Monday 29 April 2013

On technology, requirement and the human mind.

When I first started teaching in high schools I became quite depressed. Armed with a first degree and a teacher's diploma, I expected the freedom of thought and the level of professionalism that the books I had read outlined. Also, I had attended a good high school that gave me a very positive orientation to the possibilities of growth within schooling.

So the wall of political will that presented itself to my first attempts at educating others was first frustrating, then enraging, then depressing because of the resulting futility

Whereas political interference will always push educational endeavour around, adolescents have changed in their average response to the world in which they live. By way of specific example, I walked past my twenty-something daughter who was sitting in front of a loud TV while at the same time bending over her cell-phone with her ears plugged in, stabbing away at the keypad, no doubt chatting with twenty friends.

"At least put off one screen," I said. "There's no way you can attend to all of this at the same time." She was indignant. "I'm looking at it from time to time," she said, with the tone of voice that implied that I was in her personal space and needed to go away. But I wanted to make my point.

"Choose a screen," I demanded.

She looked at me, and in that look I learnt a great deal in a very abrupt moment. I learnt that my engagement with her, at that point, was irrelevant and undesireable to her, and would not result in any dignified or fruitful exchange. I learnt that every lesson I had ever learnt in my life meant nothing in respect of our formal or spontaneous ways of relating to each other. Not only was she incapable of choosing a screen, she wasn't capable of attending to my demand. She was in fact not being rude, malicious or disobedient. Her ability to to choose, to be mindful, to discern, to line up her emotions with the world beyond the screens had been incapacitated.

Earlier in the week, a quote from Albert Einstein had come to my attention:

"When technology overtakes human interaction, we will have a generation of idiots."

I don't mean to call my daughter an idiot. I don't think of her like that. Yet I grasp what Einstein predicted, because it's happened. Interactive screens have come to be the first call, the imperative, resulting in pseudo-communication and stunted emotional communication, whether with others or oneself.
All too soon, post-interactive-screen humans won't know how to converse with each other in terms of emotions, meanings and decisions. I guess it's okay for my generation. We learnt spontaneously through painful experience that being alive meant avoiding mistakes and calamities. Because we learnt about real life through real life itself, we can handle this technology appropriately, knowing that intelligence has to be applied to more than a screen. Because of marketeering, consumerism and rapidly evolving technology, the contemporary generation accepts that immediate gratification is a given and that the challenges of demand and self-discipline are not high on the list of enjoyable activities.

The cell-phone has proved to move the minds of high school learners far more than the clumsy attempts of the politicians. The cell-phone, smart-phone, tablet, ipad, ipod, kindle and ican are not merely in your face, they have become the face.

This face smiles when you want it to, chats non-stop, gives you all the information you require, makes your music, plays your videos, stores your memories, and never disciplines you unless you set the alarm or make an appointment. It lines up with all your desires and expectations and is continually engineered to do so more and more. For you to line up with anything? Foreign thought. That's a dire situation best avoided. No-one's going to pay money being forced to line up with a sense of reality. You pay money to have things lined up with you.

This expecation takes shape before high school years and becomes ingrained during high school years. School has nothing to do with it, really.. The strategy should not be one of school vs face. This fight has already been lost. The face should be used by educators to set tasks, make deadlines, issue summons, forcing attention away from pleasure to requirement.

A percentage of adolescents will always be able to impose self-restriction for the sake of growth and wisdom. The majority won't.

We need to research the impact of dwindling responsiveness to requirement, and since adolescents are more densely populated in schools than anywhere else during daytime, schools are useful sites for researching solutions to problems presented by the face, rather than anothe futile fight against the face.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Narrative glue

While I was professor of English I spent some time wandering around the precinct of Lit. Theory. This is a very conceptual place to ponder. What's more is that if you dare to say or write anything, someone is bound to argue, criticize or even worse, ignore you on purpose. Nevertheless, I learned valuable things. Having put some distance between that time of theoretical analysis and the more concrete purposes of coaching at this time, the amazing dynamics of narrative have impressed me more and more. People like Dorian Haarhoff have made huge contributions by introducing so many individuals and groups to the power of story, not on a theoretical basis, but concretely, practically, creatively, therapeutically.

Narrative glue holds a narrative together. Narrative glue also draws narratives together. Narrative glue is to be found integrally in the human mind, not as an objective substance, although a trip to Bodyworlds and a working knowledge of neurotransmission will do much to amplify the physiological dynamics of this magical glue. I discovered narrative glue after thinking about Freke and Gandy's book The Jesus Mysteries for more than a decade. Recently I had the cheek to write to Tim Freke via facebook, because this is possible, and to comment on his work. His encouraging remarks about my remarks made me stop to think a bit more. His take on the Gnostic gospels is that they can be better grasped if not taken literally, and probably shouldn't be taken literally at all. My take is that the gospels are not merely to be understood, but are living myths requiring participation. All stories with heart are like this.

I think this is why Lord of the Rings, The Narnia Chronicles and Harry Potter have proved immensely attractive. People don't merely read (or watch) stories. They actually enter the stories. Well, I do. I have entered stories since very early childhood, listening to Aunty Carol making it up, with all the fairy tales intertwined, begging her to make the train go into the tunnel, so that the predictable mayhem could mayhum.

In "real" life, we have ways and means of separating stories from each other, virtually enforcing categories of truthfulness (intensities of feeling and understanding) with escape holes so that return to "reality" remains possible.

Well, it seems to me that each human organism is a nexus for all stories. The ones that remain close are family narratives, cultural mantras, dramas of immediate history, from the very personal to the larger contexts that are the moving backdrops. Then the living myths, dressed up in stories of faith, impressing with the need for decisive living, and commitment to the deepest stirrings of the heart.

