"Notes Toward an Ideal College" (first published 1973)
|Centering is discovering who you
are, what you value, what you feel. Learning to recognize your
own experience and value it. Finding the still point in your
mind and body. Becoming "clear" enough to be open to
experience and action, free of unresolved thought or inappropriate
Developing a personal, body-oriented, mental and physical and spiritual sense of oneness, integrity, worth, existence, being, energy. Finding a point you can return to when all else fails. Discovering first hand the ground of your being, the essential structure against which all experience is measured, through which the world is assimilated and created, from which needs are felt and met, by which contact is made with other people, through which you understand, learn, feel, and grasp what, under many names, has been called God.
Searching for the roots of being: a condition at once personal and transcendent. A prerequisite for perception.
|Or, the Art of Getting Lost. We
are only just beginning to understand breathing, let alone the
mind. Each person re-creates the entire universe inside. The
best place to start: realizing that "reality" is largely
a human, cultural invention, that we live in an environment designed
by the human mind and executed by human hands; that we carry
around a symbolic universe in our heads, through which we process
all experiences, thus making the new and raw into the cultured
Knowing the unknown, however, can do violence to the mystery of things. Our "knowledge" is usually inadequate and only comes as a glint of light on one wave in the ocean of experience. Few things are as important as giving up "the known" and submerging into mystery.
You must relearn the capacity to see the world again as if for the first time. Only such "innocence" can free you from boredom; only such re-seeing can save lovers from shrinking into the opaque kernel of the known. Artists and scientists alike cultivate this fundamental ability to question the obvious, to rely upon their own perception more than any given explanation.
And courage: you need courage to unbutton the comforting familiar and enter, naked, a world of unknowing, a world of experience, a world where each discovery uncovers the extent of our larger ignorance. Every night, we go to sleep in such a world of innocence and mystery. We must learn to wake up in that world, too.
|Relating learning, experience, explorations,
work, relationships, and creativity to, your center. Personalizing
knowledge. Testing everything against your own experience. Returning
to essentials again and again, and maintaining a sense of the
relative importance of things.
Establishing fuller, richer, and more varied connections between your deepest self and the world.
Example: learning in the body what certain words mean, as "hate," "anger," "love," "trust."
|Not separate from Centering and
Grounding, but with a different emphasis. Integrating is the
process of assimilating experience into the self and interrelating
Dreams perform a vital integrative function in life, as do feeling and creative work. In life, there are no separable categories. A curriculum should reflect this by continuously attempting to connect separate "disciplines."
Integrated knowledge is grounded in each person's body, feelings, values, and needs. Analysis and rationality can be important steps in integrating, as long as they are not treated as ends in themselves.
|Creating takes place at a level
of living at which life is continuously created, thought, felt,
renewed. Creation is not a particular activity, but a way of
living, a way of being and doing such that your basic center
is expressed in all things possible, your needs met through a
continuous contact with self and world, and your life renewed
through a constant testing and remaking of personality, habit,
tradition, society, and relationships. Creativity is what bridges
the gap between your human center and the (at times) intractable
Schools stress intellectual honesty at the expense of emotional honesty--which is more fundamental. Creativity depends on expressiveness, authenticity. Usually we live out a "conspiracy of niceness" or a "conspiracy of silence" which defines certain feelings as "bad" or "non-existent."
Why not be honest about all levels of experience? Honesty is usually grim, punitive. Why not instead think of an emotional honesty expressed with verve and joy? We know how we should respond, usually. We need to pay more attention to how we actually do respond. And in the process, re-test all the "shoulds."
A special division of creating is the "creative compromise." Life is like a sonnet: limited, bound by certain rules and limitations. Yet a great poet can express an unlimited amount of life in that limited form.
Similarly, the Art of Imperfection saves us from pining away after the unattainable and allows us to celebrate What Is, and life through the limiting forms available to us at any moment. Thus, two imperfect people can have a perfect relationship.
Small, limited, oddly shaped, the cup of life, when filled, keeps and keeps on receiving, as if its fullness made it infinite (which it does).
Work is one of the most important things in life. I mean creative, expressive engagement between a whole human being and a complex world. In studying, most students only take in; they do not express. They do not engage, they do not transform.
