Extreme Gaming – How Are You Playing Life?

Angels In The Realm

I’m imagining how it might have been for me before I was born.  I’m thinking about that part of myself that existed before I was conceived and will continue to do so after this body has died.

That’s where many people start to feel uncomfortable.  We’re pretty ‘earthy’ beings right at the moment, and we find it hard to imagine that part of us called ‘spirit’ or ‘higher self’ or ‘soul’ or whatever.

Personally, I don’t imagine fluffy clouds, harp-strumming angels or dressing all in white.  The ‘eternal me’ I’m imagining simply can’t wait for another shot at the greatest game in all of existence – the one called ‘Life’.

So here I am, queuing up with all the other hopefuls, having decided what sort of game I’d like to play this time around.  Maybe I’m going to try being impoverished, powerful, handicapped, abandoned…  Maybe I want to create music, build structures, explore the sciences, teach…  Maybe this is a totally new venture for me, or perhaps I’m going to have another go at something I tried once before – something I’d like to develop further.

Whatever choices I’ve made, I can’t predict the outcome.  I have a game plan, if you like, but The Game is notoriously unpredictable.

And whatever choices I’ve made, the aim is always the same: to gain all the experience I can lay my hands on and to find ways to sneak as much of my soul/spirit/eternal self into The Game as possible.  Put simply, that means to bring light and energy into the world.

Now I’m shuffling towards the front end of the queue.  It’s rather like when you travel by plane; no matter how many times you’ve done it before, you still have to sit through the safety information.

Once upon a time, Rumpelstiltskin

I’m imagining this being delivered by someone like Richard O’Brien when he fronted The Crystal Maze  (for British readers who remember that amazing show) or maybe Robert Carlisle as Rumplestiltskin in Once Upon A Time…

Anyhow, our guide is giving us the final, pre-Life briefing.  It goes something like this:

In order to enter LIFE, you will all be required to wear one of these skin-suits.  They are regulation issue, but you’ll find they will adapt to fit the body you select with only minor stretching and wrinkling as you move through the various stages of The Game.

Your suit is equipped with seven ‘energy dials’ or ‘chakra points’.

In the ‘closed’ position, these will cut you off completely from all links, memories and contact with Eternity.  You’ll forget who you are and why you’re there.  You’ll be on your own out there – and it can be a very rocky ride.    It means you’ll get 100% Earth experience – all the shocks and jolts, the bumps and bruises and you’ll have NO IDEA what is going on or what you are doing there until you finish The Game.

On the other hand, if you open every dial wide and try to play The Game without any filters, you’ll be completely overwhelmed by the experience.  You’ll go crazy.  Seriously.  No one has ever done that.  Remember that in your present state you are pure energy – pure light.  Think carefully about how much of that you will be able to tolerate within The Game.

We’d suggest a happy medium… but then it’s YOUR game and you get to choose the way you want to play.

English: Kiddie swinger ride at Six Flags Over...

Enjoy the ride!

 

 

 

And here I am.  And so are you.

Wrapped securely in our skin suits, we’ve adjusted those energy dials and decided just how much of Eternity we want to remember, and just how far we want to cut ourselves off from ‘Who We Really Are’.

The suits are fairly flimsy and transparent, usually, at the very start and end of Life.  Memories and experiences drift through.  In the middle of The Game, though, the skin suits can be as thick as rhinoceros hide.  They can shield us completely from all ideas of Eternity and the reason we’re here.  Sometimes, because they’re invisible, we even forget that we have those chakra dials.

On the other hand, we’ve all come across people trying to play Life with many of their dials wide open.  They’re experiencing different realities, multiple levels of existence and being bombarded by sensory experiences so extreme, they often sit hunched in their skin suits, cowering from the enormity of trying to bring eternity into The Game – blinded by the light.

How did you set your dials?

The Inspiral

Day 95 - English test

Day 95 – English test (Photo credit: LShave)

It’s my anniversary!

I’ve just realised that exactly five years ago, I turned my back on the state education system, where I’d worked for many decades, and walked out into the daylight of a new, uncertain but exciting future.

My last few years as a teacher were very tough.  Trying to balance the increasingly crazy demands of our political masters, trying to do justice to the needs of the wonderful children I taught, trying to achieve the grades expected of us by the education authority and – worst of all – trying to maintain my role within senior management in a system I neither trusted nor believed in, all took their toll.  My stress levels were rising.

In my small amounts of spare time, I did the two things that have always helped me the most: I visualised the  situation I wanted and I wrote.  In fact, I combined the two – and came up with the beginnings of a screenplay for a dramatization about my dream school.

This morning I decided (this being the anniversary) to take it out and have another look.

Maybe the ‘Inspiral’ would work – better than the current system, anyway.  Maybe some of the ideas could be used or adapted.

Feel free to dip into it and let me know what you think …

 

The Inspiral – screenplay

A modern, stainless steel, salad and sandwich bar interior.  Michael is serving.  It is almost empty.  Hayes enters, selects a smoothie from the chill cabinet, pays and sits at a table.  Almost at once, Lisa comes in from a door at the back of the café.  She heads straight towards Hayes, smiling confidently.

