Etikettarkiv: Reviews

Book Review: Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning

Introduction
Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning is a most interesting book. Eugene Gendlin examines the edge of awareness, where language emerges from non-language.1 This book is a philosophical work. Gendlin explores how concepts relate to experiencing.2 He adds a body of theory that refer to experiencing, and that can grasp the way in which experiencing functions.3

Thinking employs more than conceptual logic
Thinking employs more than conceptual logic. We think with the intricacy of situations.4 There is always a situation, an implicit experiential context, that is more than any formed form. If we enter into how this more functions, we become able to employ it deliberately. New ways of thought open from it which otherwise wouldn’t exist.5

Conclusions do not follow just from clean rational progressions by logic alone. The use of logic is always enmeshed in the context from which logical units first are made. The logical interferences are undone if one changes one logical unit. Logic inference can always be disorganized.6

We can let our next step of thought come from experiential feedback
We can neither assume that the world is ordered as a conceptual system, nor that it is arbitrary. We don’t lose logical implications if we also think with experiencing.7 We can let our next step of thought come from experiential feedback, rather than concepts alone. It can lead us to modify our concepts, rather than being confined in them.8

Every word has an emergent meaning it its situation. Rather than giving some cognitive system priority and reading it into experience, we can recognize the priority of making experiential sense . For example, when speaking from a felt sense.9

Nature is not arbitrary or invented. Nature is a responsive order. It is not limited to one set of patterns and units. When two meanings cross experientially, the result is new experiences that could not have followed logically from either.10 The content of experience is generated by the process of experiencing.11

We can think everything more truly if we think with attention to how we think
The felt sense is a felt meaning, a bodily comprehension. We are not limited to rearranging existing already-formed concepts in life. We can engage the experiential meanings. We can reopen old concepts and assumptions if we think with our experiencing as well as with logic. We can think everything more truly if we think with attention to how we think. Experiencing is always freshly there in the present moment, and open to being carried forward in new ways.12

Besides the logical dimension of knowledge, there is also a directly felt, experiential dimension. Meaning also involves felt experiencing. There is a relationship between the felt dimension of experience and logical order.13

Concepts are abstractions of living experience
The application of concepts to experience as actually lived and felt is difficult. Only actual living can grasp living experiencing adequately, while concepts can distort and deaden it. The attempt to define concepts turn living experience into abstractions.14 Experience functions in the formation of meaning before it is logically ordered. Pre-logical or pre-conceptual experience functions together with logical symbols.15

Experiencing is the flow of feeling to which we can, at every moment, attend to inwardly. Experience must be referred to directly. It plays a basic role in the formation of meaning.16 The functions of experiencing in cognition are varied and essential.17

Concepts are meanings in relation to experiencing
We cannot know what a concept means without a feel for its meaning. If we do not have the felt meaning of a concept, we haven’t got the concept at all.18 Nor can we think without felt meaning. We think in a felt way.19

Concepts are meanings in relation to experiencing. Thought involves many meanings, and these are felt and can give rise to further concepts and changes in concepts. Verbal and other behavior involves orders, which are more than, and different from, those of logic. Experiential factors relate to and interact with the use of symbols. A concept in actual thought involves a felt experiencing of meaning, which can lead to different concepts and new meanings.20

Symbolized meanings change in interaction with experiencing
Meaning is formed in the interaction of experiencing and symbols. When symbolized meanings occur in interaction with experiencing, they change. And when one employs symbols to attend to a felt meaning, it changes. This is the basic source of order in human behavior.21

There is always a flow of feeling. At any moment we can direct our attention inward, and there it is. It is not at all vague in its being there. It may be vague only in that we can put only a few aspects of it into words. It is always something there, no matter what we say it is.22

Experiencing underlies every moment of living
All the different kinds of feeling and feeling tones, felt meanings, and so on, are aspects of feeling, of inner sense. This is experiencing.23 There is always an inward sensing.24

Experiencing is an aspect of human living that is constant. It is like metabolism. It underlies every moment’s special occurrences of living. The felt experiencing of the moment enables us to respond. Our response most often springs from the inwardly felt experiencing without verbal symbolization. Within experiencing lie the mysteries of all that we are. We react as we do based on what we observe. We create from our experiential sense.25

Actual experience is largely missed when interpreted through stereotyped concepts
Much of the time we pretend that our meanings are only the logical meanings of our words.26 We fall into the trap of interpreting our experience through stereotyped concepts whereby we largely miss the actual experience.27

Experiencing is involved in every instance of behavior and thought.28 We can refer directly to the experiencing. Language can help us refer to our experiencing, help us create and specify aspects of it, help us convey it. We can use language in an experiential sense. We need not limit ourselves only to a word’s logical definition. Any word, concept, thought, event, or behavior, can be viewed in reference to experiencing.29

Experiencing is a pre-conceptual and supra-logical order
Experiencing has a pre-conceptual type of order. Thus we must take account the kinds of relations that logical order can have to pre-conceptual order.30 The body is one interpenetrating system in which every aspect of order involves every other aspect. The many different kinds of orderly units we may isolate are related to each other in ways that logical patterns cannot represent. The ordering of all these aspects is more than logical.31 The actual order is supra-logical. It is more than a given logic can represent, although a given logic can fit some given aspect.32

Experiencing is an inward sensitivity of the living body. The pre-conceptual order of experiencing is similar to the body order: Experiencing is concrete. It is a ”this” or a ”this way I feel”. Any aspect of experiencing has very complex unfinished orders.33

The pre-conceptual is not constituted of actual defined existent meanings. These implicit meanings are not complete and formed. When they become explicit, they become different from what they were when they were implicit. They were pre-conceptual, and only as they interact with symbols do they become completely formed.34

Concepts can refer to experiencing but cannot fully represent it
We can let concepts help us refer experiencing, but we need to dissolve them again when we wish to get at new aspects of concrete phenomena. Concrete phenomena can support many logical definitions, but they do not limit the choice of any one.35 All areas of a person are involved in any one moment’s experiencing even though, verbally, just some small meaning is thought or spoken.36

Change occurs through experiencing
What is present is the experiencing now. Past events have made it what it is. Only by referring directly to the experiencing can necessary change be identified and accomplished.37 Merely using words and logical explanations don’t lead to change.38

The experiencing is different in relationship with another experiencing than alone.39 I change as I interact with you. I am already different, because my experiencing is occurring with you, and you vitally affect what it is in me. As I tell you how I am, already I am living a process of being otherwise.40

Conceptually, only meanings which are thought or spoken are present at a given moment. Pre-conceptually—in the felt experiencing—very many meanings, past events, and learnings are present. Change occurs through experiencing. The content of what is experienced varies as symbols interact with the experiencing.41 Symbols include words, behaviors, and other things.42

Meaning is something felt or experienced
Meaning is experienced.43 Meaning is not only a matter symbols and their relationships. It is also something felt or experienced. We feel the meaning.44 The whole gestalt of something can only be had as a felt meaning.45 We feel, or sense, relationships that only afterwards receive symbolizations. Felt meaning functions in the having and the forming of cognition.46

Felt meaning is present whenever something occurs that have meaning
We are most aware of felt meaning when our symbols fail to symbolize adequately what we mean. The problem of the inadequacy of symbols to express a felt meaning covers many areas, such as seeking for relevant words, articulating experience, and so on.47

The experience dimension of meaning is present, both when we conceptualize our experience, and when we don’t.48 Verbal or other symbols make our meaning explicit.49 Like thought, observation involves felt meanings.50 We experience or feel the meanings of what we observe. We orient ourselves in situations and make appropriate responses, all on the basis of the felt meaning of our observations.51

In speech, the feel of what we intend is especially noticeable when we say something that doesn’t quite mean what we intend. What we intend to say is not explicit until we say it. There is a transition from intended felt meaning to explicit speech. Whether there are verbal symbols or not, felt meaning is present whenever actions, observations, and situations occur that have meaning to a person.52

The exploration of feeling develops on its own power
Accurate conceptualization tends to allow the person to continue exploring the feeling and other feelings connected with it. The exploration of feeling develops on its own power.53 Some feelings are expressed along with intellectual content, others with gesture, voice quality, or silence. Feelings are not conscious most of the time, but they are not unconscious either. Any attention to them makes them conscious.54

A feeling, no matter how vague it may be, is capable of becoming sharper, and to be full of meaning.55 What we say arises for us from out of the as yet not articulate meaning we feel and are about to express.56 We can observe this relationship from moment to moment in our experiencing. We speak and act from out of felt meanings.57

Symbols and felt meanings function together in different ways
There are different ways in which symbols and felt meanings function together. Symbols includes things, persons, and whatever.58 Symbols function as pointers. Felt meaning functions as containing the meaning. The symbols depend on the felt meaning for their meaning. The felt meaning is independently meaningful.59

Felt meaning can itself be prior to symbols.60 When we begin with the felt meaning and seek further symbolization, the symbols come to us.61 The symbols function to express, explicate, conceptualize the felt meaning.62 Symbols and felt meanings depend on each other.

Meanings are formed in the interaction of symbols and felt meanings
Meaning always exists in terms of a relationship between symbols and feeling. The given felt meaning change as it is comprehended. A good comprehension will be experienced as accurately representing the implicit content.63 When meaning is implicit, there is the possibility of comprehension. When comprehension actually occurs, the meaning becomes explicit.64

Explication and comprehension both seek symbolization for a given felt meaning. Explication occurs to further symbolize a felt meaning. Comprehension attempts to symbolize a felt meaning already created.65 Almost all meaningful symbols require the presence of many relevant meanings or experiences. Past experience is necessary for understanding. One must understand the context. If one does not understand the context, one will only grasp a limited part of the symbolization.66

Meanings and logical patterns are formed in the interaction of symbols and felt meaning.67 Only some of the many pre-conceptual meanings of a felt meaning can ever be symbolized.68 We can directly refer to felt meaning and examine it. Specified logical concepts are distinguished from the functioning of felt meaning.69 A felt meaning can be accurately comprehended in various ways by different symbolic comprehensions.70

The pre-conceptual is not determined by the conceptual
Logical relations do not determine the creativity of new meaning and new symbolization. The pre-conceptual is not determined by the conceptual. The pre-conceptual can be directly referred to when it functions in symbolization.71

Logically specified, symbolized, unique concepts are not felt meanings and do not have the creative characteristics of felt meanings. The felt meanings that function in experienced creation of meanings are always directly referred to. They are not indeterminate. They are capable of further symbolization.72

Experiencing is multiple and non-numeric
Any experienced meaning is differentiable into countless experienced meanings, each of which is again differentiable into countless meanings. Experiencing is multiple, non-numerical.73 There are no units. A unit experience can always be differently symbolized as an aspect of many other experiences. A given set of many experiences can be differently symbolized as one experience. Experiencing is not organized in schematic relationships of units to each other.74

