Educating the Soul, the Spirit and then the Mind
Photo courtesy The Schools Project
Over the years, I have spent much time with children and teachers in schools running leadership programs not only in Sri Lanka, but also in Canada, the Indian subcontinent and in Africa where I do a simple exercise on their Hopes & Fears, and I am always moved by, especially the fears children have for their future. They realize that they are coming out into an angry, uncertain world in social and environmental turmoil. Of course they have hope, yet many feel insecure and ill equipped to meet these challenges.
This is not surprising as globally, we are yet teaching children as if the world out there is impersonal and separate from them. There is not much in it to increase self-awareness, mindfulness, self-reflection, emotional intelligence and social skills. It is yet about knowledge and scientific discovery, even then the system has not yet figured out how to teach them, for instance, the uncertainty of Quantum Physics, so they continue to teach them the Newtonian static kind.
Whether they like it or not, the education system is giving children knowledge and analytical skills to be a consumer, a producer or a service provider in the assumption that there are no limits to this planet or to life. No wonder the children are afraid as they are now wiser to see that there are limits to the world and at the same time feel they have little control in the way the world is run. So, we have to open pathways for children to further enhance this wisdom. While knowledge can be gathered through education, wisdom comes from experience and self knowledge.
Many of us adults are realizing this folly being more self-aware and inquiring about the world around, yet we do not have the economic clout to change things. The people who control the destiny of the world seem to be following one ideology – a material world based on the free market, growth is great and money is god – and seem not be reflecting on the tremendous impact they have on 6 billion others on this earth. Those few are doing their best to keep the old system in place, even though at some level, they may realize the ship is sinking.
That is why as many of us as possible should inquire, talk and write on this topic to provoke thought, create awareness and educate so more and more people will begin to think about the future of our planet and question. Hence, my focus in this essay is on education, as there is a dire need to make everyone aware of the realities bringing in ancient wisdom to complement the modern.
I write this essay in the Sri Lankan context, but not ignoring the global implications. I am also guided by an article on education by Tissa Jayatilaka in the book Nation Building Priorities for Sustainability and Inclusivity (edited by Gnana Moonasinghe), where he clearly calls for a sea change in the system to make it more learner centered and inclusive.
My influences have been both eastern and western.
Yet, Buddhist philosophy excites me as my inquiry over many years tells me it is a rational and a logical teaching based on one man’s personal journey and discovery, then followed by many after. The teaching encourages the impartial investigation of nature beginning with self.
Further to this, Buddhist teaching and science is now being accepted as compatible. It appears, though there are many who do disagree, that philosophic and psychological teachings within Buddhism share commonalities with modern scientific and philosophic thought.
Buddha was a product of the Hindu education system which inspired him to renounce life in the path of his discovery. Hindu India’s educational system manifested itself on the ideal of realizing the infinite in the finite, the transcendental in the positive. As such, I am also a keen student of the Hindu religion, philosophy and its practices.
At the same time, my parents nor my teachers forced on me any dogma attached to religion. This gave me the freedom to explore and to continue the study of many other religions and philosophies and yet, I keep coming back to Buddhist teaching. It honors us as thinking feeling beings with power over our minds to change our own thoughts in order to change the way we act in the world. As well, it teaches us that nothing is absolute in this universe leaving us to find our own path in the spiritual and worldly journey.
Poet Rabindranath Tagore in an essay called Poet’s Religion put it beautifully;
“In dogmatic religion all questions are definitely answered, all doubts are finally laid to rest. But the poet’s religion is fluid, like the atmosphere round the earth where light and shadows play hide and seek, and the wind like a Sheppard boy plays upon its reeds among flocks of clouds. It never undertakes to lead anybody anywhere to any solid conclusions; yet it reveals endless spheres of light, because it has no walls round itself.”
As such, I use Buddhist philosophy in my inquiry not as a religion, but to help shed light to how an imperfect world works as in Quantum Physics plays hide and seek, in particles and waves.
Concepts such as “dependent origination” (paticca sammuppada) which simply states everything in this universe in interconnected and every action wherever has multiple impacts makes sense to me.
As a trained Engineering Technologist (specializing on Nuclear Power Generation), I also realize that Quantum Physics also seems very congruent with this teaching. On the human side, I very much like the focus on compassion, and compassion towards self and everything around us is the only way to transform our fears of the external world. As such, the teaching enables me to flit between engineering laws of Thermodynamics such as Entropy (the measure of uncertainty or unpredictability) to spiritual explorations into the mind through meditation and yoga for instance. The more I think about it there is no gap between western science and spiritual teaching, if one allows the frame of our neural pathways to expand wider.
As such, I use the eightfold pathway which the Buddha taught, as the 4th noble truth providing a solid foundation of values, behaviors and actions as a way for a child to grow on. Yet, Buddha’s teaching is not dogma nor is it ideology as he said, “Do not take what I say at face value, go on this learning journey and experience it yourself” (Kalama Sutta).
I also bring myself into this inquiry in this way. In my learning journey I am yet battling my own demons of anger and violence that are deep seated and I know how difficult it is to dislodge them. I am at the same time very lucky to have had the influence of two calm and peaceful parents. Yet, I reflect back on my childhood and wonder how it may have been different if I got a foundation of what I know now about practice of self development through meditation, yoga, about Ayurveda, in effect a contemplative education to complement the western sciences.
World Class Sri Lankans
Over the last century, the Sri Lankan education system has produced world class personalities in the ilk of Justice Weeramantry, Jayantha Dhanapla, Lakshman Kadirgamar and Professors Cyril Ponnamperuma, Chandra Wickramasinghe exploring the origins of this universe, to scientists like Malik Peiris who discovered SARS to world class medical professionals like Hans Vanderwall, Siri Kannangara to entrepreneurs like Tushari and Kris Kanagaratne, who built the global IT leader Virtusa and there are many many more leading lights out there in various fields.
Yet, the system’s focus is, like most of the world is to train people’s logical, rational mind to be effective and efficient in a linear manner. This certainly meets the global requirement for a science based world, but it leaves out the need for people to learn about self, health, ecology and nature, how to get along with each other – emotional intelligence and spirituality – a foundation based on integrity and the moral compass we all have within us.
Reptiles and Compassion
Having this one sided education which keeps the physical world separate from the self does not cut it anymore for us to survive in a world facing so many social and environmental challenges. These very challenges put fear into us leading to conflict for what we think is scarce resources to survive. To survive in an unfriendly competitive world like this we activate the reptilian part of our brain which ensures our survival, but when we are reptilian, the response is harsh and emotionless.
As we evolved as mammals, nature also gave us a limbic brain to complement the reptilian brain.
