Oranges, Rocks, And Gratitude At SF Waldorf High

Posted by Anne Veh on May 16, 2017
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Last Friday, we circled up with the senior class at San Francisco Waldorf High to share a gratitude circle, what has come to be an annual practice; in August we gather to practice Kindness and in May we meet again to reflect on gratitude before these beautiful young men and women begin their journey in the world.

What comes to mind immediately as I reflect on our day together are the visible and invisible threads that bring us, as a Kindness Team, together to share presence with our youth.

There are the ripples of love from our Kindness Day last August with the seniors: In January, SF Waldorf High seniors Yomi, Audrey and Milo collected oranges from Yomi’s family tree to gift Casa de Paz (leaving the oranges in a basket on the kitchen counter as not to wake a sleeping home, with a sweet note of gratitude!)

There are ripples of love that transform us and invite curiosity to explore kindness circles: Immanual, on a family trip to New Orleans became trapped by Hurricane Katrina, forcing the family to stay beyond their intended stay and unexpectedly having their baby there, creating an extended family of strangers who adopted them as their own, inspiring Immanual to dedicate his energy to creating a Kulture of Kindness (a program and app) for businesses.

And there are ripples of love that surface across time: last Friday morning, when I met Xiao to carpool to the school, her partner Andy was with her, and as we spoke about the gratitude circle, I spontaneously invited Andy to join us and he said "YES!" On the ride in, we discovered that we had actually met 16 years earlier through an angel -- dear friends of ours had lost their 4 year old daughter to cancer, and we were both with the family through their child’s treatment and passing. To be reunited on this day was a very special gift and a blessing!

It goes on and on… such a beautiful mystery -- each circle becomes a tapestry composed of such loving threads -- and then again, it’s all so natural and organic!

There is an innocence and beauty to this senior class. They are a family, as close knit as cousins, and they naturally hold each other in pain and joy. Immanual reflected, "What especially struck me was the willingness of these young students to be vulnerable in this setting. I found their respectful love for each other fascinating- how they supported each other, and responded with genuine compassion. I loved the spontaneity of the circle, how it moved with unspoken intent. And I loved the enthusiasm of every one in the circle."

As we experience over and over, when there is no agenda, and you trust the greater unfolding, there is always wonder, healing and surprise present.

To share a picture of our day, our Kindness Team has each shared their own individual reflections, a gift to reflect and a gift to pay forward :)

Rocks and Threads That Connect
A moment that stood out for me was when Milo and I were sitting on the floor together, and he was sharing how difficult it was to let go of the rock he had just picked (the students were invited to select a rock that spoke to them).  He had this beautiful smile and you could tell he was really conflicted. “I want to hold onto this rock so badly, although I already know where it is supposed to go.” There was this grief and joy he was holding at the same time.  

Another moment that will always stay with me was when Carson came up to me after the circle asking where the “kind man with the beard was.” He was speaking about Sam and hoping to follow up with Sam about an invitation to make his own shoes after our Kindness Circle in August. I told Carson that Sam was currently out of the country, and perhaps he could learn from a dear friend, Mark Dubois. Carson will be heading to the east coast to study in the field “literally,” and learning of Mark’s life experiences with rivers and making his own shoes out of recycled tires kindled an interest to meet this extraordinary individual. Already, the two are in touch and hoping to meet next week! Again, the threads that connect us continue to make me smile BIG!

Offering Our Smiles Together For The World, by Jaune
Our time together was a balm for the soul, especially during this (even) crazier week of world events. My heart opened in new ways. Colors and sounds intensified for me as we sat in silence and then engaged in deep listening as our connectedness grew stronger through the depth of our sharings. The leaves on the trees became greener and blossoms on the roses redder!

When Xiao and Andy and I departed (because I was dashing to work -- something I will try harder to change next time) -- it felt like life itself was beginning anew. On our car ride back to Marin, Andy remarked how wonderful it was to be in the "energy of transition" with the students, to hear their love for family and friends, the appreciation for their education there at SF Waldorf High School, to feel their hopefulness, to accompany them in their dreams.

When the kindness-intention index cards written last August were returned to the students, the girls on both sides of me squealed with delight. One of them said, "Oh, wow, look at what I wrote. I sorta really did it!"

The other grinned and showed it to her friend, "This is so cool. It even looks like my handwriting." Their candor and playfulness touched me, made me realize how those two qualities of communication are such good medicine to share with each other.

Another girl and I connected about her plans to study physics when she goes to college in the fall. "But, I'm an artist," she said, " and I'm kind of amazed at myself wanting to study physics, but....I just do, so that's what I'm gonna do." Such courage to explore, not be stuck in identifying in one way that precludes another way, such an example for me of fresh and exciting 'beginner's mind.'

Also, the simple appreciation for offering our smiles to the world, for appreciating 'the mundane' and simple offerings we take for granted, and the space given to sharing the grief of loss loss loss -- all of it is reverberating in me.

Warmth of Kindness, by Xiao
The warmth of kindness caressed me the moment I woke up this morning, thinking gratefully how life bestowed on me such an opportunity to join the kindness circle with the students at SF Waldorf HS. The insightful sharing from the students amazed me! Their gratitude for the support of their families and their mothers was sincere and touching. One student shared how thankful she was for the breakfast that was prepared for her. And others expressed gratitude for the sky, the stars, water and silence, and even not being able to see far.

