The Unseen

The Unseen

By John Bickart, Phd | 20 Opportunities to Transform Yourself While Teaching | “Reawakening Your Love for Teaching” 

What do you do when something terrible happens? Do you think of taking care of yourself first? You should. Then, do you seek the students? That’s what they want. After trauma, we all seek predictable, kind environments – in each other’s company – and teachers are nothing less than pure gold, here. Do you constantly love teaching? Or are you like the rest of us – falling in and out of love? We teachers need forgiveness, accolades, compassion, and understanding. How will we get this? By looking through the eyes of our students!

I don’t know about you, but I went to the school of hard knocks. When I was very young, everything looked good. As I got older, not so much. I guess the hard knocks got to me. Life brought difficulties, responsibilities, good days, and hard ones, too. Then, I started teaching. The youth I taught have given me a fresh start! If I consciously use their eyes to perceive the world, I have a window into the beautiful and the good. Yes, I have to make the effort, but it works. I believe that it works because the world is inherently good and the youth are innately wise enough to know this. They have a spiritual knowing that is true. They KNOW that the world is good. So, when I need to reawaken my love of teaching, I look into their eyes and through their eyes … and there it is – the knowing that I had temporarily forgotten.

The Unseen.

Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” So today, I’m going to tell you a story that I told at the wonderful Rainbow Community School, here in Asheville, NC in 2017. I was guest teaching science lessons and a science club. One day, we paused doing science experiments for the following story. It’s one of my favorites. It was first told to me in a room full of adults. So, it was told to adults, but it’s about a story told to children. It comes, inspired by a story from Laurens Van der Post in his book The Heart of the Hunter (1961). But I’ve changed it over the years and for almost half a century now, I’ve been telling this story to children. It’s my absolute favorite story. I’ve also told it to adults, so I’m telling it to you today. It’s about the unseen.


“The Milk Maiden”

Once, there was a story. The story was for adults, but in the story, you hear about another story that was told to children. It was told over and over. It was told by a babysitter in the Kalahari, a semi-arid desert in Southern Africa. Every time the babysitter came, the children asked her to tell their favorite story. Now, I will tell you the one she told the children.

Once upon a time, there was a young farm boy. His job was to watch over the cows as they grazed. Every day, he took the cows to the same place. It was a pasture up on the side of the mountain. Over the pasture was a cliff that hung in the air just above the cows. Every day, the boy brought the cows and looked up at the rock cliff to wonder what lay beyond. On the whole, he was happy. But then there came this one different day. Today, the boy brought the cows to the pasture, as he had always done, without any knowledge that on this occasion, his life would change forever.

The pasture looked the same. The cows started to graze as they always did. The boy sat down as he usually would, but then a singular event occurred. A rope descended from the rock cliff just above the pasture. Then, to the boy’s continuing amazement, a young girl started to climb down the rope. She was holding a stool and a bucket. 

The boy hid behind a large rock in the pasture. The girl reached the pasture floor, walked over to the cows, and sat on her stool, placing her bucket under a cow, and coaxed the milk from the cow. When the cow had filled her bucket, she proceeded to the rope and ascended. The boy watched with incredulity.  All the rest of that day and into that night, the boy wondered about the strange girl from the cliff above. What was she doing? Where was she from? Why would she take the milk from the cows – milk that clearly belonged to someone else? Finally, after turning these ideas over and over in his mind, he resolved to watch and wait for the milk maiden to see if she would come back. 

She did. The very next day, just after he arrived at the pasture, she came down the rope and milked a cow. Then, she left as abruptly as she came.  On the third day, the boy’s observational focus had become extreme. He was now making up his mind that if she came again, he would detain her. He genuinely needed to find out what was going on. 

