9th graders had a whole slew of new options this year for their 2-hour weekly selective. One teacher was teaching dog training. Another offered the life skill of financial dealings. There was theatre this year and the usual subjects: photography, art, and pilates. I was asked to advertise my subject: Safat haKeshev – paying attention to one’s thoughts, feelings, sensations in the present moment. I told the 9th graders that through practicing the skill of paying attention, we gain the ability to feel more relaxed, more ready for what may happen in school and in our lives. We can gain a feeling of well-being. And that I was so glad to offer them this present in the middle of their morning.
This seemed to intrigue a few girls as they gathered around, choosing to investigate this subject of Mindfulness
We were granted the use of a regular classroom. I’d been told that during our hours, the Relaxation Room was fully booked by the School Therapist. However, the exercise mats, the markers and the gift of last year’s mural, the comfy beanbag chairs and even my teapot, were all safely locked away in that Relaxation Room. We decided to knock on the door and bring some equipment into our designated space. No one answered. Empty. I decided to make the trek to the Administration Building to get the key.
I returned but before we entered, I asked them to think of that room as another sort of space – to enter silently, to remove their shoes, and put away their phones.
Then I turned the key and was greeted by the stagnant smell of stale air. It, clearly, had been closed up all summer. No therapists had yet used the place. The bean bag chairs were piled up on one of the tables in the centre of the room.
It was time for a quick feng shui.
As we arranged seating in a circle, I slowly put together a vision of how we’d utilize our shortened lesson.
This year, I was bringing new curriculum into our mix. First I’d studied Mindfulness Without Borders and the Mindfulness Ambassador Council training. This was very applicable to 9th graders and to the fact that we’d be in a class setting with chairs. So, I didn’t want to immediately have them lie down for a body scan. That wasn’t going to be the central theme of our lessons. I had to keep them as upright as possible!
I introduced myself and when one girl asked, I explained how I’d gotten into the idea of mindfulness. I told them it started with doing yoga at age 6 or so, then meditation at age 18. I told them at that time, I’d thought that just taking the position and ‘doing meditation’ was enough to be able to reach some inner calm. I hadn’t realized that it took effort to meditate.
This we’d all come to understand better as we progressed.
I introduced a few rules: we’d come on time, put away our phones. When we wished to speak, we’d use the talking piece . We’d show respect for one another’s personal space – no hands, no derision.
Then came some questions.
What will we do?
I told them that we’d be practicing some methods of paying attention, through the breath, for example, something that is always available or through listening.
I told them we’d go around the room and in one word describe how we each felt at that moment. I began, and then passed the talking piece to the girl on my right. Each offered a word or two. Many were fine, a few weren’t – one was tired, one was horrible. I reflected back to the group what I’d heard and moved on.
I invited them to try to see how much they were paying attention. I requested that they close their eyes. One girl said that she hates closing her eyes. I suggested covering them with her hand, since this exercise had to be done without looking. She agreed.
Without opening your eyes:
Who remembers the colour of my pants? Raise your hand (a few said: Grey (correct), one said blue!)
What colour is the beanbag chair you’re sitting on. (Most remembered)
What colour was the door to the classroom (no one got it!)
I invited them to open their eyes and take a look. My pants- Yes! Their beanbag chairs – good! The door! We opened to see if their guesses were right. They weren’t!
So, I guess we don’t always notice what’s going on. But this is something we can work on. And through our practice, we can build our brain muscles, just as we do in Sports.
I passed around the first page of our journal. It welcomes each pupil to the first day of our studies and then offers the opportunity to reflect: To complete the sentence: When I’m doing …. (a certain activity like listening to music, or eating) I don’t pay attention to……… (complete the sentence). They did and I invited those who wished to share to do so, again using the talking piece.
Rules of the Sessions
I asked a volunteer to read. She took the talking piece and went through rules such as: to speak from the heart and to listen to others attentively. Also, to keep what was said in the room private amongst us. To do homework – yes, I told them, there’d be homework and that it’s important to do it, and in general to come ready to participate.
It was then time to pay attention to sounds. I used the Tibetan Singing Bowl and asked them to raise a finger when they could no longer hear it.
There was quiet in the room. Each one stopped hearing it at a different time and I pointed out that difference. No judging. Just to notice. We tried the experiment again.
What was the symbol on my necklace?
I explained it was the Sanskrit letter ‘Om’ and also a resonating sound, one that is said to be the sound of the cosmos. I like to answer the question, since it gives me a chance to utter sounds and ideas they might not expect!
Will we be doing Body relaxation?
Yes, I said, but we’d have to organize equipment if we were to be situated in a regular classroom.
Mindfulness as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn
We graduated to reading the Jon Kabat-Zinn definition of mindfulness (purposefully paying attention to what is going on in our minds,hearts, sensations at the present moment without judging).
One-minute breathing exercise
No questions, so we all began our 1-minute breathing exercise; to simply pay attention to their in-breath and their out-breath, each time a new chance to observe. After a few seconds, there was noise in the room. People were talking. Some were telling others to be quiet. I kept the timer going. One girl asked if we could start again. The timer continued. And then I called it: 1 minute!
Me: Who managed to pay attention to their breath?
Two girls managed! Even with the noise, and the stimulation of others’ questions, they did it.
I told them that seldom in life are we given perfect conditions, like complete quiet or everyone around us respecting our need to focus within. Our task is to be able to pay attention no matter what!
It’s not easy. Our intention is what is important. And coming back to trying is what builds our brain muscle, especially when we think that it’s impossible. It isn’t! Practicing makes us stronger, just like in sports or in music.
I invited each one to trace her hand, and to write her name on her hand along with one word to describe what she wanted or expected from our lessons.
I gathered up the hands. Next week, I’ll be asking them to share their feelings if they like, and then find out if something had changed over the week.
Who can remember the rules? I asked. A few managed.
During this coming week, one time, pay attention to your breath for one-minute. That’s the homework? Yes! Do you think you can do it? Yes. Great.
And as I gathered markers and pencils, one girl chose to help me and asked others to help her!
I was bid goodbye
We shall see how the group develops. So far, so good.