Blogs by Bahais

A compilation


Leave a comment

Growing Hope

Another beautiful blog from Dan, on his experiences teaching children’s classes. First posted September 8th 2013.

For more visit his blog Baha’i children’s Classes

football timeMany of the children in our neighbourhood class come from families who fled conflict in Myanmar (Burma) many years ago, having spent several years of their young lives in refugee camps before arriving in Canada. We tend to forget this sometimes when we teach the class, until they bring out the football with the UNHCR logo and start kicking it around—a symbol of a troubled past that echoes into the present.

That’s why I was shocked the very first time we offered a class on kindness, and heard one of the older children—one who only occasionally attended the class—say that he could never be kind to a Burmese. Why not, I asked? “Because they killed my family,” he replied. He had seen loved ones shot and killed before his eyes. How could he treat their killers with kindness? As I fell into a speechless silence, trying to find a way to respond, it seemed like the entire lesson fell apart in my mind. From my comfortable, sheltered vantage point as one who had never known war, loss and destitution, I had never considered how to respond to the needs of children who had endured that kind of suffering.

Many of our children, thankfully, are too young to have witnessed much of this violence themselves; they were born in the camps, after their families had already fled the conflict. But all of them have older siblings and cousins, some of whom were approaching the age of junior youth. At one point, as we were meeting together to reflect upon the neighbourhood’s progress, it became obvious to us that we should try to engage them by inviting them to form a junior youth empowerment group.

Now, usually we would start a new group with the book Breezes of  confirmation, because its content is most appropriate as an introduction to the program—a lower reading level, and simpler exercises that serve as a stepping stone to more complex ones in further books. But knowing the families we were involved with, and hoping to find ways to address what we saw as an important issue in their lives, we decided to experiment with another book, entitled Glimmerings of Hope.

In Glimmerings of Hope, we read about the story of Kibomi, a young boy who believes he can make a difference. Kibomi lives in a country full of strife, and one day, his parents are killed in front of his eyes by soldiers of another tribe. He runs for his life, and along the way, as he struggles to come to terms with the horrors he has just seen, he meets many people: a terrified child of his own tribe who has been driven to join a rebel army; children of the other tribe whose parents have also been killed; an old man of the other tribe who shows him kindness instead of hatred, sharing his food and shelter with him; and so on. The people he meets help him to see he has a choice: either to sink into despair, rage, violence and revenge, or to turn his suffering into fuel that will help him change the lives of those around him for the better. Doing the latter takes strength of character that he’s not sure he has, but as he meets more and more people who are working hard to build bonds of loving-kindness and unity between the warring tribes, he realizes that he can draw on their strength to build up his own. Eventually his feelings of fear and despair fade away, and he makes his choice—to work actively towards the betterment of the world.

After a few false starts, we ended up getting a group going with two sisters. As they began studying the book, it was clear that they could relate to the content. We asked them: What would you do if a Burmese came through the door right now? “Tell him to get out,” they exclaimed. “Yell at him, saying, ‘Why did you kill my family?’” But as they progressed further through the book in the following months, it was apparent that their attitudes were beginning to change. As their study of the book ended, we asked them the same question—and their answers had completely reversed. “I’d welcome him in, offer him something to drink, and make him feel comfortable,” they said. “I’d say, ‘I know you didn’t kill my family, what happened wasn’t your fault.’”

living together in harmonyEven in our children’s class, we manage to address the subject when it comes up, although in simpler terms. The children do seem to understand when we explain that we have a choice to treat people kindly or unkindly, and that there are consequences to either choice. When we treat others unkindly, they’re more likely to treat us unkindly, and vice-versa. The lessons in Set 4 of Ruhi Book 3′s Grade 2 curriculum, on the topic of living together in harmony and unity, were especially good for addressing this issue. It’s not always easy to tell if they’re really getting it, but their parents have told us that they’ve seen a definite improvement in their behaviour over the past year. One of the fathers said that he noticed his son was getting into fewer fights, and working things out using words instead—a sign that something’s working for sure.

As teachers of Bahá’í children’s classes and animators of junior youth groups, we’re engaged in an educational process that spans entire lifetimes. The time we have with these young people is short, but more often than not, it’s enough to make a big difference in their lives. Will these short years remove the trauma of losing loved ones, or erase the memories of violence and conflict? Not likely. All we can really do is offer tools that will help young souls to deal with their reality, and to regain hope and trust. As we do, we forge bonds of friendship with them and their families, getting to know them closely, like members of our own family. We learn from them, coming to understand who they are, what they’ve been through, how to serve them better, and how to help them arise in turn to serve others.

 This blog first appeared on Baha’i Children’s Classes and is kindlly reprinted here by permission.

