Following recent conversations about whether it is possible to 'teach' problem solving, I wrote this.
Comments very welcome.
Following recent conversations about whether it is possible to 'teach' problem solving, I wrote this.
Comments very welcome.
In today's meeting for worship I was reminded of something said by a friend, on his looking forward to visiting another friend: 'I'm looking forward to being in his presence again.'
My thoughts turned to meeting, being in the presence of the others there, and a growing sense of unity.
Today was the first time my daughter had attended meeting; she stayed for a short time and then left, but I remained very aware of her presence in the house. We have a number of children who come to the meeting; they bring a restless energy and joy.
Sophie currently has a strong desire to be in the presence of us, her parents. She often just comes and sits next to us, or plays in the same room, and is currently waking up in the night to find us.
Recently I was lying in bed and my cat jumped up and gently rested himself on my arm, just next to me. I was grateful for comfort, the light pressing of his weight.
And then, the meeting for worship, and the presence - or perhaps the absence - of God. I am currently not ready to worship what is called God, and currently think in terms of something akin to Bennett's higher energies - or perhaps Eckhart's God beyond God. This is perhaps the ground of what we might call presence, not accessible to common sense. Hence meeting in silence.
Something similar might be felt in the presence of nature, of surrendering oneself to its vastness and plenitude, of teeming life and rocks, all in flux, of which we are a part. I was walking along the cliffs recently and held my hands in the air, in prostration to the sun. On another occasion recently, the words 'I understand' came out of my mouth, bringing to mind George Herbert's prayer, of 'something understood'.
Thoughts turn away from those present now, to being in the presence of friends; I have two friends coming to visit on Wednesday, and most of all I am just looking forward to being in their presence again. Since moving, I am grateful for others with whom I have a sense of presence through other forms of communication.
My mind casts back to knowing my partner as a friend before starting our relationship, and the feeling we had of wanting to be in each other's presence more often.
And there are others whose presence we are no longer able to be with, at least in the present moment, now. We are to be content with our memories of being present with them, suggesting that being in the presence of others, now, is what matters most, and my mind returns back to what is, here and now.
Yesterday I stayed up to watch the penumbral lunar eclipse. Penumbra is from the Latin almost shadow, the region where some of the light source is obscured.
The eclipse is seen here as a faint shadow upon the upper left part of the moon:
Waiting with my camera, I was a little disappointed. I had expected something more.
The experience later brought to mind Haiku poet Basho's account of his visit to the Kashima shrine.
Crouching under a pine
On reading the above poem by Teishitsu, Basho writes:
Having for some time cherished in my mind the memory of this poet, I wandered out on the road at last one day this past autumn, possessed by an irresistible desire to see the rise of the full moon over the mountains of the Kashima shrine.
After a long journey, Basho arrives at the Kashima shrine:
... it started to rain in the afternoon, and in no way could we see the rise of the full moon... Shortly before daybreak, however, the moon began to shine through the rifts made in the hanging clouds... We sat for a long time in utter silence, watching the moonlight trying to penetrate the clouds and listening to the sound of the lingering rain. It was really regrettable that I had come such a long way only to look at the dark shadow of the moon, but I consoled myself by remembering the famous lady who had returned without composing a single poem from the long walk she had taken to hear a cuckoo.
Basho is referring to a story by Sei Shonagon - who describes the cuckoo's song as 'so faint that one doubts one's own ears'.
Given his disappointment, Basho wrote the following verse:
Perhaps my disappointment was to be expected with such expectation, but I now see that the beauty is in the faintness of the shadow - so faint that one doubts one's own eyes.
I have long been interested in shadow. For example, in mathematics: objects in higher dimensions can be represented as shadows in lower dimensions.
In my twenties, I was not that interested in art, but strangely became very interested in Caravaggio's painting and his use of shadow, seen here in Supper at Emmaus:
[Incidentally, John Berger's Ways of Seeing has a brilliant discussion with a group of children about it, starting at 25:53].
Around the same time I also became interested in Botticelli's drawings of Dante's Paradiso, in particular this one of The Empyrean:
The absence of image here represents Dante loss for words:
Like those who see so clearly while they dream
I did not think about these images again until recently, around 20 years later. I have become interested in some of the themes present in these pieces of art: not only shadow, but also religious emotions, mythic images, the ineffable...
My interest in these things 20 years ago might be considered as shadows of other selves that only now are receiving more light. To quote Mary Boole:
Coming revelation casts its shadow before.
How might we notice such shadows when they appear, so faint that one doubts oneself?
