Year 6 pupils share some inspiring insights about meditation

After half-term our Lotus class pupils (Years 5 and 6) will begin work on a new ICT project – blogging and podcasting about their experiences of meditation. Some of the children have already begun discussing the topic and we will be producing a brand new section of the school website, written by pupils, to provide information on meditation and mindfulness: a “how to” guide discussing experiences, challenges and benefits from their perspective that may help engage other children with the practice.

Here are some comments from Year 6 pupils which have provided a starting point for this exciting new project:

“Meditation makes you more aware of your real thoughts and feelings, otherwise you don’t really think about your actions – you just do stuff without really knowing why or thinking about it.”

 

“It’s not like daydreaming or sleeping where you just drift off and think about one thing that leads into another thought. There’s more focus so if your mind drifts you bring it back by focusing on your breathing. You can also think of your mind like an elastic band – if you just let go, it springs back again. Even Buddha probably found it hard to meditate at first, it takes time but he just kept at it till he got it. It’s like riding a bike, it’s a skill.”

Photo courtesy of mikejoosart.blogspot.com

 

“You only do meditation if you want to, it’s not forced. Only you can decide to do it, no teacher or anyone can make you do it ‘cos they don’t know what’s going on in your head, only you do. So it’s something you have to decide to do yourself and you do it because you can feel it’s helping you which makes you want to do it more.”

 

“Meditating is a bit like learning that you have your own ‘super-power’, your own inner power that is always there if you need it. You can’t levitate or anything but it makes you feel strong.”

 

 “It’s sort of about being ok with yourself no matter what you’re feeling or whether you think you’re doing it right or not. It helps if you think of an image – a magical land you experience or a cloud, but don’t let your mind add to it, like add a rainbow or anything  – just fix on the one image and feel it.”

 

“In Spiderman, there’s a woman in a green costume who meditates and it makes her go from being old to young. Meditation is a bit like a sword that cuts through old wrinkled thoughts and makes your brain feel fresh again.”

Buddhism & Christmas – a time to offer understanding, peace and compassion

At The Dharma Primary School our pupils are excited about the festive season and the imminent arrival of Father Christmas, just like children up and down the country. We recognize that although Christmas is a Christian festival, it is also deeply ingrained in secular culture and that despite the commercialism surrounding it, Christmas is a time for offering peace, understanding and compassion – key principles at the heart of Buddhism. We teach our pupils about a wide range of cultural and religious festivals, including Christmas, and our reception class recently performed the nativity at a school puja. They also displayed some wonderful paintings they had created to illustrate other cultural and religious festivals they had been learning about, including Guy Fawkes Night, the Hindu festival of Diwali and Hanukkah from the Jewish tradition.

During Christmas ‘circle times’, teachers in the school have been talking about the birth of Christ as the origin of Christmas, but also emphasizing the true nature of Christmas beyond the materialism and commercialism which is so dominant today. During discussions, our pupils have clearly identified Christmas as a time for families to come together for sharing and giving, for warmth and love, and acknowledged that it may also be a time of loneliness and sadness for those who have lost loved ones or who are without a family.

In his recent blog, Sean Robsville, a practising Buddhist, offers some enlightening insights into the relationship between Buddhism and Christmas:

“In general Buddhists have no hang-ups about hanging up Christmas decorations and enlightening Christmas trees...

Presents under the Bodhi Tree

In the Simpsons episode She of Little Faith, where Lisa converts to Buddhism, Reverend Lovejoy tries to dissuade her by saying that she can’t celebrate Christmas because ‘Santa doesn’t leave presents under the Bodhi tree’. Richard Gere puts things right by explaining that Buddhists believe that those religions that are founded on Love and Compassion are valid spiritual paths…

So you can eat your Christmas cake and still be a Buddhist, though of course you can never finally have the cake whether you eat it or not (all cakes are compound phenomena and thus subject to impermanence).  Excessive consumption of Christmas cake may also promote the realisation that there is no inherent difference between an object of attachment and an object of aversion. (“Can’t you manage just one more slice? Look here’s a nice piece with extra thick icing… What’s the matter, aren’t you feeling well?”)…

I was quite pleased when I discovered a Buddha with whom I could easily identify – Buddha Hotei – a manifestation of Buddha Maitreya with an amply proportioned physique (The Wikipedia article rather unkindly calls him ‘fat’). Buddha Hotei is very popular in China and Japan. He’s often portrayed sitting in a semi-reclining posture and laughing uproariously, while distributing presents to children out of an inexhaustible sack. The similarities with Santa are quite intriguing, see Hotei_1, Hotei_2, Hotei 3

Read Sean Robsville’s blog in full here. 

Wishing you peace and joy throughout the festive season, from all at The Dharma Primary School.

(Please note that the views expressed in Sean’s blog are not necessarily those of the Dharma Primary School).

 

Our Head Teacher, Peter Murdock, discusses the relationship between mindfulness and meditation

“The Buddha separated mindfulness (the 7th factor) and concentration (the 8th factor) as two aspects of meditation on the Eightfold Path;  Right concentration is about focusing your attention on a single object – perhaps your breath, a mantra, sound or the body – the practice varies but natural objects are recommended in that they reduce stimulus and lead to calmness. Right mindfulness can be practised inwardly as a meditation (Vipassana meditation) or outwardly through our actions and interactions with others and the world around us. Mindfulness is to do with insight and observing, it is about reflecting on our thoughts and feelings, our behaviour and attitudes and it can be practised anywhere in any situation. People often think of meditation as sitting still and focusing in silence but mindfulness is on-going and can be practiced at all wakeful times.

