Educational research and mindfulness meditation

by Antonio Ricci* Translation by Angela Cervera

We would all like to be winners but, after all, we have to admit to be only poor wretches who can barely try to go through their existence with dignity, knowing simply that everything, although gorgeous, will come to an end, well aware that we have only this life and that we are free to turn it in whatever we want: a masterpiece or a long mournful, anguished ‘scraping along’. We usually search for certainties, precision, for rigorous and verifiable data as well as for control and forecast forgetting that our understanding of life should be close to reality as well as logically accurate. Logic may be accurate but at the same time also unreal and therefore misleading. How often do we confuse what is logical with what is real? The two things can’t be always superposed. It is a matter of fact that  humans differ from animals thanks to an awareness that enables them to go beyond the sole biological dimention.  In overcoming instinct there is conscience, a fact that is stated by the freedom of choice as well as by the ability to master impulses. To become real we need to get back to the simple experience, to recover the basis of knowledge deeply and extensively through our solitude, being able to take out relevant meaning of what we really are and what we do, while relating with the others and the world. Therefore, educating means in this sense seeking contact with reality considering the primacy of experience over an abstract idea of world. Developing conscience means doing a voluntary effort towards personal growth, for which you need proper means as: action, relationship, reflection and meditation. Action is rooted into the world, it corresponds to our way of modifying and changing the world while eating, shaping, enjoying as well as suffering it. Action defines our presence in the world and gives witness to our beliefs. Relationship is what identifies our existential condition: we are relationship and we exist thanks to it. Reflection is the significant result of awareness emerging by the impact with the world, which is filtered by the uniqueness of the individual, a fact made by thought and word: it’s the energy which animates action and gives a meaning to it. Meditation, at last, is both an excellent foothold and a tool for deep delving into ourselves as well as the torch which enlightens the depth of our humanity. It’s both a help to understand our existence and a tool to cultivate awareness. Meditation is the simplest tool for working on the basic layers of our experience.   So what meanings can it acquire within educational research? Let’s start from the first experiential fact: reality is always in motion. How can we get in contact with it and with the experiences we are going to face? How can we observe the nature of our relationship to a certain experience? Firstly we ought to reflect about time and space. Our actions are always oriented in time and space and that is something we can’t ignore. Action always has a firm position relating to time and space because it’s essentially bound to bodiliness. It’s in fact bodiliness itself which forms the experience we make of time and space. The bodily aspect of action as well as the duration of the experience always hold a triple direction: the present, the past and the future. The experience of the present embodies the instant of my real action or the action I may consider as possible. The present time is the only data of experience we have while, as far as we consider our interior experience, we can say that all three times take part in it.  What is hence the connection between real time and the time of experience? Let’s ask Saint Augustine of Hippo. He states that: There is a present of things past, a present of things present, and a present of things future. These three times exist in our soul and suggest the existence of a conscience able to transcend the immediacy of the present and, in so doing, able also to overcome its   limitations and restrictions, unlike it happens to what is simply nature. That means that: “the present of things past is memory; the present of things present is vision; the present of things future is expectation” Memory, vision and expectation are the first signs of a conscience which can express its highest action in Hope when there is expectation, in forgiveness when there is memory and in presence when there is vision. There is hence an acting memory and a body that defines the presence of a person, just as there are three contemporary temporal directions placed in action, which are not always aware nor visible. Seeking for presence and awareness in the here and now ought thus to contemplate the complexity of the data time awareness in order to let it acquire a real, profound and complete meaning. There is in fact a subjective time and a cosmic one to which we are all called to participate; a time that begins with our birth and ends with our death, which we measure while passing and existing in action; a time that transcends our every deeds which follows its lows and exists far before our birth lasting beyond our death. This latter is a time whose measure is so wide, mysterious and immeasurable that it can be experienced as unintelligible, unlimited and eternal. Impermanence and eternity join together as a matter of fact of consciousness in their substantial and concomitant truthfulness and, in so doing, they create an insoluble oxymoron whose constituent element is to be found in change: reality is always