Everyone has a story. There’s always a history behind the present moment. How you got to where you currently sit, stand, recline. When it began. What happened before that. And then what happened…
We can recall moments filled with details and colours and sounds. Some of them may be haphazard. Some may have been predetermined and cast into our DNA by our grandparents or their grandparents. If we consider all that, that too is our story.
It seems reasonable that when asked to share your story, there must be something you could say.
But, when I was asked, I discovered something else. What story? What have I done that when examined from a bird’s eye view looks or sounds like a story? I had lived through events, but were they interesting? Did they create a story-line? I didn’t see it.
Escape route 101: I asked my partner to tell me his story. I as interviewer could happily record his beginning, middle and end. “What’s your story?” I asked him. “Tell me what makes you who you are – the events, the encounters that brought you here.”
He answered: “I have no story.”
I tried re-framing the question. His words came out the same. No. No story, here. Now, I know he has a story. He has lived a life of experiences and relationships that could fill books.
So, what makes it hard to look at our lives and pick out the moments that when lined up would ring authentic and truly represent our path. Moments that when put on a page would offer material for a professional edit and a click of the publish button.
I know that, in the past, if an interested other has asked me what brought me to this moment, I’ve had lots to talk about, things that sounded unique and interesting. Why were those times different from being asked to listen to myself, and write?
The difference was plain. Then I had an audience. I could gear what I said to the look of interest (or lack of) in the gaze of my listener/s.
An audience. I could speak to the audience. Just like on stage or in a classroom. Instinctively, I’d find the light in their eyes and be encouraged.
So, I came up with an idea. This idea isn’t new to me, in fact it was my original plan when I first came to Israel. The idea is simple: Puppet Talk. Let a puppet tell the story. Let a puppet narrate and if need be, bring on important characters to be arranged onstage. Let the puppet show the small scenes of real life, in shameless accuracy, complete with blunders and embarrassment. Let the puppet express it all to provide clarity to past events that happened in a tumult of emotion or social upheaval, but which stick out in our minds: those events that we remember as pivotal in our route through life.
Let the puppet do the talking so that you can stand back and watch the story of your life from a comfortable distance.
This is the idea.
When I ask myself leading questions like:
What made you come to Israel?
What made you stay?
I think back and offer a phrase or a sentence. ‘It was the smell of orange blossoms.’
“I didn’t feel so short here.”
Yet was it truly so simple? Had I left a life in Canada for a new life in a strange land, just because of the fragrance of orange blossoms? Or that other people were short and I felt physically at home? Or the joy in meeting artists, musicians, philosophers at every corner? In the supermarket, in the office of the real estate agent, or with the vegetable vendor who traded us big green Granny Smith apples for the luscious guava from our tree. Those apples were juiced, warmed and served with cinnamon during a cold winter when we didn’t have money for heat.
There are questions that can be answered with a sniff of cinnamon or orange blossoms. Words hardly do them justice. So, why use puppets? Because the puppet can provide the distance and the voice for an emotion that might be difficult to express. The puppet seldom cries, but often shows empathy. Puppets can deal with life’s absurdities and still radiate patience and understanding.
Puppet talk. An idea that needs pursuing. What is my story? Let’s see!
It’s time to meet my inner Organizer.
I need her now, to stand in her full light, full abilities and efficiency.
There are tasks that must be immediately addressed. Oh, Inner Organizer, appear!
I’m not joking. This is serious. Just look at this list of items that are carouselling in my head.
Task One for Teaching Puppetry for Excellence to pupils aged 9-12
Break down the steps of puppet building in order to create a series of visuals. This needs to be ready by October 12th.
Make a list of all the supplies required to teach 60 pupils in 3 puppet workshops. By Monday!
Decide which items can be donated from my own supplies. This would be good: an act of de-cluttering while offering generousity and compassion.
Task Two for Teaching Mindfulness, the Language of Attentiveness to 8th Graders
Organize the Mindfulness classes into pleasant cue-cards for easy reference.
Potential further task: Home Check:
Would be nice category: What needs doing in the house – decorating, rearranging, acquiring, repairing. Prioritize and make a list
I know it’s time to call in the Organizer
For her everything is basic logistics. She takes the necessary facts and arranges them nicely into viable and comprehensible steps in order to arrive at a desired result.
