News, Topics & Events

July Spotlight

Spiritual Practices & Empathy in Classrooms

By RAAGAV PANDYA, Ph.D | Educator, scientist, Consultant

In describing the process of contemplative pedagogies, Simmer-Brown (2019) presented how it is different from traditional inquiry processes. Most academically taught science inquiry is third-person, as the individual is taught rigorous research methods and evaluation techniques. But, spiritual practices concentrate on first-person inquiry, and “emphasize the experience of the person so that they reach a critical subjectivity (Simmer-Brown, 2019, p. 15). 

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The Case for Discussing Spirituality in Schools

By VICKI ZAKRZEWSKI | Greater Good Magazine
Research suggests that spirituality may be a natural developmental process – so waht does this mean for secular schools?
“I believe in reincarnation because it just makes sense!” exclaimed 10-year-old Jesse in the middle of a lesson that was on anything but reincarnation.

This wasn’t the first time one of my students had brought up a topic related to spirituality or religion. In fact, I found during my years of teaching that most of my students were both curious about and eager to discuss these subjects—a bit of a conundrum when schools generally consider these to be taboo subjects.

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What Multicultural Families Can Teach Kids About Character

By SCOTT SEIDER, ANNA CARPENTER, CHARIS KANG, DEREK TITCHNER, HEHUA XU, YEZI ZHENG | Greater Good Magazine
There are more multiethnic and multi-faith families than ever. A new study reveals how their values and traditions are coming together.

Rishi Mehta and Nora Saperstein decided before they even had children that they wanted to integrate both Rishi’s Sikh religion and Nora’s Jewish religion into their family life. When their twin daughters turned 13 years old—the age at which Jewish children typically participate in Bar or Bat Mitzvahs—Rishi and Nora put together a coming-of-age ceremony that combined elements of both Sikhism and Judaism.

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How Nature Nurtures Spirituality: Invitations to Stillness 

By SERENA L. KROMBACH | Sideways School

The natural world offers endless opportunities for play, and it’s through play that children learn. When children are given the freedom to follow where their curiosity leads, they’re active, moving and thinking, linking body and mind as they do the hard work of building new understandings of their world. When the period of free outdoor play is long enough, however, I’ve noticed that children occasionally, spontaneously, pause and step away from the action.  I see them respond to some element of the landscape and its living things as an invitation to stillness, to mindfulness, to focus:

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Cultivating the Spiritual Core

By AMY CHAPMAN | Spirituality in Education

 

The Fetzer Institute and CSE co-hosted a Learning Summit, “Cultivating the Spiritual Core,” offered virtually November 11-12, 2021. Over 200 participants joined us live for keynote addresses from Dr. Lisa Miller and Dr. Timothy Shriver, as well as sessions from Linda Lantieri and Meena Srinivasan, John Bickart, Gerard Senehi, Laura Bakosh, and the Holistic Life Foundation. These sessions explored various practices which support spirituality in K-12 schools, as well as offering participants a space for reflection and dialogue around their own work.
Recordings are available on our website:
Watch Here.

CSE Supports the Awakened Campus Summit

Campus-based professionals are reporting a surge in spiritual seeking and an increase in requests by students for support to explore existential questions. Awakened Campus Summit seeks to honor this moment by offering a platform for professionals to share ways to engage suffering as an invitation for spiritual growth in college students. Presentations from practitioners and researchers will share recent science, practices, and novel approaches to wellness on university campuses. The Summit offers a cross-roads for sharing among our national community of professionals, dedicated to improving the lives of college students. 

For more information, to submit a proposal, or to register, Click Here.

Can Mindfulness Make You Better at Apologizing?

By JILL SUTTIE | Greater Good Magazine

After a short mindfulness practice, people are more willing to admit to transgressions to help repair their relationships, a new study finds.

It’s not always easy to apologize. When we hurt someone, we may be loath to acknowledge our transgression because it makes us feel guilty, conflicts with our beliefs about being a good person, or means accepting that we are imperfect human beings…

How can we be better at apologizing and so promote better relationships?  One new study suggests that practicing mindfulness could help. 

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Moving Toward and Away

By JOHN BICKART, Ph.D. | Teacher/Author

10 Opportunities to Transform Yourself While Teaching/”Recovering Your Childhood in Adulthood”

I was trying to move away from the whole problem of enabling with too much fun up front, then regaining structure and discipline when it is a little too late. And then I remembered Lisa Miller and her book, The Awakened Brain (2021). In it she says that there are two modes to go about life, achieving and awakened.  

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How to Find Your Purpose in Life…

By JEREMY ADAM SMITH | Greater Good Magazine

Are you struggling to discover your purpose? That may be because you feel isolated from other people. Here’s how you can overcome that.

Do you have a purpose?
For decades, psychologists have studied how long-term, meaningful goals develop over the span of our lives. ..

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How to Help Teens Put Less Pressure on Themselves

By KAREN BLUTH | Greater Good Magazine

Self-compassion can help teens who are struggling with toxic perfectionism. 

My friend’s teen daughter, Belen, had a big upcoming exam this past semester. Starting a week before the exam, she studied incessantly. Every possible available moment…

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Five Ways to Celebrate Your Student’s Cultures

Developing cultural competence can help teachers create more trusting relationships with students and a more positive learning environment.

By  LOREA MARTÍNEZ | Greater Good Magazine

Effective teachers cultivate positive relationships with students every day, no matter if the classroom is physical or virtual. They foster emotional connections among students, and help them to feel a sense of belonging and purpose.

 

Moving Your Body is Like a Tune-Up for Your Mind

If we want a healthy, happy mind, we need to move our body more, a new book explains.

By  KIRA M. NEWMAN| Greater Good Magazine

Movement and exercise feel good, as you know if you’ve ever experienced a runner’s high, the restorative power of a pandemic afternoon walk, or a heart-pumping Zumba class. But what accounts for these benefits?

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How We’re Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Health Issues

By STEPHEN HINSHAWJEREMY ADAM SMITH  | Greater Good Magazine

Shame and shunning make mental illness worse. But new studies suggest that attitudes are changing for the better—and that’s largely due to young people.

Today, people in the United States know far more about mental illness than did previous generations. 

Read More

20 Opportunities to Transform Yourself While Teaching

By JOHN BICKART | Teacher/Author
A workshop taken from actual experiences that honor spirituality in education.

Participate in 20 interactive examples of moments in teaching where the teacher can have a transformative experience. Each is a practical example where you experience an opportunity to model truly transformative learning for students. The activities of the workshop anticipate that each participant will be able to perform the following…

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Looking at Spiritual Development as a System

By DEBORAH SCHEIN, Ph.D | Early Childhood Educator

Let me introduce myself, my name is Deb Schein and I am an early childhood educator who has done some research in the field of spiritual development.  The goal of my research was to produce a definition of spiritual development that could be used for all children…  Today, I would like to talk about the importance of seeing spirituality as a system, especially as we consider spirituality in education.

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The Basics of Meditation for Kids of Any Age

By Holly J. Bertone | Author |Source: Healthline.com

Teaching kids to look after their minds is just as important as teaching them how to care for their bodies.

Introducing children to meditation early on — along with establishing healthy sleep routines and limiting screen time can help them learn how to calm their minds and use healthy coping mechanisms…

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Around the Globe

11 Films that Highlight the Best in Humanity

It’s time for the Greater Goodies, honoring movies from the past year that exemplify optimism, love, empathy, and other keys to our well-being.

Five College Campuses that Managed to Bridge Differences

Campus leaders across the U.S. are implementing strategies for better relationships, dialogue, and understanding across divides.

Most colleges and universities provide an opportunity to meet people who have different faiths, politics, identities, and life experiences. If the campus culture fosters belonging, this diversity exposes students to new ways of thinking. It expands students’ outlook about the world around them, and even changes the way they see themselves. That is what the college experience should be all about!’

 

Indigenous Youth at COP26 to Influence Policy

By ARI SHAPIRO, ASHLEY BROWN, NOAH CALDWELL, MIA VENKAT | NPR

Nine Indigenous youth climate activists journeyed to Glasgow from around the globe to attend COP26. They came here with a shared view of how lands and waters are connected, and how to care for them. They would also like to see plans to protect human rights and Indigenous rights spelled out in the text of the COP agreement. But, even though they have had meetings with top officials, these activists are sometimes on the outside looking in, trying to carve out space for their people. Now that they’re at the conference, they say it sometimes feels like everyone wants to put them in a box and force them to conform to standards with a history of colonialism. 