(c) Dan Jones

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Virtues project workshop

A big welcome to dedicated blogger Dan Jones, a Baha’i from Ottowa, who has been sharing  resources and reflections for Baha’i children’s classes for many years.  I came across his blog when I was first teaching classes in a country area and was geographically isolated from other Baha’i teachers.  His dedication to his blog and his classes is inspirational.  What makes them special is their reflection on the process and constant striving for excellence and empowerment for all involved.

Thanks so much Dan for permission to reblog some of your blogs.  A great one for teachers looking for some extra inspiration no matter where they live.

You can read this  and more on Dan’s excellent blog  Baha’i Children’s Classes

to give and be generousThis past weekend, a bunch of us had the chance to attend a workshop on The Virtues Project. If you haven’t heard of them, they give seminars/courses and produce materials that promote virtues—spiritual values that are independent of any particular religious tradition—in all walks of life. The organizers of a local Bahá’í summer camp arranged the workshop for their camp counsellors, but opened it to the wider community too, so there was a nice mix of all kinds of people in attendance, including plenty of children’s class teachers. I took a few notes from the presentation and thought I’d present them here in point form.

Why are virtues important?

  • Virtues are the building blocks of the spirit. We are at our happiest when we are developing our virtues. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said: “Man is, in reality, a spiritual being, and only when he lives in the spirit is he truly happy.” (Paris Talks, p.72)
  • When we cultivate virtues in ourselves, we’re not the only ones who benefit. To paraphrase the Chinese philosopher Lao Tse, cultivating virtue in ourselves has an effect on our families, our villages, our nations, and the world. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá declared: “Until the moral degree of the nations is advanced and human virtues attain a lofty level, happiness for mankind is impossible.”

How can we help encourage the development of virtues?

How do we speak the language of virtues?

  • When speaking the language of virtues with someone, we avoid: shaming (“Why can’t you be like so-and-so?”), nagging (“Goofing off again? I told you to stop!”), rescuing (…them from their problems), advising (giving advice on what they should do) and labelling. Instead, we: acknowledge (“That was very kind of you to offer her your seat.”), correct (“What will help you be patient until story time is done?”), and guide or instruct (“I need your help to prepare the room for class.”).
  • When we use the language of virtues, we also refrain from complimenting (“You’re so honest!”), choosing to acknowledge virtues instead (“What you just did was very honest!”). The reasoning is that we all have honest moments and not-so-honest moments; no one shows a virtue 100% of the time. Compliments can sound hollow and create guilt (“If only you knew about that time I lied to Mrs. So-and-so…”), but giving a virtue acknowledgement helps others to identify which actions are virtuous and encourages them to develop the virtue in question.

What does the language of virtues look like?

  • The grammar of the language of virtues looks like this:

Opening phrase • virtue • situation.

  • Acknowledgement might look like this:

It was • thoughtful • of you to bring cookies for the rest of the class.

Thank you for your • cooperation • in helping to clear the table.

  • Correction and instruction might look like this:

Remember, we show • respect • and stay silent when someone is speaking.

I’m going to ask for your • self-discipline • as we enter the museum.

Although the workshop was a little too short to fully cover all the material (usually they’re a few days long instead of just an afternoon), It was very thought-provoking. As we went through it, I kept thinking of situations in which I could have used a virtues focus to help address problematic behaviour in our children’s class—or even just encourage the children better by pointing out a particular virtue they’re showing.

Since our duty as children’s class teachers is to mine the gems of virtue from the children’s souls and help mankind to benefit therefrom, it makes sense that we should pay special attention to virtues and spiritual qualities, use language that puts them centre stage.

The facilitator was careful to note that language on its own doesn’t fix every problem, and that other strategies are needed depending on the situation—that’s why The Virtues Project gives five strategies. When we get the hang of them all, we can tell which ones are appropriate at which time. All in all, it was a very helpful and inspiring workshop, and a good complement to our existing Ruhi training. It made me want to attend another, fuller training sometime for sure, to explore how to apply a virtues focus in different, more complex situations.

First Posted on June 9, 2014 by

(c) Dan Jones


Leave a comment

My Creative Life

DSC_9955

At Tablelands Folk Festival 2013

I start this post with a revisit to 2013, which I think will be seen as a pivotal year in my life.

In 2013, I had the privilege to attend two wonderful national events in the arts: The Inaugural DANscienCE Festival in Canberra hosted by the CSIRO Discovery Centre; and the 5th International Arts and Health Conference in Sydney.

The DANscienCE Festival in August 2013 was eight (8) days of presentations and demonstrations of: the science of dance; scientific ideas that can speak to dance and movement art; and dance speaking for science. Dance with ecological and ornithological themes; dance as sociological research tools; dance for healthy ageing; fluid dynamics; cognitive studies; and dancer’s health.

