Category Archives: Wisdom Tradition

Pre-Conference Call

1) Our call today was an extremely moving event for all of us. We shared our experience of the anxieties of the past week, the community that has formed that helped us all get through it, and the unexpected blessing of having our collective wisdom tested as a prelude to this conference. Of the many indelible memories from this call, I think the strongest one will be Grace’s hearing the distress of the birds whose homes and young were being destroyed in the background of the YouTube fire broadcast–showing the increased capacity for empathy that our new technology can bring, if we bring our own full awareness to it.

2) My own brief summation of what think I have learned about wisdom from this series of calls: Wisdom is grounded in the vast creative capacities of our brains (Rico) and the cultural conditions of partnership that powerfully flourished for thousands of years in the Neolithic Period after the agricultural revolution (Eisler, Mackey, Krieglstein). But it perhaps does not take fully shape as wisdom until it finds itself forced to swim upstream against the dehumanizing influences of dominator culture (Karen Armstrong). “The wisdom tradition” can be described as the collection of counter-cultural educational efforts during and since the Axial Age (in the First Millennium B.C.E.) to stem the prevailing dominator tide by cultivating moral and spiritual bulwarks against it: working with creative diligence to foster a source of compassionate partnership with and personal presence to others and the world within each individual, within empires that cultivate isolation and hierarchies of fear. The lifetimes of many of us seem to encapsulate this partnership to domination to wisdom story: coming from the 60s-70s “Age of Aquarius” mentality that seemed a sudden regeneration of partnership culture, through the resurgence of empire since the 80s that has encroached into our educational institutions in unprecedented ways in the name of economic progress, to today, in which our nations and economies and education systems are so visibly out of control in their efforts at total control (Svi Shapiro) that we may just have a chance to reclaim them in the name of wisdom, if we are able to encourage enough others to take heart and hope in these times, instead of losing it by simply succumbing to the forces that seek to control and threaten to engulf us. The only power that can confront the magnitude of the issues of our time is our own magnanimity, the greatness of the wisdom that can be cultivated in each of our souls, and the collective power of our collective wisdom. To cultivate that magnanimity to its fullest capacity we need to draw on the fullness of the wisdom tradition from both the deep (Armstrong, Jaspers) and the recent (Merton, Steiner, Palmer, Gulen, et. al.) past, and from our own personal stories and insights, as we have so richly shared in our calls, and will no doubt share far more fully and embodiedly (to coin a word) when we at last meet this week. So, may our coming together soon be an omen, and perhaps a catalyst, for a larger coming together of the world. And may the devastation our meeting site has narrowly escaped today, thanks to the courageous work of the firefighters, be an omen and serve as a symbol of our helping the world escape much greater forms of devastation in the future, thanks to our own and others’ courageous work.

OK, the details:
1) Again, don’t forget checks (or cash), towels, colored pens, and musical instruments if you can bring them. An alarm clock will also come in handy. Bring some relatively warm clothing/jackets, as some sessions will be held outside.
2) I’ve attached the bios and presentation summaries we’ve managed to collect, and the final program. Send any additions or changes ASAP–I’ll post what I have to the web tomorrow morning and revise and resend once more tomorrow night. We did not abbreviate anyone’s bio, so to be fair, we will accommodate any longer bio you would like to submit at this time.


May 18 Conference Call

Hello once again!

Thanks to Svi Shapiro for engaging us deeply last week in critical hope! For those of you not attending the conference, but interested in it, a preliminary version of the program will be posted on the web in the next several days. We may have one or two more speakers representing movements for global peace education. Our final call before the conference will take place on the morning of Memorial Day, Monday, May 26, at noon Eastern, 9am Pacific–the topic is listed below, as well. Hope many of you can join us! If there is interest, we will continue these calls after the conference, though most likely on a less frequent basis.

The procedure is simply to dial 218-936-6666, follow the prompts, and then enter the code 9936250#. The call will last about 90 minutes, if we can contain the enthusiasm to that!


