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Spirituality, mythopoesis and learning

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Product Description

By Peter Willis, Timothy Leonard, Anne Morrison, Steven Hodge

Published: 2010
ISBN: 978-1-921214-57-8
Pages: vi + 288
Imprint: Post Pressed


This collection of essays explores the mythopoetic and spiritual elements of a pedagogy that seeks to encourage ‘imagistic'  thinking and learning in order to enrich the more logical and rational world of science. In this context, learning is understood broadly to include the gaining of skills and information, intertwined with processes of personal and social change. For the scholars and educators from across Australia, UK and North America who have contributed to this volume, learning is never simply an isolated behaviour but rather a personal and social act in which morality and ethics are necessarily implicated. In this book, they explore ways in which learning can be enriched (or impaired?) by reflective narratives (the work of mythopoesis) and underpinned (or undermined?) by a cultivation of different forms of transcendence (the work of spirituality). The first chapters of this volume look at the links between spirituality, mythopoesis and learning, traversing questions of endurance of hardship, art, philosophy and spiritual conviction. The second series of essays explores the applications of spirituality and mythopoesis to learning in both formal and informal settings, and during various life stages.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction 1
Peter Willis and Anne Morrison

Part 1: Perspectives
2 De profundis: spirituality, mythopoesis and learning for hard times 15
Peter Willis
3 Shoes for the journey of life: art and mythopoesis 31
Rod Pattenden
4 A dialogue on love and curriculum studies 42
Timothy Leonard and Sam Rocha
5 The return of the gods: Heidegger and mythopoetic curriculum theory 51
Steven Hodge
6 The mythopoetic approach to belief in God: experience, imangination and faith 70
David Tacey
7 The mythopoetic character of religious belief 88
Robert Crotty
8 Slowliness: spirituality in a speedy world 104
Bernie Neville
9 Pursuing a deconstructive subjectivity in education: the case of equanimity meditation 114
Robert Hattam
10 Wyrd knowledge: towards an understanding of spirituality through reflective practice and mythopoesis 130
Cheryl Hunt

Part 2: Applications
11 Two teachers 149
Catherine Madsen
12 Disclosing self through essay writing: glimpses of ontological transformation 154
Maria Piantanida
13 Rhythm, ritual and reverence: practical spirituality in the Waldorf curriculum 166
Tom Stehlik
14 Engaging the heart and soul of our communities through community celebrations and gatherings 181
Julieanne Hilbers
15 Spirit place: being present in the land 197
John Cameron and Vicki King
16 In border country: connecting self, the other and spirit in transformative learning 206
Linden West
17 Being for the world: the mythopoetics of a mystical orientation 218
Jennifer Sinclair
18 Story giving birth to hope: spirituality and models of learning in Rachel's Vineyard Ministry 229
Peter Maher
19 Learning to die, learning to live: mythopoesis in the baby boomers' search for wisdom 241
Meg Hegarty
20 Let me tell you a story: an example of the mythopoetic in palliative care education 256
Margaret Byrne
21 In my other life I'm a shaman 273
John Knight


Spirituality, Mythopoesis and Learning
Editors: Peter Willis, Timothy Leonard, Anne Morrison, Steven Hodge
Post Pressed, 2009, Australia

Book Review by Dennis Patrick Slattery, PhD*

Such an exquisite collection of 21 innovative essays on learning introduced by a provocative table-setting outline by Peter Willis and Anne Morrison, came to me as a gift, both professional and personal. We are, at the moment, in a cultural crisis wherein Humanities Education is threatened by budget cuts and more importantly, by a general misunderstanding of its importance for the cultural life of a people. Humanities programs in colleges and universities in the United States are folding or have been radically truncated, at times for lack of student interest. Unfortunately, our president, Barak Obama, in his initiative to improve education in the United States, narrows his vision to Science and Math as those subjects most in need of our collective support; he ignores all other modes of inquiry. Meanwhile, political leaders appear to be more genuinely poorly educated.

