This article by Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School (HVS) Lower School Chair Meaghan McKenna first appeared as a “Dear Families” Letter in the October 27, 2023 HVS Weekly Newsletter.
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation
There is a lot happening in the world and in our country right now that can be hard to comprehend and difficult to stomach. From where we are in this little valley that has so much beauty and so much peace, one can get a feeling of hopelessness when looking at the news each day, reading headlines that announce the difficulties that people are having to endure. It can at times seem overwhelming and disheartening. We are all connected, and the suffering of others pulls at our heart strings. Even so, remembering a message of mindfulness and living in the moment can be difficult and even can feel sometimes like a privileged oversimplification of the challenges of the world. Yet if, even during times of suffering, we can’t acknowledge the small miracles like the Zen Master mentioned above, when and what can we appreciate? Life is a mixture of both suffering and beauty. We can be sad, blame others, fight, or complain about all of it. But it’s a fruitless endeavor to attempt to avoid suffering in the same way it’s silly to want to turn a blind eye to beauty.
Last Friday (October 20), we had a professional development day where we discussed diversity, equity, and inclusion and then we came together in the afternoon with the whole Hawthorne Valley Association. We all participated in a discussion and a presentation that looked at economics. Some of the conversation was difficult, but as we all know difficult conversations can facilitate growth. One takeaway that I had from that afternoon was: surrounded by a room full of biodynamic farmers, farm-and-place-based educators, Waldorf teachers, and Ecologists, I felt the power of those people, and the changes they are working toward. Even in this slow little pocket of the Universe, we are doing something as a collective that has the capacity to make big changes and that can help to build toward the future. We can send gifts back to the world in a meaningful and perhaps profound way.
I have friends around the United States that are doing good, meaningful work and changing the world in ways that have clear, immediate, and visible impact. Sometimes when I’m talking to my friends and hearing about the things that they are doing to change the world for the better, I feel small in my own efforts. I’m sure we probably all feel that from time to time. Yet when I pause and gain perspective and think about the various long-term implications of Waldorf Education and Biodynamic farming, I’m comforted that we as teachers, parents, and farmers (and everyone else that we are in this valley) are doing work that does impact the world and provides a sense of doing good for the greater.
I look at some of the things that our alumni are contributing to the world and am humbled. They are academics, engineers, artists, farmers, musicians, authors, and more. Of course it is not just Waldorf schools that are planting those seeds the world. Yet Rudolf Steiner saw Waldorf Education as an education for healing. The original impulse of Waldorf schools was to help children and families that were disadvantaged to experience an exceptional education. Rudolf Steiner created the original school for factory workers. He wanted something that would bring meaning even to those that might not have the financial means. I have faith that the original impulse of Waldorf Education exists in our school every day. While other schools that are not child nor human centered are bringing iPads and tablets into the hands of the youngest children (despite the gobs of research that suggests the harm in such exposure), we continue with the tried-and-true, timeless efforts of learning through hands-on experience and human connection. What a simple yet profound universal concept!
Even among moments of worry where strife exists, it is a beautiful reminder each day to observe the children who are often (at least at the age that I’m teaching) so engaged in the day-to-day moments of their learning that they are able to live freely and without much worry about what’s going on in the world. This is indeed a privilege and a gift. Among the beauty of the valley and the richness and depth that exists within our school and on the farm, the leaves are changing and the children are learning, laughing, growing, and experiencing something that is rare and cherished and not always available to children in places where war and devastation has taken over.
We are extremely lucky. The children at Hawthorne Valley are developing skills of empathy through a heart-based education. This education connects them deeply to this little bubble of solid earth that we live on; such grounding and roots will serve as a springboard as the children grow into adults that are then equipped to comfort a world that may not always be beautiful and comfortable. Let us find moments of solace in the beauty around us and remember the many gifts that we have here – send forth those gifts that are less fortunate further reaches the world!
With courage and heart to live in the moment as we serve toward the future,
Grade Four Teacher
Lower School Chair
“Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful…How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural–you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh