As a life-long educator, mindfulness practitioner, and human being, I was stunned to hear from my great niece that four students in her high school had taken their lives during the past year. When she returned home from a dance the next night, she learned that during the dance there had been a fifth suicide. That these are difficult times for many people, especially teens, comes as no surprise. Suicides in the US have been increasing for some time, by 13% for the general population between 2006 and 2014 and by more than 30% for teens during the same time period.
Suffering is nothing new in America. What is new is how much suffering bombards us via commercial and social media. Furthermore, with all our connections via social media, the support that deep, personal connections provide is disappearing. Against this backdrop of suffering, Madison Avenue continues to tell us how to be happy, how to look good, how to feel good, what to own, and where to go. Their message is that suffering isn’t necessary if we do things right. Their “solutions,” however, neither prevent nor cure suffering. My work supporting mindfulness in education is my response to this trend.
Suffering isn’t avoidable, but we can learn how to relate to it in healthy ways through and learn how to cultivate inner, genuine happiness through mindful compassion. It’s not a quick fix. I, and many others, teach students and educators mindfulness practices that can help relieve stress and deepen their connections to themselves and others. These tools only as effective as the commitment and courage of the person employing them. A beginner can relieve a difficult moment. To live happily with acceptance and compassion for our own suffering and that of our world requires much more practice. I dream of the day when we take as good care of our minds as we do our teeth.
This June 16 – 18 academics, teachers, counselors, administrators and parents who share my dream will converge on Tufts University outside of Boston for the tenth annual 3-day conference of the Mindfulness in Education Network. They’ll hear from leaders in the field – ones doing research, teaching university students, and helping young develop more resiliency, understanding, and compassion. They will do reflective work inspired by educator Parker Palmer and will spend a day together practicing mindfulness. Most of all, they will share their inspiration with each other, then return home to continue making this dream a reality.