Theo and Dora at preschool ages, 2005
I had a moment of insight and clarity after meditation class this morning. What a surprise, right? But I've been feeling so low I almost didn't go to class.
We are reading Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. She talks about our collective tendency in this culture to believe that we are deficient beings in need of fixing, which sets us up for a lifetime of trying too hard to be "perfect," and, inevitably, failing.
I know a place that gave respite from this delusional perspective. Montessori Country School, and the directors and teachers Patty, Karla, Sue, Meghan, Kasia, Liisa, Cindy, Lydia, Julie, Melissa and Emily. They created this completely rational and incredibly beautiful world within our crazy external reality that was based on a countercultural trust and belief in the true Buddha nature of our children. They did not need perfecting! They were not required to measure up to some external standard of learning or, more importantly, being.
They were treasured for their existence just as it was. They were welcomed without an assumption that they must change in order to belong. They were welcomed with the belief that wholeness and goodness and intelligence was their innate essence, and upon being shown a loving way to express that essence they would naturally fill an important place in the community. No one keeping score. No competition encouraged because every one is on his or her own path. No one had to "get ahead." There was time for it all. What a heartrending relief.
There is a tangible difference that any creature feels in being allowed to be. It's this allowance of the "sacred pause," which might happen anytime during an activity or between them, during which time one can sense the life streaming through, notice what one is experiencing, decide what one might do next. How many educational institutions allow this magic to happen? Certainly not very many traditional schools have built-in room for this kind of self-awareness.
We used to get it just being kids and having big chunks of time with nothing to do. Kids these days have precious little of that. And that is to all of us a far deeper loss than I want to consider. Nothing less than the building of a whole soul, navigating difficult moments, opening to the suffering and joy, learning to relate to the world outside, is happening during these moments. One could argue that this is the true education, because all future success depends on there being "fertile ground for wise action."
Ajahn Buddhadasa calls these interludes of natural or purposeful pausing "temporary nirvana." We touch the freedom that is possible in any moment when we are not grasping after our experience or resisting it. He writes that without such moments of pausing, " . . . living things would either die or become insane. Instead, we survive because there are natural periods of coolness, of wholeness and ease. In fact, they last longer than the fires of our grasping and fear. It is this that sustains us.
My children's preschool experience to me in looking back was full of so much of the spiritual feeling of safety and love and being held that I am beginning to understand from a more intellectual aspect now. How blessed we all were to receive it, even though we couldn't understand it fully.