At the start of the second semester, a few reminders from last year's baccalaureate:
Dear graduates, when you and I arrived here together in August, 2004, we were all wide-eyed fresh-people at Beloit ... finding our way and figuring this place out. Now - notwithstanding four entire years of intellectual surprises, social experimentation, sleep deprivation, and all those tiny caffeinated synapses firing away in your good old neo-cortex – I'm happy to tell you, you are definitely STILL FRESH!
You are one beautiful bunch of truth seeking, beauty making barrier breakers, number crunching critical thinking paradigm shifters, healers, hackers, firebrands, mystics, misfits, lovers, leaders, scholars, activists, organizers, tree huggers, wanderers and improvisational human beings.
We non-graduates celebrate you and bless you on your way. We want to hear about all the good stuff you do in the years ahead, so please keep in touch.
But, you know, we worry about you, too. We know from personal experience how hard it is in this world to stay fresh: how easy to fall asleep, to manage the externals of our lives but lose our selves in the process. Whether you're religious or spiritual or neither, I believe it is absolutely critical for you to keep developing your inner life.
According to the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi, there are two kinds of intelligence. The first kind, Rumi writes, is
as a child in school
memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from
what the teacher says,
from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.
With such intelligence
you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence
in retaining information.
But, he goes on,
There is another kind [of intelligence]...
One already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It's fluid,
and it doesn't move from outside to inside
through the conduits of plumbing-learning.
This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.*
My hope is that you will seek that second intelligence, tap into that fountain of freshness within you. To do so requires a person to follow some unsettling wisdom. For starters, let go of the effort to change, fix or improve yourself; allow your life to unfold naturally. When your plans fall apart, let them; ignore that urge we all have to scramble around trying to keep everything together. Seek not certainty but a capacity to be amazed, not inner peace but a heart ready to be undone, not status but connection. Learn to see yourself with unflinching honesty. Accept yourself with unconditional friendliness. And you will find this honest lovingkindness gradually bubbles up and seeps through and through and through your work and your life.
The contemporary poet Mary Oliver gathers all this up beautifully in her poem, West Wind #2, so I leave you with it:
You are young. So you know everything. You leap
into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.
Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without
any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.
Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and
your heart, and heart's little intelligence, and listen to
me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent
penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a
dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile
away and still out of sight, the churn of the water
as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the
sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable
pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth
and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls
plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life
With respect and gratitude for you, we wish you traveling mercies. And happy rowing.
*Jelaluddin Rumi, Selected Poems, translated by Coleman Barks (Penguin Books, 1995)
**Oliver, Mary, West Wind (Houghton Mifflin, 1997).