Lisa:             Mr Hayes, yes?

Hayes half stands, smiles and motions her to sit down. He peers at her name badge.

Hayes:          Mrs Dawlish…….Inspirer?

Lisa:            A tough label to live up to, Mr Hayes, but we are all ready for a challenge here. And the name’s Lisa.  Finish your drink, please.  I’ll have one too, and join you.  That way, I can answer any questions you have before we start the tour.

She goes to the counter. 

Lisa:             Orange juice, please, Michael.

Lisa hands over a memory stick. Hayes watches as Michael links it to his computer, taps a key and returns the stick with her drink.  As she returns, Hayes opens his mouth to ask a question.

Lisa:           (laughing) What is the stick for?  As you’ll have noticed, the café shares our building. It was planned that way.  We have a symbiotic relationship – both help the other to get along. 

It’s an ethically run, wholefood, organic business.  It is a commercial concern, but most of their business is evenings and weekends.  They open for breakfast and weekday lunches principally for us, so although they take normal customers, like yourself, they make most of their breakfast money from the Inspiral. 

All staff and pupils have one of these.  (She indicates her stick.)  It links to our account on the café computer.  Most of us pay by direct debit; so do the majority of parents.  So, for example, you might want your child to have breakfast and lunch here each day, and you’d agree a weekly amount with the manager here.  They’d make sure your child was well fed each day.  The stick holds information on allergies or preferences, making it easy for even the smallest kids to have a meal that suits them.

If they qualify for free school meals, the education office pays the bill and the child has a stick, like everyone else, so nobody’s any the wiser!

Hayes:        (nodding) And it helps you, because you don’t have to organise dinners or deal with the money for them.

Lisa:            Exactly!  Also the sticks double as an alarm, so that if a child wandered towards the café exit, they’d be noticed.  We have our own access, over there.

She indicates the stainless steel door she previously came through. At that precise moment, it opens, and a 9 year old girl (Callie) with fair, wispy hair emerges, carefully retrieving her stick from a USB keyhole.

Callie:           Hello, Mr Michael.

She reaches up to hand the stick to Michael.

Michael:       (smiling) Hi, Callie.  How are you this morning?  Your usual?

Callie:           Yes please, and I’m very tired ‘cos my stupid Mum came in at 3 o’clock this morning and woke me up. (Conspiratorially) Drunk again.  She’s such a idiot!

Michael:       Poor old Callie.  You don’t have it easy, do you?

Callie takes her stick, a fruit juice and a granola yogurt.

Callie:          (emphatically) You’re right about that.

She goes to sit down a few tables from Hayes and Lisa, then spots Lisa.

Callie:           Oh, hello, Mrs Dawlish!  I didn’t know you was here.  Sorry I’m late.

Lisa:            (smiling gently) Don’t you worry about that, treasure – not your fault.  Enjoy your breakfast.

Lisa and Hayes finish their drinks in silence, as Callie devours her breakfast eagerly.

Callie:           Mmm, that was yummy!  I’ll go and start now, Mrs Dawlish.

Lisa:             Okay, Callie.  I’ll be in soon.  Have you got your programme for today yet?

Callie:          Miss Alleppo said I have to eat first, then sleep, then she’ll do my programme.

Lisa:             Miss Alleppo is a wise lady.  Sleep well, sweetheart.

The adults watch Callie use her stick to go back through the door at the rear of the building, then Lisa leads Hayes to the front door of the shop.

Lisa:            We could have gone with Callie, but I want you to see the Inspiral from the front entrance.  You’ll love it.

They walk out and along the pavement to the next building.  Rainbow lettering above the door reads ‘Inspiral’.  The doorway is unusual – modern, but with a hint of Arabian Nights about it.

Lisa hands Hayes a memory stick.

Lisa:            Yours is a skeleton stick – it will take you to any room as long as you’re preceded by someone with access.  Callie, you see, will only be able to enter the quiet room at the moment.  When she’s caught up on her sleep, she’ll have today’s programme made up.  All the children have a personalised learning programme.  The stick holds the information and lets them into the right rooms at the right times.  Computers are networked, of course, so staff know which children they are expecting at any time.

They enter the building.  They are at the start of a long corridor which curves gradually to the right and slightly upwards.  It is the beginning of a long spiral which will finally reach the assembly room at the top of the building. Doorways can be seen to the sides.  All doors are closed.  The corridor is softly lit but colourful, with exuberant children’s work on an underwater theme decorating the walls.

Hayes:          It’s very impressive, Mrs Dawlish.  Beautiful!

Callie, clutching a blanket, appears from a room to the left and opens a doorway a little further along the hall.  A fragment of New Age music drifts from the room as the door opens.  There is soft pinkish glow from the room, then Callie goes in and the door hisses shut.

Hayes:          I’d love to see that room…

Lisa:             Later – I promise.  Now – the grand tour!

She indicates the first door, inserts her stick and checks a small screen above the USB lock.

Lisa:             Right, the main meeting room is free.  Come in and see.

