I Was Not An Unhappy Castalian But There Were Challenges– And A Meaningful Keepsake

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Logic wasn’t that bad

1978/79

Bill, Carin’s father, in one of his sermons, once said, “We’re all here for a reason. When we learn our lessons and graduate we move on to the next level.” I kind of liked that idea. In fact, back in Mt. Pleasant, after spending that particular weekend with Carin and her family, I checked into what it would take to get me graduated. What I found was that I had enough credits already, but I needed two more courses in my major. Spurred on by Carin’s encouragement, I decided to go back to school. Theory Of Knowledge didn’t worry me. That class would be fun. It was Logic that scared me. My math skills were never good, and logic required skills in analytical reasoning.

It all came together in the end, though. At work, I went from dishwasher to university custodian, (my seniority got me a nightshift job), I also became a CMU graduate—the icing on the cake. It wasn’t easy. On my first day in class, my Logic Professor said, “Tutors are available for anyone who needs help.” I signed up by week’s end. Fortunately, my tutor had good communication skills, and I got an A in the class. My grade, amazing as it was, wasn’t as amazing as what I learned.

I started out the class believing that logic was all about how “I ought to think if I did it right.” That wasn’t the whole truth of the matter. It was true that mastering the techniques of formal logic helped a person think correctly, but there was more to “good reasoning” than what was contained in the truth or falsity conditions of a statement. Logic did not help us make correct inferences; it only told us if the inferences made were correct. No amount of mechanical rules could make us reason correctly. However, logic did indeed tell us if the conclusions actually followed from the asserted premises. I guess that’s why my Professor, on the first day of class, said, “I can’t teach you how to reason correctly, but, with a little luck, you can teach yourself.” Anyway, it was a good class, but I was sure glad when it was over.

Since I only needed two credits in biology to receive a Minor, I decided to take a class in Botany. Half way through the class I received my diploma in the mail. CMU automatically graduated me once I satisfied the minimum requirements. With my diploma in hand, I decided my time with Carin was more valuable than completing a Minor. But, it was also at that time that I became preoccupied with a brochure that I found pinned to the bulletin board on the wall outside the Philosophy Department. It described a graduate program in mysticism and consciousness. Of course, Carin was sure that my unexpected diploma and the opportunity to continue my education in my chosen field (her interpretation) were far from coincidental. According to her, I had to check it out. It was written in my stars.

John F. Kennedy University was a 15-year-old university located in Orinda, California. It was the first in the country to be founded specifically for older students (most of the students were going through a midlife career change). The faculty, for the most part, had PhD’s from prestigious universities, and, more importantly (from my perspective at least), JFKU had an accredited graduate degree program that offered Masters degrees in either Comparative Mysticism, Parapsychology or Transpersonal Counseling. All programs were interdisciplinary with a strong emphasis in liberal arts, humanistic values and practical experience. In fact, each curriculum had three dimensions: theorizing/cognitive, practical/active, and spiritual/experiential. When it came to learning about religion and consciousness you didn’t just learn to think the thoughts of other people, you also received practical training.

The student was required, in the experiential dimension of the curriculum, to participate in some form of spiritual practice. Students were also expected to participate in periodic gatherings with faculty and other students to discuss their progress. JFKU wasn’t just another degree mill. Balance in the cognitive, professional, and experiential approaches to education was stressed. I was so impressed with their literature that I applied to the program.

It was not that I was unhappy with my life as a Castalian, but there were challenges that I had never considered. For instance, I had washed pots and pans with students who had graduated and then returned to CMU as productive citizens. One student, who became a teacher, was even hired by CMU as an instructor. As I was growing older, the students remained perpetually young, not just chronologically, but also psychologically and emotionally. Putting my education to use, as opposed to continually embellishing it, sounded to me like the best plan. JFKU not only offered an opportunity for me to continue my studies, it also promised to prepare me for work in the outside world, work that would not just benefit me, but society at large. I liked that idea.

I sent JFK my transcripts and a written essay (more like a paper) detailing my interests and history, especially as they pertained to self-discovery and spiritual practice. The application also required two letters of recommendation, which Dr. Gill and Dr. Shier, another professor of mine, said they would write on my behalf. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long before I found out that I was accepted into the program. Money was always a problem, but I had managed to save some, and I planned to take out loans and work. JFK was very accommodating there; classes were offered on weekends and in the evening. There was just one last thing to do—get an educational leave of absence from CMU.

CMU had a long history of giving leaves for military duty, illness, and education, but, as I found out, not to custodians, at least for educational purposes. Although students at JFKU were given practicum training in teaching and in grant and technical writing, it was als
o stated in the literature that there was not a high demand for teachers who taught in the fields of consciousness and mysticism. “That market was opening up,” the brochure said. Well, I thought as long as I could pay off my loans, going into debt wouldn’t be a problem, but with no work, or worse, no hope for work, I hit a dead end. Essentially, I would be throwing away the life that I worked so hard to create. I decided to remain a Castalian.

Not long after I let JFKU know of my decision, I received a letter from Hatha Surrender. As head of the graduate program, he wrote that he and his colleagues were disappointed that I would not be joining the program. He said my application was a very good one, and if I ever changed my mind, I would not need to reapply. I took that as a compliment, and put JFKU at the top of the list of places to visit on my next summer’s bicycle trip.


Meaningful Keepsake

Sometime after I asked Dr. Gill to write a letter of recommendation for me, I ran into him in the hallway, close to where his academic office was located, and he told me he had done what I had asked him to do. He also said, “Perhaps you would like to see what I wrote?” I replied, “Sure,” and he reached in his brief case and handed me a copy of the letter saying, “Here, take this copy.”

I have no doubt he knew exactly what he was doing when he handed me that letter. To this day it remains one of my most prized possessions. What follows is pretty much an exact copy of that letter:

February 16, 1979

Director of Admissions

Graduate Programs in the Study of Consciousness

John F. Kennedy University

12 Altarinde

Orinda, California 94563

Dear Colleague,

Dave Heyl studied elementary philosophy with me some six years ago. He has followed with other courses, some of which he has taken for credit, but more often he has, with my permission, merely sat in as an auditor, though not hesitating to speak up. He usually represents a very sensible position, but seems to think things through with increasing depth and insight. He is dedicated to learning with emphasis on understanding. I would say he has become a mature student and potentially, a great teacher.

It is my impression that Dave Heyl possesses the sort of mind we need if either you or I are ever to crack the problem of consciousness – to find that strange factor which has been, and remains, the source of all value and meaning. I shall regret losing him here, but perhaps he will find other, new approaches in your programs so that he may move forward in working out the many complex issues involved.

I recommend Dave Heyl highly for your programs.

Sincerely yours,

JG Gill signature

John Glanville Gill

Professor of Philosophy

Box 118 Anspach Hal

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