Purpose Driven Education and the Role Mindfulness Can Play
In this episode, Amy Edelstein talks about the role of purpose in teen flourishing. When people are connected to a purpose greater than themselves, they experience more resilience, ability to persevere through challenges, sense of connection, and happiness. We can work with tools of mindful awareness to help students connect with their own values and imbue their lives with greater meaning. As educators, we can contextualize any subject we are teaching within a framework of higher purpose. This helps shape our student's ability to interpret their journey in a positive light, learn from their mistakes, and feel fulfilled and significant as they learn and grow.
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Building Purpose with Mindfulness
Hello, welcome to the Conscious Classroom. My name is Amy Edelstein. I'm your host today. We're gonna talk about the power of purpose and how mindfulness supports purpose in young people. One not really taught how to define purpose and meaning in life. When we're in school and especially in recent times, students have been encouraged to cultivate skills and aptitudes to do well on standardized tests to get into elite magnet, high schools, elite colleges, and elite professions.
They're taught. Not to think creatively necessarily, but to accomplish skills. When we're taught to accomplish skills, we are able to perform well in certain professions. But when we're taught to accomplish skills towards a greater end, a greater purpose, a purpose that's intangible that has meaning. That has significance beyond our own ephemeral happiness or momentary happiness, that education, that definition of skills towards a greater end can bring both tremendous resilience and ability to withstand challenge and also greater happiness.
A sense that life is directed. We're on a path. We're on a trajectory
in Victor Frankl's seminal work man's search for meaning. He spoke about his experience in the Nazi concentration camp and how, as horrible as the circumstances were, he could work with what. He could control was his own sense of meaning and purpose. And as he looked around him, he saw that those individuals who were able to persevere were those who had a sense of meaning and purpose that guided them in that book.
I quote him. He said, life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose. Now that takes a, an exalted. Sense of purpose and self and vision, to be able to say that under such extreme circumstances. And you see that similarly among Tibetan meditation teachers, Tibetan Buddhist masters, who are in imprisoned in Chinese work camp.
And tortured and humiliated who emerged with a sense of compassion for their captors in a sense that their, their suffering was part of their practice was part of being able to generate a profound level of compassion for the delusion and ignorance of those people who thought that they, that torture and inflicting suffering was what they were supposed to do.
And those individuals who merged from that recent crisis are great examples as our other individuals, Nelson Mandela, who suffered again in, in horrific circumstances, imprisoned on Robin island for 27 years and emerged with a, a noble sense of purpose.
Purpose can be defined for youth by culture, by religion, by familial expectations and as. We see in our contemporary culture where so many different things are demanding our attention, where we're told that our next vacation is gonna bring us happiness, where we're told that our new car is gonna bring us happiness, where we're told that as a youth, that the close the right dance moves the right peer group, and sadly in many inner.
city impoverished communities were told that violence will bring happiness through belonging in a gang through proving one's manhood through or womanhood. As we're seeing girls increasingly getting involved in gun violence. Now, how do we shift that? How do we shift that lack of meaningful purpose and cultivate that sense of a direction?
What I do with the inner strength program and with the teen mindful illness exercises is to really work with that sense of letting go. That sense of being able to be intimate with one's self, to be able to be still in one's self, to be able to sit focusing on the backdrop of awareness or using sensation in the body or using the breath or working with a thought bubble to cultivate that sense of self-awareness.
And that awareness of an inner world. That's not bounded by our beliefs or by our external circumstance,
no matter what we are aware of our experience, that experience may be good. That experience may, may be bad, but our awareness is broad enough to hold it all because we are aware of it. . And when we start focusing on that quality of awareness and being able to hold everything, we are able to find a context where we're not completely overwhelmed or pushed by a externals.