The room is brightly decorated with the rainbow colours.  There are wall hangings, paintings by children and posters showing parents reading, playing with or cuddling their children.  Soft chairs, rugs and cushions are scattered around in a rough circle.  On side tables are cups and plates, biscuits, a kettle, candles and phials of essential oils.  There are storage trays for paper and art/ craft materials.

Lisa:            This is where parent support groups, professionals’ meetings, talks from practitioners and so on happen.  We’re quite lucky to find it empty.

Hayes:          So who supports the parents?  Who runs these ‘groups’?

Lisa:            It can be anyone on the staff, really – sometimes pastoral staff work with a group of parents who have asked for help; sometimes a teacher will run a workshop in art or maths or something; sometimes the school nurse or educational psychologist offer to run a group. 

We also have a group of parents who come in once a week to make resources for the school and have a chat together.  It’s good to have a room that’s just for them.  They feel at home here; they can make a coffee or burn aromatherapy oils – it really helps them to feel comfortable with us.

Hayes:          Yes, I suppose so.  I always dread my daughter’s parents’ evenings.   (As they leave the room and Lisa heads for the next door)  Listen, Mrs – Lisa – I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I’m not going to get much of a feel for the Inspiral by walking in and out of rooms.  I want to understand how it works; how it’s different to an ordinary school; how it feels to be a child working here.  Is there any way you could show me that?

Lisa smiles and opens the next door.  They are in a green classroom.  It is a maths lesson.  Two adults are working with groups of children.  The remaining children are engaged in measuring and recording tasks in small groups.  They are drawing shapes, then cutting them out.  One group are building a structure with their shapes.  A few children look up and wave at Lisa, the rest are too engrossed to notice.  There are about 25 children.  There is an obviously wide age range from 6 to 10 but most look about 8 years old.

Lisa:            Pick a child, Mr Hayes – any child!  Ask them to tell you about their experience here.  They’ll be happy to oblige.

Hayes:        (glancing at her uncertainly) They all look so busy.  Er, could I bother that boy? (points at the largest child)

Lisa:            Of course.  Andy, this is Mr Hayes.  He’d like to know how it feels to be part of the Inspiral.  Could you tell him about what you do here?

Andy:        (standing up and approaching confidently) Sure.  Pleased to meet you.

He sits with Hayes at a side table.  Lisa wanders off to see what others are doing.

Andy:           I came here when it opened.  It’s the coolest school I’ve ever been to.  They find you classes where you can do the work and so you get better at things really quickly.  I started in Orange Maths and now I’m in Grass Green!

Hayes:         I’m afraid I don’t know what that means, Andy.  How do they decide which classes you’re in?

Andy:          (voiceover as scene shifts to flashback of the day he started at the school)       Right.  Well, the day I came, Mr Davis talked to my mum and me about what I was like at school before.

 

Deputy head’s office.  Mr Davis, Andy and his mother sit round a table.  Andy looks angry and is scribbling on a sheet of paper with a red crayon.

Mrs Slater:         …a bit, sort of, insecure really, I think.  Trouble is, he doesn’t ask for help, you see.

Mr Davis:          Okay.  So, Andy, tell me what school is like for you.

Andy:                 (focussing on scribbling, which becomes more agitated)  Crap!

Mrs Slater:        Andy!

Mr Davis:          No, that’s fine, Mrs Slater.  Give me a bit of detail, here, Andy – which bits are okay; which bits are bad?  Try to tell me how you feel about it. (Makes notes as Andy talks)

Andy:                Hate maths – it sucks.  Art and that’s okay.  Don’t mind writing – I’m pretty good at that.  I can do gymnastics but ball games are pathetic (glances up angrily) and people get so wound up about them!  What’s so great about kicking a ball into a stupid net?  I like computers and gaming and that.  Enough detail?

Mr Davis:         That really helps me to get an idea of you as a person.  That was brilliant, Andy – well done for explaining so clearly.

Andy smiles slightly as he draws on the paper.  His drawing is calmer now – doodling thoughtfully.

Mr Davis:          You didn’t mention break times and lunch times.  How do you like them?

Andy:                 I like food! (All laugh)  But the breaks go on a bit; they’re quite boring.

Mrs Slater:        He’s rather a loner, really, Mr Davis.  He doesn’t have any real friends, you see.

 

Scene returns to Hayes and Andy in classroom

Andy:            I could have died when she said that!  Anyway, next I was sent to a classroom to mess about with some art work, while they sorted out my stick and talked it through with Mum.

Hayes:         Sorted out your stick?

Andy:           Yeah. (Shows his memory stick) This.  It’s not like my old school, where if you were in Year 5, you’d do all your lessons there and you’d do the same stuff as everyone else your age.  They worked out which classes would be best for me in English, maths, science and IT.  Then I got put in with people who needed the same lessons as me.  It doesn’t matter about our age.  Like in here, I’m one of the oldest, but Carla – that girl over there – she’s only 6, but she can do this stuff really well.  Look at her model – it rules!

Hayes:         Doesn’t it bother you, working with little kids?

