January 6, 2010
Teaching yoga in a middle school, I see dozens of tweens and teens everyday sporting peace signs on t-shirts, backpacks, earrings, socks, notebooks and just about any other place that can house a logo. Recently, after noticing no less than half of my 5th period class displaying their peace signs, I had to ask,”Do you all wear the sign as a trendy fashion statement or do you really believe in peace as way of being?” Not altogether surprisingly, the first response came blurting out of a 7th grader, “Not even close.”
Not even close? Which part of my question was not even close? Granted, my question was not so elegantly framed, but this typical teenage response didn’t shed much light on my inquiry. I decided to look deeper and find out if the resurgence of the peace sign among my students was the result of a growing understanding of the world or simply the latest fad.
So, I asked my students to find a comfortable position on their yoga mats and spend a few minutes in contemplation on the meaning of peace. First, I guided them through a short full body relaxation while instructing them to focus their minds on their breathing. Once everyone was settled, I guided them to consider what peace really meant to them. What does peace look like? How does peace feel, sound, taste? For about 5 minutes, their only task was to reflect on their ideas on peace.
What emerged in our subsequent discussion deeply inspired me and fully answered my original inquiry. Here are a handful of responses:
“Peace is the absence of violence…when people don’t fight or try to rule eachother.” Jackson, 7th Grade
“Peace is a state of mind. It’s a way of thinking about the world that makes you feel powerful.” Sasha, 6th Grade
“When you don’t have to worry about everything and the people around you don’t stress out about every little thing, that’s peaceful.” Kerry, 8th Grade
“Just being yourself and not caring about what everyone else thinks about you. Peace is about understanding that we are all different and that it’s okay to disagree. We don’t have to be right all the time.” Franco, 8th Grade
“Peace is, like, when you can just take a moment to breath.” Ella, 7th Grade
“In peace, you can be you and I can be me. It’s simple.” Derek, 6th Grade
One of the many reasons I love teaching middle schoolers is because they are just starting to make sense of the world beyond their own immediate experience. They often retain their childhood innocence, yet they are being exposed to new, bigger and sometimes dangerous aspects of humanity. During discussions, I sense students frustration with the world. If kids can learn to get along and keep it together why can’t adults?
Taking a moment to reflect on what peace really means to us and allow our ideas to have an impact on how we behave can have a profound effect on how we feel. If we truly value peace, we can learn to be peace, not just wear it.