Beyond the accidental universe
“The highest education is that which does not merely give us information but makes our life in harmony with all existence.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore
What if the universe we live in is not accidental? What if it is a fluid intelligence spoken through sage stars, prophetic planets and guiding galactic spirals; through the bees that know how and when to collect the nectar we use for our honey; through the sun that rises everyday with the gift of light pulsing through curtains of clouds; through the salmon that somehow know exactly where they come from and when to come home to spawn; and through the trees that release their golden leaves every Autumn to the beckoning earth waiting for nourishment?
What if this universe is no accident at all, but rather a mysterious orchestrator and orchestration—a grand teller of stories that make up the fabric of this planet and our lives?
From the lens of an accidental universe we are but random moving solid parts separate from one another. Ideas about life and the cosmos come purely from what our scientific and curious eyes gather through a microscope and telescope, and everything in between. The five senses are our primary tools for interpretation. Understanding is gained from a measured and literal point of view. That tall brown and green thing is just a tree. The large boulder resting on the mountainside is simply a solid mass. The earth is flat…or is it?
History, research and quantum physics teach us that what our five senses perceive may not be an accurate picture, and may limit our experience of life. The earth is round, despite the illusion of flatness. That boulder, we now realize on a quantum level, is made up almost entirely of space. That tree, as mystics and certain naturalists teach, may be more sentient than we can imagine. The world is waking up, and more and more experiences are being had, and stories shared, that challenge consensus and literal thinking, and invite us into a deeper relationship with the unseen mystery.
So how might a mechanistic and literal worldview impact how we see children? Are they simply accidents? The body may not be. We know how a child is conceived. Rather, I am speaking about the deeper unseen orchestration behind a child’s arrival. What is the fluid intelligence that births and breathes this small miracle into life; that pumps her heart and sparks the synapses in her brain; that stirs her boundless dreams and awakens her untold desires; that collapses time into the depth and presence of her dark moon eyes? What is it that brings life into this world so beautifully, efficiently, and mysteriously? Is it all neurons, body chemistry, hormones and fluids? Or is there something more, an intelligence that governs and binds them all together, something our five senses cannot perceive, let alone measure, something far from accidental that longs for and bestows a unique benefaction to be birthed with and from each child?
In his book, Of Water and the Spirit, Malidoma Some describes how in his village of Dano, in Burkina Faso, each child is seen as a soul carrying unique gifts and a purpose that must eventually be blessed and confirmed by members of the community so that they can serve the livelihood of its people. At the age of 13, the youth are taken into the mountains and forest for six weeks where elders guide them through a series of rigorous tests to initiate them. Initiation, for the Dagara people, is a process of remembering—remembering who you are, where you come from, and your inheritance—the gifts you carry and are born to give. It is a doorway into the mystery where you touch the face of your eternal nature, and bring a unique piece of it back with you to share with your village. Without initiation, youth struggle to grow into wise, life-giving adults, and likely remain as immature adult-children bereft of their gifts and purpose. They exist disconnected from themselves and their village, causing both to suffer.
Initiation combined with further mentorship from elders ensures that young people remember that they are not in the village by accident. They are part of a fabric of existence intelligently woven into their heart’s knowing. And they exist to feel a propitious tug of mythic thread and to unravel and weave its unique offering into the hearts of others, further blessing and confirming the cosmic web that connects and feeds all sentient beings. That is how vital kids are to the village. Something sacred is needed of them to nourish and edify their people.
Draw out a calling from the stars
“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.” ~ Oscar Wilde
In most of modern culture initiation is not formally practiced, in part, because we do not see ourselves, and thus children, beyond the physical brain/body. There is little to no acknowledgement of the inheritance waiting to be blessed and confirmed in each of us. The inner desires of children to share their gifts and purpose, the native benefactions that so badly want to be born, are gradually forgotten, and the linear logical mind is made master.
Desire comes from the old French phrase de sidere, which means from the stars. There is a longing in each of us to follow the mysterious path our North Star lights from deep in our heart. By sensing and following its luminous guidance through the difficult and dark labyrinth of life, we may eventually discover our true vocation. In living this vocation we remember more deeply why we are here, and we experience a genuine fulfillment the outer world could never provide.
