The Art of ‘Teaching’ Meditation

Today’s RE day meant 4 workshops of meditation with year 7 for me. Brief: meditation in the chapel.

Task one: make the students comfortable. They take their shoes off if they want (I have) and sit in a circle on the floor with me. I explain they don’t have to do anything they don’t want to but the more they put in the more they will get out of it. They might feel weird but stick with it and see what happens. That sort of thing. I ask them what they already know about meditation. Many say they know someone who meditates and many want to discuss the ‘Om’, which we chat about with regard to the Hindu creation story and the sound that woke Vishnu up and started creation, and Muslim forms of prayer were raised in most sessions, so we talk about that.

Task two: choosing inspiring or rewarding forms of meditation to try, giving a range of meditative experiences. I started with a nature reflection where students lie on their backs and close their eyes and listen to sounds of nature including running water, birdsong and bees. The final group were so moved by this that when the sounds ended they remained still and I left them in the position with their thoughts until some of them came out of it. After this we chat about what they were thinking about and how they feel.

Then we sit back in the circle and do a body scan, focussing on each small part of the body, each finger, each toe. We realise how tight our shoulders or neck are – me as much as the students in the first session. We share our experiences and one group particularly got a lot out of this commenting on how little time we spend reflecting on our bodies, and how we might need to in order to heal illness or stress.

Two religiously inspired meditations follow: candle lighting whilst having our own thought, wish, or prayer for ourself or someone else. Allegri’s Miserere playing in the background. Then focus on the music and thought, wish, or prayer for a few minutes. The students were then given the opportunity to share. I was baffled by how much they wanted to share: praying for recently deceased grandparents; two mothers who had died recently; one mother with recently diagnosed cancer; one two year old cousin with cancer; uncles, aunts, friends with illnesses; wish to be taller or less life and death based thoughts. They were equally interested in who I was thinking about when I lit my candle. We also talked about the meaning of lighting our candles from each others, sharing the light, being part of the same community, passing on the light of Jesus like the candle lit at baptism. The students came up with all of these on their own with only a question: what is the significance of lighting our candles from each others’?

Then to a Buddhist meditation where we sit comfortably up straight with our palms open and facing upwards with our eyes shut. I explain first that it is about focussing on our own selves and thoughts and to let whatever thoughts happen to happen, and that 5 minutes might feel like a long time and to challenge themselves to sit still and not distract others. A bell rings at the start and the end of the 5 minutes. Only a couple of students can’t cope with this and succumb to giggles which are quickly suppressed. In our discussion after, the students highlight the fact that this helps students to slow down time, how 5 minutes can pass without noticing when we’re busy, how they think time has gone faster since starting secondary school. I shared with them my experiences of meditating in a Buddhist monastery in Northumberland at dawn (5am) in front of a shrine to Buddha. We discuss Buddhism and Buddhist meditation.

Final meditation: movement combined with positive thinking. Eradicating (hopefully) some of the sadder thoughts of earlier meditations and focussing on ourselves and our relationships with people in the room. First we stretch upwards and think of something positive about ourselves. Then we stretch out and think something positive about someone in the room. Repeat the first stretch and thought. Then stretch outward and think about someone we’re not getting along with and think a positive thought about them. Then stretch upwards and think a positive thought about ourselves again.

Needless to say, I learnt what needed more explaining and which questions prompted the best discussion throughout the day. Generally a very open approach to meditation and questioning seemed to work very well, alongside the emphasis that it was the students’ choice to participate and that they could adapt it to their own needs.

Students were overwhelmingly positive about the whole experience, and many hung back to talk about it with me. They then went to their next classes talking about it, apparently telling other teachers it was “cool”.

Meanwhile, other sessions and workshops that were going on were about Israel, the Passover, a creation story drama, a religious music workshop based on imagining we’re monks, sacred symbols, making mosques, Hindu gods in art. I had the opportunity to experience a few of these last lesson when I wasn’t running a workshop, and they were great in giving the kids a rounded and inspiring experience of RE.

I can only add that I never thought that 4 hours of meditation would be so exhausting, and simultaneously so rewarding.

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