Thursday, 28 November 2013

Spirituality as decolonizing: Judy Iseke

Voices in the Wind is a film series produced through Judy Iseke's research with First Nation Elders in Canada.

Some of the concepts that resonated with me when reading Iseke's work include
  • spirituality as decolonizing
  • research as ceremony.
These are powerful concepts enacted through the lens of cultural knowledge and everyday practices.

Iseke explains the work of the Elders as decolonizing work, which verifies "understandings of relationships to land, cosmos, and spiritual traditions embodied in their healing and ceremonial practices" (p. 36) that she explores in her paper titled Spirituality as decolonizing: Elders Albert Desjarlais, George McDermott, and Tom McCallum share understandings of life in healing practices (2013).

In terms of decolonizing then, Iseke notes, through her sharing in ceremonial practices with the Elders that
When one enters into the ceremonies and connects with the power of the land and all relations, it is no longer possible to continue to be in a colonized state. One is freed by grandfathers, the spirits, and the connections to Creator to live in a decolonized state (2013: 47).
Attending Noel Nannup's storytelling series (The Carers of Everything creation story) this past month, to learn more about Nyoongar culture, has helped me realise the inextricable link between people, land and knowledge. Noel describes cultural practices as perpetuating the relationship between spirituality, culture and environment that has served Nyoongar peoples for thousands of years, and these practices are embodied - indeed lived - in ceremonial stories, songs, dance, and art.

In this regard, ceremony and ritual are profoundly important to enacting spirit and thus living a spiritually connected life, not separated from everyday practices and activities. As Iseke recounts, "life is lived like a ceremony" (2013: 38). The role of the Elders is pivotal to ensuring the authenticity and perpetuity of these cultural practices:
The Elders' presence ensured that the ceremonies invited and included all those present, including the mostly non-Indigenous [film] crew that learned something about how to live in ceremony from these [research] experiences (2013: 38).
The presence of an inclusive ethos is evident to me in this quote too, another aspect I think is central to decolonizing - there must be "room in the tent" for us all.

Finally, Iseke recounts the advice from the Elders with whom she collaborates and notes that there is no substitute for direct experience; it is the way to truly understand ceremony and cultural practices, and ultimately decolonize ourselves through them:
The ceremonial practice of altering vibrations [eg. through music] helps us to be different and to connect to our understandings of the world at new levels and in new ways (2013: 50).
Our evaluation is seen in a new and different way in light of these understandings, or investigations. I'm curious to talk more with the Nyoongar Elders and understand how they draw connections between country, family and spirituality. No doubt it will be another humbling conversation or ten!

This line of thinking takes my own inquiry into a more spiritual place, and I'm not sure yet what it means (or will mean), but will remain patient and take a leap of faith to explore it further.

Further reading:

Styres, S, 2011, Land as first teacher: A philosophical journey, Reflective Practice, Vol 12, No 6, 717-731:
Land as first teacher is a contemporary engagement with Indigenous philosophies derived from a land-centred culture and based on very old pedagogies. These very old pedagogies are an acknowledgment and an honouring of the art and science embedded in traditional teaching practices (2011: 717).

Sunday, 22 September 2013

From hard work to heart work

In recent times, I have understood that hard work is preceded by heart work, if hard work is to truly pay off for us in a productive and sustained way. I have been deepening my understanding of reflective practice especially in my current work and am sitting with these aspects to do with 'heart work'.

Creating conditions for 'heart work', some initial 'conclusions'...
Precondition: Be mindful of your intention and sit with it long enough for it to move from your head to your heart. Only then will your work be heart work!
Lesson 1: Get to know the conditions so well that you can describe them to another in detail.
Lesson 2: Be patient and sit with this necessary knowledge growth (or information gathering phase) - this connects your head with your heart.
Lesson 3: Test your understanding of the conditions with others, so that you are not only clarifying your own knowledge, but are - through your interactions - sharing knowledge too (this declares your position to others as well).
Lesson 4: Let your actions be governed by heartfelt intentions rather than that little voice that says "I should..." (this way we are fully aware of our responsibilities for our own actions).
Lesson 5: Enjoy the struggle, because usually it's something you care deeply about.
Now, here's the story...

Image from I ♥ Inspiration
I had a lovely and inspiring reflective afternoon yesterday with a dear friend of mine, who facilitated a visual reflection activity with me. I had, the previous week, chosen a series of images that spoke to the question I had, that is, "How did I see my (research / facilitator) role in the project that I am currently working on?" The origin of this question was borne out of the move of the project to the next phase, an evaluation whereby service providers and local Nyoongar Elders would work together to review and reshape the way services were being delivered.

