(Symbolic) Mindfulness and face to face and distance mindfulness topic now formally approved for 2015

Dear friends

This week I had the privilege of working with a small Adelaide Hills school that wants to keep its ‘small is beautiful'(Schumacher) character but at the same time to grow itself organically and sustainably, building on the beauty of the natural environment (with heritage forest) and active parent community, developing curriculum and pedagogy in line with the values and strengths of the school community.

I have decided to use a combination of Lessem and Schieffer’s Four Worlds model (mentioned in this blog when I first began almost 2 years ago) and Angeles Arriens’ Four-fold Way (I mentioned her work here a couple of weeks ago) as a way to help facilitate this action research journey. I was writing then about the four archetypal roles : warrior, healer, teacher and visionary. I think I have had enough of late of being the warrior and find myself more  drawn to the healer role right now (for self as well as others!).

For our first workshop with teachers we did began with  Arrien’s preferential shapes test (Signs of Life; the five universal shapes and how to use them) I found that as soon as the teachers and leader began drawing the shapes the energy in the room changed as if we had begun a mindfulness exercise.  People really engaged mindfully with the activity and we had some wonderful rich conversations, even in the second last week of school with report writing more than looming!


Naturally teachers appreciate an activity that is relaxing and centring after a day’s teaching…. but it is more than that as you will see. I will give the description here as you may like to try it as well.  I did it yesterday afternoon in a cafe after I picked up Arrien’s book from the library before working with the teachers (always a good idea!) and found it to be quite a deep process while doing it and something that has stayed with me over the last 24 hours or so.

On a piece of paper,  draw these five shapes: circle, square, triangle, equal armed cross and  spiral in this order: Place your preferred shape to the extreme left and work towards the right so your least preferred shape is to the extreme right.

It was interesting for the educators to do this as a group. I drew up a chart so that we could see what each person and done and there were some uncanny similarities such as all but one of us having the square as number 4! Arrien says the activity can be used to work with individual as well as group development in this way.

When you have drawn your shapes you can read the descriptions below.

The Meanings of the Positions

Position  1

where you think you are
the process that now has your attention
the part of yourself of which you are most aware
indicates your idea of the future
indicates your current source of inspiration
not the most accurate indicator of where you actually are

Position  2

exhibits an inherent strength predominant in you right now
areas of your nature that are currently fluid, strong, and resourceful
reveals innate talents you are using to assist the growth occurring in # 3
most compliments you receive correspond to these qualities

Position  3

where you are
most significant shape, shows your true current growth process
often represents a process that is unconscious or overlooked
indicates where your own gifts can be best used right now
can be the source of unlimited creativity and healing

Position  4

points to past challenges, tests, and circumstances
motivated your current process of change
is motivating you into the core work to be done that is symbolized in # 3
describes situations that you may have resolved or moved beyond
can serve as a reminder of where you are in your current growth process

Position 5

represents old, unfinished business
identifies a process you have outgrown, dislike, still resist, or are judging
associated with unresolved issues you now wish to put aside
not work to which you should attend in the present