We can speak of experienced meaning as an occurrence or as a process. The process of experiencing a specified meaning can be referred to directly. An experienced meaning includes more than the aspect of what is specified.75

Experience can be specified as one or as many experiences
Since experience is non-numerical, it can be specified as one or as many experiences. Therefore, it can be specified as a meaning, or as relations between other meanings. Any newly created meaning are like all the meanings that functioned in its creation.76

A felt meaning is general. As general, it can occur more than once.77 A new meaning is only one of very many that might have been created from the same given meanings.78 Only after the creation may logical analysis validly set forth the relations contained in any creation of meaning. Logical analysis can say nothing about kinds of meaning not yet created.79

New meanings are determined by all present meanings
Relationships and meanings are created simultaneously and are two kinds of specification of one same experienced meaning.80 In the case of any given meaning, a directly referred to experienced meaning involved in it may be specified as a certain kind of more general meaning.81 A meaning is intimately tied up with other meanings. It is the meaning of the activity through which it rose.82

At any stage of an experience, one may consider a given meaning as an instance of itself. Many aspects of any problem become apparent when the kind of experiencing involved can be referred to. One may with whatever specified meanings refer to the experiencing that is occurring.83

Experiencing can be specified in myriad ways. These myriad ways also represent the ways in which an observation can be meaningful. Reflection on the experienced meaning can help us specify countless meanings. Specifications of new meanings are partly determined by all the meanings present in a given movement.84

All logical rules are formulations that could have been different
At any given meaning, we may arrive at many more new and different concepts. All logical rules that seem as if they controlled the formation of meanings are merely formulations that could have been different.85 Our terms are relative.86

There is no absolute basis in experience itself that determines what will refer to the same experiencing.87 All creation of meaning offers new possibilities in which different concepts can be created as specifications of some new same such experiencing.88

Endless possibilities of novel creation of meaning can be used without loss of precision and logical integrity.89 One may use every conceivable logic, and do so with increased power, escaping entrapment in the confines of the logic with which one happens to have begun. The functional relationships formulate a content that directly affects the ways of symbolizing experience.90

Metaphors create new meanings
Metaphor is the interaction of experienced meanings producing new meaning. All concepts contain, make use of, involve, and impose logical forms on experience.91 Concepts are metaphoric. From their logical form, come their logical implications, and the power to differentiate other experiences.92

It is when the logical forms are imposed on experience that certain differentiations in experience can be made. Once differentiated, an aspect of experience has its own existential, demonstrative existence and can be directly referred to.93

Experiencing is the total of experienced meaning
Experiencing is the total of experienced meaning, including thought. Once specified, the experienced meaning can be referred to directly, as well as by a multitude of terms that are functionally equivalent.94

Some problems are contexts in which the problem of experienced meaning appears. Any problem involves more than one aspect of experience. Experience can be a source of meaning. Several functional relationships can function meaningfully with the aid of symbols. Felt meaning functions to make symbolized meaning possible.95

Intellect is distinguished from felt experiencing. Felt meaning is an early, pre-conceptual stage of cognition. Anything that is a source of meaning for the intellect can be looked at in terms of its effect upon the functional relationships in which intellect and felt meaning functions.96

Intellect depends on the functions of felt meaning
Things and senses first bring about felt experiencing. Meaning arises in symbolic interaction with felt experiencing.97 The intellect is not in direct contact with perception or reality. Intellect always depends upon the functions of felt meaning.98 It is always subject to the role of felt meaning, and thus indirectly to anything that affects felt meaning.99

Felt meaning functions, for example, as recognition, as well as metaphoric creation of new meanings, as well as being a direct referent to many possible specified meanings. Everyone thinks with recognition feelings. Everyone interprets observations by means of them.100

Many possible specifications can symbolize the same felt meaning
Different people do not create the same meaning, even if given the same metaphor, if their recognition of them is different. It is, on the other hand, possible to communicate metaphorically a felt meaning that a person has not previously had.101

Many possible specifications and schemes can refer to and symbolize the same felt meaning. It is possible to specify experiencing in many more than one way. This is the case of all intellectual interpretations and symbolizations of experiencing.102 Different felt meanings produce different results.103

One cannot create new meanings without experiencing
Without the function of experiencing one cannot create new meanings and new logical patterns and methods, nor can one account for their formation.104 Every individual lives in subjective experiencing and looks out at the world from and through it. Neither logical constructs, nor external observations, succeed in replacing subjective experiencing.105

Experiencing is a continuous stream of feelings. It is something given in the phenomenal field of every person. Experiencing and conceptualization often occur together, but are not the same thing. The fact that they are different is noticeable when we have either experiencing that we cannot conceptualize, or concepts the content of which we do not now feel.106

No one can conceptualize all possible meanings of an experience
Concepts themselves represent what is symbolized.107 Experiencing refers to the directly given stream of feelings, and is defined directly by observable direct reference.108 Experiencing often occurs concretely and intensely to an individual without conceptual contents. Not only does experiencing sometimes occur without any explicitly known content, it can occur with a gradation of explicit knowledge and content. Experience refers to content, while experiencing denotes something concretely felt and present in an individual’s phenomenal field, whether conceptual content is explicitly known or not.109

An individual who is maximally open to his or her experience weighs and balances all the meanings in his experience in a subjective process.110 No one can exhaustively conceptualize all possible meanings of one experience.111

It is vitally important to refer directly to experiencing
There is a vital difference between meanings found implicit in one’s own experience that are perhaps due to introjected concepts instead of personal experiencing.112 The subjective weighing in feeling occur in the present moment. It does not occur in terms of explicit conceptual contents. It is an implicit subjective feeling process that implicitly contains all meanings in the present moment.113

Experiencing is a way of having experience that is congruent without being fully conceptualized.114 It is vitally important to refer directly to feeling, whether this be conceptualized congruently or not.115 Direct reference to experiencing is first.116 It may not be accurately symbolized, but it is not ignored, or allowed to remain totally unspecified.117 Metaphor emphasizes that experiencing itself changes in the act of symbolizing it. Symbolization always changes experiencing.118

Experiencing always exceed what can conceptualized and communicated
The reference to experiencing is nearly everywhere implicitly assumed. This book makes this implicit reference to experiencing explicit and communicable. If conclusions can be retranslated into terms referring directly to experiencing, then this makes it possible to develop the theory further and to formulate further explicit hypotheses.119

Experiencing always exceed what may be stated communicably. Reference to experiencing is needed not only in the generation of hypotheses, but also for the generation of new logical forms and principles of inquiry.120

Summary
We can think everything more truly if we think with attention to how we think. Thinking employs more than conceptual logic. This means that we can let our next step of thought come from experiential feedback.

Experiencing underlies every moment of living. It is a pre-conceptual and supra-logical order. Actual experience is largely missed when interpreted through stereotyped concepts. Concepts are abstractions of living experience. They can refer to experiencing but cannot fully represent it.

Change occurs through experiencing. Symbolized meanings change in interaction with experiencing. Meaning is something felt or experienced. Felt meaning is present whenever something occurs that have meaning. The exploration of feeling develops on its own power.

Symbols and felt meanings function together in different ways. Meanings are formed in the interaction of symbols and felt meanings. The pre-conceptual is not determined by the conceptual. The intellect depends on the functions of felt meaning. All logical rules are formulations that could have been different. Many possible specifications can symbolize the same felt meaning.

Experiencing is the total of experienced meaning. Experiencing is multiple and non-numeric. It can be specified as one or as many experiences. One cannot create new meanings without experiencing. New meanings are partly determined by all present meanings. Metaphors create new meanings. Concepts are metaphoric. Meaning arises in symbolic interaction with felt experiencing.

It is vitally important to refer directly to experiencing. Experiencing always exceed what can conceptualized and communicated. Experience refers to content, while experiencing denotes something concretely felt, whether conceptual content is explicitly known or not. No one can conceptualize all possible meanings of an experience.

Conclusions
This book is a groundbreaking philosophical work. Eugene Gendlin considers felt experiencing in its own right. He explores how logical order can relate concretely to felt experience. His approach makes philosophical analysis of experiencing and the creation of meaning possible. It’s a most interesting book, but it’s also a very difficult book to read.

Notes:
1 Eugene Gendlin, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning: A Philosophical and Psychological Approach to the Subjective (Northwestern University Press, 1997, first published 1962), p.xi.
2 Ibid., p.43.
3 Ibid., p.7.
4 Ibid., p.xii.
5 Ibid..
6 Ibid., p.xv.
7 Ibid..
8 Ibid., p.xvii.
9 Ibid., p.xviii.
10 Ibid., p.xix.
11 Ibid., p.xx.
12 Ibid., p.xxi.
13 Ibid., p.1.
14 Ibid., p.2
15 Ibid., p.3.
16 Ibid..
17 Ibid., p.5.
18 Ibid..
19 Ibid., p.6.
20 Ibid..
21 Ibid., p.8.
22 Ibid., p.11.
23 Ibid., p.12.
24 Ibid., p.13.
25 Ibid., p.14.
26 Ibid., pp.15—-16.
27 Ibid., p.17.
29 Ibid., p.19.
30 Ibid., p.24.
31 Ibid., p.25.
32 Ibid., p.26.
33 Ibid., pp.27–29.
34 Ibid..
35 Ibid., p.33.
36 Ibid., p.34.
37 Ibid., p.35.
38 Ibid., p.37.
39 Ibid., p.38.
40 Ibid., p.39.
41 Ibid., p.41
42 Ibid., p.42.
43 Ibid., p.44.
44 Ibid., p.45.
45 Ibid., pp.46–47.
46 Ibid., p.47.
47 Ibid., p.64.
48 Ibid., p.65.
49 Ibid., p.66.
50 Ibid., p.67.
51 Ibid., p.68.
52 Ibid., p.70.
53 Ibid., p.80.
54 Ibid., p.81
55 Ibid., p.82.
56 Ibid., p.83.
57 Ibid., p.84.
58 Ibid., p.90.
59 Ibid., p.100.
60 Ibid., p.106.
61 Ibid., p.107.
62 Ibid., p.108.
63 Ibid., p.125.
64 Ibid., p.126.
65 Ibid., p.127.
66 Ibid., p.128.
67 Ibid., p.138
68 Ibid., p.139
69 Ibid., p.144.
70 Ibid., pp.144–145.
71 Ibid., p.147.
72 Ibid., p.148.
73 Ibid., p.152.
74 Ibid., p.153.
75 Ibid., p.158
76 Ibid., p.159.
77 Ibid..
78 Ibid., p.163.
79 Ibid., p.164.
80 Ibid., p.177.
81 Ibid., p.180.
82 Ibid..
83 Ibid., p.187.
84 Ibid., p.190.
85 Ibid., p.192.
86 Ibid., p.195.
87 Ibid., p.199.
88 Ibid., pp.199–200.
89 Ibid., pp.205–206
90 Ibid., p.206.
91 Ibid., p.217.
92 Ibid..
93 Ibid., p.218.
94 Ibid..
95 Ibid., p.219.
96 Ibid., p.220.
97 Ibid., pp.220–221.
98 Ibid., p.221.
99 Ibid., pp.221–222.
100 Ibid., p.222.
101 Ibid., p.223.
102 Ibid..
103 Ibid., p.224.
104 Ibid., p.226.
105 Ibid., p.228.
106 Ibid., p.230.
107 Ibid., p.237.
108 Ibid., p.239.
109 Ibid., p.240
110 Ibid., p.254.
111 Ibid., p.255
112 Ibid., pp.255–256.
113 Ibid., p.257.
114 Ibid., p.258.
115 Ibid., p.263.
116 Ibid., p.264.
117 Ibid., p.265
118 Ibid., p.267.
119 Ibid., p.272.
120 Ibid..

