Mindfulness and learning

The Current recently replayed a program on Mindfulness in the classroom.
The setting was a Toronto school known for high standards and performance anxiety. Students who had used mindfulness strategies consistently reported decreased stress, less anxiety, increased grades and confidence with performance. These results are supported in the literate by Ed Sarath, Tobin Hart, The Garrison Institute and others. It also bares out in my own experience as a Clinical Therapist in a school setting. Some students quickly learned to manage their anxiety through mindful breathing and or a chewing exercise.

The pushback often comes in the form of likening mindfulness practices to religion. “Why is mindfulness permitted, clearly from Buddhism, when saying the Lord’s Prayer is not?” In response I would say that having students recite The Lord’s Prayer would be more like having students chant the Kama Sutra than providing the opportunity to sit quietly for a few minutes focused on breathing. The latter looks exactly like ‘Centring Prayer’ from the Christian tradition.

We often overlook, consciously or otherwise, how many of our daily practices at work or school are built upon ancient wisdom traditions. These traditions have been around for thousands of years because they hold wisdom that translates well across time and place. Restorative justice circles, yoga, contemplative movement, repetitive verse, artistic expression and more have all come from or been informed by the great spiritual traditions of the world.

Religion is often defined as formal, organized and dogmatic. Clearly this is not for everyone. It is ok to draw upon aspects of religion that are helpful and suitable for you personally without the fear of being converted or proselytizing. Couldn’t we all benefit from a little mindful reflection? Wouldn’t our schools and workplaces be a little saner if we took a few minutes to be still inside and out?

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