I got a reminder of the link between air and change in a dream I had last night. It involved a kindergarten boy who roamed my school’s halls, fleeing from adults, and shouting out “Let me out.” as he ran up one set of stairs and down another. As several of us chased him, I remember feeling out of breath, as if I could not get air. In contrast, the boy opened windows on each floor. Toward the end of this dream, he climbed onto the school roof where a staff member scrambled up a drain pipe to bring him down. There was a contented expression on this boy’s face. He looked at me and said “I like it up here.” I guess, on the roof, he’d found that the sky was the biggest open window of all.
When I reflected on this dream, I was able to break the meaning down.
Each year, I get a bunch of new kindergartners that do not fit well within what we call a structured learning environment. They seem to need air in the way my dream implied. My school, like most, uses right-angled tactics to fix and tame such children when they become disruptive. Desks in rows, bells, lines, and lists of rules are evidence of the structures that permeate all aspects of school culture. When an unruly child shows up in a classroom, a progressive hardening of the terms of engagement can ensue. The idea is to mold a child into a shape more to our liking. While the adults may speak of providing consistency, to a child it can feel as if the walls are closing in.
Now, make no mistake – structure and safety are vital. A few well placed walls never hurt anyone and without them you have a place where people get hurt. Learning to live in a structured setting is a non-negotiable survival rule. But too much safety can also suffocate. Without air, we cease to exist. So, the kindergartner on the school roof who showed up in my dream became a fantastic if unwitting teacher. I am entering my New Year with a visit from a disruptive little change agent. He gave me a vivid reminder on how to open up and let more air in. I’ll take it as a good sign.
I sometimes attribute my biggest lessons to someone else. My best teachers, however, may not have intended to teach me anything. They may not have wanted to fix me. And, I can’t recall instances where I was brow beaten into an epiphany. After years of teachers (myself included) raising voices at little ones who do not follow along, I know that few changes come from this approach.
Last night, as a way to greet the New Year, I opened up all of the windows in my house that were not painted shut. It was too cold to keep them open for long, but I wanted to bring on change in a real and memorable way. Air is a good thing. Opening up windows will initiate an airing out that leads me to more authentic answers to the things that intrigue, confound or confuse me.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Change will come when the time is right.