Self-Actualisation and Education
Self-actualisation deemed to be the highest state of consciousness is what an individual is supposed to aim at in this earthly sojourn of his but instead gets mislead and strays away from his true calling by millions of other things that are illusionary and non-consequential to living a life of purpose. Vivekananda famously asserted ‘Every individual is potentially divine’. Why then do we experience so much discord, disharmony and violence everywhere we turn to look?
Take up the following visualisation exercise for a few minutes: Imagine yourself living life to the brim by being alive to all the possibilities that life offers, harvesting rich experiences from the bounty of existence, being aware of the boundless potential of the human mind, taking off into the realm of make-believe with unfettered flight of imagination, experiencing the indescribable joy of creating something, living in an undivided state of consciousness, experiencing abundance, reverberating with pulsating positivity – in a nutshell, being a self realised individual.
Too far removed from reality? But isn’t this how life is meant be lived? Isn’t this the ultimate objective of our relentless pursuit of ever elusive secret to life of abundance and happiness?
How often does one come across people who qualify being called self-realised ? Can there be any place where one can learn to be happy with who one is, divine the purpose of one’s existence and follow one’s calling? Self-actualisation deemed to be the highest state of consciousness is what an individual is supposed to aim at in this earthly sojourn of his but instead gets mislead and strays away from his true calling by millions of other things that are illusionary and nonconsequential to living a life of purpose.
Vivekananda famously asserted ‘Every individual is potentially divine’. Why then do we experience so much discord, disharmony and violence everywhere we turn to look? Prod a little deeper and one can sense the mind clouded by fear, doubt, negativity compounded by mental inertia and letting the pall of ignorance envelop us completely, disabling any attempt to propel oneself to a frame of mind that facilitates critical enquiry into the nature of things and ways of the world in order to sift/see through the numerous digressions, illusions and aberrations that trap an originally curious mind in a quagmire of deception, pretension and false realities.
The appeal of the illusory world is so great that the progress of an enlightened mind on the path to self-discovery comes to a standstill as the enamour of worldly charm is all consuming and it simply overpowers the seeker of the ultimate truth.
There is reason behind this foray into abstract, spiritual mumbo-jumbo (if you have started wondering where all this is leading to – bear with me till I connect the dots). Tracing the etymological meaning of the word ‘education’ will give insight into what education in the real sense of the word means. The connotation of the word leads us to define the process as development of latent possibilities of the child. Now comes the question – are our educators equipped to do just that, i.e. ‘to draw out’ the innate powers of children, ‘to nourish and mould’ their personalities.
The lip service paid to ‘holistic education’ or ‘multi- faceted growth’ does little or nothing to orient the instructional strategies adopted to ensure the ‘blossoming’ of the child – the pivot around whom the entire teachinglearning process revolves. The analogy of the potter and clay, gardener and plant aptly captures the relationship between the teacher and the taught underlining what the process of education entails. But most often than not it is only a few, exceptional individuals who are able to carry the role of ‘potter’ or ‘gardener’ to near perfection because of their inherent aptitude for teaching and sincerity towards the noble profession. But the majority of the teaching professionals, though they posses the required teaching qualifications, remain what they are – teachers (not educators).
Is there any magical formula that would transform these individuals to carry out their ordained duties and unwritten responsibilities towards their students whose destiny they shape? Can a rigorous and comprehensive teacher training programme plug the gap between ‘the knowing’ and ‘the being’? Can workshops and in-service training take these issues head-on and facilitate the transition? Or do we just throw up our hands in helplessness and frustration and wait for a solution that some messiah of learning comes up with ? And in the meantime do we expect some epiphany moment, when teachers realize what they ought to be doing and how to do what they are entrusted and expected to do?
By this time many reading this piece would have started questioning the futility of such an endeavour seen in the context of today’s educational landscape which is shaped by the unrealistic expectations of parents, emphasis on marks and performance in exams being the sole yardstick to measure the student’s learning, de-motivated teachers with their ever dwindling stature in society who are hired to just ‘run the show’ in the money minting establishments that our schools have become today.
This scenario validates what an experienced educationist once remarked on the state of education in our schools. He believes that schools today are far removed from the idea of what real education is and the way/s it should be imparted. He further went on to add that ‘The idea that we are educating our students is a fallacy’.
What will it take to de-condition decades of our skewed approach to the teaching learning process, I wonder. Why is it so difficult to let the child be and draw out his/her innate curiosity to learn about his environment and understand the mysteries that abound in nature around him, to marvel at the grand design that the world basically is, to appreciate the intricate detailing in everything around us, to wonder, wander, explore, discover – all of which contribute to learning that is natural, intuitive and permanent. Stimulating the imagination can lead to unlocking the power of unfettered thinking leading to the birth of innovation and invention.
