Tag Archives: Living questions

Green Spirit Article – Spring 2014

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Here is the article that I wrote for Greenspirit magazine. It is “The Art of Seeing and the Evolution of Being” and discusses the missed dimension of cognition in perception. Basically, how we think affects how we understand the world around us, but in ways that we are often not aware of in our everyday lives. This ‘missed dimension’ often remains invisible until attention is brought to it, yet it can drastically affect how we understand, relate to and behave in the world around us.

Click here to read the article. GreenSpirit-Kidd[1]

I would like to send many thanks to Tilley and Mirella for being such wonderful, supportive editors.

Small stone no.41: South Dartmoor

“In a large, gently sloping basin the woodland has been cleared away, leaving the closely shaven land with a soft, smooth, supple green face. It has been parceled up into misshapen rectangles of lush grass carpets separated by long, thin stubby hedges. At the lip of the basin lies its woodland beard, bare branches intertwine to form a dens…e protective barrier for the land’s protruding chin. In the distance bonfire smoke work’s its way into the damp, heavy air and the sunlight reveals the beige, barren bareness of the smooth moorland which lines the horizon. Mid-way the rain and the sunlight mix together to form a translucent curtain of fine haze. Giant ash grey clouds float steadily through the sky, outlined by bright wispy illumination, and sheep shelter at the edge of the woodland, huddled together, away from the unforgiving exposure of the open fields. Impossibly narrow lanes dive down steep hills, lined by tall scraggy hedgerows where nobody goes apart from occasional cars and tractors. The distant moors feel wiser than than the soft, supple fields that lie in their shadow. The moors have been weathered and beaten by the elements, shaken to their bare bones. This ferocity is warn by the haggered expressions of the twisted trees and bushes. Allowing my eyes to feel their way across this landscape I have a sense that depth perception is a capacity of the soul rather than of sight. My eyes provide the open doorway but it is my soul that stretches itself outward to meet this world, and revels in the opportunity to join with it in it’s wondrously creative expressions of earthly physical form.”

How can an organisation become more like a Mighty Oak than a machine?

tree and machine

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.

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.

duckrabbitold lady young optical illusion

 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.

 

A Handbook for “How to Be Human”

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I was sitting at breakfast this morning and we were musing about the wonders, trials and tribulations of our fascinatingly bizarre human mind. Some of the students had just been meditating before breakfast and so we were discussing the processes that some of us experience whilst trying to meditate, or to still our minds. One such musing was how funny, or slightly annoying, it is when you think you’ve finally managed to still your mind, and halt the torrential river of thoughts, when all of a sudden a little voice pops up and praises you for doing such a good job! Or once you feel like you are finally ‘in the zone’ your mind starts a lively running commentary noting the fact that you’ve actually managed to start meditating –when in fact, it is the commentary itself which halts that wonderful flow of meditation that was actually happening before it butted in. This left us all feeling rather bemused and that is when the idea arose of a handbook on ‘How to be Human’.

Why is it that, maybe not at birth, but perhaps on our 16th birthday or suchlike, we are not given a handbook on how to be human? A kind of guidebook, like a Lonely Planet guide, that follows the evolving experience of the many billions of humans that have lived before us, on what it means to them to experience being human. How they feel their minds and bodies work – maybe with some hints and tips that they have accumulated over the years?

I don’t mean the type of book that is filled with information that has been abstracted, and separated from life, by experts. Nor do I mean some high-brow, impenetrable, academic philosophy; or for that matter some overly poetic prose from a creative genius. What I think we were heading more towards, as we reflected on our bemusement of ‘being human’ around the breakfast table, was something a lot more grounded, down to earth – like a guide or manual, maybe a map to the territory of our potential to be and to become human.

When we go upstream, and understand all individual humans as an interconnected expression of the possibility ‘to be and to become’ human, as diversity in unity – there must surely be some patterns of experience that emerge between us, that would be quite useful to know about, at whatever age. As I reflect on our group of 20 and 30 something’s sitting around a table pondering the experience of our thought processing minds, and our sometimes uncontrollable bodies who prefer to sleep than to meditate, I wonder how many millions of humans who have come before us have had similar such reflections? Reflections that maybe repeat in a pattern, and come together to form a consensus – such that we could possibly derive a practical wisdom from them.

