Tag Archives: The Nature Institute

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

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“What is Education for?”

SONY DSC

This is a selection of notes that I took at a talk by Craig Holdrege at the South Devon Steiner School last Wednesday. Craig is a biologist, co-founder of the incredible research centre The Nature Institute in New York State, and worked as a Steiner Teacher for over 20years, as well as a Teacher trainer and mentor for Steiner education for many years. His phenomenological approach to researching plants and animals is pioneering a complimentary approach to mainstream science that looks at the whole organism in context. Listening to him speak on the topic of “What is Education for?” illuminated for me a way of teaching that has concern for the whole individual in context.

 

These notes are more of a dictation than a summary and cover most of his talk, so it is quite a long piece of text, but very worth reading if you are interested in education. I will write a follow up blog post to summarise and convey my thoughts.

 

Notes from Craig Holdrege’s talk at the South Devon Steiner School:

“What is Education for?”

17th September 2014

 

Why do we need education?

 

As humans we go through an ongoing process of development that doesn’t just happen biologically. A nurturing environment is required to allow the full development of a human being to take place, for example, if a baby was left all alone at birth it would not survive. We are not born ‘finished’, or fully formed, in the sense that we are not able to look after ourselves from birth. We rely on our living context, our families and our communities to assist our development through childhood and adolescence, until we have physically and socially developed enough to look after ourselves and to independently engage in the world.

 

Education begins from birth. As humans, we are living beings that form in response to our immediate environment, and so all forms of interactions in the world are educative. They in-form, shape and guide our development as an individual, in positive and negative ways. Today we have ‘schooled’ education, taken an idea of education and ‘put’ it in the format of a ‘school’. However, anyone who interacts or works with other people is an educator – and gaining an appropriate education for life does not necessarily involve going to school.

 

To illustrate this Craig used the example of his grandfather. This was a man who he very much respected and always thought of as well educated. After recently reading his grandfather’s memoirs he realised that he had only attended around 2 years of formal schooling. His Grandfather’s life was his education, being part of a family, a community, being immersed in nature, chopping wood, riding horses.

 

What is education for?

 

Mainstream education has become synonymous with preparing children for the ‘workplace’. It has become business driven, preparing for competition, to create individuals that will work to eventually ‘out-compete’ each other. It is mostly centered around short-term, business focused goals such as preparations for University or job training, to compete in the world of work, and societal ‘business’ goals such as how to be a good citizen, in society which itself revolves around business and competition.

 

The three ‘R’s’, reading, writing and arithmetic have always been the basic foundations of education, they create cultural capacities that enable us to be a part of society, but in education today the drive to prepare children for ‘something’ overshadows the possibility of them learning even these most basic capacities. Most mainstream schooling systems are based on testing a wide range of subjects, not just assessing these basic skills. Educators often get frustrated with this model as they experience how this perpetual preparation for assessment gets in the way of real learning.

 

In attracting new students to a school, even in more ‘alternative’ forms of education, rather than proudly promoting the quality of their education, nowadays schools sell their education on proving how successful they are at ‘preparing’ children, often by listing which Universities their students get into.

 

In the process of testing, children are constantly being prepared for something that they are then told they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at. It is a game and it distances the child from the learning process, they are not engaged in anything for its own sake. The children, and young adults at University, are often aware that this style of learning is a game and focus on how to learn and win the game, rather than learning how to learn.

 

John Dewey, the father of experiential education, was a philosopher who also put his ideas on education into practice. He wrote, “When preparation is made the controlling end then the potentialities of the present are sacrificed to a suppositious future”. When our educational aim is to prepare children for what is ‘supposed to come’ next in their future, we prevent them from engaging in a learning experience that allows them to live and thrive in the moment. If there is preparation to be done for a test, as educators we should ask, is it a learning experience? If it is not then it should not be done.

 

One of the biggest hurdles in education is to get away from the focus on preparation. In our Universities we overload students with ‘information’, getting them to memorise an endless stream of facts and bombard them with power point slides at the rate of 100 slides per 100 minutes. It is remarkable how rigid and resistant to change our educational institutions are.

