Tag Archives: phenomenology

Becoming an Explorer of the World

CSC_1057

‘The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.’

W.B. Yeats

As Yeats so rightly said, the world is full of magic things, yet we usually pass by these amazing things everyday, without so much as a second thought.

Day in, day out, we see people, places, trees, plants, flowers, discarded objects, new buildings, and experience smells, colours, sounds……Life bombards us from all directions, every waking second of our lives.

But the ways in which our human languages name, label, and categorise the world around us, and the ways that our brains limit that world further still by loading assumptions, pre-conceptions, and judgements on top of the languages that we use to define it, usually stop us from seeing these parts of life as amazing.

And, due to this automatic organising and defining that our language and our mind does on our behalf, we end up taking so much of our day-to-day world for granted.

Not only this, but these processes that allow us to ‘quickly’ make sense of our world, actually prevent us from getting to know life in-depth, even when we do choose to study a part of life, or decide to give something more attention.

However, we can change this by becoming explorers of the world, and consciously choosing to stop being just mere ‘passersby’.

To begin exploring the world, here are a few guidelines that we can follow to get ourselves out of our heads and into-the-world. We can use these guidelines to either briefly alter, and deepen, our perception of something, or we can use them to guide us in a longer study of something that intrigues or interests us.

Preparing yourself to explore:

– Approach the world with a child-like sense of wonder.

– Try to see with ‘fresh new eyes’ as though you are seeing everything for the ‘first’ time – or pretend that you are an alien visiting from another world, and that everything here is new to you.

– Hold a positive and friendly attitude throughout your explorations, as though you are meeting a new friend.

Exploring with your senses:

– Touch, smell, feel, gaze, search, explore. Use your senses to look for the tiniest details that you can find.

– Dwell on those details for a while, and the follow them with your fingers or your eyes to see where else they lead you.

– When exploring with your senses consciously try to forget everything that you think you already know (such as names, categories, facts, theories) and instead direct your attention to exactly what it is that your senses are experiencing in the present moment.

– Use curiosity to sustain your attention and to sustain your explorations. By fueling our observations curiosity can help us to constantly search for details that we haven’t yet noticed.

Reflecting:

– Close your eyes for a minute or two and try to recreate your sensory experiences in your mind as exactly as you can, as though you are playing back a DVD of your experience.

– If you notice that you can’t remember things, then use this as a starting point for your next set of observations.

Contemplating:

– Instead of getting up close and using your senses to observe details, spend some time standing or sitting at a slight distance and behold the subject of your exploration from afar.

– Give it your full attention, but in a gentle, non-specific way. Open yourself to just spending quiet time being in its presence.

The end is only a new beginning…

So, now return to the subject of your exploration and start all over again. Keep exploring and returning to it until you are so intimately acquainted that it begins to feel as though you are meeting an old friend, not just another thing-in-the-world.

For a more detailed account on how to become an explorer of the world, then check out my new book –  First Steps to Seeing: A Path Towards Living Attentively

Guest Blog Post for Schumacher College

Below is a guest post that I wrote for the Schumacher College blog. To view the original click here.

‘First Steps to Seeing’ a new book by Emma Kidd

Submitted by mark.wallace on Tue, 23/06/2015 – 16:18

During the MSc in Holistic Science I was led towards, and able to experience, what was no less than a different way of being human. This way of being involved bringing a new quality of attention to the world, and to everything in it. In the first module of the MSc, we learnt to give life, and the life of our senses, our full attention; and were encouraged to notice the ways in which our minds constantly try to organise and define the world we see. By putting both of these techniques into practise I was able to alter my way of being in such a way that everything I rested my gaze upon suddenly seemed to burst to life. And then, with sustained effort and study, over time I realised that – by using practices taught on the MSc, such as Goethean Science and Phenomenology – I was able to see and to wholly understand the life of the world on its own terms, as though it were speaking directly to me.

Discovering, and experiencing, this new way of being for myself completely turned my world upside down. Up until starting the MSc, nobody had ever told me that there was more to seeing than meets the eye! Nor that, with sustained effort and focus, I could learn directly from the world itself, without turning to text-books or expert opinions; and that in doing so I could experience the world as being far more alive, full of meaning and character than is possible through absorbing abstract information, facts and theories alone.

