Kindness Day At SF Waldorf High School!

Posted by Anne Veh on Aug 31, 2014
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From all angles of the Bay Area-- one car from Marin County, another from Fruitvale in Oakland, one from Mountain View and Berkeley-- our team of ten teens and adults assemble at the entrance of San Francisco Waldorf High School early Thursday morning. Veteran Humanities teacher and school leader, Joan, warmly greets us in the multipurpose room, where the chairs are already arranged in a circle for our morning Kindness Workshop.

It all started over a year ago when Joan Caldarera asked her students, “Like Thoreau, what would you be willing to go to jail for?"

The students could not answer, and Joan's response was to create a three-day orientation for the senior class on Thinking, Feeling, Willing. Earlier that Summer, Rahul had given a memorable commencement speech with resonant values for the school’s 2013 graduating class. So, at the start of last school year, a team of love warriors from the ecosystem joined forces with Joan to do a kindness workshop for the 2014 senior class. This Thursday, a new configuration of us joined in to do it again.

Creating Space for Cultivating Kindness
Before the students arrive, we ground ourselves in an opening circle of meditation and a recap of the flow for the day. As the students filter in, our amazing kindness youth Nidia, Emily, and Hanadi hand out paper heart nametags for each student. Pancho grounds us in a few minutes of silence, and Nidia and I welcome us all and offer up our intention for the day: to explore kindness.

We do a round of name introductions, and everyone shares something that they are grateful for. Lahar opens us up with a story of her experience during a walking pilgrimage along the Narmada in India a few years ago. As they were walking, one student noticed how Gopaldada, an 87-year-old Gandhian, kept picking up stones on the path and tossing them to the side. When she inquired why, he explained simply that he wanted to leave the path easier for others behind him. By moving aside the larger stones in the road, he could do his small part in making someone’s journey a little smoother, and prevent any injuries that may have otherwise occurred from tripping or biking over the stones. Lahar’s take away was that it is such a small act, but Gopaldada’s gentle intention to serve those who would come after him—whether by a few minutes or a few thousand years—reveals the power of those anonymous, seemingly insignificant acts of kindness that can really make all the difference.

What happens when our actions carry an intention to last 500 years or seven generations forward? Pancho shares a story about a young man who gifted his hand-carved wooden cutting board to Casa de Paz. Pancho responded, “Wow man this is crazy” (the wooden board is three inches thick and heavy). The young man replied, “I made it to last 500 years!”

Nidia shares how a kind request for “a smile” from a doorman she passes while walking to work lifted her out of a dark mood to reflect, “Hey, I’m on my way to work with children and what would it be like if I couldn’t greet the kids with a smile?” That day she made a point to smile at each child she met. It’s amazing how much difference a simple smile can make.

Then she and Emily led an activity by pairing everyone off to discuss an act of kindness we've received. After a few minutes, we re-group, and go around in the circle as each person shares the story their partner had told them. Something powerful unfolds in that circle of sharing-- an opening up and realization of the many and varied unnoticed acts of kindness that fill our days.

One teacher shared how his wife has greeted him each morning with breakfast and a candle for the last 20 years. A student shared gratitude for her parents' kindness and care in making breakfast and packing lunch for her every day. Hanadi reflected on how good it feels to get a hug, and recalled a time when she was having a down day and how it shifted when a friend simply gave her a hug. Another student had been stressed with thoughts of college and her senior year, and was put at ease with her father's accepting words to simply do what she can and not worry.

Around the circle we shared. After 50 of us dug up personal stories of kindness-- most of them small, everyday acts and gestures-- there was a lightness in the air. A sense of openness and acceptance of heart. Our neural pathways were definitely beginning to rewire themselves to see from a space of abundance. :)

Love in Action
From there, Nidia introduced the Free Hugs video, and we shifted into “doing” acts of kindness! Everyone grabbed a paper heart and wrote a note of encouragement. Each senior grabbed a flower, wrote a personal note and went out to the find a freshman to gift it to.

