Tag Archives: Goethean Science

Workshop by Craig Holdrege: “Thinking Like a Plant”

DSCF1236Workshop with Craig Holdrege at the South Devon Steiner School

“Thinking Like A Plant”

20th September 2014

 On a sunny Saturday in September I joined a group of people gathered in the gardens of the South Devon Steiner school to practice ‘thinking like a plant’. This is a method of studying plants that is a type of phenomenological inquiry and is closely linked to Goethe’s way of Science. Craig Holdrege is a biologist based at The Nature Institute in the US state of New York. This is my summary of the workshop:

Thinking like a plant involves a process of allowing our thinking to become as alive and flexible as nature itself.

 

One aspect of this living form of thinking is cultivating an open ‘receptivity’. Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to this as ‘sauntering’. We do not need a particular focus, other than opening out to the world and watching what catches our attention, without going into great detail. This capacity for receptivity needs to be ‘exercised’, like the practice necessary in learning to play a new musical instrument. In the workshop Craig asked us to ‘saunter’ around the gardens for 10 minutes but he said that an hour would be more appropriate.

 

This practice allows for a slowing down that is almost antithetical in our culture. It develops a presence of mind that notices what comes toward us in life rather than relying on our discerning capacities which lead us to be critical and to judge.

 

There is so much in Nature and in life that we miss, especially when we are overly focused on specifics. Developing the practice of ‘sauntering’ can help us to regain some of what we habitually miss and give us a richer, fuller experience of life.

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The next aspect of the ‘living thinking’ that we were aiming to develop was to focus in on the details of life as exactly as we possibly could. In a circle we described a Hazel leaf, not what we felt or thought about it but what we saw, exactly in front of us. This was to focus us on our exact sense perception. Sauntering leads us out into the world, focusing leads us in. Science today gets lost in the detail but a whole approach to life such as Goethean Science moves back and forth, in and out of detail. Craig stressed that focus is just as important to openness, as if we don’t go into detail then we are not really seeing the world.

 

Through exact sense perception we can take the time to notice and describe details without worrying about understanding them. By doing this the details of relationships also start to emerge, like the contrasting elements that appear when we pay attention to the two very different sides of a leaf. When comparing details insightful ‘aha’ moments emerge as the qualities, expressions and characteristics of the plant begin to reveal themselves.

 

The next aspect of ‘living thinking’ was to deepen our exact sense perception by visualising our experience in our imaginations, Goethe called this Exact Sensorial Imagination. We can re-picture our sense experience of the leaf by remembering exactly how it felt to touch, what its edges looked like, how the veins came out of the stem, the different colours of leaf apparent on both sides, etc etc. We each do this re-picturing process differently. Some people have a type of memory that allows for the ‘whole’ picture to be recreated at once, some people need to work through it and move around it bit by bit.

 

What is profound is that by doing this re-picturing we realise that the plant has left an impression on us. The sensory experience that we can re-create in our imaginations is not fantasy, as long as we stick to what exactly we experienced. This process also shows us what we have missed or not paid attention to. By exercising our exact sensorial imagination we are connecting ourselves and the plant inwardly in a way that we could not achieve otherwise. This builds a mobile plastic inwardness that allows us to perceive the plant more vividly and vibrantly.

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To compare our exact sense perceptions we all passed our leaves around the circle, so that for a short time we could each see and experience everybody’s leaf. If we just take one example of something and base our knowledge upon that it can be very dangerous. It is just one instance, one expression. By comparing and looking at different instances we can notice generalities but we can also notice lots of difference. Henri Bortoft said that this enables us to see parts of life “being themselves differently”. A plant is an activity that brings forth the ‘same’ but always in different ways. The process of a ‘plant’ is a dynamic that brings forth difference. By seeing 20 leaves that were the ‘same’ but ‘different’, as a group we were able to get a sense of quite how dynamic a ‘leaf’ is.

 

We then explored context. We can take something out of its context to focus on it but we must then do our best to reintegrate it back into context. We can look at which bit of the stem the leaf came from, which part of the plant or tree, and what the conditions of its location are, such as sunny or shady, to see how its unique form might be expressing the environment that it is in. By becoming context sensitive we start to see that life is always connected to the context in which it is unfolding.

 

Focusing our attention to life through exact sense perception and opening to it through our imagination and ‘sauntering’, gives us a closeness that we might not have otherwise had. By engaging in a direct relationship with a part of life we naturally start to welcome and feel grateful for its presence.

 

Through practicing a longer study of a tree or a plant we can get a sense of how it is being in the world, not just what is it. This allows us to have a much deeper and richer experience of the world in a way that requires us to be active not passive.

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During the workshop we used drawing exercises to find different ways of experiencing what is there. This allowed us to use drawing as a tool to focus our attention, not to focus on creating a work of art.

 

Craig teaches this method of studying life as a way to get out into the world and out of our head, without losing our heads. He believes that we can grow through the life that we study, to understand more of life.

 

Taking the time and energy to acknowledge the wonders that plants display, and are, to the world can enable us to find a way of knowing that is more appropriate to the plants themselves, rather than just trying to ‘explain’ them through mechanisms.

 

As a teacher, letting people experience and reflect is a good way to engage students in learning. This approach as an educational method is experiential and allows the world to speak for itself, to the student themselves.

