Concentrate on the Quality of Mind

When you do something, if you fix your mind on the activity with some confidence, the quality of your state of mind is the activity itself. When you are concentrated on the quality of your being, you are prepared for the activity. Shunryu Suzuki

We need to teach ourselves and our students that if our quality of mind is good, what we do will be good. We feel more at ease with learning, more focused than confused, more peaceful than agitated, more energetic than lethargic, more open than resistant. The ultimate result I think most teachers look for is not the essay or test score or work of art our students produce: it is the emergence of a young adult. But, can we teach in this mindful manner and keep our teaching jobs? Yes. Students will be able to concentrate, score better on tests and learn more when they find the work meaningful, enjoyable, and connected to their lives. To enjoy learning students need to feel heard and be seen as people, not as test scores.

Once I greet the students, I start the class session with silence: reflective writing, a mindfulness practice, a visualization or inquiry exercise that allows us all to relax a moment, focus and introduce the lesson. I use questions in my classes to stimulate inquiry and discovery instead of dictating answers. With these methods, the class becomes a refuge, a community of inquiry where students feel safe to question and try out new ideas. The silence, mindfulness, and visualizations teach students not only how to relax, open, and let go of distractions, but to focus their attention, develop the patience and confidence to explore questions in depth.

How do you practice mindfulness? There are many practices and many good resources. Here is one practice. All you have to do is count to ten, twice, and listen to the count. My teacher, Hidy Ochiai, advised that people start with just two minutes a day. In school, on hard plastic chairs, we sit near the edge of the chair so we’re neither slouched nor rigid. Take a minute; close your eyes partly or fully, rest your hands on your lap, and put your attention, continuously, on the sensations of breathing. Breathe in through your nose, keep your awareness on the in-breath. Then exhale through your nose, and say “onnnnne” to yourself, continuing to be aware throughout the breath. When the exhalation completes itself, allow the inbreath to happen on its own. Then exhale with “twoooo’. Just count, gently, maintaining your awareness, without changing the rhythm of the breath. Continue counting the exhalations until you get to ten, and then, instead of saying “eleven,” go back to “one.” Do this sequence once more until you get to ten the second time. If any thoughts or feelings arise, just be kind to yourself. Notice what’s there and then return to the breath, no internal commenting is necessary. That’s how you start.

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