Teaching Mindfulness to Children

Teaching Mindfulness to Children

evidence

Clicca qui per Italiano

Along with a friend and colleague of ours – Professor Mark Griffiths – we recently published an article in the journal of Education and Health about the health benefits of mindfulness for children and adolescents. In our paper, we made reference to an on-going debate amongst scientists regarding the most appropriate age to teach mindfulness to children. For example, some scientists are of the view that children are developmentally suited to be taught mindfulness from around 7-8 years old. Other scientists believe that a child’s concentration span is too underdeveloped at this age and that mindfulness should not be taught to children until they are 12-14 years old.

These different scientific standpoints offer interesting perspectives on the most appropriate time to introduce children to the practice of mindfulness. However, from the Buddhist view, the best time to teach mindfulness to children is right now. In other words, the earlier a child is introduced to mindfulness the better. The idea of teaching mindfulness to very young children may sound a bit strange, but perhaps less so if one is prepared to think outside of the box (or outside of the classroom) a little.

Conducting classroom sessions or giving individual instruction is only one way of teaching mindfulness. Another way is for the teacher or parent to just simply be mindful. In our teaching and research of mindfulness and meditation (whether with children or adults), something we observe again and again is that students place a great deal of importance on the extent to which the instructor or teacher is able to impart an embodied authentic experience of mindfulness. Put differently, if the person teaching mindfulness is on some kind of spiritual trip, or their experience is limited to information they have derived from reading a few books or from attending a few meditation retreats, then children tend to notice this and become less receptive. On the other hand, a parent or teacher who is ‘well-soaked’ in meditation is teaching from an experiential standpoint. They naturally exert a reassuring presence that helps children to relax and connect with their own capacity for spiritual awareness.

An analogy sometimes used in the Buddhist teachings is that the person teaching mindfulness should be like a graceful swan. The swan is confident and elegant in the way it moves. It glides effortlessly through the water without disturbing it too much. When a parent is mindful of their being, when they walk around the home fully conscious of each and every breath and each and every step, then they assume a calming presence that naturally pervades the entire household. When a child observes their mother or father living gently, having time for life and for one another, and not rushing their lives away, then happiness grows in the child’s heart and they feel secure and cradled by their parents’ spiritual presence.

Rather than lots of individuals living separate and fragmented lives within the same household, the family becomes a real home once again. Family members are happy to sit and truly enjoy each other’s company without needing to be constantly plugged into computer games or television shows. The children naturally begin to think, speak, and act with clarity and awareness. They shine with joy and happiness which is the greatest gift a parent can bestow upon them.

When this wholesome living environment has been cultivated effectively, the home becomes a place of spiritual refuge and nourishment.  In these circumstances there’s no real need to sit down and instruct the child in how to practice mindfulness because mindfulness has become a part of their being. Giving instructions in this manner would be like teaching a child how to walk after they have already learned to do so. The child understands intuitively what it means to be awake to the present moment and doing so becomes as natural as riding a bicycle.

Please don’t misunderstand what is being said here. We are not saying that children should not be instructed in how to practice mindfulness. Unfortunately, the family environment that we outlined above is not realistic for many children and therefore other methods of teaching mindfulness are required. However, what we would like to emphasise is that without authenticity in the transmission of mindfulness teachings, then any beneficial effects are likely to be short-lived. Moreover, a person who teaches mindfulness without an experiential grounding can actually cause harm for all concerned.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Further Reading

Burke, C. A. (2010). Mindfulness-based approaches with children and adolescents: A preliminary review of current research in an emergent field. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 133-144.

Duncan, L. G., & Bardacke, N. (2010). Mindfulness-based childbirth and parenting education: Promoting family mindfulness during the perinatal period. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 190-202.

Flook, L., Smalley, S.L., Kitil, M.J., Galla, B., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, et al. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26, 70–95.

Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M.T., Dariotis, J.K., Feagans Gould, L., Rhoades, B.L., & Leaf, P.J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38, 985-994.

