Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tribes at St. Alban's - December 2010

I often reflect on how it is that a group of people come together and create a comfortable and inspiring community. This week a group of teachers and teacher candidates came together with the intent of learning about Tribes. Everybody had the same objective for being there and, each person, (except for one couple) came alone. There were 20 participants. The 4 day in 3 scheduling, makes for a pretty intense time, particularly for me, the trainer. I want to keep the pace moving, and at the same time, not wear out brains and bodies before I have presented important materials.

During the first module I usually show a film that features Bonnie Bernard who shares her studies about fostering resiliency factors in youth. The film is impactful for teachers because it emphasizes the effect that teachers have on young people as they grow into independent and productive human beings. It is a really good film, and, I find that it provides inspiration for the participants as we embark on this 24 hour training together.

Recently I lost my DVD of the film so I’ve been using my video version. St. Alban’s VCR, where my session was being held, was not working! Instead of panicking, I decided to invite the entire class up to my house to watch the video. I live a half of a block away from St. Alban’s. I suggested that the participants grab their lunches or go to the nearest Loblaws to purchase their lunch, and meet at my house to watch the film together.

The bonding of this group happened almost immediately. By the end of lunch that day, all 20 participants were comfortable with each other. Exchanging emails and telephone numbers they were arranging carpools and sharing lunches. Undoubtedly, the inclusion stage with this group happened organically and naturally.

Comments like “Wow! This is the first time I have ever taken a course and been invited to the instructor’s house!” or “Hey, this is just like going on a field trip!”

Calamities like this, and working our way out of them together brings the learning alive. Learning is only worth happening if it’s relevant outside the walls of the classroom. And certainly, whatever happens in our Tribes sessions also happens in all of our classrooms in one way or another.

Last week’s group was a joy. It reinforces my ideas that everything happens for a reason. Someone (I think it was my friend Penny) taught me that learning is fundamental. First you have the fun. Then you have da mental!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Institute for Child Studies and Tribes

There is something about working with teacher candidates that I find completely inspiring. Perhaps it’s because they are fresh and excited about teaching and anxious to do a great job in the classrooms. They seem to be idealistic in a real sort of way and definitely genuine in their belief about changing the world. I feel honoured to be accepted as a part of their pursuit.

The group I’m working with now is from the Institute for Child Studies at OISE, University of Toronto. I am noticing above everything that this group is smart. Along with their intuitive intelligence about teaching, they seem to have acquired knowledge that supports who they already are. Their programme is a Masters programme in Education. Various Bachelor programmes come together in one group to create a solid foundation in education and/or human development.

It is also wonderful working with a group who are already immersed in the stage of inclusion. They know each other, joke together, and despite the fact that there is limited job availability and lots of opportunity for competition, they seem to be so supportive of each other and helpful and together.

It reinforces the idea that establishing a solid foundation of mutual respect and appreciation is critical. I’m wondering if their appreciation of each other further encourages information sharing and, enhances the achievement level and degree of knowledge learned.

Sharing this time with them has reminded me of the difference between assessment and evaluation. When your classroom runs smoothly there is very little need for tests. Students stay on top of the material, get directly to the tasks at hand and ask questions on their own when there is need for clarification or desire to extend their learning. For students who need more….asking for it pushes us just a little it further. As teachers, we can’t expect ourselves to know everything, but we sure want to stay open to learn.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


“You are not the doer”. Says Margaret an Indian woman of 61 years and my newly discovered spirit sister. “I didn’t understand that when I was younger. I do now. Nothing that happens to us is irrelevant. Everything happens for a reason. And all the reasons are all important.”

My last few days in India are perfect. I am with Mah (that’s Margaret) in a, once upon a time ashram, that has become a small retreat for anyone who wants to be here. In the 70’s Gurukula was the home to Guru Nataraj and his devotees. Living communally, studying and practising the Guru’s Nataraj’s teachings, Mah and her husband Vinaya lived with others. They grew food, bred cows and chickens and rabbits, practised Yoga and studied with Guru Nataraj. Everything they did was because of and in support of their Guru.