I was asked to sit on a physiotherapy panel for an evening of presentations from 6 dance genres: ballet, hip hop, belly dance, hindu dance, african and contemporary (over 50s).  The evening was, professionally, a great experience, especially as my co-panellist, Roz Penfold has previously held jobs with the Australian Triathlon Team and Australian Ballet. Evidence to that evening’s success, Glen Murray of MADEinTasmania, Australia’s best over 50s contemporary dance company, reported that he was using ideas from our discussion in his classes. The most ironical presentation of the week came from Deakin University’s Movement Studio who revealed that the Playstation NRL game was animated from the actions of dancers who can represent rugby moves better than rugby players (except the crunching tackles).

The International Arts and Health Conference focused on: creative ageing and mental health, which found me in workshops with Circus Mojo from the USA and clown doctor GP Mark Spitzer, Dancing with Poetry in the NSW Art gallery (among the Nolan’s); writing for resilience with DeathTalker Molly Carlille; discussions on the design of nursing homes for happiness; conversations with the David Cutler,CEO Baring Foundation UK, Dominic Campbell Director Irish Beltaine Festival; UK Churchill fellow Paula Turner; Angela Lion of Arts Fission, Singapore; and many delegates who brought a wealth of experience and aspiration to the place of the arts in the health industry, hospitals, and  community well-being.

The conference coincided with public support from and his State and Territory counterparts, who endorsed a National Arts and Health Framework that was initiated by the Standing Council of Health Ministers in November 2011. As Federal and State Governments realize that there are not the resources to care for ageing ‘baby boomers’ unless there is a far greater increase in health and community support for the older person, it is becoming clear that the ARTS HAVE A HUGE CONTRIBUTION to make in all areas of health interventions and a healthy life.

Federal Health Minister, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, who endorsed a National Arts and Health Framework that was initiated by the Standing Council of Health Ministers in November 2011. As Federal and State Governments realize that there are not the resources to care for ageing ‘baby boomers’ unless there is a far greater increase in health and community support for the older person, it is becoming clear that the ARTS HAVE A HUGE CONTRIBUTION to make in all areas of health interventions and a healthy life.

In 2014, there is nothing more reassuring to me than working creatively, especially with movement and dance, but also writing, sound, and in the organising of children’s festival art programs. So, how did I come to this creative place?

With the 20/20 vision of hindsight, and with not a little humility, perhaps even some guilt, I now put my creative realisations down to the influence of the world working, of God, of everything. In saying that, I find myself in a posture of gratitude for all the gifts that I have been bestowed. Of these gifts, I now add, to the obvious talents of a competent intellect, the trials and tribulations of a lifetime.

It is still a mystery to me that with every force in the universe that broke my heart, a space was provided for my true education. For example, in the midst of some very tough years as a young teen in a boarding school, an English teacher arrived who opened up the whole sphere of creative writing, not as, ‘there’s a right way’ but as ‘there’s a way to turn any idea around and around, until something new and interesting and real comes up’. That same teacher ran two plays that I acted in during my school years.

Later, a maths teacher noted, ‘you can learn the formulae, or you can learn the principle from which the formulae derives’. The latter gives the right answer and requires memorization, the former gets to the right answer and requires conceptualisation and realisation.

Somehow I built a mind (I call it my laziness), to search for the key stone in things.

Later, during my Physiotherapy Undergraduate training I remember a lecturer, who later became highly recognised in the profession, remarking (an I paraphrase heavily) ‘It’s not a recipe. Here are your tools of analysis. Here are your tools of intervention. Your job is to come to each new person, seeing newly.’ Without that boarding school to educate a kid from a rural town, I would not have been exposed to the creative insights both in language, theatre and science that underpins my view of the world and my  place in it.

I am guilty of not always feeling comfortable in my profession. I often wanted out of the four walls that are the environment for such practice. I think there is no right or wrong answer, here, about what path to choose, just what became. And what became was that, whenever I tried to extract myself from the profession of physiotherapy, the world tested my resolve, and I found myself returned.

There is much to ponder about those tests. I now see them as ‘seemings’, as in there ‘seemed’ to be barriers, there ‘seemed’ to be no gain down a certain path. I say, ‘seeming’ because I now realise that our actions in the world rely upon how a number of factors ‘seem’ to us or as philosophers put it, how it occurs to us. How that world and the people out there, seem/occur. How I seem/occur to myself. And however it ‘seems’ that is how I/we act. Between the ‘seeming’ and the action is our ‘being’. In otherwords, if I seemed that there were barriers, and I seemed to myself that I was not equal to the challenge, then I might BE unenthusiastic, dismayed, and then my action would be to move to safer ground (my profession that is sure and sound).

