Screwing my courage to the sticking place…

Dear friends, colleagues and students

I am impelled to write this evening, in what has become an occasional blog. This is because I need to write to express what has been happening to help in the processing and digesting…. this last couple of weeks I have surely had to screw my courage to the sticking place (Shakespeare, Macbeth) and take action in accordance with my values and principles.

It is not always easy to do this as we know. I could practice acceptance and allow it to all wash over me. However, a respected colleague’s lecture for my relationships topic, on bullying, made me view that role somewhat differently.

He spoke to my students and tutors most eloquently about the different roles in a bullying ‘event': bully, victim, bystander, encourager and challenger. I thought if I don’t take action in a situation I am not happy with , am I an a bystander or even worse, an implicit encourager? I prefer to be a challenger I guess, even if it is painful.

I have really had to make a stand and miraculously, I have found that it has freed myself to  be more authentic, more real, more courageous and certainly more vulnerable, but in a strong kind of way, and I have also seen others become so, or is it just that I can now  see their light shine more brightly?

I have been re-reading Elizabeth Haitch’s book ‘Initiation’. As is so often the case for me, this book is a perfect guide for what i am experiencing currently in my work with a school.

She writes of what she calls 12 sets of opposite characteristics, qualities that are on a continuum and are each needed at different times, depending on what the circumstances require from us:

  • keeping silent — talking
  • receptivity- resistance to influence
  • obeying-ruling
  • humility — self confidence
  • lightning-like speed — circumspection
  • to accept everything — to be able to differentiate
  • ability to fight — to be peaceful
  • caution- courage
  • to possess nothing — to command everything
  • to have no ties — loyalty
  • contempt for death — regard for life
  • indifference — love

I have found this so helpful. Haitch suggests that mastering these attributes means that we can  use them at the right time and in the right place. I can see there is a time to speak up and a time to remain silent, a time to be receptive and a time to resist, a time to be humble and a time to be self confident, a time to act with speed and a time to be more circumspect. There is a time to accept all inclusively and a time to differentiate, a time to fight and a time to be peaceful.  There is a time to be cautious and a time to be courageous, to have no ties and to be loyal to have a lack of regard for death and to have a regard to life, to feel indifference and to feel love.

it seems to me that I have experienced many of these in recent times, and that I have been guided from an inner place to enact these attributes as the situation has required, not as my ego required but as the situation required.

I have also had night-time and waking dreams that have guided me. Its been quite liberating to let these states flow through, they are just energy after all and are clearly catalytic for change and certainly help to rattle a few inner and outer cages!

Strangely there has been a kind of equanimity or unity or oneness  behind the states, that enacts them in a way. I feel there has not been any choice though and I am wondering if there is such a thing in our lives, perhaps we do simply act as we must?

Leigh

 

Two kinds of mindfulness…effortless mindfulness and deliberate mindfulness

Dear friends, colleagues students

Following on from last week’s post on natural mindfulness (thank you for your responses) I want to revisit those in a way by writing about two kinds of mindfulness.. deliberate and effortless…. one is the intellectual path and one is the path of experience…

In a way we need both, at least for a time, since ‘the artificial leads to the natural’ w.w.w.scribd.com/doc/27626668/Ultimate-Dzogchen-by-Tulku-Urgyen-Rinpoche

We first apply the method of mindfulness, remembering, becoming aware we are in a dual state, that is separate from what is outside us, then once we remember and we reconnect with the natural non dual state we can just be aware of it  then when we become aware we have become distracted again we can come back. At times it’s as if we don’t have to apply the method, the state comes unbidden and is stronger and stays longer….

Nondual awareness completely lets go of attaching any importance to the arising and ceasing of thoughts. It is indeed quite exhausting to try to keep track of the aware state! it is better to enter deeply into the spaciousness…..

Otherwise  there is always a  subject and object … I am here and my breathing is there.. or I am here and my body is there…,a  subtle fixation  and separation is still present. Trying to catch the natural state is tiring and why would we bother, as a child we just played and were in the natural state until our individual self, our wanting self, wanted more or something different and we became unhappy.

In the beginning we need the watchfulness until we are used to it.  Once that has happened we don’t need to look here or there, something has been catalysed, jump started if you will and it will gradually take the lead. I am particularly strongly aware of this when I awaken in the morning, this sense  of ‘I am’ coming from with the body, from the solar plexus, with a sense of deep knowing, of truth.

This has been strengthening since I have been working  with a meditation given by Rudolf Steiner…

I say to myself ‘I am’ and feel the response in the brow or 3rd eye,

I say to myself then ‘it thinks’ and feel the response in the throat.

Then I say to myself ‘she feels’ and feel the response in my chest

And finally I say to myself ‘he wills’ and feel the response in the solar plexus.

Then I try to integrate all these different parts of me,  ‘I am’,’ it’, ‘she’ and ‘he.’..

You may like to try it. At first I found it a bit confusing, but its quite revelatory over time. I can see which elements are more developed and which less developed and even avoided. Our family constellation is part of this, what aspects of us were welcomed and which were discounted….which elements did we develop in compensation perhaps?

Of course Steiner education is based on the education in children of firstly the will, then the feeling life, then the thinking life and finally the spiritual life…

As Gurdjeiff taught, to bring the body (vehicle) horse (emotions) driver (intellect) and master ( individual spiritual “i’) itogether, to integrate these different selves is a huge task and one not many of us master. I remember dreaming once after bringing Gurdjieff into my mindfulness research with Steiner teachers that my vehicle was separate to me, going this way and that, moving about as if my feet were disconnected from the rest of me,  ungoverned by the master, which made perfect sense at that time.

