I had some lovely responses via email and in person about the last post that included some student writing. People seem to have really responded to the idea that we don’t have to get mindfulness ‘right’ in our heads, that there is an element of mystery and I guess we have all had an experience of feeling like we are the only person in the room who doesn’t get something! It happens to me in some discussions around quantitative research!There are different avenues to mindfulness , and I have included some more fabulous student writing here about the experience of preparing for and creating a mandala in our mindfulness intensive.
I thought this was a beautiful activity that really incorporated the peacefulness that nature provides, and the space and function that our bodies and minds encourage. Often as an early childhood teacher I will go with my students into the natural environment and we will look for something that sparks our interest, whether it be a plant or animal, and it will open up a world of inquiry for these amazingly in-depth yet young minds. Through the Mandala activity it was inspiring to choose plants for my own sake, and not having to be aware what others might learn from something I chose- it was all about my own personal choice and learning. I was able to be present during my walk by placing thought into how every natural shape, colour, texture and smell would make me feel as I placed it around the spiral of my Mandala.
During my walk I felt a huge sense of being in the present moment, by really appreciating what the earth had to offer, I thanked the universe for the natural environment, as without it where would we be, and thanked the universe for my 5 senses as without it I wouldn’t be able to grasp onto the beauty our natural world has to offer. Just being outdoors with nature has a sense of freedom to me. I am a very grateful person but not usually one always in awe with the world around us, however, this activity helped me to acknowledge how much nature has shaped our lives, and everything it has to offer. During the Mandala creations I admired all the different styles of creativity. Our minds were all wired so differently yet each one incorporated immense thought and creativity into it, others even based there’s on a story or feeling. I do feel that the Soles of our Feet Meditation on day 1 of our intensive accentuated my ideas and thoughts for this activity, it gave me such an awareness of life, and I truly felt a part of what I was doing, I didn’t see it as a requirement, I didn’t dread having to head out to find stuff, it just was what it was and I was a part of the whole process, as it was a small part of the journey in my life. I got a lot from this activity as I felt it enforces what it means to be present in the moment (Intensive Workshop, 2015).
I thought this was not only beautifully written and so evocative, particularly the part about being able to do activity for herself ….. teachers can so easily lose themselves in their work, their care and their commitment to student learning and engagement.
I felt the mandala activity connected well to something I read the other day in a book PIlgrims to Openness by Shambhavi Sarasvati that there are three ways to approach a human life:
1. To be mostly engaged on the level of conduct such as the ritual gestures of life involving eating, sleeping, working, relationships, health care bringing your life in line with nature so that life itself becomes a rhythm . In a way we gain our inner calm and wellbeing from arranging our outer life in a disciplined, formed and ritualistic manner. In some ways this is one of the more effective ways to bring mindfulness into the classroom, through form and rhythm, something the Steiner kindergarten achieves par excellence. It always seems to make a home full of children much calmer as well! For me as an adult however it can be stifling and restrictive. The mandala is a good example of creating a very rhythmic and formed activity that settles, grounds, harmonises and integrates, without students needing to pay particular conscious attention to their inner state.
2. Or we can go the path of specific energy practices and activities and see our life as an inner discipline in which we transform ourselves thorugh inner methods that result in an experience of releasing tension, opening and discovering the wisdom within. This is starting to get into trickier territory with children and vulnerable adults in my view, as there a number of conditions such as trauma for which mindfulness is contradindicated (more of this in coming posts). There may also be an issue of development, in that perhaps this work should be undertaken consciously, my choice, as an adult, in a the context of a spiritual teaching or therapeutic process rather than as a child, in the classroom. This certainly has been my path in the past and having the guidance of Western spiritual teacher was such a signficant element in that.
3. Or finally suggests Sarasvati there is a third way, the direct realisation of the natural state which he says can be described as ‘instant presence’ or flowing presence’, or for me, ‘pure, inclusive awareness’. Its a non conceptual state and sometimes involves opening oneself up to the shocks of life so that life may be encountered directly. Direct realisation ‘practice’ involves our entire life, or unbroken practice. It seems to be as I think I have written before that we have all had experiences of presence, however fleeting. To me the mindfulness work involves reminding us to reconnect with this spaciousness, even though we havent really ever lost it, its just that the mind has got in the way and taken over. Perhaps elements of path 1 and 2 are needed for 3. For me I would say certainly yes for path 2.
I have included some more of the same student’s writing below. I think it relates to aspects of 2 – for of course the teacher needs do the inner work in order to be able to create that atmosphere of rhythm and presence in the room and also 1 in that it helps to create such a supportive environment the students and they do not themselves have to do any practices. I remember when I my special education room began to take on a quality of presence because the three adults who worked in the room did their own inner work and the kind of activities we engaged in somehow transformed the atmosphere over time.. I dont think it lasted too long after we left though…it needs to be renewed daily for a long period of time, perhaps if it is long enough something stays, as in the atmosphere in old churches and temples.
Mindful wait time for increased engagement
Slowing down is an important part of mindfulness and learning to be present. I’ve never thought to consciously take pauses throughout the day; it now makes so much sense. I know the reading was targeted at classrooms, but I feel it is important for us as educators to acknowledge and implement this pause within ourselves in order for it to be fully represented within our classrooms. And if it can improve the way we conduct ourselves, and process life and our thoughts as adults then I can only imagine the positive role this would play for children. Especially in the classroom, there are times were a simple pause can make all the difference to your reaction to a misbehaving child or a challenging situation. It’s funny how as a teacher I’ve never thought in detail how much a pause can change a situation, and help benefit the children at hand. I think back to how I learn, I take time to process, I can only imagine how daunting it would be for a child with a stressed teacher who is desperate to meet the deadline but hasn’t considered a pause for the sake of their own self balance and for the benefits of the child and their learning.
I admire how the article suggests you make the most of this pause by practicing mindfulness, being aware of your surroundings, the children, your emotions, the room- this is so powerful in all entirety, making the most of each and every moment given to us. Especially when you tune into how you are feeling, how you think your students are feeling and the how you think the lesson is going, I think this is so incredibly beneficial to creating a calm, warm atmosphere. I can now see how we are able to incorporate mindfulness into our classroom without having to do the meditation side of it, which we discussed in the intensive of trauma induce responses. Who would have thought being present not only affects us so greatly but the way we approach and respond to others, I’m hooked! I will most definitely implement a pause before getting the children to answer a question or move forward onto another activity, noting any differences I see. However I would be interested to see how this would pan out in an office or corporate area, where you may be dealing with more pronounced personalities and attitudes. Society as a whole could gain a new outlook on life if we all just took the time to be present in our surroundings, appreciate what is around us right here, right now, and how we could move forward in a gratifying manner (Jennings, Mindshift, 2015).
until next time..