Related book review:
Focusing: How to Gain Direct Access to Your Body’s Knowledge by Eugene Gendlin

Book Review: The Garden Awakening

The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture Our Land and Ourselves by Mary Reynolds is a book about designing gardens that are beautiful, radiant with life, bursting with energy, in harmony with the Earth.1 Mary Reynolds has discovered through her work as a garden and landscape designer that gardens can become very special if we invite Nature to express her true self in these spaces, and then work to heal the land and ourselves.2

We are mirrors for the land and it is a mirror for us, so healing the the land leads us towards our own restoration, back to our true selves. If we allow the light to shine on all the dark places in our lives and have the courage to face ourselves, then recovery and growth will take place. Healing involves looking at the whole picture. We cannot solve a problem by resolving the physical level alone.3. We also need to find and correct the underlying causes of physical symptoms, whether conscious or unconscious.4

Mary Reynolds shows how using an integrated living systems approach removes our incessant war on Nature.5 We can force a child to be someone they don’t want to be, but only with the consequences of unhappiness and retreat. We can, on the other hand, gently discover who the child is, and who they want to be. Every piece of land is the same as this child. By listening carefully and allowing the land to become an extension of ourselves, we can interpret its energy and enable it to emerge through a creative collaborative process.6

Mary Reynolds uses the word co-creation when referring to her approach. Co-creation means that we are building our gardens hand in hand with Nature as a partner. It is based on the acknowledgment that Nature is a real, present, and conscious living entity. Her method of garden design is intuitive. The most important part is establishing a mutually beneficial relationship.7

Mary Reynolds has, for the purpose of the book, distilled her design system into five basic elements:

1. The tool of intention.8
2. Selecting areas to hold specific intentions.9
3. Designing with the patterns and shapes of Nature.10
4. The power of symbols and imagery.11
5. Putting the design on paper.12

Our thoughts, emotions, and intentions are a form of energy. If we focus our energy in a particular direction, we will be propelled there. Using intention allows us to communicate directly with our land.13 The aim is to create spaces that feel right, spaces that appeal to the heart rather than just the intellect.14 The patterns in Nature form a language we can feel rather than understand.15. We know when we have proper relationships because it feels right, it has resonance. Practice makes it easier to recognize this resonant feeling. Like any other skill, it takes time and effort to develop this skill.16

Mary Reynolds emphasizes that the only way to make a sustainable garden system to work is to collaborate with Nature. Fighting against Nature is just plain silly. If we are to treat the land as a living body, we must think in those terms.17 This book is a treasure map for finding our way back to the truth of who we are as living beings. The directions are simple, the methods are intuitive.18 The book is beautifully illustrated by Ruth Evans. This is literally one of the most beautiful books I’ve read. Reading the book is a nurturing experience in itself.

Update 2016-04-23:
I think that Mary Reynolds’ approach to garden design is as applicable to organizational design. If we are to treat the organization as a living system, we must think in those terms.

Notes:
1 Mary Reynolds, The Garden Awakening: Designs to Nurture Our Land and Ourselves (Green Books, 2016), p.42.
2 Ibid., pp.13–14.
3 Ibid., p.22.
4 Ibid., p.24.
5 Ibid., p.39.
6 Ibid., p.44.
7 Ibid., p.45.
8 Ibid., pp.46–60.
9 Ibid., pp.61–71.
10 Ibid., pp.71–79.
11 Ibid., pp.79–92.
12 Ibid., pp.93–119.
13 Ibid., p.46.
14 Ibid., p.71.
15 Ibid., p.74
16 Ibid., p.75.
17 Ibid., p.212.
18 Ibid., p.259.

Book Review: The Myths We Live By

The Myths We Live By by Mary Midgley is based on the view that our imaginative visions are central to our understanding of the world. They are necessary parts of our thinking.1 The challenge is that our imaginative visions may mislead us if they are fired up by a particular set of ideals.2

Myths are are imaginative patterns, networks of powerful symbols, that suggest particular ways of interpreting the world.3 In political thought they are at the heart of theories of human nature and the social contract; in economics in the pursuit of self interest; and in science the idea of human beings as machines. The machine imagery began to pervade our thought in the 17th century. We still often tend to see ourselves, and the the living world around us, mechanistically.4

The way we imagine the world determines what we think important in it, what we select for our attention. That is why we need to become aware of these symbols.5 Mary Midgley starts by concentrating on myths which have come down to us from the Enlightenment.6 The machine imagery became entrenched because the 17th century scientists were fascinated by clockwork automata. They hoped to extend this clockwork model to cover the whole of knowledge.7 The great thinkers of the 17th century were obsessed by the ambition to drill all thought into a single formal system. Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, tried to mend the mind/body gap by building abstract systems powered by their models of thought, logic, and mathematics.8

The trouble lies in the conviction that only one very simple way of thought is rational.9 Mary Midgley points out that rationality doesn’t require us to have all our knowledge tightly organized on the model of mathematics.10 We welcome oversimple intellectual systems because they contrast with the practical complexity around us, and we do not criticize them when the particular short-cut that they offer suggest a world view that we like. They express visions that attracts us, and they obscure alternative possibilities.11

Mary Midgley emphasizes that conceptual mono-culture cannot work because, in almost all our thought, we are dealing with subject-matters that we need to consider from more than one aspect.12 She reminds us that we always have a choice about the perspective from which we look, whether it is from the inside, as participants, or from some more distant perspective. And if so, which of many distant perspectives we will choose. We need to combine several perspectives, since they are not really alternatives, but complementary parts of a wider inquiry.13 The trouble comes when we dogmatically universalize our own generalizations and promote them as laws of nature.14

All perception takes in only a fraction of what is given to it, and all thought narrows that fraction still further in trying to make sense of it.15 The concepts that we need to use for everyday life are often in some ways blurred or ambivalent, because life itself is too complex for simple descriptions. The standards of clarity that we manage to impose in our well-lit scientific workplaces are designed to suit the preselected problems that we take in there with us, not the larger tangles from which those problems were abstracted.16

People habitually think that mechanistic explanations are more scientific than ones that use concepts more appropriate to living contexts.17 Those who use the analogy with machines seem to be claiming that we have a similar understanding of plants and animals. Mary Midgley points out that it’s perhaps a rather important difference that we didn’t design those plants and animals.18 She reminds us that obsession with a particular model drives out other necessary ways of thinking.19 Changing the myth is a way to bring about serious change.20 It’s an elegant and thoughtful little book!

Notes:
1 Mary Midgley, The Myths We Live By (Routledge, 2011, first published 2004), p.xii.
2 Ibid., p.xiii.
3 Ibid., p.1.
4 Ibid..
5 Ibid., p.3.
6 Ibid., p.7.
7 Ibid., p.27.
8 Ibid., p.88.
9 Ibid., p.31.
10 Ibid., p.33.
11 Ibid., p.44.
12 Ibid., p.68.
13 Ibid., p.107.
14 Ibid., p.124.
15 Ibid., p.40.
16 Ibid., p.194.
17 Ibid., p.196.
18 Ibid., p.163.
19 Ibid., p.171.
20 Ibid., p.251.

Book Review: Mind and Nature

Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity by Gregory Bateson is built on the opinion that we are parts of a living world.1 Bateson offers the phrase the pattern which connects as another possible title for the book.2 He writes that we have been trained to think of patterns as something fixed. It is easier and lazier that way, but it is all nonsense. The right way to think about the pattern which connects is to think of it as primarily a dance of interacting parts.3

Logic and quantity turn out to be inappropriate for describing organisms, their interactions, and internal organization. There is no conventional way of explaining or even describing the phenomena of biological organization.4 We are ignorant about available insights and unwilling to accept the necessities that follow from a clear view.5 There is a strong tendency to invoke quantities of tension and energy to explain the genesis of pattern. Bateson believes that all such explanations are wrong.6

The whole book is based on the premise that mental function is immanent in the interaction of differentiated parts. Wholes are constituted by such combined interaction.7 Bateson believes that mental process always is a sequence of interactions between parts. He doesn’t believe that elementary particles are minds in themselves,8 but he also admits that he is not up to date in modern physics.9 Contrary to Bateson I do believe that elementary particles have proto-minds. An elementary particle, like an electron, is in David Bohm’s ontological interpretation of quantum theory a spatio-temporal entity, which has a proto-mental quality.10

Bateson is very influenced by cybernetic thought. It’s true that nature is full of circular processes, but a cybernetic system is not a living system. What if mind is immanent, not in the interaction of parts, but in nature itself? It’s a simple idea which opens up an entirely new paradigm of thought.

Notes:
1 Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity (Hampton Press, 2002), p.16.
2 Ibid., p.7.
3 Ibid., p.12.
4 Ibid., p.19.
5 Ibid., p.20.
6 Ibid., p.49.
7 Ibid., p.87.
8 Ibid., p.86.
9 Ibid., p.93.
10 Paavo Pylkkänen, Mind, Matter and the Implicate Order (Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, 2007), p. 204.

