Learning to feed the good wolf…

Like with my daughter, the concept of good and bad wolf has started becoming part of regular parlance in class. That makes me very happy because this simple parable drives home some very important lessons and provides fodder for some rich discussions… Here’s a link to the story in case you haven’t read it before. http://www.oneyoufeed.net/tale-of-two-wolves/

The first one is awareness. Without this paramount quality, we end up functioning in auto pilot mode, a victim to unconsciously created mind patterns, a rudderless boat, just going with the current. This parable helps look within, become aware of our thoughts, words and actions and also start identifying and discerning between helpful and unhelpful patterns.

The second one is externalization. We often say things like good boy/ bad girl etc. to reinforce good/bad behaviour. But putting such labels, though the intention be good, often backfires. Much has been written about it. But when we distinguish behavior from the person, we let the person know that he is essentially different from his experiences and expressions. This distinction is really important in maintaining a healthy self-esteem and empowering him to steer the ship of his life in the direction he chooses.

The third is dropping of judgement. When we look at children non-judgmentally, (as having both good and bad tendencies), we also empower them to see themselves and others likewise. They know that when a person (including themselves) behaves badly, it’s because they, because of a deficiency of wisdom or strength,  ‘listened to their bad wolf’. This shifts the focus from patterns of guilt (I am wrong/ bad) and blame (They are wrong/bad) to self-transformation (How can I strengthen my good wolf) and co-operation (how can I help others strengthen theirs).

A very empowering lesson is that we always have a choice. While we all have a different mix of tendencies and patterns, we can now choose which patterns of thinking, speaking and acting we want to nurture with the food of our attention and energy. We don’t need to fight and conquer the bad wolf, we just have to starve him of our attention and stop heeding his unhealthy advice. The wolf we feed is the wolf that wins.

And ultimately, it drives home the karma philosophy. That our every action, positive or negative, not only yields corresponding results, but also strengthens our bad/good wolf thus shaping our character. It emphasizes the importance of attention even to small actions and the cultivation of healthy habits.

After introducing this concept, I invited them to share stories of how they caught their good/bad wolf in action… Whether we noticed the good one or the bad one doesn’t matter. Right now, our aim is to just become aware of how they function… This I hope reinforced the qualities of honesty and the ability to learn from mistakes.

For the first couple of weeks, a young girl in the class shyly wrote out instances of having heeded her bad wolf in her notebook and showed them to me… I encouraged her saying that most people don’t even know when they do something wrong. Recognizing it is a great step towards change… Happily, the time gap between the bad wolf acting up and having recognized what happened kept reducing and eventually she started narrating incidents of having recognized it’s voice before acting on it and choosing to act in accordance with the saner advice of the good wolf instead… 🙂

What a rewarding feeling… :))

 

Underprivileged? I guess not…

The monsoons have been making our terrace classroom seem even more pleasant… A couple of times rainbows appeared across the sky and got the children really excited. To reap more of the joys of the monsoon, Rupesh organized a picnic to the hillock opposite the school… A long flight of steps that lead up to a couple of small temples… Pari and I joined in.

All through the picnic, conspicuous by their absence, were structure and protection. A cursory head count before leaving was all I could push for… 🙂

With very little ‘stuff’ in their backpacks and on their mind, clad in normal chappals, the group started…

The children didn’t want to stop on reaching the temples… Some students ventured to explore further and came back to urge everyone to climb to the top of the hill…

 

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No guide, no agenda, no predetermined destination…. But the ability that the children had to feel joy in small things, to just explore, just look, was heart warming.

 

Often as enthusiastic parents, we fill our children’s days with many ‘educative’ or ‘entertaining’ things to do, sometimes forgetting to leave enough empty spaces, for the child to ‘just be’. The ability to find joy within, without any external help and to hold on to that joy, even when things are beyond our comfort zone, are ‘spiritual muscles’ that need conscious building.

My daughter had her moments of impatience, overwhelm and boredom but I was glad we could stick through the entire experience. The moments that she let go of me and allowed the older children to hold her hand and lead her, challenged herself with relatively difficult climbs and descents, saw that I’m not only ‘her mother’ but a ‘mother figure’ to others too with whom she needs to share my attention, didn’t have her way every time she got bored and wanted to head back, some pleasant, some testing, were invaluable learning experiences none the less.

