A Return to Teaching

Happiness Jars created by workshop participants.

Happiness Jars created by workshop participants.

“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”    

—  Walt Whitman

What constitutes a really great day for you?

Are you content with a simple, unexpected kindness?

A telephone call from an old friend?

Or, do you need a grand adventure to make the day qualify as awesome?

What kind of vehicle would you require for your grand adventure:  a boat?  A motorcycle?  A hot air balloon?

What makes a great day for you?

Would a dozen roses do it?

A cup of coffee with a friend who is a good listener and a great conversationalist?

Or, a cup of hot tea while you ponder and plan, or perhaps read?

Is it a great day for you when you catch all the green lights and miss all of the red ones?

Perhaps you’d rather not think about it, but many people suffer so much that a good day to them is simply one they survive.

Recently, I experienced a day that was good beyond my wildest imagination–a really grand surprise.

I had the opportunity to lead a group of women at a nearby library in a workshop on creativity.  It was rather magical the way this experience unfolded, and even more magical how it ended.

Stumbler subscriber emailed me after reading this blog post, saying, “Always such a joy to receive your wonderful posts. The cozy musings draw me in to such an extent that when I come to the last word I am always jarred back in disbelief that I am sitting in my kitchen at my computer.”

This particular subscriber is the local chapter president of a national organization called NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), of which we are supporters.  She and I had previously discussed the possibility of doing art-related seminars of some sort, and her enthusiasm spurred my desire to facilitate a group event–or maybe it was her particular use of the word jarred.  (I know, I know:  groan.)

In no short time, we had a venue and people signed up for what I called a Creativity Workshop.  Planning the workshop was great fun, and it only got better from there.

I knew instantly I could share what I have read about Happiness Jars and the power of positivity, my own experience with phenomenally good luck after beginning the practice in January 2014, and anecdotes about the jars I’d made as gifts…but then my mind started to turn toward explanations:  “I have two ideas,” I said to my husband, “well, three; I mean four…actually, five–but there technically could be six…no, wait,”   I enumerated–prefacing how I thought I might go about expanding the subject, in case there were any skeptics.

Gratefully, my old reliable brainstorming has returned, and this activity resulted in the creation of a few sample jars, a gift-jar for another friend who’s been having an especially bad year, and the idea of individual theme kits, to be delivered at the workshop.  Each participant would select her own pre-assembled collection of embellishments to use on the empty jars that NAMI provided.

Watching the women select “their” jar was interesting…the minute one person wanted the lone blue jar, another person wanted it; some wanted small, some larger; some could not decide.  Each woman was then asked to select a kit (which included a label, a tag, some ribbon, a stack of matching pre-cut papers, sundry embellishments, and a color-coordinated pen) from the case of pre-assembled theme bags.

Part of my talk was how the concept could be adapted to meet individual needs, so I was especially glad to see this option so effortlessly put into practice.  As the kits were passed and I read the theme variations aloud, one woman knew instantly that she wanted the animal collection. Her enthusiasm was joyful to witness, and as she created her jar, she explained that she worked at placing rescue pets.  She planned on recording placements as they occurred by adding to her Happiness/Precious Pets Jar a dated, individual slip of paper for each one.  She would witness, then, how quickly the placements accumulated–a valuable physical reminder of the many pets and people she helps regularly.

At the start of the gathering, a woman entered the room in crutches; and as she hobbled in I thought what a perfect metaphor this was for our workshop.  Aren’t we all carrying some sort of injury?  Aren’t we all hobbling along in some way, meeting challenges, often running later than we hope to be, and sometimes in more pain than is visible to the eye?

I began the workshop by lecturing on the history of the practice, then explaining how to go about assembling the jars.  The rest of the second hour was reserved for the participants’ crafting with my assistance.  As the group worked, a notable hush fell over the room.  After scanning the crowd, I asked,

“So, what do you guys think?”

And out of the quiet erupted:

“I LOVE THIS!”

“I’M SO HAPPY!”

“THIS IS SO FUN!”

“IT’S AWESOME!”

“Really?”

“Oh, YES!”  And then a stream of compliments that I was not prepared to hear flooded and floored me.  The women praised everything from my delivery to my personality.  I am not used to such enthusiastic support (well, except from my beloved).  It was such a gift to see all the participants smiling and oh, so happy, and then to hear their gratitude and praise.

I was utterly amazed at the effect this activity had on the energy in that room.

In order to underscore the emotional and psychological impact of creative work, I told them how much fun I had preparing the day before–how happy I was while planning the workshop and gathering the materials.

And then I asked them,

“How was YOUR day, yesterday?

And the women responded:

“Oh, AWFUL!”

“UGH!!!”

“Yesterday was HORRI-BLE.”

“ONE OF THE WORST DAYS OF MY LIFE!”

“YESTERDAY, I WAS REALLY ABOUT AS LOW AS I HAVE EVER BEEN.”

“I HAD A TERRIBLE DAY!”

Before I knew it, women were opening up, sharing their fears and burdens in great detail.  There were even streams of tears.  I felt privileged that they confided to me in particular, though again surprised.  In every way really it was just a profound experience–seeing this joy, seeing this sadness…how crafting opens up the soul.

There is such a benefit to this simple act of community.  To the exchange of shared joys, and sorrows, too.

Watching the women work was an honor to behold.  Seeing the joy on each woman’s face…well, you realize how seldom we see this.  Watching the delight in their individual creations that were all so clever…the self-acceptance and self-approval, along with the shear happiness that creating together brought them, well…it was just about the most meaningful gift that I have received since I left the classroom.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Here is a poem I used to teach in my college English classroom:

Anecdote of the Jar by Wallace Stevens : Poetry Magazine.

                                                                                          ©Debra Valentino, all rights reserved.

2 thoughts on “A Return to Teaching

  1. Thank you so much, Judy, for continuing to read Stumbler, and always for your kind remarks. It really was a remarkable experience, and hard to capture in words. Wish you could have joined us!

  2. You must be able to sleep well tonight after such a beautiful day sharing your generous heart to others. Sounds like the women not only loved your jar idea but your total package of your lovely self. I believe reaching out to help others have a softer day in this world is one of the greatest gifts we can give and the joy of receiving their gratitude is their gift to us. May more blessings of delightful days shine on you Deb. I truly enjoy your Blog.

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