Shae. I’m very interested in your view on the differences and connections between the concepts of consciousness and sentience. I’m wondering if sentience is the awareness and embodied experience of relationality within a dynamic and alive world. I have always felt very porous myself, with the relationality of my being so dynamic across place, elements, and other beings and entities, that I needed to use patterns as a way of understanding what could be described as a kind of embodied and yet distributed dynamic sentience. That is how I first designed Complexity Patterning: to make coherent sense of my own very broad and dynamic relationality. And then it proved to be useful as a transdisciplinary and even postdisciplinary learning approach with students when, as an educator, I was faced with the limitations of formal education. 

Perhaps what I was doing with my students was enhancing capacity for, and experience of, sentience. Engaging with Complexity Patterning served as a means for the students to understand themselves as dynamic complex phenomena, and then to realise their intertwingled relationship within the wider phenomena of the world around them. I wanted to move them out of their individual corners and encourage them to start engaging in the dynamics of connectivity in the classroom. First by making the classroom really safe, so they could relate more with each other — and this process enabled them to move in and out of that, so they could have a little experience of expanded sentience in the classroom — and then move them back into their particular individuality. 

I found it increased the strength of consciousness in the room: it increased the students’ presence, which generated a dynamic of learning commons rather than just individualised competition. Learning increased because there was more awareness in the room; then when we started to engage with the land inside and outside of the classroom and talk about the trees we can see outside, the students started to engage along these dimensions and to just move their sentience outward just a little bit more. And then I would bring them back in again; you cannot leave students to walk out of the classroom in an expanded state, otherwise they might bump into something! We all needed to be grounded. 

I was known as the teacher who got students to breathe through their feet — that’s how I grounded them again, so that they could get on the bus after school. And they all thought that was very funny, but it was effective. I think I was shifting the linearity of experience, because in my understanding of learning, transformational and relational knowledge comes from non-linear, embodied, contextual, and also cross-scale relationship with place, land, trees, everything.

Corners and the Groove

Alexander. Talking about the corners that one can encounter in civilization — which is full of corners and straight lines — there is the difference between a rut and a groove. The groove is where the needle in a record goes and that is where the music is sourced. The expression of the sixties is groovy, being in the groove with a good vibe, but if the experience gets repeated the same way over and over and every day you do the same thing, then it turns into a rut. The rut is where the wheels of a carriage go, and then you cannot get out of that track; you can’t turn because you are locked into that path. Often peoples’ grooves turn into ruts and we can ask, how do you move back out of that?  Where is the aliveness? Where is the energy? How do we bring that movement back into being? I think it relates to the form of our engagement; the way we engage with life. I think it has to do with sentience and consciousness, and asking whether we are conscious of being in a rut or in a groove or are we just being unconscious automatons. You know, that is why a lot of my work these days is how to human well, because when we do not human well, we often machine — then we are in the rut! And cities, and the day-to-day grind, and the incentives of capitalist, materialist society often puts us into ruts of not humaning well. Then we are not nice to each other, to ourselves, to nature, or to anything. So, mastering patterning is a better incentive because it provides a way out: a path to engage the groove of conscious sentience

This path is related to empathy. There is a big difference between being an empath and being empathetic.  We can all learn to be more empathetic in school. That is good, but being an empath is different and you don’t choose that: you are born with it. The point I am coming to is that the people with whom I speak who are exploring the edges of consciousness and sentience in a way that is co-emergent with the deeper patterns of life and life-creating dynamics are, in fact, all deep empaths. 

Sentient Empathy

Shae. Are you talking about broad sentience: an empathic embodied experience of the world that includes the experience of more information than what is considered usual?  A wider bandwidth of informational frequency, we might say? This point goes back to the original motivation for my work: to use complexity-focused pattern-thinking in education for the more already multidimensionally oriented students, and the so-called gifted students — as with the empaths — to assist them with the complexity they may be experiencing. So often I come across young people who are already more evolved than contemporary education systems can manage.

I want to open up thinking about complexity and asynchrony and perhaps engage with the students’ experience of not-knowing how to manage the fluidity of their edges and the wider world. This can include experiences of time as a complex phenomenon. When I began teaching, I became aware that many openly empathic and quite multidimensional young people were suffering in schools that were still operating in the outdated Industrial Era paradigm. When I began teaching complexity thinking as an embodied and sentient form of knowledge in my classroom, these students — many of whom had zoned out and shut down — seemed to wake up: the lights came on in their eyes! This happened particularly when I was teaching time as a complex phenomenon to uncouple the students’ lives and living from the linearity of mechanistic temporalities. This work constitutes the core of my contribution to transformational education.