The Heart of Education

natural heart

natural heart

The perception of physical or moral beauty is the ultimate end and value of all knowledge. ~Plato, in Symposium

It was cold last week in Cambridge, MA, but I felt warmed participating with other educators to cultivate skills of mindfulness for the benefit of ourselves and students. The 6th annual Mindfulness in Education (MIEN) conference was entitled, “Mindfulness: Foundation for Teaching and Learning”, which certainly provided a broad range of presentations and practice opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Center for Courage & Renewal provided a day long exploration of techniques to help in reconnecting who you are with what you do, entitled, “Courageous Schools: Teaching & Leading in Tough Times.” Based on teachings from Palmer Parker who states, “we teach who we are”, teachers were offered guidance and experience developing trust, engaged listening, recognizing their birthright gifts and exploring habits of the heart. In a short time I was feeling empathetic and connected to others in my discussion group.

Jon Kabat Zinn commended Lesley University for being at the cutting edge with its graduate level mindfulness courses and degrees; noting also the high level of urgency for this expertise in society at this critical time in history. He then introduced Arthur Zajonc, PhD, his friend and keynote speaker. Professor Zanjonc is president of the Mind & Life Institute, former director of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, an author, and a retired professor of physics at Amherst College. Speaking on “The Heart of Education”, he made reference to philosophers and thinkers past and present on the case for education’s compassionate heart. “Meditation is personal, contemplative inquiry.” Higher education should empower students to learn who they really are; to search for a higher purpose in their lives and to leave college as better human beings. Universities should produce graduates who are not just trained workers, but responsible heirs of their social and environmental inheritance. Education with heart provides not just information, but transformation; imagination, not just recollection. In order to educate in ways which shape who we are, we must cultivate our capacity; fully contemplate and behold what is before us. Imagination does not come about through study. He then offered a wonderful guided meditation for us to pause, calm and contemplate the moment.

Dr. Zajonc’s talk, as well as those of the other presenters summarized here, was videotaped and will be uploaded after I finish editing within the next couple weeks. They will be posted on the http://www.mindfuled.org site.

Lisa Flook, PhD, research scientist, Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison shared results of studies that teachers and students had more well-being after being exposed to trainings in mindfulness. 47 percent of the time those queried were “mind wandering.” Upon inquiry most indicated that they felt better when their mind was not wandering. Long-term studies have demonstrated that abilities to self regulate at 5 years of age are very predictive of these skills later in life. Thus it is important to help young children cultivate skills of paying attention and taking the right action to improve their likelihood of being happy, healthy members of society, and not having social, economic and physical ill-being, or incarceration later in their teens & grown-up years. “Children and Kindness” curriculum is showing promising results in Madison schools students, including increased attention to their body, emotions and experience, caring about others, interdependence, forgiveness, gratitude and generosity. Teachers who went through MBSR training had perceived and measured accomplishments, including lower stress, exhaustion, reactivity and anxiety, while having more awareness and feelings of self-worth at work and home.

Oliver W. Hill, Jr., PhD presented on his success incorporating a lifelong meditation and contemplation practice into his courses, including psychology of the spiritual experience. Through skillful experiential exercises students are challenged to understand the context of mindfulness, while asking, “what are we trying to do by stilling our mind?” His teachings help students “get” interconnectedness, unity and the illusion of dualism, opening doors to their inner growth and expanded consciousness. Over time his classes have been “shook up” in order to get bigger ideas than they already have about reality; cultivating beginner’s mind, becoming more loving, pure in heart, innocent, non-judgmental and potentially live more awakened lives.