Book Review: Many Voices One Song

Many Voices One Song: Shared Power with Sociocracy by Jennifer Rau and Jerry Koch-Gonzalez is a new book on sociocracy. The book is a collection and description of sociocratic tools and practices.1 Sociocracy is a set of principles and tools for shared power. The assumption is that power sharing requires a plan.2

Sociocracy is designed to distribute power.3 Sociocracy enables each team to contribute to the organization’s mission.4 The teams decide themselves how they govern themselves.5 Values translates into principles that are the underpinnings of the tools described in the book.6 Equivalence and effectiveness are the two major principles in sociocracy. Equivalence is defined as everyone’s needs matter equally.7 Sociocracy strives for both effectiveness and equivalence.8

There are three reasons for why Jennifer Rau and Jerry Koch-Gonzales have written the book. The reasons are (1) to build skills, (2) to avoid reinventing the wheel, and (3) because they care deeply about equivalence. In the book, they share what they know about shared power and how to do it.9

The book has six major chapters covering the:

  • Organizational structure (68 pages).10
  • Consent decision-making (60 pages).11
  • On feedback and learning (28 pages).12
  • How to run a sociocratic meeting (56 pages).13
  • Roles and elections (29 pages).14
  • Implementing sociocracy (37 pages).15

Jennifer Rau and Jerry Koch-Gonzales write that implementing sociocracy is harder than running an organization sociocratically. If you are the one who is in power, you have to be willing to share the power. And if you are not in power, you have to ask the one who is in power to share it.16 This means that the implementation of sociocracy starts in your mind.17 No matter what you do, you need to have two things absolutely clear: (1) a commitment to equivalence, and (2) a clear aim. You need to start with a shared agreement that you will strive for equivalence. The shared aim is necessary for effectiveness.18

To summarize, this book is a sociocracy manual. Jennifer Rau and Jerry Koch-Gonzales are very experienced. They say themselves that if you are a beginner, the book probably gives you a level of details that is way too much.19 The book requires, in other words, a combination of reading and practicing and reading again.

The paradox, for me, is that 300 pages are required to describe what basically is common sense. People have cooperated for as long as humanity has existed. The principles behind sociocracy are not new.20 Nomadic hunter-gatherer societies practice it, and have likely been practicing it, since prehistoric times.21 The book can help you to become more effective, provided you embrace equivalence and shared power. The latter is not so common.

Notes:
1 Jennifer Rau and Jerry Koch-Gonzalez, Many Voices One Song: Shared Power with Sociocracy (Sociocracy For All, March 2018), p.ix.
2 Ibid., p.1.
3 Ibid., p.2.
4 Ibid., p.1.
5 Ibid., p.7.
6 Ibid., p.3.
7 Ibid., p.5.
8 Ibid., p.6.
9 Ibid., p.7.
10 Ibid., pp.16–84.
11 Ibid., pp.85–145.
12 Ibid., pp.146–174.
13 Ibid., pp.175–231.
14 Ibid., pp.232–261.
15 Ibid., pp.262–299.
16 Ibid., p.262.
17 Ibid., p.263.
18 Ibid., p.266.
19 Ibid., p.13.
20 Ibid., p.ix.
21 See Sociocracy as practiced by the G/wi.

Related posts:
Book Review: Sociocracy by Gerard Endenburg
Sociocracy as practiced by the G/wi

Book Review: Generative Scribing

Generative Scribing: A Social Art of the 21st Century by Kelvy Bird is, as the title says, a book about generative scribing, which is a visual practice and an art form, functioning in the moment, across boundaries, as a device for social seeing.1 The primary value of generative scribing is in-the-moment collective sourcing and reflection. Through scribing, a group can see a course to take and find their direction. The scribe aids the group to induce a greater vision and turn it into action.2

Generative scribing activates and makes visible the unseen—yet felt—inner life of the social field. This means that scribing only takes place within a group of people. It doesn’t depend on one scribe’s view, but on the input of many views. The drawing has the power to influence and to transform the thinking in the room.3 With the aid of seeing together, a group can more clearly choose and chart its path. Views become shared and problems become solvable.4

The book is intended as an approach to the practice of generative scribing and is divided into five sections:5

  • Be: Bringing forward your most authentic self. Being matters.6 When we draw, disconnected from interior knowing, we represent an interpreted reality and miss the opportunity to create from inside out.7 Scribes need to stay open and connected to the flow of meaning that wants to be mapped. Staying open, while listening and drawing, is a key skill and a real challenge.8 By staying open the scribe becomes a channel for what wants to come through, for something that wants to be seen.9 Scribes contribute to social fields by showing up from inside out.10 By being in touch with themselves at the truest level, scribes are in a position to meet the truth in the room through what they draw.11
  • Join: Engaging across boundaries. Boundaries dissolve when we activate our deeper humanity.12 Scribes meet intuitive knowing—beyond the literal understanding of words and concepts. Relaxed, scribes can receive and join as conduits for the flow-through of meaning.13 The meaning doesn’t come after the interaction. It comes alongside and involves listening. Listening is a through line to any generative practice.14
  • Perceive: Noticing with a broad, systems view. Seeing is how we perceive our way into thinking and structures, to reveal dynamics and shift outcomes. To see is to comprehend.15 Moving through uncertainty, we experiment. With experimentation, we experience and perceive. Through perception, we orient and choose. And through choosing, we direct our action.16 It is far too easy to inadvertently close our minds to what is actually going on. A closed mindset serves no one.17 If something is not clear, slow down.18 The framing of the mind influences the organization of the drawing. What others see influences their understanding of the structures in play.19 Reframing allows us to see things from multiple perspectives.20 It is directly related to seeing with fresh eyes.21
  • Know: Discern coherence to inform choice. In any moment, when we want to understand, we can inquire into the underlying order by asking: How does this make sense?22 Trying to see the greater context enhances our perspective.23 In generative scribing, we can impose structure and/or we can inquire into what is seeking new form. Seeking coherence demands trust. And trust encourages us to consider that this drawing or that conversation is exactly what is meant to unfold in this particular moment. It is a piece of the greater context that is becoming known.24 Scribes have to choose what to draw. Part of this is subjective, based on listening skills; part is objective, based on ordering ability; and part is generative, based on connecting with source.25 Listen deeply to the space between the words for what wants to be seen. If nothing comes, nothing is yet meant to come.26
  • Draw: Giving form to content. Drawing is a weaving together of multiple inputs from the social field. Through our drawing we have the power to represent the possible, and to help initiate it into the present moment. Scribing helps the unborn to birth, and brings a new reality to life.27 We draw what we must draw, in the present moment as it unfolds, in the right time.28 Generative scribing is a drawing process with which we open to the unknown to bring it to life.29 If our craft or practice is something other than scribing, then we can apply a generative approach to that too.30

To summarize, this is a book for all who care about how we exist together, and who want to explore our interior functioning, both as individuals and as a group.31 Generative scribing is fluid motion. The book can be read in the same way. It is written in such a way that it encourages the reader to jump around at will to find what is most needed.32 Kelvy Bird’s writing and drawing resonates deeply with me. This is the kind of book you don’t stop reading!

Notes:
1 Kelvy Bird, Generative Scribing: A Social Art of the 21st Century (PI Press, 2018), p.1.
2 Ibid., p.5.
3 Ibid., p.5.
4 Ibid., p.10.
5 Ibid., pp.12–13.
6 Ibid., p.49.
7 Ibid., p.50.
8 Ibid., p.53.
9 Ibid., p.56.
10 Ibid., p.61.
11 Ibid., p.63.
12 Ibid., p.67.
13 Ibid., p.71.
14 Ibid., p.77.
15 Ibid., p.87.
16 Ibid., p.92.
17 Ibid., p.93.
18 Ibid., p.97.
19 Ibid., p.100.
20 Ibid., p.102.
21 Ibid., p.103.
22 Ibid., p.120.
23 Ibid., p.122.
24 Ibid., p.123.
25 Ibid., p.124.
26 Ibid., p.127.
27 Ibid., p.133.
28 Ibid., p.142.
29 Ibid., p.143.
30 Ibid., p.146.
31 Ibid., p.11.
32 Ibid., p.14.

Book Review: Walk Out Walk On

Walk Out Walk On by Margaret J. Wheatley and Deborah Frieze is a book about walking out of limiting beliefs and assumptions, and walking on to create healthy and resilient communities. The message is that more is possible, and that walking out walking on can propel us beyond the safety of our daily routines, the security of our habitual ways of thinking, and send us out into the world to find answers.1

The book is based on the basic insight that community is nothing like a machine, and that citizens rarely surrender their autonomy to experts. Exchanging best practices often doesn’t work. What does work is when team from one organization travel to another and, through that experience, see themselves more clearly, strengthen their relationships, and renew their creativity.2

In Western culture, the primary focus is to create easily replicated models and then disseminate them. This process is based on the assumption that whatever worked here will work there—we just need to get it down on paper and train people. The assumption is that people do what they are told. So instructions get issued, policies get pronounced. When we don’t follow them, managers just create more. When we still fail to obey, we’re labeled as resistant to change.3 People don’t support things that are forced on them. We don’t act responsibly on behalf of plans and programs created without us. We resist being changed.4

Change starts with a few people focusing on their local challenges and issues. They experiment, learn, find solutions that work in their local context. Word travels fast in networks and people hear about their success. They may come to visit and engage in conversations. There’s usually a lot of energy in these exchanges, but these exchanges are not about learning how to replicate the process or mimic step-by-step how something was accomplished. Any attempt to replicate someone else’s success will smack up against local conditions, and these are differences that matter. What others invent can inspire us to become inventive, and show us what is achievable. Then we have to take if from there.5

Many managers assume that people are machines, that they can be programmed, motivated, and supervised through external force and authority. This command-and-control approach smothers basic human capacities such as intelligence, creativity, caring, and dreaming. Yet it is the most common form of management worldwide. When it doesn’t work, those in power simply apply more force. They threaten, reward, punish, police, and legislate.6

People resist the imposition of force by withdrawing, opposing, and sabotaging the manager’s directives. Those in charge then feel compelled to turn up the pressure and apply even harsher measures. They seldom notice that it’s their controlling leadership that creates the resistance. And so the destructive cycle continues to gain momentum, with people resenting managers and mangers blaming people. This cycle not only destroys our motivation, it destroys our sense of worth. This destruction of the human spirit is readily visible in places where people have suffered from oppression. It’s also visible in rigid hierarchies where people, confined to closed spaces, can’t remember when they last felt good about themselves or confident in their abilities.7 Power of this kind breeds powerlessness.

The familiar weapon of control must be consciously abandoned. Communities have what they need. The human spirit can never be extinguished, even in the darkest places.8 The work of community change can be done with play without suffering, with confidence that our efforts will make a difference. What does the community need? What do you care about?9 When did we become estranged from work? Why do we deny human needs? How did we forget to who we are? Do you want to play at transforming the world?10

Margaret J. Wheatley and Deborah Frieze write that:11

  • Play is not a foolish waste of time.
  • Play is not a mindless diversion from work.
  • Play is how we rediscover ourselves.
  • Play is how we ignite the human spirit in which our true power lies.

To summarize, the book is a story of what becomes possible as we work together on what we care most about, discovering what’s possible when we turn to one another. This is a new story and an ancient one. The book is filled with insights for how we can work together now to create the future with want. It’s a future already being practiced in thousands of communities around the world.12 They share the following principles:13

  • Start anywhere, follow it everywhere.
  • We make our path by walking it.
  • We have what we need.
  • The leaders we need are already here.
  • We are living the worlds we want today.
  • We walk at the pace of the slowest.
  • We listen, even to the whispers.
  • We turn to one another.

