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ďTransformational CollegesĒ

 By Sherman R. Buck

I am most interested of lately in work that relates to walking through the door to spirit. Most schools, colleges, and universities work with the concept as an intellectual one. Even in most mystery schools I believe that many still intellectualize this concept of joining with God/Goddess or in body, mind, and spirit. This is not to invalidate those educational institutions, for they are a necessary part of the journey towards arriving at the door. What remains lacking in these institutions is preparation for this journey through the door. There are alternative schools and cutting edge schools, yet even these are not geared to the full gamut of walking in both the material and spiritual world. Robert Johnson speaks of this difficult response-ability in his book, ďBalancing Heaven and Earth.Ē Reading his book about his experiences helped to shed light on my journey and its difficulties. The focus on this paper then is on the type of transformational center that embraces the immense depths of the spiritual realm, in all areas including the ones our dualistic and morally based cultural mindsets leave out.

I was clueless about alternative education until a small Seattle based alternative school named Puget Sound Community School (1), began to barter classroom space from a non-profit community center where I happened to work. My interactions with the director Andy Smallman led to being invited to be a facilitator of an abstract watercolor class. I had been painting abstracts for six years and felt enthusiastic about sharing this with younger students. Most people my age werenít terribly interested in them. This experience of teaching two quarters of this abstract painting began to open my eyes to alternative education. Much of this school was founded on the ideas of many other visionary individuals, all building on the works of others, of which Andy Smallman has added his share. The depth of passion for learning, the brightness of spirit, the profound intelligence, all of this and more was being developed. These young students begin at level of 5th grade on up to 12th grade. They have equal say on what the development is, what classes they would like to learn, voting power on the board of the school and freedom to express themselves and to leave classrooms if they so feel the need to do. The only rule really is to communicate what is going on. Within that kind of environment everyone is very open, close, and tight knit. There are the usual problems, but they are dealt with immediately and as a group. I was struck with such an incredible gift these young people have and they enthusiastically grew in leaps and bounds. There was such a profound wisdom in these young people. One can only wonder where they will climb too in the near future. Yet, looking back on my time there I can see that it is a box as well, lots of intellectual freedom to be and do. And, perhaps this is essential and necessary for young people to grow and mature. For surely, living in a family with adults who have been enculturated, makes it difficult to grow and become what ones inner soul desires, to listen to its calling, its guidance. Children tend to be assimilated into the family dynamics of belief for their survival and needs, which protects them until a later time. Yet, within this dysfunction, one must still be nurtured to move beyond the door. I wonder what affects a school with fully conscious, (in body, mind, soul, and spirit) teachers would have on students within dysfunctional families.

From there I graduated Seattle central community college (2), where I was given the opportunity to be at a cutting edge community college. Seattle Central is noted for its innovative learning programs and diverse faculty and student body. I learned a great deal from this school of which I took with me after graduating with an AA. My next stop was at Fairhaven College at Western Washington University (3). Here at Fairhaven I was to have an extraordinary experience with being in a alternative educational college. There were no grades, no tests, and lots of freedom to explore and create in whatever areas one was drawn too. The only limits were ourselves and to the extent of ones studies. If one needed a technical or science degree that was to be had on main campus. But, the two could be blended if one was so inclined to deal with the difficulties. Though Fairhaven college is cutting edge, it is looked upon by Western Washington University faculty as a place for starry-eyed dreamers or an escapist haven. The truth is the college makes most people uncomfortable because it goes against that which makes them comfortable within the cultural box. Here I was able to bridge both campuses and bring a richness to what it was I was passionate about.  I created my own degree program in spiritual psychology over  a three-year period.

During this period I had the wonderful opportunity to do much growing in the nearby forests and on the collegeís five-acre site called ďThe Outback.Ē Here many students could do organic gardening, herb gardening, wildcrafting, solar energy, human ecology, wetland restoration, permaculture, human ecology, and a host of other possibilities. What this area really does is heal students and anyone else who visits it regularly. I have no hesitation in saying that had this area not been here I would not be as conscious as I was when I graduated. I was put squarely in myself and Nature by the time I graduated. I had some mystical experiences that just took me away into a whole new world, which both terrified me, puzzled me, and awed me to no end. Getting my hands in the soil, creating a Biointensive garden site, building a gate for the garden using naturally available materials, being in the Outback, being with the animals and birds that interacted with us, and being with the old fir and spruce trees was very conducive to my transformative experiences.

