Body is all in relationship to physical body, all we need for the body to thrive, eat, move, including all the physical skills we learn to exist, cooking, cleaning, etc.
Mind, learning different skills, socializing, adaptability, love of learning, developing powers, curiosity, emotions, morality, and communication, relating to others. The mind is what we use when we talk to each other, as I am talking to you right now.
So what is beyond body and mind?
When we use the words hope, conscience, compassion and love, we are touching on spiritual values. These words evoke in us a taste of something beyond everyday life.
We can also lump the body and mind together and call it “our lower nature” and our spiritual side is our “higher nature”. We can look at a human being as having a lower nature, which is visible and knowable, and a higher nature, which is invisible and beyond normal mental abilities. We need both to make us human.
As teachers, we need to see that all 3 parts develop in balance: body, mind and spiritual. Teachers these days are focused only on the development of the mind, and to some extent the body, but the emotional and spiritual side is almost entirely neglected.
And this brings us to education.
The job of education is to prepare, and to develop.
Present day education is effective, to varying degrees, at teaching reading and writing, and the many skills that prepare a child to be an adult functioning in the material world. So the future adult can cook, clean, organize, read, understand, communicate, relate to others, learn to take on tasks and complete them, art, music and so on. Learning to work in a group, work with others.
Remember what I said before about the three natures of a human being. In education, the body and mind are generally addressed. From the day first we ,in the name of education start pouring information ,as the mind is an empty pot and one day this mind will become an information centre but cannot have any wisdom; as wisdom is a subject beyond mind and one has to nurture it.
Sometime, I wondered, is it possible for the schools to practice non-sectarian spiritual skills that could help children in centering and balancing them, giving them a sense of purpose of their life? Skills that didn’t require a huge commitment or discipline, skills that encouraged personal experimentation and expression, enabling choice. What practices would be useful for today’s atmosphere in schools? How could such practices be taught in school - in special classes, or as part of what they are doing already, and by whom? Hmmmm. What is spirituality? What does it look like?
I started thinking about my own spiritual path, which does not follow any particular religion. What did it involve? What was at its essence? First, I started thinking of different practices that helped me connect with my soul…. Contemplative practices – such as stillness, meditation and visualizations; connecting practices – such as yoga and Tai Chi which integrated mind, body and energy, as well as gardening and walking which connected me to the earth; mindfulness – awareness of the moment, aesthetic appreciation, quality of attention, a celebration, a sense of sacredness and love.
I had a compulsion towards my inner growth. But there was also an outward component to this journey – my ethical practice in the world, a sense of responsibility towards making the world a better place, improving my relationships with others, bringing in love, why I was teaching Yoga and meditation in Chiranjiv Bharti School,the first place – a need to help, make a difference, to understand children deeply and compassionately – a sense of service. There was a putting into practice the outcomes of my inner work through wisdom in action – a dance of discernment involving mind, heart and soul.
My spiritual journey also involved moments of transformation, initiation, emancipation or evolution – moments of crises or spiritual emergencies, which somehow I had to deal with. In passing through each one of these I knew I had changed significantly though I still looked the same. I look at my students and realize how many are going through similar crises. Can we prepare students better for these?
I had a sense of greater possibilities of how to be myself fully in the classroom in order to engage students’ souls. By going through this process myself rather than taking stuff from a book I felt I had created guidelines for myself which I could invest in.
Here is how I see my essential understanding of spirituality being articulated into practices for the classroom.
1. Sense of journey – most subjects can explore content through a journey. In doing so students can be asked to reflect on the nature of journeys – the key elements or unifying principles (quests, goals, companions/allies, trials, enigmas, obstacles overcome, discipline, mastery, peaks achieved, celebration, sharing, renewal – sense of purpose, adventure, disaster, survival, resilience, going deep within self) – compare these to the journeys in their lives. How to bring all of what you know to your own journeys.
2. Inner Practices – students can be given the opportunity to experience different types of inner practices (mindfulness, love, contemplation, connection, reflection) to get a sense of what they do for them, and to have choices in their practice. Examples could include:
3. Service, ethical practice and vocation – exploring what it means to develop generosity, justice, democracy, pluralism, ethical freedom and wisdom – finding stories within the topic that exemplify the process and the issues, using role plays, journaling, dialogue. Inspiring students to all that is best in humanity, encouraging idealism. Providing opportunities for students to do things for others, whether inside a group or for other communities, enabling them to learn fully from such experiences, reflecting on the nature of relationships, how outcomes relate to purposes. Encouraging and helping them to develop their own code of ethics which they apply to their own practice. Helping them discover the reflexivity between inner and outer purposes, helping them to discover within themselves a sense of vocation and purpose.
4. Self Expression – encouraging students to draw deeply from themselves and invest in what they do. Valuing uniqueness and heartfeltness. Balancing this with the need for technical advancement.
5. Conflict, Inner Crisis and transformation – finding in the subject content stories which illustrate the nature of conflict, crisis and transformation and relating these back to students own conflict situations in their lives. Using conflict situations that arise naturally as opportunities to explore different approaches and reflect on outcomes. For example much advancement in science occurs as a result of an anomaly – a phenomenum in direct conflict to the current ways of thinking. By exploring this process and relating it to how our own ways of thinking and knowing are perturbed students gain awareness at a meta-cognitive level that can help them better understand and deal with what they are going through.
6. Inquiry process – the inquiry process involves deep questions, little questions, searching for answers, exploring, finding out, testing, experiencing, gaining evidence or feedback, reflecting, seeking patterns and meaning, evaluating, hypothesising, imagining, using intuition, feelings, logic, seeking plausibility at many levels, theorizing, connecting with and to others, comparing, discussing, looking for big picture, looking for emergent understandings, looking at little picture, applying, determining usefulness and appropriateness, understanding the paradigm you are in and the limitations of it. It is motivated by a thirst for understanding, a sense of wonder.
This process can be brought to any subject through research activities or the way the teacher causes a topic to unfold. Students can be given experience in the separate skills as well as in combining the skills together. As they go through this process on a topic they can be encouraged to reflect on their own personal big and little questions and what approaches they are using in exploring them. They can be encouraged to bring their own questions into their assessed work and encouraged to follow them through. The process of getting feedback and acting on it is a key. By making assessment a process where students get feedback from others in the class as well as a personal self-reflection can encourage students to develop a balanced approach to how they receive and act upon feedback in their lives.