"Where's the College?" What is a College, Anyway?

clock June 12, 2010 17:19 by author Kraig Brockschmidt

At my recent visit to the Ananda College of Living Wisdom, I heard a few stories of interested parents who came to visit with their sons or daughters. When they arrived at the Ananda Meditation Retreat, where the College is located, they had to ask "Where's the College?" It's a legitimate question, because if you look at either of these websites, you'll see pictures of people and nature, and very few of buildings, especially the kind of buildings that one normally associates with an institution of higher education. And what you do see is an assortment of new and old structures that have been built at various times since 1968, including geodesic domes, yurts, and yes, even a modular office trailer. In short, not exactly what the word "college" generally brings to mind.

This got me thinking, though--what exactly is a college? To think about this clearly, the real question--and the question that prospective students and parents should ask of any such institution--is this: what do you expect from a college?

That's not too hard to answer, really. A student enters this magic box we call "college" and in a few years supposedly comes out as a more educated, more employable, and hopefully better or more actualized human being.

The big question, then, is what's that thing in the middle. And really, what we're after here is this: what is the essence of that "college" thing? Is it, in fact, just a matter of the buildings in which this college thing happens? No--of course not. It's the transmission of understanding from instructors to students. That's what matters in the end: a human-to-human connection for the transmission of consciousness.

With that in mind, we can then ask: "So what do you need to make this transmission of consciousness happen most effectively?" Is it just a matter of erecting a typical academic edifice, or is it about creating a whole environment that's conducive to this transmission? It has to be the latter, if college is to be the most effective.

If we're looking for such an environment, we can easily see that the big institutional structures that people come to expect from "college" are actually detrimental to the true goal. If a structure creates barriers between students and instructors, then the transmission of understanding is impeded. By removing these structures, on the other hand, and allowing closeness, (impersonal) intimacy, and relationships, the transmission can be supported and even amplified.

I remember, as an example, a history class I took my freshman year in college at the University of Washington. I was one of 800 students in that class--it was so large that while I knew the person way down there on the stage was the brilliant professor Jon Bridgman, there wasn't the kind of deeper connection that one needs in order to be inwardly magnetized and inspired by that brilliance. I was fortunate that, being enrolled in the "honors section" of the source, that my section (a smaller group breakout) was led by Professor Bridgman himself. This managed to bring the group size down to 30--better, of course, but there was still a pretty wide chasm between myself and the one from whom I was supposedly drawing higher education. In the end, it simply meant that expectations were higher!

Imagine, then, what it would be like to have that chasm removed altogether, where a student' access to their instructors is, compared to the typical experience, something like the best broadband Internet compared with 1200-baud dial-up service. In such an environment, a student has the opportunity to be deeply inspired and magnetized by not just one instructor or professor, but all of them. And in such an environment, I'll willing to bet that much more "college" actually happen than it does in most other institutions. It's a difference well worth considering!

Dr. Amit Goswami at the Ananda College of Living Wisdom

clock June 9, 2010 16:16 by author Kraig Brockschmidt

Just recently I had a very busy two days at the Ananda College of Living Wisdom, with which I am a member of the Board of Directors. It's a small college, only now in its 7th year, having started from nothing more than an idea in early 2003 (a meeting I was in as well). Considering that, it's quite amazing to see how far it has come in a very short time for this kind of project. The faculty and student body are expanding, the finances are in the black, and the college will likely be granting its first bachelor's degree next year.

It's fitting, too that the young woman who is poised to be this pioneer, Chitra Sudhakaran, already has another great honor to her credit, the National Balashree Award of India, one of that country's highest arts awards given directly by the President. To me, it signals the caliber of student that the College has already been able to attract even in its formative years.

To me it also reflects on the college's primary specialty, which is itself rooted in the ancient wisdom of India and the West together and indicated by the "Living Wisdom" part of the name. That specialty is approaching every subject from the standpoint of higher consciousness, taking as an axiom that consciousness is the fundamental reality of the universe, not matter. This is really a new approach to higher education, on in which there is great potential to be explored. This potential, indeed, underlies my own interest in the college, and I'm engaged in developing an area of the curriculum that's related to my own professional expertise: technology and engineering. The question here, really, is not just how to go about teaching these subjects, but to ask how technology and engineering can be tools for transformation when picked up from the thread of consciousness. (My book, Mystic Microsoft, suggests some of those directions.) Developing this area will help the college expand beyond the core liberal arts subjects like the arts, psychology, world cultures, and so forth.

In this regard, the first expansion of the curriculum into the sciences has been the Physics and Consciousness course, led by David (Byasa) Steinmetz, a trained astronomer but also a deep spiritual seeker for many decades. What has been very special here a the end of the 2009-2010 school year is a new relationship that we've formed with the author of the most widely-used textbook on Quantum Mechanics, Dr. Amit Goswami.

Dr. Goswami's own primary interest today is in the same realm as Physics and Consciousness, especially the implications inherent in quantum mechanics to questions of consciousness and existence. Calling himself a Quantum Activist, it was fascinating to discuss with him how this approach can actually provide a scientific proof for God, which is to say, a "non-local" consciousness that is greater than what we experience individually (which is to say, "locally").

For details, I'll refer to Dr. Goswami's written works, information about which can be found on his own website as well as the documentary about his called The Quantum Activist (he also appeared in What the Bleep Do We Know?), a film we were honored to watch and discuss with him and the filmmakers when he recently visited the Ananda College of Living Wisdom.

Dr. Goswami was very generous with his time, giving several classes as well as giving the address at the college's closing ceremony on May 27th, 2010. in closing this post, then, I offer a selection of quotes from these talks that are relevant to the College and its mission (recorded by faculty member Carol Gray):

More [students / teachers/people] will come to this kind of place [the College] because it’s wonderful to work in a new paradigm. You can be creative in a new paradigm.

Highly intuitive students will come to schools like this – not Harvard or Princeton.

This is the right way [of education]...this wonderful university…liberal arts is to liberate you through the study of arts, humanities, social sciences…this school will attract highly intuitive students.

My young friends, you will figure out for yourself how to make a living. Education is to liberate you from tyrannical jobs so you can have meaning while making a living. The idea of separating jobs from meaning is a very poor idea. The workplace must be meaningful.

And since I am a member of the Board, I have no shame in saying that the college is constantly looking for students who are ready for this level of adventure: higher education for higher consciousness. See http://www.anandauniversity.org for more information, and make sure to check out the YouTube video! We are also looking for new members for both our Board of Directors and our Advisory Board. See this post for details.