The Flowering Of Possibilities In Children
Posted by Neela Gupta on Feb 5, 2020
Education means to learn to see, learn to listen carefully and learn to live in harmony.
[A few months ago we had the privilege to have Archana Bahuguna founder of Space for Nurturing Creativity with her two children from the Himalayas is changing the education space where she is asking very different questions about learning and living. Below is the transcript and recording of her talk at Awakin Talks, Vadodara.]
[Listen to audio-only.]
I am from a small village in a remote corner of Uttarakhand. we follow a practice of travelling for a month with our Children and Youth team to different parts in India to observe and explore. I had felt this to be a good practice to live and explore possibilities as there are a lot of influences in this world and in the societies. And I am really very happy that there are many such places where so many people are coming together to explore and find the possibility of their inner flowering.
There has been no special turning point which inspired me to change my life when my involvement increased in my own journey. My journey started in the so-called school in an interior village where we stay with small as well as grown-up children. A total of thirty to thirty-five of us. We all stay together. My own home is also there.
My grandparents and all others around me had a vision that the children should become good human beings. We should be able to see goodness in others, and we may be of help to others. They used to talk of such incidents which would change children’s hearts. I realized much later that there is a superficial brain which does not get affected immediately as we listened to those stories, but surely a codification happens in depth which manifests later. When I cleared my high school from my village, I could recall and understand those stories and events that my grandmother had shared. I started understanding and exploring such small- small things.
Sitting here in Vadodara, Mumbai or Delhi, and the system in which we are being educated today, it may be very difficult even to imagine that compassion, to feel that energy, to feel that nature.
My grandmother who is ninety years old described an incident that when she was a child, three of them once went out with a cow for pasture. They were very thirsty and there was no water available nearby nor in the distant vicinity. Being very thirsty, they went to a small temple ruins nearby. They prayed with full faith to “Gorjha Ma” ( a mother deity), that if you actually exist, then we will place a wooden stick in the earth, and water would come out from that place. They were actually praying to nature. Saying this the Children placed a wooden stick in-ground and went away. After a while, they again went to the same place and took out the stick. And a stream of water gushed out.
I am not telling you a story which is one hundred or five hundred years old but, this is a story of my grandmother. She further said that on seeing the fountain of water, those three children first broke into tears of happiness, and then drank water, washed their faces, and felt a relief from the intense summer. The flow of water stopped after they had finished their job. What touches me is the spirit of these people in the village, society and in community. They live with simplicity, and with so many possibilities that even science fails to understand these circumstances. Any type of calculation and our rational mind fails. We think how is this possible. Even I don’t know how is it possible, but as per my understanding, if we allow nature to play its part with us, it surely does.
When I started seeing these events in my life and started understanding them, I made up my mind that I did not want to continue my studies after high school and I don’t want to go to a college. My family members were very annoyed when I told them that. I did not go to college for four years and instead went to a Gandhian institute. There was no girl child in our eight- nine families, and my maternal uncle saw possibilities in me. So he requested me to at least get a degree. He probably wanted to marry me off with a degree. I agreed to get a degree. I got admission in a college and got a degree though I never went to college nor attended classes. I did it by only by giving exams. During this period too, I was busy with my own journey. There is an organisation called Kasturba Mahila Uthan Mandal. I used to organise youth camps called Sadhna course for six years. I feel good about doing that as it helped me understand a lot of things. Otherwise, it is difficult to go on stage, hold a mike, and say that this education has gone bad, this system has gone bad etc.
What is important is that how to put the seed in Children’s mind, wherein they can see the possibility of realising the fullest possibility of their mind. When we give them space, then only they will realise their full potential. There are many questions and if we do not educate them, how will they understand. There is a way to educate, a way to understand. As we have understood, education is not an accumulation of information and knowledge. Today there is no value in accumulation of knowledge as most of the information is available on internment, and children do not need to remember them. Even we do not need to remember them. Education means learning and how we can develop an inner urge to learn. We have to learn and our children will have to learn. When children develop curiosity, they learn by themselves. This is genuine work done by us, which has stayed with us. A group of thirty children have just gone away and out of that, two children are here with us. These two children and all the thirty children have never been sent to School, even four-year-old kids have come with us and they have not been sent to school. We have never taught them alphabets. But the question arises in their mind that, what you are reading in this book? There is a girl child with us, who is fourteen years old now. She must have read about 3000 books from the library. And even right now if you give her a book amongst so many people, she would be reading that book rather than doing anything else.
When a four-year-old girl child’s parents came to us and told us that the child hides when it is time to go to school. And we said this is the limit. How can a four-year-old child be so scared to go to a school that she hides? It shows how education is being imposed on the child that she has to hide in order to avoid going to school. In our exploration we understood that the child does not want to avoid going to school as such but she loves seeing nature, she wants to live and play with nature, and she does not get that opportunity in School. So she hides.
