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A mother's story

When I was young, my mother did not like the schools that were available to us. She was a teacher and so she kept my brother and me at home and taught us herself. It was great for my brother, who gobbled up all of the material she offered him. He repeatedly jumped two academic years in one. For myself, well, I got through the school years just bearing the whole thing, until I began studying art and took off on a plane that had some real meaning for me. At seventeen, my brother won a scholarship to a top U.S. university and continued to devour knowledge for years. He became a thoroughly learned man, not only in the fields of mathematics and electronics but also in social science, politics and psychology. He once told me that he was learning a couple of dead languages as part of being “learned”.

Then came the time when my own son was ready for school. There was not much choice. All of the local children went to a new, well-equipped, modern little school in a green, affluent suburb of London. But the year was not yet out when all that went on there felt not quite right. Many talks with the teacher brought me to the conclusion that somehow we were not really communicating. So my son changed schools, and I began to read all of the books on education that I could lay my hands on. We changed schools again and again. All that I read was in one way or another partial, incomplete, idealistic, experimental.

But one afternoon, searching the shelves of a library, I picked up a book titled "Beginnings of Learning". From the first paragraph, the world I had been looking for opened itself to me, and when the lights were lowered and the library was being shut, I took the book home. Quite soon, a faint memory surfaced of the name Krishnamurti. At some point in the past, my dear, aged neighbour, an artist friend, had left a small pamphlet on my desk, prompting me with, “I was lucky to have come upon this in my life. Maybe it will be of interest to you. ”Well,the name had made me put it away! Now, a few years later, it had come to me once more and it was right, clear and sane. It was what I had been looking for. It was only a book, yet the printed sentences gave me the unbelievable joy that someone somewhere was really with me, that at long last I could have the courage to trust my feelings and not feel absurd about all of the dismay that I felt with schools.

So next was my journey to Brockwood, where I listened to the Talks, to Ojai, where my son attended the K school there (the Oak Grove School) for two years, and then back to England so that he could attend Brockwood Park School for two years. By this time, my son had built up a strong resistance to schools. We discovered that all was not the dream I had conjured up in my head. I had to learn that schools, even these schools, were made up of people such as us, with all their own individual struggles.

When, many years later, I had two more children, my elder son told me that I should simply send them to the local school and leave them there until school was finished and not repeat the same story as with him. Now living in Germany, in a new situation and with new insecurities, I opted for the local, attractive, affluent school that my neighbours’ children attended — there was such a gulf between my inner wisdom and the forces of insecurity and social and family pressure to fit in. After all, these people were so “successful” and “confident”. Silently and timidly, I again tried out the average path. By the third year, it was quite clear that those who pushed for conformity were failing to live their lives rationally, and that it was wrong for us to follow their advice. Once again I had to open my eyes and ears and listen to my heart rather than to others.

At this point, my second son wanted to try Brockwood. He was fourteen and his main teacher at his German school had just been found dead in the woods with a suicide note. There were so many stories about this man’s silent despair and all of these fourteen-year-olds sitting in my son ’s room talking about the hows and whys of such an act. We began to see that there was so much more to life than running a school efficiently, having exams and rushing towards some vague goal. We saw that everyone was so helpless but pretended to be confident. We saw that something essential was never touched upon. Not because no one felt it. Not because no one needed it. But because this jungle of unknown fears, struggles and insecurities was so dark and deep that no one, apart from some who had studied psychology and those who showed severe emotional or behavioural dispositions, were involved in such questions — that is, when people for one reason or another did not fit into the system, but had to!

I phoned my older son in the U.S. and told him that his brother wanted to go to Brockwood. There was a long silence. Then he said, “I want you to know that out of all that you have done for me, my years at Brockwood were the most valuable of my life.” So my second son, who had a real struggle at the state school, finished his education at Brockwood, two years ahead of his contemporaries back home. My daughter is now at Brockwood, as she wished to join her brother before he left and also be in the place that she had so often visited and grown to love. So it all started with the "Beginnings of Learning". As the saying goes, “Wipe the slate clean,” learn to listen, learn to look, within and “outside". Learn to learn about all those things that no one in the world can teach you about.

