These notes are offered to help you understand the connections between the effect and nature of telling stories and the cultivation of respect for self and others within children. Throughout the book there are references to “being,” “resting the mind,” “observing,” and “containing emotions.” These are concepts that are often hard to explain with words. They will be felt as you work with the materials, and this explanation will then assist you further. In the notes to follow, please find some of my thoughts about their underlying importance to the art of storytelling. These ideas are the foundation for BECOMING THE WORLD, and have grown out of more than thirty years of working with children.
SKILLS FOR PROMOTING TOLERANCE
The capacity for TOLERANCE is inherently within each of us. However, the flowering of this enriching quality is entirely dependent on how each child’s mind is trained. Many subtle and enduring experiences can take place during storytelling that are key to activating the discipline of tolerance. The materials, stories and activities of BECOMING THE WORLD are intended to help children expand their understanding of themselves and others based on experiences that can then be discussed, fortified and nurtured. The following concepts are well worth our attention as they are fundamental to creating gradual and sustainable change in our children.
- Within the individual, being able to endure disturbances, sudden emotion, and/or reactions depends on the ability to contain feelings.
- Being able to contain feelings depends on the individual’s experience of diverse emotions without fear or preconceptions that can only take place when the mind is “settled.” Opinions, fears of the unfamiliar and learned reactions blind us. Unless trained otherwise, the innate response is to avoid these uncomfortable feelings rather than being able to apply patience and ‘listen, learn and absorb’ while maintaining awareness of one’s own responses. This capacity is activated because of the way in which children spontaneously imagine all the characters and maintain interest in the event.
- These qualities of listening, learning and absorbing cannot be maintained or utilized through understanding concepts alone. They must be felt, known, experienced and acknowledged to become workable skills. Creating calm in the mind of the listener is the first step in embracing this innate potential. Children’s focus and relaxation is the clue that this is taking place.
- This containment of feelings also depends on experiencing one’s own natural state of being. Neutral and suffused with wakeful curiosity, this natural quality of mind is restored through continuous engagement in the storytelling process. As one listens to a story, one experiences a synchronicity of mind and body that instantly allows for “resting the mind in its natural state.” The mind and the body are aware and engaged at the same time. Often felt as enchantment, this invisible byproduct is the most powerful effect of storytelling.
- Regardless of how much this is described on paper, these states of being can only be truly known in the moment when they are experienced. Thus, the activities presented in this book provide practice as well as a path towards recognition that is experiential, then fortified by discussions and activities.
Children are caught in the dilemma of a world dominated by passive manipulative mediums such as television, internet, film, video games and a preoccupation with opinions as fact. They are often taught that what is seen outside of themselves, or taught to them by rote, is more real than their own experiences. To return to their own inner resources, they need repeated practice, coupled with the personal tools to embody their own imagination, intelligence and intuition, without fear or reactivity. Talking about the lack of something they have not experienced yet, can only leave them baffled. Discussion and our own dedication to discovery can produce fresh insight and confidence.
The reciprocity of the telling/listening event lays the groundwork for this function. By engaging in imaginative thinking and visualizing exercises, children have the chance to ‘own’ their own unique experiences, which are always different from those of other children. Their feelings are explored in their complexity, thereby, ‘contained,’ so they can recognize that others have a different structure of thinking, — cultural, or social, ethnic or religious — that is as compelling as their own. There are no right or wrong experiences, although there may be appropriate and inappropriate behavior or reactions that cause harm. Without the basis of resting the mind, this is not planted in our children.
Tolerance is much more complicated, and more natural, than blind acceptance. It can be sustained only when one’s own feelings are acknowledged and there is sufficient strength to listen to another, recognizing that they feel differently. The ability to contain uncomfortable feelings while actively engaging with interest gives birth to tremendous personal healing and empowerment. This is where alternative thinking, spontaneous awareness, and creativity can arise. Creativity is vital, since without it other realities will be impossible to imagine. Maintaining intolerance demands constant resources of reactivity, guarded interactions and the stress of aggression that isolates and furthers stress.
The more children are given the chance to exercise their imagination with respect and discipline, rather than rules and preconceived ideas, the more they will be able to embrace and accept themselves and thus begin to acknowledge the vast diversity of the world around themselves. Without being able to actualize experience through visualization the child does not gain the capacity to choose the satisfaction of appropriate behavior or trust their ability to rest their mind even while experiencing strong emotions or reactions. As facilitators you are being asked to make this same journey within yourself as well. This is an enlivening adventure for us all, adults and children. To catch ourselves when we react out of fear or naively side with prejudice, and acknowledge an alternative, is the great hero or heroine’s triumph.
© 2003 Laura Simms