The Path to Meaning Runs Through Silence and Sincerity: The Quiet That Runs Deeper Than Any Story

I was getting ready for bed last night and suddenly the whole world became quiet. It was like someone suddenly turned off all the noise. I could still hear, but whatever I heard only reinforced the quiet inside me. I felt there was nothing else I had to do, no place other than here I had to be. This was it.

 

The quiet was so deep, whatever I looked at was endowed with tremendous meaning and feeling. Looking at Milo, the cat sleeping on the bed, and I noticed an inexplicable sense in myself of both vulnerability and joy.

 

We might read myths of beings with supernatural powers or places of archetypal beauty. We might read literature to learn how others live and to feel what life has to give us. But right here and now was a clear lesson for me in what life has to give.

 

Sometimes, I feel a barrier has been placed over my mind or body, like a glove. Or I try to speak to someone or read a book and the words I speak or read echo in my mind. Another me seems to be doing the hearing and I hear only second hand.

 

But other times, there is no barrier. The Buddha, in the Bahiya Sutta, spoke about mindfulness as being: “In the seen there is only the seen, in the heard, there is only the heard…” This is it, I think. What is heard is not separate from the hearer. Only afterwards do words come to mind, words to describe it all, about beauty, pain, joy or sincerity. Words can hint at or point the way, but the truth is the experience, not the words.

 

In college, I took a wonderful class taught by a philosopher named Frithjof Bergmann. He was German and, at one point in his life, an actor, and he often made his lectures dramatic events. One day he asked us what makes life meaningful. For the philosopher Nietzsche, he said, life gains meaning by giving it necessity, achievement or a personal goal. When the events of one’s life are organized like a work of art, to serve a purpose, life feels meaningful….

To read the whole post, go to The Good Men Project.

Using Mindful Questioning to Enhance Academic Learning (An Interview)

Mindfulteachers.org published an interview of me written by Catharine Hannay. Here is the beginning. Please go to their website for the entire interview.

What does ‘mindful teaching’ mean to you?

First, what does mindfulness mean? Mindfulness is a study of mind and heart from “the inside.” It is a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations illuminating how interdependent you are with other people and your world.

 

Without being judgmental, it notices whatever arises as a potential learning event. It is both a practice, as in meditation, and is also a quality of awareness or of being in the world.

 

When I first started teaching, like most educators, I made a number of mistakes. When you make a mistake, it is easy to get down on yourself, and then you don’t learn all that you could.

 

The more mindful I became, the more I could take in, the less judgmental I was, and the more I thought of my students as my teachers.

Mindfulness can be practiced either at a set time every day, or whenever you can do it. You might practice mindfulness because it reduces stress and strengthens your ability to focus and learn.

 

But if you practice mindfulness just for what you can get from it, you concentrate on your idea of who you will become in some future time and miss the whole moment you are doing it.

The Good, The True, and The Beautiful

I love studying ancient civilizations. It takes me back to the roots of being human, when we were a younger species discovering our powers. And maybe it’s easier to see truths about ourselves when there were fewer of us and we lived in smaller groups.

 

The Golden Age Athenians certainly taught us a great deal, about abuses of power and colonial aggression as well as the love of wisdom and the creation of beauty. The philosopher Plato, for example, talked about possible links between the good, the true, and the beautiful. I find this fascinating. I certainly think the link offers great material for teachers. Howard Gardner pointed out, in a book from 2011, teaching the good, the true, and the beautiful is a wonderful framework for an education. Here’s my position on these three virtues.

 

The good: what does ‘good’ mean? There are so many meanings of ‘good.’ There’s a “good sandwich,” or “a good feeling.”  There are ethical “goods” like a “good person” or a “good act” and maybe “a good life.” ‘Good’ has to do with value. Inquiring into what we value and why, and what is ethical and why, makes for exciting teaching.

 

The true: Most of our teaching in schools is about defining or hopefully having students uncover what is true, uncover what ‘true’ means. Is a truth eternal or for the moment? Universally applicable or situational? Can we ever fully state all the conditions that make a truth true? It is true, for example, that this rose I hold in my hand is red, now. But is it red to a colorblind person? Or at night? Even in this relatively simple case, the question is more complex than it seems.

 

And what link, if any, is there between the good and the true? Does the argument, competition is ‘good’ or morally benevolent because humans are (supposedly) naturally competitive, a ‘good’ or sound argument if the supposed facts are true?

 

And the beautiful: What makes something beautiful? Is beauty all in the eyes of the “beholder?” And if so, what does that mean? Beauty is not just for the artist, English major, or fashion designer. Formulas or proofs in math can be beautiful. A relationship can be beautiful.

 

Viewing natural beauty can be healing. Sarah Warber and Katherine N. Irvine have researched how people recovering in hospital rooms with a view heal quicker. Workers in a room with windows to a natural scene report higher work satisfaction. Is this equally true with created beauty? Do humans suffer when deprived of beauty? If so, do we call it an illness, or a lack of skill? Can people be taught to see beauty?

 

I think we can be taught to better perceive beauty. One way to do it is by developing sensitivity through immersion.  The philosopher and Ph.D. in psychology, Jean Huston, said, in a workshop I attended, something like immersing yourself in poetry, for example, makes beauty readily available to you. Beauty will then percolate through the unconscious and emerge in one’s speech and writing. This is one reason why eliminating poetry from the Common Core or cutting back on the arts in schools is detrimental to education.

 

The second way to teach beauty is to teach mindfulness and empathy. To feel empathy is to feel kinship, relationship. It is to recognize that another being senses, feels, thinks in some way like you do. It readies us for the beautiful as well as for anything else. The ability to open one’s heart and mind and clearly observe what’s happening in a situation or a relationship helps us to do the same with a work of art or scene in nature.

 

One year, my wife and I visited Greece. We had a cave-room in a hotel on the island of Santorini looking down on the caldera, an area that almost 3600 years ago was a live volcano and now is mostly filled by the Mediterranean. A large sailboat was making its way from the caldera to the larger sea. It was nearing sunset, and the view was so beautiful, I felt like I was in a movie. I felt each moment was eternal, as complete in-itself as could be imagined. The beautiful calls forth in us a sense of life being full and meaningful, maybe good and true. Maybe, whole. The Navajo, if I understand it correctly, have a word ‘Ho’zho,’ meaning beauty, also “harmony, happiness, health, and balance.” To “walk in beauty” is to walk in balance and peace.

 

I think that it would be a worthy achievement to graduate students who have this sensitivity to beauty or the whole of life, to what is good, ethical, and true. To “walk in beauty.”

 

 

*Photo: By Klearchos Kapoutsis from Santorini, Greece (View from Fira  Uploaded by Yarl) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons