Category Archives: Creativity

Top Mindfulness in School Resources

October 2nd, 2015

It’s a new school year and I’m excited about all of the momentum building to support mindfulness in schools at all ages. Here is a shortlist of favorite resources and programs available now to foster social-emotional intelligence, resilience and overall wellness in school communities.

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Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom
By Patricia A. Jennings

I’ve been following Tish’s work for years and never ceases to inspire with her heart for real learning and mind for good research. Want to stay current on what’s happening in mindfulness? Follow Tish. Want to start the new year in support of mindfulness in your child’s classroom? Give their teachers this book.

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Wisdom Within
By Alison Morgan

For my son’s 4th birthday, this was the party favor. Great for young children and old, this book issues a powerful reminder of the power of listening to and trusting our inner guidance. A wonderful addition to pre-k and elementary classrooms.

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Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids and their Parents
By Eline Snel

My son’s teachers had this book on display during their mindfulness month at pre-school. I found it simple, refreshing and practical. This book will give you lots of solid ideas to integrate mindfulness in your after school hours.

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Mindful Schools

For teachers ready to take the plunge deeper into the world and practices of mindfulness, Mindful Schools offers online and in-person courses for adults to learn mindfulness and use it with youth. This program is comprehensive and supported by quality research. Let your teachers know this is a possibility for them!

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Shanti Generation’s Partner Yoga for Teens ONLINE

With our new streaming service, Partner Yoga for Teens is now online for teachers to access resources designed to complement and bolster mindful practice in the classroom. Our first set of online content, Partner Yoga for Teens, is available for educational licensing to schools to integrate into existing mindfulness programs, or to begin to plant the seeds of mindfulness.

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Mindful Life Skills for the Classroom

Stay tuned for Shanti Generation’s NEW mindfulness program that offers teachers a myriad of practical, simple ways of integrating mindfulness into every day. We have chosen the best and simplest of what works in mindfulness for youth and tailored the practices to meet the needs of the classroom. We are putting the finishing touches on the project now.

Sign up for our newsletter to stay informed. We will let you know as soon as it is available and we’ll send you a Mindful Educator’s Toolkit including video and audio segments you can use now.

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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The Otherworldly Voice of Soeur Marie Keyrouz

July 09, 2015

Soeur Marie Keyrouz
Soeur Marie Keyrouz

You may remember Nuns Who Rock. I featured the big 1963 hit “Dominique,” sung by Soeur Sourire or ‘The Singing Nun,’ and then the Sicilian nun-rocker, Sister Cristina Scuccia.

Now I’d like to spotlight a nun of another order: Soeur (or Sister) Marie Keyrouz, who has recorded numerous albums over the years with her Ensemble de la Paix (Ensemble of Peace). Based now in Paris, she has yet to appear in Los Angeles, and I don’t know that she’s ever performed in the U.S. I tried to bring her group to Los Angeles back when I worked for the L.A. Philharmonic, thinking that the Walt Disney Concert Hall would be an ideal venue, but unfortunately, the cost of doing so was prohibitive.

Cantiques de l’Orient, 1996.
Cantiques de l’Orient, 1996.

Soeur Marie Keyrouz was born in 1963 in Deir el Ahmar, Lebanon. She relocated to Paris and received her doctorate from the Sorbonne in both musicology and anthropology. She belongs to the Congrégation des Soeurs Basiliennes Chouerites and is president of the National Institute of Sacred Music in Paris.

She sings hymns from the Lebanese Maronite Christian church, as well as sacred songs and chants from the Greek, Syriac, and Arabic liturgies. In her crystal clear soprano voice, Soeur Marie Keyrouz embellishes her song with exhortatory ululations and other Arabic touches. I find her music to be utterly mesmerizing, even levitational. The term, ‘otherworldly,’ would not be overstating it.

Start with Soeur Marie Keyrouz’s glorious Cantiques de l’Orient.

Hers is a version of “Ave Maria” unlike any you’ve ever heard before.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Time Traveling with Music

February 26th, 2015

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In just the past couple of weeks, here at ACEI, we have been suddenly blessed by a flow of credentials from individuals with degrees in music. Holders of these degrees are from all corners of the world and studied at conservatories and universities from Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Italy, South Korea, to Canada. They are all seeking teaching positions at various high schools and colleges throughout the U.S. Coincidence? Perhaps, but a very happy and encouraging one to know that music education in this country is alive and highly talented and qualified individuals will be teaching our young people.

Having just watched the film “Whiplash,” the story of a promising young drummer as a first year jazz student at a prestigious and cutthroat music conservatory and his abusive and demanding teacher, I was reminded of my early childhood experience with learning the piano. The actor J.K. Simmons who plays the role of the teacher in “Whiplash,” won this year’s Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, a much-deserved award, though his character’s personality is nothing like my former piano teacher, Suzi.

