In honor of Dr. Seuss’s March 2 birthday, Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child, offers this guest blog post. In it, she takes a mindful look at this beloved children’s author and some of his work.
Dr. Seuss has demonstrated time and time again that, when it comes to teaching abstract concepts to children, it’s okay to set the bar high. Tomorrow marks his 108th birthday and his books have informed my work in ways that I doubt he could have possibly imagined.
In his unique and playful style, Dr. Seuss translated big ideas, ones that adults often struggle to grasp, into language that even young children can understand. For instance, in one of his most famous books Oh… the Places You Will Go, Dr. Seuss articulated two key, universal concepts quite simply: That suffering is part of life with “I’m sorry to say so / but, sadly, it’s true / that Bang-ups / and Hang-ups / can happen to you;” and that a moderate or middle approach to almost everything tends to be a good idea with “Be sure when you step. / Step with care and great tact / and remember that Life’s / a Great Balancing Act.”
And, when it comes to big ideas that can be hard to grasp, in On Beyond Zebra, Dr. Seuss teaches kids that not everything that’s meaningful can be understood conceptually when he writes: “There are things that I see / That I never could spell if I stopped with the [letter] Z.” Dr. Seuss’s mindfulness teachings are likely accidental, yet they speak not only to the genius and universality of his children’s books but also to the genius and universality of the principles themselves.
Looking at these basic principles through the eyes of Dr. Seuss is a gentle reminder that they transcend age and culture. No one owns this stuff, or has a proprietary interest in it, and sometimes to the surprise of long-time mindfulness practitioners one doesn’t have to be an expert to have an insight into the practice, or anything else for that matter.
Recently, I’ve been reminded that in some respects, a lack of familiarity with something can be an advantage if it allows newcomers to approach it with beginners’ eyes open to any and all possibilities. Ironically beginners’ mind is a perspective that all too often slips away the longer people practice and teach, be it mindfulness, education or politics.
During this school year I’ve taught secular mindfulness in cities as diverse as Dallas, San Francisco, Miami, San Diego, Nashville, New York, and several in Mexico, where I have witnessed teachers learning from their students and students learning from their teachers. I’ve been impressed by their willingness to drop egos and pre-conceived notions in exchange for a beginner’s eyes. These parents, educators and children who I’ve been asked to teach have taught me something very important in return. They’ve taught me to view co-teaching and co-learning in a different yet familiar way. One that welcomes the perspective of the beginner and, to borrow from Dr. Seuss, reminds me that none of us “really know all there is to be known.”