Blending the Sacred and the Science: Communing with the natural world

Blending the Sacred and the Science: Communing with the natural world

On April 22, 2017 billions of people worldwide will commune with the Earth through a variety of celebratory activities honoring Earth Day! Earth Day, started in 1970 is the largest secular holiday- celebrated by more 193 countries. Although observed to provoke environmental awareness, action and policy changes, RCS sees Earth Day as an opportunity to pay respect to the sacred bond between nature and humanity.

Earth Day is everyday at RCS! The natural world serves as an important teacher in the lives of all our students. This connection is emphasized in our mission to “develop accomplished, confident, and creative learners who are prepared to be compassionate leaders in building a socially just, spiritually connected, and environmentally sustainable world” and serves as one of our 12  guiding principles “through understanding nature we understand ourselves therefore the learning environment extends into the natural world, the greater community. A relationship with Nature yields stewardship.” 

The natural domain is also one of the Seven RCS Learning Domains that shapes our holistic model. Growth and development in the natural domain is nurtured through various learning experiences that become part of daily routines and rituals. Please see the table below for the learning goals and descriptors.

 

We also strive to nurture deep nature-student relationships through various nature based centering practices that emphasize this spiritual learning goal:

Communion with the natural world: Understanding our interconnection with the natural world. Cultivating a reverence for Life. The Natural World serves as our teacher and guide as we explore our inner selves. 

Additionally, RCS’s mascot happens to be The Rainbow Warrior. The legend of the Rainbow Warrior names the warrior as a protector of Mother Earth. In this legend, there will come a day when people of all races, colors, and creeds will put aside their differences  and will band together- unified. Like the colors of the rainbow, they will move over the Earth like a great Whirling Rainbow, bringing peace, understanding and healing everywhere they go. Creatures thought to be extinct or mythical will resurface at this time. Great trees that perished will return almost overnight. All living things will flourish. If you wish to read more about why we chose the Rainbow Warrior as our mascot and the legend in full please click here.

Everyday at RCS is Earth day. This incredible reverence and respect for the natural world permeates our curriculum and our culture. We all have a stake in caring for this Earth – is some cases it is a religious value, in others a moral responsibility or a matter of equity. The RCS holistic model specifically emphasizes nurturing environmental stewards that have a intimate, empathic and sacred connection with the Earth. It is through this empathy and connection from which they solve environmental problems. Additionally, by cultivating a sense of the divine or sacred in nature than it has the power to become a life-long spiritual teacher.

Birthday Celebrations: Honoring Our Journey Around the Sun

Birthday Celebrations: Honoring Our Journey Around the Sun

When planning daily centerings Rainbow Community School (RCS) teachers strive to align the lessons, practices or activities with one of RCS’s spiritual, social and/or emotional learning goals. One of the longest standing spiritual learning goals (see below) recognizes celebration, tradition and ritual as sacred acts- acts that offer our students links to other cultures, ancestors and the past while laying a foundation for their future.

Class and Community Celebration and Ritual: Shared celebrations, ceremonies and rites of passage that empower students to be a part of an integral community

These shared celebrations, ceremonies and rites of passage are held as sacred and in some cases magical. They are symbolic and are infused with great care and reverence. Some specific milestones include Move Up Day, The Rose Ceremony, Mysteries Council, Graduation, school wide monthly gatherings that align with seasonal celebrations and Birthday Celebrations.

Recently I was invited into the 1st grade classroom to participate in a centering honoring a birthday. Our students experience at least once collective centering each school day, but for one very special centering each year, it becomes extremely personalized- The Birthday Celebration. As we know, a birthday is such a special and exciting event in a young person’s life, this special day holds a different, personal meaning than do other holidays or celebrations. Birthdays are celebrated for various reasons, from honoring or reflecting on personal growth, to acknowledging new opportunity, to encouraging fellowship. We may associate cake, ice cream, presents, parties with them but at Rainbow this personal milestone is meant to invoke a sense of the sacred- The child is cerebrated as a uniquely spiritual being.

Rachel, the lead teacher opened the centering circle by lighting the candle for “Judah and his new trip around the sun.” She first asked the kids to bring awarenss to their bodies by “finding a space that was grounding for them.” She then help to guide them in three deep breaths by ringing a chime between each breath. As the kids engaged in these typical centering rituals, the energy of the room settled into a more mindful state. 

Rachel continued,…”We have all been part of Judah’s life for many days…many of us met Judah the first day of this school year, others have known Judah for many years now. We are also blessed to have two people in the circle that have known him for his entire life and we welcome Judah’s parents. Regardless of how long we have known him, we have all come to love and appreciate him and would like to honor him with appreciations.”

