Meditation: The Original Neurodiverse Curriculum
By Joseph Lento
Meditation: You’re Already Doing It!
When we hear the word Meditation it evokes images of people being put into a trance like Count Dracula does or when a Magician swings a Pocket Watch from side to side and tells us that we are getting sleepy. The word Meditation also suggests people sitting on a Mountaintop in a far-off land chanting or droning some incantation or monotone sound but the truth be known, when it comes to Meditation, those are the exceptions and not the norms.
Meditation (in all its various forms) is something each of us does every day; and have been doing long since before we were even aware of our thoughts in structurally relatable ways such as writing. Every time we think, we Meditate, but don’t take my word for it check out a Thesaurus. I can come up with several (I hope I’m right) synonyms off the top of my Head to prove that Thinking is Meditating. How about Consider, Ruminate, Ponder and Cogitate? You might add Devise, Design and Deliberate. Can someone please check those for me? Grazie!
As a matter of fact, the first time we were taught to Meditate was when we had a Lullaby sung to us. A Lullaby juxtaposed to what we would call in modern terms a ‘Guided Meditation.’ is a Meditation in which we are given directions for the purposes of Self Reflection and Positive Behaviors.
Let’s skip the Rock a Bye Baby (I was never quite a Fan of the Bough breaking and Cradle falling…it must have some hidden meaning I care not to explore) and move right along, shall we?
Let’s start with ‘Hush Little Baby’ in which we are taught that if we think about (Meditate) our behavior (crying) and act in certain ways (through concentration on specific goals) that we can manifest positive outcomes. After all, what kid won’t stop crying for a Diamond Ring, a Looking Glass, and a Rocking Horse?! Heck, I’d have piped down just for the promise of not getting punished, but I digress. You see our early training in Meditation doesn’t stop there, oh no, we get our next extensive training around our Birthday and Holidays. That’s right, you heard me. Our Parents trained us to Meditate through Customs! Were we not taught to close our Eyes, make a wish and blow out the Candles on our Birthday Cake? Yes, we were and that’s because our Parents knew that according to a Study (click here to read it) cited in the National Library of Public Medicine that closing our Eyes in fact increases auditory attention. Closing the Eyes in Meditation is almost mandatory. The Study’s main points are:
‘In challenging listening conditions, closing the eyes is a strategy with intuitive appeal to improve auditory attention and perception. On the neural level, closing the eyes increases the power of alpha oscillations (∼10 Hz), which are a prime signature of auditory attention’
‘In summary, we demonstrate here that the modulation of the human alpha rhythm by auditory attention is increased when participants close their eyes”
Our Parents knew so much about Meditation that they used Christmas to reinforce ‘Journaling.’ In Mediation we use Journaling to ‘Take Stock’ of ourselves; to clear out negativity and reaffirm our positive qualities to improve our chances of reaching our goals much like we do when we write to Santa to receive the Gifts we want; or in Meditation, manifest the things we want. Obviously, our Parents read this article from Positive Psychology: “83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress” !
‘‘Journaling can be effective for many different reasons and help you reach a wide range of goals. It can help you clear your head, make important connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and even buffer or reduce the effects of mental illness’’
Does anyone remember our Parents giving us ‘Chores’ growing up? You know, throwing out the trash, washing dishes, mowing the grass, cooking, or doing laundry? Well, those weren’t chores at all but rather ‘Movement Meditation!’ How smart were they?! Our Parents must have known about the popular ‘Well and Good’ Meditation Website and its article on ‘Movement Meditation.’ They were looking out for our physical wellbeing!! Here’s the gist of Movement Meditation and the link to the entire article.
“Just like traditional meditation techniques, a movement meditation can reduce blood pressure and stress, but it can also help you feel more centered emotionally, physically, and mentally, she adds. “It helps you feel alive through movement, breath, and connection to what’s happening around you.”
Since we’ve established that Thinking, Writing and Movement are all conscious forms of Meditation what benefits can be derived from looking at Teaching and Learning through the Lens of Meditation?
Let’s start by examining some basic forms of Meditation of which there are many offshoots, rituals, equipment, and practices which you can explore as you see fit. Everyday Health lists the following Seven in this article, medically reviewed by Justin Laube, MD
How do each of these Meditative Practices listed by Everyday Health transfer into Pedagogical Practices?
