Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Letter to the Team

Hi Guys,
I have been focusing on optimistic realism after Vipassana and this mail is one of the many exhibits of that.

Despite the unending stream of challenges, the constant burden of planning and executing, a massive achievement gap and the constant lack of external motivation, we have set ambitious targets for our kids. We have taken these targets because we genuinely believe things can change. We have taken these targets because we know that it will be too late for the kids if it is not now. We have taken these targets because we know if we get anywhere close to them, we will probably draw inspiration from this one year of our life forever.

This will not be easy. There will be days we feel low, there will be assessments where our kids and our confidence is shattered, there will be students who will make us want to give up on them and there will be times when things are in turmoil on the personal front. On those days, I want us to be there for one another. To remind each other that we won't compromise on the dream or give up on a child. To give one another a day of rest and a shoulder to cry on, but then again come back the next day, expecting excellence within the classroom and in the conduct of our students.

We do this despite and in spite of what is happening in the classroom next door.  We make our students see the difference their choices make every single day.We make our children self-reliant so that they can guide the incoming fellows.

This is of course not to overwhelm one another but to change what the benchmark of efficiency and effectiveness is for a Jafari fellow. We will all be there to support one another all the time. Together, I know we can do it.

Compassion and Courage.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Nothing Never Changes

Seeing the new fellows who have joined our school team, I am reminded of how we started our journey in Jafari. I am reminded of the long path we have walked since that day of 24th June when we first met my kids.

Looking at the journey of the fellowship from an everyday micro perspective did not make the growth easily apparent. However, when I compare my classroom now to how it was last year and when I compare our instruction style as compared to our incoming batch, I realize somethings have changed.

I am much more perceptive of the needs of my children and how to reach out to them. Not only that, I am aware of how to convert the insights of perception to instruction in the classroom.

I see how my teacher presence has improved significantly, how I am a lot calmer in the classroom now and as a result, a lot smoother in executing my plan.

I understand the need to spend time investing my children in what I believe is good for them. Neither academic, values or exposure are complete without the other. I know that only one-third of the battle is fought in the classroom, of which only one-third is academic.

I sense the power of collaboration and team work. Powerful ideas can be sharpened with the help of multiple perspectives. Painful rework can be avoided by smart distribution of work. The learning curve can be shortened if you share your experiences openly within the team.

My belief that "Right is right even if no one is doing it. Wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it." is further reaffirmed. People eventually see the returns on investing time and effort in setting a high bar of excellence and maintaining a strong process orientation. The challenge is to keep going without giving up on anyone - whether kids or team members.

Lastly and most importantly, I realize the power of a vision and keeping every action of my students and my own rooted in that vision. It takes a lot more planning but everything falls into place beautifully if you pull it off.

The vision gives me a sense of purpose. When the days are dark, it is that purpose  that keeps me going. When I am tired, it is that purpose that gives me energy. My state of mind reminds me of a dialogue from Matrix - "We're not here because we're free; we're here because we're not free. There's no escaping reason, no denying purpose, for as we both know, without purpose we would not exist. It is purpose that created us, purpose that connects us, purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us; it is purpose that defines us, purpose that binds us."

Monday, June 09, 2014

And so it begins again...

My school reopens tomorrow after the summer vacations. I am so glad I had the break. It gave me an opportunity to zoom out and think about many things - both related and not-related to the fellowship. It gave me the time to plan keeping in mind where exactly I want to see my children and how I can link my every action with that destination I have decided for them.  With all the thinking came the feeling of being overwhelmed, about how much I had not done in the year gone by and how much more there remains to be done for my kids. I did quite a bit of planning that puts me in a comfortable position as compared to some of the others in my team, but I still feel I haven't done enough to fulfill the vision I have for my kids.

With all the goals that I have set for my kids and the sudden turn of events in my own life, if I achieve 70% of the ambitious short term goals I have set for my kids, I would consider I have done a fair job. In addition, by the end of the year, I would have started a library in school. By the end of the year, I would have finished a project in training teachers in my school. By the end of the year, I would have had packed and moved to another place again. And by the end of the year, I would be married!! Yes, matrimony was the 'sudden turn of event' I was referring to earlier.

Considering what I have learnt at Vipassana recently, I will ensure that I do not judge the result with a sense of pride or disappointment. Whatever percentage of my personal and professional goals I achieve will be a source of inspiration for the future. Whatever percentage I don't will be valuable learning for the future. I have to come back to this post and read it with complete honestly, every time I feel like being hard on myself. The only time I will give myself the permission to chastise myself is when I falter in my effort.

Regardless of what the outcome, I going to come out a stronger person. Awareness and equanimity will be the key to making the difference to my kids and my self.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

A Monk's Life for 10 days

I attended a 10 day Vipassana program as taught by S.N.Goenka. I wanted to write a lot about it but I decided against it. I think each person's experience should be their own, since the technique itself works within the framework of one's own body.

Here are the reasons I liked it so much:
1) It is universal and secular. Anyone above the age of 18 can practice it in its pure form whereas youngsters have age appropriate courses.
2) You can experience its effects then and there. And no, they are more than the effects of not communicating or not accessing technology for 10 days.
3) It doesn't promise miracles but offers a way of gradually being happy (or liberated, if you believe in after life or rebirth) through a logical argument based on:
a) morality of action - One must only perform actions and do work that benefit others or work that does not harm others. The intent or motive is more important than the verbal or physical manifestation of the action.
b) complete control over the mind - One must develop the ability to focus by observing the natural breath alone and not use any visualization or verbalization. Both visualization and verbalization can never be involuntary and without the conscious mind's involvement. As such, they only act as a distraction from worldly issues.
c) cleansing of mind - Every volition of the mind is a biochemical process within the body. This biochemical process is triggered after the brain accepts and perceives inputs from one of the sense doors of the body. You cannot control what is outside your body, but you can control the sensations within your body that are a result of the biochemical process. This is done by training your mind to remain aware of and equanimous after every sensation. The more you practice, the more you can prevent the habitual response (of anger, pleasure, pride, hatred, aggression, attachment, etc) to certain situations. Every act of equanimity leads to a craving or aversion being dislodged from the depths of your mind. (I am a beginner and yet to experience this first hand!).

While this post may seem abrupt, I just wanted anyone who comes across the post and doesn't know about Vipassana to be at least introduced to it! Whether you choose to adapt and practice the technique regularly is up to you, but I will urge you to give it a fair chance by attending one course. I came back inspired!