An invitation to join a small group of teachers from local schools to be involved in a Catholic Education pilot programme was my introduction to Christian Meditation.
Regular worship and prayer are part of my daily life, but any experience or vast knowledge about meditation was minimal. My responsibility to the group was to introduce Christian Meditation to Grade 8 and share my experiences with the larger group.
The package I was given contained a ‘little brown book’ (Christian Meditation–Your Daily Practice) and a CD of talks, both by Laurence Freeman. I endeavoured to widen my knowledge, benefiting greatly from the CD which I played repeatedly as I travelled in my car.
So with interest stimulated, and excitement mingled with apprehension, I attended my first full-day seminar, unsure of what my personal experience would be. I found the personal experience was positive, reassuring and quite simplistic yet sincere and pure.
Based on stillness and silence, coupled with a repetitive personal mantra, I found myself moved beyond a physical sense of self, to a place of present time with God and in God.
With enthusiasm and some degree of determination I began my experiences with Grade 8 students.
Seated in a circle around a focal point of a lit candle, Bible etc, I introduced the first session to a small group at the end of term. This group reacted in a positive manner, though not fully comfortable in the expectation that they were to keep their eyes closed and sit perfectly still in silence.
The following sessions were with a whole class group of 20+ students, and a different experience. Some openly joined the experience, whilst others resisted and were rather negative. For the length of each session, I let the general steadiness of the group as well as the business of the environment determine the length of the session.
Each time I began with listening to outside noises, then moved the focus to inside the room and finally the individuals’ quiet breathing. Soft music would also work well for a quietening time. To seek total silence and stillness in classrooms that are usually demanding with directed activities is a challenge. Assuring students that this is another form of prayer, dating back hundreds of years and commonly practised in Eastern religions is worthy of consideration. It is an opportunity to create a greater connection to God primarily, but also has many physiological benefits as well.
My experiences with Grade 12 students were quite different.
In a unit entitled ‘Ritual and Spirituality’, having investigated the nature or purpose of ritual, the naming and nature of our own spirituality was investigated. This gave an opportunity to introduce the class to guided meditation as well as Christian Meditation. Incidentally the local newspaper printed an article on various forms of meditation, allowing an increased exposure to the practices as well as opportunities to join local groups.
The students were most keen to experience meditation and were generally very positive in their feedback. Some questions raised by senior students surfaced issues of ‘brain-washing’, or fears of the unknown. They needed the reassurance that the journey is a spiritual one in which we present the discipline of meditation, yet the outcomes are God’s work.
Out of a greater connection with God, comes not an altered state of consciousness but a way of finding God in the ordinary, connecting us to others in stronger relationships. There needs to be assurance that there is no failure in meditation, there is no measurement of how far individuals have progressed. For each it is a personal journey.
Move only in small steps, assume all will participate, be gentle with yourself and your students; seek support from admin; be ready to try new ways of creating the sacred space and the atmosphere that allows for peaceful times. Allow yourself personal growth as well and accept failures as part of the growth.
There is plenty of opportunity for further development of your own spirituality through Christian Meditation. Sessions conducted by Ruth Fowler over a two-day session allowed the teacher group to be extended in their knowledge of the traditions of meditation, to better understand its Biblical links and to deepen the path of self-knowledge.
As my own personal journey continues in further development, my teaching experiences are strengthened by the group who so willingly share their own experiences as I strive to provide the best environment for further development through Christian Meditation for my pupils. Next year I hope to engage other teachers in the discipline and widen the experiences in my school.