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This is a rough description of the “Living Thinking” Tree study that we carried out:

 

  • First impressions –

 

Walk around the tree of your choice and have a first meeting with it. Write down your first impressions of it.

 

  • Exact sense perception – leaf outline – 1

 

Do a ‘negative space’ drawing of a leaf. Instead of drawing an outline, leave the ‘leaf’ white and shade in the edges to re-create the leaf shape.

 

  • Exact sense perception – leaf outline – 2

 

Now draw the leaf outline paying careful attention to what you are exactly seeing, not just drawing your ‘idea’ of the leaf.

 

  • Imagination –

 

Imagine the leaf coming into and out of being. All forms in life come out of movement and by re-tracing that we can come to kind of inner movement.

 

  • Exact sense perception – branch

 

Take a branch and observe from the bottom upwards. Notice the stem, the leaves, the buds, notice how they are joined and related to one and other and how they are arranged.

 

  • Walk around and find different examples of the same tree, notice how the ‘same’ tree is expressing itself differently.

 

  • Repeat all previous exercises with a different type of tree.

 

  • Use Exact Sensorial imagination to bring your sense perceptions to life in your imagination,  either during the observation or at the end of each session or each day.

 

By moving from one tree to another, through the medium of us, the characteristics of different types of trees can be illuminated. For instance, your experience of ‘Oak’ will inform your experience of ‘Birch’.

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The Democratisation of Knowledge – Part 2: Collectively Enlivening what and how we know

Part 2 – The Democratisation of Knowledge:

Collectively Enlivening what and how we know

Willow tree

“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.

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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!

willow leaves

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.

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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.

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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.

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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! emmakidd81@gmail.com

(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 )

Part 1 – The Democratisation of Knowledge

Part 1 – The Democratisation of Knowledge:

Collectively Enlivening what and how we know

 

I had the pleasure to teach a morning session at The ASHA Centre in Gloucestershire last week, as part of a 5 day residential on “Youth in Action for Sustainable Development”. My brief was to introduce the participants to alternative way of knowing the world through using the example of Goethe’s Scientific inquiries. However, as I am re-discovering again and again in my practice of Phenomenology, if we just look at what Goethe did in his scientific explorations of the natural world, such as studies on colour, light, and plants, we are very much missing the dynamic that sets his work so far apart from mechanistic investigations of the same phenomena. What is truly important in his work is not what he did, but how he did it. His studies are the finished product of a certain way of seeing and being with the world that he managed to cultivate within himself and call forth during his investigation – it was a dynamic way of seeing.

Goethe Colour wheel

 I am aware that speaking of ‘ways of seeing’ can seem rather abstract to the listener, so I combined some perceptual exercises with the ideas from Iain McGilchrist’s work on the bi-modal brain, as a framework for interpretation. Through a drawing exercise and some visual exercises I tried to lead the group into a direct living experience of shifts in their cognition and perception. So, together we were able to experience how we respond differently to things in life that we ‘think’ we know, and those that we are knowing for the first time. We were also able to experience how difficult it can be to move beyond the idea of what we ‘think’ we know, and that this can very much get in the way of us being able to presently engage with what is directly in front of us, in its uniqueness and particularity, without constriction or reduction.

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 We did this by using the Face/Vase drawing exercise that I was introduced to at Art School 14 years ago. The exercise came from the book “Drawing on the Right Hand Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards. I first asked the students to draw a side profile of a face, using a quick, simple line drawing. Whilst drawing this, I asked the participants to carefully pay attention there experience whilst drawing.

face vase first side

Together we experienced how smoothly, and relatively quickly we could manage this. We all ‘knew’ what a face looked like, so it was a quick and easy task. The lines that were used to draw were mostly smooth, bold, solid and certain. Next, we drew two parallel lines at the top and bottom of the ‘face’ profile, and drew a mirror image of the face at the end of the parallel lines.

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Photo credit: www.todayicreated.com

The experience of the second drawing task felt to us all very different in comparison to the first. The quality of the lines used also looked quite different. As an experience, it was a much more tentative, delicate journey, and we really felt the shift in attention and processing that was required to do it. We realised together that you have to be much more present to newness and uniqueness that is immediately before you. You can no longer copy an idea of something that you already ‘know’, you must instead relate to what is directly in front of you. You must also attend to its context, carefully comparing spatial proportions, as well as the particularities of, and relationships between the space and shapes. The overall of the second face felt quite of the opposite of the first – and I feel it is a great way of concretely exploring the experience of how we attend to the world in two very different ways, depending on whether we already think we know it, or not.

The master and his emissary

 In terms of the work of Iain McGilchrist, you could say that this is a demonstration of how we experience the world using the two different brain hemispheres. The sure, certain, quick, smooth experience being the left hemisphere, and the more present, delicate, context focused, tentative approach being the right hemisphere.

