USA Trip May-June 2016

My USA trip was a real zinger.

Coming on the beginnings of a new relationship with a generous, caring, successful, playful and creative woman, conferences, courses, projects, visiting with my son, and chilling out, was interspersed with lengthy viber or skype conversations that were flirty, jokey, intellectual, dissonant, honest, vulnerable, happy, and teary.

The Landmark Global Transformation conference, my entry event in San Fransisco, rode on the theme of ‘Wonder’. One of my all time favourite topics, wonder would anchor the whole trip and come back, specifically, again during the Alba Emot Course in Asheville, North Carolina, a couple of weeks later.

Although Global Transformations took the ‘Wonder’ theme, it was a wondering about leadership that took my ear. Gladly, presenters I had met a couple of year ago, facilitated a couple of beautiful engaging structural movement communication work. I attended those sessions for my work in dance and it gave me another access to my hearing on leadership. Initially that hearing on leadership was all about what I need to be a leader of my rEvolve project. As my trip comes to a conclusion, that has transformed into rEvolve being the possibility of a leadership training program, ‘Moving into Leadership’.

The idea of moving into leadership is a more clear consolidation of the work I am doing around sustainability and climate change, men’s culture, and dance, into an integrated work, a leadership training program.

From San Fransisco, I flew over to Denver, Colorado, for a few days, to catch up with my friends in Art as Action. Staying at an Air BNB nearby, I was able to ride a hire bike into the city, and even on the light rail to Jefferson County where I could ride to hiking paths. As with my previous experience in that part, life at one mile high can make the legs ache in bike riding unusually earlier than at my home altitude in Australia of half a mile. I learnt how to use Lyft.

It seemed that each time the past two years I’ve seen my friends in Art as Action they have been grieving over the loss of a loved one. Last year the grandfather of the director had passed away. This year one of their music/dance colleagues and his partner were killed in a car accident. I want to make some bigger sense of this coincidence. It only mattered that I could be some community of listening around the grief. Sarah Leversee welcomed me into her Reconnect Class based on Dance for PD and it was wonderful to see the liveliness of that ‘older’ dance class.

It was a special treat to spend a few hours over lunch with Wayne Gilbert, performance poet, retired literature teacher, and recent (having Parkinson’s Disease) dance performer with Art as Action. Wayne is a volunteer poetry teacher to the State prison to the north of Denver. His experience of the attraction of poetry to some hard men, has been profound. At one of his earliest classes, having delivered a poem on Parkinson’s Disease, he was astounded that a hand immediately shot up. The owner said, “Yeh, I get that poem. It’s like how I feel about being in this prison.” I find myself amazed by the nature of the human being around their limiting circumstances, their authentic relationship with those limitations, the access they find to some expansion of those circumstances and they contributions they choose to make, nonetheless. There is some inspiration there, for all of us, and I store that idea away for a way to provide access to that inspiration for everyone.

It was great to spend a week chillin’ at my son’s place in Riverside, California. We had a number of social outings together including a Baha’i meeting. We played an hour of table tennis every night. I got a little heat stroke doing a hike in the desert hills at the back of his place, and the effects of that took quite a few days to remedy, reminding me, among other things, that I’m not as young as I used to be. It was lovely to spend a sedate four hours with my son in the UCR library while he played with an assignment for his masters degree in social work. Sometimes I think I should be in conversation with my son, seeing that we can’t see each other much across the seas, but I profess one of my greatest joys is just to be in proximity.

The next phase of my travel was to spend a few days with Sue Blythe on the Sustainable Farm, Hampton, Gainesville, Florida, around her Future Flash Climate Change Project. Sue’s work has expanded to engage commitments from some fabulous environmental players in Florida, including the manager of the ‘Sustainable Floridians’ volunteer training program out of Florida University, Lanny the Earthman, Actor Jan Booher, and Dave Room San Fransisco based creator of Pacha’s Pyjamas. As I write this I’ve just finished a Skype conversation with Dave Room, opening the way for his work to find expression for children environmental education in Australia.

From Gainesvile to Asheville to the Alba Emot course with Laura Bond. What a fantastic 9 days, learning and training in primary emotional expression, Feldenkrais movement, and exploring related experiments in life story, text, voice and dance with an extraordinary teaching team. So much to bring back to my dance and theatre work but also into the possibility of leadership training.