I was seven when I first met Suzi. She was twenty-five. A recent graduate of the Vienna Conservatory, the daughter of upper middleclass Armenian parents living in Tehran, Suzi was a virtuoso. She could have been a concert pianist performing around the world, yet for reasons unbeknownst to me, she had chosen to return to Iran, move in with her parents and teach piano to children of privileged Iranian families.

Finding me a piano teacher had been my mother’s idea. After seeing “The Sound of Music,” I had pestered my mother that I wished to learn a musical instrument and the piano was my number one choice. She had surprised me with news of fulfilling my wish by picking me up from school one chilly afternoon in Autumn and taking me directly to Suzi’s house. She met us at the entrance to her house that like most Iranian homes was hidden behind high walls and a large iron gate. Tall and rail thin with pale skin and light green eyes, she struck me as a ghostly figure emerging through the plume of her cigarette smoke. A far cry from Julie Andrews’s timid Maria of The Sound of Music, Suzi commanded a regal presence in her designer tailored dusty rose suit with pumps displaying the famous Chanel logo and the short single strand of pearls adorning her swanlike neck.

We followed her through the inner courtyard carpeted with yellow, russet and orange leaves, past the decorative shallow pool empty of water but a few layers of leaves. She led us to the house, a two story building its façade bathed in pale yellow offset by white shutters and two white pillars standing on each side of the front door looking like sentries guarding the inner sanctum. Suzi’s music room, or the “studio” as she called it, was on the ground floor as was her apartment. Her parents lived on the second floor.

As we parted with our coats in the marbled foyer, we trailed Suzi down the hallway carpeted with a well-worn Persian runner, past large oil paintings of landscapes mounted on cream-colored walls. The faint sound of classical music I had heard earlier in the foyer got louder and louder as we neared what I assumed to have been her studio. It was the most sublime piano music I had ever heard. “It’s Chopin…nocturne,” Suzi whispered as though our natural voices would somehow disturb the pianist on the recording. “Someday you will be playing these very pieces, my dear,” she said to me, her tone sincere and filled with optimism of my abilities, though until that day, I had neither played nor touched the keys on a piano.

Her studio was spacious with French windows opening to the courtyard. A pot bellied stove had been lit heating up the room. A full-length Persian rug with rust and creamy white floral design covered the entire marbled floor. A partially drawn sliding glass door separated the studio from another that remained dark but I was able to make out the silhouette of a black grand piano. It stood alone in the center of the room like a king holding court with the low hanging chandelier as its crown.

Bookshelves and framed oil paintings of pastoral landscapes hung on the walls. Perched atop the mantle and squeezed between books on the shelves and coffee table were small statues of men’s heads. Stacked against one wall was a collection of LPs, displaying covers of recordings by symphonic orchestras.

Two upright pianos rested side-by-side against one wall. “Perfect for duets,” Suzi said, sensing my curiosity and invited me to look around while she and my mother sat on the sofa to talk. I jumped at the invitation and headed toward the framed photographs on the wall and on the pianos. They were mostly of Suzi sitting behind a piano or standing next to one on a stage with various people. In some photos she was dressed elegantly in an evening gown and in others she looked as she did on that day. Framed documents in an unfamiliar language adorned with gold seals and red ribbons covered another portion of the wall above the upright piano. The language wasn’t English but used the English alphabet. I was able to make out the word Vienna and Konservatorium, and of course, Suzi’s name. Graduation diplomas, I concluded. Little did I know then that thirteen years later I would be examining and evaluating diplomas like Suzi’s at a company based in the U.S.

My snooping was cut short by Suzi inviting me to join her on bench in front of the piano where we sat side-by-side. I breathed in her perfume and stared at the empty pages of an open book with lines unlike any notebook I had seen before. “This is going to be our sheet music. You’ll be learning a new language that will help you play beautiful music.”

Still curious at the objects around me, I pointed at two busts atop the piano. “Who are those?” I asked.

“The one on the left is Schubert, and that one on the right is Ludwig von Beethoven,” she replied. “Soon you play their pieces,” she added with confidence. “Here’s a little taste of Chopin, it’s one of his Nocturnes.”

I didn’t know what a nocturne was but as soon as her long fingers touched the keys, the room was filled with the sound of music so glorious unlike anything I’d heard in my short seven years of existence. Suzi may have seemed fragile and almost frail on the outside, but the music that was emanating from the piano was powerful, yet intensely graceful and melodic evoking so much emotional sentiment that I found my skin tingling with goose bumps. So overcome I was by its sheer beauty that I fought hard to hold back tears as she played.

