The MWS Podcast: Episode 21, Claire Kelly from the Mindfulness in Schools Project

In this episode we are joined by Claire Kelly, who is the Operations Director of the Mindfulness in Schools Project. She’s going to talk to us today about why she feels it’s important to introduce children to mindfulness practices, how the project goes about it and how it might relate to the Middle Way.

MWS Podcast 21: Claire Kelly as audio only:
Download audio: MWS_Podcast_21_Claire_Kelly

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About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

One thought on “The MWS Podcast: Episode 21, Claire Kelly from the Mindfulness in Schools Project

  1. This is a wonderful and inspiring project. Things have moved on so much in recent years! When I first started teaching Religious Studies in a sixth form college in the early 1990’s, I was working with an evangelical Christian head of department, who, knowing my interest in Buddhism and meditation, stipulated at my initial interview that I should not teach meditation in the classroom. However, it turned out that he was only concerned about meditation being mistaken for worship, and was OK with some optional meditation exercises being used in other contexts.

    Nevertheless, at that time there were a variety of misconceptions about meditation around in schools and colleges. Some fundamentalist Christians believed (and presumably still believe) that meditation allows the Devil into your mind. There was also an ongoing debate between two schools of thought in RE – the ‘positivist’ type who think that it should ‘neutrally’ teach ‘about’ different religions, but avoid anything ‘confessional’ that requires ‘religious belief’, versus the ‘experiential’ movement who recognise that religious traditions offer a toolbox of experiences, approaches and symbols that can be drawn on by students. Until quite recently there was still a large body of opinion, associated with the RE positivists, who assumed meditation was ‘confessional’, and a sort of Buddhist equivalent to prayer.

    I’m thus very pleased to hear from Claire how much the culture has changed, as working online I have little direct contact with it these days. This boosts my confidence that very often basic experience does win out. Presumably to start with a few people in the educational world who actually tried meditation recognised that it is nothing like prayer, and required none of the supernatural belief assumptions associated with many practices in the Abrahamic religions. Presumably these people have actually been listened to, and other people have also actually consulted their experience, and the effect has snowballed. A wonderful victory of experience over dogma!

    Nevertheless I felt Claire could have been a bit clearer about the differences between secular and Buddhist mindfulness. In a sense she’s right that the basic techniques are not different. However, in Buddhist tradition, meditation practice can nevertheless sometimes include reciting mantras, recollecting the Buddha, visualising Buddhas and bodhisattvas, or even visualising complex lineage structures of gurus. All of these involve the application of mindfulness alongside other (often metaphysical) assumptions, and in Buddhist groups there seems to be a gradual and almost imperceptible slide whereby newcomers are gradually brought to accept these metaphysical assumptions, even if they initially were only interested in mindfulness. Secular mindfulness, on the other hand, is distinctive for its deliberate avoidance of any such ‘religious’ elements, and for its reduction of mindfulness to something that can be encompassed by a therapeutic (or here, an educational) framework of explanation. I think we need a Middle Way based understanding of mindfulness that is not constrained by either of these sets of assumptions, even though in a beginning practical context these framing assumptions may not initially seem very important. Why we’re doing it, and what we assume when we’re doing it, is still important in the bigger picture.

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