Centering practices aim to strengthen our learning community by inviting spirit and sacredness into each space and each day. At RCS, we see this daily practice as a meaningful ritual that is integral to a child’s healthy spiritual development.
We also host school-wide, annual celebrations and ceremonies that are also rooted in the sacred and serve to deepen the connections we have to ourselves, our community and a higher power. These shared celebrations, ceremonies and rites of passage empower all involved to turn both inward and outward so as to realize their part in an integral community and their connection to something greater than themselves.
The annual winter program is one of those sacred ceremonies. During this time, the staff and students celebrate the true meaning of the holidays by sharing original songs that embrace the human values that unite us. Each year the theme of the program is inspired by one of the universally held virtues and serves as a guide for the students as they collaborate with Sue Ford, our music director, to draft lyrics for each performance.
For example, a few years ago the theme was LOVE. The students were asked to ponder the power of love and the many ways to give and receive love. This reflection yielded various interpretations and heart-felt lyrics rooted in “Love.” Follow the link below to hear one of the many songs from the love feast.
The following year, the theme “Unity through Music” invited the students to create songs in cultural styles from around the world as a way of honoring our connection to local and global communities. Follow the link below to experience the 2nd grade song, “One Human Family.”
This year, Sue Ford has invited students on a sacred circle journey. The circle is a symbol of wholeness. Sacred Circles, Medicine Wheels, Mandalas, Hoops and Rings are found all over the world in history, art, architecture and ceremony. Carl Jung says, “I saw that everything, all paths I had been following, all steps I had taken, were leading back to a single point — namely, to the mid-point. It became increasingly plain to me that the mandala is the center. It is the exponent of all paths. … I knew that in finding the mandala as an expression of the self I had attained what was for me the ultimate.”
This year the theme “Journey Through the Sacred Circle” is an exploration of how we as individuals and as communities relate to the seven directions and elements within the circle. We begin with our Roots (Below), ascending into Fire and Air, grounding with the Earth, flowing with the Water, floating into the infinity of Space (Above) and finally back home in the center, Spirit. The songs in this journey are original collaborations between students, Sue Ford our music teacher and many of the RCS teachers.
I am sure many of you have experienced the joy and celebration that comes with holiday programs. At each RCS winter program, these feelings are echoed and then bolstered by the invitation of spirit, the emphasis on the sacred and the purposeful connection present at these programs.
As you enter into each holiday season and embark on learning adventures with your students, memory making with your family, and connections with your friends and acquaintances… I ask you to consider the ways that you can invite the true spirit of the holidays along on your journey?
Rainbow’s centering curriculum aims to support the spiritual identity development of each learner through various contemplative, mindfulness and meditative practices. It also serves to cultivate a strong class coherence and foster a collective wisdom through team-building initiatives and collaborative learning opportunities.
Omega Middle School students often take on the incredible responsibility of leading a centering for their peers. The student chooses a quote that resonates with them, shares it, asks for reflections, and then facilitates an extension activity. In a recent Omega Middle School centering, class coherence was nurtured through a team-building initiative rooted in the wise words of the poet Rumi. Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, was a Sufi mystic and an Islamic dervish, and is often regarded as a spiritual master and one of the world’s most popular poets. Interestingly, Rainbow founders, in addition to being innovative educators, were also spiritual Sufis with strong beliefs in universal peace and acceptance of all spiritual traditions. To that end, Rainbow’s 40-year lineage of spiritual curriculum is founded in Sufi mysticism, an arm of the Muslim faith in which the practitioners believe that a personal experience with a higher power can be achieved through mindfulness and meditation.
The Rumi quote below served as inspiration for this particular centering:
We can all acknowledge that judgments of right or wrong permeate our society and that societal pressures often yield citizens motivated by competition, achievement, success, winning and losing. Even the mission statement of the U.S. Department of Education emphasizes these. It states, “Our mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”
All of us, I am sure, acknowledge the importance of setting and achieving goals. But do we always ask ourselves who or what loses if we win, or does my success come at the expense of who or what? As parents, educators and mentors, we absolutely want our children to experience goal setting, success and personal growth; but do we do everything we can to teach them to consider the bigger picture by reflecting in this way? Team building, if scaffolded properly has the power to do just that.
