Tuesday, September 09, 2014

"Excellent Sheep" and Spiritual Growth (More on What's Love Got to Do With It)

“Instead of being intervals of freedom, they are breeding grounds for advancement.” What are we trying to advance and why?

David Brooks writes about William Deresiewicz’s vision of what it means to grow up (I’m paraphrasing – he says “what it takes to move from adolescence to adulthood”).  What it means to be educated in an environment that encourages a mind to discover what it is that is “worth wanting.” He writes about how in Deresiewicz's view elite universities have been absorbed into the “commercial ethos.” Stephen Pinker, the much read and visible psychologist, suggests that the university’s job is cognitive. He says “… I have no idea how to get my students to build a self or become a soul.” Students should acquire specific, practical knowledge. Brooks articulates what we have before us, as these thinkers suggest: three distinct purposes for a university: the commercial purpose (starting a career); cognitive purpose (acquiring information and learning how to think); and the moral purpose, as Deresiewicz offers in his new book, Excellent Sheep:  The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. Brooks articulates perfectly, I think, that “people in authority no longer feel compelled to define how they think moral, emotional and spiritual growth happens.”  Either they don’t think it’s their place or they don’t think they know.

I had a college education in the early 80s, after a boarding school education in West Africa. My first “classroom experiences” began in a converted carport where my mother taught us, her four children, and other children who dropped in at different times. She incorporated what was called a correspondence system, which homeschoolers will recognize. I was born the third of triplets and we had an older brother, so we had a good beginning for a classroom. We graduated from high school in Nigeria and returned to the US for college. It took me a long while to sift and absorb and understand and balance that college experience (as I’ve written about in my “memoir), but all in all the incubation and environment was a wonderful one for me to begin to balance all of the energies of life I’d lived so far and was introducing in this next big new phase of life adventure that college is and was. There were wonderful professors who were passionate about their mission to teach young minds as they embraced the big world of both people and ideas. There was enough of a range of students to always offer a new horizon to watch, engage, and learn from as one’s mind opened to all that was offered. I am eternally grateful for that incubation, especially the professors whose intense mission helped create a great and warm environment for learning and advancing the life of the mind along with the Life of the individual and the individual as part of a collective.

I also went to graduate school and, after a little meandering path, received a Master’s degree which was satisfying to me at the time.  With some struggle, I had accomplished a goal. Five or six years later, I was introduced to a woman whose career was as an R.N. and also began teaching what she called Spiritual Philosophy.  Though I had been born the child of missionaries and was deeply incubated in religious teachings and culture, I discovered I did not have a definition of the soul that was satisfying to me as a mind. I thought I knew what “the soul” was, yet after listening to teaching about the soul for a few years and being asked to define the soul, I discovered that my answer did not really make sense to me – it was simply something I had heard and been taught at some point, but it did not have any true meaning that was valuable to me as a mind, to continue expanding and exploring and make this definition useful in my everyday evolution.

We have this dual concept in our world about what is “practical” and what is “spiritual,” I think, which harks back to  our ancient beliefs about the material and the spiritual; the lofty and the low; the body and the spirit. What Spiritual Philosophy has given me, as I continue to study “the meaning of life,” is a definition of the soul (as the mind and emotions), what it means to be designed as an evolving spirit consciousness, and the structure of what we have given ourselves to follow as physical human beings who are made to “live a good life” – the Ethical Values which are our spiritual heritage and embedded as part of our physical design.

Just as with any system of beliefs, we can pick and choose what we want to learn and we may also think we already “know it all.” We may think we are open to learning but mightily resist being taught. Children and parents the world over may smile at this enlightening thought, as I do. I have learned that we are “attracted to” (curious about) what we want and need to learn, even if we are not consciously aware of why we need to learn it.  We are energy and energy must move and change. (We have learned that.) It is our soul (as our mind and emotions) that, as energy, is attracted to and by energy and attracts other energy.  If we think about “energy” only as natural gas, oil, or calories burned, we are denying our mind and emotions (as our soul) the satisfaction of coming to know itself in the thrill of its adventure of life and growth.

Once we are motivated to want to learn something new, we have truly begun to expand our mind. We commit ourselves to learning, to growing as a mind. Our body knows how to grow itself – as a mind, we have to learn to support our optimum physical growth. We also have to learn to support our mind and our emotions in their optimum growth. These realms of knowledge support our spiritual growth, just as our spiritual growth supports a healthy mind and a healthy body and a happy life. We don’t have to know how to “build a soul,” as Pinker writes – we do need to know that we are a soul, of dual mind and emotions, and that we are designed to expand our consciousness. Acquiring useful knowledge is a main mission of the soul; but how do we define “useful knowledge”?  The intellect is not alone in the Universe of our internal mass consciousness. The mind and the heart are not designed to act independently, just as we humans are not designed to live on an island alone, as our own universe. Until we begin to think about what is our human design, in more than just physical ways (how can we fix the heart; why do we have high cholesterol, etc.), we will gather a lot of data, but not necessarily be truly educated (civilized).  We will not have to spend lots of money to study, again, why drinking more pure water is good for our overall health, beginning with our cells; why neurotoxins defeat our design of being healthy and energized as; why being kind and compassionate to ourselves and each other is a lesson we are all invited to learn to better our human and planetary health. And so on.

We learn only when we want to learn. There is always more to learn.

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