Snow is still on the ground and the air is driven by an icy chill.  Here in Berlin the grey gritted snow is piled by the pavements and the roadsides.  It should be the time when the buds are appearing on the trees and the first flowers bring colour chasing away the drab grey of winter.  However, the trees are black in the wintery light and the grass maintains its dull, muddy semblance of green.  Perhaps it is fitting to be observing this city for the first, brief time against a winter that does not want to release its icy grip quite yet.

We take a boat ride along the river and through the peaceful canal waters.  Occasionally we pass groups of small children all woollen-hatted and buttoned up against the cold, their enthusiastic waving and smiling faces warm us.  We ride the bus along the road of recent history and we walk along the edge of the city’s large, still dormant, park and through the modern shopping complex.  Our friend shows us around and we stare silently at the remains of the wall that, until quite recently, separated families and friends with cruel threats of terror and death.  Outwardly there appears to be much prosperity; a city now raised from the appalling destruction of the Second World War and the following decades of drab ideological fragmentation.  Yet our friend talks of psychological fragility, the legacy of individual and communal experiences of the suffering and horror in this lifetime of conflict.  The collective consciousness of such violent suffering cannot be healed by economic rebuilding alone.

On my return I watch original film of the destruction of Berlin as the Second World War came to a close and the building of the Wall some fifteen years later.  Watching the scale of violence is horrifying and it is possible to feel that the determination to kill is a strong as the fear of being killed.  Evidence of humanity’s cruelty, arrogance and stupidity is all too clear.

The present contains all of the past and the seed of the future; this is not a separate, isolated moment.  Consciousness is the movement from the past, through the present into the future.  As human beings we are constantly trapped in this seemingly endless prison of thinking, which is dominated by conflict.  This thinking is expressed in the predominant world mind set of a militaristic/industrial system where ideologies, structures, organisations and institutions are considered more important than the Earth and its inhabitants.  What has happened to Berlin is stark evidence of this mind set.  So how do we change this way of thinking, because if we do not then we shall surely destroy all of humanity? We have cleverly ensured that we have the capability of doing this, and we are successfully destroying many other species of living beings.

It seems to me that the answer to this lies in our approach to education.  However, our current system of education is of the same mind set, indeed it is the cornerstone of militaristic/industrial thinking.  Our friend, Manish Jain, in his essay titled ‘McEducation’, describes this approach to education as ‘a devastating system of social control, cultural genocide and modern servitude to a suicidal economy.’*  However, if we look at education as an exploration into living, with the essence of this being the developing self-awareness of the individual within the clear understanding that the individual is undivided from the world, then there is the possibility for the emergence of a compassionate, balanced society. 

An interesting development in exploring self-awareness in an educational setting is the growth of mindfulness in schools.  Last month I attended the Third International Mindfulness in Schools Conference in London.  The main speaker was Jon Kabat-Zinn, and a large audience also heard from teachers and students who are putting the Mindfulness in Schools programme into practice.  Much was said about the technique of being mindful, giving attention to the moment and becoming aware of one’s breathing.  Emphasis was put on the effectiveness of mindfulness in alleviating stress and anxiety, especially in relation to exams.  The practice of mindfulness was discussed in term of training the mind to be watchful; aware of the process of thinking and gaining the skill of being mindful.

Unfortunately, I was left with the impression that mindfulness was being used essentially as a technique to enable young people to more effectively fit in to the prevailing mind set; a tool for coping with modern life and to help the individual perform more successfully.  And, although the practice would undoubtedly have some effect on a few young people, it was a very separate aspect of the school curriculum.
We have to alter the structure of our society, its injustice, its appalling morality, the divisions it has created between man and man, the wars, the utter lack of affection and love that is destroying the world.  If your meditation is only a personal matter, a thing which you personally enjoy then it is not meditation.  Meditation implies a complete radical change of mind and heart.’  J Krishnamurti

Interventions in the present school system, even those as important as mindfulness, cannot bring about the radical change that is necessary.  First we have to question the predominant world view for otherwise we are merely getting our children ready for destruction and with the weapons we have at our disposal Berlin may well be the last city capable of being re-established after a human conflict.