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Publisher's Note: Welcome to the Department of Meditation, where you are treated to the ageless wisdom and inimitable wit of our very own meditation guru, Constance Wilkinson, psychotherapist and card-carrying Buddhist.

Constance welcomes your feedback and questions about meditation at

The Department of Meditation

Changing Minds at Concord High & Yours, Too, Maybe

by Constance Wilkinson

Department of Meditation, ETC. fans know we encourage readers to create a simple sitting meditation practice. Names and techniques for sitting meditation vary according to various traditions (shamatha, shi-ne, zazen), but we've been concentrating on a bare-bones sitting practice* that asks no more than five minutes of your time a day, time that everyone has enough of, even you. Yes, you.

This bare bones meditation approach has a number of virtues: it is short, it is free, it transcends class/gender/culture/nationality and physical location; it fits easily into any lifestyle, it is non-denominational, and, best of all, it works.

What does that even mean, "it works"? It means that if you do the little bare-bones meditation practice by following the technique, just simply following the directions - if you do it, things will change.

Things will change because they must. Things will change because, due to this practice of simple awareness, you shift the relationship between your mind and the thoughts that arise within it. Creating a positive habit of meditation can bring about positive change.

But hey, don't take my word for it.

Try it yourself.

Or, I could tell you a story, and you could take not my word, but their word for it.

So here's a real story of change, remarkable change in a population often thought to be unchangeable, change brought about by a meditation practice as simple as the one I've mentioned here. It's a meditation program featuring real people, real places, real at-risk kids.

The whole project, Changing Minds at Concord High School, is the brainchild of a dear friend, Susan Finley; the documentary film about it, bearing the same name, is also Susan's brilliant work.

(On a side note, I will reveal that my interest in meditation came about because of Susan. Long ago, when we had an experimental theater company in New York City, Susan saw an ad for a place that was offering free instruction in meditation. She wanted to attend, but wanted another person to go there with her. I volunteered; I got hooked, and the rest is history.)

Concord High is in Staten Island, NY. It's what is called a transfer school - kind of a last gasp, last hope school for at-risk teens; most of its students have histories of academic failure and trauma.

Her film follows the entire school as they take part in a mindfulness-training program. The pilot program lasted only ten weeks. The session of mindfulness meditation lasted exactly three minutes. That's right, three. Two minutes less than the practice I've been twisting your arms about.

Susan's lead researcher, psychologist Tracy A. Dennis, Ph.D., professor in the psychology department of Hunter College, framed the program by creating the definitive experimental question, "Would mindfulness practice for just three minutes a day provide Concord's students with an effective strategy to regulate attention and emotions?"

Good question.

Dr. Dennis engaged the school's science students as her experimental co-researchers whose peers would be experimental subjects, as the research team worked on comparing results from a group that practiced the mindfulness meditation technique for 3 minutes versus the results from a placebo group, students whose job was to just sit thinking about nothing in particular for 3 minutes.

Would the meditation technique work or would it not?

Said Dr. Dennis, "I think that the teens at Concord High, many of whom have experienced tremendous challenges, stress, and obstacles in life, didn't believe as a group that change was possible for them. But what our program strove to do, using converging media (film, scientific readings, mind/body experiences of mindfulness) was to convince these young adults that they really could change their brains, change counterproductive habits of thinking, and find the tools to focus more and let negative feelings go."

The experiment in mindfulness meditation turned out to be very successful. The vast majority of students reported making remarkable change. Said one student, "Even though you can't control most of what happens in life, you can change your mind."

Science consultant David Vago, Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School and The Mind and Life Institute, remarked, "The effect of just a small amount of daily meditation practice in these youths is proving to be transformative across many domains of cognitive, emotional, and social functioning."

Why am I telling you their story? I tell you this inspiring story so you, too, may find it inspiring.

These kids changed their minds and their lives after ten weeks of simple meditation daily, just three minutes a day.

If they can get results in three minutes, can you imagine what results you'll be getting with five?

The sky's the limit, is it not?

Department of Meditation

The Center for Change

Constance Wilkinson, LMHC, MFA

mindfulness-based, solution-focused
expressive arts--EMDR--clinical hypnosis

Brewster, MA

*The Basic Sitting Meditation Technique:

"Sit on a chair or a cushion on the floor. Keep your back relaxed and straight, not rigid. Allow your eyes to focus on an object of your choice that you place about six feet away. It should be placed so that when your eyes are resting on it, your eyes are cast slightly down, at about a 45 degree angle.

Place your mind, your attention on the object of focus - a blue flower, let's say. Let your mind rest naturally on the object of focus; breathe naturally. Don't try to suppress thoughts. Don't try to create a thought-free state.

When you inevitably discover that your mind has drifted off, following your thoughts, say inwardly, without judgment, "Thinking, thinking," and gently pick up your awareness, and re-place it once again on the object of focus.

Each time you notice that your attention has been distracted away from the object of focus, label it, "thinking, thinking," and once again re-place your attention on the object of focus. Drift and notice and focus again; that's the practice."

Constance Wilkinson, LMHC, MFA is a licensed psychotherapist who uses a mindfulness-based, solution-focused approach to help reduce symptoms of dysregulation, as well as to develop clients' personal goals and strategies to achieve them. She is trained in EMDR, clinical hypnosis, EFT, and expressive arts.

She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in creative writing and an MA in clinical mental health counseling psychology from Lesley University. Since 1978, Ms Wilkinson has been practicing meditation and studying with distinguished Tibetan Buddhist refugee teachers in the United States, India, Nepal, and Tibet.

Constance Wilkinson can be reached at 508-648-8105

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