The cosmos is filled with precious gems. I want to offer a handful of them to you this morning. Each moment you are alive is a gem shining through and containing earth and sky, water and clouds.

- Thich Nhat Hanh

history photos
Dr. Deepa Narula

This is an excerpt from the poem 'Our True Heritage' written by one of my most revered spiritual teachers – Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and a Zen master. The poem encapsulates his key teaching that through mindfulness, we can learn to live happily in the present moment and that is the only way to truly develop peace both in ourselves and in our world.

Recently, I was at the University of Toronto's Teacher Education College (OISE) library, and I browsed the latest collection of titles on display. It was interesting to note that the majority of books were on developing mindfulness in students and strategies to incorporate mindfulness awareness in classrooms, So the concept of mindfulness has become very important in educational pedagogy today. This is not surprising as students of the digital age face challenges of information overload, distractions and the culture of multi-tasking, smart phones, social media etc.

That bring us to the question, what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us (www.mindful.org). At its most basic level, it means being aware of what is actually happening, rather than worrying about what has happened or might happen. Jon Kabat-Zin, the founding father of secular mindfulness describes this skill as 'being alive and knowing it. It means being able to step back from the busy-ness of habitual activity and the relentless chatter of the monkey mind.
The goals of mindfulness education are to help students learn

  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Techniques to calm and focus the mind
  • Applying mindfulness skills to everyday life

Benefits of incorporating mindfulness in the classroom

The Mindful School Organization lists these major areas in which studies have shown that mindfulness can have positive impact on students -

  • Improvement in attention span and the ability to focus.
  • Increase in self-awareness and self-regulation.
  • Greater empathy
  • Better social skills
  • Reduced test anxiety
  • Frequent mindfulness practice imparts health benefits .
  • Research suggests that mindfulness programs can improve cognitive progress as well as resilience to stress.
  • Improves higher order abilities (i.e. planning, strategic thinking)
  • Decreases test anxiety through enhancing memory and concentration and reduces mind wandering/ day dreaming.
  • Mitigates or reduces ADHD symptoms.

Thus mindfulness practices help restore balance in our lives. As parents and teachers we share the responsibility of raising and nurturing children and students. Mindfulness can help us raise calm and compassionate kids. I would like to draw an analogy from the world of airline travel: Just as they recommend parents to put on their oxygen masks first before they tend to their children, it is important for parents and teachers to develop mindfulness to keep themselves centered, calm and aligned in today's stressful world. To conclude with the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “The most precious gift we can give is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”