What allows us to remove our masks? What feeling, movement, supportive touch or perfect word makes space for a person to be seen? These are not new questions. In fact, they are ageless. Philosophers from the history of time have asked these same queries in a variety of ways.
In January, I was privileged to attend my older daughter’s graduation ceremony at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT. Goddard describes itself as “at the heart of your mind”. Its mission statement, in part, states, “Our mission is to advance the theory and practice of learning by undertaking new experiments . . . .Goddard encourages students to become creative, passionate, lifelong learners”.
As mission statements go, it could be considered almost typical. Typical, that is, until you arrive on campus. Your first taste is a sense of an atmosphere that reminds you of a young colt straining against a bridle, autumn leaves blowing in the wind while the peace and serenity of samadhi overtakes your mind. It is amorphous, waiting to be discovered, hoping you will remove your mask and glimpse its identity. With your mask on, it becomes invisible.
The graduation ceremony was preceded by presentation of the graduates’ theses. I attended my daughter’s, of course, and together we attended another in which a young lady demonstrated a Tai Chi, Chi Kung program that she had created to enable physically challenged people to learn movement. She had found her passion and created a path to channel its results. My daughter’s thesis told of her student teaching experience in which she recreated a portion of the already existing class structure to allow time for one-on-one interaction with each pupil. The new model has been retained by the classroom’s existing teacher.
Nothing could have prepared me for the sheer raw emotion of the graduation ceremony – one in which every student, advisor and parent would be maskless. Each graduate was given time to honor his or her support team; comment on the path each had taken to arrive at the graduation podium and state intentions for the future. The young lady who had presented the Tai Chi program honored her Afro-American bloodline, one line of heritage at a time, and closed by raising her arms to heaven and singing the names of God in twenty different languages. My daughter honored all of us who had supported her 13 year endeavor to become a teacher and finished by requesting that her husband join her on stage to receive her Bachelor’s Degree since he, too, had earned it. He had maintained the house for her while working a full time job so that she could work during the day and study every night. And so it went.
So, where do people put their masks during those tear-filled moments when the soul in each person present is touched so deeply? Behind that mask is each parent’s lost dream that he or she sees supported by a school peopled with advisory personnel who encourage the deepest searching into each student’s depths. In each graduate’s heart is the hope of the future and a conviction fueled by the constant, daily reminder that he or she has been heard; has been given the opportunity to find his voice, her deepest commitment to life.
Coming away from this profound ritual, I realized that what I had witnessed is the same essence that propels and feeds me in my daily work. It is the essence of my soul as it was the essence of the soul of that graduating class. It is the commitment that each of us made when we began life on planet Earth – to give all that we have from our incomprehensible depths without masking it with a civilized veneer; to surrender to our calling so that the piece we give to mankind is unmistakable; to find no compromise to our integrity in daily life.
As closure, I will use the final words of one graduating student, “I honor each person who has looked into my eyes and seen my soul”. Maskless.