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Where People in 17 Countries Find Meaning in Life

A new report asked people around the world what made their life meaningful during the pandemic.

In the first half of 2021, the Pew Research Center surveyed almost 20,000 people in 17 countries. Their question was simple: “What aspects of your life do you currently find meaningful, fulfilling, or satisfying?”

Each of these advanced economies—including Canada, France, Greece, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan—was having a different experience at the time. Some were ravaged by COVID-19 and some had very low case counts; many were in economic doldrums, while others were doing fine. In some of these countries, people traveled freely; in others, like Australia and New Zealand, movement was severely curtailed. And, of course, each country has a different culture and history…

What Can We Learn from the World’s Most Peaceful Societies?

A multidisciplinary team of researchers is discovering what makes some societies more peaceful than others.

Given the grinding wars and toxic political divisions that dominate the news, it might come as a surprise to hear that there are also a multitude of sustainably peaceful societies thriving across the globe today. These are communities that have managed to figure out how to live together in peace—internally within their borders, externally with neighbors, or both—for 50, 100, even several hundred years. This simple fact directly refutes the widely held and often self-fulfilling belief that humans are innately territorial and hardwired for war.

Students Engage in Community Service at the Dakota Zoo

By KAYLIN McGLOTHEN | KX NEWS

Bismarck Public Schools is teaching their students that giving back is key. With the weather steadily growing colder, there is work that needs to be done to clean outdoor recreation areas. Two groups of Wachter Middle School- 8th grade students made their way to the Dakota Zoo to help in their clean up efforts. While at the zoo they helped to rake leaves. Over the course of two days, 300 students were able to take part in the project. The school hosts a community service event every year around this time. Wachter Middle School teacher, Kevin Schmitcke, says this is a great opportunity for kids to work together outside the classroom.

Read more here.

Refelections…

The Unseen

By JOHN BICKART, Ph.D | 20 Opportunities to Transform Yourself While Teaching / “Reawakening Your Love of Teaching”

What do you do when something terrible happens? Do you think of taking care of yourself first? You should. Then, do you seek the students? That’s what they want. After trauma, we all seek predictable, kind environments – in each other’s company – and teachers are nothing less than pure gold, here. Do you constantly love teaching? Or are you like the rest of us – falling in and out of love? We teachers need forgiveness, accolades, compassion, and understanding. How will we get this? By looking through the eyes of our students!

I don’t know about you, but I went to the school of hard knocks. When I was very young, everything looked good. As I got older, not so much. I guess the hard knocks got to me. Life brought difficulties, responsibilities, good days, and hard ones, too. Then, I started teaching. The youth I taught have given me a fresh start! If I consciously use their eyes to perceive the world, I have a window into the beautiful and the good. Yes, I have to make the effort, but it works. I believe that it works because the world is inherently good and the youth are innately wise enough to know this. They have a spiritual knowing that is true. They KNOW that the world is good. So, when I need to reawaken my love of teaching, I look into their eyes and through their eyes … and there it is – the knowing that I had temporarily forgotten. 

The Unseen.

Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” So today, I’m going to tell you a story that I told at the wonderful Rainbow Community School, here in Asheville, NC in 2017. I was guest teaching science lessons and a science club. One day, we paused doing science experiments for the following story. It’s one of my favorites. It was first told to me in a room full of adults. So, it was told to adults, but it’s about a story told to children. It comes, inspired by a story from Laurens Van der Post in his book The Heart of the Hunter (1961). But I’ve changed it over the years and for almost half a century now, I’ve been telling this story to children. It’s my absolute favorite story. I’ve also told it to adults, so I’m telling it to you today. It’s about the unseen

“The Milk Maiden”

Once, there was a story. The story was for adults, but in the story, you hear about another story that was told to children. It was told over and over. It was told by a babysitter in the Kalahari, a semi-arid desert in Southern Africa. Every time the babysitter came, the children asked her to tell their favorite story. Now, I will tell you the one she told the children.

Once upon a time, there was a young farm boy. His job was to watch over the cows as they grazed. Every day, he took the cows to the same place. It was a pasture up on the side of the mountain. Over the pasture was a cliff that hung in the air just above the cows. Every day, the boy brought the cows and looked up at the rock cliff to wonder what lay beyond. On the whole, he was happy. But then there came this one different day. Today, the boy brought the cows to the pasture, as he had always done, without any knowledge that on this occasion, his life would change forever.

The pasture looked the same. The cows started to graze as they always did. The boy sat down as he usually would, but then a singular event occurred. A rope descended from the rock cliff just above the pasture. Then, to the boy’s continuing amazement, a young girl started to climb down the rope. She was holding a stool and a bucket. 

The boy hid behind a large rock in the pasture. The girl reached the pasture floor, walked over to the cows, and sat on her stool, placing her bucket under a cow, and coaxed the milk from the cow. When the cow had filled her bucket, she proceeded to the rope and ascended. The boy watched with incredulity.  All the rest of that day and into that night, the boy wondered about the strange girl from the cliff above. What was she doing? Where was she from? Why would she take the milk from the cows – milk that clearly belonged to someone else? Finally, after turning these ideas over and over in his mind, he resolved to watch and wait for the milk maiden to see if she would come back. 

She did. The very next day, just after he arrived at the pasture, she came down the rope and milked a cow. Then, she left as abruptly as she came.  On the third day, the boy’s observational focus had become extreme. He was now making up his mind that if she came again, he would detain her. He genuinely needed to find out what was going on. 

She came. The boy leaped out from his hiding rock and apprehended her.  “What are you doing? That is the milk of the farmer,” he said, “and you are just taking it without permission. “The milk maiden said nothing. She looked intently into the farm boy’s eyes for what seemed like an eternity, then simply said, “I will come to live with you, if you allow me to go back up the rope once more.”  The boy did not know what to say. He was not expecting this. She would live with him? He did not ask this. He just wanted to know what she was doing? After all, she was stealing milk. And now, instead of explaining herself, she said that she would live with him? So, the boy just stood and stared. Suddenly, he found his mouth saying, “Alright.”

So, the girl proceeded to milk a cow and go back up the rope.  Another day passed, then another. On the third day, she came back. This time she climbed down the rope without the milking pail or the stool. But she did have a small box, about the size of a book. She came over to the boy and explained, “I will stay with you as long as you do not look into this box until I say.” The boy agreed, and so they lived together … in the same room, for quite some time.

On many days, the girl would leave the room and the boy would stare at the box she had brought and wonder what it contained. But he never, never looked inside, until this one day.  She was gone and the boy could wait no longer. He crossed the room, opened the box, and looked inside. Afraid that she would come into the room and see him, he quickly closed the box and put it back just as it had been.

The girl came back into the room, looked at the boy, then the box, then spoke directly to the boy, saying, “I must leave.” Taking up the box, she walked out toward the setting sun and was never seen again.

____________________

 At this point the babysitter would always say to the children, “And do you know why the milk maiden left?” The she would add emphatically, “It was not because the farm boy looked into the box!” Then, with a dramatic pause, she would finish, “It was because he didn’t see anything in the box.”

____________________

With that, the babysitter was finished. Now, I personally need to add something. When I was told this story, I was in a room of adults. I’m pretty sure that none of us knew exactly what the story meant. And I’m also pretty sure that we all had the same questions. First of all, how did she know he had looked in the box. Was there something or things in the box? If there was, why didn’t he see anything? And most of all, why would his not seeing be grounds for her to leave?

____________________

This beautiful, mysterious story has stirred in me for almost half a century, now. So, I give it to you. I don’t have the answers. But it makes me respect the unseen and watch and look at life even more carefully than ever before. It causes me to wonder. 

____________________ 

References

Van der Post, L. (1961). The Heart of the Hunter … With drawings by Maurice Wilson. Pp. 254. Hogarth Press: London.

