by Dave Davis

“The earth teaches us to quiet our minds and open our hearts. It helps us understand there are no simplistic truths and that as we care for others—as parents, as teachers, as employers, or as volunteers—there will always be conflicting feelings within us, as well as contradictory duality around us. We need a still center to anchor us, to help us stay steady as we live between the opposites.”

I can honestly say that this passage from visionary and empowerment facilitator Gail Straub’s book, “The Rhythm of Compassion,” has never felt more relevant to my life (and I have a feeling that I might not be alone in this thought), than it does right now. 

For the longest time, it seems that I’ve been searching for that perfect combination of “inner and outer self,” whereby I can maintain a stable, consistent core while simultaneously honoring my commitment to a life of service. 

In the past, this complex balancing act has often been set askew by one life challenge or another; leaving the proverbial scale tipped in an unsustainable direction, or as Straub puts it: “The challenge is to become skillful in following our rhythm—knowing when it’s time to go inward and when to go out into the community.”

In retrospect, it seems that my pattern has always been to plug away, burying myself in whatever the task at hand might be, typically until something “gives.” Only then do I attempt to rectify the situation by recalibrating my path moving forward. Not surprisingly, as we go through these various cycles of life, it can be quite exhausting when all of one’s energy has been expended, leaving us thoroughly depleted. 

Becoming fully conscious of both of these opposing forces is not always so cut and dry, with the lines sometimes blurring when each self seeks to serve a similar overall purpose. A great example of this occurred a few years ago, when I first began writing episodes for a popular children’s podcast while simultaneously attempting to maintain my position as a preschool educator. 

The former endeavor channeled me into becoming a disciplined writer, the likes of which I’d never experienced before. It’s a process that requires spending countless hours of solitude, researching a particular science-themed topic, only to then create a cohesive, fictional narrative before submitting it for editing and production. Ultimately, tens of thousands of listeners across the globe tune into each 15-minute episode, oftentimes posting high ratings along with positive feedback.

The latter endeavor clearly represented my “outer” life, as each day consisted of empowering three and four-year-olds in a classroom setting, based at the Children’s Museum of the East End; a space that is incredibly welcoming to young children and filled with endless kinetic energy. 

Beyond some of the obvious differences already mentioned, both jobs also call for distinct preparation routines. One requires lesson planning that is highly structured and individualized based on a particular student’s abilities. The other relies upon a well-crafted script that is all-inclusive, utilizing humorous storytelling through fictional characters to deliver its educational message. 

Each of these forces competed for my time, and finding the right balance was incredibly challenging. It took my father’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease for me to realize that this paradigm wasn’t sustainable. I retired from teaching to care for him full-time, but not before implementing a modified schedule for writing the podcast, in addition to other media sources I contribute to on a regular basis.

What I truly miss most about teaching is the face-to-face interaction I had each day with young learners. Being an integral part of an instructional team that facilitates and witnesses those inevitable “Aha! moments” is truly priceless. As many preschool educators can attest, there is something special about working with children of this age that can only be described as “magical.” It so happens that our program also had a cross-cultural, bilingual component, for which I was thoroughly engaged. Unfortunately, that is no longer part of my daily routine either.

There was one other passage that I felt particularly drawn to from Straub’s work that I wanted to share with readers: “As my heart opens more, I am immersed in the mystery of life. It is immense and surprising. It is both cruel and kind. I have moments of understanding and many moments when I feel lost. Yet I am learning that regardless of what I am feeling, service is actually radically simple. It is doing what needs to be done in the moment with a loving heart.”

Dave Davis
Dave Davis teaches preschool for the Head Start program based at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton, NY. He is also a frequent contributor to “Who Smarted?,” a popular educational podcast for elementary school children.

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