Ilori Educational After School Project Teacher Training
San Jose, Costa Rica
By Dr. Sid Jordan
A one-day training for eight teachers and administrators from the Ilori Educational Project was conducted on Saturday September 24th at the WWD-F (Women’s Wellbeing and Development Foundation) Center near the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica.
The Ilori Educational Project is for children from the most vulnerable urban areas who have fewer opportunities to access knowledge and experiences that contribute to their holistic development. The Ilori Educational Project offers opportunities for recreation, psycho-emotional support and academic reinforcement for a group of children in the low-income communities of La Carpio and San Juan de Dios. These children share and learn personal and social skills through their interaction in the weekly and monthly workshops organized by the foundation. In the weekly workshops, approximately sixty children take advantage of extracurricular support, healthy eating, and social and creative skill development.
Each month, the project organizes a special workshop attended by 150 children between the ages of 3 and 13 years of age. These workshops are geared to awaken an interest in art, learning, and cooperation. They provide unique experiences for the children, outside of their normal environment, usually in places they have never seen before.
The training entitled “Moving Together Towards Cooperative Community” was for teachers from the Illori Educational Project and was conducted by Ac. Vishvamitra from Asheville, NC, USA. The theme of the training was developed through the collaboration of teachers, administrators and the presenter. The principal questions raised by this group of collaborators, as foundational to developing a balance between the individual and collective needs of teachers in establishing a cooperative community, were:
- Does guidance come from within or without?
- Do we love and respect ourselves as much as we love and respect others?
The workshop began with a sing along with Latin songstress, Mecerdes Sosa that reflected the theme of the workshop – the love of self and others – framed in the local Spanish language. After a statement of the theme, each participant shared their role in the school and what they hoped to gain from the workshop. As an icebreaker the group then performed some “moving together” exercises that mirrored each other’s movements.
In the context of developing a cooperative community we then had an in-depth discussion of the questions everyone had raised concerning “where guidance comes from” and to what degree “we love and respect ourselves as much as we love and respect others”. The general consensus was that guidance comes from both within and without, but too often we allow ourselves to be ruled by guidance from without. Choosing a proper mentor or teacher was also considered important in developing mastery of any subject or skill. Our Neohumanist education places maximum emphasis on the development of the teacher at all levels in order to serve as a good model for students.
Regarding the degree of love and respect we have for ourselves, most participants admitted struggling with loving and caring for themselves as much as they strove to love and care for others. They felt dominated by “should” and wanting acceptance by others as well as lacking in self-acceptance or feeling they were not “enough” for the task and for others. They identified the background of dogma and earlier teachings that fostered guilt and shame. They realized any change in their attitude towards themselves would be determined by their own self-acceptance and affirmation from a community of people with like-minded values.
The task in the workshop was to now identify how to go about developing inner guidance and self-acceptance affirmed by a benevolent community. This personal work would then form the base for the teachers to create the balance with themselves, the students, parents and the larger community to whom the school relates.
Developing this individual and social balance was supported in the workshop by developing our practices of meditation and sharing personal stories. Understanding the biopsychology of cooperation further enhanced the moving together. The Biopsychology of Cooperation was part of a power-point presentation that is available for those interested in requesting a copy, from <firstname.lastname@example.org>. This PP covered the asanas, chakras and hormones that promote cooperative social behavior including oxytocin and endorphins. We shared the acknowledgment of P.R. Sarkar’s view that, “The spirit of the word Sama’ja (society) signifies a group of people who move together.”
The collective focus of the workshop was on how to strengthen the cooperation of teachers in the Ilori School among themselves and the larger Latin American community it serves that is made up of Nicaraguan immigrants and Costa Rican families. The wisdom of Shri P. R. Sarker states, “Society must ensure the maximum development of the collective body, collective mind and collective spirit. One must not forget that collective welfare lies in the individuals and the individual welfare lies in collectivity.”
The collective goal was to achieve a “competent community” that had the ability to respond to different needs and abilities of individuals and groups, that is, to use resources to solve problems of living. The teachers were confident that the school was placed in the middle of the community they served and the curriculum addressed the primary issues of developing more competent individuals and community. The individual goal in the workshop was strengthening the teacher’s emotional, social and spiritual practices to make them more competent individuals and teachers.
The first exercise to address their emotional relationships with one another was a visualization to recall an incident in which they had a misunderstanding with a fellow worker, student or parent. They were then asked to visualize, in the present tense, seeing the image (details of the environment, time of day, familiar sights sounds and smells etc.), feeling their bodily responses and acknowledging the meaning of their responses. They were then told to let go of the image and meditate on the mantra Baba Nam Kevalam for 3 minutes. After the meditation they were asked to recall the image and come back to the most intense part of the scene and see a “solution image” that was:
1. Spontaneous, 2. Plausible, and 3. Benevolent, for all involved. This may take some experimentation with the image (multi-sensory to accommodate different sensory abilities) to arrive at a solution image. Participants were encouraged to repeat the process as “practice” in achieving some degree of ability with “solution images”.
After a break participants paired up, faced each other and sang a kiirtan tune with the mantra, Baba Nam Kevalam with their hands on their heart and the ideation of “love is all there is”. They were then asked, while singing kiirtan, to send the ideation of unconditional love to themselves for two minutes. Secondly they were asked to take turns sending and receiving the ideation of unconditional love for two minutes to one another while continuing to sing kiirtan. The results were shared in the larger group.
A Heart Meditation to deepen their love of self and others simultaneously was then performed. They were asked to see themselves in a dark room before dawn sitting in meditation and meditating on their heart. They were asked to meditate on what, in their heart, they most loved that served themselves and others well (2 to 3 minutes). As they meditate on this love it lights a flame in their heart that lights up the room. They imagine getting up and crossing the room lit by the flame in their heart, opening the door and entering a long dark hall partially lit by the flame in their heart. They go down the hall and find a door at the other end lit by the flame in their heart. They open the door and find a descending stairwell lit by the flame in their heart. They descend this stairwell and at the bottom come to a mouth of a cave lit by the flame in their heart. On the floor of the cave they see a letter addressed to them in their own handwriting. This is a letter from their heart. Pick up the letter, open it and read it (1 minute). Now slowly open your eyes and write down this letter on the paper in front of you (2-3 minutes or until completion). Now place the letter in the envelope provided and be prepared to have it delivered within a few days. The group was then given a chance to process this exercise, sharing what they were comfortable sharing and how the heart meditation helped them. There was some discussion of the theme of “how well can we identify what we love the most and express this love as a benevolent heartfelt love of ourselves and others”. We ended the morning with five minutes of kiirtan and a brief meditation. This exercise is a variation of Andrew Harvey’s meditation on “what in the world breaks your heart the most” to stimulate “spiritual activism”.
After a delicious collective meal prepared by Didi Ananda Usa, who participated in the workshop, we performed a “collective art” exercise that reflected the experience in the day-long workshop, “Moving Together”. This involved collectively creating a mural, sharing the story reflected in the individual contributions of art and then creating a collective story interpreted by individual participants. Following this exercise we had a brief closing in which participants shared that they had truly felt a greater sense of balance of love for themselves and others. One participant commented on how profoundly she was affected by sending the message of unconditional love to herself while singing kiirtan. It was concluded that we have so much more capacity to “move together” when we take better care of ourselves.