What’s in the Background?…

By BETH STYLES | Producer, Composer, Artist

If you’re a fan for life of “The Wizard of Oz” like me, you’re probably familiar with the ‘big reveal’ (spoiler alert…), that moment – when Dorothy’s little dog Toto discovers an inconspicuous booth (how did we not see it earlier?) in the corner, exposing the “man behind the curtain” aka, the “Wizard” (‘Great & Terrible’ Oz) aka an ordinary man (ok, he was a circus magician…) from Nebraska, whose air balloon sailed off course into a land that had never witnessed such a spectacle.  Alas, he found himself being worshiped as a great sorcerer, and then painfully doing his best to sustain the myth.  Maybe it felt euphoric to be so admired at first, but keeping up the charade had to feel increasingly lonely and bleak… it’s no wonder he morphed into a frightening version of himself…  Anyway… THEN… miraculously, Toto steps in as protagonist at this major turning point, barking to the rescue, saving our beloved foursome, the land of Oz, the Wizard, and all of us, if we’re up for it…

Perhaps this ‘historical’ metaphor begs the question, what’s behind the “curtain” for each of us?  What possible myths or burdens are we carrying?  Maybe the physical masks we grew accustomed to wearing over the past few years helped us sneak and ‘hide out’ more easily… but chances are, we were already skillful in our very own styles of ‘sorcery’ ;).  While the lists of possible errs we may torture ourselves with replenish ongoingly, some of what we may be withholding are our biggest, brightest, and highest dreams.  If we could only get beyond that ‘curtain’… (where’s Toto?!).

For those who are experiencing a space of healthy mind and spirit, ready to invent new possibilities and adventure in life, here’s what could be a fun perspective on loosening up that “curtain”.   Many top life coaches, philosophers, and transformational self-help education courses note, that recognizing the ‘background’ chatter in our minds; our thoughts and feelings – both positive and negative, is one of the first steps in clearing the way for manifesting our highest dreams.  And so, as we rise and do our best to shine each new day, tackling our ‘to do’ lists and fulfilling our commitments at work, home, and to ourselves… what’s in the background?

The first step is to recognize the phenomenon itself, that the brain has an ongoing background ‘conversation’, basically on automatic, reacting to whatever stimuli pops up, every waking hour.  Sometimes described as the “little voice” in our heads (if you’re saying to yourself “what voice?” you just found it…), it ironically has a mind of its own.  In a nutshell, we may not be thinking our own thoughts.  But don’t panic… there’s excellent news!!  That background chatter is not the actual representative of who we really are.  Toto will help us reveal who that is in a moment…

The pickle we find ourselves in as human beings, is that without recognizing the background chatter AND keeping an eye on what it’s saying, our little voice can sometimes go rogue and play a bit of a saboteur.  It may have ‘good intentions’ to protect us, and of course we must listen and trust our gut about real danger – but being the rascal that it is – it can often wind up judging life, others, ourselves – misinterpreting the meaning of past experiences, and developing “theories” about the world, that don’t serve our best interests.  Without noticing, our background theories can potentially become the lens through which we view all of life.   Imagine putting on a pair of glasses with emerald green lenses.  After a while, if we forget we have them on, theoretically, we might begin to believe that everything we see is emerald green. If our saboteur has its way, this emerald view of life might have us feeling like we’re stuck in a glop of… SLIME?  However, when we give ourselves the lead voice, our view can be a clear path to the Emerald City itself, while sipping a shiny Shamrock Shake!

Becoming aware of what’s in the background – intervening, and showing our chatter who’s boss, can make way for the most freeing, new and bold experiences of our lives.  We will continue proving our theories right, but they can be the theories we design. Anything becomes possible.  Segue back to Oz… At last – we become our inner Toto, pulling back the curtain… Huzzah!

Looking Up…

By BETH STYLES | Producer, Composer, Artist

Over the holidays you might have caught the new satirical science fiction film called “Don’t Look Up”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as two American astronomers who find themselves having to go on a giant media tour, trying hopelessly to warn humanity about an approaching comet that will destroy civilization… all the while our government (Meryl Streep plays the POTUS!), is wayyyy out to lunch.

The film has a fun, tongue and cheek tempo to it, attempting to use this metaphorical meteor plowing towards earth (i.e. climate change?) while we’ve been slowly spiraling hypnotically into the depths of a redundant, mundane, social media pseudo cyber world, and governments seem not to hear or care, despite the pleading of doctors and scientists around the globe for us to “just look up” as the actual, factual, visual, physical proof is RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR EYES. Sigh… Hence the insane movie title – reflecting the shouting chants among the conspiracy theorists “don’t look up”.  Which is funny, not funny… as here in “real life” we may have the luxury of a few more minutes and another bucket of popcorn before impending doom ensues… or do we?

Since Covid emerged, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling as though a giant comet hit the world; my world – impacting life and the day to day rhythm of just about everything I didn’t realize I took for granted.  That said, there have been a few, pleasantly surprising, meaningful, pearls of wisdom.

Read more here.

 

The Power of Hope

Dr. Dan Tomasulo, SMBI’s Academic Director, wrote a new book: “Learned Hopefulness: The Power of Positivity to Overcome Depression” which has been named one of the best books for depression in 2021. Dan shared: Hope is the only positive emotion to require negativity or uncertainty to be activated. Learned hopefulness demonstrates how hope can be taught and cultivated, and how doing so gives us the ability to become more resilient in the presence of daunting obstacles. As a result the new science of hope is improving outcomes in medicine, education, psychotherapy, and business—and this is only the beginning of understanding its potential.

Link to Dan’s book: “Learned Hopefulness”

Read the article about the best books for depression HERE.

Creating a Spiritual Community

By AMY L. CHAPMAN, Ph.D | Research Director/Spirituality in Education

I had the pleasure of presenting the main research of CSE at the Symposium on the Spirituality of Children hosted by Virginia Theological Seminary in late October 2021. While I often present our research, and our work is often well received, this particular presentation felt like a spiritual community. The people who were together shared from their own practice, and felt that our research reflected what they had seen in their classrooms over the last several decades. That, too, felt aligned, as our research was conducted by interviewing and observing master educators to understand what they did. It truly felt as though we were co-creating a spiritually supportive conference space, one where everyone felt seen, known, and valued. It was a profound experience for me! You can view the recordings from the Symposium here.

A New Years “Note” of Reflection | Spirituality in the Arts

By BETH STYLES | Producer, Composer, Artist

As the world takes another ‘tour’ around the sun, choirs and a multitude of musical artists are still waiting for theirs… since health warnings still loom for public gatherings, and especially singing.  There was a glimmer of hope before Omicron, and as the director of a community inspirational choir (New World Chorus), I know how much the group was looking forward to reuniting for some outdoor holiday singing after canceling last year.  Fondly known as the “Street Angels” annual event, the choir traditionally takes a spin around town on a yellow school bus, singing for seniors, serenading at the Stamford Town Center, and jingling at the Palace Theater as children gleefully emerge from the Nutcracker.  This has always been a special outing, where the choir is not under pressure like at a concert venue, doing what they love, and having the unique opportunity to share joy and surprise passersby – a gift that never gets old.

Read more here.

On Science & Spirituality

The Reverend Norman Hull, chaplain at Campbell Hall in southern California and CSE fellow, has recently written a reflection on his work encouraging middle school students to share their spirituality through the school’s Chapel program. As Norman describes, “A 6th-grade boy reflected in chapel on his love of science by saying, ‘In science there is always a new challenge and something new to do and that is what keeps it interesting. He went on to connect the Bible message from Isaiah to his homily by saying that, ‘it reminds me of how God’s ways are more spectacular than our ways and this connects to my love of science because with science you can understand so much, but there’s always so much more you can’t understand.’ When students realize that there is so much they don’t know, they are tapping into the mystery and sacredness of life.” Norman’s reflection for the National Association of Episcopal Schools Chaplain’s Blog, “Connections Between Spirituality, Chapel and the Classroom,” can be found can be found HERE. 

News, Topics & Events

July Spotlight

Spiritual Practices & Empathy in Classrooms

By RAAGAV PANDYA, Ph.D | Educator, scientist, Consultant

In describing the process of contemplative pedagogies, Simmer-Brown (2019) presented how it is different from traditional inquiry processes. Most academically taught science inquiry is third-person, as the individual is taught rigorous research methods and evaluation techniques. But, spiritual practices concentrate on first-person inquiry, and “emphasize the experience of the person so that they reach a critical subjectivity (Simmer-Brown, 2019, p. 15). 

