Monday, February 8, 2010

Thomas Moore on Liberating Education

The secularism of our contemporary culture is 
an aspect of its soullessness.
~ Thomas Moore

Thomas Moore is a psychotherapist, theologian, former Catholic monk, musician, university professor, lecturer on spirituality, ecology, and psychotherapy, and renowned author of numerous best-selling books, including The Care of the Soul, Dark Nights of the Soul, Soul Mates, Soul's Religion, Writing in the Sand, and the forthcoming Care of the Soul in Medicine. Last spring, Moore gave a talk at Marlboro College titled "A Liberating Education: How to Be a Person with Soul"; a recording of that talk recently was made available via Moore's Website and YouTube and is provided below.

As the title of Moore's books suggest and as Moore discusses in his hour-long presentation, "the soul" is multi-dimensional, encompassing values and ideas and ideals about relationships (such as marriage), religion and spirituality, work, medicine, the arts, and education. Having a soul, Moore says, is what enables each of us to feel for, love, be in community with another person. When we lack soul, an appreciation of the "profound mystery" of who we are, our life lacks meaning and we lose the connection that sustains us.

Central to Moore's view of the soul is the writing of 5th Century Greek philosopher Hereclitus, who conceived of the soul as a "living fire" (calor vitalis) and wrote:

Whatever path you take, you can never discover the limits of the soul,
so inexhaustible is what it has to tell us.

That statement — Moore's paraphrase is, "You can never discover the limits of the soul, no matter how many roads you take, so deep is its mystery" — guides all of Moore's work and his personal life as well.

During his talk, Moore articulates his premise that education that does not help us on a human level to plumb our depth and mystery prevents us from fully developing our individuality and creativity and fails to show us how to be "in community" with one another. Like our hospitals, which have become little more than places we take our bodies to be fixed, education, Moore maintains, has bought into the "myth of modernism"; it trains or engineers us to land a job and money, how to compete for power, but yields us no space for developing the deepest parts of ourselves. According to Moore, if we want a liberal education that offers the freedom to think, to study and talk about ideas, to reflect on what's important, we must let go our hold on "modernist mythology" that technology is better than human.

This may all sound very academic and esoteric; it's not, as you'll understand if you take the time to listen to Moore's engaging presentation. Moore argues a good case for putting the soul back in our life and, in particular, for re-visioning education as a means to doing that. We need to educate about the soul, not just stuff information into our brains. Education that fails to teach us about our soul leaves us incomplete human beings, Moore says.

Through education, Moore believes, we can educate ourselves psychologically, so that we know how to deal with our emotions. (Note: Moore in no way suggests that education take the place of psychotherapy; he does say he believes education can partner with therapeutics.) One explanation for our society's violence, Moore posits, is our lack of emotional and psychological sophistication in dealing with our complexes (feelings, thoughts, memories, etc.); because we don't know how to deal with our complexes, or even understand them, we become frustrated and act out.

Education also can be a means to becoming more aware of our motivations. Moore describes, for example, how the study of mythology (in his own case, Greek mythology) can be related to one's own life, raise our awareness or consciousness of our self alone and in relation to others. He also relates how the study of religion can promote our understanding of universal values, the way we regard and deal with our mortality, the meanings we invest in our traditions. A liberating education, Moore stresses, is not secular; it focuses on body, soul, and spirit.

Similarly, the study of art, architecture, and literature shows us how self-expression enriches us, enables us to maintain "profound connection". Poetry especially speaks to sensitivity to the divine in life, Moore says, giving example after example of poems (by the likes of Anne Sexton, Jane Hirshfield, D.H. Lawrence, and others) that keep our deepest theological passions alive.

What makes you you is your soul. 



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Anonymous said...

Thank you, Maureen, for taking the time to share your reactions to Moore's presentation at Marlboro College. I teach at a community college and it is sometimes challenging to model this approach in the classroom.

Unknown said...

Maureen thank you for these resources.

Deep. Much to think about.

Louise Gallagher said...

Thanks for this Maureen. I am a fan of Moore so will look forward to this evening when I have an hour to give his presentation my undivided attention.

And yes -- the soul is a deep mystery. It is in exploring its mystery that I become immersed in wonder.



Deborah Barlow said...

I recently heard Moore speak, and I think his message is becoming increasingly more honed over time. Thanks for this.