She came. The boy leaped out from his hiding rock and apprehended her.  “What are you doing? That is the milk of the farmer,” he said, “and you are just taking it without permission. “The milk maiden said nothing. She looked intently into the farm boy’s eyes for what seemed like an eternity, then simply said, “I will come to live with you, if you allow me to go back up the rope once more.”  The boy did not know what to say. He was not expecting this. She would live with him? He did not ask this. He just wanted to know what she was doing? After all, she was stealing milk. And now, instead of explaining herself, she said that she would live with him? So, the boy just stood and stared. Suddenly, he found his mouth saying, “Alright.”

So, the girl proceeded to milk a cow and go back up the rope.  Another day passed, then another. On the third day, she came back. This time she climbed down the rope without the milking pail or the stool. But she did have a small box, about the size of a book. She came over to the boy and explained, “I will stay with you as long as you do not look into this box until I say.” The boy agreed, and so they lived together … in the same room, for quite some time.

On many days, the girl would leave the room and the boy would stare at the box she had brought and wonder what it contained. But he never, never looked inside, until this one day.  She was gone and the boy could wait no longer. He crossed the room, opened the box, and looked inside. Afraid that she would come into the room and see him, he quickly closed the box and put it back just as it had been.

The girl came back into the room, looked at the boy, then the box, then spoke directly to the boy, saying, “I must leave.” Taking up the box, she walked out toward the setting sun and was never seen again.


 At this point the babysitter would always say to the children, “And do you know why the milk maiden left?” The she would add emphatically, “It was not because the farm boy looked into the box!” Then, with a dramatic pause, she would finish, “It was because he didn’t see anything in the box.”


With that, the babysitter was finished. Now, I personally need to add something. When I was told this story, I was in a room of adults. I’m pretty sure that none of us knew exactly what the story meant. And I’m also pretty sure that we all had the same questions. First of all, how did she know he had looked in the box. Was there something or things in the box? If there was, why didn’t he see anything? And most of all, why would his not seeing be grounds for her to leave?


This beautiful, mysterious story has stirred in me for almost half a century, now. So, I give it to you. I don’t have the answers. But it makes me respect the unseen and watch and look at life even more carefully than ever before. It causes me to wonder. 



Van der Post, L. (1961). The Heart of the Hunter … With drawings by Maurice Wilson. Pp. 254. Hogarth Press: London.


Learn to Return

Learn to Return

By John Bickart, Phd | 20 Opportunities to Transform Yourself While Teaching | “Revitalizing Your Ability to Lead”

“Time is always against us” (The Matrix)

In 1971, I tried to learn to return to the here and now. I went to India where I was meditating for 25 days in an ashram in Haridwar, India, right at the base of the Himalayas, on the Ganges River. It was a beautiful place. I would meditate every day for hours. You come to the here and now. Here is a space. Now is a time. Spacetime. This played on my mind for years and years. Now, I’m 70 years old and I’m just realizing that for the spiritual world – I’ve heard this and I’m just realizing it – time is space. If we give up our time, we go to the spiritual world to a place of here. And, for them (the spiritual beings) – they can’t have a meeting place unless we do that. So, I wrote a story about it. It’s fable #23 in my book, Bickart’s Just-in-Time Fables (2020), which carries a right to copy (which means that they may be copied as a whole or in part and shared in print or any electronic media as long as they are not sold or used to carry advertising).

The Fairy Gate

There was a fairy who lived in the water at the base of a cliff. She lived behind a gate. The gate was in the spiritual world, so if you went there and looked only with your physical eyes, you would not see it. On the gate, inscribed in lettering that had remained forever and ever was this poem.


Forever is a time
And also a place.
To be here now
Creates a space.

Everywhere is anywhere
Enter without fear.
Just find the door;
It’s always here.

When will I find Eternity?
When will I learn how?
When will I realize?
The time is now.

