Alexander: So, how are we going teach extended awareness and relational being in educational frames? How are we going to bring this into healing our connection with Gaia?  There are many possible ways, and as you said, so many wisdom cultures have developed their own specific ways – what my friend Marty Spiegelman [see ref. below] talks about as technologies of consciousness, but in a very shamanic and traditional sense that is highly developed. For example, it can take the form of a drumming circle, bringing collective being in and allowing it to create a resonant field out of which can emerge dynamic potentials that foster the manifestation of a greater inter-being, of an entire field – a domain that may even include a whole bioregion. Curating this … how do we enable that? First Nations peoples of the Pacific North Eastern Rim talk about being shepherds of forests. I mean, this involves a kind listening that is operates at the level of entire bioregions. Imagine if someone asks ‘What’s your job?’ and you say ‘I’m a shepherd of forests’! And the response might be ‘Yeah right, what do you do all day, because the trees are not going anywhere!’ We simply don’t get that kind of reciprocal relationality in a Western knowledge frameworks. This involves both listening and empathy. It is a deep form of medicine.

Shae: In an educational setting, I start very simply: by engaging students in the very interconnected reality of our bodies, as a first step. For example, we explore how we don’t actually move through life, as though it were a stage or a backdrop: life moves through us. We can only exist due to the symbiotic relationship of millions of bacterial cells that live with our human cells in our bodies, for example. And we consider the air we breathe in and out that other life forms breathe in and out in a reverse way, and the nutrients we consume. We eat life, digest it, the soils that food grows in … we are living because of the soils of the planet. Yes, I starting with this symbiosis and inseparability on a very immediate level, blowing open the idea of any absolute boundary at a very personal level. This can assist young people to see how boundaries that we tend to think of as solid are actually not solid at all, but are interfaces of relationship. This is small steps toward dissolving the mechanistic paradigm that has everyone thinking that life is made of separate parts; the outdated parts-in-a-machine perspective. The shift in knowledge is to the understanding that, as individuals, we are more like a specific wave in a greater body of water; a manifest instance forming and actualising for a while from the ocean of probability, possibility, and potential! 

It involves engaging with the latest ideas in science and quantum physics in particular, and really is also about engaging with Indigenous Knowledge and traditional knowledges such as the Vedas and Buddhism, that are based in this view of an inseparable and constant coming-into-being through relationality. This is also expressed as the deep complexity paradigm. So yes, in educational settings, normalising the extent of how inseparably connected we are all the time, and then moving toward what we can all be aware of and feel, or sense, is a good start. It would be wonderful if awareness and perception activities were a normal part of education!

Alexander: Yes, certainly in my martial arts class, we practice such awareness activities. For instance, I have my students sit a couple of metres apart, crossed legged with eyes closed. I ask them to open all of their other senses. We actually go through a little exercise beforehand with eyes closed, involving listening inside, on, near, and far from themselves. I ask, “can you hear your heartbeat? Can you hear your digestion? Can you feel it? What else can you feel inside? Can you feel the clothes on your skin? Can you feel the ground pressing up against you? Maybe a little bit of a breeze on your skin?” Then moving more outside of your body, I say, “ok … keep your eyes closed … now, where are the windows and doors in this room? How many people are in the room?” They have their eyes closed, but they can know these things because partly they are sensing them. “Now, outside of the building, is it day or night? Are there birds there? In what direction are they?” With each of these sensing exercises, they tune and heighten their senses.

Then we play a game, and it’s great because they try to catch me out and I try sneak around them, they love that. They want to catch this guy out! While their eyes are closed, I walk around behind them, and then stop behind somebody, and as quietly as possible, I try to touch their shoulder from behind. Their objective is to try to grab my hand before I touch their shoulder. For the younger ones and the ones who haven’t done this very much, as I go by their ear, I rub my fingers together a little so they get a bit more of a cue. For the ones who are more experienced, I can be really quiet, and I reach from behind them and they can sense me in their field and will grab hand before it lands on their shoulder. Sometimes I go for both shoulders, but often they still grab me first. Not always, not always. But they try to catch me out, and it’s fun, and they develop this sense-ability that is part of martial arts training; to be able to sense your surroundings and know the dynamics that are flowing around and through you.  Also, at an even deeper level, they start to sense the intention behind those dynamics, as well. 

Shae: In my teaching experience, I have found that many young people are very aware of far more than they say or talk about. Creating a safe classroom culture that normalises and encourages extending awareness, sensing, and indeed sentient cognition into wider fields of energy and informational flow is a vital first step. I have used the activity of knowing if someone is looking at you from behind. Many teenagers are acutely aware of someone looking at them, maybe from behind, or across a space, and are also able to know the intention, as you say. Whether the looker is thinking they know them, or thinking they are attractive, for instance. It has been fun to actually talk about those subtle flows of energy and information with them. And of course, there is a safety factor in having such extended awareness. It’s a vital skill, though it can feel like a super-power!

Royalty free image by FunkyFocus, Pixerbay.

Spiegelman, M. (ongoing). Leading from Being, a podcast series with Marti Spiegelman & Todd Hoskins.