Benefits of Mindfulness - A Literature Review
The following literature review is offered as a resource for readers who may be interested in pursuing some of the underlying philosophy of the use of strategies such as Mindfulness in the Classroom.
Cardaciotto, Lee Ann. (2005). Assessing Mindfulness: The Development of a Bi-Dimensional Measure of Awareness and Acceptance.
This thesis by Lee Ann Cardaciotto provides history of mindfulness, definitions and concepts associated with mindfulness assessment, as well as test outcomes from clinical and non-clinical perspectives. Even though Cardaciotto’s thesis includes the importance of mindfulness qualities being, “nonjudging, nonstriving, acceptance, patience, trust, openness, letting go, gentleness, generosity, empathy, gratitude and loving kindness”, she largely focuses on acceptance and awareness aspects of mindfulness (Cardaciotto, 2005, 0. 12).
Benefits of mindfulness meditation practice used in clinical psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy processes are discussed. For example, some counselling therapies that currently include mindfulness are Mindfulness-Basted stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). The thesis gives explanation and guidance, documenting validity for the use of mindfulness as a means of maintaining one’s well-being.
“Mindfulness appears to interrupt cycles of negative internal experiences, such as anticipatory anxiety of a future event, or rumination of a past event. Beliefs, regarded as habits of thinking, feeling, and perceiving (Tart, 1994), determine the manner in which one observes the external environment; mindfulness allows one to observe beliefs and their potential consequences without accepting them as truth. As a result, an increased range of responses become available, as habitual ways of responding are replaced with intentional ways of responding that are chosen rather than automatically enacted. … mindfulness mediation produces brain activation in a region typically associated with positive affect, and beneficial effects of immune functioning.”
Eisler, Riane & Miller, Ron (Eds.). (2004). Educating for a Culture of Peace. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Educating for a Culture of Peace is a compilation of essays addressing the connection of humanness, peace and education, with the aim of awakening educators to be peace. Of all the essays, there are four in particular that, in my opinion, reinforce the value and importance of educator’s connection of knowing self.
In Rachel Kessler’s essay, Education for Integrity Connection, Compassion and Character, she states, “My own experience tells me that when I move too fast, my capacity to feel deeply will often dull or shut down. But speed, for me, is also a by-product of numbness because when I am unconsciously shutting down my emotions to protect myself from vulnerability, I often slip into overdrive”(Kessler, 2004, p.63). The accumulative effect of overdrive and autopilot may result in stress, over sensitivity and anxiety, causing one to react to life, rather than respond from a place of care. To slow down, to care for self is important. Kessler theorizes that even with exceptional curricula and teachers well trained in the practice of the curricula, the programs will continue to have a sense of emptiness about them if the educators have not come to know their own soul. Kessler sees that there is a difference for learners when teachers journey with the students, together allowing their hearts to open to their authentic self, as well as integrating the curriculum in a meaningful way.
Doralice Lange de Souza Rocha’s essay, On Being a Caring Teacher, is about being in relationship with the learner, being in full participation with them. As she is with her student’s she questions how she teaches, how she can be with learners as she seeks to know the learners and their needs. She opens to finding ways to assist learners to find what they are seeking. She looks to them with “loving eyes” to draw the learners in, reflecting constantly on how wonderful each one is (de Souza Rocha, 2004, p.104).
Dierdre Bucciarelli’s essay, If We Could Really Feel the Need for Emotions of Care Within the Disciplines, speaks of connected thinking, combined with caring action, can allow students to learn to see deeply, actively listen and understand what they are connecting with. As Barbara McClintock worked with corn plants, she used an aspect of connected thinking to understand the science of the corn. She said, “I know every plant in the field. I know them intimately, and I find it a great pleasure to know them… I actually felt as if … these were my friends” (McClintock, 2004). For educators to know learners in this way, as self connects thinking with other, not only does self come to know other, self comes to know self, with care. Bucciarelli’s words remind me of Malcolm X stating, “We can’t teach what we don’t know, and we can’t lead where we won’t go” (Howard, 1994, p.6).
Linda Bynoe’s essay, Strategies for Teaching Caring and Empowerment, speaks about recognizing the mystery that is within the human experience. “Spirituality must not be taught as a good or evil religion, but as the basic food of the human spirit and how the spirit links to our humanism” (Bynoe, 2004, p. 194). There is relationship with the place of mystery within the human experience, which permeates all parts of life, either as an aspect recognized or one that is denied and marginalized. By educator’s acknowledging the sacredness of self and other, the mystery and wonder of education opens to greater dimensions of knowing.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon. (2005) Full Catastrophe Living. New York: Bantam Dell.
Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book is both a guide and an inspiration towards self-awareness and self-care. The title of the book speaks to the complexity of life experience that is always in flux. The practice taught in Full catastrophe Living is called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a program that Kabat-Zinn created and facilitates out of University of Massachusetts. Mindfulness allows one to see self in the complexity of life through awareness and acceptance of self, a compassionate approach to self. In the book, the reader is taken step-by-step through an eight-week program, encouraging a relationship with life that makes space for loving kindness with self and Other.
Full Catastrophe Living gives information from the clinical MBSR practice and the experiences of those who have done the eight-week program. Results shared document the types of changes that can occur with mindfulness such as relief of pain, less anxiety, acceptance of life and willingness to participate in life.
