Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

Learning is Spiritual

Reading Time: 3 minutes

And the reason contains three essential words: meaning, purpose, and connection.

Photo by Pierre Van Crombrugghe on Unsplash
Photo by Pierre Van Crombrugghe on Unsplash

In an article, Vachel Miller, professor at the Appalachian State University stated

” Spirituality has many definitions. For some, spirituality is a search for meaning, a desire to understand our lives in relation to Ultimate Being. It is, in the words of Catholic theologian David Steindl-Rast (1991), ‘an insight through which our restless search finds rest.’ For others, spirituality is a quest for self-transcendence, an encounter with mystery, or a feeling of universal interconnection. Spirituality can also be seen as attention to the divine presence in each other and in all aspects of daily life. In this discussion, the many connotations of spirituality will be compressed into three words: meaning, purpose, and connection.”

The search for meaning is an intrinsic motivation driving every learning experience. Otherwise, why learn at all? We have unparalleled access to a considerable amount of information and knowledge. However, we feel restless until we fulfill the human need to make sense of all the knowledge available with our experiences, informing our identity.

The search for purpose is intrinsically linked with our desire to change as part of our timeless evolutionary drive. We do not rely on being as much as we rely on becoming because we crave of personal growth and learning fulfilling that craving. Purpose is the source of our motivation for action toward deep learning about our place in the world and how to interact with it. As V. Miller says, “purpose shapes what we pay attention to and what we work toward.” When our learning finds no purpose or serves the purpose of others, we resist. We need the space to define and pursue our goal to engage in learning.

The search for connection is embedded in our biological and cultural DNA. We are all interconnected, which is something present in all significant religious experiences through the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The world is not a mechanical clock which we can manipulate and fix when it is broken. When Darwin saw the machinery of life involved in evolution, the most appropriate expression would be the web of life because the world, and our experiences in it, are a dynamic reality of complex and everlasting relationships which evolve in depth. Learning couldn’t be more than about human connection. We evolved through learning with other people, not in isolation, and through the relationships with the world around us. The search for connection is the reason with learning is more relational than rational. We formed communities to make learning a relational and enriching experience. Even if every person has to do his part, we practice together what we learn. The greatest evidence in our digital age is the proliferation of communities of all sorts throughout the world through the internet. Therefore, it is essential to connect spirituality and learning to rediscover the evolutionary power of a learning society.

I agree with V. Miller when he says “in a learning society, we realize that spiritual concerns are learning concerns” because spirituality reaches the most profound human aspirations about the search for meaning, purpose, and connection, which separate from learning process would reduce to the accumulation of data, tasks and isolated moments in front of screens.

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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