The Silent Glow
Recovering the Present
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The Silent Glow: Recovering the Present
A cultural trend, the origins of which lie both in antiquity and Asia's wisdom traditions, is currently enjoying a true renaissance: at present, a new culture of consciousness is emerging in many places across Europe. At the same time, secular practice of mindfulness without any connection to doctrines of salvation or religious dogmas is finding its way into our education system.
The French Football Federation, for example, was the first governing sports body in the world to include “consciousness” and “self-awareness” as a central component of its training programme.
The film shows the experiences that children and teenagers have had in training programmes that combine classical mindfulness meditation, social self-experience and body awareness with schooling in a global perspective and with activism. Can openness, compassion and an ethical attitude in children be increased by mental training? The film also offers unusual insights into current scientific research programmes at the Max-Planck Institute in Leipzig, where one of the world’s largest studies of various forms of mental training was conducted.
New forms of manipulation and the permanent inundation of stimuli from new media environments pose a great risk to children’s mental health. Unnoticed by political institutions, society has long since started to respond. The outcome of this development remains open, however. Can the systematic inner development of young people actually enable them to take on responsibility – for their own lives, for society and the world?
Interview with director Anja Krug-Metzinger
What is going wrong in Germany's schools?
Currently, disputes over educational policy have become inflamed once again, with questions such as: is it sufficient, to evaluate performance solely on measurable results? Do we need a deeper pedagogical reform, and if so, what kind? What type of school education is really contemporary? There are naturally many varying opinions on this topic. One thing is certain however: in the next few decades, our world will change more quickly than ever before in the history of humanity. We face problems like climate change, migratory flows and increasing social inequality, but also the rebuilding of economic structures, the emergence of new, more authoritarian tendencies, disintegrating social security systems and the rapidly changing world of work – keyword: artificial intelligence. The challenges for new generations have become radically different, as have those faced by education. With the help of concrete examples, I would like to demonstrate in my film that these current challenges are in part already being met with new ideas at certain forward-thinking educational institutions.
What exactly distinguishes these forward-thinking educational institutions?
In addition to an education, which, as is customary, focuses on the outside world, the boys and girls in these schools are learning that a better trained sense of self perception and the cultivation of consciousness in everyday life lead to more truthfulness and an inner sense of honesty with oneself. In addition to the ability to realistically evaluate things in the outside world, these skills are the most important prerequisites for becoming a responsible citizen. This type of school education is entirely new, while at the same time having roots in humanity's oldest teachings of wisdom: in essence, it concerns the ethics of internal actions, tht at are already deeply embedded in human culture. Cicero, for example, said that a love for wisdom is really acultura animi, the cultivation of the soul, a culture of consciousness. In contrast, the Indian philosophers have always said that a real change in the external world is only possible if you become conscious of your own internal thought processes beforehand and have investigated them in earnest.
Why did you want to make a film about this topic in particular?
I have occupied myself with these questions some time now, and personally benefit from regularly practising meditation. I find it remarkable that this movement has now emerged in mainstream society and have researched possible causes for this current development: almost every fifth child in Germany shows signs of school-related stress, such as problems with sleeping, headaches and nausea. Paradoxically, social media also lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. In the meantime, there have been a large number of studies, which prove that this so-called mindfulness practice works against worry, depression and stress. As a philosopher of consciousness, my husband Thomas Metzinger, who acted in an advisory capacity during this project, has long been a proponent of introducing secular meditation classes in schools. I was surprised that there has yet to be a film that views this important topic through the lens of the children themselves. My documentary is the result of four years' intensive research and extensive filming at just under ten educational institutions located in Germany, France and Switzerland.
Are teachers not overburdened and under enough stress already, without having to incorporate mindfulness exercises into their lessons?
There is absolutely no question that teachers today are under enormous pressure. However, I would not see this as an additional burden, as ultimately this is something that helps teachers unburden themselves, something liberating and beautiful. Many teachers have assured me of this. In actual fact, studies show that the traditional practice of mindfulness, body scan or the cultivation of compassion not only have a positive effect on the working and learning environment, but also constitute an effective prevention against burnout for the teachers themselves.
What role does self-optimisation play here?
This is precisely what interested me also. What was revealed during the research and the filming, was that the children become more in touch with themselves through this practice and that they thereby gain a better grasp of what could do them good and what would be harmful to them. It is thus conceivable that children who are grounded in this way are fortunately less vulnerable to all types of manipulation. It is important that these techniques not fall victim to the context of an exploitative capitalist logic; indeed, the ethical context from which they originate must be preserved. Positive secondary benefits, such as improved concentration, are clearly far from being superficial self-optimisation.
