Jan 7th – Big Blue Sky
As you expose yourself to me, openness laid bare, how can I not stop? Not stand still? To wonder and stare. You infuse me, you fill me, full of love, light and grace. The magnificence of your presence embodies expansiveness and space. You create vastness within me, to have and to hold. I give you my body, you give me your soul.
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Jan 6th – Emptiness
A blank page, an open stage. Nobody will come to tell me what to write. My pen walks alone as it strolls into the night. Sliding along, whether caressing or dragging, the depths of my insides, be them thriving or flagging. But on it must go, there is no other way, for me to turn dark into light, and night into day.
Jan 5th – You and eye
I do believe that we have this all inside out. That you are within, and I am without. For when I gaze into those tiny black holes, what stares back at me, through me, is no less than your soul. Yet when I look out, to the world all around, your insides, your entrails are what fills the ground. The trees are your lungs, the mountains your bones, the rivers your blood, and the winds are your groans. The void we call space is your vast imagination, the circling galaxies are your cosmic circulation. And black holes in space, what are they if not the same, as the ones I look out of to witness this game?
Jan 4th – Breakfast
A dollop of wobbling, gelatinous, translucent amber nectar sits quivering on my plate. Its bitterness delights my tongue. The crispy outer layers of my crumbling croissant wrap themselves around their own soft, warm, spongy insides. Together, the unlikely pair, come together in my mouth, dancing in unison like a match made in heaven. Then the dark, rich underbelly of earthy, exotic aroma leaps out at me from my coffee cup, calling for my attention. It is liquid black gold, and as I sip it, it stirs up an alchemical response within me that forms a trinity of flavours. Together, in communion, they are richer, deeper, denser, more profound – far more than just the sum of their parts.
3rd Jan – Daydreaming
I am the inner artist of my souls own creation. I paint my life into being with the soft gentle whispers of my heart’s desires. I lavish my mind’s dynamic easel with the most delicate and intricate possibilities of how a life can be. I lick the ice-cream off my fingers in a world that is just as real to me as these written words are to you. Inside myself I laugh a thousand laughs, I smile a thousand smiles. I explore, and adventure, to try things on for size. I play with the fabric of life itself. I hastily cut its cloth with my insatiable minds eye and give birth to a collage of dreams that scatter magic within me like shooting stars. Each new burst of colourful, sensual, roaming imagery more beautiful, more real, more life-like than the rest. Sweet dreams, for a sweet life. Lovingly crafted from the luminous, fleeting nature of possibility, and of potential.
2nd Jan – The Seashore
You give yourself away. Offer yourself up. Lap at my solidity. You are utterly selfless and yet completely self-satisfying. Why the rush to throw yourself away? To lose yourself so readily? You soak my every fibre and allow me, to be me. Yet you are not you, without my containment. Without me holding you in my finite embrace, you are nothing. And I too am nothing if I do not offer up my being to contain you.
Happy 2014!!! Well a new day, and a new year, has dawned, spreading itself out in front of us like a beautiful blank page, calling us to write, sing or dance our life into action.
To start the year off as I mean to go on I have joined a one-month mindful writing project using a ‘tool’ called ‘Small Stones’. The tool is used by the project ‘Writing Our Way Home’ as a way to engage with the world mindfully, through writing.
The following information is from their wonderful website:
small stones will help you connect to the world, in all its richness & complexity & juiciness. Join us for our Mindful Writing Challenge in January and write one every day for a month…
What is a small stone?
A small stone is a short piece of writing that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment.
towels and shirts and pillowcases show me the shapes of the breeze
Why write small stones?
When we translate something we’ve seen or experienced into words, it is necessary to pay more attention than we usually would. A few minutes of mindful attention (even once a day) helps us to engage with the world in all its beauty.
To find your own small stones:
1. Keep your eyes, nose, mouth, fingers, ears & your mind open.
2. Notice something.
3. Write it down.
What does a small stone look like?
