I have decided to make a routine out of thinking about mindfulness on Tuesdays (for those of you keeping score at home, I did write this yesterday, I just saved it for publication this morning : ). I have a daily personal mindfulness practice, but I am attempting to use Tuesday as marker for reminding me to think about mindfulness as part of the REAL School design and as part of my leadership practice.
John Kabat-Zinn, who is referenced frequently on this blog, describes the power of mindfulness to change our realities in his early book, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (1990). Kabat-Zinn explicates the nature of thought patterns:
Our thought patterns dictate the ways we perceive and explain reality, including our relationship to ourself and to the world…Our thought patterns underlie our motives for doing things and for and for making choices. They influence the degree of confidence we have in our ability to make things happen. They are at the core of our beliefs about the world, how it work, and what our place in it is. (p. 199)
Kabat-Zinn identifies a set of thought patterns that contribute strongly to healthy living. What Kabat-Zinn writes about as “perceptions and thought patterns” I discuss as capacities and these capacities can be developed through mindfulness practices. The most beneficial include optimism, self-efficacy, hardiness, and a sense of coherence.
Optimism, for example, is a direct contributor to a positive sense of self. As Kabat-Zinn details:
People who are optimists tend not to blame themselves for bad events or, if they do, they see them more as momentary events which will become resolved…In other words they focus on the specific consequences of what happened and do not make sweeping global statements and projections that blow the event out of proportion. (p. 201)
Similarly, Kabat-Zinn contends that self-efficacy and believing in your ability to “grow” influence your ability to grow and hardiness (or “stress hardiness”) allows you to rise to challenges and persevere through experiences that might otherwise be debilitating (“coherence” is discussed in this post about the Yemin Orde Youth Village in Israel).
The mind is an extraordinary tool, we have to spend more time teaching students to use it. The stuff we know, our knowledge base, doesn’t really help us live our lives. When we focus only on academic knowledge, we forget that being able to analyze a reading passage isn’t the same as being able to decide that you want to read it. Student/community-member confidence and basic personal competence are not being measured by any NCLB testing that I know of, although there are tools, such as the Hope Survey, that might be used by schools to assess some of these capacities.