Schonert-Reichl, K.A. & Lawlor, M.S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre- and early adolescents’ well-being and social emotional competance. Mindfulness, 1, 137-151.

Singh, N., Lancioni, G., Winton, A., Karazsia, B., & Singh, J. (2013). Mindfulness training for teachers changes the behavior of their preschool  students. Research in Human Development, 10, 211-233.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). The health benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for children and adolescents. Education and Health, 30, 94-97.

Thompson, M. & Gauntlett-Gilber, J. (2008). Mindfulness with children and adolescents: Effective clinical application. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 13, 395-407.

 

Insegnare mindfulness ai bambini

evidence

Insieme a una amica e collega nostra – Dr Giulia Cavalli – abbiamo recentemente pubblicato un articolo sulla rivista Educare03 sui benefici per la salute di mindfulness per bambini e adolescenti Nel nostro articolo, abbiamo fatto riferimento a un dibattito in corso tra gli scienziati per quanto riguarda l’età più appropriata per insegnare mindfulness ai bambini. Ad esempio, alcuni scienziati sono del parere che i bambini sono evolutivamente adatti per essere insegnato la mindfulness da circa 7-8 anni. Altri scienziati ritengono che la concentrazione di un bambino è troppo poco sviluppato a questa età e che la mindfulness non dovrebbe essere insegnata ai bambini fino a 12-14 anni.

Questi diversi punti di vista scientifici offrono interessanti prospettive sul momento più appropriato per introdurre i bambini alla pratica della mindfulness. Tuttavia, dal punto di vista buddista, il momento migliore per insegnare ai bambini la mindfulness è adesso – proprio in questo momento. In altre parole, prima un bambino viene introdotto alla mindfulness meglio é. L’idea di insegnare la mindfulness ai bambini molto piccoli può sembrare un po’ strano, ma forse meno se uno è disposto a pensare fuori della scatola (o fuori dell’aula) un po ‘. Lo svolgimento di sessioni in aula o dando istruzione individuale è solo un modo di insegnare la mindfulness. Un altro modo è per l’insegnante o il genitore di semplicemente essere mindful. Nel nostro insegnamento e ricerca di mindfulness e meditazione (sia con i bambini che con gli adulti), qualcosa che osserviamo di ripetutamente è che gli studenti pongono molto importanza alla misura in cui l’istruttore o insegnante è in grado di impartire un’autentica esperienza incarnata della mindfulness. In altre parole, se la persona che insegna la mindfulness è in una sorta di fantasia spirituale, o la loro esperienza è limitata alle informazioni che essi hanno tratto dalla lettura di qualche libro o di frequentare un paio di ritiri di meditazione, i bambini tendono a notare questo e diventano meno ricettivo D’altra parte, un genitore o un insegnante che è ‘ben saturato’ nella meditazione inmsegna dal punto di vista esperienziale. Essi naturalmente esercitano una presenza rassicurante che aiuta i bambini a rilassarsi e connettersi con la propria capacità di consapevolezza spiritual

Un’analogia a volte utilizzata negli insegnamenti buddisti è che la persona insegnamento consapevolezza dovrebbe essere come un cigno grazioso. Il cigno è fiducioso ed elegante nel modo in cui si muove. Si scivola senza sforzo attraverso l’acqua senza disturbarla troppo. Quando un genitore è consapevole del loro essere, quando camminano intorno alla casa completamente cosciente di ogni respiro e ogni passo, allora assumono una presenza calmante che naturalmente pervade l’intera famiglia. Quando un bambino osserva la madre o il padre che vive con delicatezza, che hanno tempo per la vita e per l’un l’atro, che non permettano la loro vita a scorrere via, allora la felicità cresce nel cuore del bambino e si sentono sicuri e cullati dalla presenza spirituale dei genitori.

Piuttosto che un sacco di individui che vivono una vita separata e frammentata all’interno della stessa famiglia, la famiglia diventa ancora una volta una vera casa. Membri della famiglia sono felici di sedersi e veramente godere della reciproca compagnia senza la necessità di essere costantemente collegato a giochi per computer o programmi televisivi. I bambini naturalmente iniziano a pensare, a parlare e agire con chiarezza e consapevolezza. Essi brillano con gioia e felicità che è il dono più grande che un genitore può dare loro.