Walking out is never easy. We have no idea where they will lead, what we’ll do, or what we’ll become. Yet our first actions are a declaration of our new identity. We accept the risk, step onto the invisible path and walk into the unknown. And there, we discover other people already bringing this new world into form.14

Walking on is often invisible. None of us can do this work alone. When we gather together, we learn quickly from one another, discovering new ideas and solutions. Little by little, our work becomes recognizable as evidence of what’s possible, of what a new world could be.15

This is a book full of deep insights on how to work together on what we care most about. See for yourself. See your self.

Notes:
1 Margaret J. Wheatley and Deborah Frieze, Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2011), p.14.
2 Ibid., p.35.
3 Ibid., p.44.
4 Ibid., p.45.
5 Ibid., p.46.
6 Ibid., p.68.
7 Ibid..
8 Ibid., p.69.
9 Ibid., p.70.
10 Ibid., p.72.
11 Ibid..
12 Ibid., p.219.
13 Ibid., pp.220–225.
14 Ibid., pp.227.
14 Ibid., pp.226.

Book Review: The Spirit of Leadership

The Spirit of Leadership: Liberating the Leader in Each of Us by Harrison Owen is an amazing book! Its message is perhaps even more valid today as when it was written 28 years ago?

Harrison Owen writes that ”leadership is not the exclusive property of the few or The One.” Leadership is, on the contrary, ”a collective and constantly redistributed function.” ”As long as leadership is viewed as the exclusive prerogative of the one or the few,” the relationships between leaders and followers will be ”some form of passive dependency.”

What I particularly like is that Harrison Owen is fully aware of that there is ”more going on than meets the eye.” His word for this is ”Spirit.” He writes that it’s one of those ”things” you know when you run into it, and you know when it is not there. What cannot be achieved by ”formula” may be achieved by attention to the ”flow of Spirit.” Structure ”follows Spirit,” and to reverse the order is to ”invite disaster.”

”To manage is to control; to lead is to liberate.” The leader’s work is not so much ”telling people what to do” as it is ”making connections and drawing out the implications.” There is no easy way of doing this. Encouraging ”appropriate structure to emerge is a critical function of leadership.” The function of leadership is to ”grow structure, not to impose it.” ”Appropriate structure increases focus, while removing eddies, distractions, and obstacles.”

The leadership we need is available in all of us. It’s up to each of us to liberate the leader within.

Book Review: Leadership Agility

Let me first say that I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book so that I could review it. I accepted writing this review since I’m interested in deeper generative organizing. The dance between leadership and followership is part of this dynamic. So, here is my summary of the book together with some impressions.

The core of Leadership Agility: Developing Your Repertoire of Leadership Styles by Ron Meyer and Ronald Meijers consists of ten opposite pairs of leadership styles.1 These ten dimensions represent many of the balancing acts leaders are faced with.2 Each dimension deals with a different leadership task, and each task differs in nature and scope.3 The focus is on understanding the qualities and pitfalls of each leadership style.4

The authors believe that leaders need to “have the capacity to switch between leadership styles, and adaptively master new ones, in rapid response to the specific needs of the people and situation they want to influence.”5 Keywords here are flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness. Leadership agility is, in short, sensing into what is required in the situation, while attuning to people’s needs.

The authors explore the various leadership styles throughout the book. They also clarify what they believe is the essence of leadership,6 for example:

  • Leadership is about engagement instead of enforcement.7
  • Leadership can be exercised by anyone at any time depending on the situation.8
  • Leadership is helping people to make sense of the situation and themselves.9
  • Leadership is helping people to find their own meaning in what they do.10

As soon as we want to influence people to move in a certain direction, we are leading. We are, in fact, leading all the time. 11 This also means that leading is relational, involving two or more willful beings. The authors point out that getting people to follow requires more than key performance indicators. You can manage things, but people have a heart and mind of their own.12

All this sounds like music in my ears. The authors, furthermore, emphasize that formulating a ”leadership script” is useless and misleading. There are simply too many variables that need to be taken into account in order to arrive at a simple leadership formula.13

There are many ways of being an effective leader. You have to figure out yourself what works for you under what circumstances.14 This book may help you to expand your leadership style repertoire, but moving outside of your comfort zone is something you have to do yourself. You have to experiment and see what works for you.

The authors end the book with a few words on the “paradox of leadership and followership.”15 People are leaders and followers—at the same time. The ultimate test of leadership agility is combining leadership and followership.16

There are thousands of books on leadership — and agility has become a buzzword — so I was a bit skeptical when I first heard about the book. But it’s a great book. The focus is more on leadership styles than leadership agility. I particularly appreciate that the authors avoid formulating leadership scripts or formulas. I also share the human values expressed in the book. People are living beings and not things to be managed.

Notes:
1 Ibid., pp. xx, 18, 21.
2 Ibid., p. 17.
3 Ibid., p. 19.
4 Ibid., p. 227.
5 Ibid., pp. xvi–xvii.
6 Ibid., p. 3.
7 Ibid., p. 7.
8 Ibid..
9 Ibid., p. 11.
10 Ibid..
11 Ibid., p. 13.
12 Ibid., p. 14.
13 Ibid., p. 16.
14 Ibid., p. 17.
15 Ibid., p. 258.
16 Ibid., p. 259.

Book Review: Reinventing the Sacred

Reinventing the Sacred by Stuart Kauffman describes a scientific worldview that embraces the reality of emergence.1 We live in a universe, biosphere, and human culture that are not only emergent but radically creative. Kauffman attempts to lay out the scientific foundations for agency and therefore value in the biological world.2 He has a great deal to say about organized processes, for they are less understood than we might think.3 We have as yet not theory for systems that do work to build their own boundary conditions, and thereafter modify the work that is done, and then modify the boundary conditions as they propagate organization of process.4

An organized being is […] not a mere machine, […] but it possesses in itself formative power of a self-propagating kind …
—Immanuel Kant5

We live our lives forward, often without knowing, which requires all our humanity, not just ”knowledge.”6 Much of what we do when we intuit, feel, sense, understand, or act is non-algorithmic.7 Stuart Kauffman emphasizes that the human mind need not act algorithmically,8 nor is it merely computational.9 A central failure of the ”mind as a computational system” theory is that computations, per se, are devoid of meaning.10 Agency, meaning, value, and doing are real parts of the universe.11 Astonishingly, ”order for free,” does exist.12 Life itself seems to maximize self-propagating organization of process. It’s a thought-provoking book!

Notes:
1 Stuart A. Kauffman, Reinventing the Sacred (Basic Books, 2010), p.5.
2 Ibid., p.11.
3 Ibid., p.35.
4 Ibid., p.92.
5 Ibid., p.88.
6 Ibid., p.89.
7 Ibid., p.235.
8 Ibid., p.77.
9 Ibid., p.195.
10 Ibid., p.192.
11 Ibid., p.78.
12 Ibid., p.106.

Book Review: The Werkplaats Adventure

The Werkplaats Adventure by Wyatt Rawson is about Kees and Betty Boeke’s pioneer comprehensive school, it’s methods and psychology.1 The Werkplaats, or Workshop, aimed at making all types of education available. It seeked to give the children an understanding of all aspects of life – the world within as well as of the world without.2

The Werkplaats is an example of how ideals like freedom, democracy, and equality can be put into practice. It is very interesting to see how the Werkplaats succeeded in securing order without force, encouraged freedom and spontaneity, and maintained a sense of equivalence among the children and adults.3

The Werkplaats Adventure is not only a story about education, but also about ourselves and the values and attitudes that are needed for organizing and peaceful conflict resolution. Thirty years had passed since the school was started when the book was first published in 1956. The school contained 850 children at the time, and was recognized and supported by the Dutch government.4

Wyatt Rawson describes how the school was built up gradually, step by step. Wyatt Rawson first met Kees Boeke in 1935. Wyatt visited the school several times in 1954. He talked to teachers and children, and discussed the problems of the school with Kees. The contact with the life of the school and its founders made a deep impression on Wyatt.5 He eloquently shares his personal experiences of the school.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One describes the school’s origin, its working and psychological aspects. Part Two is more concerned with educational methods and the curriculum. The last chapter is about the personal influence which Kees and Betty Boeke have had on the life of the school.6

The Werkplaats demonstrates that just as children love freedom and spontaneity, they also love structure and order. The problem of school life is to find a minimal structure that supports maximal freedom. Order can, of course, be created by force, but fear puts an end to all naturalness and spontaneity. Some other way must therefore be discovered of securing order without the use of force. Thus came the principle of no compulsion to be established. The methods employed at the Werkplaats are based on this principle.7

Two things particularly impressed Wyatt Rawson when he visited the school: (1) The great friendliness with everyone, and (2) the ease and naturalness with which the school seemed to work. There was much natural ease and spontaneous laughter. The older children helped the younger. There was no litter, and no fights. There was an absence of pressure and no use of force – or the threat of force.8 Another noticeable feature of the Werkplaats was the quietness and calm that seemed to pervade it. There was no rampaging around.9

The secret of the school’s success lies in the way in which it dealt with the frustrations of school life. The Bespreking, or Talkover, embodied the spirit of the Werkplaats. The Bespreking arouse out of the family atmosphere of Kees and Betty Boeke’s original school. It was a gathering where all matters that concerned the school as a whole were talked over. Each member of the school had his or her say. And ideas were combined in order to find solutions which represented the common will. Kees and Betty Boeke got this idea from the Quakers and their gatherings, in which no voting takes place and where there is a search for the ‘sense of the meeting’.10

Although no force can be used at the Bespreking, and all decisions must be made by consent, there is no guarantee that the right atmosphere will prevail.11 Wyatt Rawson writes that its success depends upon a family atmosphere, where the minority opinion never is callously overridden. The family atmosphere also explains the spontaneous friendliness between the adults and children. It arouse naturally out of the circumstances in which the school was founded.12

Wyatt Rawson mentions that there is a distance between the staff and the children, but that it confers responsibilities rather than rights, and that it does not entitle the teachers to act as masters over the children. The essence is that children are to be respected like any other human beings. He writes that human beings deserve respect, consideration, and love.13

Wyatt Rawson writes that it’s impossible to wear a mask at the school. You may not want people to know how you feel, but you cannot hide it. Others will immediately know if you are disappointed, or if things have gone wrong in your work. Although being without a mask is not always easy, this spontaneity also gives great joy.14

The Werkplaats encouraged the children’s creativity. Activities in which the children wholeheartedly could throw themselves, ensured the atmosphere of vitality and joy in life.15 The point is to let the children’s interests bring them to the point where they wish to learn. And it worked. The effect was that the children felt that their individual needs were being met as far as possible. It’s also a feeling which was essential for maintaining the atmosphere of freedom at the school.16

