October lets go reluctantly like the remaining few leaves on the sugar maples in a misty drizzle of warm gray light. There is a pause in the season, the weekend of November’s arrival, of returning the clocks to a time where the sun is highest at noon. We finally release the last of remembered summer, bringing in the final three hot peppers from the Bhut Jolokia plants, potting up a cranberry viburnum offshoot to carry off to Vermont hayfields next year, watching the appearance of winter stars on the horizon in the dark, early morning sky. Pausing at this moment, we find another opportunity to renew our commitment to embodiment, to enacting all that is possible, to waking up to our own full consciousness.
Aitken Roshi’s simple three-part opening reminds us of just what is before us in the present moment:
“… First, being alive is an important responsibility; second, we have little time to fulfill that responsibility; and third, rigorous practice is necessary for fulfillment.”
As a lifelong undertaking, teaching is a magnificent way to practice being alive. In the relative sense, we have little time to fulfill our intentions with the students who come to us. Each moment, every interaction, every gesture is precious and can be carried out with purpose and determination. As a rigorous practice, teaching asks us to pay attention to what we are doing, to act from a place of both intention and compassion.
I have just finished writing the sixty mid-trimester reports that are sent to each of the students I teach after these first seven weeks of our school year. It is a substantial task, spread out over about a week of writing, but one that I enjoy greatly. I am always interested in finding our edges, looking into where we are at a frontier of sorts and how we can push that edge further out into the space of greater depth, greater embrace, more insight. With each comment I write, I think carefully about what I might offer that both celebrates and challenges – an acknowledgment of the effort and presence that I have observed, and an invitation to stretch and reach and move into new territory. That message can apply equally to how students are engaged in dialogue, how students are approaching equations, how students are investing themselves in written expression. It is my hope that each of the students feels truly known, known as an individual and recognized for their unique expression of being human.
My senior botany students have already joined me on three beautiful fall outings to gardens and arboreta – one to the exquisite and imaginative Chanticleer Gardens, one early morning walk through the Haverford College arboretum (with hot tea and scones), and one tour of the magnificent trees of the Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill. Next week we will again take up some explicit work with integral thinking before sending them off on a five day break to complete college visits and applications and take stock of their final year with us at our school. I will make a special note of some of their perspectives on an integral classroom and share those here in a later posting.