I dreamt last night about moving into a new house, with an indoor laundry ( we didn’t have an indoor laundry in our 1870s stone cottage  for about 15 years, now we do) with a washing machine and taps but no hoses to connect the two (in our new  indoor laundry we have taps but no sink) . I see there is something around new developments and something around emotions.. I have dreamt of underground plumbing before (at my parent’s place in Melbourne)  during times of emotional release ….it must be happening again….

Two forms of mindfulness indeed…

take care

love Leigh

‘Natural’ mindfulness?

Dear friends

In what has become an occasional blog (but I will send another ‘letter from America’ as I did earlier this year when I return to the States in early 2015 to conduct mindfulness research in New Hampshire  and present pre-conference and in conference workshops in Virginia) I find myself reflecting upon what I thinking of calling ‘natural mindfulness’.

This is something that has come to me as a result of including therapeutic puppet making and a puppet show in one of my topics at the university: ‘Creating calmer classrooms’ and having a conversation with a couple  of my graduate students as well.

I was struck by the way a number of students appeared to fall into a naturally mindful  state while making their puppet and viewing the wonderful puppet show led by Stargold Puppets for our workshops.

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This perception was supported by feedback from some of the students:

I really enjoyed being able to just ‘do it’.

I felt it allowed me to simplify life and have just one focus.

I didn’t realise how soothing it could be to get fully engulfed by a story and follow the puppets every move.

It made me feel like a happy child.

The puppets created such a wonderful atmosphere ……in the room.

It showed us that as adults we still need time to enjoy making/playing/creating and that all we need is the opportunity.

The puppets were very enjoyable, I don’t find myself creative and I was worried about the activity but when we got going it was really fun.

Fun and therapeutic for us as well!

It made me feel like a happy child.

Enjoyed the puppets, I can see how healing they could be. I also loved making them – we need play even at a university level!

I realised that my puppet (from completely non artistic me) did actually represent an idea I am working with- this stuff works!

I really enjoyed the puppets. I love the freedom of communicating through the puppetry.

It was great to feel the sense of wonder/connection that can be achieved.

It was great for us to experience the importance of play, creativity and enjoyment and to remember how important it is for children as well!

I wonder if I would have been the same had I asked the students to be ‘mindful’,  ‘aware’, ‘present’ during the performance and making? Or might they have felt inhibited, restricted, watching themselves, overly conscious.

I find that a state of inner stillness often just comes unbidden, as if by grace and that being intentional about it can seem desirous of an outcome, a bit like engaging in a technique to change behaviours, when sometimes all we have to do is change the environment and what is in it and people feel differently.

I remember doing a mandala activity for a ‘difficult’ class 6/7. Their teacher wanted them to ‘settle down’, be silent before I started, she was waiting for them to stop talking etc, yet I knew that the activity itself would be settling. I know pre-service teachers are often told they should wait for silence and compliance but I find this can set up an unnecessary power game at times, when we might as well get into the activity and see how the stillness arises, as if unbidden, naturally.

This relates to mindfulness practice as well, when people practice diligently in the hope that one day there will be a breakthrough. When maybe they would be more suited to going for a walk by the beach, or in the hills, or work in their garden, cook, sew, read, garden, paint, look after children, build a fence, grow crops, teach, lead, play, drive taxis or whatever it is that human beings do in their days.

I am interested in Peter Kingsley’s point that goal oriented (however subtle) mindfulness practice can lead to hyper vigilance and to difficulties in sleeping.

Yet moments of mindfulness or oneness can come upon on as if spontaneously… as happened tonight when I went for a walk and became aware of the reflection on the pond and the duck family traversing it and the beauty of this environment. i walked home with light all around me.

Sudden moments of realisation like this as Sam Harris says in his new book “Waking Up’ :

refuse to validate the point of view from which one would meditate or practice any other spiritual discipline. 

As he says, in the deeper states  there is no separation between ‘my’ self and the world around me, there is no ‘I’ who is observing myself in these moments, which are non-dual.

The self is dissolved or in a processing of dissolving  in those moments… but somehow there is still an awareness of what we are experiencing on some level or we could not think, talk and write about these experiences as my students did….

I think in our zeal to practice mindfulness in particular ways at particular times and ‘improve’ ourselves, become more happy, accepting, non judgmental, peaceful, kind, loving etc we may overlook the very experience of stillness and freedom that can arise in the midst of our days when we least expect it.

We can get caught up in a race towards an illusory attainment of mindfulness, that paradoxically can prevent us realising in the present moment in a state or ordinary awareness, thus as Harris suggests, causing confusion.

Mindfulness practice focusing for example on the breath, or thoughts, or feelings, or sensations  ironically has the potential to increase the sense of the mind and body being split as in Cartesian dualism, we can fel we are a subject, a locus of consciousness in the head, which can pay attention to another object of awareness.

Perhaps we need to grapple with these paradoxes before we can let go into a deeper state of consciousness that is non dual, not separate, yet is entwined with our awareness, it is not a cessation of self as is so often desired or promoted but nor is it a separate self or ego, this is what is meant by the term ‘not one, not two’.

Now that we have sat with our mindfulness practice a little longer we can begin to deconstruct its claims, processes, activities, challenges, and see it is not quite the panacea at first thought. Experimenting on ourselves is one thing and on another, another.. ..as I am keenly aware in my innersensing workshops. Experimenting on/with children requires even more care.. since developmentally they may not yet formed enough ‘self’ to be able to make informed choices.

Yet activities such as story telling, puppetry, music, art, games, theatre, sewing, craft, cooking  woodwork, metal work, gardening and more can bring about a natural experience of mindfulness if the facilitator has enough experience of this state and can  enter into it through practice or activity, knowing at the same time that we are not robots and don’t operate mechanically so it may not necessarily happen….