Limbic part of our brain is important for us humans to live in harmony with each other and nature, as through this we also learn to survive, but with emotional intelligence in feeling and understanding each other through love and compassion. It is just that, some people are programmed to be selective in their limbic operation depending on their early childhood experiences and the world around them, so they get stuck in reptilian mode.
This is the way the world is operating now; competitive, target driven, the material focus, using finite natural resources as if they are renewable in the notion that there is room for unlimited growth, driven by testosterone and the male ego looking for permanence, making everyone so stressed out to be selfish and reptilian. This quest for external success leaves us spiritually depleted as William Wordsworth so nicely puts it;
The world is so much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers.
Little we see in Nature that is ours.
The world, more than ever needs leadership now to unite with this nature and create a better balance between the reptilian and limbic parts of the brain, the male and the female, the yin and the yang if we are to create a system that will give dignity to every human being, let alone all other life on this earth and deeply understand the web of life through the interconnectedness of this entire universe.
The Time is Right
There has never been a time such as this in our planet holding 6 billion people in a delicate balance as we scratch out the world’s ecological balance, so humans only can survive – yet what a folly to think that humans can survive without a tree or a rabbit, a butterfly or a bee ?.
We in Sri Lanka have a tremendous opportunity having the foundation of a Buddhist philosophy in harmony with Hinduism, Christianity and Islam among others in a nation of diverse influences and people, yet a nation dependent on nature – in agriculture, fast moving towards the technologies – to radically transform how we live on this planet through a novel way in education. The thirty year conflict also has many lessons for the world, be it in the way the battles were fought, the collateral damage that caused so much misery for innocent people and now in trying to reconcile and build a durable peace.
These lessons and philosophies, as well as other ancient teachings now coupled with scientific discovery can help us as thinking, feeling, talking and most of all reasoning beings on earth – to move away from the suffering of humanity which may lead to a premature self destruction.
That would be such a shame.
Focus on the Child
For most of us adults, it is almost too late to change the way of our being, but we have the power to re-think and re-direct our focus. That new focus should be on the child, if we are to forge a transformation for the future of the world. In the last 3 decades the world has paid lip service to it through charters of the rights of the child and more, but the way we actually dishonor our children with war and famine in the name of keeping an economic balance for the world is obscene.
When the then US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was asked by 60 Minutes TV show host Lesley Stahl in 1996 on U.S. sanctions against Iraq the question; “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”, Secretary Albright said “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.” Worth for who?, I wandered, not for those innocent children who perished. I was so disappointed when this came especially from a mother, and a person who escaped tyranny in her native Europe at the time when she was a child, but even mothers have become reptilian to meet the world’s challenges in the only way they know how – through violence.
A US based child advocacy group called Zero to Three estimates that about 10% of all US children suffer from clinical emotional conditions such as stress disorders, social anxiety disorders and even depression. Genes do play a role here, but the study also indicates that the outside environment beginning with the mother’s and others family member’s behavior as causes. Maybe these children are feeling the vibes of the world around them too.
Only a minority of the children living in the world are truly honored, safe guarded and nurtured for their individual potential to become a balanced adult adapting to the culture, the environment and to determine a future for the world through their future decisions and actions.
Life of the child does not begin at 2 as she commences interacting with the outside world, but at conception, so we need to honor and cherish motherhood. That is where the potential begins for that child to be a Hitler or a Gandhi.
Society needs to create safeguards for the mother for 9 months for this embryo to grow to its potential and then she is born to the world, another life, yet premature in mammalian terms, helpless as we bipeds have a narrow birth canal and baby has to have a safe passage out. Our biology has ensured that our brain is so wired with the limbic capacity for unconditional love and compassion to nurture this helpless infant to become self sufficient and thrive in the world. This is a crucial period for the mother and child, as it forms its worldview based on how well she is loved and nurtured.
It is fascinating to study how the mother and the helpless infant use limbic senses to communicate. At this stage the visual sense is prominent with the infant recognizing emotions of the mother through facial expressions.
Spend some time watching an infant. When you have the baby’s attention, make different faces and see how the mood of the baby changes when you show a happy, smiley face and then change to an angry frown. Brain research using imaging technology has now proven that a few day old infant can distinguish between different emotional expressions of the mother. This way, the baby forges an immediate limbic link with the mother. The limbic brain is designed even at such a young age to detect and analyze the physical world and the social sense organ responds to the environment through emotions.
All mammals have a certain degree of limbic capacity, with us humans having the most. The limbic brain has a neural sensor which can detect an internal state of another mammal, a kind of an extra sensory perception (ESP) and then adjust its own physiology and being to meet the situation. It is an advanced warning system designed to become attuned first to the mother and it extends to every other interaction the infant will have for the rest of its life. This process is called limbic resonance.
Mary Ainsworth, the Canadian development psychologist who worked on Attachment Theory and many other studies into the mother-child relationship has proven over and over that the kind of mother a baby has predicts emotional traits in later life. Babies of responsive mothers turned into happy, socially competent with high self esteem, resilient, persistent, likable and empathetic towards others as adults. As such, this period of nurture from the mother of the infant becomes the sacred foundation for the child’s future.
There has to be a national focus here to educate every mother or future mothers of this, especially when so many leave their children behind to earn money. Whenever I ask children in a rural school, how many mothers are out, at least 30% of the hands go up. I shudder at the consequences of this motherless society for the future of Sri Lanka.
The Absorbent Mind
Dr. Maria Montessori called the child’s mind The Absorbent Mind, the title of her book on infant and early childhood development. How else can she learn a language in its entirety in a matter of two years and bit?
By the time the child is six years old she would have absorbed everything around her, the culture, customs, ideas, feelings and emotions, the religion and a foundation laid for adult life.
As such, this is our window of opportunity.
The Sri Lankan Education System
Our education system in Sri Lanka, like many other aspects of life here is full of contradictions.
Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara, the then Minister of Education’s reforms and the universal franchise of free education for all in the 1950s opened opportunities to create a world class system. That was about the time, Maria Montessori introduced her methods to Sri Lanka too. Hers’ was not about a system of schools and educational institutions, but a method to understand the secret of childhood and the potential and bring that out in harmony with the child’s ability, need and curiosity.
We could have moved away from the old colonial and impersonal system where a child has to go through a rigid process of a classroom, taught a standard set of ideas and theories in a one way communication during a certain period and then reproduce what has been learnt to be assessed and given a mark. This only gives an understanding for us of the external world and skills to manipulate it for our survival in a linear logical manner.
