In the schools of Bogota, Buenos Aires, Madrid or New York silence is taking the place of the customary noise. One or two times a day, students and professors are closing their eyes, breathing, sharpening their senses and permitting a calmness inside of themselves. Beyond beliefs, they have discovered with the ancient practice of meditation an antidote against anxiety, dropouts and loss of interest. And at the same time they have found a doorway towards the peaceful management of conflicts, the tolerance to frustration and the meaning in life.
In Colombia, Paula Ramírez and her Swiss partner Matthias Rüst trained in Education for Peace, lead Respira, (Breathe), a meditation project in schools that has arrived to more than 3.000 children in five schools in Chocó y Bogotá. In Argentina, Doctor Daniel López Rosetti, a specialist in Stress Medicine, has led a meditation program in six schools in the Province of Buenos Aires defining it as a “physical training for peace”. In Spain more than two hundred public schools have incorporated mindfulness into their daily activities. And in the USA, the foundation led by the filmmaker and meditator David Lynch has sponsored Quiet Time in eighteen schools. This initiative has achieved in four years a 98% assistance with students and an increase in the grades in the institution with the worst problems in San Francisco.
These meditative practices that are revolutionizing the educative experience in the schools and can be traced back in history before 1200 BC in India with the marvelous oral legacy named the Vedas (the knowledge). The origin of these texts is attributed to the rishis (the wise ones), who during their meditations “heard” these eternal truths in an inner resonance (Lavapeur, O. 2004: 198). Later systematizations specified breathing techniques, methods for the concentration of the mind and physical movements to enter into profound states of consciousness. But it was the appearance of Buddha (in approximately 400 BC) and the posterior diffusion of his teachings that the meditation practices extended to Tibet, China and Japan.
However, these techniques were not exclusive to the spiritual paths of the Orient, because the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the Sufis and the Christian fathers of the desert all had methods to withdraw within the consciousness and to ‘be’. Like this, for example, Evagrius Ponticus, one of the most well known Desert Fathers, 1600 years ago affirmed: “In the hour of temptation, you should not look for more or less credible pretexts to abandon your cell, but stay there with the decision to be patient”, and analyzing this fragment the monk Anselm Grün adds: “with an exterior immobility, a little tranquility will arrive.” (Grün, A. 2008: 174).
Despite its ancient existence meditation takes on today a special validity for the signs of our times. In the educational field, the standards of performance and competition are too highly valued. Childhood, with its naturalness and freedom, has been set aside to make way to an excessive stimulation and an anxiety to get the top results. About the consequences of this displacement, the philosopher Byung Chul- Han affirmed: “sicknesses like depression, attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity, borderline personality disorder and occupational burnout syndrome define the pathological panorama of the beginning of this century” (Han, B.-C. 2012: 10).
Investigators such as the psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal, from the University of Georgetown, have found that there is a high presence of stress in schools and affirm that 70% of young people do not receive a psychological accompaniment (Laborde, A. 2015). The above syndromes mentioned, early drug addiction, school violence “bullying” and the dropouts from school, without counting the challenges for the teachers are phenomenon of a wider reality, where we are exercising a violence with ourselves, accepting the pendulum of hyperactivity and fatigue.
Therefore, in an accelerated society, where there is an emphasis on multitasking, and performance levels, meditation offers calmness, being focused, liberty of purpose and a meeting with the profound nature of the Self. The virtues of the practice have been proven scientifically in the physical, emotional, professional, educative and psychological areas without even counting the possibility of a spiritual reconnection.
In the medical field, John Kabat-Zinn, professor of the Faculty of Medicine in Massachusetts University and practitioner of meditation for over fifty years, has studied the relationship between stress, aging and chronic illnesses. In front of this triad, he discovered how the practice of meditation regulates biological aging and prevents the relationship between stress and the development of chronic diseases. Including in patients with these illnesses he proved that the practice of short periods of daily meditation improved the quality of life. In his words: “The patient participates with his illness, and the symptoms change: it lowers the arterial pressure, headaches and gastrointestinal problems etc. The traditional medicine is in a very bad state, because it has lost contact with its oath to do no harm. It is necessary that meditation forms a part of medicine” (Quijada, P. 2016).
