The Community in Mexico launched recently a video on the visit of Laurence Freeman to the Teresian School in in Mexico City (December 2017). It shows principals, teachers, parents and children speaking on the meaning and importance of meditation in the school.
Charles Posnett (WCCM UK) has been working with Steven Pryers (School Systems Developer) to develop a six week online learning course for teachers entitled “Share the Gift.” The online course encapsulates the essential teaching in six lessons so that teachers can confidently pass on the gift of meditation to children and youth. For more information visit: https://courses.learningtomeditate.org
By Ernie Christie
Don’t be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity.
Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.
St. John Paul II
St. John Paul’s well known quote could easily be included in the mission statement of a school that took the teaching of contemplation to be its core business. In a continually, ever distracted world, it must be an imperative to teach the youth of today and tomorrow to be attentive through the formation of schools that have at their centre a contemplative heart.
Schools today, anywhere in the world, are busy places. Teaching is often reduced to rushing through a crowded curriculum, being hostage to high stakes testing and responding to the next big issue that the media throw up. Increasingly complex issues such as cyber safety and use of technology or developing a healthy lifestyle can be suddenly thrust into the domain of the school. It is no surprise that educators and students become overloaded and stressed as they deal with so many stimuli bombarding them daily.
There can be another way! Rather than the pursuit of higher, faster and stronger, schools can strive for deeper, slower and wiser. Educators can encourage their students to, ‘put into the deep’ and introduce them to another way of being. To actively teach contemplative practices may seem counter-intuitive or counter-cultural to being able to function effectively in a world that is full of noise and is always speeding up. I hope, however, that you will be convinced that the well-being of your students depends on a radical, reimagined way to approach education, now and into the future.
The world teaches children a set of values. But are these values conducive to the making of a better world? Our Western culture invites excitement, not silence, and activity, not stillness. As a result children of all ages are often stressed, over-stimulated and restless. The culture we live in may suggest the solution to this inner and outer restlessness lies outside of oneself in the pursuit of a bigger and more exciting life. This way of living creates pressures that force our children to compartmentalize their lives too rigidly. As a result, they may lose a sense of their own personal wholeness and a capacity to engage fully with the world as balanced human beings.
For those of us in education working at the coalface of young people’s development and well-being, the issues of overstimulation and constant pressure are particularly evident. More and more children display signs of depression, extreme agitation and lack of ability to focus their attention. In my own corner of the world in Townsville, North Queensland, Australia, we have adopted a contemplative form of prayer, Christian Meditation, which we have decided to teach in our schools to all students from ages four to 18.
Over the past 14 years, we have intentionally, in an experiential way invited and taught our students to journey more deeply within their prayer practice. The results have been startling. The most significant finding has been that children love to meditate. It is something they look forward to daily and even ask their teachers to do it. We want to encourage a new vision for a society that locates the teaching of stillness and silence
at the heart of education. It is vital that education responds to such social challenges by presenting and teaching an alternative way of being. Almost everything that children experience in the world today inhibits that journey inward towards stillness and silence; indeed, it may seem a paradox that children can be still and silent and enjoy it. However, like adults, children also yearn for the experience of an interior world that helps buffer against the hustle and bustle of a hurried life.
On the world stage, in 2012 Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury gave an address to the Synod of Catholic Bishops on The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith. In this address he provided a clear annunciation of the concept of contemplation, which I believe frames the issues very clearly. ‘In this perspective, contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom – freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them.’ To put it boldly, contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial system, advertising culture, and chaotic and examined emotions encourage us to inhabit. ‘To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truth fully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter!’
My experience after years of teaching educators to teach children to meditate has been truly life giving. I have witnessed personally the transformation of the educator who teaches contemplation and the students who are opened to learn to be still and silent. I cannot tell you for certain that our children are healthier than children anywhere else in the world, but I can categorically say that their well-being is enhanced by regularly practising Christian Meditation as contemplative prayer. The task of teaching meditation to children may seem a daunting one, but I want to share my story in the hope that you will see that the opportunities are far greater than the obstacles. Sister Madeline Simon, in her book Born Contemplative says that ‘children have a natural inclination to be contemplative; they only need the chance to be led there; the space to experience what is natural to them.’
Pope Francis provides a clear way forward. He has made the spiritual development of children and young people a central focus of his papacy, a work that should be the work of the Church and all people of God. For schools and the noble art of teaching, his words provide the catalyst to forge ahead, to put into the deep and do not be afraid of the rich catch we will receive in faith when we have the courage to do something quite radical – teach children to meditate – simply do it!
‘Do not be disheartened in the face of difficulties that the educational challenges present! Educating is not a profession but an attitude, a way of being; in order to educate it is necessary to step out of ourselves and be among young people, to accompany them in the stages of their growth and to set ourselves beside them. Give them hope and optimism for their journey in the world!’
The path of meditation is a path of self-knowledge. To fully know ourselves we must go deeper, beyond the images today’s culture paints for us of the perfect being. We must seek peace in ourselves first. Teaching children to meditate, giving them the safe space to learn and experience this prayer of the heart is deeply transformational. I implore you not to let the speed of the world wash over us and our students. We owe it to the next generation of youth to lead them to the slow path: to the joyous insights of the contemplative pilgrim on the journey of life, to lead them to another way of knowing: another way of being.
