Unschool

Life is about rhythm. We vibrate, our hearts are pumping blood. We are rhythm machines, that’s what we are.*
Mickey Hart

Life-balance is a part of rhythm,
Rhythm is a bigger experience than balance,
Yet through different schools, especially the school of life,
We have lost our rhythm,
Or been unable to find it.

M. C. Richards points us towards the gift we want to bring into the world,
The product of our rhythm,
Rhythm that is creative freedom:

My hunger for freedom is my hunger for myself, for my creative initiative.**

This is our crystallising intent for which we must dive deeply,
Opening mind, heart and will,
Yet these are strange words to us,
Unknown, unlearned:

It is often said that education and training are the keys to the future … but a key can be turned in two directions. Turn it one way and you lock resources away. Turn it the other way and your release resources and give people back to themselves.^

These words are those of educational reformer Ken Robinson
who offers three helpful steps to teach into the rhythm of our creativity,
Providing us with three self-steps:

There are three related tasks in teaching for creativity: encouraging, identifying and fostering.^

By encouragement I mean to be open to the encouraging
that there is more to learn about yourself,
To let your barriers and resistances fall.
By identifying I mean to pay attention to all of the more about you includes,
To be willing to take the time to discover.
By fostering I mean to make experimental spaces,
To explore and to develop.

Unschool and unlearning is not about forgetting all we have learned so far
but to treat it differently, more adeptly,
In a way that doesn’t throw us off-balance
or set us into an arhythmic spin:

re-examine all you’ve been told at school or church or in any book; dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines^^.

*Mickey Hart, quoted in Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score;
**From M. C. Richards Centering;
^From Ken Robinson’s Out of Our Minds;
^^From Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Because you don’t have to be anybody else

Pursuing art is not just a matter of finding the time – it is a matter of having a free spirit to bring to it.*
Stella Bowen

A creative person. Initiating, enacting. Using his lifetime to find his original face, to awaken his own voice, beyond all learning, habit, thought. When the human community finally knows itself, it will discover that it lives at the centre. Men will be artists in their life and labour.**
M. C. Richards

Humility takes you to our inner being and secret heart –
Not to be less than others but so you might be more of your self,
A place not of confinement but of unknown,
Even endless, possibility,
Unfettered by the need to be like others,
Free to be who only you can be,
In this moment that only you may live:

Everyone seems to have forgotten that to live wonder-smitten by reality and be enchanted by the possible is not the stuff of science fiction but the core of our humanity.^

*Stella Bowen, quoted in Mason Currey’s blog Subtle Manoevers: Advice on Writing and Love;
**From M. C. Richards’ Centering;
^Maria Popova, from The Marginalian blog: Into the Heart of Life: Richard Powers on Living with Bewilderment at the Otherworldly Wonder of Our World.

Happiness and sappiness

It is the nature of the earth and our dust to be in constant contact with the impulse of life. If we listen we will hear the continuous tread of love moving up our limbs like sap, like an electric current, impelling us as well to “stir and step out.”*
M. C. Richards

One reason that traumatic memories become dominant in PTSD is that it’s so difficult to feel truly alive right now. When you can’t be fully here, you go to places where you did feel alive – even if those places are filled with horror and misery.**
Vessel van der Kolk

In their book on the experience economy,
Joseph Pine and James Gilmore point to something more lying
beyond experience:
Transformation.

At the weekend, with friends visiting a country estate,
Four of us sat down on a long bench that comfortably gave us our own space
to explore and engage through our senses
the sounds, feelings, scents and sights of our environment
for four minutes thirty three seconds.^

Robert Macfarlane warns that we are increasingly exchanging our landscape for a blandscape:

The nuances observed by specialised vocabularies are evaporating from common usage, burnt off by capital, apathy and urbanisation. The terrain beyond the city fringe has become progressively ore understood in terms of large generic terms (‘field’, ‘hill’, ‘valley’, ‘wood’). It has become a landscape.^^

Wherever we are not present,
We are in danger
from the bland all the way through to
Vessel van der Kolk’s trauma-prison.