Read More

The Case for Discussing Spirituality in Schools

By VICKI ZAKRZEWSKI | Greater Good Magazine/Science-Based insights for a Meaningful Life
Research suggests that spirituality may be a natural developmental process – so waht does this mean for secular schools?
“I believe in reincarnation because it just makes sense!” exclaimed 10-year-old Jesse in the middle of a lesson that was on anything but reincarnation.

This wasn’t the first time one of my students had brought up a topic related to spirituality or religion. In fact, I found during my years of teaching that most of my students were both curious about and eager to discuss these subjects—a bit of a conundrum when schools generally consider these to be taboo subjects.

Interestingly, however, scientists are beginning to find that just like cognitive, physical, and emotional development, spirituality may also be a universal developmental process—which, given that teaching is informed by child development, raises the question: Can spirituality play a role in secular education?

Read More

What Multicultural Families Can Teach Kids About Character

By SCOTT SEIDER, ANNA CARPENTER, CHARIS KANG, DEREK TITCHNER, HEHUA XU, YEZI ZHENG | Greater Good Magazine/Science-Based insights for a Meaningful Life
There are more multiethnic and multi-faith families than ever. A new study reveals how their values and traditions are coming together.

Rishi Mehta and Nora Saperstein decided before they even had children that they wanted to integrate both Rishi’s Sikh religion and Nora’s Jewish religion into their family life. When their twin daughters turned 13 years old—the age at which Jewish children typically participate in Bar or Bat Mitzvahs—Rishi and Nora put together a coming-of-age ceremony that combined elements of both Sikhism and Judaism.

“It was a very public sort of community-based way to make our kids feel part of the multiple communities they were part of,” explained Rishi.  In the months leading up to the event, Rishi and Nora worked with their daughters to study important tenets of both religions. 

Read More

 

How Nature Nurtures Spirituality: Invitations to Stillness 

By SERENA L. KROMBACH | Sideways School

The natural world offers endless opportunities for play, and it’s through play that children learn. When children are given the freedom to follow where their curiosity leads, they’re active, moving and thinking, linking body and mind as they do the hard work of building new understandings of their world. When the period of free outdoor play is long enough, however, I’ve noticed that children occasionally, spontaneously, pause and step away from the action.  I see them respond to some element of the landscape and its living things as an invitation to stillness, to mindfulness, to focus:

Read More

How We’re Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Health Issues

 

By STEPHEN HINSHAWJEREMY ADAM SMITH  | Greater Good Magazine

Shame and shunning make mental illness worse. But new studies suggest that attitudes are changing for the better—and that’s largely due to young people.

Today, people in the United States know far more about mental illness than did previous generations. They might know what it looks like: changes in emotions, thinking, or behavior that make function in daily life difficult, if not impossible. They’re much more likely to understand that most of us will experience some form of mental illness in our lifetimes, like depression or anxiety. 

Read More

Cultivating the Spiritual Core

The Fetzer Institute and CSE co-hosted a Learning Summit, “Cultivating the Spiritual Core,” offered virtually November 11-12, 2021. Over 200 participants joined us live for keynote addresses from Dr. Lisa Miller and Dr. Timothy Shriver, as well as sessions from Linda Lantieri and Meena Srinivasan, John Bickart, Gerard Senehi, Laura Bakosh, and the Holistic Life Foundation. These sessions explored various practices which support spirituality in K-12 schools, as well as offering participants a space for reflection and dialogue around their own work.
Recordings are available on our website:
Watch Here.

CSE Supports the Awakened Campus Summit

Campus-based professionals are reporting a surge in spiritual seeking and an increase in requests by students for support to explore existential questions. Awakened Campus Summit seeks to honor this moment by offering a platform for professionals to share ways to engage suffering as an invitation for spiritual growth in college students. Presentations from practitioners and researchers will share recent science, practices, and novel approaches to wellness on university campuses. The Summit offers a cross-roads for sharing among our national community of professionals, dedicated to improving the lives of college students. 

For more information, to submit a proposal, or to register, Click Here.

Can Mindfulness Make You Better at Apologizing?

By JILL SUTTIE | Greater Good Magazine

After a short mindfulness practice, people are more willing to admit to transgressions to help repair their relationships, a new study finds.

It’s not always easy to apologize. When we hurt someone, we may be loath to acknowledge our transgression because it makes us feel guilty, conflicts with our beliefs about being a good person, or means accepting that we are imperfect human beings. We may want to excuse our behavior and blame the other person, minimizing our role in hurting them.

How can we be better at apologizing and so promote better relationships?  One new study suggests that practicing mindfulness could help. 

In the study, researchers asked 120 undergraduate students to recall a time when they’d offended or hurt someone else (a friend, family member, colleague, or romantic partner) and the conflict remained unresolved.

Read More

The Basics of Meditation for Kids of Any Age

By Holly J. Bertone | Author |Source: Healthline.com

Teaching kids to look after their minds is just as important as teaching them how to care for their bodies.

Introducing children to meditation early on — along with establishing healthy sleep routines and limiting screen time can help them learn how to calm their minds and use healthy coping mechanisms for the rest of their lives. But sometimes, getting a toddler, preschooler, or even an older child to sit in quiet stillness is not as easy as it looks. That’s why you need to keep meditation on their level.

Here, we explore the basics of meditation, benefits, and tips on how to give children of all ages the tools they need to practice.

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How to Find Your Purpose in Life…

By JEREMY ADAM SMITH | Greater Good Magazine

Are you struggling to discover your purpose? That may be because you feel isolated from other people. Here’s how you can overcome that.

Do you have a purpose?

For decades, psychologists have studied how long-term, meaningful goals develop over the span of our lives. The goals that foster a sense of purpose are ones that can potentially change the lives of other people, like launching an organization, researching disease, or teaching kids to read.

Indeed, a sense of purpose appears to have evolved in humans so that we can accomplish big things together—which may be why it’s associated with better physical and mental health. Purpose is adaptive, in an evolutionary sense. It helps both individuals and the species to survive.

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Moving Toward and Away

By JOHN BICKART, Ph.D  
“Recovering Your Childhood in Adulthood” 

I was trying to move away from the whole problem of enabling with too much fun up front, then regaining structure and discipline when it is a little too late. And then I remembered Lisa Miller and her book, The Awakened Brain (2021). In it she says that there are two modes to go about life, achieving and awakened. Your achieving mode might tend to look at problems as something to get around. But awakened mode might look at those same problems as lessons. In awakened mode, you might look at a problem as presenting an existential question – a chance to change your existence – make a learning experience from something that is a little bit annoying to you. 

So, I want to read to you from her paragraph on integrating those two modes in what she calls “quest awareness” or “quest orientation”, which makes your life a journey. Listen to this.  “Quest orientation is characterized by a tendency to journey in life: to search for answers to meaningful personal decisions and big existential questions; to perceive doubt as positive; and to be open to change, or more accurately, open to perceiving with fresh eyes, and then using new experience to fuel change. In quest, we open ourselves to the messages from life, take seriously this discovery, and then actively use learning to shape our decisions and actions—our personal operating manual” (Miller, 2021, p. 169).

So, I got to thinking about this. You’re born to this life and at first, you think everything is good. You don’t move away from things. That’s why you can take candy from a baby. If a stranger walks up, the baby looks up and thinks everything is going to be great. Then life happens and you go to the school of hard knocks. So, bad things start to happen to you, and you start to fall. But, the game of life is getting back – recovering your childhood – the ability to see things as wonderful again. But how? They’re not wonderful. Well … in total freedom … you can have the choice to make life a quest – make life a journey! You can decide for yourself to look at the school of hard knocks and take the hard knocks – use them – learn from them – and say, “Thank you! Why did that just happen to me? Why am I like that? Why is this bad thing surrounding me? And what can do about it – what can I do with it? It must be that there is a lesson for life in here, somewhere!” And when you do that, you are recovering your childhood. And things start looking better and better. You can see life is good. 

John Bickart, Ph.D. likes to work in the background and let good ideas speak for themselves. He believes that children, and sometimes adults, know what they want and that they empower themselves when they listen to their hearts. He can be reached at www.bickart.org 

 

How to Help Teens Put Less Pressure on Themselves

Self-compassion can help teens who are struggling with toxic perfectionism.