There is never a focus on self – who am I, what do I like, what am I good at, what am I happy with and not, how do I emotionally react to praise, to criticism to how do I manage my fears, my emotions, as these are deemed outside a logical system of education. Yet this is what enables anyone to be open to learning and growing. This traditional method also separates self from the rest of the world, deeming the skills learned to survive in an unfriendly alien world. So, we have become individualistic, selfish and reptilian to survive in a dog eat dog world of competition.
In my research, apart from Buddhist teachings and Hindu philosophies, I have studied St. Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy on catholic education, other Christian education philosophies, Islamic education, the Bhai’s faith’s view on education, the Quakers, Montessori method and Rudolf Steiner’s Waldorf Schools.
All of them have some elements (some much more than others) of Buddha’s teaching in the focus on self through mindfulness and the interconnectedness of everything (dependent origination – patticha samuppada) and teaches us the middle path through the noble eightfold pathway.
I will now examine the salient features of a few – the Montessori method and the Waldorf Schools which are now being accepted in many parts of the world as a viable alternative to the traditional teacher centered education.
The Montessori Method
The Montessori method, which is so familiar to us in Sri Lanka is an approach to educating children based on the research and experiences of Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori.
In fact, it could be argued that the Montessori foundation which so many of Sri Lankan children have benefitted from may reflect on the resilience, the social skills and academic abilities that are shown in later adult life, despite a conventional teacher centered, target driven (exam centered) education that they are subjected to from the beginning of primary to secondary schools.
The Montessori method arose in the process of her experimental observation of young children given freedom in an environment, leading her to believe that she had discovered “the child’s true normal nature.” Based on her observations, she created an environment prepared with materials designed for their self-directed learning activity. The method itself aims to duplicate this experimental observation of children to bring about, sustain and support their true natural way of being.
Applying this method involves the teacher respecting the child for having an inner natural guide for her own optimal self-directed development. The teacher’s role of observation sometimes includes experimental interactions with children to resolve misbehavior or to show how to use the various self-teaching materials that are provided in the environment for the children’s free use. As such a teacher is not directive and the method is learner centered.
Various studies conducted around the world found Montessori children performed better on standardized tests of reading and math, engaged in positive interaction on the playground more, and showed advanced social skills and more emotional control. They also showed more concern for fairness and justice. In later years, they wrote more creative essays with complex sentence structures, selected positive responses to social dilemmas, and reported feeling more of a sense of community at their school.
Waldorf education is a humanistic approach to education based on the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy. This postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spirituality accessible to direct experience of a child through inner development. Through this inner focus a child can develop perceptive imagination and intuition outside the sensory experiences. Radical as it seems, there are many schools out there in the west bringing out sensible and wise adults into the world.
Learning is interdisciplinary – integrating practical, artistic, and conceptual elements. Like, Montessori, the focus is on the student and role of the imagination in learning, developing thinking that includes a creative as well as an analytic component. The goal is to help young people to develop into free, morally responsible and integrated individuals, and to help every child fulfill his or her unique destiny. Schools and teachers are given considerable freedom to define curricula within collegial structures.
Philosophically, Waldorf education is based on the belief that humans possess an innate spirit having passed through previous lives, in the current life develops in a karmically appropriate environment before returning to the spirit world where it will prepare for a future reincarnation. The Teacher is deemed as having “a sacred task in helping each child’s soul and spirit grow”.
Even though Waldorf schools has its critics who question the reliance on a single theory of anthroposophy for child development, many studies have shown positive outcomes for students who go through this system. A 2007 study in Sweden comparing Waldorf and state schools reported that Waldorf pupils were more likely to have a positive learning attitude, less likely to have passing tests as the goal of their learning, and had a “more in-depth study style” in higher education. They also showed more tolerant attitudes to minority groups and less tolerance of racist ideologies, were more involved with social and moral questions and were more likely to believe in the social efficacy of love, solidarity, and civil courage as opposed to legislation or police control.
Another Australian study showed that Waldorf-educated students were able to develop richer, more detailed images of their ‘preferred futures’ than mainstream students. They felt undaunted by the environmental destruction, social injustice and the threat of war as they had the confidence and courage that they will take action to change these. They are all optimistic about the future through their own activism, based on better education and spirituality they will develop better human relationships and conflict resolution through dialogue. They will attain these by focusing on ‘social’ rather than ‘technological’ ways of solving global problems. This is in contrast to so many young people I have encountered around the world with my work, who feel fear and helplessness.
A Buddhist Foundation for Education
If we examine both the proven alternative systems, Montessori and Waldorf, there are key elements of Buddhist teaching in them.
Instead, in our current system Buddhism is taught in school like other religions in an academic manner, but children are not taught what it is to live a life as a Buddhist following the teachings of the noble eightfold path experientially. This process can be made secular as the path is universally applicable.
There are creative ways to teach children to look inward, watch their breath, watch their thoughts, link them to narratives of their own emotions, feelings and experiences, in effect to follow those eight guiding principles.
Unfortunately, our political leaders, who seem to manipulate the education system for political gain have squandered opportunities to educate our young to achieve greatness by living a life of balance through inquiry and mindfulness and understanding what the middle path means, because, the politicians too are a product of the traditional education system.
Taking Responsibility for Our Learning and Eightfold Pathway
Buddha as a teacher said, “Do not take my teaching at face value. Experience for yourself and form your own path to enlightenment” (Kalama Sutta). This empowers the person immediately. If one begins from there, this would be a good philosophy to base our education system on.
Buddha’s basic discovery was that life is suffering. He went onto respond to this through the Four Nobel Truths, which form the foundation.
Suffering (dukkha) – The inevitability of the humiliation in our life
The Cause of Suffering – The primal thirst that makes this humiliation inevitable
Cessation of Suffering – The promise that there can be release from the suffering
The Path to Ending Suffering – The way to accomplish this release from suffering.
The concept of Dependent Origination arises from the second Noble truth, which states that suffering (dukkha) has a cause. It is due to ignorance of these causal factors that we roam about in samsara deluded, confused, dissatisfied and anxious.
The way to end suffering is to take the middle path (avoiding self indulgence and self mortification). There are eight factors of mind and behavior that defines this middle path. They are right understanding, thought, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration. These are known as the Eightfold Path.
They are categorized in the following manner;
|Behavioral Categories (Ethical Foundation)||Right Speech – samma vaca*
Right Action – samma kammanto
Right Livelihood – samma ajivo
|Meditative Categories (Mental Discipline)||Right Effort – samma vicci
Right Concentration – samma samadhi
Right Mindfulness – samma sati
|Wisdom Categories (Conceptual Foundation or Right View)||Right Understanding – samma ditthi
Right Thought – samma sankappo
Incorporation of these principles in a secular manner and creating a process merging with Montessori and Waldorf methods being sensitive to people of other faiths and a transformation will require a strong political will and commitment. As such, let us look at history to unravel the thread in order for us to think fresh on this.
