I just watched two groups of 13 year-olds create two Singing Tree murals. One was in Mt. Shasta, California and one was in Grants Pass, Oregon. I was struck by how much these middle school students need each other’s approval and how much they strive for higher purpose. Sometimes those two impulses were in opposition to each other. When they wanted to impress each other and all their energy went into laughing about how much they could get away with, the creative forward motion stopped. When their social needs were aligned with their highest purpose, synergy and power grew into a unique shared vision of success: The Mt. Shasta Singing Tree of Gifts (8′ x 4). The Redwood Singing Tree of Purification (8′ x 8′). I teach this, I facilitate this, because I need to witness the transformation of adolescent blind groupism and ego struggle into the unique imagination of collaborative creativity. Every time I welcome everyone’s voice and inner beauty, all rise. This process has never failed. I teach this because I need to learn how to move from my fear of not being included to my trust of embracing the ideas and hearts of those I am with, including my own. I teach it also because I believe in democracy. I am worried about its disassembly.
Below is the completed Mt. Shasta Singing Tree, with two of the student leaders from Northern United Siskiyou Charter School. There are tears watering the life of the tree.
The students of the Waldorf-inspired Woodland Charter School in Grant’s Pass, Oregon began with their biggest heartbreak – pollution of the earth and of relationships. They made an image that reflects we are in the cosmos and the cosmos is in us. The students captured how enormous our interior lives can be.
I am asking us all to expand how much our hearts can hold in this time of division, disparity and distrust. If we make our hearts bigger, the toxicity is smaller. “Keep some room in our heart for the unimaginable,” says Mary Oliver. If 13 year- olds can do it, adults can do it.