Enter Spirituality, Mythopoesis and Learning (SML). I needed these affirmations of the imagination mythically rendered regardless of the subject matter each of the knowledgeable authors chose to explore because I have intuited for many years in the classroom that the explanatory mastery model of data was flat-lined on the screen of the soul and in urgent need major resuscitation. This collection puts the electric shock pads to the chest of knowledge and ramps up the voltage. For the faint of heart: Clear!

In the short space of this review I can only highlight a handful of the 21 chapters; the reader of this volume, however, can expect the same fine quality of insights in each and every one of the essays gathered here. Peter Willis and Anne Morrison emphasize in the Introduction how ‘mythopoetic knowing and learning' draw heavily on Narrative knowledge that complements Paradigmatic knowledge (p. 3) without suggesting that the former replace the latter. Their overarching insights set up, for me, the controlling sensibility throughout all the essays: seek the metaphor in the method and the meaning in the story. ‘Mythopoetic knowing and learning draw on this dimension' (p. 3) of metaphor's central stake in knowing.

From this genesis essay, we journey through chapters that comprise Part 1: Perspectives. They include exploratory pilgrimages into theology and religious experience, curriculum building, meditation, wyrd knowledge, philosophy and poetry as seen through the lens of imagination informed by reason. Perhaps we could call these essays forms of reasoned imagining, and for many, not without a mystic sense of the invisibles present in the phenomenal world.

Part 2: Applications include explorations on inspiring teachers, the imaginative act of writing as disclosure of self and world, the power of transformative learning, healing programs and settings for post-abortion grieving, death and dying palliative care, as well as the power of narrative to engender hope in a despairing soul.

In ‘Part 1: Perspectives,' I especially enjoyed Rod Pattenden's insights on the visual arts, which focus on adult learners ‘to equip them for moral, practical decisions about their lives as whole systems-in terms of faith, love and change' (p. 32). Steven Hodge's blending of Heidegger's philosophy and mythopoesis curriculum theory conveys a new way of reading both Heidegger and poetry through a revisioned hermeneutics. I was struck as well by David Tacey's personal observation that as he grows older, he discovers the growing paradox in himself, namely, that his ‘intuitive apprehension of God becomes stronger with age, and my intellectual comprehension of god becomes weaker' (p. 71), suggesting one important way in which one's personal myth ripens with age to offer shifting sands of belief from one terrain to another.

As I race to include as many essays in this review as possible, I hit a yellow caution light in Bernie Neville's ‘Slowliness' essay that promotes the virtue of what the poet Keats called ‘silence and slow time.' Neville's focus on the two sides of Hermes was particularly helpful in grasping more deeply the richness of mythopoesis through revaluing slowness over speed. Moreover, slowness seems to encourage ‘reflective practice' (p. 130) that Cheryl Hunt reveals to be a deepening method or road into a ‘felt reality' that underpins many of the essays. She carefully develops the presence of the ‘life force, a vital energy which permeated everything' (p. 131). Her term ‘wyrd knowledge' adds to a method ‘to represent a ‘felt reality' of interconnectedness' (p. 131).

In the second section, ‘Applications,' the entries ground theory in some case study, remembrance, incident or event that embodies the ideas without making them too literal and unleavened in their possibilities. However, this shift to concrete instances does not in any way make the earlier essays of Part 1 ‘abstract' in the anemic sense of having no ground in reality and that, for me, is one of the major strengths of the earlier section.

Catherine Madsen's remembrance of two important teachers in her past trip-wired my own remembrances which began to run as a parallel mnemonic to her own recollection to create a powerful dialogue between her essay and my own biography. Maria Piantanida's essay on writing carried a strong interest for me in my own writing and in riting retreats on Personal Myth I offer in the United States. Her term ‘recovering know-it-all' could be a sobering motto above every classroom lintel in the world for its cautionary notice in learning. In addition, Maria's insights into the geometric spiral hit a central love of mine vis-à-vis imaginal learning and helped me see its further possibilities.