To further explore our lived experience of cognition and perception I showed the picture of the Giraffe to the group, which was created by Henri Bortoft’s wife Jackie to illustrate Henri’s concept of the ‘organising idea’.

giraffe henri

I used this picture to illustrate what McGilchrist calls the ‘sticky’ nature of the left-hemisphere, and the difficulties it presents us with moving beyond the organising idea of something, our mind’s re-presentation of it, and further upstream to the presencing of what is directly in front of us, in its uniqueness. Once you have seen the Giraffe it is almost, if not completely, impossible not to see it! We found as a group that ourselves, as the inquirer, had to dramatically alter our perspective when looking at the picture if we were to see it as anything other than the Giraffe; either by turning the picture sideways, or by going much closer up to it. Only then could we focus on the particular details and relationships that made up the whole picture, beyond what our minds kept trying to organise it into.

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 We also looked at some well-known pictures of what are commonly known as ‘optical illusions’ – the Duck/Rabbit, and the Young/Old lady. The term ‘illusion’ is only really relevant, and presents a paradox, to our rational mind however, as to our experience there is no ‘illusion’ as we see both, just not at the same time. Together we experienced just this, it was never possible to see both organising ideas at once. We observed a kind of ‘flicking’ sensation in our experience, as our perception quickly switched from one image/idea to the other. For me, this is a great experience of how stuck we can become in our knowing and perceiving the world, as one way of seeing something can literally block out the potential for it to be appear in any other way.

And so, you, and the students, may have been wondering how this is all related to Goethe’s scientific inquiries? Well, for Goethe to have produced such comprehensive, relational, dynamic accounts of the life, livingness and process of the things he studied, he must have been able to go beyond what he already thought he knew about things, beyond his organising ideas, to see them relationally, delicately, in context – so that he could attend, in the present moment, to what was directly observable in his lived experience. He offered the thing he was studying his ‘cognitive space’ so to speak, becoming a vessel for receiving the exactness of a thing, rather than projecting his own ideas onto it, and then using instruments and apparatus to prove them. He would have had to allow the thing the space to become other, to be in process, dynamic and in flow, to be a be-ing not just a has been. Goethe managed to cultivate a dynamic way of seeing, beyond the limitations of his rational mind. The result was a series of scientific investigations, rigorous studies of natural phenomena, but carried out with the converse yet complementary capacities of a Poet’s artistic mind.

 

Seeing with New Eyes – An Adventure in Perception

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Photo credit: J. van As

“Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better” – Einstein

Seeing with New Eyes – An Adventure in Perception

Between February and April this year, I led a series of workshops at Schumacher College in Devon which I called ‘Seeing with New Eyes – An Adventure in Perception’. The workshops were designed to allow students to experience the practice of a phenomenology of Nature – which can also be called Goethean Science – without an overload of theory, just learning through participation.

These workshops took the form of an experiential nature study and walk – observing yew trees on the Dartington estate – guiding people gently and playfully towards a more sensuous and intuitive way of perceiving and experiencing life. 

I worked with a variety of different groups of people including; a group of MSc Economics in Transition students, MSc Holistic Science students, short-course participants, Transition Town Totnes and the ‘Holistic Science Now’ short course group. The aim for me in these workshops was to facilitate an experience of getting to know the world in terms of itself, without getting caught up in explanations and abstract ‘knowledge’ of Phenomenology, instead just allowing the participants to practice it and to gain an embodied understanding from the outset.

I chose the Yew tree as our phenomenon of study because I knew of three very different size and shape trees within walking distance of the college. A very straightforward aim for the workshop was helping the participants to see how unique and particular each manifestation in Nature is, and using comparison in phenomenology works excellently for that, as they get to see the ‘same’ phenomenon becoming itself in very different ways, in different instances.

The workshop is an adventure and an experiment in perception and also in humanity. The participants are first invited to consider the question ‘how do we meet the world?’ and ‘how do we get to ‘know’ the world?’, while I describe a little of the thoughts and processes that brought these workshops into being.

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Information v.s experience and ‘About’ thinking v.s. ‘withness’ thinking

The nature of our analytical/Intellectual mind (left hemisphere) expresses itself through separating things into parts, fixes into certainties, and reduces to commonalities. It puts separate parts together and tries to make them belong. This can be very useful but the danger is that it can lead to static, ‘dead’ knowledge, mechanism and reductionism. We end up with information and use it to know things about other things.

The nature of our sensuous/intuitive mind (right hemisphere) sees relations, wholeness and relationships. It is present to the natural unity emerging organically and dynamically from multiplicity. It presences the world, before the left hemisphere has had the chance to re-present it, and expresses itself by embracing diversity, dynamic and living knowing. It gets to know the world through direct experience primary to the abstractions of the analytical mind and enables us to think with things, not just to think about them.

Iain Mc Gilchrist, author of “The Master and his Emmisary”, urges us not to slip into cognitive reductionism, as every function is mediated through both ways of seeing (hemispheres),  but there is neverless a strong cognitive distinction that affects how we perceive the world. The left hemisphere re-presents the world, the right presences it.

The approach of this particular workshop is phenomenological and hermeneutic, and so focuses on process and relationship, which in turn allows for intuitive perception through direct sense experience – and apart from a brief introduction to set the scene, it is always centred on practice, not on theory.

In this way of working, as noted by Henri Bortoft in “Taking Appearance Seriously”, by returning to the senses through active seeing and exact sensorial imagination, we bring about a shift from the left-hemisphere dominance of the verbal-intellectual mind, to the right hemisphere experience of the wholeness of what is livingly present, which is characteristic of the sensuous-intuitive mind.  

