Is it possible to give my stressed out students an undeniable experience of inner peace in a group setting? This thought motivated my recent experiment to bring chanting into an elective religion course that I teach at HKIS called “Service, Society, and the Society.” The course aims to awaken my students’ body-mind-heart selves so that they can make a more deeply informed response to their key developmental task as high school students: what should I do with my life? Could chanting be a part of a more enlightened form of decision-making for them? Continue reading
Early morning tai chi practice at Whidbey Institute, Washington.
“The physical practice sometimes called Tai Chi…is a delightful method of allowing my body to learn to move with a natural fluidity that blesses my whole being….What delights me about this practice is the way it integrates the physical universe (Tai Chi) with the Mysterious (Wu Chi). I can feel the interplay of the two, dancing within me, as I move my body in gentle and flexible ease. “
-William Martin, Day 20 of Tao Te Ching course with Spirituality and Practice
When I think how my approach to education has evolved over the years, I often recall a 5-week NEH summer course studying Himalayan cultures that I took in Worcester, Massachusetts in 2004. (In retrospect I should have just gone to Bhutan instead!) My particular interest was in creating a curriculum for a new “Who is Buddha” course I was to offer the following year at HKIS. I applied myself earnestly to the program, creating a blog summarizing the curriculum I planned to teach, assiduously highlighting readings and taking careful notes, and writing a long glossary of terms with definitions that would familiarize myself with a flood of new Sanskrit and Pali terms. My strategy to understanding Buddhism – undoubtedly for the end goal of spiritual growth – was academic mastery. Not once did I consider meditating, creating a mandala, or circumambulating a temple. Continue reading
“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”
Education as it is currently understood, particularly in the West, ignores the human soul, or essential Self. This essential Self is not some vague entity whose existence is a matter of speculation, but our fundamental “I,” which has been covered over by social conditioning and by the superficiality of our rational mind. In North America we are in great need of a form of training that would contribute to the awakening of the essential Self. Such forms of training have existed in other eras and cultures and have been available to those with the yearning to awaken from the sleep of their limited conditioning and know the potential latent in the human being.
—Kabir Helminski, Living Presence, p. 6.
Three years ago I had something of a breakthrough in my teaching philosophy that had been in formation for a long time. I had been searching my entire career for what power in education really means, and service learning had been my pedagogy of choice for the first twenty years, but in 2012 I began focusing extensively on the inner life. Then three years ago, prompted by G.I. Gurdjieff’s emphasis on the body, mind, and heart, I re-organized my “Service, Society, and the Sacred” (SSS) elective course around these three centers of intelligence, which I summarized in a blog entry.
All the big themes that came together in that 2015 blog – body-mind-heart, the vertical dimension, and spiritual practices – are working well; I’m thrilled that after so many years of experimenting I have finally found a relatively stable curriculum. The one major addition in the intervening three years has been teaching of the Enneagram, which has become perhaps the most valuable aspect of the course for students. This entry, then, is a distillation of that earlier blog, and an attempt to further identity the essentials of this approach. Continue reading
The statue of a war-weary St. Francis that stands outside of
the famous basilica that bears his name in Assisi.
“What is the relation of [contemplation] to action? Simply this. He [or she] who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action.”
Before heading to a retreat with my spiritual teacher Cynthia in Scotland last summer, I took an excellent walking tour through the old city of Edinburgh where I came to appreciate the profound changes brought to society by the Protestant Reformation. The revolution in perspectives, values, and social impact were world-altering, and I felt unusually proud of my Protestant roots in the year celebrating the 500th anniversary of (my namesake) Martin Luther’s break from the Catholic Church.
During that same tour, however, I also learned the disturbing truth that church attendance in Edinburgh has plummeted from 75% in 1900 to a paltry 3% today. This was a wake up call for me, which confirmed what I sensed in my classroom: traditional institutional Christianity is in freefall among many segments of modern society. While this may not be true in significant swathes of Africa and Asia, I consider it something of a crisis for religious communities in my particular niche of the world. And yet I find few people within the Church asking what seems so starkly obvious to me: why is the Christian faith failing to attract young people? Continue reading