One of the fascinating points to surface in a recent school “climate” survey is that while many of our families place the highest value on the character education component of MMS, at the same time, many people identified that people outside the school are concerned or confused about the role of spirituality at the school — and the relationship between Mount Madonna School and Mount Madonna Center.
We appreciate community members raising the question as it is an important aspect of our identity.
Our intention is that Mount Madonna School be a learning community that nurtures children — body, mind, heart, and spirit. While the school does not espouse any particular religion, it advocates the shared positive values of the world’s religions and secular philosophies.
While those are articulated in a variety of ways, we can summarize them into five key values: respect, service, mindfulness, non-harming and an aspiration for peace.
For example, while my personal spiritual practice of Ashtanga Yoga helps me enact those values in my life, it is also an expression of those values that I do not impose my spiritual practices on anyone else. In other words, I want to nurture the awareness of the human relationship to spirit — not religion. (I could enjoy a long discussion about the relationship of spiritual practice to religion as well as the varieties of religious worship that are meaningful to me personally, but I will save that for those who would also enjoy having that conversation informally and in person.)
It is challenging to separate spirituality from religion, as our society tends to link the two. Perhaps spirituality is an appreciation of the mystery of creation and the wonders and goodness of our world — from the geometric perfection of the tiniest seeds to the majestic landscapes of the stars and planets.
When children are given a chance to appreciate the wonder and goodness that abounds in our world, they become more optimistic. They feel safer, and they take more responsibility for preserving that which is decent and wonderful in society and in ecology. Their very dreams are enlarged by this appreciation.
In 1974, a group of us were inspired by our yoga teacher, Baba Hari Dass, to create an intentional community called the Mount Madonna Center. We chose to live here on the mountain, working together to live our values.
As an act of service, the Center community chose to build a school that would share these values and a love of learning in a creative, caring community focused on the development of the whole child,. We wanted the school to be an independent, non-denomination entity to welcome students and families of all faiths (or none), cultures, and traditions.
While independent and holding different missions, there is overlap between the Center and the school, and that can be confusing. The school was created on the Center land with financial support from the Center, and many of the people who work at the school are also part of the Center. The values of the Center inform the character education component of the school.
Perhaps the Center and the school are like two families who have chosen to go on vacation to Italy together. The two families have grown up together, like each other and we all love to travel. One family goes to all the churches, praying their way through Tuscany. The other family visits the churches because they value the sense of peace and the serenity, and they love to look at the art. We are respectful of each other, we appreciate each other, we are sharing space — and we are independent.
Mount Madonna School is a secular institution in that we do not ascribe to any religion or creed. We value spirituality, and we encourage children and adults to reflect on their own traditions and values. We believe there is goodness in the world that some people call God, others call love, others call the spirit. And it is my sincere hope we all will be enriched and ennobled by reflecting on that goodness.
Sarada Diffenbaugh Ph.D.
Chair, Board of Directors
Former Head of School
Mount Madonna School