By Sports and Lifestyle Editor Cole Schisler
I was at a local meditation group when I met Les Malbon, a VIU Professor of Sport, Health, and Physical Education. We ended up having a conversation about his course, Health of the Human Spirit, and he invited me to attend one of his classes.
Health of the Human Spirit is a 400-level course. This year, there were prerequisites, but Malbon has waived the prerequisites for next year. The course aims to teach students about spirituality through understanding and experience. Malbon teaches spirituality though different cultural lenses, and inspires students to be open to new ideas through firsthand experience.
“I was inspired to start this class from my own personal exploration of different ways of being and knowing in relation to spirituality. I think in any culture we have to be careful about falling in love with our own paradigms. I think that there is so much diversity available in the world. I’m not telling the class that they have to become what they learn, but what I am telling them is that there is something different, and to be mindful and careful about understanding spirituality.”
Throughout the semester, Malbon invited yoga teachers, energy healers, First Nations elders, and other experts on spirituality to the class. Students learned to meditate, and were sent out to do random acts of kindness as a class project. When I joined the class, it was for a field trip to visit a Tibetan Bon Buddhist monk, Lama Geshe Yongdong, at his temple in Courtenay.
Yongdong welcomed us with humour and gratitude. He guided the class through a seated meditation, then spoke to us about how to be happy. Yongdong taught the class to think more with their hearts. He said that the brain is what is known as the “ordinary mind,” but the heart is the “original mind.” When one interacts with objects or others through their ordinary mind, there is duality, and separation between them. Yongdong says that when we think with the original mind, people can become a part of the oneness that connects all things.
I learned a great lesson from that field trip, that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, but that was only one class. Malbon’s students say that they have gained a deeper understanding of themselves through taking the course, and that their lives have changed profoundly for the better.
“I’m definitely more aware of things that I say and things that I do,” said Megan Rosenlund, Malbon’s student and Mariners volleyball star. “If I do say something that may be negative, I can reflect on it, and I’m able to communicate better than before.”
Malbon teaches many other VIU athletes, including Badminton Men’s Singles player Graydon Robb, who says that the course has had a deep impact on his outlook.
“It’s really cool coming from a business background, because this class is the complete opposite of what I’m used to,” Robb said. “It’s more free flowing, and there’s more of a focus on communication, and different ways of thinking.”
Both Rosenlund and Robb say that it is far easier to make friends and meaningful connections in Health of the Human Spirit than other classes. They also say that the lessons they have learned from this class will stay with them for their lifetimes.
“I think about it like sport,” Rosenlund said. “With sport, you have to practice. What I’ve felt with this class more than any other is that I want to practice what I’ve learned.”
A practical application of the knowledge learned in the course is exactly what Malbon intended for his students. For the past 10 years, Malbon taught Kinesiology at VIU, and noticed that in the literature around Health & Wellness, the health of the human spirit was becoming a more widely discussed element.
The course is named after a textbook, Health of the Human Spirit, written by Dr. Luke Seaward. The textbook came across Malbon’s desk one day, and he took the opportunity to contact Seaward. Seven years ago, he invited Malbon down to Boulder, Colorado, and the two developed a close relationship. Seaward has come to speak to the Health of the Human Spirit class, and Malbon’s name is featured on the textbook.
“It’s not an easy thing to teach spirituality,” Malbon says. “Spirituality in the academy can get questioned quite strongly because of rigorous Cartesian thinking, and the idea of a measurable world through science. I’m very grateful to my colleagues because they were willing to explore spirituality.”
Malbon says that there is room for science and spirituality to coexist, and believes that the connection between them will grow stronger in the future. Spirituality is now being looked at as an integral element of health and wellness, so much so that spiritual teachings, such as reiki, energy healing, and traditional Chinese medicine, are being practiced at hospices and hospitals.
The Health of the Human Spirit course provides context to the knowledge learned in the textbook, which converts that knowledge to wisdom. I learned more from Malbon, and my one-day field trip to Courtenay, than I could have ever learned purely from a book on spirituality.
On campus, there is a number of VIU professors who, like Malbon, have started to take the ideas of spirituality and consciousness more seriously in varying disciplines. They, along with VIU students, have started a group called the Consciousness Club. Students with an interest in the topic are encouraged to join the club. Malbon says that the only prerequisite is an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to learn.
“This course is an exploration,” Malbon says. “It’s the opportunity for the planting of seeds, it’s the opportunity for deepening understanding, and there’s so many different pathways to explore.”
Cole is a second-year Bachelor of Arts student majoring in creative writing, minoring in political science. He has an interest in all things exciting, mundane, or otherwise. He hopes to one day become an author, actor, comedian, editor, and rapper, while moonlighting as an astronaut.