Note to reader: I recently stumbled across this short anecdote I wrote 15 years ago about a discussion with my now 25-year-old daughter. The picture above comes from several years before this story when she was 8.
The most teachable day of the year for my grade 9 students in Humanities I in Action is certainly the first day of school, day one of their high school experience. For some years we have been doing a very successful chocolate experiment that was memorable for kids for the rest of the year, but what could we do on Zoom?
Over the summer our teaching team read the powerful new book Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman who provided us with just the hook we needed. On the first day of class I asked my students to respond to this key passage, borrowed from social psychology professor Tom Postmes:
“Imagine an airplane makes an emergency landing and breaks into three parts. As the cabin fills with smoke, everybody inside realizes: We’ve got to get out of here. What happens?
On Planet A, the passengers turn to their neighbors to ask if they’re okay. Those needing assistance are helped out of the plane first. People are willing to give their lives, even for perfect strangers.
On Planet B, everyone’s left to fend for themselves. Panic breaks out. There’s lots of pushing and shoving. Children, the elderly, and people with disabilities get trampled underfoot.
Now the question: Which planet do we live on?” (p. 2-3)
I’ve been writing this blog for a decade and have only very occasionally missed publishing an entry once a month. However, this is my first article since early September. What happened? The short answer is I’ve fallen in love – with a holistic practice called kinesiology that has happily consumed my peripheral time that in the past I have used for writing. Nevertheless, I’ve have recently come across in my study of kinesiology an insight of great spiritual resonance and exciting applicability that I feel compelled to share.
Has your life ever felt so uncertain as it does now during the coronavirus pandemic? Will there be graduations and anniversaries to attend, fall breaks, Thanksgiving travel, New Year’s Eve parties? Will the world slip into recession or a depression? Will the coronavirus return a second, third, or fourth time? All of a sudden our everyday approach to the world‑making plans based on a predictable future‑has been thrown to the wind.
Global culture, too, has suddenly come to an inflection point, as we reach for comparable events in our shared history. The Great Recession and 911 have now been quickly eclipsed as lesser events; perhaps COVID19 is re-ordering our collective psyche in a manner akin to World War II. No country can escape the virus, and the impact will last years rather than months.
The biblical call at times of crisis is always “repent.” When a tower falls on fellow Galileans (Luke 13), Jesus’ critics try to engage him in a blame game. Jesus eschews such small-mindedness and calls for repentance by all. What could this mean? While “repent” falls uncomfortably on the modern ear, the original Greek word in the Gospels for this concept, metanoia, offers new possibilities. Metanoia can be translated as going “beyond the mind” or into the “higher mind.” Think “metacognition” or “metamorphosis.”
“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”
“The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.”
– Nikola Tesla
Many of my students perceive the relationship of science and spirituality as a zero-sum relationship. The more one believes in science, the less one puts stock in issues of faith and spiritual identity. The assumed worldview, then, for the majority of students is that the materialist paradigm explains how the universe works, which leaves little room for any mysterious energy or power, let alone some type of divine force. Along with this perspective comes belief in the ultimate purposelessness of the universe, which seems to make the task of forging a meaningful life far more difficult. Continue reading →
If you have grown up at HKIS, you know that the message that Jesus represents is love. You probably would nod to having heard a smattering of related passages: for God so loved the world; love your neighbor as yourself; greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends. These are certainly lofty aspirations. However, for most of you, the words alone do not strike you as especially insightful or compelling so to inspire a new way of living.
So I write to you as a teacher who wants to share why these words are compelling to me, and indeed do inspire a new way of living. What breathes new life for me into these two thousand year-old teachings is considering Jesus’ radical vision of reality that underlies these famous sound-bites. To use words we use in class, I’d like to share with you Jesus’ worldview. I’d like to call this larger view of reality Jesus’ cosmovision, his understanding how the universe works in all of its visible and invisible dimensions. Continue reading →
Several years ago one of my art students, Sam, felt stuck in her creativity, and as evidence of her malaise, she showed me recent pieces that were awkward, angular, and angry. Two weeks later after doing a regular meditation practice, she began quite unconsciously to produce works like the one above. This is a tangible example of what a Wisdom path for 21st century students might produce.
As a religion teacher committed to the transformation of students, the key question for Spiritual Explorations (SPEX) teachers always involves the outcomes we observe: has our teaching enabled students to become better versions of themselves? Have they changed personally? Is some form of self-transcendence apparent? This, SPEX teachers believe, is the sine qua non of a spiritual curriculum.
And when transformation occurs, can we explain what are the essential ingredients that fostered such growth? We asked students at the end of our grade 9 SPEX class this year to respond to a survey regarding their end-of-year worldview conclusions about spiritual reality. This entry addresses these questions using data from our grade 9 Spiritual Explorations (SPEX) to better understand student engagement in spirituality. Continue reading →
But when the music stops and the storm comes as it has, and so much of that which we relied upon has fallen out from beneath our feet, we are left with what we have cultivated inside our own heart, inside our own being. This time teaches us how important it is to gradually grow the good inside oneself.
– Rick Hanson
Reading my students’ final written reflections on their experience with Spiritual Explorations (SPEX 9) this semester brought to mind the advice given by Abba Moses, one of the Christian desert fathers in Egypt in the 4th and 5th century: “Sit in your cell and it will teach you everything.” While withdrawing from our normal busyness has been deeply disconcerting for most of us, perhaps it is possible to recast this deprivation as a modern version of monastic seclusion with an invaluable silver lining, if only we can see it so. As one of my students Carolina remarked more prosaicly, “I think that during Covid-19 in quarantine I have actually been able to integrate my body, mind and heart more than normal. This probably came out of a little bit of necessity because I would have probably gone a little insane if I hadn’t.”Continue reading →
We are beginning week three of “virtual school” during the coronavirus crisis in Hong Kong. Using the online platform “Zoom,” we are teaching our classes at their scheduled times through our laptops. While technologically this is certainly far better than using email and an electronic bulletin board as we did during SARS 17 years ago, our students still feel very much “imprisoned” – confined to their flats and chained to their computers. From a Wisdom perspective – which aims is to balance the body, mind, and heart – virtual school is even more tipped towards the mind than conventional schooling. Our most recent school survey found that sophomores and juniors are working in front of tbeir screens 10-11 hours a day! If that weren’t enough, our necks, shoulders, and backs let us know that we are spending too much time sitting and working with our various devices.
I’ve taken the perspective that the best way that religion classes can contribute to student well-being during this unprecedented time of the coronavirus is to get them out of their chairs doing spiritual practices, such as tai chi, body scans, Tibetan singing bowls meditation, conscious walking, and other forms of body-based practices. In this entry, I share my lesson plan using practices related to the labyrinth. Continue reading →
”For contemporary teenagers, too, developing soulcraft competence is more vital to their personal development than math, science, or business know-how. Most teenagers sense this and most would prefer this knowledge. Most of their teachers, however, don’t have a clue about pathways to soul. Few of us learned these things as teens or in college.” Bill Plotkin in Soulcraft, p. 116.