There is a small gallery in North Cherry Creek where I have found a number of interesting images. I liked the way the picture of a solitary figure wandering along a remote road contrasted with the busy urban street scene in the reflection.
In an attempt to restart a blogging habit I am taking part in a month long WordPress photography class. Here goes.
I am happiest; when like a snail, my home is on my back and the view is this good.
This was taken on the Continental Divide descending James Peak, North of Berthoud Pass, CO last month. Sunsets up high are great as are the dark stumbling adventures that follow them.
Teaching is an art. The thing is it was often explained to me as a power game where the teacher is always looking to control the students. This has never sat well with me. I will always remember my first weeks as a trainee teacher as my mentor and I did not see eye to eye. I heard his concept of discipline from the other side of the campus and I knew the student who was receiving the full force of his reasoning also felt the sweat from his nose due to the proximity of their faces. This was never going to be the way that I “encouraged” learning and years later when I started to be informed by the findings of neuroscience it became patently obvious that the brain does not create learning in fearful situations – except in the instance of moments of fight or flight.
What I have grown to recognize is that the teacher / facilitator needs to hold a space for learning. It is a safe place, where mistakes are not only ok they are encouraged. It is a place where we are open to the outcome of the learning rather than dictating what the learning will be. Searching for a metaphor for teaching I have come up with the martial art of Aikido. While most of the martial arts center on the concept of combat this was not originator Master Morihei Ueshiba‘s desire. “Aikido is not a technique to fight with or to defeat the enemy. It is a way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.” Wikipedia suggests that his philosophy was one “of extending love and compassion especially to those who seek to harm others. Aikido demonstrates this philosophy in its emphasis on mastering martial arts so that one may receive an attack and harmlessly redirect it. In an ideal resolution, not only is the receiver unharmed, but so is the attacker.” This also strikes me as a good philosophy for education.
Where I love the concept of Aikido is that the purpose is to maintain balance and through turning, pushing and drawing you lead the other person to a place of imbalance. It is not a forceful action and strength is not a requirement. So a teacher / facilitator strives to maintain equilibrium regardless of what comes in their direction. Also, with time while they can predict what may happen, they are actually better off being present. The imbalance that we encourage our students / participants to experience is cognitive dissonance; a place where they have to reason and are motivated to find meaning, as it is from this that the learning grows.
What is a good metaphor for what you do?
I always loved TED.com and used their videos a lot in my classes – this is great.
I am currently reading a book by Michael Howard called Educating the Will; the basic premise being that a well educated child is provided with experiences and reflections that develop the head, the hand and the heart. This is somewhat counter intuitive to contemporary practice that increasingly focuses on the head to the exclusion of the other two faculties. As a sculptor Howard particularly concentrates on using art to develop the feeling will. He also talks about children needing to witness teachers striving towards wholeness, i.e. they themselves are working towards developing their own balance of thinking, feeling and willing. Rudolph Steiner who has shaped Waldorf teacher Howard’s thinking believed that freely chosen ethical disciplines and meditative training would help a person to become a more moral, creative and free individual – free in the sense of being capable of actions motivated solely by love. Steiner is basically a proponent of people being able to experience their higher nature and also that of others.
For me this whole arena is fascinating yet teeters on being hokey and while I have read various accounts of what will is, in particular in relation to the idea of “free will” it is a concept I have struggled with until Michael Howard posited an analogy that spoke to me. Early in the book he paints a picture of the mind being like a river where we are treated to a constant flow of thought that we do not really control; I like this image because I think of what happens over time when we humans try to do just this with dams. He also tells of a time when he watched a group of white water kayakers. “As they paddled downstream they displayed incredible mastery, going wherever and however they fancied. There seemed to be no limit to what they could do, including paddling upstream against the raging torrent. I was captivated as I watched some of them move slowly upstream – 10, 20, 30 feet. Incredibly, some could paddle as much as 100 feet against the current, but sooner or later, even the strongest and most skillful paddlers would run out of steam. Instantly they would be swept back downstream by the relentless force of the current.” Howard goes on to explain that a skillful thinker can navigate the constant stream of thoughts, choosing (will) which ones to engage. Logical thinkers can move freely within the flow and thinkers who grow the inner will to build thought upon thought without being swept along by random thoughts are comparable to the kayakers paddling upstream.
So here are a few random thoughts from someone who used to kayak a fair amount. Firstly, there was once a time when kayaking / canoeing upstream was a necessity, now if I really want to go up river I put my kayak on the roof of my car, it is a lot easier. I think the same is probably true of thinking skills now that we have google. Yet, I was compelled to paddle upstream and there was a reason, it was an opportunity to learn more about how a river works, mainly because I could see what the water was doing in front of me as I worked against it. Kayaking upstream is less about brute force and more about understanding the river, I need to understand how the shape of the bed dictates how the water will flow, I need to feel the pulses that occur naturally and therefore as I learn this I also learn how to feather the angle of my boat, use the river features and time my strokes to gain ground. The exercise gives me a far better understanding of the mechanics of efficient paddling when I am going downstream and cannot see what is behind me or I am accelerating quickly towards something and have to understand what will happen based on the water I am traveling through and what I can see ahead. Likewise meditating, where I spend my time kindly ridding my mind of thoughts as I focus on my breathing, allows me to think much better when I am trying to maintain a modicum of control of a creative process that can look like a heavy handed Jackson Pollockesque canvas with no grace.