So simply allowing our students regularly daily to sit. in a practice of guided contemplation, where they reflect on their inner experience. They think about who they are. They reflect on what makes them unique and creative individuals puts them in touch with a sense of purpose. And as they develop that sense of purpose and as they start experiencing.
their own uniqueness and their own capacity, their own potential, their own ability to care and forgive and love and respect. They start to appreciate that they can create meaning in their own lives. in their small circles, family or friends whom they care about. And they can create a sense of fulfillment out of cultivating those qualities that make them a good person that bring them the qualities that they respect.
And it gives them a sense that they can choose care about those in their neighborhood and their circles and not necessarily follow. All of the actions that they may be pushed into taking, whether it's bullying online, excluding a friend or other more harmful activities.
And through that, they can also start developing their sense of selfhood and direction. Who do they wanna be when they're older, what do they care about? What do they want to express? We don't wanna push our, our young people into feeling overburdened by a need to quote unquote, save the world from the problems they're inheriting from the older generat, but to connect with a purpose that draws them towards something positive.
they're gonna have a loving family. They're gonna be good providers. They're gonna be creative inventors. They're gonna be successful. Accountants, teachers, doctors, nurses.
They're gonna be reliable friends and respected in their community and trusted. I steady and caring, just like the role models that they care about
using mindfulness activities to cultivate that type of, self-reflection getting students to write about them, write about what they care about, write about where they feel care in their dry it in an outline, a silhouette. Where do they feel joy? Where do they feel? Connection? Where do they feel? Excitement, where do they feel?
Goals? Where do they feel pushed to reach beyond themselves? Where do they feel success? Where do they feel attainment? It turns their attention from getting good grades or getting material things. To a quality of self fulfillment and that self-fulfillment coming from something that is good, not just for themselves, but for a greater good, whether it's those they care about or their communities or the world as a whole
Helen Keller, who is a deep thinker of thought about the purpose of life. About the consequences of our actions and who of course was creative and overcame tremendous difficulty. She said, true happiness is not attained through self gratification, but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. And I think if we look at our own experience, we can see that our happiest times.
Are often spent either in service of another or in companionship with another, or in communion with nature or in communion with ourselves, allowing us to just be rather than to read after an external object. That sense of, of. Perseverance courage and commitment,
giving our students guided questions where they do some mindfulness activity, so they can rest in themselves, get in touch with their PA positivity with their, their what's going on. What they're feeling. and then journaling about what they care about, what are the three things that they care most about and why letting them articulate and often writing is a good medium after some mindfulness practice.
Sitting in stillness is, can be hard for students to speak afterwards. They may feel a little blank, a feel a little bit shifted out of their norm. And it's hard to articulate the words out loud, but letting them write often allows them to up into a current of experience or emotion that they may not be used to accessing.
When students are connected with a greater goal, when they stumble, it's easier for them to recover when they don't have a greater goal, that stumble is often interpreted as my failing, I blew it. I'm not good enough. I'll never get this. well, when that stumble is part of a pathway to a greater goal, it's like, oh, I didn't do that.
Well there, but I, I have to keep going. I'm only on mile six and I've got more. So I'm just gonna keep looking ahead and let that pull me. I'm gonna learn from my mistakes. And when I stumble, I won't fall all the way. I'll catch myself and keep going. Having that greater goal helps one see the roadblocks or the hurdles as opportunities to learn as opportunities to strengthen as opportunities to grow.
It. Also keep that stress of achievement or overscheduling or over competition in. Obeyance because when the goal is big and it's, it's gonna be our life's work to get there, to build a loving family, to, to achieve competence and success in our field, we know that this is gonna be a matter of years or decades.
And so we pace ourselves. And for students to learn, to pace themselves towards a larger goal while they're in their formative years is really, really positive. It builds a foundation for their young adulthood when pressures a fam creating a fam raising a young family and, and working and establishing themselves maybe a little much having that long term goal allows for that pacing.
