Our outside welcome circle contains the spark of spontaneity and accesses the Soul Schoolers inner terrain:
Shir Yaakov: What animal do you feel like right now and why?
Students: A cheetah, as I feel hyper... A sloth, as I am tired....
S"Y: Walk forth as that animal and find your Sit Spot!
One boy gracefully rests feline-like belly down atop a fence, another perches quietly on the roof of the shed and a latecomer finds himself in the tall grasses. S"Y models deep meditation in Sit Spot and it imprints. All, including myself (Ruth), are deeply affected and fall into a place of deep rest and oneness. Spread through the yard, scattered about, we are connected—silent and still in this breath, resting in it and experiencing it. The group has landed.
S"Y: Bring back a treasure from nature you notice on you walk back to the Circle....
As the afternoon unfolds, we enter into what one child named a trust exercise. Inspired by the first verses of the פָּרָשָׁה|parsha ("torah portion") Lech Lecha, we walk forth into the unknown — blindfolded! A friend guide us, slowly and safely, until we come to a new land. We are invited to open our eyes as if they are opening to a new day.
We bring natural objects inside, create a good circle of chairs, and introduce Counsel. Soul Schoolers place their objects that identify their mood — a brick (feeling heavy) — in the center as an altar, and the objects transform into talking pieces.
To deepen and access the experience of listening from the heart, the ears are imagined as flowers whose roots are in the heart, and some students join in opening the blood flow from the heart and calming anxiety through acupressure point massage of kidney 27 (join in: at the junction of the collarbone and the breastbone).
Heartspeak in circles is modeled and joined at each child's pace — some name anxieties inside themselves, some name something outside themselves, and some let out their sillies. Wonderings about the next president occupy more than one sharing, and only as kids can model — excitement about soccer games and the glory of skateboarding follow close behind.
While the day darkens to night, there is beauty awaiting us in colored chalk on the board. S"Y has the class gaze upon the Hebrew letters of lech lecha and sound and repeat the words of the first verse. The Soul Schoolers create body movements spontaneously adding emphasis to the verse that will be built upon and recognized in years to come. Seeds are being planted to grow into familiar signposts that guide our children into new lands and simultaneously return them to self, heart, and each other. Lech Lecha... "go forth to yourself... from your land... from your birthplace... from your father's house... to the unknown land I will show you."
—Ruth and Shir Yaakov
A Soul School adventure with Noah's ark.
Starting outdoors, seated on colorful blankets, we introduced a singing bowl during our opening circle as sound to mark transitions.
After the first sounding we spread out on the landscape, entering our Sit Spots, to gather two of something that we wanted to protect.
One student gathered two grains of sand, another gathered leaves to protect the tree she was sitting beneath. Another student named his hands and eyes as being what he wanted to protect. And another stated he gathered nothing (which is something!).
Connecting us to the Torah that our class was introduced to in the prior class, the students recalled Simchat Torah and the celebration of completing the annual cycle of reading the Torah. With the start of a new cycle of reading in mind, Simon shared the second parsha of the Torah, the story of Noah and the flood.
The students were captivated by the liturgical verse and dropped into a deep quiet as they listened to story of 600 year old Noah and the 40 days of rain.
We learned and wondered about the raven that Noah released after the flood and never returned. One of the students pointed out how a dove did return with an olive branch which symbolizes peace. We learned how G-d presented a rainbow from the clouds as sign of a covenant between G-d and all life on the earth.
One of the questions Ruth raised was what is the ark to you? What is protecting what is sacred?
One of the students revealed for her it was her house that holds her family and that is what feels safe to her as opposed to not safe.
Ruth spoke about how for her, the ark was her body, a vehicle for her soul. Others may answer this question at another time in life when the question can be heard or yearns to be answered.
After hearing the story, we explored our inner rainbow through a guided meditation led by Ruth.
Tensing and releasing our muscles, inviting our inner eye to see the various colors of the rainbow building from our feet up, the group experienced rainbow in a whole new way.
One of the boys leaned back into the lap of another boy, saying that he represented the boat and that their relationship was an ark.
As class wrapped up, we tidied our classroom back to its original state and returned our students to the sacred "arks" of their families.
Soul School took our first field trip to the Kol Hai sukkah overlooking the Shawangunk Ridge in peak foliage. After saying the blessings for sitting and eating there, we said the shehechiyanu blessing — expressing out gratitude for arriving at this very moment.
Each of us shared one word of something we were grateful for... it was hard to contain in just one word! Many expressions of gratitude for the land, the warmth, the colors, the breeze, the friends, the sukkah...
We looked at the etrog and lulav and hadas and aravah — the traditional Four Species of plants that are brought together and shaken in six directions during Sukkot.
We smelled, touched, and deeply engaged with what these particular plants might have to teach us. And asked ourselves, what did it mean to shake them in six directions?
Shir Yaakov shared an idea that these four species represent different parts of the body. What shapes or places did they conjure for you?
One midrash teaches: “Etrog refers to the heart, the place of understanding and wisdom. Lulav refers to the backbone, uprightness. Myrtle corresponds to the eyes, enlightenment. Willow represents the lips, the service of the lips (prayer).”