As long as it’s shortish, anything goes. There are no strict rules as there are for forms such as haiku. small stones are often concrete, specific, and written about ordinary things – birdsong, or a dark grey cloud.
Do I have to be a writer to write small stones?
No. The process of finding small stones is more important than the finished product. Searching for them will encourage you to keep your eyes (and ears, nose, mouth, fingers, feelings and mind) open.Your short written piece (and learning to enjoy writing & the deliciousness of words) is simply a happy by-product of this process.
Where will I find small stones?
small stones are everywhere, all of the time. All you have to do is pause and let them appear. You’ll know when you see one, because it will set off a small burst of feeling inside you. It might be that you really notice the ugliness of a piece of chewed gum on the pavement, or the beauty of a pigeon, or vice versa. An overheard snippet of conversation might strike you as amusing, or strange. Whatever you notice, you will be noticing it with fresh eyes.
How do I pick up my small stones?
The best way is to catch them as they occur, by carrying a note-book around with you and jotting down what you’ve noticed or experienced straight away.”….
And so, on the 1st January 2014 – here is my first Small Stone:
I am bathing in the glorious, hushed caress of silence. It is dense, warm and comforting and spreads itself throughout my entire being like thick, soupy chocolate sauce. It lavishes me with relief and soothes my soul, stroking my life blood with its balmy spread of deeply attentive, invisible fingertips. It is pregnant, all but empty, and full of possibility. I am embraced by a silent whisper, a gentle, loving force, that is just as alive and as potent as sound itself. There would be no sound without silence. In fact, silence has a sound but not one that can be heard with my ears, only with my heart. My heart hears its potency, understands its call for renewal, for rest. It is the soft sandy shore upon which I can lay my bare feet before returning again to swim in the waves of life’s rhythmic heartbeat.
In October 2013 I organised an Earthtalk at Schumacher college to promote the book “Stories of the Great Turning”, which I have a chapter published in. This is a video of my contribution, which summarises the story that I wrote for the book. Enjoy! xx
Photo credit: izthistaken Flickr.com
How can you develop an organisation to become more like an alive, living being? I think you could start by exploring what it means to actually be a living being, alive and full of life, living in the world. So here is some food for thought for anyone wanting to walk in the steps of a Mighty Oak, rather than deaden themselves and the planet further by developing yet another re-presentation of a machine…
A living being has an invisible and indivisible ‘wholeness’, an integrity that is expressed through its parts. This wholeness is a living coherence that ‘holds together’ the essence of the particular life form, whilst manifesting recognizable, repeatable characteristics of form that hold true to its essence. However, the parts of each being are never the same. They develop in participation with its local environment, which allows room for differentiation, uniqueness and flexibility to emerge- i.e. such as the particularities of local sun/shade levels, nutrient levels, wind exposure that occur in relation to the plant’s location.
There is no hierarchy. The parts do not arrive before, or without, the wholeness, and neither does the wholeness emerge before, or without, the parts. The potential for Oak is already present in the Acorn and vice versa. The Oak tree would not come into being without the acorn, and the acorn would not come into being with the Oak tree, or the leaves, or the trunk, or any other part that emerges through the being’s temporal life processes. The parts emerge as necessary processes of the whole of the being, belonging together, naturally and organically, one out of the other – but NOT in a linear fashion.
There is no strict definition of linearity, in time or space, within a living being. If you watch the whole growth of plant it does not just grow up – it grows out, in, up and down, it is also living and dying simultaneously. In time, a new bud forms and opens at the same time that an older leaf dies and wilts away. In space, the new growth of tiny leaves emerge directly out of old growth of the stem.
