Learning and creativity
39. College and collage
The idea of life-long learning is increasingly a reality for many people. Managing it in a schedule of engagements can pose challenges, but overcoming ignorance rewards effort. In his last book, Where Do We Go From Here? , Martin Luther King urged his black compatriots to educate themselves and claim their entitlements to socio-economic advantages, thereby steadily integrating like their Jewish brothers in America had done. He wrote that “deeds uninformed by educated thought can take false directions”, while “education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential. ” Acquiring knowledge and skills, and using them in the world, fosters independence and responsibility. He quotes Cicero (106-43 B.C.): “freedom is participation in power”.
The philosopher Walter Wink has criticised mainstream education systems for moulding citizens to keep capitalist concerns going, oblivious to what really matters. Psychologist Peter Grey has argued against the regimentation of schooling that impedes children and students from leading their own learning. And Parker J. Palmer urges teachers to loosen up and listen to class members as if they are human beings too.
The sufi way supports deeper more individualistic approaches to education. Sufism was mainly cultivated in Middle-Eastern Moslem countries but has germinated in all nations, for millennia, as the seed of great civilisations. It is the ‘open secret’, according to Stuart Litvak in Seeking Wisdom, that’s buried deep within each of us: the essential or dormant kernel of primal truth from whence sprouts knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, when watered by the nutrient of love. Courtesy of a monograph by scholar, Idries Shah (influential member of the Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge,) one of their number, the revered thirteenth-century poet, Rumi, explains, “The methods used to help in the production of the higher state of perception include historical, religious and fable frameworks, as well as exercises of all kinds….the effort of man [is] to reunite with the understanding from which he is cut off… ” The desirability of deliberate application to a constellation of lessons is implied. Hindu Upanishads likewise stressed the need for self-development.
In the Buddhist Suttra on the Eight Realisations – “The Fifth Realisation is the awareness that ignorance is the cause of the endless round of birth and death. Therefore, bodhisattvas [compassionate awakened ones] always remember to listen and learn in order to develop their understanding and eloquence. This enables them to educate living beings and bring them to the realm of great joy.”
‘The present moment, contains past and future. The secret of transformation is in the way we handle this very moment’
‘Practise conscious breathing, to water the seeds of awakening. Right View is a flower blooming in the field of mind consciousness.’
Both quotes are from the Avatamsaka Sutra. Everything is interconnected.
Like Eastern analyses of the mind as a storehouse, flexible and subject to conditioning, key Western figures advise gaining knowledge as a grounding, a means to the end of transformational creativity. In an Interview with Lewis Hyde , author of The Gift, he paints a far less constrained picture than that of mainstream institutions of how to handle information. The quest for nourishment of self and community by giving work away is contrasted with the utilitarian push to master the marketable skills that assure an income and career, though later he reconciles both.
This creative embrace represents the highest level on Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs; that of self-actualisation. Attaining this state was originally thought possible only after the other levels had been met, but now it’s generally accepted that stages commonly overlap. When crisis hits, the basics tend to come first, and people sensibly do whatever it takes to secure food, shelter, safety, aid and so on. Once danger’s past, freedoms to reach out return. Libraries, apprenticeships, travel and other more immediate activities can enrich the mind and enhance skills. Matthew Crawford‘s book, The Case For Working With Your Hands, champions craft trades. Finding purpose revitalises.
MOOCS (massive open online courses) usually cost nothing and while generally unaccredited, and prone to non-completion, provide a nice recent introduction to, or continuation of, academic education. Some can even focus on issues being experienced, such as Tulane’s, or FutureLearn’s trauma course. From self-learning to night-classes to part-time or full-time university courses, each may exert an attraction that can be met through fulfilling criteria step by step. There’s even an international institute devoted to creativity studies.
Not alone is it deeply satisfying from a personal perspective, when the time’s right, but creativity is now recognised as an essential ingredient of a vibrant society.