I feel very heartened that we have students about to graduate as teachers who have been able to tune into themselves and experience a degree of stillness and healing through puppetry. For I did not include puppetry simply as a technique for them to bring as teachers in their classrooms from next year, but more to experience a calm classroom for themselves! This seems particularly important in a university and ‘training’ settling, but more about a more holistic approach to higher education pedagogy another time!

Leigh

Levels of mindfulness

Dear friends

I have just decided to reconnect with this blog!  I think I needed some ‘time-out’ and now that I am about to begin a self-enquiry research project on the process of deepening and stabilizing mindfulness I thought this would be good timing…

You will no doubt notice typos and errors, I don’t intend this blog to be a highly edited piece, otherwise it would never get done, so I apologize in advance if this irritates you.. as an ex English teacher I can understand that!

You will see I have returned to some familiar themes but hopefully I am revisiting them in the light of recent further developments!

I have decided to do this research because I find that many studies in mindfulness don’t necessary communicate a sense of what the experience actually is, and how it can deepen so significantly when we realise that the practice of being mindful of our thoughts, emotions and perceptions is really just the beginning.

Of late I have found that something different has begun to happen. For Franklin Wolff this is a ‘Copernican shift’ and for Wolinksy it is a ‘quantum jump’. It seems that with each new level of understanding a level of limitation is removed. Stephen Wolinksy (Quantum Psychology)  sees that there are at least 7 levels or stepping stones ( think he would have way more now though.

Level 1

In this level once we begin to appreciate we are not our thoughts, feelings and emotions but rather an observing presence. At this stage  a process of disidentification gradually begins to occur that ideally provides a gradual bridge to the next level.

Interestingly though Wolinksky sees that many people remain ‘stuck’ at this level for many years and  there is a danger that mindfulness practice can entrench a sense of the individual identity rather than deconstruct it, since people can become quite hyper-vigilant as to their self-monitoring of thoughts and emotions etc and can become caught up with an identity around mindfulness,  being a ‘good’ meditator etc , doing the ‘right’ practices and trying to improve ourselves,think positive thoughts and perform good works. Sometimes it can also reinforce that other meaning of mindfulness ..’be mindful of your manners’ which has a moral connotation.

At this level there is still very much an ‘I’, a person who is meditating, witnessing, observing etc. This is interesting to me because the importation of mindfulness into interventions designed to increase wellbeing, reduce stress and rumination etc do seem linked with improving  individual self building self-esteem, self-regulation, resilience etc . What if all this focus on what Wolinksy calls the false self is actually strengthening it? Also if we think about children’s participation in mindfulness activities we might want to consider when it is that they attain the developmental capacity to witness and observe. Perhaps it is possible to do this earlier and earlier but what are the ramifications of that further down the track?

I think for me the  penultimate experience of being a witness occurred during a near death experience at 12 years of age when I observed my body on the beach having almost drowned and ‘I’ knew I was not it. It has taken over 40 years to understand and process this experience….

Level 2

In this level Wolinksy says we start to realise that everything (thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, associations) is made of energy. This level allows us to remove the labels that categories different facets of experience as being different, with helps to diffuse or neutralise the charge of whatever experience we are observing. It also helps to remove guilt and shame through seeing some emotions as positive and some as negative so builds a sense of peace and acceptance.

Aspects of this occurred for me when I was doing   training in Melbourne-(Psychinergy) in the 1980s and we experienced the energies of different emotions and how to work with them on ourselves and our fellow students. its taken a very long time though for me to be comfortable with certain emotions… a difference between meditating at home and holding that space and managing to hold it in the world.

Level 3

Wolinksy draws here in a really interesting way on the work of  physicist Heisenberg and his notion that the observer creates and influences what he or she observes. He writes that in Buddhist teachings emphasis is placed solely on the person doing the witnessing with no mention of the observer-created reality. The importance of this level is that it empowers us beyond the passive position of witness to the active position of creator. It is not simply about cognitively changing our thoughts to move positive ones, it has a much more creative source.

I am not sure I encountered this idea until I read about the Uncertainty Principle in the late 80s – it instantly made sense to me philosophically but I was concerned about how the idea was being manipulated by new age workshop leaders who promoted it as a simplistic cognitive process.

I think I experienced this level very consciously when I had my still-born baby and I experienced two kinds of alternating consciousness: emotional/depressed/dual  and expanded/connected/non dual  and I saw that how I saw the situation was very different depending on my state of consciousness. Both involved emptiness but one state was lacking and one very full. I now see this  through the lens of Wolinsky’s work that the unhappy state was the false self based in a core belief that something in me was lacking, while the expanded state was the state described below in level 7.

Level 4 & 5

Wolinksky discusses both of these levels  together. He says at level 4 we learn more about the time aspect of our universe and that time is a concept created by us. At level 5 we move through the spaces that is ever-present and come in contact with the changeless nature of space, and emptiness.

At this level we begin to move into a new (ancient) realm of primal essence and our practice and experience begins to significantly deepen. I first encountered this way of thinking about time intellectually  through the work of feminist Julia Kristeva and her idea of linear and monumental time.. she saw these as masculine and feminine respectively. It wasn’t until many years later after the stillbirth and  through working with Barry Long that I began to understand this experience of the void consciously.

Level 6

At level 6 we see that behind apparent differences in our world there lies an experience of underlying unity in which boundaries are observer created.  It’s not just the intellectualised  new age notion that ‘we are all one’ its the actual experience of a world far  the confines of our usual judging and evaluative consciousness where everything interpenetrates everything else, following the physicist David Bohm. This really is ‘going with the flow’. We see that everything overlaps and our individual identities are not so separate after als such that for example Edward’s  energy overlaps Lucy’s energy .

