In early April 2013, high school juniors and seniors taking Advanced Placement Literature and Composition at Bronx Preparatory Charter School read a New York Times article in class: “How Meditation Might Improve Your Test Scores” (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/03/how-meditation-might-boost-your-test-scores/). Nationwide, advanced placement exams are administered annually in early May.
The class had been preparing diligently since September. After 9 months of reading works from the AP Lit canon, annotating Chaucer and Ovid, debating Morrison and Ellison, writing analyses on everyone from Orwell to David Foster Wallace, practicing answering multiple choice questions on excerpts of Junot Diaz and Sharon Olds — even venturing out to late night Manhattan readings given by Ms. Olds and Mr. Diaz in the flesh — the class still felt anxious.
The Times article suggested that meditation can help anyone quiet down their racing thoughts and anxieties, and provide a tool to keep focused on one activity for longer periods. As a result, this improved quality of concentration could lead to higher test scores. And with the exam looming just around the corner, the class thought, why not give it a try?
So on the morning April 29th 2013, the 21 students each grabbed their own meditation cushion, which had been provided by Samadhi Cushions (samadhicushions.com) and hopped on a school bus to The Empty Hand Zen Center (emptyhandzen.org) in New Rochelle, NY to learn to meditate. Guided by Susan Ji-On-Postal, teacher and founder of the Empty Hand Zen Center, they sat comfortably on their meditation cushions, focused on their breathing and monitored their wandering minds.
Most of the class has been asking to return ever since; some even ventured out of the Bronx back to New Rochelle to meditate again and others have taken their meditation cushions home to practice zazen on their own.
Although their scores will be released in mid-July, most of the AP Lit students appreciated the experience and stated that they’d continue meditation practice on into college to just “relax” and “focus the mind.”