The fairy longed for the princess who lived in the castle on the cliff to let go of time, so that they could be together. Often, the princess would dream that she had a friend who was a fairy. But alas, day after day, the princess’s parents, the king and queen, insisted that she keep a schedule. Every day she rose, had a first meal, played in the nursery, had reading time, a second meal, play time in the yard, helped with dinner chores, dinner, helped with clean up, then story time and bed. If the princess was allowed to walk in the woods or swim in the lake, it was done so under supervision, for a designated amount of time. Her parents had inadvertently taught her to lose herself in her schedule. She always knew where she should be. And she always knew when. But in being so adept at WHERE AND WHEN – she had lost HERE AND NOW. Now, there was a further problem. Since the princess never forgot about time, she left no room for the fairy to approach her. To the fairy this was a literal fact. You see, for the fairy, a room or space – a meeting place – could only be created if the princess forgot to have a schedule. TIME for the princess was SPACE for the fairy.

One day, the princess woke from another dream about the fairy. The fairy was pleading with the princess, “Please bring me a present.” “Sure,” said the princess, “what would you like?” “I would love to have your free time,” replied the fairy. “How do I give you time?” asked the princess. “Ask your mother, the queen, for the afternoon, promising to be home for dinner,” explained the fairy. “Come to the weeping willow tree at the edge of the lake with no thought of your schedule. I will meet you there. And I will tell you when it is time to go home for dinner. This will form a place into which I can come to you and we can meet.” “Oh how lovely!”, cried the princess. “How will I know you are there?” The fairy simply replied, “You will feel like you are passing through a gate, and you will see me as if you are in a dream.”

The princess asked her mother for the afternoon and passed through the fairy gate to begin a most beautiful and lasting friendship with the fairy. And from that day forward, the princess knew how to leave the where and when, and pass through the gate to the here and now.




Bickart, J. (2020). Bickart’s Just-in-Time Fables (Vol. 1). Asheville, NC: Red Shirt Interactive Group.

Honoring Aristotle: A Science Lesson that Fosters Intellectual Humility

Honoring Aristotle: A Science Lesson that Fosters Intellectual Humility

By JOHN BICKART, Ph.D. | Science Education and Spiritual Transformation | Chapter 4: Thermodynamics

Intellectual Humility, Critical Thinking, and the Art of Making Mistakes

Is it your fervent hope that the study of modern science might cause a student to be proud of recent innovations, while maintaining intellectual humility? In a recent study done at the National University of Singapore, Ziqian Zhou ties intellectual humility to critical thinking, cautioning teachers not to promote the tendency to have a false sense of objectivity that fails to be sensitive to highly contextualized circumstances.

“the intellectual virtues in general or that of intellectual humility in particular is an integral character disposition of the critical thinker” (Zhou, 2022)

Our educational presentation of modern science can sometimes give one the feeling that we moderns know much more than the ancients and we therefore must be superior to them. Therefore, to instill a humble sense of respect in our students, while inspiring an interest in the subject matter, it sometimes helps to offset some mainstream views.

I often tell my students that the next discovery in science is constantly happening in real time. Scientific endeavors are rife with mistakes and guesses that lead us to the next uncovering of truth. And I stress that each truth we find is only true from the specific point of view of our time and our current state of consciousness – and that when you can view the same facts from another place, you can see another aspect of truth. In other words, there is not one right or wrong for all time. Humanity’s consciousness is constantly learning, forgetting, and learning again. One fun way I have done this, for over fifty years of science classes, is to stage a courtroom scene and put ancient science on trial.

Ancient Science on Trial

You are in a courtroom. You are in the jury. The trial is to decide how ancient science should be taught in public schools. The prosecuting attorney for the state is representing modern science. The defending attorney is representing ancient science. Take a seat in the courtroom as you watch the judge read some paperwork about the case. Quiet down now, he is about to begin.

Judge: “What seems to be the problem here? Am I to understand that modern science is questioning the use of ancient science? Ah yes, I see. Very well, the court will hear arguments on both sides. Prosecution, you will begin with your opening statement.”

Prosecution: “Your honor, members of the jury, we intend to argue that ancient science has outlived its original use and as such, should be downplayed in public schools. Our argument will rest on two charges.