The "dreams that come" are stories too, though not as controllable or predictable as the laws of physics and chemistry. Narrative glue is weird. (Weird acutally means the experience of change while growing from a recognizeable place to an as yet unrecognizeable place.) I have a story in mind that I have come to fear. It takes place one hundred and fifty thousand million years from now, when not one human will be left, because the mountain ranges, the earth itself, the sun, the entire solar system will have changed because it has all gone. I may have the time line wrong, but you know what I mean.

What will have happened to the memory of the entire human race? Will the Akashic record still breathe life into something that remote, or will there be a gentle turning of the page, and a new thing, that will utterly replace the old? Here I come to my limits, and don't know what to think, or feel. . I don't know if deep affection is allowed an eternal home, although it asks for one. I don't know if human awareness and consciousness is precious enough to it's own genesis to carry on forever. When I was five, my dear Irish friend made me grasp that eternity isn't a long time: it's forever. Forever is serious.

The narratives to which we make commitments are important because they make commitments back to us. The glue is real, though not easily read, because it is the ink with which we write our lives.

Of this I'm sure: not one of us is alone, ever. In my most solitary moments I have felt a great crowd watching me intently. I have felt the swirls of many, many stories making mine what it is. I have also felt intimations of the grand metaphor, and have not dared to approach this holy ground with words. I'm not sure we should. I have also come to distrust the first personal pronoun, which I think is a linguistic misappropriation. In my Zen moments I don't mind not existing, but I prefer the Jungian moments of the eternally emerging self. And then I get utterly impatient with all this word-wringing, and wonder who ever wants to be themselves forever? How boring can it all get?

I used to write stories, but it got scarey. As I wrote, they came to life and actually happened, around me. My wife said I should quickly write about making lots of money, but that impulse doesn't work out.

Narrative glue. The stories you allow come to you. The stories you want, well, all I can say is that I have achieved every dream of my life, so far, and am checking out what is yet to come.

Something there is that draws all stories together, and creates a highway of words. If you know this, and walk on, your being will begin to sink, rise and respond to the the gift of language, the key that regulates freedom.

Humans have language. They also make stories. Additionally, they can add all manner of stories to their repertoire of understanding.

Yet, it's a glue. What dreams may come, what stories feel to be true: the mystery of our involvement goes, I hope, beyond that one hundred and fifty million thousand years. Not many of us have the gift of anchoring our words to this world while sailing the seventy-seven seas of eternity.

It doesn't matter. Not much does. Glue is glue. You feel it, you know it, it sticks, it takes over if it's strong. You can't wash it off easily.

Linked to the strength of narrative, it's forever. This is a really amazing call. We feel it in music, we know it in dance, we understand it in art. We perform it in faith.

There's a gate, a door by which we enter, by which we leave, also by which we return, then from which we move on. This is the here and now. Then there's the forever. For a human mind it's all a bit scarey, because, like a hobbit, we aren't that brave. Yet we have it all within our understanding.

The glue is fine, you can trust it.

Monday 15 April 2013

Simple emotions and existential meaning

For some, losing an argument can be life-threatening. For others, tending a flower-bed into full bloom can be the epitome of heaven. One look of intense recognition can be the turn-around you'll never get again. We're told to beware of using cruel words. One of them could be the last straw.

We encounter simple feelings every day on an unexpected basis. Someone came up and interrupted the conversation between a colleague and myself. I was deeeply angered. On the internet I saw a funny picture which made me giggle for hours. I heard a bird-call and was given an immense peace that not only was all well, but that all will be well. I hear a quote from the Bible read in a particular tone, and fall into a deep depression over human folly, and then I hear the same quote in a different tone, and my soul grasps a truth for which I have been thirsting for a long time.

Simple emotions can reach very deeply, and the pattern for this is set largely in childhood. It was put to me, very early in childhood, that I was excluded from God's mercy unless I went through the correct initiation part of which had to be intellectual surrender. I don't mind surrendering, if that's the right word, to God in this way, but I never surrendered to the people who were demanding this of me. They weren't speaking of God, in any case, but of their own needs. The point I'm making is that I connected certain kinds of emotions with an understanding of God which automatically took me to deep places of understanding and feeling. Deep, intense feelings and daily activities connect very easily, as road rage shows us.

What we deem to be understandings are living patterns of emotions. If you still feel the trauma of watching a squirrel getting run over when you were a child, that's no feeling in a museum. That will link to many, many emotional triggers and expectations on a daily basis. Experiencing a regularly and violently drunk father, or a usually vacant mother, or a daily bully results in complex patterns of a base state of self-awareness. In general a base state of self awareness has to be complex.

So the argument goes that all simple emotions are short cuts to the existential platform which is a turbulent well. Yet the well can be read. The book Time Light by Bryan Hubbard is helpful in respect of doing this. Thank you, Bryan.

For me, emotions veer from one intensity to the next, the intent of which is truth-seeking. I am not a good light conversationalist. Each momentary event is a direct two-way path to the core of awareness.

The core itself is peaceful, yet the affective effects of the core are not, because we have to learn how to align ourselves to the core.

More on the core in blogs to come...

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Who am I?

They say that this is an important question that few can answer directly and truthfully.

Okay, here goes: you can accept the cold, clear touch of living water in the very quick of you;

you can accept the deep peace of the pattern of music that holds you;

you can relax in knowing the unknowingness of knowing;

you can sense, directly, being part of the infinite circle;

you can put your livingness into the next second of every minute;

you can lose your unnecessary identity, easily;

and assume, with all the grace your imagination supplies

that which is given to you

as a special path

to nothing more special

than two or three details

that fill the next moment


They will tell you

who you are.