At this point Rachel asked the kids to warm their hands by rubbing them together and then invited them to cover their eyes so that they can fully picture Judah’s face and invite a sincere appreciation to the front of their minds. As the appreciation circle began, she reminded them that “when we speak from the heart, we point our hearts at the person we are speaking to.” The appreciations, as well as smiles and even happy tears began to flood into the room. Judah’s parents were also invited to tell Judah’s birth story and to share pictures and memories through the years. 

Rachel has, for years, been carrying on a 1st grade tradition of a birthday bead necklace. At his time, she asked the children to choose a bead from the basket and to think about a wish they have for Judah as he embarks on this next journey around the sun and let the bead represent a wish they have for him during this next trip. Each student strung his/her bead onto the necklace and named the wish. As a closure, Rachel reminded Judah that he was loved by his 1st grade family and if there were every a time that he needed to be reminded of the love that surrounded him to wear the necklace so that his heart could be filled.

What does Centering look like at RCS?

What does Centering look like at RCS?

There are certain stand out elements of the Rainbow Seven Domains Learning Model that have huge impacts on the culture of the school, the daily centering practice is one. This morning ritual serves to awaken the spiritual center of each child, opening pathways to learning. This whole class activity than has an opening and closing ritual with an activity in the middle. The activity can include mindfulness, but also extends into other aspects of contemplative and spiritual learning with experiences that can integrate with the academic curriculum, social/emotional learning, creativity, kinesthetics, and students’ connection to the natural world. The learning targets for each centering are inspired by info the learning goals found by clicking the button below.

As a centering begins, the classroom is filled with ritual and reverence. These rituals vary from classroom to classroom but the essence of centering is such that the students gather in a circle on a rug, the space is set with intention, the lights are dimmed, a chime or bell invites silence, reverence fills the room, a pause is taken for audible breath work, the invitation of fire through candlelight is summoned- this begins the sacred work of the day.

What makes something sacred: A 4th grade centering

What makes something sacred: A 4th grade centering

I am sure you have actions or behaviors in your day that you could categorize or label as habitual. Consider one or more of those for a moment. For example, brushing your teeth, or filling the tea kettle, putting food in the dog bowl before you are off to work, etc… Do you consider these as sacred HABITS. I am going to assume that you don’t likely bring intentioned awareness or a mindful presence to these on a daily basis. Or that you don’t pause to give reverence to those actions. I wonder what would transpire if you did?

When something becomes habit it has the tendency to lose its power, its meaning, and its impact. As you may know from previous centering reflections- ritual, rites and ceremony are embedded into RCS’s curriculum and culture in various forms. These show up in class meetings, centering practices, celebrations, and everyday when the kids unite in a food blessing.

Recently I joined grade 4 for a two-part centering in which the teacher introduced the word “invocation.” Invocation is a sentence, poem or prayer that calls our attention from the ordinary into the sacred.

Many RCS classrooms invite the sacred into the classroom through morning verses, songs, and regular recitations. However, blessings are one invocation that serve as a sacred ritual in every classroom. They happen each day before snack and before lunch. The blessing leader chooses from the blessing wall or list and then leads his/her classmates. Often they are followed by a minute of food honoring silence.

The introduction of the word invocation opened the floor for a discussion guided by these questions … “What makes something sacred or special and why do we pause for a blessing?”

The discussion led into an extension activity in which the kids shared their own family blessings and brainstormed general elements or characteristics that make up a blessing. This brainstorm then led to some personal journaling in which the students were asked to draft an original blessing to be added to the list of blessings. This was the teacher’s way of bringing the power back to something that had lost its spark while also empowering the students to take ownership over daily rituals.

Something done everyday can become habit if we make an effort to revisit what meaning it has. It we don’t pause or bring some intentionality back into it. This is like adding water to thirsty and drooping plant- it brings the life, the enthusiasm, the perk back into it.

How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work? Consider these questions.

What in your life needs to be watered?
What rituals have become habit?
How can you breathe life back into them?

A reflection on friendship: A middle school centering

A reflection on friendship: A middle school centering

For many of the 8th grade Omega students, centering has been part of their educational experience for 9 years. This means that they have experienced approximately 1,500 centering practices during their time at RCS.

When Omegans begin their 7th grade year, a new ritual is invited into the centering practice. Words of wisdom, a quote, a lyric, or an invocation serve as the seed out of which the Centering lesson is born. These wise words are displayed on a white board and the Omega students are asked to connect to them in a deeper way by recording and reflecting on them in centering journals. A volunteer is asked to recite the quote and then at this time the teacher fishes for any student reflections, questions, insight or comments. Students are encouraged to offer their own wisdom, tweeze out meaning, making connections, share a personal story, give an emotional reaction and/or new perspective to the quote- ultimately this is how they breath even more life into the words.