First, that ancient science tends to provide outdated concepts.

Second, the ancient documents that have survived are primitive and simplistic.”

Judge: “Thank you counselor. The court will now hear an opening statement from the defense.”

Defense: “Your honor, members of the jury, we feel that to some extent, these allegations are warranted. The defense has great respect for modern science. It has made incredible progress through scientific investigation of the physical world in recent times. In one way, we concede that it has distanced the ancient scientific knowledge and methodology. We do have a problem, however. Perhaps we have convicted them without proper representation.”

Judge: “Of course, of course. Everyone shall be heard. Now, prosecution, call your first witness.”

Prosecution: “The prosecution calls STEM Education. STEM, thank you for coming. Is it true that STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics?”

STEM: “Yes, that is correct.”

Prosecution: “You have heard the charges against ancient science. Let me read it to get the exact wording. They have been charged with ‘outdated conceptsand primitive and simplistic documents’. But STEM, isn’t it true that the modern curricula have downplayed the education of ancient science, focusing more on modern science? Aren’t you just following the times?”

STEM: “Yes, precisely. We are quite aware that we accent things like modern measurement, technology, mechanical invention, and mastery over the environment. The ancients had no such prowess in these areas of scientific investigation. We show students how the last two centuries represent almost all of the crowning achievements of humankind.”

Prosecution: “Would you please tell the court what you require of your teachers?”

STEM: “We instruct them to teach the skills and facts of science so that they can encourage the next generation of invention and innovation.”

Prosecution: “Why do you do this?”

STEM: “We want students to enter the highly competitive workplace in good stead. This requires a solid, practical knowledge of science.”

Prosecution: “I see, I see … invention, innovation, solid practical knowledge of science … And does ancient science help in this pursuit of a competitive workplace?”

STEM: “Not really. Ancient science is historically interesting, but you can’t build technology with stories from a pre-technological age.”

Prosecution: “Thank you.” Turning to the defense, “Your witness.”

Defense: “STEM, I have here a record of remarks your teachers actually made to students. I would like to know if you have heard these.

– ‘The ancient scientists were a simple people and their science was primitive.’

– ‘The ancients laid foundations for modern science, but their findings are outdated compared to the strides we have made.’

– ‘They often had superstitious beliefs that were not based on physical evidence.’”

STEM: “Yes these are actual statements. But, as I have already said, we respectfully mention the ancients as foundation builders – not unlike children. But, as with children, when the adults need to move forward, they need modern techniques, not juvenile stories.”

Defense: “I have no more questions, your honor.”

Judge: “STEM, you may step down. Prosecutor, you may call your next witness.”

Prosecution: “I call, Dr. Faraday. Dr. Faraday, you are an expert in the history of science are you not?”

Dr. Faraday: “That is so.”

Prosecution: “If you are a fan of the ancients, I apologize. But truly, sir, can you deny that the ancients were necessarily more primitive than we are – especially as regards science?”

Dr. Faraday: “Primitive? I question your indictments. The charges that ancient scientists gave us outdatedprimitivesimplistic ideas is itself a gross oversimplification.”

Prosecution: “Dr. Faraday, look at the modern scientific laws and principles that have successfully enabled us to build scientific theories and incredible technology.”

Dr. Faraday: “Quite right. But the very fact that they did not constantly use technology enabled them to see much of what we have lost.”

Prosecution: “I have no more questions. Your witness.”

Defense: “Welcome Dr. Faraday, it is my honor to speak with you today. So far we seem to be looking at what we moderns

have today … that the ancients did not. I would like to look instead at what they DID have … that WE have lost. You are an expert in the history of science. Can you fill in some blanks here?”

Dr. Faraday: “I would be most happy to do so. Modern science has new ideas and new inventions, but there is much we have lost. Let’s look at a case in point. Aristotle’s Four Elements and Four Qualities are mentioned lightly – if at all – because we have lost the ability to appreciate an ancient view from an ancient consciousness.