And so, this week another chill out and exercise at my son’s place in California. It’s a hot summer week in the desert, 113 F early in the week. Time to meditate, play with movement training (God I need it), and have dozens of small conversations with him around his life. He became an American citizen while I’ve been here. Looks like another feather in his global citizen’s cap.

Two nights ago I woke in sadness. My time here is slipping away. Today, I’m prepared for a great weekend with my son, at the beach, in LA. It is time to go home.

Employability now vs the Future

Just finished listening to this talk back with Melbourne restaurateur and youth mentor Peter Coronica. Peter has employed over 1000 young people over the last 25 years.

He says parents play a vital role in preventing youth unemployment by getting kids off the sports ground, out of music class and into paid work as early as possible.

While broadly supporting Peter’s premise and experience, I took some exception to his ‘priorities’, wondering where those choices that he made, came from. Over the years i have read and listened to an array of educational experts and my conclusion is that a learning culture shows up with these characteristics that are applicable from 0 – 99 year:

  1. Mimicry and modelling;
  2. memorization;
  3. physical development;
  4. creative development;
  5. socialization, community engagement, and empowerment;
  6. exposure to the natural environment;
  7. building a knowledge base;
  8. technical skills.

I realise that many of these characteristics come from people who have spent their career on one of these items as has Peter Coronica. And their individual focus tends, i think to skew that characteristic from its appropriate expression as within a wholistic framework constructed from all characteristics.

There is more I can say specifically about this framework for age appropriate development and learning, however the framework implies a great deal of change in the structure of education, learning, culture, productivity and economics. However, i believe it is the surer future for our children and young people: to have it all.

Taking a Risk.

Tim Gill writes in ‘The Guardian“In the 1980s and 1990s we collectively fell prey to what I call the zero-risk childhood. Children were seen as irredeemably stupid, as fragile as china plates, and utterly unable to learn from their mistakes. Hence the role of adults was to protect them from all risk, no matter what the cost.

In the past years we have begun to realise the flaws in this zero-risk logic. The constant stream of jaw-dropping anecdotes – children arrested for building a tree house, teachers having to complete reams of paperwork to take classes to the local church, schools banning chase games – has brought home an insight that should have been obvious from our childhoods: children need challenge. They need adventure. They need uncertainty. And they need risk.

Children learn a great deal from their own efforts, and from their mistakes. If we try too hard to keep them safe, we starve them of the very experiences that they need if they are to learn how to deal with the everyday ups and downs of life. What is more, children themselves recognise this.”

As a father of the 1990’s, I was both to blame for ‘chaperoning’ my sons through life, but also of often being disappointed that they didn’t want to get up at 7am on the weekend to go hiking (although, I occasionally just dragged them out of bed and off). I often saw danger that they couldn’t manage, in many situations, although much of that perception was related to ‘near misses’ I had during my own childhood and teenage. Some of the near misses are my proudest moments, some are my most shameful examples of bad judgement. Perhaps of the latter I was also angry that they happened because of lack of parental guidance. And so, my over-protection was a response to a lack of perspective on the true nature of things. As I get older, I find a certain forgiveness of my own lack of judgement and my parents lack of understanding and intervention, has allowed a clearer view of the needs for risk in the developing child’s life. I have come to the view that this risk can be a family and community process, rather than the unfettered movements of an unaware child, and, in that, elements of mentoring, encouragement, drawing lines of inquiry, can ensure the child stretches themselves, emotionally, physically, spiritually, socially, and intellectually. What children need is for adult’s to take a risk.

New Culture Of Learning Pt IV

This is the final in my progressive reviews, as I read the book, ” A New Culture of Leanring” by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown.

The last third of this book certainly makes it all come together. However, at a megre 116 pages, it lives up to its own hypothesis that inquiry best starts with an answer that leads to a question.

So let me just summarise the elements of learning as amplified in these last sections of the book. I have decided not to get bogged down in the new media exploration of Brown and Thomas, in order to extrract the underlying principles that should apply to all progressive learning processes.

1. The role of the collective. Collectives change and shift with the changes of the world around them.

2. The development of tacit knowledge. This goes importantly to the problem I began to raise earlier, how does one learn skills that require academic and physical skills eg carpentry or my own profession, physiotherapy? Tacit knowledge, the extrapolation from experience, and the creation of new action and therefore new experience, and therefore new extrapolations, is all important. Real learning must become tacit ie through action and experience.

3. Inquiry. Students learn best when following their passion within a bounded environment. The bounded environment is an answer, withing which a question can be asked, to which answer begets a myriad other questions, questions beget trials, and thus learning becomes a continuous and burgeoning process.

