On 23rd May, 1960, a young teacher at Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education asked the Mother to explain what is meant by Sri Aurobindo’s sentence: “Yoga is nothing but practical psychology.” Mother’s reply was:
Because you know nothing about psychology. Study psychology and you will understand what he means.(CWM, Vol. 16, p. 241)
This connection between yoga and psychology is of paramount significance in the context of education when we consider that a comprehensive and integral self-knowledge is one of the essential aims of any good education. But what is of equally great significance is the understanding of the ‘self’ which forms the basis of education. Yogic psychology or psychology that is based on the yogic understanding of self goes much deeper than the rational-materialistic view of self.
For this month’s insightful conversation, we focus on an educator’s experience of working with college students on Indian approach to psychology, or what she calls as Psychology of the Self. Dr. Aditi Kaul works at Auro University, Surat, which is inspired by the ideals and teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. She shares with us some keen insights on several aspects, including self-preparation and influence of the teacher, constant conscious deconditioning on the part of the teacher and the student, and self-exploration as a valid pedagogical approach.
Teacher’s Presence and Preparation
We begin with a brief background of Dr. Aditi’s own deep immersion in Integral approach to psychology based on the works of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. She mentions that in many ways her real learning of psychology actually began after her formal education in psychology ended. This is indicative of the fact that the discipline of psychology in mainstream higher education in India, even at the doctoral level, is still deeply embedded in the western-rational-behavioural schools of psychology.
The time spent exploring the vast ocean of Indian psychology, and particularly the Integral approach to Indian psychology, became the foundation for all the work Dr. Aditi presently does as an educator. This was not a mere academic or intellectual study. It involved working on herself, exploring her own subjective ‘selves’ in the light of the integral psychological framework developed from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. This is the real work of an educator — to constantly grow into her own understanding of the self so that her conscious presence and influence can effectively facilitate students’ self-exploration.
A key point Dr. Aditi Kaul brings up is concerning how a teacher holds the space in a classroom. The idea is to make students feel comfortable so they participate in self-exploratory exercises which require them to face some of their emotions and feelings which they would have otherwise just ignored or even suppressed.
Here again, the silence and conscious presence that the teacher is able to bring into the classroom makes an important difference. Dr. Kaul shares that since most of us have had our formal education in mainstream settings where the inner dimensions of learning and teaching are generally ignored, much deconditioning has to happen — both for the educator and the student when working with Indian approaches to psychology.
Curriculum and Pedagogy
The primary pedagogical approach Dr. Kaul uses is first-person exploration, which helps one get an objective view of one’s subjective self. She uses a combination of short videos, reflection questions, journal writing, one-on-one sharing and group exercises. But she points out that her focus is always more on what can be actually done with the learning material.
Writing about oneself is the most important tool Dr. Kaul uses in her classroom. The last 10 minutes of every class are dedicated to reflective journal writing. She emphasises consistency over intensity, thus students are encouraged to write everyday. These could be just words that come up as they look within. These could be even drawings or sketches depending on the student’s preference. The emphasis is on developing a systematic inquiry inside the realm of one’s emotions and thoughts.
Over the years she has learned that when given the right vocabulary and framework in which to make sense of their experience, and given the right kind of opportunity to articulate their reflections, most young people are comfortable enough to go on a self-exploration path. While initially most students feel more comfortable sharing through written reflection papers; over time, more and more people begin to open up in the classroom. She has observed that a sense of oneness slowly builds among her students.
Education and Life
Dr. Kaul points out that when bringing Indian approach to psychology in classroom it is important to not impose rigidities and allow students to have a sense of freedom if they are not ready to participate or even when they reject certain notions. The teacher can only suggest the students to question their own beliefs and reflect on why they feel the need to reject some ideas. The focus should be on fostering the art of questioning, not necessarily having an urgency to find the answer. Students must be encouraged to learn the art of refining their questions.
An important concept that Dr. Kaul works with in her classroom is — cutting through the chase of validation. Most of the youngsters these days are highly image conscious. Building on examples from their own lives, she engages them in conversations on how to work around this need to create a perfect self-image. She calls this exercise: from image-conscious to conscious living.
A related concept Dr. Kaul brings up in her classes is: Responsibility for self. She encourages the students to reflect on the questions such as: How much responsibility do we take for our speech, for our actions? Why are we quick to blame the other person, or the environment every time something goes wrong? How conscious are we of what we are putting out in the world? How transparent we are about our intentions? How sincere and responsible I am for my own psychological make-up?
From Near to Far
Indian psychology is essentially based on a spiritual view of the self. Dr. Kaul tells us that when addressing topics and concepts concerning religion and spirituality, it is important to bring in a sense of wonderment in the students’ minds. She shares that often young people resist or even completely reject outer religiosity which they consider as something irrelevant.
She engages her students in a discussion-based inquiry about this, using several examples which gently bring out the symbolism behind the outer forms, whether it be the diverse god-forms we see or the outer worship practices. She introduces them to the various symbolic aspects of the stories of creation and the idea of deity. She gently helps them explore the difference between outer religion and a more inward-oriented spiritual approach to life.
Implications for Teacher Education
The conversation also brings to light some of the possibilities and challenges in rethinking teacher education in a way which highlights the need for first-person exploration as an essential aspect of an educator’s self-preparation. It is pointed out that first and foremost the artificial separation between a teacher’s professional identity and her life as a whole has to be rejected if one has to meaningfully engage in self-exploration.
In her work with small groups of teachers and counselors, Dr. Kaul has observed that while they understand the value of self-exploration for their own psychological well-being, the moment they step into their professional workspaces most tend to fall back into their old conditioned behaviour patterns, which is about teaching in the same old way, completely ignoring the inner dimension.
Also, the focus in teacher education programmes, like most professional education in general, has to shift from a result or outcome-based approach to a more process-based approach. Teachers have to be encouraged to become aware of their processes of dealing with their responses.
Watch the full conversation here:
About Our Guest:
Dr. Aditi Kaul refers to herself as “psychology enthusiast exploring life through the lens of Integral Yoga.” She lives by the statement “Conscious living is a full-time job” and believes in self-observation as a method to connect with our deeper self and discover our place in the world. In 2015, after completing her PhD in Psychology, Dr. Kaul attended a two-semester course on Indian Integral Psychology at Puducherry which inspired her to work towards building approaches to psychology based on life-affirming spirituality. Since then, she has been working towards bringing the ancient Indian wisdom of self-knowledge to the field of psychology and developing ways to facilitate Integral way of living.
Currently, she is teaching Integral Psychology and Sri Aurobindo Studies in the capacity of Visiting faculty at Auro University, Surat, and conducts online courses focused on dialogue-based inquiry and self- exploration.