Aristotle is considered by many to be the Father of Science and one of the most prolific philosophers. He is the tip of a huge iceberg in that, although we have recovered a great many writings, we believe that there may be up to three times as many lost. He is a good example of ancient science and what is more, almost every subject that he wrote about transformed that particular field of knowledge.

I have seen great teachers model intellectual humility and resist the tendency to minimize early scientific ideas of Aristotle simply because we have modern ones that appear to supplant them. The same applies to many of the greats, such as: Cheng Heng and Bi Sheng of China, Banu Musa Brothers of Islam, metal tool makers of Sumeria, hydraulic systems of the African Kushites, Ptolemy of Egypt, al Gazer of the Turkish Artukid Dynasty, Archimedes, Eratosthenes, Euclid, and Pythagoras of Greece, the Kechuan Indians of Peru, the iron workers of Kashmir, or the Olmecs of Mexico.

So, how can we keep from speaking of them as outdated and simplistic? I’ll tell you how. Try listening to them as if they were speaking with a different consciousness. Do not project your own consciousness – your own way of thinking – onto them. Instead of reading their publications as

if someone next door said it yesterday, try to imagine a person who thinks in a very different way.

Isn’t it the responsibility of the scientific method to find the truth? When moderns look through a narrow lens of relevancewe seek to answer questions like, ‘What can this do for me?’ – or – ‘What innovation could use this?’ What if the ancient consciousness did not look at things that way – in fact – what if they would say that we moderns sometimes have an unscientific bias here.”

Defense: “I see. Do we have this bias in how we view Aristotle’s Four Elements and Four Qualities?”

Dr. Faraday: “Indubitably. Aristotle’s Four Elements spoke of four main divisions of the world, known as the four Elements: earth, water, air, and fire. We sometimes try to translate such ancient language into our own, comparing this to our periodic table. This makes the ancients seem simplistic. In this regard, we may be well shy of Aristotle’s full meaning. The consciousness of Aristotle’s time used language in a very different way than we do. The words often were inclusive of very large ideas, connected to passionate feelings that perhaps we moderns cannot even feel today. One thing we have lost here is the ability to love our world passionately.

It is the same with Aristotle’s Four Qualities: hot versus cold and wet versus dry. He paired these with the four elements as below.



Fire is Hot and Dry

Air is Hot and Wet.

Water is Cold and Wet.

Earth is Cold and Dry.


Yes, these are very simple, broad, sweeping concepts. Every child understands them. So, we sometimes (perhaps arrogantly) ask, ‘What is the big deal about learning Aristotle’s ideas – I understood them when I was in third grade?’ Then, we might dismiss them because they seem so naive.

And the relevance of them? Relevance in the modern consciousness can unfortunately get translated to asking, ‘What can nature do for me?’ or ‘What technology can I get out of this?’”

Defense: “I understand. By contrast, what do you see in Aristotle, Dr. Faraday?”

Dr. Faraday: “I see a consciousness that is in touch with the incredible ability to appreciate nature with the attention and wonder of a child. I believe that at least one thing he is saying is this: that a scientist should not lose touch with the inclusiveness and wonder of nature! As Goethe, who was a great fan of Aristotle’s science, says …

‘He should form to himself a method in accordance with observation, but he should take heed not to reduce observation to mere notion, to substitute words for this notion, and to use and deal with these words as if they were things.’ (Goethe, 1840/1970, p. 283)

But here is the irony. In the modern, headlong pursuit of technology and efficiency, I wonder if we have walked past the obvious. Perhaps instead, if we could peer through the lens of the ancient consciousness, we would reveal a view that is based upon, imitative of, and embedded in nature. Through this lens, I firmly believe that we could uncover at least two benefits.

