Meditation in the Middle: Part 2
It was a few months into the community service I was completing for my meditation teacher training. I provided meditation classes at both the Field School(all boys middle school) and the local public middle school. They were used to me showing up and announcing "It's Mindful Monday" or "Morning meditation time". Some students met me with smiles, others rolled their eyes, and some even hid. What was my purpose here? How was I going to make a final statement and hope that these students might invite meditation and mindfulness into their lives once I left?
I wanted to understand the eye rolling and the hiding and I was curious as to how meditation actually made them feel, from the moment I said the word "meditation" to when a session was completed. My instructor suggested that I open the dialogue with the students during the meditation. Don't just give a guided meditation, have them be a part of the process. Let them open up and tell you how they feel and exactly where they are feeling that feeling.
Many conversations erupted. I zoned in to the students who really had a hard time with the meditation. When asked why, they said it was weird. I reminded them, that yes, this is a little strange because it is something new and I'm asking you to just sit with yourself and your thoughts and those around you. I reminded them why we do meditation. It is to help balance your emotions and promotes physical well-being. I understood that this was asking a lot of the students to sit in a room with their peers doing "nothing". As a middle school kid, this can just stir up a lot of self-consciousness and judgments. "Who is looking at me? What are they thinking about me? Do I look so uncool doing this?" Well if the cool kids aren't closing their eyes, then I won't either. It is so difficult for these students to just be. They are constantly filled with distractions and constant stimulus and very concerned about what others think of them. We have never taught them how to just be and their self esteem is so fragile.
I took it little by little. We stared at our hands, listened to the sounds around us, looked at the shadows and colors in the room, and gently fell into a mindfulness state without them even being aware. Still there were kids poking each other and making faces across the room, but some just completely melted into the space I was guiding them in. I had to remind myself, that this was a process. A process of learning how to be, to exist, to feel. And some of those students are afraid to feel maybe because that is a scary place for them, or perhaps they have learned to shut down their emotions. I was just planting a little seed in hopes that one day they might open up to it.
We talked about feelings in the body. Particularly stress and anxiety. There were a variety of places they felt it, and they were all different. I shared how my stress goes right to my belly and sometimes my chest. Others said, "Me too!" The floor opened up and I heard them say their heart starts beating fast, they start getting headaches, and they feel it in their necks. So how do we then deal with this? Simple just become aware of it and breathe. We took some deep breathes into our body parts that were holding onto the anxiety. I counted to four with the inhales and exhales and reminded them that they could easily do this whenever the stress appeared. Even just placing your hand on the spot on your body and giving it that little attention.
I reminded them that life doesn't ever stop with it's challenges, but that you can learn with practice to control your thoughts and emotions with your breath. The breath is our anchor our vitality and it is connected to our nervous system. Every time you exhale, your body is asking you to relax. This all takes practice. Just like building your muscles in the gym to get stronger, meditation will help you build the muscles to ease into life and enjoy your journey.