Best Practice: Expanding the Heart

By Arun Jacobson

In the application of the all-encompassing philosophy of Neohumanism to education, we have recently sorted our endeavors into three main avenues: Expanding the Heart, Freeing the Mind, and Engaging in Society. These three endeavors need to be ongoing throughout a person’s educational experience —from early childhood through early adulthood— if they are to be counted on to make deep roots, and bear beautiful fruits one day. It is a long-term process.

That is why we describe our Progressive School to every new family as a “long-term character-based program.” Over the years, I have had the chance to meet with adults who went through our Neohumanist school system at Progressive School, and who exemplify those personal character traits we could term Neohumanist. In these interviews, we attempted to unwind their learning back to its beginnings, and discover which practices had the most profound influence on their values, personality, and ambitions; on their hearts, minds, and actions.

Exploring the avenue specifically deemed Expanding the Heart, we identified ten major (and several minor) practices that were considered most effective:

  1. Deep meditation
  2. Teacher as role model
  3. Service-based learning and Volunteering
  4. Choice of great literature
  5. Classroom micro-society
  6. Collective projects
  7. Nature-based learning
  8. Aesthetic-based learning: all the Arts
  9. Compassion-based learning in Social Studies and Current Events
  10. Biographies of individuals who exemplify an expanded heart

When one’s circle of love includes not just family, or a few friends, or certain pets, or useful plants, or even all of humanity, but rather all of creation, including the elements that make up the physical universe, that is the stance of Neohumanism. The result of that stance is a natural tendency towards Cosmic Ideation.

Those who experience Cosmic Ideation do not all arrive there via the same route. That is to say, not everyone responds to same way to the ten practices listed above. For some, a lasting inspiration might have started with a song (8), or a walk in an ancient forest (7), or a chance to step into the shoes of Mother Teresa (10). However, we can summarize our experiences by highlighting the top three items on the list as being frequently credited for sparking the inspiration to become a Neohumanist.

(3) Service-based learning and Volunteering

A search through the Progressive School handbook finds the word “service” listed 36 times. Service-based learning is simply the most effective way to put information and skills into long-term memory. Why? Here are just a few reasons: because we are expanding the heart when considering another entity’s needs, because it solves a real-world problem, because it often involves collective planning, because it brings meaning to our lives. The act of Service or Volunteering takes us temporarily out of our ego, and realigns our perspective. Suddenly our troubles don’t seem so big. Suddenly bringing joy to another is worth more than any material object. Suddenly the suffering or inconvenience we have to go through becomes an opportunity for which we are thankful. I have watched countless students cite Service experiences in their graduation speech as the most meaningful of their childhood. A common statement that comes from the lips of those describing their mental state while engaged in Service is this: “That could be my mother.”

(2) Teacher as a role model

It is hard to conceptualize expanded love. What does it look like? How does it feel? How does it act? Yet it is easy to conceive of when embodied by a great teacher. At Progressive School we have two teachers in a classroom. This gives double the opportunity to find a role model, and a chance to see a daily living example of how two people should relate and interact with each other. When a teacher touches a child’s heart with patience, or generosity, or a tenacious belief in them, or by compassionate listening, or by personal sacrifice for them, or by showing them a better way, or by including the neglected in their circle, it is not easily forgotten. In fact, we all know that it is remembered for a lifetime. It becomes a perennial source of inspiration. The loving model of a teacher with an expanded heart brings about this mental statement: “That could be me.”

(1) Deep meditation

People most often think of meditation as a quiet or lonely practice, a way to get away from the world. The quiet, lonely, getting away from everything aspects of meditation only apply to the world of sensory stimulation. At a deeper level of mind, when the senses are suspended, meditation brings us closer to our essence, our source of being. Despite our physical separation and superficial differences, the deeper we go, the more alike we are. All long for peace, love, security, freedom, happiness in unlimited quantities. There is a song we sing before meditation at Progressive School that has this stanza:

Every heart in the world wants to love infinitely
Every soul in the world wants to feel that it is free
Go beyond, let no dogma bind us
We are one with the force that guides us.

Deep meditation leads to this mental statement towards everything: “That is me, I am That.

Expanding the Heart in Neohumanism means finding that everyone and everything is in your circle. If we take the mental statements of our top three techniques for Expanding the Heart, we get the following: “That could be my mother, … that could be me, … that is me.” In this way it becomes clear how service, proper role model, and meditation form a natural progression that can take one to the pinnacle of compassion: seeing your Self in everything.