Initially, when I first found out that I had been nominated to join a group of teachers from around the diocese, the pilot programme of teaching children how to meditate I was humbled and privileged.
At that stage, I thought of meditation as a way of calming and quieting my life and then maybe the lives of the children in my class, Year 5D at Holy Spirit School. After the first meeting with Ernie, Joan and other teachers at CEO I was really excited and daunted at the prospect of trialling Christian Meditation with my own class and the fact that we were a small piece of a large puzzle. The puzzle being that classes from P-12 were going to practise Christian Meditation regularly in classes across the diocese - a world first!
The teachers were given a kit of Christian Meditation resources, (including Laurence Freeman’s book and CD) to read and listen to. After the third or fourth listening I began concentrating on the message not the messenger and feeling increasingly inspired by the fruits of Christian Meditation.
Our second meeting was a whole day session at the House of Prayer. What a venue for contemplation and reflection! After talking to teachers about what worked and what didn’t work with Christian Meditation in their own classrooms, I felt more confident with teaching my class to be still, silent, and keeping things simple.
We had a third meeting (over two days) at the House of Prayer with Ruth Fowler. It was enlightening at times and heavy going at others. All the time I felt I was being gently guided, encouraged and supported in the journey along the Christian Meditation path.
So what worked and what didn’t work with the implementation of Christian Meditation in my classroom?
In a small classroom, sitting on their own chairs rather than sitting on the floor worked well. It meant I could see everyone. Taking shoes and socks off was optional. After the novelty wore off most children were happy to keep them on. In Year 5, ten minutes was the optimal amount of time to meditate (one minute per year of age) we started out at three minutes and added thirty seconds each week until we reached the ten-minute mark.
In the perfect world, you would meditate with your class every day but in the real world I would have been happy if my class meditated twice a week in place of normal classroom prayer.
The children were reminded to be still, silent and keep things simple (by reciting ‘Maranatha’, continuously in their mind and returning to their ‘sacred word’ when their minds became distracted. (Which according to Laurence Freeman is every couple of seconds.)
I tried to encourage the children to close their eyes (to cut out visual distractions) and used a visual cue to get them to close their eyes whenever they were caught ‘eyeballing’ me.
As we moved towards ten minutes of Christian Meditation time I found myself relaxing, trusting and participating more fully with the class.
In other words, I was spending more time meditating and less time ‘gawking’. Taking the phone off the hook and placing signs on the doors helped to quieten the classroom. Using rainforest or relaxation music at the beginning and end of each Christian Meditation session was also beneficial.
What didn’t work was finding the time to do it on a regular basis. Some weeks were hit and miss depending on how busy the school week was.
With my next class I would try to use Christian Meditation as a lead-in to an RE lesson or as some down time or quiet time between lessons. Morning Christian Meditation sessions worked much better than afternoon sessions.
The use of cushions to support their backs as they sat on their chairs, proved popular with the children. I only had five of these so rostering them was the way to go as it allowed every child to have an opportunity to be really comfortable on a regular basis and helped them with the three ‘Ss’ (still, silent, simple) not to be confused with the three ‘Rs’.
If Christian Meditation is ‘prayer of the heart’, then my aim for myself and my next class would be to practise it more regularly and by doing so opening ourselves up to the ‘fruits of the spirit’ - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity, gentleness and self-control. To quote Laurence Freeman “All of these gifts are released as we learn to listen to the language of the heart, which is the silence waiting for us beyond the orbit of our noisy self-fixation.”
I’ve found it a lot easier to meditate with my class this year (2006) because I’m more confident and more relaxed when discussing it and doing it with the children.
I now use a chime to begin and end each session (instead of music) and have made laminated posters to highlight a different aspect of meditation each week e.g. ‘Christian Meditation is prayer of the heart’ or ‘Be still, be silent, be simple’. The chime and the posters play an important part in providing a contemplative classroom atmosphere.