mindfulness in schools

Letters

May I suggest that if the Mindfulness Bell had an electronic format too, people like me would be able to read its content in developing countries through less pollution of worldwide transportation and less environmental costs, and it also would lower the price for us.Ana Cristina Atanes Brazil (via Facebook)

Dear Ana Cristina,

Thank you for your input. We would very much like to develop an online format for the Mindfulness Bell, and we are looking for Sangha friends who have the right skills and experience to help us move in that direction. Meanwhile, we are happy to be building an online archive of past issues, available at www.mindfulnessbell.org/wp. We hope this will nourish your practice.

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Dear Thay, dear Sangha,

Every time it is a joy to find the Mindfulness Bell on the doormat. The first thing I look for is the Dharma talk from Thay. But I do wonder—why is there never a Dharma talk from one of the other masters? Going two times a year to the EAIB in Germany, I am thankful to receive the beautiful Dharma talks from Thay Phap An. And I’m sure that in the other monasteries, also, rich talks are given during the retreats. Wouldn’t it be lovely to share these talks also?

A lotus for you all, Els Prins The Netherlands

Dear Els,

Thank you for your message. It is heartwarming to know that you enjoy the Dharma talks from Thay. The Mindfulness Bell does publish Dharma talks by monastics, such as Sister Dang Nghiem’s talk, “Scorpion Nature,” in the Autumn 2013 issue. This was transcribed and edited from a talk she gave in 2011, and she generously shared the transcript with the MB. It would be wonderful to publish more talks like this, and we will gladly take your suggestion and invite monastic Dharma teachers to share transcripts of their talks.

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My dear editor,

I have so much appreciation for the questions and Thay’s answers about suffering in the last Mindfulness Bell––in particular, the questions asked by bereaved mothers. Not quite fifteen years ago, that could have been me asking those same questions. My son was killed by another person when he was twenty-one years old. The grief of bereaved parents goes deep to the core of one’s being. It is a long hard road to travel. I have so much gratitude for people who helped me. Someone gave me tapes on loving kindness and compassion, which I listened to over and over. All I could do at first was tonglen, taking in suffering and breathing out space...at first for myself, and then it spread to others and got bigger and bigger. Someone asked me to join one of Thay’s Sanghas, and I practiced with them for many years until they disbanded. Now I practice with another Sangha.

To the mother who asked if she could ever be happy again: positively, YES! At first it is very hard, but slowly, you work through the grief and can see that the love you had for your child will never leave. And if you relax in this love, you will be able to see your child in many forms. I feel Jake in the cool summer breezes that caress my face. I see him in the orange juice he used to drink. I hear the chirp, chirp of the robins and I know he is near. I find “heart rocks” and I know he is cheering me on. One time I even saw where someone had written the name, JAKE, with rocks, very big and bold, on the side of the road. That made me smile from ear to ear, and I said, “Thanks, Jake.”

To the parent whose sweet son died by violence: I wondered for many years what could be done to lessen the violence in this world. How can Jake’s death and so many other deaths by violence not be in vain? Then I read an article about teaching mindfulness in schools. I thought about how mindfulness has helped me to take good care of my anger. I took a curriculum class in Northern California, mindfulschools.org, and have been teaching mindfulness in our school district’s grades 1-3 for the past three years. Now two other Sangha friends are teaching with me. The children love to practice mindfulness. They know that it can help them calm down and focus right away.

My life is full of blessings. I never thought at first this would be possible. Thank you to all who helped me along this path, which leaves no one out.

Sincerely, Robin Correll Garberville, California

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Errata

In the Winter/Spring 2014 issue (#65), the article “Calligraphic Meditation” incorrectly stated that Sister Dedication was the exhibition curator. Brother Phap Nguyen was the exhibition curator as well as Thay’s calligraphy assistant.

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Media Reviews

mb65-MediaReviews1The Art of Communicating By Thich Nhat Hanh Hard cover, 166 pages Harper One, 2013

Reviewed by Karen Hilsberg

The Art of Communicating contains a wealth of practical teachings and clear instructions about how to enhance relationships using thoughtful and intentional communication. In an era dominated by texting, emailing, tweeting, and posting, Thay suggests that many of us spend our time not actually communicating, and that the growing array of electronic devices (mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, etc.) is no assurance that effective or meaningful communication is taking place.