My comments will follow each definition in bold Italics:
1. Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is the process of being fully present with your thoughts. Being mindful means being aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not being overly reactive to what’s going on around us.
Mindful meditation can be done anywhere. Some people prefer to sit in a quiet place, close their eyes, and focus on their breathing. But you can choose to be mindful at any point of the day, including while you’re commuting to work or doing chores.
Pedagogy by and large is focused on Directions that require paying attention to what the Teacher is saying and doing but without Individual Mindfulness this construct does not work. The ability to be Mindful is a key component to success. Explore incorporating Creative Mindful Exercises as a Warmup Activity.
2. Transcendental Meditation
Transcendental meditation is a simple technique in which a personally assigned mantra, such as a word, sound, or small phrase, is repeated in a specific way. It’s practiced 20 minutes twice each day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed.
Teachers can incorporate a concise version by having a Class Mantra focused on the Subject at hand; and can be student driven. THE MORE STUDENTS INVEST THE GREATER THE RETURN!
3. Guided Meditation
Guided meditation, which is sometimes also called guided imagery or visualization, is a method of meditation in which you form mental pictures or situations that you find relaxing.
Teachers can be very creative with Guided Imagery. Remember, a Picture Paints One Thousand Words
4. Vipassana Meditation (Sayagyi U Ba Khin Tradition)
Vipassana meditation is an ancient Indian form of meditation that means to see things as they really are. It was taught in India more than 2,500 years ago.
The goal of vipassana meditation is self-transformation through self-observation. This is accomplished through disciplined attention to physical sensations in the body, to establish a deep connection between the mind and body. The continuous interconnectedness results in a balanced mind full of love and compassion, teachers of the practice claim.
This is the perfect opportunity for Interdisciplinary Teaching. The English Teacher can explore The Socratic Method and The Universal Intellectual Standards along with corresponding Physical Activities presented by the Physical Education Teacher.
5. Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Meditation)
Metta meditation, also called Loving Kindness Meditation, is the practice of directing well wishes toward others. Those who practice recite specific words and phrases meant to evoke warm-hearted feelings.
This Meditation should be completely Student Centered. Students might be given the opportunity to form these practices under the supervision of Teachers and Administrators.
6. Chakra Meditation
Chakra is an ancient Sanskrit word that translates to “wheel,” and can be traced back to India. Chakras refer to the centers of energy and spiritual power in the body. There are thought to be seven chakras. Each chakra is located at a different part of the body, and each has a corresponding color.
Chakra meditation is made up of relaxation techniques focused on bringing balance and well-being to the chakras. Some of these techniques include visually picturing each chakra in the body and its corresponding color.
This Meditation presents another perfect opportunity for Interdisciplinary Teaching by the Science and Physical Education Teacher.
7. Yoga Meditation
The practice of yoga dates to ancient India. There are a wide variety of classes and styles of yoga, but they all involve performing a series of postures and controlled breathing exercises meant to promote flexibility and calm the mind.
This Meditation should be taught by the Physical Education Teacher in conjunction with the input of the school Nurse.
Of course, all sweeping changes to school curriculum must align itself with local, state, and federal regulations and with the approval of parents and school administration
Meditation: The Epitome of Neurodiversity
What we are really learning is that Meditation is the epitome of Neurodiversity! It is an all-encompassing amalgam of Differentiated Instruction which is at the Heart of teaching those of us with “Different Brains” which means all of us! By its wide range of Learning Modalities no one is excluded which speaks to the fact that each Brain functions on its own Operational Platform.
The Era of “The One Size Fits All” Pedagogical Model is at best Antediluvian. It must be replaced, and for the life of me I do not understand the reasons such a paradigm is still the predominant Teacher- Student Learning Platform.
It’s long past due that we turn the page or better yet, close the book on it in exchange for a curriculum based on Meditation and its branches of Self Evaluation, Purpose, Clarity, Emotional Balance, and Self Improvement, amongst many other beneficial studies.
Stay tuned for more on this topic. This was just an Appetizer!
Joseph S. Lento is a Conservatory trained professional Musician. Joseph is licensed by NYS as a Teacher of Orchestral Music and School District Administration and began his career in 1984. In 1999 he was named NYC Bronx County High School Teacher of the Year. In 2014 President Barack Obama named him a National Teacher of Arts and Humanities. Joseph is called on frequently by local Radio Hosts, NY Cable TV and local T.V. News stations as an expert on Music, Special Needs students and curriculum development.