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Mindfulness in Education: An Urgent Requisite For 21st Century Teaching & Learning


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"Mindfulness in Education: An Urgent Requisite for 21st Century Teaching & Learning"

Yang Gyeltshen
Friday, August 10th, 2012
3:30 - 4:30pm

Published in: Education, Spiritual, Technology
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Mindfulness in Education: An Urgent Requisite For 21st Century Teaching & Learning

  1. 1. Educating For Sustainable Happiness A 21st Century Education Symposium Mindfulness in Education An Urgent Requisite For 21st Century Teaching and Learning Yang Gyeltshen Ashburnham, Massachusetts August 9-12, 2012 0
  2. 2. Educating For Sustainable Happiness: A 21st Century Education Symposium ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- HAPPINESS COMES AND GOES How do we make it sustainable?IntroductionLiving a happy and fulfilling life is everyone’s dream, but this quest for fulfilling life doesn’t comewithout cost. As the competition for good life grows, resources shrink. The only life-giving planetMother Earth is being stressed and threatened every passing day. Therefore, we have to ask somehard questions and be mindful of what our needs are and what our wants are. While the wantscan be infinite, needs could be few.What is happiness and where does it come from anyway? While we cannot ignore some materialcomfort, the old wisdom says – materialism is not the quest for happiness. If we analyzeproperly, happiness has to do with one’s state of mind – how one perceives his or her idea offulfillment and contentment. Leading to these lines of thoughts are the following questions:What is happiness and why does it matter? How is happiness realized and sustained? What is therelationship of mindfulness to happiness? What are the threats to mindfulness? And what arethe pathways toward mindfulness and happiness?This is not an in-depth research paper rather, the presenter brings in highlights for deeperdiscussion on this theme - Educating for Sustainable Happiness.What is happiness and why does it matter?First and foremost, let us get the concept about happiness right. As His Holiness the Dalai Lamahas said, happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from one’s own actions. Happiness isnot a gift of the gods either. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell has said, rather, happinessmust be, for most men and woman, an achievement. That achievement doesn’t mean thateverything is perfect. It means to decide to look beyond the imperfections for peace of mind.That peace of mind is not the absence of conflict from life, but the ability to cope with it. As such,there is no “living happily ever after.” This does not happen outside of fairytales or movies.For example, when single and unhappy, the myth says, one will get married, have children and livehappily ever after. But, according to Joseph Campbell (1994), an American mythologist, marriagehas nothing to do with being happy. Marriage is about relationship and not a simple love affair. Itis an ordeal – “the sacrifice of ego to a relationship in which two have become one” (Campbell,1988, p. 7). In marriage, a young man and woman give up their individual freedom. From thenon, it is all about taking responsibility. If happiness has anything to do with marriage, then it hasto be with being transformed. Transformation takes place through being mindfulness and takingon responsibilities with proper attitude. Transformation takes place through learning and coping 1
  3. 3. Mindfulness in Education: An Urgent Requisite for 21st Century Teaching and LearningYang Gyeltshen August 9-12, 2012, Ashburnham, Massachusetts-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------with situations diligently as and when they arise. Campbell (1994) believes the first part of our lifeis to give us the experiences out of which we can draw our spiritual realizations (p. 13). This ishow we come to realize our success, a rapture of magnificent experiences, as Campbell puts it.Happiness therefore can be associated with such magnificent experiences in our lives.Among many other things in life, happiness is the most craved chi pursued by each and everyindividual, therefore, happiness does matter. Happiness is the energy that inspires us and thosearound us. Happiness is the life-force that keeps us moving. Happiness is health and happiness iswealth. Without happiness, life will not sustain as it should. As the global challenges are growingeach passing day, the sustenance of the very life-force happiness is threatened.How is happiness realized and sustained?Just mentioned above, happiness is the most sought life-force pursued by each and everyindividual. But the true sense of the term pursue is to chase, to hunt, or to follow, none of whichseems to be the right procedure. Seen in various greeting cards and quotable magnets is thispopular quote