I tear from my mind the invisible costume of a politically (almost) correct college professor in a timeless trans-dimensional telephone booth (colleges are very well equipped) and come out as a post-secondary-teacher-chill-a -little-pot user) and say to my students while I approach them :
“Ok. Everyone stand on your desks. Come on, hop!” Gesturing with a vigorous wave of my arms as I brush the air upward with my fingers.
Silence and dismay in the classroom.
“Come on! Come on! Everyone. Stand on your desks!”
With that, I walk up and down the aisles, inviting reluctant students to perform. I take the hand of a lady in the making and, like a good knight, lead her upstairs. Soon a bunch of embarrassed students are watching me from above. Some are laughing, others are laughing turning yellow. To be caught with a werdo teacher is hell man.
I climb up on a desk and begin my sermon.
“Look down. Look at the empty seat where you were sitting. Try to imagine yourself on that seat taking notes. Imagine me writing on the blackboard, pointing out what I am saying. Make a real effort to see us in spirit down there. In other words, imagine us down there.”
A few seconds pass.
“What’s different when you look at your life from a higher perspective?”
Some students are reluctant to answer. This is a good sign. After a few interesting comments (to avoid LSD, Poltergeist or Shirley MacLaine interpretations), I conclude:
“You imagined your little « I » own there, busy writing. When you’re sitting at the bottom, remember when you were looking down from here. You will always be the same person, except that occasionally you may now look at yourself with the indifference of distance. When you elevate yourself in spirit in this way, you detach yourself from your body, its emotions, and its short-term priorities. The more you observe your life from a distance, the more simpler the meaning of your life and the path you have travelled becomes. Let’s take a heartbreak as an example. On the spot, it’s a disaster. Yet, looking back years later, we no longer understand why we were so sad. Time is a form of remoteness, of distance. Another example, college. You’re there right now in the middle of summer. The semester is starting, there is a course outline, etc. In a few years, with time, you will remember having been two or three years in college. This stay, in itself, will have become a thing of the past. With distance, our life becomes similar to that of others. It is then that poetry or philosophy can speak to you. It becomes something other than complicated words or weird sentences.”
I lost a few, but I illuminated others.
“Imagine a poet talking about the human beehive. Some will say What’s that man?”
I let it simmer for two seconds. Then, as a good preacher, I raise my hands to the ceiling:
“Let’s go higher! Imagine that through the transparent walls you are looking down at the college, far below. The people in the classrooms, cafeteria or offices all become the little workers of a beehive or a human anthill, if you like. Let’s go even higher, to the height of the clouds. Imagine the downtown core: the buildings, the subway and train lines; all the cars, buses and trucks and miles of underground corridors. It is the heart of the human hive. To see the entire manor house, you will have to rise well above the clouds to include the suburbs in your field of vision. Now imagine, from this height, the neighbourhood where we are now. How tiny it is.”
I am pointing to an uncertain place below because it is tiny.
“Now the most important thing. In the immense manor house that encompasses the Montreal area, exists our tiny college, (a small cube whose sides I form between my thumb and forefinger). And in this tiny college, our little class. And in that tiny class, our little person there.”
With my index finger pointing at my empty chair, I ask:
“Do you find your problems that important now? Okay, let’s go back down.”
When everyone was back in their places, I continued:
“Taking a step back,” miming the movement, “makes it possible to judge differently. By looking at ourselves from a distance, our belly button becomes humbler, or objective according to some. This gaze will blossom as we grow older. To cultivate it, some people do yoga or meditation, philosophy or poetry, others isolate themselves or fast, follow therapy or art classes, others become evangelists or environmentalists, whatever. If you could discover the life you want to live with this look, you would have achieved a fundamental goal of philosophy, in my opinion. And this teaching is free at the college level.”
I went on to comment on the lesson plan but some of them were no longer listening. Their eyes were staring away. If they understood some or all of what I was saying, I didn’t know. But as I was leaving, the funny guy from the back of the class came up to me and shook my hand.