Patiently, Suzi began the instruction and over time, I had not only learned to read musical notes but played them with confidence. By the time I was ten, Beethoven’s sonatas, Mozart’s piano concertos, Tchaikovsky’s mazurkas were my go-to pieces of music. I continued with my piano lessons at Charters Towers School (CTS), the boarding school I attended for the next six years in England. At CTS, not only did I take lessons, I also prepared for exams with the Royal School of Music and participated in competitions playing solos and duets. I fared well and won a few awards and collected certificates. But it was during those brief visits to Iran for the Christmas or summer holidays when I’d resume my lessons with Suzi, that I felt a oneness with the piano. At Suzi’s I was able to enjoy playing the piano for the sheer love of the composers and their creations; free of the drudgery of competitions and pursuit of awards.

It was at one of the lessons with Suzi during a summer holiday that she introduced me to a collection of Chopin’s nocturnes. “Let’s start with this piece,” she said, turning open a page from a book bearing a portrait of Chopin on its cover. I had just turned 13. I must have balked at the sight of the open page in front of me filled with a complex line-up of notes. “I’ll play a few bars and then it’s your turn.” As soon as she began to play, I was overcome by a sense of déjà vu. She was playing the very piece I had heard six years earlier when my mother and I had first stepped into her studio…the same piece she had played for me on that first day. Suzi had promised me that one day I too would be playing Chopin and she had kept her promise.

I was sixteen when I last saw Suzi. I was heading to America to study but had plans to return for the long summer holidays. Unbeknownst to both of us, our lesson in summer of ’78 was to going to be our last. “Find yourself a piano at the university and practice, practice, practice!” These were Suzi’s last words.

At the University of San Diego, I did find a piano and after graduation bought a piano and continued to play. To date, the piano is my go-to instrument to unwind, relax and create. I still play the classics but I’ve learned to improvise and free form. On occasion, I’m invited to play with a talented group of friends in their music studio. No sheet music, no notes, just stream of consciousness creating and performing.

Thanks to Suzi, my dream of learning the piano had come true. Had I not pestered my mother to find me a teacher after seeing the film “The Sound of Music,” I may never had the musical experience that is part of my life even today. I wonder if I would have felt the same had I seen the film “Whiplash.”

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Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert is the President and CEO of the Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute (ACEI), an international credential evaluation company, based in Los Angeles, CA. She is a leading expert on world education systems, and is also writing her memoire “Cinema Iran,” offering a glimpse into pre-Islamic Republic Iran as seen through the eyes of a young girl. This blog includes excerpts from a chapter in her memoire entitled “Tehran Nocturnes.”

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Rubén Blades’ “El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés”

February 12th, 2015

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Grammy Award-winning Rubén Blades is a wonderfully gifted Panamanian poet and songwriter whose works often take on a political tinge. Raised in a progressive family, his grand-uncle was a revolutionary during the Cuban War of Independence against Spain. His mother was an actress, his father a musician, and the girls in his family attended college. Ruben himself studied international law at Harvard on a full scholarship.

I knew Rubén back when he lived in Santa Monica. I once had him over for my mother’s famous bolognese spaghetti, along with his wife and an architect friend, Bob Ramirez, who designed my home.

Rubén’s Grammy Award last week for Tangos and the recent news about Pope Francis’ declaration of the slain Archbishop Óscar Romero’s martyrdom brought to mind a tribute he wrote back in 1984 titled “El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés” (“Father Antonio and His Altar Boy Andrés”) from the album Buscando America. The song was performed by his great then-band Seis del Solar, fronted by Oscar Hernández (who now leads the Spanish Harlem Orchestra).

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Ruben Blades posted this selfie on February 3, 2015, along with a letter to Monsignor Romero.

Archbishop Romero, like Pope Francis, championed the rights and struggles of the poor in Latin America. He was a proponent of liberation theology, an interpretation of the Scripture that dictates working actively toward social and political justice by aligning oneself with the less fortunate, like Jesus did. The Archbishop publicly opposed El Salvador’s right-wing government and its brutal military repression at the very onset of the country’s 1980–92 civil war and was consequently assassinated at the altar for his convictions, by order of the Alianza Republicana Nacionalista founder. A formal apology was finally issued for his murder by the El Salvadorian government as late as 2010.

Rubén wrote “El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés” during the time of the civil wars in both El Salvador and Nicaragua, the Reagan administration and the Iran-Contra affair. Former President Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Ed Meese, et al were in support of El Salvador’s military dictatorship, working to oust leftist Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

Buscando America has always been one of my favorite albums of Rubén Blades. And now 35 years later, thanks to Pope Francis, Archbishop Oscar Romero is one step closer to sainthood, bringing closure to “El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés.” Have a look at the lyrics translated below.