How Descarte Influenced the Sri Lankan Education System
There are some similarities between Buddhist and early Christian philosophies, when it comes to focus on self and the god within leading to individual responsibility and practice. This changed in the 17th century with Descarte ushering in a new philosophy of rationalism to a then religion based holistic system of education that was present in Europe, which was pioneered by St. Thomas Aquinas.
Descarte’s rationalistic spirit led in the 18th century to the writing of the famous Encyclopedia edited by Diderot and D’Alembert with the support of men like Voltaire. This work provided the educated world of the Age of Enlightenment with a summa of the new learning in opposition to the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. In it, technology was seen as the source of true progress. Man was privileged to be born to enjoy this world made more comfortable through machines. Much of this development was in the colder climates of Europe.
Ironically, at a time when Catholicism dominated society, Theology was eliminated from the curriculum. This may have been to reduce the control the church had over people at the time.
As such, Mathematics took the place of metaphysics as the fundamental subject. This left a void as supernatural wisdom of Theology and the natural wisdom of metaphysics was left out. Science and humanities (spirituality) were not coordinated into a harmonious whole. The education process became a means to make man’s life more comfortable on this earth at any cost.
Why this is important to us in Sri Lanka is that our education system was Christianized from the 16th century with colonial expansion in the island from coastal provinces and then the interior.
Sri Lanka’s history dating back 2600 years leaves many years in between. We have records of our history written from 3rd century BC during the time of King Devanampiya Tissa who ruled in Anuradhapura from 307 BC to 267 BC. His reign was notable for the arrival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. The primary information source from this time is the Mahavamsa, which in turn is based on the more ancient chronicle Dipavamsa. From then till the 16th century, the education system evolved around Buddhist temples and Pirivenas (monastic colleges). The Pirivenas were intended for the education of clergy (even to this day) and higher education.
With colonial power, Christian missionary societies became active in the field of education and Sri Lankans who adhered to the church benefited. The Pirivena education for monks continued in parallel but came under fire from the colonial administrations. However, the Church’s monopoly of education in the island ended following the Colebrooke Commission set up by the British administration in the middle 1800s.
A standard system of schools was established by the British based on the recommendations of the Colebrooke Commission in 1836. This is regarded as the beginning of the modern schooling system in the island. It started with the establishment of Royal College in Colombo (formally the Colombo Academy) and led to the formation of several single sex schools during the colonial period, by the British. Some of these schools, St. Thomas’ College in Mount Lavinia, Bishops College in Colombo, Trinity College in Kandy, were affiliated to the Anglican Church.
In 1938 the education system was made free following the granting of universal franchise and a system of free schools were established in the 1950s. The government established Madhya Maha Vidyalayas (MMV – Central Colleges) that were scattered around the island. The medium provided was either in Sinhala or Tamil. English as a medium of instruction slowly vanished over the years.
Transforming the Education System – from Teacher to Learner Centered
The basic system of education in Sri Lanka remains to be Cartesian, rationalist, hierarchical and teacher centered, even though changes are being made. Technology is the source of progress. There is an exaggerated emphasis on “methods” and the student is viewed with a mechanistic perspective. Teaching is synonymous with cramming information into the student as if he was a passive machine instead of a living mind.
Exams are a single source to determine the competency of the student. There is no process for continuous evaluation through projects, quizzes not even term tests are counted for the final results, let alone assessing students on leadership and commitment. The process is target driven and uni-dimensional. There are extra-curricular activities such as sports and performing arts in certain schools, but parents and teachers alike force children to be academically focused.
The entire system is driven through fear, as parents are afraid if children fail exams, they will not have a future and teachers are afraid that their reputations are at stake if their students get low marks. As such, it is a pressure cooker situation where not much value is gained – in terms of developing life skills, the intellect, personality, being responsible and accountable, cooperating with others to work as teams, living and behaving by a set of values and ethics, least of all knowing themselves in order to apply what they learn in real life situations in the world out there.
We need to create a learner centered process to allow learning organically through personal discovery. The teacher should pattern his method to suit the learner’s needs and aspirations. That will enable self discovery through reflection and also help the learner manage emotions.
Teacher’s role is to assist and not replace the natural energies of his student.
A good teacher will make a difference between learning by discovery and learning by instruction as narrow as possible. In other words, teacher will assist students in their learning so that their experience will seem to them a discovery. Some great teachers really have this gift. Their classes are so good that you‘re constantly finding out new things and getting excited about them. The challenge and the enthusiasm of learning are kept alive by the evident love that these teachers have for their subject. Students as a result have a desire to learn more. Complement this with techniques to reflect and being mindful will engage both the creative right brain and the logical left brain in tandem.
Hence, there has to be a focus on teacher re-training. The system has to begin with a pilot and phase in over a period of two decades or more. As such, there has to be the political will and a vision for such a transformation.
Biology of Learning
Science has proven that learning is a physical process that also engages the mind. We can understand the process through biology of the brain. The book by James E Zull, The Art of Changing the Brain illustrates this. In the meantime, David Kolb has demonstrated the learning cycle through the sequence of experience, reflection, abstraction and active testing.
Cerebrum is the part of the brain that helps us think and learn and the cortex is the layer of tissue that coats the cerebrum, hence called the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex process learning by sensing the environment, add up and integrate what is sensed and generate appropriate movements or action.
Sense Integrate Act
We sense through our eyes, ears, skin, mouth and nose and the signals are sent to the brain which forms patterns into images or language and then turned to thoughts, ideas and plans. This plan turns into action. Ideas and plans get actioned out through our motor function by way of speaking and physical movement.
This natural process is aligned with Kolb’s learning cycle which has implications for the teacher. As such teaching cannot be separated from learning.
This means that just because a teacher teaches, there may not be learning. There may be an experience for the student, but it may not result in opening up new neural pathways and getting emotional buy-in from the learner to meet the objective of the education process to actually learn what was intended and apply it.
This has many implications for the way we teach as the transformation needed is to make education learner centered and relevant to meet the challenges of the world.
According to Zull, the structure of the cerebrum is divided by the front and the back.
The back of the cerebrum is where we take in information through stories, understood through language and the emotions related to the experience that arises using the memory. Watching TV activates only the back of cerebrum. This is passive, dulls the mind and not experiential.
The front is where we take action with. It is the place for making choices, using the mental energy to create and is also emotionally driven. The difference is the learner is fully engaged in the learning as opposed to being a passive listener. Listening to a teacher passively is akin to watching TV which only activates the back of the cerebrum. Then there is no engagement nor a relationship between the teacher and the learner.