Never has there been a more important time to practise presence
with nature, with people, with ourselves,
With information,
Focusing on sappiness rather than happiness, and then,
Perhaps,
Something more:

How much of the beauty of our own lives is about the beauty of being alive? How much of it is conscious and intentional? That is the big question.*^

*From M. C. Richards’ Centering;
**From Vessel van der Kolk’s The Body keeps the Score:
^I have innovated this simple exercise from John Cage’s composition Silence;
^^From Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks;
*^Joseph Campbell, from Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers’ The Power of Myth.

Projection or promise

Each of us is a voyager. This is what the universe invites us to be in our lives and relationships, because the universe keeps changing, unfolding, evolving.*
Philip Newell

As a futurist I must take to heart the warning of Wendell Berry,
Not to be a project fantasies and fiction,
But to promise and therefore
take responsibility:

The projecting of ‘futurologists’ uses the future as the safest possible context for whatever is desired; it binds only to selfish interest. But making a promise binds one to someone else’s future.**

There are many ways to be foolish
but faithfulness and perseverance is the way to wisdom.

*From Philip Newell’s Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul;
**Wendell Berry, quoted in Alan Jacobs’ Breaking Bread with the Dead.

And may your peace lead you

For I know of no trouble in life which does not stand as a counterpoint to some positive capacity.*
M. C. Richards

Peace as a win:win.
Peaceful interactions within and without leading us to more and beyond,
Not so much the end state
but a place for beginning.

Humility, gratitude and faithfulness playfully lead us into our peace –
Humility to be our whole self,
Gratitude to notice all that we have,
Faithfulness to practise and explore each day –
And, when we lose our peace, will lead us there again and again.

*From M. C. Richards’ Centering.

Grow today, grow tomorrow

The truth about who you are lies not at the root of the tree but rather out at the tips of the branches, the thousand tips.*
Lewis Hyde

And it’s worth asking: what actions – what acts of generosity or care for the world, what ambitious schemes or investments in the distant future – might it be meaningful to undertake today, if you could come to terms with never seeing the results?**
Oliver Burkeman

The ash trees near my home are dying.
I do not know how long they have, but ash dieback is slowly consuming them.
There is no new growth at their tips,
They struggle each year to produce their leaves,
Yet it’s only a matter of time.

If I am open to growth today, then I hold open the possibility of growth tomorrow,
And some of the hopes of what I want to bring forth through my life
lie beyond the sum of my weeks.

I always enjoy what Robert McKee shares,
Often borrowing his words on story-writing as words for life:

Is it so fascinating, so rich in possibility, that I want to spend months, perhaps years, of my life in pursuit of its fulfilment? … No matter what you’ve heard about scripts being dashed off over a weekend, a quality story takes 6 months, a year, or more.^

Therefore, what is wanting to grow from the tips of our lives,
And for whom?

*From Lewis Hyde’s A Primer for Forgetting;
**From Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks;
^From Robert McKee‘s newsletter: What is Your Story Worth?

Don’t waste the difficult and hard times

Spiritual maturity is largely a growth in seeing, and full seeing seems to take most of your lifetime, with a huge leap in your final years.*
Richard Rohr

Once we’ve had an experience we don’t go back to the way we were before that’s experience.**
Taryn Marie

It’s never too late to find the transformational in a difficult experience.
This is not to transform the experience –
It is what it is –
But to be transformed.

The more we revisit the difficult times
Finding within them thresholds of possibility,
The more able we will become to find these in our present circumstances.

If we feel the difficult moments to be wasted time
then this is what they will be.

John O’Donohue writes about thresholds,
Reminding his readers that this word relates
to threshing,
Separating the grain from the husk or straw
which are then left behind:

A threshold is not simply an accidental line that happens to separate one region from another. It is an intense frontier that divides a world of feeling from another. Often threshold only becomes visible once you have crossed it. Crossing can often mean the total loss of all you enjoyed while on the other side; it becomes a dividing line between the past and the future. More often than not, the reason you cannot return to where you were is that you have changed; your are no longer the one who crossed over.^

O’Donohue and Rohr both speak of seeing,
Marie and O’Donohue both speak of personal change.
There is always more within a difficult memory or feeling to be explored.

