The directive to “know thyself” permeates much of the American university experience. As professors and mentors, advisors and guidance counselors, we frequently tell our students to follow their passions and ambitions—to act upon what they “know” those inner strivings to be—and yet we too often ignore the role of reflection in the classroom. We ask our students to trust and follow their intuitions without teaching them to tap into intuition in the first place. We assume our students’ self-knowledge even as we eliminate the pursuit of it at almost every turn.
The truth is that all reference to the “spiritual” in the college classroom has been eradicated—a process that’s taken place over the course of many generations. As far back as one hundred years ago, the advent of the modern industrial age demanded an increased emphasis on science, technology, evaluation and rational inquiry. Even the so-called softer fields—fields like sociology, psychology and philosophy—have strived to discourage students from too much introspection.
But what happens when we give individual students the experience of sharing their innermost truth with others? When we tie the rigor of scientific inquiry to the open-ended messiness of self-inquiry? In my opinion, we nourish not just the mind, but the heart. Shifting the focus from “What do I want to do?’ to “Who do I want to be?” reconnects students with their truest passions, jump-starting the process of true learning. In short, encouraging a search for meaning in the classroom also promotes life-long learning and curiosity. The search for meaning, unlike the search for “answers” demands that our students see their educations as dynamic and ongoing—not constricted by the fixed timelines of a particular course or a four-year degree.
Every semester I tell my students that the goal of my class is to have them leave the semester knowing less. This confuses them terribly. But I believe a college education should provide more than job training. It should offer students opportunities to see knowledge as unlimited. It should show them that true learning is grounded in the deeper experiences of the spirit. It should open their eyes to the fact that when intellectual life is supported by a deep intuition and contentment, scholarly and professional pursuits then become creative, fruitful, and significant instead of barren, ineffective, and meaningless.
Consciousness, as a field of study, can be best understood by the student through his or her own personal experience of meditation. Meditation and silence encourage reflection, validate inner knowingness and offer glimpses of transcendence. The truth is everyone experiences momentary glimpse of transcendence in daily life – getting lost in thought while walking in the woods, being swept up in the joy of playing the piano, forgetting oneself while engaged in driving. We live for these moments of inner peace and awareness where the stresses of daily life simply fall away and our experience of deep connection to the world around us feels complete. But can you imagine the impact of training individuals to systematically seek these moments of transcendence? How would the cumulative layers of such peace on a day-to-day basis transform individual lives?
These are the questions I ask of my students. In their papers and assignments, they struggle with the answers. In their own meditation practice, they grapple with their own silence and reflection. Consciousness based education programs gently push students to move from concrete to abstract values, thus expanding personal awareness while simultaneously enhancing intellectual understanding. It is the goal of the Tuning the Student Mind foundation to help teachers move beyond the grading rubric through the use of consciousness based educational programs.