Shakti Gattegno – Awareness and Human Learning

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Shakti Gattegno

Shakti Gattegno


My thanks are due to Roslyn Young whose article “On Awareness and Awarenesses” in The Science of Education in Questions – N° 5 – June 1991, prompted me to write. In it, Roslyn articulates with clarity her insights into ‘awareness’ and the reasons why the French-speaking people, on the whole, understand ‘awareness’ in terms of “the gelling of the awarenesses” or an ongoing process whereas the English-speaking people understand ‘awareness’ as a “state of being”.

It is fascinating to discover for ourselves the extent to which our culturally nurtured ‘mode of thought’ affects our understanding of what we meet. With this in mind, I will state what ‘awareness’ means to me. The intimate relationship between awareness and human learning will be part of it.

In what follows, you will find the impact of the Hindu mode of thought. My hope is that you would not be so taken by the so-called exotic flavour as to miss the evidence contained therein, of the human act of transcendence which occurs any time a ‘given’ is thoroughly understood and, therefore, fully integrated in one’s being, leaving one a fluent user of the ‘given’ as an instrument for further explorations.


Awareness – a human attribute – is the ‘lighting’ in the glow of which human beings see that-which-is as it is. In other words, by the virtue of being human, we are endowed with the human energy, the presence of which enables us to see the isness of what there is, hitherto ‘unknown’ to us.

Awareness, the human energy, is also present as ‘its own dynamics’ in the inner human senses, for example, our sense of truth. The functioning of this inner sense consists in a constant search for and the verification of the truth of all that we meet in our relation to ourselves and the world around us. Each one’s search is a distinctly individual activity guided by one’s own sense of truth pertaining to what interests one. The energy that energizes it is human awareness, our common human bond. While the lighting that is awareness glows steadily and clear, linking us with the ‘unknown’, its dynamics invigorate and define the rhythm of our existence as we mobilize and exercise our inner senses with the human energy of the will – another human attribute. For instance, with our ‘willful’ sense of truth permeated with the dynamics of awareness, we develop the inner criteria that serve us as the reference points for our actions of which our experiences in life are made.

But, as we all know, not all our actions and experiences are rooted in our will.

There are our actions and experiences which we initiate with the energy of the human will. Fully involved in experiencing them, we learn as we go through them with the whole of ourselves.

But some of our experiences are imposed on us against our will. They generate a divisive tension in us, the tension of ambivalence. We act and live such experiences half-heartedly, wishing we didn’t have to. We get stuck with them instead of going through them.

Then, there are our actions and experiences activated and fed by the momentum of our ulterior motives. For example, we may conduct ourselves to please others in order to gain favours in return; we may manipulate others to feel our power over them; we may exploit situations to our advantage at the cost of others, etc. These are our will-less acts. Though we conduct them, they have little to do with the human will. We are unaware of this fact as we are of the momentum behind them. We may live such acts with fervour, but, actually, we are “lived by” them as we are “lived by” the experiences they generate.

We process our self-willed and self-initiated actions and experiences with our conscious mind which, being one of our inner senses, is permeated with the dynamics of awareness. Involved in the process, we learn to evolve in our humanness. The learning process allows our human future to come to dwell in our present. With an attentive and alert mind, we know what our actions and experiences, in their essence, mean to us individually as well as in the broader human context relative to others in our life. The process of knowing the meaning is the functioning of our conscious mind. The energy that energizes the process is human awareness. We integrate our processed experiences into the totality of our being with the energy of affectivity – another of the human attributes, the source in us of human integrity at work in unison with human awareness and will.

But we fail to process and integrate those of our experiences which originate from the negation and the violations of the human will: – the ones we are forced to live; the ones to which we willy-nilly succumb; those that are the product of our ulterior motives and we are “lived by”. We might resent such experiences. We might want to disown them and hide them even from ourselves. We might justify them and cling to them as our prized possessions. But, we neglect to process them. The unprocessed experiences remain unresolved and unintegrated. Unrelated to our human attributes, they occupy our lives in the form of neglected stray fragments.

