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Lions Roar : May 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2012 75 A Real Education BY BARRY BOYCE The Mindful Society HERE’S AN EXERCISE FOR PARENTS: Imagine your child has excelled at school and college and is embarking on a career. When they go for the big interview they’re flummoxed to find that their education didn’t cover the essential skills for this job— being able to calm yourself and regulate your emotions in a var- iety of situations; understand your own emotions, accurately perceive others’ emotions, and empathize; listen attentively to what someone is saying, negotiate, and confidently persuade; think through problems effectively while consid- ering others’ perspectives. “Kindness, caring, empathy, being able to de-center from your own point of view and listen deeply to others—these are values that should be cultivated in our classrooms,” says Mark Greenberg, director of the Preven- the Preven- tion Research Center for the Promotion of Human Development at Penn State Univer- sity. These are the social and emotional skills that a person who experienced “optimal nurturing conditions” would develop dur- ing childhood and adolescence and bring with them into adulthood. Greenberg has become an influential cham- pion of research into programs that improve the health and well-being of children using mindfulness and related con- templative approaches. They may not always be like the mindfulness prac- tices that people who go on retreats do, but they feature “nonattachment, noticing our cognitions, and being able to find a spot in our heart and mind where we can see what’s going on but not get caught up in it.” This quality of nonattachment, he says, can emerge in sitting or walking meditation, in yoga poses, or through a variety of other techniques, where our inherent capability for relaxation with our mind’s activity can emerge. The field of prevention, Greenberg says, not only aims to avert school failure, depression, and extreme aggression, but to promote positive qualities like empathy, citizenship, and strong friendships. Prevention focuses on “building resilience and pro- moting well-being in children, by working both with the chil- dren themselves and with their environments—the quality of the parenting they receive, the welcoming nature of their class- rooms, the caring of their teachers.” Mindfulness and related contemplative techniques have been making strong inroads in recent years as effective prevention tools, Greenberg says, because their effectiveness in bringing about cer- tain desirable outcomes is being proven in setting after setting, and federal grant-making agencies and foundations are taking notice. Mindfulness practices can increase people’s awareness of their own emotions and their ability to regulate them. This can make it possible for them to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and since a “pretty good percentage of teenagers are at risk for depression,” it’s important to have it in the educational tool bag. Another critical element that has made mindfulness appealing to educators is its effectiveness in increasing attention, “the ability to aim our cognitive capacities in one direction with as little dis- traction as possible.” Attention is one of the greatest challenges for children, and perhaps only more so in a world offering so much distraction so frequently. Mark Greenberg PHOTO©ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/KEVINRUSS