Saturday, June 16, 2007

Do You Mind?!

Photo of a child reading a prayer at the House of Worship in Sydney, Australia

I just tripped over this really interesting article in the New York Times about the use of mindfulness training with children in schools. Here's a tasty morsel:

OAKLAND, Calif., June 12 — The lesson began with the striking of a Tibetan singing bowl to induce mindful awareness.

With the sound of their new school bell, the fifth graders at Piedmont Avenue Elementary School here closed their eyes and focused on their breathing, as they tried to imagine “loving kindness” on the playground.

“I was losing at baseball and I was about to throw a bat,” Alex Menton, 11, reported to his classmates the next day. “The mindfulness really helped. (Read the whole thing here)

This is something I've been thinking about and trying to introduce into my work with mentally ill and addicted clients. A while ago I did a post on concentration as a spiritual discipline and this article and stimulated some more Baha'i thoughts. I'll start with some selections from the Baha'i writings that first that popped into my head when I read this article:

"Disencumber yourselves of all attachment to this world and the vanities thereof. Beware that ye approach them not, inasmuch as they prompt you to walk after your own lusts and covetous desires, and hinder you from entering the straight and glorious Path. Know ye that by "the world" is meant your unawareness of Him Who is your Maker, and your absorption in aught else but Him. The "life to come," on the other hand, signifieth the things that give you a safe approach to God, the All-Glorious, the Incomparable. Whatsoever deterreth you, in this Day, from loving God is nothing but the world. Flee it, that ye may be numbered with the blest."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 275)

"O thou spiritual friend! Thou hast asked the wisdom of prayer. Know thou that prayer is indispensable and obligatory, and man under no pretext whatsoever is excused from performing the prayer unless he be mentally unsound, or an insurmountable obstacle prevent him. The wisdom of prayer is this: That it causeth a connection between the servant and the True One, because in that state (i.e., prayer) man with all heart and soul turneth his face towards His Highness the Almighty, seeking His association and desiring His love and compassion. The greatest happiness for a lover is to converse with his beloved, and the greatest gift for a seeker is to become familiar with the object of his longing; that is why with every soul who is attracted to the Kingdom of God, his greatest hope is to find an opportunity to entreat and supplicate before his Beloved, appeal for His mercy and grace and be immersed in the ocean of His utterance, goodness and generosity. Beside all this, prayer and fasting is the cause of awakening and mindfulness and conducive to protection and preservation from tests."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v3, p. 683)

"I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 29)

When people talk about being "mindful" it's reasonable to ask, "mindful of what?" and also to ask how one can actively empower this state being. When I meditate on the Baha'i Writings it seems to me that humanity is encouraged to mindful of the following:

1. Of the reality of God: There is no God but God, the Sovereign Lord and Creator of the entire universe, All-Knowing, All-Powerful, All-Loving.

2. Of our spirituality reality and its relationship to God: My reality is the soul, created by God whose essential quality, or "fruit" is the mind. "Spirit is the tree and mind is the fruit". God provides me with the guidance and love that I need for my soul to develop and, when things work the way that they should, I actually love God back and follow the guidance I've been given.

3. Of the relative value of the material compared to the spiritual: God created a beautiful world, full of beautiful things. These things are designed to meet the needs of my body, mind and spirit. In order for this to happen in a healthy way however, I have to remember points 1 and 2. When I forget, I get into trouble and bring the rest of humanity along with me.

4. The transformative power of thought: Luckily the mind, fruit of the spirit, has the God-given power to refocus on points 1 and 2, thus making me and the world more likely to benefit from point 3. Thinking differently actually can change things in myself and in the world.

According to Baha'i teaching, prayer and fasting are two great ways to help me with all four of the points listed above. If schools are comfortable with children practicing meditation (including Buddhist bells by the way) perhaps we will reach a time in our society where both prayer and fasting will be practiced in the schools. A little fasting might assist with that pesky childhood obesity problem we seem to be having and prayer, just like meditation, could keep kids from getting mad and throwing a bat at someone.

We have so much to learn about the relationship between mind and spirit and it's implications for social order. I'll close with these comments of Baha'u'llah about the rational faculty:

"Consider the rational faculty with which God hath endowed the essence of man. Examine thine own self, and behold how thy motion and stillness, thy will and purpose, thy sight and hearing, thy sense of smell and power of speech, and whatever else is related to, or transcendeth, thy physical senses or spiritual perceptions, all proceed from, and owe their existence to, this same faculty. So closely are they related unto it, that if in less than the twinkling of an eye its relationship to the human body be severed, each and every one of these senses will cease immediately to exercise its function, and will be deprived of the power to manifest the evidences of its activity. It is indubitably clear and evident that each of these afore-mentioned instruments has depended, and will ever continue to depend, for its proper functioning on this rational faculty, which should be regarded as a sign of the revelation of Him Who is the sovereign Lord of all. Through its manifestation all these names and attributes have been revealed, and by the suspension of its action they are all destroyed and perish...Wert thou to ponder in thine heart, from now until the end that hath no end, and with all the concentrated intelligence and understanding which the greatest minds have attained in the past or will attain in the future, this divinely ordained and subtle Reality, this sign of the revelation of the All-Abiding, All-Glorious God, thou wilt fail to comprehend its mystery or to appraise its virtue. Having recognized thy powerlessness to attain to an adequate understanding of that Reality which abideth within thee, thou wilt readily admit the futility of such efforts as may be attempted by thee, or by any of the created things, to fathom the mystery of the Living God, the Day Star of unfading glory, the Ancient of everlasting days. This confession of helplessness which mature contemplation must eventually impel every mind to make is in itself the acme of human understanding, and marketh the culmination of man's development."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 163)