Friday, December 18, 2015

Sadhana Forest Auroville - Sunday - Reading and Children at Play

I love my cot. It is so comfortable. The morning bell is hit in the distance. It is time to get up. I get up. This was my first day in Sadhana, I could not spend it sleeping. I look at my watch and it is 5 30 am. This is when I normally sleep on some days back home in Mumbai. We meet up in an open space near the main hut, and then do some stretches and funny dances. Then we were free

Sunday was still a holiday at Sadhana. So I had another day to just do nothing. It is quite the skill. The ability to do nothing. To just be with yourself, for hours at end. It was 5 30 am, and I had nothing planned for the day. This was rare. I have a specific set of goals I have to complete on most days, back at home. Today, I had nothing. I had nothing planned for the whole day. It was liberating and yet kind of scary. Liberating because, I had the option to do absolutely anything on this day. I could read, or walk, or talk, or cook, or just observe a tree. Nobody would care. Nobody looking over me. This seemed like the autonomy, I was in search of my whole life. School, parents, friends always had a say over how I spend my time growing up. Now I had full control over this decision. It was scary because I would be alone with myself. There was always the possibility to think too much. There was always the possibility of this thought process turning negative and turning against myself. I could also get bored, so that was definitely another worry. It has been a long time, since I last got bored.

My fears come to life. From 6 am to 8 am, I am anxious and walk around restlessly. I do not know what to do with all this free time. The strategy growing up, was to sit in one corner, to close my eyes, and try focusing on my breathe. I tried doing this, but I was distracted too quickly, and walked off to do something else. Why could I not sit quietly in one place for even fifteen minutes? Why was I so restless? Sometimes I feel I need to control my thinking. I think up one thought and then this thought leads to another and then that thought leads to another and so on and so forth. Everything seemed so chaotic up in my head. I was always intrigued by action in the vicinity of my sense organs. Then all my attention, would shift to it.

The words of a researcher, Young (1966) come to mind, 'Who can know what he thinks and feels, if he never has the opportunity to be alone with his thoughts and feelings.'

It was 8 am in the morning and I was already sick of my thoughts and feelings.

I decide to go and explore the library. Reading a book would consume my thoughts. I did not have to focus on myself anymore. I thought there would be a few old books in the collection in the main hut. But on further inquiry, I found out that, there was an attic in one of the housing huts, that housed a library and some reading space. So go I off, hunting, for this elusive space. I place my sandals outside one of the huts, and climb the ladder up to the first floor. Then I observe it. Two bookshelves filled with books. All kinds of books. Maybe over a hundred of them. It was incredible. I look through the first few pages, and notice, that many of the books were left behind by the volunteers. The Forest first started accepting volunteers in 2003. The library kept accumulating books from its volunteers over the years. This was all in front of me to explore. I never read much at school. But during the this year on the road, books were all I could think of. I could not carry any physical books because of the weight problem with my back pack. 

But whenever I had some time to spare, I would read a few passages from an e-book on my phone. I would also explore the libraries at the homes of the people I stayed with on this journey. Here at Sadhana, the collection was quite diverse. There was a good mix of Fiction and Non Fiction. Books on Veganism, Agriculture, Unschooling, Sadhana Forest were available in the mini library at the main hut. I look through the collection, pick out three to four books and then sit down on a mat on the bamboo floor, to read away the morning. Two hours later, I have had enough. Or maybe, I just needed a break. So I climb down the hut, and decide to go visit the Children's land. Every sunday, a group of children from the nearby villages, would come to the playground at Sadhana. They could engage in whatever activity they liked and most of it was self determined.

Self Determined Play
This was the coolest thing I had heard all week. One of the major reason, I undertook this journey, was to undertake a parallel research project titled, 'Education from a Student Perspective in India'.  The objective was to visit and study innovative learning spaces and educational institutions across the country and to collect answers from students and teachers, to this question, 'How do you make Learning Beautiful?' During my stay in many of the cities, I visited, I also made sure I studied the innovational practices of schools in those cities. I really was curious to understand how, individuals made, 'Learning Beautiful' in their unique contexts.

This space was a perfect example of a place that had found a way to make Learning beautiful. The kids loved being there, the adults (volunteers) acted as facilitators. Most of the activities of play were self determined by the children. It is such a beautiful experience to observe children play? They look so alive and are always filled with bucket loads of energy. They run around, bump into each other and fall down, scream out loud, dance, laugh, cry and then run around again. I feel little children involved in play, are moments of an individuals life time, when people are most in the state of flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has written about this state exhaustively. In his book, 'Optimal Experience: Psychological Studies of Flow in Consciousness', spoke about this state and some of its characteristics. An individual in the state of flow, would,
1) Have a focus of attention
2) Distorted sense of time
3) Goals are clear
4) Average Challenges are matched to skills
5) Accurate and immediate feedback

Just playing with the kids, that day, I noticed all of these characteristics. The kids were in flow. Play was an activity, they thoroughly enjoyed. It made them feel alive unconsciously. They were so happy. Everything about the way the children's land was structured made sense to me. Children loved Play. If Learning was like Play. Children would love Learning. That was a epiphanic moment for me. Those two hours on that Sunday morning, at the Sadhana Forest, in  auroville, convinced me that Learning could be so much more than what I thought it was. Learning could also be beautiful.

The rest of the day was just normal. Nothing special. I had lunch, made some new friends, spoke to G, L, H and T and slept on my cot for a while. Life is normal. Exciting things are not happening for every second of your life. There is also something beautiful about a normal day. Why do we always have to do something extraordinary to live a day of significance in our lives? Why can't getting up, going to work, exercising, spending time with your family, going back to sleep, be a good day?

That evening I met R, who was a veteran volunteer at Sadhana. He stayed there with his mother. He told about his life in Orissa as tour guide. He had a car and would take visitors around the city he resided in. I also spoke to his mother about her experience at Sadhana. She told me about the people she met there over the years. She liked being there. It was a very simple life. They invited me for dinner that night. We ate bread and some vegetables.


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