  • For one, we would see that processes and mechanical contraptions that have fewer parts have fewer things to go wrong.
  • The other is perhaps an ironic epitaph to humankind’s recent love affair with the mechanical. We would start inventing new ways of living and new devices that work alongside of and even behave like nature. Perhaps such a future could be blessed by clean, friendly, harmonious technologies that sway like trees, flow like water, and grow like flames.

You know, the ancients could raise a stage hydraulically in an open-air amphitheater by diverting a stream to let the water in, then allow the entire stage to be lowered by letting the water return to the stream. The music and speaking in the amphitheater could be amplified by filtering out background noise with the limestone seats. Churches used beautiful chalices to resonate to various tonal frequencies and thereby carry sound.

It fills me with wonder to consider such natural simplicity that might be joined to the incredible strides modern science has made.”

Defense: “Thank you, Dr. Faraday.”

Judge: “The witness may step down.”

… [skip to the closing argument] …


Defense: The defense turns dramatically to address the jury with a passionate appeal, “Where is our HUMILITY? Let us honor in our schools that the ancients had valuable abilities – THAT WE HAVE ALMOST LOST! Our current version of civilization is not the epitome of humankind, passing everything that came before us! Imagine a fusion of our modern expertise with the nature-based approach of the ancients. Just think of the world we could make.”


[This lesson has been given many times to adults in a U.S. State prison, to middle and high schoolers September 1975 – March 2023.]


Goethe, J. W. v. (1840/1970). Theory of colours. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.

Zhou, Z. (2022). Critical Thinking: Two Theses from the Ground Up. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 22(1), 154-171.

20 Opportunities to Transform Yourself While Teaching

20 Opportunities to Transform Yourself While Teaching

By JOHN BICKART | Teacher/Author
A workshop taken from actual experiences that honor spirituality in education.

Participate in 20 interactive examples of moments in teaching where the teacher can have a transformative experience. Each is a practical example where you experience an opportunity to model truly transformative learning for students. The activities of the workshop anticipate that each participant will be able to perform the following…

Moving Toward and Away

Moving Toward and Away

By JOHN BICKART, Ph.D. | Teacher/Author

10 Opportunities to Transform Yourself While Teaching/”Recovering Your Childhood in Adulthood”

I was trying to move away from the whole problem of enabling with too much fun up front, then regaining structure and discipline when it is a little too late. And then I remembered Lisa Miller and her book, The Awakened Brain (2021). In it she says that there are two modes to go about life, achieving and awakened. Your achieving mode might tend to look at problems as something to get around. But awakened mode might look at those same problems as lessons. In awakened mode, you might look at a problem as presenting an existential question – a chance to change your existence – make a learning experience from something that is a little bit annoying to you.

So, I want to read to you from her paragraph on integrating those two modes in what she calls “quest awareness” or “quest orientation”, which makes your life a journey. Listen to this.  “Quest orientation is characterized by a tendency to journey in life: to search for answers to meaningful personal decisions and big existential questions; to perceive doubt as positive; and to be open to change, or more accurately, open to perceiving with fresh eyes, and then using new experience to fuel change. In quest, we open ourselves to the messages from life, take seriously this discovery, and then actively use learning to shape our decisions and actions—our personal operating manual” (Miller, 2021, p. 169).

So, I got to thinking about this. You’re born to this life and at first, you think everything is good. You don’t move away from things. That’s why you can take candy from a baby. If a stranger walks up, the baby looks up and thinks everything is going to be great. Then life happens and you go to the school of hard knocks. So, bad things start to happen to you, and you start to fall. But, the game of life is getting back – recovering your childhood – the ability to see things as wonderful again. But how? They’re not wonderful. Well … in total freedom … you can have the choice to make life a quest – make life a journey! You can decide for yourself to look at the school of hard knocks and take the hard knocks – use them – learn from them – and say, “Thank you! Why did that just happen to me? Why am I like that? Why is this bad thing surrounding me? And what can do about it – what can I do with it? It must be that there is a lesson for life in here, somewhere!” And when you do that, you are recovering your childhood. And things start looking better and better. You can see life is good.