Children find meditation a blissful experience
Silence dominates hereMATT BOWEN
Silence dominates here.
It's noon in room two at St Paul's Catholic School and noise is everywhere else – the four walls are ablaze with colour, art and slogans; outside, the Ngaruawahia sun is laced with the din of schoolyard kids in play.
Inside though, not a sound – the children are meditating.
The class of 14 six-year-olds is sitting in a close circle on the carpet with teacher Judy Craven the centrepiece on a chair.
Her eyes are closed, too.
The kids sit cross-legged – hands rest either on knees with thumb and forefinger touching or in laps with fingers interlocked.
Some, like little monks, are statue still, motionless, at ease.
Others struggle. Their faces bear its mark – crimped noses and pursed lips, nodding heads and the odd eye flickering open.
In their minds they're slowly chanting, "mara natha, mara natha" ("come, God").
Minutes tick by until the session winds down with Margaret Rizza's contemplative music on the stereo.
Every one of the school's 132 students from year one to eight meditate for five to 10 minutes every day. And it's been going on quietly for the last five years.
Other Christian schools in the region have flirted with the idea but St Paul's is the only one to embrace it fully.
Principal Catherine Readman says it's a huge benefit to the kids, both spiritually and in a calming capacity.
The man who introduced her to it is Papakura parish priest Father Peter Murphy and he believes it could catch on in secular schools if it was packaged differently.
"It's basically just entering silence and stillness," he says.
"You can focus on the breath but we use a mantra [chant], slowly and silently.
"If you give your attention to that word it leads you to deeper silence and stillness. The mind being the mind is usually all over the place – the whole idea of the mantra is to slow the mind down, give it something to do."
With kids, he describes the mind as a tree full of monkeys.
"Well, what do you do with the monkeys? You give them something to do so that you can do this work. You are not your monkeys, you are not your thoughts – the kids catch on to that."
The tradition comes from Benedictine monk John Main.
He was working in Malaysia during the 1950s for the colonial service, before becoming a monk, when he met a Hindu Swami who taught him the art of meditation.
Later, he joined the monastery but his ideas weren't accepted because they came from the East.
It wasn't until the 1970s when he found the history of Christian meditation in the Egyptian desert during the 4th and 5th centuries that it caught on with the church.
Now, Father Murphy says, more than 60 church-based groups of adults across the country are meditating regularly and he thinks more schools should try it.
It has been in New Zealand schools now for 10 years and Mr Murphy says they were "very hesitant" at first – then they saw the kids' reactions.
His thinking has shifted from asking, "should we be doing it?" to a confident, "why are we not doing it?".
- © Fairfax NZ News