Andy:           Seemed a bit weird at first, but we don’t think about it now.  It’s just a relief not to be the class thicko.  It’s good in IT, too, because I’m in indigo class for that and we can get on and do really cool stuff, without having to waste time with kids who are, like, ‘what does the mouse do?’ and that.

Hayes:         Yes, I can see the advantages, certainly.  You said you’d moved maths classes. Is that because they got it wrong the first time?

Andy:           Well I always thought I was totally useless at maths.  I really didn’t think I could do, like, anything in it.  But the orange class, the stuff was so simple.  I kind of liked it – being the first one to get it, instead of the last!  But after a few weeks, the teacher said she thought I’d enjoy a bit of a challenge…

 

Scene changes to a different classroom:  Andy is standing with Miss Bowles

Miss Bowles:   So you have two choices, Andy.  You can move to yellow class, where the work is a little faster and more advanced, but still quite easy for you, or you can go straight to green.  I think you would cope fine there, but I don’t want you to feel freaked out!  It’s your choice.

 

Scene returns to classroom with Hayes

Hayes:           (Surprised) Seriously?  They gave you the choice of which class you joined?

Andy:            Yeah.  Sweet, isn’t it?  They say it’s me that’s got to do the work, and somewhere there’s a class that suits everyone.  If it’s too hard, I’ll feel stressed out and thick; if it’s too easy, I’d get bored and fed up.  So the trick is to find the class that I enjoy working in.

Hayes:         So what did you do – go to yellow or green?

Andy:           (grins) Well I still didn’t have much confidence, so I went to yellow, but it was a bit boring, to be honest, so after half a term I went to see Mr Davis – you know, my learning tutor – and chatted it through with him.  He was, like, really smiling and said he was very glad my confidence had gone up.  I really love this maths class!  Never thought I’d say that – ever!

Hayes:         Well I’d better let you get back to it!  Thanks, Andy.  It’s been really interesting chatting to you.

Andy:           No problem.  See ya.  (Returns to his table and continues task.)

Lisa, who has been working with some of the children, drifts back to join Hayes.

Lisa:            Shall we move on?

Hayes:         Certainly.  Remarkable boy, that.

Lisa:            (smiles) He’s happy, Mr Hayes – they all are.  That’s the remarkable thing!

Hayes:         Well that little girl – Candy? – She didn’t seem at all happy.

Lisa:            Callie.  We do our best to support parents, Mr Hayes, but to be frank; it can sometimes be them who mess up the children’s lives.  Quite a few of our youngsters are going through parental problems: divorce, separations, addictions, absences for various reasons… and that makes life very tough.

Hayes:         Well I’m sure it does, but sadly, that’s going on everywhere.

Lisa:            Yes, of course.  But we feel it’s unrealistic to expect children going through major life changes to ‘pull themselves together’ and get on with school life as if nothing’s happening.  In schools where they do that, you end up with bullying, violence or disaffection; worse – you end up with children who don’t trust others and start to believe that the whole world is an unreliable place.

Hayes:        (laughs bitterly) Are you trying to tell me it’s not?

Lisa:            I’m trying to tell you it needn’t be.  We’re trying to ‘be the change’.

They walk on together, passing closed classroom doors with glass panels, showing various maths activities taking place. They also pass staff rooms, offices etc.  Hayes has his hands in his pockets and is deep in thought.  Lisa glances at him once and leaves him to think as they walk.  She stops by a door marked STARS.

Lisa:            Are you ready for more yet?

Hayes:         Sorry?  More?

Lisa:            More of what we do.  Or would you rather think a bit longer?  There’s a lot to take in.

Hayes:         No, no.  I’m fine.  I’d like to see some more – maybe meet some more children?

Lisa:             There will be some along soon.  I think you’ll like this.

She opens the door to a small, round room.  Drapes hang from the ceiling, making that, too, seem rounded.  There is a very soft light.  As Lisa flicks a switch, points of coloured light are projected onto the walls and drapes.  The effect is magical.  Soft, vaguely Celtic music begins to play.  Lisa motions towards some floor cushions, but finds a chair from the side when Hayes looks uncomfortable.  He sits uncertainly on the chair.

Hayes:         And what’s the purpose of this?

Lisa:            Well, as I said, children don’t always have a great time at home.  This room is an escape for them, somewhere for them to be at peace for a while.

A soft knock at the door and a woman (Sophie Farmer) puts her head round.

Sophie:        Sorry, Lisa, is it okay for our group to use the room?

Lisa:            Of course.  Mr Hayes would like to watch a session.  Is that okay with you and the children?

(Sophie enters with 5 children of various ages)

Sophie:        Fine with me.  Boys and girls, do you mind if this visitor sits in with us today?

Toby:           Yep.  He can stay, but he’ll have to get down on the floor.

Lucy:           Yes, he will.  Cos if he falls asleep he might fall off that chair!

Callie:          He’s that man who was in the cafe!  You can sit next to me, Mister.

Hayes:         (climbing down rather stiffly) Thank you, Callie.  Did you sleep well?

Callie:          Not really.  So I’ve come to Stars because that’s really relaxin’.

