Class Relax

refocus, renew and get ready to learn


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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.

woman-lying-down-relaxing

Our homework was to practice Take Five once a day.

And the discussion would continue.


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When it’s team v.s. team

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.

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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.

Discipline

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.


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Class Relax before lessons

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.

General Observations

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!

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On the way home to Nir-Oz