If the teacher acts as a facilitator and a coach, the relationship is respectful both ways and the learner may be able to relate to the learning and its application to the real world much easier.
The popular saying below depicts this.
The learner says;
Tell me and I forget
Show me and I remember
Involve me and I understand
The teacher says;
I cannot teach you anything
I can only help you to learn
As such now even science proves that our biology requires us to be engaged differently in the education process. It is also interesting that emotions play a central role in learning.
This is exactly what Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner said before science has proven the emotional focus of the brain’s function through experiments. The Buddha talked about this 2600 years ago through the insight he gained from his inward journey.
In his book, St. Thomas Aquinas and Education, John W. Donohue, S.J, illustrates how St. Thomas Aquinas used an example of a physician ministering to a man taken ill by an infection. In many such cases, if the patient went unattended, his body would mobilize its restorative forces and eventually heal itself. The art of the teacher is similar. All the teacher can hope to do is to strengthen the student’s resources and facilitate their exercise. In St. Thomas’s terminology the teacher is called a secondary and instrumental cause ―helpful but not indispensable. He cannot transfer his own knowledge to the student but only help him achieve similar learning for himself. This is no different to how the Buddha put it.
The Great Divide
Historian Christopher Dawson, in his book, The Crisis of Western Education, explains that it was in the 18th century that the destruction of the classic system of education was consummated. Under the influence of the new ideas, the old educational traditions of the monastic schools, the medieval universities, and the humanist colleges became discredited. The religious and secular worlds were completely divorced.
Is it a wonder when the modern world has developed with these contradictions, that we are seeing a huge divide starting from the world of science vs humanities and spirituality all the way to the haves and have nots, in terms of wealth ?.
This wealth provides power to a few people who run hierarchical industries such as oil, arms and pharmaceuticals, which require force to control them and their detractors through the military industrial complex. The old secular – spiritual divide sustains them, as only material considerations are important. Matters of the heart and spirit are secondary.
Economics is a science that has been derived to drive this material world of contradiction and folly that are ignored by the most erudite of scholars, business and government leaders. Inside Job an award winning documentary film produced by Charles Ferguson illustrates leading economic thinkers in the USA as so blinkered by the free market, growth is great ideology that they do not see the grave impact of their policies and actions even on their own population, let alone the rest of the world.
Millions of innocent people in the USA lost their homes and money in the last 5 years as a result of the derivatives market and subprime lending that the financial world cooked up with the help of government regulators and these economists, who cannot see how inhuman their theories are.
Better still, there seems a revolving door for leading lights like former head of Harvard University Larry Summers and former Treasury Secretary, Henry Paulson and many others who slip and slide between academia, government and then also get hired as directors or consultants in Wall Street for large sums of money. They in turn protect Wall Street’s wrong doing with tax payer’s money with bailouts of companies such as AIG and Bears Stern, who were the real agents of this casino. It is also odd that Lehman Brothers, another financial pillar of Wall Street was allowed to be buried. Was it because Paulson had close links with Goldman Sachs, Lehman’s arch rival ?.
Inside Job shows Summers, Paulson and the then Head of the Reserve Bank of the US (Central Bank) Ben Bernanke among others who spurred the public to keep buying homes when the world saw the market teetering, as indifferent to the misery that has been steeped on the innocent who staked their life and limb on the biggest investment of their life, only to lose it in no time. It was amazing to also see even erudite scholars like John Y. Campbell, the current chair of Harvard’s department of economics, deny any conflict of interest between academia and the banking sector when so many examples of such unholy alliances were shown in the movie.
What has made these people so reptilian ?.
Are they so blinkered as to not see the impact of their narrow minded decisions or are they caught up in a system which requires them to tow the line, or are they just plain greedy ?.
Or are they just a product of their times, as children growing up in America in the post war boom times where abundance of everything was the order of the day ?.
Money and machines took them to the moon, beat communism, so they feel that money will also help humanity to save themselves from the wrath of nature they so happily damage.
Everywhere one looks at the modern world there are these follies, be it in the energy industry that spews out carbon to warm the earth, medical industry that overdoses thousands with chemicals in the name of health and tries to ban natural herbs that have given people good health for millennia, the food industry that alters basic natural structure of what we eat and we continue to support this military industrial complex that controls the world, wittingly or unwittingly.
How do people who now know so much of the impacts of what they do to each other and the environment look their own children in the eyes and talk about a safe future for them?.
Or have we humans become so reptilian that it has become ok to eat our own for our selfish short term gain?.
It will be a sad pitiful end to humanity if we do not heed the call to change our ways. This transformation will not be easy, as many will have to give up some of what they have.
That is why, I say, we need to work with the new generation, to nurture them and teach them differently, so they converge the material and the spiritual world, become more contemplative so they will see the bigger picture and know by instinct that we are all living in an interconnected web of life. They will learn to live differently, in better harmony with nature as this different education will teach them to balance their rational thinking of the head, with the emotions of the heart and the spirit of the ‘hara’ – the belly.
They will know by instinct that cutting down a tree will lose them yet another source of their life force, Oxygen as opposed to the current science of economics, where the tree has an economic value if it gives fruits or when it is chopped.
They will then make informed choices of the kinds of professions they will get into.
The Transformation in Education
As Maria Montessori says, we have to begin with conception, we have to honor motherhood and create a universal system to value time for those who choose to be mothers to nurture their children. The education system can be designed more to suit individual learning and growth as opposed to the mass learning production in the current system where only a few thrive.
The education process needs to create an ethical foundation with a focus on behavior, hence a value based education. Here, children learn the power of communication and their action, and decide on the kind of work they may do in the future. This is where they create the foundation to make decisions about their future vocations and whether they will lean towards ‘do no harm’ careers.
Mental discipline for this is provided through effort towards concentration and mindfulness. Learning the practice of meditation will bring in a certain self confidence in knowing self through reflection that arises from focusing especially on ones breath. This will then create mindfulness and a positive self concept.
Self concept is about having an alignment between what a child thinks of himself, what he things others thinks of him and what he really is. This requires a facilitation of learning with opportunities for feedback to the children, not only from the teachers, but also from each other.
Then they can focus on learning the discipline of right thought (happy, positive, compassionate) that will lead the way for a positive and an appreciative attitude towards life and all beings around. This is the conceptual foundation for a child to a have a right view and perceptions of the world around.
The child also should be then taught about the external world be it nature and its Deep Ecology. Deep ecology is a contemporary ecological philosophy that recognizes an inherent worth of other beings. Its focus is the interdependent nature of human and non-human life as well as the importance of the ecosystem and natural processes.