Lisa:            I’ll leave you to it, then.  Toby, would you bring Mr Hayes to my room when Stars is over?

Toby:           Yep.  No problem, Miss.

Lisa smiles.  The children settle themselves onto cushions.  Some sit and others lay down.  Sophie leads a guided meditation.  The children – and eventually Hayes – relax and lay motionless as it develops.

Sophie:        That’s right.  Get good and comfortable.  Take some slow, deep breaths.  Breathe in… and out.  Breathe in… and out.  Breathe in lots of peace and calmness, and breathe out all the fusses and bothers.  Keep breathing now and each time you breathe in, feel yourself filling up with calm.  When you breathe out, let all the tensions and wriggles go.  Settle deep into the cushions…  Feel like you’re melting into them.  Let your eyelids get heavy and close your eyes.  Keep breathing in… and out…

Now imagine you’re sitting or lying in a beautiful palace, made of crystal, with stars shining through the pure crystal walls…

No harm can come to you here.  You’re totally safe…

You’re watching the stars twinkling far above you… They look so beautiful…  As they shine through the crystals, the stars shine in different colours.  You see deep red stars shining low in the sky…  A little higher up, there are lovely bright orange stars glowing like tiny lanterns…  Above them, you notice some little yellow stars; just like miniature suns …  It’s so peaceful and beautiful here…  Now, still higher in the sky are some green stars…  They look so very calm and lovely…  Over them are ice blue stars – cold and clear and bright…  Now imagine looking to almost the highest point in the sky…  here you see the indigo stars – deep purple blue, mysterious stars twinkling up above you…  Then, right at the very top of the sky, you see some violet stars…  Their colour is a red-purple…deep and warm.  Stay quite still and breathe in the beauty of these amazing stars….

Now, when you are ready, imagine yourself choosing your favourite star.  It can be any colour you choose.  Hold it in your mind’s eye, when you have chosen it.  Inside your thoughts, keep linking to your special star.  As you watch it, it moves closer to you.  You can see its colour really clearly now.  It’s getting brighter and brighter.  Breathe in the light from your star.  It’s still getting closer and closer.  You can feel it shining just in front of you… until it flows into you…right through your skin… and the whole of your body is lit up like starlight.  Feel your star colour filling every part of you with beautiful, brilliant light.  You feel it shining out of you.  Let it shine all around you – onto your friends, onto the room and right out to anyone you want to send light to.  This light is so strong, it can reach anyone in the world – even people who have left the world.  Your starlight can travel for millions of miles, and you decide where it flows……..

Now…very gradually…your light grows fainter and paler, until it’s back inside your body.  Feel it there…your own secret starlight.  You can make it grow bigger any time you like.  You can keep it inside you, or send it back into space.  It’s your choice.  Whatever you do, though, this will always be your special star, and you can call it and ask it to grow anytime you like… Sometimes, when you need to feel brave, your star will be there to light you up and make you strong and bright…

…Very gradually now, be aware of the rest of the stars, shining through the walls of the palace.  Remember how calm and peaceful it is here.  Remember this palace is in your mind, so you can come to it any time you like…

Now slowly be aware of your breathing again.  Make your breaths a little deeper… in…and out…in…and out.  Slowly feel your body on the cushions.  Feel your legs and your back… Feel your arms and your body… Lastly feel your neck and your head… and in your own time… open your eyes and sit up.

Well done, everybody.

The children gradually stretch and move, muttering and murmuring cheerfully and

contentedly.  Hayes opens his eyes, looking rather bemused.

Sophie:        Okay everybody?

Children:      Yes, Miss/ fine/ yep/ yawn etc.

Hayes:         Yes, thank you, Miss, um – that was very relaxing.  Remarkable.

Callie:          Told you!  I said it was, didn’t I?

Hayes:         You did, Callie.  You were right.  Um… What happens now?

Toby:           Usually we have a sit around here for a bit and let our bodies and brains come back properly, then we go to break.  I’m gonna take you to Miss Dawlish, though, ‘cos she said to.

Sophie:        Well remembered, Toby.  Your brain’s back already!  Nice to meet you Mr Hayes.

Hayes:         Yes, you too.  Thank you again.  Right, young Toby – lead the way!

Toby:          (unlocking the door) Yep.  This way, Mr Hay.

They walk down the corridor together.

Hayes:         That was great, wasn’t it?  Are the words always the same?

Toby:           Oh no.  They’re never the same.  Sometimes we get fireworks, or waterfalls or we go through the woods into our own special garden – that’s one of my best ones!  It’s called Stars, but we don’t always do about stars.  She might’ve did that ‘cos you were new. (Pause)  She did that bit about reaching people who’d left the earth for me, you know, special!  That’s ‘cos me mum went to Heaven, so she did that bit special for me.  I liked that.

Hayes:         Well my Mum’s in Heaven, too, Toby.  So I especially liked that bit as well.

Toby:           Is she?  Whoa.  I wonder if she knew.  She’s dead clever, that Miss Farmer.  This is Miss Dawlish’s room. (knocks)

Lisa:            (opening door and smiling) Ah – well done, Toby.