Rainbow recognizes the positive impacts that team building experiences have on classroom culture and morale and also on the development of the whole child. Team building is about working together to achieve a shared goal– one in which everyone succeeds. Team-building initiatives encourage perspective taking, empathy and trust. Team building is about connection.
Team building anchored in spirituality or inspired by contemplation asks each person to turn inward first so that they can show up outwardly in a positive way. What if, before we launched a team-building initiative or worked towards any common goal, we were reminded of the things that bind us? What if we were reminded of the greater good?
The Omegans spent some time reflecting on the quote. Then the group was tasked to cross a field, arms joined and with their feet touching their neighbors (a symbolic bond). The collective goal was to stay connected throughout the entire journey.
Ultimately, they were asked to enter Rumi’s field of consciousness and to move beyond right and wrong, success and failure, and to focus on what is truly important– the things that bind each of them.
The centering rituals, although all rooted in mindfulness and in sacred spirit, vary from Rainbow classroom to Rainbow classroom. For example, the middle school, known as Omega, opens each centering with a reflection on a quote, a lyric, or a blessing. As centering opens, the students turn inward by recording the quote, which is displayed on a whiteboard, in their centering journals and connect with it through silent reflection.
This daily “food for thought,” sets a reverent tone, encourages contemplative thinking, nourishes class coherence while reminding us that learning is scared. A volunteer is asked to recite the quote and then the facilitator fishes for any reflections, questions, insight or comments. Students are encouraged to offer their own wisdom, tweeze out meaning, make connections, share personal stories, and/or give an emotional reaction to the quote.
On one particular morning, Freddie, an eighth grade student lead a centering inspired by the words of spiritual teacher, Eckhardt Tolle,
“Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.”
Freddie paused after the quote and waited for responses. One student offered, “that we are often caught up in our past memories and mistakes or are thinking about what will happen next, that we dont realize the important things that are happening right in front of us.” Another student responded with “the past is full of memories, the future of hopes or dreams and the present- the present is where the two collide. It is important to savor that.”
Interacting with students in this way, keeps me in constant awe of the wisdom that is alive within them. What if every child had the opportunity to be contemplative, like this, each day? How would their inner potential and their inner wisdom reveal itself?
After a round of sharing, Freddie attempted to put the quote’s wisdom into practice. He asked that we each find a comfortable position somewhere in the classroom, close our eyes, and begin to focus on our breath. He began to ring a bell and noted that the bell would serve to anchor the breath. He said that if our thoughts wandered or drifted, each time he rang it, it would remind us to come back to our breath and to the present moment.The students seemed to relax into the meditation with ease and Freddie held space for this practice for about five minutes. Each individual student emerged from the practice relaxed, calm and focused and the group’s energy seemed more bonded or in a higher state of flow.
Overall, I feel that the mediation succeeded in supporting the transition from home to school, supporting class coherence and in opening up additional pathways to learning.
Meditation is one crucial tool that our children access…it allows them to focus on their breath, their bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase. In today’s fast paced society, it has become increasingly challenging to direct attention or efforts to a single point of reference or action. Alarms, meetings, deadlines, chores, commitments and to do lists can make it hard to embrace a mindfulness practice, a mediation or any deep relfection. A mediative practice, like the one described above has the power to turn attention away from distracting thoughts, past memories, mistakes or regrets, or future obligations and into the present moment. It is not only empowering but powerful.
What if alarms were used to remind us to be present, to pause, to notice- instead of to wake us up or get us somewhere on time? What if our to do lists became to be lists? What if every child was equipped with these tools and resources? What if…
The words of American spiritual teacher and author Ram Dass encourage us to live FULLY, in the present moment, without judgement. How do you achieve this? What practices do you embrace?
“Be Here Now” for example, calls on mindfulness practice. “The quieter you become, the more you can hear” invites stillness. “The heart surrenders everything to the moment. The mind judges and holds back” summons your love.
As individuals on our own unique spiritual journeys, we are always looking for inspiration that may guide our inner work. Ram Dass’s wisdom offers insight and intention that may aid in cultivating a heightened self-awareness. We know that an elevated self-awareness has the capacity to lead to meaningful and enduring relationships.
RCS is founded on meaningful relationships.