I chose my reflective images without analysis or judgment, but with feeling - that is, my reaction or connection to them. For the rest of the week I sat with the images, peering at their detail and wondering at my connection to them (again, without judgment or analysis). I then began describing the images in turn, which sparked a further connection to them. I grouped them, moved them around, regrouped them, and so on. After a week, I felt I could engage with another in uncovering my thoughts about the images I was working with.
I also began to realise that I needed to sit with my feeling of impatience in understanding their meaning to me. I was aware that I was not yet ready to delve into an analysis until I had really got to know them and become incredibly familiar with them (that is, so that I could describe them to someone else in a vivid and detailed way).

It is from here that I diverge from my imagery story to settle on the focus of this blog post! (Maybe I'll write some other time about image-based reflection)...

This is about intention. What I realized through this exploration of reflection using images is how we are connected to - or disconnected from - our intentions. Being patient enough to allow these forms of connections to emerge is challenging.

Often we are intent on doing something. We set our sights on it and we work to get it done. However, I think often we are not truly mindful of our intentions when we do things. We get to the end of the day with a sense that we've completed many things and "been busy" (which, I argue, is the most overused and least understood phrase in our everyday!), yet often we do not reflect back to how well our actions and engagements matched our original intentions, or whether we were fully attuned to them in the first place. We also need to refine our observational skills so that we can better 'see' the world around us, and also realize our place in it.

So, in laying out the "lessons learned" above, I have included a precondition; that is, to ask myself what is my intention, and have I matched my intent with my feelings about them? That is, have I taken the time "to feel into the tone and emotion of that intention as well as stating it verbally to yourself or out loud" (see para: 13, Wise Heart, L. Lowe-Chardé, December 13, 2012)?

Our feelings determine our thoughts and our actions, whether we are mindful of this or not. They also provide us clues to our value positions, add to our personal stories, and echo our assumptions, as well as our histories. Our intentions further echo this and if we are mindful of how and what pushes our buttons, then we can both be triggered by and align with what we truly care about.
If we can align these three rings [What we do - How we do it - Why we do it], we are putting our best selves forward.  We have integrity between action and intention – and with purpose.   We do the right things, in the right ways, for the right reasons.  This reason I’m committed to practicing emotional intelligence is that it gives me a way to create integrity – alignment between who I am and who I mean to be (End para, Freedman,, 7 Aug 2013).
If we can do this, then we don't need to struggle everyday being busy with hard work, but can struggle intentionally with heart work; doing things we really care deeply about.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Moustakas: The meaning of relationship

Moustakas, Being-In, Being-For, Being-With (1995, p. 70, 71):
In the authentic relationship, there is a facing up to the feelings and issues, an exercise of wills, without the will on either side being negated, impaired, or broken. The will ignites the fires of determination and enables one to face the old patterns of criticism, adversity, and rejection; enables one to live with the negative feelings and thoughts while creating new images and meanings in the process.
What assists us in overcoming the harmful roots of relationship is a new relationship, the presence of a sensitive and caring human being, a friend, teacher, counselor, or therapist. The new relationship is anchored in the reality of one person's presence to another, in the being there, and in the safety, security, compassion, and acceptance of this other person.
In his chapter on the meaning of relationship, Clark Moustakas talks about rhythms and rituals and the concepts of reciprocity and attunement, as well as "bodying forth" (pp. 79-81) as the necessary and basic conditions for engaging positively with others in an intimate way. As with the title of his book, he talks about "being" as central to relationships that are full, whole, creative and significant.

And so by way of connection... I was scanning through my photos and landed on this one of a fern frond, and it struck me that relationships are curled and circular in this way. One element must unfurl in order to make way for another, and so on. There is no rushing this. Patience is the key.

My mental 'note to self' this week is - patience, to be-with.

Fern frond
Photo by Marg on Flickr

Friday, 23 August 2013

Reflective image of the week: Citi Zen and self reflection

And more on mindfulness in the everyday... I'm noticing the interrelationship between self reflection and systems change thinking (the small in the big, or more, the big in the small as my tai chi teacher would say). Spotted this image on Flickr via Michael Coghlan and immediately saw the words "Citi Zen" and connected with mindfulness (perhaps as a Zen practice?) and the need to grow the "mindful citizen".

Citi Zen Restauant
Photo by Michael Coghlan on Flickr

As the participating services engage with the Elders in their organizational review process, there's a need to create new spaces for conversations, a new shared language and more inclusive consensus building processes. More and more I'm convinced that none of this can occur without a person being self reflective and mindful of how they engage with others, despite the broader systems change references we've been referring to in the Project. We're talking about building relationships and deepening them. We can only do this skillfully if we are mindful of how we relate to others. From there it seems all the more likely that systems change can occur authentically and sustainably.