 “According to Empiricists see-ing the world is purely a sensory experience.” (Henri Bortoft). However, the answer is contrary to that – it is the way of seeing which ‘sees’ a leaf, tree, giraffe. The way of seeing and what is seen cannot be separated.

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There is more to seeing than meets the eye. Cognitive perception gets confused with just being sense perception. “We live in a dimension of mind which is, for the most part, as invisible to us as the air we breath” (Bortoft). Ordinarily our way of seeing is invisible, Husserl called it “everyday naïveté” – but we can make visible the activity of the mind to itself.

 Disenchantment with the world emerges when we miss the active, dynamic, receptive dimension of cognitive perception and ‘see’ ideas onto everything as fixed, static, finished products, rather than letting something be seen in terms of itself. When we engage with the world in a dynamic way of seeing, getting to know the world in terms of itself, be can begin to understand the uniqueness, creativity and dynamism inherent to life. 

An Adventure in Perception = An Adventure in Humanity

Integrating ways of knowing = Becoming fully human

 Getting to know the world in terms of itself, involves engaging in conversation that brings forth our fullest human capacity to be in relationship with another living being, both human and non-human. Engaging from your heart space, not just your head space, and your right hemisphere, not just your left hemisphere.

During the workshop we work to let go of habitual ideas, assumptions and generalizations. Organizing ideas such as ‘tree’, ‘chair’, ‘leaf’, are useful in everyday life, but they can be limiting in a deeper search for living knowledge.

To begin to more fully understand Nature, and life, we  must develop the capacity to encounter what is active and living.

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Photo credit: Tim Strasser

Goethean Science/Phenomenology of Nature

The practice of phenomenology asks us to become increasingly aware of how we meet the world and cultivate our relationships with it; to become more whole, authentic and human in our communication and conversation with the world.

Conversing with the natural world is more challenging as it does not share our language of spoken word, so we need to develop other capacities for knowing/engaging with it in different ways such as intuition, direct sense perception and imagination. Although, these skills and processes are just as useful and valuable when applied in human encounters.

A phenomenological ‘conversation’ is a mutual interaction and participation – a two way process. Through it we discover the ‘limitless’ nature of connections and relationships and also our potential to grow and adapt ourselves to new, alive ways of knowing, more adequate for the study of Life.

During the workshops, and any further practice, you are treading a path of conscious development. 

Entering into a conversation, a riddle. Ponder, observe, ask questions. Being careful that it does not dissolve into chit-chat, nor become too narrow or rigid in focus.

The encounters embody openendedness, openness, and an active receptivity. Expect to discover newness. Listen to what is revealing itself to you, with fresh new ears and eyes. It is a two way conversation, don’t be afraid to respond and interject with new questions. Goethe called this process a ‘Delicate empiricism’.

I took the participants to work with three Yew trees that we observed, described, imagined and intuited. Each was a different size, shape, age and in a different location.

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Even when walking I encourage you to see everything as if it is new to you, even the feeling of walking on the ground.

Maintain the space within you for adventure and experiment. Cultivate a child-like wonder, see everything with fresh new eyes, as if for the first time. Be curious, open and gently expectant.

Be aware and focused on all that you perceive.

Be open – mind and heart. With a deep with of ‘getting to know’, like befriending.

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Photo credit: Tim Strasser

 Getting to know the Yew

With each tree we visited we followed this series of exercises:

Exact sense perception

Observe up close, in detail. Form, touch, qualities, pattern, particularities, colour texture – but no association or judgment.

Describe as a group – qualities, time, process, aliveness/livingness. (How do you know it’s alive?)

 Exact sensorial imagination

Imagine, replay your exact sense perception like playing a video of it in your mind.

 Imagine growth and decay, coming into and going out of being. Backwards and forwards.

Observe from a distance

Look for gestures, intuit patterns. Sketch the gesture as you intuit it.

Repeat atleast three times with different trees, and after the second tree, compare and contrast the different trees.

In summary…. 

This workshop is taste of how we can learn how to encounter what is active and living in the world, rather than just relying on the simplified generalities of our everyday naïveté; or the abstractions of our intellectual mind to show us only separation, and what is ‘finished’.

I graduated with an MSc in Holistic Science from SchumacherCollege in 2009 and have since continued refining my skills and cultivating integrated modes of knowing. I am passionate about sharing my insights into new ways of seeing and relating to the world from an organic, relational and dynamic perspective. I believe that the shift in perception that these workshops aim for fosters a sense of wonder and an inner transformation which supports the transition that our world is desperately in need of.

If you would like more information or to book a session with me, please email me: emmakidd81@gmail.com

 

Taking Appearance Seriously

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I have just finished reading Henri Bortoft’s latest, and unfortunately, last ever book, “Taking Appearance Seriously”, and when I got to the last chapter, I forgot that he had even included part of my work, until I found myself literally on… top of it, in the final paragraph of the final chapter, following a comparison with the work of Wittgenstein! Oh my goodness…I feel blessed, and very, very grateful. There’s a kick up the backside for my confidence, and a right hook for my self doubting mind if ever I needed it! Thank you Henri, so very much….
 

