Tuesday, 9 March 2010

MindUp project

An interesting educational project:


From the site:

"The Hawn Foundation, in collaboration with neuroscientists, behavioral psychologists, educators, and leading researchers in the field of social and emotional learning, has developed MindUP™, a comprehensive classroom-based program for children in grades K-7.

MindUP™ has four main goals:
• to foster mindful focused awareness;
• to increase positive human qualities, such as empathy, perspective-taking, helpfulness and kindness;
• to increase optimism and well-being;
• to foster a cohesive, caring classroom climate that enhances learning."

Thursday, 17 September 2009

perception of time

I had one of those days today.... rushing from one place to another, with a sick wife, a hungry baby, tired toddler, an (almost) lost wallet...

At school, I went directly to the classroom before picking up the key to the room in the reception. When I realized, I went to reception as quickly as I could. But, when we started the class the kids where of course quite unsettled.

We bowed and I immediately asked them to sit for meditation. About half did well, four actually did extremely well and sat for at least 15min straight.

For the second group I asked Debbie to lead the class, but she had also not been able to prepare a class. So I sat for a few seconds trying to figure out what was the right thing to talk about. 
Of course: time!

My personal experience after meditating for 2-3 days in a retreat is that things 'slow-down'. At the end of 10 day retreat the effect is always obvious. It is as if we were seen a film and suddenly we can see each frame of it. The great thing is that by being able to see the details in each frame we can enjoy a different aspect of the film. 
I thought this image might be a bit complicated so I used the drawing of a cartoon. One of those that you draw in a notebook and then flick through the pages to see the animation moving.

I explained students how our world demands (or seems to) that we always do more in less time. This is like flicking through the pages quicker and quicker. We all agree that this may the cartoon seem less interesting.
I asked students to make a resolution, just as I would. To do less in more time, and at the same try to enjoy every moment.

I explained that by being aware of our senses and our feelings we can be more aware of time, and enjoy more each moment. 
I don't think the explanation come out terribly clear, but I tried. And as it often happens I still felt satisfied about the class. I should think more about the topic and try to do better next time.


Friday, 21 August 2009

Smell - part 2.

This week I brought in a container with cinnamon and one with vinegar (of Modena, the black kind).

We took refuge in the 3 jewels and sat for a few seconds, just as last week.

The cinnamon was first, and they found it much harder to identify than I had originally thought, but most could tell it was a spice (maybe because they probably saw it). Interestingly when I asked them about the memories it brought, everybody had different ideas. Some thought about 'banana cakes', 'pudding' one about this dad's 'massage oil' (he is a masseuse) and 'cough medicine'. This was a beautiful opportunity to discuss how the senses trigger different memories in each of us.
Two of the kids said the class was starting to feel like a science class. First, 'I agree in some sense, for me the Buddha was scientist, but a scientist of the mind'. The difference with the science class is that there 'this would be cinnamon and this vinegar. Here it is banana cake and massage oil, worcestershire or soy sauce (for the vinegar)'

The fact that many confused vinegar with soy or other sauces also triggered a nice discussion on how the different senses often 'trick you or do not agree'. If you see something your ideas of what it is will  change even if the smell is telling you something else.

With the older ones we discussed how the habits or the thoughts that senses trigger affect our lives. We talked about walking in front of McDonalds triggers a thought of 'hunger' (even when you are not), all due to the smell (that all of them identified as a unique McDonalds smell).
We wanted to start moving to other senses, and start linking to habits that might affect them later.

Debbie brought some magazine photos form Cloe and other teen magazines, and we discussed  very briefly what does photographs make them feel. There were photos of obese and photos of female models. We wanted to make them aware of their feelings... originally thinking that a model would trigger things like 'I want to be like that' but it did not seem to be something they I actually (or so explicitly) see. Next time we will use other type of photos (objects of marketing).

