Monday, 21 December 2009

Soul of Science at Schumacher College UK -- by Christina Hurst-Prager

This account originally appeared in Schumacher College's Participant Experience, reprinted here with the permission of the college and the author.
We are 17 people assembled in the library of an 18th century English country estate in Devon in the Southwest of England. Looking around, we couldn’t be much more different from each other. As it turns out, we come from various countries, from England, Scotland to Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine as well as Columbia, Mexico and the USA; our age range is from 27 to late sixties. Our professional backgrounds are not quite as varied, as most include an interest in some form of humanistic concern and an interest in ecology, science and spirituality brings us together, as well as being intrigued by the invitation to join science and soul.

Two weeks lay ahead of us, being ‘educated’, lectured to, by two imminent scientists and scholars, Arthur Zajonc in the first week and Rupert Sheldrake in the second. Each week we also have the pleasure of listening to Satish Kumar, the initiator and founder of Schumacher College as well as two of the resident professors, Brian Goodwin and Stephan Harding [see their articles here] . It is not only the intellectual and factual information that is unique. All four professors are not only well versed in their academic knowledge and are authors of several books and numerous articles, they also combine their science in the service of ecology, or the planet Earth, called Gaia, taken from James Lovelock’s writings, as a living organism as well as a larger Whole and have a spiritual world view.

Arthur Zojanc and Rupert Sheldrake both embedded their knowledge in a historical and philosophical summary, which gave us much understanding of today's prevalent world-view. Not only did they speak of their research, their insights into how all this elates to a bigger whole, but they also shared their very personal spiritual practices; most of us were deeply touched and moved by it. They, as well as Satish Kumar, Brian Goodwill and Stephan Harding, truly walk their talk.

The two week long course, called ‘Soul of Science’ is residential, we all live on the premises; the rooms are distributed in three buildings, are simple but adequate. In typical British fashion, the windows are single-paned and often difficult to open and close. We share toilets and showers; there seems to be an unlimited supply of hot water 24 hours long.

In order that our minds and spirits, brains and souls are able to soar and dance, we have a clear structure in our daily routine.

The day starts with an optional meditation at 7:15, a wholesome breakfast buffet awaits us from 7:45 until 8:30, when we assemble in the hall. Included in this meeting are not only we course participants, the staff and helpers but as well the few graduates of the yearly Masters of Science programme, who have stayed on to write their dissertations.

After an reading by anyone who feels inspired, any pertinent information for the day is given and ‘off to work we go’, either back as a staff or helper or to our one hour long ‘job assignment’, part of the course participants day. The jobs range from cleaning, clearing to cooking and gardening and are fun, as we do them in small groups of three to four. The physical work keeps us firmly on the ground as well as allowing us to experience some community living without the chores becoming burdensome.

My favourites are cooking and gardening. The “Edible Forest Garden” is the inspired work of a former graduate that evolved out of his dissertation. The two chefs, one has even written a recipe book ‘Gaia’s Kitchen’ prepare glorious vegetarian food. It is inspirational to work along such experts in their field who also combine their professional knowledge and skills with dedication and love.

The first academic lecture begins at 10 am and lasts, with a coffee – or tea, since we are in England – break, until 1pm. Our brains are buzzing and excited; we scribble notes and are happy that the second part of the morning is dedicated to questions and discussion.

We use the break times also to share personal information and stories, discuss the presented knowledge and ideas and how we might incorporate them in our daily and professional lives and how they might affect us individually.

Afternoons can be a lecture by a resident professor, a tutorial in a small group, free time to digest the ideas, go for a walk or visit nearby Totnes or a field trip. And we have time to avail us from the extensive library as well as watching videos and DVDs of related topics or previous lectures.

The visiting professors to Schumacher College throughout the year are all at the cutting edge of their field and incorporate it into a holistic world – view, in other words, are part of the new emerging paradigm. The various one, to three weeks long courses one can choose to attend at Schumacher College will differ in content with the various and diverse professors teaching, but each one, as I understand it from previous participants are only one part of the ‘Schumacher Experience’.

The spirit of Generosity, Gentleness, Awareness, Acceptance, Devotion (not in a religious, but spiritual way to Gaia, our planet earth and home) pervades the College and can be experienced not only simply as a sense, but also when interacting with the staff, the helpers, the MSc students and encourages and allows us participants to open up, to ourselves, to each other, be relaxed and truly enjoy learning.

The very last session, dedicated to the integration of the two weeks, showed that we not only gained information and knowledge from our two wonderful professors, but also on a different level, and just as important, from the way they walk their talk. We also discovered many new insights and ideas from the atmosphere, from the staff, the resident professors and from each other. Some of us had plans of ideas or actions to incorporate immediately, others need some more time to digest and plan.

And all of us, as we said our goodbyes, felt not only intellectually enriched and stimulated but deeply nourished in body and soul.


The college offers courses in March-April 2010, After Copenhagen: Opportunities and challenges with Vandana Shiva, Malini Mehra, Richard Heinberg, Ian Christie, Clare Short MP, Rob Hopkins, Miriam Kennet, Nigel Topping; Ecoliteracy: First principles for radical change with Fritjof Capra, Stephan Harding, Philip Franses, Satish Kumar, Anne Miller, Oliver Greenfield; Ecological Facilitation with Jenny Mackewn and Toni Spencer; and Green Design in Practice: Building an Earthship with Kevan Trott.

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