Class Relax

refocus, renew and get ready to learn


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Semester 2! Let’s go!

Before the first session

I happened to be in the Grade 9 building, leaving a classroom and there she was! A homeroom teacher came up to me before the first session of Semester Two.

“There are a few boys who registered, and I’m not sure they’re choosing to participate for the right reasons. Just keep in mind that if any discipline problems arise, let us know and we’ll handle it”.

I nodded, commenting that it was fortunate that I had run into her. She assured me that she would have found a way to relate the info. (Serious, I thought)

And there it was. I arrived at the Nofei Habsor Library a little before the lesson and a bunch of boys were there to greet me.

“Hi Judih!”

“Hi boys. Are you waiting for me?”

“Yes” As they popped off the concrete bench at the entrance of the library to come towards me.

“We’re going to begin at the sound of the bell at 13:15. I’ll get the room ready and then come to call you.”

And there I was back in the sunny round room, arranging cushions in a circle and setting up my personal space. The boys had seemed sincere and eager. I wondered which of them were the ones in question. I sprayed some lavender aromatherapy mist around the space and decided to adjust the temperature of the room.  I opened the door and there they were, ready for meditation. I guided them to remove their shoes, put away their schoolbags, their phones and to sit quietly.

As the bell rang, two of my favourite participants from the first semester arrived to join in. Hugs and we were in.

I introduced myself and we went over the rules of our sessions – speaking and listening from the heart, keeping what is said within our walls, the one with the talking piece is the one with the right to speak.

I asked them what they thought of when I told them we were going to learn the language of attention, mindfulness. They shared: listening to the environment, listening to others, to themselves. Being a better person.

And we began with Take Five, the easiest way to pay deliberate attention to the breath. “How was that for you?” I asked.

“Relaxing” was the consensus. Only one boy refrained from speaking.

I asked them to document their expectations or wishes for our workshop – through words or illustration. Those who wanted to, shared with the rest. I saw illustrations of sitting in lotus, the circular room, the idea of a sweet, peaceful break in a life of waves of activity. I heard things like: being relaxed, being quiet.

I invited them to find a space, lie down, to avoid touching someone else, and we embarked on a body scan.corpse-pose

That same boy kept looking up, checking out others.  Apparently, this was the homeroom teacher’s suspect.

We returned to the circle, did a ‘Dry Shower’ of body tapping to wake ourselves up.

Those who wished, shared their experience. They were respectful and positive.

They agreed to form a What’s App group so that I could offer reminders during the week. Same boy didn’t offer his phone number. I quietly spoke to him: I noticed that you’re not sharing. Are you interested in participating? He shrugged and left quietly.

At the sound of the bell, our session slowly melted away like a magic curtain.

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A few boys began to play with a doll, a comfortable wrap-around doll, removing it from the room and immediately incurring the wrath of the librarian in charge of the space. She rushed over to reprimand the boy caught with the contraband doll.

She and I looked at one another – and how at the sound of a bell, presto! magic! return to 3 years old!

May we be happy and healthy!

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Discovering Inside

What a gift!

A fascinating group of ninth grade girls continue to amaze me in their interest and quest to discover themselves through mindfulness.

We began with Tuza breath meditation (thanks to Mindfulness Without Borders) and then began.

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This week’s theme, discovering inside, had us review our homework assignment: doing “nothing” for 15 minutes and what happened when we implemented the task. One girl invited a friend to join her in the homework, and how enriching it was for her relationship with her friend. One girl confessed that she has a favourite spot to ‘do nothing’. Another admitted that the moment she sat down, her million different thoughts popped up!

Each of these girls tried and discovered something about themselves. The fourth didn’t choose to share. That’s okay, as well.

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We went next to a body scan to gently discover how our bodies were faring. It was a medium-paced scan but much to their surprise, none fell asleep! They were all busy checking out their fingers, toes and foreheads.  We breathed the length of our bodies and then took a few more minutes to breathe into any part that required a little more attention – throat, shoulder, forehead.  Then we slowly rolled over to our sides to assess how we were feeling.

On the signal, they slowly sat up and without speaking, I handed round the “Discovering Inside” Questionnaire from Mindfulness Without Borders (a curriculum for teens). They answered about the sound they loved the most, what was their strongest feature, what they do to feel better when they’re faced with a stressful situation.

They chose to share most of their answers.

How can I describe the attention, the respect they offered themselves and others during the process. As they read these intimate statements, truthfully offered, together with tears or smiles, there was a unique quiet in our sun-filled room.

We ended with a homework assignment – to offer special attention, just as we offered ourselves, to someone we don’t normally notice. They readily agreed since they’d all spoken of the lack of such caring they’d noticed in others.

We each gave ourselves a special hug and affirmation:
“There’s nobody like me!”

And we parted till our next meeting.

