Education: The Platform for Change
A Conversation with Paul Stokstad
by Sydney L. Murray
Maharishi University offers the ultimate experience in education. I love learning, and the knowledge that there is an institution that allows not only your intellect to be cultivated but your spirit as well is inspiring. This campus offers the very best in education. My undergraduate and graduate education were intellectually stimulating but also very stressful. I envy the students that Paul Stokstad talks about at Maharishi University of Management, where they encourage their students to expand their minds before they fill them. I believe this learning institution is one of the most important educational centers in our country. At Maharishi School of Management, they not only teach the practical elements of a traditional degree program, but they also offer the tools to live a productive and fulfilling life. This is definitely a cultural shift in the area of education.
Vision Magazine: What is the essence of consciousness-based education?
Paul Stokstad: What we talk about is that we like to expand the container of knowledge before putting stuff in. Most people think that they have a certain amount of intelligence, a certain amount of awareness, and that's what they get. As a matter of fact, as of age 16, we have the most neurons of all time in our life, so it's downhill from there. It seems like an early time to be going downhill. Whereas, through this [type of] meditation, there's more clarity of mind, more awareness.
Our original motto was: Knowledge is structured in consciousness. One of the phrases that Maharishi had was, "Knowledge is different in different states of consciousness." And so the fact is, we are dealing with people who are normally only experiencing three states of consciousness: waking; sleeping; and dreaming. And the experience of the Transcendental Meditation program allows them to experience a fourth state of consciousness, which is called transcendental consciousness. And this state has certain physiological correlates. You can have someone in the other room, and we can tell whether they're waking, sleeping, dreaming, or doing TM [Transcendental Meditation], because during TM, there are certain identifiable brain wave patterns. There are certain changes in the breath rate, the heart rate goes down, the skin conductance goes down. There are indications that there is increased physiological alertness. We see increased brain wave coherence during the practice. But we also start to see increased brain wave coherence in daily activity.
So our view is that it's not enough to just give people a bunch of knowledge and hope it sticks, but to actually expand the container of knowledge. So consciousness-based education means that we are cultivating all the traditional disciplines, certainly; but at the same time, we're expanding the consciousness of the student. They have more room, more alertness, and more positivity about learning. I think you know when the student is stressed and tired and exhausted and they've been drinking all weekend, they're not really going to absorb a lot Monday morning. That's not our experience here. The students, in general, are oriented toward self-development, expansion of health and awareness. We look at the human individual as having the potential to be enlightened. But that's not just, 'Oh I'm feeling happy, I know a lot of stuff.' No, we look at enlightenment as an actual state change of human experience, a fundamental change of their actual experience of life.
So having that as a goal is a different paradigm of existence than most of Western society has. And I don't know if you've looked at any of the early childhood development stuff, but they talk about different childhood development that kids go through. For example, the Bradshaw work on early development. They have a stage called "formal operations," which is the operations that most people come into at maybe [age] 12 [years old] when their pre-fontal cortex comes online. And we look at this as being beyond formal operations. There are levels of consciousness a human individual can experience beyond what the everyday human is experiencing. If that's the case, why not have an education where we don't just prepare kids for jobs, we prepare them to be enlightened humans? And that's a different view of education. It should not just be career-based. We prepare them to be full human beings.
And the other thing is, considering the stress in the workplace and the likely changes in the workplace, I think most people nowadays don't stay at a job forever. The kind of qualities that this meditation develops are the kind of things that employers say they want, like stability, ability to work with a team, and get along well with others. Usually when you get out of college and you go into a job, they say, 'Fine, you've got a degree, now let's talk about what you're really going to do. What are you really going to accomplish?' Usually, success in the workplace is built on the ability to get along with people, the ability to be flexible, to learn something new. Sometimes college is just training people to become a lifelong learner. We look at the skill of gaining enlightenment, of gaining more consciousness, as a skill that students should have as well. We don't just say, 'Okay, this is how smart you are, this is how awake you are, we're going to stuff as much knowledge as we can in there.' We say, 'We also want to expand your consciousness while you're here so that you can contain more knowledge.'