Why should children learn to control their emotions?
These exercises primarily help to create a conscious awareness of those processes, which previously took place automatically. Children and young people must no longer blindly follow their impulses, allowing them to obtain a greater level of inner freedom. I got the impression that particularly restless children benefited from this. While filming, I was surprised at how enthusiastically the children got involved in it. Many were really very keen to take part.
Who initiated this movement in the first place?
It is definitely a movement that comes from "below" and is borne by many thousands of individuals. Educational policy remains idle. Had not so many teachers, carers and parents advocated for this movement, it would not now have emerged into mainstream society after several decades. The pioneers of mindfulness for children and young people are the USA, where countless projects have begun in schools. But "Mindfulness in Schools" has also found its way onto timetables in Britain and the Netherlands, with parliamentary initiatives in many other European countries too. Meanwhile, in sport, there are large-scale programmes, which have even been promoted by UEFA; this has also happened at universities. Furthermore, within the British, Swedish, Dutch, French and Estonian parliaments, implementation of social programmes is being considered and some members practice mindfulness themselves. That which many teachers and parents have long had to fight for is finally bearing fruit. My film shows that society is further ahead in this area than institutions concerned with educational policy.
What was your overall cinematic approach to this very abstract topic?
The film is not concerned with conveying concrete answers, but rather how the children and young people feel and think, and how they themselves are actually developing. My wish was that a partly open style would evolve, which would very naturally be accompanied by music approximating calm. Alongside the visual and what can be conveyed by speech, I wanted to explore the topic which is navigated in the film itself through a cautious awareness, which time and again turns into deep calm. Beyond words and images, the viewer is thus afforded a genuine, somewhat more intensive entry into the topic. In this sense, it is not the beauty in the young faces, in the scenes of everyday life, in nature that I am looking for, it is the moments of mindfulness, the instances of wakefulness, preciseness and tranquillity within the internal perspective that I am attempting to perceive on an external level.
Do you believe that this movement has promise for the future?
If anything, there is precisely in this area a potential that we have too long failed to exploit as a society: through heightened consciousness and self-perception, the young generation could cultivate an internal strength, which would perhaps enable them to set a new course for themselves in the external world.
Origin of the mindfulness movement
As the American molecular biologist Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn developed a secular form of practising mindfulness in the late 1970s (MBSR, the so-called mindfulness-based stress reduction), the resultant research was initially focused on a clinical environment. However, it was soon discovered that the exercises not only improved the health of patients, they also significantly improved the quality of life for those already in good health. They yielded similarly positive changes in the field of personal development in the form of compassion and empathy, a heightened ability to adopt other perspectives and improved levels of concentration. The question was therefore posed as to whether systematic mindfulness training could be an essential contribution to the development of children and young people.
Biography Anja Krug-Metzinger
born 1966 in Frankfurt am Main, studied Film, Television and Theatrical Sciences at the Goethe University Frankfurt in addition to German studies and Philosophy. After graduating as a Master of Arts, she worked as a freelance writer and director, among other things in television, for various ARTE documentary productions, as well as for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Today, Anja Krug-Metzinger primarily works as a producer, director and screenwriter. Her films are characterised by philosophical reflection by means of the documentary and aesthetic treatment of a topic, which is often highly relevant to the self-understanding of people in our time. The documentary films of Anja Krug-Metzingerhave been shown and distinguished many times at international and national film festivals.
Article from author Stephen Batchelor about THE SILENT GLOW:
Das stille Leuchten: Die Wiedereroberung der Gegenwart
(The Silent Glow: Recovering the Present)
by Anja Krug-Metzinger
Documentary film, 1hr 28 mins, 2018
This magnificent film shows us what happens when young people of various ages, backgrounds and interests are introduced to the practice of mindfulness. With no voice-over to explain what they are doing, we witness them sitting quietly with closed eyes one moment, then chasing a football or climbing a rope the next. Yet their stillness is not static, and their activity not hurried. The calm, steady pace of the film allows us to participate in the growth of self-awareness in these children and adolescents. The Silent Glow reveals young lives touched, puzzled and moved by questions about life itself. It thus quietly but insistently advocates another kind of education: one that values introspection and the mastery of contemplative skills as an integral part of learning how to be fully human. Anja Krug-Metzinger’s documentary is not only informative, inspiring and beautifully crafted, but takes meditation out the monastery and places it firmly in the heart of the secular world.
Stephen Batchelor, author of Buddhism without Beliefs.
November 8, 2018