The Book of Yourself Newsletter

Issue 16: March 2023

Dear Friends,

The vernal renaissance is in the air, with its drizzle and its budding trees. The blackbirds, these Meistersingers of the West, have found their song and they delight the neighbourhood with their lyrical outpourings. Although we’ve had a relatively mild winter, Spring seemed late in coming. The hours of daylight are noticeably longer but, still, a sense of persistent darkness has been hanging over the land, dampening our spirits. The previous tentative awakenings seem to have gathered momentum as though, in the absence of another cold spell, there were no way back. The elderberry bush is covering itself in green and so are the weeping willows along the canals. The daffodils have been blooming for some time already and now the tulips are finding their way to the light. There is a quiet joy emerging from the ground and a pure delight in the blossoming orchards. The pigeons and the magpies are gathering twigs to build or repair their nests. The bounty and harmony of nature is being ubiquitously displayed. The senses and the heart rejoice and the mind is humbled by the natural exuberance, by the beauty and order that belong to the mystery of creation itself. And that’s why one would wish that all the destruction going on would stop and there would be total cooperation and peace in the world.

This month, now past, of March I was asked to give a presentation on K’s holistic education to a group of future teachers at the Hogeschool in Utrecht. This has become an annual event thanks to their instructor, who specializes in Montessori but is very appreciative of K’s approach. These students, from what I could see, get exposed to an extensive range of philosophical educational perspectives and K’s might just help to complement what they receive from other sources. Making an introduction to K’s educational vision in the space of a couple of hours, however, is not that easy, so one has to be a bit selective, especially if there is going to be an exchange with the students. I make use of a series of PP slides in which I have mapped out some of the key aspects involved and then elaborate on them and invite questions.

The field of education generally concerns itself with three basic purposes, namely, to provide training in the basic skills necessary to function in society, to discover and cultivate talent and what one loves to do, and to develop a certain quality of integrity and responsibility. K acknowledges the significance of all three aspects but concentrates on the awakening of a concern with what he calls the whole and wholeness of life, which is the proper expression and domain of his holistic intent, which is to bring about a whole and free human being. For K ‘whole’ is equivalent to ‘good’ and it means not fragmented, and ‘free’ means unconditioned.

He unfolds this basic intent through the cultivation of six basic aims:
  1. Skill, precision in action.
  2. A non-sectarian view of humanity (you are the world).
  3. A non-destructive relationship with nature.
  4. Sensitivity to beauty (beyond the appreciation of Art).
  5. A quality of affection, compassion for all living things.
  6. The awakening of intelligence (beyond the skillful processing of knowledge).
The first three involve skill in action and a cooperative relationship with both nature and other people. They might be seen as the more external, whereas the last three concern the fullness of the senses, heart and mind, which is the inner wholeness of the human being.

At the heart of the whole endeavour lies what K called the art of living. He defined art as putting everything in its right place, therefore it comes to mean a quality of creative order in the whole of life. This art of living includes four other arts, namely the art of seeing, the art of listening, the art of questioning or dialogue, and the art of learning. Sensitivity is the key, for without it we cannot keep up with the ever-changing actuality of life or establish the truth of ‘what is’. Sensitivity is the foundation of order, understanding and action. The unfolding of these four arts requires a good deal of attention, inquiry and experimentation so the students discover for themselves what is involved in seeing, listening, learning and communicating, all of which are essential not only to maintain a quality of right relationship with nature and other people but internally with oneself.

Relationship is central to such an education, as it is both our life and the mirror in which we can learn about ourselves. Right relationship is all and makes for an atmosphere of mutual consideration and respect in which sensitivity can flower in goodness. For that the student must feel completely at home in the school, safe and secure in his relationships with others. This gives him a sense of freedom in which there is a natural sense of responsibility, which is the adequacy of response to the challenges of living. There is, consequently, a notable absence of coercive measures and the enforcing of order and discipline through reward and punishment. In such an educational environment authority is purely function, not psychological. Comparison and competition are discarded as hurtful and detrimental. Instead, the emphasis is placed on the quality of attention, consideration and care that are the essence of cooperation.
Such schools are naturally responsible for imparting knowledge in the different academic subjects. That’s part of developing skill in action as well as discovering one’s talents and vocation in life. But that is not the deeper purpose for which these schools exist. The more fundamental intent is to develop the quality of self-knowledge. The usual purpose of education is to dispel ignorance but, as K pointed out, the ignorant man is not the one who lacks knowledge but he who does not know himself. The disparity between the exponential growth of knowledge and technique on the one hand and on the other the lack of self-understanding represents a global and persistent danger for humanity and for life on earth. As the inner is the controlling factor of the outer, without the wisdom of self-knowing the powerful instruments of knowledge will be used for increasingly destructive purposes, as in fact it has already been happening for a long time. So it is important to redress this imbalance.

