The Feeling Years
Many of the techniques and principles suggested in the last chapter can be carried through effectively into the later school years. The first three grades, especially, can be used to develop and refine everything this book has suggested for the pre-school years.
Moreover, it isn’t at all the case that, with the end of those first six years, the method of teaching through body awareness ought to be abandoned. In various ways, in fact, teaching through body movement should be continued throughout the years of formal education; indeed, it will prove useful throughout life. For every mental attitude has its counterpart in physical positions and gestures. The body and the mind are forever both interrelated and interactive.
What we must do, then, is not abandon one emphasis for another as the child grows from one six-year stage to the next. The first stage, rather, should serve as a foundation upon which the second stage of the building can be erected. The second stage, in its turn, makes possible the construction of the third, and the third, of the fourth. Each progressive stage only raises the building higher; it doesn’t call for a shift elsewhere and the construction of a new building.
The first three years of grade school, especially, will call for a fuller development of the techniques suggested for the pre-school years, with the addition of a greater emphasis on emotional development and inspiration.
During the second three years of grade school, the teaching can become less concrete and more abstract. The child’s mind will now be more adept at handling concepts as concepts, rather than as images that must be acted out physically in order to be truly grasped.
The emphasis throughout this second six-year phase of education should be on teaching through the feelings and the emotions, and particularly on developing the finer feelings. For it is during these years that the child can begin to direct his emotions constructively, instead of letting them rule him.
Many thinking people, raised in what is, relatively speaking, an emotionally arid society, consider it quite enough merely to be able once again to express emotion. “Get in touch with your feelings” was the advice making the rounds a few years ago. (And never mind if those feelings happen to be destructive.) Partly, the idea was that, by recognizing negative emotions, one would be able to change them. And partly it was that, by expressing them, one would be able to release them.
Major changes in people’s lives, however, have not been found to result from this system. Simple mental recognition of a problem hasn’t provided the requisite energy for banishing the problem. Worse still, as we’ve seen earlier in this book, too much mental recognition, and the intellectual conceptualization that such recognition entails, may actually rob people of the energy they need for practical action.
Simply to give vent to a poisonous emotion by no means effects a permanent cure. The very technique is interestingly reminiscent of the practice of bloodletting by leeches in the days of earlier, less sophisticated medicine. Granted, one may feel a temporary release after screaming with impotent exaggeration such maledictions as, “I want to kill my father!” or weeping with helpless abandon for all the sorrows one has ever endured. Such release, however, if indeed it is release and not merely exhaustion, is short-lived. For there is always, in such emotional “bloodletting,” the thought, “I want,” or “I grieve”—that sturdy thread by which the supposedly exorcised feeling remains firmly fettered to the ego.
It is difficult enough even for adults to escape their emotional problems by merely becoming aware of them. But adults have at least other frames of reference by which to reduce any given emotion to its relative insignificance. Children have no such broadened perspective. They suffer from what might be termed emotional tunnel vision. Any emotion presently endured by a child becomes for him an all-absorbing, wholly present reality.
Simply put, children have no need to “get in touch with their feelings”; they already live in those feelings. They have no need to affirm their negative emotions; any such affirmation will only strengthen those emotions. Nothing can be gained by forcing them to suppress their emotions. What they need, rather, is to learn how to channel those emotions positively.
One classic example of society’s effort to suppress feelings, rather than rechannel them, is the common admonition to a sobbing little boy, “Come on, Johnny, boys don’t cry.” What’s wrong with crying, for heaven’s sake? Of course a boy should feel free to cry if he feels like it. Strength doesn’t lie in the suppression of tears. It lies in the ability to redirect negative feelings.
It is weakness, on the other hand, not to be able to redirect them. And it feeds that weakness to show a boy (or a girl, for that matter) too much pity. Show enough concern to let him or her know that you understand and empathize. But then, instead of merely trying to get the child to stop crying, try to get him to redirect this grief in a new and positive direction — preferably one relevant to what he has been crying about, rather than urging him simply to “Come on outside and play.”
We examined in some detail, earlier, the importance of helping a child to raise his consciousness, and — almost synonymously — to expand it. He could be taught to do both, quite literally, as a means of redirecting his feelings.