Part Two of a guest article featured Transition Conciousness

Guest Article: Emma Kidd – “A Pathway to Living Knowledge” Course review – Part Two

Part One of this article can be read here. In this second part Emma discusses in detail a phenomenological way of knowing plants. At the end of the article she provides guidance notes on this process.

A Pathway to Living Knowledge 2012 – Course Review – Part Two

The question is not what you look at — but how you look and whether you see. – Thoreau

As I mentioned at the end of Part One, during the week long course we did not study an abstract theory, methodology, nor were we overloaded with information. Instead we were led from day one on our own pathway to living knowledge, by using the practice of phenomenological inquiry from the outset to get to know the world in terms of itself through our direct, lived experience.

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

In the mornings we mostly worked with Craig on phenomenological plants studies, and in the afternoons with Henrike we did various forms of projective geometry, discovering the patterns of lawfulness that emerge from pure mathematics. From the very beginning Craig encouraged us to reverse our habitual approach to studying the world. To do something and then consider it, rather than to consider something in abstraction, and then do it. He described the phenomenological process as a shift of focus, a turning to something in the world where you enter the methodology through directly participating with the phenomenon, and this is what we did.

Over a series of sessions, both indoors and outdoors, we were encouraged to describe, as exactly as possible, the natural phenomena that we were introduced to such as the wildflower Golden Rod, which inhabited the surrounding sunlit meadows. During the process of describing our observations of the plants we were led to, gently but firmly, discern between descriptions that were true to our visual observations and that could be verified through consensus within the group, and to reject those that were projections, judgments or assumptions, and thus not true to phenomenon itself. The latter were held lightly and always put to one side so to be sure as possible that it was the phenomenon speaking to us, not us making things up on it’s behalf. In practicing a phenomenological inquiry the encounter with the phenomenon becomes a riddle, and being able to dwell in a space of ‘not knowing’ becomes vital. When we fix something with the idea that we ‘know’ it, we close a door it – a phenomenological inquiry keeps the door always open. During our observations and descriptions we were asked to consider the concept of what it even means ‘to know’ at all, and to develop the capacity within ourselves to remain open, whilst we allow ourselves to further deepen our relationship with the particular ‘riddle’ that we had chosen to engage with.

After practicing describing different natural phenomena such as the Golden Rod, we were then asked to reflect on our observations. What emerged was that all sense perceptions occur in the present moment, which means there are limits to what is possible when approaching a phenomenon in this way. When you get to the limits of your observations in the present moment, the impulse to experiments arises. To create more sense perceptions you may feel like you want to dissect the phenomenon, to refrain from being stuck in your own story, but then you end up breaking up the phenomenon rather than studying it as a whole. To get around this we used hand-held magnifying glasses to study a closer level of detail in our plants, but this was done with consideration and the knowledge that any apparatus we use is putting up a physical veil between the phenomenon and our direct sense perception. To gain an even broader, living  picture we went to the various different places that the plants grew, such as the meadows, hedgerows and woodlands, and observed the differing  physical contexts and how the plants manifested themselves the same but differently in different places and growing conditions. There was a huge contrast between how the plants manifested. In the sunny paddock, they were bursting full of tiny yellow flowers, just like a firework had been set off and then freeze framed. Where as in shaded woodland, only dappled with light, there was a much great degree of spacing between the flowers, the plants were smaller with fewer branches and the flowers organs even had a slightly different configuration.

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

After our direct sense observations we used a technique that is called, exact sensorial imagination (or inner re-picturing), to re-member in our minds the exact details of the plants that we had previously observed. This is a process of reliving your encounter with the phenomenon, but inside your mind, as concretely and intensely as possible. It is a process that helps your mind to develop a dynamic way of seeing. It helps you to get a sense of the living dynamics of the phenomenon – dynamics that are not available to our present moment sense perception. It is similar to creating the effect that you would get by documenting a plant’s growth with a time lapse camera, but building your own cognitive capacities in the process. It allows us to build up a rich, fluid, internal picture and helps us to notice what we need to pay more attention to when we next return to the phenomenon.

During the week it became obvious that mystery is an important part of this process. There is an interesting tension in relation to the process of getting to know something and it becoming ‘known’. Whilst practicing a phenomenological attitude you interact with, discover the story of, and participate in the phenomenon in a way that keeps the sense of mystery alive. Through engaging in the process of ‘getting to know’ something, we also became more aware of the process of knowing itself. The phenomena that we choose to meet do not reveal themselves in their entirety to us immediately. You must meet them time and time again, and each time let go and allow yourself to respond differently and freshly to what you are seeing, similar to when you are authentically getting to know a new friend. Likewise for meeting anything new, if we just know something according to our primary experience of it restricts how fully we can actually meet it at all. The knowing that really matters for me, is the one that you can stand fully in, in your embodied sense of knowing that has arisen from your own experience of spending time with, and getting to know, the phenomenon directly.

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

Plants are particularly wonderful phenomena to study as they have a special character that creates form that dies and becomes simultaneously. If we follow the form on a plant, we are led into it’s organic movement. The movement that we can observe, such as small new leaves growing on much older parts of the lower part of the stem, allows us to experience not just spatial dynamics but also temporal. We can begin to live into the life and form of the plant coming into and out of being.