attributed to Henry David Thoreau, an American author, poet, and philosopher:"Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turnyour attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” As it is, happiness is adifficult concept to define, let alone hunt for. It is a very subjective matter involving feelings andemotions. Even if one is able to find happiness, it is hard to hold on to it. Hence, how will onesustain happiness which is elusive and hard to find?Happiness is felt or realized rather than found or caught hold of. This requires mental eyes muchmore than physical eyes because one can see yet not see, for “[one] can only see clearly with theheart. What matters is invisible to the eye” (Sfar, 2010). Such a thing as happiness lies in verysimple moments in simple things. People say, in old age, happiness is all about a gentle touch, anunwavering smile, and some kind words. Some realize happiness in the rhythm of falling rain;some realize happiness watching sunlight fall on morning dew; while some stand spellboundlistening to a distant cuckoo sing. The beauty, peace, tranquility, and harmony in such events areimperceptible to a disturbed mind. A peaceful mind rejoices with what the surrounding naturehas to offer and when one’s heart sings with joy, happiness is felt everywhere. Therefore,conscious efforts must be made to maintain necessary conditions for peace and harmony.So long as one is at peace with oneself and others, happiness will prevail.For the Bhutanese as a nation, our conscious effort for happiness is collective rather thanindividual – hence Gross National Happiness (GNH). Happiness doesn’t exist by itself. It isdependent on relationships and many other factors. For example, in a family, if the rest of themembers are suffering, how can a single person among the unhappy feel happy? Likewise, howcan a single household find peace if the rest of its neighborhood is quarrelsome? For a global 2
  4. 4. Educating For Sustainable Happiness: A 21st Century Education Symposium -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------peace all nations must support each other and coexist in a friendly manner. In Aristotle’s words,“we are social animals,” we need each other for peaceful coexistence.The necessary conditions Bhutan lays down for its people’s wellbeing and happiness are the fourpillars: a) Sustainable and equitable socio-economic development, b) Environmental preservation,c) Promotion and preservation of culture, and d) Good governance. If a nation has sereneunspoiled natural surroundings to live in, where, the government is caring and affectionate withsound economic prosperity, where people coexist harmoniously with vibrant social and culturaltraditions to celebrate, then, there is enough reason for people to be happy. However, even withthese conditions, if some individuals may not be happy, then there is not much what others cando to make him or her happy, unless one learns to understand oneself and cultivate inner peace.As mentioned earlier, one can only see clearly with the heart, what matters is invisible to the eye.Relationship of mindfulness to happinessMost respected Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh (2007), one of today’s strong advocates ofmindfulness defines mindfulness as the capacity to be present with one hundred percent ofoneself. He quotes Buddha who has said, “The past is already gone, the future is not yet here.There’s only one moment for you to live, and that is the present moment” (p. 44), and if onemisses that, one misses one’s appointment with life. If one isn’t capable of being in the presentmoment here and now, one will not be able to recognize oneself, one’s responsibility, one’shappiness, or one’s suffering – as happiness, responsibility, and mindfulness are interconnected(p. 53). Hanh says there is no enlightenment outside of daily life.For example, Hanh (1987) insists, while washing the dishes one should be washing only the dishes.While washing the dishes if one thinks of the cup of tea that awaits, and gets the dishes out of theway hurriedly as if they were a nuisance, then he says, one is not “washing the dishes to wash thedishes.” In such case, one is not capable of realizing the miracle of life happening at the sinkbecause that person was not fully present with the given task because of the thought of the cup oftea. He explains: “If we can’t wash the dishes, the chances are we won’t be able to drink our teaeither. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of thecup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future – and we are incapable of actuallyliving one minute of life” (p. 5).On the other hand if we are mindful, Hanh (1987) believes, every step we take to walk on earth isa miracle, not walking on water or in thin air, what people usually would consider a miracle. Heexplains: “If we’re really engaged in mindfulness while walking along the path to the village, thenwe will consider the act of each step we take as an infinite wonder, and a joy will open our heartslike a flower, enabling us to enter the world of reality” (p. 12). This reality is what is missing in 3