We then divided ourselves into two groups: “Kindness Canvassers” and “Inner to Outer Sanitation” with an intention of spreading kindness beyond the walls of the school into the streets of West Portal! Within minutes the students were busily making beautiful posters and writing personal “love” notes of appreciation while others were grabbing brooms and trash bags. Once in the streets, men and women of all ages were overwhelmed with hugs, homemade cookies, smiles, flowers, and “love” notes! The joy was palpable!

Audrey shares, “Lahar and I went into a barber shop and gifted cookies and brownies to people inside. They were hesitant, with their guard up at first, but then after explaining that we were with the school and just doing random acts of kindness to learn and practice kindness they totally opened up and were all smiles. And they even took some sweets. :) It was amazing to see how the students took to it right away, making posters and giving out free hugs, regardless of how people responded. I think the collective energy around it gave everyone a shared confidence that it's not crazy to smile, hug, and offer kindness to strangers. That actually, maybe it's a little crazy not to. :) It was beautiful to see how so many walls were broken down.”

Circle of Sharing and Reflection
Once back at school, we gathered in a circle to share and listen popcorn fashion. A few reflections:

“I was amazed how many elderly men were on the streets and how much more open they were to receiving hugs from us (boys) than the elderly women.”

“I’m shy and hesitant, approaching someone to give a hug is hard; being with my friend gave me more courage.”

“In Starbucks, I found it difficult to break through the barrier of all the people connected to their computers and phones. I realized I needed more support, more friends to help me break through this energy…it was like these people are in here dying.”

Hanadi (youth anchor) shares, “It was nice. I got to miss school (jokingly:)" and then she added, "I learned a lot more here than I do at school."

Scott (faculty) reflected on running into two elderly women and offering them free hugs and smiles, and then he found out they were from the Arden Wood Assisted Living home next to the school, and that he had met them two years back at a school barbecue. So it was a familiarizing of neighbors and reconnecting with community.

Tree Planting and Blessing
One of the powerful gifts of these Kindness Circles is the awareness that grows within individually and collectively. At Met West High School in East Oakland last May, our Kindness Team wanted to gift the new school building with a few trees and collectively create space for a tree planting ceremony. When we brought the fruit trees into the Kindness Circle that morning, we realized in an instant, the trees were, in fact beloved members of our team, volunteers who give unconditionally 24/7 the gift of life, nourishment and love. Since that day, our team is never without our star volunteer:)

For SF Waldorf High School our volunteer is a beautiful pink lady apple tree. Inspired by Nimo’s pilgrimage and the story he shares of Johnny Appleseed of “planting seeds” - small acts of kindness everywhere he goes - is a perfect metaphor for Love in Action. This day, all 50 of us gather outside around the apple tree (with shovels and a kind Mr. Burkheart, the Botany Teacher at the helm). Together we bless the tree, it’s new home and send it all our love. Just last year, the school had experienced vandalism in the form of someone cutting down all the newly planted fruit trees to short trunks. Our tree planting takes on a deeper intention. The students begin to dig the hole, and spontaneously several girls start to sing. It’s amazing the beauty that unfolds in a heart-filled space.

Scott, a history and economics teacher and friend of the ecosystem, is approached by three girls who want to start a Kindness Club and asked if he would be their mentor. They are excited at the prospects of doing a 21-day Kindness Challenge with the school. :) And Scott was especially moved because he had listened to a gnawing sense of misalignment and stepped back from being the Model UN advisor this year, to create space for something else. This fit perfectly with the values and direction that he would like to grow in.

Ending with the tree blessing and planting brought a sense of the sacred to the day. Lahar and Vishesh end our circle around the tree with a devotional song ~ it was a soul-stilling ribbon that tied a bow around an incredible gift of a day.

Sharing a Meal
Once back inside, the students are all lined up patiently waiting to eat. We ask them, “Why are you waiting. Please go ahead!” They all respond, “We have been waiting for you. We will not eat until you are served:)” With a full heart, we receive their love and are gifted an abundance of tasty Indian food. We enjoy more conversation, laughs and connection!

