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.