All experience, especially that of an educational bent—whether remembered accurately or not—builds the story of a fictional ‘me’, such as the one writing these words right now. All the accrued stories of my life define who I think I am, even including the stories around so-called self-knowledge, which is actually a ‘story’ telling a story. I’d like to unpack here all of our stories and to ask how have they helped us to live in the world. As I see it, little can be done to help the world, or ourselves actually, or rescue us from the disconnecting, storied past with its limited vision. Let’s take one of the ‘origin’ stories or myths to try to understand more about this.
The metaphorical, biblical Adam had no stories to tell until he partook of the apple of knowledge, after which he apparently became the first actor on the planet, setting him apart from the other animals. This attracted thoughts of dominion and delusions of separation (‘grandeur’ in psychological parlance), raising him up above all of creation in both his eyes and later in the colluding eyes of other sapiens. This sowed the seeds that would ensure his own destruction as he began to destroy himself by destroying the world, oblivious to the connections and its obvious conclusion. Adam and Eve then used their new-found knowledge to pass on this dominant heritage for their children to act out, as the first education system evolved. And, as I recall, they begat and begat and begat. Soon after, humans pined for that which had been lost—a connection that was terribly missed; and so they invented ways to fill this void with the so-called spiritual search—to find their place and meaning in the great scheme of things. And if not the spiritual search, then the material one or myriad variations on the theme, all of which would come back to bite them in the backside, or the backsides of the next generations; and here we are today, folks.
Each had scooped out a bucket of water from the stream of life, naming it ‘the self ’, and tried to understand life’s vast energy by exploring this tiny bucket. They thought that by modifying the water in the bucket through ‘self-knowledge’, they would somehow be able to affect the whole and fix any and all problems that would inevitably arise due to their myopia. They also looked for ways to escape from the inner sorrow and alienation arising from their sense of separation. They tried to escape the associated pain using drugs and diversions; hence the opioid and material addictions of today.
So this is our story—one of longing to get back to an imagined lost paradise. The very thing that thinks that it is above the animals and unconnected to the trees, wants to also partake in the beauty of their world, as long as it remains in control. There is the paradox—that is not possible. We forget that before knowledge, there is no comparison, no higher, no lower, no right or wrong, no morality. Anger was anger, tears just tears, and joy, joy; and we had no reason to act, no need to impress.
Our shared story can be followed in the analogy of one lifetime, from the embryo until the taking on of a separate self, a self-conscious entity, very early in childhood. After which time, we have to act out a part, to “strut and fret our hour upon the stage”, always pining for that distant time when all was as it should be (but mostly only when the chips are down and we wonder as to our purpose). Generally we reinforce the mistaken belief that the earth was something created for man who can use and abuse it at will. Now that we have finally discovered that there are probably billions of planets like ours, we are faced with the irrationality of that premise.
As actors then, we ask the questions like, “Now that we have taken over control, what is our responsibility?” But this kind of question is coming from an actor, from our script of who we think we are. How can we say or trust from where our lines are coming from? Now, I too have no way of knowing where these lines came from. Is it not the same dichotomy of ‘the mind that created the problem is not the mind that can solve it’? Is it not coming from the premise that knowledge can solve everything? This is often what is driving our school curricula and everything else in schools. Even this story cannot be fully understood, let alone expressed accurately in words, since it comes from the bucket, the bucket that we call ourselves. To understand it would be to pour the bucket back into the stream, and to end the self. Not that that can be done! (And, who’d want to do it anyway?).
Without a story or agenda, when we walk through a meadow, or other pathless regions, we may meander, much like Mary Oliver reports doing in her poems. To a bystander, steeped in the reins of time, it might seem purposeless, wasteful or whatever, but in the relaxed state of wandering, what other senses may emerge? An instinctive sense might flow through and we might or might not avoid treading on the flowers. However, it won’t be because we ‘should’ or ‘should not’. As we wander we might, or might not, smell the flowers, or the fresh bear poop, neither more important than the other, and both capable of giving instruction, even insight. As we ramble, completely connected to the world around us, our story quiet, our bodies relaxed, not contracted, we may become a channel for life to sense everything, so that we may see and do what it wants us to do. Will it direct our energies to change our schools? There is no answer from knowledge, but my guess is, do what you may from that energy, you can do no harm.
And now, bringing us to the present, here as I write, am I wandering or am I acting, and therefore contracting? I’m guessing it will be the latter because my story is probably playing out, and I’ll want you to like what I write; I’ll want to be safe, just as you—for your own sake—might want me to be, and in so doing I separate myself from you by wearing my mask, my story, so that we may be comfortable, avoiding those words too close to the bone. In our classrooms, will we play out these stories in order to feel safe?
So, is there a happy ending to my story? Is there a way to connect? Is there something that I can do right now, or in my classroom, that will help repair the damage we see daily all around us, in which I am complicit and yet think I am separate from? We see modern-day Adams and Eves in our classrooms turning again to the new apple—the projected panacea of artificial intelligence—to solve ever more complex and sinister problems with the same mind that caused them in the first place, thereby reinforcing their illusions and separation. What will they do? Has each new ‘apple of knowledge’—the word, fire, wheel, printing press, television, nuclear power or artificial intelligence—widened the separation, while deepening the illusion of progress? Each of us will have our own answer to these questions, coming from our particular and surely different (and yet similar) story. And therein lies both the rub and the possibility of much needed amazing grace. There is no one answer, no path except where we are now.