Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Realizing True Education with Mindfulness

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Realizing True Education with Mindfulness

Article excerpt


Education at younger and younger ages is seen today primarily as a means for obtaining success in the future. This focus on future attainment works against the first factor of enlightenment, experiencing joy in the present. Joy is further eroded by the sense of competition and isolation that some students experience. Because students believe that the possibility of happiness in the future depends on how much they are able to accomplish in the present, they are continually engaged in doing, shortchanging and devaluing the second factor, rest. Due to multitasking, with many things to attend to, and thinking ahead to the results they hope to attain, the quality of many students' concentration, the third factor, is poor.

The results that students hope to achieve are often dependent on their success on examinations of prescribed knowledge and skills. This has a negative impact on their natural curiosity, the fourth factor. As students grow older, these conditions lead to an increase in negative mind states such as anxiety and anger. The antidotes, inner awareness and habits that promote well being on an ongoing basis, constitute the fifth factor, diligence. However, education typically focuses students' attention outward and places no value on, nor allots time for, their inner lives. Negative mind states proliferate, leading to unhealthy, sometimes chronic, stress, as equanimity, the sixth factor and one of the most important of these habits, remains undeveloped.

Mindfulness, the seventh factor, is the key with which students could open the other factors. However, narrow focus on achievement, overemphasis of critical thinking, and absorption with the future all work against students' developing the ability to be fully open to the richness of the present moment.

The approaches to address these obstacles that I will suggest in what follows are primarily ones I have used to promote mindfulness in secondary education. At this level students' brains are well developed but so too are their unhealthy habits of thinking. Also at this level, pressures on many students increase. I have used some of these approaches in fourteen years of teaching a class on stress reduction to all 9th grade students in my school. Others were developed two years ago when I added a mindfulness component to Math II, our 10th grade honors geometry course, starting each class with free writing or journaling in response to poetry, stories, or quotations (some are included in what follows), with meditation, or with yoga.


Creating a joyful sense of community within the classroom has always been a high priority for me. For many years my students have spent most of their time in class working cooperatively in small groups. At the start of his June 1992 retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh gave each of us a sticker reading, "I walk for you" to put in one of our shoes. Seeing it each time we put on our shoes to go outside for walking meditation, we would be reminded that the naturally graceful walking of another retreatant could help support us to walk more beautifully rather than be a source of jealousy or a cause for self-deprecation. Later that summer I had stickers made that said "I learn for you." I asked my students to put them on the front of their book covers to remind them each night that they are doing the homework not only for their own benefit but for the benefit of the rest of the class as well. At the same time, the other students are learning for them. I've also asked students to write thank you notes to other members of their groups when each unit comes to an end, an activity that is eagerly awaited and engaged in by the students.

Two years ago I added a new mid-unit group awareness activity, asking the students to do free writing to the prompt "My group...." Then I asked them to reflect on ways their group could be more effective and write in their journals things they could do differently to help this happen. …

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