This new way of being, seeing, and knowing – which the MSc in Holistic Science led me towards – has transformed my life to such an extent that I have dedicated the past two years of my life to writing a book about it. ‘First Steps to Seeing: A Path Towards Living Attentively‘ is down-to-earth and practical by nature, aiming to lead the reader directly into experiencing this way of being from the very start. The introduction opens with an exercise in sensory perception, and an invitation to slow down from the hectic pace of everyday life. On the MSc, Henri Bortoft used to say that perception can only begin when we slow down, and slowness is a theme that is carried throughout the book.

Reflecting the nature of myself, the book is very eclectic, in style and in content – partly academic, part personal development work-book, and partly biographical; and chapters are independently dedicated to setting the content in a personal, an interpersonal and a professional context. Therefore, it makes for a rich and interesting read whether you are looking to develop your own way of seeing; to explore the way you relate to other people; or to examine the way you see at work

 First Steps to Seeing is now available to purchase online as a paperback and an e-book.

Guest Article for Network of Wellbeing

Below is a guest article that I wrote for the wonderful Network of Wellbeing, a not-for-profit organisation based in the UK which works to support the development of wellbeing on a local and global scale, both with individuals and communities. The original article was posted on the 9th July 2015 and can be viewed here.

Living Attentively: The Bread and Butter of Wellbeing

By Florence Guest Posts,  Personal Development ,  0 Comments

In this guest post independent researcher Emma Kidd reflects on the importance of being present and giving attention to our sensory experiences. Emma explains how this practice can offer a foundational step towards a strong sense of personal wellbeing. Emma, a Schumacher College graduate, has recently published a book on this topic entitled, First Steps to Seeing: A Path Towards Living Attentively.

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

Italian Bread

Being attentive

Whilst exploring my own experiences of life, and studying human experience through science and philosophy, I have come to understand that it is not only ‘what’ we do that increases our sense of wellbeing, but also ‘how’ we arebeing when we are doing something. This is equally important whether we are engaged in a simple daily act of, for example, eating an amazing piece of home-baked bread with local butter lavishly spread on top, or whether we are engrossed in more complex tasks, involving thinking, speaking or working.

For instance, to experience a feeling of enjoyment and satisfaction whilst eating – which can contribute to a broader sense of wellbeing – it is not enough to just carry out the act of eating food; we can go a step further and give our attention to our sensory experience whilst we are eating.

We might think that carrying out the act of eating would automatically draw our attention tothe experience of eating. However, unfortunately this is often not the case. One of the reasons for this is that, in everyday life, our attention tends to be automatically drawn away from our sensory experience, and redirected towards a persistent stream of thoughts which pour into our awareness every waking moment of the day.

On an average day, instead of noticing our sensory experience during daily actions, our attention usually gets transferred to whatever our mind believes to be ‘more important’, such as reviewing our agenda for the day ahead, rehearsing difficult conversations, or fretting about the fact that our partner left their wet towel on the bathroom floor yet again.

This preoccupation with our thoughts then often leads us to spend our everyday lives in a kind of comatose state; a way of being which zones out from the world, either obsessing over the past or becoming fixated with the future. This stops us from paying attention to our experience of life in the present moment.

Living in the moment

However, we can change this at any moment by consciously bringing our attention back to our sensory experience. An everyday event such as eating breakfast, which is often ruled by monotony and constrained by our hectic schedules, is a particularly great opportunity to practice stepping out of this ‘automatic’ way of being.

Whilst eating breakfast we will usually only be vaguely aware of what the bread tasted like or the fact that our cornflakes crunched as we chewed them, and we end up left with a hazy blur of experiences that our mind bundles into one event and labels it ‘eating breakfast’. However, as a result of intentionally paying full attention to the flavours, textures and forms with our senses whilst we are eating, we can allow our attention to focus on one experience at a time, and we therefore open ourselves to a much more satisfying encounter.

First Steps Front Cover

A path towards living attentively

Paying full attention to our own, or to other people’s, living experience of the world also allows us to become more fully aware of life, in terms of itself. Though it is not necessarily possible to be fully attentive at all times, consciously bringing yourself back to living attentively on a regular basis can be extremely beneficial.

If we scale up this way of being attentive and apply it to broader aspects of living, such as personal or societal challenges, the deeper form of ‘living knowledge’ which emerges makes it possible for us to approach life with a more detailed, dynamic and authentic understanding of the challenges we are facing – which, in turn, organically informs us how to best proceed.

Today, in the twenty-first century, we are confronted with a rapidly changing world full of social, economic and environmental uncertainties, and each of these does bring a myriad of challenges to our wellbeing. As we are all inherently connected to this changing world, if we wish to create the best possible conditions to thrive, we must develop an inner capacity to respond and adapt to life in new, creative and innovative ways.

