I’m the first one to say that profound and lasting learning usually takes place when we are uncomfortable, forced to step outside our comfort zones. Well, having just returned from a week up in Nass Valley, BC, I’ve lived that statement. To be honest, it’s not easy leaving the comforts of my home to venture to such a highly remote area but I was hired to go there – for the fourth time this school year, and appreciate the opportunity to do the work that I’m most passionate about: fostering mindfulness and developing relationship skills to build healthier, happier communities.
Monday came and I walked into the classes ready for some recognition or enthusiasm but the kids barely looked at me. I had spent time with them in February so I just assumed they’d be excited to see me. With a slightly damaged ego, I moved forward with energy, pushing through my feelings of discomfort. In hindsight, I now know that with the kids up north, and the teachers, you need to prove yourself before you’re appreciated. They don’t just fake it, they either feel it or they don’t and they don’t care who knows how they feel. So, I was ready to earn their respect and more importantly to help them move through life in a more focused, mindful and happier way.
As the week progressed, I kept fine tuning my workshops so that the kids would be engaged, so that they would learn something of value from me. I can be pushy, so I have to watch how I push with this particular community and not push them away. So, I’d walk in each day and try another meditation – sitting, standing, lake, mountain, breathing and lying down or another exercise or game – something to open them up to themselves and to one another. I couldn’t tell if I was making any kind of an impact but, as I do, I kept plowing forward.
I had to seriously modify my lessons because these kids don’t like to speak or share their feelings all that much. They don’t trust easily and aren’t willing to put themselves on the line. So, I had to do more activities which didn’t involve talking but involved doing. That seemed to work better. While they were doing (or playing) I’d keep dropping wisdom, hoping it was landing. I’d mention my main points in building community like “let’s lift each other up rather than push each other down!” and “you are responsible for your own happiness.” Eventually, they seemed to be hearing me…by truly listening to themselves.
On my last day the kids were begging me not to leave and asking if I’d be back the following week. I told them that this school year is almost over and that I hope to be back next year. While my time up north is never easy for me, I can feel the benefit of spending time with these kids and with their adults, and understand how they can benefit from our time together. The work is never done and as we keep growing, awakening to our lives, we can find new ways of thinking, of being.
On that last day I asked the kids what they would take with them from their time with me and they said that the mindfulness was the best part…that is what they’d remember. This was surprising for me because I thought, for sure, that it would be the games that they enjoyed and learned from the most. Once again, I’m learning from my students and encouraged to keep moving forward in my work.
It looks like the week increased their mindful attention to their lives, to their breath and to the inner world they inhabited. I do feel grateful that I continue to learn through my discomfort and that the lessons I am teaching are the very ones I most need to learn myself.