Towards this, we might take a simple mindful position –
An imaginative exercise
as our imaginations are one of the first casualties when we have experienced hurt

Sitting upright but relaxed with both feet on the floor.
Coming into your body,
Bringing your attention and curiosity to your breathing.
Remaining here a moment.

Then bring to mind a difficult memory,
And allow yourself to feel its intensity for a moment or two,
Again bringing your curiosity to this.

What is this memory or feeling trying to say?
It will probably be inarticulate, clumsy, even hurtful.

Notice where the memory is resting in you
and make this a place for the feeling to rest,
As something to be cared for rather than ignored or needing to be distracted from.

Invite the memory to speak again.
You are deeply listening,
And the more time you are able to provide
the clearer the memory will speak
until a threshold appears that you will be able to cross.

The memory has not changed but you have.

Do get in touch with me if you would like to be accompanied in this.

The world is alive, generous, and waiting patiently for us to figure it out.^^

*From Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward;
**From Bernadette Jiwa’s What Great Storytellers Know;
^From John O’Donohue’s Benedictus.
^^Tom De Blasis, from Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrock’s A Velocity of Being.

Forgive me, forgive me not

I saw the entity I had take to be “me” was really a fabrication. My true nature, I realised, was much more real, both uglier and more beautiful than I could have imagined.*
Thich Nhat Hanh

Most are inclined to judge others more harshly than we judge ourselves –
Closing down the possibility of forgiveness we need more than we know
to open our futures.

Alan Jacobs aims to deepen personal density
through “breaking bread with the dead,”
A reacquainting of ourselves with those who have passed this way before us,
Those whose idealistic though imperfect – unenlightened – lives yet may break us open
to the truth about ourselves:

If we understand that this pervasive inconsistency, this inability to transcend the interests of people who look or act or believe just like us, is universal then perhaps – just perhaps – we will be less likely to believe that we are immune to it. We will believe that nothing exempts is from the same temptation and the same frailty. And perhaps knowing that, we will be more inclined to forgive such frailty in others, just as we (most of us, anyway) forgive ourselves.**

Some do not believe they need forgiveness,
For they have done nothing wrong,
But reality is different,
And I suspect it is this ugly and beautiful reality of self that will finally open us
life-in-all-its-fullness.

*From Maria Popova’s The Marginalian: How the Great Zen Master and Peace Activist Thich Nhat Hanh Found Himself and Lost His Self in a Library Epiphany;
**From Alan Jacobs’ Breaking Bread with the Dead.

Making generative oddkin

If all matter in the universe were the Gobi desert, life would be but a single grain of sand.*
Maria Popova

Maria Popova’s dramatic and critical measurement
reminding us of our smallness,
Hidden, as we are, amongst all that is,
Also served to bring a happy memory from yesterday
when I noticed two book titles sitting side by side on my bookshelves
for no other reason than I had misplaced one of them by author –
My simple way of putting my library together.

Too Big to Know by David Weinberger
followed by
Too Small to Ignore from Wess Stafford.

The former explores the future of knowledge in a connected world,
In which “the smartest person in the room is the room,”**
Whilst the latter tells the story of the children’s charity Compassion International,
Including the words of a Haitian child that shocked Stafford:
“I have nothing you need.”

No-one knows everything, but we all know something,
And our connection is imperative.
Hence generative oddkin,
A phrase Alan Jacobs passes on from writer Donna Haraway,
A call to be open to the other
and to stay awhile.

*From Maria Popova’s The Marginalian blog: Highlights in Hindsight: Favourite Books of the Past Year;
**From the subtitle of David Weinberger’s Too Big to Know.

Persons of density

I am going to try to convince you that the deeper your understanding of the past, the greater personal density you accumulate.*
Alan Jacobs

The more we only live in the present
the lighter we are,
The more weightless we become –
If we only listen to ourselves,
Or to people who are just like us.

The past makes it possible to be what Angela Duckworth describes as becoming
people with grit:
Possessing both passion and perseverance,
More than what we are,
Also what we might become.

When we get it wrong –
And we will get it wrong –
Knowing the past also helps us to know where to go for the forgiveness we need
to start over.

*From Alan Jacobs’ Breaking Bread with the Dead.