Level 7

At level 7 we realise that everything in the universe is made out of the same substance, something Einstein intuited when he observed that ‘everything is made of emptiness and form is condensed emptiness’.At this level we realise that not only does everything overlap as in level 6 but that  it is actually made of the same material and there is a ‘pure, unbroken isness’.Its a wonderful liberation from separated individual selfhood and its anxieties but of course it really challenges the notion of individual boundaries in personal and professional life.

The substance we become aware of at level 7 is energetically real, and was there before we became connected to an identity. To me this substance feels ‘silky’ somehow. I have seen others refer to it as ambrosia, nectar, a golden fluid  and the water of life.   It feels as if the whole universe is made up of this substance which brings with it an immense feeling of wellbeing, even joy.

Wolinksy describes this as a ‘no state’ state, something like the no-self in Buddhism. He sees though that the false self needs to be gradually dismantled if the no-self state is to be stabilised and held for those of us living in the west and experienced western upbringings which focus so much on the creation and development of an individual self.

I have strongly felt this consciousness when I have visited Asian countries (where it seems so much easier to move into a meditative state even amongst outer chaos. and when all my children were babies. It was as if this silkiness filled the room they slept in. We somehow recognise this feeling because we have experienced it but not consciously. We ‘lost’ the connection when we became linked with our new identity as ‘I’, with a name, identity, relationships etc and we are forever searching for this substantial connection thinking it needs to be provided by a partner or spiritual teacher or….  We think it is outside ourselves but really it is within. We have spent so much time focusing on our ‘I’ our self, improving it, strengthening it through this identification we don’t  realise this depth of connection, in fact sameness with the universe  was always already there.

I can now see that my early memory of being seemingly dragged out of this state at 3 years old to have my photo taken led to me being forever it seems angry with my mother for doing this to me. When actually this simply was the site of  my awakening to individual consciousness and thus the beginning of my belief that the cause of my feelings of separation were outside me.

I have found Wolinsky’s description of the 7 levels entirely liberating and it has precipitated a major shift into an experience of  inner freedom and a gradual dismantling of my problematic self with all its conditioned habits and fixities- and belief that there was someone to blame and something to search for.

It must have been the right timing as I have read about these ideas before but I guess we only understand them at a deep level when move ‘up’ a stage. That’s why its tricky to use past teachings – from any spiritual tradition to justify present actions, there is a risk we are relying on faith rather than realisation.

Of course any model needs to be held lightly and is grown out of but I  have found Wolinksy’s  one  (and he has moved on and says he ‘ teach Quantum Psychology anymore so I have plenty of ‘work’ ahead of me!!!) particularly useful in highlighting the beginning stages of mindfulness and where it can lead us. Of course it’s not really a linear model as my reflections show, we can have tastes of the ‘higher’ levels and then slide back down the snakes again as in the old game of snakes and ladders!

I feel the challenge for me now is to stabilise the state as much as I can. Like Wolinksy many years ago I feel I go in and out of this state. I am aware that I move out of it and resume creating fusing with and becoming the experience of my thoughts and feelings,creating my own reality! However the unbroken state of wholeness does become increasingly easy to re-enter.

As Wolinksy (2000)  put it:

Although I would pop out of it as often as I popped into it the unity consciousness became an – ever present knowingness or presence that brought tremendous peace to whatever endeavour I was engaged in.

It  certainly takes practice until it’s stabilised!

Great to be back blogging again!

Love to hear any responses of course.

love Leigh

Signing off and thank you

Dear friends

Today is the day I write my last post for this blog. It has been an incredibly worthwhile activity for me, I have loved writing it and getting your feedback either on the blog, via the email or in person over the last 18 months or so.

I began it with a strong sense of my  need to inquire into mindfulness, the different constructions and different understandings and to sort out some confusion in my mind and being about mindfulness, meditation, spirituality and religion.

I now feel the blog has served its purpose. I am no longer searching or inquiring but have found my centre of gravity in relation to mindfulness  which I am increasingly able to bring in my teaching, workshop and more formal forms of writing. Its getting steadier on a daily basis.

I am most comfortable with a kind of hybrid philosophical/healing orientation which differs quite a lot from other approaches.

I can now see ( I can be something of a slow learner!) that rather than giving my attention to critiquing or challenging  those forms I am not inspired by or connected to  I am much better placed to continue to go within for inspiration and to develop my emerging ‘innersensing’ approach more fully and deeply.

I think not writing in the blog is a way of conserving some energy  not reaching out quite so far, and also it seems important for me to retreat from some of the electronic communication. I don’t have facebook, and now it seems, it is time not to have this blog either. Emailing is great though!

Just to let you know I will be retaining my other blog Creating calmer classrooms if you would like to follow that and are not already receiving those posts. In that blog I will post comments, reflections, under grad and post student work (with permission) and related research information etc.

Perhaps this is why so many spiritual teachers tell us we need to start the dying (letting go ) process now in preparation for when we actually do die.

The conscious integration  of upper and lower, sky and underworld, light and dark seems so important, to me we need to go beyond the search for individual happiness and fulfilment and the alleviation of suffering and begin to  consciously face and transform difficulty for ourselves and the world.

This requires embracing all that comes towards us, thereby creating new capacities for awareness within us.

Not easy but worth it as what ever we avoid comes back to bite us as they say! I am feeling something of this today as I write….

So, finally, thank you all so much for reading, reflecting and responding.

it’s just been so satisfying and so meaningful.

I will leave the blog up for a while but it will come down at some point so if there is anything you want to go back to, you would need to do it soon!

love  best wishes and gratitude  to you all !