Knowledge on how the material world works, through its foundation of economics, geography and the sciences can be taught experientially as the child moves up the school. This way the child will end up learning how the world works, politically, financially and understand the divisions and gaps that are essentially man made, for instance between the developed and developing countries, people movement and borders, the anomalies of money markets, world trade and human rights.
Understanding the world better will make a child wiser and better equipped to respond to its challenges, trials and tribulations. A better mentally and physically prepared child may become well balanced adult who will endeavor to make a more equitable world.
The following areas of focus in the education system may provide the foundation for a transformation towards this more equitable and environmentally balanced world.
The education system must provide an opportunity for the child to put a mirror on self, to learn about who they are first, as when one learns about their own strengths and weaknesses, their own mind and physiology, their health, they will rid of the fears of fitting into an artificial competitive external and alien world. Taking away the fear alone will make way for creativity to find novel ways of surviving in a finite world.
Self awareness comes by observing ones’ own mind and understanding how the body works in tandem. Transformation and change needs first for a person to know self. As complex and diverse beings, getting a handle on self requires us to focus on personality traits, values and beliefs, emotions, habits, psychological and physiological needs that drive our behavior.
Our minds are always evolving through our thoughts and beliefs that are a result of our experiences, social values, religion, family influences, health, expectations, goals and what society also messages through, especially the media. As such, a chattering mind is all over the place and not knowing self makes it even more uncontrollable.
Being aware of what we are now, what we aspire to change in our life, our wishes and desires, strengths and weaknesses will help us to build self confidence, high esteem and a positive self concept. The education system has to provide space and a process for inquiring into self knowledge. Self knowledge has many aspects such as one’s own physiology, health, the mind, emotions, attitudes and motivation.
Health is Wealth
We have our own Ayurveda which literally means science of life or knowledge of living or the art of longevity. Last century’s sole focus on western medicine now driven by the pharmaceutical industry, is diminishing this ancient natural wisdom, unless we make an
effort to save it. It is not to say western medicine, which has eradicated so many diseases like small pox, polio and brought us a different kind of longevity through pharmacology, surgery and nuclear medicine is bad. We have to teach the young the simple things about their body, the anatomy, biology and the basic Ayurvedic principle that a human being consists of body, mind and spirit all working together in harmony. Ayurveda is a holistic system as opposed to the western methods of separation and isolation.
This holistic nature includes the external environment based on Mother Nature. The human then is conditioned by nature and is not separate from nature. Yet, as it was illustrated before, we as humans have forgotten this basic wisdom, embrace the world as our external playground, indulging ourselves in all the goodies it provides us and expects our bodies to have enough digestive strength to consume them.
What we do not learn at a young age is that like nature, we have inherent limitations by our own obligation to breathe, eat, sleep and to communicate with others, to live in harmony.
However, the most important learning here is the limitation of our organisms to digest our indulgences. We learn this lesson everyday when we indulge but do not take to heart – if we do not limit ourselves, nature will limit us with disease. Western approach is a quick cure by cutting off the pain, the very pain that is telling us that there is a fundamental problem, an imbalance in our belly that has to be addressed.
We have to teach the young that nature has given us humans a space bounded by our skin and our digestive tract. The skin and our digestive tract then maintain our separateness from the external world giving us our individuality. As such, what we ingest into our system, through the skin and the digestive tract will then define how safe we are as individuals. It can either nourish or poison us.
Then we have to be learned and wise not to allow aliens to enter into our body which will create a digestive problem which will in turn lead to physical and mental toxins in our body called ama in Sanskrit. Ama creates indigestion and prevents nutrients from reaching our body tissues weakening our immune system.
This willful indulgence has a nice word in Sanskrit – Prajnaparadha (crime against wisdom).
According to Ayurveda, the Human aura is the first line of defense against parasites, and then the skin and the gut and finally the immune system. Immune system is said to be a sense organ – a sixth sense watching out for intruders.
Imagine learning these basics as a child and how different we may live our lives after.
There is much more to teach over the next years about the three Doshas – Vata (air), Pitta (fire) and Kapha (water). There are simple ways of identifying to which of these we are naturally predisposed to based on our constitution given by our mother and father. Imagine what power we will have knowing this ourselves from a young age.
We can be so creative in teaching this wisdom, but not exclude the role of western medicine and help them develop a balance between the two, so they learn from a young age to be responsible and accountable for their own health. This way they will be much more mindful about what they consume and ingest into their limited organism in nature. Life will certainly slow down.
Breath of Life
Breath is an integral part of health. Teach every child how to breathe properly, as lack of self awareness, the stress of competition and the current high pressure process makes one breathe shallow into the chest creating a physiological imbalance. Whether its children or adults, I come across many breathing with the shoulders, taking shallow breaths, as that is the response to stress. This deprives the body of the oxygen it needs to be healthy. When the body is not cooperating, there is delusion, insecurity and fear that have to be compensated with bad behavior, anger, arrogance all driven by the ego.
Breathing has to be costal to fill the lungs fully so the blood gets oxygenated, strengthening the immune system, so the child’s physiology is behind them as a solid foundation as they seek a place in the world.
I saw my own body and mind change when my friend and healer Ranjan showed me that the trials and tribulations of my life also had changed the way I breathed. It was shallow. It took about six months for me to change it back to costal breathing, but it required a strong commitment to unlearn and relearn.
We have to first teach a child to breathe, find creative fun ways to make it effective and experiential as this is the foundation.
Once they learn to breathe, teach the child to focus and meditate, again using creative ways to concentrate on objects, visualize, count so one learns to stop the brain chatter that usually goes on non-stop, often clouding perceptions and realities.
Meditation is a process of studying the internal world and a means to self exploration. By stopping the mental chatter and listening to self, helps the child to become comfortable with the inner authentic self – which is the inner source of love and truth.
This inner knowledge of the rules and laws go well beyond the tangible external world. The external world can be measured and verified through the five senses and logical reasoning, but our inner world connects us to deeper knowledge of life and wisdom which goes beyond the senses into a higher state of consciousness, just like our immune system is also known as an extra sense, there are many others.
Meditation’s inward journey helps bring out a natural sense of compassion a human has. An ability to focus the mind and control thought can help manage fears better, to become more skillful in times of challenges and suffering and to take responsibility for self rather than looking outward when things go wrong. Meditation helps reduce the ego as one perceives the world much better as it is without much delusion.
Meditation’s effects are now scientifically proven with the advances in medical imaging technology. These can monitor neural behavior non-invasively and are proving that meditation unifies the mind, the brain and the body to create a neural synchronicity. This restores homeostatis, the natural balance the body and mind needs to function effectively through a deeper state of awareness and relaxation
Meditation is an effective way to create mindfulness, a mental state of concentrated awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, motivations and actions. Mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment. As such, being mindful is to be open-minded and focusing with confidence on the here and the now experience.