Now, that is the experiential level. There's also the intellectual level. And without being heavy-handed, without being dogmatic, the view of life where consciousness is at the base, which parallels the quantum field view of life, where there's more energy at higher levels—that view of life informs other disciplines. There's a danger of becoming dogmatic, but you can use that worldview to reexamine other disciplines: How does this fit with some of the absolute theories of math? How does this fit with quantum theories? How does this fit with some of the most advanced aspects of current knowledge? You can, to a degree, compare this Vedic view of life to the Western Scientific Method view of life and come up with a holistic way to utilize these modern disciplines. So, to a degree, we have a consciousness that is a fundamental aspect of all disciplines. So that gives students a shorthand way to understand some of the more profound aspects of a discipline.
We do have a consciousness-based program that is experiential, but to a degree, we sometimes will look at a discipline and, say, when Wordsworth was talking about:
There I beheld the emblem of a mind
That feeds upon infinity, that broods
Over the dark abyss, intent to hear
Its voices issuing forth to silent light
In one continuous stream; a mind sustained
By recognitions of transcendent power, (Prelude, Book 14, Line 70-75)
he tends to write about these beautiful experiences—the students can relate based on their own experience. When, in physics, they start talking about the quantum levels, the unified field theories, the students say, 'I don't just understand it; I have some experience to relate to that.'
In our society, we could ask, what's the real religion of our country? It's actually Western science. Science has an amazing grip upon the intellectual community in our country. And the problem with Western science is it's not complete knowledge. Because the very system of the philosophy of science does not allow for anything to be proven; it only allows for it to be supported. If you've ever dealt with an academic, they often don't recognize truth; they only recognize supported theories.
We, however, recognize what's called the subjective means of gaining knowledge, because there are subjective levels of the human experience that are repeatable and that are absolute. Western science doesn't accept that. The problem with Western science is incomplete study creates incomplete results. We have, for example, Western medicine, where they know how to shoot a bullet at something—and by the way, we're going to damage the surrounding area. Thirty percent of hospital beds supposedly are filled by people who are recovering from cures. In other words, the cure itself causes ailments. Whereas Ayurvedic medicine doesn't have side effects, it has side benefits because it's more holistic.
So in terms of our shift, we think we're seeing a shift from facts-based knowledge to self-based knowledge. The individual does need facts, but the individual also needs to grow, to keep those facts in perspective.
VM: How is Maharishi University different from other academic institutions?
PS: In some ways it's the same. And that can be surprising to people. We are not an improvisational, unstructured school. It's actually hard work. People study in-depth Western knowledge. At the same time, we feel that perspective needs to be supported from the fundamental level, with what's developed in terms of the student's consciousness.
VM: And for people who aren't aware, could you define Transcendental Meditation for them?
PS: Transcendental Meditation is easily defined by the name. First of all, lets talk about the 'M' word, which is meditation. The 'M' word is a very large tent: different practices that are called 'meditation'—everything from staring at a candle to guided meditation and all kinds of things. TM is sometimes characterized by what it is not. It's not a form of concentration or contemplation; it's a form of meditation that allows the individual to settle deep within themselves to what we call the "source of thought within." And that source of thought deep within supersedes all objects of attention, and therefore it's transcendental. There are many names for this pure consciousness, or pure awareness, self-realization. The self is just consciousness without an object of attention. So the human individual has the potential to contact this source.
One thing that distinguishes TM is it transcends its own activity. The technique is not something that's continual; it's something that arrives at a goal, which is the Self. When you're in the Self, you don't need the technique. During the practice, there are times when the individual has no thoughts. They're simply in the Self.
So Transcendental aspect of Transcendental Meditation is what makes it different. It goes to this level of the human self beyond the activity. Now, most of your other forms of meditation have to do with contemplation of some beautiful thing, or some concentration on a particular something or other—your breath, your this—or maybe just mindfulness where you just kind of keep your awareness on something. But TM is a technique which transcends it's own activity. It arrives at this goal, which is this inner field. So this inner field is just the essential aspect of the person themselves.
