Mindfulness Defined Broadly

7am, Waptus Lake

The mindfulness movement is growing in schools. A number of articles in the popular press have described meditation activities that happen in classes or co-curricular programs. Mindfulness has been positioned as an antidote to technology, distractibility and stress. Through meditation, students may develop their capacity for self-control and attention in a society rich with distractions and performance pressure.

In recent years, we have studied mindfulness and organized meditation activities at U Prep. Two years ago, David Levy visited to share his research and perspectives with our faculty. Last year, a group of ten faculty and staff members organized an affinity group to generate program ideas. This year, we have included within the socio-emotional strand of strategic plan development. Each year, our mindfulness work becomes more nuanced and oriented toward action.

Can mindfulness become a mainstream practice in schools? About a dozen faculty/staff members and 40 students currently participate in meditation activities during advisory and after school. While the program is still young, we hear anecdotally that the idea of meditation may not resonate with a majority of the school population. While some schools have made it, I would expect that many schools would require a broader definition of mindfulness in order to build support for it schoolwide.

This August, I learned that one can frame mindfulness much more broadly than just meditation. This fall, ten of us completed an online course through Mindful Schools. Though the course is geared toward developing one’s own mindfulness practice, it also serves as a prelude to mindfulness instruction training and certification. Although it may have seemed ironic to study mindfulness online, the course featured readings, audio lessons, participant discussions, and individual practice.

While breath exercises featured throughout, the course also included various applications of mindfulness that one might not immediately associate with meditation. These include:

  • Movement
  • Emotions
  • Gratitude
  • Compassion
  • Communication
  • Eating

Although “study” and “discussion” are not in this list, it does not require a lot of imagination to make the connection. If one can intentionally direct sustained attention to compassion, communication, or eating, then one should be able to think mindfully about intellectual inquiry and project work.

The course also embraced perspective and refrained from dogma in general. Sometimes, the “wandering mind” inspires creativity and reflection. We may benefit from distraction by environmental stimuli. Situating mindfulness within human experience makes it a lot easier to integrate within whole child education.

Mindfulness enthusiasts are on to something. Whether through formal meditation or just sustained, thoughtful attention, training oneself to intentionally ride the rapids or find a quiet boulder is increasingly becoming an essential 21st century skill. We are likely to incorporate mindfulness into our school’s next strategic plan. It’s just a question of how strictly we will define mindfulness and correspondingly, how broadly we will adopt it.

References

Why It Takes More than Unplugging to Solve Modern Stress | Mediashift | PBS pbs.org

Harvard art historian Jennifer Roberts teaches the value of immersive attention | Harvard Magazine Nov-Dec 2013

Age of Distraction: Why It’s Crucial for Students to Learn to Focus | MindShift kqed.org

You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help. – Technology – The Chronicle of Higher Education chronicle.com

Mindful Schools mindfulschools.org

Driven to distraction: How to help wired students learn to focus | eCampus News ecampusnews.com

The Mindful Revolution | Kate Pickert | Time Magazine | Feb 03, 2014

3 Reasons You Should Let Yourself Get Distracted | FastCompany

When You Care About Everything, It’s Hard to Think About Nothing: Is the mindfulness movement due for a correction?​ by Taffy Brodesser-Akner | GOOD

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