My work teaching developmental English at Broward College opened my eyes to the failure of our K-12 educational system in America. Many of the students who had high school diplomas could not do something as simple as write a complete sentence and had no idea what an adverb was. Most had feelings of low self-esteem and were blaming themselves for their inability to pass the English exam so they could be accepted into the college. So to help them relax and open their minds to learning I began including mindfulness and meditation practices into the classroom. Doing this I discovered that the students actually felt more confident and self-assured, and as an added benefit it seemed to help raise their level of self-esteem.
There are many methods that can be used to help students focus on and retain the information. For this article I will share one easy method I use before each of my classes: Simply get relaxed.
All students end up rushing to class whether the class is on line or on campus. They have a hundred other things running around in their minds from finding a parking space, logging on to the internet, the assignments they have to complete, the bills they have to pay, getting the children fed, and more. Yet, as faculty we expect the students to be prepared and ready to learn the second we start the class. That is a totally unrealistic idea.
Being a Zen Buddhist I have used many techniques to help me focus and quiet my mind. Thus I understood that my students needed to quiet their minds and focus their attention if they were to learn the material. So I revised a simple exercise, “Just Three Breaths,” that I had found in a great book entitled How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness (2011) by Jan Chozen Bays, MD.
After several weeks of using my revised version of this exercise in my developmental English classes one of my students approached me with great excitement about her first presentation that she made in her speech class. She told me that she used the three breath exercise before she got up to present and it helped her stay so calm, cool, and collected that she just “killed” her talk! She was so proud of herself she was beaming with light and had a smile from ear-to-ear. I could see that this experience helped raise her level of self-esteem a little bit as well.
Since that time I have had hundreds of students tell me right after we’ve done this excise in class how calm, focused, relaxed and ready to learn they were. Many have even shared that they’ve used the technique at work when they felt stressed or anxious, before a job interview, while sitting in a traffic jam, or on line at the bank.
The entire exercise takes two to three minutes out of the class, but the lasting effect is immeasurable. I hope you’ll try it. The directions are below.
Three Breath Exercise
Read these steps aloud and do the exercise along with the class. After the exercise is completed get their feedback on how they feel and how it may help them during the class:
- Shake out your hands to release the tension in them then place them comfortably in your lap or on the desk or table where you are sitting.
- Close your eyes if you feel comfortable doing so as it will help keep out the visual distractions. If you are not comfortable with that keeping them open is okay as well. Simply focus your eyes on one small object.
- Take three slow deep breaths counting one on the in breath and two on the out breath.
- Be careful not to breathe in so deeply that it makes you cough.
- Is everyone ready—then let’s begin.
Let me know how it works!
Bays, J.C. (2011) How to Train A Wild Elephant& Other Adventures in Mindfulness. Shambhala: Boston& London
Posted in administrators, BUddhism, education, fears, meditation, Mindfulness, self-help, training, Uncategorized, wisdom, Zen | Tagged anger, Buddhism, challenges, compassion, developmental English, education, ESL, ESOL, face-to-face teaching, fear, focus, How to Train a Wild Elephant & Other Adventures in Mindfulness, Jan CHozen Bays, learning, learning challenges, love, meditation, memory, memory retention, mindfulness, online teaching, peace, quieting the mind, retention, self-help, sitting, suffering, wisdom, Zen Buddhism | Leave a Comment »
Metta Karuna Prayer
Oneness of Life and Light,
Entrusting in your Great Compassion,
May you shed the foolishness in myself,
Transforming me into a conduit of Love.
May I be a medicine for the sick and weary,
Nursing their afflictions until they are cured;
May I become food and drink,
During time of famine,
May I protect the helpless and the poor,
May I be a lamp,
For those who need your Light,
May I be a bed for those who need rest,
and guide all seekers to the Other Shore.
May all find happiness through my actions,
and let no one suffer because of me.
Whether they love or hate me,
Whether they hurt or wrong me,
May they all realize true entrusting,
Through Other Power,
and realize Supreme Nirvana.
Namo Amida Buddha 
Today I came across this beautiful prayer entitled “Metta Karuna Prayer.” I had not read or seen it before. So I looked up what the two words meant. Metta means kindness and karuna means compassion. However, it is said that it must be combined with wisdom in order to be effective. The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen says “Compassion extends itself without distinction to all sentient beings. It is based on the enlightened experience of the oneness of all beings (page 113).” As you will discover when you read and use the prayer the combination of these three ideas kindness, compassion, and wisdom makes this a very powerful prayer.
The prayer ends with “Namo Amida Buddha” which translated means “Praise Amida Buddha.” Amitabha symbolizes mercy and wisdom in the Pure Land school of Chinese and Japanese Buddhism. Calling upon Amitabha Buddha is a perfect closing to the prayer since it is all about compassion, kindness, and wisdom.
It is not easy to have compassion for some people, it is not easy to be kind to some people as they try our patience and our ethics and sometimes even our laws. And yet with wisdom we can see beyond the physical, the mundane, the prejudice, the fear, and the pain. We can see them as someone who is in special need of kindness and compassion. That can only be done when we allow wisdom to be part of the equation. Visualize these three ideas as a three legged stool, without the three legs the stool would not stand. What do you stand for? Only one or two of the three legs of this stool?
