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!
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.
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.
Class Relax celebrates this moment. Now-time.
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.
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?
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 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?
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.
Our homework was to practice Take Five once a day.
And the discussion would continue.
This post concerns Meeting 5 of Safat HaKeshev: my thoughts before having to deal with a very pronounced dysfunctionality within our group, and how things transpired.
The group had been witness to a phenomenon of factions: team versus team. This was apparent from the first day when 3 girls stayed after the lesson to protest the lack of seriousness in the other participants.
“They come only for the soft bean bag chairs. They stay for the exercises, but they only want a cup of tea.”
“ They leave when they’re bored. “
“They aren’t serious!”
“We can’t concentrate while they’re behaving this way”.
I took this to heart, but hoped that there’d be a change in attitude the next time.
During the following session, there was a definite upgrade in participation.
The week after that I noted ups and downs in the level of ‘seriousness’ amongst those other girls. That same lesson, a homeroom teacher knocked on the door and asked permission to borrow a few girls for one lesson in order to accomplish some work. Only later, I discovered that the ‘work’ was washing the floor of their classroom. When I spoke to her, she justified her action, saying it was the only time available. Strangely enough she had been one of the teachers requesting that I come into her Good Morning sessions to facilitate meditation. I had thought she valued it, but I digress.
The usual school disciplinary system involves sending students out to the Principal if they cannot conform to the rules. This does not work well with mindfulness. Firstly, participation often waxes and wanes – with nothing specifically against the school rules. Also, any behaviour in our sessions, as long as it isn’t violent, is fodder for the laboratory. In Safat HaKeshev, our work is to notice what is going on in the mind, in the body, especially at those times when we feel discomfort. The point is self-observation without judgement and our practice is based on coming back to ‘noticing’ after being swept away. This task goes against our habitual behaviour and serves to build up that all-too-neglected brain “muscle” located in the pre-frontal cortex.
A student who cannot sit still has something to practice with just as the student who is bothered by that restless someone can observe her own responses.
What’s a Meditation teacher to do?
After consulting with my Safat haKeshev colleagues, a plan was devised. I’d begin the week’s session with a one-to-one mindfulness practice. Each girl, individually, would be led in noticing her breath.
After that, I’d bring the group together and address them, asking for volunteers to share their thoughts. At that point there would be a better chance of reaching a rational decision as to how to proceed with our sessions. It might be that several would leave the group. It might be that some would be interested in staying.
That was the plan.
However, the plan was not to be. Only the 3 serious girls showed up at the lesson. Ready, willing and delighted to have 90 minutes to practice and to discuss. I’d have to track down the others at some other time.
No matter what’s happened beforehand, or what might happen afterwards.
This is what drives us. Morning class relax sessions have been conducted as usual.
No matter what happened before
I was invited into a seventh grade class by Ricky, the homeroom teacher. She wanted a few minutes of focused breathing. It was to precede a discussion and support session concerning a 9th grade pupil who had committed suicide the evening before.
Earlier that morning, teachers had been told to share with the students that the exact details were still unreported and that there was an ongoing investigation. So, when I walked into the class, turned on the computer to upload Class Relax and then faced the kids, the first question to me was: “Is it true that he hanged himself?” I latched onto the catch-phrase we were told to say: “We don’t know all the details yet” but inwardly I was reeling. I breathed a few good sized breaths. I hadn’t heard how he’d done it. Often the pupils know way before we do.
I introduced the idea of meditation as a way to pause, to disconnect from the past or the future, to focus on our breath as an anchor. To practice when we can and then if we need to pause for whatever reason during the day, we will be more skilled at remembering the technique. Especially together. We support one another.
And we did our 10 breath breathing exercise. I was grateful to be able to breathe together with them and their teacher, Ricky. She was in for a heavy homeroom period and she needed all the grounding possible.
In other morning classes, I preferred the short listening meditation as a way to focus on a sound outside of the body- for re-focus, for finding silence and for re-directing attention. When we need to clear our head, if we focus on a sound, whether it’s a Tibetan Singing Bowl or the sound of the Air Conditioner, we can clean our mind from extra thoughts and re-charge.
No matter what comes after
Listening works for me. I used that same meditation before the 7th grade exam. I noticed that my heart was beating quickly and that I needed a grounding session. For me it was first aid and for them it was an open invitation to participate. For such situations, I use ‘Listen to the Sound‘ because it’s short, accessible and requires no guidance.
At the end of the school day, we had a meeting of the 8th grade kids vying to be chosen to represent our school in Albany in the Spring. They were in need of a re-set. They asked me for a Class Relax session.
They turned on the computer and they knew what they wanted: specifically The Wonderful Waiter. I understood. Whenever I do it, I feel such a sense of well-being. It works on body, mind and breathing all at the same time. This one is the one they chose.
Slowly, each day with repeated Class Relax experiences, the new classes in 7th grade are looking with smiles when I enter the room. For me, it’s a chance to share a few moments of something other than the usual school tone. It’s a chance to remind myself of how accessible is the habit of a few mindful breaths during school time.
May Class Relax re-birth into its new form soon, and may it reach out to brothers and sisters with similar ideas for classroom energizers, or energizers of all forms!
Class Relax is resuming its behind-the-scenes development. After piloting forms of in-class relaxation sessions, it’s now a good time to reinvest energy in creating an app that addresses the needs of pupils and teachers.
Some of our features will include broader choices of relaxation exercises, a smarter Class Relax brain which will interact with user feedback and an updated look.
Meanwhile, it’s time for all those with a break from regular school to come back to lo-tech input: walks outside, books written to share inspiration, music and entering a zone of creativity or other hobbies that deliver personal joy.
Time to get back to the lush source of energy that allows us to view the world with refreshed eyes. Each day, a new opportunity.