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 Mindful Schools - and read the comment - very apt - mindfulness is not a panacea

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Mindful Schools - and read the comment - very apt - mindfulness is not a panacea   Fri Mar 21, 2014 12:13 pm




Profession: Program Director at Mindful Schools
Age: 36 - Location:Oakland

Did you grow up as a Buddhist? Buddhism was embedded in my cultural experience from a very early age. I grew up around a lot of Buddhist “brats”—I went to high school in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury with many of the second-generation kids from the San Francisco Zen Center, and that was where I began my practice. When I was a teenager I had a really sensitive reactive system, and practice was the only thing that was allowing me to access any kind of grounded state. Without it, I think my life would have turned out much differently, and much worse.

After high school I went to New York, where I did a BA in Religion and Asian Studies at Columbia University. But I didn’t go forward in academia, probably because I wasn’t smart enough. [Laughs.] So I ended up on a much different track, working for NGOs. I worked for 10 years at organizations that provided legal and social services to torture survivors, and then for the Mind Body Awareness Project, which equips at-risk youth with mindfulness and life skills training, and now I’m a program director for Mindful Schools.

What are the goals of Mindful Schools? Most institutional environments in the United States today are nuts—the level of emotional dysregulation you see is enormous. You go through a mandated educational system for 18 years. How much of that time is spent learning about the inner life—how the mind and emotions function, how reactions come up, how you engage with challenging life situations? For most youth, the answer is: almost zero. These are aspects of your experience that were with you when you were born and are going to be with you long after you’ve forgotten everything that was taught in school. Yet there is no time during the day to give kids this owner’s manual for themselves.

So the goal of bringing mindfulness training into schools is to restore a kind of basic sanity, to use Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s phrase. It’s to bring in this basic idea: there is a way that our body and mind works, especially in the midst of a really strong reaction, and there are ways of paying attention and other things you can do that will make it better.

I don’t think that mindfulness is a silver bullet that’s going to solve all the world’s problems. That’s ridiculous. But having short moments of basic self-regulation, basic free attention, and basic grounding is crucial, and there are so many things in youth education contexts that can’t be done without that in place first.

There are many people who think that mindfulness is a catchall answer for complex problems—socioeconomic, cultural-historical, psychosocial, you name it. Definitely. Let’s take a school example. Say you’re in an inner city public school, in an environment where a kid isn’t getting breakfast. This idea that I’m going to do some form of attention training that overcomes our lack of ability to provide basic needs for children is fantasy number one.

That’s the danger in this whole thing, because you don’t want mindfulness programs used as a way to get people in a dysfunctional environment to tolerate it better. Overall, I don’t see that happening in our program. Traditionally, mindfulness goes very well with inquiry; as you start paying attention to reality more closely, this leads to a natural questioning of how things are. So my experience of good mindfulness teaching is that it doesn’t teach that we should simply accept our conditions.

I think the “McMindfulness” critics would be happy to hear you say that. I know that there’s been all of this “McMindfulness” business happening lately, and people are asking, “Why are we teaching this stuff? It’s just going to be used by corporate CEOs and military snipers.” But man, you go into a public elementary school in Oakland, and you see the lack of resources and regulation and time, the pile of mandated programming that these educators have to sort through, and then you get some basic mindfulness training up in that joint, and you see a classroom of kids go silent for two minutes, and you feel what’s happening in the room—the cynicism goes away.

Where does your passion for this work come from? With kids and teenagers especially, there is this innate sensitivity that often translates in the world as a sense of “too-muchness.” It’s like they’re constantly on the verge of being overwhelmed. In some cases this can even be spiritual in nature—sensitivity and the development of wisdom definitely have a relationship. But in this culture kids aren’t given any way to manage it. And if you don’t give someone a view and methods to stabilize that sensitivity, they end up self-medicating the emotional pain. That’s definitely been my personal experience. At age 36, I’ve gotten to the point now where there is a natural keeping of the precepts: I go to bed early. I don’t use drugs. Life is pretty quiet. But in my younger years I tried all manner of self-medicating. So I can recognize it with kids immediately, the sense of it all being too much and then wanting to smoke a huge bowl. [Laughs.]

