Friday, September 23, 2016

Day 10- Growing Loving-Kindness for Peace Days

That Winnipeg is coming up on the end of Peace Days, a Festival of Peace and Compassion, was a good reason to start the morning with a Metta meditation, with a focus on peace and sending our caring and compassion into the world, but it wasn't the reason why we started the day that way.

After having a day off yesterday, I felt it was important that we really take the time to get grounded today, before they had the first 2 periods of the morning to finish their Six Words Memoirs (an awesome writing activity-, with how-to videos on Youtube) and move through the rest of the day. I also wanted to give them the experience of another Metta meditation because the first one had been so crowded and rushed.

I hoped to facilitate a quieter and purposeful METTA meditation.emphasizing the extension of compassion and caring, to illustrate its power, as well as increase familiarity. This morning's meditation really couldn't have worked out any better. It was quite remarkable.

As we started the morning, and I was giving the outline for the day as I always do, before I mentioned the METTA meditation, one student asked if we would be meditating that morning. When I said, "Of course we would," there was an audible response throughout the room, which equally reflected both happiness and dismay. The "Yeahs" were just as loud as the "Aws." I let them know how happy I was with the response, from both those who are loving it and those who aren't. I reminded the groaners of the potential benefits, as well as the practice they are gaining in doing something they don't like, like so many of lifes demands, and at least they could just sit and relax for this one.

Then I told them about Peace Days and the idea of thinking of others in our hearts, minds and/or imaginations, recognizing the humanness in us all, and wishing for others the same things we wish for ourselves: health, happiness and safety. I reminded them the meditation would start with the breath count, and then I would guide them through the rest and as I did there was no way to imagine things wrong. I also prepared them for the longer meditation, that the music would just play through the breaks in the tracks, but they didn't have to worry about it being over, I would let them know when it was time. They could just relax into it.

Finally, before I turned off the lights to start, I asked if everyone felt comfortable or if anyone might want to move to another spot before we began. Student A and my new student already had their heads down, and my new morning EA was sitting in the space between them, so they were good. The student who sits beside Student B got up to move. I told him to sit in my spot in the circle and everyone was ready. With no one to impress or bother beside him, plus his buddy's message to digest, Student B was quiet for the rest of the meditation. He put his head down at times, looked around the room and did some fidgeting, but did not call attention or disrupt anyone else. It was the quietest meditation of the year so far.

It was very powerful. The process took about twelve minutes but it felt a lot quicker. About half of the students had their heads down and the rest were sitting up straight. When we got to the third stage of the acquaintance, the "familiar stranger," I reminded them that our loved ones are familiar strangers to others, just as familiar strangers are loved ones to someone else, and we wished for them the same things we wish for ourselves. In the final stage, I invited them to send their caring and compassion to anywhere in the world they felt needed peace, or just the world at large.

As we finished that section and came to the minute of silent gratitude, for our relative safety, health and the choice to be happy, the track ended and there was total silence in the room for the 10 seconds or so it took for the next song to begin. For a split second I was nervous someone would break it, but as I looked around the room there was stillness, silence and a sense of peace. It was really beautiful and I felt so grateful.

Shortly after, as I brought them back, and emphasized noticing how they feel after the longer meditation, I thanked them for the experience. I commented on the power I found in the moment of total silence between songs, as well as the feeling of coming together to grow caring and compassion.

I also invited them to explore some of the research around the idea of actively growing our ability to feel compassion, like in Metta meditations, and how it can help us in life. I spoke briefly of the science, which my students were really into. We talked about brain development, and the amygdala, thought to be the house of emotion, especially fear, and its construct in the brain. I told them about some of the research showing the benefits of meditation around the amygdala, which helps foster compassion, and, because we have more compassion, makes handling the negative emotions like fear and anger easier. It was a very interesting discussion, though it lasted only a few minutes, before we got on with our day.

My switch class came to me after gym in the last period of the morning for French. As the class is so short, I will do the Metta meditation with them tomorrow morning when I see them for 2 periods. For today, we did our regular meditation and it too was lovely. I didn't do anything special -I actually forgot about the restlessness of the other day until a moment ago- I just gave the usual reminders and we began.

But I guess they remembered, or maybe they were tired after gym, or it was just another day, but it was quieter overall. This is even more incredulous to me as just as we were beginning two students from another class came to use the computers in the classroom (common practice in our school as there are not enough computers in central location for enough periods). They came in silently, but we needed to shuffle a table and some chairs to make space for them.

It only took about 30 seconds, and it was right at the beginning, before I had begun talking, so I thanked them for their patience and started as I always do, and was impressed that they didn't take the disruption as a sign to cause further disruption, part of the power I hope they will begin to recognize, and then harness, in meditation and other areas of their lives.

For today, I will take the 4 minutes and 38 minutes in silence and a very fun and successful French class with some oral games.

It is worth noting, right after lunch both classes came together for Social Studies. For the past 2-3 classes they have been working in groups with some text and their own experiences to come up with working definitions of some big words, concepts, that will inform most of our learning throughout the year- Society, Culture and Stereotypes. Today was the day the groups came together to share their ideas and come up with some common working definitions and provide a common language.

After lunch, we took 45 students through the process of rearranging desks- Mr. Y's class did that with us while my class waited quietly, then my class arranged themselves with chairs, got texts, their chart paper and joined their groups. We all worked there together for the entire 80 minutes with one movement break. We didn't do a full meditation, but as we began we took a few deep breaths, reminded them of the hard work involved ahead in listening and sharing, and their ability to use their metacognitive skills to self regulate, to participate and take care of themselves. They rose to the challenge.

When we took our break, we asked that they stay in the room and stretch, get water quietly and set a timer on the Ipad so they would know when to come back. When the last seconds counted down and the alarm chimed everyone was in their seat, even Student A, who self-regulated and took his office break and did a good job not bothering anyone, if not participating actively himself.

We had some amazing discussions about society and what it might or might not mean, the sense of belonging it is meant to promote and the marginalization it leads to when it does not. We got through the definition society with some examples, and parts of culture before the 80 minutes was done.

We told them for our next class we would return to finish the discussions and challenged them to remember where they were sitting and the process we used to get there. We will see how they do. The way things are going, it's a little easier to be optimistic. I was a good day and tomorrow is Friday.

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