As a matter of fact, there's a recent study done by Fred Travis that identifies three major brainwave patterns that are characteristic of those three different major types of meditation, and each one has a different effect. One is concentration, which creates more ability to concentrate. Your mindfulness, or Open Monitoring, creates more ability to be present. I can't remember the article in great detail, but there's a completely different brainwave pattern for each. The idea is just to know these differences and to ask, 'What is your goal in meditation?' The goal of meditation of TM is not, however, not the meditation itself, but the effects found in our daily lives. The goal is to create an enlightened individual. And it's not some far-off goal; it's a goal that people are experiencing. And also it's cumulative in its benefits. The advantage of this meditation is it doesn't take years and years of practice. A person who's been meditating for a few days has a profound experience of the meditation itself. Of course, the effects outside of meditation are cumulative over time.
VM: Our theme this month is Cultural Shift. Do you believe our culture is shifting?
PS: I do believe there's a very fascinating, but invisible, cultural shift. And I believe that people are going to wake up some day and say, "What happened?" As a matter of fact, I think a fascinating thing that either you or I could do would be to write a book from the future. And there was a book like this, written by, I think his name is Edward Bellamy, called "Looking Backward," in which he wrote a book from the future, looking back to his time. And I think that there are various theories of what the future is going to be. One is this [theory of] technology getting more and more fascinating, and the emerge of the "singularity" proposed by Ralph Kurzweil and all of that. And the other view is the usual progress: make more money and enjoy more technology.
I think what's really happening is the emergence of what my wife and I call the future human. There's a shift that's going on. People are seeing a new paradigm of what it means to be human, and they are investigating, they are learning to take responsibility for their own growth. They see themselves as the microcosm of the macrocosm. For example, we have a lot of people very angry, demonstrating about peace. But we see peace as something that has to start with the individual. And we also see that there can be collective effects. Some of our research talks about collective effects of people meditating together. That's why we have these golden domes here at our university, because we're actually meditating to create a collective effect on our society. And that seems bizarre when you think in terms of old-style physics, but quantum physics, you can imagine a lot of people functioning from a deep level can have an additive, quantum wave, effect.
In terms of cultural effect, I think that there's one view of life that things are going to be more and more technological and more and more convenient. But I think there's also a big need for what we call 'high-touch' in addition to 'high-tech.' But like I said, I don't necessarily see the technical world as inimical to the development of consciousness. These new media, they reflect qualities of consciousness. One of the qualities of consciousness as we describe it is omnipresence. And then another is infinite connectivity. These are aspects of this unified field, of this field of consciousness. And we're seeing on the Internet, the growth of more connectivity. We're seeing omnipresence, we're seeing more knowledge. Like I said, these media are actually an epiphenomenon of the development of consciousness. So new levels of human development are accompanied by new kinds of media.
As far as the future goes, to me, I believe that there's so much emphasis on ecology. I think the new human—the future human—is going to be someone who's not just into ecology, but also cosmo-ecological or psycho-ecological, that they themselves are going to be and see themselves as radiating in harmony with nature. A person in harmony with themselves creates a fundamental harmony with nature. Which I think is about Behavior with a capital 'B,' and also with a capital 'E'—BEhavior. It's not just 'Walk the talk,' it's 'BE the talk.'
And so I think people, as time goes on—and it's happening across many disciplines—people are saying, "I'm responsible for my self-growth. You are not my problem; you're just there to represent my problem." All this relationship work, all this stuff out there… I just kind of feel people are realizing that they need to do self-development as a basis for helping the world. Because what's most selfish is also the most altruistic. And while people think, oh you're just trying to get away from the world, no, I'm trying to do something for the world.
So the other thing we view is that it's not enough just to go to college and get a bunch of knowledge and get a job. First of all, the job may not exist in five years. And second of all, why not get all the tools for being a complete human? There's the old argument for Liberal Arts that you get a more well-rounded individual. But I think our school takes that a bit farther, that, as they say, there's millions of people getting jobs, but it's not just get a job, it's also get a life.
As far as cultural shift, I think that there is a sense that quality of life is an essential element and that technology only takes you so far. It's a very complicated thing for us because we want to have natural, or organic, or local everything. At the same time, we want to enjoy our technology and be interconnected all over the world. So you're part of a very sophisticated, multi-dimensional personality. I'm not sure the future is built for men; it might only be built for women. Because you need the ability to multi-task, you need the ability to handle many cultural types, you need the ability to be sensitive to feelings—the sophistication of the modern individual. It may be that we just aren't going to have any men, I don't know. No guarantees, but I just don't know if they're really suited for the future. I hope so; I'd like to be a part of it.
