There’s endless talk of change in teaching, in learning, in the curriculum.. But there’s the beginnings of something else out there, which just might have a significant impact if it became embedded. Judge for yourself if there’s the remotest chance…
Tonbridge School (others plan to follow) has introduced meditation classes, focusing on mindfulness, with perceived benefits in terms of concentration skills and combating anxiety. Living in the moment, avoiding past regrets and future worries, is a hard lesson to explain philosophically to a 15-year-old but if you learn to slow down through meditating then it does begin to relate to actual experience.
Above all, slowing down is about silence. Not the shouted silence that gives the teacher control, but the inner silence where you’re in control. You cannot continue to shout and demand and insist and posture while engaging in silence.
Thinking of Old Tonbridgeans. The cricketer, Colin Cowdrey, was one, and his languid demeanour suggests that maybe meditation comes naturally to the school. Alasteir Crowley famous as a mountaineer, occultist and sexual revolutionary suggests the opposite. EM Forster, another old boy, had it spot on – ‘only connect’.
There’s an important distinction to be made. It’s less meditation, that being a technique, and more mindfulness that’s really being pioneered here. Mindfulness is about being aware of yourself in the moment, no before or after, being receptive, not aggressive, carrying no baggage in, and no baggage out.
Mindfulness gives perspective, takes emotion out of the moment, and that means taking out aggression, fear, anxiety, hatred, all those emotions that feed on themselves. What’s left intact is a sense of the world as it is, where’s there’s no negative charge, no knots, no warped views or false perspectives.
Schoolboys will no doubt be just like the rest of us. We come out of the mindful moment and we’re back, racing like rats, shouting, over-emoting, switching in one endlessly unmindful moment after another from one obsession to the next. But once we know mindfulness we can build on it, and that’s hopefully what the boys at Tonbridge, and other schools that try it out, will find. It’s not about undermining ambition or a sense of mission, or negating a desire to achieve for yourself or improve the world. But it does give you a place to return to at any moment, a sense of when you’re out of control, and how to deal with it, and an awareness of how to avoid following others, to stay out of the fray, when they lose control.
Kids these days are taught so much about the environment, and most come out of school believing in its preservation. They’re taught citizenship as well, but many show little regard for it outside school. Both though get shunted aside as we make our way in the world. Will mindfulness be the same? Probably yes. But it’s worth a try, and if it only takes a small percentage of the strain and stress out of life then it’s worth it – helping a few to real understanding, and allowing that understanding to benefit others by example, seeding in a small way a better future.