Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Francis Charet: Consciousness Studies and Pilgrimages to India

Francis Charet, a faculty member in Goddard's Individualized MA (IMA), and BA programs, walks his talk, even if that means long treks to various ashrams in India. As founder of the Consciousness Studies Concentration in the IMA program, Charet knows the importance not just of expansive consciousness, but expansive cultural consciousness, enhanced by immersion in other cultures and spiritual traditions.

During the last year, Charet went to India twice, first in January of '08 for a conference on spirituality and psychology which Goddard College sponsored. After the conference, he traveled to the Rishikesh, the yoga capital of India, where he wandered, scouted out pilgrimage points and ashrams, and did a lot of yoga and meditation. While visiting the ashram of one of his teachers, the late Neem Karoli Baba, he met an elder, who, upon hearing Charet's Indian name of Vidura, told Charet of the Vidura Kutir (hermitage). "You must go there," the elder said. So Charet visited his namesake, where he was welcomed with open arms. Returning to India in September, Charet visited the Shivananda Ashram in Northern India along with other communities, all of which deepened spiritual practices, initially sparked by six months he spent in India in 1972.

"It reconnected me to some of the very important influences in my personal life that became part of my own teaching and research and academic work, and it was largely a rejuvenation, like going back to the holy land," Charet says. "Experiential learning for Consciousness Studies and this degree involves an engaged practice, and this arises out of the Goddard pedagogy in the program itself, but it also reflects what I felt so much in my own life. Your learning is grounded in experience." Charet has mentored students ground their MA studies in practices such as meditation, Kabbalah, chanting, dreamwork, memoir as spiritual exploration, Buddhist mindfulness practice, and shamanism.

Charet's main practice these days is yoga, which he rises early to do daily from colder climes -- his home in Montreal. He explains it's not just the physical exercise, but the spiritual practice of yoga. "It connects you to deeper resources and allows you to express this in your interactions with others, and it informs the work you do, which is, in my case, teaching. It opens you to a wider reality -- the Obama thing of "Yes, we can," there is hope, there are possibilities, the universe does cooperate even though sometimes we have grave doubts about that. I think connecting with these traditions when the connection is authentic can help bolster and give us the help we need in our lives, which are so driven by activity," he says."It also makes you calm," he adds while laughing.

See Consciousness Studies resources.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Larry Greer: A Calling for Death and Dying

When Larry Greer, a building contractor in Maine, first received a Goddard postcard in the mail, he ignored it, thinking there was no reason for him to finish his bachelor's degree. But then a little magic and his wife, Peggy, intervened, and the next thing he knew, he and Peggy were driving to the college to learn about the programs offered. When he saw the sign that said, "Goddard College," he started crying without having any idea why. "If you told me then what would happen, I would have laughed in your face. No way would this lead to me holding the hand of someone who's dying," Greer said.

Fast forward almost a decade, and you can find Greer, now an ordained Interfaith minister, who specializes in death and dying, educating groups of ministers all over Maine on how to help parishioners come to terms with death. He completed his BA and his MA at Goddard, both degrees bringing him deeper into end-of-life studies. During his MA degree, he also developed a curriculum to help pastors as well as the general public cultivate greater awareness about death and dying in their lives and communities. He gives talks to medical professionals, including University of Maine nursing students, and Maine Medical Center doctors on the spirituality of death. Recently, he started leading workshops, based on Stephen Levine's ground-breaking book, A Year to Live, to three groups that include people as young as 20 and as old as 70 to explore issues such as unfinished business, forgiveness, and what people want in terms of disposal of the body.

His main job as an interfaith minister contracted with a local hospital in Scarborough, ME, to provide spiritual care for their patients brings him to nursing and assisted living facilities, homes, and hospitals. His work doesn't just inspire people; it brings them to his door. He tells the recent story of sitting down to dinner with his kids and grandkids when someone knocked at the door, and said, "My friend is dying." He looked at his family, who completely support his work, and they told him he had to go.

His work and calling are one and the same. "There is that piece, the call, and if don't answer it, it becomes a monologue, and not a dialogue." He's answered the call that came to him through a postcard in the mail, and it turned out to an extensive dialogue that provides others ways to engage with the biggest questions of their lives.

Pictures: Larry at home in Alfred, ME., and the studio where he gives some of his workshops. You can also contact Larry at LarryGreer@roadrunner.com directly to arrange talks or workshops.