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Posts Tagged ‘meditation’

Betsy DeVos and the President Support First Amendment Rights to Take a Knee to Pray… But Taking a Knee to Protest?

January 19, 2020 Comments off

USA Today recently published an op ed piece by Betsy DeVos advocating the need to protect the First Amendment rights of children to pray in school. I will leave it to the ACLU and other legal minds more up to date on court cases than I am to refute point for point all the misinformation incorporated in her reasoning, but there are two points that jumped out immediately from reading the piece. First was this, from a list of injustices perpetrated on those seeking to pray in public schools:

In Washington state, longtime high school football coach Joe Kennedy would wait until everyone had cleared the gridiron, take a knee and silently thank God for the opportunity to compete. Coach Kennedy prayed after every game — win or lose — until the school district threw a flag on the praying. Coach Kennedy was suspended and then effectively terminated.

I wish that Ms. DeVos love of the first amendment transferred to those student athletes who knelt symbolically to protest the treatment their forebears’ received as slaves and the continuing discrimination they are receiving when confronted by police.

She also offered these examples of issues the new “guidance” from USDOE will address:

Our new guidance explains that the law requires states to report which of their schools failed to certify that they do not have any policy that denies anyone the right to pray. Students may, for instance, read the Bible during homeroom. They may give thanks to God before lunch or a snack. They can pray a decade or two of the rosary at recess. They can be excused from class to fulfill prayer obligations, such as during Ramadan. Students may organize faith-based clubs as they see fit. Students may invite a local rabbi to preach at an assembly.Teachers can pray in the lounge during a break. And students most certainly may express their faith in homework or other assignments free from discrimination based on religion.

I am confident that schools will also allow Muslims to wear the garb they wish and that Festivus, the High Holy Days of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and the annual atheist days will be recognized.. or at the very least representatives from these groups will be allowed to “preach at an assembly” if invited by students.

From all evidence, in “clarifying” the rights of children to pray in school Betsy DeVos is acting on her religious convictions. Her boss President Trump, on the other hand, is clearly acting on his political convictions as they exist at this point in time, convictions that might change should evangelicals decide he is no longer the candidate they wish to support in the future. in the meantime, students across the country are pawns in religious and political conflicts.

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Study Proves Mindfulness Reduces Stress, Improves Academics… But There’s Another Benefit

September 2, 2019 Comments off

A few days ago, Science Daily reported on two studies at MIT that came to the same conclusion: “…mindfulness — the practice of focusing one’s awareness on the present moment — can enhance academic performance and mental health in middle-schoolers.”

I have been a formal mindfulness practitioner for roughly 15 years and can attest to the positive effects it has had on my mental acuity and physical well-being. But as one who has practiced mindfulness, I believe that the studies’ focus on the positive impacts on children are understated. Here are the conclusions of the studies as reported in Science Daily:

Synopsis of Study #1: After the mindfulness training, students showed a smaller amygdala response when they saw the fearful faces, consistent with their reports that they felt less stressed. This suggests that mindfulness training could potentially help prevent or mitigate mood disorders linked with higher stress levels, the researchers say.

Synopsis of Study #2: Students who showed more mindfulness tended to have better grades and test scores, as well as fewer absences and suspensions.

The first study’s conclusions are drawn from brain scans while the second study’s conclusions were drawn from an analysis of questionnaires. John Gabrieli, the Grover M. Hermann Professor in Health Sciences and Technology, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, and a member of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research, the scientist from the second study, emphasized that mindfulness cannot be taught in isolation or offered as a one-time course. It needs to become a habit:

“Mindfulness is like going to the gym. If you go for a month, that’s good, but if you stop going, the effects won’t last. It’s a form of mental exercise that needs to be sustained.”

These reports and this conclusion bring to mind a talk given at a retreat by Zenmaster Thich Nhat Hanh who was approached by the military to offer mindfulness training to soldiers to help them improve their functioning. While he was disinclined to refuse the opportunity to offer the training because he knew the power of mindfulness, he ultimately rejected the proposal because he saw mindfulness as a PATH and not an end in itself. While this sounds like a call for a dogmatic “religious” approach, it reinforces the message offered by the MIT researchers. The mindfulness trainings of Thich Nhat Hanh require a wholistic approach, a willingness to not only go to the gym every day but to commit to a regimen of healthy living, to adopt habits of mind and habits of living that are sustainable for the individual and the planet. Those habits of mind will lead to a level of self-awareness that will help preclude the fear that grips us today, fear that leads to hatred of “the other” and a sense of isolation that ultimately can lead to unhealthy thoughts, speech, and deeds.