Nowhere is the concept of paddling upstream more apparent than going against the tide in a sea kayak, by using features and being aware of the subtleties of hydro dynamics you can gain significant ground in certain situations. There is no way you can fight a current if you do not understand these things.
So the main take home of all this for me is that you are never going to be truly free of your thoughts unless you spend time understanding how the flow of your thoughts come about and this takes graft and a willingness to be spat out. And while you cannot stem them, you can learn the skills necessary to navigate them and freely choose what is good for you and others if you take time and engage in a meditative discipline. No wonder the Dalai Lama can smile while witnessing the wake of destruction in his country, through significant practice like an expert kayaker he has spent more time than most learning the true art of choosing which line (of thought) he is going to follow and use. Also, as Steiner suggests he is exceptionally free, because this discipline has ultimately meant he can shape his actions so that they come from a place of love.
How are you going to shape your freedom?
I confess to being contrary at times and while I enjoy doing things such as meditating as part of a group I do not like doing things just because other people do them. New Year’s resolutions for instance irritate me as they seem like fads; everyone jumps on for a while and then drops off the planet a short time later. The thing was that this year the desire to make some major changes in my life coincided with the turning of the year – what to do? Well I thought I might as well try something different. Some years ago I read some research by Sonja Lyubomirsky (the paper) suggesting that success is born from success, i.e. if we do something well we create the confidence to also do something completely different well. Success can then be attributed to a way of thinking based on experiences of personal victories. This also ties in nicely with Carol Dweck‘s “mindset” theory.
So January was spent doing something daily that I knew I was able to do and maintain and every day this year I have meditated. After a month was up I decided to add another layer to my discipline challenge and now I run before breakfast. I know that if I had started running at the beginning of the year I would have been one of those people that quickly loose sight of their resolutions. Another thing Dr Lyubomirsky suggests in her book The How of Happiness is that we have a happiness set point that is derived from genetics which makes up 50% of our happiness potential, 10% is defined by life circumstances and 40% we can control through our daily disciplines.
Now it is over a month ago “Happy New Year“, what are you going to do to make your’s amazing?
Prepare yourself there are a lot of “I”s in this post. Hang on in there though it is a pretty good story. I alluded to the fact in the last post that I never really thought I would live in Nepal; what I did not say was that I dreamed of it constantly. From the days when I first started climbing and even before I was drawn to mountain literature. The stories are all human and involve great courage and endurance, there is a gritty realism where bad things happen and the protagonists have to deal with them. Inevitably there is an exploration of relationships, what makes a good partner, a fine leader and how we define ourselves by the landscapes we choose to visit. The word-smithing is often beautiful too and conjures incredible images. With these filling my mind I was drawn to the Himalayas like a pregnant woman to ice cream.
When I made the decision to spend time in Nepal I wrote so many letters and really had only one response. One line stood out in the missive, “What do you know about Permaculture? If you know nothing about Permaculture you are no use to us!” So off I went on a quest. I started to learn about Permaculture in the UK and when I found out it had its origins in Australia I chose to go there to study. Following courses and a stay with the founder, I travelled though South East Asia, doing voluntary work along the way until I arrived in Nepal.
Arriving with a tourist visa I was expecting a three month stay so I decided to embrace where I was and did all I could to engage with situations and people. In the first week in the office I involved myself with writing newsletters, designing programs and farms and even helped a random stranger with their resume. The following week I attended the first national workshop of regenerative agriculture, I also presented my work groups findings. Even better I was able to tour farms and communities in various settings. After nine weeks I started to wonder if I was going to be able to perpetuate my stay. When I went to my boss asking for ideas I was not really expecting much; I asked anyway. Bhadri’s response was rather surprising. The resume I had written had gained its owner the new title of Acting Director of Imigrations. We went to him, cap in hand, asking if I could change my visa from tourist to non tourist – being typically Nepali he did not want to lift his head above the parapet and was not willing to help unless I had a letter from a government official. I was crestfallen. Bhadri however smiled and told me that I knew someone in government. I laughed until he told me that the quiet gentleman in my work group at the workshop was actually the secretary of the ministry of agriculture. A quick visit there and I was able to return to the Department of Immigration armed with an official letter with a government seal.
All of a sudden I was able to live in Nepal indefinitely, I could buy property and cross country flights cost nothing. Again, I am not sure how this all happened and I never did meet anyone else who managed to pull this stunt off. All I know is that I had wanted to spend an extended time in that wonderful country since I could remember and somehow it became possible. The only solution I have aligns with the law of attraction. By creating a strong enough image you can make it happen.
My time in Nepal was amazing. What are you going to attract?