The Organizer is so very skilled that she attracts energy and light and makes everything line up into clearly doable chunks.
She brings relaxation to fight or flight jitters. Calm replaces chaos.
Who wouldn’t love working with her?
It’s time for a visual as I call her forth.
I call upon my inner Sandy Maynard: Life Coach extraordinaire.
With her, any task is as simple as eating delicious grapes. Buy them, wash them, put them in a bowl and start in. One two three and you’ve got yourself step four! Yes!
So, awake, ye Inner Sandy! Comb hair. Brush teeth. Wear a clean shirt. Fold arms and smile.
Let’s get started!
(what? first coffee? Okay. Deal!)
September has made herself comfortable on my calendar. She’s brought along new faces, new intentions, new promises to keep.
I knew about September and her baggage. I knew that as soon as I stepped into the educational framework, I’d be automatically drawn to the many stories surrounding pupils and projects. So, I promised myself to meditate, I vowed to walk intentionally whenever I had to move from building to building. I promised to breathe, to drink water before I felt the incursion of teacher-zombie mode. I would not lose ‘it’ but rather be the presence I wished to be.
This year, among other assignments, I have two challenging classes to teach in regular school. One is a grade 7 class with all the fresh optimism of being in a new school and discovering new customs. I witness smiling faces, still unspoiled by threats of bureaucracy or larger, older students.
They want to learn and they want to succeed. This is a fine meeting of minds! What could be more in tune with my plans? I only need to work out disciplinary measures when the smiles turn to bullying or other anti-social disruptions of the velvety classroom atmosphere.
The other class is a 10th grade class. These dear students are in a pilot programme in which we will be working two programs in the time when usually, only one is demanded. We will be studying the English Literature program at two levels of difficulty – first the basic and then the more advanced. My role is to successfully guide them through it. I don’t expect velvety ambience but I’d love to feel student resolve to work with me towards our goal.
Be the presence, I say to myself.
Calm, attentive, rewarding effort and recognizing positive interaction – that’s my task.
But when shouting and conversations about up and coming parties take precedence over ‘George’s character’ in our story, I need to apply counter-measures.
I pull out Whole Brain Teaching techniques (thank you Chris Biffle). When the class gets noisy, I say “Class!” and they say “Yes”. If I choose to say it briskly then they must answer briskly. If I go mellow, then they must respond ‘mellow’. They need to notice me, my voice and my intonation. This is a sound measure to capture attention and refocus scattered minds.
I like it.
I am not required to yell, stand on a desk or speed-dial a Principal in order to secure quiet in the room. I use a stance in the room and one word.
So far, this word has had to be repeated a few times in order to get full-class response, but it still works better than the heavily abused ‘SSSSSHHHHH’ or the slightly more linguistic “QUIET” neither of which seems to be effective for longer than a split-second.
It’s mid-September. I still remember to walk intentionally from class to class. I’m still wearing my Canadian-bought Crocs, which are slightly more stylish than the originals, but are so utterly comfortable that they cradle my step and help me notice my feet on the patio stones that pave the underlying sand dunes of our desert school.
I remember to breathe, but usually only when I wish to remind others to breathe. Their anxiety helps me remember my own!
I drink water. Unfortunately, as I deplete my huge bottle, students deplete their own and I’m forced to reassess upholding the school rule which states that in a double lesson, the students must remain seated for the first lesson and only during lesson two, can they get up and refill their bottles or empty their bladders.
Bureaucracy! (as I feel my pulse elevate, I breathe!)
I’ve also been given an added pressure. I’ve heard through the grapevine of past students that so far, or at least as of last week, I’m considered the ‘best’ teacher in 7th grade, and true or false, that piece of info adds additional weight. What a huge standard to maintain! The best teacher keeps calm, teaches at a few levels to inspire all students, employs different media to allow all students to show off their knowledge or learn new skills. The best teacher is pleasant and utterly human. The best teacher needs to have a pleasant smell and an appearance that speaks for itself (energetic, alive, etc)
Even the second best teacher would be a title I could live with. But ‘the best’? Oy. and ommm.