I am reminded of another Haiku, this by the poet Sodo:
This post contains some questions about the relevance today of the work of Meister Eckhart, a 13th century mystic.
An image is not of itself, nor is it for itself. It has its origin in that of which it is the image…
Mister Eckhart believed we do not possess our own being, it is received; we are nothing beyond what is projected through us, and should live as such. The origin of this projection may not be sought, or thought; it may be revealed to us through releasement (gelassenheit), a letting be.
Releasement may be reached through a way of life that is not attached to images and projects, or to some higher power, but to what is in front of us and within us in this ‘this present now’.
Love’s in need of love today.
It is difficult to believe in being as nothingness when faced with the reality of everyday life. But might this belief lead towards humility and equality?
And if we are to follow Eckhart in following the idea that being is a gift that we receive and only for a short time, how might one receive this gift? With gratitude, certainly, but also with the possibility that we might offer something in return. What do we have to offer?
…the fruitfulness of a gift is the only gratitude for the gift.
There are many instances where letting be might be useful, but there are also times when we must with-stand. With-standing suggests standing-with others; unity. How might we show unity with those with whom we wish to stand?
Trappist abbeys are placed in flat landscapes because [they] impel the mind to the contemplation of last things.
Another reason for moving to Westray was an urge to be able to see the horizon, such as this one today:
After spending a few moments contemplating this horizon, I walked a bit further and came across hundreds of Guillemots perched on ledges on cliff faces.
I watched as they dived from the ledges, for a few seconds plunging towards the sea, then frantically flapping their wings, levelling off for a while, then landing on the surface of the water a few hundred yards from the cliff. Presumably they were looking for food.
I watched others return in a roughly inverse movement, low across the water before ascending sharply back up to the ledges, to rejoin huddles of others. Why do they huddle? For warmth and shelter, perhaps to share the food they have caught?
There were hundreds of them, along with hundreds more gulls circling in arcs around the cliffs. Contemplation of last things seems to matter less when faced with such an abundance of life.
Another reason I was excited about moving to Westray was the possibility of being part of a community. I am unsure what community means exactly, but I am becoming more aware of how it feels.
Anyone driving past you in Westray will signal a greeting with their hand. When they pass you in the street, they say hello. I spent last weekend on Orkney mainland, and missed this.
Graham runs a taxi service that services the airstrip. If you call or text him he will come to your house to pick you up on the way. As Graham dropped us off at the airstrip, he then changed into his fire-retardant suit to take up his role as fire officer. It is not uncommon for people to have a number of jobs or take part in a number of committees, not all of which are paid.
Hans Jonas talks about the importance of, 'Letting more inconvenience into our lives'. I have been asked to consider joining the fire and coastguard services. What am I prepared to do for the community?
I have joined a Quaker group. I am yet to understand fully the gravity of sitting with others in silent worship, but it is not the same as sitting in solitude.
A member of the group is allowing me to use her house to write something I am working on. When I asked how I get in to the house when coming to write, she replied, 'You open the door.' Doors are left open, keys are left in cars. The library does not require proof of address. There is trust and generosity; perhaps these are requirements of community.
In communities there are others who might feel similar to how we feel, perhaps about something that is not easily expressed, or perhaps not held in common with many, but is deeply felt.
I have not forgotten the words spoken by a member of the group following a recent ATM Science of Education working group meeting: 'These meetings are a lifeline for me.'
Each separate being in the universe returns to the common source.
One of the reasons I was excited about moving to Westray was the possibility of becoming closer to something, to gain some kind of insight.
You could call it nature, perhaps the 'common source', or what Joseph Campbell calls the 'Great Mystery'. Perhaps it is contact with Bennett's conscious energy that passes through us all always, but is rarely noticed. How might one gain insight into the mystery?
According to Genesis 1:2, the earth began as void before, 'the Spirit of God moved over the surface of the waters', causing movement. I liken this to the movement of the mind. From where does this wandering arise, and why?
[Compare this with Vishnu floating on the cosmic sea, dreaming reality into existence. How is it that we believe we participate in dreams?]
In yoga, one aims to stop the wandering of the mind, but might the work be in working towards a life of stillness, a return to serenity?
Silence may provide the stillness through which we might notice higher energies working through us. PD Ouspensky suggests we may all benefit from breaking the 'habit of talking'.
There is serenity in immersing oneself in nature - in the whole of which we are a part - and 'Taking time to linger in those moments that we become fascinated in objects.' (JG Bennett)
There is a danger of grasping for insight. Insight may come if we remain, as Heidegger noted, 'open to the mystery'. The waves, in their natural rhythm, bring the sea towards us.
