A Spa for the Soul

One of our particularly lovely and fascinating bankers was visiting recently. It was not her first time, but being here makes most people, if they are even a little bit open to the environment, feel very good. She said, “I love to come here. It is a spa for the soul.” I thought, “Wow, what a great phrase; I think I need to write a blog about that,” but then I became uncomfortable with the beautiful phrase: a spa is generally where you relax and are pampered. A visitor feels the good vibes from the community washing over everyone (as we all do), and can feel like it is a balm for the soul.

But it is not really the place where people are relaxed. It is more the place where people are doing things that interest and challenge them. In fact, most people are exactly the opposite of relaxed. They are not tense, but boy are they intense! And yet, it remains true that almost all of them will, if you ask, stop what they are doing for a few minutes to chat, to meet someone and be polite, to do a quick errand, etc.

I walked into a particular room the other day, and sitting at the table were three kids, two playing chess, complete with one of those professional looking timers, and the third practicing the ukelele. All were kind of the same age – at SVS. The two chess players were 12 and 15. The uke player was 15 too.

I asked if I could photograph the chess players, because even my very quiet cellphone felt like an intrusion to the concentration. “Of course, no problem.” And no posing! Just the way I like it. I was gone fast. When next I passed the room that game had ended, and there was another child, much shorter but not younger than the first, across from the tall teen. It looked like age mixing, but wasn’t really, in and of itself – these kids don’t make age distinctions; they just know and respect each other’s abilities. However, standing beside the smaller 12 year old was a completely intent and absorbed 5 year old! I didn’t go in – too precious for me to disturb, but someone else had captured the scene! What can one make of these scenes? What better atmosphere could that 5 year old walk into than one in which she is neither coddled nor treated as if she is ignorant; just allowed to let her soul bloom!

The very same day I walked into the dance room. There are a lot of mats in the dance room useful for a lot of activities. These are large blue, heavy-plastic-covered, good quality mats that fold in quite a few ways: most are sets of four attached large size pieces (maybe 60″ or so by 30″) so there is a lot of possibilities inherent in each set that you pull down. If you are strong.

On Thursdays, we pull out folding chairs and have School Meetings, but the rest of the time there is no furniture, a shiny wood floor, a stack of mats, mirrors – ready for the soul of the active, I guess! Acrobatics, yoga, dance all take place on mats that get unfolded; hair cutting (easy to clean) certainly does not! But it does take place in front of the mirrors. Those are just some of the regular uses of the room.

The level of imagination with which those mats are used never fails to amaze me. And the size of the people who move them determinedly into forts, houses, stores, floors, etc., is also spectacular. Somehow the youngest child can get a 30 pound mat off a huge stack. (They have a little more trouble putting them back, of course!) Last year the practice of using roofs emerged. Certain people were able to make roofs out of the mats that made a room within the room. It is devilishly hard to find people in these structures in general, particularly roofed. You can walk into the room, say, “hi?” and not hear a peep, even though there is a crowd in a relatively small covered mat house. You can’t use shoes on the mats, so the room often has shoes scattered about the floor; sometimes, the shoes and the lunches outside the door, where they shouldn’t be, gives you a clue that the room is occupied, or at least was at some point!

And then there is the inside version of Parkour, also using every surface of the room and the mats. All of these things take powers of imagination beyond my ken, because all of the games are made up anew, with elaborate rules agreed on by all involved.

But the most novel use I have seen for a while cropped up just a few days ago. Some kids had a pile of mats which they were using as a table, and then other mats which seemed to be chairs. On the table was a Dungeons and Dragons game in full swing. Five happy kids, 8 – 12! Four were writing or drawing; one seemed to be the dungeon master.

On Valentine’s Day there was a wedding. The day before, the youngest flower girl had a little attack of nervousness. “I am not sure where to go or when it will be or what to do.” Dan soothed her fears, and reassured her that it is normal to be nervous before a big event in which you have a part. There was music, a wedding planner, an officiator, a bouquet (thrown), a vast spread of refreshments, in the next room, where eating is allowed, including a four tiered home-made wedding cake. The flower petals were cleaned up shortly after the event, and the chairs put back in the closet for the next use of the dance room.

Recently Dan noticed a bunch of kids all feverishly using their cellphones. That is not all that unusual, as there are always some kids using cellphones. But these kids were sitting with their friends and usually talk to them face to face. He snapped a photo and showed it to me. I said, “ewww, just what people worry kids do here.” He laughed. There was no way to tell from the photo that they were actually all playing a game together, phones to phones, just as they all play Risk, and Monopoly and Scrabble! Intensely.

The more I think about it, people doing what they want and need to do are in a spa for the soul. Spa is just not a place to spoil yourself here. In our case it is a place to do exactly what benefits you most! Most students want to get here in the morning and are not that eager to leave in the afternoon. This is where it’s at.

The views expressed on this page are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Sudbury Valley School.