 

 

While we sometimes refer to children who are brought up in an economically challenged background, underprivileged, they often show a richness in spirit that makes this word grossly inappropriate.

Taking Raksha-Bandhan one level deeper…

“So did you like our Raksha Bandhan celebration?” I asked on meeting them… Pat came the reply, “Yes, very much!”

“Do you remember that one point from didi’s talk that you liked the most?” Um… The reply didn’t come so quickly this time… Some remembered… Some didn’t… “Hmm… Ok….. Let’s start with meditation….”

It’s a pleasure to see how easy it is for them to follow the commentary, to still their mind and even to gently and non-judgementally bring back their mind, when it wanders. It’s a tragedy, that many adults look at meditation with much trepidation and have limiting beliefs about their ability to ‘do it right’.

After a 20-25 minute meditation, I asked them about their experiences… Tanvi, noted that while she couldn’t recollect her favourite point before, during meditation, she recollected the talk and her point easily…

Wow, what a wonderful and direct experience… Suggested that when our mind is relaxed, it works much better…. Like during exams, if nervous, we tend to forget even what we learnt very well… Also talked to them about how sometimes ‘sleeping over a problem’ sometimes throws up solutions, ideas and perspectives that couldn’t come through in our waking hours…

I wanted to take our experience of adding meaning to our celebration of Raksha-Bandhan a step further tody… I asked each student to write in their note-books, the name of one (wherever they have more than one) sibling, they find difficult to get along with…. Wasn’t too difficult… Then to make a list of those words and behaviours of that sibling that trigger irritation or anger in them… Wasn’t difficult at all…. 🙂 Then I invited one student to share what she had written… We went through the items on the list and a rich discussion followed on how perhaps we could look at these behaviours in a more empowering way for us and for them….

Points that came up included:

  • Looking at intentions rather than actions
  • Realizing, even mentally noting that ‘It’s their bad wolf, not their original self’.
  • Reflecting whether we too indulge in such behaviour or submit to such tendencies sometimes? How would the opposite person be feeling when I do xyz? How can I resist doing that in the future?
  • What could be the underlying belief/ expectation/ hurt that would be causing him/her to act like that? Could I address that and respond with more empathy?
  • How can I help him/her change that unhelpful belief or habit?
  • Do I (inspite of my own best intentions) give feedback with an underlying feeling of rejection and judgement? Can I try to use more compassion and acceptance while giving feedback?

Using examples and actual experiences made these lofty ideas look so much more doable and obviously more likely to yield positive results… The great thing is that these discussions help me too become aware of where I’m falling short in my own life and how I can change my own perspectives and actions… 🙂

We then proceeded to make a list of qualities that we admire about that sibling or things that he/she has done for us… The stark realization came through for some children that while the list is not quiet as long, the items on the list are of much more significance! Some children still need to develop their mental muscle of being able to look for positives in any person/ situation to be able to reach this realization.. And that’s fine too….

Then we did a small and amusing enactment. I stood up and asked Siddharth to hand me a duster.. He offered it to me, but I just kept my hands down and didn’t take it.. He was confused. 🙂 I asked him again, “Why don’t you give me the duster?” He offered… Didn’t take it… Some funny suggestions came from the rest of the group. But didn’t help.. When they all looked at me and asked me if I really wanted the duster, I said no. And Siddharth can’t possibly give it to me unless I want to take it. The choice is mine…

Ok.. So what?

So, when we habitually spout that he/she gives me trouble… ‘Mala traas detoye’, does not the same philosophy apply? No matter what anyone does, is not the decision even to ‘accept that pain’ not in my hands? Can I not choose the perspective/ lens through which to look at anyones behaviour?  While, physically someone can hurt me or financially cheat or rob me, my happiness/ peace are strictly in my own control. No one can, without my concent, take away my happiness or hand me ‘trouble/pain’ unless I take it.

Next time our sibling does the things that trigger us, can we remember that accepting the duster/pain/ trouble is in my own hands? Can I look at his/her behaviour through a more empowering lens? Can I remember that at time, that there are many good qualities in him/her that outweigh his bad habits and that his bad habits don’t define him/her?