In the college itself I began to meet other like-minded individuals who were dreamers, visionaries of a better way to live in harmony. The classes at Fairhaven were just amazing as well. Classes that really opened me were Cultural Syncretism, Cross-Cultural Shamanism, Awareness Through the Body I & II, The Art of Play, Sustainable Futures, and some required classes as well. But, most challenging of all were the independent study classes that were open as far as we were willing to take response-ability for. It was here that I began to explore what was forming in my visceral self. I began to explore the spiritual aspects of many things of which the college didnít delve into. In the end it was these classes that began to separate me from my classmates. For it was here that I began to see the cultural ramifications of what was going on. In the end it was my advisor, a man with a rich Indigenous background from Mexico, that kept me motivated to finish my degree and encouraged the work I was doing. I am eternally grateful for his incredible teaching and advising skills. By the time I had graduated I had been disowned by most of my friends and most of the faculty for stepping out of the cultural box. I can see now that Fairhaven is a box as well, though it is far more open than Western Washington University and others like it, which are mainstreamed.  Three years after graduating from Fairhaven College, I returned and upon visiting those students and faculty I knew, was startled at how much I had changed and stepped out of the box. I was seeing them with open eyes and was just stunned at how shut down they were. I realized I was walking around in much of the same condition within that particular box, so was unable to realize it. It took me a good year to process this realization and to accept it. People in boxes usually donít hang around those outside of boxes.

So, now I am enrolled in Naropa University at Oakland, enjoying the challenges of the Creation Spirituality Masters program. I am aware that it doesnít matter what path you take because all of them go to the same place. After years of scoffing at right and wrong ones, it occurs to me here amidst others struggling with whatís wrong with the place for me to realize they just donít want to go within. I donít believe what they are doing is wrong, for it is exactly what they need to be doing, change is necessary. But, it is not as bad as the students make it out to be. Yet, at the time I wrote this in college, I agreed with this statement. But, now I would say the school is badly flawed and in need of some major restructuring. Yet, if one does the work, pays attention to the readings, discussions in any box, and one begins to question and ponder on the learnings, one can wake up from the box. This has allowed me to realize the need for a transformational center for those who are ready to go through the door to begin the conscious preparation to do so and begin the process of continuing on to what lies beyond the door.

The following comes from my own work and it is not based on one practice, rather a concerted effort from many directions to get to a point where I could see that I had chains that bound my body, mind, soul, and spirit. Then there were the chains of culture to be dealt with. What I envision in the larger picture would be a college such as Fairhaven College blended together with University of Creation Spirituality (UCS), Naropa University, and other bodywork schools. I donít know enough about the current partnership between UCS and Naropa to know whether or not Naropa has any input into the Masterís program pertaining to classes. For the sake of having a name to call this new institute, I will call it Transformational College. I see this college as a replacement for the current liberal arts degree, which would be of greater value to the masterís level. This college would be like Fairhaven in the context of offering considerable freedom in doing independent study. The focus would be on small colleges to incorporate a sense of community, this sort of transformative process being much more difficult to do in larger numbers. These colleges would be preparations for anyone wishing to be conscious critical thinkers, able to find information, think for themselves, and to be self-taught learners, where honesty, integrity, and moral structures (our current ones are extremely primitive) are learned and explored in great depth. This is the basis of what education should be, first and foremost. Education was never meant to support business (busy-ness) nor the pursuit of wealth, rather it was about pursuing wisdom and knowledge. The two are not the same. One can be intelligent and have no wisdom to wield knowledge appropriately as is the case in our so-called modern culture. On my own journey it was at this level of getting my AA and BA that I became aware of the door and got rid of many of the chains that bound me intellectually. Developmentally I was not ready to be aware of that door other than just intellectually. For many, the idea of having just a little bit of freedom to be creative can be scary. As one pursues their interests they are also required to take core classes that introduce them to ideas and concepts they might not take on their own. Here is where they learn about future levels of body, mind, soul, and spirit integration.

Core classes would include bodywork, massage, various creative arts, connections with Nature, energy healing arts, and Shamanic Soul Retrieval. Bodywork is different from massage in that its main function is to activate and release stored trauma. Examples of this would be Rolfing, DFA, Continuum, Feldencrais, Holotropic Breathwork, Rebirthing, and others. My personal preferences are Rebirthing and DFA. I have used Rolfing, done some Feldencrais and Continuum. These were invaluable in getting in touch with my physical body and getting comfortable in it. Perhaps this might be an important step towards doing the deeper work. But, I have this sense that given a safe and supportive place to go deeper, a younger person or older person wonít have a difficult time dealing with what comes up. This idea of a safe and supportive environment is essential and it is crucial to understand that their different levels of this based on the work someone has done. One can only offer a safe and supportive space to the level of their own inner work and there are a great many in the healing profession who have not done this deeper work, for there are depths that move us out of our humanness, into what could be labeled madness, but we already live in an insane world, so I see this deeper movement as a move towards sanity. The idea that someone must spend decades to get to a space to unfold will shorten as we create sacred space to do this work. There are those who are ready and a rule of thumb would be, ďif someone signs up, shows up, and starts the work, they are ready.Ē I donít believe in accidents and those who show up are ready to do the work, for spirit never presents us with something we are not ready for. I have done energy work, soul retrieval work, Nature work, massage, dream work, and creative arts too. These were great healers in their own right as well. But, I still support bodywork as the key to breaking through. The body has its own wisdom that goes beyond the mind. If we think about how spirit is an inner experience, then one must go within the body. I have had my own experience of feeling the whole Universe within my body during guided imagery by a Reichian therapist during an Awareness Through The Body I class at Fairhaven, which upon experiencing this profoundness, the only thing I was able to do was sob.

