Thursday 1 February 2018

Making sense of the space between

“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”

These are the words of Vaclav Havel, still inviting us to consider what it is to ‘make sense’.

Our skills of sense-making, our sensitivity, our creative attunement, are deeply needed in all aspects of our interconnected lives these days. Children sometimes exhibit these abilities better than those of us who have successfully, conscientiously and sadly adjusted to a less sensitive, less painful mode; those of us who have, by accident or design, dulled our senses. Yet, on balance, we have education systems that are struggling to prepare children and young people even for our current circumstances. There’s some kind of idea that the children, and the future, can be fixed.  Some requirement for our children also to be dulled, to stop reminding us what we have become.

So, if you are an elder, or perhaps simply ‘older’, how could your influence better serve the ones who follow? 


As William James said, ‘Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.’ For me, a here-and-now conversation that crosses generations might be helpful, so that whatever wisdom the elders have mustered can be re-crafted in relationship with the wisdom of youth.  This is not the same as just the elders having their say, or just the youth. It is what can happen at that precious, intricate place that we call a frontier – a frontier between the known and the not-yet-known. The foundational place of the poetic.

But to do this we all need to invite and not impose. We need to imaginatively give up on any details we imagined.  Our praxis can't dictate terms for others.

 If you will be disappointed by the lack of an outcome that was never in your gift, however needed and sane it seems in our troubled times, then you may need to hope in a different way.


So, my resolutions for 2018: to travel in that different hope, learning to speak and to live more poetically.

And bombs fall and children die and people make art and cry and try though the whole of the thing seems so badly awry and we stand in between what we know and we don’t and we just have to stand though it sticks in the throat and we still have to stand, stand through hope to no hope then stand on again, find a way, more than cope.  
But it’s not that we’re sad. More bemused by the joke that we still haven’t got what it takes to not croak. And you’ve got to admit that there’s joy to be had in the smallest of gestures: it’s really not mad to laugh for a reason no others can see, to be what the moment just asks you to be. To do this because humankind can be kind.
This is how it is in a liminal time.

© Julie S Allan January 2018
With acknowledgement to pioneers of the human spirit, awareness, connectedness and creativity including Nora Bateson, Margaret Wheatley, David Whyte, Philip Pullman and Sir Ken Robinson for words along the way.  I don’t claim to represent their views.

Thursday 5 February 2015

The moment to show up

A theme that, happily, seems to have tipped into common-ish currency at the moment is that The Moments Matter.  The importance of moments is not new news. Nor, alas, is it new news that people can find this difficult in practice:  liking to make sense of things, our minds are active in seeking/creating the patterns that lend us the warm glow of understanding.  And we plan - of course we do - for tomorrow, next week, next year.

Two days ago I shipped Child1 off to take her part in the children’s chorus of a touring professional musical production.   She’s stepping up and stepping out.  I’m a proud Mum.  Not because of what she is doing – I’m delighted for her that she’s doing something she loves.  But because when she found out there were auditions, she said yes to the experience. And she showed up.  On dress rehearsal day, feeling nervous, not sure what would happen, worried she’d make mistakes, she showed up again. First night – showed up. Press night – smiled even more; showed up.
Like Child2 and many children, before anxiety prevents, she’ll keep showing up, in the moment. That’s really something to celebrate.

As we get older, we may need to unlearn a few things in order to retune our capacity for moments, to nurture our ability to live more momentously.  A recent sell-out  at the Royal Society for Arts and Manufacture (RSA) was Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organisations, concerning how to become a soulful organisation.  Soulfulness in organisations, with standing room only. What a moment.  On YouTube you can hear his views, including a comment on lack of soul in education.

And so to another find through the RSA: STEAM Co.  This organisation wants to get Arts into relationship with the STEM curriculum, helping children nurture their creativity in a less boxed way.  And, thanks to STEAM Co, I have a copy of Seth Godin’s What to Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn).  I’m lending it to my daughter next, although she may need it less than me.  To quote from Godin’s text, "What’s better – finding out that everything is OK (you got an A) or learning something?. . . The prevailing system of the educational-industrial complex puts the fear of a ‘C’ in us. . . What if instead, we decided to opt into a different path, the path of always learning?

And have you heard of the School for Health and Care Radicals?  It’s another ‘show up, choose the moment’ thing, although its intentions are for transformation (one moment at a time).
I could go on, because the voices are becoming many and louder.  The interest is in what might choicefully be considered and done, moment by moment, in service of a sustainable and beneficial future.

A quote from poet Mary Oliver sits by my desk: "To pay attention. This is our endless and proper work."  Combining that with Godin’s instruction that ‘it’s always your turn’ could make for an interesting and generative, possibly momentous, 2015.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Poetry in Motion

Asking increasingly beautiful questions is a a fundamentally beautiful practice that poet David Whyte encourages.  His salon series, which I joined for the past year in a small company of others, was an oasis for such explorations.  Academic pursuits, like other institutionalised endeavours, can lack life's full juice - a caricature that's all head and not much else - yet poets can provide a wellspring even there. And it's vital that they do.