Leigh 27th June

 

Mindfulness, a bridge and a tunnel

Dear friends

I have been enjoying watching a few television series lately like The Bridge (Scandi and US versions) and now The Tunnel (a remake of The Bridge). These shows have a powerful underlying story, a woman’s body is found in the middle of a bridge or tunnel between two countries. It turns out it is the upper body of one woman from one of the countries and the lower body of the woman from the other country. Therefore police forces from both countries must be involved.

The shows work wonderfully with polarities- US/Mexico, Sweden/Denmark, England/France, male/female, ADHD/Aspergers Syndrome right/left, upper/lower body, land/water, younger/older and so on.

The two detectives in each version are the same, a single woman on the autism spectrum with minimal social skills and highly analytical and a many times married  man with ADHD type behaviours who is very impulsive and social. These characters represent a picture of our time, with some of us reaching out to the world, extroverts, social, expressive, and others of us reaching within, introverted, introspective and not inclined to social niceties.

It’s a great recipe for drama… each character tries to help and advise the other, as if together they would be each a perfect well-rounded person.

I think mindfulness practice can help us to temper these extremes in our characters and temperaments without erasing them completely. There are benefits and talents in both unless they become excessively polarised.

These polarities can be seen in many other avenues, including education.

Some of us like to be incredibly planned and organised, holding the class tightly, some like to be open and improvise, go with the flow and find opportunities for teaching moments. And some students appreciate one style more the other. It’s good for us to have a sense of whether we are be more on the micro-management side of things or more of the bohemian broad brush type!

Mindfulness practice can help us to move a little more fluidly along the continuum so we can meet our students or colleagues where they are at and create a bridge of connection, if not a tunnel!

I mix in lots of different circles- academic, bureaucratic, community,  alternative, creative, working with young people, parents, teachers, academics, students  and many other professionals,and I think that this help to keeps my thinking alive and mobile! It seems to help me if I interact with different types of people, I need then to find a space within myself so I can approach the world with a certain degree of openness to different perspectives.

This is needed I feel as it seems to be we becoming are a culture with  auditory processing difficulties.  I am intrigued by how many children I hear about lately that have a  diagnosis of auditory processing disorder.There’s certainly way  too much information, too much to digest, overload, not enough time to process it, resulting in stress and not finding it easy to connect across difference and diversity.

Mindfulness can help us create some space for something new  to pour into. We can then develop the capacity to listen to one another.

There are other benefits to this inner work, we may find that habits  and beliefs we thought were fully entrenched begin to loosen, that obstacles to change begin dissolving. This brings much hope for healing our fragmented world where there seems to be so much opposition, so many different opinions, so many points of disconnection.

While it may seem that we have our own unique forms of suffering it may not indeed be the case. What if our feelings of depression where not at all individual but were drawing us to connect, with others who also felt this way, with the suffering of the earth?  The opposite pole of depression is mania. Here again we have the polarity of ADHD and Asperger/autism.

All of us experience depression at times and mania at others, to varying degrees, these states are reflected in the seasons and the change of the seasons as well.

Perhaps if we were to accept, watch, experience these states from a central vantage point, a centre of gravity within, they would be experienced more naturally, less extreme, as a mystery, as the very polarity of our existence on earth instead of  something to be medicated and controlled?

Perhaps Peter Kingsley is right when we says the symptoms of depression get louder and louder because there is a message there, and if the message is ignored things will only intensify?

I like the metaphor of bridges and tunnels in these shows as they suggest that when we  meet others who are different, from different cultures, different gender, different world view, different temperament, even different pathologies  there is a possibility for transformation through meeting this difference consciously, thus bringing about a kind of alchemical reaction.

Just holding these polarities consciously in one’s mind at ones can be a flexing kind of exercise!

Leigh

 

Mindfulness and attention disorders

Dear friends

I have not been writing so often lately, I seem to be in a very extroverted phase of my professional life – I don’t quite know how it happened but I am presently on one school board, a cross govt panel, a steering committee, reference group, and a college council. They are all very worthwhile so I will endeavour to keep them up, whilst doing a few other things as well!

Many of us seem to be so busy and how tdo  we manage? I know I used to let my energy get drawn out into each thing and become drained, now I am aware of a centre of gravity within that keeps me grounded and not as likely to lose energy and focus. I know that the mindfulness work has really borne fruit here.

In my reflections on attention I am  reminded of how many children and young people  these days seem to be diagnosed with attention disorders. Continuing on in a similar vein from a recent post I can see that there is a collective, societal dimension to this condition as well.

Surely the  terms “attention disorder” and “hyperactivity” are applicable not only to certain children but also to the social context of Western industrialized societies. Eugene Schwartz, Waldorf teacher educator goes so far as to call it the ‘challenge of our time”.

In my experience the young people I have worked with who had a diagnosis of ADHD did not necessarily lack the capacity for attention it’s just that it wasn’t always focused on what their teachers wanted them to focus on!

I saw them focus incredibly when it was something they had a genuine interest in such as woodwork, being in nature with animals or playing a computer game. The engagement seemed to fire the will which helped to sustain focus. Daniel Goleman, whose PhD explored the experience of Indian spiritual masters, moved on to emotional intelligence, social intelligence and most recently ‘Focus’ which is the title of his new book.

Indeed, my reading of Eastern and Western approaches to mindfulness seems to indicated that in the Western there is more emphasis on being embodied, being present, to meet challenges that come to us in the world, rather than to withdraw from the world and find peace away from the hurly burly. The ancient Greek term ‘metis’ conveys this sense, its what we need when we are steering ship in a storm (not that I have ever done that!).

A more mundane example is the kind of attention we need when we are travelling on a train, standing up, holding on to the rail, reading, and needing to be ready to get off when we hear our station is coming up!

