Flow Learning Stage 1: Focusing Attention

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Flow Learning
 (TM – Sharing Nature) is composed of four different aspects that lead, or “flow” into one another: awakening enthusiasm, focusing attention, direct experience, and sharing inspiration. In the first newsletter I gave examples of how Living Wisdom teachers help awaken enthusiasm in students through experiences in nature. With this edition we’ll “flow into” examples of helping students focus attention. I’ll share some experiences about our recent junior high and high school girls’ service adventure trip and Nitai will add on examples from the boys’ trip.

Each year we take these three-week trips to get them out of their normal environment and offer them challenge, adventure, service opportunities, and the chance to relate to a totally different environment and culture. It’s amazing how these 3 weeks can open and expand the students in ways that the classroom can never provide. In the past we have visited Peru, India, an orphanage in La Paz, Mexico, an isolated village in Mexico, homeless shelters in the US, several different communities in the US and Canada, and many historic sites in the US. The students pay for these trips themselves with “student tuition funds” that they earn by working various jobs. In February our girls and 3 teachers visited the Polestar Community on the Big Island of Hawaii. The leaders of this community lived at Ananda Village for many years and are long-time friends. They specifically offer programs for young people and share with us the values of service, self-discovery, adventure, and personal excellence.

Awakening enthusiasm in Hawaii is not a difficult task! Snorkeling, body-surfing, boogie boarding, kayaking, volleyball, and hiking over lava beds were adventures met with an abundance of enthusiasm. Helping the girls to channel that enthusiasm into other focused activities seemed to flow naturally. We spent many service hours in Polestar’s organic gardens in the hot sun, pulling up a jungle of weeds, planting rows of ginger, harvesting gargantuan yams, and chasing chickens. The girls were sometimes challenged by these activities but met them with will power and joy. It became obvious early on that the most difficult “focusing attention” activity was the daily sadhana ( spiritual practices) at 6:15 every morning. Everybody woke up at 5:45 (no sleeping in except for sickness), walked to the temple in the dark, and practiced energization exercises, yoga postures, and meditation for a total of an hour. There were a fair amount of blurry eyes and moans upon arising, but after a while the girls got into a rhythm with it.

Most of them wrote afterwards in an assignment about the trip that the experience they dreaded the most at the beginning was the early sadhana time. In retrospect, most of them said that it became their most important focusing activity, an experience that set the tone for the rest of their day. The boys trip went to Quebec and the East coast of the United States including Boston and Washington DC. In the photo above you’ll see them at the top of a local snow covered mountain after focusing their energy for the climb.

They began the trip with a week at a spiritual community in Quebec, Cite Ecologique and it is with other members of this community that they made the climb. Towards the end of our time there, we gave a presentation about our school at a dinner attended by most of their community’s members. Here is what one of our students had to say:

A major experience was the presentation in front of most of the community in Quebec. We heard early that morning that we had to get up on stage and talk for about a minute each. Nitai suggested that I talk about how I make my tuition money. At first I did not want to do it at all. Then, I realized that there was no way to get out of it so, I thought a little about what to say and before I knew it I was up there talking in front of a hundred people! I was not very nervous because I did not have much time to think about it. While I was talking my brain just went blank and only what I had gone over in my head stayed. It seemed like it was over in a few seconds. After this experience I realized that I am able to speak confidently in front of a large group of people.”

A major part of our trip was giving a series of kirtans at various cities along the east coast. Below is a write-up one group of attendees put in their newsletter:

“We had a wonderful opportunity to listen and participate in chanting and meditation led by six teenage boys 1/29/2010 at Hobb’s Hall in Marblehead, MA. “Teenage boys chanting” may sound like an oxymoron, but it’s for real! Attendees were stunned that sophomore to senior high school boys could even want–and clearly enjoy–singing devotional chants, as well as meditation! One school teacher concert attendee said she wished more boys had their discipline, sense of caring, and service.”

Finally, we had to focus our attention in order to begin our journey back home.

“At the end of our trip we got snowed-in in Washington D.C. Within 24 hours, 30 inched of snow fell on the city. It was one of the biggest snowstorms in their history. Traffic stopped working, electricity broke down, nearly every store was closed, cars were covered under tons of snow, as well as the streets, houses and well, just everything! We ended up staying an extra day and night, then had to free our car with small shovels for a distance of 60 feet to get to the main road! It was a great adventure!”

By Hridaya Atwell