Being Mindful Saves Lives

Guest Post by Dr. James Houlihan

How often we do accomplish something without knowing that we did? And how would we ever know unless someone told us?

I had just finished teaching my three-week Interim-Term class: Buddhist Meditation and Philosophy, where students develop the ability to sit zazen, facing the wall, for ten to fifteen minutes, and to be present to guided meditations for 20.

At the beginning of the term, I had been asked to admit a student even though the class was full and the space limited. But when I heard the student’s story from our psychologist, I agreed. His father had died suddenly of a rare heart abnormality that was also found in the student, necessitating open-heart surgery. His mother was recovering from brain surgery to remove a cancer and for the moment was doing well.

Throughout the three weeks, the young man showed no emotion whatsoever. Any attempt to draw him out was met with a polite word, no facial expression, and silence. But when the class gathered in the dim reflection room he was the first to sit properly on a zafu. I could tell that he was calm, not-distracted, able to follow his breath or the course of his thoughts. Basic mindfulness.

Later, all of his teachers met to discuss his situation with the psychologist and she touched my arm, and turned to tell the other team members. “The Meditation class,” the psychologist said, hand still on my arm, “was a life saver.” But without her words, I would not have known, for sure, the effectiveness of mindfulness for one challenged young man.

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