Members of the Academy meet on a monthly basis and take it in turns for one to inspire the others with reflections on their own journey of self-transformation, and their understanding of some of the deeper principles that guide Human Values Education. Those reflections included here could have been edited for length, and the authors’ names are not included. A new reflection will be added each month.
A Teacher’s Self-Knowledge
One of the most respected educators in today’s world of values-based education is Parker J.Palmer. He asserts that, if we want to live in a just and humane society and if civilization as we know it is to pull back from the precipice that threatens our survival as a species, we will have to change the way we educate our children. It is the children who will one day step into the positions of influence, who will vote, and who will in turn be the parents of children.
Present-day adults are generally unable to change, even if they want to. They are like full grown trees whose rigidity prevents them from changing shape, unlike young saplings who can easily bend and grow towards the light. So our hope lies with the children. However, as Parker Palmer points out, the children can only grow into their full potential as true human beings if we create the environment for this to take place. And we, the teachers, are that environment. As we evolve, as we connect with our inner treasure, so too will our students.
As you will see in the quotation that follows, Parker Palmer regards self-knowledge as an important doorway into the realm of being a good teacher, one who can inspire the children to be all they can be.
…knowing my students and my subject depends heavily on self-knowledge. When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are. I will see them through a glass darkly, in the shadows of my unexamined life – and when I cannot see them clearly, I cannot teach them well. When I do not know myself, I cannot know my subject – not at the deepest level of embodied, personal meaning. I will know it only abstractly, from a distance, a congeries of concepts, so far removed from the world as I am from personal truth.
~ Parker J. Palmer (2007)
From: The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner
Landscape of a Teacher’s Life
The few words that follow relate to where Parker Palmer says, “When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are.” Our understanding of this powerful statement goes like this:
a) If I am not aware of, say, a deep sadness within myself, I will not be able to recognize it if it is present in one of my students. Because I have put up a barrier against being consciously aware of how deeply sad. I am, I will probably feel uncomfortable in this child’s presence. His / her sorrow will be like a mirror, reflecting back to me what I am not yet ready to see in myself. By reacting against what I sense in this child, I will only add to the well of despair he could be drowning in.
On the other hand, if I have come to know of this deep sadness within myself, made room for it, and even transmuted it into a deep longing for an experience of Oneness with all and everything, I will be free to have empathy and compassion for this child’s struggle. Experiencing such unspoken understanding in their teacher, my student will feel comforted, safe, reassured that all will be well. They will have taken the first inward steps towards realising that they are not this sadness – rather, they are the ever-contented Witness who is unaffected by the ups and downs of life.
Being comfortable with any sadness that comes into my life, I will be capable of feeling the sadness in the child, unafraid of reaching through the cloud that is covering their Sun, and so relate to who they truly are. The child will feel “He knows me. He accepts me. Now I am free to become who and what I am rightfully destined to be.”
Of course if my student is not aware of this deep sadness within himself, and pushes away from it by being the disruptive class clown or the playground bully, it becomes even more imperative that I know myself. I will need to know of and be comfortable with not only my sadness, but also with the presence of any anger in my thoughts, words and feelings. Only with such awareness, self-analysis and self-transformation will I be able to remain steady in the presence of the student’s anger, to move through it and connect with the hidden sadness, empathize with that and go on to connect with their inner Sun. The unspoken words of, “Hello in there. I know who you really are. You are beautiful, awesome, amazing,” is a gift to the child beyond compare.
b) If I am not aware, say, that I have judgmental thoughts about certain behaviours in others, I am liable to miss out on recognizing the joy, creativity and innocence that could underlie a student’s behaviour. Instead, I might see only disrespect, laziness or some other negative trait that is not even there. Further, being blind to my habit of judging others, I might be reacting against a child who, deep down, is toying with idea of suicide because he sees no end to the toxic parenting being inflicted upon him at home on a daily basis.
Also, when I am aware of my tendency to be judgmental, I will be able to recognize its presence soon after it arises and change it into acceptance by identifying with the impartial Witness within myself. This will allow me to see my students more clearly, without the fog of disapproval, judgment, fear or prejudice hampering my vision.
c) To the extent that I am not aware that my true nature is magnificence and beauty, I will not be able to recognize these qualities in my students. If I still think that I am my mind and body, how will I be able to relate to the best and highest in a child who is mentally slow or physically limited in some way.
If I am not familiar with identifying with that timeless Essence within me that is indestructible, unchanging, ever-content and ever-loving, how can I avoid getting caught up and overwhelmed by the horror and pathos in the lives of some of my children. Only if I know that ‘I’, the real Self in this body, am akin to the movie screen in the theatre that is not made wet or burned by the images of flood and fire that are being projected upon it, will I be able to help my students to not get swamped by unexpected waves of emotion or thrown off balance by an inrush of unwanted thoughts.
Overall we can say that, if I know myself, I will be able to see what any teacher needs to know about each one of her students: their strengths and weaknesses, goals and motivations, fears and prejudices, pains and delights, and so on. All of these can be taken into account when the teacher is preparing lessons, teaching, assessing and connecting. That is, when I know myself and my students I teach better. Further, when I know myself and my students, they are happier; and when students are happy
they learn better.
