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Lines of Thinking - July 2018: Widening the Boundaries of Our Being Through Deep Living and Learning

“Lines of Thinking” is a monthly feature from College President Tom Manley.

July, 2018

In his essay “Childhood and Poetry,” the poet Pablo Neruda told of his awakening to poetry as a young child by sharing a story of a gift exchange. It took place in a remote area of his native Chile, when a boy he never met and would never get to know put his hand through the hole in a backyard fence offering a small used toy. Neruda took the offering into his own hand and then running into his house returned with a gift treasure of his own. Neruda writes:

“To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those who we do not know, from those unknown to us, who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses—that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things.

That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all of humanity is somehow together….”

What are those gestures and practices with the capacity to broaden “the boundaries of our being” and how might they best be encouraged, supported, and in what spaces are they likely to occur? Schools of all forms might seem good opportunities for such growth and yet as Whitman writes, “Wisdom is not finally tested in schools;” by which he means, it must be “provoked from the soul” through a process of living and learning deeply in the world, not being sheltered from it. As a lifetime proponent of experiential education, I am partial to this viewpoint.

The deep learning we strive to achieve at Antioch College requires a free giving and taking of life-agency. It offers skills, knowledge, tools, critique, context, clues, and opportunity to apply them. It encourages the disposition and the alertness to use them effectively. But it is Antioch’s insistence that students journey widely in the world to test what they know (or think they do) and to put them to the test of living it. It is that expectation which serves the goal of transformational education because it feeds a passion for new learning and new experiences that is grounded in meaning making and the ability to transfer knowledge and understanding from old situations to a new ones.

An older Neruda tell us in his poem, Die Slowly, what so many Antiochians seems to have gained from what Bill Newman, ’73 has called life on the Co-op plan.

He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,
who never changes pace,
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,
dotting ones "it’s" rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer,
that turn a yawn into a smile,
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,
who is unhappy at work,
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,
to thus follow a dream,
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,
die slowly.

He who does not travel, who does not read,
who does not listen to music,
who does not find grace in himself,
she who does not find grace in herself,
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,
who does not allow himself to be helped,
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,
dies slowly.

He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn't know, he or she who don't reply when they are asked something they do know,
die slowly.

Let's try and avoid death in small doses,
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.

One might think that Neruda set out to produce a list of what-not-to-dos in seeking to “the widening of the boundaries of our being.” But what does a life that is led in an opposite way look like? The more I get to know the people we fondly call Antiochians and hear their stories of change, the more I am convinced that one only develops a habit like “burning patience” through intentional practice of living and open discovery, both lessons to be found in a life on the Co-op plan.

P.S. Last month I was on the road and unable to send along a piece for the Lines of Thinking segment. So here is a small make-up assignment of sorts dealing with a concept in which I am very interested: heart intelligence.

Heart Thinking

(For the inspirational Al Denman)

After the dinner for Hassan,
platters and dishes emptied, napkins heaped,
candles burning down,

only you remained at the table;
the others already gathered in the living room,
continuing conversations, while

you sat a moment longer
studying the five metal letters
arranged on the ledge of the darkening window:


And rising, with a chuckle
about the words spelled within
E-A-R and A-R-T, H-E-A-R and T-E-A-R,

then pointing out with a single knuckle
how effortlessly the H could be sent
from the end to the front,

to the center of it all,
connecting and encircling, everything and everyone
(as you have always done).

Find links to other editions of Lines of Thinking on the Office of the President page.