On a Tuesday morning in January, the quote of the day came from none other than Winnie the Pooh. His wise words offered the students a chance to reflect on their fortunate friendships as true gifts- not to be overlooked or undervalued. Winne the Pooh says, “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” One student reflected that “there are so many people that don’t realize how lucky they are…” “another mentioned that you don’t know you love something until it is gone” even still another noted that she recognized there have been many times in her life where she only saw the true gifts of something once it was gone. The teacher leading the centering shared a personal story which helped to create a safe and vulnerable place for the rest of the kids. At this time they were guided by several prompting questions and asked to think, pair, and share among their peers. Some of the prompts included: What qualities do you look for in friend? What are a few of your own qualities that make you a good  friend? The room came alive with exchanges. The kids listened to one another with a mutual respect and spoke from the heart.

This culture of deep reflection, critical thinking and empathy didn’t develop overnight. The culture of uncovering personal truths and speaking them with confidence emerged from years of exposure to centering and contemplative practices, it was born out of the safe space the teachers worked so hard to foster, it evolved out of the deep relationships that guide all the work of a holistic education.

How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work? Consider these questions.

How do you invite deep reflection into your life?

How do you access your inner wisdom and how do you create a sacred space for this?

How may you adapt this centering practice or one like it so that it may be used in your life?

Anonymous gratitude centering: A morning with 5th grade

Anonymous gratitude centering: A morning with 5th grade

As you may know there are many scientifically proven benefits of cultivating, recognizing and acknowledging gratitude in your life. Many studies suggest practicing gratitude can make you healthier and happier. Some benefits include, improved relationships, enhanced empathy, healthy physical and psychological health, and improved self esteem. Many curricular elements at RCS are designed with these proven benefits in mind. For example, practicing gratitude and appreciation shows up almost daily in many classroom closing appreciation circles as well as weekly class meetings.

Appreciating others is an act of kindness that brings joy to the giver and the receiver. But how often do you have the opportunity to offer anonymous appreciations?  Recently, I was able to experience a creative centering practice aimed at doing just this.

After the 5th graders settled into their centering rituals, their attention was directed to the word and definition of ap.pre.ci.a.tion : A feeling or expression of admiration, approval, or gratitude. A favorable critical judgement. A sensitive awareness. To increase in value. This prompted a discussion about recognizing ways we appreciate others, the gifts that others bring to our lives each day and making a concerted effort to appreciate them. The teacher then prompted the students to consider the value of giving an appreciation anonymously. She explained an activity that would award each student the opportunity to recognize the gifts of his/her classmates and to appreciate them anonymously.

The students were placed into 3 groups- A, B, C. Group A started out as the appreciation givers while B and C were the receivers. Group B and C as the receivers were asked to find a comfortable position on the carpet, one in which their eyes were shielded- child’s pose was suggested. Group A then listened for an appreciation prompt from the teacher such as “Tap someone who you appreciate for their listening skills” and then migrate around touching the backs of those classmates that embody that gift.” A rotation was established so that all groups were givers and receivers.

In true RCS style, the prompts emphasized all learning domains. Some of the prompted included, “Tap someone that you appreciate for their charismatic spirit. Tap someone that you appreciate for their athletic ability. Tap someone that you appreciate for their problem-solving skills. Tap someone you appreciate for their energetic presence. Tap someone that you appreciate for their love of nature. Tap someone that you appreciate for their strength in the face of adversity.”

Additionally, each round of appreciation offered a different focus. For example, the second round for each group focused on appreciating someone who taught you a lesson, someone who had something unfair happen to them but you appreciated how they handled it and then someone who may have been in the wrong but you appreciated the way they resolved the situation and how they grew from it.

When this unique appreciation circle began, respect and reverence showed up in a stronger way- spirit as we call it entered the room. For example, the room seemed still… other than the shuffling of migrating feet, the teacher prompts and the soothing accompanying music. I felt a strong sense of love radiating from the students, the kids seemed eager to both give and receive and they seemed to connect deeply with one another. Once the rounds were complete, the music was turned off and the kids were asked to rejoin the circle…the kids emerged from child’s pose with smiles on their faces. The short reaction round also offered only positive reactions. They were asked how they felt receiving appreciations, how it felt not knowing who gave them and how it felt making time to give them…

How can what we do at RCS inspire your own personal or professional work? Consider these questions.

How does gratitude show up in your life? What do you/don’t you do to make time for it?

Take notice- the next time someone appreciates you, how does it make you feel physically and emotionally?

Challenge- appreciate a complete stranger. A minute of your time could change their entire day.