Part of this opening process should discuss the use of psychedelics used in the same sacred way as Indigenous cultures used and still use them. By sacred ways, I mean using them as spiritual tools, not as a means to escape reality, nor for thrills. There is much literature and research about the positive uses of them by those in the studies of consciousness, which includes body, mind, soul, and spirit. I believe these should be made available to those who wish to use them. I believe that individuals who have used them effectively ought to be present as teachers, guides, and mentors. Having used them in this manner, I see the value in them in clearing away the ego constructs and illuminating one to the larger Universe at large within. The many in the consciousness movement, still have no idea just how imprisoned they are within ego constructs, it is like the distance between the Earth and the Sun. 

There are ways to prepare students for this entering the door, such as meditation, Yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi, and Aikido. In addition, I feel rope courses can be of extreme value in inner growth. I learned some profound things from just the low course alone. Shamanic journeying can be useful as well to initiate one to the imaginal realm. Wilderness treks can be extremely beneficial as well to facilitate a connection of the outer wilds with the inner wilds. Being with others who are doing this work allows the magic of synchronicity to also occur. 

My preferences for DFA and Rebirthing have to do with the incredible openings and integrations that came with being freed to emotionally break down and literally sob for 30 to 40 minutes in a space that was held by someone who had done their own emotional work. The experience is likened to losing 1,000 lbs. off my back. My two trigger points on my upper back, to which the main back muscles attach, near our shoulder blades, were sore for days afterwards from the release of the negative energy that had been physically held inward. On a cellular level we hold trauma in our bodies if not allowed to validate it, express it and purge it with full body grieving. This is what children do naturally and once done they are able to move on as if nothing happened. This is the same for us adults as well. With DFA I have literally felt my spirit slide back within my body. This has been startling and has left me profoundly touched as to what this process is about in its complete essence. Given the opportunity to do bodywork can be instrumental in starting the healing process. Given the safe place to do this work is just as instrumental. Ensuring that those holding the space are healed is of utmost importance, making all the difference whether one opens or stays closed. I feel it is important to have counseling as well, the kind that includes the spiritual context as well. Counselors should be individuals who have done their own deep work and have dealt with key issues. A person being healed can only be healed to the level of those assisting them. Another important area is having space where truth and integrity are spoken and enacted on a daily basis. This also means that the number of practitioners for bodywork and counseling would be in small ratios of practitioners to students. Ideally some of these practitioners should live within the dormitories. 

In addition to bodywork, perhaps in relationship with it, comes kundalini energy. Kundalini energy is the life force or Chi. There are many more names for it. But, it is the energy that flows through us, the spiritual, creative, sexual energies that are interconnected and inseparable, and a good symbol of them would be Tao Symbol that has three fish versus two, which shows the relationship of the three, wherein one is not better than or less than the others. Each is essential to our consciousness. Shut down one, and you affect the others. This is why fear, shame, guilt, and violence are used on children from a very early age, for it is known to disconnect them from their body, mind, soul, and spirit. Bodywork is about kundalini, for what occurs within dysfunction is the systematic shutdown of the kundalini flow within the body. Classwork on the chakra systems would also be of great value, as would doing Qi-gong where one can begin to experience their own energy and others. This energy is powerful stuff, the likes of which could kill someone if they were not careful. Yet it is the divine and it knows what it is doing. The warning I give is really about our egos getting in the way trying to stop the opening of which kundalini does for us. It finds all the blocks within the body and clears them out. Sometimes these blockages can be painful due to the egos control of not wanting to let go. Understanding kundalini is essential work for consciousness work, and having gone through my own extensive experiences, has taught me a great deal. 

