Something I hear a lot is ‘I can’t meditate because I can’t empty my mind.’ I have to confess before I started meditating I thought that what was supposed to happen too. Meditating is about getting to know your mind, spotting patterns and assumptions. Recently I’ve been getting more than a little frustrated with myself as my thoughts seem to be on overtime at the moment and even meditating twice a day my mind is still as busy. At the weekend Prakasha was talking about waiting for our mind to settle. If only! Sometimes even after an hour of sitting on the cushion it was still as busy.
Last night I woke in the small hours and my mind was racing as per usual. I then remembered something else that Prakasha had said about facing everything in our experience so I thought instead of trying to turn away from the thoughts I would let them in. I felt all the thoughts come rushing into my head like children running out of school at the end of the day, and then – they settled. It is so easy to turn away from those parts of our experience we don’t like but when we face them we actually feel happier.
I am working in a school at the moment where people are dropping like flies with sickness. I almost felt guilty this morning because I had so much energy and enthusiasm. There is much published in the media at the moment about how mindfulness and meditation improve health. I know from experience that it works.
I’ve just returned from an inspiring weekend with Prakasha at the Brighton Buddhist Centre where we were looking at how we can move from our conditioned existence into higher states. Here are some of my musings…
We create our own reality from our perceptions. We are all unique and my view of the world is completely different from yours. Taking a simple example, when I lived in the Middle East I was taking my infant son for a walk in his buggy along the corniche. It was January or February and the temperature was about 20 degrees. He was dressed in a t shirt and I was stopped by some horrified Arab women who told me that he would catch cold. In their view it was cold. In the summer the temperatures out there were over 40 much of the time yet for me it was a comfortable summer temperature. Cold and hot is purely subjective.
Our greatest cause of unhappiness is wanting things to be different from the way they are. That does not mean that we should not change anything but we can get so caught up in the way we want things to be that we lose sight of our current reality. As a coach I know there is nothing to be gained by telling someone they are wrong however narrow their view of the world may be. I encourage people to question those views and work out for themselves which are helpful and which are hindering them. We can get so caught up in thinking that our opinions are facts that it can stop us from effecting real change. In Buddhist terms we just keep going round and round the wheel of life being led by our beliefs without ever taking a step back.
In the teaching profession I see so many teachers ‘fighting’ and that makes me so sad. It’s usually against the government who are generally following their own agenda. Perhaps it’s time for us teachers to do the same, to start a mindful revolution instead , to have the courage to ‘be in the gap’, to stop reacting and instigate change from within ourselves. Ministers and MPs are human too and like us they want to be happy and free from suffering. Their actions may be unskilful but they generally come from a lack of awareness rather than a deliberate intention to cause harm.
I know it’s an old cliche but as Gandhi said: Be the change you want to see in the world. I would add to that look at the language you are using to describe your reality and how would changing it alter your perceptions?
A friend sent me this poem by Derek Tasker a few years ago when I was dealing with a particularly difficult person. Today, my birthday, I offer it to myself and all of you, as a possibility. I wonder, too.
I wonder what would happen if
I treated everyone like I was in love
with them, whether I like them or not
and whether they respond or not and no matter
what they say or do to me and even if I see
things in them which are ugly twisted petty
cruel vain deceitful indifferent, just accept
all that and turn my attention to some small
weak tender hidden part and keep my eyes on
that until it shines like a beam of light
like a bonfire I can warm my hands by and trust
it to burn away all the waste which is not
never was my…
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Got to finish this job
Heads bowed looking down
How can they see where they are going?
They are moving onto the next thing
They’ve lost touch with what they love and their true vision
Take a minute
It only takes a minute
Could you do this another way?
But this is the way it’s always been
I’m too old to change my ways now
Sorry, things to do. Bye
Surely you don’t really need to do all that paperwork
Oh but I have to meet these targets
But what if you didn’t do it, would the job still get done?
Of course but I need to have the evidence that I did it
For the inspectors
Oh, are they blind then?
No, but… hang on a minute… I have a brain
I could do this my way
Yes! Yes! Yes!
I came across this article from the Guardian which was published in January via another blogger today. It is interesting to note that studies are showing that mindfulness training is reducing sickness absences yet there is also concern that there is a shortage of qualified teachers. Following on from my post of a couple of days ago I wanted to highlight this issue again. As far as I am concerned although there are many trainings out there of varying quality the main issue is whether the trainer has a mindfulness practice herself. You can go on all the courses in the world but if you are not embodying it then it will not have a lasting impact on the people you are training.
I am planning a mindfulness programme for the school where I am currently working. It is not something to be taken on lightly. It takes thought and preparation but I know that potentially the results will be literally life changing.
Following on from yesterday’s post about mindfulness in schools I came across this Loving Kindness event happening online throughout March. Imagine the effects if every teacher took part!
I am concerned about how every school I work in dishes out detentions, ‘parking’ (removing disruptive children from the classroom), internal and external exclusions. Surely if these sanctions worked pretty much all of them would be well-behaved? I have no quick-fix solution, it’s not easy when you have a class of 30 children all demanding your attention!
I believe there is a way forward though. I was talking to some year 10s today about the retreat I attended at the weekend. They asked me if I found ‘inner peace’. I said I was getting there and I was learning more about myself. One of the ‘liveliest’ boys asked me if I could teach them. He said he would much rather do that than maths. You see they are even asking for it! I have to agree with him, finding inner happiness should take priority over everything. Let’s help them so they are then ready to learn.
I am currently reading ‘The Indigo Children.’ The old education system does not work for today’s pupils. Many of them are restless, they know the truth and it is not being validated for them. I have hope though, even if I can do my little bit for the children I work with and I know of about 4 others doing similar work in schools, the effects will ripple out and eventually all children will be taught mindfulness and meditation from when they start school.
As Gandhi said: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’ I am trying, one step at a time.
‘Mindfulness’ is a buzz word these days and that has to be a good thing. I found a resource the other day that had the instructions for a mindfulness exercise a teacher could do with their class. All well and good if the teacher is an experienced practitioner.
Authenticity is everything. You would not go into a class and teach maths or history for example if you knew nothing about the subject yourself. You may get so far reading off a crib sheet but once the pupils started to ask questions if you did not have the necessary background knowledge you would soon be outed as a fraud.
Mindfulness is no different, you can only go so far reading out a document you found on the internet. If you do not have a regular practice yourself you will find it very hard to embody it while teaching it to your pupils. That is not a problem however, start doing it yourself, even 5 minutes a day is better than nothing. Keep a record of what you notice, however small and insignificant it may seem. The effect is compounding (think compound interest) if you improve by as little as 1% a day that is 3778% in a year!
Find guided meditations online, buy a CD and/or go to a class. For me the last option is the best because you have the support of your peers. It has taken me several years of going to a meditation group nearly every week to establish a regular daily practice myself. That’s not to say it will take you that long, I know someone who went on a retreat (her first) and then carried on meditating every day from then onwards. Also going on retreat for me is a must, I go several times a year. It gives me space to consolidate my practice and meet with like-minded people. The beauty is though whatever your lifestyle you can find a way that works for you. There is no one-size fits all. Just start where you are.