The act of our neglect casts its shadow. Our fears and ambitions, our prejudices and preconceptions, our insecurities and anxieties, our ego-centeredness, and, our adherence to them all, are the symptoms of our neglect. They constitute the shadow of neglect. Awareness still shines clear and steady but is eclipsed by the shadow. The ‘lighting’ appears dimmed. What there is to see, looks obscured. We try to make up for the diminished light by projecting our preconceived notions, fears, needs, etc. Thus, we stay with the ‘known’ instead of meeting the ‘unknown’. As we look at our projections, we believe we are with what there is. The shadow of neglect interferes with the dynamics of awareness, too. It distorts the functionings of our inner senses, as well. The extent to which one lives one’s life led by the eclipsed awareness, to those extent one lives a prehuman life. Prehuman experiences alienated from the human attributes, lead to prehuman learning.

At any point in one’s life, one may come to see the truth of one’s prehumanness. At such a moment, one wills to initiate the process of humanizing one’s existence. From then on, one willfully engages one’s conscious mind in processing the contents of one’s consciousness which includes the subconscious and the unconscious. Since awareness, a human attribute, is our common human bond, the humanizing process may be precipitated in one by the awareness at work in another human being. Just as we contribute to one another’s prehumanness through our prehuman inter-relating, so also we can be instrumental in enhancing one another’s humanizing process with our self-aware acts.


In the Silent Way, the focus is on the learning process rooted in human awareness, will, affectivity. While the students learn the language, the teacher, at every step of the way, learns how to teach without interfering with the students’ human potential for learning as well as the actual learning of each individual student. Since all the participants in the situation are being learners, and, as such, are moving from one illuminated spot to the next, testing, verifying, knowing, transforming their potential into their existential reality, integrating and moving on, — the presence of awareness as the “gelling of awarenesses” can be easily perceived as a striking characteristic of the Silent Way.

What may not be so obvious is awareness as a constant presence:

  • being one’s only human link with the ‘unknown’ in the world out there as well as in one’s inner life, connecting one to one’s human future;
  • inspiring one to be a learner with the will to meet the ‘unknown’ and be affected by its reality and, thus to be transforming it and being transformed in the course of one’s interaction with it;
  • enabling one to take joy in learning with the dignity of an autonomous human being responsible for realizing oneself;
  • mobilizing one as a teacher to be willing to humanize teaching by learning to be vulnerable to the learning potential and the actual learning of his/her students.


In The Science of Education – Chapter 13: The Learning and Teaching of Foreign Languages Gattegno refers to ‘awareness’ in his usual succinct manner as “the condition as well as the dynamics of learning”. The sense in which it is so, can best be comprehended by taking an inward journey and learning to understand what it means while witnessing the presence as well as the workings of awareness, within oneself.

© Shakti Gattegno
New York City, July 28, 1991

The Science of Education in Questions – No 6, Une Education Pour Demain, France. February 1992


From 1988 to 2008 Shakti Gattegno was President of Educational Solutions, an organization Dr. Caleb Gattegno established in New York City to represent and disseminate his work.

After her BA at the University of Delhi she taught at High Schools in New Delhi. She met Dr. Gattegno in the year 1954 as a student at the Institute of Education, London University where she gained an MA. She has taught languages using the Silent Way and conducts workshops for teachers. She worked on the creation of Silent Way charts for Hindi and other languages.

Her publications include The Place of Love in Education and articles in the newsletters published by Educational Solutions in the United States and in the journal The Science of Education in Questions in France. She gave the keynote speech at the Caleb Gattegno’s Science of Education: Ten Years After conference in 1988: Caleb Gattegno’s Philosophy of Education and a plenary at the 2000 IATEFL conference: Teaching – a Way of Relating.

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