Kindness Team Reflection

After our group picture and hug, our team gathers again around the apple tree for a team reflection. Here are a few gems:

Anne ~ Gathering to meditate before the students arrived was powerful ~ we co-created a space to allow the day to flow organically, and each one of us facilitated as "ladders" in the circle.  I was also amazed at the amount of reflection from the students, the depth and sharing was more than we have ever experienced.

Sam ~ I am grateful for the teachers and staff. They are incredibly supportive, from the email communication to their participation in the Circle. That’s what makes a school! And they embrace new opportunities, offering their students a range of different experiences from bringing in a Massai Warrior to a Kindness Day!

Nidia (age 15, youth anchor) ~ This senior class is incredibly close. Everyone talks to each other and supports each other. That’s my favorite part. Coming from a school where we have less kids, our senior class isn’t as close or as open to new experiences as this class. This is a “big picture” school, more than the “big picture” school I go to.

Scott (faculty) ~ You (the team) were able to bring the energy, authenticity, smiles and presence to the circle. We’re teachers. We can feel it. You “planted” the space in previous days…that’s what teaching is all about. It’s about preparing spaces and letting it just grow. So the three girls, wanting to start a Kindness Club couldn’t be more natural at that moment.

Jose ~ I’m grateful to all be together. It’s been challenging coming back from India and keeping all that Love inside of me. It’s not easy… Being here is an infusion of energy. This beautiful experiment can blossom in the part of the Planet we call Spain. The way we create the space is so natural, organic and collective.

Lahar ~ One of the students came up to me while we were making the posters and said, “I wish we could use natural resources instead of paper from the trees.” I replied, “Yes, thank you for your sensitivity and awareness.” It’s amazing!

Vishesh ~ This is my last official act as an “intern” in ServiceSpace. I could not have thought of a better way to finish. I am reminded of what Guri and Anne-Marie told me. They said the best way to finish, it’s not now, it’s for you to teach it to someone. That’s exactly what happened today! As a reminder, I came into this summer from a negative space. “I’m kind, I know this, and I feel blocked by all the people around me.” I thought people were inherently bad and the system was inherently bad. It’s not! Do Kindness! With the students today, I feel so pumped up. I can tell these people, my friends at Stanford, my community.”

Pancho ~ We need to continue this! I noticed how you (Anne) facilitated our planning at Casa de Paz (even though everyone is so active) and you asked us to meet at 8am this morning. That was beautiful.

Audrey ~ I had come in a little sick, and so realized that I was walking into the day being centered on myself, and my own needs. But as people started sharing about acts of kindness they've received, I resonated with so many of them. For so many of the stories, I could say I had received the same kindness before, or something similar. And I started noticing and tapping into the abundance of ways that my family, community, friends, environment, nature really do hold and support me-- and how I am often so blind to it. Doing this "Kindness Day' with the high school students and staff really was so invigorating - it reminded me how transformative and grounding it is to do small, consistent acts of kindness. How much of a difference it makes when I see the world through the lens of "what I can give?" instead of "what can I take?" And doing it with a team of such incredible youth really refreshed my faith in the universality of kindness-- it is simply woven in the fabric of our existence. :-)

Soon after our day, we receive a beautiful letter from Joan Caldarera:
“Our circle of 47 people, all present for each other was very powerful, and the students were inspired by the kindness that was generated. In the afternoon, they spoke in a circle again about their intentions for service throughout the year. Your hearts would have been singing, friends from the kindness team, to have heard how they understood so deeply the true meaning of service! What I really noticed was that, after the morning, they spoke for the others in the circle, not for themselves. That is, they truly listened and found ways to guide each other, rather than rousing only on their own ambitions and plans. It was subtle, but real. Such a gift to see how seemingly small gestures of care do ripple outward, proving that one at a time we can all make a difference!”   

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