“El Padre Antonio y Su Monaguillo Andrés”

“Father Antonio Tejeira came from Spain
Searching for new promises in this land
He went to the jungle without any hope of becoming a bishop
And in spite of the heat and the mosquitoes he talked about Christ.
The priest didn’t go to the Vatican
Among papers and air conditioned dreams
So he went to a small town in the middle of nowhere to give his weekly sermon
For those in search of salvation.
Andrés Eloy Pérez is 10-years-old
He attends Simon Bolivar Elementary School.
He still cannot recite the Holy Scripture properly
He loves the river, playing soccer, and playing hooky.
He’s been given the task of altar boy at the church
With the hope that this connection will “fix him.”
And his family is very proud because they also believe
That once you have one connected to God, by default you are connected to Him as well.
Bells are tolling, one, two, three
For Father Antonio and his altar boy, Andrés
Bells are tolling again, oh, oh, oh
For Father Antonio and his altar boy, Andrés, Andrés
Father condemns violence.
He knows by experience that is not a solution.
He speaks to them of love and justice
The news of God shining through a sermon.War found the Father one Sunday, in Mass,
Handing out communion with his sleeves rolled up.
The killer came in halfway through the Lord’s Prayer,
and without confessing his guilt, fired at him. Antonio fell, Host in hand, not knowing why
And Andrés died at his side, without ever meeting Pelé.
Between the screams and the astonishment,
There in agony, was the wooden Christ nailed against the wall.
No one ever knew who the criminal was
Who killed Father Antonio and his altar boy Andrés.
But the bells still ring, one, two, three
For Father Antonio and his altar boy, Andrés.
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Tinariwen, The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer

November 13th, 2014

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Tinariwen’s Emmaar (2014)

Tinariwen, The Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer sounds like a gruesome scene from the Kel Tamashek uprising of 1963 in northern Mali that saw the death of messianic Tinarwen frontman Ibrahim Ag Alhabib’s parents when he was a small boy. But in fact, it’s actually the group’s playbill for the North America tour for their latest album, Emmaar.

When The Harpoonist (Shawn Hall) and the Axe Murderer (Matt Rogers) walked onstage last weekend at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex to open for Tinariwen, not many people knew who these two guys from Vancouver were. The duo’s name apparently references the blues harp(oon) from a line in country music singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson’s hit, “Me and Bobby McGee”: “I took my harpoon out of my dirty red bandana.” “Harp” being slang for the harmonica (Shawn Hall); “axe” is a common term for the guitar (Matthew Rogers). These two bust out the sounds of a full live blues and roots band playing their respective instruments while stomping and tapping out beats with both pairs of feet on kick drum, snare, foot tambourine, and shaker. (Check out the video at the end of this post to see them in action.) It’s no wonder why Tinariwen booked this Vancouver duo as the opening set for their entire North American tour.

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The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer

Perhaps it’s that DIY nature with which Saharan ‘desert blues’ band Tinariwen feels some kinship. As the story goes, Tinariwen was founded in 1979 by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib while he, Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni, and Alhassane Ag Touhami were scraping by in the Algerian refugee camp of Tamanrasset. The following year, they answered Muammar el-Quaddafi’s call to create a Saharan regiment of Tuareg fighters and received infantry training while performing their soulful dirges and finding fans amongst other sympathizers seeking to establish a single independent Tuareg republic. Their anthemic music became “the soundtrack for Tuareg independence and reconciliation,” spread via bootleg cassette tapes by their Kel Tamashek fans who began to call them “Kel Tinariwen,” derived from the word ténéré, which means ‘of the deserts.’

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Tinariwen founder, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib

After the Tamanrasset Accords of 1991, Tinariwen left the military to fully devote themselves to music. Ibrahim says, “I had long ago realized that I was a musician and poet, and that these were better weapons with which to achieve what I wanted.” Performing their songs in mostly minor keys with static harmonies, like “Tahalamot,“ guitarist Abdallah layers consistent modal rhythms over a signature bass key, painting a vast ever-changing desert landscape.

Tinariwen’s blues sound is one of ‘assouf,’ expressing a deep loneliness and eternal yearning. Due to the political instability of Mali, they remain nomads, unable to return to their native homeland for risk of incarceration or worse. Now a multi-generational collective of musicians and songwriters, their timeless music sings of exile, struggle, and division, but also of “the beauty of the desert, the sky, the lands, our blues, and the nostalgia of an old time.”

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Exiled from their native Mali, Tinariwen recorded their latest album, Emaar in Joshua Tree, CA.

Raised on North African protest music, Berber traditions, and raï music, Tinariwen were exposed in the military camps to the Western sounds of Led Zeppelin, Carlos Santana, and the “guitar-driven anthems of Jimi Hendrix and the American blues.” Also hugely influential was Malian bluesman Ali Farka Touré, who reinterpreted native kora and djéli (griot) music for electric guitar, creating a sound reminiscent of the Mississippi delta blues. Most African slaves brought over to the U.S. were originally from the Sahel region and kept the musical, cultural, and spiritual traditions of their native homelands, which would pave the way for the early twentieth century American blues tradition.