The Meanings of the Five Shapes

Circle—Wholeness and the Experience of Unity

Position  1—indicates your desire to be independent and self-sufficient

Position  2—your strengths are self-reliance and resourcefulness

Position  3—natural creativity will flow out of achieving individuation

Position 4 —you have become responsible and self-reliant

Position 5 —may be resisting or denying the process of individuation

Cross—Process of Relationship and Integration

Position # 1—process of relationship is most important in your life

Position # 2—the share journey is currently an effortless process for you

Position # 3—relationship process is occurring deep within your nature

Position # 4—a past shared journey inspired you to value partnership

Position # 5—may want to ignore or dismiss the importance of relatedness

Spiral—Growth and Change

Position # 1—process of growth most important to you right now

Position # 2—easy for you to handle change, whether you know it or not

Position # 3—profoundly engaged in the process of change

Position # 4—were challenged in the past to make significant changes

Position # 5—unlikely to show interest in the process of growth and change

Triangle—Goals, Dreams, and Visions

Position # 1—process of envisioning seems most important to you right now

Position # 2—you carry the gift of vision naturally; create and obtain goals

Position # 3—process of envisioning is essential to your current development

Position # 4—inspired by past goals and visions, motivated in the present

Position # 5—may be resisting honoring your dreams and establishing goals

Square—Stability, Solidity, and Security

Position # 1—stability and authenticity inspire you right now

Position # 2—inherent strengths are responsibility, authenticity, honesty

Position # 3—expressing your authenticity is essential to you right now

Position # 4—past issues of responsibility and accountability motivate you

Position # 5—may be denying the need to be consistent and congruent

Applying the Insights

Tension always exists between the tendencies symbolized in Positions 1 and 5. This tension is sometimes experienced as a conflict. One example: If you have the spiral in Position 1 and the square in Position 5, you may consciously yearn for change (the spiral), but the part of you that is attached to stability and security (the square) may feel unwilling or unable to change.

The first and last positions define an internal struggle. Resolving the struggle means finding a middle ground. Look to Position 3, which often contains the key to personal integration and increased well-being. Whichever shape you have placed in Position 3 is the place of integration where you can synthesize your experience.

The shape in Position 5 stands for tendencies you wish to avoid and represents your current idea of wrongdoing. The shape in Position 1 symbolizes the tendencies that appeal to you at this time and that is your current idea of right-doing. Position 3 represents the field where these opposing forces can be released. It is the place of integration where you can transcend your conflicts.

I had the spiral (1) Cross (2) Circle (3) Square (4) and Triangle (5).

It was interesting as I definitely felt an inexplicable antipathy for the poor old triangle which began to make sense once I read up on it, something there I was resisting!

I chose the spiral as the warrior part of me likes change … however according to Arrien the first shape is only what we think we are, it’s the most surface part. Position 3 (for me the circle) is actually the one that is most significant at the present time, and is often under utilised. The circle  holds promise of creativity, flow, inspiration and  I can see now that I am moving into a phase where I am becoming more drawn to wholeness and a sense of unity and that this is where I need to be for a while. Position 2-  to do with relationship and integration  is a strength I can see that, I can see Position 4 relates to groundedness and responsibility that is important to me, and the triangle at Position 4  well perhaps I have been resisting something in terms of honouring heart-felt dreams and goals and getting a little bogged down in trying to make changes.. it seems much better to be honour the creative and visioning side of myself and be part of creating something new and fresh.  All this came from doing the shape test!

I encourage you to try the activity, it’s another way to work with mindfulness and the mind somehow recedes as it should and lets a deeper process take over…. I would love to hear from any of you via the blog or email or in person or by phone as to your experience and insights from doing this activity. I would love to post some of your reflections on this blog anonymously of course so please email me (see link below) if you are happy for me to do this, and if you wish, give yourself a pseudonym, that in itself can be an interesting process!

On another but related note I wanted to let you all know that the inner world of teaching and learning mindfulness topic that was trialled at my university last year has been approved as a masters level post-graduate topic in both face to face and distance modes. It will be offered in semester 1 next year as an autumn intensive for those who can attend the three days. The rest is online for both groups. If you are interested have a look at this link

Mindfulness and the Inner world of Teaching and Learning It can be done as part of a Masters of Education which has different strands including Positive Mental Health and Wellbeing, Special Education, Leadership and Management and more and it is possible to do  an extended coursework project as a possible pathway to a PhD.

If you have any questions or require further clarification  please email me leigh.burrows@flinders.edu.au . If it is an admin type question I will pass your query on to the right person.

I absolutely loved teaching the pilot version  topic last year, there were some profound, joyous, humorous and scholarly moments! This year I will be also  incorporating some of my findings from my US research and conference trip around mindfulness plus other work from this year…it is of course being refined as I go along…

What a busy time of year this can be, take care- there seem to have been too many accidents occurring in the last week for my liking…


Hi again everyone

Thank you much for your comments by email and in person, I am glad to think some of my posts are interesting and thought provoking enought to inspire reading!

Last week I wrote about the four roles or ways of being and how I need the warrior to help me:

*show up
*choose to be present
*show honour and respect
*set limits and boundaries
*be responsible and disciplined
*align words and actions
*employs judicious communication
*demonstrate right use of power and position

This week I have done just that but perhaps more for my own benefit than anyone else’s.

I am associating the warrior today with Steiner’s notion of the will, which is also found in the North American medicine wheel teachings. It relates also to the  Greek word for mindfulness ‘metis’ which is the kind of inner active steadiness and balance you need when steering a ship at night in a storm, not that I would know too much about that!