Kabat-Zinn suggests mindfulness is a practical and valuable way of being in an ever-changing world. Full catastrophe living, in mindfulness, allows one to be in touch with the inner self while really being present in the world we live, work and play in.
“Mindfulness is a lifetimes journey along a path that ultimately leads nowhere, only to who you are. The way of awareness is always here, always accessible to you, in each moment”(Kabat-Zinn, 2005, p. 443).
Miller, John P. (1996). The Holistic Curriculum. Toronto, Ontario: OISE Press, Inc.
Miller’s Holistic Curriculum considers why there is a need of holistic curricula, what the holistic view is and how it can be implemented.
Miller explains that the need of holistic curriculum comes from the fragmentation within education as the result of the industrial revolution. He sees that compartmentalization, standardization and lack of relationship between subjects, lessons, and self can be altered to that of inclusion, balance and connection. He choose to call this type of curriculum holistic, a word that comes from the Greek word holon, which refers to the universe as being composed of “integrated wholes that cannot simply be reduced to the sum of its parts” (Miller, 1996, p.3).
For education to be complete, involves consideration, acknowledgement and acceptance of the whole person, a philosophy of holism, “…based on the “perennial philosophy” which holds that all things are part of an invisible unity or whole”(Miller, 1996,p.20).
A holistic view of the world is seeing through a lens of wholeness, where no thing is unrelated, where there is recognition of cause and effect, which can for educators be a “compelling vision of wholeness as a guiding image for the curriculum” (Miller, 1996, p.31).
“To be holistically authentic is to care” (Miller, 1996, p.179). How can one achieve this across the waves of crisis, personalities and busy-ness? “According to Noddings, “What I must do is to be totally and nonselectively present to the student – to each student – as he addresses me. The time interval may be brief but the encounter is total”(Miller, 1996, p. 179).
Miller concludes his book by saying, “By working on ourselves, we hope to foster in our students a deep sense of connectedness within themselves and to other beings on this planet”(Miller, 1996, p.183).
Napoli, Maria. Mindfulness Training for Teachers: A Pilot Program. Complementary Health Practice Review Vol. 9, No.1, January 2004, 31-42.
Maria Napoli’s article discusses results of a mindfulness-training pilot program facilitated in an elementary school. Napoli begins the article by briefly explaining the rationale for the study. The purpose of the program was to determine if the practice of mindfulness affects teacher “behaviour and perception with their students and in their personal lives” (Napoli, 2004, p. 32). Napoli’s study was of great interest to me as it reflected similar rationale and purpose to my own action research.
Napoli’s program included three teachers and their students receiving mindfulness training over a nine-month period, plus in-class practice of meditation practices over eight weeks. The results of the program showed an “improvement in their overall educational” and personal life experience (Napoli, 2004, p. 40).
“Research has shown that incorporating stress-reduction programs into the school curriculum improves academic performance, self-esteem, concentration, and behaviour problems. … There is a need to introduce the concept of stress and stress management in schools”(Napoli, 2004, p. 32).
Palmer, Parker. (1998). The Courage to Teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Parker Palmer’s much referred to statement that “we teach who we are” parallels the basic premise of my research action (Palmer, 1998, p.1). In order to employ heart centred teaching with compassion and care, we must know our own heart with compassion and care.
The Courage to Teach addresses the teacher as an individual entity, the one who is in close relationship with individual learners. To honourably be accountable to learners and self, Palmer theorizes that a fundamental question educator’s should ask themselves is: “Who is the self that teaches?” (Palmer, 1998 p.7). Throughout the Courage to Teach, Palmer gives reasons for educators to recognize and explore self-awareness. “Face to face with my students, only one resource is at my immediate command: my identity, my selfhood, my sense of this “I who teaches – without which I have no sense of the “Thou” who learns” (Palmer, 1998, p.10).
Palmer looks at change as something that comes from within, again theorizing that the inward journey empowers. His questions cause one to consider what it is that motivates one’s actions that bring clarity and ability to hold integrity and care in our work as educators.
Palmer shares his journey as an educator who has chosen to teach from the heart. This is an ambiguous concept and Palmer’s stories help to bring heart-centred teaching to an understandable place. He refers to the heart as an inner voice that one can and should be in relationship with. “…if we do not respond to the voice of the inward teacher it will either stop speaking or become violent: I am convinced that some forms of depression, of which I have personal experience, are induced by a long-ignored inner teacher trying desperately to get us to listen by threatening to destroy us. When we honour that voice with simple attention, it responds by speaking more gently and engaging us in a life-giving conversation of the soul: (Palmer, 1998,p.32).
From the heart-centred foundation Palmer leads the educator through fears of conflict, loss of identity, diversity and of learning. He shows through examples in the teaching experience, how knowing self can bring us to know other in a way that is transformative and empowering for both teacher and learner. Palmer addresses fear by recognizing self as spiritual as well as physical.
Once fear has been dealt with, Palmer then leads into wholeness, connecting self, other, teacher, learner, subject, community, world and home. He offers as a way to teach in balance and harmony, reflectively coming to be and acknowledge the knower of self and other. In every area of discussion Palmer brings attention to centre, to the heart of the matter.