  5. 5. Mindfulness in Education: An Urgent Requisite for 21st Century Teaching and LearningYang Gyeltshen August 9-12, 2012, Ashburnham, Massachusetts-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------education according to Palmer (1993). In his words, “The most neglected reality in education isthe reality of the present moment, of what is happening here and now in the classroom itself”(p. 88). Corresponding to Hanh’s belief, Albert Einstein has said, there are two ways to live ourlife. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. Howone lives one’s life is a matter of perception – happy or otherwise.Threats to mindfulnessThreats to mindfulness are poised by information overload through mass media. With theextraordinary advancement in information technology, our children are living in the moststimulating period in time, bombarded with information from every platform – from computers,from videos and hundreds of television channels, from ever-present media advertisements, fromsmart phones and iPhones, so on and so forth. From such overwhelming influx of information, willchildren be able to sort the good and bad, right and wrong, moral and immoral, ethical andunethical, important and not important, useful and not useful? With so much stimuli competingfor attention, will children be able to figure out which specific stimuli for which specific purpose?These are crucial questions every parent and teacher must grapple with. Meanwhile, followingare reports of concern:Tendency to multitask: Especially when multiple preoccupations enter emotionally troublingzones, Goleman (2006) says it takes a toll on any conversation that goes beyond the routine. Forexample, he cites an incident where a lady, whose sister had died recently, gets a sympathy callfrom a male friend. Touched by his empathic words, the lady pours out all her sentiments of herlost sister. As the talk continues, she hears the clicking of computer keys at the other end of theline. She realizes her friend is answering his email, even as he talks to her in her hour of pain. Ashis comments get increasingly hollow and off-point, she feels dejected and shattered, and wisheshe never called at all (105).Multitasking, like texting while driving, has caused numerous accidents already, not to mentionthat people texting while walking get knocked down almost every day. Here is a good example ofwhat happens when texting while walking, an incident in a mall that went viral on YouTuberecently: This reminds us Hanh’s point aboutdoing one thing at a time. While many people say multitasking makes them more productive,research shows otherwise says Richtel (2010) in The New York Times article – Attached toTechnology and Paying the Price. Instead, the report confirms, heavy multitaskers have moretrouble focusing and sorting out irrelevant information than non-multitaskers, causing them morestress. Consequently, this seems to be the cause of fractured thinking and lack of focus whichresearchers say persists, even after the multitasking ends. In other words, this is also our brain offcomputers according to scientists. 4
  6. 6. Educating For Sustainable Happiness: A 21st Century Education Symposium -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Downtime gets squeezed: Everyone needs reflection time, popularly known as downtime, once ina while, a time of reduced activity to unwind, rewind, or to contemplate. Dr. Michael Rich ofHarvard Medical School states, “Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body.” In 2010, TheNew York Times article mentioned above, Richtel wrote: “Recent imaging studies of people havefound that major cross sections of the brain become surprisingly active during downtime.”Contrary to this finding where we should be increasing downtime, it only gets squeezed further,filled with electronic sounds and noise, digitalized words and figures. According to Dr. EliasAboujaoude (2011), a psychiatrist at Stanford University, our e-personality cannot tolerate downtime as there is always a discovery to be made, some fun to be had. He believes, if we lose thatproductive idleness, we lose the opportunity to assess ourselves and our place in the world. “Andwithout that ability to cogitate, ponder, and deliberate what is at stake, we automatically upgradeto the newer and faster model, which, seemingly inevitably, will only add more pressure on ourtime” (p. 269). Other brain research suggests the same, that periods of rest are critical in allowingthe brain to synthesize information, make connections between ideas and develop the sense ofself.Empathy is getting scarce: Reported on Science Daily (May 29, 2010), researcher Sara Konrath atthe University of Michigan asserts that college kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathythan their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of