Nearly twenty years ago, I became enamored with the academic study of religion. During my first college class on the subject, REL2300: Intro to World Religions, I learned that one of the first true scholars of religion, Huston Smith, was instrumental in exposing Americans to the world’s faith traditions during the 1950s. The son of missionary parents, Smith was raised Methodist but his inquisitive nature led him to become a participant observer in numerous traditions across the decades.
While watching a PBS special that featured Professor Smith being interviewed by Bill Moyers, Huston relayed his experience living in a Zen Buddhist monastery for more than a month. When he completed his training as a novice monk, his roshi (teacher) told him a proverb that was the distillation of Zen Buddhist philosophy:
These three simple phrases gripped me immediately when I first heard them. So much so that they left an indelible impression on my mind and have become a personal mantra that I repeat to myself every day when I wake up, multiple times throughout the day, and again before I fall asleep. In essence, this Zen saying explains a great deal about who I am as both a person in general and a teacher specifically.
Infinite gratitude to all things past
As a human being, I am grateful for everything that has ever happened to me, good and bad. Every part of my past has culminated in who I have become in this moment. I am so thankful for all who have been instrumental in my life, starting with my parents, my brothers, the rest of my family and friends, and above all, my beautiful best friend and wife.
As a teacher, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have what I believe to be the best job in the world. Each and every day I am humbled by the thought of all of my students, past and present, who have become an integral part of my life. I treat my students as if they were my own kids and want nothing but the very best for each of them. I am also thankful for all of my colleagues. Whether a fellow teacher, administrator, or anyone who works with our students in any capacity, I am grateful that you have had a hand in shaping me into the teacher I am today.
Infinite service to all things present
Being a teacher means living a life of service and often putting others before ourselves. I am firm believer in the idea that the surest path to happiness and life satisfaction is one that is other-centric. While I can go overboard at times to my own detriment, I would guess this is the norm for many who work in the education profession. We all care deeply about our students and their future, which is why we work so assiduously to ensure their success in the present.
Infinite responsibility to all things future
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons I am such an optimist has everything to do with always keeping one eye on the horizon. Each new day that dawns is a promise renewed, an opportunity for all of us to become the best version of ourselves, especially those of us who work with students on a daily basis and teach them by both example and non-example alike. Ultimately, I feel a tremendous responsibility to all that the future will bring to the next generation of teachers, students, and citizens in Florida.
There is a wonderful synergy among these three phrases and they have fostered a personal change in me that I cannot quite put into words. What I’ve learned in the last twenty years of telling myself these words day in and day out is that they form a virtuous cycle: by being grateful for all things past, we are motivated to be of service to all that is present, and by taking care of the present, we demonstrate our responsibility to the future.
If you’ve read this far, I want to close by sharing one of my favorite short videos on gratitude. The imagery is from time-lapse photographer and videographer Louis Schwartzberg’s TED Talk on beauty, but the narration is by Brother David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine monk from my own religious upbringing and tradition, Catholicism. I hope that it serves as a reminder that we have so much to be grateful for not only on Thanksgiving, but each and every day.
Finally, thank you for supporting the Teacher Voice project. Even if we’ve never met in person, I am inspired, encouraged, and deeply grateful for you reading these posts and listening to the podcasts. I have been overwhelmed by the response Teacher Voice has received in the first five months, and I truly believe it will continue to become a platform for education stakeholders all across the Sunshine State.
Have a Happy Thanksgiving with your family and friends, everyone!