Excerpt from : To a Dancing God – Notes of a Spiritual Traveler .. by Sam Keen



It seems to me the logic that determines our survival or

destruction is ruthlessly simple:

Either we accept the vocation of saving the earth

or we die.


We can only save what we love.

We can only love what we know.

We can only know what we touch.


Warning: Be careful what you spend your day touching because it will shape your mind, your body, and your heart.



As a result of my experience of the last years I would liketo add two new courses to those i proposed in “Education for Serendipity”:  (1) Earthy Living, or How to Live Near to the Bone, Close to the Ground and Low on the Hog, and (2) Visual Literacy, or How to Escape from Plato’s Cave.

Earthy Living

The most important philosophical problem we must wrestle with in the next generation is learning to differentiate between growth, progress, and mere activity. These days land developers see a marsh and automatically think it would make a good shopping center. As the cliche goes:  “You can’t stop progress.” If we were to demythologize the notion of progress we might begin to look at shopping centers and imagine they might be converted into good marshes, meadows, or open spaces. In large measure what passes for education these days is more ideological than exploratory and unless it changes radically it will deliver us unconsciously into an inhuman future. Our schools are blindly following the imperatives of the larger society and are educating people to live only in an increasingly technological future — highly corporate and almost certain to destroy the fragile earth that is our only home, hearth, and health.

In view of the ever-deepening ecological crisis it is rapidly becoming clear that technomania is a major threat to our survival. Unless we develop a more organic relationship to the world around us the human species will not survive. We need a new way of living with nature , new appropriate technologies, new economies of scale, new “green” cities, a new rural culture, a new myth that places us within the earth household and the commonwealth of all sentient beings.

Schools, colleges, and universities are betraying students in the measure that they do not encourage them to explore ways of life that are harmonious with the demands of the biosphere and with our need for caring communities. As it is, we are drifting unconsciously into an increasingly urbanized, institutionalized, economically determined future. Presently, neither television nor our educational system presents us with any vision of a rural, communal, or leisurely way of life. We are preparing our children to be “type A” achievers, living stressfully in order to achieve upward mobility in professions in which early “burnout” has become common. If we want our children to be free to choose between real alternatives we must invite them to explore different ways of life.

Perhaps we need to develop different tracks in education. Track one – for thosewho want to be highly professionalized, highly specialized and live in a corporate world. Track two – for those who want to be more self-reliant and are more interested in developing rich personal and communal lives than in economic advancement. We are rapidly losing the skills as well as the vision of living close to the bone, near to the ground, and low on the hog. But even in our highly specialized society millions still practice the art of sustained living. In rural areas, small towns, and neighborhoods unsung multitudes live in real communities where people share skills grow gardens, borrow tools, tend, and generally help each other in times of need.

In order to make the alternative of “voluntary simplicity” a live option  we need to develop exchange programs that would give urban children a taste of rural life – and vice versa – as well as apprenticeship programs that teach more of the do-it-yourself skills. As utopian as it may seem to suggest that every educated person must have some hands-on knowledge of the agricultural arts, it seems pure delusion to suppose that we can create and ecologically viable culture without a majority of people having experiences that implant the reality and metaphor of growth deeply within their psyches.

Visual Literacy

In what we should begin to call the “overdeveloped countries,” as opposed to the “underdeveloped” countries,” the majority of men and women spend nearly two-thirds of each waking day either working ro being entertained. AS television and home video watching approaches the eight-hour-per-day mark in American homes we are developing a population that Plato would have described as shackled to the necessities of labor and/or as imprisoned in a cave of illusion.

Consider the similarities between the prisoners in Plato’s cave and television watchers. In each case the spectator’s attention — prisoner and couch potato alike — is riveted on a wall or screen filled with images of images of real things. The longer the watchers remain chained to the flow of images the more hypnotized they become and the more addicted to the interplay of illusions. (TV puts viewers in high “alpha states” in which their eyes are riveted to the screen — commercials and all. ) For habitual viewers the illusions become the reality. the characters in Dallas or thirtysomething gradually become more “real” than their neighbors. The world according to TV replaces the world of primary experience. As we come to live within media-produced pseudo-worlds of our own life dramas, our personal myths and autobiographies are replaced by contrived soap opera dramas. A nineteenth-century aristocrat said “Our servants do the living for us. ” At the close of the twentieth century it is our actors who do the living for us. We observe the lives of the stars, content ourselves with the second hand experience and surrogate adventures, take comfort in being voyeurs of the “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” The homegrown fantasies of our personal imaginations are rapidly being replaced by mass-produced myths for consumers.

In past generations most information came through the written word and every educated man and woman was taught to distinguish between reasonable argument and emotional persuasion. Courses in logic and the rules of straight thinking were standard fare. Nowadays we receive a majority of our information, especially what passes for world an local news, from television — the world according to New York and Los Angeles. In short we are becoming a visual more than an auditory culture, more attuned to the image than the word.

And yet we don’t teach students how to be critical of the images that shape their perceptions and behavior. The recent presidential campaigns, in which all candidates conspired to ignore most of the important national issues and concentrate on sound-bytes, photo opportunities, and cliches carefully crafted by public relations experts, should have convinced every thinking person that we need courses in visual literacy in every school if we are to have anything other than a passive, manipulated populace.

The climate created by advertising, propaganda, and “media-ocracy” is destructive of the life of the spirit. in every religious tradition the spiritual disciplines of contemplation, prayer, and meditation are aimed at quieting the mind, taming the endless desires of the flesh, overcoming greed, and sorting out reality and illusion. As Joseph Campbell once noted, the daily viewing of the “news” has replaced the monastic habit of spiritual readings and evening prayers.

Educators are operating against enormous odds when students spend as much more more time watching television as they do in school. if we don’t teach children to think critically about the images to which they are exposed they will grow up prisoners of propaganda who will choose only between brand names, standardized professions and the “lifestyles” that are in vogue at the moment.


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