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Mindfulness and Compassion in Education
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Written by Pam Cayton   

In every moment we share the common wish for happiness.  The societies in which we are raised inform our thinking of where happiness can be found. In particular, media is extraordinarily pervasive and seductive in selling the idea that obtaining “more” equates with happiness and yet the more we crave, the less satisfied we are because there is always more to acquire.

Recent research reveals that happiness and contentment can be found through developing inner knowledge, which is the understanding our mind and emotions, and a focus on the wellbeing of others.  Mindfulness practice and the development of empathy and compassion can positively affect immune and neuroendocrine systems, help modulate stress, balance emotions, sharpen focus and improve relationships. A more altruistic, empathetic attitude actually increases the ‘feel good’ chemicals such as serotonin and the bonding chemical, oxytocin.  This sense of connection with others enables positive interpersonal skills and pro-social behaviors while at the same time the feedback loop delivers happiness to oneself. So, it is a “win” for others and a “win” for ourselves.

There is also a great deal of focus amongst educators and psychologists on the importance for children to develop the strength of emotional self-regulation and resilience.  We now have a growing body of evidence to show how educating children with some simple, practical skills can offer them a healthy foundation for a less stressful, happier life.  Here is a suggestion of an integrated program that focuses on the development of knowledge, strength and compassion in order to provide an education that offers the best possible foundation for children to live a happy, successful and meaningful life :

1.     Knowledge: gaining insight into our psychology of thoughts and feelings as well as knowledge of our vast interconnected world.  Understanding the interconnected nature of all things gradually eliminates destructive patterns of thought and behavior and allows us to relate to our inner and outer environment in a life-affirming and ecologically sound way.

2.     Strength: involves developing a healthy sense of confidence as capable beings with the ability to bring about positive change. Understanding that that the world we view is created by our perceptions, we can choose to impact our lives in an empowered and positive way.

3.     Compassion: encourages us to open our heart and develop empathy and loving kindness for others. Compassion enables us to reduce self-centeredness that cherishes our individual welfare above that of others and instead inspires an altruistic attitude and more ethical behavior.


A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.

Albert Einstein

Indeed our very survival depends on our interconnection with others and our environment. When our education systems teach children about this interconnection, and how the source of true happiness is internal rather than external, then children become more content and compassionate. By providing children and youth with opportunities to discover their inner knowledge, they will develop the wish and strength needed to become compassionate change makers.  In this way we will empower them with the resources needed to create a more positive and just world.

“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Abraham Lincoln


After 10 years teaching and developing curriculum in Nepal, Pam moved to Soquel where she founded Tara Preschool in 1989 which expanded into Tara Redwood School in 1996. In 2008 Pam founded Creating Compassionate Cultures (CCC) a non profit that provides training and resources both locally and globally, to nurture more kindness, wisdom and ethics in homes, schools and the workplace.

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