When the building has cracks, you look to the foundation. When there's suffering in society, you look to the basis. And the real basis is not political. To me, one phrase I like is, "All change is personal." All change is personal, and all politics is personal. There is an amazing invisible cultural shift, all the people working towards development of consciousness, all the people looking to self-development as the fundamental change, and all the people looking to individual responsibility—individual responsibility to manifest the change, at least for themselves and the people around them.
To me, it's the rise of the individual and the fall of the famous. It's not about being famous; it's about being fantastic. Everyone is obsessed with 'making it' and being famous and being exceptional. You're already exceptional. You're already a miracle. You just have to manifest your own miracle. I have a book idea [which] is: "How to Not Be Famous." We need much more knowledge how not to be famous than to be famous. How can we find significance in a life that is not recognized by the masses? Is mass recognition the only form of happiness? Even if we're famous for 15 minutes, we're not going to get everybody in. We are our own public.
VM: Is David Lynch involved in the university?
PS: David Lynch has an amazing initiative of his own. We're hoping some day he'll come give a film course. But his focus is largely on inner-city school students, homeless populations, and veterans. He's sponsoring programs that bring the benefits of the TM program to people who have ADHD and PTSD. He is a trustee of the university. But most of his focus is on stressed populations. He's done a lot of work internationally as well, for kids, by raising money so that they can learn the TM program. We're doing a lot of work now for veterans and ADHD students. It's been good for us, because people see we have a humanitarian side; we're not just doing the learn meditation thing.
VM: And I'm just curious, are there any new programs or new arenas that the university is focusing on?
PS: We're being more selective and trying to attract students who have a sense of what we are. We're more interested in people who really are here to do self-development. The thing is, there's a special profile. There's people that come here and say, "I didn't know that you existed." There's a certain person who goes, "Wow!" Because they say, "Oh, well everything that makes me weird somewhere else, makes me normal here." The fact that I'm into consciousness, I'm into meditation, I'm into yoga, I'm into vegetarianism or I'm a vegan, all the things that everyone says you're weird for—here you are like everybody. So the problem for us is finding those people. They don't get up in the morning and say, "Hey, I wonder if there's a place that does consciousness-based education." That's our slogan. We know there are many thousands of them out there, but we have to let them know that we exist, because a lot of people have even forgotten about TM. We're still doing it, but you've got to acquaint the new generation with it.
I wanted to mention there's also our commitment to sustainability. We've got one of the only LEED platinum certified structures in this new sustainable building we created. It was built using Maharishi Vastu architecture, so it's got the LEED thing and the Vedic system of architecture. Maharishi Vastu is a system of architecture that creates a building that is in tune with the laws of nature, in terms of the orientation of the building, in terms of where you put the door, in terms of where you put the kitchen. We just did a building that was not only sustainable, but was also using this ancient, Maharishi Vedic System. We even have a whole city that was built using these concepts called Vedic City, here in Iowa.
To summarize, the thing about cultural shift, and an article about cultural shift, and indeed the whole focus in most of what we call 'news,' is the focus on the future. But the real future is to be found in more ability to be present in the now. Our focus at Maharishi University of Management is on creating students with less noise in the system, more inner, dynamic silence along with their learning activity, so that they can make the most of every learning and living moment. It's the kind of thing that makes you wish going back to school was in your future, right now.
Paul Stokstad serves as the Marketing Director for Maharishi University of Management (www.mum.edu). He has taught ad copywriting, journalism, advertising, web marketing, poetry writing, and comedy writing at MUM. He has published books on tennis, improv theatre, and chronic fatigue. His Butterfly Tattoo book of poems will be published by Bluelight Press in 2012.
Please also visit: www.mum.edu/cbcc/categories.html (Fred Travis' study on three kinds of meditation); www.mum.edu/slc.html (Sustainable Living Center); and www.davidlynchfoundation.org (the David Lynch Foundation).
Note: The new sustainability building on campus is not yet LEED Platinum certified; it is LEED Gold certified, but on track for Platinum as more elements are added to the mix.