Tag Archives: sustainability

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.

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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

Seeing Our Work As A Gift

Toucan

Photo credit: E. Kidd

Sitting at my tiny desk, looking out of the window at my small backyard, I have a rather large question looming before me; now that I have finished taking time out to write my first book, First Steps to Seeing, what should I do with my life? I learnt years ago that working just to earn money is not enough for me. I don’t want a job, I want a life, and a livelihood, that I love. And to complicate matters even further, not only do I want to do what I love, I want my work to contribute towards making a positive difference in the world.

For various reasons, both personal and ethical, I have forgone most of the accoutrements of a modern, western lifestyle, such as owning a car, a house, buying new clothes or gadgets, and going on regular holidays. Instead, I either walk or use public transport, I live with my family, mostly buy second-hand clothes and spend my vacations staying in the homes of my friends.

This change in lifestyle has decoupled me from the common, pressing need to be tied to a ‘9 ‘til 5’ job, or a guaranteed monthly salary, and means that I currently find myself profiting from a resource which is far more valuable, fleeting and finite than money; this resource is time. With my current schedule almost completely clear, I have time in abundance. This time is giving me the space and the opportunity to press the reset button on my life, and in so doing, I am finding that my attention is drawn to the unknown path ahead of me as if it were a fresh, new canvass – completely empty yet bulging with unseen possibilities, daring me to bring forth creations and ways of working that are not only new, but also different.

As I feel my way into the depths of this creative potential I am finding myself confronted with the tension between doing what I love, and doing what I feel would be of most help to the world. These two options, at least initially, seem fundamentally incompatible when held together, yet lacking when considered alone. On the one hand, I am naturally drawn towards ‘helping’ people, but I am also aware of how complex the world is, and the way in which reactive ‘help’ can often be misguided. On the other hand, I am intuitively led towards creative pursuits, such as writing and photography, which allow me to bring beauty into the world and, in return, nourish me during the process.

When I lean back from my immediate environment to contemplate the social, cultural and environmental destruction that is currently occurring throughout the world, the thought that I should be devoting myself to what I love – regardless of what is occurring around me – seems utterly absurd. Even as I write, as we continue push the ecological and ideological boundaries of what is humanly possible, war torn countries, communities and families are being ripped apart and the planet is unmistakably being destroyed.

In the face of this destruction, selflessly abandoning all interest in what brings me to life and devoting myself to a worthy social or environmental cause appears to be ‘the’ answer (and I do have great admiration for those who do so). However, I am very aware  of the way in which this approach can create an inequality between the individual and the world, one which elevates life-above-oneself. I have tried this approach of abandoning the self in favour of the world, and maybe I just wasn’t very good at it, but experience has taught me that I can not fully give myself to the world when I neglect my own needs, whether physical, emotional or mental, no matter how much I believe in the worthiness of the cause.

On the other hand, doing work that I love for no other end than to satisfy and enliven myself just seems to follow our current damaging consumer culture, which elevates the importance of the individual and creates a hierarchy of self-above-all-others. However, I believe a third possibility – or a middle path –  does exist, one which neither excludes nor elevates the importance of self or the world; this third possibility is the approach of seeing our work as a gift.

Successful gift giving is an art form, one which considers the giver and receiver to be on equal terms. The art of giving a gift requires us to notice, to pay attention and to be responsive to the needs and wishes of the receiver. However, it is also a very personal gesture, one which respects our individuality, our wishes and inevitably takes our own needs and capabilities into account. And the actual gift that we give is only part of the process; we also give the receiver the thought, time, love and attention that is necessarily involved in the contemplation, and the giving, of the gift.

In terms of satisfaction, gift giving is a circular (or hermeneutic) process – when we give a gift we offer the receiver something that we hope will be of value and meaning to them, and in the process we derive meaning from giving that which we wish to give.

To approach, to see and to create our work as a gift we must first take time to notice the world around us, to really see life as it is. We must then give the same level of attention to ourselves, to see ourselves as we are, noticing what inner resources we have to give and what kind of engagement we most derive meaning from or feel enlivened by. This information, or these ingredients, can then be mixed together to create our work, our gift. Similarly to a baking a cake or a loaf of bread, when combined these ingredients, which are derived from noticing and being attentive to both ourselves and the world, can come together to create an idea, a project or an organisation that is far more than just the sum of its parts.

Seeing our work as a gift values the self and the world, on equal terms, and aims to meaningfully satisfy both. In taking the time to notice not only what we think the world needs or wants, but also to notice what we would most like to give, or feel most able to give, we are respecting and honoring ourselves and the world.

Therefore, in response to my own question of what to do with my ‘post-book’ life, I will begin from the position of seeing my work as a gift. As the case studies in Chapter 8 of First Steps to Seeing demonstrate – such as The Nature Institute, Hiut Denim Co., the ‘Learning in Depth’ educational initiative, and the economic development work of Manfred Max-Neef – by seeing our work as a gift, and dwelling in the space between the self and the other, we are best placed to work and to act upon our hearts’ desires, with love and integrity, whilst simultaneously answering the call from a world which is unarguably in need of our help.

First Steps to Seeing: A Path Towards Living Attentively will be released on the 18th June and is now available to pre-order as an e-book  or in paperback

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.