Also in the image, I noticed the juxtaposition of the tree in front of the building; two structures representing two different expressions of different worldviews. How do these work together? What environmental conditions help them to do so productively and sustainably? This is the work service providers are about to embark on as they work together with Nyoongar Elders in a process we are naming as decolonization (of service based workplaces). We have come to understand this to mean:
Decolonization is a process, not an outcome; it involves an ongoing discussion between those who are beneficiaries of colonialist practices and those who have been impacted by colonization. One of the key objectives of decolonization is to reconstruct and rewrite the discourses and practices that reinforce the principles of colonization to include those silenced voice.*

* Tiffin H, 2006, 'Post-colonial Literatures and Counter-discourse', in The Post-Colonial Studies Reader, 2nd Edn, Eds Ashcroft B, Griffiths G & H Tiffin, Routledge, London, pp. 99-101. 

Friday, 10 May 2013

Wisdom of children: Leadership

Little Miss Nearly-five was the first one dressed this morning, as did I in getting ready for work. She said that the girls could lead the trip (her planned adventure for the day) because we were ready first.

I suggested that maybe the girls could just lead the whole world, as I gave her a hug.

She responded with:

"No, there are only two leaders in the world, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny."

Pirate Clancy
Pirate Clancy

Here are some more thoughts from kids about leadership, and what adults can do when they acknowledge the child within!

Happy Friday :o)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Reflective image(s) of the day: silos

It's been a big week in the world of service providers and with our evaluation planning. I am struck by the silos that still exist in the way some services are governed. The conventional and conservative approaches are alive and well (and comes as no surprise)!

I wonder how organisations that adhere to a more conventional model of governance see themselves in relation to the world around them? I fear there is an echo chamber rather than a (connecting) feedback process that perpetuates the silo-ed structures of such organisations.

silo canister
Silo canisters by alandberning
How do we look out and connect to the world beyond, when we are silo-ed? How does this skew or colour our view of the world? What relationships are we able to enjoy (and endure)? How do we validate what we do? And with whom? How do we trust others with our knowledge and practices? How do we trust in ourselves?

Silos 1
Silos 1 by Cal Dellinger
The cultural challenge begins . . .

Friday, 12 April 2013

A leap of faith

We had our first meeting with service providers yesterday about the evaluation plan they will begin developing in a couple of months. It's an exciting time!

This evaluation is based on the work we did last year and the community findings the previous year. I was both anxious and excited about our meeting yesterday: anxious in seeing how people would respond to our outline and second would they "get it", plus excited by the fact that we were beginning the journey with them in earnest (after months of planning and talking about and with them!).

As a project team, we've also been synthesizing our thinking around connecting the personal/individual journey with the systems change journey - a "leap of faith" in some ways. We tentatively tested our thinking with the service we met with yesterday, and we didn't sense we were "off track" with our message. Mostly non-verbal indicators; nods, leaning forward, a sense of warmth in the room, and I am somewhat relieved.

It's also got to do, I think, with taking your message out, to really test it and see if it lives or dies. If it contributes to the ongoing dialogue, then it's valuable.

Reflecting on that phrase, "a leap of faith", I'm reminded of The Matrix and in particular, this excerpt:

What I've noticed in this scene are my own feelings as Morpheus takes the leap: taking a deep breath and jumping, the hard work required to take the jump, the effort to gather energy to leap, letting go in my mind, trusting the process, tolerating uncertainty...! I've noticed this based on our team meeting earlier today and our discussion around connecting person to process and the bigger picture (i.e. the system, where systems are people anyway).

And so, the inquiry spirals...

Further reading:
Katie Armstrong (2013) Tolerating Uncertainty, Changerous Blog. March 8, 2013.

Seikkula J & Olsen M (2003) The Open Dialogue Approach to Acute Psychosis: Its Poetics and Micropolitics, Family Process, 42(3), 403-418,

Meinhold, Roman (2009) Being in The Matrix: An example of cinematic education in philosophy, Prajna Vihara. Journal of Philosophy and Religion. Vol.10, No.1-2,

Monday, 25 March 2013

Generative versus expendable energy

It's often said that kids have energy to burn and how often have we said to ourselves "I wish I had that much energy"?

I read an article a while back about how kids use their energy and I've just reconnected with it after a conversation with a colleague about the lack of authentic presence in the online space these days (lots of arguments and theories around this ...that's for another time...), and I wondered in my reflections after our chat what it is about the energetic nature with which kids engage, one we can perhaps reacquaint ourselves with.

