The Essentials of a Curriculum for Self-Understanding: The Body-Mind-Heart Framework in SSS

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 3.03.32 PM.png“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”


“Whenever your heart space, your mind space, and your body space are all present and accounted for at the same time, you can experience pure presence, a moment of deep inner connection with the pure, gratuitous Being of anything and everything. It will often be experienced as a quiet leap of joy in the heart.”

-Richard Rohr, December 9, 2018*

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

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Visiting Hong Kong Places of Worship: Grade 9 SPEX Project


The Chi Lin Nunnery and Garden in Diamond Hill
is a quiet oasis in the middle of Kowloon.

Dear Grade 9 SPEX Students,

Spiritual Explorations is all about experiential learning, so we want to give you the opportunity to get out of the classroom and visit religious sites and meet people in Hong Kong’s religious communities. It comes as a surprise to many students that Hong Kong has so many places of worship. In fact, there are apparently 18 Buddhist temples in Causeway Bay alone! Despite its secular, business-friendly appearance, there are still many residents of Hong Kong who deeply value their religious heritage and the spiritual life.

This project asks you to visit one of these worship sites and share what you have learned. The SPEX team has put together a list of choices for you to consider. We urge you to not simply go to the most convenient or familiar site, but to take this opportunity to explore a part of Hong Kong you have never seen and to meet people who genuinely care about the vertical dimension of existence. 

Continue reading

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Rebuilding Spiritual Community: The Franciscan Path of Contemplative Action

Image may contain: cloud, sky, outdoor and natureThe 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.”

-Thomas Merton


Before heading to a retreat with my spiritual teacher Cynthia in Scotland last summer, I IMG_20170619_144236160(2)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 Image result for 3%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

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“Empowering Students to Solve Community Problems: Research and Pilot Program” by Naina Mishra


Naina engaging in a service project with Muslim students in India.

Dear Reader,

Naina is a recently-graduated senior student at HKIS who has thought quite deeply about two issues that are priorities in our school community: service learning and student leadership. However, Naina has gone beyond offering her opinion or even initiating her own service projects. Through her AP Capstone course last year, she conducted a research study to understand the skills needed to successfully implement service projects that benefit the community.  Continue reading

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“Practicing Self-Love with the Enneagram” based on Robert Holden’s Global Enneagram Summit Talk


In June, 2016 I attended an Enneagram workshop in London taught by two of the  leading Enneagram teachers in the world, Russ Hudson (teaching) and Robert Holden (seated). In this entry I summarize a recent teaching session done by Robert on how the  the Enneagram can be used as a tool to develop greater self-love.

“The Enneagram is the most powerful system I know for identifying and releasing inner blocks to love and for enabling you to be a loving presence in the world.”

-Robert Holden, Loveability

Dear Students,

Last fall as we were reading Simon’s confrontation with theRelated image Lord of the Flies in William Golding’s famous novel by that name, we discussed how the beast strategically attacks Simon at the level of self-doubt and personal insecurity.  I paused, then, and asked my students: how many of you are tougher on yourselves than anyone else is in your life? Immediately 85% of the hands went up. That was a watershed moment for me, for I realized that perhaps the biggest problem most HKIS students face is what is called the Inner Critic, which can become a corrosive force upon one’s being.   Continue reading

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“Recovering My Focus Towards Self-Love:” Final SSS Essay by Hollis Brown

Balkans Interim 2018Dear Students,

When you become an upperclassman at HKIS, the word “college” looms large over everything else. The question at this stage of your life, to paraphrase Jesus’ famous line, is, “How to gain college admission without losing your soul?” In response to this concern, I fill the “Service, Society, and the Sacred” (SSS) curriculum with teachings, activities, and outings that will give you the opportunity to reduce your stress and discover a more grounded self. Continue reading

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“Creating Humanities II in Action: Our Story” by Matthea Najberg, Jonathan Chung, and Nicole Lim

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 3.59.49 PM.png
Dear Reader,

I first began teaching the Humanities I in Action course in 2003, and from the beginning it intuitively felt like the kind of education students wanted. And for more than ten years I have talked about proposing a Humanities II in Action for the simple reason that every year students – like Matthea, Jonathan, and Nicole – ask why there isn’t a second year of the “in Action” approach to learning.

Four years ago Mike Kersten and I wrote a curriculum for a Humanities II in Action, but the timing wasn’t right to propose it. So, it had always remained something of a disappointment that a year 2 had never even been discussed, despite abundant student interest. All that changed last school year, however, when new energy emerged from an unlikely sector: a small group of junior year students wanted to propose a Humanities II in Action course. How could students succeed in proposing a new course – especially a core offering –  where experienced, passionate, and committed teachers had failed? What follows is their story of how it happened. Continue reading

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