And it allows for a sense that our busyness is not to get to the end of the list. It's not just to be busy for the sake of busyness. It's not just to get the lot done. It's not just to come to the end of the week and say, wow, I did X, Y, and Z and QP and R we. It's it's important to feel a sense of heading towards something that brings meaning not just an itemized list, computer algorithms accomplish a lot, but one algorithm or another algorithm are clicking off zeros and ones.
They're not, they're not adding. To our human capacity to interpret the world, to express compassion, to feel a, a, a depth of insight, to feel our, our own capacities for understanding, interpreting and, and making wise decisions to be developing.
Henry David Thoreau the transcendentalist who was. Eminently pragmatic in many ways in his, in his mystical outlook, he said, it's not enough to be industrious. So are the ants, what are you industrious about? I think our contemporary culture could do well to really reflect on that. in this cult of busyness, we're trained to value productivity and output.
by volume more than by quality. So let's not pride. Our accomplishment, the way that Henry Ford prided his conveyor belts, his automated car production. What are you industrious about? The answer industrious? Let us be industries about something worthwhile and let's extend that sense and value, impart that to our youth so that our youth are learning to find meaning and human sense of purpose and support and love and care. in everything they do. So they're constantly fulfilling their reserves with, with experiences that bring value and joy and purpose. And that's, what's gonna give them the wherewithal to work towards their own fulfillment.
Which is defined by fulfillment in a, in a larger context towards a greater good
purpose is gonna take time and effort to cultivate mindfulness practice really helps students develop that sense of patience. we don't immediately get good at resting in. The quality of being aware and letting the thoughts that come and go in our minds arise and pass away. We don't immediately get good at that.
Or we might have beginners' luck and slip into that sense of peace and ease. And then we start feeling the busyness of mind, and we don't have the skills yet to understand, to penetrate, to see through and to maintain our inner strength. in the face of a busy mind, mindfulness practice helps students learn to be patient with that and to see results over time to experience the growth of their own muscle of choice over what they're gonna be swayed by in their own minds.
And when you develop that ability to choose in that sense of. Choice over what happens in your mind? That's, that's a moment of real accomplishment for a teen. They feel so empowered, so free, so victorious in a way that's inclusive, not over other people, not by competing with other people, not by controlling other people, but by feeling that they have choice over what thoughts they're gonna pay attention to, how they're gonna interpret them.
And how stable they're gonna be, where they're gonna rest in themselves as they watch this parade, this movie of their minds in front of them.
When we support our students to Def who pay attention to purpose and to be patient in defining their sense of adherence. To a higher goal. We're really preparing them for a healthy life. There was a large 2014 study, by Patrick Hill and Nicholas tur that linked purpose, a sense of purpose greater than oneself to various health outcomes.
So. Everything from having better sleep to experiencing fewer strokes and heart attacks to a lower risk for dementia, disability, or premature death. These are significant
part of the sense helps individuals combat the negative effects of stress. The disruptive experience of anxiety, of depression, of loss, of ability to find the next step. A sense of purpose also helps an individual take better care of themselves. A and for teens, this is again, it's a, it's a great counter weight.
Towards the pole to risky and, end dangerous activity, alcohol drugs promiscuous sexual engagement, because you have a greater purpose and you're looking towards the future and you feel connected to whether it's your immediate circles, your family, your neighborhood, or your world. You embrace.
Positive health activities. As you get older, you embrace preventative health services, and that's partly why that sense of purpose can be linked to these long term improved health outcomes, cuz you're taking care of yourself for the sake of something larger. Adjust yourself.
when students practice mindfulness. They, they say things like in these are examples from some of my students this, this, this year earlier this year, this fall, where they said things like. When they practiced mindfulness, when they learned these inner strength tools, they said things like instead of ignoring stress and conflicting things, I've learned there better ways to deal with it instead of ignoring stress and conflicting things, I've learned there better ways to deal with it.
And you can see how, okay. Okay. If you're not ignoring stress, you're not ignoring conflicts. You're not ignoring your problems. You're finding positive solutions. You're gonna be cultivating a strong foundation. That's gonna lead you towards better wellbeing, both physical and mental, emotional.
