Mindfulness and the self-fulfilling prophecy

One of the more embarrassing and self-indulgent challenges of our time is the task of re-learning how to concentrate. The past decade has seen an unparalleled assault on our capacity to fix our minds steadily on anything. To sit still and think, without succumbing to an anxious reach for a machine, has become almost impossible. The obsession with current events is relentless. We are made to feel that at any point, somewhere on the globe, something may occur to sweep away old certainties – something that, if we failed to learn about it instantaneously, could leave us wholly unable to comprehend ourselves and our fellows.
– Alain De Botton, “Ten Things I Believe”. Smith Journal. Issue 1

I really liked this article by Alain De Botton, as I have any book of his I have read. My favourite point was the above as it spoke to that part of me that appreciates the value of mindfulness and concentration, particularly in the ‘always on’ culture that pervades our lives. I have written before of the health benefits of mindfulness meditation but what I would like to blog about today is the educational benefits of the practice.

Hattie’s research contained in Visible Teaching puts students’ self-grade as the greatest influence on learning. What I am positing is that mindfulness practice would have an effect on students’ perceptions of themselves as capable learners (self-grade) and, consequently, their learning.

How? Mindfulness practice centres around the meditator consciously paying repeated attention to an object, usually the breath. If the mind wanders, they take note of what they are thinking about then calmly return their attention to the breath. This concentrated meditation continues for as long as needed. Over time, the meditator develops greater concentrative powers as well as an increased awareness of what their mind thinks about. This increased awareness allows greater objectivity to develop in regards to the meditator’s emotions and thoughts and the fleeting nature of these. When we come to realise how changeable our thoughts and emotions are, then we aren’t so caught up in them and we have the meta cognitive space to question our assumptions about ourselves.

If students are able to question their perception of themselves then they are able to redefine themselves as capable learners, creating a new self-fulfilling prophecy where they are ABLE to learn.

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Infographic courtesy of Edutopia.org

Be Here Now

Recently I came across an article on the edutopia website regarding meditation and student engagement. Having an interest in both subjects I decided to read on.

It seems that a school that had a high incidence of violence and truancy has been able to turn their school culture around through time set aside at the beginning and end of each day, called Quiet Time, where students “permitted to read, sit with their own thoughts, or close their eyes and meditate — in which case most of them use a specific technique called Transcendental Meditation* that facilitates a state of deep relaxation. Although the meditation is optional, nearly all students have chosen, with their parents’ permission, to receive meditation training. Based on classroom reports, about 90 percent of students choose to meditate during QT.”

This article got me thinking about our ability and our students’ ability to focus in an always on, 24/7 world. I have blogged before about the need to “get off the grid” so to speak, and it is a subject that I have been thinking more about lately. With so much “out there” to keep our attention, how much time do we spend on our developing our attention to “in here”?

Now, don’t think I am suggesting that we all sit around navel gazing all the time, on the contrary what I am suggesting is that by taking time to develop our ability to focus on the internal, it will help us to make more sense of the external. In other words, meditation, far from taking us away from the world, will help us to better interact WITH the world.

How do I know? Apart from the testimony of far more experienced meditators than myself and several scientific studies into the physical, emotional and psychological benefits of meditation, my own stuttering attempts at meditation have yielded more focused mental states and an increased ability to filter out distractions, if only for small periods of time.

Even if you have never sat down on a cushion to do some breath meditation, or only know “Om” as a scientific term or the beginning of OMG!, I think anyone can benefit from a more focused, more aware state of mind. The truth is there is so much to distract us, so many things to multi-task, that now, more than ever before, we need an antidote to distraction that will help us to better function in our everyday lives. If you have ever “lost yourself” playing a computer game or listening to a piece of music, then you have experience in the intensity that comes from greater focus. Through concentration developed through meditation, we can enhance our capacity to engage effectively with our busy lives.

If you want to give it a try it is as simple as watching your breath. There are many wonderful breath watching/counting techniques out there, pick one and get started. Get to know your mind. Learn to be here now.

Going Offline

With all the weather we have been having lately I suddenly realised that it has been a long time since I just enjoyed nature, being offline or off the grid. You know, just taking time to BE! The moment really hit when I was putting out the garbage and I saw the evening sun shine behind a large cumulus cloud and I suddenly saw the old saying – every dark cloud has a silver lining. I realised that in my 30+ years alive I don’t really recall seeing that. Pity. It was a wondrous sight and I am glad I took a few moments to just appreciate it, to observe what the world can offer us when we just look up from our busy lives once in a while.

I have resolved to spend more time appreciating nature and sharing it with my family.

Gates & Barriers

Don’t you just love when life throws up meaningful metaphors?

On the weekend I took down one of the many child safety gates that cordon off areas of our home. It wasn’t until later that night when I really noticed that the gate wasn’t there. What I found most interesting about the whole thing was the strange feeling that overcame me when I realised what was different…freedom. My life was that little bit easier because a gate, a barrier, had been taken down.

This then got me to thinking about the other barriers we have in our lives, barriers that are both physical and mental. Of the two, the mental barriers we erect for ourselves are the most insidious. Everyone has physical limitations that they live with, but the barriers we don’t see are often the most destructive.

Destructive? Insidious? Harsh words maybe, but true. Think about all the things that stop you from going out and achieving what you want in life. Sure there are those barriers we have to work with like lack of funds, someone who will get in your way or that well-meaning friend who points out that it has been tried before and has failed…etc.

Then there is US. If only I was smarter, more interesting, more passionate, more creative, more (insert excuse here)…you get the point. How often do we critically examine the voice inside us that says we’re not there yet or we’re not ready yet? This is the place we should start our search when thinking about change! Too frequently it turns out that the voice inside is making stuff up. Why? Because it is that part of ourselves that doesn’t want us to be noticed, to stand out, to try something new. ‘If you do this you might fail and imagine what “they’ll” say!’ says that voice. Note: there is always a “they”. Who?

Fear, especially fear of failure, lies at the heart of what Seth Godin terms “The Resistance”. I’ve blogged before about this part of ourselves that stops us from achieving our potential and from helping others to achieve their potential, and this whole metaphor stuff on gates really highlighted for me the importance of questioning that scared part of ouselves that puts up the invisible barriers that are the hardest to see – and what you can’t see, you can’t change!

See what you need to see and change it! Do it today because no-one else will!