There is also no trace of classical logic within a living being. In classical logic – on which we base most of our education, everyday thinking and organisational structures – A=A and A ≠ Not A. However in the more holistic logic of a living being, or new ways of thinking and doing such as in Quantum Physics, A = Not A and A ≠ A. So, within the realm of a living being it is no contradiction for an Acorn to also equal the potential that we call Oak. An Acorn isn’t an Oak, but also isn’t Not an Oak, and neither is it actually an Acorn (we just all call it that for ease of communication). This doesn’t mean that living beings fall into a quagmire of uncertainty and ambiguity just because they follow a rather different type of logic than we are used to using. Quite the opposite – if I give you a carrot seed, and you plant it in conditions that are favorable to its growth, I’d say the odds are pretty high that you would grow a carrot.
However, your carrot would not be the same as any other carrot that has ever existed in time and space, as the success of the healthy growth of your carrot is highly contextual. Its life depends on its ability to relate effectively and efficiently with the unique circumstances that our within its local environment. It’s no good for the carrot to know what the growing conditions are like for a different carrot, in a different climate 6000 miles away. It’s experiencing what it can touch, here and now, and develops its growth accordingly.
All living beings require a constant inner transformation and evolution, as stasis in natural systems equals death. If a plant did not constantly keep transforming itself from the inside out, it would cease to exist. Imagine if a pea plant got to the stage of having leaves and stems and then decided to stop moving from the inside. It wouldn’t matter what its external expression of physical form and matter was, if internally it stop carrying water and sunlight and nutrients around to nourish its life systems it would die.
Notably, there are no straight lines or impenetrable boundaries in living beings. Physical processes flow in between the parts, and elemental processes flow between the living being and its environment. Therefore there are no such concepts as complete isolation or absolute separation within living beings. There are distinctions of form and process, distinguishing for example a leaf from a stem, and a respiratory system from a cardio vascular system, but they are intrinsically relational with regards to the particular form or process of the whole being and its environment.
A living being knows what it needs or wants from its local environment to maintain its life and its wholeness, and it develops an intrinsic ‘knowledge’ of how to get it. But rarely, if ever, will it leave behind anything that can not then be composted back down into the earth, ready be turned into new life by its offspring and/or other living beings. However, as an individual, it is flexible, and adaptable, and will modify its physical form to thrive within the local environment that it has found itself in – changing its physical, extrinsic nature, in order to remain the ‘same’ expression of its essential intrinsic nature.
Living beings also have rhythm. A plant has periods of activity and rest, if you watch a speeded up time sequence film of a plant’s growth, you will see that it develops in external ‘bursts’ of activity. These bursts of development embody the qualities of contraction and expansion, just like a human breathing in and breathing out. The seasons themselves also follow intermittent periods of activity and rest. Seeds lie dormant for the winter and then spring to life in a burst of activity when the weather warms. A tree loses its leaves over winter and then outwardly ‘comes back to life’ in the spring.
Living beings, such as plants, are not by nature hierarchical. There is no top-down management, and neither is it bottom-up. They embody a different dynamic which the biologist Brian Goodwin described as “maximum freedom to the parts, maximum coherence to the whole.” They have an invisible and indivisible essence that we can call wholeness, which is there essential nature and somehow emerges from within. This is an intrinsic coherence which is expressed through the parts, but can not be reduced to the sum of its parts.
All non-human life also participates and develops in accordance with the local environment, and all waste products, with time, integrate back into the earth.
So, the essence of living beings contains an intrinsic capacity for distinction, uniqueness and flexibility. There is no absolute linearity in their spatial or temporal life development, and their livingness does not express a classical logic – yet their coherence, inner transformation and metamorphosis keep them ‘whole’, and alive. A living being expresses itself through a series of diverse, complex relationships; nothing is isolated or separate, either within them, or without them, as they are always responding in relation to their environment. And lastly, for now, but not least – individual living beings have a rhythm to their growth and a development pattern that balances physical inactivity and activity – in nature no one part is ever fixed on constant output and exponential growth, other than when it signals danger, such as the abnormal proliferated cell growth that is found in cancer.
Part 2 – The Democratisation of Knowledge:
Collectively Enlivening what and how we know
“To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower;
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.”