I said mindfulness taking the time to be kind to others makes your life better extending sense of care for other people taking the time for that. makes our own lives better. That sense of greater purpose, greater connection, a reason to be makes our own life better.
Another student said mindfulness helped me realize when I make a mistake, it's not the end. I can pick myself up and keep good going that the mindfulness practice helps students see their own experience in light of a larger goal of our human development. Our cultivation of our higher capacities. And so then we make mistakes.
We pick ourselves up, we learn from them. We keep going.
These are real practical ways that mindfulness supports student sense of wellbeing. Another student said, I, I have a lot of hardships in my family and stuff that helped make me feel like I'm still okay. Mindfulness helps students see objectively difficult circumstances for what they are. Doesn't whitewash them, but it doesn't make these, it, it doesn't, it helps students create, have this distance.
So that those negative circumstances or hard circumstances or problems don't mean that there's something wrong with them just means these are hardships, poverty, illness a loss of somebody, dear violence in the neighborhood. These are hardships mindfulness. Doesn't sugarcoat them. But just because one experiences difficulty in one's life doesn't mean that one is inadequate, damaged or not.
Good enough. And that's where connecting mindfulness connecting that sense of purpose brings the, the real fruits of mindfulness to the forefront. so students can have, they can give you answers like that. What what's mindfulness to you, how has it helped you always connected to this sense of deeper wellbeing?
They may come to it on their own, but we also, when we present mindfulness in the classroom, we need to connect that for our students. And whether we're teaching algebra. or chemistry or a foreign language. We can build these moments of meaning making into them and using mindfulness in the broadest sense of the term, helping students become aware of meaning making in everything they do.
how is understanding how the world works through geometry or physics? How is understanding that creating meaning in their lives, how is being able to, to lean into
how is being able to lean into the history of our world creating meaning in their lives and how does that inspire them? To wanna create a history that describes the best of humanity, the evolution of our higher capacities, not just wars and struggle and oppression, but the cultivation of the opposite of that kind of oppressive human interaction and relationship.
We can do that. by bringing the qualities of mindful awareness to bear. We can do that by noticing our own responses and reactions to what we're learning. So we're not learning in a vacuum. We're not learning to attest. We're learning to develop ourselves. We're learning out of our own cure. Curiosity to uncover new possibilities, positive inter relationships or understanding.
hurts and harms that have happened in a context where we are committed to embodying the solution. So we can, I imbue any subject that we're teaching with mindful awareness us with how the youth, the student is interacting with the knowledge being presented and with how the knowledge being presented.
and understanding and engaging with it leads to a greater sense of meaning and purpose.
So let's take a moment to do a final guided practice
using the open awareness practice.
And connecting it with purpose to allow yourself to rest, allow your attention to soften.
Let the thoughts settle into the background,
allowing your own own experience of being aware. of the room. You're in
whatever your hands are, touching,
whatever you're sitting on, the temperature on your skin,
the muscle us up your face.
allowing yourself to put your attention on being aware of what you're noticing, rather than on the content of what you're noticing
as you let your field of awareness. Expand.
Resting in that quality of being aware,
allow yourself to feel into and intu. It that, which is important to you that which is closest to your heart.
That sense of meaning and purpose and direction in your own life.
Let yourself stay without softly.
It can be wordless.
It can be a feeling or a knowing
or a joy or a love.
And as that sense of meaning and purpose
becomes stronger in your field of awareness.
Imagine it's like a die. A drop of dye, dripped into a glass of water that that meaning and purpose is spreading throughout your entire field of consciousness
and viewing everything you're aware of.
with directionality and purpose and greater good.
Now let's bring your attention back,
becoming more aware of the room. You're in the objects, in the room, around you without losing touch. With that sense of fullness of heart and calmness of being
thank you so much till next time. Be well.
NOTES: See these materials for more on The Power of Purpose to Support a Happy Life