The Nature Institute – Mission: Nature around us is whole and interconnected. Though we are part of nature, we do not yet fathom her depths, and our actions do not embody her wisdom. A fundamental shift in our way of viewing the world is necessary if we would contribute to nature’s unity rather than dissolution. At The Nature Institute, we develop new qualitative and holistic approaches to seeing and understanding nature and technology. Through research, publications, and educational programs we work to create a new paradigm that embraces nature’s wisdom in shaping a sustainable and healthy future.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this course, and this style of participatory learning, and very grateful to Craig and Henrike Holdrege for hosting it. Through this course, and my continued interest in, and practice of phenomenological inquiry, I have found a pathway to living knowledge. I have discovered the depth of potential in ‘getting to know’ life in a participatory way. Being able to stand fully in my own knowing, rather than just consuming fixed knowledge, is a much more enriching, satisfying way to learn about the world. It is a method that does not judge difference, but welcomes and appreciates it. For me, when engaging in this process, everything becomes so alive, unique and utterly fascinating. Life, and knowledge, become livelier when my ways of knowing become as dynamic as the part of life itself that I am getting to know.

In terms of creating a pathway of living knowledge on a larger scale, such as within education or organizations, we can ask ourselves how we can help an encounter to arise from within the individual that involves them and the phenomenon in question, rather than just answering questions that the individuals themselves have not asked. In turn this could allow people to become part of a living organization that they co-create through participating in asking these questions together, potentially adding a new wealth of value, an untapped resource of knowledge and experience, that the teachers, Directors and CEO’s, may as of yet, not have imagined possible.

About Emma Kidd

Emma Kidd is a researcher, writer, teacher, designer, facilitator, photographer and philosopher. Her work examines how humans can develop a dynamic way of seeing which is cultivated by participative enquiry and a deepening of our relationship to Nature and her dynamic organic systems. She teaches the practice of Phenomenology and offers a series of practical and interactive workshops designed to cultivate integrated ways of knowing within the individual and the organization. Part of her phenomenological work with plants is referenced in Henri Bortoft’s book “Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought” and she is a co-author of “Stories of the Great Turning” an inspirational collection of stories from a diverse collection of grass-roots sustainability projects. Her chapter is the story of her upcycling project, Emiliana Underwear (www.emilianaunderwear.wordpress.com) and she is the editor ofwww.sensinglife.net.

Ongoing phenomenological process for studying natural phenomena such as plants

Initial impression

  • Allow yourself to be touched by something in the world and want to enter  into a  conversation with it.
  • How and where does it grow?
  • How does it place itself in the environment?
  • Be gentle in the first stages of ‘getting to know’.
  • Pay attention to your first impressions, note them down but don’t get attached to them.
  • Sketch or record in some way to ground your impressions.
  • Keep an open attentiveness in your sensing.
  • Experience the qualities without conceptualization.
  • See things freshly, or ‘new’, even the 1000th time (such as Thoreau).

Inner Picturing (Exact sensorial Imagination) –

  • Re-member your observations in your mind as concretely and intensely as possible.
  • Enter into whatever the encounter meant for you, feeling your way back through it internally.
  • After the encounter, the plant is no longer with us, but some of it remains in our memory, so notice what that is for you.
  • Notice what you can’t remember, and revisit those parts on your next observation.

Go into detail –

  • Let yourself be led by the phenomenon.
  • Use your tools as a sensing human being to open up to what the phenomenon has to offer.
  • Adapt yourself to what the phenomenon requires of you.
  • Note physical form and qualities.
  • Keep holding back from conceptual frameworks, or if you use it, make it conscious.
  • Describe in detail what you see.
  • Acknowledge that there is detail to be taken in, every visit, more than initially meets the eye.
  • Remember that the process is not about what you do, but what is there in front of you.
  • You are not trying to explain anything, just observe and participate.
  • “Let the thing speak” Goethe
  • Your understanding grows in conversation with the phenomenon, so keep at it.

Inner re-picturing (Exact sensorial imagination) –

  • When you just go into detail you enter a realm of form, pattern and relationship but you could forget that this is a dynamic, developing being. So repeating the exact sensorial imagination after every stage builds a living picture of the phenomenon inside you. Already in the plant’s completed form in a sense of time, process and life, so allow this to develop when you re-imagine the plant in your mind.
  • Re-member, re-create and re-form.
  • This is an inner corrective and a way of connecting deeply with the impressions that the world has left within you. In entering into the memory we are participating with the phenomenon with an inward activity, rather that the outward activity of observation. The process allows us to become aware of our own activity.
  • This is an inner corrective and a way of connecting deeply with the impressions that the world has left within you. In entering into the memory we are participating with the phenomenon with an inward activity, rather that the outward activity of observation. The process allows us to become aware of our own activity.

Realising the Pattern –

  • After re-visiting the phenomenon over several occasions, patterns within the phenomenon may begin to become apparent to you.
  • Patterns of form, quality, detail, or some repeated essence that feels essential to the phenomenon.
  • Through entering into form and movement, we participate in the living process and so details reveal themselves that may not be able in the first instance.
  • Through a process of continued conversation, outer observation and inner re-picturing, realizations of patterns, wholeness and connections have the potential to emerge, but this does take time, and commitment to the process of delicate empiricism that is required for phenomenological inquiries.

