Written from the heart
as a teacher and life-long student.
I strongly believe in the importance of integrating mindfulness, yoga and positive psychology in education. When (young) people are mindful, they are leaning in and listening to what is true and matters in the midst of the external forces, pressures and influences (peers, parents, school system, society) that can sometimes be in opposition to their internal truth and knowing. If wish for my students, and all other (young) people, to let go of who they think they are supposed to be and to embrace who they actually are. In my point of view, the world does not need more ‘successful’ people. As David Orr wrote in ‘Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World’:
“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
I realize that making fundamental changes to a system often takes time. It is not my position to tell students WHAT to think and feel but I do hope to support them in HOW to think and feel. I reject sharing a sort of Western neoliberal type of mindfulness where the source of people’s problems is believed to be found only in their heads. Of course, students will learn that when they cannot alter circumstances causing distress, they can change their reactions to those circumstances. I believe this to be extremely helpful in many ways, since things are not in their control most of the time.
However, what if they can alter some circumstances? I believe it is fair to say that our Western society often monetizes and manipulates attention. It is the nature of the capitalist system that is inherently problematic, rather than the failure of individuals to be mindful. Of course, reducing students’ stress, sharpening their focus and improving their performances are important but so are questions about inequity, injustice and environmental devastation.
Being trained as a cultural anthropologist/development sociologist and having worked as a humanities and social sciences teacher for many years, I do not want to abandon efforts to debate what might be unjust, environmentally destructive or culturally toxic. We should not locate the crisis in our minds only. As Desmond Tutu once said:
“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”
Once more, I realize it is not my position to tell students what to think and feel but hopefully by introducing them to mindfulness I can contribute to lighting a fire in them. I aim for helping students to accept things as they are, practicing non-judgmental, present moment awareness and at the same time acting as responsible global citizens and future changemakers. To conclude in the words of Nelson Mandela:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.