May 11 Conference Call

Next week, May 11, will feature conference participant Tom Gage, who is an Islamist as well as a teacher of teachers of English, along with Yetkin Yildirim of the Gulen Foundation which works, as I understand it, to advance spiritual, nonviolent education in the Islamic world. We may have other speakers as well to participate in this cosmopolitan conversation about the substantial large-scale forces already working in the world to bring about wholesale educational transformation toward wisdom.

The procedure is simply to dial 218-936-6666, follow the prompts, and then enter the code 9936250#. The call will last about 90 minutes, if we can contain the enthusiasm to that!

April 20 Conference Call–Thomas Merton

Larry Inchausti will be leading our call Sunday, April 20, on Thomas Merton and other assorted matters. If you’re not famliar with Merton, he was a major influence on Parker Palmer. An aspiring literary critic, trained at Columbia by Mark van Doren and others, he chose instead to lead a monastic life that led to a different kind of literary career, as the author of what is probably the most powerful oeuvre of wisdom literature of the last century. He is our great contemporary precursor. Do join us, ESPECIALLY if you are unfamiliar with him!

To enter the call, simply dial 218-936-6666 and follow the prompts. Our code is 9936250#.

Sunday Conference Calls–April 13, 20, & 27

Hi all,

Next week’s call will be moderated by Conference Co-Chair Stan Scott and will feature conference speaker Michael Nagler. I just got and read Michael’s recent book Our Spiritual Crisis: Recovering Human Wisdom in a Time of Violence, and must say there is a remarkable confluence between it and the thinking of this conference, from the use of the phrase “the wisdom tradition” (which I learned comes from Huston Smith) to the emphasis on “the sacred individual whose depth connects with the reality of all others” as the ultimate means to uproot the violence in today’s world. Michael can also talk with us about his work with Educators for Nonviolence. I will be joining the call late, as it overlaps with a conference session I’ll be attending in Boston. It will take place at the usual time of 9pm Eastern, 6 Pacific, Sunday the 13th. The call-in info is just below this message.
The following week’s call will be in the at noon Eastern, 9AM Pacific on the 20th, so folks can celebrate the second night of Passover in the evening. It will feature Robert Larry Inchausti, and will focus on the life and thought of Thomas Merton, which were seminal in provoking a revival of spiritual thinking in the last century, being particularly influential for the thought of Parker Palmer and others. If you can, read Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and/or Larry’s Thomas Merton’s American Prophecy.
The call on the 27th will feature Tikkun Magazine education writer Svi Shapiro. You can access Svi’s many articles over the years for just $10 at Or get his recent, powerful book Losing Heart: The Moral and Spiritual Miseducation of America’s Children. It will take place at the usual time of 9pm Eastern.
Just today, I asked for more rooms at Mount Madonna Center. We have only a few left at this writing. Please send in outstanding registrations as soon as possible, so we can accommodate you! (There will definitely be space offsite, but down a small mountain.)
We are also getting in quite a number of terrific proposals. To accommodate them, we will most likely need to begin the conference on Thursday morning and end on Sunday evening. If you can arrive early and/or stay late, notify Louise Smith to reserve space for you for Wednesday and/or Sunday night. There will be no additional registration fees, other than what we are charged by Mount Madonna for the additional nights.
Stan and I will be putting the program together at the end of the month. Please send any additional proposals by the 20th, so we can consider them!
Looking forward to attaching names and voices to faces very soon!


Upcoming Conference Calls


We now have a schedule for the calls for the next six weeks after Easter. March 30 and April 6, we will finish the Armstrong. I’ll copy and send a few passages out and we’ll read and discuss them over the phone.

On April 13, featured conference speaker Michael Nagler, founder of the UC Berkeley Peace Studies Program and award winning author, will be talking to us. You might want to prepare by reading his The Search for a Nonviolent Future and/or Our Spiritual Crisis: Recovering Human Wisdom in a Time of Violence.