Tears came down my cheeks as I was listening to the story a student shared about the red-tail hawk which showed up on her brother's funeral and also her own birth. How our lives are interconnected in mythical ways! After Eva beautifully introduced the rock picking activity, the student sitting next to me held tight the rock he picked and then smelled it again and again, and then he took his friend's rock and smelled. I knew from this day on, his relationship with rock would not be the same as before. May we all find our own unique rocks and ground ourselves in kindness and gratitude to embrace each fresh moment.

When My Heart Opened, by Eva
For me, being just a part of anything that involves being in the presence of human beings like you all, it melts me and transforms me. Letting go of agendas, goals and even purposes to embrace the present moment and to be there just for them is a reminder of who and what I want to continue to cultivate.

I was really struck by the bonds that these young adults have formed over the past 4 years. I was struck by the energy of respect, love and support that they have for one another, even for the ones that they didn't know so much. I was amazed to see how the seeds of compassion, friendship, and interconnectedness have been rigorously and kindly planted and I'm curious to learn more about how the school models/implements the dynamics to establish such bonds. I believe many other schools could benefit from having such clear values systems, so they would be able to reduce many of the bullying cases that are arising in different schools nowadays.

My heart opened when I felt the courage of the girl who had been in foster care for many years and she was ready to move on to the next stage of her life, as an adult, now by herself. I was amazed by the awareness of their own Self and how articulate they were in expressing their feelings and stories. The truth that they were speaking was worth more than a thousand deer listening ears. I loved to witness how they recited their own allegiance to the Earth while asking for clarity and strength on their study and path. I was surprised on how in tune we all were with each other, students and facilitators, after a sharing of a loss, and how we all sat still in silence for a few moments to honor the new presence in the space and how skilfully Audrey invited all of us into a minute of silence to respect and embrace the moment.

The Flow of Offering, by Audrey
In moment after moment, the day seemed to flow as seamlessly as drops of water meld into one another -- and I couldn't help but notice how the simplicity of coming together with no agenda but the intention to hold space for kindness and gratitude creates a regenerative quality that inspires subtle transformation.

Even in preparing for the circle, a few of us had the opportunity to collect stones as offerings for a rock activity that Eva so beautifully led us in -- where the students could pick a stone and write a value on it that they'd like to carry forward in the coming year. While walking to gather stones, I wondered where each stone came from, how it formed, how long it had been sitting where I found it -- and noticed their diverse grains and colors and textures. The act of gathering the stones prompted me to bend closer to the dirt, and really take in the landscape I often walk briskly by. It made me hear the birds, and think about the spectrum of lives that had walked before me on those grounds. I thought about the students I'd meet, and how each stone might be received by an 18-year-old as  canvas for their reflection. I felt grateful for those 30 students, to whom this opportunity to offer something prompted me to drop into a stillness of mind, and deeper rhythms of the world around.

And all this was just in preparation for the circle! :) That morning, everyone was came in with that spirit of offering. As we entered, Joan immediately offered to setup the flowers we'd brought, while we ran through our flow. As we hooked up our computer to show a video, couple students effortlessly offered themselves on standby tech support. :) Even the way all the volunteers arrived was a labor-of-love -- Immanual had left his home at 5:30AM to take public transport all the way from Fremont to the school. Pancho and Eva witnessed the dawning sky as they opted to reduce their carbon footprint, biking 20 miles the way from East Oakland. Vishesh and several others took the workday off just to join in!

That whole morning flowed with that lens of abundance. Even as we were cleaning up to go, a student, Carson, saw me carrying two vases and instinctively said, "Oh, let me carry one of these!" He walked out with us to the parking lot, and even found a place to pour out the water that was in the vase (and simultaneously water the plants) so it wouldn't spill all over the car. And the post-circle conversations carried their own timeline, as we said goodbye again and again in various configurations, only to see each other and laugh again at how we still hadn't parted ways. :)

The Quality of Kinship, by Vishesh and Andy
"I was blown away by the depth of the reflections from the students! It felt like we really didn't have to do much - they got it immediately and felt close enough to share some very personal things with each other (and with us)," Vishesh observed.

Andy shares, "My experience with the young men and women today far exceeded my expectations. I found myself in a state of awe and profound love and gratitude as each student shared on the first go-around. In particular, I was deeply moved and "blown away" by their highly developed sense of emotional intelligence, sincerity and maturity. Many of the students spoke of their love and appreciation for their parents, especially their mothers- this certainly does not seem like the norm in our society for people this age- I was struck by this deep level of respect and by the the beautiful respect the students had for one another. As the young women spoke of the death of her older brother, the group silently listened with compassion and kindness as she shared and wept. As a life long lover of nature, the air, the water and the people, I was struck also by the students' connection to nature. As many of the student spoke of being on the spring-board of their lives and the process of leaving home on their way to college, I could only think of the gifts that this group will bring to the world with their highly developed sense of compassion, wisdom, depth and beauty in their hearts! What a gift to behold and what a gift the world will receive as these students, like seeds, spread out on the next leg of their lives' journeys!"

And he adds, "The day that what we experienced becomes the norm is the day the world will forever be transformed."



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