Whoa… That’s a lot of work…. 🙂 WE’ve worked up an appetite…. Snack break….

I pulled out the book that is the latest favourite of my daughter and me… Bedtime without this book seems incomplete….It’s called ‘Good Night stories for Rebel Girls’ that’s a collection of heart-warming and thought-provoking stories inspired by the life and adventures of one hundred heroic women. Would highly recommend it.

 

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We read the first story… that of Ada Lovelace.. A mathematican who the students instantly fell in love with…. Not surprising as these students spend several hours a week, dissecting math problems/ puzzles oblivious to time, hunger pangs, heat….. Read about their math adventures on Rupesh’s blog, http://rupeshgesota.blogspot.in/

Going deep into stories, reflecting on why’s and how’s is natural with these children. Stories not just read but ruminated over, savoured and dived into, their impact and inspiration become embedded in their psyche… 🙂

They loved the book and wanted to read more and more, but I had to tear myself away from the class, as my other commitments as a householder beckoned… Untill next time….

Celebrating Raksha Bandhan

We had quiet an unconventional celebration of Raksha Bandhan the other day… We had invited one ‘didi’ from the Brahma Kumaris centre at Airoli to come and share with us the significance of this celebration of the brother-sister bond.

She came to our terrace classroom with another student of the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. Around 25 of us, all traditionally dressed and excited, waited for the session to start, especially as it involved watching something on the projector… 🙂

We began with a short guided meditation and then didi took us through a presentation which served us, with much love and gentleness, a platter of empowering ideas and thoughts to nourish our souls. Issues that are faced by children of this day and age were addressed and healthier perspectives of looking at life were suggested with the help of anecdotes and activities.

IMG-20170806-WA0015Then we all lined up for didi to tie us a Rakhi on behalf of that Supreme Power as a symbol of His protection as well as to serve as a reminder of all that we learned that day. We also parttook of Toli (prasad), yummy as usual, and were given a bookmark each with a beautiful teaching printed on it…

After didi left, we sat down to discuss what we learned. A lot of what was shared was not essentially new to us… For most part, we do know, what is good or bad, and what we must or mustn’t do. But we realized that in our day to day life, we seldom bring in this awareness and knowledge resulting in an incongruence between how we live and what we know to be good.

I suggested that we could take up one point from the presentation that touched us the most and see if we can focus on bringing only that one thing into our lives to begin with. Often, bringing one good quality/habit into our behavior pulls along other good ones too. Besides, focusing on one small change is far more manageable and likely to succeed, thereby motivating us to keep up the inner work.

Raksha Bandhan seemed like a good opportunity to discuss the prospect of introducing an informal mentorship program, whereby the senior students can act as dada (big brother) or didi (big sister) to the junior students. There was general optimism and we allayed the slight concerns expressed by the senior students by telling them that they just have to do their best and ‘be there’ for the younger ones, rather than live up to some image of how an ideal mentor should be… It’s not about providing ready made solutions or gyaan to every problem shared with them, but to just let the younger ones feel that they have a well wisher to talk to when they feel the need… Again, the younger ones were cautioned that while someone can offer advice with the best possible intentions, the ultimate decision has to be theirs on the basis of their discretion and judgement.

The kids then went on to tie rakhis to each other and exchange gifts.. Rupesh was of course the most popular brother and it was heartening to see him touch the feet of his young students to seek their blessings and how the girls shied away from being shown such respect from a grown up, esp. a teacher…

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Will be happy to know what you thought about our celebration… Any ideas on how we could bring bring in more divinity and meaning into our festivals and rituals?

Introducing the Good and Bad wolf inside of us….