I believe the traditional four-year full-time program of study harmful to most people, because it locks them into a position of inferiority ("student") at a time when they need to
be asserting their individuality and meeting their own needs in the world they will have to live in. Work can be one of the best ways of self-discovery. Human beings seem to have a "competence drive" that urges them to get their hands on the world, and explore and change it.
Full-time students are deprived of the satisfactions and self-discovery of work. Besides, with more knowledge of the outside world, students might have a better perspective on the value and limitations of college.
In addition to being a retreat, I think a college should also be a bridge to the world and concern itself with the problems of the world. Students should be given the opportunity to explore a wide variety of fields. As it is now, a student might decide to become, say, a lawyer, without ever meeting a lawyer, and knowing nothing more about the profession than Perry Mason shows.
|In times of experiment and change,
nothing is more important than the carefully cultivated, practiced,
and valued ability to let go: to let go and relax into restorative
body states; to let go impermanent relationships; to let go of
creative solutions so you can face new challenges; to let go
old habits and limiting ways; to let go fear and timidity; to
let go your demand for permanence and accept the provisional,
ever-changing movement of life.
Centering is a vital step in letting go. Without being centered in your body, letting go may be a trauma. Currently, the search for a way to letting go is leading many to drugs, which, however, may fail to provide the centering which is so essential in letting go.
|In a sense, love is the basic
emotion. Anger, aggression, curiosity, might be seen as ways
of reaching out toward love. Fear, hurt, and crying might be
seen as ways of protecting one's ability to feel love. Love--that
state of full-functioning, glowing, radiant wholeness and relatedness--is
the single great reward of living.
An ideal college would seek ways for students (and teachers) to love more deeply and widely. A book is fully assimilated only when students feels for it something like love, and when it gives them richer ways to love. Deep feelings lie behind all great human creations--whether art or philosophy or mathematics. In studying these things, we should not just treat them on the cognitive level, but also seek to feel them--and to feel the depth of experience that gave rise to them. We should not only try to see Shakespeare, we should try to see like Shakespeare.
Falling in love is a vital part of the experience of most college-age people. Colleges should study human relationships, and offer various kinds of formats where successes and difficulties among friends and lovers can be shared. Where pain can be transformed into growing pains.
We should recognize that marriage is undergoing a radical transformation right now, in our times. We should support experimentation. Indeed, we should prepare people for a life of experimentation. And we should seek ways to prepare people for love--especially since so many forces work to make people incapable of loving.
The future will always look horrible until we develop the courage to face the present. If marriage is a viable form of human relationship, experimentation will confirm it. If not, experimentation might find something better, provided people learn to live from their centers, rather than from the desperation of abstract sex.
Unexpressed love can be deadly and tragic. We must abandon all substitutes for the real thing--even if it means giving up certain compulsions we habitually reward: as in the coldly-driven overworker and the soulless thinker. Colleges, in their timid pursuit of "knowledge" are sometimes loveless and inhumane, and reward with success those who have sacrificed their ability to love to a lesser ability to think, or to write, or to manipulate, or otherwise to specialize their whole, feeling softness into sharp-edged, efficient fragments. Let's--please!--find another ideal to follow: one that fosters human wholeness.
|These Basic Processes can be summarized
in one word: contact. Thinking, feeling, work, creating, even
sex can be done by only a part of the person. Contact is a whole-self
function. Indeed, contact is the whole-self function.
Deeper than awareness, more inclusive than thought, broader than concentration, contact is a state of continuous communication between the various parts of the self, between mental and bodily processes, between the self and others, between the self and the world.
A person may create a work of art, work, or carry on a conversation while in touch with only certain parts of himself. But the only authentic actions are whole actions. In a state of contact, a person doing a task is in touch with his inner signals, with the world around him, and with his plan.
Contactless people might bludgeon their way through a job, or create works of soulless precision. Contactlessness is typically characterized by feelings of deadness, fragmentation, vague and pervading anxiety.
Contact may be reestablished through any of several routes: through focus on contact with the self, spreading out to the world and others. Or focus on work, spreading out to fuller contact with the self and with others. And so on. Under conditions of generous contact, out is in, and in is out. The external world reveals us to ourselves; and the better we know ourselves, the better we can know the world.
On a practical level, students living in an atmosphere where people value contact will not write a mechanical essay, "fulfilling the assignment," but will seek ways to express and develop themselves through everything they do.
Forward to next section: Program