After all of the madness related to snow and ice, it was especially poignant to start our time together today with our weekly Spirituality Assembly. Our current season is called “The Spirit Within,” and it is designed around “Being mindful and centered in one’s belief in human goodness and understanding” and in the notion that “We can discern truth from within.” This morning’s assembly struck me as so special and so rich that I really wanted to share it with all of you.
Here is my best attempt at giving you an insider view:
- Assembly opens with the reading of our affirmation: “I am calm, relaxed, and peaceful” followed by a brief period of mediation and the recitation of school prayer
- Our reading assigned for the day is next, read by Ms. Loving:
A Cup of Tea
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
- Following the reading, I have the opportunity to share a few remarks, and today focused on how tempting it is for all of us to share what we know and the connections we make rather than listen to what is being shared with us. For example, when a teacher is speaking, how often is she/he distracted by hands in the air? How can we take in what is being said if we are waiting for our turn to speak? Like the professor in the story, we have to “empty our cup” in order to benefit from new learning.
- Ms. Therres was on deck this morning to share a teacher story, and she shared a moment in her life when she realized just how wise and wonderful her mom was to her when she needed her most:
I have always been an anxious person, easily excited or overwhelmed by any little thing that came along. I was lucky enough to have a mom that saw this in me and found ways to put me at ease when necessary. She put me in art classes because she saw how it soothed me, and she would sit and draw with me. Even though she was not confident in her own skills she wanted to encourage me in what she could clearly see put me at ease and was something I loved dearly.
In addition to being anxious, I have always been stubborn. My zodiac is Taurus, the bull, which is an animal associated with being the most stubborn. As a kid, especially, I always had an opinion about every topic and I was not shy to say it. I would gladly argue with my siblings, parents or friends on any topic without budging.
When I was in the 8th grade it was time to start thinking about high schools. I lived in an area that had a fine public high school but I wanted something more. I came to my mom and asked if I could apply for the Baltimore School for the Arts, a prestigious school in the center of the city for kids with talents in the arts. She was so excited and agreed, asking what she could do to help me get ready for my application. “I just need to memorize a monologue,” I explained and she looked at me with confusion. “But Rachel,” she questioned, “aren’t you going to apply for the visual arts program? You love to draw and paint.” To this I scoffed and explained to her that I was going to be an actress, drawing and painting is nice and all but I wanted to be on stage and screen. She begged and pleaded and prodded me over the next couple of weeks but I was not going to hear it from her.
On the day of my audition, I learned that 600 other young people were vying for one of the 20 spots that I was. As I entered the school’s main dance hall, examined the hallways cluttered with easels and brushes, paintings hung everywhere, the ceramics studio… I knew I had made the wrong decision. I delivered my monologue with all I had but I could feel my anxiousness welling up in me, spilling over into my performance. When I left the room I hugged my mom so tightly, knowing I should have listened to her and followed what truly gave me inner peace. Instead of giving me a hard time or scolding me for my stubbornness, she just hugged me back and took me home to paint.
- After the story, students had the chance to think through the “What Would You Do?” assigned for the day: “A classmate whom your parents have told you to avoid has asked you to stay after school and play in the playground. Both of your parents work and probably will not find out if you stayed and did not follow their directions. What would you do?” Students had many ideas to share:
- I would say I was sorry but I needed to be somewhere
- I would stay for a few minutes and the tell my friend I had something else to do
- I would ask my mom to have the person over for a playdate so we could try to work on getting along under my parents’ supervision
- Next up was the Examen, and one student had this to share as a candle was lit for her by her teacher: “A moment that made me a little worried this morning was when I went outside and saw all of the ice and I was afraid I was going to fall. A moment that made me feel peaceful was seeing my stepfather there to pick me up in his car.” Ms. Wisniewski shared her Examen next: “I was worried that many of my friends wouldn’t be able to make it to school today because of the ice. A moment that made me feel very calm and peaceful was seeing the ice on trees and it looked so beautiful.”
- Our assembly then ended with our singing the school song together, and students exited the church in silence to begin their academic day.
I feel so lucky and blessed to be able to begin my day this way – what a wonderful way to spend 20 minutes before the rest of my work day gets rolling! I have come to find our Tuesday morning gatherings to be a very centering and important part of my week – a chance to empty my cup to make room for new insights, ideas, and visions.