Tag Archives: Phenomenology of Nature

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’.

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!

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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 )

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

 

 

 

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

 

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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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.