Having only a passing acquaintance with the work of Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf curriculum that emerged from his teachings, I discovered a wealth of information and understanding in Tom Stehlik's rich insights into this unfamiliar paradigm of learning. Learning within the larger community through rituals and celebratory acts is no less important than what happens in classrooms, for as Julianne Hilbers reveals, celebrations ‘such as the sacred fire circle described offers an important opportunity to connect, play and co-create; to express oneself while being held and witnessed by community' (p. 184). Her essay affirms that learning should and indeed does not cease once one is no longer formally pursuing a diploma or degree.

John Cameron and Vicki King bring particular intensity and imagination to the presence of place in one's mythopoetic life. I found their phrase ‘a spiritual ‘practice of presence'' (p. 197) especially evocative because of the psychic energy that ‘presence' restores and renews in an individual in place or an entire people recollecting their own place in time and space. I had to ask myself what presence the classroom allows for as sacred space in the ministry of teaching and learning. Their essay rubs up against the mystical orientation that mythopoetics provides in Jennifer Sinclair's critique of ‘the calculus of rationality' (p. 222) as well as the power of being at one with the world and self that rational sensibility alone tends to eschew.

Meg Hegarty's essays on the body as place in the baby boomers' search for meaning within the dying process was perhaps the most difficult essay to read because of its poignant descriptions ‘of Cathy's tumour' (p. 242) as Meg cleaned and dressed it daily. Beyond surgical possibilities, Cathy now was cared for, as she prepared for her own dying, an action the essay reveals as not happening to one but which one acts to realize. I found this distinction powerful and helpful in my own life. Margaret Byrne's essay on the power and benefits of story within palliative care furthers Meg's essay to reveal the care the spirit needs as well as the quality of life the entire person requires in these moments of transition (p. 256). I was attracted to her image of ‘stories as having hooks that, when cast afloat by the telling into the sea of our psyche, catch onto our own past experiences and their attendant feelings...' (p. 261) to mimetically link us to a greater narrative to which we contribute.

I thank all the editors for placing John Knight's essay last and John for writing it, ending the volume with poetry. A perfect end to a wreath of riches in a collection that needs wide circulation in the field of education; the old paradigm has calcified but retains its many adherents.

This extraordinary volume written by a diverse group of impassioned people each in his/her own discipline, promises a form of learning that restablishes myth in curricula concerns, reinstates the imagination as a corridor into a unique way of knowing, and retrieves the nature of story as simply a form of entertainment and instead places it at the center of the way we live our lives-by means of our narrative identity. My gratitude to each contributor for creating such a mosaic of new ways of envisioning the whole person's involvement in learning.

About the reviewer

Dennis Patrick Slattery, PhD is a teacher of 43 years. He is currently core faculty, Mythological Studies Program at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California. He is the author of dozens of articles as well as editor or author of 17 books, one of the most recent, co-edited with Jennifer Selig is Reimagining Education: Essays on Reviving the Soul of Learning, and, forthcoming, Day-to-Day Dante: Exploring Personal Myth Through the Divine Comedy. Email:dslattery@pacifica.edu URL: http://www.pacifica.edu/dennis_slattery.aspx


Spirituality, Mythopoesis and Learning
Editors: Peter Willis, Timothy Leonard, Anne Morrison, Steven Hodge
Post Pressed, 2009, Australia

Book Review by Ashok Bedi, MD*

Reading the book felt like a treasure hunt for hidden pearls of wisdom. Each reader would need to make their own necklace of pearls in their own context. This collection of essays had to be read in a hermeneutic mode. When I read parts of the book, it started to evolve into a sense of the whole, which then made each part more relevant to my own context. While initially every part seemed disconnected, as I read on the Wyrd, the sense of wholeness and interconnectivity started to evolve for my context as a psychiatrist, a Jungian analyst and an educator. My prediction is that each reader will create their unique synthesis based on their personal narrative.

