- Faculty Essays
On the first day of math class, I write an equation on the board:
love = attention
Each school year, I work to create a classroom culture that helps the students in the room feel safe and loved. I tell the students that I love them, and I ask that they love one another. We set the ground rules of listening to each other. We are polite. We ask questions. We work together. And, I remind them, whenever our attention is divided—whenever we are distracted—we miss an opportunity to love.
I believe our work as humans is to wake up to our lives. As we practice waking up together, we cultivate the ability to focus our attention and, therefore, our love. By writing this equation on the board, I call on students to sow the seeds of mindfulness and love for each other. When we become aware of the intrinsic relationship between attention and love, it is an opportunity—as Sharon Salzberg says—to do something different with our lives.
Though my SAS nametag states I am a teacher, I am a student, too. As students, we are seekers. As seekers, we wonder about the nature of ourselves, our world, and our lives. I have many teachers, including Dipa Ma, a Buddhist adept, who was once asked whether she recommends mindfulness meditation or loving-kindness meditation to students. Her response was that for her, there is no difference between the two: “Meditation is love. Enlightenment is great love.” So Dipa Ma is also the first mathematician that the students meet in my class; she is the author of the equation above.
Another of my teachers was Dave DeSalvo, legendary SAS math teacher and chaplain. In his last year of teaching, I overheard Dave end some of his classes with the goodbye, “I love you; God loves you.” As a secular Buddhist, I usually think “universe” when I hear “God.” By virtue of the very fact of our existence, the universe, itself, quite literally, is “aware” of us. You could say that we are being loved into existence in each moment. I think Dipa Ma and Dave are sharing two perspectives on the same truth. It is this truth that I want my students to glimpse. I believe The Beatles were right when they harmonized: “All you need is love.” Our lives consist of waking up, over and over, to the truth that love is all there is.
Does this mean that there is no hate, sorrow, war, or division in the world? Of course not. I would argue that these rise in proportion to our collective mindlessness. In Buddhism, there is the concept of bodhicitta, the aspiration “to wake up with wisdom and compassion for the benefit of all sentient beings.” In our age of distraction, I have found this to be both a skillful and timely prayer. Thich Nhat Hanh’s advice about meditation puts this idea another way:
“Happiness is available. Please help yourself to it.”
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