Teaching Drama in inner-city Springfield and in the Bronx, I always began my classes with, “Acting begins in silence.”
I directed the children to “bring your attention away from the outside world and towards your own inside world.”
Muscles relaxed, awareness of breathing, listening to their hearts, and, for the older students, meta-cognitive awareness of the mind thinking— these are the elements of “Acting begins in silence.”
Increasingly, the intention and techniques of this process are being introduced into public schools more generally as “Mindfulness.”
New York Times, 6/16/07
Mindfulness instruction in the Oakland, CA public schools
From a pedagogical point of view, it did not matter to me whether or not acting really begins in silence in the training of professional actors. Different schools of acting would say that acting begins with emotion, or motivation or even in chaos. What is important is why acting should begin in silence for children.
It is fitting to put the practice of Silence and Mindfulness at the very foundation of a child’s introduction to performing, and performing regularly should be part of every child’s education.
We teachers want children to experience that “inside” world of their feelings, thoughts, voices, attitudes, imagination. The inner world, made accessible to children, is an invaluable resource for their learning. Silence is an essential technique to lead children towards their inward experience of themselves.
We want growing children to establish a “center,” “focus point,” “personal reference space” that they can return to over and over again during class, if not also during their lives. The establishment of Mindfulness into the instructional culture of your classroom allows you to approach Classroom Management more as an acting coach than an embattled classroom teacher.
When children are “out of themselves,” as they typically get after lunch and unbridled recess, then you are empowered by your pedagogy to get them back “into themselves.” The issue becomes one of children’s energy rather than their behavior.
We teachers want to affirm to children that their inner world exists in “reality.”
So with trains clattering over Westchester Avenue, garbage trucks grinding gears, ambulances and police cars blasting sirens through traffic, airplanes ascending from La Guardia, I would teach children Mindfulness in the heart of the South Bronx.
At PS 130, I learned to tell the children that, ultimately, we cannot control the world outside us, but we can always control the silence within ourselves. If we cooperated in our own silence, I would suggest, we can influence the peacefulness immediately around us.
My own training in Mindfulness is the practice of the Vipassana meditation technique. Here are some poems I wrote from the experience of meditation and Nature at a silent retreat in North Fork, California.
5 Reflections from North Fork
Not Talking About the Weather
Day Number 1
Rain. Full moon behind clouds.
Day Number 2
(Why must this be my here and now?)
Day # 3
Why come all the way to California?
This is like Massachusetts in April.
A celestial break through.
Sunny with a chill. Hope.
Back to rain.
Accept mountain nature.
Days # 6, 7, 8, 9
Clear blue days. Mornings crisp. Nights cold.
A planetarium sky.
California afternoon dries my washed shirt in two hours.
Overcast with clouds.
Tea Time at the Picnic Table
In the earth a small mound suddenly moves,
Extends, PAUSE, extends.
A displaced worm wiggles out:
Like mental activity just below the surface.
Hickory. Dickory. Dock.
Clock strikes. Mouse runs.
Comic rodent nature.
As I took rest at my place
Like a fine thought, wings and feet land on a branch.
Oh sweet, sweet little California bird
The empty branch is framed by my window.
Like a dog around a rug,
The meditator prepares his pillows.
Let out from the dark meditation hall
Take up perches on rocks, stumps, the edges of the concrete patio.
Each stands or squats in silent stance,
All facing in all directions where the sun strikes.