Archive for August, 2010

Facilitator Comment: Calligraphy for Beginners

On Saturday August 14th, the Mercer Free School held a calligraphy class at the Ewing Public Library. There were 5 attendees in addition to the instructor, Pravin Philip. Two of the attendees were children and the other three adults.

Calligraphy is not just about making your handwriting look good. It brings into play two little known
aspects. The first is that it is a form of meditation. In ancient times Buddhist and Christian monks, meditated over their scripture as they reproduced them calligraphically.

Today, in the age of computers, the idea of extruding an idea, gradually and mindfully is refreshing and indeed for many eye-opening.

The other aspect of course is self expression. Young people or adults who are troubled and lacking in self esteem can use calligraphy to open up their prospects and re-define the way they are perceived by the world.

Calligraphy is a great confidence builder because it helps the user see an aspect of himself or herself that has never been seen before.

Last but not least calligraphy has been enjoyed and practiced by virtually every civilization under the sun.  From the Arabs to the Japanese and the Chinese.   The Europeans as well as the Hindus in India.
Thanks to the Mercer Free School for being the conduit that beings so many new insights and skills to
the good folks of Mercer County.

Pravin Philip


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Experience as the faciliator of sushi cooking classes

I have shared sushi making process with my friends in the past, but this summer through Mercer Free School, I was able to share this joyful traditional cooking with total strangers in our own kitchen!  Total strangers who are curious, warm, kind, and enthusiastic about home cooking and learning!!  As a facilitator, I wasn’t certain what to expect much, but both classes were energizing and rewarding experience to me for certain.

The first class consisted of 2 young mothers with good experience of sushi dining.  We made avocado rolls and inari sushi.  One of them tried even a flip over rice outside roll.  We not only made sushi, but also talked a lot about organic natural food, ethnic traditional cooking, as well as home grown herbs and vegetables.  As you may well imagine, the facilitator learned a lot more about variety of topics from the group.  Out of our conversation, we thought that home gardening and cooking club sharing diverse ethnic food preparation may be of interest to many.

Our second sushi class was a family of 3, a couple with his sister from the West.  Two of them had long history of sushi eating, one of them had made sushi on her own before and the other never had sushi before.  So, talking about mixing rice in a wooden bowl (to reduce moisture) made a lot of sense to one experienced participant, who remembers her rather soggy vinegared rice.  This time, I added Shiitake mashroom and kanpyo that happened to be in our refrigerator that day to the original avocado roll and inari sushi.

I hope that our participants enjoyed as much as I did in both of these classes.   There are other classes that I would love to attend as well, such as music reading, calligraphy, etc.  Mercer Free School has been eye opener for me.  Hurrah and thanks to the founders!!

Sachiko Komagata

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Meditation Group on August 7, 2010

First, if you need to refresh your ideas about meditation, please refer to our Meditation Guide 1: Beginning Meditation.

During this session, we introduced concentration (“escaping” the normal) and mindfulness (“facing” it) types of meditation … well, just scratched the surface.  This distinction is very useful to understand what we can expect from these different types of meditation.  It is also useful to classify and understand diverse meditation practices found in the world.  Buddhist traditions are most prominent in clearly distinguishing yet integrating these two types in their practice.  Many others lean toward concentration.  Modern therapeutic approaches, including stress and pain management, increasingly integrate mindfulness meditation.  There are a few, e.g., Kurishnamurti, which practice mindfulness exclusively.  Fore more information, please consult our Meditation Guide 2: Concentration and Mindfulness.

During the next session on Saturday, August 28 (2-3pm at the Lawrence Community Center [map]), we will try mindfulness meditation.  There are many ways to do this, and the one described in the guide may not be the most common.  However, it emphasizes the contrast between concentration and mindfulness.  If we decide to practice more mindfulness meditation in future sessions, we can certainly try different flavors.

For the links to the recommended books (available at the library), sample meditation web sites, free local meditation activities, etc., please visit our group page.  If you have questions/comments/suggestions, please leave a comment so that other participants can share yours.

Mercer Free School home page

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The Creativity Crisis

According to a recent Newsweek article titled The Creativity Crisis (7/10/10), the creativity of the American people is consistently declining since around 1990.  This is a recent finding after analyzing the results of administering “creativity” tests (consisting of 90 minutes of open-ended tasks) for over 50 years.  While some people blame the increasing popularity of video games among children, there is no conclusive argument about the cause of the decline.  One point we are learning from neuroscience is that creativity is an act of integrating analysis and synthesis, using both the left and the right hemispheres of the brain.  Although this is just a speculation, this creativity crisis may be related to the heavy reliance on extrinsic motivations, such as rewards and punishments.  That is, when extrinsic motivations are the dominant force, the learner may not spend enough time and enthusiasm to go back and forth (or, left and right, with respect to the brain hemispheres) around the problem at hand.  This parallels the point that extrinsic motivations obstruct real learning as discussed in our earlier entry on intrinsic motivation.

So, for the sake of our own creativity and learning, let’s slowly move back and forth, analyzing and synthesizing what we have and what we see.

For the first time, research shows that American creativity is declining

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