Brockwood Park School has a splendid building and grounds, though it needs donations to keep it in good repair. It is home to a number of people, old and young, for whom the “beginnings of learning” are essential. Yet it was my notion that all there “should” know how to “know”, or be all that I had imagined that wisdom to be. But it is exactly that they are not like this that makes for the learning that is so neglected elsewhere! Brockwood offers the ground for such beginnings of learning. We can choose to send our youngsters there or not. We might find that it does or does not fit our expectations. We might find that we keep waiting for others to solve our problems and that there are no experts out there.

As a mother, I have found Brockwood over the years to be a unique extended home to my children from their fourteenth to eighteenth years. I am glad to have the support of an extended family and home where time, space and care are possible amongst a large international group of people — that apart from the school curriculum there is time for exploring such fundamental questions as the “beginnings of learning” and an environment for healthy living; while elsewhere, during exactly these volatile years, the world at large is pushing on young people, with the force of a broken dam, all of its trends, false values, confusions and contradictions. It seems to me that when we hold a mirror pressed to our nose we see nothing at all, that when we ride a fast train we cannot see the ground beneath the wheels. Only in distance does there seem to be clear vision.

K had the remarkable ability to point out the detailed processes within us. Once we had heard him, we could say, “ah yes, of course.” Such beginnings of learning grow within and flower. In Brockwood we can give our youngsters the chance to have the fertile ground for such growth. But we as parents also have the responsibility to see that nowhere, not even Brockwood, can be the right place for our children if we as parents live in contradiction to what we wish for our children. The school is run with the best of intentions by mortals such as ourselves; we have the responsibility to co-operate as one body, with one heart, so that the whole organism can live in health.

Why do I write all this? If my reflections are too personal and have no meaning, please forgive me for the time taken to read this. There is an urge to share what we go through in this life. There is an urge to unveil barriers of pretence. There is a feeling that we are not all that different from one another and that we do not need to permanently puff and colour our feathers to appear so very in the “know”, that we are all rather vacillating between the struggle to build securities and the despair of the unknown, that we seem to choose the average path rather than the challenge of standing alone in existential decisions regarding our own and our children’s lives. We are so very frightened that we run off to experts and find out, often too late, that they were lost too.

As a final note I will return to the story of my brother. Not so long ago, when his busy and very demanding life brought us together for a couple of days, I heard, saw and was saddened to see that he who is so learned, my dearest, only brother, was actually living a life of chaos. I did something that I had decided long ago not to do so directly: that is, to give him a small volume, "Krishnamurti to Himself". Later, when I asked how he had found it, he apparently felt that it did not apply to him. He said that such books are of interest to people who have psychological difficulties!

This naturally caused me to question what he really meant by this remark and who was sane, what was sanity and so forth. We have always had very lively and interesting conversations. It has always fascinated me how this younger brother — who has always been so ahead of his peers, so very respected for his intellect, whose knowledge and power of language could flatten me like a steamroller in the midst of any debate — how he mesmerised me with his words; how, helpless and metaphorically pinned to the ground, I would feel starved of the truth and keep on kicking within, sure that the truth remained way beyond all that store of eloquent knowledge!

At one such entanglement he paused and said," You know, in the field of modern psychology it is accepted fact that there are two types of people: those with primary security such as you, and those with secondary security such as myself. I have to gather my security for life through knowledge, create and understand the world through this knowledge, make sense of life through reading and writing, naming, creating tables and ordering things. These are the railings to hold and guide us through life.”

Is that true? Is that final? I do not know. Are we different? How can we know? All that I can see is that there are apparent, visible, noticeable patterns of order and health as well as disorder, contradictions and confusions. I can see that throughout the life of mankind many have come and gone who have tried to convey something outside the sphere of common knowledge, a glimpse of what they had seen from that totality of life. Unfortunately, language, words, our means of communication have generally left such teachings open to abuse or misunderstanding. Language, for better or worse, is also our means of communicating that which is beyond words.

So we are left where we started. Do we understand what it means to bring a child into this world? Do we take the right care with our hearts from the moment of conception, through birth, health, growth, environment, education? It is all so overwhelming when we see how confused we are and that we are supposed to educate our youngsters in a world where every finger is pointing them in the wrong direction. Are we so clear that we can give them enough courage to stand completely alone against that mass of opinion and find out the right path for themselves? It is daunting. Brockwood is one place that the ground is fertile for this seed to grow in health. We the parents, with the help of the right teachers, may bring about that fundamental leap in the beginnings of such learning for our children — to find the courage to live a clear life like a light on their path.

Shoo Shoo, February 2002