From a developmental point of view, you would think that for a 14-year-old, this is the exact wrong time to try to teach meditation. Hormones are firing. The attention is totally scattered. But it’s strange. Within all the confusion and craziness, there’s a weird opportunity, because there’s still a rawness of experience and a lot of honesty and a willingness to be vulnerable. With adults, nobody really admits what’s going on. But with teenagers, they will tell you exactly how it is when it’s happening. And that is incredibly refreshing.

What’s your This Buddhist Life swan song? Okay, here’s my go-on-record statement. In the Buddhist world we sometimes have this point of view, inherited from the Indian Buddhist and non-Buddhist lineages, that the world is slowly going to [banned term]. My response is “maybe.” You hear people declaring the transmission of Buddhism to the West to be a failure when, from any reasonable historical perspective, it has barely even begun. We’re just now dealing with the translation work while at the same time trying to make English “speak” contemplative practice, which is not one of its historical strengths. Personally, I’m optimistic—I think it’s going really well. And young people are going to assimilate the dharma in a different way than the baby boomers did. I have enormous faith in young people.

–Emma Varvaloucas, Managing Editor
To learn more about this program, visit www.mindfulschools.org.
Photograph by Timothy Archibald

Reply by DB on March 20, 2014, 12:09 pm

There is something fundamentally suspicious about looking at the crisis level problems we face and imagining that the solution to those problems is mindfulness. I'm an acute care RN and a union organizer. If my co-workers or patients wanted to start practicing meditation I would support that. But even if all the nurses on my unit did an hour of yoga a day, they would still face the moral hazard of not having enough time to provide the basic care our patients demand.

Facing chronic under-funding of social institutions like schools and hospitals requires that people take serious political action. While the meteoric rise of "mindfulness" is due to its construction / presentation as something totally non-challenging - totally egocentric in fact. Something that can fit into the evening news sandwiched between toothpaste adverts and celebrity gossip.

For the secular Buddhist faithful, mindfulness is imagined to be like the trojan horse. We get people to accept it for for selfish reasons, then their ego falls apart and the rest is gravy. But there may be many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, as they say. The ease of association between American architects of ruin from the banking world and our mindfulness mavens ought to serve as a thunderbolt wake up call. Who wants to start a mindfulness based private charter school in Oakland with funding from the Gates foundation and Bridgewater investments? It's already happening, right?

What do you do with a class full of primary school kids in Oakland should the topic of conversation turn to the historic legacy of racism? The absence of any real possibility for advancement in society? Who has a family member in Jail? Who has a family member that was shot by the police? How many of us (kids in the class) will end up in jail or in the military? Who can imagine something better and what form would that take? Tackling questions like these cannot be accomplished by Buddhist white boys, however sensitive, caring and well intentioned we may be.
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maisie field



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PostSubject: mindfulness is not a panacea   Fri Mar 21, 2014 12:47 pm

Yes Josh-powerful and apt comment-this is the insidious truth about buddhism and mindfulness-and all the other touted cures for human misery:we are social material and cultural creatures.We don't do anything in a cultural or power- neutral environment.
Global rampant capitalism is de-stabilising communities,concentrating markets,creating huge inequalities.That is the environment.Most people are "victims" of this global system.The organisations/cliques/sects/businesses who provide meditation centres temples etc.function within this cultural and financial envelope.
Meditation is a great medium.But the message is the question-WHO IS RUNNING THE SHOW?
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Mindful Schools - and read the comment - very apt - mindfulness is not a panacea   Sun Mar 23, 2014 9:06 am

an example of the growing influence on mindfulness in the sports world....

Athletes using meditation to improve performance

The Penn State basketball team doing yoga at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College. (PAT LITTLE)


By Ilene Raymond Rush, For The Inquirer
Posted: March 17, 2014

For 15 minutes a day, Tim Frazier, Penn State's senior point guard, finds a quiet place, switches on a podcast, and meditates. Along with his teammates, Frazier, the team's all-time leader in assists, has found that practicing mindfulness meditation - focusing on the breath with his eyes closed and becoming aware of his thoughts without judging them - has amped up his performance on the court.

"The game moves so fast, it's hard to focus on the here and now," said Frazier, who is pretty fleet of foot himself. "Meditation slows me down [mentally], keeps me more relaxed and more focused."