By KAREN BLUTH | Greater Good Magazine

My friend’s teen daughter, Belen, had a big upcoming exam this past semester. Starting a week before the exam, she studied incessantly. Every possible available moment. The night before the exam, she hardly slept—she was too nervous, tossing and turning in bed, going through in her mind all the facts that she needed to know, and worrying that she missed something important. When she finally went in to take the test, she was practically paralyzed with fear, and was barely able to think clearly.Please join me in this blog on spiritual development as I look at spiritual development in young children through reflections of my research and changing thoughts and experiences.  Here is a look at what I call the system of spiritual development.

This is a really tough time for teens. I know what you’re thinking—the teen years have always been tough. But according to the U.S. Surgeon General in his advisory released in December, the pressure that teens are facing today is unprecedented. Youth mental health is in crisis. And it’s not just from the pandemic: According to the 2019 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey, mental health among youth did a nose-dive over the last decade, with depression and sadness increasing by 40%, and those with a suicide plan increasing by 44%.

What’s been going on?

Of course, there are many external factors that play a role. Lockdowns and school closings have kept teens isolated—at a time when the developmentally appropriate thing to do would be connecting with their peers. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2018 report on Stress in America, teens and young adults are stressed from what they hear in the news: gun violence (particularly school shootings and mass shootings), political discord, climate change and global warming, separation and deportation of immigrant families, and sexual assault and harassment.

But here I’d like to focus on something more internal: the exceedingly high standards many teens have for themselves. Whether it’s a desire for straight As, flawless skin, or athletic stardom, the quest to stand out as “the best” often drives teens to be relentlessly hard on themselves, which can lead to feelings of unworthiness and depression. Yet knowing that there is a way out—that they don’t have to relentlessly beat themselves up in order to be successful and happy—can be enormously relieving for teens.

Perfectionism in teens

When my daughter was in high school, she insisted that she take every AP class that was available. Both her dad and I encouraged her to be a little easier on herself, and just take the AP courses in her favorite subjects. We assured her that she’d get into a good college without taking every one. But she insisted, and gave me that classic teen eye roll, which says undeniably, “Mom, you just don’t know…”

Many teens feel like they aren’t good enough unless they are at the top of their class and excel in their sport of choice and are the best at the instrument they play and have a ton of friends and have hundreds of “likes” on whatever they post…you get the idea.

Some of this feeling of not being “good enough” comes from comparing themselves with others, or social comparison. Although it’s perfectly natural to measure yourself against others—it is rooted in our inherent need to belong and be accepted—it isn’t necessarily good for our mental health. The reason is that we become stuck in an impossible conundrum: We feel we can’t be worthy unless we’re better than those we’re comparing ourselves to and—get this—we must be better in everything. In every domain of our lives. Of course, it’s impossible for all of us to be better than everyone else in everything!

For teens, determining your value by comparing yourself with others is perpetuated in schools with grades and GPAs, which make it easy to see precisely how you measure up to your competition. I can still remember what my rank was in my high school graduating class—over 40 years ago! Even worse, social comparison is fueled by social media, where the number of “likes” you receive is a clear indicator of how popular you are. So there’s no hiding or pretending; if you get only a few “likes,” clearly you’re a social failure in the eyes of others. And it’s out there for the world to see. No wonder Franklin Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Comparing oneself to others and striving to be perfect is a recipe for mental health problems. We know from research that self-critical perfectionism—the kind of perfectionism where you set high standards for yourself and criticize yourself when you don’t meet them, where you focus on your failures and constantly doubt yourself—is linked to depression and anxiety. This is a different kind of perfectionism than what researchers call “personal standards perfectionism,” which is unrelated to depression and anxiety, and simply means setting high goals for yourself without the harsh self-criticism. We also know from research that those with self-critical perfectionism worry and ruminate even on weekends and holidays when they should be relaxing, whereas those with the good kind of perfectionism don’t and, as a result, have better overall mood.

What can we do? How can we help teens see that it’s possible to have high standards for themselves, while at the same time treating themselves kindly? That they don’t have to beat themselves up with harsh words and unrelenting self-criticism in order to excel at school and get into a good college? That they can encourage themselves, speaking to themselves kindly—the way they speak to their friends—and, in so doing, keep anxiety and depression at bay?

Ways to combat perfectionism in teens

Simply put, teens can learn how to be more self-compassionate. Self-compassion teaches us to treat ourselves with kindness and support. As defined by Kristin Neff, self-compassion is being aware that you’re struggling, understanding that difficult emotions like hurt, anger, disappointment, and loneliness are part of the human condition, and then taking an active role in supporting and comforting yourself when you’re feeling this way.

In other words, teens can encourage themselves by using the carrot and not the stick. And guess what? Research has shown that the carrot works better.

In one study among teens in Australia, for example, when teens were more self-compassionate, being perfectionistic was less likely to lead to depression. Self-compassion actually protected the teens with perfectionist tendencies from becoming depressed. The same thing happened in another study among Chinese undergraduates: Those who were more self-compassionate were less likely to be depressed, and self-compassion buffered the effects of unhealthy perfectionism on depression.

As Neff has said, self-compassion is the same as being compassionate to others, but doing a U-turn: turning that compassion that we readily give others toward ourselves. If we can be compassionate toward others, there’s no reason we can’t also be compassionate toward ourselves. We’re just not used to it; we haven’t learned how.

But it is possible for teens to learn to be more self-compassionate. Self-compassion can be cultivated and nurtured, and various self-compassion programs have been developed and tested. One is Mindful Self-Compassion for Teens, the teen adaptation of Chris Germer and Kristin Neff’s Mindful Self-Compassion program. Formerly called Making Friends with Yourself, the program (which I co-created) has been found to result in lower anxiety, depression, and stress and, most recently, lower risk factors for suicidal ideation among transgender teens.

In the self-compassion program, teens learn that they don’t have to treat themselves harshly in order to motivate themselves. This is quite eye-opening for teens who think that they won’t get anywhere in life if they are nice to themselves. Second, they learn about common humanity—that other teens are struggling just like them. Although this may be obvious to adults, teens often feel like they are the only ones struggling, and that their peers are confident happy campers, strolling through the teen years with nary a care.

Teens learn short meditation practices that they can do on the spot, whenever they’re feeling upset or anxious, and longer meditation practices that they can do when they have the time. Most importantly, teens learn that they have the ability within themselves to treat themselves with kindness, and that they don’t have to wait for someone else to treat them kindly. Furthermore, they don’t have to be perfect to be deserving of being treated well; they’re reminded that all of us roaming on this planet are imperfect, and being imperfect is, well, perfectly OK.

As for Belen, my friend’s daughter, she’s learning to be more self-compassionate. Of course, she still has to study—self-compassion doesn’t let you off the hook from doing your work. In fact, she’s studying just as much, but doesn’t have the same fear of failing as she once did. She knows that if she fails a test, it doesn’t mean that she’s not a worthy and valuable good person; failing doesn’t change who she is. She’ll just have to regroup, and think of what’s her best and most effective strategy going forward with the subject—or her life. And that’s self-compassionate.

About the Author

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Karen Bluth, Ph.D., is faculty in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and a research fellow at the University of North Carolina Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute, where she conducts research on self-compassion and its influences on the emotional well-being of teens.

 

Five Ways to Celebrate Your Student’s Cultures

Developing cultural competence can help teachers create more trusting relationships with students and a more positive learning environment.

By  LOREA MARTÍNEZ | Greater Good Magazine

Effective teachers cultivate positive relationships with students every day, no matter if the classroom is physical or virtual. They foster emotional connections among students, and help them to feel a sense of belonging and purpose.

This is not a small task. In fact, it is possibly one of the most difficult but important things an educator can do. According to the latest research in developmental science, relationships between and among children and adults are “a primary process through which biological and contextual factors influence and mutually reinforce each other.”

Moving Your Body is Like a Tune-Up for Your Mind

If we want a healthy, happy mind, we need to move our body more, a new book explains.

By  KIRA M. NEWMAN| Greater Good Magazine

Movement and exercise feel good, as you know if you’ve ever experienced a runner’s high, the restorative power of a pandemic afternoon walk, or a heart-pumping Zumba class. But what accounts for these benefits?

The answer offered by science journalist Caroline Williams in Move!: The New Science of Body Over Mind is deeper and more provocative than just endorphins, and it highlights how our bodies and minds are interconnected in ways we may not even realize.

