Self-improvement and empowerment organizations are playing a dominant role in redefining our goals and expanding our vision for living a life of fulfillment. Research is starting to track this shift; an interesting study reported in the New York Times describes an evolution in marriage, revealing that “Americans now look to marriage increasingly for self-discovery, self-esteem and personal growth.” However, it also pointed out that self-exploration at this stage in life is challenging due to the immediate day-to-day needs of work and family.
This may be one reason why much self-development is happening during recreational time. Multitudes are flocking to seminars, yoga studios, meditation classes, destination health spas and other recreational venues to self develop. To a great extent, we have created a parallel track to the entrenched pathways of how we educate our youth, take care of our health, do business and grow into old age. However, the two tracks are starting to merge through education.
Fortunately, educators are continuously seeking ways to improve student performance and outcomes and most critically addressing the epidemic levels of stress in our schools, colleges and universities. We would do well to recognize that the yearnings that beckon us in adulthood characterize a new “achievement gap” in our current model of education. We should be growing in fulfillment on the way to adulthood and not feel emotionally and spiritually at a loss when careers are peaking and demands on us are at their greatest.
To underscore the importance of the need to change our educational model, a recent article in the New York Times states that the number of students arriving (arriving!) on campus who are already on antidepressants has almost tripled to 23 percent from 1994-2006. The article makes a reference to “crispies,” freshman who are so burned out by the pressures from high school that they can’t engage in the work, and “teacups,” those students who are so fragile that they can’t handle even the slightest degree of stress. A new model that addresses self development as a core feature of curriculum should be in wide demand based on this troubling statistic alone.
Numerous articles on the benefits of meditation in the classroom indicate promising results and mounting interest. A recent article in the Atlantic featured many successful programs including the New Horizon High School in New Haven. This program, also featured in the New Haven Independent, shared a success story on the implementation of the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique. Principal Maureen Bransfield, chose TM because “the data was so strong” and the “statistics are amazing.” She reported that students “fight and argue less, accomplish more and feel happier and less stressed.” She referred to the results as “cutting edge.”
This is a great beginning for schools and points to the emergence of a new educational paradigm centered around the student’s personal-development needs. When we introduce self-development practices such as TM, the student — or the learner, or the “self” — starts to become familiar with who she or he is on the deepest level of their being, instead of through the instrumentality of different disciplines.
When you think about it, it is odd that we learn about our “self” in an indirect way, through the many lenses of other fields of study. Coming to know the self through the prism of a specific field of knowledge is like trying to learn how to cook through eating and observing farming practices — but never actually entering the kitchen and turning on the stove. Both tracks of gaining knowledge are necessary, indirect and direct, theoretical and practical.
Socrates’s dictum, “Know thyself,” is still, thousands of years later, at the heart of the matter. But perhaps, the expression could be appreciated as, first know thyself. And how? By the self. And why? For the self.
The TM technique’s founder, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, revived the practice of TM from its ancient origins to meet the need for a more balanced approach to learning and self-actualization. In Science of Being and Art of Living, Maharishi expressed:
The TM technique is a path to higher states of consciousness by cultivating the mind to “self referral.” Through the process of transcending — taking the mind from its gross, active level to it’s most silent, expansive, innermost level, beyond the finest activity of the thinking process — the self awakens to its own nature. Interestingly, here, the object of experience is nothing other than the subject of experience! Awareness is not referring to anything on the outside, but rather, it is referring to itself, by itself and for the joy of itself. It is in a state of pure wakefulness — bliss. At this level of experience, we would call it the Self with a capital “S” for the grandeur and fulfilling nature of the experience and to distinguish it from the more isolated, ordinary experience of the self.
Training the mind to experience this level of self-referral awareness is at the heart of maturing the mind and its subtler values of intellect and feelings — our intuitive level. Stabilizing self-awareness and making it a permanent feature of the mind is how consciousness blossoms into “higher consciousness” and by association, cultivating citizens that serve their own interests and the interests of society to the benefit of one and all.
Taking some portion of every school day and engaging a student in this caliber of “Self” exploration and development is the greatest gift that any system of education can bestow. It is also the only way to make adulthood the fulfilling time it should be and not one of angst and soul-searching. Knowing “thyself” is always going to be at the heart of learning. But hopefully, it will now become a priority and central feature of education in a widespread way.