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to help manage anxiety, depression and pain, according to 47 studies analyzed in JAMA Internal Medicine. It also helps to reduce anxiety and stress in cancer patients, studies show.

But now elite athletes from Penn State's Frazier to the NFL champion Seattle Seahawks are using meditation and yoga to enhance performance and avoid destructive habits like dwelling on mistakes.

"Sometimes during the game, you focus on whether past plays were good or bad," Frazier said, "but meditation brings you back to the play at hand."

The meditation podcasts for his Penn State team are recorded by Cara Bradley, director of Verge Yoga Center and Verge Athlete in Wayne, to supplement her regular visits to Happy Valley. Bradley, a certified strength coach who also works as a mental strength coach, has taught meditation to the Villanova football team over 10 seasons, including the 2009 FCS National Championship team.

She said she can always tell if teams are unified mentally. The Seahawks used a sports psychologist to teach the team meditation, and they "were unstoppable" in the Super Bowl, she said. "They were so collective in their energy."

"I go into a room with 90 guys and tell them I'm here to train their minds to stay calm and composed in the fire of competition," Bradley added. "And they respond."

Mindfulness meditation applies techniques honed by Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It uses the physical sensation of the breath going in and out as an anchor to focus on again and again. When a thought arises that distracts from the breath, meditators observe it with curiosity rather than judgment, then return to following the breath.

This deceptively simple practice is taken seriously at Villanova. Weekly yoga and meditation sessions "have helped my players become more focused and controlled," said football coach Andy Talley.

Awareness of the moment helps players react less to situations, both positive and negative.

"Part of mindfulness is to learn to observe situations rather than automatically reacting to them," said Diane Reibel, director of the Mindfulness Institute at Jefferson University Hospital, which holds public classes. "Mindfulness teaches you to pause for a split second and notice, for example, 'oh, yes, anger is rising.' It gives you a way to approach the anger without acting on it. You can choose to use that energy in a positive, rather than negative way. Outcomes can be different; you have a choice."

Athletes often fail in large and small ways, and how they react can be crucial to long-term success. "What impairs performance more than anything during competition is the effect of negative emotions on biology and on the ability to maintain perspective and continue to perform at the level at which you're capable," said Michael Baime, an internist and director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness, which also offers programs for the public.

"Mindfulness practice really isn't that different from athletic training," Baime said. "If you want to get neuroscientific about it, mindfulness practice changes the structure of the brain through which awareness operates. Just as running increases the strength of the quadriceps muscle, mindfulness practice strengthens the executive control function of the brain."

"Elite athletic performance is mostly a mental game," Baime said. "Mindfulness improves working memory and what you're able to do in the moment of a challenging situation. It helps you to focus on the information you need to perform."

Pat Chambers, the Penn State men's basketball coach, also said meditation has helped his teams cut through the clutter of daily life.

"There are so many distractions with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. that I think you need a solution on how you can rid yourself of all that for a few minutes to refocus," he said. "My hope is that before practice, our guys can find a technique they like to clear their heads. That for a few hours they can stop worrying about their test the next day or the argument they had with a friend, so that once they step on the court, all they are worried about is getting better today."

To train athletes, Bradley uses yoga to introduce them to meditation.

She takes them into challenging physical poses, such as a standing frog where they are bent forward with feet apart. And then she walks them "through their minds to help them get to the other side of any tightness or fear or doubt. I have them hold the pose and through breathing and coaching, I work to get their minds to the other side of any discomfort."

"When you're present you have access to the most subtle shifts in guidance, the sense of where your body should be. We also have a sense of where our teammates are on court or the field."

Chambers said that he's "absolutely" noticed changes in how some Nittany Lions players perform on the court. "The ability to make a mistake and move on is so critical in basketball," he said.

A final aspect of mindfulness that may benefit athletes is the compassion component. While compassion may seem paradoxical in the cutthroat world of competition, Reibel points to research showing that self-compassion rather than self-criticism can be a huge motivator.

"Picture an athlete who missed the field goal. What does he do now? He could spend time beating himself up over it or say, 'I'm human, I make mistakes, and I'll do better next time,' " Reibel said.

Frazier agrees. "Sometimes during the game, you focus on whether past plays were good or bad," he said, "but meditation brings you back to the play at hand."


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