(Published as: Seaton, Andrew 2012, 'A truly nurturing education: Part 3', Nurture: Australia's Natural Parenting Magazine, Issue 3, Summer, pp. 66-68.)
n part one of this article, I explained how a truly nurturing education will much better prepare a child to live intimately and dynamically connected with the world. As an example, I outlined how parents and grandparents can give a child lots of rich and authentic experience, engaging in self-selected activities in real-world contexts. In part two (Issue 2), I explained how parents can help children develop literacy and many other valuable skills. Real world projects can provide a wonderful context for developing such skills, because they help a child to see the skills as relevant to their own lives.
The ability to let go of habitual ways of seeing and doing things is crucial to living a 'conscious' and liberated life. It is so important to be able to let go of what we think we know and be fully present. Let us look at a few more ways in which a truly nurturing education can help a child to shake off conditioning, experience a deep sense of self-as-connected-with-all-life, and see things more freshly and deeply.
Our usual sense of the notion of education is that it is essentially about learning. However, this has been a mistake! Learning is just the construction of a new pattern of functioning, a new pattern of seeing things. Learning is just the construction of a new framework for our thinking and our interpretation of experience. Learning has its place, but there is a more profoundly liberating and connecting experience than learning.
Genuinely creative acts and intuitive experiences allow us to transcend and dissolve the limitations of thinking and habitual functioning. They open us up to something deeper in ourselves and the world around us. As we cultivate the experience of quieting the incessant activity of our thoughts and emotions, we find a stillness in our own awareness, a deeper sense of our own being. And as we get rid of all that static, we become more sensitive to the inner, energetic qualities of things and phenomena around us.
When, from inner stillness, we put our attention fully on a person, a creature, an object or phenomenon, we come into a state of energetic unison with them, and thus are able to intuit their structure and qualities. We perceive and relate with 'true nature' and with the core of other people, not just through the cumbersome and superficial machinery of the intellect. As the botanist, George Washington Carver, put it, 'Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough'. The reality of this deeper kind of intelligence has been recorded by countless people who have chosen not to be bound by the limitations of the intellect.
The value of art
Since most people identify with their thought, stopping our thinking is not something we commonly practice in the modern world. One way that most of us have experienced this, if only momentarily, is in appreciating great art. The best art, in any of its many and varied forms, visual, musical, literary, architectural and so forth, contains some sense of the universal that calms the turbulent mind.
Truly creative art expresses profound meaning or evokes a deeply felt response in the observer. Great art does not merely attempt to represent objective reality. By the way in which it is represented, an image, for example, can be made to suggest another level of meaning or significance. Most people are familiar, for example, with how departure from conventional ways of depicting the night sky in Vincent van Gogh's painting, "The Starry Night", gives it a mystical quality that evokes a deeply emotional response.
Art can help to stop our habitual thinking and unlock our conditioned ways of seeing and engaging with the world. It can express a deeper reality that unlocks the soul from its mental prison and, in so doing, it can unlock our creativity. Art may help to liberate us from the bonds of what we think we know, so long as neither artist nor observer gets entangled in intellectualising it – analysing the technique, the form, the content – but allows the non-mental response to be experienced and felt. Giving your child a rich exposure to great art in its various and most living forms is a valuable aspect of giving them a truly nurturing education.
You can also encourage your child from time to time to perceive the everyday world in a 'non-mental' way. Encourage them to stop thinking, put aside what they think they know, and just give sensitive attention to a creature, phenomenon or whatever, passively, receptively, non-analytically. They can then be invited to describe or draw their impressions.
You must be joking
The great value and appeal of humour, too, is that when two previously isolated contexts or mental perspectives collide in a joke, the result is a sense of being liberated from the prison of our habitual and judgement-laden ways of seeing things.
Two men drinking in a bar. After quite a few drinks, one man looks at the other and says, “I think I should tell you, I've been sleeping with your mother”. The second man pauses, looks the first steadily in the eyes, and says, “Go home, Dad, you're drunk!”
In humour, two or more mental frameworks run into each other. Their 'absoluteness' or 'rightness' is challenged and dissolved, and the tension in each is released in laughter. We see them for what they are – merely constructions of the mind. Consider giving humour a regular place in your home and interactions with your child. It is not empty frivolity. It will help to free your child from the grip of mind, so that it may remain truly open.
In part one of this article, I explained how intimately connected are the processes of our mind, emotions and body. Almost all experience that involves some 'knowledge' or mental component, is part of a pattern that also involves an individual's aims, memory, perception, emotion, judgement, action and biochemical processes throughout their body. Significant stuckness or disturbance in any of these components is likely to be reflected in the others. Left unresolved, that stuckness grows – increasing mental tension, more closed mind, more distorted perception, more blocked emotions, more dis-ease in the body.
A truly nurturing education will therefore include regular opportunities to release stuck energy. Encourage your child regularly to express their emotions, their experiences, their intentions and their beliefs in kinaesthetic ways, including free form dance movement. Stuck energy is 'shaken out' through such 'deep dancing'. Include sound in these deep dancing sessions. Use a variety of moods of specially selected instrumental and vocal music to accompany and facilitate movement.
Both within and outside deep dancing sessions, children may also use the voice to get in touch with different qualities of energy within them and to move it. Encourage them to make vocal but non-verbal sound to match the thoughts, emotions or bodily sensations they may have. Any sounds. “Ahh, oooohhhh, eeeeeer”. They might also use gibberish to express various emotions or what is going on inside. Gibberish is random, spontaneous syllables with no conventional meaning. For example, “pica taka molo ningan wola haly mic”. Such non-verbal vocalisation can be particularly effective, since it by-passes the filtering of the intellect and allows deeply felt energies to be contacted, expressed and released. At other times, a child might also use simple musical instruments to express and release what they feel.
Like sound and dance, dramatic expression helps children to get in touch with and externalise their inner life, including their hopes and fears, their joys and yearnings. A truly nurturing education provides regular opportunities for unstructured and semi-structured dramatic play and expression.
Opportunities to be silent are important, too. For example, you can show your child how, with closed eyes, they can note any sounds around them, without getting caught up in labeling, judging or analysing them. They can passively 'watch' the inflow and outflow of the breath. And they can put their attention on feeling the sensation of energy around any parts of the body. These activities help to quieten mental chatter and to cultivate complete presence in the moment.
Feeling deep connection
A truly nurturing education will give a child many opportunities to be aware with full sensory attention of their external environment, and of their connectedness to it. This includes opportunities for contact with things that awaken feelings of the magical, and of beauty, tenderness and ethereality. Such things might include babies, baby animals, flowers, fragrances, open sharing of themselves with others, deep listening to others, receptive observation and regular time communing with nature.
Experiences in nature are among the most effective in nurturing a sense of self-as-connected-with-all-life. The elements of nature and its overall grandeur and mystery speak to something deep within us. Being within nature resonates with Being within us, with our essence. It calls that consciousness forth and helps to free us from the illusion of our sense of self-as-separate.
In the next and final part of this four-part article, we will look more closely at aspects of relationship which are important in a truly nurturing education.