A practical wisdom of lived experience, such as an understanding that many others have experienced X about Y, and have found that doing Z alters ones experience a little, or that doing A completely alters the playing field. Just like the millions of young people who pick up a Lonely Planet guide before adventuring off around the world, wouldn’t it be nice if we could have evolving editions of a ‘Being Human Guide’ to offer us a little prior experience from those who have already lived their adventures? A map maybe, with a few handy hits, some recommendations, some ‘must see’s’ and ‘must do’s’ for our body, soul, heart and mind. Not a prescription or guilt laden ‘should do’, no remonstrating rules or regulations, no dogma or fundamentalism of a scientific or religious nature – just the patterns, the emerging consensus, manifesting from the thoughts and experiences of everyday human beings, themselves just trying to be and to become human. I would, and I guess the rest of our breakfast table, would most definitely want to buy one!

 

What the Frack?!?

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Photo credit: globaldashboard.org

What the Frack?!? How can we evolve humanity beyond our culture of violence, self-centeredness and domination into one of peace, partnership and creativity?

“The Sky is Pink!” by Josh Fox and the Gasland team

Fracking has been on the periphery of my awareness for a while now, but it wasn’t until I met with friends at the weekend, and had the process, and the dangers explained to me that my outrage began. I have since done some of my own research and came across the video that I have posted above. I found it gave me a more in depth yet concise account of what fracking is, how it is obviously very harmful to people and the environment – including infiltrating our drinking water through the invading the earths’ water tables with potentially carcinogenic chemicals, and not to mention destroying acres of natural habitats and farmland.

The video also reveals that the same PR company who were hired for a dis-information campaign by tobacco companies in the 1950’s to dispel the rumour that smoking causes cancer, and to promote cigarettes as ‘good for you’ , have been hired by the American Natural Gas Association to promote fracking, like smoking tobacco in the 1950’s, as perfectly harmless. Watch the video, do some research and you make up your own mind.

My question is how can any individual in a position of great collective responsibility advocate for a process that is so incredibly destructive, both for human and non-human life? Especially in the face of so much scientific, geological and medical evidence, not to mention pleas from everyday people not to deface their nation’s land, or to compromise their drinking water? What could be the possible dynamics of their being and experience that motivate their actions?

Well, to me the possibility for that kind of denial suggests a closed mind, most certainly a closed heart, a strong self-interest above and beyond everything and everyone else, and probably deep down, fear. Their minds are closed to scientific evidence, their hearts are closed to emotional pleas from citizens, they are interested only in maintaining the source of their personal wealth, and they are probably living in fear of losing their wealth, power and control. In terms of how they are experiencing and reacting to the world, they have closed themselves to life, shutdown, restricting themselves to a mere fraction of their possibility ‘to be’ human.

When I understand that those few, so far removed from my everyday experience of life, who make decisions for the many, that affect my possibilities in everyday life to experience clean drinking water or enjoy my country’s natural habitat, are functioning in this way, as a mere shadow of humanity, I end up feeling rather dis-empowered. So how can I practically effect lasting change within my personal remit, other than spreading information to raise awareness of the issues?

Well, I can challenge myself to change, and to live a life that is a polar opposite to the greed, and narrow minded self-interest of a closed, fearful person. I challenge myself to live life fully awake and alive, to practice being and becoming the fullest, liveliest possibility of what it means to me, to be human. To have courage to come alive and to appear in my fullness, to lead the way, by example, in being human – to be open; receptive; welcoming; participatory; sensitive to the dynamics and context of all facets of life; and mindful that each and every move I make is from love and gratitude, not from fear and control.

I can choose to be aware, moment by moment, of my living context and the context of all my actions and decisions. I can choose not to be deceived by appearances, the ‘thing’ before me, but to go further and to participate in exploring its process, its life. I can begin to understand that there is a ripple of consequences that follow all of my actions.

I can wake up to the fact that I have a cognitive capacity to ‘see’ the world in different ways, re-presenting through my left hemisphere, or presencing through my right hemisphere (see my article ‘The Art of Seeing’ referencing the work of Iain McGilchrist), and that making a conscious choice in how I see the world affects what I see. I must understand, when exploring the dynamics of life, that diversity is an expression of unity, not of separation. It is only the cognitive process of the left hemisphere that separates. I must remind myself that the dynamics ARE the life of a ‘thing’, not the ‘thing’ itself. The product of thought, word, or creation, is just a snapshot of its history of being, just an illusion of solidity fixed in space and time. I need to employ my imagination and intuition to see and to understand the process beyond that ‘snapshot’ which presents itself to our immediate senses.

