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Why mindfulness?

January 13th, 2017

The season of resolutions for another new year and the time for forecasts is upon us once more.

What will Trump’s America herald? When will the economy pick up? How will we get through the latest incarnation of public examinations?  January is not always the time for living in the moment.

It was with growing interest and diminishing scepticism that staff at OSH had a mindfulness training class last week, before our pupils and students came back to their boarding houses and classrooms.  Having ourselves spent some time calmly contemplating and acknowledging ‘the now’, breathing deeply and attempting to shut out the outside world, we’re going to be putting on mindfulness classes for our pupils after half term.

Why would we do this?

Beyond helping our pupils and students cope with academic stress and the pressure of life outside of School, we want mindfulness to be another part of their toolkit for mental, social, emotional and physical wellbeing.  We want it to go alongside healthy eating, sport, music and their current and future hobbies.  We’re interested in the long term.  Neuroscientists have found that its long-term practice alters the structure and function of the brain, improving the quality of both thinking and feeling.

Emotional intelligence is no bad thing in today’s rapidly changing world.  Ideally, mindfulness is an investment in a healthy state of mind.  It is very unusual, however, for a single investment to yield the same level of success as multiple investments.  Mindfulness is most certainly not a universal solution to the kinds of psychological difficulty or anxiety which the Prime Minister outlined in her speech on the ‘Shared Society’ this week.  Nevertheless, a more open debate on mental health matters can only be a good thing and we must never forget that schools across the country are educating and preparing the next generation of parents as well as future generations of grandparents.

Mindfulness is not some piece of new age mumbo jumbo.  The Buddhists have been practising it for as long as Christians have been going to church.  Christians themselves have taken it up before, from the early Church Fathers whose nepsis was all about the vigilance of the mind and heart to Ignatious Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, whose ‘Spiritual Exercises’ are still practiced today.

But nobody is pretending it will be easy.  As the author Eckart Tolle puts it: ‘Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one.  But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.’

Perhaps I can persuade one of our pupils to post a future blog about mindfulness once the programme is up and running.