There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.
~ William Shakespeare
There once was an old, wise farmer who lived in a village long ago and far away. This farmer owned a horse and in this particular village at this particular time, horses were a greatly prized possession. One morning, the farmer went out to his paddock and discovered that the gate was open and his horse was gone. His neighbours saw this and cried out in dismay at the farmer’s misfortune: “Oh dear, that’s terrible! Who could have done such a thing and how will you do what needs to be done on the farm!?!” The farmer took a deep breath and said: “This is neither good nor bad, all I know is that my horse has gone.” And he set about doing what he could with the tools that he had. The neighbours didn’t understand these curious words for to them, of course this was bad!
That night, as the farmer sat down wearily to his soup, he heard the sound of galloping hooves. He looked out his window and there, down in the valley was his horse, with three other horses following. The farmer watched as these four horses circled around the village, came trotting up the path and into his paddock where they settled, nibbling contentedly on the grass. “Hooray!!” the neighbours shouted. “You’re the luckiest, and wealthiest man in the village now!! You have your horse back AND three of the most strong and beautiful horses we’ve ever seen!” The farmer took a deep breath and said: “This is neither good nor bad, all I know is that my horse has returned and brought three other horses with it.” Again the neighbours were confused. “Not good you say?!! Look at the haunches on that horse there, he’ll do twice as much work for you…“ The neighbours did not understand for surely, this could only be good.
Now, if you know anything about horses you’ll know that they need to be trained in order to be useful on the farm. And so it happened that the next day the farmers’ son was out in the paddock, training these new, wild horses. One reared up on its hind legs and came down heavily, crushing the son and breaking his leg. “Oh no, this is terrible!!” said the neighbours who saw what had happened. “It’s harvest time and now you don’t have your son to help. Not only that but you’re going to have to look after your son too!!” The neighbours were quite distressed on behalf of the farmer who was old, but wise. The farmer paused and took a deep breath. “This is neither good nor bad, all I know is that my son has a broken leg”. The neighbours scratched their heads, mystified. Surely it was bad that the son had broken his leg? They heard but they did not understand the old, wise farmer, who did what needed to be done.
A short time later the country was invaded by warriors from afar. The king sent his generals around to each village to gather all the men of fighting age and ability. The battle was fierce and all who were sent off to fight were killed. All but the wise old farmer and his son, who had broken his leg, that is. “How lucky are you, that you and your son were saved!!” cried the neighbours. And of course, by now you know what the farmer’s response was: “This is neither good nor bad, all I know is that my son and I are here, now.”
The wise farmer knew that there was nothing he could have done to change any of the things that had happened to him, once they’d happened. He had found a way to accept the things he couldn’t change, without getting carried away by the thoughts and feelings about the things. With gracious awareness and attention to his ever-present breath, the farmer responded wisely.
If you feel lost, disappointed, hesitant, or weak,
return to yourself, to who you are, here and now
and when you get there, you will discover yourself,
like a lotus flower in full bloom,
even in a muddy pond,
beautiful and strong.
~ Masaru Emoto
The following story illustrates how, just when we think there is no flower to found in the swamp, suddenly there appears before us a beauty beyond compare.
It was a rather busy and stressful day when I went to visit a Primary school this week and happened to be sitting under a tree with some young people during their lunch break.
The bell went and they gathered to put their lunch boxes in the big basket before going off to play. The children were incredibly noisy, and this added somewhat to the stress I was feeling. A young boy, olive skinned and smiling large came by. He’d obviously enjoyed his sandwich as he had a line of vegemite stretched across both cheeks that reached nearly to his ears. We’d never met before but as he walked past, lunch box tucked under his arm and white teeth shining bright through his vege-smeared face, he paused, turned to me and said: “I love you”, tossed his lunch box in the basket and scampered off to play.
The river of this life flowed naturally to the Australian Academy of Human Excellence; its inspirational leadership, its educational philosophy and the magnet of the guiding metaphor for me, a peaceful mind and an open heart.
Eckhart Tolle’s quote describes the essence of this path and goal: “You have a treasure within you that is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.”
As the ever more peaceful mind finds focus and doors to peace continue to open, the Higher Self reflects on the Grace that has guided this life and has always been the ‘doer’, even though my ego wanted to reclaim its authority, especially in the times of pain and many trials. Three themes have moulded the rivers banks: Purity in its early reaches, Spirituality during the churning waterfalls of middle life, Simplicity in this meandering stream as it takes us towards the ocean and long-yearned-for, self-realization.
Purity was nourished in a large family in a pristine country environment with model parents of great faith, who walked their talk.
Spirituality was awakened by experiencing pure Love in a car accident immediately after graduation, causing this body and mind to taste the sweet sacredness found in my own heart. Once this was experienced it became an LED torchlight onto my future. My little self has reflected the mirror others are to me and, far too slowly, finding that same sacred Love in everyone.
