Unplugged conversations with a learner at The Integral School, Hyderabad. A free flowing discussion with no predestined routes, starting from a word.
It is actually good to sit down and have unplanned conversations with learners. Move out of prescribed curricula, throw a word into the air and see what comes out of it. What does the word conjure as it bounces around the room. More often than not, the silence in which we sit is as exciting as the shapes and sizes the words take.
Lean and Gangly, Tall, Quiet and with a calmness that can make laid back seem agitated are just some of the adjectives that crossed my mind as this learner approached. We do our customary rituals of polite greeting. And settle into our silence. Faint strums of a guitar in the background. A football kicked in the nearby ground. Children shriek. We sit in the comfortable silence that a leaf shares with its branch, the silence borne out of the knowledge that both support each other and are equal.
What do you think about Spirituality?
Twinkle, Twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are, I think to myself as I watch a pair of twinkling eyes settle on me.
Hmm. Interesting. I have not thought about that much. It does occupy a more elevated position than Religion, it is at a higher level.
Do you see it having a place in your life, at school and elsewhere?
Thinking of it, I do.
I wake up every morning around 5 to 530 am to offer my prayers. I do that without prompting, it is something that I need to do. I can say it is a habit. I started when I was six, maybe earlier, but I remember as being six years old when I started.
Well, everyone in my family used to wake up and offer our prayers. I was used to that. I don’t think I understood much when I started. I started because I wanted to join in with my family, the feeling of being together, doing the same things. I remember just trying to follow the movements, I rarely understood the words. But, I liked the movements and listening to the rhythm of the words as they flowed. As I grew older, the words took on meaning, with new interpretations each year. I could feel the words growing with me, changing with me.
I could have stopped any time. I could have stopped as I grew older. No one forced to continue but I have never felt the need to change this routine.
No. Never. I do not spend much time on the prayers. Maybe 5 to minutes. I can see you thinking, waking up at 5 am for a 5 to 10 minute activity? Sounds weird? But that is all the time I need. It is not the time spent, it is the quality of the time spent that matters. And what it does to me.
What it does to you?
Yes, what it does to me. I do not feel complete if I miss my prayers even for a day. The 5 to 10 minutes completes me, calms me, gives me the inner peace and strength for the day. I feel energised, fresh. I am ready to work. If I miss that morning prayer, my whole day is spent just wondering why I missed it. I feel like something is missing, I cannot focus.
Why do you feel that way?
I do not know. I cannot describe the feeling I have when I miss the morning prayer. All I can say is that it makes me feel so incomplete. I can definitely feel the benefits. I can feel what it does to me.
Do you take that feeling of benefit to your day?
At school? At school, yes. Even otherwise. I feel the calmness and energy to face anything. I do not feel rattled or hassled.
You are a learner. How do you think this has helped your learning? Has it helped?
It has. I feel it has helped with all aspects of learning. Look at it this way, from the subjects we usually study at school.
Reading the text, speaking them aloud teaches me language, it’s rhythms, meanings and multiple interpretations that a single word can have. Precision coupled with vagueness, and layers of meaning hidden in a concise sentence. You read words you do not understand, concepts you do not understand. You do not run away. You reflect. And then search for the meaning. You find that you have to pause, reflect, search, understand, and assimilate after every few sentences. You learn to pause. You learn that completing something is not as important as understanding something. And if you do not understand, try again. Take time. Try. You can ask others but you find the joy of searching yourself. You learn it is about you. Not someone else.
The texts bring in logic, reasoning, expanding concepts outwards from words, bringing it all back into words or contracting concepts to the barest minimum.
You can take any subject. Even geography. The texts allow you to wander through the times, places, locations, terrains, climes. You realize the texts are not just words but a whole lot more than that.
People often think there is nothing scientific about these texts. I disagree. There is a lot of science involved even in the pursuit of proof or evidence.
Let me tell you what I do. I try to take as much as I read into the world I see around me. I check constantly to see how it stands up. I compare with other practices, cultures. I try to see what is similar. Why are they similar? What brought in the similarities? I look at what is dissimilar. Why is it dissimilar? Are they really dissimilar? This is not a vague abstract process. This is a scientific logical process involving reasoning. And I factor in my experience. I am not looking for who is right or wrong. That is not my aim. I am looking to understand.
And I feel, the similarities are far more than what is dissimilar. Across times, across cultures. Almost like all come as different roots of the same tree. A common origin. A One.
So, you see, everything that is covered in a school curriculum can be covered. Not in terms of strict boundaries of content, but in terms of processes that aid learning. Reflection, analysis, understanding, expanding beyond the normal, bringing precision and conciseness, communication. Everything you need to help you learn, you can work on that yourself. I am learning Sanskrit now. So that I can understand the ancient texts of Hinduiism the way they were written, not through a translation.
I am not saying we need to introduce this as a formal subject or part of the curriculum. This is not a matter of force. Let it be a matter of choice. Let us have these conversations, let us initiate conversations. Why not throw the question out, spark thoughts? See where it leads. It can get people trying to understand each other better. I can only speak from my experience. It has helped me understand people better, the context from which they say things, do things. It has helped me expand my understanding. It has helped me walk away from the feeling that something has to be only right or wrong. It has helped me understand the value of experiences. And interpretations. It is how you approach it. What do you want to take from it.
When I joined the school, I wondered about quiet time. Why have a quiet time? What was this all about? In the morning, and then before we leave in the evening. Then I found myself starting to use the time to reflect, the way I want to use the day, the way the day went. About things I read. Reflection in silence. And I realized it was actually helpful. Of course, there are times my mind is disturbed and I use the time to try and calm it. Once you get the time to reflect on something, after you experience it, you find you have a more clear choice to pursue or not pursue it. You now have a choice. Let the learners have a choice. Don’t force it.
We stopped the conversation because it was time for Quiet time.