The relationship between the teacher and the learner is the heart of education and a parent is a child’s first teacher. Rainbow honors that and strives to communicate with parents compassionately and empathetically, learn from the parent, see the child from through many lenses, support the child holistically and bridge home life and school life. One of the many ways these relationships are nurtured is through meaningful and intentional conferencing. Rainbow sets aside a conference time in early September called Listening Conference. During this conference the faculty calls upon self awareness by practicing the skills of deep listening.
Deep Listening is a way of hearing in which we are fully present in the moment without judgement or control. Deep listening asks us to let go of our inner dialogue, pre-formed opinions and assumptions, challenges us to abstain from crafting a response and simply listen in a mindful and respectful way to what is be shared. This is a time to be attentive not reactive, to listening actively not passively, to embrace compassion and empathy, AND to bring a great self-awareness to the act of listening.
To do this effectively requires that our mind takes a backseat to our heart.
Each conference embraces these powerful questions: Can we develop a practice of listening that allows another person to find their next step? Can we become the birthplace of understanding for someone else? Can we learn to carry in our hearts the destinies of others?
Each conference opens with a sacred ritual. Teachers may light a candle, read a reflective quote, hold space for silence, lead a guided mediation and/or offer a prompt with the purpose of inviting the child’s spirit to the conversation.
How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work? What if we practiced deep and mindful listening in our everyday lives, what if we always invited spirit in to the conversation?
Fall is here and fall break has likely come and gone for many of us. This season often brings a lot of transition for our students. These transitions are embedded in the rhythms of the natural world, the energy around celebrations and holidays, and within the refection and personal goal setting that emerges from the start of each school year.
With this in mind, I invite you to stop for a moment and imagine the experience of a child as he transitions from home to school after just one night, a weekend, or a long holiday.
Maybe you imagined the hustle and bustle as he arrvied- the classroom filled with stories, sharing, reconnection and laughter. Or maybe you imagined the groggy, sleepy child, dragging his feet and resisting the weekday routine. Or even the child emerging from a car ride full of screen time. Maybe you witnessed a child arriving hungry without a proper dinner and/or breakfast. Or a child who is sleep deprived due to long working hours from the previous. Or even a child who is managing some sort of trauma in his life. Regardless, the classroom you imagined was likely flooded with 20+ learners holding varying levels of energy, focus, fuel, and general centeredness. As educators, we recognize the importance of holding space for all those varying energies but for also fostering a culture of centeredness so that all pathways to learning are open.
How do we actively support this transition from home to school each day?
How do we invite a level of awareness or mindfulness for our learners?
How do we foster a sacred intention for learning?
At Rainbow we achieve this through a morning ritual called centering. Ritual is simply defined as a ceremonial act. To that end, our centering practices are ceremonial in nature. During these practices, simple routines are turned into rituals through tone, intention and mindfulness.
First, the hustle and bustle of the morning is calmed and quieted with the ring of a chime or bell. It is amazing how a soft sound can silence a room and even more amazing how silence can invite sacredness into a space. This sound is a reminder to the students that they are about to engage in a sacred ceremony.
Secondly, pausing to take deep breaths together shifts each person’s individual energy into a collective synergy. Then, lighting a candle in silence invites something powerful and even magical into the classroom. This fire also serves as an anchor point for which learners can choose to cast their gaze when reflecting or meditating. Additionally, sending a greeting around the circle or turning to greet a neighbor not only allows each individual to be seen and to be witnessed, but it invites compassion, empathy and mutual respect. Speaking a verse, blessing or word into the circle also supports coherence and connectedness among all class mates. It serves as another reminder that we are on this learning journey together.
These rituals not only help to support the home to school transition, focus each learner, nourish class coherence and synergy, but they remind us that learning is scared.
Rainbow utilizes ritual in other transformative ways; meal blessings, honoring and memorializing people, animals & places, expressions of gratitude and appreciation, blessing ways and other birth and death transitions, rites of passage, communal celebrations all become ceremonial acts.
How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work?
Can you replace a daily routine with a ritual by adding a mindful presence to it or by enhancing it with ceremony?
Try creating ritual for your classroom, organization and/or home?
Here is a brief list of simple rituals:
A gratitude exercise, a silent nature walk, quote reflection, a daily song/ verse or blessing, a visualization, read a daily story with a virtue/ moral, draw and/or color a mandala, borrow/adapt a ritual from a particular culture/religion, create nature art, give affirmations to friends and family members, practice mudras, yoga, qigong, or a martial art, and daily journaling.