Journal of an English teacher, meditation teacher, puppeteer
After a nice Sukkot vacation, school has resumed. First day shock slowly gave way to good times for all. Second day resumption saw me bringing in some puppets and playing ‘Creep’ to introduce the theme of being an outsider.
We’re going to study Ray Bradbury’s story “All Summer in a Day”. This wonderful story takes place in a future school in Venus, where rain lets up for only 2 hours every seven years. One young pupil named Margot still remembers her life on Earth where the sun was commonplace. When she shares her memories, the other pupils can’t deal. They’re jealous, they’re disbelieving and they bully her.
She, the outsider, suffers their cruelty. (The ultimate cruelty, they —spoiler alert—- lock her away so that she completely misses the 2 hour sunshine.)
How can I turn up my own pupils’ empathy? How can I help them feel Margot’s predicament and more, towards other victims of bullying?
I began the topic asking them to look up the definition of the word ‘bullying’. Then I asked if there was anyone in the room who hadn’t experienced being an outsider. If there was a person among us who didn’t know what it was to be different, new, not a part of the majority. No one could say that they had never felt being the ‘weirdo’, as the song ‘Creep’ puts it.
I gave my own experience of being an outsider when I was young – way shorter than all the other kids, younger than the others, and my black hair, curly on dry days, frizzy in humidity. It seemed like all the other girls were tall with long blonde hair. Plus, I was the only Jewish kid in my class for many years. The only one who didn’t celebrate Christmas or Easter. I helped friends learn their catechism, but I never participated in their first Communion. Outsider.
Outsiders. We find our way.
We become writers. Actors. Puppeteers. We are the musicians. Artists. Or readers. We retreat inwardly. Or become highly extroverted. We are the comedians.
Fat or thin. We find our way. We become what we become. We survive. If we find other outsiders, we can form clubs or secret societies.
Discovering one another, we bloom with new energy, find new impetus to be creative or proud to be an outsider.
And now, I ask: how can I set up a situation for pupils to celebrate their own energy? How can I turn up the chi in the room?
Looking back at this teaching and studying year, it seems like a lot has happened. A lot of doings. A lot of events.
Buddhism via a few courses
In Memory – appreciating the lives of those who perished
Touring around Israel – inspecting the sites of the stories of the Bible
A School Twinning Course
Memory taught with examples from movies
Learning to Learn
Finding Happiness and Fulfillment
So many courses
I learned a lot
I listened to Mindfulness Summits.
I wrote poetry
I submitted to magazines
I taught mindfulness to grade 8 students
I led meditation sessions on my kibbutz
I led students in a new digital project and learned a new online platform
I narrated a film and then another.
And by simply being
I became a grandmother and discovered that life takes on a new super tingle just by that one switch of circumstance.
I began to wonder if I really want to continue my life as it is. Do I want to really live here? Do I want to change my daily activities? What makes me feel good? How much do I want to interact with others and if I could choose, which others?
Do I want to work with those older than me?
Do I want to write? And what do I want to write?
Is it time for me to reconsider living far away and devoting my time to painting, being, meditating
Or perhaps a retreat once a year is enough
I reflect on what brings the most smiles to my face. The moments fly into focus: when I taught puppetry. Helping kids create their puppets from their own designs. Helping them prepare a stage. Offering them my time and more time when they seriously wanted to work on their play.
Smiles when I met brilliant pupils who were open with me and shared themselves. Smiles when I worked on art projects and spoke eye-to-eye with young people.
Many such meetings and much good feeling was derived. These special moments of heart meeting heart are what make my life. As always. I remember from a very young age, the vibration of these precious moments when pretense is stripped away and a glimpse of understanding is shared.
Reflection on how to maximize such moments brings me into further deliberation.
As I pause on this 18th day of June.
As the mindfulness movement becomes more and more trendy, there are studies focusing on possible concerns.
What happens when a person sits in silence for hours at a time, when that person sticks to it no matter what emotional state s/he might be experiencing? What happens when an ‘unstable’ personality is faced with the idea of noticing mental activity or unwanted emotions. What happens when that person is unsupervised or offers no hint that there might be some kind of danger when participating in a retreat that continues for days on end?
There are studies being conducted and studies show that not everyone is equipped to deal with vypassana retreats.
Reminds me of the studies that showed that not everyone can deal with intense walkathons, fasts, or the intensity of high achievement in academics. Not everyone can slide through a new experience and come out shining.
Should there be a disclaimer when a meditator registers for a Silent Retreat? Eventually, there will be. A registrant will have to know that just like in yoga when the instructor reminds us to pay attention to our body, not to over-extend, so will the facilitators at a retreat. One will need to be aware that the mental and emotional stretch of hours upon hours of meditation might bring about side effects. One will need to be ready and able to judge if it’s cool to continue or if a short break is needed.
You might be interested in listening to this podcast given by Dr. Willoughby Britton on The Dark Side of Dharma about research being conducted.
Thanks, Dr. Britton. The more we engage in an activity, the more facets we will encounter.
A break from classes. No class relax last Monday, this coming Monday and perhaps only half a session the Monday after that.
I’ve had time to step back, pick up some books for my own practice, and note down a few observations.
Here’s my list of Spring Cleaning of the Mind Post-its
Wish students well and then step back. Contact should be positive and easy.This is no time to keep a tight leash.
Wish myself well and repeat often – Lovingkindness meditation. More than ever, self-kindness is a well-needed nutrient
Clean my space and throw out what I don’t need and check the inventory of what I’ve so diligently collected
Allow new connections to form. Get a step away from old traditional routines emphasizing others, allow for the chance to vibrate to a new beat. Top suggestion – open the book Search Inside Yourself and let Meng provide some inspiration.
Do something I love. Do it. Sing, make puppets, practice.
Investigate location of sense of humour and encourage it to reappear. This is a challenging one. Where has my humour gone? On-going search
Do not take everything personally. Not everything is an assassin hit. Not everything is intentionally pointed at my sore spot. Probably not anything. Listen and detach.
Do not take, but notice and appreciate. It is not necessary to own a moment or a comment. Appreciate it as it appears.
Drink water, walk and listen to body. The physical form needs attention. My own schedule, no need to postpone food or rest because of an externally imposed agenda. Listen to what I need.
Old habits? Are they still around? Notice. Who said that the thing I once worked on to conquer forever is truly gone. When I least expect it, that thing might just be leading me into past paths.
11. Meditate. A lot. Whenever and however. Investigate new guided meditations from new voices. Find the sounds that inspire me to focus.
Read. Eat. Walk. Hug. Drink. Laugh! Smell the blossome. Listen to the birds. Move on. Offer what can be given. Do not hold back.
Spring is the time for affirming what it is I’m doing on this planet. My time.
New research from Carnegie Mellon University provides a window into the brain changes that link mindfulness meditation training with health in stressed adults. Published in Biological Psychiatry, the study shows that mindfulness meditation training, compared to relaxation training, reduces Interleukin-6, an inflammatory health biomarker, in high-stress, unemployed community adults.