By Breda Murray, Principal of Our Lady Immaculate J.N.S.
As educators, it is part of our job to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of children who exhibit signs of stress or disruption. In 2010 we introduced a Meditation Project for the students of Our Lady Immaculate, aged between 4-8. We did this for a few reasons. There was a marked absence of any form of ritual or time where the children were offered an opportunity to sit in silence and contact something beyond the business and challenges of their daily lives. Our children were under a complete barrage of noise and activity with few opportunities to go inside and build the inner resources they so desperately needed. The impact of this was evident in their behaviour, concentration, levels of attention and focus, behavioural disturbances, depression, apathy and general wellbeing. Their emotional and mental resilience was not as robust as it could be as they had many obstacles to overcome and often very little support at home.
Our school is situated in what is termed a 'DEIS band 1' area, which is a category devised by the Department of Education and Skills in 2005 that refers to areas of significant economic, social and educational disadvantage. Although proud of our community, we recognise that growing up in a challenging and sometimes unstable environment can be taxing for young children.
After researching different types of meditation, we obtained some practical guidelines and resources for both staff and students, and in time established a meditation room that we decorated with a beautiful mural and simple relaxing furniture. We began slowly with about 7 classes, but within 2 years the whole school was meditating on a regular basis. Classes were facilitated by Steve Gregory, who has been working in this area for over 30 years. He brought a sense of deep calm and focus to the children and school environment as he began to work with parents and children on a weekly basis. Steve would work each week with all class groups modelling the meditation practices that the teachers could then with their own class group as they wanted to.
Parents, care givers, and the wider school community were also offered a weekly class, and soon a variety of people regularly gathered in our parents’ room for meditation. There was also a class for the teachers after school, which we have now extended to teaching staff in all the neighbouring schools.
At the end of the first year, I collected feedback from our students in written, verbal and artistic expression. I wasn't prepared for the depth of response and understanding of meditation the children displayed. They had absorbed and understood the various practices, and were using them throughout their daily lives, not just at school. They used the practices to help them sleep or energise, to release negative feelings, or draw in positive ones. Some children spoke of how the meditation helped them to soothe and reassure their anxieties and stress. Some even referred to feeling the presence of deceased family members while meditating, or seeing colours and images.
It was a revelation to me and Steve to see how deeply they had related to the whole experience. The children's knowledge and understanding were evidence of their immense capacity to go within themselves and find a deeper sense of being. There were many amazing moments that I heard, read or saw in the feedback as well as during meditation classes I observed, but perhaps the most satisfying thing was the realisation that for these young people meditation was as much a part of their lives as P.E., Music or Reading classes. Meditation had become a practice they drew on when they needed it.
It can be challenging in life to develop a sense of connection or meaning to something other than the present situation - a journey inwards that satisfies and nurtures and is not dependent on anything other for a sense of completeness or joy. If our children contact that even once through this meditation project, it will all have been worth it, as that experiencecan make all the difference.
This blogpost was written by Breda Murray, Principal of Changemaker School Our Lady Immaculate J.N.S. in Darndale, Dublin 17. Visit their website to find out more: www.darndalejnr.ie