An International Centre for Ecological Studies
Spirituality at work
by Satish Kumar
This article originally appeared in April 1997
Programme Director of Schumacher College and editor of the magazine Resurgence, which explores ecological and spiritual values.
A discussion of how physical work and service to others underpins our sense of community, and enhances our spiritual nature. Drawing on the example of the integration of physical work into daily life at Schumacher College, Satish discusses how ideals of service and relationship can take practical form in our lives
“In the educational system at large, knowledge is power. We learn through knowledge how to control Nature and people. But at Schumacher College, I realised that knowledge is an instrument of service rather than power – knowledge makes you humble. I learned to take care of my soul, take care of the earth and take care of other people. This journey from materialism to spirituality is a journey from control to service. That is what dawned on me at Schumacher College.”
Quote from participant on the course ‘Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life’, at Schumacher College, taught by Thomas Moore, Robert Sardello and Anne Baring
Recently, Thomas Moore was teaching a course at Schumacher College on the theme of the re-enchantment of everyday life. During this course, as in his book Care of the Soul, he explored his insight that “When we pay attention to every detail of our daily activities, ordinary is transformed into extraordinary. When we inject spirit into the mundane, everything we do becomes a sacrament.”
Thomas Moore was articulating the essential ethos upon which Schumacher College was founded. The College is a place of inquiry, where people from all over the world, and from all kinds of backgrounds, come to live and learn together on residential courses. They share a desire to understand the complexities of the environmental crisis of our planet, and the loss of meaning in the lives of individuals.
Like Thomas Moore, I believe that some of the answers to these practical and spiritual concerns of our time can lie in very simple changes to the way we interact with each other and with Nature. At Schumacher College, this idea is put into practice. Course participants are encouraged to take part in the everyday tasks of running the College community – cooking, cleaning and caring for one another. I have been working at Schumacher College now for about six years. Every Monday evening it is my turn to prepare an Indian meal, with the help of four or five course participants. Sometimes I find myself cooking with Hungarians, Brazilians, Norwegians, Indians, Russians, Malaysians, Americans. But very quickly we rise above our differences and establish a sense of community.
Cooking is never a chore at Schumacher College. It becomes a celebration of food. The colours, the fragrance, the forms and the presentation all play their part, but above all we feel the presence of grace, we feel a sense of soulfulness, we feel inspired and elated. Cooking becomes a gift, a service. More importantly, it becomes a thanksgiving; we thank the soil and the worms, we thank gardeners and growers, we thank each other. That is when I experience spirituality.
Many course participants say to me that initially they come to Schumacher College because they want to learn from the eminent teachers, such as Fritjof Capra, James Hillman, Vandana Shiva, Arne Naess, James Lovelock or Willis Harman. But having been at the College for two or three weeks, they find that the lecture room is not the only place where they are learning. They say that they experience a tremendous sense of spirit and joy whilst the tasks of cooking and cleaning, composting, washing up and other practical activities are performed. As one participant on Thomas Moore’s course put it: “Of course, the in-depth study of a particular theme on an interdisciplinary basis was important and being in the company of a world-class teacher was inspiring, but the enchanting manner with which the routine tasks are organised made the College more like a home than an academic institution.”
At Schumacher College, attention is paid to the rhythm of the day, and how we can seek balance and harmony in our lives. A College day starts with a period of meditation. Sitting in silence with others lays the spiritual foundation upon which all other activities are built. That contemplative spirit permeates throughout the day and all thoughts and actions are informed by that inner stillness. For me, spirituality is not an intellectual concept. It is the daily practice of compassion, cooperation and reverence for all life which releases the human spirit.
But it is not enough to say, “We will create an atmosphere in which the students care for one another and have respect for each other and their environment”. Again, our ideas must take practical form to have meaning, so the staff of Schumacher College are also a part of the learning community. Staff members, along with their administrative duties, often engage with course material, lead cooking and cleaning groups, perform music or take part in field trips. Staff are also consulted at every level of decision-making – whether it be concerning details of the domestic arrangements, or in new ideas for the future of the College.
At Schumacher College, we try not to put materialism and spirituality in two separate compartments. Cartesian dualism of mind and matter sealed in two mutually exclusive boxes is one of the causes of the crisis of our time. “Matter without spirit is a burden and spirit without matter is useless,” said Mahatma Gandhi. Therefore our work is to materialise the spirit and sanctify the matter, bringing spirit into economics, politics, science, psychology and all the other disciplines of life.
When E.F. Schumacher published his classic essay on Buddhist Economics, he was asked, “What has Buddhism to do with economics?” Schumacher replied, “Economics without Buddhism (i.e. spirituality) is like sex without love! It is no good Buddhists practising spirituality in isolation when society is falling apart. What is the point of all the economic growth and material development when our souls are starved of spiritual nourishment?” So what better place to bring spirituality in everyday life and into daily work than the College named after the author of Buddhist Economics?
Schumacher College is an international centre for ecological studies which welcomes course participants from all over the world. Key areas of study are: ecological economics and development issues; the links between philosophy, psychology and ecology; and the new understandings emerging from recent scientific discoveries.
For more information about short courses at Schumacher College (which often feature talks and work with Satish Kumar, and where Thomas Moore has been a visiting teachers several times), please contact:
For more information about Schumacher College and its courses, please contact :
The Administrator, Schumacher College,
The Old Postern, Dartington, Totnes, Devon, TQ9 6EA.
Tel : +44 (0)1803 865934 Fax : +44 (0)1803 866899
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Website : www.schumachercollege.org.uk