4. Indwelling. When methods of inquiry become so well practiced, they become second nature.

5. Utilise dispositions of all actors in the team.

6. Evaluate the outcomes, value diversity of skills, thrive on change, see learning as fun, live on the edge (innovate, try radical approaches)

7. Collective indwelling. When the collective practices as per point 5 and 6 above, become second nature, collective inquiry becoems secodn nature, with all the productivity for learning that implies.

8. Knowing, making and playing are integrated aspects of vitality in learning.

9. Play is especially important. “It precedes culture, it is who we are.”

On the Field or in the Grandstand

A view of Baha’u’llah’s teachings on idle fancies and vain imagination.

Thinking of one of the analogies that centre-pieced the Landmark Forum I attended earlier this year, ‘ being in the grandstand or on the field’, I am struck by the idea that ‘being in the grandstand’ ie being able to sit comfortably, without effort, and give free rein to one’s criticism and emotional tirade of player, play, and referees, is an equally apt analogy for the idea of idle fancies and vain imaginations that is frequently referred in the writings of Baha’u’llah.

Exploring the idea of being on the field or in the grandstands, the key distinction to make here is about how the game occurs to the person, depending on which of these places they find themselves. Anyone who has both played a team sport and watched a team sport will understand this. The player on the field is concerned with performing their specific role the best they can; how their role fits within the team; making momentary choices about what to do next in relation to what the team needs to have done, and choosing a best option among several possibilities. If criticism comes the player’s way, there is no time to halt this process. The player can only wear the criticism and go on. In the grandstands, however, every player can make the ideal move, every referee can see everything clearly and make ideal decisions, there is no pain, no effort, no fatigue, no capacity limit. The grandstand is a place for judging against an ideal expectation that exists nowhere except in the imagination of the spectator.

The Mission of Baha’u’llah is the great game being played across this planet. In a letter to one of the His most inveterate enemies, Baha’u’llah elaborates His core teachings and what it is to be a Baha’i. In this letter, Baha’u’llah calls His ‘players’ to Be  “generous in prosperity; thankful in adversity; worthy of the trust of the neighbour, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face; a treasure to the poor; an admonisher to the rich; an answerer to the cry of the needy; a preserver of the sanctity of thy pledge; fair in thy judgment; guarded in thy speech; unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men; a lamp unto them that walk in darkness; a joy to the sorrowful; a sea for the thirsty; a haven for the distressed; an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression; (of) integrity and uprightness in all thine acts; a home for the stranger; a balm to the suffering; a tower of strength for the fugitive; eyes to the blind; a guiding light unto the feet of the erring; an ornament to the countenance of truth; a crown to the brow of fidelity; a pillar of the temple of righteousness; a breath of life to the body of mankind; an ensign of the hosts of justice;, a luminary above the horizon of virtue; a dew to the soil of the human heart; an ark on the ocean of knowledge; a sun in the heaven of bounty; a gem on the diadem of wisdom; a shining light in the firmament of thy  generation; a fruit upon the tree of humility.” Baha’u’llah goes on to offer prayers, “to protect thee from the heat of jealousy and the cold of hatred” and reassures the, “He verily is nigh, ready to answer.” Baha’u’llah notes that these characteristics, these virtues, “We have mentioned it unto such of Our loved ones as have cast away their idle fancies, and clung unto that which hath been prescribed unto them in the day whereon the Daystar of Certitude hath shone forth above the horizon of the will of God, the Lord of the worlds. This is the day on which the Bird of Utterance hath warbled its melody upon the branches, in the name of its Lord, the God of Mercy. Blessed is the man that hath, on the wings of longing, soared towards God, the Lord of the Judgment Day.” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93)

To be on the Baha’i field is not to be some ideal and perfect exponent of these things. No, rather that, at every moment, the player, the believer, is only concerned with how to play their role in expressing these characteristics, as best they might. The goal of that game, exhorts Baha’u’llah, is to behold the effulgence of the Adored One and assist that mission. Here personal dominion becomes contemptible to one’s self.

