CHETANA- Living Awareness

He was nine when I first met him. Not if his life depended on it could he be quiet. I saw him in the hall full of life, laughing, distracting the other children while he waited for me his teacher to come. I knew I had a difficult child on my hands and wondered if I could cope with another year teaching a class with a child who was out of control. I will call him Danny.

Danny challenged me in ways I will never quite understand, but what is clear is that he changed my life, and transformed my teaching.

It began one day when he was sitting at the back of the class. I couldn’t put him up front, that way he could be a conductor of the entire class. I couldn’t put him beside another child because that child would not have a moment’s peace, so he was at the back.

He never stopped talking, he was like a football commentator at the back. What was always disconcerting was that his comments always hit home because there was truth in all he said. He was highly intuitive.

It got so bad one Monday morning I walked down to his table. I thought my head would literally burst if he did not stop talking. When I approached him his two huge brown eyes caught mine, and something flipped in my heart. From that moment, onwards this was to be a special relationship. I took a deep breath, slowed down and asked him to be quiet for just five minutes. Even if it meant I timed it for him I would keep my word, just five minutes to ease the congestion in my head.

He kept his word. The silence created a vacuum and it left room for another difficult child to create a distraction. Danny decided to be my saviour and shouted, ‘Shut up ye mongo, did you not hear what Miss said, yer doin her head in’. This comment caused an even bigger disturbance, yet it was a new beginning with Danny.

I began a school garden with him in mind. We had a student teacher doing his best to learn his skills. The inspector was in to examine him, and I knew he would have little success with these two guys in the room. So, I took them with me and told her we were going to the garden. I needed two strong lads to help me dig, to prepare for planting potatoes. She stunned me with her request as to what type of potatoes we intended planting. I drew from my farming background and told her “records”. I am sure I didn’t fool her one bit, but it made me start a project that was furthest from my mind.

Something needed to be done to channel his energies. Not alone did he benefit but every other child in the school did also. We were happy in the garden – the children and myself, as we were in touch with nature.

We had no failures there, just plants that chose not to grow for some reason, and we went back to the drawing board to find the reason. Our mistakes were learning opportunities, and they learned how to cope with difficulties through observing my reaction to what was perceived as failure. Working in this way showed me that I could use this same approach towards failure in the classroom.

They normally suffered greatly when they made mistakes, personalising it, getting frustrated, throwing tantrums, but all the time I would say this mistake is just a way for us to find a better way.

For every time, I reacted to his behaviour, for every time I got so frustrated that I shouted at him, he showed me where I was stuck. He showed me my need to make him conform to a system that was not suitable for him. He showed me my own fear of failure, where I needed to be the best teacher. So, bit by bit I began to find alternative ways of dealing with him. He taught me how to separate behaviour from the child, to remain loving to him as I doled out the medicine for his behaviour. He taught me that pity would not help him, this was demeaning to him, that intelligence is not confined to an ability to memorise, and to conform.

I looked at him at the end of the year concert singing Angels by Robbie Williams from his heart, and I knew my life was better for knowing him. One teacher who was a gifted musician asked how did I got such a response out of that group. It was simple, we were all doing something that made our hearts sing. The garden made our hearts sing, there were no failures in the garden. All of us benefited that year, because my transformation was their transformation. My loss of fear opened the way for them to learn without fear. Only through observation of myself and my behaviours could this have been possible. Embodying Chetana, transferring it to the workplace made this transformation possible. He needed a different type of teaching.

Danny died tragically. He inhaled from an aerosol can and got a heart attack. I was told that he went completely out of control when he reached Secondary school. This system did not suit him and there is no other system in place. So, children like him have no safety net. He was fifteen years old. He is just one of the many. Three weeks prior to his death I saw him pedalling his bicycle up a hill as I was driving past. I beeped the horn at him. He got off his bike looking a bit confused. When he recognised me he began to wave. I could see him in my wing mirror. That was my last sighting of him.