Quando questo ambiente di vita sano è stato coltivato in modo efficace, la casa diventa un luogo di rifugio spirituale e di nutrimento. In queste circostanze non c’è alcuna necessità reale di sedersi e istruire il bambino a come mettere in pratica la mindfulness perché la mindfulness è diventata una parte del loro essere. Dare istruzioni in questo modo sarebbe come insegnare a un bambino come camminare dopo che il bambino ha già imparato a farlo. Il bambino capisce intuitivamente che cosa significhi essere sveglio al momento presente e facendo così diventa naturale come andare in bicicletta.

Si prega di non fraintendere ciò che viene detto qui. Non stiamo dicendo che i bambini non devono essere istruiti a come mettere in pratica mindfulness. Purtroppo, l’ambiente familiare che abbiamo descritto sopra non è realistico per molti bambini e pertanto sono necessari altri metodi di insegnamento della mindfulness. Tuttavia, ciò che vorremmo sottolineare è che senza autenticità nella trasmissione degli insegnamenti di mindfulness, eventuali effetti benefici rischiano di essere di breve durata. Inoltre, una persona che insegna consapevolezza senza un’adeguata esperienza in realtà può causare danno per tutti gli interessati.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Ulteriori letture

Burke, C. A. (2010). Mindfulness-based approaches with children and adolescents: A preliminary review of current research in an emergent field. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 133-144.

Duncan, L. G., & Bardacke, N. (2010). Mindfulness-based childbirth and parenting education: Promoting family mindfulness during the perinatal period. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19, 190-202.

Flook, L., Smalley, S.L., Kitil, M.J., Galla, B., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, et al. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26, 70–95.

Mendelson, T., Greenberg, M.T., Dariotis, J.K., Feagans Gould, L., Rhoades, B.L., & Leaf, P.J. (2010). Feasibility and preliminary outcomes of a school-based mindfulness intervention for urban youth. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38, 985-994.

Schonert-Reichl, K.A. & Lawlor, M.S. (2010). The effects of a mindfulness-based education program on pre- and early adolescents’ well-being and social emotional competance. Mindfulness, 1, 137-151.

Shonin, E., Van Gordon, W., & Griffiths, M. D. (2012). The health benefits of mindfulness-based interventions for children and adolescents. Education and Health, 30, 94-97.

Thompson, M. & Gauntlett-Gilber, J. (2008). Mindfulness with children and adolescents: Effective clinical application. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 13, 395-407.

Hearken to the Dharma

Hearken to the Dharma

All you great teachers and meditators,
Who mistake self-grasping and pride for the two accumulations,
In whom true renunciation and devotion never arise,
You, pleasure seekers, hearken to the Dharma that keeps death in mind.

Proudly claiming to be great Buddhists,
Judging others as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’,
Spreading doubt and disparaging the Law Holders,
You, Dharma destroyers, hearken to the Dharma beyond all concepts.

Practicing sophistry you deceive the foolish,
Competing for renown like Mara princes,
Dragging your followers to the miserable realms,
You, evil doers, hearken to the Dharma of karmic cause and effect.

For View you delight in ‘self’ and ‘other’,
For Meditation you indulge in scheming thoughts,
For Action you mindlessly vomit through your three doors.
You, delusion revellers, hearken to the Dharma that knows Mind as all.

Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon

Life is a Precious Happening

Life is a very rare and precious happening. On this earth there are seven billion human beings and countless other sentient beings. The life that each being is living is happening uniquely and genuinely only to them. No life is the same.

The blackbird spent many lifetimes perfecting his song just so you could hear him – in that exact moment of time and space. She is singing just for you. Likewise, you spent many lifetimes perfecting yourself so that you could be present at that exact moment to hear what she has to say. The same is true for all of our encounters with all phenomena.