Toby:           ‘Ere he is, Miss.  You know what?  His Mum’s in Heaven with mine!

Lisa:            (glances quickly at Hayes and smiles) How lovely, Toby.  Perhaps they’re friends.

Toby:           Yep.  I s’pect so.  Cheers, Miss.  Cheers, Mr Hay. (He leaves.)

Lisa:            Was that all right for you, Mr Hayes.  I hope Toby wasn’t making you feel uncomfortable.

Hayes:         Oh, not at all.  He told me about his mother, and, it just seemed appropriate to tell him about mine.  He’s so – at ease with it, somehow.  Remarkable.

Lisa:            He is now, yes.  He can be rather direct, though.  Some people find that rather hard to cope with.  Death is not a taboo, here, you see.  But in some places, it still is.

Hayes:         Very true.  A good thing.  (Quietly) Nothing worse than feeling you can never talk about a thing like that.

Lisa:            I know.  It was making that discovery, years ago, that made me determined that death would always be discussed openly in my classes – and now, my school.

Hayes:         So you teach the Christian version, do you? Going to Heaven and so on?

Lisa:            No.  We respect the family’s views and beliefs.  If they tell us someone’s gone to Heaven, or become an angel or whatever, we accept that.  The only time I question is when a child seems very unhappy at being told that there’s nothing after death.  Then I ask if they really believe that.  They usually can’t bear to – it’s just too sad.  I always ask them what they think happens.  You get some really beautiful answers to that question.

Hayes:         Yes, I’m sure you do.

Lisa:            Anyway, let’s get on.  I thought you would like to see how the children’s programmes are planned.

Hayes:         I would.  That lad in the maths class was explaining it to me, but I found it rather confusing.

Lisa:            Of course.  Well in a traditional school, children are usually grouped by age.  Some schools stream the year groups for certain lessons, but there is, obviously, a wide ability spread, which can lead to boredom for the ablest children and distress, or even disaffection for the least able.

Hayes:         But surely a good teacher can differentiate?

Lisa:            Well of course, and they do.  However there will always be children getting the thin end of the wedge.  Oh, those schools are crawling with advisory teachers admonishing staff to pay attention to special needs, gifted and talented, boy readers, girl mathematicians, those just below the average – you name it, they want a focus on it.  Even the most brilliant teacher can’t focus on every child every second.  Add to that the feelings of the kids who believe they’re not getting enough attention or help or being stretched enough, and life is difficult for everyone.  We think our system works better.  It’s as simple as that.

Hayes:         Okay – explain your system.

As Lisa speaks, there is footage of the classes and systems she is describing.

 

Lisa:            At present, the school has children aged from 6 to 11.  Most have been sent here by the local authority because they were ‘difficult to place’ in traditional settings.  The main problems are behaviour and social or emotional difficulties.

Word is getting around now, though, and many parents are asking for places here.  I think the amazing building sways quite a few of them!

In the mornings, every class is running maths or literacy – English – at the same time.  We plan very carefully, so that broadly the same topics are being covered, but in a range of levels, from very basic to advanced – curriculum levels W to 5.  If the school was working on ‘time’ one week, the level W class would be counting round a clock and learning to recognise o’clocks; the level 5 class would be solving complicated travel problems using bus and train timetables, or calculating flight times to different time zones.  We keep to the same topics so that if a child moves classes during the year – and they often do – they will still cover the same subject areas.

The class the children attend depends partly on their ability and partly on their perception of their ability.  Remember, many of our kids have emotional problems, which usually means their self-esteem is very low.  They need to experience success before they can make progress, so we tend to start them in an unchallenging setting and let them realise they could cope with more.

 

Scene returns to Lisa’s office.

That’s what happened to Andy – the boy you met this morning.

Hayes:         Yes, that’s right.  He was telling me all about that.  He did seem very proud of himself.  I gathered from what he said that he was rather difficult when he moved here.

Lisa:            Well the last school found him very challenging, but we made him an individualised programme, based on his strengths and needs. (She presses some buttons on the computer and turns the screen towards Hayes.) See – his maths is still low for his age, but he’s working two levels above where he was when he joined us just over a year ago.  He’s in a class at the ‘expected’ (hate that expression!) level for English and above average in IT.  If you look at his afternoons, you can see that we’ve blocked in a fairly intensive pastoral programme for social skills; he isn’t good at mixing with children his age, despite being very good with younger children and adults.  He’s not ready to cope with competitive sports, so he is doing a gym-based fitness programme for PE and we’ve chosen a topic group that plays to his strengths – here (points to screen).

Hayes:         (Reading from screen) Fantasia – creating and filming harmony in colour, pattern, sound and light.

Lisa:            It’s a lovely project – and every child working on it has something positive to offer.  For Andy, it’s the art work and technical wizardry, but there are musicians, quite a few dyslexic kids with wonderful spatial skills, a girl who has the makings of a brilliant director – everything, really.

Hayes:         It all sounds wonderful, but aren’t you pandering to the children, rather?  Shouldn’t they be pushed a bit more – made to confront their difficulties?

