Introducing Spiritual Practices for Spiritual Explorations Class

IMG_20170707_153112089Dear Students,

We are very excited to bring to you our new Spiritual Explorations SPEX Logo E.png(SPEX) course! At the heart of this new curriculum is an experience-based approach in which you will be regularly engaging in spiritual practices. This teaching strategy emerges out of a belief taught by religions across the world that spiritual development best occurs as practitioners explore and integrate the intelligences of their bodies, minds, and hearts. With the help of mindfulness teacher Sangeeta Bansal, our teaching team has created the following list of practices that you will be exploring during the course.

At the end of this entry is a broad summary of what students aimed to improve in their lives by doing their practice, their chosen practice, and keys to their success in this first year that we have done this project.

Our Top Picks

These are the core practices that we want each one of you to explore in this course.

  1. Breath-Based Practices: Mark Williams’ Three-Minute Breathing Space is a very useful way to ground yourself in in the present moment through your breath. Here is an 8-minute version.

  2. Body-Based Practices: A body scan meditation focuses the mind’s attention on the physical body, taking us out of mental mode and into the physical body in the here and now. Here is a 6-minute body scan, a 15-minute one, and an extended 30-minute version.

  3. Mind-Based Practices: This 8-minute Mark Williams’ audio helps you focus on sounds and thoughts.

  4. Heart-Based Practices: The Loving Kindness Meditation is a very effective and easy way to help you stimulate positive energy towards yourself and others. Here is a script that can guide you through the LKM, a 9-minute audio by Mark Williams as well as a 13-minute online version, which also includes a script accompanying the voice recording.

Pool of Practices

  1. Breath-Based Practices: All spiritual systems use the breath as a Image result for breathmeans to get in touch with the body and the present moment. In many languages the word for “breath” is the same expression for “wind” or “spirit,” and in fact the breath does connect us to other living beings in the biosphere. While we are often lost in our internal monologues, distractions, worries and fears, breath awareness grounds us in the here and now, and, according to religious traditions, connects us to our Larger Selves.

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  1. Body-Based Practices: These practices build awareness of theImage result for body meditation body, calm the energetic system by activating the relaxation response, increase “being mode” rather than “doing mode,” and rejuvenate physical health.

1. Concentration: the goal of concentration (or closed) meditation is to train the mind to focus. See this guide how to do a concentration practice.

  • Using a mantra is a form of a concentrative practice. This is an 8-minute guided meditation using the Sanskrit word “Om” as a mantra.
  • Transcendental Meditation is a popular, mantra-based meditation technique. Learn about the benefits of TM in this 2-minute video.
  • This 7-minute video leads Christians through the biblical Aramaic phrase “Maranatha” (“Come Lord”) as a mantra-based meditation.
  • Chanting is a form of a concentrative practice. Here is a video that leads the viewer through the chanting of the popular chant Om Mani Padme Hum 108 times. This Korean Buddhist chant Kwan Seom Bosal, which focuses on compassion, is well-known, and can be listened to in this audio. To get a sense of the racing, vibrational power of collective chanting, listen to parts of this Buddhist chant.
  • This short video demonstrates how to use prayer beads with the Hari Krishna chant. George Harrison of the Beattles popularized chanting of Hari Krishna in the late 1960’s.
  • Here an HKIS Hindu student chants while doing a fire ritual at his family’s shrine. Another HKIS Hindu student bathes the gods at her home altar.
  • So Hum practice: Breath in with “so” and think “I am,” and breath out with “hum,” which means “that,” or the rest of the world. This meditation connects your inner self to the world outside of the self. Here is an 18-minute So Hum 18-minute guided mantra practice combined with asking important questions of the self, such as, “Who am I?”
  • Gatha is a chant for relaxation and present moment awareness, using a 4 or 6-breath cycle. In your mind say the first phrase on the in-breath and the second on the outbreath, etc.

I know I’m breathing in (in-breath)
I know I’m breathing out (outbreath)
Breathing in I smile (in-breath)
Breathing out I relax (outbreath)
(I dwell in the present moment – in-breath)
This moment is a precious moment – outbreath)

2. Awareness: the goal of awareness meditation practices is to gain insight into the nature of the mind and reality by observing how the mind works. We see reality as it is rather than as experienced through the filter of the mind. It is common in awareness practices for meditators to label thoughts as they arise –  “angry thoughts” or “busy ideas,” etc.

3. Surrender: the goal of this meditation technique is even simpler than an awareness practice. Rather than watching or labeling thoughts, this practice simply lets go of any thoughts, emotions, or sensations that arise by using a word (like “hope” or “focus” or the name of a deity) to bring the practitioner back to a state of open awareness.

  • A Christian form of this type of meditation is called Centering Prayer. Christian monk Thomas Keating gives this 7-minute introduction to Centering Prayer in this video clip.
  • A related surrender practice is called burning a mandala in which art pieces are created in order to be destroyed. A Christian nun explains more about why Buddhist monks burn mandalas in this article.

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  1. Heart-Based Practices: These practices help activate and purify Image result for heart spiritualemotions in the heart so that they become less self-focused and more compassionate. 

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Just Do It: 9th Graders and Spiritual Practices

Introduction

Our new Spiritual Explorations has made a dramatic paradigm shift in its approach to religion instruction: the goal is spiritual experience over any kind of course content or analysis. This led to another surprising commitment: despite our limited class time, each period contains some form of spiritual practice. We set up the curriculum so that 2/3 of the way through the semester course, students choose their own spiritual practice to implement and monitor over about a two-week time period. This blog entry summarizes what students learned from this spiritual practices project.

Project Description

Students chose an area in their life that they wanted to change, and then selected a spiritual practice that helped them to works towards this goal. Here are the major themes that emerged from my two classes of SPEX 9 students who did this project this year.

What do I need to change about myself? (in order of importance)

  1. Less worry and stress
  2. Less procrastination
  3. More focus
  4. Be present
  5. Connect Body and Heart
  6. Dampen Inner Critic
  7. Slow Down
  8. Let go of Perfectionism

What did I do and how did it go?

  1. Loving Kindness Meditation (13)
  2. Drawing (10)
  3. Conscious Walking (8)
  4. Death meditation (6)
  5. Meditation (5)
  6. Conscious eating (2)
  7. Letter writing (2)
  8. Others: Bowing, fasting, prayer, non-reactivity, photography

Student Takeaways

  1. Consistency is the key.
  2. Focus is necessary for life success.
  3. Need to find a practice that suits you.
  4. Doing something I enjoy is important for mental health
  5. They hope to continue in the future

Conclusion

Students have an innate ability to self-regulate their body-mind-heart self, as can be seen from the results of this spiritual practices project.

More information:

  • To see exemplary student spiritual practices projects, go to this blog link.
  • Listen here to a 10-minute meditation that explores the three centers of the body, mind, and heart.
  • All eight of the Mark Williams’ meditations can be accessed here.

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About martinschmidtinasia

I have served as a humanities teacher at Hong Kong International School since 1990, teaching history, English, and religion courses. Since the mid-1990's I have also come to assume responsibility for many of the school's service learning initiatives. My position also included human care ministry with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Hong Kong, southern China, and others parts of Asia from 1999-2014. Bringing my affluent students into contact with people served by the LCMS in Asia has proved to be beneficial to students and our community partners alike. Through these experience I have become committed to social conscience education, which gives students the opportunity to find their place in society in the context of challenging global realities.
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6 Responses to Introducing Spiritual Practices for Spiritual Explorations Class

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