CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Solutions are found in a peaceful mind

HONG KONG (SE): After taking part in a spiritual education programme at the Caritas Wu Cheng-chung Secondary School, many students have discovered the value of having a peaceful mind.

Its power in helping them to cope with the many problems they face has been discovered through a spiritual education programme that is runs on campus.

Raymond Lam Ming-kwong, the coordinator of the programme, told the Sunday Examiner that the project was born three years ago at a discussion on what the school could offer students that could help them in life, besides academic education.

The principal, Stephen Chan Sun-hang, suggested spiritual education, following it up by asking teachers to join a training course led by Father Thomas Kwan Chun-tong at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and to bring what they learn back to the school.

Lam shared that young people tend to look outside themselves for things to comfort their hearts. However, they fail to look into the chaos in their own minds, which is the most common source of their problems.

The spiritual education programme sets out to lead students into the depth of their hearts by helping them achieve a peace of mind. This gives them the freedom to come to an understanding of themselves, which allows them to be more relaxed and relieve much of the pressure they live under.

“It involves really simple methods without any complicated concepts. So we tried to promote it at school,” Lam explained.

Lam recalled that at first, the teachers were a bit worried that students may find it difficult to keep quiet and be restful. So at the beginning one teacher led an abdominal breathing session, inviting all the students to be calm for just one minute at the morning assembly.

Lam said the simple, mindful breathing exercise was difficult for students in the first few days, but after repeated sessions, some were able to follow it, while others, not wanting to disturb their classmates, also learned how to be quiet.

Gradually, the discipline of the calls for quiet over the public address system became unnecessary, as most were able to keep the silence.

The second stage of the programme includes a one-minute mindful breathing session at the beginning of the weekly religious and moral education classes.

Each year for students in form five, 10 out of their religion and moral education classes are allocated to spiritual education in which they learn mindful observation, mindful walking, mindful eating and total relaxation.

Lam shared that this does not cost the students extra time, as it only requires them to focus their minds during habitual, daily activities, like sitting, walking or eating.

For form six students, due to the pressure of public examinations, an annual one-day spiritual education camp was organised to encourage them to be grateful for what they have, as well as how to deal with stress.

A survey carried out during the camp in 2015 revealed that 80 per cent of the 47 students interviewed said they did not find the mindfulness exercise difficult to follow, while as many as 70 per cent said they feel more peaceful and happier after the exercise.

The spiritual education programme at the school now includes mindful exercise sessions for students who discover that it is hard for them to calm down or are upset over personal problems.

They can approach the staff that make up the spiritual education team and sign up for 10- to 15-minute sessions in the prayer room.

Lam said these sessions are not an exercise in analysing their problems or giving them suggestions, but just a time to let them rest spiritually, so that they can have the strength to face their difficulties.

Other sessions are offered to students with behavioral problems resulting from their inability to control their emotions, especially when normal disciplinary measures have not had any affect.

They are invited to join a turn-over-a-new-leaf programme, which includes counselling and community service within the school, as well as mindful exercise sessions. By taking part in this, they can offset the demerit points they have clocked up.

During these sessions, students are led by a teacher in mindful breathing, after which they are given quiet time in the prayer room to read.

Those who have received a minor demerit card can have their record cleared after attending 20 sessions, while those with a serious demerit record are asked to take part in 40 sessions before it is cleared.

This kind of spiritual counselling is also done on a voluntary basis and Lam explained that many more volunteer to take part in the programme than are required to do it.

The teacher shared that the mindful exercises are an important part of the programme to help students control their behaviour patterns—and they work.

Lam said he observes that the first step in problem solving must be achieving a peace of mind, before looking for outside solutions or analysing situations.

“Calming down is the first step, but not the destination. There should be some guidance in life, but a connection with the heart has to be made first,” he explained.

Chan said he believes that mindful exercises have proven to be a big help for some students in calming down and thinking about their faults, especially for those who cannot accept direct guidance.

The principal said that at present there are seven teachers leading the spiritual education programmes, but he hopes more will join the team in the future.

The school has also held talks for teachers in nearby primary schools to promote what he called a simple and useful programme of mindful exercises.

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