Teaching meditation or mindfulness in the CofE

Readers of this blog will know that my spiritual life is rooted in the contemplative tradition and a daily practice of silent meditation, a practice that was kick-started at Westcott House and deeply enriched by my psychotherapy training at the Chiron Centre in Ealing. My practice and understanding of my inner world and its relationship with the world of the unconditional was transformed, by learning the most simple and basic wisdom.

An article about mindfulness in schools in last Sunday’s Observer raised again a persistent question for me. Why isn’t the teaching of meditation or mindfulness a core part of the Church of England’s teaching programme?

The Observer article describes how schools in deprived areas embrace mindfulness because pupils thrive with mindfulness lessons. I’d like to see congregations thriving as a result of their weekly practice of meditation!

Some schools are developing thriving mindfulness teaching programmes and embracing meditation techniques because they help vulnerable children cope. Mindfulness brings quieter children to the surface – children going through severe anxiety and stress at home. Teaching mindfulness in schools helps with children’s mental health and improves their academic performance.

A headteacher said mindfulness had helped build children’s self-esteem and was a hugely positive force in their lives, helping them to engage with the present rather than worrying about the future or blaming the past for everything. Showing children how to do meditation helps them learn about relaxation and gives them a confidence they never had.

Whether we call it meditation or mindfulness – the article uses both words – is immaterial. Both are helping people discover and explore the same space within themselves, the silence and emotion where the sacred experience of life dwells.

Teaching meditation ought to be an integral part of life in every parish. It needs to be taught and it needs to be practiced, integrated with prayer and worship.

It’s really good news that so many schools are now teaching children the practice of mindfulness. In secular institutions it won’t have an overt spiritual dimension, but it will inevitably deepen children’s awareness of the spiritual dimension of life, even if the word spiritual isn’t used.

The tragedy for me is that whereas educational institutions recognise the great value of teaching and practising mindfulness, churches don’t.

The Learning to Pray page on the Church of England’s web site has no teaching about meditation or mindfulness.

Teaching people how to enter into the present moment in silent awareness, finding within themselves the presence of the divine, the unconditional love of God woven through creation and soul essence of every being, is transformative, as those who practice meditation or mindfulness know.

I’m content that schools are now teaching mindfulness because they witness the way it can transform children’s quality of life.

I register the failure of the church to understand that teaching people to meditate should be a basic building block in every parish and integral to the Renewal and Reform agenda of the national church. A contemplative community is an essential ingredient in the reform of the church. The teaching of mindfulness should be a core part of the Church of England’s programme.