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Nicki Davey

Saltbox Training & Events


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Holistic learning: engaging the spirit in learning

Why learning can and should be a spiritual process.

In previous parts of this series, I’ve talked about why we need to engage the body, mind and heart of learners in order to generate powerful learning. Here, I’d like to focus on how to create learning experiences that spiritually engage learners in order to enable deep and meaningful learning.

Humans are spiritual beings who seek to find meaning in life, and this deep human desire for meaning, purpose, and connection is necessary for the sort of deep, transformational learning where learners connect their inner self with the outside world and connect their ‘inner work’ with their ‘outer work’.

Connecting our own essential human nature (our spirit) with the nature around us helps to generate deep and powerful learning.

Spirituality is not about faith or religion but is about finding meaning and coherence in life through:

  • Self-awareness: a strong sense of self and connection to our true inner essence combined with an understanding of what we believe in, care about, and value.
  • Feeling connected: understanding the inherent interdependence of the world - that everything and everyone is interconnected.
  • Having a sense of purpose: looking for meaning and finding fulfilment through contributing to something greater than ourselves.

Learning at a spiritual level involves understanding how our beliefs and values shape our behaviour, how our actions impact on the world around us, and how a deeper knowledge of ourselves and our relationship with the world can help us to find meaning and purpose. It also means reconnecting in a soulful way with our essential nature as human beings so that we develop empathy and compassion for ourselves and others and develop a deeper connection with the world around us.

Techniques to engage the spirit

Here are some suggestions for activities that engage learners on a more spiritual level to create deep and lasting learning experiences:

  • Meditation or mindfulness techniques.
  • Creating a personal mandala to symbolise their journey through life, to tell a story, or to reveal a path in life, or as a group.
  • Reflective journaling to create meaning from events, develop self-awareness, or learn from experiences.
  • Writing stories or poetry to illustrate a particular idea, learning point or message.
  • Create a gratitude log and record daily what they are grateful for.
  • Write down affirmations and say them out loud on a regular basis.
  • Let go of unhelpful behaviours by writing them on leaves, dropping them in a river, and watching them float away, or by writing on pieces of paper and burning them.

Use creative activities to help learners develop their imagination, process emotions, create a connection between the soul and the outside world, express themselves, explore their emotions, and communicate deeper meanings, feelings, behaviours and objectives. These may include:

  • Drawing, painting and colouring
  • Collage-making
  • Making models
  • Taking photographs
  • Craft activities – anything from making corn dollies to origami
  • Solo time – learners sit alone for an extended time write notes or draw pictures to capture their free-flowing thoughts

Setting the scene for spiritual awakening

Connecting our own essential human nature (our spirit) with the nature around us helps to generate deep and powerful learning. See our factsheet Using Nature to Help People Learn for more ideas, but here are a few to inspire you:

  • Choose venues with gardens or access to nature and outdoor space.
  • Ask learners to walk in nature whilst doing individual reflective activities or paired discussions.
  • Attune learners to their surroundings: ask them to breathe gently and slowly, then silently and individually to really pay attention to the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, textures around them.
  • Bring nature into the training room with flowers, plants, natural materials, and essential oils.
  • Open the windows so that learners can hear the sounds of birdsong, the wind in the trees etc.
  • Enhance the training room with posters of natural images or scenes.
  • Use visualisations where learners visualise themselves in nature.
  • Use items from nature such as leaves, branches, flowers, stones, seeds, feathers etc. as materials or props for training activities.
  • Ask learners to go outside and find something in nature around them that is a metaphor for what they’ve learnt.
  • Ask learners to look for metaphors in nature for the behaviour, model, or system they are learning about and draw out lessons or conclusions from this.
  • Use photos of nature or natural materials as a source of inspiration for creative problem solving.

When we tune into our childlike state, we reconnect with our true inner essence, which enables us to understand ourselves better and form a bond with the world around us in a more authentic way. Use play activities to connect people with themselves and each other, for example:

  • Playing with playdoh
  • Building sandcastles
  • Making paper aeroplanes
  • Throwing bean bags
  • Creating and telling fairy stories
  • Finger painting
  • Mime
  • Drawing with chalks on tarmac
  • Playing card games with giant playing cards
  • Constructing machines from cardboard boxes
  • Creating puppets from socks or toilet roll tubes and performing a puppet show
  • Blowing bubbles
  • Making costumes or hats and dressing up
  • Creating and performing a song, poem or rap
  • Ball games
  • Juggling
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Mask-making
  • Making music with found items
  • Egg-and-spoon or three-legged races

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully these ideas will stimulate and inspire you to find your own ways of spiritually engaging learners.

If you'd like more on this topic, I'm currently running a series of free online workshops on How to Create Holistic Online Learning.


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Nicki Davey


Read more from Nicki Davey

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