Last night I saw a great documentary on 'Consuming Kids: the commercialization of Children'.
One of the researchers (or marketers?) describes the outcomes of advertising as 'attachment' to a sense of self. Buddha was so right! Hopefully these type of exercise will help kids be less attached, and a have a proper sense of self (or no-self ;-) not based on what they own.

back! to the senses (smell)

I recently came back from a 4 month trip to the US and Europe (work related).
Last week I started teaching again and it was a a wonderful experience.

The lady who coordinates the classes in the school told me to 'prepare... they will probably be a bit unsettled'. Instead they behaved like angels.

The program we had agreed for this term was to work on awareness of the senses, so I had planed to but some herbs in the supermarket before going to school. As it happens I was stuck at work until last minute. When I arrived to school check my watch... no time. With an uncharacteristic quick thinking I went to the school's canteen and asked for an orange that they did not have, an apple (neither)... I finally got a vegemite sandwich and a mandarine.

We first took refuge in the three jewels (Buddham Saranam Gachami, Dhammam Saranam Gachami and Sangham Saranam Gachami). 
I explained why I like to do it in Pali, the language of Buddha. People has been doing it for 2500 years. Every time they do, people are putting a bit of effort into something. Millions of people do it every day, and have been doing it for centuries! how much effort has gone into this.
If we compare it with some of the 7 wonders of the world, with the Great Wall of China, buildings that took thousands of people decades to build.... how much more have we built with the Buddhist tradition. The fact that we can not see it, does not mean is not there. The effort goes into changing ourselves, not the nature outside, and interestingly enough this is more difficult. The kids were very interested with this idea.

We sat in our normal position' the legs crossed, the back straight, right hand over left hand'
And then did a bit of 'breath in.. breath out'. I asked them to keep their eyes closed until all had a chance to smell the objects hidden in my cloth bag. 'try to feel where you 'feel' the smell, i it in the tip of your nose or deep inside. Is it in your stomach? your mind?'

I walked around and let them get a sniff of the orange.
Most had an idea of what it was, but some confused it with other fruits.
We discussed what they felt? some actually wanted to eat it, and their 'mouth watered' so we discussed the response patterns we have. We smell some things and get hungry...

We then got a smell of the vegemite sandwich. Obviously most of them expressed their feelings loudly 'stink', 'o no!', 'disgusting', but very few recognized what it was.
We then discussed how some scents we feel attracted to and some we reject. How we do this to recognize things that can be harmful or things that can bring nutrition.

The important thing is not to recognize the object, the stimulus, it is to recognize what it triggers in our mind. I believe that when we learn to do this we would have fewer cases of eating disorders, marketing would have a much lower impact on us. We would be much wiser.

At the end of the session, as a joke I ate the vegemite sandwich (that I like), and they all laughed.  Regrettably I was not mindful enough to notice that I would need it for the second class with the older kids. The exercise with them was similar but just discussing the 'attractive' fruit.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

the six perfections

Kids never stop surprising me. We so underestimate their abilities!

One of the activities I led late in the year was to discuss the six perfections (technically called the Paramitas), a different take on the path, with similarities to the eightfold path.
I wanted to leave them some 'homework', something to think about in their holidays, and we had already discussed the eightfold path, so I thought this could be a good alternative, but I had my reservations due to its complexity.

But, they always can surprise us with their ingenuity and focus.
I thought that activity was very successful. The kids meditated on these perfections and seemed happy and motivated when we finished. 

Dana (generosity), reminds us on what the real meaning of the Christmas season should be (most of the kids are from christian families). We practice giving without expecting anything back. 

Sila: (virtue), can be developed by remembering that giving should be accompanied by virtue. 
This means that we can only give what is ours, and that choices should be mindful of waste, cost,...
Kshanti (patience, acceptance), can be developed when we have expectations, desires, etc, all of which cannot be met.

Virya (diligence) that I brought up, asking them to make an effort to meditate a few minutes everyday, while they were on holidays.

Dhyana: (concentration) that they would develop while they meditate

Prajna: (wisdom) that they would also develop while thy meditate.

I wish I had written the details on the session's pros and cons immediately after school. Now, a month later, I only remember the gist of it, and that I was extremely happy about the outcomes.