If mindfulness is approached as a path, as part of a mental regimen, it will do more than lead to better grades and test scores, as well as fewer absences and suspensions…it will help transform the mental formations that are leading us in the wrong direction… mental formations that compel us to think that better grades and test scores, as well as fewer absences and suspensions is all we need to change in schools.

Mindfulness and the News: Some Insights into My Sources and My Perspective

August 11, 2018 1 comment

I begin every day I am at home by opening my computer and reading various blogs and news feeds. I get four newspapers each day: the NYTimes, the Boston Globe; and, two local newspapers. I get five feeds on public education: Google alerts; ASCD; Politico; Clay Christensen’s blog; and Diane Ravitch’s blog. I get several general interest and political feeds, some daily and some weekly: Quartz; Truthdig; Common Dreams; JSTOR; Naked Capitalism; and Medium. And I spend a few minutes reading Facebook, checking on my favorite sports teams on ESPN, checking the weather, and reading various articles sent to me by my siblings and children.

As I read the blogs, I identify one or two articles that trigger a blog post. If the blog post is drawn wholly from the article, I will use a reblog feature if it is available and add a comment. If the article stimulates a reflective essay (as the one that I am using for this very post), I will take the time to write a 300-1200 word post. I rationalize that this reading is necessary to give me an in-depth grasp of the world as it impacts public education policy, the primary topic of this blog, and to help me have as realistic a perspective as possible on how the events taking place and decisions being made reflect and/or change my world view, which is an implicit sub-topic of this blog.

One feed I get periodically was not listed above. As a Buddhist practitioner I get Lion’s Roar, “an independent non-profit foundation whose mission is to communicate Buddhist wisdom and practices in order to benefit people’s lives and our society, and to support the development of Buddhism in the modern world.” An article in the week-end edition of this publication by Sister True Dedication, a monastic who practices in the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, describes how the Buddhist practice has influenced my reading habits of late. Titled, “What Do You Put in Your Mind?“, Sister True Dedication’s essay describes how our consumption of the news affects our minds in the same way as our consumption of food affects our health.  She writes:

I heard Thich Nhat Hanh speak with a fierce and solemn voice as he declared in a talk, “When we watch television and movies we consume, when we browse the internet we consume, when we listen to music or a conversation, we consume.” I remember his soft words booming through the loudspeakers: “And what we consume every day may be highly toxic. It may contain violence, craving, fear, anger, and despair.”

I was shocked. Suddenly websites, radio shows, movies, music—and even conversations with close friends—struck me as strangely substantive and not so ephemeral after all. Maybe I wasn’t as free from them as I thought.

The sidebar quote that summarized the article is this:

Our mind is made of what we feed it, so we need to know how to nourish and protect it.

Since beginning Buddhist practice over a decade ago, I’ve come to appreciate how my reading habits affect my disposition and way of viewing the world. Of late I find myself repelled by articles that are full of ad hominem invective, that take sides in a fashion that demeans and decries “the other side”, and speculate on future events based on gossip, “inside information”, and gleaning of information that supports one school of thought over another. Those articles do not nourish my mind, clarify my thoughts, or add to my well-being.

I am drawn, instead, to articles that describe recent findings in science, analyses that look at events through a historic lens, and articles that offer new insights on emerging trends. And whenever I read articles, I try to use what I am reading to examine my own mental formations— the screens I use to filter the “news” I am “consuming”. This, in turn, helps me perceive how the “news” affects my disposition and understanding of “reality”. I also find that “consuming” in this fashion leads me to ask the question Thich Nhat Hanh suggests we ask ourselves repeatedly: “ARE YOU SURE?

If you want to get a perspective on the Buddhist view of media consumption, I recommend that you read Sister True Dedication’s essay. As a former BBC reporter, her insights are not limited to those gained from sitting on a cushion or reading sutras: they are grounded in what passes for the “real world” of journalism.