I am often surprised when people in my mindfulness workshops think the goal is not to hear the clock ticking, or the noise outside, when it’s really the opposite its to hear it, as well as to receive other sensory information:  sight, touch, smell, taste…and with our awareness integrate all this information so we are balanced. This is what I am working on now in my ‘innersensing’ mindfulness workshops.

As Rudolf Steiner and Peter Kingsley have said, the key to spirituality in the West is through the senses. We can’t go back to a dream-like consciousness, without awareness, well we can, but it doesn’t seem so useful in terms of being in the world and taking meaningful action. It seems more like an escape.

Steiner saw that for the first  6 years of schooling children should be allowed to be in a more dreamy, even feminine  state of consciousness, their natural state, so that they are surrounded with beautiful environments and given time to experience their senses and their imagination. In around class 6, which links with Piaget’s developmental work around the right timing for abstract, even masculine  learning in the 12th year the style of teaching changes so that it becomes more abstract and we can teach things like algebra.

We know we can teach some children things early but what does it do to the quality of their awareness? Does it narrow and limit its breadth and depth?

Certainly many children diagnosed with ADHD need to run, jump, use their bodies, engage in multi sensory learning and then they ‘ seem to lack attention its more that it shows up in traditional schooling type activities requiring a particular kind of very focused attention such as with reading.

There is a tendency to generalise however when we use any labels and a child with a diagnosed condition, whatever it is, will experience it differently from another child with that condition.

This connects with mindfulness for me. I am (hopefully) returning to the US next year to do some research with college students taking a mindfulness course. I am keen to find out how they actually experience the activities, and similarly how their lecturers experience the activities and their teaching. It will therefore be a phenomenological study.

Schwartz suggests this is also the best way to approach a child with a diagnosed condition, he speaks of ADHD but it could be dyslexia, autism, depression. In spite of the symptoms many children may have in common, it is not enough to work with and respond to the condition – one must also treat the individual who manifests those symptoms in his  or her own unique way.

This is the phenomenological approach , which avoids constructing theories, and whose practitioners believe “that what happens to a person is not as relevant as to whom it happens and what it means to him/her.”

This seems to be also to be a very humanistic orientation.

As in the field of mindfulness (and most other areas of human endeavour!) there is much disagreement and conflict about the different ways of understanding and approaching human experience and behaviour.

Yet if we go back to the source, the individual young person or adult and ask them how they are experiencing the situation or a mindfulness activity we can gain so much insight, straight from the horse’s mouth so as to speak, surely the best way since it is such an inner, unique experience.

Just as I have witnessed through my own transformation from someone who did not have a stable centre, many young people with diagnosed conditions such as ADHD mature into balanced adults whose difficulties appear to have become their strengths!

Schwartz suggests that the restlessness of childhood may manifest as healthy adult ambition, distractibility can become flexibility and ‘cognitive mobility in the adult, while the impulsiveness that frustrated scores of teachers throughout his years of schooling may become a youthful vigor and openness to change which delights friends and colleagues’ . http://millennialchild.wordpress.com/article/discover-waldorf-education-adhd-a-110mw7eus832b-12/

I encounter this often in my undergraduate and post-graduate teaching, I often work with young pre and in service teachers who have intelligence,  energy, vitality, wit, a sense of humour and fun which make them excellent teachers and now university  students, yet they really disliked school.

Schwartz, like Malcolm Gladwell in a book I have mentioned in a previous post see how the unique nature of the human individuality may, under the right circumstances, sublimate, or compensate for, or even transcend, the seemingly intractable symptoms of a deep-seated condition.

I agree with Schwartz that It is this transformation over time, that which constitutes the unique biography of the individuality, which most interests the phenomenological practitioner.

This is also what interests me most about my mindfulness research as well!

Leigh

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching with spirit

Dear friends

I love using the word ‘spirit’ in such a way that highlights its different meanings. I wrote a paper once about the wellbeing of ‘spirited’ children, those children that perhaps have a little too much ‘spirit’ at times! ‘Teaching with spirit’ seemed the perfect title for a book on Steiner education that I have edited with a colleague and is about to be launched on 19th June.

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‘Teaching with spirit’ seemed the perfect title for this book given the positive energy of our contributors and their stories of innovation. The word ‘spirit’ can be used to convey qualities of enthusiasm, zeal, vigour, liveliness, fire, enterprise, attitude, humour, life, mind, consciousness, essence, intention, significance, passion, inspiration, feistiness, boldness, mettle and courage as well as various Australian colloquialisms! Spirit can also be used in the sense of urging on, stirring up, calling to action. Dictionary definitions also suggest that the term can be used in the sense of an enlightening discussion; something that is done in the name of the common good and is honest and compelling (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/spirit).

I find the word spirit very useful to convey a core essence of something such as the spirit of an idea, or teaching, or school, or community. My interest in mindfulness certainly relates to my desire to breathe new life and new spirit into the old ways and the old stories. For the old ways can confine spirit and there is a need for awakening, opening to let the new spark of spirit come forth.

To embrace this spirit, or spiritedness though there is a need to come out beyond the bounds of what is comfortable, of what is known, what we have been taught and exposed to. There might be some disruption, some insecurity, some wildness but from this vitality – another way of describing spirit, can come.

I have found in the past that the most difficult and challenging times have helped me to let go of preconceived patterns. Gurdjieff believed that we needed what he called ‘shocks’ to help us to develop spiritually. Experiences of death, divorce, serious illness, loss  can in their intensity create a crack in our conditioned perspective and help us glimpse the light beneath as in the famous Leonard Cohen song. Adyashanti writes of spirit being discovered out of the unknown, but this requires us to ‘not know’ at times, something quite difficult for educators perhaps! This can be the value of mindfulness, in creating that space to not know.