“Wert thou to incline thine ears unto the shrill voice of the Pen of Glory and the cooing of the Dove of Eternity, which on the branches of the Lote-Tree beyond which there is no passing, uttereth praises to God, the Maker of all Names and the Creator of earth and heaven, thou wouldst attain unto a station from which thou wouldst behold in the world of being naught save the effulgence of the Adored One, and wouldst regard thy sovereignty as the most contemptible of thy possessions, abandoning it to whosoever might desire it, and setting thy face toward the Horizon aglow with the light of His countenance.” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 40)

Baha’u’llah’s primary message in this letter and many others, seems to be to offer His teachings for investigation for all people, claiming that “My holy, My divinely ordained Revelation may be likened unto an ocean in whose depths are concealed innumerable pearls of great price, of surpassing luster. This is the first step onto the Baha’i field. Not to take that step, Baha’u’llah points out, cannot “be said to have robbed this ocean of its power or to have lessened, to any degree, its treasures”, and the failure of people to step out onto that field or to criticise the lack of players on that field, is solely due to the vain imaginings that people with hate, devise. For our benefit, for our distinction, He notes that vain imaginings can be most readily seen in people who “endeavor, openly or in secret, to sow the seeds of dissension amongst men.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 202)

He goes on to repeat the claim of the wonderfulness of His teachings, “This most great, this fathomless and surging Ocean is near, astonishingly near, unto you. Behold it is closer to you than your life-vein! Swift as the twinkling of an eye ye can, if ye but wish it, reach and partake of this imperishable favor, this God-given grace, this incorruptible gift, this most potent and unspeakably glorious bounty.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 325)

Any idea, except taking a “firm hold on the Most Great Name, and to establish the unity of all mankind”, is giving up to vain imaginings, the uttering of  “words as will turn away the people from the shores of God’s limitless ocean, and cause them to fix their hearts on anything except this glorious and manifest Being.” These vain imaginings He cautions offer, “no place to flee to”.  “Witness”, He notes, “how they have entangled themselves with their idle fancies and vain imaginations. By My life! They are themselves the victims of what their own hearts have devised, and yet they perceive it not. Vain and profitless is the talk of their lips, and yet they understand not. (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 202)

So then, He exhorts, “Observe equity in your judgment. He that is unjust in his judgment is destitute of the characteristics that distinguish man’s station. (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 202) Further He shows, “Whoso hath known Him shall soar in the immensity of His love, and shall be detached from the world and all that is therein. Nothing on earth shall deflect him from his course, how much less they who, prompted by their vain imaginations, speak those things which God hath forbidden. (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 203)

Nonetheless it is a team game, a game in which all who enter are involved in helping all others, even the spectators, onto the field. Baha’u’llah exhorts, “O friends! Be not careless of the virtues with which ye have been endowed, neither be neglectful of your high destiny. Suffer not your labors to be wasted through the vain imaginations which certain hearts have devised. Ye are the stars of the heaven of understanding, the breeze that stirreth at the break of day, the soft-flowing waters upon which must depend the very life of all men, the letters inscribed upon His sacred scroll. With the utmost unity, and in a spirit of perfect fellowship, exert yourselves, that ye may be enabled to achieve that which beseemeth this Day of God. Verily I say, strife and dissension, and whatsoever the mind of man abhorreth are entirely unworthy of his station. Center your energies in the propagation of the Faith of God. …. Be ye guided by wisdom in all your doings, and cleave ye tenaciously unto it.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 196)

Ultimately, the players aim is to have “utterly abolished the idol of self and of vain imagination, and for having rent asunder the veil of idle fancy” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 291) “And should the servant ascend to even loftier heights, … he will then pass .. into the City of Absolute Nothingness, that is, of dying to self and living in God. In this station, this most exalted habitation, this journey of utter self-effacement, the wayfarer forgetteth his soul, spirit, body, and very being, immerseth himself in the sea of nothingness, and liveth on earth as one unworthy of mention. Nor will one find any sign of his existence, for he hath vanished from the realm of the visible and attained unto the heights of self-abnegation. How can a true lover continue to exist when once the effulgent glories of the Beloved are revealed? How can the shadow endure when once the sun hath shone forth? How can  a devoted heart have any being before the existence of the Object of its devotion? Nay, by the One in Whose hand is my soul! In this station, the seeker’s complete surrender and utter effacement before his Creator will be such that, were he to search the East and the West, and traverse land, sea, mountain and plain, he would find no trace of his own self or of any other soul.” (Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 69)

This forgetfulness might be understood in the context of the forgoing, not as forgetfulness of the game or the team or humanity or one’s role, but that there is only a response of the player who has no sign of spectatorship, no protection of self, just a pure response writ by the teachings of Baha’u’llah that is one’s role in assisting all humanity to the greater expression of its nobility.