It's almost a week since the last course at East Coast. That day was one of the most fulfilling days of my life. Very often it is a challenge to conduct a meditation course for young children and make it meaningful for them. And this group of students at GIIS-East Coast were Grade 9 students around the age group of 13-14years. They were in that developmental age where there would be resistance and in some cases rebellion towards adult-initiated programs. We (the school and me) even considered making it optional for the students to attend. However, the Vice-Principal of the school was firm in her commitment that young people of this age-group are clearly in need of an anchor in life and this program, she was sure, would provide such an anchor.
So we went ahead wondering how many students of the 59 on roll (26 girls and 33 boys) would actually turn up on a Saturday morning at 9am when the rest of the school was enjoying a lovely weekend. Well, they did--not all but a majority of them. There were 37 in total (so more than half turned up) 20 boys and 17 girls. That was good enough!
It is a pleasure to work with children who are motivated to do well and take things that are given to them in a positive and creative way. Right from the start I noticed that they were paying attention to instructions, and processing what was being said, and finding ways to apply it to their day-to-day lives.
In the small group discussions that I had with the youngsters they were very eager to make sure they understood correctly what was being said over the video and audio CD instructions from Goenkaji.
Questions that some of the girls asked me were: "So do you think, I should practice this before I start to study?...for how long?" "Will it help in controlling my anger?" "How?" "Oh I should really try this...I have such a bad temper"
They also wanted to know how to continue with their work when they feel so upset sometimes. I then explained that because of our increased connectivity thanks to the internet, the reactive part of the brain is very very active. We are constantly bombarded with media information and information from friends and relatives. This may give rise to a lot of emotions some of which may be very unpleasant. This constant state of arousal comes in the way of cognitive processes of the frontal-cortex which is responsible for higher order processes such as thinking, reasoning, and problem solving. A practice such as meditation is useful in calming down the reactive, emotional part of the brain (limbic system), allowing the cognitive part of the brain function more effectively.
One girl and her friend said they were taught earlier on, in their childhood, that meditation was "not to think of anything". And now we were teaching them this... to observe their breath--so they were wondering what it is all about--a bit at a loss.
So I asked her: Yes, you were told "don't think of anything"--tell me were you able to do that? Not think of anything?
She said: No it was and is difficult not to think of anything.
I said: So when you are asked to observe your breath coming in, going out are you able to do that?
She said: Yes, I am able to observe my breath
I said: Now, are you thinking of anything when you are observing you natural respiration?
She said: No I am just observing the breath
So I said:---so,what you were told as a child was not incorrect. Meditation is not thinking of anything--but its difficult to start off by not thinking of anything.Observing your respiration helps you get to the stage of cutting out your thoughts. Its a tool to help you get there.
Towards the last session when I asked a small group, how their experience was one girl said: "Amazing!" "I feel so peaceful and calm!"
Needless to say, it was a delight to be with them. They were working at it and actively trying apply it to their lives. Personally, it was one of the most fulfilling & satisfying courses I have ever conducted. And this sentiment was shared by the entire team of volunteers who were there to assist the students.