If we allow the mundane mind with its emotions, thoughts, feelings, and wrong views to invade that moment, then that moment will pass completely unacknowledged. The blackbird’s song will be missed and life will take a completely different course, captained by the unruly mind.

Understand that this life is yours to live. So train the mind to sit quietly and invite the mind to join you in this marvellous and wondrous adventure. Stop and sit in stillness. Listen to the colours of life, see the sounds of life, taste the joy of life, breathe, and allow life to breathe you.

Simply Being with Nothing to Be

Nowhere to go, nothing to do
No reputation to build, none to defend
No possessions to amass, none to protect
This is fearlessness born of Apranihita

Simply here, simply now
Simply birth, simply death
Simply content, simply aware
Simply abiding, simply being

No space, no time,
So no here, no now.
No self, no other,
So no attachment, no aversion.

Letting go with nothing to let go of
Practice with no path to walk
Simply being with nothing to be
This is the all-pervading wisdom of Dharmadhatu.

Ven. Edo Shonin and Ven. William Van Gordon

A Breath of Fresh Air

A Breath of Fresh Air

impermanence practice 2 spring

Clicca qui per l’Italiano

Are you breathing? Are you alive? Are you being? These may seem like strange questions but read them again and look at what they are asking. Are you truly aware that you are breathing and are you truly aware that you are living? Are you fully aware of your in-breath and your out-breath? Whether that breath is long or short, deep or shallow, rough or smooth? Are you aware of the point where breath enters the body at the tips of the nostrils? Are you aware of the empty space that exists between the in-breath and out-breath? Does the breath roll-in gently of its own accord or are you forcing it? Does your out-breath cease when you breathe in, or does it continue indefinitely throughout space and time? Is your in-breath your in-breath or is it made up of other peoples’ out-breath? Can you see your breath in the eyes of the person you dislike, or in the tears of the elderly person who is completely alone and neglected by society?

Let’s leave the breath for a moment and take a look at our thoughts, words, and actions during the day. Are you fully aware of all that you experience during the day? Or does the day simply happen – it begins with getting up in the morning and before we know it the sun has set and we’re falling back to sleep. The day has gone by – never to return again – another day of our lives has expired. Perhaps on Sunday you wash the car but I ask you – are you actually washing the car or are you thinking about the football match you’ll be watching on the television when you go inside? Alternatively, are you thinking about tomorrow – Monday – back to work – the same old grind of unawareness. The days pass, the weeks pass, we can’t wait for our holidays and they pass too. The years pass, and we get old and die.

Life is an extraordinarily rare and fragile gift. If we are fortunate, it may last for 100 years. Each and every moment contained within those 100 years is profoundly unique. Nobody else will experience that moment and it will never arise again. It was born, it lived, and it died – gone forever. If we are not fully aware of all that we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch in each and every moment then we have to conclude that we are not fully alive. The person who chooses not to be fully aware of their life is no better than a walking corpse – would you agree?

We are born with an in-breath, we leave this world with an out-breath. That which happens in between is the preciousness of life. Be aware of it. Breathe it moment by moment. Enjoy it. Live it. It is yours to live.

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Una boccata d’aria fresca

impermanence practice 2 spring

Stai respirando? Sei vivo? Siete presenti nel qui e ora? Questi possono sembrare strane domande ma leggere di nuovo e guardare a ciò che stanno chiedendo. Siete veramente consapevoli che state respirando e seite veramente consapevole che siete in vita? Siete consapevoli del vostro inspirazione e la vostra espirazione sia che il respiro è lungo o corto, profondo o superficiale, ruvida o liscia? Siete a conoscenza del punto in cui il respiro entra nel corpo alle punte delle narici? Siete a conoscenza dello spazio vuoto che esiste tra l’inspirazione e l’espirazione? Permettete il respiro di muoversi delicatamente e spontaneamente oppure lo stai forzando? Il Vostro espirazione si ferma quando prendette un ispirazione o lo fatte continuare all’infinito nello spazio e nel tempo? La vostra ispirazione è veramente la vostra oppure è  fatta dall’ espirazione altrui? Riesci vedere il tuo respiro negli occhi della persona che non ti piacce o nelle lacrime della persona anziana che è completamente da solo e trascurato dalla società?