On the other hand, my life had a continual spark of search for the way to that new way of seeing it all. Early in my adult life that lead to the Baha’i Faith. That lead to trekking in Papua New Guinea, to marriage, to raising three sons. As my sons where being raised, I found myself working on the problem of the isolated rural Baha’i teen with a few others. That lead to the development of a youth program that we called Uth Agents of Change (2001-2008). Under the direction of Farvadin Daliri, now Dr of Education and OAM, I found myself immersed in an arts based method for exploring the fundamental social principles of the Baha’i Faith.

The response of youth to the arts and the insights the formed in an easy manner through arts, inspired my to look at how I might bring the arts to the discourse and transformation of a rural community. Very early in that process (2007) I ran a children’s poetry writing workshop on request of June Perkins (our host on this blog who then lived in Tully, NQ). In 2008 I began creating space for that possibility by establishing a business vehicle for it, Phoenix Functions.

DSC_0322

Rehearsal for Out of the Box Theatre

Through Phoenix Functions, I have played with a few concepts attempting to bring knowledge to community through arts. These included an environmental play for children, “Cape York Critters and Wild Country’; and street events in my town of Atherton (The Child, Critters), and an evening by Architecture historian, Barry Rowney. While the earlier small events where okay, my action received enquiry from other agents who were looking for someone to organise for them, notably the Tableland Folk Festival who wanted a Children’s Festival Coordinator.

A couple of years into doing this, I was asked to organise a children program for the Cairns Festival. Meanwhile, June Perkins, myself and an actor, wrote a script writing workshop as discourse for community issues. Called ‘Out of the Box’ Theatre, I have kept this idea alive in various forms including providing as a workshop in the local rural community and taking an offshoot from it as an ‘Empathy’ workshop, to the MultiCultural Conference in Townsville in 2011. That same year I was asked to act in a local theatre production of ‘The Female of the Species”.

During those years, I began looking at my physiotherapy practice around bringing a creative perspective to maintaining activity with the older person. Following the design of a project I called, “Fake It’, a play on the idea of non-exercise, having fun or playing games with movement, I worked with members of the University of the Third Age to design ‘The Big Board Game‘. That project in particular gave me a great thrill as older men laughed through activities of their own design provoking one woman to remark, “I haven’t seen him laugh so much for many years.” While designed for the older person, I was provided the opportunity by Creative Cairns to host a children’s style of the Big Board Game at the Tanks Perfoming Arts Centre, Cairns, in March 2014. This foray into creative movement meant that, when I met contemporary dancer, Jess Jones, who wanted to do a project in 2011, I jumped right in there.

After that Jess, myself and Miriam Torzillo developed a contemporary dance in community project we called ‘Made2Move’. Our endeavours got noticed by AusDance who referred us to Liz Lea of Canberra Dance Theatre, who invited me to the inaugural DANscienCE Festival. Since then my own movement training and learning about facilitating contemporary dance creative class has continued through three further projects. And somewhere over 2011, 2102, I supported other artists run children multi-art workshop programs: ‘Flights of Fancy’; ‘Sound Structures’.

Recognising a certain ‘ceiling’ in my own capacity for networking with the larger number of people that I felt I needed to in this aspiration to facilitate the arts as a transformative process, in 2011 I undertook some courses from Landmark Education. This work certainly allowed me to accept the invitation to DANscienCE where I worked on a panel with a physiotherapist, Roz Penfold, who had been physio to the Australian Ballet Company and Australian Triathlon Team. In 2013-14 I attended the Landmark ‘Wisdom Course’ from which my view on ‘seeming’ has developed.

It was fabulous to be able to attend the Landmark Wisdom Conference in San Fransisco  in May 2014, and rub shoulders with 800 people who are asking how they can better contribute to the world. Particular to the creative process was a workshop of Sandy Robbins, who asked,”What if, instead of having rules about what people can say to us, we were open to listening to whatever anyone wanted to say to us, however they wanted to say”. The workshop that followed was amazing in its somewhat simple method but huge effect. I came away with the most wonderful new understanding about listening and a clear understanding why he is one of the USA’s lead actor coaches: huge humanity evoked through the arts.

As I now post this report, I have a Children’s Arts program to organise for this years Cairns Festival: another Children Festival for the Tableland Folk Festival. I am putting my support behind Liz Lea of Canberra Dance Theatre and organiser of the 2013 DANscienCE Festival, to organise another DANscienCE in 2015. And, towards that, I am hoping to organise a North Queensland day festival of DANscienCE as a lead into the Brisbane Festival.

My conclusion about my creative life, is that life outs, so hold on to the idea that the creative idea is the only idea. It’s power gives us all good things in every aspect of our life. And where it has no expression, well these spots of our life are our failures. Finally, love the failures, they point to the place that creativity is looking for a home.

(c) Owen Allen