“Crepuscular!” He was getting desperate now, having exhausted his list of the most obscure words. His face fell as I gave him the definition. He tried another and scowled… “How do you do that?”
“I read.” The words he dangled before me, trying to catch me out, may not be common in verbal usage, but they have cropped up often enough in books to learn their meaning through meeting them in different contexts and from different angles. Except for unfamiliar technical terms, I don’t look up words when I read. It isn’t necessary to fully understand every word to experience a story… you need, instead, to enter fully into the tale and feel it as you read. Over decades of reading, you encounter words in so many phrases that your understanding of their layers of meaning evolves and eventually becomes clear.
For me, that seems the best way to expand the vocabulary. It is easy to reach for a dictionary and have some else tell you the skeletal meaning of a word, but a dictionary can only go so far. It cannot teach you about the way an individual writer used the word… or the feelings their characters were going through… the personal interpretation or emotional overlay that goes with a word when it used rather than taught.
A dictionary is a useful tool that gives a cold, clinical definition that gives you a basic sense of a word… a story makes it vivid, bringing a depth of emotion and association to the self-same word. The one teaches from someone else’s perspective, taking a consensus of meaning that allows you to learn about the word, the other allows you to learn from experience and makes it personal… and experience is always the most effective teacher.
I watched my granddaughter learning the other day. “No!” said her Mum as the little one extended a tentative finger. “Hot.” The small explorer has no concept of ‘hot’. So far, she has not burned herself. She did stop though, because she does have experience of that firm ‘no’. She will undoubtedly burn her fingers one day regardless of parental vigilance… hopefully no more than it takes to understand that ‘hot’ is not good in that particular context. Yet she will also learn that a hot day means sunshine and ice cream… and that eating dinner while it is hot is also good. One day, she will grow up and learn that ‘hot’ can have a whole other connotation of which she had no idea too.
Life teaches through a process akin to osmosis. It is a natural learning that nourishes understanding, rather than being force-fed and learning by rote. Experience teaches with an immediacy and conviction that cannot be found in knowledge alone. Yet add knowledge to experience and understanding is deepened and enriched, the two working hand in hand to elucidate and illuminate.
When we began to build the Silent Eye, it was this dual approach that we felt would be most useful for those who decided to seek answers through the school. It is of no use to offer answers where there is no question. By the time you are able to formulate a question, you are already aware of a very particular gap in what you know… and the questions of the spiritual seeker are born largely from pondering a life experience that is unique and personal.
In order to ensure that we could structure the course, Steve created stories, with characters, landscape and scenarios that exemplify and illustrate the spiritual principles we share. These are read and ‘lived’ in the imagination, with intent, and provide a way of exploring things that would be impossible in daily life as, to the mind and emotions, the engaged imagination makes the experience of these inner journeys real. Each month, over the three years of the course, another chapter of the journey is added that deepens the experience… and each month, knowledge is shared that allows the student to add another dimension to their understanding.
The student submits a brief, weekly journal, working closely with their personal supervisor, a companion who has already walked that part of the path themselves. There is a shared experience that forms the basis for exploring individual experience of the shared journey.
It is a system that not only works well, but expands the creative imagination while adding to understanding… and can be fun too. Instead of dry facts dogmatically taught and learned by rote, the student ‘lives’ an experience, adds knowledge and draws their own vivid and vibrant understanding from each lesson. Such understanding is then as unique and personal as their life experience and far more relevant than the imposed view of another.
Since the birth of the Silent Eye, we have had the privilege of seeing students unfold and stepping into a life both full and aware. It is not by what we teach that we measure the success of the school, but in how the course allows our students to realise their own potential in their daily lives and embrace their own inner joy.