Lasciamo il respiro per un attimo e diamo un’occhiata ai nostri pensieri, parole e azioni durante il giorno. Sei totalmente consapevole di tutto ciò che si verificano e sperimenti durante il giorno? Oppure il giorno semplicemente accade senza che lo sapiamo – si comincia con alzarsi al mattino e prima di sapere che sa che il sole è tramontato e ci ritiriamo per dormire. La giornata è passato – non tornará mai più – un altro giorno della nostra vita è scaduto e finita. Forse la domenica si lava l’auto, ma vi chiedo – stai davvero lavando la macchina o stai pensando alla partita di calcio che potresti guardare alla televisione quando si va dentro casa piu tardi? In alternativa, state pensando di domani – lunedì – tornate al lavoro – la stessa macinatura vecchia di inconsapevolezza. I giorni passano, le settimane passano, non vediamo l’ora per le nostre vacanze e essi passano anche. Gli anni passano, e noi invecchiano e moriamo.

La vita è un dono straordinariamente raro e fragile. Se siamo fortunati, la vita può durare per 100 anni. Ogni momento contenuta all’interno di quei 100 anni è profondamente unico e originale. Nessun altro sperimenterà quel momento e non potrà mai risorgere. Nasce, si vive, e morì – andato per sempre. Se non siamo pienamente consapevoli di tutto ciò che vediamo, sentiamo, odoriamo, gustiamo e tocchiamo in ogni momento quindi dobbiamo concludere che non siamo affatto vivi. La persona che sceglie di non essere pienamente consapevoli della loro vita non è meglio di un cadavere ambulante – siete d’accordo?

Siamo nati con un in-respiro, lasciamo questo mondo con una espirazione. Ciò che accade in mezzo è la preziosità della vita. Essere a conoscenza di esso. Respirate momento per momento. Godetela. Viverla. É il vostro da vivere. 

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

Authentic Spiritual Lineage

Authentic Spiritual Lineage

If a person has genuine spiritual realization, they are authorized to transmit the spiritual teachings. All titles, held-lineages, endorsements, acclamations, life accomplishments, life mistakes, and years spent in training are irrelevant.

If a person is without genuine spiritual realization, they have no such authority. All titles, held-lineages, endorsements, acclamations, life accomplishments, life mistakes, and years spent in training are irrelevant.

Ultimately, true authorization to transmit the spiritual teachings comes from awaking to the timeless truth of emptiness. It seems that some form of spiritual guide is required to effectuate this awakening.

Ven Edo Shonin,  Psychological Well-being and Mental Health Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Ven William Van Gordon, Awake to Wisdom Centre for Meditation, Mindfulness & Psychological Well-being, Nottingham, UK

Carry your Meditation Cushion with You

Carry your Meditation Cushion with You

When you blow out your candles and stand up from your meditation cushion – that’s when your meditation practice starts. As meditators, we should try not to create a separation between formal meditation sessions and everyday living. In fact, it’s only when a person can retain their meditative awareness whilst, for example, travelling on a congested tube, writing at the computer, or watching the television that they can truly call themselves a meditation practitioner. That’s why some meditation teachers tell their students to carry their meditation cushions with them at all times.

There is a lot of scientific evidence that supports this approach to meditation practice. For example, in the psychological literature there is a concept known as ‘dispositional mindfulness’. Dispositional mindfulness refers to the natural or enduring level of mindfulness a person has rather than a temporary level that expires at the end of a given meditation session. Dispositional mindfulness is therefore sometimes referred to as a person’s ‘trait’ level of mindfulness rather than their ‘state’ level. Studies have shown that people with higher levels of dispositional mindfulness are less likely to be overcome by anxiety or stressful life situations1-3. Similarly, in our own research based on an eight-week meditation and mindfulness intervention known as Meditation Awareness training (MAT)4,5, those participants who best manage to integrate their mindfulness practice into daily living tend to be the ones who show the greatest improvements in overall levels of psychological and spiritual wellbeing.