I need to understand that absolute separation is only an illusion, stemming from our way of attending to the world. I need to understand that the life, the living essence, and intrinsic value of anything will never be fully present before me in a fixed, object form, and that only through understanding its dynamics will the life of that thing be able to appear before me, and to live within me.

I must take care to attend to the world with care and with focus to what is directly available to me in my living experience through engaging and participating in a relationship with it, so that I am not just attending to the thing through my judgements, preconceptions, assumptions, fixed ideas and concepts. I have to learn to let go, to be vulnerable and to accept the unknown, if I am ever to stand a chance of truly and deeply getting to know anything, or to fully and confidently stand in my own knowing, rather than always deferring to the thoughts or words of another.

I have to meet the world in my nakedness, and to see the world with naked eyes, removing the filters and veils that we layer ourselves up with to maintain control and to keep fear at bay. Only then am I in a position to get to know anything in life in terms of itself, and to participate in a healthy, living relationship that in turn may allow life to live and thrive, within and between us.

I cannot personally change the closed minded, closed hearted people in responsibility at the top of our collective systems who are protecting their self-interest, motivated by fear and control, limiting themselves to being only a shadow of a human – but I can open myself and relate to them, if I ever get to meet them, and to those who are around me in an open and receptive way. I can attend to context and process, participating with and accepting all I meet with an unconditional positive regard, or, you could call it, love.

I can use my imagination and intuition to work out how I can affect positive change in the systems and actions of which I am immediately and experientially a part of, such as, where I buy my food from; how I use the energy that the fracking is destined by some to produce; and what and how much I buy from the dazzling, ubiquitous array of energy intensive, mass-produced consumer goods that are on offer to us in the western world.

I can become adept at exploring the living context and dynamic processes of all my actions, seeing how and what they are in relationship with the rest of the world and its systems, and thus act accordingly. I can continue to become more curious, getting to know the world in terms of itself, and acting from a deeper, more awake and aware, receptive space – that is a response to life as it is, rather than reacting to the static abstraction of what I, or others, think or tell me it is.

I can also direct this inquiry inwards, which is of equal importance. I can curiously explore with wonder my own being, and what my personal needs are that need meeting for me to thrive, beyond those that society, the government and international bodies tell me they are, and that usually amount to no more than survival and subsistence. I can learn to explore, to experience and to identify what my physical needs are, such as food, shelter, warmth, and also what my non-physical needs are, such as love, affection, sense of belonging. (See the work of the Chilean economist Max Manfred-Neef for the most comprehensive, contemporary view on this).

Once I have identified my own, authentic needs as I experience them in my everyday life, I can then mindfully work to meet them, with regard to the process and context of how I do so, so that I can thrive and, in combination with all that I have suggested above, be a living example of what is possible in the quest to becoming fully human. I can live by example so that others can witness and experience the benefits that it could bring them, so that they may understand that they can also become more of who they are by becoming something other than they already are.

And so, my hope is that the seeds of life may germinate, one by one, until eventually the ripple of open-minded, receptive, welcoming, unconditional positive regard may eventually reach across the counties and the oceans, to the shores of those pinnacles of self-interest – and that on meeting this way of being human, it may strike a chord somewhere deep within them, or spark a deep recognition of intuitive understanding that I believe they too hold somewhere inside of them, and that one day, that seed may start to germinate and come into being within them also.

This is not a prescription or a doctrine for how to be human. It is just a personal exploration of the capacities that human beings hold, that enable them, that enable me, to be human. So from my own lived experience, and from observing human and non-human life, I do believe that by developing a more dynamic way of seeing, being, and living, personally – and professionally through creating new living systems based on context, process and relationship – we will spread the potential of becoming more fully human through cultural transmission, by seeing and living more dynamically.

Just as the overly analytical, static, closed way of seeing of the Western world, with its over emphasis on quantification, mechanisation, reductionism and control, has been culturally transmitted to nearly the rest of the entire world ; so, in turn, can we spread the love, the dynamics of life, that are openness and receptivity, with an unconditional positive regard for all, an evolution in being, that sees beyond just the ‘things themselves’, to understand their life processes, and the interconnected web of relationships that is their living context – and so spread the potential for each and every human to feel and to be, to become more fully alive by doing so. Evolving humanity beyond our culture of violence, self-centeredness and domination into one of peace, partnership and creativity.