Interestingly, an unexpected result of the freedom granted was the spontaneous acceptance of responsibility. Children took responsibility, even at those moments when the teacher was away.17 Human needs were seen and met in the minimum of time.18 Wyatt Rawson points out, however, that the children were not expected to organize everything themselves. Children and staff formed one group, one community. The only danger was that the adults could take over, and thus deprived the children of their own initiative and responsibility, so that the children couldn’t have any of the excitement of organizing and creating something.19

The balance between freedom and order has to be found if a community is to be healthy. The Werkplaats achieved this by combining three things: (1) No fear and threats; (2) friendliness towards wrongdoers; and (3) constant support.20 This does not mean that there were no sanctions, or that nothing was done if a child misbehaved.21

The point is that the child was not judged or condemned.22 Judging and condemning are worse than useless.23 No indignation was shown. The child was simply asked, ‘Why did you do it?’ The sense of guilt arises naturally. With it also comes the desire to make amends. The question then was, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ The absence of threats meant that there was no one to oppose.24 The choice of reparation was the child’s. Personal antagonism was avoided.25

Wyatt Rawson writes, however, that the moral pressure sometimes was so strong that some children felt it as oppressive and rebelled. A few even left the school, even though the vast majority were grateful for being helped with their difficulties. The school’s methods even helped children with mental disturbances to regain their balance. This took a term or two.26

The school community is a collaboration between children and adults.27 The underlying idea is that the children wish to learn, so it’s up to the children to preserve the order necessary for learning. There was originally only one committee, the Bespreking, which met one a week or more often if necessary. All other committees at the Werkplaats developed out of it.28

From the original Bespreking, the Ronde was developed. Its purpose was to deal with all matters of order. All members in the Ronde were equally responsible for solving a problem in which they all were involved. Wyatt Rawson points out that when there’s trouble, it’s usually not due to one child alone.29 The atmosphere of the group is as much accountable for something going wrong as is the lack of control of any particular member.30

Much of the organization of the Werkplaats was deliberately left fluid. Human factors were paramount and not technical points. This included the composition of the committees. The Ronde is, for example, an instrument of the Bespreking of the whole Werkplaats.  Committees arouse spontaneously as a result of the rapid growth of the school, when the organization became inadequate to deal with the large inflow of new children.31

Children do not always keep to the rules, even when they have made them themselves. They learn from their failures, so they must be given the chance to make mistakes. Conflict will always exist. When a solution is found, the conflict is usually shifted somewhere else. Children are spontaneous and will momentarily follow impulses without thought of others. More important than the order itself is the learning received.32 There are, however, children who don’t listen.33 And there is always a minority whom nothing seems to alter.34

Wyatt Rawson shares a rare special case of disorder where the staff actually decided to leave. At first, the children couldn’t believe the staff wouldn’t be coming back. A girl took action and called a general meeting, at which a number of rules were made, and it was decided that anybody who broke them must leave. After less than a week the school was back to order. The lessons had been learned.35 This is an interesting example of the latent powers of self-organization that the school could call upon, even when the staff was no longer available.

Spontaneity was expected at the Werkplaats. It is natural for children to act spontaneously. For those adults who resented it, the atmosphere became intolerable.36 The inflow of new teachers greatly increased these difficulties.37 Action and reaction were the order of the day. What we feel in our heart of hearts is what we do and say with every gesture and word.38 Nothing can prevent this, so an honest humility, together with a willingness to admit mistakes, is required.39 There was also the constant emotional strain that exists in all groups working together.40 Day-to-day difficulties arise in any group.41

The authority at the Werkplaats was vested in the group and not in the teacher.42 The Werkplaats principle of no compulsion compelled the teacher, as well as the children, to accept a part of the responsibility for whatever went wrong. This required the elimination of the personal element in the wrong-doing, and the willingness to see the whole situation without any recriminations.43 The Werkplaats took for granted that all want friendship, and that loving is a much happier condition than hating.44 Aggression melted away in the atmosphere of mutual give and take. Together we can make life finer and richer for all.45

The Werkplaats Adventure is a well-written book about an amazing pioneer school. It’s a story about how fluid organization arises spontaneously in a community based on no fear, friendliness, and constant support. It’s also a story about Kees and Betty Boeke’s unquenchable delight in life itself, and their reverence for all that is fine and beautiful in people, nature, and art. Their spirit shines through Wyatt Rawson’s words. Only when the mind is still and the heart at rest, can we enter into communion with the deeper rhythms of life.46

It’s a beautiful book!

Notes:
1 Wyatt Rawson, The Werkplaats Adventure (Vincent Stuart, 1956), p.1.
2 Ibid., p.141.
3 Ibid., p.9
4 Ibid..
5 Ibid., p.10.
6 Ibid..
7 Ibid., p.16.
8 Ibid., p.31.
9 Ibid., p.87.
10 Ibid., p.32.
11 Ibid., p.33.
12 Ibid., p.34.
13 Ibid., p.37.
14 Ibid., p.38.
15 Ibid..
16 Ibid., p.39.
17 Ibid., p.41.
18 Ibid., p.42.
19 Ibid., p.43.
20 Ibid., p.45.
21 Ibid., p.47.
22 Ibid..
23 Ibid., p.149.
24 Ibid., p.47.
25 Ibid., p.48.
26 Ibid., p.49
27 Ibid., p.50.
28 Ibid., p.51.
29 Ibid., p.52.
30 Ibid., p.55.
31 Ibid..
32 Ibid., p.56.
33 Ibid., p.59.
34 Ibid., p.60.
35 Ibid..
36 Ibid., p.65.
37 Ibid., p.73.
38 Ibid., p.66.
39 Ibid., p.67.
40 Ibid., p.68.
41 Ibid., p.76.
42 Ibid., p.73.
43 Ibid., p.74.
44 Ibid..
45 Ibid., p.76.
46 Ibid., p.153.

Book Review: Mindstorms

This book is about how children learn ”a way of thinking”. Seymour Papert has a background as ”a mathematician and Piagetian psychologist” (p.166). He writes about ”what kinds of nurturance are needed for intellectual growth” and ”what can be done to create such nurturance” (p.10). The book is about children, but the ”ideas” are relevant to ”how people learn at any age” (p.213).

Two ”ideas run through” the book: 1) change in ”patterns of intellectual development” come about through ”cultural change”, and 2) the ”likely bearer” of this ”cultural change” is the ”increasingly pervasive computer presence” (p.216). It’s worth noting that the book was originally published in 1980.

Seymour Papert defines ”mathetics as being to learning as heuristics is to problem solving”. Principles of mathetics ”illuminate and facilitate” learning: 1) Relate ”what is new” to ”something you already know”, and 2) take ”what is new” and ”make it your own” (p.120). Different metaphors can be used to talk ”mathetically” about ”learning experiences”: 1) ”Getting to know ” an idea, 2) ”exploring an area of knowledge”, and 3) ”acquiring sensitivity to [subtle] distinctions” (p.136).

Jean Piaget’s contribution to Seymour Papert’s work has been deep. Piaget’s ideas have ”contributed toward the knowledge-based theory of learning” that Papert describes (p.156). ”For Piaget, the separation between the learning process and what is being learned is a mistake” (p.158). It’s not unusual that Piaget, at the same time, refers to ”the behavior of small children”, and to ”the concerns of theoretical mathematicians” (p.158).

Seymour Papert uses ”learning to ride a bicycle” to make more concrete ”the idea of studying learning by focusing on the structure of what is learned” (p.158). The conclusion is that ”learning to ride does not mean learning to balance, it means learning not to unbalance, learning not to interfere” (p.159). A deeper understanding of the ”process of learning” is, in other words, acquired through a ”deeper insight into what is being learned” (p.159).

Another example is that we can ”understand how children learn number” through a ”deeper understanding of what number is” (p.159). The Bourbaki school of mathematics sees more ”complex structures” as combinations of ”simpler structures” of which the most important are three ”mother structures” (p.160).

Interestingly, the ”theory of mother structures” is a ”theory of learning” (p.160). The ”knowledge of how to work the world” is the ”mother structure of order” (p.160). Jean Piaget observed that children develop ”intellectual structures” that are similar to the ”mother structures” (p.160).

Seymour Papert presents a ”mathetic” vision in his book, one that helps us to ”learn about learning” (p.177). He shows how a mathetic culture can humanize the learning experience and make it more personal. Papert’s philosophy is ”revolutionary rather than reformist” (p.186). He thinks ”seriously about a world without schools” (p.178) and discusses settings that are ”socially cohesive, and where experts and novices are all learning” (p.179). It is the ”very youngest who stand to gain the most from changes in the conditions of learning” (p.213).

Many of Seymour Papert’s ideas are still valid today!

Book Review: The Power of Eight

Introduction
The Power of Eight by Lynne McTaggart is the story about the miraculous power we hold to heal ourselves, others, and the world. This power is unleashed the moment we stop thinking about ourselves and gather with others into a group.1 But what is it about a group of people thinking a single thought at the same time that produces such dramatic effects?2

Outbursts of passion in unison
The only thing that appears to be needed is any sort of group.3 Throughout the ages, small circles of people have held a special significance in many cultures and among indigenous groups.4 Prayer groups have been used in most religions.5 The greek word homothumadon is used to described group prayer in the Bible. The word itself is a compound of two words: homou (‘in unison’ or ‘together’), and thumuous (‘outbursts of passion’ or ‘rush along’). The word emphasizes group prayer as a passionate unity, with a single voice.6

When people are involved in a passionate activity […],
they transmute from a solitary voice into a thunderous symphony
.7

A familiar feeling rarely experienced
Group meditation and prayer certainly promote a sense of unity among the participants, but usually not as deep as in homothumadon.8 In homothumadon, the participants move away from their isolated state of individuality into a pure bond with others. It’s a state that is familiar when felt, but rarely experienced.9 It has nothing to do with the outcome and everything with the act of participation.10 There is one essential element: other human beings.11

Working for the greater good
A sense of connectedness increases altruism. People have a natural desire to help when they temporarily step into a state of oneness.12 Working for the greater good produces more than just a warm feeling — it’s strengthening for both mind and body. There are health-giving effects in focusing on anyone besides yourself.13

Something about the desire to do something for someone else,
with no strings attached or personal benefit, has an impact on
health and wellbeing far and above that of anything else […]
14

Conclusions
Lynne McTaggart provides glimpses into what’s possible when we connect in homothumadon. A Power of Eight group is more than just a collection of separate individuals. They are not just connecting, they are merging.15 It’s as if the individuals in the group become one brain together. There’s something more going on here that we don’t understand.16 Some things in our lives are just beyond our explanation or understanding.17 It’s a fascinating book!

