Educators are beginning to agree on the need for attention training and emotional regulation as part of the curriculum. Mindful awareness practices fulfill this need, while science is validating long held concepts of the wisdom traditions. It is my wholehearted conviction that when education includes practices that train the mind to consciously and purposefully attend and regulate emotion, our students will be well prepared for anything!
Our population can no longer tolerate the levels of stress we are subjected to on a daily basis, while expecting to be healthy. What helps to de-stress is tapping into what Deepak Chopra's late friend and colleague, David Simon called it "the gap". It's the space between thoughts that is pure consciousness, pure silence, and pure peace. It is also where pure potentiality resides. It took years in my meditation practice before I could pause long enough to feel the space between breaths. It probably wouldn't take children as long as it took me to find "the gap", because they are naturally present in the moment.
Although meditation practice is a lifelong journey, it continuously yields benefits commensurate with the effort applied. By teaching students to pause and notice "the gap," we literally equip them with one of the most important tools for survival and success in the modern world. The reason why is, we practice self-noticing at the most profound level in "the gap". With self-noticing at the root of empathy, it is perhaps, the most important social skill of the 21st century.
Several years ago, I attended a talk by psychiatrist, Daniel Siegel, MD at UCLA. He discussed the profound benefits of meditation on brain development and even stated that meditation outperforms medication in treating symptoms of ADHD/ADD. He led the group of 800+ people in his Wheel of Awareness meditation. Although it was a brief introduction to mindfulness, I found it incredibly powerful. His meditation brought my attention to the energetic feeling of those in the room with me, as well as those throughout the universe. The experience of getting quiet and deciding to put my focus on myself, those around me, in my community, my country, my world, and the universe was profound. A few days later, I attended another talk by Canadian psychiatrist and author, Gabor Mate, MD. Dr. Mate led a very different sort of meditation. He gave a few brief instructions and played the music of Tibetan monks using singing bowls. Dr. Mate included this practice in his talk about his book, Scattered, on ADD/ADHD.
Finding meditation connected to ADD/ADHD at two talks in one week, caused me to take notice. I immersed myself in the study of Vipassana Meditation, also known as insight meditation. With teachers like Gil Fronsdal, Sharon Salzberg, Kelly McGonigal, and more, I began to see that our students were desperately lacking in attention and regulation skills. In order to set a course on prioritizing self-regulation and attention training in education, I continued to deepen my understanding of the practices.
Applying mindful awareness practices in the educational arena, has proven tricky. In the last year, Escondido Unified School District (USD) was sued by parents who objected to district-wide yoga as part of the PE program. Although, Escondido USD prevailed in the court action and yoga remains part of PE, it nonetheless signifies the continuing mistrust and resistance to including aspects of the wisdom traditions in modern education.
Susan Kaiser Greenland, co-Founder of Inner Kids, is a mindfulness teacher and author of The Mindful Child. She intentionally directs her efforts at increasing the role mindful awareness plays in education. Through Inner Kids, she trains educators in methods that teach children attention, balance, and compassion. Her 2012 TEDx video highlights her work. The Mindful Child is a wonderful primer on mindful awareness, chock full of activities that spark interest in people of all ages.
Another doyenne mindful awareness practices with children, is Charlotte Reznick, PhD. Her approach is slightly different, but has the power of directly promoting children reaching their potential. In her book, The Power of Your Child's Imagination, she describes tools and imageries for youngsters to cultivate coping, healing, and potential. From discovering your special place to encountering a personal wizard, her nine tools are essential for well-being in the 21st century. Watch Dr. Reznick discuss her work in her TEDx talk.
These two women along with many others have dedicated their careers to integrating mindful awareness practices in education. Even greater inclusion of these practices by educators would serve the greater good of all. By training attention and emotional regulation, we grow into kinder global citizens. After all, promoting kind global citizens is a worthy educational goal.