A typical day for the average high school student consists of an extreme amount of stress followed by an overhanging pressure from society to excel in everything you do. Specifically in the towns of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, there is a level of excellence required and expected in order to “fit into” the rest of society. As each year of school gets increasingly more difficult, students are expected to accomplish more at a faster pace than ever before.
Someone who understands this situation at length is Mr. Dewar, one of our very own teachers at Lake Forest High School. Mr. Dewar grew up in Lake Forest and attended Carmel Catholic High School in nearby Mundelein for a year and then later enrolled at Lake Forest Academy. His experience in this community throughout his own schooling has led him to change the values in his own life to better his mental health and his overall outlook. Naturally, keeping his vocation as an educator close at heart, Mr. Dewar has altered some of his practices in teaching young people as well.
As the pressures of society and the expectations for his future bore down on Mr. Dewar in high school, he began to feel as though a piece of his life was missing. On coincidence, he stumbled upon a book called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind that would ultimately change his life forever. Reading that simple book pushed him to meet a local Buddhist monk with whom he began learning more about Mindfulness during his last years in high school.
This practice would eventually lead him to be able to study in any temple in South Korea and he did just that when he decided to take a break from school during his sophomore year in college. He left the country and began traveling completely alone–something that would scare most young students–but Mr. Dewar took on a completely different lifestyle and immersed himself into the culture of the Buddhist monks. The Monks were able to put his life into perspective in a way that he understood wholly that everything in your life is worth paying attention to.
“There is no aspect of your life that is so insignificant that it doesn’t deserve your mindful attention,” Dewar added about his experience.
What he was able to discover in his travels was that even the smallest tasks such as walking or pouring tea by the Monks are done as part of their Mindfulness practice. “In the monastery, they are extremely devoted people because they’ve broken down and combined the two worlds of reality and Mindfulness so that the line between life and practice is nonexistent.”
Practicing Mindfulness and achieving a state of peace is something that all people should aspire to. No matter what religion you are, Mindfulness is a state of breathing, relaxing and focusing on what really matters in your life. All the silly worries in life that unnecessarily cause you stress are pushed out of your mind as you take a step back to reflect. For students–especially at LFHS–Mindfulness could change the way education is taught in the future. With a fast paced society and pressing social standards, increasing time to relax and reflect could be exactly what helps students to stay on the right path of life. Kids today are not taught how to “slow down” and with this build up of stress, students are more likely to resort to alcohol and drugs in order to have a temporary stress reliever. With Mindfulness being carefully integrated into schools, students will be able to learn how to take the time to breathe and be less inclined to harming themselves with substances as a means of relieving stress.
In his own experience as a teacher Mr. Dewar is pushing towards helping kids take the time to breathe in school to maintain their mental health. Recently granted the opportunity to teach Mindfulness as a Wellness teacher, it has slowly become more involved in our regular school day. Teachers have been given classes on it to further understand and implement Mindfulness in their classroom, and as a student, I have been fortunate to be a part of one of the classes that Mr. Dewar is implementing Mindfulness in.
Every Thursday during my block period of Math, we start off the day by taking 15-20 minutes of Mindfulness. My entire class has gotten very into it and it’s something we look forward to every week. Taking time out of the day even for a few minutes to relax and decompress helps immensely. For the rest of the period, I feel more focused and willing to participate even when the topic may be very tricky and complicated. I hope that in the coming years Mindfulness is able to spread throughout the entire school and teachers will realize how much pressure they are putting on students and that it is necessary to take some time to slow down.
LFHS is extremely blessed to be able to have a teacher like Mr. Dewar that not only is an extraordinary teacher but also cares about the wellbeing of each and every one of his students. From my personal experience in having Mr. Dewar as a teacher my freshman year, he is one of the most intellectual people I’ve ever met and I know that his love for teaching, not to mention the mental health of his students, are what sets him apart from the rest.
In the coming weeks, Mr. Dewar will be giving a TED Talk about Mindfulness at our school. Make sure to go watch his speech as it will be pretty incredible. Watch his first performance at the annual TEDx event last year below.