Ven Edo Shonin,  & Ven William Van Gordon, 

References

  1. Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.
  2. Lakey, C. E., & Campbell, W. K., Brown, K.W., Goodie, A.S. (2007). Dispositional Mindfulness as a Predictor of the Severity of Gambling Outcomes. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 1698–1710
  3. Modinos, G., Ormel, J., & Aleman., A. (2010). Individual differences in dispositional mindfulness and brain activity involved in reappraisal of emotion. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 5, 369-377.
  4. Van Gordon, W., Shonin, E., Sumich, A., Sundin, E., & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for psychological wellbeing in a sub-clinical sample of university students: A controlled pilot study. Mindfulness. DOI: 10.1007/s12671-012-0191-5.
  5. Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths M. D. (2013). Meditation Awareness Training (MAT) for improved psychological wellbeing: A qualitative examination of participant experiences. Religion and Health. DOI: 10.1007/s10943-013-9679-0.

The Binds of Ignorance

The Binds of Ignorance

The Buddhas who realize the illusory nature of all phenomena,
Have limitless compassion for even an insect.
Yet the ignorant beings believing all things to be ‘real’,
Slaughter, maim, and harm without a care in the world. How Amazing!

The Buddhas who abide in the deathless state,
Are ever aware of the preciousness of each moment.
Yet the ignorant beings believing this life to be all,
Mindlessly squander it in pointless pursuits. How Amazing!

The Buddhas who have breached the citadel of primordial wisdom,
Live simply and humbly wherever they dwell.
Yet the ignorant beings steeped in non-virtue and wrong views,
Forever boast of their worldly accomplishments. How Amazing!

The Buddhas who dwell in peace that transcends even Nirvana,
Need witness only a grain of pure faith to bestow their blessings.
Yet the ignorant beings eternally consumed by the fires of the Klesas,
Have corrupt intent and shun the Dharma. How Amazing!

Ven Edo Shonin & Ven William Van Gordon

A Buddha has Entered the World

A Buddha has Entered the World

Endowed with the Dharmakaya that is the ground of all existence,

The Sambogakaya that is pure and splendid to behold,

And the Nirmanakaya that serves the needs of all beings,

You are known by some as the simple monk Br. Edo.

A master of masters, the embodiment of all Buddhas,

Since primordial beginning and with unceasing activity,

Using your iron hook of compassion and skilful means,

You enter the Worlds and swiftly liberate the suffering beings.

We are two Dharma Warrior Kings,

Perfectly free in the realm of unchanging great bliss,

A safe island of refuge for exhausted seekers of the Way,

Yet hidden from the view of the faithless and cowardly.

Whilst we are beyond meeting and departing,

 Pray Mahakalyanamitra, swiftly lead this clumsy one to fruition,

For in the realm of non-action there is much to be done.

Come now, bestow upon me the blessings of your Wisdom Mind.

This song that spontaneously arose was written as a token

of heartfelt gratitude for the wish-granting kindness of the simple

monk Br. Edo. Through the merits of these words may all Samsaric

beings not only meet with the perfectly endowed Buddhas,

but may they also recognise having done so.

Ven. William Van Gordon

A Bubble in the Wind

Life is like a bubble carried by the wind. Some bubbles burst sooner, others later. Some burst of their own accord, others by accident. Some are deliberately burst. However, one way or another, all bubbles burst. The difference between the realized spiritual practitioner and the everyday person, is that the practitioner recognizes they are not only the bubble, but are also the wind that gently carries it along. That wind has no point of origin and is without destination. It blows freely wherever it likes. How wonderful!

Ven Edo Shonin,  Psychological Well-being and Mental Health Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Ven William Van Gordon, Awake to Wisdom Centre for Meditation, Mindfulness & Psychological Well-being, Nottingham, UK

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