Bassist Eyadou Ag Leche says, “I’m told that a lot of the Africans who went to North America came from West Africa, from our part of the world. So it’s all the same connection. I think that any people who have lived through something that is very hard, feel this [assouf], this pain, this longing. That is what will make [our] music sound similar to each other.”

Tinariwen perform “Islegh Taghram Tifhaman” from their album, Emmaar.

The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer perform “Love Me ‘fore Ya Leave Me.”

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

toms

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Get Teens Talking About Mindfulness

September 25, 2014

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Teens hear their peers’ voices and words in very different ways than they hear their parents and teachers. This is why getting teens to talk about their mindfulness experiences is a pivotal component of effective teen yoga classes.

I encourage teen yoga teachers to “get good” at facilitating potent group discussions. The benefits of the practices are enriched when teens dialogue about their challenges, goals, and achievements. Teens learn from each other’s shared experiences and get new ideas on how mindfulness can impact their lives.

Here are a few pointers to keep the discussion on track and democratic:

Write main topics and inquiries on the board or chart paper for everyone’s reference.

Set a time limit knowing you can always cut it short or extend, if needed.

Pose a specific set of inquiries such as, “What if your partner is having a tough time balancing in a pose that is easy for you? What is more important: to support your partner or practice harder poses?” Then ask for volunteers to answer. Give a few moments for students to raise hands or signify their desire to respond.

Resist the impulse to always call upon the first student who raises their hand, especially if it’s always the same student and his/her hand shoots up with an eager “oooooh, I know, I know.” For certain, eventually call upon that student, perhaps second or third. However, there is no surer way to a dead end discussion than to allow one voice to consistently set the tone or dominate the conversation. The eager student will learn by listening first to others ideas and letting those ideas integrate with their own. And, students who are more reticent to respond will be encouraged to do so if they feel they can enter in a more humble way.

Keep on eye out for meek students who really do have something to share, but don’t raise their hand or signify their desire to participate. Pose the question, “does anyone who has not responded yet want to share an idea?” Make eye contact with students who have not yet shared. Give them the opening without necessarily calling out their names. Be sure to let students know that while you would love to hear from everyone, it is perfectly fine to participate as an observer and listener. Let them know that holding space for others is just as vital to community as sharing explicitly. This will help to both alleviate any pressure to respond that quieter students may feel and send a powerful message to students who always share, but have a difficult time listening.

Limit your own commentary between students voices. In other words, you do not need to comment after every student shares! If a student shares an idea you find questionable or curious, try posing the question to the group for further discussion. For example, a student says, “I think if my partner isn’t as good at a pose as I am, I will tell them I am going to ask the teacher to be reassigned to a new partner because I really feel like practicing hard poses today.” I might respond, “Okay. Does anyone have a different idea on how to deal with that situation? How do you think your partner might feel if you said that to them?” Let the group respond. Teens hear feedback so much differently from peers than from teachers. As much as possible, guide teens to do the teaching themselves. You can guide a group of teens to water and let them show each other how to drink.

Wrap up the discussion with your commentary including a brief review of main ideas shared, your own wisdom to fill in any open questions you feel compelled to expand on and an outlook for how this discussion bolsters their practice. “Okay, time to move on to our physical practice. This was a powerful discussion on how to support each other, when to ask for help and how to help your partner find their center. I’d like to add that I trust you all to be compassionate and empathetic in your responses to each other. You all know how good it feels when another person really listens to your needs. You get to be that kind of listener for your partner today. Listening is absolutely critical to a safe partner yoga practice.”

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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Walter Benjamin: Why Is Art Worth More Than Music?

August 21st, 2014

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German Philosopher Walter Benjamin: 1892-1940

Walter Benjamin was a German philosopher (1892-1940) whose most famous work from 1936 was called The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. You can read here. In his famous work, he discusses originality, authenticity, and mass production of art. He writes about the “aura” that original works of art possess and the loss of that “aura” in works that have been reproduced. A painting by Picasso has an aura. A lithograph by Picasso in a run of 250 copies does not. The lithograph is not the original. Neither does photography have an aura. In his thinking, photos are the image of an image.

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Why is Man With Blue Guitar worth so much more than Kind Of Blue?

What about music? Why is an original master tape of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue worth eons less than Picasso’s Man with the Blue Guitar? Why do most iconic jazz musicians make so much less money than iconic fine artists? Why didn’t Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, or John Coltrane fetch the kind of money Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, or Mark Rothko have made? Is it because record companies pressed thousands if not millions of their records, and that all performances on those records were identical? What about the master tape, the original? Is it worth less because it has been copied, just like lithographs?

And yet a signed copy of say, Kind of Blue would still be worth much less than a signed lithograph by Matisse or Picasso.