 

The short term goals we prepare children for are actually very little related to life, they prepare for a ‘pseudo future’. If the future is exactly what we prepared for then the ‘future’ is actually just an extension of our past. Engaging with the future involves being present to life as it is occurring right here, right now. As humans we always live in the present moment, and we can never fully predict what that moment will bring. Engaging in the ‘now’, involves learning how to respond to the present moment. This can only be learnt by having engaged in many ‘now’ moments in the past.

 

A fundamental insight of Dewey regarding the process of education is that it should involve engaging meaningfully in the world, engaging in the now, interacting, responding with what we are doing and experiencing in the present moment.

 

How do we allow the ‘real’ future to emerge in the present?

 

We can look at significant events in our own life. How much did we prepare for them? Like key events in history such as the Berlin wall coming down in 1989, often we are not aware of their possibility much before they actually happen. Nobody really understands the dynamics of historical processes, such as quite how the first World War started. Are we prepared for the moment when we meet the person who becomes our life partner? Or the moment we hold our first born child in our arms? We are often not prepared for such dramatic life events but the present moment calls forth something in us that allows us to work with them. Challenging experiences are educative.

 

To enable individuals to become flexible and responsive to life as it unfolds, we need an education that can ‘live’ out of people, rather than allowing people to become a ‘result’ of their education.

 

A question for teachers to students can be; “Who are you? What do you need?”. They are open ended questions that can guide us towards how we serve the individual. These questions do not need to be asked directly and explicitly, but can be held internally as a guide for how we interact with them. The simple intentionality of such an inquiry is very profound.

 

We can ask, why do we feel the students need to learn that? How is it an educative experience? Beyond just abstract information to learn about, how is it a process that engages the whole person? Find at least three reasons, minimum, why it is important for them to be learning that. Teaching something just because it is on the curriculum is not enough.

 

A learning experience is rich and multi-faceted, engaging the student in different ways of experiencing something. We can lead students into a living style of thinking by including history, context, cause, and effect. This encourages a thinking experience, rather than telling them what to think. By focusing on engaging them in a thinking experience the students come out knowing things. The learning has gone through them, not just into them. A person exercises themselves through the challenges we bring. By considering ‘who are you? What do you need?’ we can engage individuals in a process of being who they are and getting to know who they are.

 

When educating for the ‘unknown future’, the real future, it is important that as educators we realise that we are moving and changing too, and push forward to create our own new questions, not just rely on old answers.

 

If we go deeper we realise that there is more to life than meets the eye, we can explore where we don’t know and allow the students to explore where they don’t know. We can find open ended ways for the students to explore, experiment and go places that we have not gone before. We can deal with something like it is a riddle and allow the students to find answers that bring out new questions, quests, that lead us forward into the unknown.

 

The real value of education is allowing students to do what we did not expect or plan for. There is a fearfulness growing around what we let children do and a growing pressure to organise every minute of a child’s time, which can be hard to combat on our own.

 

Technology

 

Today technology places our lives in a set of special conditions – ones which disconnect us from our living context and the processes that are involved in producing the world that we experience. For instance, the experience of warmth from having done work, such as chopping and stacking wood for the fire, is very different to experiencing warmth from having turned on the button to our central heating system.

 

Albert Borgmann is a philosopher of technology who wrote about ‘device culture’, “Devices dissolve the coherent character of the pre-technological world of things.” Technological devices stop our encumbrance and engagement with context, they make life ‘easy’ and ever more ‘skill repellent’. Constraints of time and space become dissolved and encourage a disembodied connectedness with the world. A lot of technological devices are sold as being ‘cool’, this is a bad educative principle that is usually based on money – and is the reality of the world that children are currently engaging in.

 

The disembodied, disconnected dissolution of time and space that technology and devices bring calls for a more concrete engagement in space and time to counter balance the effect, such as creating, making things and directly experiencing nature.

