Students and I have been tracking vast allegorical systems as they’ve developed in parallel with historical transformations across centuries. The texts we read contain banners on behalf of consciousness raised by philosophers, poets, bards, prophets, visionaries. Descriptions of the macrocosm shift with great suddenness and power into descriptions of the microcosm and vice versa once we learn to read allegorically. Through it all, a sense of the Mind’s evolving sense of itself. When I return from work, I honor Robert Hunter, who died the other day, by contemplating a song of his that a student mentioned after class. The student wondered if there might be a bit of Blake’s “voice of the devil” in Hunter’s “Friend of the Devil.”
Another student inquired after the Holy Spirit, prompting me to investigate pneumatology. Mightn’t we interpret altered states of consciousness as charismata? Gifts, powers, inspired forms of being, with or without psychoactive sacrament?
I return home from work exhausted, the energy left from teaching and climate striking enough only to kick back and stare at squirrels. Though by doing so, I’m replenished. I relax, I lay back, contemplating tree-crowns teeming with life. Smoking helps me bring consciousness into accord with Nature, its correspondent other. As Shayla Love notes, psychedelics “recreate the core feeling of relatedness…the sense that nature is a part of us, our bodies, our lives, and that we are a part of it.” Ego dissolves, boundaries between self and other break down. When we emerge on the other side of that threshold, we possess new powers, new ways of seeing, a new sympathetic cosmology.
Wherein the dreaming mind reflects on its use of forms. What do we remember (or “encounter and take back with us”) when we turn inward? What’s there? Whose home? Who’s home? I see a version of myself — backpacking, walking beside child companion, hair worn long with braids, voice echoing through valley. Shall we turn to the dialogue form? Say after me: listen, sing what comes into one’s heart, let carolers carol. In my classroom, I do not merely impart information, I suggest overtones and analogies. This is as it should be. My teaching is, as Irwin Edman said of the work of Alexandre Koyré, “a concentration of much thought and much scholarship into an instrument of analysis and contagious communication” (ix). Or so it seems as I reflect mid-afternoon. By evening, my mind is elsewhere, loosening in partnership with John Abercrombie, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette’s “Back – Woods Song.”
A cat has been sitting on a chair on our deck these last few days, napping midday. I like having it around. Deck chair cat. Classes are going well. After a full day of teaching (a pretty magical performance, I must say), I hang out with colleagues at a department party. Once home again, I splash water under my arms and rinse my feet. I spent the day talking with students, dialoguing about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where the freed prisoner ascends toward sight of the sun, much as the philosopher ascends toward knowledge of the good, and by evening, I’m attending a show by the band Sunwatchers. Life assembles into these weird coincidences, these synchronicities. I share Gabriel Marcel’s view: “Hope is a memory of the future.” As Sam Keen and Anne Valley-Fox note, “Memories of primal pleasure are alive and well in the unconscious; all we need to do is call them forth.”
Returned from a successful day of teaching, I dance around the house, my hand out in front of me swimming like a fish as I listen to Patrick Cowley’s “The Runner” from his album Afternooners.
Students seem cool: joyful, inquisitive minds. I think they dig the way I talk. I think they dig the way I walk. Like I’m shaking bells and a tambourine, our conversations a kind of dance. Cue Young-Holt Unlimited’s “Dig Her Walk,” take it for a spin. Then find a quieter place. Sit back, relax.
Students and I grow together as heads by reading and discussing literature about consciousness. Minds throughout the ages trying to know themselves. This is literature about education and enlightenment, minds as they undergo alteration and metamorphosis. Patterns disclose themselves, meaningful coincidences compound over time — formal and thematic resonances that defy existing paradigms. By attempting to interpret these, we arrive at new conceptions, new understandings beyond existing enclosures of possibility.
How might the insights of West Coast humanistic psychologists of the 60s and 70s inform our work today as educators? How do we grow together? How do we help each other self-actualize? By that term, the humanists of the 60s and 70s meant a variety of things: realizing hopes and aspirations, exercising full potential, living joyfully, gratefully, lovingly, practicing therapy, repairing the traumas we carry with us as personal and collective bodies, finding happiness, living well. Those who report having achieved peak-experiences, those who seem to have begun to self-actualize, don’t shrivel up into themselves, claimed theorists like Maslow. Rather, they become better adjusted, less begrudging comrades. They join together with companions, forming co-evolving communities committed to giving and receiving care. Look at the support networks that form among mothers. Friends and acquaintances near and far have come to our aid of late, passing along boxloads of hand-me-downs: maternity wear, baby gear, short-sleeve onesies, long-sleeve onesies, pajamas, burp cloths, the works. We feel like characters from the Equals song, “Michael and the Slipper Tree,” or Olu Dara’s “Okra.”
Let us hold this experience near to us as we return to our classrooms. Carl Rogers suggested one model for applying the principles of humanistic psychology to education in his 1969 essay “Freedom to Learn.” And some of these principles informed experiments with encounter groups and sensitivity training sessions at places like Kresge College at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I sit on the top step of my front stoop after dark, diffusing momentarily into imaginative union with the sounds of the night, a lush chorus of locusts and crickets. Afterwards I feel recharged, replenished, senses open, receptive. I thumb through Ali Smith’s introduction to Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet astounded. Hardt and Negri’s Assembly takes shape soon thereafter, pages propped open, their words released into consciousness with another sturdy thumbs up.
Stressors accumulate with the semester’s approach. At a party last night, a colleague spoke with a shudder of “putting on the mask” again after having been free of it for the duration of summer break. We’re a bit like caped crusaders in that regard — particularly in our caps and gowns. Professor a persona, classroom a white-box theater. Some, of course, relish this “performance” aspect of the job. Performing is what makes the job fun, they say — and I, too, try to approach it that way. Teaching is a time-based medium; my job is to stage a fifteen-week Happening.
Upon my eyelids, a multimedia facade similar to the one envisioned by Keiichi Matsuda in his “HYPER-REALITY” video.
Perhaps I should walk. Moments later, I write into my phone, “We are walking in our minds. Trees are our dendrites. Strolling under the branches, admiring their storage of light, I imagine myself as an explorer of a rediscovered memory palace.” A student of color rhapsodized, reminisced, spoke of the ongoing significance to him of Chance the Rapper. He’d been a fan, the student said, since the artist’s first mixtape, 10 Day. It made me feel a bit ancient, as if I were John Henry, surrounded by machines. And yet the heightened drama of the university recognizing itself as a corporate ruin shakes me back to attention. The line that leaps out at me from the mixtape: “I burned too many brain cells down to be worried about brain cells now.” That’s basically what some of my students seem to think about trees. The mythology is strictly Adidas chasing Nike.
Time to help people live creatively. Help them change the game. Something’s happening, something wonderful and unprecedented. The reddest rose unfolds. I’ve somehow through practice manifested in my students’ lives opportunities to live collectively and spontaneously, with minimal script or plan, but for the fact that our study of literature has been training us for this performance since our first days of class, however little we may have been conscious of that collective purpose at the time. A certain set of desires to live differently have intersected and begun to fructuate.