Walter Benjamin committed suicide in 1940 when he believed he couldn’t cross the Spanish / French border and escape death from the nazis. He had gone there, like Hemingway and George Orwell, to help the Republicans. When Franco called in the Luftwaffe to test out the new ME 109s and bomb Guernica, Picasso painted the horrendous painting of the same name. Too bad Walter Benjamin didn’t live longer, or write about musical recordings and the rise of the music industry after World War II.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres

Blogs for Rhythm Planet

Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons

www.tomschnabel.com

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Empathy: Is it Teachable?

July 10th, 2014

empathy

Empathy: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else’s feelings. Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Everyday we wake up to news of shootings in schools, children and teens bullied by their peers, gang violence, violent attacks against women, homosexuals, immigrant-bashing, brutalities inflicted on humans by other humans. We go to sleep to more news of violence around the world and the cycle continues. And, we wonder, who could do such heinous acts? What kind of a human being is capable of inflicting such pain and suffering on the innocent? Clearly, these are individuals unable to feel empathy.

In a recent post on the blog Mindshift the question is raised as to “Why its important to teach empathy to boys.” Why only boys? I believe it is just as important to teach empathy to girls as it is to boys. Here’s why. In a May 26, 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal, it was reported that girls show more aggression than boys in schools because they are “generally more socially developed and verbal than boys.”

Psychologists and educators are increasingly noticing children as early as kindergarten or even younger forming cliques and intentionally excluding others and displaying acts of aggression toward those excluded. Steps are being taken to curb this behavior by teaching empathy in elementary schools in order to diminish “relational aggression” which is a psychological term to describe “using the threat of removing friendship as a tactical weapon.” In addition, children are also receiving guidance on how to stand up for themselves against bullies and helping others subjected to social exclusion.

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Which leads me to ask the next set of questions: is it up to schools to teach empathy? Are we to assign teachers and schools the responsibility to teach our children to develop the positive character traits such as kindness, compassion, helpfulness, generosity, and consideration? Does empathy start at the school or at the home? What about the parents? Who teaches them empathy? Who teaches the teachers?

teachingempathy

Is empathy something we’re hardwired with at birth or can it really be taught? In that same note, if some humans are hardwired with the ability to be empathic are some, such as psychopaths, hardwired to be void of empathy? Psychopaths are defined as individuals who suffer from a personality disorder characterized by a lack of empathy and remorse.

As a non-scientist but a layperson interested in neuroscience and involved in education, I’ve always been fascinated with the question as to why some people are able to experience empathy while others are not. I look at our politicians some of whom display some elements of altruism while others proudly demonstrate their lack of empathy with their matter-of-fact slashing of social programs intended to help the needy and underprivileged, or the bankers who glibly make fortunes through the cleverly plodded loopholes and lets not forget those who brought the country to an almost economic collapse during the recent mortgage crisis, I still remember a banker interviewed on the radio as to whether he felt any remorse for what the banking industry had done to which he replied an emphatic NO! His rationale was simple, he saw himself as the smart one, the one who was able to figure a way to make boat loads of money. I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said something to the effect of “suck it up people, we’re just smarter than you, that’s all.”

In his book, The Psychopath’s Test, Jon Ronson, explores the characteristics of psychopathy and how a psychopath is not necessarily the cold hearted serial murderer, but it is also the cold-hearted CEO or political leader who is capable of inflicting psychological harm on his/her employees or constituents.

Up until now, I was under the impression that you’re either capable of experiencing empathy or you are not. That is, you’re either born with it or you’re not. In a study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, reports that “when individuals with psychopathy imagine others in pain, brain areas necessary for feeling empathy and concern for others fail to become active and be connected to other important regions involved in affective processing and decision-making.” Yet, new research by the Netherlands Institute of Neuroscience shows psychopaths in fact have the ability to switch on and off the ability to feel empathy ‘at will’. Given the discovery of this “on” and “off” switch has led the researchers to conclude that therapists can in fact teach psychopaths to be more empathic.

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According to the scientists involved in this research study, “the human capacity for empathy is rooted in the operation of ‘mirror neurons’ which are parts of the brain that activate when we do something but also when we observe someone else doing the same thing.” In other words, if we see someone getting hurt it triggers in us the vicarious sensation of pain which causes us to refrain from inflicting pain on another and prevents us from engaging in antisocial behavior.

Children need guidance from an early age to help them develop empathy otherwise they can become callous adults who are oblivious to the hurt and pain they cause others. Empathy, according to researchers is something that must be learned and an important role for parents is to guide their children from infancy by setting an example of empathetic behavior. Parents are in fact, their children’s best emotional tutor.