But hardly does this attribute of genius get its due in the teaching-learning process. Rather the sign of its existence is met with punitive actions so much so that it is equated to machinations of an idle and empty mind. Without the freedom for self expression and internalising learning at one’s own comfortable pace of learning, the idea of education is hollow and devoid of any meaning. It may sound impractical to ask for a place of learning to incorporate and execute what often sound utopian ideas that look appealing and good as long as they are confined to the realm of fiction but run into innumerable hurdles and inconceivable road blocks if at all one dares to replicate the ‘fancy ideas’ and ‘unrealistic goals of learning. But really is it so difficult to conceptualise and put to practice what is most rudimentary and essential characteristic of joyous learning – an environment consciously nurtured to give children the necessary space to ‘err’, learn by trial and error, where they have a say in what they want to learn and how, where teaching is all about the process and not the product of learning alone, where differences are not just accommodated but exploited to give a rich learning climate and experience, where teaching and learning merge in the process of renewed discovery of knowledge about the world and most importantly, the self, where boundaries of learning disciplines diffuse to become a common vehicle of delivering inputs required to forge a better understanding of the world we inhabit, where learning needs no other incentive greater than the joy of discovering for oneself, where creativity is not a by-product of learning but its chief attribute, where the experience of learning together counts more than any certificate to validate the learning output, where the eagerness to be with each other and share the progress in the journey of life-long learning surpasses the thrill of any individual achievements.
Today, we are seeing a paradigm shift in how education is perceived in spite of the deeply entrenched commercialisation and commoditisation of education. The presence of alternative schools and the concept of home-schooling, though have few takers, is an acknowledgement of the fact that varied perceptions about what education is and should be imparted not only exist but is also influencing the mainstream channels. The intelligentsia at least seem to realise that a systemic reform in education system is urgently calling for an overhaul in the approaches to teaching-learning to ensure realisation of the real objectives of education. Coming back to the original premise of this article – self-actualization of an individual through the process of education need not be shunned as an idealistic and impractical goal by quoting the demands of the present times and justifying the unacceptable practices in the name of providing a comprehensive education.
Education of the young has always been the priority of a progressive society right from the advent of civilisation and the purpose of doing so remains the same even today with some additional requirements that gets tagged along with the advancements in evolution of societal structures and human capital. So, though education should be in keeping with the changing times, the fundamental tenets, principles and the larger goals of education essentially remain the same and every attempt must be made not to lose sight of this.
Education, thus should not be deemed as a process with narrowly defined short term objectives with deliverables that though seem enticing do not really have any intrinsic value. The process of education in all its complexities is an enriching process if carried out in an environment that is free from pressures and diktats of a myopic view about learning and done in accordance with natural and intuitive principles of teaching-learning for a rewarding and ennobling experience that is real education.
So how do we go about imparting this rather misunderstood and misconceived dimension of education? First and foremost – it is not to be confused with religious instruction or moral education neither should it be considered the forte of ‘spiritual gurus’. What I am advocating is something that ought to be the personal quest of every individual to realize his ultimate potential which happens to be the ultimate objective of education. Teaching, I believe, is essentially an intuitive process and to be an effective teacher, one must inevitably be a realised individual i.e.
be aware of the infinite potential of the human mind, work towards realizing one’s own latent potentialities, have a broad vision for the growth and progress of humanity and align individual goals with that vision for the greater good of mankind. But there can be no pedagogical guidelines for doing this. All that one needs to do is be conscious of everything one thinks, says and does. Spend time on introspection and relentlessly pursue attainment of self-realisation: a state of mind or level of functioning which manifests not as a state of doing something exceptionally well but being and operating at the peak of all our senses and consciousness.
I entreat all who call themselves ‘educators’ to ponder over this. That could lead to, I earnestly hope, the beginning of the change we want to see in our teaching fraternity and consequently the society we are all a part of.
P Ajitha is a teaching practitioner who has been advocating for ‘liberating’ the education process to accommodate change and give true freedom that enables the teacher to create, innovate and experiment with notions of learning; a votary of teachers’ rights to empower them to become the catalysts of change in building a national force of informed men and women with sound value system and integrity of character; a staunch believer in the transformational nature of education imparted with true commitment to the larger objectives of this noble endeavour. The author presently teaches at Delhi Public School, Coimbatore and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.