In a Dharma talk at Deer Park Monastery during the 2013 North America tour, Thay mentioned he hasn’t used a telephone for thirty years, and he happily reported that his communication with his friends and students is nonetheless rich and meaningful. Thay enjoys rich face-to-face contact and communicates through letters (not email), Dharma talks, and calligraphy. He explained that when his students are following their in-breath and out-breath and practicing mindfulness (sitting, walking, eating, deep listening, and loving speech), they are nonverbally connected to and communicating with him, because he is engaged in the very same activities.

Thay’s teachings in this book hone in on nourishing and healing communication and include specific instructions for how to reconcile with others using deep listening and loving speech when difficulties arise. My favorite chapter describes the Six Mantras of Loving Speech. These mantras “are six sentences that embody loving speech and let people know that you see them, you understand them, and you care for them. …They’re a kind of magic formula. When you pronounce them, you can bring about a miracle, because happiness becomes available right away.” Many of Thay’s students will be familiar with the fi four mantras: “Darling, I am here for you.” “I know you are there and I am very happy.” “I know you suffer and that is why I am here for you.” “I suffer, please help.” The two new mantras are: “This is a happy moment,” and “You are partially correct,” or as I’ve heard Thay say, “Yes, dear, you are right, but only fifty percent right.” In The Art of Communicating, Thay explains these new mantras and how to use them effectively.

Thay believes mindful compassion and loving communication have the power to heal us, heal our relationships, and heal the planet. He explains that love, respect, and friendship all need food to survive. He shows us how we can produce positive thoughts, speech, and actions that will feed our relationships and help them to thrive. The Art of Communicating will be a much referenced and extremely valuable how-to manual that readers can use to heal their relationships.

mb65-MediaReviews2Moments of Mindfulness Daily Inspiration

By Thich Nhat Hanh Paper over board, 160 pages Parallax Press, 2013

Reviewed by Gary Gach

Whenever I begin a book by Thich Nhat Hanh, I never know when I’ll be done. Sometimes years later. Sometimes never. Maybe you’ve had similar experience? You read a paragraph and––wow!––time to lay it down and ruminate. Digest. Contemplate. Understand. Make it real for yourself.

Moments of Mindfulness places Thay’s masterly way with words under a magnifying lens. It serves up fifty-two compact, fresh, nourishing, breath-sized Dharma morsels. Seven to seventy words, no two are alike. Peace is every word. All in all, they whisper, nudge, sparkle, startle, sing, embrace, liberate. Peace, too, is in the spaciousness surrounding the words.

On the cover and throughout, the book is illuminated by patterns of movement and growth drawn by Jenifer Kent. At the outset is a poem that’s also a guided meditation, nurturing the compassionate, correct view necessary at the beginning of the path. It’s followed by eleven pages by prolific Rumanian author Richard Reschika, outlining the rudiments of mindfulness. This preface includes a gatha by Thay, encapsulating the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. At the back, there’s a built-in notebook. In the center: Thay’s fifty-two gists and piths.

A single breathful of mindfulness can overcome the absentmindedness of 10,000 forgettable moments. It doesn’t take a wheelbarrow––sometimes just a thimbleful will do. Remember ancestor Hui Neng’s enlightenment, on the spot, hearing but one line from the Diamond Sutra. As contemporary, daily inspiration, such diamond-bright moments can provide the clarity that lends consistency to your conscious living and loving. As you approach a new obstacle or threshold, the reminders, landmarks, celebrations in this book can help see you through.

Mindfulness is more than calming: its compassion awakens insightful, transformative wisdom. Given the cynical and painfully dwindling attention span of our times, it’s an effective homeopathic remedy. Thay’s mindful moments are succinct postcards from our true home. We’re already in the divine kingdom, the pure land. Nirvana isn’t on the way. It is the way.