Comparing and Contrasting –

  • By comparing and contrasting phenomena, they illuminate each other.
  • For instance compare a plant in a sunny paddock with one growing in shaded woodland.
  • Notice the relationships of gesture and form within the particular context of each plant
  • Sometimes you can get stuck in the conversation of the inquiry, so comparison can help you to become unstuck and reveal new aspects to the phenomenon
  • Let one phenomenon illuminate the other, entering into one perspective to understand the other
  • Enter into a way of being that allows for a distinguishing process to arrive, if you compare something fairly close you will have more details to compare. (For example, two of the same plant in different growing conditions, rather than a plant and a cat).
  • If you pay attention there is always something new and fresh that breaks through any preconceptions.

There is no end….

The beauty and mystery of the natural phenomena surrounding us is such that as much as we may try, whether through phenomenology, or mechanistic experimentation, they may never fully become known and there will forever be something more, something deeper, left for us still to get to know.

Guest Article as featured on Transition Consciousness

Guest Article: Emma Kidd – Featured on ‘The Transition of Consciousness’

“A Pathway to Living Knowledge” Course review – Part One

If we talk of deadly, let us note that the difference between life and death, so crystal clear in man, is somewhat veiled in other fields.
A doctor can tell at once between the trace of life and the useless bag of bones that life has left; but we are less practised in observing how an idea, an attitude or a form can pass from the lively to the moribund.
It is difficult to define but a child can smell it out.
Peter Brook, The Empty Space

In the early summer of 2012 I came across a short course that felt like it had been tailor made, just for me! Considering my passion for phenomenology and commitment to researching the act of getting to know the world in terms of itself, it simply could not have been more perfect. So, in September 2012 I attended this week-long course in the US with Craig and Henrike Holdrege, entitled “A Pathway to Living Knowledge”. The course was co-sponsored by Threefold Educational Center and The Nature Institute.

Craig Holdrege

Craig Holdrege

I was taught by Craig Holdrege on the MSc in Holistic Science at Schumacher College in 2008. He attended our week long session with Henri Bortoft, and then carried on the phenomenological work by spending a week with us on practicing and exploring Goethean Science. Craig is the director of the The Nature Institute which he co-founded 1998. “His passion is to develop what Goethe called “delicate empiricism” – an approach that learns from nature how to understand nature and is infused with a cautious and critical awareness of how intentions and habits of mind affect human understanding. His research takes two directions. In the first, he carries out studies of animals and plants that tell the story of these organisms as dynamic and integrated beings within the larger web of life. The comprehensive and holistic understanding of organisms provides the basis for his second area of focus – researching genetics and genetic engineering in relation to the broader context of internal and external ecology of living organisms. Craig has a Ph.D. in sustainability education from Prescott College in Arizona. He completed a Masters-level, non-degree program in phenomenological science at the Science Research Laboratory at the Goetheanum, Switzerland, and has a B.A. in philosophy from Beloit College.”1

Henrike Holdrege

Henrike Holdrege

On this short course in the US, I also had the pleasure of meeting Craig’s wife, who co-taught alongside him. “Henrike Holdrege is a co-founder of The Nature Institute. She is a mathematician and biologist, subjects she taught in public and Waldorf schools. At the Institute Henrike is involved in all aspects of the Institute’s life. She carries out research in projective geometry and into the phenomena of light and color. She helps with program conception and implementation and teaches courses in our education programs. She is the Institute’s finance manager, keeps the place beautiful, and basically steps in wherever help is needed.

Henrike teaches courses in projective geometry at the Institute as well as around the country. She is interested in leading people – especially those who “never liked math” – into unfamiliar thought territory. In projective geometry we have to let go of common thought habits in order to stretch our inner terrain. We discover thereby our ability to conceive of the invisible and enliven our thinking capacities. We build new “thought muscles” and gain insights that we can apply in everyday and professional life. In her work with the phenomenology of the visual world, she wants to help people become more attentive to the actual visual appearances and their relations; this activity opens up a deep appreciation for the qualities of light and color and is also a means of overcoming abstract habits of thought.”2

It was truly a pleasure to work with both Craig and Henrike for a whole week. Craig is as fundamental to the development of my passion and interest in practicing phenomenology as Henri Bortoft is. Together they both contributed to a way of seeing that grew in me that enables me to ‘see’ the dynamics of life, and this profoundly alters my ways of being, seeing and doing in the world, which I am profoundly grateful for. So it was great to be able to re-visit processes, practices and ideas together with Craig and Henrike, within the beautiful setting of early fall in Chestnut Ridge, New York state last fall.

Photo credit: Threefold Educational Center

Photo credit: Threefold Educational Center

The course focused on the nature of phenomenological inquiry, with its roots in Goethe’s approach. In essence, the question was: How can we develop capacities that allow the qualities and relationships inherent in the world to come to ever greater expression? As Steiner wrote, “to live in truth means, in the consideration of any given thing, that we attend to the inner experience that arises as we behold it.” The course was set to question how can we heighten that experience and observe, as Goethe asks, “who speaks here, the object or you?” Another question posed was, can we enhance our capacities and cultivate inner organs of perception? And so we set out to enter a pathway of experience and to practice phenomenological methodology in the exploration of natural phenomena.

