How do you solve your problems?
In growing up, as much as we do grow up mentally, each of us has personal difficulties and social problems in relation with those about us. In rural Japan a group of children are meeting their difficu1ties in a splendid way and even teaching their parents how to do so. They gather together weekly in a small building near Himeji in Hyogo Prefecture, communally built and owned by their parents, mostly farmers. Here they practice this method of education along with some arts and crafts and a body-motion calligraphy done with large brushes and water on newspapers. Their meetings do not interfere with but help their regular school work.
They are using a method of thinking for themselves that works. If someone has done a child an injustice, if his feelings have been hurt, if he is in pain, if his or her father is quarreling - anything becomes the subject of the study. They have no name for it, but since it is done with a pillow it might be called pillow education.
A pillow has four sides and a middle. A problem has four approaches and a middle. For example: A child is slow in his school work. It is his turn to show the group how he is thinking through this situation. He sits before the pillow, placing his hand at 1. "Suppose I can't think quickly," he says. "If I place here at 1 'I can't think quickly,' then this may change at some time. "Here at 2," he continues, placing his hand in the 2 position, "is the place where I can think quickly and easily."
In doing this the child has objectified a handicap. He takes a look at it instead of letting it corrode inside. He also has imagined the possibility of his difficulty resolving. He continues: "If 1 is where I can't think quickly and 2 is the place where I can, then I will say that here, 3, is a situation where I can think both slowly and quickly, where and 2 are together." This third step (the 3 place on the pillow) merges the opposites and 2, just as 2 reverses the problem originally placed at 1. This is education in action done by the individual for himself or herself. There are as many girls as boys in the group.
It is a fact that most adults can only think to 2: white 1, black 2; right 1, wrong 2. "If I am right as I am, 1, you are wrong, 2." Entire lives are lived with this kind of thinking. Such dichotomy, either-or, right-wrong, often results in private and public unresolved differences.
When we consider the millions of dead in recent wars from a few leaders not being able to think beyond 2, we see how urgently such education is needed.
"You say you are right, father, and our neighbor is wrong," the child tells his father who is in a property dispute. "But may there not also be a place where you are wrong and he is right. And both of you may be wrong and both right. And at still another place, 4, all this may be forgotten." "What are you talking about?" asks the father. The child gets out a pillow. In afew weeks the father, considerably interested, has visited the school.
Such sharp thinking came from a very young child. He had a method of thinking. If he finds no difficulty to solve for himself during the week, he begins looking for one. When called on in class, he doesn't like to be without a subject he has worked on.
The child reasons not in numbers but in a relational sequence of four steps: wrong, 1; right, 2; both wrong and right, 3; and neither wrong nor right, 4. He does this as if walking a 4-step figure with his hand and with his mind.
In conclusion each child summarizes his presentation by cupping his hands in the middle of the pillow ( ), affirming an unnamed center from which 1, 2, 3, 4 emerge. It is as if he holds the complete problem in his own hands at the center of the pillow.
He then places the hand at 4, 3, 2, 1 and concludes by saying, "All these are gloriously affirmed," or "Each of these steps is good." It is a tremendous relief to the child to be able to reverse his thinking and not be continually held in one viewpoint. In such kind of problem-solving, "nothing is the matter," their mentor says. A rebellious child joining the others invariably becomes gentle in a few weeks.
Susumu Ijiri, the originator of the teaching, an entirely humble man, says that he teaches nothing, that he is only a pupil of our unspoken source of being. The deep respect he has for life, along with his son Masuro, his wife, and many friends, reflects in the attitude of the children. Masuro Ijiri directs the school, or sometimes a wife of some farmer does.
The number of students has grown from 3 to more than 30. The meetings are a happy time. Students are entirely unhesitant about making personal problems public.
All kinds of subjects come before the pillow: Hunger and not hungry, beauty and ugliness, environment and mood, a bucket of water and a sea of water, blood of Orientals and blood of Occidentals, after my death the world will be and will not be - anything that troubles or concerns the child.
Even the pillow itself is treated as a subject: "When 1, I first heard of this study, I grasped it easily. But 2, since I understand it, it never finishes in me." Another child offers: "Here 1, I will say that American culture surpasses Japanese culture. But here 2, I will say Japanese culture surpasses American culture. And here 3, I will say that both American culture surpassingJapanese andJapanese culture surpassing American are correct. And here 4, Actually neither does any such surpassing. Moreover since all these spring from center ( )' in such a view 4, 3, 2, 1, each is fully affirmed by me."
The children do not count with numbers but use names for the positions, HI RI HO KEN (TEN), a Japanese five-steps-into-universal-harmony of unknown origin. It may derive from the Chinese Book of Changes. Susumu Ijiri says he developed pillow education (named by Reps) from an intensive study of Borobudur symbology. He has thoroughly explored this edifice in Java.
"The center of the pillow (we first used a small rug) represents our origina- tive harmony from which changing conditions stem," he says. "I may say this but the children feel, experience, and apply it. Looking for difficulties to resolve should help them in many ways as they grow older. It has helped us who are older. We try not to place ourselves in a dominant assertive position but rather to let, we don't know, 1, turn into something we do know, 2. When a girl is troubled by a coming grade-school examination she really is troubled. Facing this fact, she is better able to handle it. She knows how to place it, to reverse it, to include it, and to surpass it as best she can. She has a method of thinking.
However effective the method and happy the results, their teacher con- tinually de-emphasizes its importance before the center ( ). The central receptive attitude he feels is the needed ingredient.
In this he reflects the sincere reverence for life common among the farmers of Japan. Simple wood shrines, some not much larger than a bird's nest, stand by the farms where the Giver of life is respected in passing with a silent bow, a spring of green.
The books say these are Shinto shrines of many gods, but the farmers themselves never dismiss their relation-with-universe with such an intellectual shrug. Their feeling parallels the practice of the presence of God by the Quakers. With the children it is all practice.
The student's building is inadequate. They are poor. They share clothes and food with those still poorer. But they have declined publicity for the group, thinking it might only bring more problems. "Someone else must tell others about our method, we don't know how," they say. They are too busy using it in their own lives.
Have you something troubling you? Have you a pillow? If so, you may join these children in their wide way of thinking. It is not easy to translate the feeling of one person into the language of another and to convey in words the sensible delight of gentle hands on a pillow showing parents how to think.