As a seminary student walking home late one night, Howard Thurman noticed the sound of water. He had taken this route many times, and he had never heard even a drip. The next day Thurman discussed his observations with one of his professors, who told him that a canal ran underneath the street. Because the noises of streetcars, automobiles, and passersby were absent late at night, Howard could discern the sound of water. Mystics are the ones who can hear the water flowing beneath the street.

–Lerita Coleman Brown, What Makes You Come Alive: A Spiritual Walk with Howard Thurman

Deliver me from just going through the motions

and wasting everything I have

which is today,

a chance, a choice, 

my creativity

your call.

~ Ted Loder

Dear Springhouse community,

Both Howard Thurman and Ted Loder inspire me in how they speak to the mysterious power that lives beneath the surface of all things and breaks through the status quo to lead us toward a deeper and more vital relationship with Life. My life was very different when I could not hear the stream. Once I started to hear what flows beneath the known and seen world and chose to build a life around it, I could not help but share it. This happened mostly just by doing my best to live in relationship with the stream. What we fill up with naturally spills out into the world. In my early years, insecurity and fear spilled out. Now, what spills out is something very different.  

Sharing our learning is a central part of our educational approach at Springhouse. This is how we spill out into the world. We learn things about ourselves, our world, and the power of possibility that inspire us and reveal to us what is important to know. At the end of each trimester, we go out into the community and share what we have learned. This year, we have been writing and illustrating zines – small booklets that creatively tell a story, send a message, or inform the reader on a particular topic. This month, we went to Blacksburg, Virginia to share the zines we created – one that celebrates cultures around the world and one that further explores cultural evolution through the text Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. We ended up giving away almost 70 zines! 

While we were there, a staff member approached me with excitement and said, “Come check this out!” She guided me and a teen learner down some steps and pointed into a little cave of darkness. She said, “There is a creek down there!” I cannot tell you how many times I have gone to the little coffee shop right above where we were standing, handed out zines on this corner, and walked through the alley above to get to many places. I had no idea there was a creek down there. I could not hear it. I only now know about it because this staff member heard from someone else about the creek. At some point, somebody heard the water and then told someone else about it. 

I have spent most of my life making sure that I stay close to that “underground stream.” I have had mentorship from those who truly inspire me; support from communities I trust because they respect my uniqueness while inviting me into something unified and strong; guidance to learn new practices that bring me alive; and consistent places to practice. It is because of this support that I have stayed very close to the ineffable power that flows strongly in, through, and under my carefully constructed identity. This has allowed me to work for decades now with people and organizations who want to learn how to access and live from that stream in ways that are right for them.  

As people, communities, or organizations, when we listen to the stream and choose to live in relationship to it, things change – particularly if the design we currently live by is out of sync with the stream we never knew was there. Once we begin to hear it and choose to make different choices that strengthen the stream, things change. If we spend time growing those choices into habits, they become a way of life. All of our Springhouse traditions started by listening to the “stream” together and trying new things in order to grow. We have countless examples of this since our mission is to fundamentally transform education – a societal system that has intentionally been a certain way for centuries. 

Here is an example of this. Our week-long trips started by deciding to go to Asheville in the spring of our second year. Because of that trip, we recognized the power of teens leaving home and gaining some independence, of community coming together for an adventure, and of being exposed to new people and places. When we first went away, it felt strange, even difficult. Now we go away three times a year and have been to so many amazing places – hiking and swimming in waterfalls in Cloud Canyon, sailing the sailboat we built in the Chesapeake Bay, walking the Blue Ridge Parkway from Floyd to Roanoke, and exploring cities like Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Chicago. Traditions start somewhere, and they are usually wobbly and strange at the start. We have plenty of other examples of this, too, including Reflections on Learning as a practice each year, dancing and singing together, community meals, and learning in ways that are interdisciplinary and, therefore, more complex. 

When we listen to the stream and experiment and reflect together, we learn what fosters vitality over time. If we strengthen the practices that stick (which can be hard amidst confusion, resistance, and distraction), we create lasting traditions that align with the underground stream. In a context like conventional education, a system that is largely out of touch with the quiet water beneath the design, it is really important to do our best to listen to the stream and try new things in order to create something more life-giving and relevant. The practices that foster vitality often change form yet stick around over time. Eventually, they might even become a regular practice or tradition. 

Thurman talks about the stream that is always there but can only be heard if we are quiet enough to listen. Dr. Brown calls the ones who can hear that underground water mystics. A mystic is not only in touch with the ineffable, but is also grounded in the beauty of this ordinary life. We need more mystics when it comes to how we design our lives and our world. Let us listen for the stream in ourselves, in each other, in our communities and places – and then act accordingly.

In solidarity and with love,


  • Martha says:

    I’ve been telling people about Springhouse and they say things like “but exactly what do they teach there?” and I say I’m not really sure if I can tell you “exactly” what it is but I just know it’s something I need to learn. And then I direct them to the website for more information : )

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