Lisa:            Read the papers, Mr Hayes!  Watch the news!  Check the statistics for secondary school truancy, exclusions, street crime, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy!  If you like what you see, keep cramming square pegs into round holes! 

If you hated the sight of blood and were terrified of needles, would you train to be a doctor?  If you were a pacifist, would you join the army?  Of course not!  Yet for decades we’ve been forcing our children into years of doing things they hate, just to watch them fail, or give up, or rebel.

No, Mr Hayes, I’ll let the children decide when they want a challenge.  Make no mistake, they’ll choose them when they’re ready.  We all love a challenge, but we like to decide what it’s going to be.  (Pause.  Apologetic) I’m sorry.  I feel quite passionate about what we do here.  I really believe we’re making a difference to the attitudes these children will grow up with.  Would you like to break for a coffee?

Hayes:         I really admire that passion.  (Hastily) I’m not patronising you.  You’re winning me over, you know.  It takes a while to adjust to having all your assumptions about education turned upside down, but what you say is making sense, and the children are living proof that it seems to work.  Forgive the probing.  I just need to understand.

Lisa:            Thank you, Mr Hayes.  I’m so glad you are taking our ideas seriously.  You see, I’ve had to fight very hard for this.  It’s turned me into a bit of a wild cat, I think!

Hayes:         Hardly that!  The coffee’s a great idea.

 

 

The Eye of the Beholder

Portrait of girl with straight, blonde hair

Not the girl in our group – but similar (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The speaker – a member of the kids’ philosophy group I run – was tall, slim and graceful.  Her perfect, even features were framed by long blonde hair.  She was 14 years old.

The group had been discussing the possibility that we create our own reality.  Excited ideas were bouncing around the circle:

“but that would mean…”

“so do you think that we …”

“so if I was, in some weird way, kind of – the creator…”

 

 

That was when she spoke:

“But if I had created my reality… surely I would have done a better job.”         She shook her head and gestured miserably towards her own face and body.  “I mean, I would have created something better than THIS.”

She wasn’t fishing for complements or trying to lighten the mood.  Her brow creased as she tried to make sense of the possibility.

The rest of us – children and adults alike – gasped in amazement.  How could she not see how lovely she was?

And yet how many of us do the same?  How many of us become intimately familiar with all our perceived faults and utterly blind to our perfection?

My response was to talk her through a quote from my book:Quote from LIFE: A PLAYER'S GUIDE by Jan Stone

It’s not big-headed to recognise our own beauty.  Until we can find and love the wonder in ourselves, we can’t see how it fits into the whole of creation.

Once I can honour the divinity in myself, I can find and honour it in you.

Namaste.

 

The Curious Incident of Communication

Dynamic Earth - Ocean Currents

I’ve long suspected that time doesn’t flow the way we’ve been taught it does.  I believe that rather than moving along steadily from past through present to future, or following round in a huge karmic circle, it spirals, whirls and eddies through our lives, throwing all manner of interesting synchronicities, portents and realisations to us.

If we’re not looking out for them, these can be easily missed, but just a few are so strong that even the most myopic amongst us can’t fail to notice.

That’s how it was for me many decades ago, when I watched a grainy black and white documentary on the television.

I can’t remember the year, or how old I was, but still young enough that my mother was arguing with dad about whether it was suitable for me to watch something this harrowing – so sometime in the early 1960s, I would guess.

TV

TV (Photo credit: Melissa Segal)

The BBC was very black and white in those days – no grey areas.  Documentaries spoke with an assertive, authoritative voice and we all believed every word.  The voice-over man with his ‘received English’ accent left no room for doubt or questioning.  In his cold, compassionless voice, he was explaining childhood autism.

It was a brutal, terrible programme.  Much footage of wild, staring children banging their heads against cot bars, howling and rocking or sitting mute and expressionless as adult carers tried vainly to elicit a response or interact with them in any meaningful way.

“Poor unfortunates…Locked away inside their own minds,” the dry voice intoned.  “Unable to engage in any normal activities… Don’t appear to feel pain… Will frequently tear at their own flesh… Show no reaction or affection even to their own parents…”

Yes, this was certainly one of my out-of-time moments.

I don’t think I’d even heard of autism up to that point in my life.  I’d certainly never come across anyone who was on the autistic spectrum.  Yet I knew – utterly and overwhelmingly – that this was something I needed to know about and to understand.

“I don’t believe they don’t feel!” I remember yelling.  “There must be some way to reach them.”
If I wasn’t crying, I was certainly close to tears.

My mother bustled me off to bed, with lame reassurances that ‘people like that’ were cared for in special places and that their carers were very kind to them, so I didn’t need to worry.

Those images and the chilling words left me horrified and frightened, yet still this strongest of intuitions was letting me know that what I had seen was extremely  significant to me and would become a key part of my life.  It was as if my future self had swirled back through time to ensure that this child-me was made aware of the importance of this subject and wouldn’t allow me to forget it.

English: 14-year-old girl with autism. Svenska...

