Meditation in Public Schools: Pro or Con?

As mindfulness gains popularity and governments begin to study the impact mindfulness has on students, some people may be wondering: is teaching meditation to students a good thing?

In this video from Vox, Liz Scheltens explores how mindfulness is making its way into US schools.

Why Bring Meditation to Schools?

Harvard researcher Sara Lazarstudies how yoga and meditation impact cognitive function. After noticing how her own yoga practice calmed her, she was interested in learning whether it was a placebo response of if meditation could change the brain. She decided to study the brains of people who had never meditated—first with a brain scan before they they participated in an 8-week, 30-minute meditation program.

Lazar noticed changes in different brain regions—in particular, thickness increased in certain areas of the brain related to learning, memory, and emotion regulation (the hippocampus) as well as perspective-taking, empathy, and compassion (the temporoparietal junction).

[Kids] are more likely to take the skills home and teach the parents, to teach people in their community, and that’s how we’ve seen the biggest change we made.

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How to Meet Loss and Pain Without Fear

Mindfulness involves several attitudes of mind that are pivotal to the transformation and liberation of the mind: befriending, compassion, joy and equanimity. These qualities are seen as the foundations of all our development as we embark on a path of mindfulness practice. 

Every one of us can cultivate, train, and naturalize these four qualities, in the same way that attention can be trained and developed. In the face of great distress, though, befriending, compassion, joy, and equanimity can disappear just when they are most needed. Today, we’re going to focus on the second of these qualities: compassion.

What Does It Mean to Grow Our Compassion?

Like all capacities, our capacity for compassion grows when we tend to it and nourish it. We have all experienced moments of compassion when the heart softens in the face of pain, distress, and suffering, and when we can be open to the vulnerability that is part of the human experience. These moments can be close to home—such as when a child in our family is sick, or an elderly relative becomes increasingly frail—or on the world stage, such as when we hear about a devastating natural disaster or an innocent bystander grievously injured in an act of senseless violence. In these moments, the divide between self and other softens, the narratives of criticism and blame fade, and we inhabit, perhaps for a few fleeting moments, a world infused with kindness and compassion.

Compassion is an orientation of mind that recognizes pain and the universality of pain in human experience and the capacity to meet that pain with kindness, empathy, equanimity and patience. Its roots in Latin (compati) are to suffer with. Its affective tone is deep care, connection, and responsiveness. It is not, however, an emotion—rather, compassion is an understanding imbued with intention. The near enemy of compassion is pity, because self and other are separated and there is a sense of “I am looking down on your suffering.” Compassion’s far enemy is the wish to see someone harmed, or outright cruelty.

Compassion is central to all of the great foundational spiritual traditions, including Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam. Although it takes different forms, the intention to transcend self-centered concerns and the invitation to respond compassionately to pain and suffering is present in each. What is also present in each tradition is the notion that compassion can be trained and cultivated—that sustained and dedicated practice can educate and re-educate the heart. So, although compassion is deep in our natures—present in us even as infants—education, cultivation, training, and practice can help us bring greater intentionality and a wider ethical framework to our compassionate response.

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A Magical Way to Work with Our Habitual Patterns

“You have Within you more love than you could ever understand.” ~Rumi

By Leo Babauta

Every day, I work with people trying to shift their habitual patterns: procrastination, avoidance, escape, reaching for comfort foods or other comforts like video games or watching videos, distraction, complaining, lashing out at others, ignoring problems, and more.

These habitual patterns show themselves whenever we’re in uncertainty — which turns out to be most of the time. So we’re in the uncertainty of our meaningful work, let’s say … and here’s our old habitual pattern.

The usual way of dealing with the pattern is harshness: I don’t like that I procrastinate, I need to do better, this is a failing of mine, it’s such a harmful pattern, I’m screwing everything up so badly.

In other words, we use the pattern in the same way we use everything else — another way to beat ourselves up. Yet more evidence that something is wrong with us. That in itself is a habitual pattern, by the way.

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Binge-Watching the Stories in Your Head

We are drowning in stories. Ads tell stories. Video games, movies and TV shows, too. A lot of journalism is politically-motivated fiction. And even science is story; authors convince us through compelling narratives, weaving together select findings and literature. We are storytellers. It’s who we are.

I know what it’s like to be totally wrapped up in stories. In my teens and early twenties, I was immersed in them, and to me, they were absolute, unshakeable truth. I debated aggressively with anyone who disagreed with the stories I believed in. I talked at people. I barely listened to anything they had to say, because I was certain they were wrong and I was right.

I had no idea how much I was just parroting whatever I’d heard elsewhere. I was just repeating and regurgitating things with no awareness of just how limited my perspectives were. This pattern continued until I found myself on a mountain in British Columbia on my first silent mindfulness retreat.

Recognizing the Stories We Tell Ourselves

People often think about mindfulness as a relaxation tool, but for me it’s been a vital tool in seeing how the stories in my head have been shaped by others. The more I’ve sat in silence and observed my mind over the past decade, the more I’ve noticed the incredible influence of stories. It was frustrating at first. My mind was constantly thinking, telling incessant half-baked stories about everything. When I tried to pay attention and calm them down, it was completely overwhelming.

Those first few years, I got immediately wrapped up in the desperate need to stop this from happening. I thought the whole point of meditation was to silence my thoughts, and I ended up even more frustrated. Now that I realize the futility of this pursuit, I feel a sense of nostalgia whenever I find myself guiding others who have fallen into this same trap. Stopping your mind from telling stories is like telling a cow not to ‘moo’. Stories are what define us. As Marcus Aurelius put it, “Concrete objects can pull free of the earth more easily than humans can escape humanity.”

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Knowns and Unknowns Regarding Sogyal Rinpoche’s Biography

By Bernd Zander

A review of “Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche” by Mary Finnigan and Rob Hogendoorn

One main concern for Sogyal Rinpoche’s (SR) former students is – or at least should be – that we had to realise that our spiritual teacher isn’t the man we thought he was. That leads almost unavoidably to the question of who he really is.

Of course, we have quite a lot of publicly available material: On the one hand there are SR’s own accounts, as well as those of other lamas and Rigpa, mainly portraying him as a great master. This in many ways tends to remind us of the Tibetan literary genre of an idealized devotional biography, called namtar[1]. Otherwise, there is plenty of evidence of his abusive, shadow side, culminating in a letter by 8 of his closest students[2] in 2017 and an official report subsequently commissioned by Rigpa (Lewis Silken Report, 2018)[3]. However, the great challenge remains to make sense of these two very oppositional and conflicting sides without remaining stuck in cognitive dissonance.

“Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism: The Rise and Fall of Sogyal Rinpoche” by von Mary Finnigan and Rob Hogendoorn (Jorvik Press, 2019 – 204 pages)

Here the need for scientifically-proven, historical and biographical research comes into play. In this regard particularly it’s worth noticing the recent publication of Sex and Violence in Tibetan Buddhism.(SVTB) Its approach is a combination of:

a) Historical, biographical research stretching back to the 1940’s, beginning with a fascinating account of the complicated power struggles within and between ancient Tibet/China and how they directly affected SR’s ancestors, the Lakar family. As stated on page 187, reference 3, this part of the book (chapters 2 and 3) is the result of Dutch journalist Rob Hogendoorn’s (RH) research, based on his paper entitled “The Making of a Lama: Interrogating Sogyal Rinpoche’s Pose as a (Re)incarnate Master (2018)”. This paper is currently unavailable, however. The author claimed six weeks ago that he was revising it and it would be published soon on his website, Open Buddhism. However, that has yet not happened and at present, there is no access to resources from that paper.

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