How do we communicate the deeper intent of our schools to parents? This brief piece contains the thoughts expressed by the Head of Oak Grove School to the school community at the start of a school year.
I often wonder what is the meaning of my life. I generally wish that I could act in wiser, gentler and more enlightened ways. Why am I here and what is my life’s purpose? Well, I finally received a satisfying reply to this question when, after a particularly rough day and an unhealthy Chinese meal, I opened a Zen fortune cookie, which read, “It may be that your sole purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others.”
A rough day indeed! Though I admit it left me with a rather large smile on my face as well.
The summer vacation has come to an end and it is time for a fresh start. We find ourselves at once at an end and a beginning. The poet T.S. Eliot addressed this paradoxical feeling in his poem Little Gidding, when he wrote:
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
So, let us start from the end and make a beginning. It’s the end of the summer vacation and also of the rhythms, challenges and joys of that long break. It’s the end of who we were and who our children were, last year, last month, even last week, as we settle into new routines.
For our students it’s the end of some of their habitual ways and patterns of thinking and doing, as they are exposed to new knowledge, form new relationships, grapple with challenging and exciting math and science problems, analyze the meaning and relevance of historical events and learn how to explore and inquire into all these subjects using the tools of listening, reading, thinking, writing and speaking.
The transition from an end to a beginning is not always easy. Our own thoughts, assumptions, ideas, and images can get in the way of seeing things through new eyes, with what in Japan is sometimes called shoshin, or beginner’s mind, characterized by an attitude of openness, eagerness and a lack of preconceptions.
“Meditation is the ending of thought”, our school’s founder, Jiddu Krishnamurti, once said. He felt that meditation is to have the quality of a mind that is both innocent and vulnerable. “Wander by the seashore and let this meditative quality come” he said.“If it does, don’t pursue it. What you pursue will be the memory of what it was— and what was is the death of what is.”
He went on to say, “When you wander among the hills, let everything tell you the beauty and the pain of life so that you awaken to your own sorrow and the ending of it.” For Krishnamurti, meditation is not just about the ending of thought but also the ending of sorrow.
To have a beginner’s mind we need to be able to end thought and sorrow, even just for moments. To be able to go on the journey of exploration that is the school year, we need to see with fresh eyes. We need to be able to see what is without what was.
As Eliot said, “The end is where we start from.”
Here at Oak Grove School we seek to cultivate both the mind and the heart. We want to be academically rigorous and encourage academic excellence. At the same time we want to nurture the quality of a mind that is sensitive, innocent and vulnerable. We want our students to work hard, be challenged and give their best. And we want to give them time and space to be by themselves, to reflect, to contemplate, to be mindful.
We ask our students to come on time, be organized, do their homework and meet deadlines. We also want them to play, be carefree and creative. We want to equip our students with the practical tools and skills they need to live and work in this world and make a positive and meaningful contribution to it. We also encourage them to ask the deepest and most enduring questions about life and its meaning, including what it means to live a good life and be fully human.
During our faculty in-service week, we examined the question,“What is a ‘Krishnamurti education’?” One group came back with a poster saying,‘What Krishnamurti education is not.’ They said it is not conformist, it is not a religion and it is not divisive. It is not fear-based, not traditional, not hierarchical, not fragmented and it is not a system.
Many of our faculty mentioned enquiry, curiosity and exploration as being at the heart of our approach to education. This brings us back to where we began, in the company of T.S. Eliot, who writes a few verses down in the same poem:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.