This then leads to the campus setting where the college would be built within or in connection with dormitories that are created in a manner that accords to community or communal living. Fairhavenís set-up was ideal, in that the dorms were called stacks. On the bottom floor was a small lounge for TV/Video/Study, and a larger with couches, tables, a fireplace, and a small kitchen for preparing meals. The upper three floors were rooms. I believe it is appropriate and healthy to have one person per room, with decent sized beds to accommodate real life situations like having a relationship and having more than one person in bed with you. I feel the walls should be sound proofed as well. Common areas should be equitably fashioned to accommodate healthy interactions as well. In the early years at Fairhaven, some of the day areas were converted into shops for the students to use. There was an art studio, pottery studio, wood shop, and metal shop, all used for creative expression. There could be additional spaces for other types as well. In the earlier years a faculty member and their partner would live in the dorms as residential director advisors. Perhaps this would be more suited for students who have graduated or for those who feel this is their calling. These director/advisors need to be conscious as well. Birthing oneself through the door requires others who have done it to be available at all times and in numbers. 

Fairhaven College was ideally set-up in this neat three-story building. The college was on the third floor, with six classrooms and a small auditorium that was used for classes as well. The auditorium has a state of the art audio/visual/Internet system and stage lighting and sound for various entertainments. The next level down is the dining facility, which has been turned into meeting and banquet facilities for the university. I would take back this space for classroom space. The dining facility would need to be geared for more organic and healthier foods and to accommodate various diets essential to the waking up process. And I am not talking about where vegetarianism is the ideal, for it is not. One is still killing living sentient beings. All things are alive and sentient in different ways, which has been proven with quantum mechanics. In Chinese medicine, all foods are considered medicines. Also, people in general do not eat three meals a day at the same time. Leaving an open door policy, wherein everyone participates to some degree in the preparations of foods and perhaps volunteering for cleaning, etc. The bottom floor opens up to an outdoor court yard which is surrounded by the various Stacks. Within this floor is a computer room, a sound room for recording music, a photography lab, a recreation area, mailboxes for students and an office to take care of necessities. There is a small snack bar and looking out to the courtyard is a huge open floor space with two large lounge areas on both sides, one side having a grand piano. I can see dance being an incredible tool for self expression and learning to move more freely within ones body, to be held weekly or more depending on needs. All of this would be flexible and changeable. 

One of the incredible opportunities at Fairhaven for learning is the independent study program. One can learn off campus with a mentor, professional, workshops, masters, and experts in ones chosen area of interest. This is difficult at first for those who have never been given the freedom to learn. Once experienced a student is often enthusiastic to try others and begin to be more creative to form ones own personal degree. One of the main requirements is to have a certain percentage of credits from ISPís. As students move through the levels they gravitate to the deeper work. Again, I feel this is each personís choice as to whether they wish to enter the door. The classes and material at this level begin to discuss this doorway and what is behind it. People who have done this work come in to talk and dialogue with these students. Perhaps these people or others are present as mentors for these students as they begin the arduous task of opening up. 

At this stage, students are given the freedom to be with what emerges for them. I have found there are times when I donít want to do anything except just being. I find myself just staring off into nowhere thinking of nothing and seeing nothing. There is the purging of unfelt feelings and emotions, the going up and down in mood swings, the realization of all that one has been unconscious too. It has been almost two years since my near death experience and I still am coming to terms with what went on there. Seeing the world the way it really is can be very traumatizing and requires one to feel its depths. Part of this process is to begin the ascent into the joys as well, for true joy is different from happiness. Happiness comes from getting or having something and if it is removed we are sad. Joy on the other hand is different; it requires nothing and comes from within. This is the bliss that all the creation mystics talked about, that space where one indwells God/Goddess and cannot be touched. Joy cannot be taken away. One of the greatest difficulties today is that our society moves so swiftly to avoid this abyss that those who choose to face it have to do it on the run. In the old days one could go to a monastery. I would also like to say not everyone could go to a monastery either, usually because of prejudices. 

If we are the seed of God/Goddess, then it makes sense that we have a place that nurtures the body, mind, and spirit. If we are to be enlightened, then we must facilitate this just as we do our gardens. As it stands today we do not allow our children to grow unencumbered into enlightened beings. The majority is stunted at home, school, church, and within society. An example in Nature of this is clear-cutting. I often have noticed how the trees are never allowed to mature to their full potential. Instead, they are cut every 20 to 40 years depending on what type they are. Culture does the same thing to its members in one form or another. When I walk around the cities looking at the trees, they are always being cut down at a certain point, are caged in, encircled with steel, cement or asphalt. There is no room for their seed to grow. Humans are treated the same way. I see transformational centers as the key to changing this for the better. In our current era of "freedom", there is finally enough openness to pursue this kind of education to awaken individuals to mature to their full potential. If it is meant to be, spirit will guide me to the appropriate people and places to do this work. If not me then it will be another, for it is an inevitable direction we must follow.

December 11, 2000

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