Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012.01.31 — Sheldon Kopp on Education, from Even a Stone Can be a Teacher & Hairball fushigi*

Today's book blog is a bit of cheat. It relates to books — it's not that kind of cheat. No, the cheat is that I'm doing this on an old long ago read book instead of blogging book reviews of the two books I've recently finished — Noam Chomsky: A Philosophic Overview by Justin Leiber and Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein. I've been writing the review of the former, but haven't finished it yet. I just finished the latter, and it has left me bereft of a coherent review at this time: I'm still mulling over this powerful and very sad book.

No, the cheat was prompted by my friend BH with whom I have been coming to know creatively in the last few months since we have begun exploring the meaning of dreams as they relate to the expression of personal creativity. During the course of our discussions I have suggested to BH that she seriously overestimates the significance and importance of formal education. We have been discussing how creativity can get boxed in by the perceived requirements of formal schooling. I point out that that the thinkers and social critics I most respect have all unequivocally castigated formal education, even though all of them were in fact well educated.

Isn't that an odd conundrum or Catch-22? That reminds me of the movie Educating Rita. Rita doesn't understand that her desire to be educated is a fool's path, despite her professor of English expressing his concerns about it — and being himself a drunken fool.

Anyway, I have been, with hit-and-miss consistency, noting anti-education quotations over the last fifteen years or so. I told BH that I'd send her some. This I began to do tonight. Then I thought that some of them are quite likely worth sharing with a larger audience because they are sometimes very funny as well as meaningful. This I also decided to do, hence this blog 'cheat' because my first clutch of quotes comes from Sheldon Kopp. After I thought of doing this, I realized with bemusement that my doing so moves me outside of my 'box' of creativity that I'd comfortably stuffed this book blog into. I chuckle at the thought of BH's reaction to how its metaphorical structure echos our discussions!

And as I wrote that the strangest of fushigis exploded in my face. Laurie Brown, the CBC Radio2 host of The Signal tells the following story:

… We all know people that talk a lot about themselves. All the time. … But I do know somebody who [talks about herself] all the time. And I remember at a party, she was talking to my father over in the corner. And she was telling him ALL about her hair, and the problems she's had with her hair, and this new hair cut and blah blah blah. And then she said to him at one point, 'Oh! But enough of me talking. Tell me, what do you think about my hair?' (The Signal Podcast #53 11.07.21 @ 18:29).
What makes this a fushigi is that when BH and I started talking about dreams she also described that her hair had begun to fall out. I suggested that she may find it interesting to see if her dreams might help stop her hair from falling out.

So, over the next few weeks, I will be posting old stuff read as it pertains to the value (or not), of formal education. As mentioned, here is Sheldon Kopp, from Even a Stone Can Be a Teacher:

I hate having wasted more than twenty years going to school. Formal education left me little of personal value other than elementary language skills and professional credentials. Much of what was taught cluttered my mind with irrelevant information. Arbitrary injunctions inhibited my imagination in efforts to learn anything new and different.

Families raise children in conformity with the conventional wisdom of their communal culture. Years of formal schooling funnel individual diversity into the same narrow channel. The intended outcome is a well-adjusted adult who will not make trouble.

In school I always felt inadequate. I was bright enough to master assigned studies, but what I was learning made no sense to me. Unaware of alternate courses of unbounded study, it took me a long time to undertake a solitary search for the particular meaning of my personal life. The uncharted explorations of this independent voyage of self-discovery involved avoiding regular routes and scrapping scheduled stopovers. In the absence of an assigned curriculum, answers offered by my earlier education were often useless.

Once I gave up pursuing the predicted proof of explanations imposed by others, unexpectedly I happened on intuitive understandings. This encouraged my voluntary suspension of disbelief in all that till then I had been taught to ignore. The immediacy of my own imagination turned out to be the most reliable touchstone for what was worth learning. It served me better than reality agreed on in advance by other people. To my delight, I discovered that openness to the undetermined meaning of each individual moment transformed ordinary external events into extraordinary personal experiences.

In an extended adolescence, the alternate routes I explored included doing dope while hanging out in Harlem jazz joints and Greenwich Village coffee houses. I spent much of my time either alone or in the company of other misfits. Fascinated by the seedy underside of life, I lost my emotional virginity by screwing around with hipsters, hustlers, beats, and any other characters queer enough to be cited by the community as crazy or criminal.

As a young adult I began listening to songs and stories form long ago times and faraway places. Hearing strange voices awakened my ears to the sounds of everyday life. Seeing shapes and colours of statues and painting opened my eyes wide enough to watch the drama and dance performed both in the theatre and on the city streets.

