Enjoy yourself. This is the first rule/principle of the Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, CA. I took some time before writing this post to contemplate this statement, “enjoy yourself.” The prefix en (in, into, within), an education that moves us into the joy of being ourselves, a blissful state of being. How beautiful and encouraging to know that education can move us in such an uplifting way. There was an almost instant feeling that we received while being at the Living Wisdom School, a feeling that the spirit and inner light of the child was valued above all else. There was a recognition of the joyfulness that lies within us all and can be brought forth into life, into being, in all children. Helen Purcell, the director of the school, expressed it to us so eloquently, “The soul is a spark of the divine, our job is to blow on that spark, an individual expression of the divine, and in doing so, we teach souls to be the best they can be.”
The Living Wisdom School’s origin story lies in a movement of the spirituality of the Eastern world coming to the West. Helen shared with us this story which began in the 1920s when Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the well-known book Autobiography of a Yogi, came to the US and started a school called the How-to-Live-School. This school didn’t take off, but his disciple, Swami Kriyananda later established the first successful How-to-Live-School which was called the Living Wisdom School, a place for children and families to live a high human life and realize the self (self-realization). In looking at the range of holistic schools across the country, we look for places that have a variety of qualities, one in particular is an awareness of the various layers, parts, or beings of the child. To see and nourish the child as a spiritual being is a unique quality of Living Wisdom. Although the roots are from the tradition of Yogananada and Kriya Yoga, the school takes on wide scope of both spiritual and secular principles and practices. For example, music is a significant part of the school, Helen described how she is soothed by the melodious sounds of children singing and playing instruments each day. These songs are from all traditions and religions. Another example is how the school will have a variety of celebrations based on the backgrounds of the families. The school provides a space for the community to gather and celebrate “Diwali” (the festival of lights from India), the Mexican “dia de los muertos, “Maslenitsa” (a Russian holiday about dance and community), and the lunar new year.
A variety of practices are common throughout the school from their small kindergarteners, all the way up through high school. One such commonality comes through in the way their space is designed. Each classroom has an alter, adorned with a variety of objects and pictures. Each alter is slightly different, but helps create a palpable and visible sacredness to the space. Another aspect of each classroom that was visible throughout the school were uplifting and valued words (friendship, imagine, peace, wisdom, wonder, joy, etc.) posted at the tops of the walls, encircling the learning spaces. Helen explained that these words are often discussed with the students and they will look together with teachers to understand what they mean, for example, what does it mean to be a good friend? Another one of my favorite practices from the school that can be found in every space is a rock basket. When the children achieve something (anything from helping a friend, to overcoming an academic challenge), they take a stone and place it in the basket. When the basket is filled, they celebrate as a class by doing something together. It is a tangible representation of the goodness that is manifesting in the community. There is an understanding that once a rock is placed in the basket, it can not be taken out, as Helen explained, because we can not take back positive energy. In addition to these practices, yoga, meditation, and positive affirmations are key elements of the classes daily practices.
The opportunity to be together and share time with Helen has its own essence of living wisdom and it was easy to feel the light of the school through her presence. In addition to sharing much about the school, Helen was also sincerely interested about our journey, experiences in teaching in Thailand, and path to holistic education. We sat together for some time sharing our stories, listening deeply to one another, and feeling mutually inspired and embraced. It was a joyful experience in an of itself and a sweet reminder of the meaning of our journey. To share, listen, and learn together is a special gift we are so grateful to be a part of. Helen also shared with us a gesture that was inspired by one of her favorite plays that the school puts on annually. This tradition again welcomes a variety of inspirational figures from various faiths to showcase a performance around, from Kuan Yin to Joan of Arc, George Washington Carver to the Dalai Lama. In the year that the school’s drama was about Krishna, Helen described the t-shirt that they made which was simply a large heart. Helen explained that it was her favorite because it simply had a large heart on it. She then gestured by placing her hand on her heart and commenting on how this image of the heart deeply captured the essence of the school.
One thought on “Living Wisdom School”
I really enjoyed reading this article. Recently, I watched the movie, The Rescue, about the heroic efforts to save a group of Thai soccer players who got caught in a cave with monsoonal rains. There is MUCH to be hopeful about and the effort by many to improve our education system is something that give me cause for hope! Good luck in starting your school! The world needs schools like yours!