It was a cold, wintry evening outside, but I felt a warm feeling inside my heart as I listened to a wonderful group of high school students recite their chosen poems by memory. The beautiful, inspiring and thought-provoking poetry, interpreted through the prism of their youthful, vibrant energy felt like a breath of fresh air- especially given that often teens are attached to their iPhones, iPads and other electronic gadgets. It was even more special because my 15-year old son was amongst the participants. ?
The Learn’d Astronomer
One of the poems my son selected was When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer by Walt Whitman. In this poem, the speaker shares about his experience listening to the “learn’d” astronomer lecture about the stars in the sky using “charts”, “diagrams”, “columns”, “proofs” and other “figures.” Whereas others in the audience applaud, the speaker of the poem grows weary and tired, even feeling sick. He wanders outside the classroom to gaze upon the stars “from time to time” in “perfect silence” surrounded by the “mystical moist night-air.” The speaker contrasts “bookish knowledge” which is logical, linear and factual with the sense of awe, oneness and connection felt while gazing upon the night sky. The former intrigues the intellectual yet it is the latter which nourishes the spirit and the soul.
The need for quiet and silence for mental health
These days our lives as well as the lives of our children and teens grow increasingly complex. From an academic perspective, I witness that our children are being asked not only to master greater amounts of information at a younger age, but also at a faster pace and in greater depth. In addition to academic excellence, there are expectations for athletic as well as extra-curricular achievements and participation. Then of course, there are the normal challenges of being an adolescent- and dealing with puberty, hormonal changes, as well as negotiating peer friendships and relationships in the era of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
What time does that leave to really be in “perfect silence” or any sort of silence, for that matter? Would being in the “mystical moist night-air” have any role for our kids?
I believe it does, and here is my sense of why.
• Increasing levels of anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns amongst our preteens and teens could at least- in part- come from this feeling of lack of connection to a larger expanded state of awareness.
• Children are naturally in tune to that space of play, creativity and connection within themselves when they are younger. Just look into the eyes of an infant or watch a toddler play or a young girl skip alongside her mother as they run errands at the shopping store. Yet as they grow older, kids begin to feel greater identification with the ‘persona’ self- the part that plans, worries, predicts, and tries so hard to ‘do good’ or ‘be good’ or ‘be successful.’ This does not mean that logical, linear or analytic thinking need be abandoned. Yet there must be a balance.
A new way to educate our kids
As we educate our children about math, social studies, geography and science, what would it look like to help them understand how their mind works?
As they master a new language or become proficient in athletics, what would our homes and schools feel like if we helped them train their mind as well to consistent peace, joy, comfort, rest, and perhaps moments of the “perfect silence” of the “mystical moist night-air”?
More to come…
Over the next months, I will share resources to support our children so as they reach upwards to embrace the sky full of possibilities, they also can remain firmly grounded in their Core Self- that is full of Peace, Love, Happiness and Joy.
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