Mindfulness is a practice that can help students tune their ‘instrument’ of learning. The word instrument refers to the learners’ body, mind, heart, and brain, and their relationships among themselves as learners, as well as social/environmental dimensions which are very crucial for learning.
The capacity to pay attention is the most fundamental skill needed for learning. Teachers should help the student to develop in such a way that they pay attention and inquire into what is important. Teachers should purposefully develop this skill, rather than simply exhorting them to pay attention. This skill should ignite and sustain a lifelong curiosity and love for learning in students.
The mindfulness approach offered in the book, Happy Teachers Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education, written by Thich Nhat Hanh and Katherine Weare, offers a natural pathway for developing that capacity.
Combining thoughts with awareness gives greater confidence, and the ability to recognise what we do not know.
Awareness or Mindfulness is a human faculty that is not as appreciated within the educational sphere, to the degree to which thinking is appreciated. Awareness and thought in combination are more powerful than thought alone.
Awareness is higher than thought, and it can facilitate an inquiry into thoughts and analyse if they are complete, true, and accurate. This is an essential skill for developing critical thinking and is inevitable for learning. It also helps cultivate emotional intelligence which helps in effectively regulating one’s emotions and emotional reactions. Combining thoughts with awareness gives greater confidence, and the ability to recognise what we do not know. It is also an important factor in creativity and life in general.
Steps of mindfulness for teachers
The book, Happy Teachers Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education, offers some steps for teachers to attain mindfulness. They are:
Bringing our minds back to our body
Thich Nhat Hanh says: “Come back to yourself to be able to take care of yourself: learn how to generate a feeling of happiness; learn how to handle a painful feeling or emotion; listen to your own suffering, so that understanding and compassion can be born and you will suffer less. This is the first step and, as a teacher, you have to be able to do this. You have to begin with yourself.”
The art of living
The practice of mindfulness is the art of living. Mindfulness helps develop concentration and insight into life, which, in turn, generates a feeling of joy. It also helps handle painful emotions better. If you do not have mindfulness, you will be afraid of being overwhelmed by the pain and suffering inside.
There are so many ways in which we can attain happiness. If we start writing down our conditions for happiness, one or two pages will not be enough to complete it. There is no need to run after new ways to find happiness. Writing down our conditions of happiness is an important meditation.
Communication is an integral factor of our life. It is vital to maintaining healthy relationships. Deep communication is an important step in attaining mindfulness.
Even though we use many means of communication like cell phones, television, and computers in our daily life, there is a lack of meaningful communication between partners, between parents and children etc. The quality of communication is in no way related to the number of mediums you use for communication.
Mindfulness helps develop concentration and insight into life, which, in turn, generates a feeling of joy.
You have to communicate with yourself to communicate effectively with another person. You have to understand yourself and you have to understand the reasons for your own suffering, fear, and anger to have better communication with yourself.
The art of handling happiness and suffering
Sometimes, we believe that happiness is not possible right now. This feeling is handed down to us from our ancestors. This is the reason why we try running for new ways to attain happiness. We do not believe that we have more than enough conditions to be happy. Mindfulness helps us stop running behind these new conditions.
We have the habit of running into the future. This even happens during our sleep. This energy is called habit energy. Habit energy forces us to rush through our activities even when there is no rush at all. Habit energy is very strong, and practising mindfulness helps us become aware of it and recognise it. Attaining a stage of mindfulness helps us stop habit energy from pushing us to run.
The insight of inter-being
‘Inter-being’ means that you cannot be by yourself alone – you have to inter-be with everything else. Here is an example Hanh uses to illustrate this concept better. If we look at a rose with mindfulness and concentration, we can see many non-rose elements in it. We see the cloud in a rose because if there is no cloud, there will be no rain, and the rose cannot grow. We can also see sunshine in it because sunshine is important for the growth of roses. If we remove the cloud and the sunshine, there is no rose left. Just like this, we can see many non-rose elements within the rose, including the soil, minerals, and the gardener. In short, rose cannot be herself alone. The whole cosmos has come together to create a wonder called rose. This insight is called inter-being.
Happiness is a kind of rose. If you remove all the non-happiness elements, you will never be able to enjoy happiness. For example, lotus flowers need mud to grow. It will not grow in marble. Happiness is made up of all those non-happiness elements. This is the nature of inter-being. Everything is in everything else. We cannot run away from one thing to grab another. That is not how life works. Things are inside of each other, not outside of each other. We must abandon our dualistic way of looking at things.
A community of inter-being
Practising mindfulness is the best way to release the pain and tension in your body. Mindful breathing or mindful walking is a great tool to take care of strong emotions, like fear or anger, or despair.
Teachers have a great job at hand. They are community builders. Teaching is a noble and beautiful profession, but teachers can’t do much without a community. They have to sow the seeds of mindfulness within themselves and others to create happy classrooms.
The book, Happy Teachers Change the World: A Guide for Cultivating Mindfulness in Education, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Katherine Weare helps us know more about mindfulness and how it can be effectively used in classrooms and can be a useful guide for teachers to bring about reform within the classroom.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
How would you describe the term “mindfulness” to your students?
Can you think of importance of mindfulness in educational circle?
How would you describe the contributions of Thich Nhat Hanh and Katherine Weare in spreading awareness on the importance of mindfulness?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
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