In the same direction, recently in the renowned John’s Hopkins University carried out a metaanalysis of forty-seven studies about meditation, which included more than 3.500 patients, with pathologies such as stress, addictions, diabetes, depression and chronic pain. It was shown, that amongst other aspects, that there was a reduction in the arterial pressure, an improvement in the immunological system, a better tolerance to pain and a capacity to manage depression and anxiety with the same results as antidepressants, but without the secondary effects. (Nicholson, C. 2014).
In the educative and professional fields, meditation has shown an improvement in the capacity for attention, concentration, decision making and to memorize. Besides this it has been established that there is a relationship between creativity and the meditative state, as the practice stimulates lateral thinking, the relationship between ideas that are habitually disconnected and in favor of the capacity of synthesis.
On the other hand, in the area of the emotions and relationships, studies like that of Doctor Sara Lazar, from the General Hospital in Massachusetts, have concluded that people who meditate raise the density of the grey matter, in the structures of the brain that are related to empathy and emotional regulation. (Jar, N. 2015). In the schools this has been reflected in the notable diminishing of school violence, that in the case of North America had arrived at a 65% decrease in violent conflicts (Laborde, A. 2015). Therefore meditation could lay the foundation for a culture of peace, beyond the “duties” or rules it could permit the experiencing of a calmness in life, and it could train the practitioners in the management of their emotional reactivity.
The simplicity and at the same time complex practice of sitting to observe our breathing, cultivating our full attention and maybe concentrating on one word or thought makes it also possible to revitalize the contemplative life. Meditation invites us to “alleviate life” (in Nietzsche’s terminology), “ idealizing the events; so […] that the vision of the person that is contemplating is not very exact or very sharp, and it obliges him to place himself at a certain distance” (Nietzsche, N. 1982: 190). This distancing permits us to move ourselves from the perspective of the thoughts, expectations, desires or pressures, towards a vantage point of essential calm and clarity. Due to all of the above, meditation is the door to meaning, to the experience of Being in the world and to the awareness that we are in living in our existence with Others. In the beautiful words of the Buddhist Monk, Matthieu Ricard: “If we go even deeper into ourselves, we may come to find that our primary aspiration, that which underlies all the others, is for some satisfaction powerful enough to nourish our love of life. This is the wish: ‘May every moment of my life and of the lives of others be one of wisdom, flourishing, and inner peace!’” (2005:30).
This wider consciousness of empathy, love and unity for the world and its creatures is an experience that reconnects us with nature as an entity, with humanity as a brotherhood and with the sacred reality as sustenance. This is how the Catholic priest and writer Pablo d’Ors describes it in his book The biography of silence: “Thanks to meditation I have discovered that there is no I and the world, but that the world and I are one and the same and unique thing. The natural consequence of such a finding […] is the compassion towards all living beings: you do not want to hurt anything or anyone because you realize that in the first place one would be hurting yourself if you did” (2014: 32).
In the middle of an apparent inaction of the meditation, a physical, emotional, mental and existential revolution occurs. The transformations are extraordinary in expert meditators, but it can also be evident after a few weeks of starting a daily practice of twenty minutes. The persistence and patience guide the practitioners towards states of consciousness and deeper wellbeing, and in daily life the wonderment, the appreciation for beauty, the strength in front of challenges and the enthusiasm all grow. But as Silence occupies the place of calmness, the intuition of a reality that is more vast becomes more present (the emptiness, in Buddhism; an Ananda or supreme delight, in Hinduism, or an eternal bliss). This is the experience that led Karl Jaspers to affirm “ What is most me in myself, and my freedom itself, comes to me from another place”.
Today, meditation constitutes a simple alternative to reduce dropouts, violence and learning difficulties in the schools. Without a doubt, its value extends converting itself into a creative answer against velocity, anxiety and the sadness present in our societies of performance, rescuing contemplation, a pause and taking care of oneself. The meditative state also drives us to experience the culture of peace and empathy, but more importantly, it is the entrance into the experience of the ultimate meaning of existence and that which the philosopher Sri Aurobindo calls the “true consciousness and true experience”.
A version of this article was published in the magazine Revista Javeriana, from Colombia, in the June 2016 edition. http://www.revistajaveriana.org
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