Meditation is transforming some school communities, says Ruth Fowler.

A seven year old recently commented, “Meditation is really cool. I can get my stress out by just sitting there and saying my [prayer] word. It makes me think more clearly.” Another older student commented, “It is a place where I can just be, no one is hassling me to do anything, it’s time out.” Both these comments say something very important about the practice of meditation in the lives of young people today.

Life for children and young people can be stressful. They are often caught in a net of competing and conflicting demands and beliefs. Their ability to stay centred, to remain grounded in the face of these demands is challenged not only from amongst their peer groups but by the society at large. The resulting distractedness impacts on their health, their capacity to learn and to sustain focus and their sense of ease in their world. It profoundly affects their capacity to remain connected to their deep inner spiritual core.

The desert monks of the fourth century in Egypt bring an unlikely source of wisdom to this situation. Their adage, the way you pray is the way you live points us in the direction of the Christian tradition’s own deep resources of prayer as a guide for living. The monks learned that developing an inner discipline of silence opened them to the source of all Being within, transforming their hearts and lives. It is this simple and deeply Christian teaching on contemplative prayer, so often overlooked in school religious education programs, that offers such a sign of hope for today’s children and young people.

Science now knows that our brains are plastic and that the experiences we have shape our brains, whether or not we know it. Our neural pathways can be ‘wired’ for distraction or if we practise paying attention, can be ‘re-wired’ for attention. The research shows that contemplative practices which take the focus off ourselves and train the mind to pay attention, exercise a beneficial effect on a person. These benefits include the development of patience, kindness, calmness and cooperation. They can enhance our ability to regulate emotions and encourage a deeper capacity for attention. Positive emotions are known to enhance intellectual outcomes.

Recognising the very positive fruits (of the Spirit) and benefits of this simple practice on the social, emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of a student, many schools are now introducing Christian Meditation into their daily program. For the past five years the Australian Christian Meditation Community has assisted schools by forming teachers in the practice so they can then pass it onto their students. This formation includes learning about the practice, why it is important for our wellbeing as a person, its Christian roots and how schools can begin to introduce the practice to students.

Many schools have been introducing a simple one minute for every year of your age practice of silent meditation on a daily or thrice weekly basis across the entire school. A number of schools meditate together at the commencement of each day. Not surprisingly parents have not wanted their children to miss this time. In other schools it has been introduced in particular classes or levels. Students themselves recognise its importance in their lives, reminding teachers if they have ‘forgotten’ to meditate that day. Others meditate at home by themselves when they recognise they are ‘out of sorts’ with themselves, the world or family. Teachers report positive outcomes in the classrooms and for students.

Schools that have introduced a regular practice of silent meditation into their day report a gradual change in the quality of relationships. This can be experienced between the students themselves, between teachers and students and between teachers and the school leadership. As one Principal said to me, “It has transformed my staff and it has transformed my students and if I could find a word better than ‘transformed’ I would use it.”
This does not mean there were no more problems, but that over time the school community was coming to any difficulties from a different and quieter inner space.

This is one of the most important gifts a school can offer its students (and staff) be they primary or secondary. The benefits and fruits of this time of silent re-connection, of learning to be, are evident in their whole being.
Ruth Fowler is the National Coordinator, Teaching Christian Meditation in Schools, Australian Christian Meditation Community. For more information contact Ruth on rafowler@optusnet.com.au or visit:


 

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