Ernie Christie, Director of Catholic Identity, Learning and Teaching, Diocese of Townsville, Queensland, Australia.
- Article originally published in Principal Connections (Ontario, Canada), Fall 2017, Volume 21, Issue 1
The DVD “Set Pools of Silence in a Thirsty Land” has been produced by the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra, Australia. It features Fr Laurence and Archbishop Christopher Prowse discussing a range of topics including The Importance and History of Christian Meditation, Ecumenical Dimensions, How do we Meditate, and Meditation with Children. The Meditation with Children section takes us through meditation in a classroom situation and includes some moving reflections by some very young students. This very important resource can be obtained through this link.
by Laurence Freeman OSB
Reprinted with permission from Principal Connections Magazine, April 2017
I once asked an old rabbi friend of mine to a dialogue and suggested we speak to the question : ‘Does God have Favourites?’ In his talk he said that when he was young he believed that, of course, God’s favourites were His Chosen People, the Jews. In middle age, his thought had evolved to the liberal point of view that God has no favourites ( a position held by St Paul). But, in old age, he came to believe that God did have favourites; they were the anawim, the Hebrew word for the poor, all who depend primarily on God alone, the marginalised, the voiceless, the persecuted.
Perhaps, in a comparable way, Christian thinking about our relationship and responsibility towards the natural world needs to evolve in face of the twin cultural and environmental crisis overtaking the whole human race in our divided and tumultuous world. Time was when we blandly said we were ‘stewards’ of the natural world, a hereditary position handed down from Adam. It was incrementally interpreted as a stewardship of domination. This did little harm to the ecological balance of creation until the technology of domination and exploitation became so powerful that it created a new word for the present planetary era, the ‘Anthropocene’ age. This means the period in which of all influences on the natural world, the directly human influence is by far the most powerful.
This claim should be a wake-up call and make us assess our real responsibilities; but not only to the physical environment that we are blindly devastating and whose self-healing mechanisms we are compromising. Stewardship for our habitat extends to the next human generation to whom we are bequeathing the habits and consequences of our short-sighted and self-destructive patterns of behaviour. At a recent Meditatio Seminar on Ageing presented by our community in Sydney, we wanted to emphasise that ageing needs to be understood as a lifelong process, which presents specific challenges and crises at each phase. We invited some young children who have learned to meditate at school to lead the midday meditation. After the silence that they led us into, I asked them what meditation had taught them about how they wanted to live in the world. I was struck by how many of them used the word ‘responsibility’ in their answers. They felt they had a responsibility and, moreover, they wanted it. Above all, they felt responsible for the environment whose crisis troubled them deeply. The greyheads in the audience listened attentively, nodding with surprised and hope-filled approval.
If we seriously expect to save the environment, we must prepare the next generation now. Of course, they need cultural and scientific education and information and technical skills. But, above all, they need to see things differently from the way their parents and grandparents perceived things. Nothing changes our perception more radically than the contemplative experience. Silence and stillness open the eye of the heart, the eye that allows us to see things as a whole and to order priorities , to match out potential with prudent self-control.
Children are born contemplative, but with time the eye of the heart soon clouds over. Christian education needs to recall the injunction of St Augustine, that the ‘whole purpose of the Christian life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.’ Maybe today we need and can do even more than this. Maybe, if we give contemplative practice an integrated place in the school curriculum, the eye of the heart will not continue to grow sick as it has done for the past few centuries. A child’s natural capacity for the ‘simple enjoyment of the truth’ (as Aquinas defined contemplation) will be preserved even while it matures.
The teaching of meditation to children is the most radical spiritual initiative of our time. Its benefits (that we can measure) and the fruits (that we can see but not measure) are undeniable: personal peace of mind and psychological health, wisdom and the ability to read the great symbols of our faith tradition. It is not, in fact, children that we need to teach meditation to, but teachers. Parents often tell teachers of children who meditate in the classroom of the immense changes they notice in their children’s behaviour and well-being. Many families go on to integrate meditation into their home life. Teachers who introduce meditation to their students soon report a beneficial change in mood, relationship and learning acumen. ‘The children are nicer to each other and they pay attention better’ is a common feedback.
Stewardship of our planet, no less than stewardship of our faith, depends upon our sense of responsibility, sharing of talents, leadership, ownership, accountability and responsibility for the young. Children, we should know, can learn to meditate and love to meditate from first grade. In learning this universal wisdom and way of prayer from the beginning of their life-journey, they are receiving a gift that will remain with them, as a direct link to the depth of their own spirit, for the rest of their lives. Older children are adept at teaching it to younger children. No teacher or parent could see this without learning for themselves something that most of us have half-forgotten.
We are walking resolutely towards the precipice in a comatose state. Lao Tsu said that ‘if you do not change direction you may end up where you are heading’. Jesus called this change metanoia. Change of mind. Conversion of consciousness. We are teaching children some bad habits that are sending them in the wrong direction. Is it not time to teach them a way, proven, simple and universal, of how to change direction. The question, today, after seeing how beautifully children respond to it, is not ‘why should we teach children to meditate, but why on earth don’t we?’
Laurence Freeman OSB