I have been practising meditation regularly for 30 years now and I view meditation and mindfulness as a relationship in that the meditative mind helps one to act mindfully. It is difficult to explain the many-sided benefits of a meditation practice as it is so much more than just taking time to ‘chill out’ or calm down. Buddhist monk, Luang Por Sumedho (who has visited our school) once described meditation as “accumulating space” which implies something displaces the fullness of our hectic lives and busy minds. It is often through space or letting go that a deeper intuitive wisdom arises as opposed to endlessly thinking on a problem or situation. In teaching children meditation and mindfulness we aim to instil in them a familiarity with silence and spaciousness that they will be able to return to throughout their lives. There is something powerful and qualitative about the silence children experience together in a group with a teacher.

Often the term ‘mindfulness’ is used in a secular sense to encompass a group of values we think are good for society such as kindness, patience and acceptance, and to avoid being impulsive or reactive. These are important values and are very much integrated into the school’s ethos, but, from a Buddhist perspective, we are also aiming to develop a heightened sense of awareness in the present moment which can in turn lead to wisdom and self-knowledge.  This goes beyond simply minding our manners and behaviour in that we are also teaching children to come to terms with difficult emotions such as jealousy, sadness and anger, and to work through them with mindfulness supported by meditation practice. Ultimately we are giving our pupils the tools to come to terms with being human and to manage and embrace the realities and difficulties of life through reflective understanding.”

Peter Murdock

See also Mindfulness, Mindfulness for Children and Mindfulness in Education

Ajahn Karuniko, vice-Abbot of Chithurst Forest Monastery, visits our school and offers teachings on mindfulness

This morning we welcomed Buddhist monk, Ajahn Karuniko, from Chithurst Forest Monastery to our morning puja. Ajahn led a chant and short meditation and then shared some teachings with pupils, staff and parents on the subject of mindfulness. Today is The United Nations’ International Day of Tolerance and Ajahn talked about the importance of accepting others and that “when we bring unhappiness to others, we bring unhappiness to ourselves too”. He reminded us that if someone says or does something unkind, if we react “unskilfully”, in a similar way, this only causes suffering for all concerned. If we are mindful and reflect before we respond, we are more likely to say or do something positive that will help resolve the situation rather than make it worse. He also spoke about the importance of focusing and strengthening the mind by paying attention to the breath and meditating regularly, explaining that just as the body needs exercise to strengthen it and to stay healthy, so does the mind (through the practice of mindfulness).

Some of our parents and older pupils also stayed on to ask questions about mindfulness practice and life in the monastery. We asked about the colours of Buddhist monks’ robes, why monks get up so early, how long they meditate for, what kind of animals live in the nearby forest and… “do monks wear their robes as pyjamas?”

“Compassionate Parenting” – our Head Teacher, Peter Murdock, offers some suggestions on how to bring mindfulness to parenting

This week our Head Teacher, Peter Murdock, begins a five-week evening course for parents (now fully booked) on “Compassionate Parenting”. At each weekly session, Peter will focus on a specific theme, including understanding and working with children’s feelings, sibling issues, encouraging self-esteem, dealing with conflict and setting limits, looking at children from different perspectives and appreciating each child’s unique spirit.

“The biggest learning for our children comes not from what we say, but from what we do and who we are,” he says. “It’s often the parent who needs to change first and we often need to change our own behaviour and emotions before trying to change our children’s.”

Peter suggests three key areas of focus for compassionate and mindful parenting. The first is to ‘step back’: “Take a moment to observe and step back from your impulsive, triggered response to your child’s behaviour before you intercede, so that you act with clarity and perspective rather than reacting in the heat of the moment. Think, what can I do to help resolve this situation, if anything? Is there a ‘middle way’ that means I can be responsible without being overly controlling? With squabbling and sibling rivalries again my suggestion is to first observe, rather than be immediately drawn in. Also, although it’s important to give children love and attention to help them thrive, there can be a tendency towards ‘over-parenting’ and to interfere and fuss when they’re playing, offering excessive commentary and praise which is unnecessary. Let go, step back.”

Another way of adopting a mindful approach is through ‘reflecting feeling’, helping children to identify and accept feelings and then work out how to manage them. “This is somewhere I was going wrong as a young parent,” admits Peter. “I was trying to blank out what I saw as negative feelings in my daughter such as anger, jealousy and hatred, as if somehow my child should never feel those things. I was giving her the message that it’s not ok to feel these emotions when of course a child, or even an adult, can’t stop feeling the way they’re feeling. What is important is taking responsibility for our feelings and finding appropriate strategies for managing them. We used to have a list of things on the fridge door that our daughters could do to express uncomfortable feelings – shout and run around the garden, punch a pillow, draw or paint with bright colours and so on. We need to explain to children that feelings are like the weather, constantly changing, and we need to learn how to accommodate these different conditions as part of human nature. Also, if we learn to ‘step back’ and reflect when faced with difficult situations and emotions, rather than blowing our tops, our children consciously and unconsciously begin to see this as a strategy for managing their own responses.”

Peter’s third suggestion for creating a mindful space at home is to ‘simplify’; to enable time and space for our families to just be together, rather than constantly rushing around doing all the time. “Family life can be incessantly busy with children needing to be ferried and fetched from one activity to another and a constant desire for stimulus. Excessive use of the internet, social media, TV and computer games feeds our culture of instant gratification and can fuel frustration in children when they strive to reach ever higher levels of games they can never win. Underlying this is the desire to keep our children happy and entertained. We need to counter this breathlessness and find time to be together as families, just sitting, eating, playing and talking and to teach our children that not doing is sometimes fine, it’s part of life. Being content in our own company and being fully present with our family (without artificial stimulus) with ‘relaxed attention’ is an important way to be and is also at the root of mindfulness practice.”