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Posted September 15, 2003 

By Lon Woodbury

Every successful emotional growth school or program has one element of its curriculum that is devoted to helping the students "slow down." There are a variety of techniques for helping students do this, including Vision Quests, Solos, Dirt Lists, and Work Details, to name a few. The common element of these and other techniques is helping students to stop their frenzied activity so they can hear and process their own thoughts and feelings, and learn how to get them under control.

This prospect of spending time alone is not easy for most humans, and never has been. The pressure of daily living is with us all. The popular song of the 1960s that said "Stop the world, I want to get off" was expressing a very common need to slow down for a while in order to collect oneself. It resonated with many people because "modern society" has always been extremely demanding, and we all recognize the need for "down time."

Every philosophy and religion throughout history has emphasized time for reflection, prayer or meditation. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament, for example, required that the seventh day be used for rest, which encouraged using that time for reflection. Public ceremonies, whether or not they are religiously oriented, frequently feature a “moment of quiet,” to pay one’s respect. Philosophers have always emphasized the need to “know thyself.”

At work, every employee expects a weekend off and paid vacation time, to allow "down time," or at least a change of pace from the pressures of making a living. Giving a child a "Time Out" is one of the most popular discipline measures recommended by childcare professionals, primarily to encourage children to think about their misdeeds. Many therapeutic techniques intervene with some kind of quiet time. Sometimes it involves spending some time alone writing a list of negative behaviors or beliefs, or listening to inspiring music. There are numerous other approaches as well.

The reason this kind of activity is recommended is very clear, from a variety of perspectives. The essential point is that for healthy living, people need some "quiet time" to be alone so they can experience and examine their thoughts and feelings.

This is easier said than done. In our fast moving daily lives, it is hard to create time for quiet reflection of any kind. This is further complicated by that fact that relatively few of us naturally feel comfortable with our own company. It is always easier to do something than to just "be" with our own thoughts and feelings.

Part of the reason students are enrolled in emotional growth or therapeutic boarding schools or programs is that their feelings and thoughts are spinning so out of control, they are scared. As a result they desperately throw themselves into risky activities and gravitate towards exciting friends to avoid these scary feelings. The adrenalin rush of high-risk activities, or the high they get from drugs gives them a brief reprieve from the frightening prospect of spending time alone, experiencing the intimidating thoughts and feelings that create their internal landscape. For them, their lives are a moving target, spinning and whirling out of control, and they have no idea how to successfully take aim.

It is for this reason that in order to be successful, a school or program for out-of-control children must pay special attention to helping the students learn how to slow down, and experience those scary thoughts and feelings so they can learn how to control them. One of the most important ways to do this is to arrange some quiet time in the school or program's structure, so the students can learn how to face their feelings and make peace with them. It is only by providing its students time to become aware of their inner dialogue that a school can then motivate its students to participate in healing activities that can help them deal with their disruptive internal messages. If schools and programs just focus on activity, ignoring their students’ human need to quiet themselves to hear their inner voice, then they will only have partially achieved their goals.

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