Read More

20 Opportunities to Transform Yourself While Teaching

By JOHN BICKART | Teacher/Author
A workshop taken from actual experiences that honor spirituality in education.

Participate in 20 interactive examples of moments in teaching where the teacher can have a transformative experience. Each is a practical example where you experience an opportunity to model truly transformative learning for students. The activities of the workshop anticipate that each participant will be able to perform the following.

 

  • Intuitive Teaching where the teacher is open to new ideas while telling.
  • Teacher / Student Reversal where the teacher is open to learning from the student by active
  • True Learning Modeling where the teacher experiences true gratitude for the student, becoming a model of the highest form of a true teacher.   Learn More:  bickart.org

Looking at Spiritual Development as a System

By DEBORAH SCHEIN, Ph.D | Early Childhood Educator

Let me introduce myself, my name is Deb Schein and I am an early childhood educator who has done some research in the field of spiritual development.  The goal of my research was to produce a definition of spiritual development that could be used for all children.  In the United States that means no reference to God and religion.  (Yet, for those who want to interject a religious lens, there is certainly room to do so. We might explore this in another blog.)

Today, I would like to talk about the importance of seeing spirituality as a system, especially as we consider spirituality in education.  As in any system, we must consider all its parts.  This reminds me of an Indian folk talk – Seven Blind Mice (captured in a book by Young, 1992).  In this tale each seeing impaired mouse explores an object that stands in front of them.  Each mouse has a different experience as only a part of the object is explored.  The outcome for each individual mouse is an incomplete thus incorrect image.  Only the last mouse covers the entire body of the object and only this mouse is able to perceive the whole of the object—It is an elephant with a rope type tail, palm leaf shaped ears, etc.  

The need for understanding the entirety of a system is applicable to our desire to look at spirituality in education.  We must also look at what happens at the beginning of life.  We must ask ourselves, “How can we maintain and grow the spiritual essence that is found at the birth of an infant?” To look at spirituality any other way compromises what we will find; what we actually see; and what we can do to strengthen a child’s spiritual development.

Please join me in this blog on spiritual development as I look at spiritual development in young children through reflections of my research and changing thoughts and experiences.  Here is a look at what I call the system of spiritual development. 


Beginning a career in Early Childhood Education in 1972, receiving her PhD in 2012, Deb now provides professional development for EC educators and teaches at Champlain College.  She is an editor for Soul to Soul – an online journal for practitioners and researchers interested in all aspects of children’s spirituality.  Deb has written two books on spirituality, and continues to research the relationship between spiritual development, nature, play, peace, and well-being. You can find out more about her at growingwonder.com

Around the Globe

11 Films that Highlight the Best in Humanity

for the Greater Goodies, honoring movies from the past year that exemplify optimism, love, empathy, and other keys to our well-being.

Where People in 17 Countries Find Meaning in Life

A new report asked people around the world what made their life meaningful during the pandemic.

In the first half of 2021, the Pew Research Center surveyed almost 20,000 people in 17 countries. Their question was simple: “What aspects of your life do you currently find meaningful, fulfilling, or satisfying?”

Each of these advanced economies—including Canada, France, Greece, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan—was having a different experience at the time. Some were ravaged by COVID-19 and some had very low case counts; many were in economic doldrums, while others were doing fine. In some of these countries, people traveled freely; in others, like Australia and New Zealand, movement was severely curtailed. And, of course, each country has a different culture and history…

Five College Campuses that Managed to Bridge Differences

Campus leaders across the U.S. are implementing strategies for better relationships, dialogue, and understanding across divides.

Most colleges and universities provide an opportunity to meet people who have different faiths, politics, identities, and life experiences. If the campus culture fosters belonging, this diversity exposes students to new ways of thinking. It expands students’ outlook about the world around them, and even changes the way they see themselves. That is what the college experience should be all about!

What Can We Learn from the World’s Most Peaceful Societies?

A multidisciplinary team of researchers is discovering what makes some societies more peaceful than others.

Given the grinding wars and toxic political divisions that dominate the news, it might come as a surprise to hear that there are also a multitude of sustainably peaceful societies thriving across the globe today. These are communities that have managed to figure out how to live together in peace—internally within their borders, externally with neighbors, or both—for 50, 100, even several hundred years. This simple fact directly refutes the widely held and often self-fulfilling belief that humans are innately territorial and hardwired for war.

Kids for Peace

Kids for Peace, a global nonprofit and home to The Great Kindness Challenge, mobilized its network to join together and create the world’s longest recycled paper chain, each paper link decorated with messages of love and hope. Kids for Peace is home to The Great Kindness Challenge, providing a platform for youth to actively engage in socially-conscious leadership, community service, global friendships and thoughtful acts of kindness.

Read more here.

Indigenous Youth at COP26 to Influence Policy

Nine Indigenous youth climate activists journeyed to Glasgow from around the globe to attend COP26. They came here with a shared view of how lands and waters are connected, and how to care for them. They would also like to see plans to protect human rights and Indigenous rights spelled out in the text of the COP agreement. But, even though they have had meetings with top officials, these activists are sometimes on the outside looking in, trying to carve out space for their people. Now that they’re at the conference, they say it sometimes feels like everyone wants to put them in a box and force them to conform to standards with a history of colonialism. 

Link to article here

Students Engage in Community Service at the Dakota Zoo

Bismarck Public Schools is teaching their students that giving back is key. With the weather steadily growing colder, there is work that needs to be done to clean outdoor recreation areas. Two groups of Wachter Middle School- 8th grade students made their way to the Dakota Zoo to help in their clean up efforts. While at the zoo they helped to rake leaves. Over the course of two days, 300 students were able to take part in the project. The school hosts a community service event every year around this time. Wachter Middle School teacher, Kevin Schmitcke, says this is a great opportunity for kids to work together outside the classroom.

Read more here.

Refelections…

The Unseen

By JOHN BICKART, Ph.D | 20 Opportunities to Transform Yourself While Teaching / “Reawakening Your Love of Teaching”

What do you do when something terrible happens? Do you think of taking care of yourself first? You should. Then, do you seek the students? That’s what they want. After trauma, we all seek predictable, kind environments – in each other’s company – and teachers are nothing less than pure gold, here. Do you constantly love teaching? Or are you like the rest of us – falling in and out of love? We teachers need forgiveness, accolades, compassion, and understanding. How will we get this? By looking through the eyes of our students!

I don’t know about you, but I went to the school of hard knocks. When I was very young, everything looked good. As I got older, not so much. I guess the hard knocks got to me. Life brought difficulties, responsibilities, good days, and hard ones, too. Then, I started teaching. The youth I taught have given me a fresh start! If I consciously use their eyes to perceive the world, I have a window into the beautiful and the good. Yes, I have to make the effort, but it works. I believe that it works because the world is inherently good and the youth are innately wise enough to know this. They have a spiritual knowing that is true. They KNOW that the world is good. So, when I need to reawaken my love of teaching, I look into their eyes and through their eyes … and there it is – the knowing that I had temporarily forgotten. 

The Unseen.

Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” So today, I’m going to tell you a story that I told at the wonderful Rainbow Community School, here in Asheville, NC in 2017. I was guest teaching science lessons and a science club. One day, we paused doing science experiments for the following story. It’s one of my favorites. It was first told to me in a room full of adults. So, it was told to adults, but it’s about a story told to children. It comes, inspired by a story from Laurens Van der Post in his book The Heart of the Hunter (1961). But I’ve changed it over the years and for almost half a century now, I’ve been telling this story to children. It’s my absolute favorite story. I’ve also told it to adults, so I’m telling it to you today. It’s about the unseen

“The Milk Maiden”

Once, there was a story. The story was for adults, but in the story, you hear about another story that was told to children. It was told over and over. It was told by a babysitter in the Kalahari, a semi-arid desert in Southern Africa. Every time the babysitter came, the children asked her to tell their favorite story. Now, I will tell you the one she told the children.

Once upon a time, there was a young farm boy. His job was to watch over the cows as they grazed. Every day, he took the cows to the same place. It was a pasture up on the side of the mountain. Over the pasture was a cliff that hung in the air just above the cows. Every day, the boy brought the cows and looked up at the rock cliff to wonder what lay beyond. On the whole, he was happy. But then there came this one different day. Today, the boy brought the cows to the pasture, as he had always done, without any knowledge that on this occasion, his life would change forever.