The book connected three important dots for me: Spirituality, Mythopoesis and learning (and teaching) - the pedagogical dimension. Maria Piantanida's article elegantly evolves the lens from being a student to learning. I reflected on how difficult it had been to be a student of analysis, but some old souls at my training program helped me evolve from being a student of Jungian analysis to learning about the mystery of the soul; immediately it clicked and I am still hooked on learning. If learning and teaching are informed by spirituality and one's personal myth, it becomes relevant to the individual's personal potential, society's welfare and collective good - the Unus Mundus. As a Jungian analyst, I observed the book's structure with the sensate function, evaluated it with the thinking function, explored its possible impact with my intuitive function, but experienced its vitality and potential value with my feeling function.

The Part 2 - Applications section will be of interest to educators in implementing the news you can use aspect of this collection of essays. Catherine Masen's soulful essay on her two teachers kicks off this section with her fondly recounting her experience with her two teachers: Marianne Boko, her six grade teacher in Fairbanks, Alaska and DeWard Johnson in Detroit her choir director. These teachers exuded their quintessence of lived spirituality. Maria Piantanida makes crucial distinction between teaching versus inviting the other to engage their potential to learn to their inner threshold. Tom Stehlik's exploration of the inner workings of the Waldorf curriculum gives us a glimpse into the crossroads of the spirit, personal myth and their embodiment in the child's learning process that is tuned into their past life, present potential and future destiny. My grandson Loki attends a Waldorf school and found this chapter to be an excellent primer for parents and others involved with this system of instruction.  

Julieanne Hilbers renders the use of community celebration of festivals as a learning opportunity of reconciling our similarities and differences. I found the use of fire circles enchanting. John Cameron and Vicki King's experience of living on the Bruny Island, Tasmania vividly brings spiritual practice in alignment with the 'Place'. They present a moving exploration of a spiritual practice of presence, where the words sprit and place merge in a particapatio mystique of a mindfulness based attentiveness to the spirit of the place, its people, native traditions, history (and tragedy), fauna, flora and other creatures of nature.

Linden West weaves a scholarly account of auto/biographical research among young mothers living in poor, marginalized public housing estate in London. She presents the story of Gina, a young mother who uses a sculpture to explore here anxiety about a hard and troubling pregnancy in such a milieu.  This shared experience with her researcher/therapist/educator provides a vessel to contain and transform this experience. Such a transformation is indeed a spiritual experience, which helps transcend misery into mastery.

Just as I was savoring the fruits of mastery, Jennifer Sinclair opened up the possibility of a mystical orientation which moves beyond mastery to how to be in the world, to be for the world and to believe in the world by a capacity to generate generosity through engagement with the world and others. She advocates attentiveness to the mystery of the world around us rather than separateness between the self, others and the world or even from our own body which generates splitting and disconnectedness.

As a psychiatrist and a psychoanalyst, I found Peter Maher's account of treating abortion trauma survivor's at the Rachel's Vineyard Ministry very hopeful paradigm for trauma management. By exploring their own experience in context of the Christian stories and scriptures, participants are debriefed and empowered to manage their grief and guilt. Rachel from the Old Testament is a symbol of the grieving mother, while the Vineyard imagery refers to Jesus who comes to renew the world and its people. This chapter is rich in 'how to' of manage such trauma experience and may be applicable as a paradigm to many similar traumatic experiences as the world grapples with global terrorism and its impact.  

In the following chapter, Meg Hegarty, a palliative care clinician offers a mythopoetic template for the baby boomers to learn how to die, so that they may learn how to live in the time they have. She proposes that if we learn long before dying that we are not in total control of our life, it saves precious energy to engage the process of living fully the time we do have. She invites us to challenge the myths of control, eternal youth and immortality that permeate the Western, technological society. Another Palliative care educator Margaret Byrne discusses an online educational course in the care of the Spirit in Palliative care. I was moved by her account of the 'moral moment' in such care where an event triggers a search for a deeper insight. She quotes the example of an emergency room physician who has stabilized the patient and moving Mr. B. to the unit through a hospital tunnel where they pass four Jewish Rabbis on their way to the morgue. The physician hopes that Mr. B. had not seen the dead man that the Rabbis were taking to the morgue, but Mr. B. did! The physician may offer hope for the biological heart, but could not do the same for the imaginal heart leaving both the patient and the doctor in shared experience of dispirited aloneness. Ms. Byrne's online educational course offers a template for the clinicians to deal with such an experience to care for the Spirit. The book concludes with a crescendo of John Knight's poetic, humorous and spiritual weaving of traumatic life experiences by drawing on poetry, prose and haiku in celebration of life and resilience of the human spirit.