This book is a gift for the preservation of all beings, including adepts, those just setting out on the path, and those who don’t yet know it is available. The initials of the book spell MOM. These mindful moments give birth to us all.

mb65-MediaReviews3Everybody Present Mindfulness in Education

By Nikolaj Flor Rotne and Didde Flor Rotne Soft cover, 141 pages Parallax Press, 2013

Reviewed by Sandra Diaz

Everybody Present: Mindfulness in Education is a how-to manual designed for teachers who want to bring mindfulness into the classroom. It begins by briefl recounting the story of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and the response of a monastic who lived near the school as a child. He explains: “As a community we need to sit down and learn how to cherish life, not with gun-checks and security, but by being fully present with one another, by being truly there for one another.”

Given the myriad challenges currently facing our educational system, how can educators create the conditions for a healthy classroom environment that can nourish our children and our society? The book aspires to answer the question of how teachers can fulfil “their ideals without being crushed by them” in order to “show the next generation a path toward a good future.”

Since experiencing mindfulness is key to understanding it and teaching it to others, the book contains basic practices for educators to become more mindful. Once educators begin to realize some of the benefit  themselves, they can begin to introduce the concepts in their classrooms. The book contains examples of practices for children, such as paying attention to their breath, walking meditation, and sharing gratitude. One of my favorite practices, called “eating the raisin,” encourages students to trace all the people involved in the making of a raisin, then draw a picture of one of the people in the cycle, and end by mindfully eating their raisin.

The book’s appendices will be helpful to those who like to know the science behind mindfulness. Topics include the physical symptoms of stress, how to manage heart rhythm in order to decrease stress, how different parts of the brain react to stress by releasing hormones, and how our neurons help to connect us to other beings.

mb65-MediaReviews4Everybody Present weaves children’s stories, neuroscience, social science, case studies, and practical exercises for educators and students. The authors emphasize the need for teachers to cultivate their own inner peace in order to manage their classrooms wisely and compassionately. As Thay has said, “Happy teachers will change the world.” Everybody Present provides tools that can assist those in the field of education to work through the daily and larger systemic challenges found in many classrooms and schools, and to cultivate stillness  and  grace  that can serve as an example to other teachers, principals, parents, and children.

mb65-MediaReviews5Room to Breathe

Produced and directed by Russell Long Sacred Planet Films, 2012 DVD, color, 55 minutes

Reviewed by Ambrose Desmond

Room to Breathe is an inspiring new documentary about bringing mindfulness practice into schools. The fi follows Megan Cowan, a trainer and the Program Director of Mindful Schools, as she works with one San Francisco middle school class. Room to Breathe begins by exploring the classroom and the academic and behavioral challenges of the students in that class. Through interviews with the teacher, the students, and their parents, the film profiles the particular challenges of a few individual students.

At the beginning of the fi the portrait is not a hopeful one. Parents and teachers are trying unsuccessfully to motivate the students toward better behavior and engagement at school. The film clearly shows what a challenge it would be to make a significant impact in the lives of these students.

When Cowan arrives in the classroom, her first visit is nearly a failure. She is white, while most of the students are African-American and Latino, and the cultural distance is glaring. Many of her early struggles in connecting with the students seem to result from a lack of cultural competence. Yet over time, she builds authentic relationships with most of the children. One of the real strengths of the movie is that it presents a realistic picture of the challenges associated with trying to create change in a difficult classroom. During one scene, Cowan asks the students, “Who doesn’t want to participate in the mindfulness practice?” Most of the students raise their hands. However, through creative classroom management and truly admirable persistence, that dynamic undergoes a profound shift.

By the end of Cowan’s time with the class, most of the children seem engaged in the mindfulness practices. Some of them describe how they use mindfulness practice to control their impulses and make better choices. While this program is not portrayed as a panacea, it’s clear that some of the students have been profoundly affected by mindfulness practice and have integrated it into their lives. Because the film does not shy away from Cowan’s difficulties, it makes her obvious impact on the children even more inspiring. Room to Breathe is well made and highly engaging, and I believe that anyone interested in how mindfulness can transform society would enjoy watching this film.

Room to Breathe is available for community screenings and house party screenings. The filmmakers wish to encourage post-film discussions as a first step toward implementing mindfulness in schools. For information about hosting a screening, visit roomtobreathefilm.com.

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