In educating children, apart from developing their physical, intellectual and aesthetic capacities, are we not concerned with a non-verbal movement of the mind, with a heightened quality of attention, of observation and listening? This demands a capacity to put away words and structures of the intellect, to be alone in silence. To me this has the greatest value in nurturing a sane, healthy mind that can meet fully the many complex issues of life.
It is interesting that we approach this issue of the non-verbal movement of the mind with diffidence, hesitation and even trepidation. There seem to be an endless number of objections to approaching it directly. If the non-verbal movement was natural, it would happen on its own, some feel. Though I wonder how, when a child is straitjacketed in routine from morning to night, there is space for anything to happen other than that demanded by the routine. The other objection seems to be that if we aim at this consciously and deliberately, it somehow negates the very attempt. I wonder why this should be so. I feel that the present structures of schooling prevent any possibility of coming upon space, quietness and leisure. And if one sees the importance of this, does one not need to consciously and deliberately set aside the blocks?
A third objection is that there is nothing in this movement that will draw a child back to it on his own, and therefore, there has to be an element of imposition, coercion or reward. It is perhaps true that we are so deeply used to being actively occupied that any attempt to be quiet and alone seems unnatural and even disturbing. This is a reflection of our own conditioning rather than evidence that there is something unnatural about wanting space, quietness and leisure in one’s daily life. It is probably also felt that it is more natural for adults to want to be alone than for children. In fact, very few of us take the opportunity to do so and would sooner be doing something, or talking with someone, than face our own boredom or dissatisfaction. We, therefore, create conditions where the child too is rarely given the opportunity to have space and quietness as natural movements in his life. To assume 34 that children are always gregarious, and would rather be doing something than nothing, is perhaps unfounded. I would suggest that they are, in fact, trained to be so and thus very quickly lose the capacity to be alone. A few children probably retain this capacity till they begin to attend school and then lose it, being constantly in the company of other children for long periods of time, which sets into motion all the group dynamics teachers are familiar with. Very few manage to retain this quality despite an environment that allows a little space. Does it have to be so? Can we not create sufficient possibilities and opportunities for children to be alone and quiet? It is only then that they might begin to appreciate and savour the depth and beauty this brings and get a taste of freedom from dependence and stimulation, loneliness and comparison.
Silence, it seems to me, is very shy. One has to invite it or else it moves away.
I would like to support my statements with a few observations. We, as teachers, especially if we have had our children grow up amidst natural surroundings, would have noticed that before they started formal schooling, they had all the time to wander around and grow up among trees and birds. I wonder if they did not have a quietness and a certain contemplative quality, a capacity to be alone for long periods of time without being bored. We must have noticed too that this capacity weakened soon after they began to attend school. The second observation concerns a colleague of mine who grew up in a village with hardly any companions. Whatever schooling she got was limited to a couple of hours each day. She spent many hours just watching leaves quivering in the breeze, looking at stones, picking them up for their shape and colour, or watching the sky and the clouds and the birds. She told me that this brought about a strange sensitivity in herself, of which she was not even conscious till she moved to the city for college education and began to notice its loss. Silence, it seems to me, is very shy. One has to invite it or else it moves away.
Are we, in the Krishnamurti Schools, hesitant because Krishnamurti has insisted so deeply and strongly that attention and awareness cannot be cultivated, so that we reject any possibility of doing anything about it, lest it becomes a method? And yet he pointed again and again to approaches that could nurture awareness. There is of course the famous example of ‘the lizard on the wall’ that he asked a teacher to help the child watch closely with complete attention. He also asked children whether they could notice every day the colours of flowers that they walked past, without getting used to them. He encouraged children to find out whether they could sit quietly and alone and watch their thoughts. At the end of his talks, he asked children to sit with eyes closed and body still. And there is the breathtaking simplicity with which he asked students at Brockwood Park School, while sitting quietly at the end of the discussion, to find out if thought can stop completely. And yet it seems that every fibre of our being rebels against taking such a question seriously.
There are also innumerable statements about one’s relationship with a tree and the healing quality of nature. He could himself spend hours just sitting on a rock and watching all nature unfold in front of him. What a tremendous quality of attention it must have needed. He suggests that if we watch long enough with such a quality of mind, a sense of the timeless emerges.
He said and did all this. And yet we find that we may live in the midst of nature and not have contact with it. Even Astachal – the occasion in our schools for sitting together quietly and observing nature at sunset time– has more or less been abandoned, perhaps because when a large number of children sit together for a relatively long period of time, a certain restlessness sets in. But surely this only implies that, rather than discarding the attempt altogether, we need other means of putting children in contact with quietness. Is it not possible for us to help children touch silence and attention, and awaken their senses without making the attempt repetitive and mechanical? Surely the same challenge is faced by us in the classroom where we have to communicate the discipline of a subject without it becoming mechanical? Perhaps we feel there is safety there because even if we do it mechanically there will be some result. Or perhaps we tend to do it mechanically in academics, or even in the arts, because of our habitual emphasis on content and skill rather than on exploration.
Is it that the quality of attention and aloneness is so unreal to us that we look for results to measure what is happening and assure ourselves that something worthwhile is taking place? Would we have a need to measure if it were real in ourselves? We would then simply and naturally ensure that children also come upon it.
One can watch the movement of thought with the same quality of mind that watches the clouds…
Many years ago Krishnamurti challenged me and asked whether I was experimenting with children, and whether I had a right to do so. I have pondered over that question, and realized that I have no right to impose any pet prejudices and opinions about pedagogy I may have, onto children. But this does not mean that I stop looking and exploring and acting from my understanding.
When I look around, it seems that in each generation of students graduating from these schools, the sense of ‘I’ is as strong and crystallised as in those who went before. Should this not be the central concern of our education: that children grow up without the self-centred predilections of a crowded, activity-driven brain? And can a mind even respond to the profound questions that Krishnamurti has raised without a deep capacity to listen and to be attentive? All that we seem to do is to stimulate the intellect and make it sophisticated in its capacity to analyse. That is necessary, but – as has been pointed out by Krishnamurti – it is completely inadequate to meet the deepest questions of life.
When I observe Krishnamurti in dialogue, I marvel at the energy, passion and skill with which he blocks the mind from answering from memory and therefore allows it to respond at a deeper level. Truly if one could only listen rightly, without interruption, he would say: ‘something totally different would take place.’ Krishnamurti pointed out that one begins with the outer, so that the mind is rooted in reality. One can watch the movement of thought with the same quality of mind that watches the clouds and the colour of the sky. But if one tries to delve inward because that is more‘important’, and because it is the source of the problem, there will be distortion, because you are attempting to reach somewhere, to experience truth. One gets lost in an endless movement of ‘becoming’.
What we need is a passionate and sustained dialogue among teachers, so that we can explore tentatively and hesitantly how this non-verbal movement can be nurtured in ourselves and our students. We must engage in such questioning, challenging each other and moving together, so that – in Krishnamurti’s words – some ‘lions’ or‘gazelles’ (rather than ‘mice’) can come out of our schools.
Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?