Tuesday, October 16, 2012


 So I decided to do Finslippy's "The Practice of Writing." The second prompt was: "Tell a story about falling." We're still on 15 minutes. I think.

               The best thing I ever learned in school came from what is now called GT (Gifted and Talented), or so my niece and nephew tell me. Now the program focuses on technology, connecting classrooms with Skype, using online videos and research sites to teach where once it was teachers, blackboards, textbooks, and film strips. In my day, GT had a fancier acronym, with at least one word that I didn’t understand then and barely understand now: R.E.A.C.H. (Realizing Excellence in Academic Cognition Heuristically). Once a week, we spent a day outside the regular classroom, working with two teachers, one of whom had her doctorate and one who was working on it.

                I remember only a few things we did in that class. One was logic problems, those things where you’re presented with a graph and a series of statements like, “Joe’s car is green, but it is not a turbo.” Each statement leads to an X or an O in the squares of the graph until magically, you know unequivocally who drives what kind of car and what color it is.

                R.E.A.C.H. ended suddenly after the sixth grade, returning me to an academic world of mediocrity and repetition, but the one thing that has stayed with me all these years was the guided relaxation activity. Once a week, at the end of the day, we spent 20 minutes lying on the floor with the lights off, learning how to relax our bodies and quiet our minds. We pictured a light in our bellies that slowly grew with each breath. As the light grew, it released the tension in our chests, our arms, our legs, our feet, our toes, until at last our entire bodies were completely relaxed and our minds were clear. I’ve learned since that this same technique is the heart of meditation, of hypnosis, of channeling and other spiritual pursuits. At the time I thought it was a perfectly normal thing for kids in a public elementary school to do.

                I thought it was a silly activity. What 4th-grader thinks that lying still and relaxing is a valuable use of time? I expected nothing from that 20 minutes, and I got nothing from it, until suddenly, lying there in the dark counting my breaths and deliberately spreading the light and driving out the stress from my body, the floor opened up beneath me, and I fell through it. I floated, weightless. I couldn’t feel the carpet or the hard concrete beneath it. I couldn’t specifically picture in my mind where my hands were, or what position they were in, or my feet or legs or head. I felt empty, clean, and weightless, free from my body, like I could go anywhere, effortlessly.

                Ever since, I’ve used the technique to sleep when I am stressed, to ease physical pain, to free myself temporarily from the cravings to smoke when I was quitting. It may be the single most valuable thing I ever learned from my entire public school education career. It took me many years to realize how completely unusual that experience must have been, how lucky I was to participate in it, and what a short span of years that program must have had in a system that increasingly focused on standardized testing.

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