By Mackenzie Klema
This past week, I went to school. Now I know what you must be thinking. Hey, it’s summer vacation, who on earth would want to be in school?! And indeed, though my kid years are past, summer remains a glorious, sacred couple months where I can detox from the anxieties of conventional academics. However, having just completed my first year of college, I find myself acutely aware of some voids in my education. Sure, I can compose a lofty, didactic essay, but what if my bicycle gets a flat? My formal education has prepared me to function in an academic sphere, while neglecting the cultivation of skills essential to daily living. Furthermore, school has compelled me to study subjects of which I hold no interest … like calculus. This summer, I wanted to stop grumbling and seek solutions. Thus, I couldn’t have been more excited for The Brick House’s first week of free workshops.
On Monday, Sara and I clambered over to The Brick House where Aaron St. Jean from Undergrowth Farm in Gill instructed us on the techniques of woodworking. We began by discussing the properties of wood, and were then introduced to an array of tools, including gouges, files, draw knife, and a shaving horse Aaron had finished building earlier that day! After practicing our hand at wood splitting with axe and wedge, we graduated to our own projects. Sara and I elected to craft some spoons (though in retrospect, we should have made some forks to replace our apartment’s mysteriously dwindling supply). An hour of whittling, sawing and gouging left me with a new utensil and a lot of pride at my work, even if it was a little crude.
I began Tuesday morning in the Movement Studio, tranquilly poised on a zafu (a tiny round cushion) in the Burmese zen position. Karen Werner, a fellow of Green River Zen in Greenfield, led this Buddhist Meditation class where I had the opportunity to minimize my stresses through proper breathing, drawing attention to my body, and liberating my mind from pesky thoughts. There are a few tips the beginning meditator need remember: a straight back, counting, deep, regular breathing (visualize your belly as a balloon), and treating thoughts as a movie playing in the background. The chaos of daily life has sparked my interest in spirituality as a means of stress relief, so I was psyched to leave that morning not only with the tools to practice meditation individually, but also wakeful, rejuvenated, and prepared to face the day.
Later that afternoon, Clay Royse and Tim Murphy deconstructed an ancient, rusty Peugeot road bike in front of my eyes, explaining the functions of its many nuts and bolts. After this bike component overview, Clay demonstrated how to fix a flat, and gave tips for their prevention. This class was just the introduction to an exciting 7-week bike mechanics series, with each course targeting a certain aspect of bike maintenance, history, or use.
Thursday evening I arched my back and raised my head into the cobra position, bent forward into downward dog, and completed sun salutations in unison with the greatest influx of community members to gather at The Brick House for the Summer Workshop Series thus far. We were a motley, dynamic bunch, including beginners (such as myself) to experienced yogis, ranging in age from 50 to 8. Regardless of experience level, I can confidently say all participants left strengthened and excited for the next six courses featuring multiple instructors and yoga styles.
These few workshops have made me enthusiastic about what the Workshop Series has to offer for the remainder of the summer, and hopefully, beyond. Sure these workshops are more “fun” than traditional classes as there is no homework, no final exam, and they cost absolutely nothing. But what I love most about the Summer Workshop Series is the opportunity to learn from and interact with my fellow community members in a personable setting that transcends the age boundaries of the traditional classroom, while creating a dynamic learning environment with space for mentoring. This summer, I am discovering that learning does not end with the semester or even graduation. Instead, I find it thrilling to finish a day’s work and be able to walk a couple of blocks and learn a new skill, purely by choice. I feel so lucky and grateful to be a part of this experiment in cooperative community education, and am eager to keep learning this summer.