2.30 pm on a Monday… The children were waiting for me downstairs… After we went up the stairs and opened the door of our pleasant terrace classroom, a few minutes were spent on self-attendance marking… Vaishnavi hates that she’s going to get an ‘L’ today too… And the prospect of also getting a ‘T’ for not bringing her tiffin seems too much to take… (She ran downstairs during recess to buy some bananas) … Cleaning of the room followed as per our pre-decided schedule… Much ado about how the mats should be spread… Who should sleep where…. To save this expenditure of class time, we decided that the children will come five minutes early into the class, and wrap up all the routine work before time. The arrangement of the mats stays the same each time as does the sleeping position of each child… The children have taken a strong liking for Shavasana… They insist now on always starting with that… The fact that Jitu and Vaishnavi didn’t sit up in the end when I gave instructions to do so as they had actually gone off to sleep seemed like progress in my eyes… it shows that they could really relax themselves and drop their inhibitions to be able to doze off… The goal however is to train them to remain conscious while relaxing their body and planting positive messages into the mind…

They then read aloud, heard me read aloud from the book and watched Michael Rosen perform ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ on YouTube. It has now become a norm to take the time to admire the illustrations, go through all the other parts of a book (copyright information, other books by the same publisher, testimonials and reviews of the book, etc) and also discuss parts of speech as part of the reading exercise…. Tanvi took up the project of researching the meaning and use of ISBN of books.

Then followed a dictation based on the song ‘Hello, Bonjour,…’ this time, I corrected each one’s work and was pleasantly surprised at how few mistakes the kids made… somehow I didn’t get chance to discuss my experience from last session  with their innocent dishonesty…

But I did build a background for such dialogues in the future with the introduction of my favourite story, ‘Good wolf and bad wolf’. Reading aloud, attempting to comprehend and expressing their understanding in the group – we discussed the practical import of the teaching and how Pari and I work towards bringing its wisdom into our own daily life… We then did a small art activity wherein we made a pictorial representation of the good and bad wolf… Showed them as a variation of the yin and yang picture… May give me fodder for future discussions… It is my wish to use this metaphor of the two wolves regularly to teach them perhaps about self-introspection, discerning good from bad, non-judgement towards others, compassion, cultivating values, etc. For the full story of the good/ bad wolf, you can visit http://www.oneyoufeed.net/tale-of-two-wolves/.

For next time, I intend to bring many colouring pages themed ‘Good wolf, Bad wolf’ from the treasure I found on Google Images…

Going with the flow…

New chatais for the class… With much enthusiasm they are removed from their packing and spread over the floor… Before I knew it, all seven children had made themselves comfortable in the horizontal position.. We generally end with Shavasana, but perhaps the new mats made them want to start using them without any delay.. 🙂 Shubh kaam mein deri kya?

I played along…. A nice long guided commentary for conscious relaxation, mingled with some Rajyog meditation…. I’m so happy to notice that these children are now longer that conscious or reserved about lying down…. They don’t fidget or twitch… They want to now make full use of this time… They seem more at ease with their bodies, with the opposite sex, with their clothing, and with me… I have not guided anyone in meditation before… especially in a language that doesn’t come to me with that much ease… In Marathi… But I’m doing better and better… I find myself seeking and finding the right resources, the right words and creative techniques with much more ease….

As my daughter, Pari, and I were swatting flies with books to ensure that flies don’t puncture their peace, Laxmi (a student who missed many classes for not very convincing reasons) came upstairs with her mother. After this session ended, I went out to meet her… She broke into tears… I hugged her and consoled her and told her that she was missed and that we’re happy to see her come back. She expressed concern over how we might ‘scold’ her for missing so many classes… I allayed her fears but also expressed that any negative feedback that we may give is also for her good and must be taken in that spirit… I withdrew and Rupesh came to take the conversation forward with Laxmi and her mother…

WE took up a simple but funny story book to read… At first I modelled how it can be read and then all children took turns to read the book… Jitu finds it particularly difficult to decode the words and read… When he finished his page I asked him to read again… See a difference, I asked everyone? He is reading better the second time round… So fluency or rather the lack of it, doesn’t show incompetence.. it only shows a lack of familiarity and practice… Asked him to read the same paragraph for a third time… Better still… Now I asked him to focus not only on decoding the words but also on the tone and rhythm of reading, the punctuation…. Also spoke about how each word that we read must be read in sync with its meaning… If you read the word ‘fun’ in a dull way, how will your reading sound? If you read the word ‘boring’ with enthusiasm, how strange it will seem… So lets also focus, especially in our second and third reading on sounding the words with the right tone and emotion… Subsequenly all others did 2/3 rounds of reading their allotted text… Discussions on parts of speech are now mingled with reading…. Asking them to identify parts of speech, convert words into other parts of speech… So much more effective and creative…

