Friday, July 11, 2014

Reconciliation in the Forest Court

Theatre Sports at the Forest Village Theatre
This week at the Wild Art program we've been creating a village in the forest. As with all activities at Wild Art, there is only one rule: Be mindful of your activities' impact. In other words, do whatever you want as long as you're not hurting anyone or anything. All of the 10 kids involved came this week with the intention of creating a forest village, so there was an intense enthusiasm right from the beginning. Over the course of the week, the very entrepreneurial 9-12-year-olds sustainably harvested food and resources, and created and sold, gifted or traded each other all manner of useful and decorative items and services. Items varied from creek-harvested clay sculptures to fern-woven clothing and jewelry, to furniture, natural art supplies and instruments, wild food and temporary pets. Services included pet-sitting, massage, wilderness tours, face-painting, dramatic productions, workshops, library and museum, front desk managing, and an art studio. There was also a jail, when a very inspiring "oubliette" was found in an old nurse-stump, but when the cops failed to incite crime, they also failed to find anybody to arrest, and soon the jail became a climbing-in-and-out challenge, instead. And then a compost.

Terms of trade were often determined at the point of sale, and when currency was used, it was usually rocks (rare and valuable), Y-shaped sticks (moderately easy to find), or fern leaves (plentiful). Few ideas were mine. The children brought what they know of the world and created their own in sharing that knowledge. It is always beautiful to see how easily a sustainable empathetic world develops when children are left to be creative in the wilderness.

Musical Instrument shop with customers
As an adult, I am present mostly to participate, as a fully engaged member of the group, doing whatever I love to do (because of this). I am also permanently the doctor-on-call. But of course I am also present, as all participants are, to offer my advice and compassion when issues arise.

This week, when a fairly major emotional issue arose, all of my advice and compassion for the individual parties could not bring them closer together. The girl I will call the first girl made a gorgeous fern-and-moss mat, and sold it to the second girl for three extremely difficult-to-find mushrooms. The next day, the first girl wanted the mat back, but the second girl said it was an essential part of her spa, and she couldn't return it. The first girl begged. Well, did she have the mushrooms to trade back? No. They were gone. The second girl suggested the first teach her how to make a mat so they could both have one. The first refused. It was her special technology. The second girl left to harvest licorice root and the first girl sat distraught behind a tree. They were both pretty much entrenched.

So I opened a court of reconciliation. There was no judge - only me to mediate, and I called a reconciliation meeting. Upon hearing my serious summons, the two girls arrived and sat facing each other in the newly named "Library Court House". The rest of the group gathered behind the court house, and sat with rapt attention. I did nothing but ask the girls to share their feelings with each other. Within 5 minutes they had both expressed themselves, tears were shed, and then they sat in tense silence, thinking. It was difficult for me not to jump in with suggestions, but I bit my tongue and waited.

Then the second girl breathed deeply and stretched her shoulders. "O.K. How about this: You can have your mat back at the end of today. For free. Just take it."

The first girl raised her head in moderate shock. She sat silent for a moment.

The second repeated, "I said you can have it. Is that O.K. then?"

The first looked the second in the eyes, softened her own, and weakly said "thank you". Then she raised her arm above her head and declared to the group at large, "I'm running a mat-making workshop in five minutes! So if you want to take it you should collect ferns now! The workshop is free!" And the onlookers dispersed. The two girls hugged, and a wonderful workshop ensued. Everyone left richer.

The mat-making workshop!

I left richer. I have been thinking about this beautiful event for days, now, especially how it relates to our "real world" issues. When I called these kids together for the reconciliation meeting I said "You know... this forest village is similar to the real world..." and one of the other kids shouted "It IS the real world!"

In our children is the hope for our future. We need to retrieve and retain the things we knew as children.

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