For a child, meditation and mindfulness will be an essential tool of thought management and insight.
Yoga is a combination of traditional physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines, whose goal is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility. The word yoga is associated with meditative practices in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The goals of yoga are varied and range from improving health to achieving Moksha, which is the liberation from all worldly suffering and the cycle of birth and death. For children, yoga is a wonderful vehicle to learn about the body, its capabilities and limitations, while creating a physiological and mental balance.
Learning to keep the body supple will complement full breathing, meditation and balance health. Yoga can be made fun for children and learning about the body and being able to contort and change the body will give confidence to a child. It will also help them to concentrate better, strengthen them and further enhance self knowledge making them feel comfortable with themselves and who they are.
Teaching martial arts in the spirit of self defense and learning to take one’s mind and body to the limit, builds self esteem and confidence. Martial arts also require a mind body balance that helps in everything else a child does. The discipline of learning the exercise, the control and ultimately having to deal with an opponent, who if you do not read his intentions and body language using your own head, heart and belly for intuition – in essence have an extra sense – your survival is at stake.
Teaching values is an absolute must and in fact teaching martial arts is value based education. Learning martial arts is not just learning the techniques and moves. It is more of learning the philosophy underlying it, which is very congruent with eastern philosophy. Respect towards the master teaches children to respect everyone else. Strict discipline and time maintenance makes one punctual and dedicated towards responsibilities and self discipline.
Even children in kindergarten can begin having martial arts lessons. At a young age, they can have the advantage of developing their abilities and personalities. In countries like Japan and Korea, children are taught Taekwondo even before they start going to school or as soon as they enter the academic world. These children will have greater chances of increasing their motor skills and impulse resulting to a strong and graceful body. They also develop better psychological and emotional balance.
This mental and body training, which requires costal breathing, meditation to quiet the mind to read the situation well and have a supple body of a yogi is the ultimate, but the level of training can be varied for different children with differing interests.
Over time, people have always tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of the world. Through the humanities we reflect on the fundamental question: What does it mean to be human?.
Humanities cover a range of areas including philosophy, literature, the arts, music, dance and poetry that engages the creative right brain. It will set a foundation for children to better understand and communicate with one another and should be an ongoing process through school leading into a practice in life.
There is no doubt that engaging in performing arts, in drama and music will build children’s confidence, character and motor skills.
The humanities will also help children understand the past which has created the present. Philosophies, theories, arts and literature of the almost three thousand years of recorded history has influenced our world today. Knowing this past can allow children to understand our present and to create a future that will be of a better balance between human and nature.
Yet there are rationalists who argue that the education system should only focus on practical technical education which will make people productive in the modern world and the results more quantifiable. That single sided thinking is what seems to be creating the reptilian world though. The counter view is that knowledge and methods of inquiry and discovery of the arts and sciences and a capacity to integrate knowledge across experience and discipline may have far more lasting value in such a changing world than specialized techniques and training, which can quickly become outmoded.
In the last two decades, scholars have argued that the ability to understand experiences outside of one’s own individual social and cultural context will help children to develop a conscience more suited to the multicultural world. That conscience allows self-reflection extending to empathy facilitating the dispensation of civic duties a responsible world citizen must engage in.
Traditionally History is looked upon as a subject of boring information about the past which requires mindless memorizing of names of kings and periods. Yet, history has the most important lessons for children and if presented creatively with analysis and comparisons, the new generation can be informed of lessons of good leadership to tyrants who caused misery and mayhem to millions of people.
History should be taught in a way so history does not repeat itself for the atrocities which have been committed against humanity, but learn from the great examples of leaders from the time of Chanakya, to King Asoka, Gandhi in the east to Queen Victoria to Abraham Lincoln, to Martin Luther King and Mandela of Africa, their attributes and their failings. This way, children who are balanced, inquiring and mindful will internalize the learning so some day when they are in positions of power, they realize the gravity of the responsibility and the impact their words and actions can have on so many. They would have learned from history.
History also clearly illustrates good leaders who with age, time and challenge have turned to tyrants and to learn about the impermanence of it all as it provides windows into periods of great change and transformation of societies – good to bad and vise-versa.
Sciences and Mathematics
Teaching of sciences can be done experientially making it more fun and interactive. The Waldorf and other such schools already have found effective ways of teaching science to make it very practical to life.
There are also various new methods to teaching Mathematics to make it much more applicable to life from a basic level to high level Maths that is required for technology research and development.
It is such a folly that the Physics taught in most schools is yet the old Newtonian form before Werner Heisenberg, Niels Bohr, Einstein and their friends discovered Quantum Physics.
American Physicist, Richard Feyman said, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics”. So, we must not be afraid of exploring Quantum Physics, as there no right or wrong answer.
Quantum Physics merely tells us that there are no absolutes in the universe. It teaches us that there is no such thing as an absolute objective truth, as when we as a human witness anything, we by the mere fact of us witnessing, influences it. It teaches us what the Buddha said on dependent origination that everything is interconnected and influences each other. In Quantum Physics research, when you look deep into the sub atomic world, one sees a particle form, look away and look back and one may see a wave form.
Niels Bohr introduced this concept as complementarity where the wave form and the particle form are not separate but are mutually complementary and only together can provide a complete description of physical manifestations. Complementarity meant that in the quantum world it is impossible to speak about independent quantum objects because they are in an interactive relationship with each other. As such, when using an instrument to measure an object, the quantum object, the instrument of measurement and the measurer could not be separated. They all influence the outcome, just like in dependent origination.
One may look at a particle as ones destiny, pre-planned and decided for you, the wave is to realize that as a human we have a free will to change our destiny. So, we dance between our destiny (the particle), feeling out of control as life unfolds and our ability to act (the wave) to change our destiny, to take control of our life, change its course and transform. If children learn this how empowered and fearless they will be as they learn to deal with these subtleties of being.
This way, children will learn that there is no absolute truth and they may not need to cling to ideology and identities to feel secure. The child will become more secure in themselves knowing the impermanence and the uncertainties of life, the matter and the mind divide, but give credence to the whole person, one with nature, the universe, the trees and the insects, all helping each other to live in harmony. The child may become more responsible as he will know that his words and actions do have much larger impacts than what they merely see.
The New Initiatives
There are many interesting initiatives out there, especially in the west trying out methods that go beyond transmitting information and training in cognitive skills. In having children pay attention to their breath, to their walking, to the world around them, and to their own emotions and those of others, they are trying to include all parts of the child, and all parts of the teacher, in the process of education.
