My observation as an educator is that we generally need to engage physically and through ritual to facilitate this kind of deep transformative learning
There’ve been creative goings-on down at the Wind Park. This comprises our four wind turbines at the edge of the community that enable us to generate and sell about 40 per cent more electricity than we use at the Park, our main campus.
Mural artist, Lisa Shaw, was down there last week with young people who came to Findhorn on a course, using the base of the turbines as great canvases to paint upon. She has been doing this with various groups of young people, including local primary school children, over the last year or so. Now, three of the four turbines are covered in beautiful painted images relating to various sustainability-related themes.
Is this of any more than incidental importance? Does it represent anything more than an ephemeral beautification of our machines?
I am persuaded that it emphatically does.
I teach students in various classes in the community, up to undergraduate level. We always include a visit to the Wind Park. I remember the first time this was suggested to me some years ago, my first reaction was to dismiss the idea: ‘sure can’t the students see them perfectly well from here in the classroom — why would we waste a round trip of 45 minutes or so just to see them from close up?’
And yet, when I relented and agreed to the visit, the effect on the students of seeing them up close was clear and obvious. Quite simply, they ‘got it’ in a way that sitting in a classroom discussing renewable energy technologies had not allowed. Somehow, the effect of being really up close, feeling just how tall and elegant are the turbines, hearing the swish of the blades cutting through the air, just touching and holding them had a profound effect.
I spent some time working with a meditation teacher in India. One of the many gems she shared that has really stuck with me was the observation that in her tradition, they use the verb ‘to understand’ to denote not new conceptual learning, but only when that learning has been integrated and has effected a change in how the learner sees and acts in the world.
My observation as an educator is that we generally need to engage physically and through ritual to facilitate this kind of deep transformative learning. I work a lot on sustainability and global justice issues where we cover many disturbing subjects such as mass extinctions, poverty and malnutrition and the growing impacts of climate change.
When the learning is limited to intellectual engagement, I see that while the students are present and alert, the problems remain strangely abstract and removed from their experience. Somehow, the learning does not quite stick.
However, when I set up the learning in a more experiential way — have them, for example, speak imaginatively of the ecological havoc being wreaked in the voice of another species directly affected or that of a human being not yet born — the difference is often electrifying. The empathetic heart opens and they become deeply engaged and transformed.
This is the work that Lisa is doing with her murals. She is helping people here and in other projects she is involved with in Russia, Bolivia and India to engage in a direct and physical way with the world around them. By helping them embed experiences of beauty and sustainability in the very cells of their bodies, she is helping the young people she works with to deeply understand their place as threads in the web of life.