The Art of Seeing – An Evolution of Being

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“And yet, I know artists whose medium is Life itself, and who express the inexpressible without brush, pencil, chisel or guitar. They neither paint nor dance. Their medium is Being. Whatever their hand touches has increased life. They SEE and don’t have to draw. They are the artists of being alive.”The Zen of Seeing, by Frederick Frank

There is more to seeing than meets the eye, and there is more to being than just living. What I have discovered through my journey of practicing phenomenology and a dynamic way of seeing, is that when we explore beyond our habitual ways of seeing and being, and start to re-engage with our direct living experience of the world, we can begin to understand how we and the world are both more alive, more dynamic, and profoundly more meaning-full than we could have ever previously imagined, and thus can begin to participate in the dance of life accordingly. However, as I try to reveal to my students when doing  phenomenological studies of Nature, is that seeing and knowing life in terms of itself, requires a refinement in our capacities to see and to know life, which I believe involves a fundamental evolution in being human. I will endeavor to describe this evolution for you below.

 

Possibly the greatest learning that has been revealed to me over the past 5 years of my young life (I am now 32), is that there is more to seeing than meets the eye, as what lies further upstream from ‘what’ we see in the world, is the cognitive process of ‘how’ we see the world. For me, and I think for humanity in general, this is huge. This means that there is also more to knowing than what we think we know about something, and these both then obviously have an effect on how we are be-ing in the world. This ‘missed dimension of cognition in perception’, or how we see, has been explored extensively in my former teacher’s study of a dynamic way of seeing, Henri Bortoft, in “Taking Appearance Seriously”. As well as in Iain McGilchrist’s masterpiece exploring the left and right hemispheres of the brain, “The Master and his Emissary”. Both of which have been pivotal in my work of practicing a phenomenology of perception, and of getting to know life in terms of itself, and I would like to explore this ‘missed dimension’ with you first.

 

One way of seeing that is available to us, and according to McGilchrist is associated with the left-hemisphere of the brain, re-presents the world for us into organising ideas, concepts, symbols and abstractions, creating universal distinctions and separation between things. This allows us to analyze and create maps of our experience of the world, very useful for our physical and intellectual navigation and communication of it. It focuses quite specifically on content and solid physicality, and occurs in all mammals. Think of a bird surveying a detailed patch of ground for a worm, it does this with it’s right eye, which coordinates to it’s left brain hemisphere. At the same time it needs to survey the territory, the living context, for predators, and it does this with its left eye/right brain. Bortoft describes this content specific, left hemisphere way of seeing as following the logic of solid bodies; it can name, label, analyze, quantify and focus on the separation every thing that is physically ‘there’ before us. It creates a generalized picture of our experience of the thing, which Bortoft calls the organising idea. We can then conveniently use the ‘idea’ of the thing when we need to refer to, or look for something at speed and to communicate to others that we know something about this thing in the world. It can enable us to bridge the chasm between my physical experience of the world and yours, both of which we will never experience directly for ourselves, but with generalized symbols, names and labels, we can communicate in a way that tries to reach a shared understanding, enough at least for us to physically get by together in the world. I call this way of seeing in-organic, as it’s qualities are static, fixed and absolute, it contains no life.

 

However, before the in-organic generalizations that this one way of knowing, the left-hemisphere of the brain, conveniently organizes for us; there is our experience of the dynamic, living world, the territory as it is, appearing in terms of itself – organically, in its living-ness. This is the world that appears to us when we employ our other way of knowing, using the right-hemisphere of the brain, which has the effect of presencing the world we experience, on its own terms. This organic, dynamic way of seeing allows the phenomenon you wish to understand to be a being,  and allows you to engage with it as a becoming; dynamic, alive and continually in process. This type of encounter is participatory rather than controlling; in relation with rather than separate from; enlivening rather than constricting; and allows the implicit essence, or meaning, to emerge rather than being blinded by only what is explicit, its physicality. As this way of seeing occurs prior to the separating, organizing mode of the left-hemisphere, the right-hemisphere is concerned with context and ambiguity. It focuses on the unique and the particular instances of what you are seeing, and the relationships to all that surround them.

