Interactive 6.4 Thich Nhat Hanh on Mindfulness
Mindfulness and Interbeing
Mindfulness is a practice of attention that stems from many different worldviews and religions including Hinduism, Christianity, and Buddhism. It was partially popularized within Western culture through the ubiquity of Yoga practice (a pre-meditation activity that engages individuals in a body-mind practice). Mindfulness is not a form of obsessive attention to detail, but rather a gentle acknowledgement of your presence ‘here - in this moment.’ It engages a form of ethics that acknowledges the value of all living organisms. The practice of mindfulness contributes to bringing your mind back into your body and your attention to that which is. Listen to how Richard Burnett describes mindfulness and it’s importance in schools. Can you imagine ways of adapting his .b approach to your own teaching situation?
Peace activist, poet, and Zen master, Thích Nhất Hạnh, practices mindfulness everyday to engage in an awakened approach to living: “Mindfulness is the capacity to be aware of what is going on, of what is there. The object of your mindfulness can be anything.” In this same way, mindfulness can be practiced by anyone, regardless of whether or not they hold religious beliefs.
Everyone is capable of being mindful. Everyone is mindful to a certain extent. The question is how to be more mindful. Many people are lost in worries about the future and regrets about the past. They are caught up in their projects and their fantasies, and their minds are not connected to their bodies. If the body is not united with the mind, we are not really alive. Mindful walking and mindful breathing help bring the mind back to the body, so we can be truly present in the here and now… Mindfulness increases concentration and allows us to see things more deeply and stop being victims of wrong perception… We cannot force people to practice mindfulness, but if we practice and become happy, we can inspire others to practice. (Nhất Hạnh, 2009)
Interactive 6.5 Interbeing: Selected section from Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness (Nhat Hanh, 1991, p. 93)
Mindful or contemplative practices are embraced by several religions groups (e.g. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, etc.) yet practicing mindfulness does not make one Buddhist anymore than doing yoga makes one a Hindu! Sometimes when a practice is dominantly associated with one religion (e.g. Buddhism/mindfulness, Hinduism/yoga) the lines get blurred between practices and religious rituals (e.g. communion or bar mitzvah) that are certainly reserved for members of a particular association.
TI doesn’t seek to convert students to Buddhism or any other religion that practices mindfully. We respect each inquirer’s right to believe or not believe, religiously or otherwise. As Nhất Hạnh states, we are interested in helping people practice mindfulness in order to see things more deeply, especially where inquiry is concerned. For more perspectives on how mindful learning “tunes up our instrument of inquiry through developing presence, compassion, discernment and clarity” listen to Tobin Hart discuss the importance of a contemplative approach in education.
The kernel of what Nhất Hạnh is talking about is paying attention, having intention, and recognizing attunement to your self, each other, and nature. Adding richness to his principles, his focus suggests that a new word be added to the dictionary, interbeing, which derived from the Vietnamese: Tiếp Hiện. Nhất Hạnh translates Tiếp Hiện as continued realizing. If we are continually realizing that in every moment there is change, and that change is relational to all other interacting components, we can quickly recognize the inter-relation of all components. Sounds like physics doesn’t it?! Click on Interactive 6.5 to read his description of interbeing.
Mindfulness is part of this intention to atune and attend to the inter-relationship of all things. How am I relating to this moment, to this classroom, to this curriculum? Is this the relationship I am wanting or intending in this moment? What does it feel like to be a student in this experience? What is truth for these students?
Interbeing is highlighted in a number of places within the TI course. Embracing interbeing becomes a way to connect and relate to our souls. Interbeing connects soul, community and Earth (the three intentions of this course).
Interactive 6.6 Relation and Being: Selected section from Research as Ceremony (Wilson, 2008, pp. 75-76)
Of equal importance in understanding the role of mindfulness is appreciating its counterpart, mindlessness. Capel (2012) describes mindless behaviour as that which follows the rules without deference to the context.
Whether intending to learn an academic subject, a new sport, or how to play a musical instrument, we often call upon mind-sets that hamper rather than help us to learn. For example, many of us believe that we should learn the basics of a task so well that they become second nature to us. Having mindlessly accepted this information, it rarely occurs to us to question who determined what the basics are. (Langer & Moldoveanu, 2000, p. 3).
Education is a context where mindlessness frequently occurs. Think back to your last time in a classroom. What mindlessness things did you see occur? What makes you call them mindless? How might the people involved had acted with more mindfulness?