personality traits.This finding is from analyzed data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last30 years. The report says the biggest drop found is after the year 2000. Shouldn’t we beconcerned? Very much so!Szalavitz and Perry (2010), in their book Born for Love, believe we need an empathy epidemic. Tothem “empathy underlies virtually everything that makes society work – like trust, altruism,collaboration, love, charity” and “failure to empathize is a key part of most social problems –crime, violence, war, racism, child abuse, and inequity to name just a few” (4). Likewise, Dr. KeithAblow (2010), a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel believes “empathy is one of themost valuable psychological resources we have. It allows us to resonate with and respond to thesuffering of others.” Without empathy, humanity will fall apart. As I write this, a video of a 10-minute vicious verbal attack on a 68-year-old grandmother serving as a bus monitor goes viral The attackers are four seventh-grade boysfrom Greece Central School District in upstate New York. The boys mock the grandmother on herappearance, her age, her clothing, her family, to the extent of actually poking her at times. Theboys just went on whatever they could go after the poor old lady about. This kind of behavioramongst same age groups is one thing; such a vicious attack on an elderly person, who was in factserving them, who should be admired and respected instead, is inconceivable. Just imagine afuture generation growing up with such attitude and behavior. Therefore, to teach the upcominggeneration the act of love, compassion, and thoughtfulness in whatever they do is of utmost 5
  7. 7. Mindfulness in Education: An Urgent Requisite for 21st Century Teaching and LearningYang Gyeltshen August 9-12, 2012, Ashburnham, Massachusetts-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------importance. We are losing time. That is why mindfulness in education is not only important, butalso an urgent requisite for 21st century teaching and learning.The paths forwardAs this old saying goes – If there is a will there is a way. Finding the right path to walk and how toalign with that path should be our life’s goal. If we embrace the old wisdom, clear directions areembedded in it. It all depends on how one walks the walk. Here is what Buddha spoke in theJetavana Grove: “Best among paths is the eightfold path. Best among truths are the truths in fourlines [Referring to the four noble truths]. Best of all Dharmas is freedom from desire. Best amongtwo-footed beings is the one with Vision” (Dharma Publishing Staff, 1985, p. 139). The last linebasically reminds us that humans without vision are no better than other beings. Clear vision isfundamental for a civilized world. From where does this vision arise?As explained in Buddha’s first sermon, mindfulness is one of the eight-fold paths responsible forthe enhancement of right wisdom for right conduct – a process of exercising clarity in what we do.By the same token, mindfulness is one of the five paths the Ministry of Education in Bhutanidentified for educating for GNH. Bhutan is pitting its four pillars, nine domains, and seventy-twoindicators to balance its rich cultural values with the forces of modernization.As Twenge and Campbell (2009) have observed, most corners of the world are exposed toAmerican ideals including celebrity, individual freedom, narcissism, and materialism. Whetherother societies will become infected with such ideals will depend largely on the natural antibodiesprovided by one’s own culture (p. 261). In the case of Bhutan, the strong antibodies or antidotesagainst those outside influences are Bhutanese traditional values such as Ley Jum Dre and ThaDaam Tshig and etiquettes such as Driglam Namzhag. Ley Jum Dre guides one away from eventhinking bad of others, not to mention doing bad, the belief that, whatever bad one does to otherswill eventually fall back to the one who commits it, and of course if one does good, good will bethe outcome. Similarly, Tha Daam Tshig reminds one of the sacred duty of honor and respectobliged through one’s relation with others, may that be one’s friend, siblings, spouse, teachers, orparents. Drig Lam Nam Zhag relates to ethical conduct such as loyalty, honesty, compassion,humility, manners, and so on. Basic Drig Lam Nam Zhag practiced in everyday life is Za, Cha, Dro,(how you eat, how you do things, how you walk) known as Za-Cha-Dro Sum, (Sum means three).For example, in the presence of elders and guests, we are not supposed to make crunching noisewhile eating and not stand up before the others are done. Likewise, one should not walk stiff andupright but slightly bend in a gentle posture without tapping one’s feet on the floor. And if youare closing the door, you are not supposed to bang it. Or, if you are pouring tea, make sure youdon’t overfill or spill. These are nothing but what Hanh would call mindfulness in what we do inour daily conduct. These are the most basic, commonsense manners that evoke peace andharmony within social groups. 6
