Well-being: Educating the Spirit

The sky is a heavy grey and it has been raining for many hours.  Sitting at the front on the top floor of a double-decker bus, I can see the water soaked fields and the streams spill on to the road as we take this familiar journey.  I get down from the bus close by the cottage which we lived in for three years, not so long ago.  I put up the hood of my jacket against the incessant rain and the memories surface of a dying family dog, the life of a cat cut short on the road and now buried in the woods nearby and the final independence steps of four children.

It is not as cold as it has been and the rain eases off as I make my way up the familiar hill.  It is now nearly forty years since I first ascended this road with the lady who has been my wife for almost as long.  At that time the summer was giving way to the first touches of autumn and the beech trees created a magnificent copper canopy that shaded the road from the afternoon sun.  Those trees are no more and young ones have been planted in their places; I will be long gone before those beeches reach the splendour of their forebears.

I pass the lodge and enter the parkland home to generations of sheep ascending the single track that climbs towards the large, imposing house.  In all this time I have been visitor, friend, parent and teacher at this place and, as I set foot on the gravel of the drive, I reflect on what my relationship might be now.
This morning the sun is streaming in and the sound of the birds outside seems to proclaim a welcome spring.  I have returned with a request to consider the psychological well-being of young people and have the opportunity of putting the question, ‘To what extent do you feel equipped to deal with the challenges of living?’ 
It became clear quite quickly that this was not a question that immediately touched the students; nevertheless several concerns began to emerge.
Possibly central to the thinking of many of these teenagers was a sense of who they are and their feelings of self-worth.  The destructive power of self criticism was clearly felt by some and was described with clarity as never being able to look at themselves without a feeling of they could have done better, leading to a deep sense of they could always be better.  On the other hand others stated that they had never had that feeling and what that their experience was one of acceptance of who they were, not out of complacency or certainty, but more that they were not accustomed to comparing themselves with others.  An observation was made concerning the part played by emotional support from others in their lives; from relatives and friends in particular.  It was this sense of being cared for that was seen as significant in their well-being from a very early age.  This led on to comments about happiness as being connected to feelings about oneself. 

An intricate web of observations arose from happiness and the sense of despair that some felt about the future.  Firstly, a student from Portugal was experiencing that many of her contemporaries had been distracted by the promise of material happiness and the economic and consequent social crisis in the country is leading to many young people feeling a mixture of despair and powerlessness.  However, this student felt that this was not being translated into questioning the relationship between having things and being happy.  Others from Europe echoed her comments.  Then from a student from Brazil came the observation that life in that country was very different, with many people struggling for basic survival against a background of an almost non-existent framework of social infrastructure.  Here there is very little of the level of comfort that is expected in Europe, and yet a dramatically lower level of happiness was not apparent. 

Again, it is a delight to be with these young people.  In these classes there is a sense of interest, ease and respect for each other.  Some students are silent, but that is not a problem for they appear to be listening.  Some are quite forceful in what they say, but this comes out of passion, not that their own point of view should be dominant.  There is no feeling of conflict that is so often apparent in classrooms around the world.  It is a privilege for me to be here.

‘The difficulty in all these human questions is that we ourselves, the parents and teachers, have become so utterly weary and hopeless, altogether confused and without peace; life weighs heavily upon us, and we want to be comforted , we want to be loved.  Being poor and insufficient within ourselves, how can we hope to give the right kind of education to the child?
That is why the major problem is not the pupil, but the educator; our own hearts and minds must be cleansed if we are to be capable of educating others.  If the educator himself is confused, crooked, lost in a maze of his own desire, how can he impart wisdom or help to make straight the way of another?  But we are not machines to be understood and repaired by experts; we are the result of a long series of influences and accidents, and each one has to unravel and understand for himself the confusion of his own nature.’
J Krishnamurti – Education and the Significance of Life.

It seems to me an essential part of the responsibility of educators is listening to students, whatever their age, for education is more than a one way process.