accompanying my parish’s curate as he visited the sick and the shut-ins every Saturday. I did this for a year and, though I ultimately declined to accept the calling, the experience changed my life in many ways – not the least of which was starting my meditation practice.

As part of my studies, I began reading Thomas Merton, and subsequently Bede Griffiths and Basil Pennington, and was introduced to Eastern religious and spiritual practices. I learned to meditate and incorporated it into my Christian spirituality and I have been meditating ever since, more than 20 years later. Those books and initial meditation practice were a launching pad for a much deeper exploration of meditation, mindfulness, and Eastern religion that ultimately led me to become a Buddhist.

So, to answer the question why I meditate, I would have to say, “Because I need to.” It is as integral a part of my daily life as eating, as essential to starting my morning as getting dressed. Without meditation, I would hunger, and I would feel naked and unprepared to experience life. At least, that’s what I think I would feel like without meditation because, to be frank, I’m not sure I could truly imagine my life without meditation.

Meditation grounds me. Meditation clears away the detritus left by my emotions and thoughts. Meditation calms me. Meditation gives me the strength to handle stress and anxiety without crumpling into a fetal position. Meditation balances me. Meditation enables me to live mindfully and happily.

So you tell me: Why do you meditate?

More about Active Meditation

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If you thought my musings about meditating while shaving or snowshoeing odd, then you will truly be baffled by recent articles about meditating on the treadmill and while mowing the lawn.

Mowing may be the next form of meditation: “Researchers from the University of Queensland Brisbane discovered that a chemical released from a mowed lawn actually makes people feel happy and relaxed.”

I don’t know about the biochemical aspect of mowing the lawn, but I can personally attest to the meditative nature of lawn work in general, particularly the use of noisy equipment. Using something noisy may sound counterproductive to establishing a foundation for meditation. However, the noise of leaf blowers, hedge trimmers, and lawn mowers is kind of like a white noise – constant and enveloping, and in that way no different than wearing noise-cancelling headphones.

My condo association contracts for landscaping, but I used to look forward to autumn and blowing leaves when I owned a house and had to take care of such things myself. That sound would fill my ears, the vibration would spread from my hands, up my arms and into my torso, and I would enter a meditative state. Sometimes my mind would be mostly blank, other times my mind would grapple with arising thoughts and emotions, just like when I sit on my cushion.

Meditation made easy: How to train your brain on the treadmill: “This meditation will double the benefit of working out by connecting body and mind. It will inspire spiritual practice and keep your workouts from becoming another frenetic activity in an already busy life.”

I have no doubt that this can work as well, again from personal experience. I have done much the same thing on the elliptical machine many times. Be careful though: You don’t want to end up on a TV show when someone records you falling face-first on the treadmill when your attention wanders too far away.

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Tuning Our Mindfulness Dial

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Self-awareness is one of the primary objectives of meditation. Living  mindfully depends on our being aware of what is going on inside of and around us at each passing moment. Meditation sharpens and refocuses our awareness, both of self and surroundings. Debbie Gisonni talks about the importance of self-awareness in the Huffington Post. I wasn’t aware until reading her post that September is Self-Awareness Month. Our goal should be to make every day Self-Awareness Day, stringing them together to create a Self-Awareness Year and, ultimately, a Self-Awareness Life.

Meditation also reawakens us to the realization that self and surroundings are not separate but, rather, are inextricably linked. One way to define living mindfully is living in the awareness of that connection to all things at all times.

Awareness and mindfulness are kind of like an analog radio with a dial. Anyone remember what it used to be like to keep your radio on a particular station when you had to get the knob in the approximately correct position, before radio dials became LED number readouts? C’mon, don’t be shy, I know some of you are as old as I am. I won’t tell. Well, perhaps you saw one in a museum once…

During the day, awareness and mindfulness may ebb and flow, like the tuning on the radio drifting away from and then back toward the station you want to listen to. Meditation can be compared with adjusting the dial to reestablish our awareness and mindfulness so that our connection to the oneness of creation comes in loud and clear once again. Depending on how long it has been since our last “tuning,” meditation can be a very slight adjustment to the awareness dial or a more substantial twist of the knob.

Making little adjustments to our mindfulness throughout the day is a good way to keep from drifting too far away from awareness. But it is not always practical for us to practice our meditation during the day, while at work or school or traveling. One thing that I finds helps is to remind myself to breathe throughout the day; that is, to pause for just a minute to focus on breathing in and out deeply (or whatever breathing practice works best for you). I do this in two ways. First, I tacked a sign to the wall above my computer at work that simply reads, “Breathe.” Whenever I glance at it, I follow the one-word instruction. Second, I open my computer browser at the start of each workday and point it to the Washington Mindfulness Community’s Mindfulness Bell. I set it to ring every 15 minutes and, when it does, I take four long, deep breaths. But you can set the bell to ring as often or little as you like, even randomly, and can adjust the sound of the bell.

Whatever tools we use, it is important that we employ them to keep ourselves in tune throughout the day with ourselves, those around us, and the connection we share.

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Disconnecting to Reconnect

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When I was a kid, my dad called television “the boob tube.” Meaning, prolonged exposure to TV turned one into a brainless boob. The multitude of electronic distractions that we have now includes TV as only one of many, and probably down the list a ways.

There is a backlash of sorts occurring, with the aim of getting people to “unplug.” Not go wireless, mind you, but simply shut down the cell phone, computer, tablet, TV, and let your mind heal. Yes, I said heal, recover from the damage that too much “connectivity” does to our minds and spirits.

I suffer from this as much as anyone, so don’t think I’m casting stones. My glass house wouldn’t withstand a handful of pebbles. I just want to offer the suggestion that meditation is a viable alternative. We’re not talking a complete swap here — give up technology in favor of a life meditating in a secluded cave — just a relative handful of the moments that you might otherwise be using to text, chat, upload, download, pin, share, like, and so on. No one is asking for the technological equivalent of asceticism.

We have conned ourselves into thinking that we need all of our gizmos in order to connect, either because we forgot or never knew that we are naturally connected to all beings already. Meditation and mindfulness make us aware of that pervasive interconnectedness. Or, perhaps I should say, they allow us to shed the layers of interference — electronic and otherwise — that shield us from sensing our connection with the universe and benefitting from it.

Here’s a little meditation I stumbled across today about disconnecting from the TV. It’s equally applicable to other kinds of technology and media. Why not give it a try?

If you’re not already doing so, why not follow Dharma Beginner on Twitter, @dharmabeginner. I find lots of really interesting and relevant articles everyday and post links to them on Twitter. Okay, I realize the contradiction in encouraging you to unplug and then plugging my own Twitter account. But, if you’re going to be online anyway…

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