Shae: How we conceive of individuality and identity is, I think, fundamental to thinking about the teaching and learning of sentient relationality in educational settings. 

Alexander: Yes. The problem is, people say “look at the bees and the insects – they have a hive mind”. People think that a bee or an ant can’t decide to want to go grab an ice-cream or take the afternoon off, maybe go grab a beer. And they’re right about that, but then that gets extrapolated to humans and they get scared. Confusion arises about individuality, about the complexity of human inter-being. In those insect systems, collective identity flows down and through the individual identity, but there is no upward flow of free will for the ants and the bees from the individual to the collective. There is some two-way flow of course, but point is there is not enough to decide to change the system, or to have specific relationships, or to step outside of the hive mind and make purposeful changes. That is the degree of freedom we have as human beings, and we can do that in a both/and way, not an either/or way. We can all be intimately connected as one being and at the same time still preserve our sense of each of us being our own individual being. We can channel switch; we can do both.  It’s the switch from the ego channel to the collective channel. Still, you probably don’t want to be tuned into the collective channel when you are going shopping.

Shae: Precisely! I was having this exact conversation with a friend of mine about expanded states of communion with fields of energy and information, and they said “Yes, that’s a fine goal, but how do you do your shopping?” We both laughed! You can’t walk around and try to go shopping in that expanded state, it’s really tricky. I tried it, some other shoppers found being connected into my expanded and open field of awareness a bit disconcerting! So yes, teaching relational states of being that are extended beyond the hard boundary of separate individualism needs a framework to manage it with care and integrity. Complexity Patterning is designed to be such a framework. Patterns provide a really useful visual approach to understanding who we are – our identity – as a multidimensional patterning that expresses both bounded and agentic individual and deeply connected relational being, across space, and across species, and across time. Complexity Patterning supports a strong and stable individual identity that is at the same time connected – like the roots and branches of a tree – with many others, of all species, and many layers and aspects of the world. 

What I found in education is that students are told to leave everything that is not part of the curriculum at the door, and this also means leaving some of who they are at the door. Learning is still considered an individual phenomenon. I would say to my students, “Bring everything in, all that you are, you are welcome here! Let’s acknowledge all we are, all that is going on, as we are all swimming in an ocean of dynamic energy and information all the time.” I would just normalise the dynamic patterning of being, of everything! Talking about it as normal and legitimate scientific knowledge. This is how I engaged with my students; through the latest ideas in science, so I wasn’t getting any parents complaining that here was somebody doing something a bit unusual with their young people. It needs to be evidence-based, and the science coming through at the moment gives us a wonderful platform for that.

And I found many young people to be very relieved. They would say “Thank goodness we don’t have to pretend!” We could all talk about more than the prescribed content of the curriculum. Using Complexity Patterning helped to engage with those wider dynamics and ways of knowing. My contribution through pattern understanding is to normalise sentience as dynamic fields, not a fixed capacity, and to say to young people, “You already all have this, you can already feel, and are able to tune to information that maybe you can’t see as such.” In this way, they normalise what they have before it solidifies into rigid individuality. 

Alexander:  Yes, because when it does so, it tends to become not trusted, not trustworthy.

Shae: Right, then it becomes something inconceivable. I think educators and students need a language and way of talking about flows and dynamics of energy and information, about the affordances and constraints of it all. To be able to explore the paradox of constraints that enable and enablements that can constrain. I wish I had had an education that engaged with the complexities of energy and information all around us. I remember clearly, at the age of eleven, spending a lot of time carefully figuring out the difference between what I was generating inside my mind, and what I was feeling and experiencing – the information – from outside of me, like a breeze touching my skin, which at that time I thought about as a response. It was hard because no one talked about such things and the Internet wasn’t available then to do my own research. 

Alexander:  It is all wrapped up in our cultural cosmovision, and it has to do with time, and in the very existential idea that we are born alone, we live alone, and we die alone – a very Sartre kind of framing of life [see ref. below]. Well, no we can’t be born alone – at least our mother is definitely present, and we actually live in community on many levels for most of our life. It just depends on what narrative we hold onto. And frankly, even if we are in an ashram or hermitage, we are still not alone since we are always connected to the living earth through the soles of our feet, and through our ancestors to all those who came before us. On some level, we all know this right, and yet there are so many people who feel isolated, desolate and bereft of life, and they create these huge barriers which isolate them further. Certainly, the structures of society can compound this effect, but fundamentally, it is misplaced.

Shae: Yes, and the isolating individuality that you are talking about – how people can get so wrapped up in themselves and withdraw from connection – I see how it can contribute to loneliness and depression, both of which are very common in Western societies, especially among younger and younger people. A deep complexity approach to all of education is my suggestion, my contribution, emphasising and celebrating all levels of connectivity and the dynamic nature of it through a transdisciplinary curriculum operating at the same time as the standard curriculum.

Royalty free image ‘nature-4720090_1280’ author unknown, Pixerbay.

Sartre, J.P. (1946).  Existentialism is a Humanism (trans. from French: L’existentialisme est un humanisme). Les Editions Nagel, Methuen & Co.