in motion. That means that the structure of space and its dimensions where we indeed perceive ourselves living, represents the directions of our movements and particularly express our real deeds or, at least, the ones we believe to be possible. Within this primary space there are little and big things related to our body and its possible actions. Space is filled with my actions because acting means voluntarily participating to this motion in having an effect on its direction. But what is really necessary, first of all, is to recognize and understand the phenomenon. Escaping into despair means not participating to reality by avoiding action, in other words that means refusing the possibility to be able to have an impact on reality. Managing to have an impact on reality means to base on our desires which become will and, most of all, it means  to take the risk of it. Our presence is made of body, space and time, that is: I am here right now; I’ll be somewhere later; I’ve been somewhere before. Mental awareness means developing a four level consciousness based on physical conditions, feelings, contents of mind and heart as well as on contents of universal laws which govern my way of being in the world.  So what is absence then? It means death in all possible forms: death of the body, death of interior acting, death of memory, death of the will, of hope, death of thought and of the power to act upon the world. Continuity of awareness is thus given both by being conscious of where I am and by the continuity of interior action. It’s both struggle and painful labour of the spirit which hardly tries to conform itself to its being in the world, a world which imposes limits but also possesses the material and spiritual resources to make life possible. Something tells us that the world has a hidden meaning which will be revealed while living. Beauty and participation are part of it. To be able to hold more world in ourselves we ought to make room, but to meet the world, we need to leave the house, moving away from the area where we feel comfortable and safe, which is usually made of unlikely certainties and claims to control. Mental awareness allows us to be where we ought to
be, allows to see things as they really are, immediately and directly with the immediacy and freshness of attention. So it may well happen to feel having been touched by what is usual daily life as well as by any manifestation of reality.  It may happen to perceive that things are connected and, in so doing, to be able to distinguish the essentials from what is unnecessary, so as to reply properly to what we are asked to do in our daily life, to what I’m expected to do, being free from the compelling drives. It’s thus possible to stay where we are, even though there is  something we just don’t understand, abandoning our stubborn bond to fear, giving up the desire to control things and  to get instant solutions, by keeping absolute confidence in the continuity of our attention.  So we become responsible. We can keep acting even if we feel hurt, even if there is no immediate relief, trying to pull out energy from endless complaining and self-commiseration. That represents the spirit of freedom in connection to the world. It’s possible to experience participation and beauty. Developing awareness to become aware doesn’t give a final solution neither to suffering nor to the toil of existence, it rather places both within existence, giving them the place they deserve by bestowing sense and breadth of vision. Thus acceptance and intimate welcome arise. So we maintain that in meditation we observe and go deeper in order to stay open and exist. We observe carefully and not judging to find a genuine relationship with the changes of our body while developing firmness, stability and concentration. We observe physical pains and pleasures, our breath as well as our mental and emotional state. We observe to understand what is really happening in the present in order to develop continuity of attention. Being able to stay open means opening up to the vital process itself, because we are willing to glimpse and thus accept the feelings and conditions which can explain our peculiar psychological blocks, the obstacles we feel, as well as unresolved emotional and mental issues. This attitude brings understanding and quietness but it leads us to go deeper in order to understand what moves our mind, trying to get to the heart of its thinking and desiring nature. What we try to do is to pass from paying attention to the contents, that is, disconnected items which have never been included in the flow of time and which tend to take on meaning in itself, to considering the process instead. The process is here interpreted as a structure   which changes in time binding one thought to the other, a feeling to the other, an image to the other. Attention is so focused on emerging meanings, on their quality, on motion and on the process of becoming. In so doing, we face questions about what are the paths to reach the sense and meaning of things. In the same way we  search for our roots, the wellspring  as well as for the declining elements of our life; we observe what happens and how it happens, what mind produces and how it changes. If educational commitment really pursues the developing of conscience and the building of a healthy relationship with reality, we can say that meditation may become the right tool to foster some very important human qualities within this kind of research, qualities as: work, love, contemplation and authenticity. Work.  