By Addy Henderson
I have been granted the privilege of attending two classes that have taken the time to meditate. The first was during my sophomore year, in a World History class taught by the head of the Philosophy department. This is not surprising, given that he is a Tai Chi-performing, tea-drinking-directly-from-the-pot, bowtie-wearing doctorate from Yale. During our long class on Thursdays, we would take up to twenty-five minutes simply to meditate, beginning and ending with the sound of a bell. Those days I was the most relaxed and performed the best—I always loved it when tests fell on Thursdays.
The second privilege was granted to me this year.
It should come as no surprise that I was immensely pleased when, on the first day of classes, our Art History teacher introduced the practice of listening to her bell. An inviting ring of the hand-cupped bell, followed by three rings for three breaths each, followed by a closing tap. Some students were dubious and were laughing, unable to stay silent during the first few weeks. They soon discovered the relaxation that can come from taking even a minute out of the day to sit still and calm their thoughts.
Many people believe that endless studying, cramming, and non-stop memorization is the best way to prepare for a large exam. Non-stop memorization. For me, at least, this method is not only ineffective but also detrimental. By the day of the exam or challenge—whatever it may be—I have always been burned out. I have no more energy for thinking, even when I have gotten enough sleep. Is there a way to prevent this kind of mental exhaustion?
When a flyer began to go around school for a day of meditation in the thick of SAT prep, projects, and all my word count goals, I was hesitant to sign up. What if I wouldn’t get time to finish memorizing all those formulas? What if I wouldn’t be able to complete those projects due the next day? What if I couldn’t keep my word count up? Eventually, though, I resigned myself and put my name on the list of attendees. If not for the meditation, then for the food.
It paid off.
Two hours of origami, drawing, sitting in a circle and relaxing, talking, interacting, meditation, fluffy Italian cake, and wonderful tea. That was all it took to hit a reset button. My previous state of depressed franticness (which was what I should have expected, as I was taking three languages not including English, studying for tests, and adapting to a new culture after receiving so-so grades and trying to keep up a year-long goal of writing a lot of words) had morphed into a curious sense of readiness. Plans fell into place. Grades picked up. Tests went well. Best of all, camaraderie developed: the people who attended this relaxation session became good friends—including the teachers.
I realize now that I should have seen such results coming, given my experience the previous year with Doc G (the bowtie fellow) and the meditation sessions I had attended every seven weeks or so to fulfill my requirement to take a religion class, but at the time, I was so surprised. Somewhere during all of the stress and chaos I had managed to forget why meditation was so pleasant. I doubt that I will forget again.
I cannot provide any studies or actual crowd-sourced data; I can only share my personal experience. That is, I can only share the personal experience of some random high school junior who had never meditated in her life until freshman year when she had needed to fulfill her first religious requirement. Here is a recommendation from that random high school junior: even if dubious, even if bemused by the concept of sitting still and trying not to think but obviously thinking about not thinking, give meditation a try. At least once. See why bells can be so powerful, so stress-relieving. Go in, sit down, and put aside for even just a moment how strange it might seem. It will be worth it.
Meditation is a privilege, so why not enjoy it?
Addy Henderson lives in Redding, California, and is a member of the high school class of 2017. She can’t believe that her school is letting her class run the place. In her spare time, she procrastinates from doing college applications and, instead, gives cave tours at the local cavern.