The western world, which is the bastion of rational thought and individuality is now talking about a nurturing and caring climate in the classroom, and even expanding the object of study to include the workings of the mind itself. They are beginning to use new words like “contemplative education”. However, many are reluctant to name it anything just yet, as the old order yet looks down on anything esoteric and new age. Yet there is an acceptance from those enlightened educators who are innovative and courageous to explore these methods that the school can be a place of tremendous discovery that requires all the resources of body, mind, and spirit that the teacher and student can bring together.
Research and Results into a New System
Researcher, Barry Boyce works with schools and teachers studying innovative ways to education has written an interesting article Please Help Me Learn Who I Am. In it he illustrates the Garrison Institute’s work in the area.
The Garrison Institute in New York was founded in 2002 “to explore the intersection of contemplative and spiritual experience with engaged action in the world.” One of its initiatives is called Awareness and Concentration for Learning. The initiative will “promote the research and implementation of contemplation-based interventions in the American public school setting.”
As mentioned, contemplative work has been happening already in private schools for a long time—including Montessori, Waldorf, and Quaker schools, to name a few—but for a wide-reaching impact to be made, methods must be proven effective by research and free of any special belief system, and they must speak to needs identified by teachers and administrators. Only then can they can be adopted by the school systems.
In a sixty-five page “mapping report” on contemplation and education, Garrison surveyed programs that use contemplative techniques and created detailed definitions of what is encompassed by this field. Contemplative techniques, the report said, “include attention training and refinement practices, secular meditation, and yoga. Increased self-awareness, mindfulness, self-reflection, emotional intelligence, and social skills are among the outcomes associated with these techniques.”
The report said that these programs “share a common set of outcomes with mainstream education enhancing students’ learning and academic performance, improving the school’s social climate as well as promoting emotional balance and pro-social behaviors.” It goes on to say that the program’s aim is also to develop “noble qualities such as peacefulness, internal calm, compassion, empathy, forgiveness, patience, generosity, and love.”
“Contemplation” and “contemplative techniques” are seen by some teachers as Eastern-religion-laden to be accepted into mainstream schools. Garrison finds the term “contemplative” helpful, relying on a definition provided by Tobin Hart, author of The Secret Spiritual Life of Children, as “a third way of knowing that complements the rational and the sensory.” While experts may disagree about what to call it, all seem to want to bring that third way of knowing into American classrooms.
Boyz 2 Buddhas
David Forbes, a counselor and mental health professional working in inner cities of USA does not have a problem with using words like mindfulness, even calling the participating youth Bodhisatvas and he is making waves.
His program, Boyz 2 Buddhas is a powerful testament to the importance of cultivating the goodness that is already inside of these youth in the pursuit of happiness, be it in the fields of athletic competition or the daily activities.
Forbes focuses on the stressful lives of inner-city youth and the psychological burdens of conventional masculine attitudes. Boyz 2 Buddhas documents his attempt to reach urban American football players through unorthodox means such as teaching them meditation.
His approach seems to work as many are acknowledging it.
James Garbarino, E.L. Vincent Professor of Human Development, Cornell University, and Author of Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them says that Forbes has provided a new look at an old problem – male aggression. In Boyz 2 Buddhas, Forbes offers a road map of how to bring to bear the wisdom of meditation and mindfulness to the turbulent lives of boys struggling to find a positive path to manhood.
A Way Forward
Transforming the education system is the only way to change a nation and even the world. Everyone knows the challenges to this, as traditional western culture dominates through its military industrial complex and the media. This power and wealth is difficult to match. There will be resistance from the material world, as this new focus will mean major change for people, their wealth and their economies.
Yet, there is a growing body of people who are becoming more and more aware of the perils of this course. As such, there is a real focus, especially in the west on ancient eastern philosophies such as Buddhist thinking and practices such as yoga, meditation and alternative health practices like Ayurveda.
In 2009, I participated in an Authentic Leadership in Action – Summer Camp at the Shambhala Institute in Halifax, Canada. This week long leadership program for the mostly North American participants was based on Buddhist principals. We began the day with meditation and many of the program’s focus was to help us re-engage with the world with compassion based on the interconnectedness of everything.
We focused on self through various creative (drama, art, poetry and music) and martial arts practices to align our body and mind with nature around us. As a part of the session, there was an intergenerational dialogue, where the under 30 year olds went to one side and the over 30s to another, to discuss the state of the world. We sat across each other in the plenary when the under 30s representative told us – “You have given us a world of materials – nice homes, cars, computers and gadgets, but you were never home to give us love. We will break that cycle with the next generation”.
This trend was proven right when in 2010, I revisited my old high school in North York, a suburb of Toronto, Canada for the school’s 50th anniversary. I met many of my Canadian school friends after 31 years and many told me they do live differently. They are more focused on family and children, the mother staying home as a homemaker and as a result they are less materially well off than their parents. This is the kind of transformation that is needed to change the world into a more compassionate one. Yet, it requires sacrifice and change of priorities of what is important.
We in Sri Lanka have these as a part of our culture, our psyche, values and access to these ancient practices and wisdom yet. We must safeguard and cherish them and begin to bring them back into our lives. Education is the first place we can transform by incorporating them.
It will take great political will as the world will be naturally against it, as we are creating a different kind of human being, a much better equipped one to meet the challenges of the ravages of the world. This being will be compassionate, yet tough, as there will be self knowledge and confidence to have better control of their destiny.
This being will live as he is one with nature and the universe. Yes, the universal laws of entropy, disorder will prevail and one day the sun will shine itself out, but the process will evolve the being as an integral part of the universes’ journey and not the other way around, by a man made destruction, which will leave this planet in a karmic darkness.
Sri Lanka can lead the way in this journey and what better time than now. No doubt, this transition will take a lot of time and effort, but we can start the process small with a few pilots and well trained and passionate teachers and school administrators.
No doubt, there could be resistance from the mainstream, be it politicians, industry, western governments, donor agencies, so this transformation needs to happen slowly, maybe generation by generation and as Economist Joseph Stiglitz says, through a process of “sequencing and pacing”.
We adults have the responsibility to begin this transformation for our children and theirs and theirs and as the 13th century Sufi poet Rumi sings below, they need to see us fly first…..
The Way Wings Should
What will our children do in the morning?
Will they wake with their hearts wanting to play,
the way wings should?
Will they have dreamed the needed flights and gathered
the strength from the planets that all men and women need to balance
the wonderful charms of the earth so that her power and beauty does not make us forget our own?
I know all about the ways of the heart – how it wants to be alive.
Love so needs to love that it will endure almost anything, even abuse,
just to flicker for a moment. But the sky’s mouth is kind,
its song will never hurt you, for I sing those words.
What will our children do in the morning
if they do not see us fly?
~ Rumi ~