I recently took Clancy to see a show as part of the Perth Festival called The House of Dreaming. Kids from five to 12 yrs go on a journey through a house (an actual house was built in the ABC studios for the production) and engage with the story where the house is the main character. They hear the story within the walls of the house, through the artifacts in it and the travelling they do through it (from front door and back out again, including a passageway that came out through a suitcase!).

With each encounter (via a new room) kids learn more about the story and come ever closer to the magic flowers in the story (see more here). There's a slow unfolding of the story, building the picture, and a sense of awe and mystery about what's behind the next door - a bit like Alice in Wonderland, minus the nonsensical characters.

The story builds and begins to take on shape as you wander from one room to the next (in a structured way, following the story and the clues) and begin to "see" the layout of the house and its history and character (and the family that once lived within it).

A second production we went to was a physical theatre piece called Tangle in which kids are invited to add to the performance space using balls of elastic string. Kids along with the performers tie the end of the string to a gold pole (of which there are 5 sets of 5) and wind their way around the space. Clancy and Alfie, along with our friends, were a bit stand-offish at first, but warmed into it once they felt the space was 'safe' for them to explore. The performers (the weavers) interacted with the kids in comical and physical ways, wrapping the string around them or connecting each other with string, and so on. Over four days the tangled woven mess of strings became dense and colourful - a product of all those who ventured inside and participated. In addition (and I only realised this much later), the musician in the space improvised his music in response to the action in the space and the interactions (both between him and the performers, performers and kids, kids and him as musician). There was relationship-building going on, ownership of the space, rule setting (and stretching at times), developing of norms and shared meaning making, fun, laughter, engagement and physical movement that (literally) stretched between dance and performance/acting.

Alfie gets Tangled

We didn't talk much after the show, the kids, our friends and I, except to comment on how much fun it was and how silly the red man was. The unsaid was powerful though - we were all bright-eyed, buoyant, full of energy, sweaty and openly smiling and happy.

This is generative energy. A procreative force.

Kids depend and thrive on this kind of energy - in fact, we all do.

It takes a lot - we invest a lot. Body, mind, soul, spirit, heart. Wholeheartedly.

These performances show me that the generative space is hugely important. It should be inviting. It should house within it the necessary norms or rules by which participants come to engage in that space so they are aware of what is expected or encouraged. These rules and norms are best often acted out rather than written down - "set the good example" rings true here, even better if they are constructed together. The space should be 'unfinished', unpolished, so that participants have something to work with but aren't afraid to touch something in case it might break.

The outcome is not known, unfixed, as it depends on the participation of everyone who enters the space, not just the performers there - the participants add the X factor ("je ne sais quoi", the unknown, uncertain elements) that make it truly authentic and real, dependent on the moment - essential liminality. And almost always exquisite.

How do we champion this in our learning and professional spaces? How often do you go home at the end of the working day and feel drained, depleted? Why do we not feel energised and replenished at - and from - our work? I know there are those of us who do, but a great many of us simply don't.

We seem to be perpetually caught in a vicious cycle of doing to, rather than doing with; talking about, rather than talking with; and looking at, rather than working beside.

Stephanie Pace Marshall says it clearly (as do so many others since 1997), that a new learning (and living) agenda must:
build individual capacity by stimulating natural learning, and it must be established and built upon a foundation of connection, coherence, mutually created meaning and purpose, dynamic relationships, and the evolutionary nature of the human experience itself.
and further on:
We have excelled in the language of schooling. We must now become fluent in the language of learning and life.
We have so much to learn from our local communities around us, not to mention the myriad others globally who bravely tell their struggle for change.

When will we reach a critical mass, take a slow, deep, generative breath and leap wholeheartedly into the liminal?

Design: going local

Here's how design, education and change go together, according to Emily Pilloton. Get local. Enough said!
Local design is most sustainable when it’s an educational process, nurturing new sensibilities from the inside out, rather than from the outside in.
...The work that is possible for a designer to do in a rural community is completely different than what’s possible in any city or design firm. Design as a means to overcome challenges is nonexistent, so the possibilities to inspire change abound. But design is also misunderstood and scoffed at as “fancy stuff for rich people.” That’s why we decided to move to Bertie County permanently and create a design-build high-school curriculum with Dr. Zullinger. We didn’t want to just be “creative consultants.” We wanted to build something from within and teach the young people of eastern North Carolina that design is first and foremost a sensibility that allows individuals to solve problems in different ways [my emphasis].
...Local design has an identity beyond a program’s branding because it has an ownership by real people and it requires person-to-person communication. Local design is wood and metal and eye contact and handshakes.