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.

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

 

Getting to know Life in terms of Itself

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And so it begins….

Approaching life, people, plants, situations – any phenomenon – as if engaging in conversation with a new friend. I have an open mind and an open heart. I hold an air of wonder, I carry a positive expectancy of as-of-yet undiscovered uniqueness, confident that I am getting to know something new but aware of the mystery of the unknown and the potential for wonder and discovery that this process of ‘getting to know’ may bring. We meet each other on equal terms, I am aware that neither party is more or less worthy of the right to exist than the other – and that both of us may stand to learn from each other. The exchange is light at first, but not superficial – and I don’t expect to get to know them suddenly all at once, or to have their entire being laid bare in the first instance. I appreciate the nature of the process, that little by little, bit by bit, they will reveal themselves to me, on their own terms and in their own time – and that it is a two way process. For they may only fully come into being to me, within me. I have to participate in the process, to live into their livingness, to enliven their stories, to be actively receptive to what they are gracious enough to share with me. The open heart and open mind work together in allowing the ‘something’ or ‘someone’ to fully come into being.

This is complimented by a degree of critical thinking – for allowing the ‘something’ to come fully into being, I need to tend to my own inner being also. I need to continually sort the wheat from the chaff, what is mine and what is there’s? Are they living into me, or I am living onto them. Is it their own? Or my projection of my own? If I were completely open, this ‘something’ would flow directly through me. If I am not open enough I deny them their livingness  – for all I have to offer them are the dead, static frames into which I squeeze the life out of their livingness to make them fit. I bring a focus, which is my intention of ‘getting to know’. It is the openness that allows for discoveries to emerge, however it is a focused openness, as within the ‘conversation’ the intent is set for ‘getting to know’. I am not just tending to appearances, or repeating what I think or feel that I already know, but I am engaged in the dynamic act of know-ing.

There is no guarantee that the doing of this process will lead us where we want to be, we can only immerse ourselves in the process and see where we end up along the way. If the heart is open, but not focused on ‘getting to know’ we may attend to the ‘something’ and experience only what is immediate to our experience within the confines of past understanding. If the mind is open but not focused on ‘getting to know’ it know no more than that which is quite immediately apparent in how we react to it. So the ‘something’ may appear interesting, shocking, dull or uncomfortable, short or tall, but we skim over the details, we do not notice the uniqueness or particularities, nor the complexity and dynamism of what is being presented to us. It is in the details, in the parts, and in the rich context of which every element is a part – which is where the ‘something’ comes into being. That is where the ‘true’, authentic know-ing may arise – and so, these details, parts and context need consciously attending to if we want to truly get to know something, beyond just first impressions and appearances. To ensure that we are honestly getting to know someone we must take care not to project our ideas, theories and judgments onto them. Otherwise we are not open to letting them reveal themselves – instead we will get an inauthentic picture of ‘knowing’ based only on what we think that we already know.

Every ‘something’ or ‘someone’ is completely unique and dynamic, even if it’s dynamism and uniqueness are not immediately apparent to our thoughts or our senses. All ‘something’s’ are highly contextual, being and having been involved in many complex relationships – even if they are not immediately apparent. Only a deeper inquiry, such as the open and engaged intent of wholly ‘getting to know’ will, with time and continued participation, reveal the complexity and richness of it’s context and it’s relationships with the world. When I gain a richer picture of who ‘someone’ is, feel like I am know-ing them, but then ‘boom’ something completely out of the ordinary occurs, or a paradox arises, that this is when I truly feel like I am getting to know them. This opens my heart and my mind further, and stimulates my curiosity to continue getting to know them, further and deeper.

Everything surrounding us is imbued with the mystery of the unknown, if you can choose to let go for moment of everything you think that you already ‘know’. The curiosity from seeing with ‘fresh new eyes’ emerges when you open to the depth and mystery of the unknown, and from being content with dwelling in a process of know-ing, not known-ing – observing, not projecting. This can be cultivated in any situation and within every experience of ‘getting to know’. Expect their to be mystery, expect the unexpected to emerge, and expect there to be something new to be experienced or ‘known’.

Approach every encounter of ‘getting to know’ with a warm, open-minded, open-hearted greeting. Hello! Greet the ‘something’ as if it is ‘someone’ that you are pleased to meet, with a sense of anticipation of what is yet to come. “Ciao!” “Good morning!”. The tone of your welcome can set the tone for the rest of your encounter, and the conversation which then emerges. When you come face to face with ‘something’, you can often sense whether you are carrying a pre-occupation or judgment that is carried in your tone of ‘voice’, and non-verbally in the tone of your intention. Feel the difference between a closed, judgmental frame of mind – and an open, welcoming, willing gesture of ‘getting to know’. We need to let go of the closed, judgmental frame of mind and to cultivate a curious, welcoming openness – the inner ‘Hello!’. Once we are living this warm, open gesture of intent, we can more directly begin the receptive process of ‘getting to know’.

“Openness is required before truth unfolds and at the same time, as truth unfolds, it produces openness. Here we have what is known as ‘hermeneutical circularity’.” http://beliefinstitute.com/article/importance-hermeneutics