William Blake, Auguries of Innocence
Continued from Part One: To allow the participants at the ASHA Centre to experience how, or what, it means to them to give the phenomenon of their inquiry their ‘cognitive space’ to become other, and to be seen in process I led them through a phenomenological (or Goethean) study of a Willow tree.
Phenomenology is primarily concerned with how human beings experience the world, and also how we can learn to get to know aspects of the world ‘in terms of themselves’ through our experiencing it, by participating with it in an open, receptive, yet critical way; so as not to constrict or narrow our understanding of the world by squeezing it into our pre-formed (already existing) “rational” assumptions, labels, concepts, or objectifications. It is about being present to ‘what is’, ‘as it is’ – in one’s experiencing of it. Through careful, exact, direct observation, description, and qualitative interpretation, you try to allow the phenomenon to ‘speak for itself’, so that your understanding of it, can be as authentic, and true to the actual phenomenon as possible.
This type of understanding/knowledge is called inter-subjectivity. It transcends the dualism of objectivity (thinking that you are completely separate from something – which is only a rational/intellectual illusion) and subjectivity (thinking that the ‘truth’ of your experience only belongs individually to you, and reduces your experience to just being an ‘interpretation – also an illusion). It confronts, and honours, the paradox of what it means to be human; that we have individual autonomy and free will, yet are also inextricably intertwined with everything that we experience.
Phenomenology takes into account different dynamics of life than are commonly considered in other research methodologies, such as; the whole expressing itself through its part, intrinsic value expressing itself through extrinsic form, the inherent interconnectedness of all life, social and physical; and it includes all facets of human experience and knowing within its process of inquiry. For example how we ‘feel’ when engaging with a phenomenon, becomes just as important as how ‘see’ it. Unlike other forms of research, they do not need to be set aside to allow precedence to what we ‘think’ about ‘it’. We also make space for our intuition and imagination, not for fantasy, but to be used as tools for thinking. Phenomenology is not a theory, or a model – it is a disciplined approach to a certain way of being human, a way that gives voice to the world as we fully experience it, in our particular, unique existence. Intellectualisation, generalisation and objectification are consciously set to one side.
The ‘living context’ (network of relationships) of a phenomenon is just as relevant to the inquiry as the direct experience of the phenomenon itself, as phenomenology recognises that there are no absolute separations between anything, and so understanding the living context of the phenomenon in relation to the phenomenon itself allows us to build a much richer, more alive understanding. Studying the living context, the ‘ground’, as well as the phenomenon, the ‘figure’, gives the research much more grounding, more depth, and more accuracy as a whole, than if you were to only study the phenomenon in isolation from all that it interacts with, and is surrounded by.
Phenomenology also acknowledges the ‘naiveté of everyday experience’ (Husserl), which means that some of the most important and relevant information that we need is right under our noses, but that we often skip straight past it in everyday life due to how we learn to perceive and interact with our life-world and our thought-world.
So, back to the Willow tree!
I led the participants into an individual process of observing parts of the tree through ‘exact sense perception’, allowing their eyes to feel their way around a small part of the tree that caught their interest, noticing the details of shape, form, texture, colour that are exactly there in front of them. This is a process of noticing and being present to something exactly as it is, rather than relying on what you think you already know about it. By using our eyes more like fingers, to feel our way around the form in front of us, we suspend our capacity to constrict the world through generalised labelling and judgement, and what opens up is the possibility to see the immense and infinite complexity and diversity of detail that is immediately in front of us. This ‘revelation’ is often the source of much awe and wonder bursting forth from the participants. What starts out as 10cm square section of tree bark suddenly becomes seen a whole universe within itself.
Exact sense perception can provide quite a challenge to some as it requires a quality of attention and focus that many are not used to using in their everyday lives. We largely live and navigate our way through the world by using what we think we already know about it as a reference point. So, to set this aside can feel a little uncomfortable to start with, but with perserverance…even just 30 seconds concentrated effort, we can manage to bypass the fast-paced intellect, and actually start attending to what is directly before us, engaged in a process which most of the participants find relaxing, calming, absorbing and flow like.
