by Niiti Gannon
When we are born, for the first weeks of life, we metaphorically are like underdeveloped creatures. The world is all exploration and survival. What part of my body is this finger and how can I make it move? What is that bright sun light that makes me blink when it gets in my eyes? How warm it is on my skin. The wind that blows, do I like it? Is it pleasant? Sometimes the wind feels wonderful and sometimes it doesn’t.
The senses are engaged with exploration while the motor organs are busily learning to associate with the body parts. Movement is an effort. Minute aspects of life, such as connecting to each part of the body, and using each sense to explore the world’s form, light, color and texture that humans later take for granted, is entirely focused on. Emotions are just peaking out at the world. Do I like this or not? Who are you and how do you affect my body?
At this stage, we intuitively perceive nature and our divine nature as inseparable. It all is to be explored and mostly is unknown.
As we leap and bound towards six months of age, infant females and males act in ways like small birds or small rodents. We love bonding with our parents, chirping and cooing and sharing simple messages. Our bodies want to crawl, climb and stretch. Much of our bodily needs are understood and simply met by our parents. When we are not exploring, we love to cuddle and seek affection. We have developed a simple language of sounds and signals with our family.
Both the ordinary and extraordinary world is intimately connected to us but indescribable. We are part of their colors and feelings that beckon encouragingly to us in innumerable manners.
Quickly, like the morning that merges into noontime, we grow from six months to two years and master greater awareness of our small bodies and our surroundings. Now we share similarities with our pet cats and dogs who too understand 100 to 300 words. We really love our family and some things of the world. We want to play, please and love.
Soon we grow to preschool age, and we begin to distinguish between the general world and the world of wonders from our earlier stages. Extraordinary aspects crystallize in children’s minds as special playmates. They think: “I have a playmate which only I can see and can name Gertrude or George. How surprising and perplexing to me that my parents don’t see you when you are so there and loving. Whenever I reach out, you are there loving me as an inseparable companion. Why do I ignore you even for awhile? The answer is that I am so busy, so busy and easily distracted.”
Life moves us in so many directions and too far from our divine nature. It seems that as we associate more with all the curious and myriad life forms around us that our invisible friend appears more sporadic. All too soon, our extraordinary awareness becomes infrequent. The friendly playmate transforms into an immense and impersonal inner feeling; and we feel too small in comparison. Now we have to make more effort to connect. This continues until we mature and re-find the infinite as a friend.
Neohumanist education needs to be a process that helps us in keeping connected with our divine nature. Already there are useable theories about the maturation process of our bodies, intellects and social awareness. Yet, most education systems lack the articulation of aesthetic, moral and spiritual development which is the touchstone of neohumanist education. In other words neohumanist education is making universal love learnable.
As Neohumanist teachers, we personally quest in discovering the exquisite and extraordinary aspects of the universe. We want these insights to be as frequent and accessible as preschool children’s invisible playmates are. Essentially, we are seeking our inseparable invisible friend who is the intuitive part of ourselves. To some this intuition manifests as a guiding voice inside or a comforting presence. We want to encourage small children to hold onto these abilities in their lives.
Therefore, an important aspect of neohumanist education is to focus on being intensely involved in loving and caring for the whole world, one another, as well as being open to the divine nature of things. Can we awaken the sense of love for the sun, the wind, the trees and life around us? Can we love one another fiercely? We really have to be open to all forms of life and call them our own. When we are open enough to both what is around us and to our transcendent selves, calling both our own, the impersonal becomes personal.
Neohumanist curriculums need to keep cycling activities that intellectually and emotionally help us to bond with the elements, such as the sun, the moon, the sky, stars, water and fire. The activities need to stress the importance and beauty
of their intimate presence in our lives. This necessitates being more sensory oriented in our learning, remembering to
smell, taste, touch, hear and see what we learn. How does curriculum move us and what values can we link to our learning?
Most crucially, is to tie learning with loving. Learning ideas without heart is an external type of education and makes us disconnected with our universal selves and who we want to be as human beings. Compassionate education is a moral and value based education. Truly the ABC’s of life and ideas of how the world works is not as difficult or as important as understanding each others’ hearts. Where there is a cooperative and caring atmosphere learning springs forth more readily.
In a neohumanist environment, it would help if animals and plants could be an intricate part of the classroom experience. We need to encourage children of all ages to talk to animals and plants. Dogs, cats, birds and rodents would benefit the classroom. We need them to remind us of our universality.
Let us further enrich our curriculums more aesthetically with songs that invoke deeper sentiments and incorporate richer imagery and lyrics beckoning our universal friend closer, such as the following song by Shrii P.R. Sarkar, “Bandhu he Niye Calo”:
O, my eternal companion, take me along with you,
towards that fountain of effulgence.
I cannot bear the pain of darkness any more.
Breaking the deep slumber of darkness,
with song after song, my eternal companion, take me along.
Together we can build an ethos that encourages one another to tune into our divine nature and spread love to the parched hearts on Earth. Each of us can invoke our invisible friend without fear. We can create an atmosphere that does not indulge in scornful behavior. The Universe is so intricate and magnificent that it makes a hologram of itself in each of us as well as an invisible friend to guide our progress. This friend is the guest of every adult’s table, and the helpful ancestor of every discoverer’s effort. For our friend is the deepest and surest part of our own selves. As educators we can invite this guest, this seed, this true friend, into our classrooms.
All molecules, atoms, electrons, protons, positrons and neutrons are the veritable expressions of the same Supreme Consciousness. Those who remember this reality, who keep this realization ever alive in their hearts, are said to have attained perfection in life. They are the real devotees, the real bhaktas. When this devotional practice does not remain confined to a mere practice, but instead is elevated to a devotional sentiment, a devotional mission, to the realm of devotional ideation – when the underlying spirit of humanism is extended to everything, animate and inanimate, in this universe – I have designated this as “Neohumanism”. This Neohumanism will elevate humanism to universalism, the practice of love for all created beings of this universe.
What is Neohumanism? Neohumanism is humanism of the past, humanism of the present and humanism – newly explained – of the future. Explaining humanity and humanism in a new light will widen the path of human progress, will make it easier to tread. Neohumanism will give new inspiration and provide a new interpretation for the very concept of human existence. It will help people understand that human beings, as the most thoughtful and intelligent beings in this created universe, will have to accept the great responsibility of taking care of the entire universe – will have to accept that the responsibility for the entire universe rests on them.
Shrii Pr. R. Sarkar