These are some of the things we have learnt while exploring this process. Our whole day is composed of 4 components i.e. silence, dialogue, self- learning and reflection. Every day there is one to two hours of silence. In addition to this, if a child expresses that he/she wishes to remain silent for two days, after talking over about this we allow that. Normally, we don’t even believe that children can remain silent for two minutes but we explore these possibilities and when we give space and environment, this kind of possibilities arise. In our place, children spend even ten days in noble silence and sometimes they are incomplete silence for fifteen days. Once when a child was in silence for the past fifteen days, we realised she could remain silent for one month or possibly even six months. We gave a chit to her, where it was written that you can break your silence. She raised a question that if I break my silence, will it affect the process of the inner journey? If a child aged eight or nine years can remain in silence for fifteen days, we can foresee the possible future possibilities in that child.
Once a team was visiting us from Gujarat and they wanted to test and slowly shake up the children. They asked them many questions. One of them was, how much is one plus one. One child said it is equal to one. The visitor felt that this child has answered so many other questions, probably he has not understood this question and may have answered without curiosity. So he again asked the child as how much is one plus one. Again the Child answered - one. Even we were dazed as to how the Child is saying one plus one is equal to one. And on repeatedly being asked the child replied: “Uncle, if your heart and my heart would have come together, we could have become one, Isn’t it ?” Likewise, there are dozens of stories which explore possibilities in Children. When we create an open space, many different possibilities can arise for children as well as all human beings.
If someone asks me, madam, do you have a job, I say, there is no job but we have a lot of work which is to be done. There is a fundamental difference between a job and work. When we think of a job, there is no compassion, there is no love. To work with and live with children is very different and to define it as a job, is very difficult for us to digest. When we are working with children, we don’t do a job, we teach children.
What I have finally understood is that education means to learn to see, learn to listen carefully and learn to live in harmony. When we live in harmony, it is in itself complete education and to live in harmony we work on the basic process of seeing and listening. The area where we work is that if the child has complete listening and seeing abilities, then curiosity will develop inside the child. It will develop a learning mind. What I believe and agree is that the primary work of education is to prepare a learning mind in the child in his/her whole journey. And the qualities, the events, possibilities which come out are primarily the manifestation of one’s karma. They manifest at different levels. Some people go out and open a Seva Café, someone starts this kind of circles, someone in anonymity does the work of a server or a cobbler, these are all expressions of our inner self. Whoever has received kindness inside, will also express kindness outside. These are all expressions of humanity and when someone reaches a certain stage, he is bound to express kindness, mainly to explore life, to explore compassion, to explore love, irrespective of whether one sits quietly or not quietly, whether one is in struggle or is free of struggles, or even in happiness.
I am reminded of a couplet of Saint Kabir Dasji
"hoi kahe dukh, to karein sumiran mein SukhJo
na koi,kare mein sukh, karein sab sumiran mein Dukh“
(Meaning) when we are in pain or suffering, we remember God at all times. But when we are in happy and in comfort zone we get very complacent. We do not remember God (or the Source) . If we did remember God while we were in a happy state of mind, why would there be pain or suffering?
We think that now we are in a comfort zone so we do not need to remember...God, or our inner voice. It is only our interpretation that God is inside or outside of us. If we silently attend to and observe ourselves, a voluntary action will emerge from deep within us and that is the really main important thing. Thank you so much.
Q/A from the audience:
Question: There is a typical problem, what we see with the Children in cities, and also within all of us. It is that we are not able to keep ourselves away from Mobile phones. How do you control this at your place? Is it that you don’t give them mobile phones or are there any restrictions on its use. How do we keep children away from these habits.
Archana: This situation is not limited to the city, the villages are also in a similar situation. When the mobile and television has reached us, neither the villages nor cities are saved from that. The same kind of entertainment and information is available everywhere. We do not impose any restriction or prohibition of any kind on the children. We have a proper dialogue with Children. A dialogue about the use of a mobile phone. We make them see that dialogue through mobile is of a superficial base. We have a dialogue about what did you see and learn in mobile today. We also make children aware of the negative side of mobile. It is necessary and important that we have proper environment. This morning itself there were some questions related to how this can be done with children. (I would say) creating an environment with Children is very important., The problem with parents presently is that the Children are not ready to listen to them when they are not ready to listen even to the verbal dialogue, deep listening is a distant journey. The child who can feel the pain of a cow, who can feel the growth of a tree, who can feel the warmth of the Sun, for him the mobile phone is neither of much interest nor entertainment. He is not overly attracted to it.
At present, our group of thirty is in Rajasthan. We say we are thirty, but we also work with 20-30 govt schools. It is done on a different level to spread this whole concept. The local authorities sometimes request us to reach out to certain schools, do some work there. But our intense work is done with the 30-35 children of our group.