Simplicity brings self-confidence, self-satisfaction, self-sacrifice as the gentle and often stormy waters of wisdom and spiritual love wind their way through grandparenting, loving selfless service in community, being a small part of a revolution in education with a clear goal of Self-realization. My gratitude and love find ever fewer words, to explain and thank the Academy profoundly.
My journey towards human excellence has been fraught with a sense of impossibility. How can I be excellent? How can anyone be excellent? Is excellence even possible? Feelings of inadequacy, lack of self-worth and judgement can creep into the psyche, leaving an unsettling and often defeatist attitude.
Thankfully, being involved in a “philosophy of valuing: self, others and the environment better known as values-based education” (1) has provided me with a framework to navigate through life. Interacting with my excellent self, my pure potentiality and trying to see the true potential in other provides me with an attitude of optimism and love.
Examples abound of people who inspire me to live a life based on values. One such example is of Nelson Mandela. Once after he was elected as the President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela was having lunch along with his security guards at a restaurant (2). Everyone placed their orders and were chatting while waiting for their food.
At that moment, Mandela spotted a man sitting right across his table, also waiting for his food. He told his guards to ask that man to join them for lunch. The person agreed and joined them but sat quietly the whole time. After some waiting, their food arrived, and everyone relished on the delicious meal. The man too starting eating, but his hands were trembling. Without uttering a word, he quietly ate his food and left. Everyone could sense something fishy, so after he left, his guards guessed that he might have been ill because he was trembling so bad.
To this, Nelson Mandela shook his head and said that he knew that man. He was the jailor of the prison where Mandela was imprisoned. And that he gave him a very tough time while he was in the prison, subjugating him to all kinds of torture.
If someone who after facing so much hardship, can choose love and forgive – how can I not choose love!
(1) – Dr. Neil Hawkes, From My Heart: Transforming Lives Through Values (2013), Independent Thinking Press, P12
I find myself at times (more often than not, if I’m to be perfectly honest!) looking for more ways of “doing”. The quiet conversations in my mind often have a flavour of how-might-I-do-this-or-that-better/quicker/more efficiently…. Such conversations can yield a restlessness, a latent disquiet, unhelpful comparisons with others and can lead unsurprisingly, to feelings of doubt and defeat. “Create”, “accumulate”, “progress”, “succeed”, “strive”, “win”, “overcome”….. the list of Doing’s is endless, and the urge to participate on these terms is difficult to resist!
It has taken me many years to discover a little of what my dear mother meant when she reminded me when I was much younger: “Noah, we are Human Beings, not Human Doings.” I don’t think she’d have read the Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu but she had the gist of it, an ancient Chinese text that presents the idea of Wu Wei – effortless living. More recently Alan Watts referred to Wu Wei as “the principle of not forcing anything in life”.
I think this is what my mum was getting at:
Thirty spokes converge upon a single hub;
It is on the hole in the centre that the use of the cart hinges.
We make a vessel from a lump of clay,
It is the empty space within the vessel that makes it useful.
We make doors and windows for a room;
But it is these empty spaces that make the room livable.
Thus, while the tangible has advantages,
It is the intangible that makes it useful.
Learning consists of daily accumulating
The practice of Tao consists of daily diminishing.
Keep on diminishing and diminishing,
Until you reach the state of Non-Ado.
Non-Ado, and yet nothing is left undone.
To win the world, one must renounce all.
If one still has private ends to serve,
One will never be able to win the world.
Taken from the Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu. Translation by John C.H. Wu
After re-reading these passages many times over many weeks, the weight of the challenge contained herein remains. However, as Alan Watts has again so eloquently illuminated for us, “the art of sailing rather than the art of rowing” is more akin the ‘being-ness’ that my mother referred. May we let go. In order to Be.
Mahatma Gandhi became one of my heroes when I was 19 and 20. I drew and painted his face a number of times. I have been periodically reading the book – Gandhi the Man by Eknath Easwaran
Gandhi started off as a very shy and awkward young man very uncertain of his place or role in the world or his identity and became a giant as an Embodiment of the Values we all strive to realise and promote as teachers – Love, Peace, Truth, Right Conduct and most famously- Non Violence. This occurred because Gandhi over his lifetime underwent the most profound Self Transformation triggered by intense self-examination and a desire to serve.
Gandhi realised that the only way to conduct himself and live authentically was by adhering always and fearlessly to Truth. Gandhi saw Truth as God. Truth has the power to prevail over all.
As Gandhi listened to Truth, followed the dictates of Truth, he came closer to being transformed into the embodiment of Truth having the Love and Power of the five Human Values directing and working through him.
When reading about Gandhi’s Nonviolence movement I felt a resonance to my own situation. I have read that Gandhi had a lot of anger as a younger man and was deeply moved at how he underwent such Self Transformation as to turn this anger into all-encompassing Love for all. I finally came to understand through reading these two passages in the book that this movement, this Soul Force, was based in Truth, had the infinite Power of Truth behind it and resonated with the Truth within those that came into contact with it.