We asked the Soul Schoolers, "What parts of yourself can you find in nature, here?" And they ran off into the meadow and wildflower fields to collect local expressions of their bodies, compiling Four Species of their own.
As we regrouped, our hands held leaves, stems, flowers and seeds. Colors of brown, purple, green, red, tan and grey filled our circle.
These tall long seeded plants are fingers, because I am happy with what my hands do. I think I make pretty decent art."
"And these are eyes because the seeds look like a bunch of eyes."
"And this is my heart. I think that hearts are really pretty, so I picked something with the most color."
"And this is my tongue, for my taste."
"This long blade of cattail grass is my spine."
"This minty many leafed plant is my mind."
"This ball of cattail fluff is my heart, soft and big."
"This purple flower is my heart because it's pretty. Just like my face."
After sharing and appreciating one another's four local species, we asked students to think of other fruits that grow in our area that could replace the etrog. What local fruits are fragrant and could represent the heart?
"Apples!" "Lemons?" "Corn," the students shared.
Then we invited students to close their eyes and to smell the fruits that we had collected. Smells of citrus and musk filled their senses. When they opened their eyes they exclaimed, "walnut!"
The group quickly burst into play, moving freely across the grassy hillside we were meeting on.
Simon brought the students back together to introduce a new exercise. "For as long as our ancestors have been able to share stories we have gone out into the landscape alone to listen and to see, to think and to feel."
Some of the students exclaimed, "we've done that at Wild Earth, Sit Spot!"
Simon pointed out that our Jewish ancestors have a similar practice called Hitbodedut (literally "self-seclusion"). Soon students and teachers spread out across the meadow, forest and grass to find our solitude and quiet, to see and to listen with our inner and outer senses.
Shir Yaakov and Simon
Infectious laughter infused the outdoor portion of our afternoon together at Soul School. Authentic silliness and energetic release after an already full day filled the fresh fall air. Memories and teachings had a place to land, be named, and deepen as we revisited the Torah portion we’d just heard on the first day of Rosh Hashanah: Yitzhak, whose name means Laughter, was certainly being born in this new year. (Esther comes to mind infectiously laughing with Shir Yaakov.)
The children introduced themselves to a new student (Luca), and a new teacher (me, Ruth) with their name and a gesture, expressing an inner mood with their bodies, which we all reflected back to each other. This was to entertain my way of learning, and what I have to teach — which is embodiment (Talia comes to mind giving voice to her name verbally and with a deep gesture of her arms dipping poetically towards each other without touching). We practiced breathing with a “take five breath,” folding down each of our fingers of our hand to open and then close it, to be mindful of our inhale and exhale and to create a “magic pause” between names and reflections.
As Shir Yaakov asks to review last week’s class, Ezra defines teshuva as “an act of noble kindness.” He then wonders about what that actually might mean? Indoors, this theme is explored. Noah points towards teshuvah as the arch of returning to what was, and what you were before you needed forgiveness. And here for me was that moment, as Shir Yaakov has taught -- that we teach each other Torah (young and old). My deep personal aha at Noah’s reflection (which I interpreted as returning being the noble act of kindness to oneself), fell deep into my own heart which I will unpack in my own journal.
Shir facilitates a talking circle for verbal sharing with each other about an act of kindness within the family, an act of kindness from a friend, and an act of kindness from oneself to the other. Stories are told of watches fixed, wake up songs sung to children kindly by dear parents, helping friends pass through narrow passages… a softness arrives in the room.
We revisit the words Teshuvah (returning), Rosh (head) and Shanah (year), and Yom (day) and learn we are at the head of the year looking towards the day in the cycle of life. Simultaneously one child is re-creating Adamah and Adam with colored chalk in English and Hebrew — practicing organic learning of liturgy and letters, and another child is on the floor in the center of the circle shaking out his body of all its stuckness or all the words or stimulation of the day, clearly feeling the freedom and containment to do so.
To close, we continue to strengthen our Chesed (kindness muscle) together. We learn a Buddhist heart sutra yoga practice with our arms that twists and spirals around the space of our hearts. Then we come into our hands and release into drawing with oil pastels. We draw to express and release a time for which forgiveness is needed or we draw whatever is arising for us when thinking or feeling into forgiveness.
Shir and I end class with asking forgiveness — time — sacred time of Rosh Hashanah has “flown by” and we are parting sweet ways with the want of more completion, and then we bow into… next time… Soul School continues! (Ezra exclaimed, “that only felt like ten minutes!”)
For me, the gift of tonight is in the layers and the awareness and the experience that when that awareness is held in a way that others feel felt, heard and tended to, how all the teaching can be facilitated to unfold before us, from within each child-- each child a unique piece of our beautiful community coming into themselves (and their cells!)
We encourage you to continue these teachings, as you are moved to, in the home. Allow the completion of class and learning to happen in the home, and the learnings to cycle back into the school in a continuous loop as we educate and re-educate ourselves.
With love and gratitude,
Ruth Kalvert on behalf of Shir Yaakov and Simon
and the Soul School Education Kevutzah