 


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New School Year 2017

Class Relax has gently entered morning sessions in two classes so far this year.

cover-page-for-breathing-river-mountainBoth classes are veterans and know what’s in store when I knock on their door at 8:30 in the morning. We speak briefly of why it’s good to practice breathing meditation and then we practice together.

For those few moments, the class is silent, the kids are attentive, their teachers are with me. The general ambience is positive and I exit the classroom with a smile.

The Meditation workshop was offered this year to 8th grade students. The response was unusual – only one pupil asked to participate. This is a first. Usually I get an eclectic group, each time a different conglomeration of personalities. This time, I was granted the opportunity to work one-on-one!

My pupil is someone who detests noise and suffers when surrounded by classmates who look to disrupt lessons rather than study. He gravitated to the Meditation workshop because he knew he could find his beloved oasis in a sea of rowdiness. (Our school is fairly typical amongst jr. high schools and this pupil is exceptional in his desire to learn in a quiet environment).

I’ve been taking him through the Mindfulness Ambassador Council curriculum produced by Mindfulness Without Borders. The i-version offers short video clips to reinforce themes of discussion: What is mindfulness? and Paying Attention.

These lessons offer jumping off points both for meditation and discussion. We cover SEL (social emotional learning) as well as observation of the thoughts that appear during focused sitting. We discuss application in real life, and then we take off with a creative brain-storm concerning issues that arise with him.

Example!

How to get quiet during lessons?

Pupil’s solution: Surprise 15 second calls to attention. Audio utterances commanding attention. No advanced warning – simply a surprise call to order!

I’m in favour! What do you think?

now-is-the-timeGood luck to all working with the population of 7th to 9th graders. We are one!


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Class Relax says Shalom to Semester 2

Shalom to Semester 2

A quiet June morning. The sun streams through the windows of our lovely sanctuary in the library.

The plan was for a small celebration, a little food, a little talk, some art and some meditation. And so it was.

Cushions in place, melon and watermelon in place and we ate a little.

Q: What stood out for you this year, or what did you find the most useful?

A: Breathing. I used it a lot when I felt tense

A: Yes, breathing.

A: Yes!

A: It was relaxing to come here.

A: It was fun.

Me:  I’d like to leave you with is this: How important it is to open your heart, to allow yourself to feel.

If not,…

A: Then life is flat

A: Then, you can’t feel

Me: Yes. It’s impossible to understand someone else if you, yourself, don’t let yourself feel your own emotions. If you have really felt sadness or happiness or loneliness, then you can be empathetic to someone else. You are able to begin to understand what they might be going through. But, if you’ve never felt, then how can you recognize someone else’s feelings?

And then…

A: Yes, like what happened last week in Grade 9.

She was referring to an incident of violence that took place while I was out of the country. I still hadn’t heard all the details. They filled me in:

The circumstances revolved around a birthday party of one of the girls in the class. She had invited a limited number of friends. One boy was insulted that he hadn’t been invited. Another boy stood up and defended the girl. That started a fire in the one insulted. He called on his friends, from a higher grade level. He asked them to come and beat up the defender. And it happened. Kids were expelled. Tempers were high.

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boys v.s. boy

N: I don’t get it. What, he couldn’t understand?  First, she wasn’t his friend and  also she had only a limited number of kids she could invite. It’s not so hard to understand.

Me: It must have been a  matter of honour. The first boy felt that his honour had been targeted and he needed to defend it. It was a chauvinist, tribal kind of reaction. Honour code.

N: But I still don’t get it.  Couldn’t he understand that she had her reasons? I’d do the same thing – If I had a party, I also couldn’t invite everyone from every class!

Me: It seems obvious to you. You’ve been working to breathe, to observe yourself, to understand a situation. But, not everyone knows how to do that.

Q: What could have been done, to make the situation turn out differently?

A: Just when the insulted boy said something, there could have been a conversation.

Me: Yes, talking about it right then.  That could have changed everything.

What about stopping and breathing?

A: Yes, a few breaths might have made a big difference.

N: But also, I don’t understand their parents. What kind of education are they giving them? Like, the day that the kids were suspended from school, they all went to the beach. I don’t understand. How could their parents let them go have fun after they beat up another kid – all of them against one kid! What kind of parents would allow that?

The other kids agreed with her – shook their heads.

N went on: and when the Principal ordered all the kids to come in to speak to him about their behaviour, together with their parents, one pupil just didn’t come.

I don’t understand. How could his parents not bring him in? I just don’t get it. 

Me: We don’t have answers. We can’t control what others do. It’s like the saying: We can’t control the waves, but we can learn to surf. And it’s a long process. We need to remember that it’s just the beginning, our work is to continue working.

And then…

I’d like now to address the idea of opening our hearts. I thought we could draw a big heart on this piece of Bristol board.  N stepped right up to take on the task, guided by the others – first in pencil then in marker.

When it was done, I invited them to fill in the heart by drawing or writing something that opened their heart when they thoughts of it. And off they went.  

