Teaching to the solstice

spiral of planetary seasons, Museum of the American Indian

I am very attentive to seasons, both as a teacher and as a student of natural history and the living cosmos. For me, this season from November to the end of the calendar year is one of thanksgiving and gratitude, a time of reflection and crystallization, and a moment of finding light in the darkness. This week, we approach the winter solstice in the Northern hemisphere, that moment when the earth’s tilt is pointed fully away from the sun, fully out into the depths of the beyond; it is also our shortest day in the north, and it comes this year as it often does at about the same time we begin a break from daily teaching until classes resume again in January.

As much as I love the summer garden, the forest and the mountains of the warmer months, the long light of late spring days and the taste of August raspberries, I also appreciate deeply this season of ice and bright lights in the long darkness. Perhaps it is in part because of the outer stillness in the exterior world, the quiet dormant state of the oaks and spicebush, the frozen ground, perhaps it is this very space that allows some other dimensions to come to light.

I have been particularly attentive this year to appreciating what is present in each moment in my teaching practice, and continue to work to hold as wide an awareness as possible of every element and dimension of that presence. From that still point, so much comes to light in the space of learning – the possibilities inherent in every moment, the sense of wonder and gratitude for the space of awakening and realization, the fascination with complexity and intricacy – all of these sparkle in the gathered place we call a class or a conversation.

One other aspect of this teaching practice has been particularly present for me in the last several weeks and has held a great deal of interest. I have been touched by the continuity and evolution of relationships begun in some cases many years ago and extended through time well beyond the years I spend with students at our school. In this particular season, as friends who have moved on in the world come home to visit families, I have had many opportunities to meet and visit with students who have continued such incredibly rich journeys in their own lives and learning. I am looking forward to several more such conversations in the next few weeks. Most of these relationships were built on many hours of discussion, exchanges of written work and ideas, and occasionally on time spent working together in settings outside of the school. The continuation of these conversations and explorations is one of the great joys of this work. I am constantly learning other dimensions of what it means to be human through these conversations.

At the same time, I recognize that at the beginning of each new year, another group of students who are new to me enter in again to the space we create together, and we begin once more the good work of building relationship, of sharing questions and ideas, of holding inspiration and inquiry, and starting those conversations that may well be carried on and continued for the next ten years or more. That awareness brings a sense of both possibility and responsibility to each class day, knowing that together we are laying the ground for all that is out there, and that we may look back at this very instant and see that it was the exact moment of some particular awakening or understanding.

So I look forward to the time just ahead, to enjoy the opening of space from which to look in on all that is unfolding. And as we celebrate and move through the lights waiting for snow, the Earth will slide through the solstice point again and start the journey back to June and the outward abundance of another summer.

blue crystal light

2 Responses to Teaching to the solstice

  1. Nancy Davis says:

    John:

    Your reflections are inspirational and resonate with my deeper self. The joy and responsibility of teaching is a reminder to focus on a deeper awareness of the interactions I have with students. Thank you.

  2. Sue Stack says:

    Hi John,

    I am reading this at the time of the year when I am picking and eating raspberries, enjoying all the fruits of the season. Thank you for reminding me that no matter what agendas conversations start with,the outcome that I most value is not necessarily the moments of insight, clarity or deepening understanding (of ideas) but rather the deepening relationship with myself and others… it is the integration of knowing and being in the space of the heart… :)

    Bye for now,

    Sue