 

Borgmann wrote that we need “commanding presences” in our lives, “focal experiences” from which to learn. A commanding presence involves a seriousness, and a genuineness, an embodiment and disclosure of something in the world that has a rich, deep past, such as an oak tree, the ocean, or a grandfather. Stories are one example of a ‘commanding presence’, we can immerse ourselves in the dynamics of being that live through them.

 

Children need to become rooted in the world and technology does not allow that. We can recognise the usefulness of technology but also lead them to the embodied will that comes from engaging in experience. An activity such as boat building would be an educative experience based around ‘commanding presence’ – the wood, the tools and the action of boat building, working out how to put yourself in relation to the wood and the tool, allows us to be presently engaged in concrete experiences of life that is rich and deep.

 

As educators we can ask ourselves, “How is what I am doing a ‘commanding presence’ for the students?”, This can help us create an educative experience that has multi-faceted, deep meaning.

 

 

Part Two of a guest article featured Transition Conciousness

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

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

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

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

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

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

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

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

Photo credit: Emma Kidd

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

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

 

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

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

About Emma Kidd

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

Ongoing phenomenological process for studying natural phenomena such as plants

Initial impression

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

Inner Picturing (Exact sensorial Imagination) –

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

Go into detail –

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

Inner re-picturing (Exact sensorial imagination) –

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

Realising the Pattern –

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

Comparing and Contrasting –

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

There is no end….

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

Guest Article as featured on Transition Consciousness

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

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

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

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

Craig Holdrege

Craig Holdrege

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

Henrike Holdrege

Henrike Holdrege

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

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

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

Photo credit: Threefold Educational Center

Photo credit: Threefold Educational Center

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

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

Photo credit: Threefold Educational Center

Photo credit: Threefold Educational Center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued in Part Two…

References

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

About Emma Kidd

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

Living Questions

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Aside from the type of logic we use, as I mentioned in my last post, the dynamics of knowing also depend on the types of questions we ask, and of becoming aware of the implications and assumptions held within the context and content of a question e.g. “What causes the disease?”.

A question is actually just the tip of an iceberg, encompassing a much deeper worldview and way of being in the world, and is a part of something much larger than itself.  According to the scientist and researcher Craig Holdrege, who studies biological life in context at the Nature Institute in New YorkState, questioning is in it’s nature a relational, dynamic act of inquiry. It is an expression of already having met something, of having related with something, as the expression of experience in questioning demonstrates both the knowing and unknowingness of something that has been touched, that we are then moved by enough to question. When I observe my own thinking process in this way, I can gain an insight into the dynamics of my knowing through the questions that I ask. If I choose for the questions to be open, and arising out of having been directly inspired by something in the world, they can form the seeds of a living inquiry.

 A living inquiry of knowing the world is a path of inquiry in which the phenomenon I want to get to know becomes an active participant. I have respect for the dynamism of the encounter and hold an open, honest intention of getting to know it in terms of itself – not out of what I think that I already know. Judgment, solidity and certainty are released to allow the world to speak through it’s own language of being. A living inquiry can also be considered as an open ended conversation, this type of open dialogue naturally arises when we sense the depth of the world, and of our inquiry simultaneously. To do this I engage, as if in a conversation, with the part of the world that I feel drawn to turn towards, observing it’s parts, qualities and particularities. By engaging in multiple occasions of directly participating with, and experiencing the phenomenon; and through exploring it’s living context and comparing the parts to the whole, I can bring the encounter into being without becoming attached to the questions themselves. In his most recent work “Taking Appearance Seriously”, the sadly late, and very wonderful, philosopher of science and phenomenological scholar Henri Bortoft aims to show how an inquiry becomes dynamic and alive when we begin to understand ‘knowing’ as ‘becoming’. He sees it as an evolutionary process that is as much an intrinsic and dynamic part of the world, as the world itself; rather than a fixed ‘knowledge’ that we statically project onto the world through our organising ‘ideas’ and ‘theories’.