The new Class Relax year has begun.
Judih, the teacher has been practicing meditation over the summer. She’s been sitting, walking and chanting mindfully. She practiced Vipassana at Tovana‘s facility at Kibbutz Ein Dor.
She’s been studying brain diagrams and the MindUp series of lessons produced by the Hawn Foundation.
She’s been doing metta meditation, offering lovingkindness to herself, to others who inspire her, who are going through hard times, to those hard to deal with and finally to all beings all around.
She’s been selecting Tibetan Singing Bowls to offer the most scintillating tones to the ears of those doing mindfulness.
She’s begun a weekly Thursday evening sangha (Pali for ‘assembly’) in her kibbutz, to offer a little guidance to beginning meditators and to establish a safe space for her own practice.
And now, September has arrived, and with it comes the official beginning of the Language of Attentiveness workshop at Nofei Habsor School in the Western Negev.
Yesterday, Monday Sept 7th, the group met for the first time, and what follows is an official report!
We began our meeting by setting up the room, creating a circle of lovely colourful bean bag chairs, adjusting the air conditioner and getting comfortable. Then, I introduced myself and the course, how we’d be studying our attention and how to develop it. How we’d find ourselves more able to concentrate and succeed in school and in our personal relationships.
I asked them: Do you notice things around you?
Yes, uh huh, a few said. One pupil said: no, not really.
So, we did the Alon Alkoby Are we really that attentive exercise. I told them I was going to ask them questions about the environment and they were to raise their hands when they had the answers. I invited them to close their eyes and we began. “What colour is my shirt?”… “How many windows are there in the room?”… “What colour was the door they used to get into the room?”… “What colour are my eyes?”
The responses were varied. No one knew all the answers, although one child knew most of them. The pupil who thought he didn’t notice anything had surprised himself. He had noticed a few things!
They wanted to know exactly what we’d be learning. I was pleased to announce that we’d learn how to be more attentive to ourselves and to things around us. We would be using own breathing as an anchor to bring us into the present moment. We’d be practicing meditation while lying down, sitting up, doing movement. We’d be doing some T’ai Chi warm-ups and some Chi Cong. We’d be working with sound and art
Then we did an Amos Avisar exercise (from the IDC Center of Awareness in Herzliya). The exercise is to complete the sentence.
I don’t notice _____________________ when I am _________________________
I offered my own example: I don’t notice time when I am doing something I love.
I don’t notice people around me when I’m on my phone.
I don’t notice I’m hungry when I’m playing on the computer.
I don’t notice what the teacher is saying, when I hear noises outside the classroom.
(Note to those of us who work with adolescents: These were all very fine observations. I was surprised to see when I gathered up their notes at the end of the session that most of the kids had atrocious handwriting! Only one pupil had beautiful clear sentences. The others’ words looked as if the skill of handwriting had never seriously been addressed)
My observations: Luckily we have time till the end of January to address the bulging curriculum and time to study our largest resource, ourselves. If these pupils feel safe enough and are able to be brave, we will all learn a great deal.
Why bravery? Anyone who embarks on a path of self-discovery will find that it’s not only tricky to begin the path, but it’s very hard to stick to it. There are many obstacles on the way.
Our biggest challenge is our usual state of being. It’s always interfering!
Even at the age of 12 or 13, we’ve got an arsenal of automatic responses, ready to leap and react to the stimulation around us. Those same responses step right in, when we attempt to look inside. Almost immediately, we’re hoodwinked and off we go on a tangent. A thought pops in, or a memory, and then a question about the future, and our mind is off flying. Far far away from actually being in the present moment, we’re gone until, for some reason, we stop. Mid-flight. There might be a sudden sound, or a little breeze, or even a little voice from within, but something reminds us that we’re in a daydream, not in our present moment. But that little stroke of luck that brings us back is the very time we have a chance to slide back to neutral and take a look.
How can a teacher assist pupils to recognize that ‘back to neutral’ location?
Mindfulness begins by noticing our breathing. We can supplement it by taking stock of our bodies and how they change along with the breath. Inflating with incoming air and deflating upon exhalation.
It sounds possible, no?
Of course it’s possible! And this workshop will be a journey to support one another in our work.
First attempt at noticing our breathing
We began. Our task was to notice their breathing for one minute. I invited them to get comfortable: lying down or sitting, eyes closed or open, however they wished. Ready? Go! I said. I closed my own eyes and guided them for the first 2 breaths and then let them go for it.
After a minute, I called ‘Time’! and asked how it went.
One pupil said it was easy. Good! I said. Another kept noticing how cold his feet were! Good! I said, you noticed. Another announced that the top part of his body was warm and the bottom half was cold! Excellent! I commented. You noticed! And was it pleasant or unpleasant? Both, he replied. Good, good, I nodded.
I was truly glad that they took the exercise seriously enough to notice their own physical sensations. I was definitely listening to them noticing. And I hope they noticed that!
I asked them at the end to write down anything new that they noticed during the session and then I invited them to share if they wished.
They wrote that they noticed the sounds outside were annoying. They wrote that they had cold feet! They wrote that they noticed that they noticed lots of things!
And so, that was the first session! Till next time, after the Jewish New Year!
I shall come prepared with an open heart and a ready mind.