Holistic education is a celebration of attention rather than the act of recall. Attention is the vital component in human intelligence. It revitalises interest, is tangible as carrying a sense of vigilance and care, and plays an essential role in all healthy relationships inside and outside the classroom.
Unlike traditional ways of educating, where knowledge is worshipped as evidence of human intelligence, Krishnamurti’s holistic approach challenges the passive accumulation of knowledge and celebrates the authentic feeling of attention. His passion and concern for life was able to whip up our interest to address the need to challenge conventional attitudes to intelligence at a time when it was measured on the extent of information acquired from an outside authority, the teacher. This shift from an acquisitive to an attentive state required me to relinquish a latent disposition to depend on a backlog of information. I began to appreciate that attention played a vital role in learning. Unlike the arduous process of interpreting and memorizing, attention registered the capacity of being spontaneously and comprehensively informed by the flux and flow of life.
At school, I observed the quality of attention at work by giving myself over to a serious discursive enquiry, while being aware of living in an indescribably beautiful landscape. Through an extensive exploration into the affective, social, cultural, and psychological implications of being part of a larger community, Krishnamurti created opportunities for us to consider questions which would not have normally occurred to us. Through his enquiry, we explored and examined the nature of our relationships, our feelings and the universal nature of thought. We also engaged in the inspirational and limitless capacity of human intelligence to ponder and wonder at the immensity of existence. His enquiry enabled us to muse on the nature of our intelligence without necessarily focusing on an outcome. This was a refreshing change from normal classroom practice and it contributed to a sense that something momentous was afoot!
Watching Krishnamurti fearlessly enquire into the nature of his own thinking and listening as he expressed the deep concern he felt for the world, I found myself internalising the same kind of enquiry from my early years. As my enquiry into the nature of my thinking grew, it became increasingly more personal. My interest in the world was initiated by the enquiry and it imbued in me a sense of responsibility for the plight of the world. Out of this feeling of responsibility and concern, my attention was diverted to my own fanciful ways of processing information and I became acquainted with the dismissive and reactive plight of my ego from a very early age.
I never doubted that the sense of ego is a universal phenomenon, so in a sense the feeling of intense isolation normally attributed to severe forms of egocentricity was not an overwhelming occurrence in my life. My attitude to my ego was a healthy one, so I was always able to reach out and explore matters of concern with others I trusted and cared for during periods of crisis. An affectionate concern for the internal workings of the mind is a real benefit of holistic education and I feel that this kind of stewardship is not generally valued by the community.
The understanding that we are not alone with the problems we encounter in our day to day living arose from the shared exploration into matters of our collective consciousness during the public talks held by Krishnamurti at Rishi Valley and at Brockwood, during his annual visits. In his absence, the interest in serious and reflective enquiry into fragmentation and my own emerging inner dialogue between self and other was sustained by our weekly classroom dialogues which we students held during our senior years. Owing to this shared background in mutual enquiry, I never doubted that the sense of ego is a universal phenomenon. I understood that it manifests in all individuals through the automatic act of recall. The nature of attention and how attention can throw light on all the subtle manipulations of our thinking was an area of great interest for me. I discovered that attention shed light on the limitations of my own assumptions as well as those of others. So, as a child, while I squirmed and fretted about being wrong, I also learned to put knowledge in its place.
The realization that intelligence need not be a victim of duality and is more than capable of facing facts, rather than repeatedly taking shelter within an already established knowledge base, was frequently demonstrated by our holistic enquiry at school. I propose that holistic education improves our capacity to learn by blasting the boundaries normally cultivated by conventional education which is based on the accumulation of conceptually integrated information. Krishnamurti’s holistic enquiry shatters the myth that one can be secure in the knowledge of one’s own carefully constructed knowledge base.
Krishnamurti often addressed the nature of thought as relating to the past. I must admit that it was difficult to understand why the movement of thought surged forth and compared the present to the past. It was also difficult to understand why one relies on the past to feel secure! Thankfully, I was intrigued by the gradual spread of this imperative to feel secure. Understanding that the carriage of thought is laden with latent information which may no longer be relevant was an important milestone I crossed during my tweens. By the time I finished my year ten exams I was more than happy to realize the limitations of my existing knowledge base! However, taking this fact into account in my daily life was not an easy task.
Even as the passive repetitive nature of thought became clear, I was carried away by my petulant insistence that life conform to my ideas of it, just so I could enjoy the flush of satisfaction in getting things right! The dismissive nature of this demand and its capacity to ignore what is actually going on in life was troubling. I found that my interest often switched to the quality of attention which plays a vital role in determining the relevance of the information spontaneously accessible to me through my senses. Meanwhile, I had to deal with the persistent impact of my ego on my daily relationships. The desire to self-justify took its toll during the teenage years and I became increasingly isolated and reactive to the world. Blaming the world for the mess it was in only drove me deeper into a sense of apathy which registered as an appalling waste of time.
Thankfully Krishnamurti had always implied in his talks that, given that the world is in a state of crisis, we are all part of the solution. During my early twenties, while I was studying at the education faculty of Macquarie University in Sydney, I began to realize that I was immersed in a growing culture of discontent spreading across the globe. My discontent did not in any way set me apart! I sensed that only deep reflection and enquiry could unearth the reasons for my feeling of isolation and free me to engage with the community. During the 1980s and 1990s there was a swell of interest in Eastern philosophies and indigenous cultures as Australians began to look for alternatives to our insatiable, progressive, capitalistic outlook on life. It is around this time that I realized that the culture of serious enquiry upon which Krishnamurti’s holistic education was based would sustain my sense of psychological well-being well beyond my school years. Rather than dismiss society out of hand and indulge in various forms of meditations and fantastic remedies for elevating the spirit, I found that the spirit of enquiry continued to create a mature and inclusive regard for life as a whole. This enabled me to sustain mutually rewarding relationships through a serious exploration into the meaning-making processes we all employ to communicate with each other. So, the enquiry celebrating an attentive state does not stop with school, since it opens the door for lifelong learning, filling the mind with a sense of gratitude for the opportunity of a lifetime!