Lessons from School Children
July 15, 2014
The Ananda Living Wisdom School holds an awards ceremony at the end of each school year. The teachers recognize their students for qualities developed and expressed during that year – qualities such as kindness, generosity, servicefulness. As I listened, inwardly I felt how pleased Master must be, and Swamiji, at such a fulfillment of their vision of an education that helps the students rise to their highest potential.
At the end, my eyes were brimming with tears – of gratitude that such as school exists, of joy at the transformation in the students, and in their teachers as well, working together at the only task that matters – to free the spirit within each child to shine in the way unique to that child. Again and again what I heard was a story of a child’s inward movement from self-involvement to concern for others, from wanting to take to wanting to give. The teachers told me of watching for opportunities to help each child remember the wonderful feeling that comes with sharing, and the unhappy feeling that comes with thinking only of oneself.
The teacher of the first three grades started the year with seven wild boys, competitive, pushy, sometimes even aggressive. Patiently, steadily, compassionately, she worked with the boys, encouraging the expansive virtues, especially friendship, cooperation, harmony, thinking of the larger group. The very last day was to be a fun day, and the boys would together decide the activities. Each boy started out with his own ideas, and wanting his ideas to be accepted by everyone else.
There was a moment of tension. Then, one boy spoke up, quietly but with real inner strength: “Wait a minute! Isn’t it more important that we all have fun together, instead of just what one person wants?” And then, very seriously, “maybe that could be our test to see if we pass to the next grade.” The other boys immediately joined in, “Yeah, yeah, you’re right, let’s do that!” Most touchingly of all, the one boy who’d been most adamant to get his own way turned his attitude around, actually laughed at himself, and happily became part of the day’s fun.
The older boys, junior high and high school, went on a hiking, camping adventure trip. Their teacher described their struggle up one mountain, how they arrived at what they thought was the top, only to see ahead of them two more peaks they would have to climb to reach the true top of the mountain. Everyone was dehydrated and suffering from altitude sickness. The teacher’s knees were giving out. It was a moment of choice – to give in to tiredness and discouragement, or to find a way forward.
One of the boys spoke into the vacuum, “let’s keep going.” The enthusiasm and commitment in his voice energized the whole group. The stronger boys helped those struggling to keep up, sometimes carrying several other backpacks in addition to their own. The teacher witnessed some boys giving food and water they needed themselves to others whose spirits were flagging. He described also a sensitive and sweet awareness of one another permeating the group, those ahead keeping aware of those behind, quietly waiting for stragglers to catch up, lending a hand where needed, anticipating the needs of the group. He spoke of a pervasive generosity of spirit emerging, a spirit that carried them all forward. He felt himself, the ostensible leader, being lifted and led onward and upwards by the spirit flowing so powerfully through them all.
What the boys in these two groups, and all the children celebrated in the awards day, were manifesting was the essential consciousness behind tithing – the soul reaching out to the Light from which it came, and that reaching out expressing as giving, or sharing, as helping others on their way, as stepping aside to allow others to shine, in ways special to each child. From such understandings only a small step remains to making one’s own the attitude of a devotee – to seeing everything as coming from the Divine, to wishing above all to offer everything in love back to the Divine.
In divine friendship,