After hearing from my students on a regular basis that they easily identified their smart phones and social media usage as their number one distraction and enemy of focused attention and time management, I decided to introduce them to the Bored and Brilliant Challenge. I learned of this idea from NPR’s wonderful radio show, Note to Self, hosted by Manoush Zomorodi. The essence of this challenge is based upon the assertion that our culture today promotes constant connection with technology, and consequently we rarely have any good “down-time” for wondering, daydreaming and relaxing into deeper thinking. Furthermore, it appears that this constant connection and jumping from one bit of “shallow” information to the next trains the brain to not be satisfied with focusing intently upon one task at hand, like studying for a test or writing a reflection paper. Here’s a link to the radio show that thoroughly describes the Bored and Brilliant Boot Camp Challenge: http://www.wnyc.org/story/bored-and-brilliant-boot-camp/
So, we narrowed down the focus to three days to make it workable for us and took the challenge. On day one of last week, my students were asked to “Put it in your pocket.” They were not allowed to access their phones as they moved from place to place on campus. Day two was “See the world through your own eyes,” and students were not to take any photos on their phones all day. Day three was “Delete that App!” Students were required to identify their favorite social media app (Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and delete this app for the entire day.
After submitting their reflection papers on what the challenge was like and how successful or unsuccessful they were in complying with the demands of the challenge, we book-ended the experiment with a class session conducted completely in contemplative silence. During this class session, we explored being bored and brilliant by spending time outdoors simply daydreaming by the fountain in the Quad and then returned to our
indoor classroom to color and draw.
I really enjoyed watching my students relax into their disconnected daydreaming and it warmed my heart to watch them pick up their crayons and color with abandon like they were in kindergarten. Only time will tell if this experimental project will benefit my students long-term, but it is certainly clear to me that they are looking for relief from their constant connection with technology, and possibly the permission and acceptability to seek it.
I have now finished my second summer of “playing” mindfulness with the children involved in the Horizons program at Ole Miss. Again, it was so rewarding and further enhanced my awareness of the great need to introduce mindfulness and contemplative practices into the classroom for our children at this age. I am grateful for the training that I received from the Mindful Schools Program (www.mindfulschools.org) and from Daniel Rechtschaffen and his remarkable program at The Mindful Education Institute. (danielrechtschaffen.com). Daniel’s new book, The Way of Mindful Education – Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students, is an excellent resource.
I am grateful to be in the second summer of bringing mindfulness practices into the classroom of kindergarten, first and second graders at Ole Miss as part of the Horizons National program. We have Mindful Mondays in which we practice getting to know our breath, finding our still quiet place within, sharing heartfulness with ourselves and others, smiling yoga, and tuning our attention to the sound of the mindfulness bell. The light in their faces is extraordinary.
One of the most popular mindfulness practices that we do each year in my EDHE 105 freshman class is take a silent, contemplative hike along the trail that leads through Bailey’s Woods to Rowan Oak on our campus. This is a beautiful, secluded and easily hiked trail that leads through the woods to the restored home of our most famous local author, William Faulkner. It takes about 20 minutes to hike the trail one way, and it is especially lovely in the fall when the foliage is changing.
We hike the trail single file in complete silence . . . no back packs and no cell phones. I invite my students to give themselves permission to be fully present with the beauty of nature in the stillness and silence and to reflect upon their personal experience. It is a wonderful way for them to be introduced to walking meditation.
Format for a Silent, Contemplative Walk in Nature Through Bailey’s Woods
EDHE 105 – First Year Experience
- Come into complete silence and stillness. Take a few slow, deep breaths, grounding yourself in the present moment.
- Begin walking intently and mindfully, keeping your awareness on your immediate surroundings or on your own breath and body as you walk.
- Walk slowly and deliberately, savoring each step as a gift. Enjoy simply being alive in the freshness of nature.
- When your mind begins to wander, and you begin to plan for the future or worry about the past, draw your awareness back to the present and the here and now.
- As you walk, allow creation and nature to speak to you. Notice the trees, sky, flowers, birds, stones, colors, sounds and smells.
- Listen. Listen. Listen.
- Silently wonder and reflect with childlike curiosity.
- Come out of the silence and dialogue about your experience.
I am fortunate to be able to teach a 3-hour course every fall semester at Ole Miss called First Year Experience (EDHE 105). It is open to incoming freshmen only and is an elective class that focuses upon assisting these students in successfully adjusting to college life. My class is intentionally small and intimate, never more than 20 students. I began teaching this class five years ago, and each year I have gradually increased the emphasis that I place upon integrating mindfulness practices into my pedagogy and into the assignments on my syllabus. We begin every class session by ringing the mindfulness bell and 3 – 5 minutes of mindfulness meditation in silence in which I invite my students to settle in and give themselves permission to just be fully present in my classroom.
I have also been given the privilege of authoring the chapter in the textbook for this class on Mindfulness and Stress Management.