Removal of mobile phone is neither an option nor an alternative. But it is important that we talk about phones and create an environment which facilitates talking on this kind of difficult subject.
In cities like Baroda, it is difficult to talk about the inner process, inner journey etc. In the same way, it is difficult to discuss that Mobile phone is good or bad and whether it should be used or not used. That is not possible. Children see videos and entertainment on mobile. Through that, they can also see emotions within themselves and relate. We talk with children on these subjects. Primarily there has to be an environment for this kind of talk, so please create that environment.
Question: When these 30 Children go out, what is their curiosity? Don’t they feel they are getting lost? Do they ever feel inferiority complex?
Archana: No, never. Honestly speaking, our children feel pity when they see what other Children of their age learn, how other children live. There is a lot of compassion in our Children. We have never imposed anything even on a small child about anything. For example, you eat or don’t eat a particular thing and so on. We have self-learning sessions where we talk about any particular subject. It is in dialogue form and it’s all about their inner journey.
Sometimes children aged six, seven or eight sometimes come to me and say “Didi, we want to have a meeting with you”. I say yes, please speak. (I thought they must have heard the word ‘meeting’ from grown-up people. In our culture, we call it dialogue.) They said, “ We don’t eat junk food. Why and how does it come inside our kitchen?” I told them that if we don’t give this in the kitchen, you will eat it outside, you will eat it at your home. These children who stay with us go home once a year for a month. At that time, when these 6-7-8-year-olds get an opportunity or such an environment, they again start eating junk food. Their parents say that these children tell them that (in the centre) they don’t eat biscuits or salty food, they don’t drink tea. when we take these kids to places like Delhi and Mumbai, Before eating anything new, they ask whether it is junk food. In the same center, there are groups of slightly elder children from other places, who eat junk food, but our children say no to junk food because we have talked about it. They understand what they are doing and there is a regular discussion on this issue.
This way Inferiority complex does not enter the children. In fact, they feel pity when they see others as to what they are feeding themselves. The poison in the food they are eating, the thoughts they are entertaining, the shallow understanding which they have. If they see someone hurting or burning someone, they do not feel the need to be doing it themselves, as they have compassion in them. They know that in this whole system of education and society if we want to go ahead, we have to push someone behind. So they do not want to compete with anyone. The question they hold and want to explore is how can we all move forward in togetherness.
Question: You are using meditation and silence practices with the Children. Here these kind of attempts are happening, but alongside, in the neighbourhood, a lot of negativity is also being created. And there is a belief that Children prefer activity rather than sitting still. What do you think is the right age to start some practices (like meditation) with Children?
Archana: The word Meditation is used as a technique in the normal usage of the word these days. Grownups are told to see the light on top of their head or seeing the creator in the Cosmos and so on. This will not work with children. We tell children to listen to their thought process. When we do mediation with Children, we don’t even use the word meditation. I used it here because here it is a familiar word. We use words like listening and seeing. The nature is very rich where we live. We take the children to the river and ask them to sit quietly and listen to the sound of the river or a bird or music of the raindrops. Nowadays, Without our naming what to listen to, they listen and start creating images in their mind. And there is not much discussion about that. They can easily identify from the sound which bird is singing or which river is flowing by.
It is our endeavour that the child starts listening right from the time when it is in the mother’s womb. And mothers also listen. when the child is born and when the mother takes it in her lap, patting the child and singing songs, the child starts listening to that beat. The child starts experiencing the feel of the sounds. When the child starts understanding what it hears, it should be made to listen to nature, listen to birds chirping, the sound of the river, the sound of the wind, and feel all the sounds. An environment has to be created where the child feels deeply what goes around him...how does it feel when he walks, how does it feel to eats with all four fingers and so on. If an environment is not created the child will not listen. You may tell them to listen but they will not listen till they get the environment. You have to make sure that you also regularly sit with the child, listen and feel the same way as the child does. It should not be just for show, but actually genuinely feeling with them.
For children, there is no age limit for meditation, or listening, or seeing. A girl child had come to us, who was not even able to open her eyes fully. We used to sit with her for hours watching the waterfall. We shared many stories on the waterfall. That was our education process with the child. We are talking about those same children who are now able to sit in silence for 10-15 days without talking. People ask me that it is difficult for them to take care of 2 children and to make them sit quietly for two minutes. They wonder and ask me how do you take care of thirty Children and take them across the country. In response, I say that these Children are very good. We don’t have to take care of them. Instead, they take care of us. They ask, “Didi, have you had water? Are you feeling alright?” Yes, a six-year-old may not know how to buy train tickets, or how to sit on the plane or train when the child is travelling for the first time. All that is in our memory we act accordingly.
The flowering and the possibilities which emerge in each child is different and much higher than what is in us.