The next part of the process we entered into was trying to describe our experience of the tree, as exactly as possible. In Husserlian phenomenology this is called the Reduction. We try to set aside, to bracket, what we think about the phenomenon, our judgements and explanations, and instead to try allow the phenomenon to come into being as exactly and concretely as possible through our descriptions. This can also be quite a challenge, as the tendency is again to use what think we already know about it, as a reference point for what we have experienced. So, what we learnt at school about photosynthesis or some other biological plant processes may try to creep into our descriptions, rather than noting what we saw directly in front of us. I asked the participants to describe the part of the tree they observed as if it was to someone who had never seen it before, as this can help to bring their attention back to what they directly experienced.
After our study of the Willow tree and a phenomenon of choice within the gardens at ASHA, we had some group reflection on the process and some beautiful insights emerged in relation to what I call the ‘democratisation of knowledge’. We experienced collectively that by engaging directly with the phenomenon of your inquiry, a much more grounded, empowering sense of knowing emerges – one that is simultaneously aware of the first-person, concrete, lived depth of your own experience, as well as the limits of your own knowing through understanding exactly how much time you have spent with the phenomenon, and gaining a sense of how much more there is still left ‘to know’, or more to the point, to experience.
To the individual, the quality of knowing that is come to through direct lived experience of something, and challenging your knowing beyond what you think you already know, is vastly different than how it feels to just be given second-hand ‘information’ about something. Then, to engage in this process of ‘getting to know the world in terms of itself’ collectively, individuals realise that there is validity inherent in their lived experience of the world, that they have something worth saying, and that if patterns keep emerging within the group that reinforce their individual experience, then this consensus equals a knowing, a knowledge about something that is just as valid as the ‘information’ that have been given about something, if not more so, because they themselves have experienced it.
What arose from the participants during our session, was that through participating directly and engaging with the unique life of something, we overcome the illusory subject/object divide that our rational mind creates for us, and by coming together to compare our individual experiences, we create a space for consensus to emerge. This creates the possibility for the non-‘expert’ to build more solid, democratic, empowering foundation for knowledge to arise, both individually and collectively.
I feel that the societal implications are such that if at least some of our collective ‘knowledge’ was constructed in this way, we would not be so locked in to class and money oriented cul-de-sacs. Knowing through direct experience and allowing patterns of experiences to emerge from diverse, particular instances, to form ‘consensus’, gives us the chance to come together within our diversity; to be aware that we have the possibility to know the world in fundamentally different ways yet still arise at a shared language of the world. A living experiential inquiry of the world favours the word or thoughts of no man or woman over and above any other, giving everyone an equal voice in our collective efforts of getting to know the world in terms of itself.
This democratic process of knowing, and phenomenology, requires a personal discipline in terms of how we attend to and describe our experience of the world and, to fully understand why we need this discipline, a personal, experiential exploration of how and where our cognitive and perceptive tendencies lead us – but imagine that this is what our ‘educational’ system is based on; an understanding and exploration of what it is to be human, alongside a guided process of allowing the world to come into expression through us, but in terms of itself through our direct experience and participation with it; focusing not on ‘what’ we know, but ‘how’ we know, and letting the knowing unfold from there….that would be my kind of school, based on lived experience, naturally and inherently democratic, empowering both the individual and the collective….a “School of life ‘as it is'”.
If you would like to explore together what a School of Life ‘as it is’ would look like, feel like, be like in practice, feel free to email me! firstname.lastname@example.org
(This workshop was held twice, with my great pleasure, at the ASHA Centre, for twenty-something youth workers, youth leaders, students and volunteers working in the field of Sustainable Development.
The programme, which started in October 2012, has enabled 196 participants from across the UK to take part in a five-day programme devoted to Sustainable Development education and was funded by the EU’s Youth in Action programme.
The ASHA Centre is a UK charity working for the empowerment of young people, sustainable development and peace & reconciliation worldwide. www.ashacentre.org )