Also Listen on:
When we arrived in Bonnevaux we found a rather beautiful statue in the old chapel of a child and an older woman united in deep attention Mary is often represented in sacred art as a young girl being taught to read by her mother. As soon as you see the book on the mother’s lap you realise where their unified consciousness is directed. Symbolically she is learning to understand the words and to absorb them until she is ready to fully absorb all words into the Word and allow it to take flesh in her.
This week we have welcomed the first students of the WCCM Academy here in Bonnevaux for their first residential week. It is a time to build a community of learning and to start to think with a beginner’s mind about what learning essentially is. We start with a discussion of the phrase of the Rule of Benedict: ‘we intend to start a school for the Lord’s service. He says this will not demand anything harsh, oppressive or burdensome although discipline will be necessary to correct errors and protect love.
The Academy is a school for contemplative living. So much of modern education has become harsh and burdensome because it has lost touch with its essential purpose of awakening the student to an ever-greater degree of consciousness. Most educational institutions have created an idol out of academic success in the service of high performance in a later career. Rather than expanding, consciousness contracts into a sequence of paper degrees by worshipping the golden calf of grades and qualifications. We hope in the Academy to relearn the art of learning: not acquiring knowledge but allowing knowledge to be embodied.
To learn we only need a beginner’s mind, fresh, curious and open to metanoia. With this mind, we don’t worry about looking bad or silly because it is obvious we can’t learn unless we know what we don’t know and move from ignorance to understanding. There’s no crippling ego reaction about being wrong. Failure and errors turn swiftly into new starting-points and teaching moments. There is little need to be harsh to ourselves, to feel oppressed by the challenges of moving from confusion to clarity or to find burdensome the yoke of the discipline that keeps us learning.
Success, competition and the desire to win can become dangers as soon as we acquire a certain level of competence. The time comes to learn something new. Yet continuity is also necessary. We change by remaining on the path and discovering the interconnectedness of all branches of knowledge. Now we are learning the most important thing. We are learning how to learn. The discipline of study produces fruit that lasts not only in character, stability and personal integration but in the fruits of the spirit awakened through the power of attention.
The interconnection with meditation then becomes obvious. As it arises from stillness and silence, the spring of self-knowledge refreshes the student’s mind. It teaches us that the school we are learning in exists not for what we get out of it but for the service of the Lord.