Over the years, whenever the topic of education comes up, it brings me back to a time long ago. I remember well… I was in the car with my grandfather, whose name I carry. He went by “Bill”, but I called him “Pop”.
Anyway, we were heading to New Orleans East to do a bit of shopping, and when he asked what we were going shopping for, I told him “books”. His visage became very serious and stern, then he turned to me (which was worrisome because he only had one eye, and he needed it for the road) and said, “Billy, make sure you ALWAYS learn as much as you can about as many things as you can. In the end, after everything else is taken from you, they can’t take what you’ve learned.”
I guess in his own way he was telling me that there’s always a state of mind wherein one can be free, and the more we know, the more opportunities for freedom arise in our experience.
I never was a good student. I daydreamed a lot. Drew pictures. Stared out of countless windows. Longed to eat more of the pecans under the playground’s pecan tree instead of focusing on numbers, history, or linguistic rules and regulations. In private, Catholic school, this behavior was, in a way, charming and eccentric. Once my mom couldn’t afford to send me to Catholic school any longer, I ended up in the St. Bernard Parrish public school system… a place where, at the time, such whimsical behaviors were either mocked by peers, disciplined by teachers, or got you written off as socially unacceptable.
I never really cared about education or learning until I got turned on to martial arts, and I thought that’s how I’d be spending the rest of my life: teaching various and sundry techniques, philosophies, and methodologies to eager students. So, I started training and reading with every spare moment I had. I ENJOYED studying this stuff. It was an alien sensation, but perhaps after a lifetime of restrictive upbringing, and getting bullied a lot, studying this specific subject matter was particularly empowering… and gave me a taste of the freedom that comes with knowledge.
College was a far away dream for average kids like me, so I never went… not until I was in my 30’s and considered a “non-traditional aged student”. I didn’t care if I was 10-15 years older than most of my schoolmates, but I did care that I was ready for more education. The place I picked to be my alma mater was Naropa University… specifically because I was looking to know more about my own and others’ religious inclinations.
I was looking for the possibilities that came with having a degree. I wanted to be liberated from minimum wage reality, and I believed that a private school education was the thing that could do that for me.
How foolish I was. I was drowning in my own privilege and didn’t even know it.
Essentially, what I had at my disposal was a metaphorical tool-bag, filled with all that I needed to help others know more about themselves, the world around them, and assist in unfettering their spirits… and I was too filled with my own story to use these tools of liberation on myself.
If education is freedom, then self-education (self-knowledge) is freedom from “self”. In other words, our ego-nature.
I missed the whole point of, what Naropa University's founder called “contemplative education”. In a nutshell, it’s how introspection and experiential study interface with and apply to traditional academia. Also, it’s how social engagement, development of self-understanding, as well as analytical and critical modalities cultivate skills for engaging constructively with all beings.
I did the work on a topical level, so it didn’t fully sink-in until about 5 years after graduation… when I was faced with life challenges and had nothing but what was in my head to see me through.
Pop was right. All I had is what I took the time to learn…
… and it that moment, it set me free.
(See y’all tomorrow)