Part 2 of the necklace of pearls had tremendous appeal to me as a clinician, psychiatrist and a Jungian analyst. It appealed to my feeling function. After savoring the part 2, I returned to the part 1 to make sense of the theory of spirituality, Mythopoesis and learning. It's like test driving a car and then checking the engine under the hood after you like the ride. After an excellent introduction by Peter Willis and Anne Morrison, which is crucial to get the lay of the land as it were, in chapter 2, Peter Willis sets up the frame for spirituality as an active guiding paradigm not just for personal enrichment but helping us navigate the hard times via the imaginal reflection that draws upon the mythopoetic dimension of the psyche.

In chapter 3, Rod Pattenden's rendering of the art of the Vietnamese born artist My Le Thi reminded me of the shoes as a symbol of Hindu God Vishnu; the preserver of the cosmic order. He is symbolized by his feet and shoes. Carl Jung emphasized personal engagement with art as a way to access our personal myth as he did in his legendary Red Book. He also emphasized that artists offer a pulse of the collective myth of our time.

In chapter 4, Timothy Leonard and Samuel Rocha's depiction of the life and career of Lorenzo Milani was moving. They emphasize using their protagonist that the heart of curriculum is an attitude of 'I Care'. The pearl in Steven Hodge's discussion of Heidegger and the curriculum theory was the exposition of the Hermeneutic method where the understanding of the part and whole feed onto each other like a Uroboric serpent.

As a Jungian analyst, in chapter 6, I found David Tacey's discussion of belief in God as a transcendent function very relevant. When coupled with Robert Crotty's exploration of the mythopoetic character of the religious belief an excellent companion. The emphasis on the unconditional love in Christianity, of enlightenment in Buddhism and surrender in Islam and rituals to replicate the spiritual energy of the 'founding event' was fascinating read. The further amplification by Bernie Neville of Jean Gebser's structures of the consciousness: archaic, magical, mythical, mental and integral and the need to integrate these for wholeness was intriguing and clinically relevant.

Carl Jung was fascinated by Buddhism.  He said that the Buddhist teachings are essentially Indian. They are as much the secret of India as 'Taj Mahal' is the secret (Eros) of Islam. Buddha though forgotten on the surface, is still the secret breath of life in modern Hinduism (Vol. 10, Para 992). In chapter 9, Robert Hattam skillfully proposes that the Buddhist mediation practices be read as the 'technologies of the self'. Carl Jung would certainly have seconded this opinion.

In chapter 10, Cheryl Hunt's discussion about Wyrd knowledge or Gaia spirituality emphasizing the interconnectedness of all things has considerable potential to unite the opposites in a world divided by extremism yet united of all things by technology and globalization simultaneously!

Learning involves the head (thinking), heart (feeling), hands (will to act), a purpose and where it fits in our personal narrative and the role it plays in the collective consciousness. For varied constituents of readership, my recommendation to harvest the wisdom of this collection of essays would be through a Hermeneutic lens- a to and fro between parts and whole until you create your own coherent narrative about the transcendent message of this timely book. It will help the reader to integrate Spirituality, Mythopoesis and learning in a specializing yet globalizing collective, where each one of us must create, engage and live out our own personal myth.

About the reviewer

*Ashok Bedi, MD is a psychiatrist and a Jungian analyst at the C.G. Jung Institute of Chicago. He may be reached at ashokbedi@sbcglobal.net or his website: www.pathtothesoul.com

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