A Reflection on 2023 Silent Journey and Discovery
By John Fial
This decade was the first that I read Zen in the Art of Archery, from 1948. My time this Saturday began with the book, where the German professor goes to Japan in the 1920s to teach and picks up archery, and comes away with a deeper understanding of philosophy, spirituality, the universe, and himself. But my Saturday did not begin with archery, rather, with another activity in Japan, only casually mentioned once or twice in the book, where the author referenced his wife's passionate undertaking: flower arranging.
Upon reading the flower arranging card in the Toddler Community, as my arm extended and reached for the first item -- the empty vase, I think -- my ego quickly realized "I" would be done with this in all of sixty seconds… if… I… didn't… slow… down. Then "I" could move to the next activity, and in doing so, get to experience a greater breadth of the Toddler Room, checking more activities off the to-do list, and therefore being more successful!
"I" am not really thinking like a toddler, am I? Fortunately, I have on occasion practiced moving meditation and Tai-Chi, and by the time that arm brought the empty vase to my table, the ego's defiant protests -- "Why am I doing this?", "This is a waste of time, I have so much to do today!", "Flower arranging, really? They'll just put the flower back into the main vase when we leave, anyway, so what good is my work here?", and "I'm missing twenty other activities for this!" -- began to settle.
I only spent perhaps six or seven all-too-quick minutes on flower arranging before finishing. Then, like a toddler, I wandered aimlessly through the room, before giving an all-too-distracted 90-seconds to two or three other activities. The lights flickered and our time was soon up. Good thing I had arranged those two flowers… I should have done so for the full 15-minutes! On my way out, I was reminded of all those other important activities I didn't get to try!
Overall, the day reminded me of the importance of organization, and of having a peaceful, simple, "Zen" space, if you will. Simplicity in all things. Each classroom beamed with organized beauty; concepts and materials could be seen like arrows flowing through the school’s progression of age and skill. In the middle classrooms, rules and respect began to form, as complexity built. Whereas I'd be comfortable explaining and exploring dozens of scientific concepts to the Lower Elementary children, I sensed that the Upper Elementary children would be teaching me, not the other way around! I was also reminded to do one thing at a time.
The biggest reminder/epiphany for me was that knowledge and intellect are quite worthless without the emotional mind engaged: without a "why?", a goal, without someone in mind to help, or some ultimate reason for the knowledge. Without that emotional or social aspect, the pursuit of knowledge, for some of us -- myself especially -- can serve only to needlessly enrich the ego, to self-aggrandize, but not actually make the world a better place. With all our studies, we should be working to make the world a better place. Far easier said than done, of course.
If the day began in the Toddler Community without a conscious reminder of Zen in the Art of Archery, the book would clearly come to the forefront at the end of the morning. Guide Will chose Khalil Gibran's poem On Children, where "The Prophet," likens us parents to bows, shooting the arrows of our children out into the world. One woman in our room cried; I nearly did myself while reading the poem for the first time. I volunteered to do so aloud, so excited to hear the words echo throughout the space that I missed reading the first line entirely.
Like Zen, like arranging flowers, On Children tells us we parents must step aside, stay stable, asd let our arrows fly. In Zen, the author's teacher says that the bowman must step aside from pulling the string of the bow back, that the ego must step aside from actively shooting the arrow, so that "it" may shoot. Only then will the string be loosed effortlessly; only then may the perfect, spiritual arrow fly properly, whether hitting its mark or no.
I suppose there is no greater challenge in being a parent.
Thank you, Childpeace, for this experience!