Class Relax

refocus, renew and get ready to learn

The trail starts here

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No surprise, no larger room was arranged for our second meeting of the semester. The principal assured me: ‘Next time!’ So,  14 pupils and I entered the small Relaxation Room. When I looked at the circle of those seated on the bean bag chairs, it was clear that there were some new participants.

“Three are away!” I was told as I counted the faces.

17! I thought.

I registered the notion (15 was the limit in these Grade 8 workshops), then  I welcomed them and checked the homework. “Who  managed to do the ‘Taste the soup – eyes closed or open’ assignment?” Some had. Eyes had been closed. Eyes had been opened. Some claimed that no soup had appeared on their previous week’s menu, and therefore they couldn’t say.

Yet, the idea was offered, that we are all different and that we were all embarking on a discovery of ourselves.

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Their previous week’s offerings concerned their expectations of our workshop. This week, we were going to put it in a visual form. The exercise was to take paper and pastels, trace their own hands, write within that space a word that encapsulated what they expected or wanted to learn and then somewhere on the page, to sign their names.

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Most of the kids were happy to take out pastels and draw. After a while, one girl got an idea and asked to go get some leaves from outside. She continued a beautiful design.

N, from the previous semester used a green pastel, drew very quickly and handed it in. I reminded him of the instructions since he hadn’t written anything to do with what I’d requested. A second time he submitted his work, forgetting to sign  his name. Then he added a portrait/ caricature of a face, claiming that this is someone he doesn’t like and how that face just ‘came to him’.

Little did I know that it was a pointed jibe at a new girl in the class, and only later did I discover how long a history they’d had.

Meanwhile, back in my delusional land of all’s well, pupils finished their work, handed it in for me to look at, bringing us to the time for sharing. If they felt so compelled, if they chose, it was an opportunity to offer insights or statements about what they had drawn. I told them that whatever was said, our work was not to judge, but to examine how we responded. Our work was about ourselves. It was not easy but our task was to focus on our own reactions. And we went round the circle.

When it was N’s turn, he pointedly looked at the inspiration for his caricature and began a fast slur of sentences that caused her face to contract and her hands to clench. The other kids told him to be quiet. “N, N! That’s enough”.  He stopped midway. I looked at Y, the target. “Are you okay?” She nodded. I reminded him that the exercise was about ourselves, our expectation. Our work was on ourselves, to study our own responses, not others.

N looked at me and asked if I wanted him to leave. Touchy situations – how he jumped to conclusions about what I was thinking – (not the first time). I asked him if he heard me say that? I told him that I wanted him to work on himself and to respect the others in the room. Was he capable of doing so? He said yes.

I told them all it was time to come back to their breath. I held the Tibetan Singing Bowl, inviting them to listen to the sound, noticing their breathing. When they could no longer hear the bowl, to raise their finger.  

Then we resumed our sharing circle. We eventually heard from O, the girl with the leaf – how her feelings about the work here brought her to the realization that leaves were the best representation of what she hoped to learn. Her work was beautiful. I said so, and then looked around. ‘What rule did I break just now?’ ‘You judged her work!’ ‘Yes’, I said. ‘Very good!’. Let’s continue.

We did.  Once their work was collected, we sat to collect our attention once more. I took the Singing Bowl and invited them to open their eyes, only closing them when they ceased to hear the sound.

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Tibetan Singing Bowl

The second time, we closed our eyes and opened them when we no longer heard the sound.

I mentioned that the Bowl offered a sound that could be used as a reminder to come back to the present moment, to release the past, or thoughts of the future.

Then we did a 2 minute breathing session. I reminded them of the usefulness of our fingers to count each completed exhalation. First one hand, then the other and at the count of 10, we’d go back to 1. If we got lost, we would start at 1. Not to worry.  When thoughts or emotions flew into our minds,  we could acknowledge them, release them and come back to our count.

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Two minutes!

How was it?

Did anyone succeed? Some had – two in fact spoke how the finger count was useful. One said that she got lost. “Yes, it happens a lot”, I said. “Good that you noticed.”

Our time was coming to a close. We spoke about the possibility of drinking tea. One girl offered to bring another teapot. 18 tea drinkers required at least 3 teapots!

Homework was assigned: to notice 20 breaths every day. In the morning, on the bus or on the way to class. 20.

And we said goodbye.

After our session

I was approached by two girls – Y, N’s target, and A, her friend. They told me that he had been tormenting her since Elementary School. I listened and reminded her that first of all, her work was on herself. That she had the ability to control herself, not him. I wanted her to try to understand that his words represented his own issues, nothing personal. It was hard for her to have to listen to his words but still they were nothing to do with her.  I also told her that I’d speak to him, of course, but that her work was to detach from what he might say. It wasn’t easy but it was an opportunity.

They left.

Then it was N’s turn to talk to me.

N, I said, your words were out of place. You hurt Y’s feelings and the purpose of our work here is to study yourself.

N said, But she’s such a …

I interrupted him: this workshop is for you to deal with yourself. Not for you to look at or judge others. Can you do it?

N: I can do it. I’m sorry, Judih.

J: I know, N. This is why you are here for a second semester. this is your work.

N left, but first he said that he loved me. I love  you too, N. 

Wouldn’t the world be simpler if we kept opposite forces away from each other. If those who didn’t naturally click, never would have to face one another, or deal with their differences? Everyone would be nice.  All would be smooth. World peace would be a snap!

Simpler. But, it’s not an option. And, besides,  who would learn anything?

This teacher wouldn’t.

Note:

A larger room has been promised for our next session. Perhaps a change of location will bring a change of dynamic.

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