In the Bardo

A few years ago, Erin Celletti, our Director of Communications at ICS and I were talking about how we might attract more visitors to our website. From that discussion emerged the idea for a blog, and then quite naturally The Zen of Charter Schools blog began.

Working on the blog has been a wonderful learning experience, a wonderful experience in finding my voice which today is an amalgam of autobiographical elements, social entrepreneurship, — experience in starting with nothing, growing a charter school network, –and Zen wisdom as I have experienced it. In the Zen of Charter Schools blog I have told the story of our work which began before we finally opened our first school in 2009 and continues today. And through the writing of the blog, I have deepened my understanding of how the ingredients of my life, in my particular of my engagement on the path of Zen, have shaped my approach to schooling and to leadership.

In sharing this experience and reflection, I am have offered myself, my experiences, my learning, my companionship to others on the journey of social engagement, particularly of spirituality based social action. I have not offered this blog as a blueprint for others to follow — what we did grew out of our unique ingredients in one moment of place and time, the ingredients of my life and practice but also the unique contributions of all who have helped to build our schools. Between staff and trustees, we now have almost 300 people engaged directly in our work at ICS. The number who have participated as either staff or trustees since 2009 is easily double that. This year we will have 1300 students in our schools. How many have been enrolled since our first class of 75 students entered in 2009? How many parents? Each unique. The world is constantly changing. It is impossible to begin now where we began. We cannot step in the same river twice.

We continue to learn and grow.

In the last year, two things have happened which are taking us in a new direction.

First, Jill Patel, chairperson of the ICS board of trustees, raised the question of the appropriateness of this Zen of Charter Schools blog for the ICS website. Did it give the impression to site visitors that ICS was a network of Buddhist schools? Shouldn’t we avoid that perception? That seemed like a good idea.

So Erin and I had another conversation. We came up with what I thought was a really exciting idea about how to address this possibility of misperception. Erin would canvas staff and trustees in search of other potential bloggers who would be willing to share in an ongoing way their experience of the unfolding work in our schools from different perspectives, religious, racial, gender, reflecting the diversity which is so central to our ICS values and mission.

Unfortuantely, no takers.

At the same time, something else was happening. With Erin’s assistance, I completed a draft of a book, The Zen of Charter Schools, which was created to a significant degree from the raw material of the blog.

The book is done.

A huge sense of relief. It is my longest writing project since my doctoral dissertation.

And then reflecting, I recognized that in recent months I had sometimes found that blog drafts had no clear relationship to the work of our schools. I realized that the framework of the Zen of Charter Schools was becoming restrictive.

The Universe was converging to tell me that the time had come to take my blog to another site, that the Zen of Charter Schools was coming to an end.

The Zen of charter schools is not coming to an end. My life is not over. I am still a Zen teacher. Our schools are going on. I am still the president.

But I am in transition. We are always in transition, but sometimes we notice it. I think this noticing began during COVID, surrounded by reminders of the transitoriness of life and working from home in relative isolation, with additional time for reflection. I am aware for the first time as we undertake major projects at ICS that there is a fairly strong possibility that they will not be completed during my tenure as President. I am, as Pema Chodron suggests, in the Bardo (in Tibetan Buddhism, a transitional state between the life I have been living and the next life, between the present and the Beyond). This Bardo, Pema suggests, is not always between living and dying, between this life and the next life, but also between phases of our lives. What is next?

The work of our schools continues to be challenging and exhilarating. And there are other things that I want to write about including the challenges of Zen teaching, of transmitting the Dharma, and the challenges of getting older. I have been thinking about this for a while but I never have felt it in the way that I am feeling it now. Much to my surprise, there is a lot of joy in this Bardo. Seeing that I can be involved in beginnings without expecting that I will be there for the conclusion is actually liberating. I am much more relaxed. This is so new.