People often say that a lot of what you learn in school is not useful in real life. But what do you wish you had learnt? How to have successful relationships? How to find your passion in life? How to deal with negative thoughts and emotions? How to be more confident? How to be okay with making mistakes? How to live a happy and fulfilling life?
It sounds like a list of my blog titles, doesn’t it?
I’ve only been discovering some of the answers to these questions over the last few years, since I discovered meditation, and it opened up a whole world to me.
The gap between what most of us are taught and what’s actually useful really hit home to me when I went to a workshop on intimacy. Now, you’re probably thinking that sounds a bit weird or awkward. I felt quite uncomfortable telling people about it. But why shouldn’t it be a normal thing to do, given that intimacy is one of our deepest human needs?
One of the things that they said at the start of the workshop is that the quality of our relationships is one of the most important influences on our happiness, yet most of us have never had any teaching or support in this area. We just try to muddle through. Why not? That seems bonkers to me.
There is an urgency to this issue, because 30 years ago, the most common age group to experience depression was 49–51, and now it’s 13–18. We are not equipping young people with the skills and information they need to thrive in this world.
So this is where we are. We can either complain about it, or do something about it. One organisation that’s doing a lot about it is the Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP).
They’ve created a 10-lesson curriculum which includes lessons on:
- increasing concentration
- letting go of negative thoughts
- overcoming insomnia
- how to get into ‘the zone’ for peak performance
- savouring the pleasant and accepting the unpleasant, and
- reflecting on what really matters to you in life.
I’ve been delivering this curriculum in schools for two years now, and found that students and teachers, on the whole, really feel the benefits.
The students I’ve worked with told me they felt more able to concentrate for their revision, less stressed about their exams, more able to calm themselves down when they felt angry, and more appreciative of their parents.
The global spread of mindfulness in schools
Last week I spent four days training to be an MiSP trainer.
Teachers, educational psychologists and mindfulness teachers from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Switzerland, Holland and the UK, who’d already done an 8-week adult mindfulness course, had come to learn to teach the programme in schools.
I felt so inspired by the enthusiasm of both the training team and the people on the course. I love being connected with people who really believe in what they are doing. I felt excited by the idea of these 30 people going off to different corners of the globe to share these teachings with colleagues and students, and to imagine the impact that it might have: like thousands of small ripples of positivity spreading far and wide.
The programme was created by a school teacher and a mindfulness teacher, who got together to create the lessons, started testing them out and then produced a huge wealth of teaching resources, which means that the course can be taught to hundreds of other people.
It’s also currently the subject of a rigorous scientific study at Oxford University to measure its effectiveness, called Myriad. Once the results are in, assuming they are positive, it will be a huge boost to the credibility of the course and should help the organisation get more funding and spread its impact even further.
The importance of walking the talk
One thing from the course that stuck in my mind, about the history of secular mindfulness, was that when Dr Mark Williams and his team from Oxford University created the first mindfulness course for depression in the UK, they couldn’t understand why it wasn’t having much effect. They went back to Jon Kabat-Zinn from the University of Massachusetts — the founding father of secular mindfulness — and he asked, ‘Are you and your team practising mindfulness yourselves?’
‘No, we don’t practice, we’re the psychologists.’ They said. They were seeing mindfulness as something that they, the professionals, could deliver to the client like a pill. Kabat-Zinn told them that, for the course to be effective, they needed to embody what they were teaching themselves.
So they went back to the UK and started practising, and the course started to become more effective.
Recent studies have shown that mindfulness is as effective as, if not slightly more effective than, anti-depressant drugs in preventing depressive relapses.
I’m halfway through teaching the course in two London schools at the moment, and I will return to that re-energised by the passion of other people around the world who are part of the mindfulness in schools revolution. It’s not a dramatic or blood-thirsty revolution, it’s a quiet, calm, kind revolution. That’s why I think it’s got a good chance of success.
If you know a school that would benefit from mindfulness, please get in touch.