The following is from a student of the NHE Teacher Preparation Program

Being with Ki

By Didi Ananda Tapomaya’

Back at school – what fun! and what a pain in the neck!

Since I enrolled in the online Neohumanist Teacher Preparation Program at the Neohumanist College in Asheville, I have gained a re-kindled amazement at Shrii P. R. Sarkar’s brilliant legacy. And the neck ache? Maybe some of you can relate to the difficulties in organizing studies in a busy working life, and as in my case, in advanced age. Nevertheless, when one tries, one finds the way.

One of the first courses of the program is titled Neohumanist Philosophy of Education. And there, one assignment gave me a remarkable realization of how powerful a particular teaching method can be. We were to read an article by Robin Wall Kimmerer titled “Nature Needs a New Pronoun – to Stop the Age of Extinction, Let’s Start by Ditching ‘It’”, (https://www.yesmagazine.org/issue/together-earth/2015/03/30/alternative-grammar-a-new-language-of-kinship); we were to reflect upon it and then proceed to the task.

“Being with Ki” is one of the assignments designed by Kathleen Kesson. She has been a curriculum theorist and an educator of teachers for 35 years; prior to that she was a teacher of children specializing in arts-based education. Kathleen Kesson is currently the program director of the Gurukula teacher preparation program through the Neohumanist College of Asheville.

Wall Kimmerer is a founding director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, based in North America, and author of a book exploring the connections between indigenous wisdom and scientific knowledge.

In her article Kimmerer proposes that we need a renewed connection to feel less alienated with nature and the external world. She says that objectification of the natural world reinforces the notion that our species is somehow more deserving of the resources of the world than the other 8.7 million species we share the planet with. She claims that using the pronoun ‘It’ absolves us of moral responsibility and opens the door to exploitation.

The pronoun ‘it’ needs to be replaced with a word that expresses a closer link, and Kimmerer suggests a word in Anshinaabe language: ‘Bemaadiziiaaki’, a word for beings of the living Earth. We need a simple new English word to carry that meaning offered by the indigenous one, she states, and we arrive at ‘Ki’.

‘Ki’ to signify a being of the living Earth. Not ‘he’ or ‘she’, but ‘ki’. So that when we speak of Sugar Maple, we say, “Oh, that beautiful tree, ki is giving us sap again this spring.”
In this way Kimmerer makes a proposal for the transformation of the English language, a kind of reverse linguistic imperialism, she says, a shift in worldview through the humble work of the pronoun. Might the path to sustainability be marked by grammar, she asks and states that language can be a tool for cultural transformation.

The plural noun for ‘ki’ would be ‘kin’, which beautifully resonates with an English word meaning family and close relations, a group of beings sharing a common ancestry. In Neohumanism we see our ‘kith and kin’ including wider and wider circles of caring and compassion.

Shrii P. R. Sarkar, the propounder of Neohumanism, places a great responsibility on teachers, dramatists, and writers in their use of language; their work is to ‘sow the seeds of true development in the minds of children’ . In the study of Neohumanism we become aware of the need for inclusive language, how it is essential for gaining a more holistic understanding of the world we live in, and the feeling of service for all and everything.

So, the assignment was to spend time with a ‘being’ from a species other than human. We were just to be. Be and use all our senses in order to get to know this Ki. We were to take 20 precious minutes of a day to do this. Then we were free to choose a format (poetry, music, movement, or art) to describe this being and our relationship with it. We were to find means to express what we had learnt, felt, and thought in the company of that Ki.

On the following online class, we shared our findings; some students had made a video of their dance of a bird, a mime with a mask, others shared their paintings and songs of morning light, night sky, garden in afternoon, some had written poems, and stories of animals they had spent time with.

The whole process was a powerful experience of slowing if not stopping the hustle and bustle of a normal day, and a process of trusting one’s non-analytical thinking in finding data and information. We were just observing, without judgement or prejudices. The result was an opening of heart, ‘seeing with heart’, which I feel is seeing with your intuition, as your conscious mind is tamed into stillness, and into a positive emotional focus.
Being with Ki could be a very potent teaching tool for students of all ages, I highly recommend it. Enjoy your journey into the world where there is no far distance between you and the ‘other’.

My little scribble on: “Being with ki”

Ki is a little lizard. Ki would fit on my palm
If ki would want to do it, I mean, sit on my palm
I first met ki when I came back from two week’s travels
Ki was there on the floor in the hallway, I was at the door with a bag in my hand
Ki looked at me and asked Who are you, and what do you do here
I told ki, you stay here, we can live all good, can’t we
You’ll catch whatever bugs you like, and I’ll clean your poops

One day when I was taking a nap
Balcony doors open, sun spilling on the floor, lovely
What caught my eye, ki had tiptoed near me
Ki was looking at me unblinkingly as ki does
So still, and so quickly away, on ki way

On another day I thought let’s get to know each other a bit more
So, I lay down on the floor to be small and still
I saw ki in his hidey hole under a small table
Between us the vast expanse of the carpet and
Sun bright and clear through open doors
Ki was so still and small
I was so still and maybe not so small
Patiently I waited and then there ki was
Crossing the plateau towards me
Hello, my friend
You are a miniature crocodile
You have got the sway and swank of dragons’ past
Ki pulled and curled toes, carpet had become hot desert sands
Back to the shadows and out again, all the while looking at me
Unblinkingly unwaveringly
Time slowed down, time went all out of fashion
We were having a lizard morning
Ki was being ki and I was following ki
Across dunes of sand and into a shade and peace