  8. 8. Educating For Sustainable Happiness: A 21st Century Education Symposium -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------In our educational setting, this social and cultural etiquette and values are to be informed throughoverall curriculum design – through various subjects, disciplines, and day-to-day activities.One of the nine domains of GNH – Time Use for example, is an important component thatpromotes happiness. Time use must not be just taught in the class rooms but engrained in ourdaily lives, shown through action, displayed in our daily conduct. As the American writer andfamily counselor Dorothy Law wrote, “Children learn what they live.” If children don’t get to seeand live what is talked about in the classroom, they will not learn.Here is a good example of how to begin our day by Tai Situ Rinpoche, one of the foremost spiritualleaders of the Kagyu Order of Buddhism: If wewant such discipline to be built in our children, we must act it ourselves. Otherwise, asAboujaoude (2011) points out, “In our hyper connected, always [on] culture, true time off doesnot exist in any practical sense anymore” (268).ConclusionAs Turkle (2011) points out, today’s generation has no less need than those of previousgenerations – may it be to learn empathic skills, to think about their values and identity, or tomanage and express feelings (172). In the process of coping with the changing face of time, theyhave to be mindful not to lose track of old wisdom and values. If used mindfully, some of the oldwisdom is often found to be the best tools to tackle new situations. Just as the caterpillars fed onnutritious plants transform to be magnificent butterflies, our youth guided through a blend of oldand new wisdom should be transformed to be better human beings.Bhutan has embarked on its initiative to educate for GNH, and envisions a GNH graduate asnothing less than transformative: A graduate who has transformed to be a genuine human being– loving, caring, and considerate about others. One who is reflective, contemplative, andecologically literate with broader perspective of the natural world and its connectedness, and actsaccordingly for the benefit of all beings. Here is what Bhutan’s first prime minister has to say inhis own words: “I suppose the ultimate test is that a GNH-inspired education graduate will sleepsoundly and happily at the end of each day knowing that she or he has given all to their families,to their communities, and to the world … In the end, a GNH-educated graduate will have no doubtthat his or her happiness derives from contributing to the happiness of others” (GNH workshop,Paro, 2009).Easier said than done, of course, this aspiration has to be translated into action. Likewise, eachnation who works on a similar model will have stories to tell. Those stories put together will give abetter perspective of our world. We will wait to hear those stories. 7
  9. 9. Mindfulness in Education: An Urgent Requisite for 21st Century Teaching and LearningYang Gyeltshen August 9-12, 2012, Ashburnham, Massachusetts-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ReferenceAboujaoude, E. (2011). Virtually you: The dangerous powers of the E-Personality. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.Ablow, K. (2010). The End of Empathy. fox Retrieved June 5, 2012 from,2933,593832,00.htmlCampbell, J. (1988). The power of myth. New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday.Campbell, J. (1994). The way of the myth: Talking with Joseph Campbell. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc.Dharma Publishing Staff (1985). Dhammapada: Translation of dharma verses with the Tibetan text. California: Dharma Publishing.Goleman, D. (2006). Social intelligence: Beyond IQ, beyond emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.Hanh, T. N. (1987). The miracle of mindfulness: An introduction to the Practice of meditation. Boston: Beacon Press.Hanh, T. N. (2007). The art of power. New York: Harper Collins, Inc.Konrath, S. (2010). Todays college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and 90s, a University of Michigan study shows. Science Daily. Retrieved July 5, 2012 from, P. J. (1993). To know as we are known: Education as a spiritual journey. San Franscisco: Harper Collins Publishers.Richtel, M. (2010). Attached to Technology and Paying a Price. The New York Times. Retrieved July 7, 2012 from, J. (2010). The little prince: Adopted from the book by Antoine De Saint-Exupery. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.Szalavitz, M. & Perry, B. D. (2010). Born for love: Why empathy is essential – and endangered. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. New York: Basic Books.Twenge, J. M. & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The Narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York: Free Press. 8