 

McGilchrist suggests that we have evolved into a pattern of cognition which allows the left-hemisphere to dominate our everyday experiences of life. And so due to it’s inorganic nature, we are then left with an inability to recognize life in its livingness, and in instead separate it from its living context and reduce it to the physical sum of its parts. This has been very clearly manifested in the human systems that we have created from the scientific revolution onwards; industrialization, capitalism, national centralizations of resources and power. I think that we are all experiencing the limitations that this in-organic way of seeing inherently contains, whether it be through the credit-crisis, being witness to climate chaos, frustration at continued privatization of national services, youth unemployment or the mechanistic nature of a healthcare system focused solely on pharmaceuticals and quick ‘mechanical’ fixes.

 

I do not want to raise one way of seeing above another. Our capacity of re-presenting the world is just as integral to our ability to thrive, as our capacity of presencing the world is, but what we do need to recognize collectively is that an evolutionary over-emphasis on the left-hemisphere has led us into a hall of mirrors that is literally squeezing the life out of us. Next we need to realize that we can escape it, and we can do it without losing all of the wonders that this over-emphasis on the in-organic nature of knowing has allowed to come into being, such as the technology for the internet, and the engineering of mass-transportation; without losing focus on the importance of the individual, or forgetting the living context of the Earth from which all life springs, including the individual. It just means waking up to limitations of our dominant way of seeing, and mode of cognition, and making a practical effort to readdress the balance, such as I try to do in my workshops. The path to evolving our way of seeing and being does not mean that we revert back to a pool of gooey oneness where there is no distinction between the one and the many, but neither is the current way of seeing ourselves and the world numerically as many ‘ones’, all separate from and independent of one another and their surroundings, leading us anywhere apart from a fast-track to mass-extinction.

 

I feel the evolutionary dance move that we now need to aim for is, in the words of my wonderful teacher Brain Goodwin, one of “Maximum freedom to the parts, maximum coherence to the whole.” A way of seeing and of being that gives equal attention to content and context, to the implicit and explicit, to individual expression and collective cohesion. It calls for what Bortoft has described as a ‘dynamic way of seeing’, and I believe that it re-addresses the balance between our use of the left and the right hemisphere. Rather than L, L, L,….ad infinitum which, generally speaking, is where we are collectively right now. Without a doubt it is certainly where we are in mainstream education and in politics. McGilchrist suggests that we need a movement towards a cognitive pattern of R,L,R. Context, content, context. This way of seeing meets the world in terms of itself, allows the appearance of generalized pattern to occur, but then has the ability to let them go, and return to a stance of open receptivity, to meet the thing we think we know again and again with fresh new eyes. Or as in the words of the 20th century phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, when we learn to let go and meet the world in its living context we return, “To stand in wonder before it.”. In this way we allow life not only to be, but to become, and in this process we are ourselves are becomed by life, we allow life to live within and without us. The gesture of this way of seeing, and way of being, is actively welcoming and receptive, and its essential nature is openness. We refine and expand our capacity to become more fully human by becoming receptive and welcoming – and it is an actively receptive stance that is a step beyond imposed activity or mere passivity. The nature of this way of seeing is openness; it is welcoming and allows things to be exactly as they are, with no need to fix or to change them. To me, this actively receptive openness feels like it stems just as much from my heart as it does from my mind. It require us to see with fresh new eyes and to proceed with child-like wonder, as if meeting something for the first time, every time we meet it. In this way we are open to perpetually allow the phenomenon we perceive to become more than just the sum of our past experience of it, and more than just the inorganic abstractions of the left-hemisphere will allow us. And as a nod to the financial systems currently in crisis, this way of seeing and being focuses and invests not in accumulated credit based on an inorganic abstraction, but in life, the dynamics of an organic being and its living potential to become.

 Emma Kidd , MSc SchumacherCollege – Practitioner and practical researcher of Phenomenology, editor of http://www.sensinglife.net and co-founder of the independent think-tank http://www.hologramcollective.com

 

 

 

Spring leaves and notes from ‘An Ecology of Mind’

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Photo credit: Emma Kidd

As I walked outside today I was admiring the vibrancy of the yellowy-green-ness that is displayed on the trees here at the moment. In a sunshine fueled surge of Spring-ing into action, they are dynamically releasing all of their new leaves into the open air. I noticed that the leaves had a very tender quality of expression to them in the way that they were hanging from the branches. They were sitting there tentatively, as if still not fully awake yet. Still forming themselves, not yet bold enough to assert their fullest presence. I was drawn to touch one of the leaves, and an utterance of surprise and of joy leapt out of my mouth as I did so, as the delicate infancy perceived through sight was reconfirmed in touch. The leaf was so thin, fine and felt like flimsy yet rubbery plastic tissue paper. It felt astonishin. I guess my fingers are used to the feel of older, firmer leaves, and even though could sense that their was a difference through sight, it was a new and surprising experience for my sense of touch.