Vaishnavi was unhappy that the book ended with Kanchan, who was sitting beside her… But she decided to read the text on the back cover of the book.. Laxmi, who was next, read the information given on the last page about the illustrator and the publishing house… That gave me the idea of introducing to them the different parts of the book…. The typical information on the front cover, the summary on the back cover (also why it is needed), information about the author, the illustrator, the publisher, copyright info, ISBN of each book, barcode, price, etc… Rohit chipped in with his knowledge of bar codes and QR codes…. Sahil was particularly curious to know more… I took the opportunity to ask them if the two of them want to team up and do some research on these coding systems and present them… No hurry.. Quality counts….They will get an ‘R’ for it… Others wanted to take up some project too…. I told them to think about and select topics of their choice over the coming days…

We took at few minutes to welcome Laxmi back to the class. Also reiterated the need for us all to work as a family.. Sensitive to the difficulties and feelings of others… Told them to even be responsible for themselves, that is to openly express to the teachers if they have any difficulty, even if it is something like feeling tired, falling ill, feeling bored or overwhelmed.. Whatever, share the problem and solve it… Don’t keep quiet about it or just give up…

Thereafter I distributed the spiral bound books I had brought long back… We only selected the books that had one or two words per page… That is sentence books were kept out… I told them that I am going to take a dictation on these words… For the next 25 mins or so, all the children went through the books in a way I wasn’t able to get them to do till now… We stopped for our 4.30 snack break… More tiffins… And the bananas I had got were quickly and happily consumed too… Their bodies seem to be adapting to this snack regime… Since break time remained, we played catching cook… Happy to see Pari play happily and freely with this group… A part of my selfish interest in getting Pari is for her to spend time with these simple, bright and warm children and pick up the values that seem to come quiet easily to them, free from the problems that indulgence and privilege often bring…

I dictated 25 words for them to write in their notebooks… When it was time to correct, I wrote down each spelling on the board and purposely asked them to mark themselves and self-correct… Why not operate from a place of trust in this too? But what I found as I went through each child’s book was that there were many places in the book of some children, where obvious alterations had been made to get the answer right… Children were discussing amongst themselves how many words they got right or wrong in a more that usual competitive tone… While this attitude surprised me, I didn’t react… I didn’t know how to react actually… Yesterday, we had read a poem which suggested that we don’t need to prove ourselves to anyone… That marks aren’t an accurate measure of our intrinsic worth… But in practice, I was seeing something else… I think we will subtly discuss this experience next time…. May it prove to be an opportunity to introspect and transform our lower tendencies and unhelpful beliefs… I asked them if they enjoyed the experience of taking a dictation. They said they did. Next time we plan to prepare for dictation based on the song ‘Hello, bonjour,…’

Learning to challenge beliefs…

The loss caused by a delay from my side in reaching class today was thankfully more than compensated by a beautifully inspiring poem read out by Rupesh… It was called ‘Jagna visaru nakos’…

We started our session after that with Om Chanting… The openness and ease with which it is chanted is increasing.

While Vaishnavi and Tanvi ran home to bring me a charger for my phone, the rest of us discussed how seemingly small beliefs that we hold positively or negatively influence our life experience and how we must learn how to bring these into the light of consciousness and question them. We took the example of beliefs like, ‘if you eat bananas, you will catch a cold’, ‘all rickshaw drivers are cheaters’, ‘one shouldn’t cut one’s nails on Saturday’, etc. So many that are so camouflaged with our routine life, that to be able to identify and question them is veritably a skill that needs cultivation. Again, the goal is not to immediately arrive at answers, but to disassociate things that we unconsciously link together and question their relationship in the light of reason.