I realise though that I have been steering myself through a little bit of darkness and bad weather lately … I picked up a book of the Indian mystic and philosopher Osho’s writings on mindfulness today and it is just the perfect book for the situation I find myself in. This often happens to me and I am sure it does to many of you as well.


Osho talks about  the kind of inner growth or flowering that comes after a fair time practising mindfulness in which you finally wake up and become yourself, unafraid of others. He says that most of the time we are not really present at all, that we are obedient, that we make a Faustian deal to have an easy life but thereby sell our soul.  As an activitist I was interested to read his view that ‘the more alive you are the more society will create trouble for you’.

Independence is not valued while we are alive… our society wants us to be automatic, efficient, productive, not more aware. Socrates had to be poisoned and killed, like so many others. Osho writes that truly alive, aware mindful, alert people have ‘escaped from the prison and whatsover you say you cannot persuade them to come back. They will not come into the prison; they have known the freedom of the open sky’.

Osho says that the whole effort of mindfulness mediation is to deautomatise us. He says that will make us less efficient at first and that in the beginning everything will be in a mess!  Thank goodness, he says eventually we can be aware and efficient!

The flow comes eventually, once we become meditative as our whole way of being rather meditative this minute, not meditative the next.. when we experience consciousness as a continuum, like a river, flowing constantly, without obstacle My  granddaughter demonstrated this to me  me the other morning as again and again she scooped up the sand in the sandtray to let the water come ‘streaming streaming the water is streaming’ as she said over and over….

I took the time to be with her, fully present as she played. At the time I thought she was busy removing obstacles in her own path to bring about flow but I am wondering now as I write if she was also reminding me to clear some of my own  obstacles!.

How did this stuckness happen after so much flow? I think the difficult work I have been doing has been catalytic and taken me to a deeper level but that I had begun to start identifying with the difficulties as myself instead of letting them flow through.

Being very busy- too busy- can bring this situation about, as we need time and space and yes perhaps some inefficiency at times to reconnnect with this inner awareness.

I think I may have been focusing too much on how many assignments I can ‘get through’ in a day, how many school visits, meetings etc…

I am grateful to my granddaughter for showing me the way last week, I am sure it has helped me in my decision to reduce my workload where I can, to know I have done as much as I am able  and that it is time to come back to myself.

Osho’s book has also helped in this self-remembering process!

Love to hear from any of you of course, anytime in any form…

Love Leigh



Mindfulness and mediation- to assist in school-based conflicts- using four ways of knowing

Dear friends

I find myself exploring the links between mindfulness and mediation at present. I have been looking into doing a certified training in mediation as it seems to keep coming up in my work in the university, schools and community. I have been looking at different models of mediation and it might be difficult for me to find a meaningfuland engaging course in Australia that also gives me a certificate so I can practise!

I have been finding that there are many sorts of mediation from fairly basic forms of conflict resolution faciliated by lawyers with mediation training, to the more alternative forms of dispute resolution which are based on transformative, relational, narrative and mindfulness frameworks.

What the narrative, relational and mindfulness frameworks share is a critical examination of the modern Western idea of a bounded self which is separate from other selves. This self is viewed as an independent, unitary, self motivating and self regulating entity which is fixed carried around by each person, largely unchanged from one context to another.

Though a post modern lens the problem that has led to the need for mediation is not viewed as a personal deficiency but it is seen as constructed within a pattern of relationships and in the case of schools these include institutions, systems, structures, hierarchies, roles philosophies and beliefs.

Of course I am drawn to approaches to mediation that draw on mindfulness practices and philosophies! As with mindfulness more generally I can see that it has the potential to offer mediators so much more than stress reduction and improved skills in focus, presence and listening. I can see that it can also help to cultivate deeper insights about what is happening and what led to the present crisis and create a different type of non adversial atmosphere.

I remember reading once that Rudolf Steiner said that we should ideally be able to look at a problem seven ways at once, I think I have mentioned this before. I also remember seeing a play many years ago in Melbourne at the La Mama theatre where the main character had a hat with a whole lot of symbols hanging on it.She would swing the hat around so a particular symbol hung over her forehead and she would then be that ‘person’ until she moved the hat a little and she entered into another symbolic identity. I remember thinking this was a wonderful way to highlight flexibility and the reality that we do have different ‘selves’ and positions we draw on in different situations and that we are not one fixed entity.

