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Gerry ChidiacOne of the fruits of regular meditation is mindfulness – basically being more aware, primarily of our thoughts and feelings, but also of the world around us and the task at hand.

A number of leading corporations – Apple, Google, Deutsche Bank and General Mills, among others – have begun using mindfulness training with their employees.

The results have been astounding: increases in productivity, a greater capacity to deal with stressful situations and a general improvement in the work atmosphere. These corporations found that making mindfulness training available to employees was well worth the investment.

Many top athletes also use mindfulness training. It helps them get ready to compete and to consistently perform well in high-pressure situations.

Teaching can be very stressful. A University of Virginia study found that training teachers in mindfulness can create a more positive learning environment for students. These educators trained in mindfulness tended to be more organized, friendlier and generally more positive with students. So training all teachers would likely have a very positive impact on student learning and on teacher retention.

How do you achieve mindfulness?

Traditionally, it’s been done through meditation. Mystics of all religions achieve levels of awareness many believe are unattainable for those living outside of monasteries.

Today, however, techniques are taught that aren’t part of any religion. And technology can enhance and accelerate the benefits of meditation.

My experience with mindfulness training has been extremely positive. While I have used more traditional forms of meditation for most of my life, I tried one of the technologically-assisted forms a number of years ago. I listened to sounds that brought me to deeper levels of meditation. I was astounded at the benefits. Every aspect of my life, including my teaching, improved.

Stephen Covey, in his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about the gap between stimulus and response. When things happen to us, we don’t have to simply react. Reacting without thought can have very negative consequences. For example, we perceive an insult, so we hit the person who said it before they can do it again.

But effective people assess the situation before responding. Did that person really mean what they said as an insult? Are they having a bad day? Maybe I should ask a few questions to clarify where they’re coming from.

The more I meditated, the larger this gap between stimulus and response became. It became easier to distinguish between my thoughts and feelings, and those of people around me. I realized that the negative behaviours of others rarely had anything to do with me, and it became easier to respond with empathy and compassion

I recall an incident in my classroom with at-risk students, who have a tendency to be quite reactive. One young man was acting up and another student found it quite annoying. He said, “Chidiac! How can you stay so calm when he’s acting that way?” I turned to him and replied, “I meditate.” Then we all had a chuckle.

We’re not only aware of the benefits of developing mindfulness, we’re also aware that there are many ways to achieve it. Whether or not we’re encouraged by our employers, we can explore yoga and many other forms of meditation.

When we find what works best for us, we can use mindfulness to improve our lives and change the world in ways we never thought possible.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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