Several years ago I attended a three-day workshop lead by Rabbi Michael Lerner who spoke about a “New Bottom Line.” According to Rabbi Lerner, we need a new bottom-line instead of the old paradigm where money and power represent success. In this new paradigm, money and power are not the sole barometers of efficiency, productivity and success at corporations, governments, public institutions, and schools “but to the extent they maximize love and caring, ethical and ecological sensitivity, and our capacities to respond with awe and wonder at the grandeur of creation.” This is empathy. One of his ideas for progress had to do with our school system. Much of our public schools resemble factories and even the process of educating our children looks like an assembly line. Rabbi Lerner suggests that we allow older children to serve as mentors or tutors for the younger ones. He mentioned a school in NYC that had adopted this technique and the results were phenomenal. The older children felt responsible for the younger ones and were there to help them with their homework and school-related projects. The cooperation and camaraderie between them encouraged a friendlier and more harmonious school environment. It helped build the character traits that bring about empathy.

Empathy is, therefore, a learned behavior that can be taught. As humans, we are, after all, social animals. We learn by observing. Parents, older siblings, peers, and teachers can teach the children from an early age the basic character traits of kindness, goodness, generosity, compassion, consideration, helpfulness and by setting an example through demonstrating how to feel empathy.

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Steve Taylor, a lecturer in psychology at Leeds Metropolitan University and the author of several best-selling books on psychology and spirituality says it best: “Just as the lack of empathy makes cruelty and oppression possible, the presence of empathy heals conflict. The ability to empathize makes us truly human, and the wider it stretches – from victims to offenders, from one ethnic group to another, from nation to nation and religion to religion – the less brutal and more harmonious a place the world will become.” Yes!

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Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei-global.org

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RIP: Maya Angelou

June 26th, 2014

Last month we lost the great Maya Angelou. Our guest blogger, Tom Schnabel, had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Angelou in 1995 when he hosted the radio show Cafe LA at KCRW, the public station housed at Santa Monica College. We’d like to share Tom’s recent blog about having Dr. Angelou as a guest on his show.

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou: 1928 – 2014

I interviewed Maya Angelou on January 7, 1995. She visited Cafe LA as a guest DJ. She was wearing Malian mud cloth slacks. It was an El Niño year and it was pouring buckets outside. I welcomed her to sunny Southern California. The guest mike wasn’t working, there was no engineer on duty to fix it, but I had prepared and was ready. She did correct me, however, when I pronounced her name “Angelou” with the long “u”; she preferred “Angeloh”.

Since she wore so many hats, I asked her how best to describe her. She said it would be as a writer. Given the technical problems with her microphone, we turned to her first choice as guest DJ, “Stormy Weather” by Sarah Vaughan. Maya was a friend and fan. We talked about her trip to Europe as a cast member of Porgy and Bess, her journalistic work in Cairo (she learned Arabic too). It was during the Nasser era of the 1950s, and she sang a song by the great Oum Kalsoum in praise of the Egyptian president. She sang it with perfect diction, right there in the studio!

We talked about her friendship with James Baldwin, the effects of being an African American living abroad and what she learned. Maya then read a poem she wrote for James Baldwin.

Calypso

She had a commanding voice as she read it. She then picked duet song of Hank Williams, Jr. and Ray Charles. Her love of music was obvious. She even recorded an album of calypso classics back in the 1950s. She then featured the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter in a Chopin scherzo. It reminded her of children playing, having fun on a Sunday afternoon. Maya then featured a buoyant, joyous Steve Wonder track.

We lost both the Ellington jazz crooner Herb Jeffries and now Maya Angelou. I have my aircheck cassettes out on my desk and will now proceed to transfer them onto CD for future posts. As I listen again to this aircheck from almost 20 years ago, I am happy we hit it off. My having been a comparative literature major in college and a music fanatic sometimes pays off.

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Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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IRAN: Happiness, Stealthy Freedom, and Faces of Iran on FB

June 12th, 2014

Happiness is…

If you’ve been following the news from Iran recently, you must have heard the one about the group of six young women and men who posted a clip of themselves happily dancing to Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy!” As quickly as their video had gone viral, Iran’s morality police had them tracked down, arrested and forced them to repent on state-run television for their unorthodox behavior. I’d happened upon their dance video via a recently discovered Facebook page called “Humans of Tehran” inspired by the original “Humans of New York,” which actually began with Brandon Stanton’s voyage to Iran and a series of photos he took of the people he had met and the sites he had visited in the country. Check this link for the priceless photos he captured.