Self-knowledge, as K would sometimes express it metaphorically, is to read the book of oneself, which is the book of humanity, i.e., our own consciousness as the source and repository of the universal history of mankind. This is a beautiful insight into the totality that as human beings each of us already embodies. The endeavour of self-knowledge, as we already hinted, involves seeing oneself reflected in the mirror of relationship. That is not the only mirror. To begin with, K’s teachings are an extensive mirror that serves as an inspiring source of deeper reflections on our human condition. Then we have the mirror of dialogue, which is the sharing of meaning with others, and the mirror of meditation, which is the silent communion with oneself. Meditation was for K a central aspect of holistic education. He considered it as important or more than all the other academic subjects. He maintained that without knowing what meditation is one is like a blind man in a world of colour. The key to K’s approach to meditation was what he called ‘choiceless awareness’, i.e., the observation of the movement of thought-feeling without judgement or control, without the interference of the ‘observer’. This was for K the surest way to know oneself and to understand society, for all human beings share the same consciousness and so each one is the world.

Paying attention to our relationships and to ourselves either in communication or in silence begins to reveal the nature and extent of our habits and conditioning, the process of desire and fear, of our egocentric and aggressive ways. We become aware of our hurts and the strategies we have adopted to circumvent the pain. The contradictions in our thought and behaviour become manifest and we realize that we are fragmented in all sorts of ways. But there is no condemnation of any of these so-called negative qualities. The point is to learn, not to suppress. They are treasured as the reality that we need to understand if we are to be whole and free. No easy task, but a necessary one for any education calling itself holistic. This very human and humanizing endeavour makes for the dissolution of the traditional division between teacher and student, for at this fundamental level we are all in exactly the same boat.

K’s concern was religious from beginning to end, but not in any traditional sense of sectarian dogma, belief and ritual. Rather he meant to bring about a quality of what he called the religious mind, which has nothing to do with such organizational trappings. It involves such qualities as simplicity, austerity, humility and diligence. It unfolds from choiceless awareness into the space and silence of meditation. Essentially it concerns the possibility of being totally free from psychological conditioning as the needful ground for the flowering of goodness and creativity and the opening to an emptiness of self in which the sacred might come into being. I asked the students whether as children they might have had any experience of that kind. Maybe I did not express myself clearly enough, because it appeared that none of them had, which I did not believe, since I hold that it is quite common.

I had in mind the first chapter in K’s Commentaries on Living, Second Series, entitled ‘Creative Happiness’. It is a deep reflection on education and the inherent capacity of every human being to be in touch with the timeless. He feels that before they are contaminated by education many children are in touch with the unknown. So the real question is whether education can serve to keep the mind in touch with this source of creative happiness. He says it can, but only when the educator is in touch with it. We need to see the essential importance of this creative happiness above all else. For K, to be open to the source of all happiness is the highest religion. And he ends this beautiful piece with a statement concerning the quintessential purpose of education: “The light of reality and its bliss are destroyed when the mind, which is the seat of self, assumes control. Self-knowledge is the beginning of wisdom; without self-knowledge, learning leads to ignorance, strife and sorrow.”[1]

As part of the presentation, I showed them a short promotional video about Brockwood Park. They liked it very much but they naturally asked how they might implement such an education in a conventional school setting. It occurred to me that although some environments may be more conducive to it, self-knowledge is not a matter of institutional organisation but of attention to our inner world and in our relations with others. I knew that was not a full answer, but it could offer them a creative perspective that might not have crossed their minds.

The time was up and we had to leave it at that. I was touched by their youthful enthusiasm and felt for the great responsibility they shall have to bear. I wished them well and reminded them of K’s statement that teaching is the greatest profession in life.
Enjoy the Spring, amigos, and don’t forget that we are all educators,


[1] Commentaries on Living, Second Series, pg. 3

Photos: J. Gómez Rodríguez: 1. Willows, De Have, Lelystad; 2. Brockwood Park School, UK.

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