Following that, on April 20, will be featured speaker Robert Inchausti, who will talk about Thomas Merton, perhaps the most important American figure in the reclaiming of the wisdom tradition we’ve been exploring in Jaspers and Armstrong. For that you might want to read Merton’s classic The Seven Story Mountain or Inchausti’s great book on Merton, Thomas Merton’s American Prophecy.

Our last five calls will turn from exploring the wisdom tradition in general to issues in education, and our speakers will be people who are unable to attend the conference. On April 27, we will hear from Svi Shapiro, education columnist for Tikkun Magazine and its Network of Spiritual Progressives, the education wing of which has several members coming to our conference. Svi’s most recent book is Losing Heart: The Moral and Spiritual Miseducation of America’s Children.

On May 4, the three founders of AEPL–Dick Graves, Alice Brand, and Charlie Suhor–will all join in conversation for the first time in many years, to talk about the founding of this organization and how it helped to answer the yearnings for a deeper understanding of education in the field of English, and helped to form a deeper kind of professional community than is commonly available.

March 16 Conference Call

Here are one person’s notes & thoughts from the March 16 Conference call.

I spent the first half of the call on a walk in the chill of an early spring evening in Utah’s mountains. As the sun set and the air grew colder I followed the readings in my book, whose numbering is a little different from yours but which I nevertheless found easily (having read the chapter already and underlined many of the passages you’d chosen), appreciating the opportunity to see and hear the words simultaneously and think about them in terms of teaching. When you asked for personal responses, I wanted to tell about an experience 20 years ago in an introductory creative nonfiction writing class where one woman wrote powerfully about her process of becoming independent after divorce. I was delighted with her self-discovery; it was an epiphany for me, too: if I can help people write this well about their life-changing experiences, I want to do it forever.

But things changed. Politics at the university…my own needs…a shift in my focus to hands-on energy work…all led me to fall away from teaching writing for some years; but when I needed a paycheck and benefits, I went back to the university–and could not find my feet again. In the past six years I have had to re-learn respect for the students; this kenosis is not yet complete.

So tonight’s discussion was very good for me to review my own teaching life and reconsider my trajectory.

Once I got back home and logged on to the computer, I took these notes:

Armstrong presents the progression kenosis (emptying out)…[self-]knowledge (the self exists and can be studied) …suffering (living with an awareness that all is not well)

Taking off the mask is not natural in our society any more…Kenosis for us must be the emptying out of the “dominator” worldview.

How to encourage public school students to experience kenosis? One participant says he felt like Yahweh, screaming at the students who wouldn’t listen, would kvetch and complain. (A great analogy, funny and poignant and true–I’ve felt that way too.)

Our story will get told, if not in writing or creative ways, then in acting out…students will project authority on teachers, so teachers must figure out ways to let them tell their stories…their developmental stage is important. (Many of the participants work with middle schoolers. I work with college undergrads. Significant differences, I think, in developmental stages AND in the purpose of the curriculum.)

Public ed has lost the wisdom of religiously-based education (says Bruce)

Armstrong’s phrase “knowledge was no longer simply notional; he knew . . . truths directly. They had become a part of his inner world” –think of this as an educational goal, says Bruce.

There’s something about letting a person get to know him/herself enough to come to understand what s/he really wants so s/he can then move forward to write authentically about externalities

Yoga yokes wildness to yielding…dominating the dominator spirit in yourself… Gurdjieff, Steiner

Bruce has his students write a drama working out a conflict in their teaching life—required to have a happy ending. I love this idea for myself (I’d like to do it), but now I need to think about how to work such a thing into a second-semester composition classroom, where research methods and argumentative writing are the focus of the curriculum. Or at least how to work an assignment that similarly invites students to disclose their real-life interests. One problem for me is that I don’t relate to the real-life interests of many of my students–small-town, rural, farmers/ranchers/hunters/rodeo queens. My own kenosis must be to develop genuine interest in their lives. That’s been hard.

Contemplative teaching allows you to let go of bad days.