I have been accused in my work in education and various times of being on a particular ‘side’. When I attended a complex and intense ‘town hall’ meeting of a school community recently and overheard negative comments about school staff sitting on the stage I said ‘It’s not easy for them either you know’. The parent asked me a rather sharply if I had ‘gone over to the other side’. I remember thinking ‘are their sides in this?’ but as my work deepened I saw that yes there most certainly were.. so much so that I was soon to be accused of taking the parents’ side!

Its really just that as in Aurobindo, Steiner and Ken Wilber’s integral approach, each perspective is ‘true but partial’ and it is only by putting them together than we can gain a sense of the whole. To gain a strong sense of each view it seems necessary to separate them for a time(just as in the play mentioned above) before attempting to integrate them consciously.

A clairvoyant once said to me that my role was to ‘wade in to conflict zones and get people to put down their clubs and start listening to each other’. I wish it wasn’t my role sometimes! It seems to take so much energy to encourage people to begin to see the other’s point of view, to put themselves in another’s shoes, to be less attached to their own point of view and their own needs whilst working on this for myself.

I do see though as in the Chinese character for conflict that it can be an opportunity for transformation at an individual and school level, that conflict contains potential for moral growth if we bring awareness to it rather than emotion and resistance.

Rather than mediation being a performance of the self we can turn awareness to that self, and see that conflict can be an excellent ground for both in terms of the content of the issue at hand and on the deeper level of realisation. Bringing mindfulness into the mediation space has the potential to allow realisation of our common space and common goals, in this case the desire for a wonderful school to aim high and consciously meet the contemporary issues coming towards it, where it can transform some governing underpinnings.

How exciting it can be when we begin to unlock our self-demands and work for the common good, shifting from a place of positional bargaining to one of genuine operation, with a free flow of information and an effort to genuinely understanding one another’s needs and objectives. It is scarey, sure, and it does indeed involved learning how to as Mindell said ‘sit in the fire’. This goes far beyond techniques of active listening or strengths based practice and involves the capacity to sit with silence, to be present, to experience relational presence. It involves as we know through our mindfulness practice, an allowing of all that arises and passes away, there is an active and passive aspect, a little like the ‘Rock and Water’ program.

For me I can see the role of mediator involves what Angeles Arrien has called the four archetypes:

Warrior, healer, visionary and teacher. She sees these have four different types of meditation:
standing, lying, walking and sitting, something I am going to explore further in my next post.

I need all of these in my work with conflict in education settings and like everyone, there is an unevenness and plenty of room for development!

I need the warrior to help me:

*show up
*choose to be present
*show honour and respect
*set limits and boundaries
*be responsible and disciplined
*align words and actions
*employs judicious communication
*demonstrate right use of power and position

I need the healer to help me:

*pay attention to what has heart and meaning
*recognise the power of love and the most potent healing force
*extend acknowledgement, acceptance, validation, recognition

I need the teacher to help me:

* bring clarity, objectivity, discernment, wisdom
*openness to outcome, not attached to outcome
*a degree of detachment

I need the visionary to help me:

*tell the truth without blame or judgment
*know and communicate from higher purpose
*act from authentic self
*honouring four ways of knowing and seeing: intuition, perception, insight and vision.

I love the way Arrien’s work on the four fold way brings the four different dimensions in mindfulness. I find the warrior way connects with Socrates who meditated standing up for an hour or so before meetings in preparation for his grounded dialogues, and the healer way aligns with Parmenides’ ‘incubation’ method of lying down meditation for a deep descent. As a teacher I generally use the sitting form of meditation to stabilize and build equanimity. I have also used the lying down form in teaching but more often in personal meditation. I often practice a form of walking meditation and have read and experienced that when walking creative and perhaps visionary ideas can come unbidden.

I can see that drawing on and balancing all four modes can help me in my work in catalysing transformation from conflict with informal mediation and in the future hopefully, formal forms.

In this piece I have had to be oblique to protect confidentiality but as I speak with people and see the ‘sides’ beginning to melt their iciness and concede areas for improvement I feel something dynamic begin to form and feel more hopeful about what may emerge into this space…

I hope you are enjoying the weather wherever you are!


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?



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.


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!


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!



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!