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Photo credit: Emma Kidd

Today, as well as admiring the new tree leaves, I was also revisiting some notes that I had taken whilst watching a screening of “The Ecology of Mind” by Nora Bateson at Schumacher College this Spring. The film is a documentary about her father Gregory Bateson. To illustrate the essence of the wisdom that I took away with me, here are some quotes I noted from Gregory speaking in a variety of clips during the film:

The thing is not a thing.

Stand back and perceive in a different way.

The major problems of the world are in the differences between how nature works and the way people think.

Without context, words and actions have no meaning at all.

We live in a world that is only made up of relationships.

Pathology is in the pattern of relationships between, not in the individual.

The division of things into parts tends to be a convenience.

The ‘difference that makes a difference’, is a way of describing contrast AND a process of understanding relationships.

What is the pattern that connects?

Floating in a world that is nothing but change, only in the creation of change can we perceive something.

Any attempt to lock down process becomes an abstraction.

With a correction to our epistemology, you may find that the world becomes more beautiful.

The perception of separation is an illusion.

You are set free from material and logic terms when you are trying to think about living things.

Commerce and politics are defaults of the mistakes in our thinking.

Quoting Heraclitus – “No man can step in the same river twice.”….Just like no one can kiss the same person twice, pick up the same baby twice, or touch the same leaf twice – everything is in process.

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 Photo credit: Emma Kidd

New Workshop Available: “Re-cognition”

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Following on from the series of workshops that I have been running called “Adventures in Perception”, I am now offering another workshop called “Re-cognition” which will go more deeply into the theory and philosophy of how we develop a ‘whole’, integrated way of knowing and relating to Nature. This would be great for anyone interested in Holistic Education, phenomenology, sustainability education or personal development, both cognitive and whole person.  

The outline of the workshop features below and is also on the ‘Workshops‘ page of this blog.

Re-cognition – Workshop Outline – Emma Kidd

 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Curiosity has its own reason for existing.

One cannot help but be in awe

when one contemplates the mysteries of eternity,

of life, of the marvelous structure of reality.

… It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend

a little of this mystery every day

Never lose a holy curiosity.”

~ Albert Einstein

Re-cognition is a practical set of skills that can contribute towards developing a relational whole person cognition or perception; a way of seeing that suspends what is ‘known’, and embraces the unknown by developing a pathway to a living knowledge that lets nature; life; a person; or a situation be known in terms of itself.

To develop Re-cognition means employing all of our faculties as human beings, including our intuitive, imaginative, and emotional ways of ‘knowing/understanding’, as well as (not instead of) our intellectual, analytical capabilities. Most contemporary education is specifically directed towards maximizing our intelligence quotient, but to facilitate an ‘understanding’ of the world around us in terms of itself, rather than just projecting ‘knowledge’ onto it, new methodologies need to be employed. Rather than just an ‘educational’ approach, we need practical, creative and intuitive methodologies focused on self-learning and discovery rather than just taught ‘knowledge’.

Through the holistic way of seeing that develops a new pathway is created which is crucial for any attempt at ‘Sustainability’. Re-cognition concentrates on evolving current ways of seeing and by this, creating the pathways for imaginative and innovative solutions to our current environmental, economic and social crises to emerge.

There will be a combination of indoor and outdoor sessions formed of practice, discussion and reflection. Re-cognition draws on influences from Holistic Science; Phenomenology; Goethean Science and Indigenous wisdom.

This course is suitable for anyone interested in expanding their existing capacities of ‘knowing’ and developing new organs of perception. In a professional context it would be especially relevant to educators, coaches, and senior managers. However all participants can benefit from the tools and exercises that they can take home and integrate into their professional work and/or personal practice.  

Be prepared to leave all that you ‘know’ at the door, and get ready to be warmly welcomed into a safe but mind expanding space of getting to know all things in terms of themselves.

Email Emma for more details: emmakidd81@gmail.com

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