Eventually I explored land- and seascapes raw enough to shake the foundations of my urban upbringing. Summers spent on North Atlantic capes and offshore islands began a lifelong romance with the sea. Wanderings alone along empty beaches, I picked up shells and pebbles. Attending to each one individually allowed instruction by a single stone unique even among a million others.
Late in life, I set out on more organized alternate paths. I entered psychotherapy as a patient, participated in encounter groups, and underwent instruction in yoga meditation. For a time, I chanted mantras, visualized yantras, and tried tantras. I gave up these practices only after recognizing that life itself was to be my guru.

Once having restored a beginner's mind, I found that almost anything I encountered extended my education. Avoidance of social contacts empty of personal meaning left the unfilled space of solitude equivalent to touching moments of contact with a few close friends. The mirages of marriage opened onto oases of domestic intimacy. Raising irreverent children kept life lively. Working as a psychotherapist, supervisor, and writer also allowed continuing the lifelong work on my Self. Ironically, often I am both the best therapist/teacher and the worst patient/student I have ever had.


A tale is told of an Indian holy man who lived in a forest with his disciples. He taught them to see God in all things. One day, while deep in the forest gathering wood for a sacrificial fire, the disciples heard a voice of shouting: "Out of the way! Out of the way! A mad elephant is coming!" All but one young man ran for their lives. Kneeling in the path of the lumbering beasts, he sang its praises.

The mahout who drove the elephant screamed at him to run away, but the disciple would not budge. Seizing the stubborn student with its trunk, the elephant tossed him aside and charged on down the forest path. Bruised and unconscious he had to be carried on back to the hermitage by the other disciples.

When he began to recover, the injured young man was asked by his teacher why he had not run from the charging elephant. The battered disciple protested: "You taught us that all creatures are manifestations of God. Why should I have made way for that elephant? I am God. The elephant is God. Should God be afraid of God?"

The holy man smiled. Speaking softly, he said. "Yes, my child, it is true that you are God and that the elephant is also God. But why did you not listen when God's voice called out from the mahout telling you to run away?"

[This story reminds me, of course, of the joke about the devout Christian who refused to leave his flood-threatened house. After drowning and going to heaven, he asked Gabriel why God hadn't saved him from the flood. Gabriel replied 'Why do you think that? God sent you the emergency rescue team, the people in the boat and finally a helicopter.']
Kopp, Sheldon. Even a Stone Can Be a Teacher: Learning and Growing from the Experiences of Everyday Life. Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher, Inc., 1985, p vii-x.
Addendum 2012.01.31:
One of Betty's dreams was that she was in an elevator pushing the numbers, with the #7 standing out for some reason. That evening I read Al's blog post Oops from January 26th. In it she wrote:
Sorry, this is a pretty lame post tonight. I did have a strange dream last night. Anyone ever had a dream about a certain number being repeated over and over in the background of your dreams? It was super annoying. I had a dream about going to the gallows...I've got to stop reading A Tale of Two Cities before I go to bed...wait, wasn't that a guillotine?
Not sure if it counts, but I found it an amusing tiny fushigi.

Addendum #2 2012.02.11:
Today, after running around doing grocery shopping and other car related chores, I got home to a late lunch / early supper with my wife. She turned on the TV and flipped around until she saw Matt Damon on the screen. We began to watch the movie, which I'd not seen before. She said she had, and that it was odd but okay/good. The movie was Hereafter directed by Clint Eastwood. What created the fushigi link was the young boy, Marcus: in the movie, shortly after we began watching it — we tuned into it about 40 minutes in, I think — stumbles into a YouTube video of eastern mysticism or philosophy. Which i also did, yesterday, for my very first time, when I was editing this blog to include links and images. Specifically, my search for the Zen concept 'Beginner's Mind' took me to a YouTube video narrated by the actor Peter Coyote. To my surprise I actually felt surprise that philosophy / spiritual lectures would be YouTubed. So I was very amused to see the boy duplicate, in effect, my first time experiences with such a thing.

Addendum #3 2012.02.11:
This morning I was amused by another fushigi-ish thing, which came via a piece of e.mail spam that made it through my corporate e.mail system. Here it is:
Subject: Deal-mantra: New Deal:


Spent all your money in buying gift for your sweetie? Trying to hide your old watch from her? Relax! Give your watch a makeover by buying new inexpensive watch bracelet for just $12.50 at Murdoch Jewellers. Whether you want to give illusion of an expensive gold watch with a gold-plated one or you like stainless steel, choice is yours but you need to rush as only limited quantities available. Spend the money savings by taking her for a romantic dinner. She will adore you for that. So panic time is over and it’s time to wear a thinking hat to plan how you two would indulge in after-dinner fun.

Thank you for agreeing to receive promotional and product-related emails from www.deal-mantra.com. To keep the emails coming, please add subscribe@deal-mantra.com to your address book or safe list now. If you no longer wish to receive future emails, please click here to unsubscribe.
Yesterday I edit this blog to include a link to 'mantra' and today I get a spammer e.mail with 'mantra' in the subject line from a mantra dot com site. Weird.