After his funeral, I was informed of his death. I was so sad. I made all sorts of justifications for it. Perhaps, he is in a better place. Maybe life was too difficult. I was given a gift of tickets to a Frances Black concert soon afterwards and all was well until she sang” It’s just a wall of tears, I’ve got to get over, stop thinking of you” I began to sob uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop. The dam had burst.

Chetana is Sanskrit for Awareness. It is the journey from the mind to the heart. Until we get sick of our suffering, sick of plodding along with the known, will we feel the need to begin this journey. Our difficulty is that we are comfortable with the known and comfortable can be the enemy of freedom.

What we are not aware of is controlling our lives, and we don’t even know we are being controlled. Our programmes and beliefs causes suffering to ourselves and to others through our words and our actions. People think it is human to suffer, that may be so, however, there is the suffering that is caused by our lack of awareness. We have suffered because of our experience of life; however, we also plant the seeds of suffering in the lives of others if we do not heal our own pain.

It is never ever about the other person and how they are treating us, it is always about ourselves and our relationship to self. What is our reaction to challenge in relationship?

Chetana helps you to strip away every programme and conditioned belief so that you can come to the truth of who you are. How do you know if you are programmed, if you are living a life of illusion? You will know if you are stressed and suffering in your life right now?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu said the greatest evil in this world is that any child should ever doubt that they are a child of God. Danny believed he was unworthy, as do us all because that is what is drummed into us from birth. It is our deep sense of unworthiness that causes conflict in our lives. It is not possible to be violent and come from a loving heart.

When we are in employment that brings success, when we have important positions in society, we imagine that we have high self esteem. How you can test this self esteem is to imagine how you would feel if all of this was to be taken away from you. How dependent are you on the good opinion of others to make you happy?

Danny’s death challenged me to look within, to take responsibility for my own behaviours, my own fears, to find a new way. It was important that I did not add to his suffering. Until we accept that we are responsible for the creation of our own reality, we will continue to make others responsible for our happiness.

How many times I hear people say if this person or that person changed then he or she would be happy. This is like going to the doctor asking him to diagnose their illness, and when the prescription is written, they thank the doctor and say I will go home now and give this to the person who annoys me. This would be like saying to Danny, “Danny you change, you conform to this educational system even though it bores you to extinction, you do as I say and then I will be happy”. What about Danny’s needs, where would they come into the picture. His need to be loved unconditionally.

Many will say why is it necessary to unearth our pain, why not let sleeping dogs lie. Healing begins with self and moves out to the world. When people see this clearly then the transformation begins. We cannot heal what is outside of ourselves until we heal what is within us. Danny could not transform as long as I projected that he was a flawed human being. He had to understand that he was loved first, and through that love transformation followed that year. He had to know that his behaviour was something he had learned along the way, it was not the truth of who he was.

Chetana cannot be confined. It must embrace all life. It must have meaning in all our relationships, it must be in our educational system, our institutions, our environment, our medical practices. There cannot be restriction.

When Tony de Mello spoke about awakening this is what he was speaking about. Wake up he would say. Wake up your soul, your true self. If you do not choose to wake up you may as well as be dead.

Waking up and seeing reality is the most arduous thing you will ever undertake, but the most important decision you will ever make in your life. It opens the heart to love.

How can we love when we do not understand what love is? How can we come to love, we can only come to it through stripping way what love is not? It certainly is not attraction, desire, duty, responsibility, dependency, belonging, infatuation, or romance. How can we come to know God? We can only come to know God through stripping away what God is not.
As we heal, how we relate to life and to people changes. This is transformation.

There is no quick fix, just a steady observation of every feeling that arises in your heart. Your feelings are the language of your soul so pay attention to them.

What this boy did for me was to help me embody Chetana. He made me confront my past, and my fears. He opened my heart to love. He showed me the inherent sickness in our educational system, how we fail so many children.

It is necessary to educate children for life and how to live. The emphasis at present is on results, not on living. How we live and who we are, is what is important.

Chetana is the embodiment of awareness. It is no longer an intellectual experience but a lived experience.

As we begin to see ourselves, to come to the realisation of who we truly are, what emanates from us is love.

And love transforms. This is the Chetana experience.

By Liz Valloor

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