The Buddha first introduced the concept of mindfulness 2500 years ago as part of the Eightfold Path, or Middle Way. In the Satipatthana Sutta he states that:
“This is the direct path for the purification of beings, For the surmounting of sorrow, For the disappearance of pain and grief, For the attainment of the true way, For the realisation of Nibbana, Namely, the four foundations of mindfulness.”
The four foundations are mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of our reactions of liking or disliking, mindfulness of emotions and mind states, and mindfulness of natural processes. Mindfulness practice is fundamentally about training your mind to return to present moment awareness with an attitude of kindness and receptivity.
In an attempt to address the huge rise in mental distress that children have been suffering in the 21st century, many schools in the UK now offer to teach secular mindfulness. It has become well known as a useful practice for tackling anxiety, promoting calm and improving focus and attention. This use of mindfulness as a therapeutic tool is a welcome step forward, but it tends to focus on treating the symptoms rather than looking for the fundamental causes of this dis-ease, and it does not begin to address what can be done within schools to bring about a deeper, more meaningful change.
Mindfulness has so much more to offer our children and their teachers, but it needs to underpin the entire school experience rather than being another extra lesson tacked on to the relentless, test-driven school timetable followed in so many schools. At our school we practice suffusive mindfulness: placing children at the heart of a nurturing community committed to a mindful way of living and working.
“When we slow down, become fully present and attentive to young children’s moment-by-moment curiosity and interests, it makes a huge difference to the quality of their play and learning...Mindful pedagogy is about making things simpler, more focused,and less busy or distracted.”
(from’ A Sense of Place - Mindful Practice Outdoors’ by Annie Davey)
As a daily contemplative practice mindfulness can be life-changing; a powerful tool for understanding and shaping our hearts and minds, and a path towards inner freedom and a deep peace that is not dependent on things being a particular way. As Susan Kaiser Greenland says in her most recent newsletter:
“In the noise and confusion of modern life it is often lost on us that while we can't necessarily change every situation, we have the freedom to choose how to respond and, in so doing, train ourselves and our children to be the people we aspire to be.”