The faces of those children, cowering, screaming and shaking wildly stayed with me.  They became dream companions; at once filling me with cold dread and coaxing me to move closer, to find them and understand; to help the rest of the world to do likewise, so that no one would believe the cold, damning words of that documentary.

Now, half a century later, I can look back (and forward) at my work and contact with children and young adults on the autistic spectrum.  So many have drifted into, out of and through my life.  Some of my experiences and encounters, along with what I have learned, are detailed in a previous post.

Always – ever since that moment in my childhood – I’ve clung to the hope that, no matter how difficult, ways can and will be found for people with autistic spectrum perception to share their experience with the rest of us.  My own encounters have allowed me to glimpse what is possible.

And now, thanks to the translation undertaken by author David Mitchell and his wife, we all have access to the words of 13-year-old Naoki Higashida, a Japanese boy who found a way to explain, from deep within the autistic spectrum, how it feels to be there and to attempt to interact with the neuro-typical population.

The Reason I Jump is a spellbinding book – eloquent and sensitive, with an honesty and simplicity that belies the young author’s deep insights into the differences and similarities between the two communities.

Nothing in the book surprises me.  Every word strikes true and helps me to recognise and recall aspects of the wonderful young ASP people I have known and worked with.  Certainly, as Naoki often comments, their lives can be stressful, difficult and almost impossible to comprehend, even for themselves.  Friends, carers and family struggle to understand and meet their needs and he acknowledges this with compassion and regret.  Despite all that, though, his is a message of hope.

Naoki’s book is currently no.3 in the Amazon UK bestseller list.  Time has spiralled round this week, to remind me of my first encounter with autistic spectrum perception and to show me how, in the most curious manner, I and countless others are learning to bridge the gap between the two populations.

"A child with autism (three years old) po...

 

The Iron Gate

I don’t know where this story came from. 

I know I’m the one who wrote it, many years ago, but what dream-maker or muse placed the images and ideas in my head I can’t fully understand or explain.

I wrote it for a friend, but now I see I also wrote it for myself.

Just maybe, since coincidence doesn’t exist but synchronicity does, you have come to the story because it was also written for you.  Please open to that possibility and enjoy, because it is sent to you with love.

jap_garden_maple_tree

Once a man was walking along the street, when he noticed a beautiful garden behind a high iron fence.  The man was overcome with a great desire to go into the garden.  It looked irresistible.

He could smell the slightest hint of perfume from the flowers, but he knew that if he was in there, the scent would be overwhelming and he’d be able to drink it in for as long as he wished.  The grass was soft and waved gently in the breeze.  He ached to be there, laying in it and staring up into the trees.  There were secret corners and paths he could not see from the street, and he longed to be able to follow and explore them.

No one else seemed to be in the garden, or even to notice it.  He felt strangely certain that this garden was there especially for him – if only he could find a way into it.

shut the gateHe followed the fence for a long way, but it was far too high to climb.  Eventually, after turning several corners, he came to a gate.  This too was very high and made of iron, but the man was filled with hope.  Perhaps the hinges were weak; perhaps the catch was rusty.  He stepped back and took a run at the gate, throwing his full force against it.  It barely moved, and the pain was excruciating.  His shoulder was bruised and his wrist was sprained.  He had jarred his leg badly and his whole body felt battered.  Despite this, though, he smiled.

“That must have weakened the gate,” he told himself.  “Next time I’ll manage it.”

A few days later, when the swelling and bruising had died down, he returned to the gate and, once again, threw himself at it with all his might.  As before, it stayed firm and he was battered and injured by the experience.  He refused to be put off, however, always returning and enduring the same pain, just for the chance of entering the garden.

“After all,” he reasoned, “Such a beautiful, enchanted place is worth all the suffering.  I should have to go through pain if I’m to reach that perfect garden.”

As time went by, he began to think about the necessity for the pain more than about the garden.  It had become a ritual he had to endure.  He felt proud if he made himself suffer more frequently, or if the bruising was worse than usual.

“That’s got to be good,” he said.  “That takes me closer to my goal.”

 

Finally, the inevitable happened – he ran at the gate so hard that he banged his head against the metal bars and knocked himself out.  He lay, motionless, on the pavement.

White feather on rust

White feather on rust (Photo credit: Marius Waldal)

Slowly, a perfect white feather floated from high above down through the sunlight and landed beside him.  He could not have heard any sound and yet the motion made him stir.  He tried to sit up, but felt dizzy and disorientated.  Someone seemed to be beside him, but perhaps he was not yet fully conscious.  The figure appeared to be very tall.

The man felt the softest of touches to his shoulder.  His pain seemed to subside.  He was not sure whether the figure had spoken.  He didn’t remember hearing any sound, yet there was a question in his head, as if someone had just asked it.

The question was so obvious; he couldn’t see how he had not thought about it before.

“Why not?” he asked himself, and reached up to turn the handle of the gate.  It swung open easily.

He stood, wondering at the lack of pain, and walked through into the garden.  It was as beautiful as he had imagined – more so, in places.  He felt peace and warmth and happiness flowing through him.  He’d had no idea that life could feel this good.

 

When you reach your gate, why not simply open it and go through?