Focusing and refocusing on the natural rhythm of breathing or walking helped me to “let go” and feel the stress lighten and/or disappear. This made a more relaxed teacher and I was able to move on with my day with a renewed sense of energy.
During the past seven years, I have taught meditation to my students at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), which provides graduate programs in education as well as field services to teachers and schools. I teach two courses: “Holistic Education” and “The Teacher as Contemplative Practitioner.” In both I require students to meditate every day during the length of course. I keep in touch with the students through journals they keep on their practice.
The students in my classes are experienced teachers between the ages of thirty and fifty-five. They are mostly female (i.e., 75%). Most come from Ontario, but OISE draws a large number of international students, so I have also had students from Brazil, China, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Kenya, Italy, Japan, Nigeria and Malta. The majority of these students have never meditated before and, in the beginning, many are skeptical. Students typically make comments such as this:
In the beginning I was never sure if I was “doing it right.” I became annoyed if a session did not go well. Now, I am much more relaxed about it. I realize that every session will not go “well,” and that there is no prescribed experience.
I have made meditation a requirement of these courses since 1988, and to date approximately five hundred students have been introduced to meditation practice. Only two students have asked not to do the meditation. One had been sexually assaulted a year before and did not feel comfortable with the practice. The other was a fundamentalist Christian. My course is an elective, and the enrollment is always filled, with a waiting list of others wanting to get in. I believe that many students now take the course because of the meditation requirement. Many write about how their lives begin to change:
I have reached a greater awareness of my inner life. Instead of listening to my ego, I am in better touch with the way my heart is drawing me.
Although I have been doing insight (vipassana) meditation for over twenty years, I introduce the students to meditation on the breath, mantra, visualization and movement, and I start each class with a form of lovingkindness meditation (“may all beings be well, happy and peaceful”). Once the students have settled on a method for the duration of the course, I encourage them to work up to about thirty minutes a day of meditation practice. In their journals, I ask them to focus on the process of meditation (how they are focusing, how their bodies feel, etc.) and not the content of any thoughts that arise. Finally, I introduce students to the practice of mindfulness in daily life so that they can live more in moment-to-moment awareness.
Many write about how meditation and mindfulness change how they see themselves. And one teacher commented how meditation and mindfulness had an impact on student perceptions of her:
As a teacher, I have become more aware of my students and their feelings in the class. Instead of rushing through the day’s events, I take the time to enjoy our day’s experiences and opportune moments. The students have commented that I seem happier. I do tend to laugh more, and I think it is because I am more aware, alert and “present,” instead of thinking about what I still need to do.
Some teachers talk about how meditation brings a balance back into their lives so that they don’t feel overwhelmed by the rush and panic that rules society. One teacher wrote that she had quit writing “to-do” lists. Another commented:
My family thinks I am on tranquilizers but I just feel very peaceful and I have an inner happiness that I have never felt before. Only one problem I am finding it is very difficult to return to the task-oriented person I had become. Instead of returning to OISE this fall I’m going to learn how to play the first three notes of Pachelbel’s Canon on my cello….It’s really wonderful to stop the crazy pace.
Others begin to look behind all the roles (mother, wife, teacher, etc.) and find that they play them with greater awareness.
Finally, some teachers report how meditation brings them a deep sense of connectedness. One of my students from China who had been through the Cultural Revolution put it this way:
In our meditation practice I have found so much in common to share with each other, making me feel that human beings, whether western or oriental, are in one way or another connected in our inner world.
One student talked about the importance of connectedness to spirit:
My meditation practice this summer has reconnected me to the importance of resting in “that place” so that my spirit can be renourished to continue with hope and joy. Certainly, as teachers, our students crave connection with the best of our spirits. “Connectedness” is what they crave. “Connectedness” is what we all crave, really! Through meditation, I have been able to reconnect with the life within me. I know that continued practice will enable me to replenish my soul so that what once was the “drain” of teaching will become life-giving.