Starting the New Year off with stillness, could be one of the most important coping skills we teach students -- especially with the increase of technological intensity.
Listening to the wisdom of those sages who have offered these concepts for thousands of years, their messages all share a similar theme: slow down, tap in, sit back, listen.
Ironically, though, schools and classrooms are continually faced with the pressures to keep up with the pace of change and technology.
How do we manage this growing paradox?
In Walter Isaacson's Steve Jobs, he discusses Jobs' pursuit to follow Eastern religions as a way to "concentrate the mind in order to gain experiential wisdom." Jobs told Isaacson during an interview,
"Western rational thought is not an innate human characteristic; it is learned and is the greatest achievement of Western civilization. In the villages of India, they never learned it. They learned something else … the power of intuition and experiential wisdom. … If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. When you calm it, there's room to hear more subtle things -- that's when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more."*
Pico Iyer, in his New York Times op ed "The Joy of Quiet" reveals some startling facts:**
- The average American teenager sends or receives 75 text messages a day
- The average American spends at least eight and a half hours a day in front of a screen
- Internet rescue camps in South Korea and China have now been set up to save kids addicted to the screen.
Most notably, he points out that at a recent lecture given to prominent advertisers in Singapore by Malcolm Gladwell and other leaders of our time, they emphasized the importance of reaching the kids of the future through stillness.
Ghandi states that "In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness."
If we teach kids how to tolerate themselves in stillness, we are providing them with resources that enhance their clarity and raise an awareness of deep inner truths.
Over the last five years I have interviewed researchers in the field of mental health for educational curricula and films about eating disorders. Many of whom shared their concerns that kids do not have respite from electronic devices and they wished that parents would encourage a mandatory down-time from social media and other electronic stimuli. In Iyer's article, he suggests imposing an "Internet sabbath" every week, where individuals (parents and children alike) "turn off their online connections from Friday night to Monday morning, so as to try to revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation."
Iyer most eloquently points out that "We’re rushing to meet so many deadlines that we hardly register that what we need most are lifelines."
I vote that we give students a lifeline by teaching stillness as a daily part of school curricula. Mindfulness, meditation -- even for 15 minutes -- will teach them to look inward for guidance and -- in the words of Steve Jobs -- blossom their intuition.
*Isaacson, W. (2011), Steve Jobs (p. 109-111) Simon & Schuster, New York, NY.
**Iyer, P., The Joy of Quiet, The New York Times Opinion Pages, December 29, 2011 (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/01/opinion/sunday/the-joy-of-quiet.html?_r=1)