Spirit can be a symbol for transformation.  It seems somehow to transcend the personal or individual kind of  will or wanting that pulls us all over the place and into situations of conflict where people are wanting something different from one another as in some school communities.  A sense of inner spirit can be very unifying,  we still may go through challenging times but there is a centre of gravity within, which is immensely grounding. Paradoxically when we feel this inner state  it seems to help us to resonate with others, just as  stringed instruments vibrate sympathetically with another, or the way the vibrations from a  violin  can cause sand on a plate to form into patterns. Teaching with spirit is clearly more than an individual project!

Leigh

Becoming an agent of collective healing: we need each other

Dear friends

I find something is shifting once more for me around mindfulness, perhaps I am coming full circle, since my first academic studies were in sociology, not psychology. That problems belonged to individuals seemed unfathomable to me as a young woman. I had an acute sense it seems, for the way people are conditioned by their gender, race/culture and class. I saw that people’s self agency was severely limited and circumscribed by their gender, for example. This might be less obvious these days, to a degree but perhaps only in more superficial ways. I moved on later to studies related more to psychology as I explored theories of self agency and became interested in what individuals could do to rise above their conditioning. Now I think it may be time to return to more collectivist understandings of contemporary dilemmas.

I have begun through my reading of Peter Kingsley’s work and a return to that of Irina Tweedie to see individual problems and difficulties as being more related to the  evolving nature of homo sapiens – the name of our species which in Latin means wise wo/man. Surely trauma experienced as a result of how events such as  the Holocaust , revolutions, wars, rape, domestic violence, terrorism,  sexual abuse, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, domestic violence,  illness, extreme weather events such as floods and fire etc are responded to is  not solely an  individual affair but strongly connected with culture, society, policies,  beliefs, values, economics, knowledge, power?

My travels overseas in recent years, to Budapest where the remains of buildings bombed in the second world war still stand and where people cry in the museum as they listen to audio files of recounting war crimes and atrocities, to Boston where a park where witches were hanged in the 17th century is part of the ‘freedom trail’ we walked, to New York where the twin towers once stood, to Bangkok where a heavily pregnant woman with only one arm and little children beckons to strangers who pass by on the bridge, to London where homeless people shelter in doorways with their begging bowls and cups.

And closer to home when I hear personal stories of suffering in relation to the disappearance of family members in the Holocaust, of soldiers capturing peasant women to act as sexual slaves, to adults trying to cope with various forms of abuse in childhood: sexual, emotional, physical and what some social workers and psychiatrists say is the worst- abuse arising from neglect. Not to mention the many women fleeing situations of domestic violence which I experienced close hand when I worked in a women’s shelter many years ago.

And last but not least the sex abuse  problems occurring in schools which according to researchers is on the increase. This abuse can take the form of teachers with students, or occur between children, something that has no doubt been happening for a long time but seems to be coming up now in the media, in research, in observations and perhaps in the past it was either ignored, not noticed or played down as natural experimentation. When we drop our  children or grandchildren off at childcare, kindy or  school we expect they will be safe. Unfortunately the research on bullying indicates schools are not always safe places. When something happens to someone we love and care for we feel a sense of protection, a desire to fix the problem and often a need to lay blame.

I have found myself wondering of late if the experience of non dual mindfulness, of the perception that we are part of one field, without losing our individuality means that individual problems may need a collective solution. Peter Kingsley suggests that when we feel depressed it may be a call to go within and tune into the pain in the world, to the many others who also feel depressed, to the pain of the earth and that in this moment we paradoxically feel at one with others and less isolated and self centred in our own experience. I have found that surrendering to this pain can lead to a profound feeling of empathy and  compassion for the condition of others, myself and the earth – and a great sense of connectedness.

Instead of asking when something we perceive as negative or bad happens to us Barry Long has suggested that instead of  asking ‘why me’ perhaps we could ask ‘why not me’? What is it about me that is so special that this would not happen to me? When I had a stillborn baby, Barry’s words came to me as soon as I read the scan report. I immediately felt grateful for what I did have, my partner and 2 beautiful children (later to be 3 ).

It seems to me that we are creating a culture in which each individual child is felt to be too special, this places such pressures on both parents and teachers. I remember once again Barry’s words, that ‘either nobody is special or we are all special’. It’s kind of a relief not to be special!

Before I abandoned writing an application for promotion I will probably get back to it at some point!)  I began to  tire of writing about my skills, my achievements etc –  quite boring and exhausting!

It might not be good for promotion but I feel very strongly at this point that there is a need for more of us to step up and become and agents of collective healing  as described by Arjuna Aaardagh (http://arjunaardagh.com/becoming-an-agent-of-collective-healing) rather than focusing so much of our energy and  attention on ourselves and those we most care about.

Don’t adults and children who have harmed each other also need our love and support? I remember Barry Long writing that all men need to take responsibility for the way women have been treated by men even if they themselves had not raped or beaten a woman. Ardagh is saying something similar in his ‘Conscious Man’ manifesto which has created quite a controversy with many men writing in saying they are not responsible, it is other men. I like the way Ardagh asks:

Is it possible for one human being to heal wounds they did not personally cause? Could a German today apologize to a Jew for the holocaust, and create healing, even though it was decades ago and the actual perpetrators are dead? Could a conscious man today apologize to women for burning witches?

 

I wonder if it possible for us to cease blaming others and see their behaviour as part of the human condition and something we can help to heal? It is no use to scapegoat children or adults and we may only be projecting upon them aspects residing in our own minds, hearts and bodies that  we find difficult to deal with.

