In the last newsletter, we questioned the necessity of a teacher. We pointed out that the most important thing for learning is the learners’ selfmotivation. However, it is also true that we can always benefit from good teachers. But who are they? Good teachers would see their students as they are, without judgment or comparing them. Good teachers would let their students work following their natural interests, without coercing them. Good teachers would be responsive and flexible, without being stuck to their own expectations. And, good teachers would let their students be free from anxiety, without using punishments, rewards, or competitions.
Whenever we try to learn something, we normally assume that we need to go to a class, need a teacher, and thus need to pay (often a lot). But wait a minute! Most teacher-led activities are based on the knowledge transfer model, which has been shown to be ineffective. If we recall our best learning experience, wasn’t that something we did on our own, usually with the help of books, web sites, other students, etc.?
School children are increasingly under pressure (e.g., documentary on pressures). However, in contrast to this trend, we also see movements in other directions (e.g., student-ruled schools, teacher-training by students, new free school). As we believe that intrinsic motivation (e.g., our blog entry) is the key to learning of practically anything, we acknowledge the important of freedom in schools.
The charity season has come again. Of course, charity exists because of people’s good intention (except for certain cases of possibly selfish motivations). But, now, let us see some critical views (other than the well-known issue of overhead), referring to several articles in the relevant/interesting links section of our web site. One problem is the lack of knowledge about the recipients and their situation, esp. applicable to international charity (Zegers, also relevant point in Shiva). Some people propose alternatives: e.g., take less (again, Zegers; note the subtitle), focus on job creation (Slim), promote a financial infrastructure appropriate for the recipients’ culture (Moyo). Maybe, it is time for all of us to re-examine what we can do, with wholesome motivations, the awareness of reality, and open mind.
According to a New York Times article From Students, Less Kindness for Strangers?, “college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than those of 30 years ago, with the numbers plunging primarily after 2000.” While the notion like “empathy” cannot really be measured, this does not seem to be a good sign, along with the Creativity Crisis (as discussed earlier). The author of the article speculate that the trend is caused by the mixture of hyper-competition/individualism in the evolving virtual social context.
Empathy is, naturally, about considering others. However, it is also possible to make a connection betwen the ability to consider others and the ability to consider ourselves. For example, it has been pointed out that the ability to emotionally attune with others is tightly linked with the ability to attune with ourselves (see, e.g., Daniel Siegel’s The Mindful Brain). In this regard, we may actually need more of self-compassion to begin with (Christopher Germer’s The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion).
During this past session, we tried to discuss the connection between meditation and everyday life. However, we probably didn’t spend enough time on the topic. So, I want to review a few relevant points. First, during mindfulness meditation, we train ourselves to be aware of subtle changes in the body/mind which are happening at every (present) moment. This ability is helpful for us to realize how we react to various external/internal information. By just realizing this, we can reduce, say, craving for things we like and aversion to things we don’t like (without repressing our likes and dislikes). Even such a small change can make our lives easier and more peaceful. Then, through informal practice (i.e. trying to be mindful whenever possible during everyday activities, e.g., waiting, walking, eating), we will be able to cultivate the same mental quality even outside formal meditation. More details are in our Meditation Guide 3: Meditation and Everyday Life (earlier guides are available on our meditation group page).
The next session will be on Saturday, October 16 from 10:30 am to 12:00 noon in Meeting Room #4 (all the way to the left) at the Lawrence Branch of MCLS (map), not the Lawrence Community Center (where Wellness Expo will be held all day). The theme of the next session will be “Continuing Practice.” Let us discuss how to establish regular meditation practice. As with the past session, we will try to do a relaxation practice, but due to the small size of the room, we will need to see what we can do.
Note: Since yoga was mentioned during the session, I want to add the following. Although yoga is most commonly seen in this country as exercise/fitness, yoga (asana/posture) is just a part of the complete spiritual pursuit and was actually developed as a means to maintain appropriate postures for meditation. There are links to a detailed yoga web site and a free on-line yoga meditation course on our meditation group page. For a concise introduction, see David Frawley’s Yoga: The Greater Tradition (available at MCLS).
Continuing on the previous session, we are still scratching the surface of concentration (“escaping” the normal) and mindfulness (“facing” it) meditation. But this time, we did try mindfulness meditation, focusing on how our minds wander with various distractions. We noticed the sound of air conditioner turning on, chilled air, medley of thoughts, etc. During mindfulness meditation, distractions are welcome. We simply note as they occur. However, too many of them are simply overwhelming. So, it would be practical to start with concentration meditation and after the mind is calmed, we can shift our attention towards mindfulness or awareness. For more information, we have our Meditation Guide 2: Concentration and Mindfulness.
During the next session on Saturday, September 18 (2:00 – 3:30 pm at the Lawrence Community Center [map]), we will discuss the connection between meditation and everyday life. For this topic, there is Meditation Guide 3. A new feature from the next session is that we will have a relaxation practice during the first 30 minutes or so. Please bring a yoga mat or a towel, if possible.
For the links to the recommended books (available at the Mercer County Library System), sample meditation web sites, free local meditation activities, etc., please visit our group page. If you have questions/comments/suggestions, please leave a comment so that other participants can share yours.