Prior to the course I also attended a conference at the same Chestnut Ridge venue on ‘The Art and Science of Wholeness’, for which Craig was the keynote speaker. So my journey back into the dynamics of being started there. During his keynote speech Craig started by noting the importance of looking at the types of questions we use when we are working towards developing a living inquiry, and that we must become aware of the implications and assumptions held within the context and content of a question e.g. “What causes the disease?”. A question is just the tip of an iceberg of a worldview and way of being in the world. The act of questioning is in itself a part of something much larger than itself. Questioning is, in it’s nature, a relational, dynamic act of inquiry. It is an expression of already having met something, of having related with something. The expression of experience in questioning expresses both the knowing and unknowingness of something that has been touched, that we are then moved by. The consciousness of the phenomenon comes to movement through the questioning process. If the questions are open, arising out of having been touched by something in the world, they can form the seeds of a living inquiry.

Photo credit: Threefold Educational Center

Photo credit: Threefold Educational Center

Questions that go where awe and wonder arise, that emerge from an experience meeting the worlds mysterious depths, like a sunset, the night sky or the sea’s waves, create the container for a living inquiry to be born. The fundamental question that Craig put to us was ‘As educators, how can we help an encounter to arise from within the students that involves them and the world, rather than just answering questions that they themselves have not asked?’ This, for me, is the key to developing A Pathway to Living Knowledge, and is at the centre of the experiential workshops that I have since developed.

Craig, reflecting the essence of Goethe’s work with natural phenomena and also the work of Henri Bortoft, stated during the keynote that he feels that a living inquiry is a path of inquiry in which the world is an active participant, where you have respect for the encounter and a gentle, honest intention of getting to know it’s authentic self. We need to allow the world to speak in terms of itself. The living inquiry can also be called an open ended conversation. The open-endedness naturally arises when we sense the depth of the world, and of our inquiry. As we are in the process of getting to know it, in depth and detail, we can also be open to noticing how the quality of the questions change during the process of the questioning. We engage in a conversation with the part of the world that we felt drawn to turn towards, holding questions only as containers for process, bringing the encounter into consciousness without becoming attached to the questions.

An inquiry becomes dynamic and alive when we begin to understand ‘knowing’ as ‘becoming’, an evolutionary process that is as much an intrinsic and dynamic part of the world, as the world itself, rather than a fixed ‘knowledge’ that we statically project onto the world as our ‘ideas’ or ‘theories’. Through cultivating our ‘knowing’ as living process we may find a way into the world so that our thoughts and theories may emerge from the world itself.

Craig stressed that we must become aware of how much ‘thought’ influences life, and how many ‘things’ that we base our ideas, theories and unquestioned assumptions on actually turn out to be just ‘thoughts’. This occurs in life, research and especially in the Sciences. Rather than a research hypothesis – which rather assumes that you know what you want to get out of an inquiry in advance – to engage in a living ‘conversation’ with the world, we must openly be interested in getting to know it in terms of itself, not tell it what we think we already know about it and then set about proving it.

To enliven our inquiry we must use all of our available faculties of ‘knowing’, not just sense perception and intellect, but also imagination, intuition. We can bring form and process to movement within our imagination, and ‘see’ connections in the wider context by bringing observations and accounts of form, behaviour, movement, structure to life within our imagination. Intuitive moments may also spontaneously arise that can help to illuminate the wholeness of what we are encountering. The living inquiry must also take into consideration the inquirer, who must also work diligently to continually open and improve their capacity for critical thinking, so as not to fall back onto projecting static thoughts or generalization onto the subject of the inquiry – tending to your inner horizons, not just focusing blindly onto the outer horizon that you ‘think’ you see outside of you.

Following Goethe, I feel that this involves developing a dynamic, living way of seeing that itself may be fluid enough to follow the movement of the life of the phenomenon that you wish to get to know. This must be created to understand form as echoes of movement, which are often at first silent if they not visible to the sense world. The wholeness of a phenomenon gestures visibly in time and space, however it is no-thing, but also not a ‘thing’. A living inquiry tries to understand wholeness as an expression of the language of life.

During the week with Craig and Henrike, we did not study an abstract theory, nor be ‘filled like empty vessels’ with information. We were led from day one into our own living inquiries with the world around us.

To be continued in Part Two…

References

(1http://www.threefold.org/conferences/pathway_to_living_knowledge.aspx (2) http://www.threefold.org/conferences/pathway_to_living_knowledge.aspx

About Emma Kidd

Emma Kidd is a researcher, writer, teacher, designer, facilitator, photographer and philosopher. Her work examines how humans can develop a dynamic way of seeing which is cultivated by participative enquiry and a deepening of our relationship to Nature and her dynamic organic systems. She teaches the practice of Phenomenology and offers a series of practical and interactive workshops designed to cultivate integrated ways of knowing within the individual and the organization. Part of her phenomenological work with plants is referenced in Henri Bortoft’s book “Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought” and she is a co-author of “Stories of the Great Turning” an inspirational collection of stories from a diverse collection of grass-roots sustainability projects. Her chapter is the story of her upcycling project, Emiliana Underwear (www.emilianaunderwear.wordpress.com) and she is the editor of www.sensinglife.net.