It determines our way of being in the world, our attention, our commitment as well as our relationship with power and our ability in changing forces and matters. That’s why it’s very important to grasp its profound meaning because it allows to better evaluate the goodness of a well done job. In other words there are very important deeds we need so as carrying out what we have started, going to the bottom of what we’ve learned and chosen, being able to benefit from the fruits of one’s own labour, as well as from one’s own mistakes and achievements; managing to let things go as well as  learning to create a new work when it’s over, which is of great importance to learn how to direct all our efforts in order to permit the union of beauty and convenience in our job. Love. Exploring the laws of love in all its expressions. Love is action and relationship with the other, the world and oneself and it is witnessed by unselfish and free dedication. This is what we all need and whose reality, strength and mystery we are all called to deal with. Contemplation. The world belongs to us and we all belong to it. That means  managing to see its reality to take part of it, grasping at the value and the power of nature and all its manifestations. Consciousness raises and expands when the ego becomes less relevant and our sense of personal importance fades. We need the ego in fact to establish a relationship with the world, but by becoming more and more bulky it tends to swallow everything and to prevent any broad vision because it occupies spaces it doesn’t belong to. Only the eruption of a force which manages to transcend it, highlighting its illusory power, can lead the ego back to its initial sense and right perspective. All that deals with surrender and struggle, with trust and choice. Perhaps the experience of the sacred lies just in the acceptance of surrender, in other words it lies in the acceptance of defeat and struggle. Pretending to be like tamed sheep only helps to hide the narcissistic desire of being always triumphant, which, instead, leads to become fearful, cynical and in particular cases also very violent. We are talking about that special childish desire of complete satisfaction of any need, which neither tolerates any limit or frustration, nor wants to be tested and which, if prevailing, will have an influence on every realm of existence causing suffering in oneself and in others. Searching for love is rather different from trying to be pitied so, when we witness the interior failure of a childish and narcissistic project we have actively contributed to, we can see a whole adult person rise. The evolution of consciousness necessarily requires ongoing failure. In this case the loser is the individual sense of importance, which reacting violently produces distress, being forced to deal with helpnessless, vulnerability, futility, impermanence and fragility. The winner instead is conscience which produces genuineness and a sense of wholeness while facing an indisputable real fact: we are not immortal.  The expansion of life experience makes life richer. In fact dealing with the world in a more profound and broader way generates a sense of openness as well as the ambition of being happier by accepting human condition which includes suffering, solitude and struggle. The basic human conflict fluctuates between the desire of being mature, that is, able to bear solitude and to gain full independence and the desire not to be alone. In other words desire of solitude and need of relationship.  The very illusion consists of believing that we can get both at the same time, whereas this is about a polar dialectic to be better experienced rather than answered. Being authentic and true is the main purpose of a consciousness process. Being mutually authentic and true with the others is the purpose of a relational life, but it’s possible only by confronting oneself with the others and the world. This is why the educational process particularly aimed at adults can have many different meanings. Since it’s impossible to avoid the vital issues of life, it’s crucial that the educational action takes place within reality and, at the same time, that this action manages to  help the others elevate beyond reality and suffering, in order to help to
lerate anguish and frustration as well as enjoy what makes life real even if revealing its nonsense. In this respect Pascal, to go beyond the illusion of control and certainties, recommended to “travailler pour l’incertain”   and to do one’s job well. Sense of humor and self-irony are rooted deeply in such awareness, they are advanced forces that manage to tackle, with the quiet glee of a laughter, any sense of individual importance, in other words any own and other’s touchiness. These forces are rather different from cynical and destructive sarcasm. Choosing to live a waking life, being mentally and physically fully aware always attempting to fulfil personal growth and an uplifting behaviour is something considerably different from asking for being soothed. On this front a battle takes place which sees unequal forces opposed. The prise in this case is the opportunity to become really human, in other words genuine, authentic, creative, interiorly free beyond lament and recrimination. The price is to become responsible for our life.

Leggi la versione italiana “Ricerca educativa e meditazione”

*Antonio Ricci, psychopedagogist, is the founder of the «Centre of Educational and Pedagogical Studies Periagogè», School of Normodinamica of Rome, Italy.
Acquarello by Ginevra Ricci