Concentration, not Meditation

My class has asked (by vote of 19-1) for regular meditation exercises. We do them once a week. I will document those in subsequent posts, but yesterday we did a variation — a concentration exercise. A case could be made that because of multi-tasking and the constant electronic intrusion into their lives, students rarely concentrate on a single activity. I wanted to test their frequent assertions that they can do two things at once; listen to music or television while studying, text while having a conversation, check the baseball score on their iPad while taking in the class discussion, and so on.

EXERCISE:  Our class is in a room with no windows, and I wanted the students to be in a place where visual or audio intrusions would be frequent, so we went into the hallway outside our classroom and they lined up at the windows, looking onto the Student Center Plaza, which was frequently criss-crossed by pedestrians. Another teacher and one of her students were discussing an assignment at the end of the hallway, clearly audible. After they had lined up, I advised my class that they should remind themselves that the noise and activity around them was other people going about other lives and had nothing to do with them.

They were instructed to pick an unmoving object and concentrate on it for two minutes. I would announce the beginning and the end of the period.

During the exercise two people looked away, but most remained unmoving and silent.

After it was over, the consensus was that 1) it was most difficult to ignore the audio intrusion of the teacher-student conversation, and 2) the two minutes did not seem a long time.

This exercise may have suggested (I don’t know, what do you think?) that students these days can indeed multitask, or at least can tune out visual and audio intrusions quite well. I consider this bad news, as it means that they can tune me out in class with ease if left with access to electronic devices, though the students agree unanimously that computers/iPads/iPhones should be put aside in class. I remember well the first time I tried to concentrate like this, on a hillside outside Jerusalem in 1966. It was impossible to concentrate on a single object for even a minute. Perhaps constant practice has wired modern students’ brains differently. It will be up to somebody else to figure this out, but I was surprised by the ease with which my students accomplished this exercise.

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