In the autumn of 2015, I had the opportunity to travel to India. I revisited a project that I deeply appreciate and admire – the Abha Seva Sadan Multitherapy Clinic, which serves a very neglected rural area in Jharkhand state, near to the city of Bokaro. I made a short video documentation of one of their most impressive projects, the Cerebral Palsy program for children:
The multidisciplinary team of doctors at the clinic use a combination of acupuncture, physiotherapy, herbal medicine and homeopathy to treat children with cerebral palsy. The results are quite breathtaking. In Romania, one of our kindergartens integrates children with cerebral palsy and over the years, I have seen how their incredibly dedicated parents were always trying out new therapies in the hopes of improvement, which was often quite slight and difficult to determine.
However, in many cases, if the child is treated early enough before the onset of contractures and the resulting physiological deformations, the results are quite visible, as you will observe in the video.
In our increasingly sophisticated and technologically driven world, many children are primarily exposed to discovering the world through the screen of a tablet, TV or computer. They become habituated to these highly concentrated doses of information and their young minds readily adapt and crave greater and greater stimulation. It is then no wonder that it becomes difficult for them to sit quietly, to have long periods of concentrated attention. We adults complain that ADHD has reached epidemic proportions, yet if we observe ourselves, many of us have become accustomed to being constantly available on our cell-phones, filling up the spaces of our lives while we wait in line, drive in the car, or go for a walk with checking email, messenger, Facebook, or making calls. How much calm, quiet spaciousness do we grant our own minds? How much do we flit rapidly from task to task?
Mindful time in nature is both antidote and medicine for this condition. The natural world operates in spontaneous harmony with its Divine source and thus exudes peace, beauty and truth from its very essence. Poets and artists throughout the ages find metaphor and inspiration in the natural world as it is a pure mirror of subtle, spiritual truth. Only human beings have the ability to choose consciously whether or not to act in harmony with their Divine nature or to ignore it. The rest of Nature is on auto-pilot. As a zen teacher I heard speak once said, “Human beings are number one bad animal because human beings don’t know what human being’s job is.”
Virginia Blackburn was a powerful and beautiful black African American woman working as a social worker at a women’s centre in a poor inner-city neighbourhood in the Midwest. She was a close friend and wise mentor for me in my early twenties. She invited me to different workshops on themes such as overcoming racism, classism, sexism and other types of isms. I was shocked to discover how these barriers had limited my ability to feel close and connected to others. I considered myself a liberal, open minded person. I had grown up in a multi-ethnic highschool and most of my best friends were non-whites – Korean, Chinese, Indian. I had even gone to a formal dance with a black friend as my date, and had to cringingly endure the loud and embarrassing comments of my somewhat deaf French-Canadian grandfather like “Oh he is good looking for a black guy!” I was a good person and I was dedicated to principles of equality for all. I certainly didn’t see myself as a racist and would never consciously participate in hurting anyone because of their identity.
I wrote this children’s story for our smaller children from FAMILIA AMURTEL. Many of them have certain behaviors – such as hoarding food, that stem from their traumatic history of neglect during critical developmental stages in infancy. This story uses metaphor to communicate compassion and understanding, and at the same time show a healthy way through the distressful behavior:
Juniper was a white baby rabbit. She lived with 27 other baby rabbits inside of a small cage. It was very crowded and uncomfortable. When the farmer came with food, all of the rabbits scrambled on top of each other fighting for their share. Juniper was small and not very fast, and the others climbed over her and ate up most of the food before her. She was always still hungry when the food was finished, and cried for more, but nobody listened. They were too busy trying to get food for themselves too.
With quick efficiency, the camp committee in the Sitron camp in Haiti announced our arrival for a women’s gathering. Soon the women were spreading large grey tarps on the bare ground, and to our surprise, a microphone and amplifier were waiting in the middle of the space. I was amazed to see that already the camp had wired electric lines throughout the site, and indeed, a bulb was shining in a hut on the hill. Two months have now passed since the earthquake, and people have begun to settle and adapt to the circumstances with characteristic resilience. The construction of latrines was nearing completion, and groups of men were busy chopping poles to construct a large community tent for clinics, meetings, religious services and other collective events.
In Neo-humanist education, we all know that children learn best by imitating the example of the teacher. However, it is not only small children learn well by imitation and example – it is one of the most effective ways adults learn as well. Have you ever experienced the difference between just hearing or reading about how to do something and then actually seeing it done? For example, there was a particular difficult yoga posture called peacock that I had read had many benefits for overcoming fear, anger, and improving digestion, cravings and some other benefits and I really wanted to try it, but from the picture and the book, it looked simply impossible – it is a difficult balancing posture where all of the weight is supported by the elbows on the navel area. I tried a few times, but was immediately discouraged. Then a friend of mine showed me how she had learned, breaking it down into a few simpler stages. Within a month of practice, I amazed myself that I actually had learned how to do it.Read more
The mind of children is already in a state of creative problem solving all the time as they constantly absorb new information about their world and how to interact with it, making it easy and natural for them to learn new languages.
Language acquisition is even easier for children than adults when presented in play way format because they have no inhibitions about learning something new. They naturally parrot-imitate new things. Often you can find small children babbling new words to themselves as they gain mastery over them during moments of free play. Read more
According to Neo-humanist philosophy, human life is an ideological flow. Our lives are not just made of a chronological series of events, but rather of stories that give those events meaning and color. Human life is an endless quest for meaningfulness, without which life is a dry and barren desert. We are trying to discover where we have come from, who we are, and where we are going. This quest leads us ultimately towards spirituality, and discovering a spiritual perspective with which to understand, interpret and direct our lives.
Stories, and story telling are an important part of this process. As our understanding and perspective evolves, we continually reinvent our own stories, and look for inspiration in stories other that mirror our inner hopes, dreams and values. In fact, stories are a type of magic mirror, in which we seek to know ourselves and our world. Read more
Challenging stereotypes in Neo-Humanist Diversity Curriculum Small children are spontaneous scientists, gathering information, making hypothesizes, testing them, and drawing conclusions that eventually crystallize into a belief system that then embeds itself deep in the unconscious mind. When these beliefs remain unchallenged, and are confirmed by repeated experience, they harden and set like plaster, and become difficult to reshape in later life. Consciously seeking opportunities to introduce themes that address human diversity in an inclusive way is a key feature of successful Neo-humanist early childhood education. When diversity curriculum is appropriately designed, it can help to correct and prevent the solidification of stereotypes and blind prejudices in the formative mind of the child. Read more