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Things that open our hearts

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Things that open our hearts June 2017

Our hearts opened, we were smiling as we tossed around our breathing magic ball to cement our union.

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tossing the magic breathing ball

We sat down for a breathing meditation to come back to ourselves before we had to depart.

I thanked them for a great session. And asked them for ideas of what to keep for classes to come: artwork, plays, writing affirmations and hiding them around the school for others to find.

….And...

As for me,  being on the constant verge of tears these past few weeks since my father’s passing, I didn’t trust myself to hug them goodbye (without utterly losing it) and so made do with enjoying the love in the room as we thanked one another!

May the summer be good!


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Discovering Inside: May 9th, 2017

Tuesday morning. I had landed back in Israel from Albany/Toronto the day before. Two of my students had landed back home from Mexico a few days before that. We were in a unique physical and mental state of readjustment. Perfect for new insights!

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Jill Badonsky’s “The Inner Sanctuary”

The nature of ‘Discovering Inside’ is to observe what is going on within, without judgment. This exercise addresses such an unusual state of being – something slightly off-kilter, something that invites a new approach, and the mind of an investigator.

Our mission: To check out which thoughts cropped up, what feelings, what sensations.

We explored our initial state of being as we gave ourselves a chance to notice 10 breaths.

We spoke of how we were. “Tired”, “tired”, “fine”, “nervous”, “frustrated”,….etc.

We embarked on a few more pointed opportunities to look further:  Choose an animal to describe how you feel.

Sloths, cats, giraffes were some of their answers.

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“giraffe,sloth and cat”- sticker by RedBubble

As the session continued, I found the students melting into tiredness, while making the effort to observe.

We got tactical and filled out a questionnaire about ourselves

  • our favourite sounds
  • our least favourites
  • our most recent achievement
  • an incident in which we wished we could have acted differently
  • our real-life heroes
  • what makes us unique.

We proceeded to let those questions and answers filter through us as I eased them into their most desired stage: Body Scan.

I requested that if they began to nod off, they were to open their eyes, or I’d be offering them assistance by ringing the Tibetan Bowl close by. Even so, one sweet girl dissolved into rest.

Upon a gentle revival, back to reality, we re-examined our answers to the questionnaire, one by one, and either changed or added details to our answers.

I’ve found myself totally revising a set of initial answers after a meditation session. Getting in touch with one’s inner essence makes it impossible to give stock answers. One comes clean!

Answers were, indeed, changed. And those who wished to share with the group, offered what they’d said.

Only one question stumped many of the students: “What makes you unique?”

“How wonderful,” I said! “You have a glorious mission ahead of you! Find out!”

They kept on talking past the school bell to end the session. And with sincere thanks, we parted ways.

Again, I’m grateful. This group of kids is truly a gift.

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Now-time

Class Relax celebrates this moment. Now-time.

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Time to sense feet as they rest on the floor, the body where it comes in contact with a chair. Time to allow the upwards pull as if a ceiling magnet is lengthening our spine, shoulders relaxed as we breathe out.

And so we gently count out five breaths, aware of the inhale and the exhale. Together in quiet support. The room becomes still as each of us observes our own breathing.

Wherever we may be, now is a good time to come back to the body.

May the smile return to our faces as we focus on this moment.

Now-time.

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sketch of judih by doreen peri

 

 


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The Authentic Self

In Buddhism, the ‘I’ is something that is transitory. There is no one, firm ‘Self’.

Yet there definitely is something, an inner voice, a compass, that resonates when we act according to its precepts,  an inner pearl that we recognize and can nurture.

The question for this first lesson was: what is that thing we call ‘self’?

Does it exist? If so, does it remain steady? Has it changed over the years?

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My students are 14. This age is critical. Still protected by Jr. High status, they are not yet expected to be dating queens or fully responsible for a solidified sense of self. They remain free to investigate, to wonder, to dare to make mistakes, in the comfort of our meditation lesson. No one will share what they think or say and they are among friends. 

We began.

We did a Take Five breath meditation (With the inhale/exhale we fold back a finger and say “Take 1, Take 2, etc). We shared with a word how we felt that morning. And we moved on to the topic.

When I introduced the idea of masks and what might cause us to wear one, one girl denied that she ever wore one. She was what she was. Always. Another girl claimed that she wore a mask most of the time, just taking it off when she was with friends, with those who wouldn’t label her a ‘dorf’, a kook, a weirdo! They’d know that she was simply being herself, feeling free with them.

Masks. What do they offer us? How might they affect our relationships with others?

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One girl mentioned control. She could assert some control on a relationship by using a mask.

As for me, I feel my outer body is a mask. Inside, I still feel youthful (my 9 year old self)and it’s surprising when I realize that I am, indeed, a Senior. In buses, in museums, my mask offers the gift of discounts on entry fees!

With this, we transitioned to a Body Scan meditation to notice how we felt at the moment and to suspend thoughts of anything that related to the outer world.

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Our homework was to practice Take Five once a day.

And the discussion would continue.