Taking my academic research to a Higher Education Academy dissemination event early this year, a senior academic whose name I am sorry I didn't write down, responded enthusiastically to my interest in poetry. And, to my relief, so did others.  He asked me, "Have you read Seamus Heaney's The Redress of Poetry"? I had not. "I was lucky to hear him speak.  You should get it."  So I did.

The HEA event was something of a redress itself: a chance to glimpse exceptional attention to enthralling enquiry, enquiry finding space in which to keep breathing itself alive during troubled times for thinkers of any stripe, academic or other-wise. And in Heaney's Redress I found what I had been going on about, only put much more elegantly:

"I wanted to affirm that within our individual selves we can reconcile two orders of knowledge which we might call the practical and the poetic; to affirm also that each form of knowledge redresses the other and that the frontier between them is there for the crossing." (p201 Kindle edition).

This was implicit, he wrote, in a poem from a sequence called 'Lightenings' in his 1991 book Seeing Things.  Heaney had been considering the experience of being in two minds, of finding harmony, or not, when worldviews seem to exclude. He seemed to me to say that there might yet be fruitful redress through which different futures could be brought into being, and different relationships forged, whatever the prevailing institutional circumstance. The poem was this:

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain,
"This man can't bear our life here and will drown,"

The abbott said, "unless we help him." So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

If you think, as I currently do, that organisations are conversational creations, and leadership perhaps like-wise, then you may too be heartened to consider the sort of conversations and beautiful questions that redress might enable, and might enable redress. 

If the aridity is, however, permitted to reach tongue-stilling dimensions -- as I sometimes lose heart and believe to be true -- I then wonder what form of rain dance is needed.

It's a question for us all. What poetic practice is ours to offer, to serve good sense and wiser ways?

Seamus Heaney The Redress of Poetry: Oxford lectures. Faber and Faber.  This text contains ten lectures given while the author was Professor of Poetry at Oxford (1989-1994).
David Whyte can be found here.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Practical wisdom and meta matters

Previous blog contained telling phrase “might have a moment to upload documents needed for my PhD application”.  Long story short, my first year review is imminent and explains the gap between the previous post and this one.   My PhD subject is metacognition, in adult learning, so it means me too.  As it concerns thinking about thinking, I’m obliged to consider my thinking: how meta is it, and does it help anything? Does meta matter?  Will it connect with wise(r) ways?  And what about my new identity, or occupation, or station, craft or label or. . .

I spotted Pat Thomson’s Patter debate about whether somebody doing a doctorate is a student, candidate, researcher, dr (not yet Dr) or “dottorando” (Italian), a word that contains its process nature - wave rather than particle.  My business card says I am a student; I have a student ID; I am administered as a student by institutions various.  I stopped being a director of my company, and my business partner has plenty to do other than continue it in my scholarly absence (find out what here).  My former existences, and the skills that came with them, are no longer always visible even to me.  And my children want to know why I am being so selfish as to inflict poverty of time and funds on them. Good questions.

So far, so tricky. And is any of it remotely of consequence?  I write as people's homes, livelihoods and, in some cases, lives have sunk.  Flooded away.  My quip about walking the dog having become a doggy paddle is only funny if you haven't seen the news.  Clutching at the straw that my new occupation of research is meaningful, some recent research has, unhelpfully it seems to me, indicated that choosing a meaningful life isn't going to make you happy.  Must remember to ask the vicar about that one.  And colleagues working with climate change.  And those folk trying to achieve something constructive with/about education:  encouragingly, Child1's head of music seemed overwhelmingly chipper even before his shortlisting as world’s most fortissimo teacher ever.

So, I've recently completed 15,000 words on the topic, 'What is metacognition?'  You may think it isn’t a question on everyone's lips, but it is. It sounds like:  Do you think that’s wise. . . ? What were they thinking. . . ? How could we. . . ?  What if we take a step back and think differently? 

Perhaps I can get a new chant going in the playground – “2, 4, 6, 8, Let's all metacogitate. . .”

Practical wisdom may seem elusive, but it isn’t so far away, when we find the right questions.  My superstar colleague Sarah is launching her book Bolder and Wiser, containing the voices of 20 women whose everyday living gives some clues.  From the open space sessions that colleagues from Bath Consultancy Group and the Association for Management Education and Development generously joined me for, came: "what is the ‘it’ you get when you ‘get it’?” And, “why don’t we subjugate theory in favour of noticing what we are doing to one another?" And if you haven't discovered Triarchy Press yet, have a look.

You know how sometimes you start with a particular intention and then you realise you have arrived somewhere unexpected? Best to stop there and listen.

Making sense of the space between

“Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns ou...