Days of Mindfulness for Educators in Japan, April 2019

On 28th and 29th April 2019, Wake Up Schools offered two Days of Mindfulness (DOM) for Educators in Japan. They were held at Waseda University and Kaetsu Ariake Middle School. About 100 people took part, including sangha staff members and eight monastics from Plum Village. This marks the third year that we hosted a Day of Mindfulness for Educators (as part of a larger tour in Japan), this year we expanded the Educators programme from one to two days, so that we could offer more practical practices and a more educator-focused programme.

Day 1: relaxing and enjoying

Kumiko, a member of the organizing team, began by introducing two important ingredients for the event: “relax” and “enjoy”. We started by enjoying singing meditation together: “I have arrived” and “Happiness is here and now.” One participant shared that when she began to listen and sing these songs, she started to cry, even though she didn’t know the reason. Singing meditation and presence of Plum Village brothers and sisters created a warm and relaxing atmosphere. After singing meditation, we sat together for 15 minutes, which gave  participants the space to connect more deeply with their breathing and their bodies.

In the Dharma Talk by Br. Phap Trach, he talked about the importance for teachers of taking care of themselves, since students learn from how teachers are rather than what they teach by words. He also mentioned the power of mindfulness to enable us to observe things without judgement. Mindfulness makes us possible to be aware of what is going on inside and outside of us and we can discern words, actions, and the many different environments which water our seeds inside of us. When we are mindful, we have the ability to select the seed to water: whether it is anger or despair, joy or happiness. So if you notice you are not happy, you can chose words, action, people and environments that will water your seed of happiness.

After the Dharma Talk, we enjoyed eating meditation with beautiful Japanese bento. We ate silently and tasted the food in front of us from the heart. We were thinking about the elements of nature that made the food, such as sun, rain, and wind. We reflected on all the people who were involved in making that bento – such as farmers, drivers and cooks. We tasted each dish, aware of our body and this precious nourishment it was receiving.

Many people enjoyed Deep Relaxation after lunch. The soft voices of the guiding brother and translator made people sink into the floor. Even though there were about 100 people and most of them came to Plum Village practice the first time, it made many people deeply relaxed. At the end of Deep Relaxation, we massaged each other’s shoulders. One participant said: “In our daily life it is very uncomfortable to be touched by someone unknown like in the crowded train, but that massage was so comfortable and heart-warming.”

After Deep Relaxation, we went outside for Walking Meditation, a practice which helps to bring us back to the present moment and enjoy the wonders of life. There were beautiful azalea and wisteria on the way, green trees were shining, and everyone looked happy.

As the end of first day of mindfulness for Educators, we had the chance to practice Dharma Sharing, which is practice of deep listening and sharing from our heart. It was opportunity for us to share the joy we experienced that day and the suffering we have in our daily life. One participant said: “Since this event is an event for educators we already have something in common, and sharing naturally become deeper.”

Day 2: deepening and sharing

We started second day with Singing Meditation again. Br. Sunlight – a Japanese brother from Thailand Plum Village – invited people to “Smile!” with his bright smile. People sang with beautiful smiles on their faces.

Three educators from the educator sangha who organized that event talked about their own story how they applied mindfulness in their daily life. Two of them are middle school teachers and one of them is orphanage staff. One teacher talked about how he was touched by the kindness of people when he was in Plum Village France as part of the Educators Retreat last year; the vulnerability he showed to his colleagues helped him to work together with his co-workers. Another teacher talked about how she met mindfulness when she was looking for a way to teach how to deal with emotions. She realized the importance of accepting the whole person – not only her students, but also herself. The orphanage staff practitioner talked about the necessity of mindfulness in her daily life, facing challenges by kids who have deep suffering. She shared how breathing helped her when the children are resistant or challenging. These genuine experiences from the practitioners inspired participants.

After the Panel Talk, participants were divided into three groups. Monastics guided each group in a different practice: sitting meditation, tangerine meditation and pebble meditation. The teachers practiced being students, learning from their heart.

Then we formed new circles with one member from each group. It was the chance for teachers to teach what they had learned. When they started to share their practice, their faces were animated and filled with smiles. They creatively used their own words to explain from their hearts. It was so clear that these teachers were people who experienced such joy when they teach. They were very joyful when they taught and they were also happy to be students, listening deeply as a teacher offered something precious for their lives. It was touching moment.

Br. Phap Trach talked about importance of continuing practice and community which we can share our joy and happiness. Our Educators sangha in Japan has only recently started and a number of participants were interested in practicing with this new sangha. Some of them said they were interested in going to Plum Village, which was something they didn’t imagine before the event. The Educators sangha in Japan holds a monthly day of mindfulness for educators since last January, and I hope the success of that event contributes to the growth of the Educators sangha in Japan.