A small group of Neohumanist educators met in February to ponder a serious question. What is it that makes our vision special? What is it that defines Neohumanism in a way that distinguishes it from the crowd of amazing, innovative and cutting edge educational experiments going on around the planet today? We were together for three intense days to try and find a simple ‘formula’ that might express what our hearts told us every day when we began the work of expressing Neohumanism in schools, classrooms, institutions and communities: namely, that there is something amazingly powerful about the Neohumanist approach to education and life that is unique and needs to be shared.
Yolande and Tim from Lotus Netherlands put a lot of work into preparing for this event. Participants were requested to answer an in depth online survey. This survey was collated and made available to us on arrival and it served as the source for our Day 1 discussions.
It was clear we knew a lot about Neohumanism. We knew that it was holistic, spirit centred, child centred, ecologically centred and creative. But so were other systems. We knew that the propounder of Neohumanism, Shrii P.R. Sarkar, had envisioned it to be a ‘panacea’ for the ills of the world. We also knew the Neohumanism was an optimistic and visionary approach to life that promoted a sense of possibilities. These possibilities we knew started with the very young child, with a vision of the child’s evolution into adulthood that was marked not by competition, fear and insecurity but by collaboration, trust and resilience. Not only that, we knew that such qualities stemmed from a deep philosophy of mind that drew on spiritual experience. We knew that spiritual practice consolidated and deepened this same understanding. We knew we had to practice this spiritual process, to honour it in our lives to be able to communicate it, to make it real in the world. We also knew that the whole point of this ‘work’ was to serve our planet in ways that increased the ‘love quotient’ in order that alienation and suffering decrease and meaningful relation become the defining characteristic of our lives. But, and here is the rub, did we understand what this all meant for the world? Did we understand how to take such wonderful ‘knowings’ into the world and share them in a way that made the remarkable possibilities of this knowing accessible to people?
Shrii P.R. Sarkar of course knew that the difference between knowing and understanding was vast. Thus he commented: There is some difference between knowing and understanding. Whatever information regarding some object we gather through the medium of the sense organs is what we “know” about that object. But when the basic or ultimate nature of the object is fully subjectivized, then we “understand” the object.
As we sat around the table and began the job of mapping out our knowing and seeking to subjectivize it, as Shrii P.R. Sarkar had instructed, we found an intense bond of shared experience. Experience builds understanding. There is no doubt about that. Yet experience too is so varied. We had people from all over the world – from Egypt, from America and Australia, from Holland and from Romania, from London, Malaysia and India too. We had all walked a dusty ‘Neohumanist road’ to get to the table and we had many stories and experiences that were unique. The trick was to move from the unique variety at the table to something coherent.
The first day we collected the stories, the bits and pieces. We also shared meals, meditated and chanted, laughed and yawned together. At the end of the day we also played together as we developed a remarkable Neohumanist Game that illustrated perfectly how each of us saw Neohumanism as unique patterns of possibility organised according to our specific context and priorities. What was important though was that we used the same elements to create this patterning. That was the first deep understanding. We had the elements before us but we created different patterns from them. This is a powerful understanding.
Three Core Areas
We took this understanding and the following day boiled it down to three core areas. Neohumanism involves a specific – specialized – theory of Mind, one that draws on the Tantric theory of the layers of the mind (the kosas). We understood that this unique offering had major implications for education and beyond. Neohumanism we all agreed is also a spiritual philosophy that promotes love of creation. This is a Heart centred approach that brings meaning to all we do. As the heart is all about loving relationship it puts the emphasis on collaborative cultures that challenge forces such as identification with family, social groups or ones country of origin and species that seek to keep us apart. The practical expression of Heart in life we saw as service. Society is the context in which we serve and of course learning to serve involves both practical interpersonal and personal skills. Service is the action that manifests Neohumanism in the life of child, teacher and society.
By the end of the second day we identified these three elements as key characteristics of Neohumanist expression in all our varied projects. We felt that the way they complemented one another was particularly unique. The Neohumanist theory of mind offers us a developmental model that connects beautifully with the spiritual dimension of heart. The Neohumanist understanding of heart as the field of spiritual endeavor emphasises self-development in the context of society and the planet. The Neohumanist understanding of society as a planetary community in which service is the task that informs all aspects of relationship links to our understanding of mind as an evolving process of entering into relationship with self and other through a process of subjectivization based on the principles of Astaunga Yoga. And so the circuit is complete.
The third day was devoted to deepening our understanding of these three categories and to developing a set of research activities that would inform our ongoing interactions as a group over the coming year. We intend to meet again in 2017 to continue this special journey. In the meantime we are happy to have developed a broad and easily understood template for our future actions as members of an evolving Neohumanist research initiative. We are also happy to have settled, for the time being, on a sense that it is the unique combination of a theory of mind with neohumanist love and a commitment to service-oriented pedagogy that is our gift to society and the future.