First, you might get him to sit up straight, to look upward, and take a few deep breaths.
Next, get him to think more expansively: for instance, to consider the situation from the other’s point of view (if his feelings have been hurt); or to see whatever happened as small or temporary, relative to his own broader realities; to be fair-minded; to look upon whoever hurt him as needing his help and understanding.
It is important not to belittle his feelings. This is what creates harmful repressions. Try simply, instead, to get him to see those feelings in a broader perspective. Thus you may reduce the importance in his own eyes of his negative feelings.
It will be helpful also to teach your pupils the ability to abstract every feeling, and even their own personality traits, from their total reality and from that of others — to put it more simply, to help them to look at their own feelings objectively. They can be helped to see that moodiness, for example, is not an essential characteristic of even the moodiest child; that we are not our personalities, but something far deeper which watches consciously from within. Thus you can help them to understand that every undesirable trait can be changed without, in the process, losing something of themselves.
It will help the child very much to realize that moodiness or anger doesn’t define him, himself, as a person of moods or anger. By distancing himself a little from his emotions, he will find it easier to transform them into positive feelings.
One way to teach this mental abstraction might be, first, through simple arithmetic addition and subtraction. Take two apples, for example; then two more apples. Together they make four apples. Do the same thing with oranges. The result in each case is the same. The essential thing, then, in this addition is not the objects used, whether apples or oranges. It is the two-ness of them, which becomes, with addition, a four-ness. Both qualities have nothing to do with whether they are apples or oranges.
The same principle might then be applied to such abstractions as lightness and heaviness. Cotton, for example, as it grows on the plant is light and fluffy. In a ship’s sail, however, it is compressed and heavy. Lightness or heaviness too, then, are abstractions. An object may manifest one or the other of these properties without being defined by either of them. Iron, for example, will sink in water. In this context it is heavy. But it will float in mercury, which fact makes it, in this new context, light.
Study the lives of great people. Show how they developed heroism, courage, kindness; they weren’t necessarily born with these qualities. Show also how, by repeated acts of selfishness, people can become mean, spiritually “heavy,” and miserable.
In this way, the child can be taught to believe in his own ability to change, and also to separate others, in his own mind, from their faults: “Hate the sin,” as the saying goes, “but not the sinner.”
To help him to overcome a tendency to judge others, it may be emphasized to him that a person develops in himself any trait on which he concentrates, even if he looks for it in other people. Thus, if there is any quality that he dislikes in another child, and if he mentally judges the child for possessing that quality, he will attract that same quality to himself. He should try therefore to help others, and not condemn them, if only because by so doing he will help himself.
It may also be possible to help him see that he never hates qualities in others if there isn’t at least a suggestion of that quality in himself. Thus, he can turn impetuous judgment of others into a tool for self-understanding and self-transformation.
Stories of great people are always inspiring. During this second six-year period of life, such stories have a particularly strong impact and can help to mold the child’s entire future development.
It is a pity to offer children nothing but entertainment, in the form of frivolous and meaningless tales, when human history has produced an abundance of worthwhile fables, allegories, and true episodes that make wonderful reading, and that are by turns amusing, witty, inspiring, and beautiful — everything, in short, that any story for children may aspire to be.
The six-to-nine years are also an excellent time for learning something about the arts: painting, sculpture, music; and for getting a taste of the sheer romance of the great scientific discoveries.
Children in this age-bracket can be taught the difference between the right and wrong use of their physical senses. The eyes, for example, should be trained to see truth and beauty, not ugliness and falsehood. The ears should be trained to concentrate on absorbing goodness; on hearing kind words, beautiful sounds, and beautiful music — and not on absorbing depressing news, unkind words, negative judgments about others, ugly sounds, and ugly music. To repeat, we become whatever we concentrate on.
The tongue should be trained, similarly, to enjoy wholesome food, and to speak kind words. The sense of touch should be disciplined to become a servant of the will, and instantly obedient to it, instead of being allowed to revel in physical sensations to the extent of enslaving one. The sense of smell should be sensitized to the fragrance of fresh flowers, herbs, and forest scents, and taught to avoid, or (when necessary) to rise above stale smells like exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, and air-conditioned rooms.