Looking at pictures from those early years, Mah and her husband, Vinaya wear love beads and headbands, reflecting the vision of the time. Sincere in their quest for inner growth, cosmic love and ultimate peace, Mah still struggles for the similar values that inspired her to become a member of this Ashram in the 70’s. Things haven’t changed much for Mah since then. Her 4 children have grown up and moved away, and have families of their own. Vinaya is gone most of the time teaching in other areas of India and abroad; a proclaimed disciple of Nataraj. Mah is the lone caretaker of the 10 acres now, nurturing the land, actively improving the space and consciously making it available to anyone who needs help and attention. She has become the real earth Mother of Guruluka and the one that ultimately lives the dream of the ashram.

“Some days when I am aware of my own ignorance and I realize how much I don’t know, I understand. It is just like what the Guru says. There comes an understanding and when it comes, I realize it’s not wisdom or something great. Its just simplifying life and it gives me more freedom, happiness, comfort. There is nothing big that leads to enlightenment. It’s only about remaining hopeful.”

Hope nowadays is reflected in the new Bookroom being constructed near the old meditation room. Mah’s vision, along with friend and collaborator, Sahadevan’s skill as an architect, create the necessary energy for the beautiful developments. Mah sees it as a place to meditate, read, think, and be quiet. There is a place for prayer, for sleeping, and for washing. Small gardens beginning to sprout where the landscaping has been carefully planned lend to the natural and simple beauty.. Each cluster of money donated to the ashram is allocated to help finish this project. Any one who stays at the ashram is encouraged to work.

The common house that centres on the kitchen, is a simple shack made of solid cement and wooded roof protected by shingles made of . I am told that this roof replaced the palm leaves that used to separate them from the sky. Together Mah and I laugh about her memories of the cockroaches falling from the large leaves. I am humbled by my own fears of those critters and comforted that Mah shares the same gross fear. In fact, I am noticing how much alike Mah and me really are and how quickly we are bound to each other’s spirit.

The cement floor replaces the cow dung that used to be spread on the ground to protect the growing children. The gas stove sits where the open fire used to provide cooking space. Today, a refrigerator squeezes into an empty space on the side of the entrance door and preserves the many rolls of paneer, and bowls of freshly churned butter and buckets of freshly made curds that Mah makes daily.

Two cows are milked twice daily, and with the milk, enough revenue is generated to feed the other cows, calves really, so they too, will grow to produce milk. 6 litres of morning milk goes to the village, and, then each evening, enough milk is produced to share with the few people who live here regularly. Mah makes food for anyone who is staying here and provides full meals for all the workers who come to sustain the buildings and the landscaping. She makes strong coffee with hot sweet milk each morning, and, in the evening, insists that a cup of warm milk with honey will contribute to a warm, comfortable night’s sleep. Both are habits I have embraced!

Peacefulness and calm is here for me. As I walk through the grounds the trees rustle, and, although the sun shines, the heat is manageable. I am not accessible to Internet and Facebook and bank statements. I have made time to meditate, play my guitar (I’m still not any good) and talk with the people around. There are 5 of us staying in the ashram right now, except for me, all semi permanent residents.

Mahima is Mah’s daughter who happened to come for the week. We all agree there is something cosmic about her coming, unexpectedly, the same day as my arrival. The three of us spent many hours in conversation sharing experiences as mothers, daughters, and women in diverse cultures. Our relationship has grown fast, and strong. As Mah says, “Things don’t happen by accident.”

We milk cows, sit cross-legged in the kitchen over countless cups of coffee, read to each other from books, share personal writing, and have hours of conversation considering the meaning of life at this stage of our existence. We prepare and eat wonderful Indian meals, Mah insisting on separating a small portion of each dish to protect me (needlessly) from the hot spice. We make curd and various flavours of paneer. We hug trees, go into town to shop, walk in the gardens, and take care of the animals. Sahadevan and I even go up the road to the local cafe where we share a beer.

Mah says “Life is like a heartbeat, it goes in and out in and out. We need to go with the heartbeat. The heartbeat of the soul becomes life. The purpose is to feel comfortable being a part of the whole that is there. It has a personality. The core of life is that heartbeat.”

Mah is the heartbeat of GuruKula. Mah is what keeps the place alive!