Imagine what would happen within us and around us if we said the prayer every day. Imagine our heart being opened to every living being on the planet. Imagine our heart being open to the earth, the animals of the earth, the rivers, oceans, and streams, and the mountains and the valleys.
I am not asking anyone to be “perfect” what I am hoping for is that I and all others will be moving toward enlightenment which can only come when we sit on the stool with all three legs intact, strong, and stable.
I hope you’ll sit with me this week as we use this beautiful prayer to help us live a life of kindness, compassion, and wisdom for all.
Let me know how it goes!
The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen (1991) Shambhala Dragon Editions, Shambhala: Boston, MA
Posted in animal rescue, BUddhism, cause and effect, enlightenment, Ethics, fears, hate speech, love, meditation, Metta, Metta Prayer, Mindfulness, oppression, planet earth, prayer, prison system in America, religion, self-help, Shambhala, sickness, suffering | Tagged Amitabha Buddha, anger, anxiety, Buddhism, challenges, contemplation, fear, happiness, joy, life, love, meditation, Metta Karuna Prayer, mindfulness, peace, prayer, Pure Land Buddhism, religion, sitting, wisdom, Zazen, Zen Buddhism | Leave a Comment »
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.
Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.
Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.
Do not believe in traditions simply because they have been handed down for many generations.
But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”
The words above are attributed to Shakyamuni Buddha. They are great things to ponder as you inquire or hear things about various religions, philosophies, and belief systems. They can help you discern what is worthy, truthful, helpful, and right for you to live by.
Then after much time, prayer, meditation, and sitting with what you’ve read or heard you can decide if those ideas are of value to you and if they will help you live a life of peace, love, and compassion. If they will you can determine how you will incorporate them into your daily life and share them in your communities and at your jobs.
Good luck with that! Keep me posted on what you find out…
Posted in BUddhism, Christianity, meditation, Mindfulness, prayer, religion, Uncategorized, Zen | Tagged Buddha, Buddhism, compassion, contemplation, love, meditiation, mindfulness, peace, prayer, religion, religious beliefs, Shakyamuni Buddha, sitting, Truth, wisdom, Zen Buddhism | Leave a Comment »
OM the one sound that crosses all boundaries, all religions, all philosophies, all prayers. As Herman Hesse writes of Siddhartha:
Then, from a remote part of the soul, from the past of his tired life he heard the sound. It was one word, one syllable, which without thinking he spoke instinctively. The ancient beginning and ending of Brahmin prayers, the holy “Om,” which had the meaning of the Perfect One, or perfection (page 52).”
And those who study Tibetan Buddhism have probably chanted this hundreds or even thousands of time.
Chenrezig Mantra: OM MANI PADME HUNG
I found this beautiful explanation of it on http://www.dharma-haven.org/tibetan/meaning-of-om-mani-padme-hung.htm.
The six syllables perfect the Six Paramitas of the Bodhisattvas.
Gen Rinpoche, in his commentary on the Meaning of said:
“The mantra Om Mani Pädme Hum is easy to say yet quite powerful,
because it contains the essence of the entire teaching. When you say
the first syllable Om it is blessed to help you achieve perfection in the
practice of generosity, Ma helps perfect the practice of pure ethics,
and Ni helps achieve perfection in the practice of tolerance and
patience. Päd, the fourth syllable, helps to achieve perfection of perseverance, Me helps achieve perfection in the practice of concentration, and the final sixth syllable Hum helps achieve perfection in the practice of wisdom.
So in this way recitation of the mantra helps achieve perfection in the six practices from generosity to wisdom. The path of these six perfections is the path walked by all the Buddhas of the three times. What could then be more meaningful than to say the mantra and accomplish the six perfections?”
I encourage you to chant this and see how it helps you perfect the characteristics of the Perfect One who embodies those “six practices from generosity to wisdom.” This may change the way you live and love in 2016 and beyond. So chant away!
Keep me posted on how it goes.
 Loori, J.D. (2007) Teachings of the Earth Zen and the Environment. Shambhala: Boston & London.
Posted in BUddhism, chant, love, prayer, religion, Shambhala, Uncategorized, wisdom, Zen | Tagged Buddha, Buddhism, chants, compassion, Gen Rinpoche, love, OM MANI PADME HUM, peace, Shakyamuni Buddha, Six Paramitas of the Bodhisattvas, suffering, wisdom, Zen | 2 Comments »
Look, Look, the year draws to an end! Calligraphy from, Moon By The Window, The calligraphy and Zen Insights of Shodo Harada.
In gassho, Shokai
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged 2016, Buddhism, calligraphy of Shodo Harada, clutter, Happy New Year, love, meditation, Moon by the Window: The Calligraphy and Zen Insights of Shodo Harada, New Year, peace, starting a new, the mind, thinking, welcoming the new year, Zen, Zen Buddhism, Zen Spirit | Leave a Comment »