Told them a story of a boy who goes to the headmaster of his school expressing his decision to leave school because of all the big and small flaws that he sees in it… The headmaster agrees to let him go but only after he has taken 3 full rounds around the campus, carrying a jug filled to the brim with water, taking care that none of it spills over. After the child complies and returns, the headmaster asks him about what flaws he could see during those 3 rounds. The child says that he didn’t see any as his attention was focussed on the jug of water. The headmaster told him that if he could similarly define and pursue a worthy goal (like wanting to learn/grow/serve) while at school, the flaws of the school would not steal his attention. Perhaps, I wanted them to be able to draw the best from their own school without being too negatively influenced by it’s drawbacks… However, I didn’t spell out any moral explicitly… let them draw whatever learning they can see in it…

We then had a light hearted attempt at role playing a simple situation in English. The situation was meeting and talking with a school friend after 2 months of summer holidays… A modest attempt but I am hoping that practicing such conversations regularly will improve their fluency in the language and also help them break the inhibitions against attempting to talk in a new language, making mistakes, possibly sounding silly, participating openly in the class, thinking on their feet, etc.

A snack break was welcome. Some children had brought tiffins. Glad to see a variety in their tiffin boxes… Tomatoes, pomegranate, sweet lime, etc… Told them that whenever the scheduled menu for the tiffin seems difficult for them to bring, they can fall back on good old bananas as a back up snack…

Then played and sang along with the tape, all the songs we have done so far… Rohit is one child who sings totally uninhibitedly and with all his heart… I did too… 🙂 Hope everyone else too learns to drop all reservations and enjoy the music fully…

We ended with Shavasana… I had brought a digital tanpoora to play as background and guided them to relax using the visualization of sleeping on a soft, fluffy, perfectly personalized cloud… (A very sweet meditation commentary in English I had heard on YouTube earlier today… Tried my best to translate it into Marathi)… I tried to swat the flies while they lied down, but a more effective solution needs to be thought about….

Shifting focus from ‘teaching’ to ‘connecting’…

It had been a couple of months since I had started working with these children. I met with Rupesh Gesota, the teacher who started this initiative of teaching these self-motivated children in this municipal school, to know more about these children and how I can do better. Here’s an account of how the class after that conversation went…

 

Yesterday, after speaking to Rupesh, about the background of the children who come for the class I got something of a ‘peek’ not only into their lives but also into the loveful efforts put in by him much beyond the role of a ‘maths teacher’.

Not that I didn’t know, but I always feel like the bigger story is so much bigger than I thought earlier… Not that my focus was exclusively on English before, but after the conversation the weightage of English or any other information/skill oriented subject shrunk even further.

In the class that followed, my attempt was now to connect with each child… Teaching was completely secondary… I decided not to look at the clock ticking away or at my session plan, but to flow… Grammar got almost completely knocked off from my priority list… If I do it now, it will merely be to reap the joys of an intellectual challenge but not as anything of too much significance.

We started with our meditation practice which has been getting longer and longer and mingled with spiritual discussions too in line with the teachings of the Brahma Kumaris that I myself am learning…

We read a book aloud and after that, we took time to admire the illustrations…. We observed the facial expressions and body language of each character, the use of colours, imaginary or exaggerated features added to each picture… We marvelled at how the author has narrated the tale in a rhyme and how challenging it must have been…. I didn’t try too hard to bring them ‘on track’ every time they ‘wandered off’. I dropped for a while my definitions of ‘on track’ and ‘wandering off’. We spoke of how interesting it is to observe the facial expressions and body language of people around (without making it too apparent!)

There was a discussion on why fair skin and dark hair seem to be preferable to Indians (don’t even remember how it started) and that led us to reinforce our lesson of questioning beliefs and changing those that don’t serve us. We may not have the answers yet, but asking the right questions is a hugely important life skill.

We mutually agreed on the importance of regularly timed healthy snacks… The metaphor of petrol/ oil/ servicing needed for a car to work is my favourite.. we decided a weekly diet, distributed the responsibility of filling water in the pot, cleaning the room and made a phone chain to pass on messages…

Tapped into the power of music to uplift and inspire with a song called ‘Sada khush raho…’

When we decided to end with a relaxing posture involving resting our legs against a wall, I realized how I need to be more sensitive to their body type, flexibility, etc. What I find soothing may actually be uncomfortable for them and vice versa… A 20 minute commentary on Yog Nidra gave them a taste of conscious relaxation.

All in all a hugely fulfilling experience… Always leaves me feeling grateful and humbled to be part of this transformational process….