In October, I have a few more projects and courses to study.
But now, mid-September, I have a chance to pause for Rosh Hashana. Here is time to read a few brilliant writers, enrich my heart, hug my family.
May I have the inner resources to deal with pressures one ion at a time, and in my doings, maintain my effort to be in the present moment.
I wish you the same!
So I’m about to go on a Vipassana Retreat
You might have heard of Vipassana* I had vaguely been introduced to it when every April during School Break and each summer during the vacation, a group of birkenstocked or barefoot walkers would appear on our school campus.
They were at a Vipassana Retreat, I was told. This apparently entailed walking in silence around the campus, around the library, the English room, the Science building and after a while, disappearing and then doing some more walking. I thought it odd that no one spoke. Then one day, as I was moving books from the Bomb Shelter to our new library, I noticed one of the silent walkers talking on his cellphone and periodically looking furtively upwards. I averted my gaze and then went back to staring when he wasn’t aware of my presence.
What kind of retreat thing was this? And how serious a Vipassana could this thing have been if it allowed this kind of blatant shirking of its principles.
Well, fast forward several years – perhaps 15? And here I am, signed up and waiting for my chance to silently walk. No birkenstocks, but I have acquired some comfortable Crocs and that, surely, is acceptable. And I will silently sit. And I will silently eat my meals. And in silence, I will pass my mornings, even with roommates. And I will surrender my phone and therefore live without internet or what’s app or facebook, or my haiku site.
This is all most unusual for me. I don’t have any buffalo hide Indian sandals or Indian cotton shirts that might actually stand me well for next week’s superhot weather predictions. I can only bring what I have, non-Asian tourist garb – jeans shorts and a few t-shirts.
I guess that’ll do. I don’t wear my hair in an upsweep. I don’t have dredlocks. I don’t wear a turban. But I do have natural hair colour and I am willing to go a week without make-up. Who will care if I have or don’t have accentuated brows? And I have scarves that can double as hats when the sun or wind requires such garb.
I have a new meditation pillow, ready to break in. All outer gear is ready.
What I must reckon with, however, and this is very difficult, is that for one week plus a day, I am not to write. or read!
This is a killer situation. I’ve been known to give up perfectly useful courses for tapping into my creativity, when they demanded such gestures of non-attachment.
No phone. Ok. No computer. Fine!
But no write, no read?
This is, well, I’d like to know what you all think. Can it be done?
Wish me luck! If I’m still capable of doing so, I’ll update my experience next week.
*”Vipassana’ as a word comes from the Pali stem for ‘Clear Thinking’. Sounds good, no?
For the past almost 3 years, I’ve been lucky enough to supplement my morning at-home meditation sessions with class relax sessions at school with pupils and teachers.
This has provided me with a kickstart in focus – so badly needed these days. As I interact more and more with others, I find my output of energy increasing. To keep a reserve, I need reminders to halt, to center on my breath. I enjoy the sound of the tibetan singing bowl, a call to come back to my body and my rhythm. So what happens when we go on a Passover break?
Where do I get my built-in reinforcement time when the routine changes?
This is a question that needs addressing. Whether flying overseas with the shifting clock or simply slipping out of regular, trusted schedules, the opportunities for meditation show up in different guises. One needs to recognize the need and grab the chance.
While I transition back to Israeli time, I find myself awake at all kinds of strange hours and then sleepy when I’d normally sit.
My heart races in the early a.m. and it dozes off mid-afternoon. So, when do I choose to meditate?
I’m beginning to see that anytime I think of it, I need to do it! simple! the more, the better.
Will this help me ease jet-lag? Perhaps. Will this help me cope with my fuzzy brain waves? It can’t hurt!
But while I’m away from classroom support systems, I can use my insight timer for spot sessions or listen to the guided meditations of Sharon Salzberg, for example, or any of the other meditations offered. I can chant to Snatam Kaur to keep focus on my voice. I can draw mandalas to engage my sense of colour.
Solo style allows for experimentation. It’s a gift. And it’s a pleasure.
Iris works her magic