Pharrell’s song “Happy” has been adopted by people around the world. If you check on Youtube you’ll find tributes to “Happy” from Senegal, Dubai, India, France, Jamaica, Tunisia, Japan, Morocco, Russia, Belgium, Philippines, and many more. I was, however, surprised to see a video paying tribute to Pharrell’s hit song from Iran, given the strict restrictions the government has placed on western music. We have all heard of underground bands (see film “No Ones Heard of Persian Cats”) from visitor to Iran witnessing concerts and performances by musicians behind the closed doors of houses and apartments, in basements and rooftops, hilltops, abandoned barns, and even inside their cars. Iranians are blasting pop music on their sound systems and dancing to their hearts desire. However, to tape a video and post it on a public venue like Youtube for all to see, took some unbelievable courage and perhaps naïveté. The dancers in the video must have thought they were immune to scrutiny or arrest since they were dancing to a sweet and infectious song with global appeal. There is even a video of people dancing to “Happy” in Yemen (a very strict Islamic country). The “Happy” video that got the young people in trouble shows the young women without the hijab and dancing with young men on the rooftop and inside the confines of a small living room. The arrest of these young people has drawn the ire of social media in and outside the U.S. and even Pharrell Williams himself has spoken up and condemned their arrest. In an interview, Williams is quoted as saying: “It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.” Yet even though the authorities clamped down on the young people whose video had been found offensive, another one from Iran has been posted on YouTube as well as one performed by puppets dancing to the Happy on the rooftop as a tribute to the dancers who were arrested.

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And then I stumbled upon a video of a couple dancing the tango, an intimate and sensual dance, not in the privacy of their home but right outside a mosque. Looks like no matter how much the morality police try to suppress people, happiness through music and dance has a way of rising to the top and not just roof tops.

Faces of People of Iran

Another site I learned about is the Facebook page is the “Humans of Tehran,” on the Humans of New York page; an enormously successful site with followers all over the world. The images captured on the Humans of Tehran page speak volumes of a country that so few of us living here in the U.S. know much of except what is reported on mainstream news media. What we don’t see are the faces of the children, the teens, college students, couples in love, fathers playing in the snow with their children, the elderly resting on a park bench, street vendors and artisans, images of cities, living rooms, beauty salons, restaurants and cafes, monuments, cityscapes and landscapes, nature and the urban life. Humans of Tehran puts the human face on the enemy and we see that the people are just like us, going to work, to school, cooking, cleaning, driving, skateboarding, hiking, lounging, just existing.

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Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (Hilltop view of Tehran)

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Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (Beauty Salon, where women can be free of the hijab, at least temporarily.)

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Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Tehran)

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Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Tehran)

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Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (Hiking in the hills outside of Tehran is a very popular outdoor activity amongst Iranians of all ages.)

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Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Iran – Firefighters at Firehouse 64, Tehran)

For a look at current state of fashion in Iran, click here: http://ajammc.com/2014/03/11/a-fashionable-revolution/

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Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (School children)

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Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Iran – Tehran Street Scene)

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Credit: Humans of Tehran (The Metro in Tehran; the plans for the metro were drawn during the former Shah’s regime and implemented thereafter.)

Stealthy Freedom: Women Reclaiming Their Freedom

Recently, a brave new page popped up on my Facebook feed called “My Stealthy Freedom.” created by Masih Alinejad, an Iranian female journalist living in London. On this site Iranian women of all ages from different corners of Iran have their photos taken in public places without their hijab. By ridding themselves of their scarves, at least temporarily, they are expressing their right to be free to choose, free to wear or not to wear the hijab. This is a very bold move on the part of these women. In one photo (seen below), a young woman has tossed her scarf into the air as she stands in the middle of a neighborhood street with her arms stretched up to the sky and her long brown hair exposed for the world to see. A smile rests on her face as she looks up into the heavens.

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Credit: Stealthy Freedom FB

In a video, another young woman is behind the wheel of her car driving through the city streets with her light brown hair exposed. No hijab, nothing. Women are having their photos taken without the hijab and posting it on this site. Each has something to say. Some express their opinion through poetry, veiled in metaphors and some say it as it is. “I want the freedom to choose. It is my human right.”

Unfortunately, Masih Alinejad, the creator of the Facebook page “My Stealthy Freedom” has been the target of ugly smear campaigns by Iran’s state-run media in order to discredit her. I won’t dignify what was said about Alinejad in this post, but I will share with you her response: “I’ve thought long and hard about how to respond. As a matter of principle, I’m going to sue for damages and file a formal complaint against the state television.” Definitely nothing stealthy about her; her statement is both bold and clear.

To the outside, Iran may appear one dimensional, but that is far from the truth. With its rich history dating back to nearly 3000 years, Iran is a land of dichotomy. A blog worth reading, though a couple of years old, explains this dichotomy in detail.

In spite of the dress code and civil rights restrictions concerning women, more women are engaging in public life through participating in elections, political campaigns and demonstrations. More women graduating from universities in Iran than men; in fact, women comprise 65% of all university students and represent an increasingly high percentage of the workforce in Iran. Women are competing for the same jobs as men, so much so that under Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad’s tenure, a law was to be passed to prohibit women from entering into specific degree programs at universities so as to not take seats away from the men. It is an interesting twist to affirmative action; Iranian style.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei1.com

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