Chamisa Mesa Graduation

May 22, 2011

Last Friday, I gave the commencement address for the last graduating class of Chamisa Mesa School, an alternative high school I co-founded twenty years ago.  Although I have not taught there for the past fifteen years, each one of our five daughters and most of their friends attended the school, and it has been humbling and gratifying to see the legacy live on.  This crop of graduates embodied everything I ever wished for our students: kindness and courage; wisdom and hopefulness; humor and tenderness.

I was nearly 30 when I took it upon myself to manifest a vision of a place where adolescents could be empowered to be who they are, to freely express their creativity, to learn to govern themselves and each other with compassion and autonomy, to face the world with a discerning mind and an open heart.  Now I have just turned 50, and once again I feel that I am standing on the threshold of the unknown, curious to see where the path will lead from here.

            These are my notes for the graduation speech.

Read from St. John of the Cross, (Sounds True, p. 37)

Today I invite you to not know.  I invite you to wonder.  In fact, I urge you to unlearn everything you thought you knew.  Do it quickly!  There is no time to lose.  The world is burning, and only those who drop all preconceptions will have their hearts free to douse the flames and soothe the wounds.

Whenever the impulse arises to have it all figured out, try turning and turning again toward the mystery.  Cultivate a passionate curiosity for all that is.  Curiosity for your most intimate loved ones, for the identified enemy, for the perfect stranger.  And especially for your own beautiful, complicated self.  Know yourself, yes, as Socrates suggested, and then make sure to unknow yourself with the very next breath.  Be conscious, yes, be mindful, as the Buddha teaches, take responsibility for your own thoughts and actions, and then let go of any illusions that your story about yourself is true.  Don’t believe everything you think.  Do not believe everything you think.  Show up again and again for the reality of the present moment.  With humility and tenderness, let yourself down into the arms of the unknown.  This is the most radical act you can engage in.  I don’t blame you if you’re scared.

Yet it is only by emptying your cup that you can be filled with the grace that permeates the universe – the unbounded love that seeps into the broken seams of our lives and restores us to wholeness – the wild, unbridled, sacred suchness that is your birthright.

And when you have allowed yourself to be renewed by a direct encounter with the mystery, get to work.  The world needs you.  It needs your bewilderment and your yearning.  It needs your broken-hearted compassion and your outrageous boldness in the face of impossible odds.  This commitment to radical unknowingness is not an excuse for complacency.  It is the starting place for effective action.

Read from Mother of God, Similar to Fire (“Cries of the World”), p. 37

How do we do this holy thing?  How do we learn how get out of our own way and let the loving intelligence of the cosmos act through us?  I recommend meditation.

By setting the intention to engage in a regular contemplative practice, you make a space for the mystery to enter and abide with you.  When you sit in silence and rest in stillness, an ineffable sweetness rises into the emptiness like a drop of indigo infusing a clear glass of water with luminous blue, and you become saturated.

This is the antidote to angry activism.  This is the remedy for spiritual exhaustion.  This is the source for loving service to the web of all life, of which you are a tiny yet irreplaceable facet.

Read from The Interior Castle, Intro, pp 1&3

Thank you, my friends, for allowing me to share this sacred moment with you, to greet you on this side of the threshold you cross today, and bow to you.  You may know nothing – nothing at all – but you are infinitely wise.  And we have urgent need of your wisdom.  May you be forever blessed.

22 Responses to “Chamisa Mesa Graduation”

  1. Victoria Cunningham said

    Mirabai, your words touch me to my inner core – thank you for sharing this! What an amazing legacy to have created such a beautiful avenue for our precious children to flourish. Thank you!

  2. Gaye said

    I have much ambiguity in my life and often for those closest to me it is a torment but for me it is who I am. You show me a new way to see this ambiguity and allow me a place to love it with out shame or reservation.

    Just I have become accustomed to being scared, and using that fright to turn me towards the Loving God.

    I am grateful for your words and willingness to go out on a limb.

  3. Rachel said

    Dear Mirabai,

    What an honor to read your beautiful and deep commencement address! Of course, it could not be otherwise. Happy 50th Birthday! And I am sure the last graduating class of Chamisa Mesa was touched and heartened by your encouragement and ability to open up to share that, no matter our age, experience, whatever distinguishing characteristic we choose to see or not, we are all the same inside: divine. Enhorabuena and thanks for letting us “be” there with all of you. Much love, Rachel

  4. Diana Rico said

    Mirabai, this is so wise and powerful and beautiful. I am long past graduation (at least of the high school kind), but these words touched me to the core. I am spreading them far and wide.
    Love, Diana

  5. Kristen said

    What a beautiful, inspiring speech. Thank you for sharing these incredible words – I can only imagine hearing that kind of wisdom when I was finishing my high school years. That school you started sounds wonderful. Congratulations on your wonderful accomplishments and for leading the next generation into the light.

  6. Mirabai,
    Thank you for sharing this speech with us. I’m always touched by the beautiful way you express yourself.

    Chamisa Mesa sounds like such a special place. What a gift it must be to learn in such an inspired environment. We need more Chamisa Mesa schools!

    David Barnes

  7. Christine said

    Your words are music to this aging heart and have enlivened it! Oh to have heard these words when I was 18! But I absorb them now and let them sing to me.

    I love the invitation to “not know” – to “radical unknowingness.” When we don’t know we have to really listen to and from our Hearts…

    Thank you for such inspiration, and for committing yourself to living your life in this way. I know you must have touched many hearts over the years, as you have just touched mine…

    With gratitude – Christine

  8. Thank you, Christine!

  9. robert driscoll said

    “Saying YES to God,” in your forward to “Dark Night of the Soul,” conveys it all in a much deeper way: the mystery.
    Every person, I share it with, is moved. (Their jaw drops).
    Mine, too.

  10. Mirabai said

    Yes, Robert – I agree – If I never wrote another thing in my life, that 3 pages would be all I ever hoped to say. I remember when I finished that book (my first) I thought, if I died now, I will have done what I came to this world to do. Instead, my child died, and my path into the literature of the mystics was simultaneously launched. What a world. The dark night teachings are still the heart of everything I do and say and am. So nice to hear from you again, my friend.

  11. Andrew said

    MS, thank you so very much.

    My practice of not knowing has brought some practical suffering but spiritual enrichment since I began not knowing anything almost sixty years ago. Still not certain about that.

    I feel so validated now I’m (almost) speechless.


    • I love it when someone else shares my awe and delight in radical unknowingness. Thank you, my friend, for holding the emptiness for so long – you are a hero.

  12. tara lupo said

    I can’t even imagine being introduced to these teachings at the impressionable age of a high-school graduate. What a different shape my life might have taken if my mind had been blown by this wisdom at eighteen, and it sounds like CM education would’ve prepared me to hold and recognize such wisdom.

    Thank you, dear Mirabai, for feeding our children the kind of soul food they’ll need to get through these burning times. May the fire in their hearts be lit by your words and may they in turn light the hearts of others.

  13. Bob Corbin said

    Your introductory comment: “Today i invite you no to know…….’is beautiful and powerful. I will, no doubt, have many occasions to repeat it or think of it. Taoist wisdom with a twist of 8-fold path and a touch of sermon on the mount. Thank you

    • I need to remind myself of this one too, Bob-again & again-amazing how easy it is to fall for the old trick that we actually know the way it is. Thanks for your comment, and take care.

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