Notes:
1 Lynne McTaggarts, The Power of Eight: Harnessing the Miraculous Energies of a Small Group to Heal Others, Your Life and the World (Hay House, 2017), pp. xvi–xvii.
2 Ibid., p. 53.
3 Ibid., p. 50.
4 Ibid., pp. 55, 107.
5 Ibid., p. 56.
6 Ibid., p. 57.
7 Ibid., p. 61.
8 Ibid., p. 95.
9 Ibid., p. 97.
10 Ibid., p. 98.
11 Ibid., p. 140.
12 Ibid., p. 179.
13 Ibid., p. 185.
14 Ibid., p. 186.
15 Ibid., p. 225.
16 Ibid., p. 231.
17 Ibid., p. 233.

Book Review: Human Dynamics

Introduction
The underlying direction and purpose of Human Dynamics: A New Framework for Understanding People and Realizing the Potential in Our Organizations by Sandra Seagal and David Horne is to enhance the quality of life that people express individually and collectively.1 People are different both in how they process information, and in what information they process.2

Nine Personality Dynamics
Nine different personality dynamics are identified based on people’s mental, emotional, and physical capacities. The book presents five of them, which make up over 99.9% of the population.3 The authors claim that most people in West are emotional-physical (55%) or emotional-mental (25%), while most Japanese are physical-mental, and a majority of Chinese are physical-emotional. The authors suggest that the fundamental difference between East and West derive more from these differences in personality dynamics than from the differences in culture.4 What if it’s the other way around—or, at least, works both ways—that the culture influences each individual’s personality dynamics?

Conclusions
The construction of the nine different personality dynamics feels artificial to me. While reading, I couldn’t identify my own personality dynamic. Maybe it’s because I had difficulties in remembering each personality dynamic. Or, maybe, it’s because I’m in that 0.1% of the population which isn’t covered by the book? Anyway, the key takeaway for me is that people have genuine, and often drastically different, ways of looking at the world. Different ways of perceiving, processing, and acting. Talking about that and how we need to deal with each other is eye-opening, challenging, inspiring, and painful—regardless of the framework used.

Notes:
1 Sandra Seagal and David Horne, Human Dynamics: A New Framework for Understanding People and Realizing the Potential in Our Organizations (Pegasus, 1997), p. 13.
2 Ibid., pp. 30, 32.
3 Ibid., p. 23.
4 Ibid., pp. 32–34.

Book Review: Anam Ċara

Introduction
Anam Ċara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World by John O’Donohue is a book which is intended to be an oblique mirror where we might come to glimpse the presence, power, and beauty of both inner and outer friendship.1

John O’Donohue was born in Ireland and spoke Irish as his native language. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul, and ċara is the word for friend. So anam ċara means soul friend. In the Celtic tradition, the anam ċara was a person to whom you could reveal the hidden intimacies of your life.2

Overview
John O’Donohue writes that friendship is a creative and subversive force.3 He describes friendship as an act of recognition and belonging.4 Your forgotten, or neglected, inner wealth begins to reveal itself in the belonging between soul friends. The soul is the house of belonging, and the body is in the soul.5

Where you are understood,
you are at home
.6

John O’Donohue not only explores outer friendship, but also the art of inner friendship. Solitude awakens new creativity within us. And when our inner lives can befriend the outer world of work, new imagination is awakened and great changes can take place.7 It is, however, very difficult to bring the world of work and the world of soul together.

Work […] should be an arena of
possibility and real expression
.8

John O’Donohue contemplates our friendship with the harvest time of life, old age. He even reflects on death as the invisible companion who walks the road of life with us from birth.9

Conclusions
The book is a broad and deep reflection on friendship. John O’Donohue takes his inspiration from his Irish heritage. The book is, in essence, an inner conversation with Celtic imagination and its spirituality of friendship.10 It’s a beautifully written book full of wisdom. I will return to the book again and again!

Notes:
1 John O’Donohue, Anam Ċara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World (Bantam Books, 1997), p15.
2 Ibid., p16.
3 Ibid., p15.
4 Ibid., p16.
5 Ibid., p17.
6 Ibid., p36.
7 Ibid., p17.
8 Ibid., p169.
9 Ibid., p18.
10 Ibid., p19.

Book Review: Walk Through Walls

Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović with James Kaplan is a memoir. It’s the story of Marina Abramović’s life and how she became a performance artist. Marina grew up in Belgrade and was often punished for the slightest infractions. The punishments were almost always physical.

Marina Abramović’s mother and aunt used to hit Marina black and blue. Sometimes they would lock her into a closet. Marina was afraid of the dark and used to talk to the ghosts in there.1 Marina’s father was often absent but he never hit her. She came to love him for that.2

It’s incredible how fear is built into you,
by your parents and others surrounding you.
You’re so innocent in the beginning;
you don’t know.
3

Art was holy to Marina Abramović’s mother, so she encouraged Marina to become an artist.4 Actually, art was the only freedom Marina had. There was money for painting, but not for clothes.5 Marina Abramović realized however that two-dimensional art truly wasn’t her thing.6 Instead, she became interested in performance art.

A curator from Scotland visited Belgrade at the end of 1972, looking for fresh ideas for the next Edinburgh Festival.7 This gave Marina Abramović the possibility to visit Edinburgh.8 While performing Rhythm 10—which is a violent game with sharp knives—at Endinburgh a strange feeling came over Marina. She became one with the audience. A single organism.

Marina Abramović describes this feeling of total connection with the audience as she—at the same time—became a receiver and transmitter of a huge Tesla-like energy. The pain and fear was gone. She had become a Marina which she didn’t know yet.9 It felt as though the possibilities for performance art were infinite.10

Marina Abramović was later invited to Naples in 1975,11 where she turned herself into an object in Rhythm 0. There were several objects that anyone could use on her as desired. There was even a pistol with one bullet.12

At first not much happened, but then someone cut her neck with a knife and sucked the blood. A very small man put the bullet in the pistol and moved the pistol toward her neck. Someone grabbed him. The audience became more and more active, as if in trance.13 Marina Abramović realized after the performance, half naked and bleeding, that the public can kill you.14

In 2010, over 750 000 people waited in line for the chance to sit across from Marina Abramović in The Artist is Present. From the beginning, people were in tears—and so was Marina.15

…to achieve a goal,
you have to give everything until you have nothing left.
And it will happen by itself. That’s really important.
This is my motto for every performance.
16

The wall in the book title is pain. At first, the pain is excruciating, then it vanishes. That’s when you’ve walked through the wall and come out on the other side.17 Marina Abramović grew up with very much pain. She has spent a lifetime transcending pain through her performance art—not only her own pain, but also the pain of others.18 And sometimes there’s a deep connection on the other side of the wall.

Notes:
1 Marina Abramović with James Kaplan, Walk Through Walls (Penguin, 2016), p.7.
2 Ibid., p.8.
3 Ibid., p.1.
4 Ibid., p.13.
5 Ibid., p.14.
6 Ibid., p.48.
7 Ibid., p.56.
8 Ibid., p.57.
9 Ibid., p.60.
10 Ibid., p.64.
11 Ibid., p.67.
12 Ibid., p.68.
13 Ibid., p.69.
14 Ibid., p.70.
15 Ibid., p.309.
16 Ibid., p.146.
17 Ibid., p.75.
18 Ibid., p.342.

Book Review: Freedom from Command and Control

Freedom from Command and Control by John Seddon is a book about a better way to make work work. The focus of the book is on the translation of the principles behind the Toyota Production System for service organizations.1

The better way has a completely different logic to command-and-control, and that, perhaps, is the reason it is difficult to understand. People interpret what they hear from their current frame of reference, so what they hear is not necessarily what is meant.2

The cornerstone of command-and-control is the separation of decision-making from work. Command-and-control is based on top-down hierarchies where managers manage people and money. Managers make decisions on budgets, targets, and so on.3

The command-and-control management pioneers were Frederick Taylor (scientific management), Henry Ford (mass production), and Alfred Sloan (management by numbers). The issue is not that command-and-control was without value, but that we have not continued to learn. The problem is a problem of thinking.4

Taiichi Ohno at Toyota developed a radically different approach the management of work.5 Instead of top-down command-and-control management, Toyota uses local control at the point where the work is done.6 This philosophy is fundamentally different. The attitude is no longer to make the numbers, but to learn and improve.7 It requires power-with, rather than power-over, and runs counter to the underlying hierarchical command-and-control philosophy.

People who work in a command-and-control environment become cogs in the machine. Management makes the decisions and manages the scheduling, planning, reporting and so on. It’s an environment that works with information abstracted from work.8 Integrating decision-making with the work produces a totally different management infrastructure.9

Measures are usually derived from the budget in command-and-control organizations. Moreover, connecting work to arbitrary measures creates the need to have additional people scheduling work, reporting on work, and making demands on those who do the work. Separation of decision-making from the work is the defining logic for command-and-control-management.10

Integrating the information needed with the work itself changes the point of control, from external to internal, and, consequently has a positive impact on motivation. Optimizing the flow leads to lower costs because you only do what you need. Moving the locus of control to the worker makes it possible for him or her to perform different work depending on what is needed.11 Moreover, if something goes wrong it can be seen and corrected at once.12

In manufacturing you ‘get away with’ command-and-control because the products you make are standard. Traditional command-and-control responds to variety by establishing procedures, standards, and the like. The consequence is enourmous amounts of waste when applied to service organizations.13 Maximizing the ability to handle variety is central to improving service and reducing costs. This can only be done by intelligent use of intelligent people, where workers are connected with customers in self-organizing relationships.14

Diversity of flow is the hallmark of good service. In managing flow the work itself is the information, and this in turn comprises the information required to direct operations in the work. It is an unquestioned assumption in command-and-control that managers should have and set targets and then create control systems to ensure the targets are met. In Toyota these practices simply do not exist. To make service organizations work better, they need to be taken out.15

The Toyota system exemplifies economies of flow, which is a step beyond economies of scale. The concepts associated with the economies of scale have governed management thinking for the last century and more.16 Economies of flow represent a challenge to current beliefs. It is a challenge of of such a scale that this becomes the most important hurdle for managers to get over. The ideas themselves are simple, logical, and practical. However, they are different, unfamiliar, and, as a consequence, often perceived as a threat. They are certainly counterintuitive to the command-and-control mindset.17

The management principles that have guided command-and-control are logical – but it’s the wrong logic. The better way has a different logic. John Seddon uses the entire book to eloquently explain this better logic.

Notes:
1 John Seddon, Freedom from Command and Control: A Better Way to Make the Work Work (Vanguard Consulting Ltd, 2005, 2nd edition), p.23.
2 Ibid., p.8.
3 Ibid., p.8.
4 Ibid., p.9.
5 Ibid., p.15.
6 Ibid., pp.15–16.
7 Ibid., p.16.
8 Ibid., p.17.
9 Ibid., p.19.
10 Ibid., p.19.
11 Ibid., p.20.
12 Ibid., p.21.
13 Ibid., p.21.
14 Ibid., p.22.
15 Ibid., p.22.
16 Ibid., p.22.
17 Ibid., p.23.

