Practicing Mindfulness During Lent

Vanessa Vavala, a religion and social justice teacher at Padua Academy, shares her experience introducing meditation to her sophomore classes during Lent:

image.pngA few years ago, a friend of mine told me she was making a conscious change in how she looked at life. She noticed that all too often when asked, “How are you?” or “How’s everything going?” her response, and that of so many others, was about busyness. So she decided to eliminate the word busy from her answer. After all, she asked, “Who isn’t busy? And why have we decided to make being busy a badge of honor as if being overwhelmed by the pace of life is something we should achieve?”

The more I’ve worked with the practice of mindfulness, the more I’m reminded of this conversation. Sadly, this isn’t just a phenomenon adults experience; I see it all too often in my high school students. They seem to have bought into the lie that if they just do enough things, they will achieve everything they want. And they are overwhelmed. So, at the encouragement of my colleague, Ryan, who introduced mindfulness to our school community, I decided to introduce meditation in my sophomore classes. Lent was about to begin and it seemed the perfect season to take a few minutes at the beginning of class to focus on being still and being present.

All of my students, except one, were willing to give it a try. At first they thought it was strange to simply stop and focus on nothing except their breathing for a couple of minutes. But what a difference it made. For a little while, they stopped worrying about the grade that might have been posted, the assignment they’d just been given, the upcoming performance, the game that night, or anything else. For a few minutes, they stopped spinning. For a few minutes they were simply present to the reality of the moment. When class began, they were in a totally different place. They were more focused and less distracted. For a couple of minutes, they understood what it was like to be at peace with oneself and the world. We can teach our students many things, but if we can teach them to be at peace, we have given them something they can carry with them for a lifetime.

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