This article originally appeared in the summer 2011 Harker Quarterly.
Good morning to all our guests: members of the Board of Trustees, administration, faculty and staff, alumni, families, friends, and to our true guests of honor, the graduating class of 2011. I currently hold the privilege of making a few remarks of farewell at graduation. This address is the last requirement standing between you and your diploma. Knowing this, and aware of the fact that you outnumber me, I will continue the tradition of confining my remarks to one page of single-spaced, size twelve font. I will continue to refrain, however, from making any promises about the size of the margins.
In this address I typically try to give one final piece of advice, such as “Dare to singletask” or “Be like Curious George.” By now, you have spent the last 13 years or more of your life cultivating your mind. You have been seeking the right answers to questions, memorizing facts, deepening understanding, mastering processes.
Now that you have reached the milestone of high school graduation largely by cultivating your mind, it may be tempting to think that the mind is central to your success and happiness in the future. And, of course, the mind is very important. Equally important, however, is the ability to go beyond your mind, to “lose your mind,” so to speak. So my advice to you today is, “Dare to lose your mind.”
Of course, I need to immediately qualify this statement. By “lose your mind” I do not mean “go crazy,” though going crazy is called for sometimes, like at football games or family reunions. I also do not mean to sound anti-academic. I am speaking more as a recovering academic. The mind is a terrible thing to waste,
but as a schoolmate of mine used to say, the mind can also be a terrible thing. Of course he used to say that to get out of doing homework. But John Milton, 17th century British poet, agreed. In Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” Satan says, “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” Paradise was lost, remember, when Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge.
You too have partaken of the Tree of Knowledge, and you probably have had some late nights of homework when you felt paradise was lost. Knowledge has a way of concealing from us what we do not know. Who really knows what the smallest particle is? Whether or not Pluto is a planet? The great Irish writer Samuel Beckett asked, “Who knows what the ostrich sees in the sand?” Jiddu Krishnamurti, an Indian educator who is no relation, as far as I know, to our own Gautam, said that “Truth is a pathless land.” He meant that truth is a living thing. Any mental projection onto reality is not truth. The map will never become the terrain.
Perhaps there is another way to say this. It is too bad that accents and emphases do not play as significant a role in English as they do in other languages. As many of you know, words in Mandarin can be spoken in one of four tones, each tone signifying something different. So perhaps I mean to say “Dare to lose your mind,” with the emphasis on “your,” versus “Dare to lose your mind,” with the emphasis on “mind.” By losing your mind, you may more clearly see someone else’s; you may more clearly see the world.
One of my favorite sermons in any religion comes from the Buddha, during which he simply holds up a flower in silence. That was the entire sermon. Apparently only one of his disciples “got it.” The Buddha could tell that this disciple “got it” by the look in his eye. The world exists independent of concepts. A tree doesn’t know that it is a tree – that is our name for it, and it is only a sound coming from our mouths. A tree just is. Krishnamurti – again, not Gautam – often challenged us to look at anything without any image or word, to truly see without the mediation of thought. What is it like to see anything without words or concepts in our head? That is why we all love music, I believe, because it bypasses the head and goes straight to the heart.
Ms. Kelly Espinosa, Harker’s director of summer programs, perhaps known to you as “Ms. Kelly” when you were on the lower school campus, has a profound question sprawled across a wall in her office. The question reads, “What if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about?” This is an astonishing question. If the hokey pokey is really what it is all about, then why do we take ourselves so seriously? Why would we want to get lost in our minds? All we have to do is put our right foot in and take our right foot out, put it back in and shake it all about. That’s life – the cycle of engagement and disengagement. A time to reap and a time to sow.
In closing, the Harker Conservatory put on a fabulous performance of the musical “Pippin” which they will perform at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland, this summer. In the musical, Pippin, played by John Ammatuna, also lives too much in his head. He constantly roams the stage looking for the meaning of existence. He finds happiness only when he stops looking for meaning in “LIFE,” all caps, and instead finds meaning in “life,” all lower case, meaning everyday living. His grandmother, played by Allika Walvekar, gives him the advice, “Oh, it’s time to start livin’. Time to take a little from this world we’re given.” (You don’t want me singing that, by the way.) So that is my advice to you today – it is time to start living, and not always from your head. If you dare to lose your mind, you might find something grander, more beautiful and mysterious, and that might just be what has been around you all the time. Thank you.