The imagination should be trained also. A well developed and healthy imagination is the spring from which flows the creativity of genius. Visualizations can be offered to children as a means of stimulating their imagination.
For instance, tell them: “Imagine yourself living in a forest. What is the forest like? Are you afraid, or are you happy there? Build yourself a home in the forest. What kind of a home would you like to build? Is it in a clearing, or in the deep woods?
“Think of the forest animals. Are they your friends? or are you afraid of any of them? If so, why?
“See yourself walking along a forest path. Whom do you meet there? Is it an animal, or a human being? If it’s a human being, does that person smile when he or she sees you? Have you done something to make him or her smile? If not, is there something you can do to make this friend smile?
“Imagine a pond in the forest. In the middle of this pond, there is a small island, and on the island a cup rests on a marble pedestal. What does the cup look like? Describe it. Does it contain something good to drink? What is that drink?
“Think of the cup as containing a wonderful, clear amber liquid, bubbling with energy and happiness. Drink it. Suddenly: Look! Everything in the forest is becoming cheerful, peaceful, and beautiful — full of sunshine and hope.
“Call to your friends, whoever they may be: children, grown-ups, or animals. Ask them to come and enjoy this magical drink with you. Now, walk with them through the magical forest.”
Countless similar exercises might be used to stimulate the children’s imaginations. These exercises can become themes for whatever paintings they create, subsequently.
Children need to learn to practice cheerfulness — to be helped, in other words, to see that cheerfulness isn’t only a mood that one feels when things go right; that one must work consciously at being cheerful, no matter what the surrounding circumstances.
Affirmations should become, during this second six-year stage of life, an important part of the child’s daily routine, especially affirmations repeated with the movements suggested in Chapter 9.
Where music is concerned, during the first six years many children will be more adept at appreciating it than at creating it. By the second six years, however, many of them should be ready for some sort of creativity. Those with sufficient talent could be invited to sing choral pieces together, to practice the Suzuki method of playing the violin, and in other ways to develop their musical sense.
Those with a talent for dancing could be encouraged to interpret music through dance movements, once they’ve been shown how different kinds of music correspond to different feelings in the heart.
Wholesome habits should be inculcated: cleanliness, a sense of neatness and order, even-mindedness, contentment, truthfulness, a cooperative spirit, servicefulness, responsibility, and respect toward others (especially toward one’s elders).
Exercises can be used to help the child to become centered in himself — not self-centered, which is something altogether different, but restful and relaxed at his own inner center. Certain yoga postures are excellent for developing this awareness, with their gentle stretches left, right, forward, and back, returning after every stretch to a position of rest in the middle.
Concentration, too, is vitally important in the child’s development. Concentration is commonly associated with knitted eyebrows and mental tension, but true concentration has nothing to do with strain. Rather, it means, simply, absorption in a thought or a perception, or in the search for a solution. Such an ability is vital for success of all kinds in life.
Get the children to practice concentration daily for brief periods, until it becomes habitual with them. There are many effective techniques for developing concentration. Remind the children, for example, how naturally they concentrate on anything, if it really interests them — a good movie, for instance, or an interesting story. Suggest that they look at an unmoving object with similar interest: a flower, a candle, the lights in a crystal. Remind them that they can create interest within, and project it outwardly; that they needn’t wait for interest to be awakened in them by objective stimulation; and that this interest, when focused, is all that is meant by concentration.
The best feelings are those which lift one in aspiration toward higher realities. In this soaring aspiration, lesser qualities become almost effortlessly uplifted also, even as a tendency to offer petty criticism can be transcended by a willingness to give one’s life for others. Not to teach children to feel devotion to God and to high ideals seems to me the greatest disservice one can render them. It is like producing a body without a head, or a limousine with only a one-horse-power engine.
I am reminded here of an encounter that I had, years ago, with a young man who was aggressively atheistic. Though I tried to broaden his understanding by suggesting that God is a universal concept, I got nowhere.
Later that evening I offered him and a few others rides to their various destinations. A sixteen-year-old girl in the car made the statement, apropos of nothing, “I don’t believe in love.”
After I’d let her off at her home, the self-styled atheist turned to me in amazement. “Can you imagine that?” he exclaimed: “Not believing in love!”
Chuckling I replied, “And you call yourself an atheist?”