The pasture looked the same. The cows started to graze as they always did. The boy sat down as he usually would, but then a singular event occurred. A rope descended from the rock cliff just above the pasture. Then, to the boy’s continuing amazement, a young girl started to climb down the rope. She was holding a stool and a bucket. 

The boy hid behind a large rock in the pasture. The girl reached the pasture floor, walked over to the cows, and sat on her stool, placing her bucket under a cow, and coaxed the milk from the cow. When the cow had filled her bucket, she proceeded to the rope and ascended. The boy watched with incredulity.  All the rest of that day and into that night, the boy wondered about the strange girl from the cliff above. What was she doing? Where was she from? Why would she take the milk from the cows – milk that clearly belonged to someone else? Finally, after turning these ideas over and over in his mind, he resolved to watch and wait for the milk maiden to see if she would come back. 

She did. The very next day, just after he arrived at the pasture, she came down the rope and milked a cow. Then, she left as abruptly as she came.  On the third day, the boy’s observational focus had become extreme. He was now making up his mind that if she came again, he would detain her. He genuinely needed to find out what was going on. 

She came. The boy leaped out from his hiding rock and apprehended her.  “What are you doing? That is the milk of the farmer,” he said, “and you are just taking it without permission. “The milk maiden said nothing. She looked intently into the farm boy’s eyes for what seemed like an eternity, then simply said, “I will come to live with you, if you allow me to go back up the rope once more.”  The boy did not know what to say. He was not expecting this. She would live with him? He did not ask this. He just wanted to know what she was doing? After all, she was stealing milk. And now, instead of explaining herself, she said that she would live with him? So, the boy just stood and stared. Suddenly, he found his mouth saying, “Alright.”

So, the girl proceeded to milk a cow and go back up the rope.  Another day passed, then another. On the third day, she came back. This time she climbed down the rope without the milking pail or the stool. But she did have a small box, about the size of a book. She came over to the boy and explained, “I will stay with you as long as you do not look into this box until I say.” The boy agreed, and so they lived together … in the same room, for quite some time.

On many days, the girl would leave the room and the boy would stare at the box she had brought and wonder what it contained. But he never, never looked inside, until this one day.  She was gone and the boy could wait no longer. He crossed the room, opened the box, and looked inside. Afraid that she would come into the room and see him, he quickly closed the box and put it back just as it had been.

The girl came back into the room, looked at the boy, then the box, then spoke directly to the boy, saying, “I must leave.” Taking up the box, she walked out toward the setting sun and was never seen again.

____________________

 At this point the babysitter would always say to the children, “And do you know why the milk maiden left?” The she would add emphatically, “It was not because the farm boy looked into the box!” Then, with a dramatic pause, she would finish, “It was because he didn’t see anything in the box.”

____________________

With that, the babysitter was finished. Now, I personally need to add something. When I was told this story, I was in a room of adults. I’m pretty sure that none of us knew exactly what the story meant. And I’m also pretty sure that we all had the same questions. First of all, how did she know he had looked in the box. Was there something or things in the box? If there was, why didn’t he see anything? And most of all, why would his not seeing be grounds for her to leave?

____________________

This beautiful, mysterious story has stirred in me for almost half a century, now. So, I give it to you. I don’t have the answers. But it makes me respect the unseen and watch and look at life even more carefully than ever before. It causes me to wonder. 

____________________ 

References

Van der Post, L. (1961). The Heart of the Hunter … With drawings by Maurice Wilson. Pp. 254. Hogarth Press: London.

What’s in the Background?…

By BETH STYLES | Producer, Composer, Artist

If you’re a fan for life of “The Wizard of Oz” like me, you’re probably familiar with the ‘big reveal’ (spoiler alert…), that moment – when Dorothy’s little dog Toto discovers an inconspicuous booth (how did we not see it earlier?) in the corner, exposing the “man behind the curtain” aka, the “Wizard” (‘Great & Terrible’ Oz) aka an ordinary man (ok, he was a circus magician…) from Nebraska, whose air balloon sailed off course into a land that had never witnessed such a spectacle.  Alas, he found himself being worshiped as a great sorcerer, and then painfully doing his best to sustain the myth.  Maybe it felt euphoric to be so admired at first, but keeping up the charade had to feel increasingly lonely and bleak… it’s no wonder he morphed into a frightening version of himself…  Anyway… THEN… miraculously, Toto steps in as protagonist at this major turning point, barking to the rescue, saving our beloved foursome, the land of Oz, the Wizard, and all of us, if we’re up for it…

Perhaps this ‘historical’ metaphor begs the question, what’s behind the “curtain” for each of us?  What possible myths or burdens are we carrying?  Maybe the physical masks we grew accustomed to wearing over the past few years helped us sneak and ‘hide out’ more easily… but chances are, we were already skillful in our very own styles of ‘sorcery’ ;).  While the lists of possible errs we may torture ourselves with replenish ongoingly, some of what we may be withholding are our biggest, brightest, and highest dreams.  If we could only get beyond that ‘curtain’… (where’s Toto?!).

For those who are experiencing a space of healthy mind and spirit, ready to invent new possibilities and adventure in life, here’s what could be a fun perspective on loosening up that “curtain”.   Many top life coaches, philosophers, and transformational self-help education courses note, that recognizing the ‘background’ chatter in our minds; our thoughts and feelings – both positive and negative, is one of the first steps in clearing the way for manifesting our highest dreams.  And so, as we rise and do our best to shine each new day, tackling our ‘to do’ lists and fulfilling our commitments at work, home, and to ourselves… what’s in the background?

The first step is to recognize the phenomenon itself, that the brain has an ongoing background ‘conversation’, basically on automatic, reacting to whatever stimuli pops up, every waking hour.  Sometimes described as the “little voice” in our heads (if you’re saying to yourself “what voice?” you just found it…), it ironically has a mind of its own.  In a nutshell, we may not be thinking our own thoughts.  But don’t panic… there’s excellent news!!  That background chatter is not the actual representative of who we really are.  Toto will help us reveal who that is in a moment…

The pickle we find ourselves in as human beings, is that without recognizing the background chatter AND keeping an eye on what it’s saying, our little voice can sometimes go rogue and play a bit of a saboteur.  It may have ‘good intentions’ to protect us, and of course we must listen and trust our gut about real danger – but being the rascal that it is – it can often wind up judging life, others, ourselves – misinterpreting the meaning of past experiences, and developing “theories” about the world, that don’t serve our best interests.  Without noticing, our background theories can potentially become the lens through which we view all of life.   Imagine putting on a pair of glasses with emerald green lenses.  After a while, if we forget we have them on, theoretically, we might begin to believe that everything we see is emerald green. If our saboteur has its way, this emerald view of life might have us feeling like we’re stuck in a glop of… SLIME?  However, when we give ourselves the lead voice, our view can be a clear path to the Emerald City itself, while sipping a shiny Shamrock Shake!

Becoming aware of what’s in the background – intervening, and showing our chatter who’s boss, can make way for the most freeing, new and bold experiences of our lives.  We will continue proving our theories right, but they can be the theories we design. Anything becomes possible.  Segue back to Oz… At last – we become our inner Toto, pulling back the curtain… Huzzah!

Looking Up…

By BETH STYLES | Producer, Composer, Artist

Over the holidays you might have caught the new satirical science fiction film called “Don’t Look Up”, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as two American astronomers who find themselves having to go on a giant media tour, trying hopelessly to warn humanity about an approaching comet that will destroy civilization… all the while our government (Meryl Streep plays the POTUS!), is wayyyy out to lunch.

The film has a fun, tongue and cheek tempo to it, attempting to use this metaphorical meteor plowing towards earth (i.e. climate change?) while we’ve been slowly spiraling hypnotically into the depths of a redundant, mundane, social media pseudo cyber world, and governments seem not to hear or care, despite the pleading of doctors and scientists around the globe for us to “just look up” as the actual, factual, visual, physical proof is RIGHT IN FRONT OF OUR EYES. Sigh… Hence the insane movie title – reflecting the shouting chants among the conspiracy theorists “don’t look up”.  Which is funny, not funny… as here in “real life” we may have the luxury of a few more minutes and another bucket of popcorn before impending doom ensues… or do we?