If mindfulness can be understood according to Eleanor Rosch  as ‘a form of receptive awareness that includes a relaxation and expansion of awareness, access to inner wisdom and an open-hearted inclusive warmth toward all of experience and to the world’ are we ethically able to restrict expressing that  warmth to those we love and approve of?

All members of a  community are part of the overall tapestry and it is against this background that I wish to practice, teach and research mindfulness. It’s not necessarily an easy path but it feels choiceless. I know I need to continue to stand in the fire of opposing views and feel whole, whilst holding that space for others. I know I need to continue to try to transform my own fear and anger into trust and compassion.And I know I need to continue to try to cultivate listening and dialogue in the organisations I work within. I can do this easily in my teaching, in meetings and social occasions I can tend towards impatience, but I am working on this!

My recent experience both socially and in workplaces reminds me of the need for us to identify and heal old wounds in ourselves and with loved ones, colleagues and community members, including and perhaps especially those with whom we have significant differences in values, ethics and worldviews. Perhaps then we can begin to generate collective solutions for the many problems we face in relation to mental and emotional health, bullying and various forms abuse including sexual abuse , for how can we help the children with these difficulties if we have not begun this work on ourselves, not for ourselves alone but for our families, communities, societies, and our planet?

love, Leigh

 

 

Relationally teaching mindfulness- a reflection on a recent intensive

Dear friends

Last week I had the privilege of working with a number of Masters in Education/Doctorate in Education students taking an intensive on Mindfulness and the Inner Work of Teaching. I found it the most satisfying and deepening experience. I experienced, and students did as well as their feedback indicates, such a dynamic interaction between all of us.

A ‘teacher at heart’ I was excited to see how  the theory/ies and practice/s of mindfulness were able to be so easily integrated into a ‘higher education’ pedagogy I have been working on for a while now.  My  approach to university teaching is to create an authentic atmosphere of safety, openness and welcome to allow each individual student to explore their own direction or path, without fear of judgment, balanced with a degree of challenge and a sold grounding in the literature and authors from the field.  In the intensive we engaged in a combination of information sharing, discussion, journal reflections, artistic activities such as creating a river of mindfulness and autumn mandala  and mindfulness ‘innersensing’ meditations over each of the days.

In a climate in which mindfulness is being increasingly popularised, secularised and perhaps narrowed I saw it as absolutely essential to approach it in this manner. I could not have done it though if I had not already conducted my own rich  ‘survey of the (mindfulness) field’ this past 15 months or so through the vehicle of this blog , which built on many  years experience in wider forms of meditation and meditative literatures.

One student said this topic was what they had always imagined university was going to be. I think I feel somewhat the same way, I had high ideals for university and in a way in my teaching I think perhaps I am attempting to create the kind of learning environment I would flourish in. The mindfulness work in a higher education setting has allowed for a deep exploration of students’ individual experiences as adult learners whilst having time to attuned to each other’s experiences and to connect these to the literature.

As I reflected a day or two after the days we spent together I was reminded of of the importance of the mindfulness work being brought in a relational manner. I have had my own meditation teacher, Barry Long. To be able to ask him a question about something I was struggling with, in person and have him call on and enlighten me in the  big group, to write to him and have him answer (he wrote on blue paper, I have his 2 letters safe in a special box!) and to have him phone me out of the blue on a one evening meant more than I could express at the time, and now many years later I can only marvel at this attention given how many students he had.

As Daniel Brown says in an interview for Conscious TV the great meditation traditions were relationally taught.  He provides a metaphor for this, saying he remembers when he went to Italy and Pompeii and taking a tour bus. As they got near to the ruins the tour guide said ‘when you get out of the bus there’ll be a large flat rock and you’ll see grooves in it and those are the grooves of all the chariot tracks.’ Of course once we know this we look at the rock quite differently. As he says this is what a meditation teacher does in the relationship we have with him or her, they point out things that might be perfectly obvious once they are pointed out, but without these special ‘pointing out instructions’ we would only see rocks.

Brown talks about the dangers of ‘institutionalising’ meditation, so that people go on retreats and sit for a number of days followed by a group interview with a retreat teacher,  but it’s not the in-depth relationship you have with a true teacher.

I wondered a little about how we were able to settle in to working together so quickly and effectively these three days and I suspect it is in part because I have worked with 2 of the attendees before as both undergraduate and post-graduate students and as teachers, with another as a post-graduate student,  and with another as a teacher so we had a solid core to begin with. These people all have an extraordinary capacity to connect with others so the group came together very quickly with a level of trust that is perhaps a little unusual.

I can see clearly that in a relational way of teaching mindfulness you are always using the relationship to guide the meditation, to point out what you hope the person might be able to see, to bring forth the realisation. It is also possible to tell where the problems are and what can be done to correct them.

Daniel Brown says this is the ‘old way of teaching meditation’ , the kind of style of meditation he wants to bring back. He says that the danger with institutionalised forms of meditation is that  people, and in particular westerners, can sit for many years and not realise they’re stuck because the mind seems quiet, but their inner development doesn’t go any further than that.

He suggests we use our intelligence to look at whether our mindfulness practice is on track and ‘work in a relationship to help keep it on track’. He says mindfulness meditation isn’t about sitting still, or relaxing,that it’s hard work and its about awakening.

He sees awakening as being ‘ a new basis of operation’. I spoke often  in the intensive of a establishing a ‘centre of gravity’ as Ken Wilber calls it, a grounded sense of being that once connected with provide a stable place from which to conduct our existence in a responsive rather than reactive manner. But I like this idea of a new basis of operation, it holds so much promise in it!

I hope you are enjoying the wonderful weather, wherever you are, it is divinely autumnal here in the Adelaide Hills, and off to beautiful Ballarat later in the week for a friend’s birthday and to see a very dear school friend…

Leigh