Book Review: A Feeling for the Organism

A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock by Evelyn Fox Keller is a story of the interaction between an individual scientist, Barbara McClintock (1902–1992), and a science, genetics.1 The book serves simultaneously as a biography and as an intellectual story. Evelyn Fox Keller shows how science is both highly personal and a communal endeavor.2

The role of observation in Barbara McClintock’s experimental work provides the key to her understanding. What for others is interpretation, or speculation, is for her trained direct perception.3 McClintock pushed her observational and cognitive skills so far that few could follow her.4 She talked about the limits of verbally explicit reasoning and stressed the importance of having a ”feeling for the organism.” Her understanding emerged from a thorough absorption in, and even identification with, her material.5

The word ”understanding,” and the particular meaning Barbara McClintock attributed to it, is the cornerstone of her entire approach to science. For McClintock, the smallest details provided the keys to the larger whole. It was her conviction that the closer her focus, the greater her attention to the unique characteristics of a single plant, the more she could learn about the general principles by which the plant as a whole was organized.6

Over and over again, Barbara McClintock emphasized that one must have the time to look, the patience to ”hear what the material has to say to you,” the openness to ”let it come to you.” Above all, one must have ”a feeling for the organism.”. ”No two plants are exactly alike. They’re all different, and as a consequence, you have to know that difference,” she explained. Both literally and figuratively, her ”feeling for the organism” extended her vision.7

For Barbara McClintock, reason — at least in the conventional sense of the word — is not by itself adequate to describe the vast complexity of living forms. Organisms have a life and order of their own that scientists can only partially fathom. No models we invent can begin to do full justice to the prodigious capacity of organisms to devise means for guaranteeing their own survival. It is the overall organization, or orchestration, that enables the organism to meet its needs, whatever they might be, in ways that never cease to surprise us. That capacity for surprise gave McClintock immense pleasure.8

Our surprise is a measure of our tendency to underestimate the flexibility of living organisms. The adaptability of plants tends to be especially unappreciated. There is no question that plants have all kinds of sensitivities.9 The ultimate descriptive task, for both artists and scientists, is to ”ensoul” what one sees, to attribute to it the life one shares with it.10 In short, one must have a ”feeling for the organism.”

Barbara McClintock had a holistic perspective and got a much deeper understanding than most scientists because she was interested in and got a ”feeling for the whole organism.” Barbara McClintock was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. I find her life and work most fascinating.

Notes:
1 Evelyn Fox Keller, A Feeling for the Organism: The Life and Work of Barbara McClintock (W. H. Freeman and Company, 1982), p.ix.
2 Ibid., p.xiii.
3 Ibid., p.xiii.
4 Ibid., pp.xiii–xiv.
5 Ibid., p.xiv.
6 Ibid., p.101.
7 Ibid., p.198.
8 Ibid., p.199.
9 Ibid., p.199.
10 Ibid., p.204.

Book Review: Waking

Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence is a book where Matthew Sanford shares his own story without judgment, protection, and sentimentality.1 It’s a book about appreciating and believing in your own experience.2

At the age of thirteen, Matthew was in a car accident that killed his father and sister. It also left him paralyzed from the chest down.3 Matthew met his yoga teacher, Jo Zukovich, twelve years later.4 This changed his life and lead to an exploration of the possibilities of yoga and paralysis together.

Jo Zukovich had the patience and foresight not to force the Iyengar system of yoga onto Matthew’s body. Instead, Jo had faith in the system’s underlying principles. Iyengar emphasizes alignment and precision. Jo and Matthew discovered that alignment and precision increase mind-body integration regardless of paralysis.5

The mind is not strictly confined to a neurophysiological connection with the body. Matthew discovered that if he listens inwardly to his whole experience, he can actually feel into his legs. It is simply a matter of learning to listen to a different level of presence, a form of presence that subtly connects the mind to the body.6 Matthew describes this form of awareness a tingling, a sense of hum.7

Although Matthew’s life has taken much away, it has also revealed a powerful insight. The outer layer of Matthew’s legs and torso have been stripped away through the paralysis, but he has also learned to experience a more direct contact with an inner presence of consciousness. The silence Matthew encountered within his paralysis is the nexus within his mind-body relationship.8

Matthew’s memoir is a page-turning story, which I find most fascinating. Life presents its purpose and beauty in all sorts of ways.9 The challenge is to step more deeply into our lives, to stay open to our own experience — to not deny it, but rather to simply have it.

Notes:
1 Matthew Sanford, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence (Rodale, 2006), p. 245.
2 Ibid..
3 Ibid., p. xv.
4 Ibid., p. 161.
5 Ibid., p. 188.
6 Ibid., p. 193.
7 Ibid., pp. 194, 198.
8 Ibid., p. 200.
9 Ibid., p. 233.

Book Review: Focusing

Focusing: How to Gain Direct Access to Your Body’s Knowledge by Eugene T. Gendlin is a most interesting book. Focusing is a skill which was discovered through fifteen years of research at the University of Chicago. Eugene T. Gendlin studied, together with a group of colleagues, why therapy so often failed to make real difference in people’s lives. And in the rare cases when therapy does succeed: What is it that successful patients and therapists do?1

Seeking the answers, the researchers analyzed literally thousands of therapist-patient sessions. These studies led to several findings. One is that differences in therapy methods mean surprisingly little. Nor does the difference lie in what the patients talk about. The difference is in how they talk.2

The purpose of the book is to teach focusing. Most importantly, not only is focusing an internal act which is useful in therapy. It’s also useful in approaching any problem or situation. Focusing enables you to find and change where your life is stuck. It enables you live from a deeper place than just thoughts and feelings.3

Focusing is natural to the body, and it feels that way. There is an experience of something emerging from the body that feels like a relief and a coming alive.4 A few seem to use focusing intuitively now and then, but it is mostly unused in most people. Some people learn focusing fairly fast, while others need weeks or months.5

Focusing is a process in which you make contact with a special kind of internal bodily awareness, a felt sense.6 The felt sense is a physically sensed knowing. The body knows the whole of each of situation, vastly more aspects of it than you can think.7

body shift is a definite physical feeling of something changing or moving within, a tight place loosening. Often what is next for the body is not what would logically come next. Focusing is unpredictable.8 And it is something to be used every day, as part of the daily existence.9

Just getting in touch with one’s feelings often brings no change. One must let a larger, wider felt sense form, which at first is unclear.10 Intellectuals like to figure things out. What is important is that the body is allowed to take the first steps. The analysis isn’t effective before these steps.11 When your felt sense changes, you change—and, therefore, so does your life.12

A felt sense is a physical experience.13 Since it doesn’t communicate in words, it isn’t easy to describe in words. It is a deep-down level of awareness.14 An emotion is often sharp and clearly felt. A felt sense, being larger and more complicated, is almost always unclear—at least until you focus on it.15 It bypasses your thinking mind. But when you let the felt sense form, then you can work with more than you can understand. And when you attend to the felt sense, it will shift.16

Eugene T. Gendlin divides focusing into six main movements: 1) Clear a space. 2) Felt sense. 3) Get a handle. 4) Resonate. 5) Ask. 6) Receive.17 To think of them as separate movements makes the inner act seem more mechanical than it is. Gendlin starts by giving the focusing instructions in a brief manual style from. He then approaches the movements from several different angels and explains them in more detailed.18 Finally, he reviews the most common problems that interfere with people’s focusing, and suggests ways to get unstuck.19

At the end of the book, there is a Listening Manual which was written for people who simple wanted to help each other with focusing.20 Four kinds of helping are discussed: 1) Helping another person focus while talking.21 2) Using your own feelings and reactions about the person.22 3) Interaction.23 4) Interacting in a group.24

To handle ourselves and our situations, we need to get into more of our own experience. The more deeply we go, the more the unique individual emerges.25 Beyond feelings, there is a holistic body sense, at first unclear, that can form. It is sense of the whole meaning of a particular situation or concern. It is from this felt sense that body shifts can arise. This cannot be figured out. It has to be met, found, felt, attended to, and allowed to show itself.26

A person’s experience is not a pattern. It might seem to fit a pattern just now, but moments later it will fit another or none. In any case, the seeming fit will never be exact, for experience is richer than patterns. Moreover, it’s changing.27 New forms can come from inside each person, instead of being imposed from the outside.28

Focusing lets people find their own inner source of direction. Instead of static structures we need dynamic structure-making. If we accept ourselves and each other as form-makers, we no longer need to force forms on ourselves and each other.29 Adopting patterns, old or new, is not the way. A sensitive focusing approach can eventuate really livable patterns suited uniquely to each of us and our situations.30

The holistic felt sense is more inclusive than reason. It includes the reasons of reason, as well as feelings, and much more. That holistic sense can be lived further, and has its own directionality. It is your sense of the whole thing, including what you know, have thought, and have learned. What is first sensed holistically is more basic than thoughts, feelings, and ways of acting that are already formed, already cut into existing patterns.31

A felt sense is body and mind before they are split apart. Focusing is not an invitation to stop thinking. It begins with the felt sense, and we then think verbally, logically, or with images. When there is a body shift, our thinking come together with the body-mind.32 Thinking put in touch with what the body already knows and lives is vastly powerful.33

Lived experience is more organized, more finely faceted, than any concepts can be. And lived further, experience creates new meanings that takes account of, but also shifts, earlier meanings.34 Focusing is a really powerful skill! It’s a different way of thinking and approaching any situation.

Notes:
1 Eugene T. Gendlin, Focusing: How to Gain Direct Access to Your Body’s Knowledge (Rider, 2003, first published 1978), p.3.
2 Ibid..
3 Ibid., p.4.
4 Ibid., p.8.
5 Ibid., p.9.
6 Ibid., p.10.
7 Ibid., pp.vii–viii.
8 Ibid., p.14.
9 Ibid., p.16.
10 Ibid., p.29.
11 Ibid., p.31.
12 Ibid., p.32.
13 Ibid..
14 Ibid., p.33.
15 Ibid., p.35.
16 Ibid., p.36.
17 Ibid., pp.173–174.
18 Ibid., p.43.
19 Ibid., p.64.
20 Ibid., p.117.
21 Ibid., p.118.
22 Ibid., p.127.
23 Ibid., p.135.
24 Ibid., p.141.
25 Ibid., p.155.
26 Ibid., p.156.
27 Ibid., p.157.
28 Ibid., p.158.
29 Ibid., p.159.
30 Ibid., p.160.
31 Ibid..
32 Ibid., p.165.
33 Ibid..
34 Ibid., p.166.

Related book review:
Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning: A Philosophical and Psychological Approach to the Subjective by Eugene Gendlin