On an ordinary school day at noon 25 young students in 9th grade in a Danish public school enter their classroom after the break, sit down in a circle on chairs and close their eyes. They are asked to check in with an ”inner weather forecast” which means they sit and pay attention to what ever is present right now in their bodily sensations, their thoughts and mindstream and in the feeling tones. Then they are guided to rest in the awareness of their breath as it is noticed at their anchor spot, the specific area in their body where the breath feels most vivid, familiar and safe. Letting the breath then expand to an awareness of the full body sensation, noticing the air in the room, the sounds of one’s own and the others’ breath, they wake up to the here and now together with each other in the safe and silent classroom.
Listening to the sound of the meditation bells with full attention as long as the tones are registred in the ear’s gateway of perception, they end by checking in again and notice what is felt now after just five minuts of this excercice. What we are actually training is mindfulness and social emotional learning (SEL) and one can naturally ask why are we doing this and what on Earth has that to do with classroom teaching?
But by listening deeply and also to the underpinnings of their statements, the young kids give the answers themselves: ”This is really great to check in like this and just feel how I am today”, a young boy at 15 remarks, and his peer classmate this time a girl continues: ”It’s not something that I am used to at all as I rush through life. I feel all calm now just after this small exercise”. What these teenagers are offered is in fact not less than daily short guided exercises designed for their age that they practice during the span of eight weeks’ intensive training twice a week with their mindfulness instructor and the other days with their daily teacher. For the scientific purpose they are interviewed before, during and after the eight weeks and also their teacher and parents are asked to notice any change in their behaviour.
They practice together and they exchange their experiences and observations and slowly the classroom becomes a safe container of the different voices of each and of the group as one, as they become more and more used to this special way of paying attention in an non-judgmental way to what ever arises in their body-mind both during the excercises and afterwards through out their daily activities: Awareness of eating, breathing, sensing the body, feeling, thinking, moving, sitting, standing, walking, talking and listening. They are also invited to bring attention to how they perceive and interpret their experiences through their five senses and they are puzzled to notice when they judge themselves or others by the automatic attraction and aversion tendency.
During these valuable talks the young students give reflections about their normal automatic pilot mindstate and what is really striking is that they describe their daily lives as extremely automatic and endlessly predictable. They call it the ”Circle”, the hamster wheel they run around in from early morning they wake up and do exactly the same and the same routines often with a strict structure and timetable of how they dress, how they eat, how they go to school, come home, perform their afterschool jobs and some times attend sports and hobbies. When asked if this routine feels boring, they immediately sigh and say: ”Yes!”
This observation gives food for some reflection about the lives of the young adolescents in the Western part of society, a lifestyle which has become more and more structured, busy, focused on performance, self-promotion, competition and succes. In fact society expects them to pass their youth quickly and grow adult in order to become good taxpaying citizens. The quicker the better! In Denmark today as in most other countries the school days are long and demanding, the kids have to take longterm decisions of what they want to do in life, but not a word about how they want to be. Be with themselves and be with others. Simultanously their opportunities to relax, feel, enjoy life, have fun, reflect and dwell are very limited, although the pure sense of being is their natural birth right.
Why? Why must our young generation live in this hamster wheel already from the age of fifthteen years? In fact this is so much against the natural developmental stage of their body, mind and brain. Dr. Daniel Siegel has described the teenage brain as the most potential phase of our lives, as he puts it: ”This time of transition in the brain inspires emotional spark, social engagement, novelty seeking, and creative exploration that can be optimized to empower adolescents to live their lives to the fullest. These changes from child to teenager affect how they seek rewards in trying new things, connect with their peers in different ways, feel more intense emotions, and push back on the existing ways of doing things to create new ways of being in the world.”
By practicing mindful breathing, sitting, walking, communicating and so on they may discover that there are so many things in their daily lives to notice, to enjoy, to explore with beginner’s mind and that nothing is the same at all. In fact everything inside and outside themselves, everything in their life experience and everything in their surroundings are changing and impermanent. They are given very simple and concrete tools to live their lives with awareness and even discover that they can be aware of the awareness itself. In this way life may not be boring, automatic, stressful nor dull. At least not all the time. They have their young lives ahead of them and it should be lived with the full taste of now. Their brains are shaped for mindfulness if we let them develop in their natural way. For this and many other good reasons we practice awareness in school.
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