What we see in many of the Eastern religions is not an emphasis upon verbal orthodoxy, but instead an emphasis upon practices and lifestyles that, if you do them (not think about them, but do them), your consciousness will gradually change. The Center for Action and Contemplation sums this up in our Eighth Core Principle: We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of thinking.
Here at the CAC we want to emphasize the importance of praxis over theory, of orthopraxy over orthodoxy. We are not saying that theory and orthodoxy are not important; like Saint Francis, we feel that what is ours to do has more to do with our practical engagements, and the way we live our daily lives than making verbal assent to this or that idea. In fact, my life’s work in many ways has been trying to move heady doctrines and dogmas to the level of actual experience.
n the last fifty years, education theory has come to recognize that listening to lectures and reading are among the least effective forms of learning. They are highly passive, individualistic, do not necessarily integrate head with heart or body, but leave both the ego (and the shadow self) in their well-defended positions, virtually untouched. As long as our ego self is in the driver’s seat, nothing really new or challenging is going to happen. Remember our ego is committed to not changing, and is highly defensive by its very nature. And our shadow self entirely relies upon delusion and denial. Only the world of practical relationships exposes both of these.
The form of education which most changes people in lasting ways has to touch them at a broader level than the thinking, reading mind can do. Some call it integrative education, transformative education, or even lifestyle education. Somehow we need to engage in hands-on experience, emotional risk-taking, moving outside of our comfort zones, with different people than our usual flattering friends. We need some expanded level of spiritual seeing or nothing really changes at a cellular or emotional level. Within minutes or hours of entertaining a new idea, we quickly return to our old friends, our assured roles, our familiar neural grooves, our ego patterns of response, and we are back to business as usual. It is as if we never read the latest book or listened to the most recent lecture or sermon. It is merely another consumer object which we can now add to our repertoire and résumé. “Done that!” instead of “Let it be done unto me.”