Although I have always enjoyed meditation, I was only introduced to Christian Meditation last year by Ernie Christie.
However, the whole experience of deepening my relationship with God through being still has undoubtedly had a positive effect on my life and I was glad to be given the opportunity to share it with one of my Religious Education classes.
Introducing Christian Meditation to Gilroy Santa Maria students in 2005 has been less daunting than anticipated, which probably means I am not doing it right!
I was blessed with an eager Year 9 class (only 2 dissidents) which encouraged me through the initial stages. However, validating and justifying the concept to other teachers and maintaining a class meditational momentum throughout a year that had many interruptions, proved challenging.
Nevertheless, the whole experience proved to be more rewarding than taxing and I look forward to a more informed and experienced approach with my new Year 9s this year.
The Calling (Why I chose to be a part of this project)
From the very beginning the thought of introducing something ‘different’ to Religious Education was exciting. I knew I had a responsive class of students who I figured would journey the experience with me and give it their best shot. A number of staff, however (RE teachers included), dismissed Christian Meditation as something out of their depth which was disappointing at this point.
I figured that it would be easier to work on the students first and tackle the staff later. To me the whole point was to engage in a medium that promotes tolerance and compassion in a common faith. Introducing the concept through school classes provided me with a way to teach religion at a deeper level, in a different way via a grounded, stylised education programme that fitted my needs in the RE classroom.
The Big Picture (What hopes I had for the students)
I believed that introducing Christian Meditation through RE would inspire the students to be more introspective and open to a deeper relationship with God. I had hoped that this medium of learning would take the edge off our tendency to look on the world with narrow-mindedness. During these years of faith development where RE teachers regularly come up against notions of agnosticism and the peer group becomes increasingly important, I had hoped that Christian Meditation would provide my class with an avenue of faith they would be able to appreciate and enjoy.
Through regular meditation experiences, I had hoped that the class would at the very least get to a stage where they could have a positive relaxing experience and develop a deeper relationship with themselves and God. Part of me suspected that getting to a deeper level would be difficult for some of my students but I felt I would be happy if we got to a stage where there was a collective level of appreciation for what we were doing in the classroom.
The Reality Of It All (Christian Meditation in my classroom)
I introduced the concept to the class early in the term and encouraged discussion for a lesson or so before actually starting on the practical side of Christian Meditation. I guess I was gauging student response to a new idea of prayer through meditation and was pleasantly surprised by their enthusiasm. Much time was spent explaining the difference between Christian Meditation and meditation to relax, the need to be silent and meditative but alert and not asleep being a new concept for some.
The use of ‘maranatha’ as the mantra is excellent in concept but should not be over explained as I found it over-stimulated the minds of some students. Most students felt that a preliminary focus on breathing helped them to meditate better and gave them some form of initial control over what they were doing. Initial attempts were successful to a degree. Only a handful of students found restlessness a problem but their inability to keep their eyes closed for any length of time quickly dissipated as they realised everyone else in the class was having a good go at it.
It was helpful to have a class who wanted to be a part of this new thing. I can imagine it would be difficult in some classrooms where students would find themselves exposed and vulnerable.
The transition from a relaxing experience to that of a deeper religious experience was going to take some time but I found that setting up a system brought a great deal of solemnity to the sessions.
Students found they could cope with more depth and longer meditation sessions if the process started properly (traditionally? systematically?) and was taken seriously.
Setting the scene was paramount to success for my class.
Knowing that I more than likely won’t be teaching this class next year it was important for me to establish a connection with meditation and life outside the classroom. Conducting meditation outside the classroom proved effective in showing that Christian Meditation is "portable" and can be used outside the classroom.
I started the year encouraging students to meditate at home using the same structures we use at school and to record in a diary their experience. Great idea but not necessarily something the students will pick up on as it is potentially seen as homework (the idea was scrapped early in the course of the year).
Many times the meditation session just didn’t work because we were rushed or not properly organised and it was disappointing all round. When this happened though, the students found it productive to reflect on how to make it a better experience next time.
Sometimes the whole class was so wired (things happening at school and socially) that we rejected the notion of meditating for that lesson. However, we worked on getting over this as Christian Meditation embraced the discipline of a daily practice.
So, collectively we discussed what changes were needed to make Christian Meditation work for them. Not only did this build up (a level of) trust and respect between teacher and student, and students with each other, distractions were minimised and students were getting to a level where they were able to prepare themselves for meditation with little teacher input.
I felt that once they had a hand in their own meditation experience (student-centred), we could get on with the job of contemplation.
The List (Embracing what works)
We have a Teacher Checklist for getting started with Christian Meditation. I found it to be really helpful initially in settling the class and putting students in the ‘right’ frame of mind. Routine seems mundane but my Year 9s saw that routine prepared them for meditation and that having a hand in creating routine improved our chances of making meditation work. The routines and rosters for preparation were changed each month (we meditated on average in one lesson a week) so that each student was able to be responsible for all areas.
The use of candles and music and breathing were the three essentials, especially for some students who had trouble focusing. Later in the year we used readings and reflections that mirrored the students’ religious concept levels and I found that this helped them link Christian Meditation to a sense of personal wholeness. Discussing what works and what doesn’t with other teachers involved in Christian Meditation was very helpful, at least you didn’t feel alone.
What now? (Long-term plans and propositions)
I guess I will be starting again with a new group of personalities which brings up feelings of excitement and apprehension all at the same time. I am more confident in the process which I hope will lead to a deeper experience for all involved.
I vow to diarise most of what I cover with this Year 9 class so that I have something more concrete to reflect on at the end of each term/semester/year. I really should make a concerted effort to keep in touch with other teachers introducing Christian Meditation to their classes.
I spent all of last year on the students and virtually none on my fellow RE teachers - something I endeavour to address this year. Quite daunting really as adults can be perceived as more cynical and timid when it comes to the development of the spirit.
Will have to take it outside of the staffroom/library/RE room on the outset - maybe under trees or something where they feel they aren’t being watched. Will also try and introduce it on a smaller scale at staff prayer on a Monday morning.
Hindsight and experience are wonderful travel mates to have on this journey that is Christian Meditation. On reflection I have come to believe that:
- The key to effective Christian Meditation is to explain less and experience more.
- It is important to generate an energy of positive expectation through creating meaningful space and time to meditate often in your school week.
- Effective meditation speaks for itself. The more you do it, the more you want to do it (and this will be the case for students as well).
- Students love being in control of their own meditative experience.
Expanding into uncharted waters this year will see me doing the following:
- Creating a whole-school Christian Meditation experience through all RE classes and student feedback.
- Offering pre-exam Christian Meditation sessions twice daily during exam week for students and teachers.
- Inviting (reluctant or otherwise) teachers to join our Year 9 class to experience Christian Meditation on their level.