Our pedagogues have not really addressed the senses as a vital 'aim' of education. I feel that sensitivity to beauty is not quite the same thing as senses that are extraordinarily alive and functioning to their fullest capacity. Was K himself not incredibly sensitive in a physical sense? And did he not address youngsters with questions and pointers towards this? Javier does mention an integrated body, heart and mind but, in my humble opinion, the senses deserve full mention, in their own regard. In our work here with students this is really the cornerstone of our programmes. This is something I have been exploring, in particular, for myself, and there are such joys and treasures one stumbles upon when there is great physical sensitivity, which, of course, a preoccupied mind completely occludes. The richness of the earth - in colour, sound, smell, texture, flavour - reveals itself, almost as a camera lens that comes into focus. Of course pleasure is involved in all this and perhaps pain, but the attachment to it is a whole different ballgame! So, one is not just sensitive to beauty, but sensitive per se, in a very physical way. I distinguish between the physical and the psychological here, not as entirely separate processes, but as dimensions to explore in education that perhaps require different emphases. Once again, this point gets sort of covered in the 'art of listening', etc. (the 4 arts), but in my view, not enough.

Her comments were very much to the point and I could only excuse myself on the grounds that my overview of K's pedagogy had to be abbreviated and succinct. Indeed, I didn't remember having mentioned the senses at all or having given them the importance that they rightfully deserve. Her response, however, offered the opportunity to explore together this very aspect in some detail and concretely in relation to the educational work they are doing at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary. So I wrote to Suprabha asking how they went about this sense-based education.

In my article I had used sensitivity as an all-encompassing term, and in particular sensitivity to beauty. This seemed to give it a partial slant, depending on what is understood by beauty. If it's taken as a quality of things or a form of feeling, then such sensitivity would be partial. Sensitivity in this sense is not only to beauty but to all manner of impressions. But it also has a deeper meaning, namely, when the self is not, which may be the essence of sensitivity. So one question that presented itself concerned this relation of the senses and the mind. How did sensitivity to nature flow into or include an awareness of the inner landscapes of self? Suprabha had suggested that the physical and psychological might require different emphases and I wondered about that. Was the difference a matter of developmental stages or overall relative importance? And then there was the relation between the movement of psychological self-occupation and perception. On the one hand, self-centered thought-feeling interferes with observation, and on the other the mind is not only at the heart of the senses but the perceiver of meaning. So what made for harmony or division between the senses and the mind? Did this not raise the question of conditioning and the place of knowledge in the unfolding of total sensitivity and intelligence?

These questions were put forward in the way of a friendly invitation to unfold their meaning and actuality in dialogue. Suprabha accepted this invitation as an opportunity to express what she and her colleagues are actually living and as a way to challenge her natural distrust of words. She answered extensively in that same spirit of friendship and generously offered to share her views and findings with others through this publication. What she has to say speaks amply for itself and requires no further comment.

Javier Gómez Rodríguez, April 2000

Sense-based education, as I see it, is all about setting the balance right - between the thought world and the physical world. It is about unblocking the natural intelligence of children (and adults!), through their bodily (brain included) intelligence. I don't know that this in itself leads to sensitivity to the inward movement of thought and feeling. However, it is good and wholesome to be alert, alive, responsive and still. It creates some kind of a space, also a confidence and sparkle in the child, and then an active engagement with other living things, the environment, the community. Of this, there is no doubt. I am unclear as to why and how it happens. It seems to have something to do with "being in the physical present". It takes away from self-obsession simply by its vital appeal. It "makes sense"!

In our most recent programme, a month-long one with CFL's 12 year olds, the degree to which this happened was remarkable: the kids came aglow with lively, spontaneous energy; they were "wild" and yet cooperative, considerate, funny, hard working, direct. It seems they brought it about spontaneously. They were hungry for learning and generous with themselves. And this, incidentally, was a group considered at school to be somewhat difficult!

Was it just chance? What role did the educators, the adults, have to play? Could we step into a child's shoes or did we impose the top-down approach? Were we ready to learn,through body and mind? Could we be in the present with them? What did we do deliberately?

Moving with their energies, as we do with plant energies (harder, because children have their own superimposed modes of resistance, habit, diffidence). Being receptive. Not demanding change but participating in things together. Diving and jumping, walking and climbing, talking ... together. Observing, touching, sensing: the woods, the night sky, the elephants and each other ... together. Playing and being playful. Being direct. Sharing and exploring. Letting each other be. Hearing a blunt truth about oneself without reacting. Moving ... never letting things take root and fester.

We did some concrete things too. In case you wondered! We deliberately exposed them in every possible way, within our capacity, to a wide range of engagements with the world around. Study of nature, work with plants, with tools, sleeping out, listening to birds as much as watching them, quiet moments alone and together outdoors, intense play sessions that got them moving over big unfamiliar distances, body-kinesthetic exercises that encouraged co-ordination, strength and flexibility, a lot of informal contact, allowing them very near so there was no separation between how adults and children lived and experienced the month. There was also questioning, making sense, making right inferences... but always in connection to observation, which could, if necessary, be challenged by another.

The features, therefore, were :

  • Space - huge space - to just be. Few do's and don'ts except what was agreed upon by everyone.
  • Body and senses - at this age the kids thrive on movement, and they must be given the chance to run and flex and stretch. And look and listen and feel.
  • Contact - lots of it. In countless ways. Support and mutual attentiveness.
  • Responsibility - to self and community.
  • Learning through observation.
  • Using the intellect and the capacity to reason.
  • Risk - facing the unfamiliar.
  • Play - lots of this in particular!

What was really interesting was the shared sense of the whole period together. Somehow, meaning was found without it being articulated or imposed. It was obvious to everyone that this was a good and wholesome thing to do - to live and learn together.

Can this be pedagogically defined? Or are these spontaneous, one-offs? I suppose it's the difference between a good educator and a bad one. I can't say more. I don't have enough experience! It is clear, though, that it is not the technique or method that finally "works" but your own sensitivity to the child. Mechanical repetition or application or systemizing miss some critical moments in the unfolding dynamic.

So, to address another question of yours - the whole thing is actually in essence seam- less between the physical and the psychological. But, in practice you can just be that much more attentive to the body. And allow its wonder to reveal itself to the child. I feel that once this happens, it creates a right order in the brain, a balanced functioning. However, it has to be playfully facilitated. Otherwise, you may get a fitness freak or wildlife nut who is quite dysfunctional in other ways!

Being attentive to the body is part of being attentive to the world around, because the body exists in intimate relationship to other things. The physical "self" requires the senses, whereas the psychological "self" knows the senses mostly as sources of pleasure or pain. Physical sensitivity can be extraordinarily refined, and if it is not messed around by addiction, it allows for another kind of relationship - to the world, to nature, to things, to cities, to suffering.

Does this lead to psychological sensitivity? It can, but that depends on how stuck we are! And this is another matter altogether!

I did this exercise to learn about the nature of articulation, and why I want to say the same things that others have said so many times before. To feel how words sit around and express meaning and act as a long-distance thread between two or more souls. To feel how they capture things and how they dissipate. Their involvement in the body's life as they translate, symbolize, generate worlds within worlds. To give them space to flow now and then, and to reach out to others, as this is the only medium at present. And to challenge my own paranoia that words promote the self. Sometimes I just sit around and make a mantra out of a word, any word, to get the feeling it generates - the felt in the thought as it were, as David Bohm used to say!