Sam Himelstein, PhD, is the Director of Programs and Research at the Mind Body Awareness Project. He is also a licensed psychologist who works with incarcerated adolescents at a non-profit mental health agency in CA. He enthusiastically presented his success in embodying 3 qualities of a successful facilitator. These can be read about more in detail in his first book, A Mindfulness-Based Approach to Working with High-Risk Adolescents, due out soon. First, authenticity: to be comfortable in our own skin. This allows youth to feel comfortable with you and sends a message that it’s ok for them to be themselves, also. Next, having an intention for human connection. If we present ourselves in the role of problem solver, many will find this condescending. When empathy and an intention to connect is offered many have opened up to listening. Lastly his “stance on change” is to respect youth as decision makers, thus empowering their taking responsibility for their own actions. His mindfulness, empathy and concern co-exists with a capacity to directly address high risk behaviors.

On the last day teachers experienced a day of mindfulness. A day to simply enjoy their breath quietly while sitting, walking, eating, and lying down. Cultivating inner awareness and peace to bring back to their classrooms. I felt very light afterwards. Thanks to Irene McHenry & Richard Brady for their seasoned guidance.

More about the conference and speakers at http://www.mindfuled.org/conferences/2013-conference-information/ .

Much gratitude to the Mindfulness in Education Network for cultivating mindfulness in educational settings for ten years. Gives me hope for a more enlightened society as generations of children come of age with mindfulness and heart’s of love.

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24 thoughts on “The Heart of Education

  1. mkesling63

    I hope this kind of self esteem development incorporated in all levels of education starts a new trend.

    Reply
    1. smilecalm Post author

      Teaching mindfulness, empathy, compassion and other practices of the heart is happening in many classrooms. Perhaps one day it will be as common as recess. Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment.

      Reply
  2. harulawordsthatserve

    Wow. This is truly inspiring stuff, and very important work. I notice i was touched by the voicing of the ‘high level of urgency for this expertise in society at this critical time in history’. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for sharing hope and inspiration, and for all the positive change you are helping to bring about.

    Reply
  3. wodezitie

    How wonderful! Confucianism is mostly about education on a social level so that every day actions are mindful rituals with the aim of helping society be more harmonious and healthy. I wonder if Confucianism was mentioned at the symposium?

    Reply
    1. smilecalm Post author

      In order to offer ancient practices into classrooms it’s generally required that they appear free of religion. So, while mbsr and practices of the heart appear secular, many of us understand their spiritual roots. Presenters shared their personal practices of vipassana, zen and others. While I did not hear Confucianism this time, I have in the past. Thanks for your insightful comment.

      Reply
  4. fitfallon

    I couldn’t agree more ive done the 8 week mbsr course I’m trying to encorporate it into family life and I must recommend it at least 19 times a day to patients

    Reply
  5. Sheila Kennedy

    Thanks so much for so generously summarizing the conference sessions. This is so very useful. Much appreciated.

    Reply
    1. smilecalm Post author

      Thanks for your kind comment Eric. It was wonderful to visit and support each other’s heart of compassion for ourselves and students. Y’all be kind down there!

      Reply
  6. bryan maynard

    This is true education work, friend. You and your peers keep sowing these seeds of wisdom. Perhaps educators in the west will one day see with new eyes and be able to pass this sight on til it works it ‘gets in the water we drink every day.” 🙂 This is really helpful stuff to me personally.

    Reply
    1. smilecalm Post author

      Thank you for your kind comment. Teaching children to be aware, understand and love is noble and inspiring. More info on mindfulness in education available on their mindfuled.org site. May you be well and happy.

      Reply
    1. smilecalm Post author

      Thank you for your kind comment. I, too, would have benefited. But after years of practice I’ve been able to help heal that hurt inner child. May we all feel happy, safe and free.

      Reply
  7. Susan

    What an amazing experience. Kabat-zinn and Palmer were portent influences in my years of teaching. The “table of beauty” at the conference was a nice touch.

    Thanks for checking out my blog.

    Reply
  8. Angel Pricer

    I’ve spent so much time over the last several years advocating for my child in a system that hasn’t yet discovered the benefits of mindfulness in education. Knowing it would be the only thing that would help my 9 year old son, who is at risk as mentioned in this post, I worked to enroll him in the only school I could find that does value the approach. I am so glad to have discovered this information. Thank you!

    Reply

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