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The importance of mindful conversations

The knowledge of early philosophers ranged far and wide, covering fields from biology to ethics, from politics to physics. With increasing production of knowledge, facilitated by the web, technology and a greater educated class and increasing cultural exchanges, it became harder to know everything under the sun. Over time it became clear that individuals could not keep abreast of all knowledge and we gradually learnt to specialize in one or more areas. With our specialization our thinking has become more fragmented and our ability to think wholly has been made more difficult.

At work we are more likely to be specialists in our field making it harder and harder to link different fragments of knowledge that lies scattered across sub disciplines within any organisation. Simplistic tools may be honoured as a way of addressing these problems, but often at the expense of complexity that require context and connection. It is much easier to attempt to incorporate procedures or tools rather than exploring the real complexities of these issue in a transdisciplinarian way.

A skilfully hosted group Dialogue or Council is one powerful transdiscilpinary approach of dealing with complexity within organisations, recognising the lived experience and subjectivity of each person in context, in a network of relationships, in an ecology. A Transdiscilpinary approach is meta-paradigmatic- opening many perspectives at once. This enables us to understand not only the content of various approaches to issues, but their underlying assumptions or paradigms, and how those paradigms shape the inquiry. A trans disciplinary approach offers opportunities to questions ones own assumptions. It is in the exchange with different perspectives that our own perspectives become most clearly elucidated and articulated.

Renowned Systems thinker, Social scientist and anthropologist Gregory Bateson believed great creativity emerges out of this interaction of multiple perspectives. The creative process has been defined as seeing “a single idea in two habitually incompatible frames of reference”. The existence of a multiplicity of perspectives, at times mutually opposed, can therefore be transformed into an opportunity for creativity, if we accept the possibility of multiple ways of knowing, that there is more than one perspective that has something to offer and no one perspective has the monopoly, and recognise the possibility that the perspectives can co-exist and also be brought together to develop creative integrations.

Skilfully hosted Dialogue encourages groups and individuals to effectively participate in the unfolding of meaning – a creative interaction that allows new insights and unexpected ideas to emerge from the encounter. Quantum physicist David Bohm believed that through persistent dialogue a radically new state of mind could emerge, “a concrete alteration that penetrates the core of a person’s experience and has the potential to communicate itself directly”

In Dialogue there is a shedding of agendas that allows for a co-creative flowing interaction, in which it is possible for something new to emerge. Dialogue can be described as a practice that awakens the desire for, and provides the means to, expand consciousness of each other and access untapped wisdom beyond our own worldview or paradigms. The mere presence of the other in Dialogue helps us to break up our own bias and narrowness and offers deep self-understanding. Openness is naturally initiated, bringing our prejudgments to the surface. The process often highlights the limitation of one’s own framework of thinking which then allows one to go beyond one’s own previous possibilities.

Cultivating new ways of being

Cultivating new ways of being through “living thinking”.

New Renowned Indian philosopher and educator Krishnamurti argued that our ways of thinking and learning currently places barriers between ourselves and the object we are dealing with. He wrote that “by being aware, one discovers how one is conditioned- “don’t sit on the bank and speculate about the river; jump in and follow the current of this awareness, and you will find out for yourself how extraordinarily limited our thoughts, our feelings, and our ideas are. Accordingly, he argued that for ‘true transformation’,

“There must be a constant awareness…an awareness in which there is no choice, no condemnation or comparison, that is, there must be the capacity to see things as they are without distorting or translating them. The moment we judge or translate what is seen, we distort it according to our background. It is this very discovery of ourselves as we are, without any sense of condemnation or justification, that brings about a fundamental transformation in what we are -and that is the beginning of wisdom”.

When we become increasingly aware of our own assumptions and perspectives, we notice that they only illuminate certain aspects of other phenomena in the world around us. Scientist, researcher and author Craig Holdrege of the Nature Institute believes that by increasing our awareness of our own assumptions and perspectives we participate more consciously and carefully in the way we interact with the world. Importantly Holdrege states that the physical world of our lived experience informs our knowing more and more as we transform ourselves.

Author, poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau believed that we need to learn with new eyes and ground our knowledge in the world of the lived experience of things rather than in ideas, concepts and theories (abstract thinking). Thoreau wrote, “it is only when we forget all our learning that we begin to know…If you would make acquaintance with the ferns you must forget your botany…. Your greatest success will be simply to perceive things as they are… I must walk more with free senses – I must let my senses wander as my thoughts – my eyes see without looking…. Be not preoccupied with looking. Go not to the object let it come to you…. What I need is not to look at all – but a true sauntering of the eye.”

In order to experience the flow of life and its specific qualities in all living and non-living things, we need fluid dynamic (process orientated) thinking. I have come to realize how nature can teach us about a living, dynamic way of thinking. If I am willing to pay attention I can learn from nature how to think in a living way without casting my own filters onto the world. My trips into the wild offer a chance to practice deep observation using the growth and development of plants as an especially vivid and rich model to learn the idea of living thinking.

Holdrege reminds us that a growing plant sends roots spreading intimately through the soil, taking in and exchanging with the earth. These are qualities we, too, possess when, as sensory beings, we explore and meet the world with fresh eyes. Always growing, always probing, meeting things anew, we become rooted in the experiential world.

As a flowering plant grows, it unfolds leaf after leaf. When the plant grows up toward flowering, the lower leaves die away. So a plant lives by unfolding something very important at that moment, then moves on to make new structures while past forms fall away. This is a great metaphor on how we can work with our own concepts: instead of falling in love with a particular idea and holding on to it at all costs (object-thinking) – we could learn to form a concept, use it, and then let it die away as our experience evolves. Our deeply felt sense of our own boundaries and ignorance allows us to keep knowledge alive, open, and growing. The wilderness provides great lessons in what it means to be undogmatic, dynamic and adaptable.

If we were to think plantlike, our concepts would stay closely connected to the context they arose from, and if that context changed, we would metamorphose our ideas to stay within the fast flowing river of life. By practicing this we can experience ourselves as active receptive participants in an ongoing, evolving conversation with everything around us. We are no longer distant onlookers gazing coolly at a world of objectified things. While gaining this re-connection and rootedness in the world is exhilarating but not always going to be easy.

The moment we become aware of the participatory, interactive nature of knowing, everything changes. We become directly aware of the implications on all our actions and thoughts. A living thinking is a thinking that knows itself as firmly embedded in the world. It is also a thinking that knows it does not have all the answers,

Holdrege writes that the seeds of this transformation are created every time we catch ourselves considering a problem in our lives through some pre-formed conceptual lens and then drop that lens and turn back, in openness, to the things themselves. With heightened awareness we can begin forming concepts out of interaction with the world rather than imposing them upon the world. This is living thinking.

Often I find myself at the beginning of a multi day walk, full of purpose and high expectation. It’s hard to escape the craving for results from everything we do. It usually takes two full days of wilderness immersion before I drop my expectations and fall into nature’s rhythms. This strong sense of purpose can prevent us from seeing the unexpected. So, by going out purposefully with a broad focus of open expectation, I can overcome limitations and invite the world in.

An exercise to practice openness in our daily living is to pause during the evening and think back over the day. “What did I experience today that I wasn’t expecting?” When I bring awareness to this we realize how much of what I experienced was actually expected. To really appreciate those few moments when something new and unexpected appears, and then to vividly re-picture those experiences to myself can help cultivate sensitivity to the unexpected. When I practice creating this field of openness. I can begin to experience another person, a landscape, or a social problem as a living thing with openness and fresh eyes.