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Esteemed Reader: April 2013 

click to enlarge Dylan Thomas
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Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

At a party, I met a young man with a brightness in his eyes. He had an inquisitive, curious manner, and he listened well. After some conversation, he told me that at 21 he is a licensed commercial pilot, class 5 kayak guide, and is working on a master's degree in international relations. "Let me guess," I asked—"you were home-schooled." The answer was yes.

There is a unique way about young people who are products of home-schools. They often emanate an unusual combination of qualities—motivation and productiveness, and at the same time, innocence and openness to experience. When I asked the aforementioned young man why he is studying international relations, his answer was instructive—"because I'm interested in it." There was a quality of freedom in the simplicity of his answer.

Interest is an undervalued asset in the arsenal of learning. Where interest lies, attention naturally will go, and what receives attention grows. A person's interest is his gold, for there is no compulsion when interest is present, and interest will circumnavigate or penetrate even the most formidable obstacles.

The phenomenon of interest is an expression of the creative force that flows through all of nature, giving rise to everything existing. It is "the force which through the green fuse drives the flower" (Dylan Thomas); the force that drives the great creative cycle of nature to become ever more fully itself. One thinks of that boundless fecundity that is endlessly and solely interested in living, and the recognition that nature lives in me, and in each person, wishing, hoping, urging to be fulfilled in the gardens of our life.

Practically, the home-schoolers' disposition is instructive. Here is what I think: in certain cases, a young person becomes habituated to learn by following his interest. He makes things, builds, practices—gathering knowledge required for the undertaking as needed. In other words, the work of learning is impelled and energized by interest in the undertaking, and interest flows from his essence.

This process is the reverse of the conventional school model where information accrual precedes its application. As a result, children learn to repress interest in lieu of obedience. They become skillful in overriding inherent interest to better function as parts in a grand clockwork—cogs from which obedience and proficiency, not interest or creativity, are required.

In most of us, the impulse of interest has been so trammeled we are left with little sense of it in ourselves. We take pathetic resort to reading new age books to figure out what we love or the color of our parachute.

Convention-bashing aside, etymology helps clarify interest's significance. The word is a combination of two Latin roots—inter-, "between", and esse, "being"— literally "to be between" or serve as mediator and connector between ourselves and our world.

Esse is also the root of "essence," a totality of being itself, not modified, conditioned, or qualified by requirements, expectations, or prerequisites. In this sense, interest flows like sap-nectar from our own tree of life.

The power of interest is clear in all areas of learning and producing. When that force flows, the will becomes unstoppable. It also proves to be a potent factor in the realm of self-study.

An example: I notice in myself a periodic ebbing of hope. Difficulties of circumstance or relationship become overwhelming, until what remains is an unmistakable feeling of hopelessness. It is in such moments that I remember the power of interest, and however counterintuitive, begin to direct an inquisitive curiosity to the total experience of the widening sinkhole at the center of my person.

I look at the hopelessness, feel its tension in my body, study the toxic cocktail of emotions at play in my chest and solar plexus; I note the ideas projected on the screen of mind, like an idea that the obstacle is intractable and resolution impossible; the idea that I do not possess the skills, tools, or ability to solve the problem or resolve the conflict to a higher level. A memory even spontaneously surfaces that shows a clue to the origin of the posture.

I look around the inner landscape as though taking a panoramic photograph. The experience is very much like directing a camera, for there is no impulse to change what is seen—only to see and understand. With interest, the watching has the potency to see into and even through what is there, and if it is essential, to allow a fancy construct to fall away.

For instance, when hopelessness arises in me, I may welcome it with interest. After some time it gives a kind of "pop," and what remains is a clear, open, and expansive space.

To be clear, following interest is the praxis and realization of being human. Interest is the praxis and realization of freedom.

Learning To Be Human is a curated selection of Jason Stern's "Esteemed Reader" columns available in book form. Click here for more information or to get your copy.

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