In my new book, First Steps to Seeing: A Path Towards Living Attentively, I offer a series of ‘stepping stones’ that help us develop the capacity to live life with full attention – to live attentively – and to thrive. These steps are delivered through a combination of personal stories, professional case-studies and practical exercises that are all related to everyday life. The intention of the book is to enable us to put the process of living attentively into action, straight away – no matter where we are, or what we are doing.

I see paying full attention to life as the ‘bread and butter’ of wellbeing; it is the internal prerequisite to getting the most out of life – both as a cognitive tool which can increase personal satisfaction and wellbeing, and also as the most fundamental skill involved in getting to know the world ‘as it is’, and in context.

By living attentively we can improve the ways in which we engage in our everyday tasks; we can more accurately get to know the subjects of our world, our work or our studies; and learn to be more sensitive and authentic in our interactions with other people, and with the world around us. In this way, living attentively can not only expand our own sense of wellbeing, but can also help us begin to see more possibilities for supporting others in the world to ‘be well’. And we can start putting this attentive way of being into practise with even the smallest of everyday acts, such as eating a piece of bread and butter.

Biography

Emma Kidd is an educator, writer, independent researcher and consultant. Her practice is centred around leading living inquiries into how we can co-create a happy, healthy, and peaceful world. She works with educational charities, third sector organisations and businesses. Emma has a Masters degree from Schumacher College, UK, where she specialised in Phenomenology and the work of Henri Bortoft.

You can visit Emma’s website athttp://www.sensinglife.net

First Book Review for First Steps to Seeing: by Simon Robinson

This is an excerpt from First Steps to Seeing‘s first ever book review! The review is from my wonderful friend, colleague and fellow aficionado in a dynamic way of seeing, Simon Robinson – editor of Transition Conciousness and co-author of the wonderful new book Holonomics.

Simon has been been supporting and encouraging my philosophical work on exploring and understanding a dynamic way of seeing, almost from the very beginning. So it is with great pleasure that I share with you his reflections on First Steps to Seeing – and with much gratitude that he is the first person to review it. To see the original book review on Transition Consciousness click here.

BOOK REVIEW: FIRST STEPS TO SEEING BY EMMA KIDD

July 6, 2015 · by Simon · in Reviews. ·

If I were only to say that I have been looking forward to reading First Steps to Seeing: A Path to Living Attentively you may not quite realise how much. So I thought I would first start this review by mentioning that I first had the pleasure to meet Emma at Schumacher College in 2009, just after I started my masters degree in Holistic Science and just after Emma had graduated, also in Holistic Science, the year before.

henri-bortoft

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

In fact, I think I may have first heard of Emma I believe before meeting her, since Henri Bortoft, who was giving the first week of lectures on wholeness, did in fact quote from Emma’s dissertation in one of our classes. This is the quote:

A phenomenological inquiry, as conducted with Goethean methodology, is a form of dynamic engagement with the world – dynamical doing by dynamical seeing; it allows you to see the whole within the parts and brings the world to expression.”

In bringing a phenomenon to expression, perceived qualities have to be expressed, but also simultaneously expressed to be perceived; as if the phenomenon is an active subject that reaches out to us. This calls for a hermeneutic understanding of expression as a reciprocal dynamic process, with perception and expression being intrinsically related.

To read the rest of the original post click here – Book review

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.

DSCF1226

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.

DSCF1227

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.

DSCF1225

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.

DSCF1224

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’.

Workshop @ Schumacher College – 22nd March: “Learning to Sense Life in our everyday lives”

Sensing Life – Wellbeing Workshops

 “Learning to Sense Life in our everyday lives”

Craft Ed.Building, SchumacherCollege, Dartington

Saturday 22nd March 10am-1.30pm £15 (£10 conc.)

Email to book: emmakidd81@gmail.com SONY DSC

How can our sensory focus and attention improve our wellbeing everyday? In offices? In homes? In classrooms?

Aesthetic (sense) experience is when:

– Our senses are operating at their peak

– We are present in the current moment

– We are resonating with the excitement of the thing we are experiencing

We are fully alive!

Educator, writer and researcher Emma Kidd will explore practical ways in which we can improve our wellbeing by becoming more open and alive to the world around us. This will be the first in a series workshops made up of practical indoor and outdoor exercises from her new book: “First Steps to Sensing Life: Practicing a Dynamic Way of Seeing in Everyday Living”.

http://www.sensinglife.net

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.”