Since Covid emerged, I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling as though a giant comet hit the world; my world – impacting life and the day to day rhythm of just about everything I didn’t realize I took for granted.  That said, there have been a few, pleasantly surprising, meaningful, pearls of wisdom.

As a producer, composer of spiritual music and director of a community interfaith choir, most of my work got put on hold indefinitely, basically blasting a big intergalactic hole in my annual calendar of ‘feel good’ events. Throughout the year, I would normally be collaborating with diverse houses of worship, clergy and local government leaders to gather people of many backgrounds together. I miss hearing the choir sing songs about love and world peace, watching the interaction between them and the community – and the sharing of a uniting, inspirational experience.  Boo.   But then.. it happened.  One evening, sitting outside on a rock.. I ‘looked up’. 

Gazing at the stars, taking in nature and the universe… I sat quietly, becoming deeply present to the majesty all around me.  I also thought about how I loved astronomy, reminiscing about the courses I took in college, but have since not paid attention to it, not really – and I began to fall newly in love with science.  Wow… so much has happened since I was 12.. ;)!!  Suddenly, I found myself listening to podcasts and immersed in YouTube videos of some of the great thinkers of our times.  I even began to challenge some of the foundational ideas I’ve based most of my life on – and consider, that perhaps I have been so focused on my ‘good deed doing’ and choral sheet music, that I too, had slowly become oblivious to the world around me; that it was time for me to expand my view – and yes, I probably would’ve missed a giant meteor coming towards me.  And maybe this was an unexpected gift that I so needed.

Through the years, I’ve engaged in myriad conversations on spirituality with individuals from many walks of life.  That said, since my events are known as ‘interfaith’ gatherings, and since the choir members and concert attendees are usually connected to various faiths whether they are observant or not, most describe their experience of spirituality as a meaningful connection to something greater than themselves and typically use language such as their ‘connection to God’ or a ‘Divine energy’, or a ‘higher power’.  The spectrum is wide… so I thought, but I now realize (here comes the comet…), that I have been ironically ‘tone-deaf’ to a segment of people who are equally devoted to world peace, moral integrity, love and compassion – yet express spirituality sans a ‘supernatural’, or ‘cosmic’ power as the source.  I’m speaking of the estimated 14% of human beings who identify as secular humanists, atheists, free thinkers to name a few; (thank you Sam Harris* for your exquisite writing, teaching and inspiration for this blog/reflection) – people who I have overlooked and inadvertently excluded for years, all the while intending to be the most inclusive, multi faith, multi-cultural, LGBTQ, safe space for all people to come together “in the name of love and unity” … dang it!  So, full speed ahead, the wording of “interfaith”, is ready for it’s overdue face-lift.  Thank you unexpected, humbling, metaphorical meteor for helping us draw this new, hopeful, authentically inclusive, spiritual line in the sand.  As we set sail into 2022, here’s to looking forward, and looking up.

*Sam Harris – philosopher, neuroscientist, podcast host, author, and a leading intellectual voice of our time.

Beth Styles is an award winning composer/producer/artist, whose work has been celebrated in diverse houses of worship across the country and performed by some of the great artists and cantors of our time.

The Power of Hope

Dr. Dan Tomasulo, SMBI’s Academic Director, wrote a new book: “Learned Hopefulness: The Power of Positivity to Overcome Depression” which has been named one of the best books for depression in 2021. Dan shared: Hope is the only positive emotion to require negativity or uncertainty to be activated. Learned hopefulness demonstrates how hope can be taught and cultivated, and how doing so gives us the ability to become more resilient in the presence of daunting obstacles. As a result the new science of hope is improving outcomes in medicine, education, psychotherapy, and business—and this is only the beginning of understanding its potential.

Link to Dan’s book: “Learned Hopefulness”

Read the article about the best books for depression HERE.

Creating a Spiritual Community

I had the pleasure of presenting the main research of CSE at the Symposium on the Spirituality of Children hosted by Virginia Theological Seminary in late October 2021. While I often present our research, and our work is often well received, this particular presentation felt like a spiritual community. The people who were together shared from their own practice, and felt that our research reflected what they had seen in their classrooms over the last several decades. That, too, felt aligned, as our research was conducted by interviewing and observing master educators to understand what they did. It truly felt as though we were co-creating a spiritually supportive conference space, one where everyone felt seen, known, and valued. It was a profound experience for me! You can view the recordings from the Symposium here.

A New Years “Note” of Reflection | Spirituality in the Arts

By BETH STYLES | Producer, Composer, Artist

As the world takes another ‘tour’ around the sun, choirs and a multitude of musical artists are still waiting for theirs… since health warnings still loom for public gatherings, and especially singing.  There was a glimmer of hope before Omicron, and as the director of a community inspirational choir (New World Chorus), I know how much the group was looking forward to reuniting for some outdoor holiday singing after canceling last year.  Fondly known as the “Street Angels” annual event, the choir traditionally takes a spin around town on a yellow school bus, singing for seniors, serenading at the Stamford Town Center, and jingling at the Palace Theater as children gleefully emerge from the Nutcracker.  This has always been a special outing, where the choir is not under pressure like at a concert venue, doing what they love, and having the unique opportunity to share joy and surprise passersby – a gift that never gets old.

And then, once more, heartbreak set in, as we needed to cancel yet again.  Of course, this melancholy postponement can never be compared to the despair of Covid’s real life losses, or to urgent issues such as addressing the emotional toll of isolation on children and/or seniors.  And while isolation for any and all of us impacts society as a whole, this is more of a reflective “note” on how when this beloved musical treasure seemed indefinitely missing, the human spirit rose up with clever solutions to conquer this saboteur, or musical “Grinch” if you will.  

I’m speaking about the new world of “virtual choir videos”.  When the ban of public singing sank in, taking a million breaths away… like many other producers, I donned my parachute and took a leap of faith into this new world – even launching a new division of my production company called “Virtual Sanctuaries”, to help support music directors and choirs across the country.  By now most folks have likely seen this phenomenon on social media – and for sure, it really helped soften the blow, providing some refuge for the time being.  Choirs met on Zoom to practice, albeit muted, but at least connecting, and working together on music to record.  Ok, alone… in a quiet room… but then VOILA! Modern technology brings it all together…  and before you knew it, in an unexpected harmonious twist, virtual choir videos slowly became a new powerful, inspirational tool used by choirs worldwide.  Kind of like a new era of “MTV”… choir version. 

Perhaps well said by the now world famous “virtual choir” genius Eric Whitaker, “the virtual choir would never replace live music or a real choir, but the same sort of focus and intent and esprit de corps is evident in both, and at the end of the day it seems to me a genuine artistic expression.” 

If you’ve ever had the experience of singing in a choir, you’re not a stranger to its power.  And/or if you happen to be an admirer of this art form, you’ve likely been moved in the presence of its majesty – be it Gospel, American Classical or Pop, Theater ensembles, or Mormon Tabernacle-ish, just to name a few.  So what is this power magnifique? What is this Je ne sais quoi ingredient that brings on the goose bumps?  The words I’ve most often heard to describe this experience by both choir and audience, be it secular or religious repertoire, is deeply “spiritual”.  And I’ve come to understand that people use this word to describe that which is indescribable.  And, perhaps, if we had to name it, we might describe it as universal love.  

Music, can spontaneously transform an unbearable moment of despair into an unexpected joy.  And, in particular, expressed by a chorus – young and older, can shine a light on the glorious connection that is innate in human beings.  Here’s to the wonder of it all – and the hope that we get to experience that spiritual, indescribable, magic up close and personal in this new year! 

On Science & Spirituality

The Reverend Norman Hull, chaplain at Campbell Hall in southern California and CSE fellow, has recently written a reflection on his work encouraging middle school students to share their spirituality through the school’s Chapel program. As Norman describes, “A 6th-grade boy reflected in chapel on his love of science by saying, ‘In science there is always a new challenge and something new to do and that is what keeps it interesting. He went on to connect the Bible message from Isaiah to his homily by saying that, ‘it reminds me of how God’s ways are more spectacular than our ways and this connects to my love of science because with science you can understand so much, but there’s always so much more you can’t understand.’ When students realize that there is so much they don’t know, they are tapping into the mystery and sacredness of life.” Norman’s reflection for the National Association of Episcopal Schools Chaplain’s Blog, “Connections Between Spirituality, Chapel and the Classroom,” can be found can be found HERE.