After all this solitude, I have found serenity from being able to spend more time with those I love, a return to the source of family. This is truly a gift. As Pierre Lacout suggests:
In this inward quiet, the soul must not be concerned with thinking much, but with loving much.
[Thank you Mike for inspiring me to write something...]
Imagination becomes more and more a test of one's humanity because it is an expression of freedom. (Caleb Gattegno, The Universe of Babies)
This post contains some thoughts about recent experience.
Awarenesses come from experience, in the form of things I have felt, seen, heard and read. They are emotions, words, sentences, questions, gestures, concepts... I am more likely to learn from experience through detailed and systematic recording, reflection, validation with others, and imagining of future actions... making these experiences more readily available for future use.
I need reminders. A seashell in the pocket reminds me to remain centred (Lindbergh's Gifts from the Sea, the holiday in Antigua where I found it), through which I regain stillness.
Looking for points where it is possible to act differently brings a sense of spontaneity, creativity - what John Mason calls a 'moment of freedom'. If I do not feel such moments, why am I doing what I am doing?
1. Students must be presented with opportunities to make choices in order to become able to respond to offers and demands being made of them. This will take time: it will be necessary to let go of frustration, to look for ways to support students in making conscious decisions.
2. Frustration and conflict arises from dishonesty with myself and others. If I make a genuine offer, I must be ready to accept that this offer may be declined. What then?
3. I should avoid making assumptions about the children I teach. Are there circumstances of which I need to be aware? Is this student making a conscious decision to act in this way? If not, how can I help them become more aware of possible choices available to them? Conversation is crucial, labelling is harmful.
4. Anyone may be capable of anything, but we can only act according to what we can discern, and the actions that are available to us, at that moment. As such, it is useful to suspend judgements (about myself and others).
5. Emotional (visceral) reactions warrant further interrogation. What am I reacting strongly to - a challenge to my core beliefs (bringing self-doubt), perhaps a sense of failure? If I am reacting emotionally to the actions of students, is a different nature of response available?
1.1 Here, now, is the teaching of yoga
Yoga is 'an awareness from being present here and now, to this situation, at this time, and responding to it'.
Stillness is not an absence of motion, just as silence is not an absence of sound. They are both characteristics of being present here and now, a letting go of inner sound and motion, a increased sensitivity to subtler vibrations within and outside ourselves; nirodha parinama is 'transformation towards silence', towards anahata nada, the 'soundless sound that fills the universe' [Levinas' 'there is'?].
Joseph Campbell talks of the present being 'in the same dimension as eternity'. All distractions of the mind are rooted in a time displaced from the present: 'The Sufi is he whose thought keeps pace with his foot'.
1.12 Stillness develops through practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya).
Abhyasa and Vairagya are simultaneous attentiveness and receptivity. Mme de Salzmann: 'We need to stay in front of whatever is taking place'. Krishnamurti: 'be totally attentive, and do nothing'. William Blake:
Labour well the minute particulars, attend to the little ones... Labour well the teeming earth... he who would do good to another must do so in minute particulars.
Samadhi is attention not conditioned by objects, ideas, feelings. Dhyana is surrender, receptivity to finer energies.
Again, Mme de Salzmann:
Watch for the point in working when it is necessary to let go. Something has to be abandoned. Ego makes the effort, but one comes to the point where the ego has to be passive. The point of transition is subtle. There can be too much effort or too little.
Passivity (of ego) does not imply passivity of attention; quite the opposite: 'Make a demand upon yourself. There is a deep passivity, you must see this and struggle against it.'
Clarity comes from attention to prana, the range of energies and impressions we take in and give out, embodied in breathing. Our breathing changes quality according to the depth and quality of attention: 'Respiration is the act of receiving the spirit again and again with the air'.
All things are subject to higher (positive) and lower (negative) qualities, the three gunas - sattva, rajas, tamas. Sattva is contentment-passivity, rajas is activity-grasping, tamas is stability-inertia.
The yogas outline the kleshas, mental states that lead to lower qualities: ignorance, egoism, attachment to like and dislike, a tendency for inertia. As one is, so one acts; as one acts, so one becomes. Higher qualities arise from yamas, ways of being, including non-violation, truthfulness, non-grasping.
Ishvara pranidhana is a celebration of the mystery, an innocence free from the need to know. Rainer Maria Rilke:
Learn to love the questions themselves... do not seek answers that cannot be given to you, because you would not be able to live them... and the point is to live everything. Live the questions now, and perhaps you will then, gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.