The etymology of vocation comes from the Latin vocationem which means calling, or to be called, and is related to the word voice. In modern cultures vocation is confused with “job”, when it is so much more. A job comes from, or is defined by, the external world. Many people can do a job, and there are multiple examples of the same job across the world. A calling, however, is born from the whispers of inner desire, and in no way can be fashioned by outer forces. It is ripe and ready far beyond the limits of linear clock-time, and simply wishes to come out and play—to give voice. And there is only one that has ever been and ever will be. Like fingerprints, your calling is unique to you.
Education comes from the Latin word educere, which means to draw out. One could propose then that at its highest level the purpose of education is to draw out a calling from the stars—to bless and confirm our inner longing and give it voice so that we can serve others through our vocation. It is an opportunity to see kids for who they are beyond the body and brain; to help them remember their inner why—why they are here; and to strengthen communities with the development and sharing of individual gifts and purpose.
Education, for the most part, has been practiced from the perspective of the accidental universe as a process of instruction, from the Latin instructionem—to fill or pack in. If children are seen as simply random brains / bodies disconnected from the stars, then they are more likely to be treated as tabula rasas—blank slates; as empty and uninformed; as lacking any pre-designed latent capacities and longing. We must then make them into something or someone for their own sake. Direction ought to be shaped for them. They must be instructed on how to survive and succeed based on the prevailing collective ideas and challenges of our time. And they must be made to get a good job and best fit into our consumerist mass culture.
Blindly put information into kids and we prepare them for a job they will never truly love. Draw their inheritance out and we help them find a passionate calling that will change our planet for the better.
Less is more
“Let the child be the scriptwriter, the director and the actor in his own play.” ~ Magda Gerber
In our blind disconnection from the intelligence of life that imbues the body and mind, we have come to believe that we are the main orchestrator for children and youth; that we must do for them. We are the ones, not they, that know what is best. While it would be ignorant to say that you should stand back and do nothing—offer no provocations or structures for learning and safety—you may find that less is more.
Any cranio-sacral practitioner or osteopath will tell you that the native fluid intelligence housing and suffusing the body is the orchestrator or authority of healing. It knows more than any practitioner could possibly know. With the lightest of touch and gentlest of movement, the practitioner humbly attunes to how the body speaks and what it wants, and responds accordingly. He or she intuitively facilitates the natural movement of desire towards homeostasis and health. Allopathic physicians, while still needed in our society, continue to believe they must make healing happen with their oft harmful medicines, yet struggle to treat the cause of illness because the whole intelligence of the system is not recognized and respected—confirmed. Reputable cranio-sacral workers and osteopaths never treat symptoms, for they engage the body on a holistic level. Their perception is not limited to logic and the five senses. Like the mystic who senses beyond the ostensible representation of the tree and boulder, cranio-sacral practitioners and osteopaths attune to the mysterious subtleties influencing a chronically painful lower back. They know there is more.
On a personal note, after four and a half years of chronic and complex illness, and after seeking counsel from many physicians, it was only my sage cranio-osteopath that could facilitate my healing. His practice has long been full, and his credibility so high that people fly from all over the world to see him. I cannot thank him enough for his hard-won gifts, and for reminding me that perhaps less is more—he is doing less, but through his refined presence he is being more; he is holding space for innate body wisdom to inform the healing.
What if teachers acted more like facilitators of learning—facilitators of what wants to happen? What if they shifted the balance from doing for towards simply being with, thus granting greater power to whom they are, their presence? What if they confirmed the holistic mind-body-soul and innately intelligent ecosystem with greater humility and respect? What if with a light intuitive touch they engaged our subtle calling from the stars? What if they knew that, like healing, the emergence of our gifts and purpose naturally wants to happen? Teachers, like cranio-osteopaths, would then work with the child in her unique rhythms, rather than against them.
“The secret in education lies in respecting the student.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
The cost of putting in
“Kids deserve the right to think that they can change the world.” ~ Lois Lowry
Heavily influenced by the industrial revolution and missionizing of indigenous children, much of education has been a practice of standardized conformity that molds kids into shapes that do not reflect the bright star in their heart. It has been a system laden with force and form that engages the mind, but fails to touch the nuanced places of the native soul. It has been, for a great deal of history, the indoctrination into worldviews that clearly, as we can see across the world, do not work.
