The Good Life Course May 18-June 1, 2019
The Idea for this immersive experience of a course is simple: we ask you to set aside 15 days of your “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver) to think as profoundly as possible about what counts as the good life. We’ve carved out a space on the coast of Maine where you can step away from the jam-packed confusions of everyday life, slow down, focus your mind, bask in nature and get perspective. In this course, our conversations are honed by reading the best of American nature writing and back-to-the-land literature. Thoreau’s Walden, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Helen and Scott Nearing’s Living the Good Life, Wendell Berry’s What Are Humans For? are springboards for conversation about life in the modern world. Daily readings and thought experiments are paired with experiential happenings, visual pedagogy, and mindfulness practices.
The course is inspired, in part, by Thoreau’s well-known statement: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” The course thus places us in a Thoreau-like setting in which reflections on the good life can be honed by deliberate living and immersion in nature.
Each day of the course is centered on a different theme such as: The Wild, Awe and Wonder, Beauty and the Sublime, Silence, Solitude, and Joy. Each day then combines readings and discussions with hands-on experiences of nature and good life practices, such as gardening, grain mills, and post-and-beam construction. On the day of “The Wild”, we might canoe to a remote island, read and discuss Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek along with Gary Snyder’s Practice of the Wild, while contemplating Thoreau’s maxim, “all good things are wild and free.”
The course encourages an appraisal of American nature philosophy and back to the land literature by exploring the tensions between engagement and escape, autonomy and belonging, utopianism and nostalgia, simplicity and technology. All of our reflections circle back to the overarching question: What counts as the good life?
Fall Term, 2020:
The Good Life & The Great Work: An Experiential Inquiry
What It’s All About: The goals of this study-away program are not small. It’s about nothing less than dedicating a full semester to sustained inquiry into the nature of the good life and what will be your great work. This program is about stepping away from everyday life for a season to give yourself the gift of expansive time and tranquil space to reflect on what may be the most important question of all: what counts as the good life? It’s about taking big strides toward discernment of what will be your great work in this good life. We’re repeating Mary Oliver’s injunction: “tell me, what is it you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?” To sync up your answer with the needful things of your day and age is to begin to envision your great work.
Courses Like These: It’s about taking courses with titles like these: “The Alchemy of the Self”, “The Understory: Hidden Narratives of Human Thriving”, “Ecology of the American Buddha”, “Living the Good Life: Back to the Land Spirituality From Walden to the Tiny Life”, “Practice and Metapractice”, “Transcendentalism and Pragmatism for the 21st Century”.
Academics Anew: It’s about an approach to rigorous academics that takes account of the whole person: body, mind, and soul (or however you want to put it that doesn’t reduce students to brains in jars). We’ll think with our bodies (in canoes, in trees, in gardens); we’ll exercise our minds like muscles in the resistance training of big ideas and contemplative practices. It’s about books, narratives and conversations. It’s about texts great and humble, known and unknown, some as yet to be written. It’s about reading together and alone. It’s about unearthing and scrawling down your own narrative against the countervailing forces that be. It’s about academic study that is grounded in immersive experiences of natural beauty & the sublime. It’s about an academic setting that cultivates experiences of awe & wonder & existential joy.
What It’s Really All About: In short, it’s about personal and planetary thriving. Is that too much to ask of an academic program? Well, come to Maine and let’s try. Grace may cover the deficit.