“Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness. Meaning makes a great many things endurable – perhaps everything.” Carl Jung
There has been much written on the impact of specialization in academia. Certainly, it is well documented that modern culture requires specialization. We see this in all disciplines and we recognize the difficulty of connecting all of the abstracted dots. My own field, sociology, with its emphasis on the social construction of reality and deconstruction of thought has certainly led the pack when it comes to denying a unified perspective capable of offering meaning to the masses. And, of course, when education becomes an instrument for individual careerism, it no longer inspires students in broad sweeping terms.
In my mind, education should be about ideas and connection. Certainly, students value the “skill” based focus of many classes, but they yearn for inspiration. I believe that the secret hunger that gnaws at most students’ souls is the desire to discover the meaning of life. It is not so much that any of us actually believe that we can “figure-it- all-out”, it is just that we crave some understanding of our purpose here on earth.
I teach a class at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) that integrates transcendental meditation in to the core curriculum. All of my students have the opportunity to learn TM as an experiential tool to dive within and feel the potency of their own full potential.
Getting this class accepted into the liberal arts department was a fascinating, eye opening and personally challenging experience. I have heard it said that creating new curriculum is akin to moving a graveyard down the street. Ironically, innovation and academia are not the friendliest of bed fellows.
Perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the entire process of getting my class on the books was learning to speak the institutional language. In other words, figuring out what everyone wanted to hear and producing some evidence that my class could meet the extraordinarily varied needs of an institution. For example, the counseling department at CCS really liked the research on TM as related to stress reduction, the film department really liked the research on TM related to enhanced creativity, the administration liked the research on TM linked to retention rates, etc. Many in my own department expressed concern that my proposed class would not be rigorous enough. I had to produce a long reading list, a research paper assignment, detailed learning outcomes and assure my chair that the TM component was simply an experiential tool. Even the David Lynch Foundation, who generously offered a grant to support TM training costs, wanted to make sure my students met “at risk” status requirements.
Piecing together the fragmented expectations of my varied stakeholders became a full-time preoccupation. It also represented a pretty interesting view of the contemporary educational landscape. A truly integrative educational model is one that does not merely stack discipline on top of discipline but one that literally enlivens the learning process by teaching students to touch their most transcendent nature – reminding them who they really are and how much they really know. A truly holistic curriculum also relies on mystery as much as fact and sees students as whole people rather than abstracted aspects of their full potential.
This semester when I asked my students what brought them to my class, I was delighted to hear many of them say they had heard through the grape vine that “it offered a BIG picture assessment of culture” and pieced together “many varied ideas while giving students a tool to illuminate their own journey.” One student actually had the guts to say he signed up to become “enlightened” – a tall order to be sure but one that I gladly embrace. My students and I are on a journey together. We are determined to create a classroom experience that feeds our collective soul and reminds us of the profound joy of connecting ideas and creating meaning through our combined intellectual and contemplative practices.
Fortunately, my class met all of the abstracted needs of the institution and students. In doing so it tied the varied threads of expectation together to create a harmonious template for the exploration of ideas, connections and meaning with an experiential component of transcendence. In the end, that is what an ideal education is supposed to be about.
To read a short except from an interview with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on what he believed brought people to meditation click here: http://www.tm.org/blog/news/nbc-interview-with-maharishi/
To see the entire “Notes from the Professor” series click here!