Without anyone to confirm their heart’s knowing, kids grow up habitually choosing to “succeed” at fitting in instead of taking the risk to stand out. They have greater faith in the “secure” and familiar pathways of those taken before—ones grounded primarily in linear rationality—than in the mysterious nature of their heart. It, of course, makes perfect sense for them to do so. Fitting in between lines of compliance, conformity and obedience, adhering to certain agreed upon behaviors, and culturally accepted subject matter, pathways to success and careers, feels like the safer route. This is especially true if kids depend on good grades to make it into college, and a degree is deemed the gold ticket to security and happiness; if they have a perspective that “there is only so much” in this “cutthroat world”; if they must gain regular approval from mom, dad and teacher; if they have been traumatized by earlier experiences of trying to stand out; and if they experience themselves as living in an accidental universe, separate from their gifts and purpose, and any orchestrating intelligence.
But in walking the “safe route” kids become just another cog in the machine of the accidental universe. They live as they have been taught, not as whom they truly are.
This separation from Self is, in large part, the cause of the unprecedented levels of anxiety and depression that plague children and youth today. Depression is the repression of longing, of authenticity, of our voice. It is the pushing down and disconnection from our true nature in order to become who we are not and “make it”. It is a product of an exclusive based model of relating where the uniqueness of each child is overlooked for rote, conformist learning practices designed to feed mass consumerist culture.
“The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what others have done.” ~ Piaget
If you ask any kid what frustrates or angers them they will likely tell you that they are sick and tired of being told what to think and do. They are tired of not having a voice, a choice, of not feeling heard. They are tired of not being respected for all of who they are. They so badly want people to see beyond the embittered caterpillar they have been limited to, and to have the butterfly within confirmed and engaged, the one wanting so desperately to emerge with gifts in purposeful flight.
That is what love is, as my friend Lynda Austin says—it’s seeing someone for who they truly are and holding them in that place. Holding space for the metamorphosis we long for into our power and purpose, the one initiation guides.
Love for far too long has been the missing ingredient in education. In love, we allow others to explore and express their fullness. In fear, we coax them to hide it.
It is the profound gift of elders to see from the eyes of the butterfly that knows itself. And it is one of their deepest joys to welcome someone into their true inheritance. A lack of elders playing their noble part in guiding life’s mythical and soulful unfolding is a clear sign of an impoverished society. That is what modern society has become—bereft of both elders initiating and young initiates.
“I believe that to teach them effectively you must touch their hearts long before you begin to teach their minds” ~ Vicki Savini, from Ignite The Light
A society that continuously overlooks the hearts of its young people finds itself increasingly rife with social challenges, bereft of the opportunities to grow and thrive through the gifts and purpose each person bears. Immature, petulant, angry, afraid adult-children forgetful of their native inheritance create and run our social, economic and political systems. Like the caterpillar, they take more than they give. They consume and with little sight on the larger picture. They do so because they lack any sense of be-longing to something greater than their individual self, or this temporal existence. They have forgotten the butterfly within that can feel its wings and wishes to free itself to the winds and give back by pollinating flowers. They have forgotten how to live and love.
You don’t need formal initiation to feel the stirrings of your heart and to love another. But to the degree that we deny our Self, in part, because others have disconfirmed our authenticity and inheritance, we lack self-love. And, of course, we can only give away what we have.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” ~ Albert Einstein
Educating the mind certainly has an important purpose. Reading, writing, arithmetic, and other formal topics, are necessary curricula that ground and integrate kids into the realities of our world. But they are not what we long for, nor does expertise and skills alone serve the planet. Longing and service can only be felt and expressed through those mediums. The three R’s, and other temporal competencies, are tools for the expression of the heart. An impassioned writer loves language. An inspired scientist loves numbers. But this love affair is not sourced from the language and numbers themselves, but rather through the expression of one’s inner light—through how the North Star informs and guides the hand and tongue of the artist, researcher, craftsperson, magician and teacher.
When this inner truth is denied and the heart takes a back seat, the schooling of the mind takes precedence. In ignorance students and teachers settle, not knowing any better, and are set on a clouded course of living and working without beholding the sacred twinkles of starlight winking from above.
Ways to engage the heart
“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” ~ Aristotle
Logic and the five senses are necessary tools for living in the temporal / tangible world. Yet they cannot attune to the deeper and subtle why of life. It takes a different sensory capacity to travel into the heart and mysterious nature of the cosmos. I am speaking of intuition, or one’s felt-sense, that arises from an attunement with the soul, as expressed through the body (often the gut area—gut feel). Here we know without knowing how we know. We receive unexpected insight not previously noted, and that often makes no rational sense. It is also here that we feel our connection with all things, and to our gifts and purpose.
Intuition must now be seen as important as rational thought in education, if not more, for it is the means of engaging, or as previously mentioned, facilitating the subtle realms of the heart. It is this fine antenna that must be activated if we are to bless and confirm the irrational intelligence of the unseen, and the gifts and purpose inherent in each child.
Other gifts of what I call the new world teacher include being an observer, specifically of a child’s passions or interests; being a keen listener—hearing what wants to be expressed; having a curious mind—knowing what questions to ask that turn the child reflectively inwards; having a willingness to wonder and imagine beyond the conventions of the status quo, and to dream with the child in her unique world; and, most importantly, courageously travelling into the mysteries of one’s own heartfelt calling, and unraveling and healing any blocks to it.
You travel with a child only as far as you go yourself. At some point, if you are not mindful, your unconscious limits will hinder the safe passage of the child into his heart. Your inner pilgrimage, your initiation into the heart, is therefore the most important gift you can give a child. For, only from your remembrance can you guide another into remembrance, into their heartfelt why, and into a world awaiting their inheritance.
Only the eyes of a butterfly can recognize its kindred nature in another.
“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other wings.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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Structural and systemic changes
I want to finally add a few points on how schools can change structurally and systemically to better meet the heart.
- Reduce class size: Class sizes need to be smaller so more individual attention can be given. The larger the classroom, the more a teacher will feel the need to stick with standardized methods of teaching. A script may mold a mind and educate the masses, but it will do little to serve the uniqueness of the heart.
- Reduce / remove age segregation and introduce mentoring: If schools are segregated less by age there can be more interaction between kids of different maturity levels, including mentoring between old and young. This would have multiple benefits including placing less weight on teachers to be the sole source of guidance; it would give young ones an opportunity to learn different things in different ways; and it would teach older kids communication skills and personal responsibility. One might say that they would be elders in training. It takes a village to raise a child. It’s too much pressure to have this load placed on one teacher. A community of students would, in my opinion, happily share that responsibility.
- Movement and hands-on experiential learning: The way kids learn in traditional education systems has primarily been in linear rote ways while seated for hours. The logical mind may learn that way, but the heart does not. For kids to feel stirrings of insight and imagination they need embodied or hands-on experiential learning, and plenty of movement. It is in the body that we cultivate intuition, not the linear mind. Embodied learning and movement awakens the voice of our inner butterfly.
- Nature: We can all agree that kids, in general, need more time outdoors, and specifically in nature. Being in the trees, by the river, and beneath the majestic sweep of an eagle will bring kids in touch with a sense of wonder and calm that opens the senses and regulates the nervous system. Moreover, raising kids to have a healthy relationship with nature will serve them to maintain that respect in later years. As Richard Louv explains so well in his book, Last Child in the Woods, “The health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.”
- Make learning relevant: Trim the current curricula to core competencies that matter to what I call the new world student. Let kids have more free choice and time to explore areas of interest, ones that spark the flames of passion, instead of force-feeding them irrelevant information that they can gain from one click of the mouse and that they will never use. So much of what matters to the analytical and information hungry mind holds little value to the mysterious heart that yearns for wisdom and soulful voice.
- Reduce / remove homework and increase homeplay: Some grade three students have two hours of homework a day. And we wonder why they play/move less and absorb themselves in technology more. Screen time is their calming tool for stress built up, in large part, from too much study, focused attention and sitting. Unstructured play is the best way for a child to learn and develop. It fosters physical health, as well as the emotional and social intelligence—the life skills—that have hitherto been undervalued, but are necessary if they are to evolve into their purpose. Read Research Finds The Effects Of Homework On Elementary School Students, And The Results Are Surprising for more information.
These structural and systemic strategies will help a teacher observe, listen, be curious, wonder, imagine and dream—to facilitate—more. Space will be made for them to connect with themselves, breathe and reflect; and the space will help them better connect with the students in their unique world. Being a perpetual slave to the chaos of 30+ kids, and the script of what can seem like endless learning outcomes and reports, will slowly fade away (perhaps not completely!).
As my friend Mariah Moser says, connection precedes learning. Connecting to the heart of the child must precede any rational learning, for in connection we create safe and ample room for learning to land, and for the heart to awaken.
“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” ~ Robert Frost
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Check out Vince’s book: Let the Fire Burn ~ Nurturing the Creative Spirit of Children, A Children’s Book for Adults