Leaving Room for Different Voices

It’s hard to know what to do when plans fall flat, do we rush to make new ones, or do we pause? I wrote in Staying Home how I asked the river what I should do next, and then in Finding Home about the value of slowing down and seeking connection.

As I mentioned, I’ve found it hard to be surrounded (on social media at least) by the rush to create new opportunities in the form of online courses and events. I don’t change direction that fast. It takes me time to process what is happening, to recognise what I’m feeling and why, and then to let what is needed next to bubble up. I’m also a very hands-on person, my work is all about embodied experience.

I was in the garden the other day, taking a break from home schooling our boy and trying not to panic about how I’m going to earn some money. Home deliveries aren’t happening as the supermarkets are all booked up, and I’m trying not to go to the shops too often, so it seemed the right time to get our vegetable beds ready for planting. The little hatch at the bottom of our plastic compost bin was bulging outwards, compost spilling out the side onto the ground, so I pulled it away, got out a spade and started spreading it onto the weeded veggie beds.

The compost was a bit sticky, it was dark, rich and had various objects half hidden in it, still recognisable from their previous lives. Avocado stones, teabags, crushed egg shell and the occasional bright sticker off an apple or aubergine.

Once all the rotted-down compost was out around the garden, ready to rot down and feed the next generation of plants, I pushed the stuff that was left above it down, and added more kitchen waste to the top.

The compost goes in as banana skins and grass clippings at the top, and makes its way down to emerge at the bottom. Its cycle of decay feeds the life of our garden and brings us new food. Working with it that day made me think of discussions with colleagues in Organisational Learning and Early Years Education, but it took me a while to work out why.

In Artful Knowing and Creative Learning we talk about the value of not knowing, of opening up a space in which we can receive information from our environment, using artful processes. Being present to what is happening, but not rushing into action prematurely. Documenting our sensory and emotional responses to a situation, in order to process and reflect later on what the situation might call on us to do.

I haven’t chosen to be in lockdown but while I am I’m trying to use the space it’s left in a similar way.

On a recent Skype call my friend and collaborator Kathy Skerritt called this kind of dwelling with/within a situation conscious waiting. To me it feels like a kind of surrender to change, trusting that other voices need to be heard, that other forces are at play. We are part of a greater system and we need to be ready to play our part, but not to miss the messages that we can receive through paying attention to our bodies and emotions.

‘Suspending is a process of allowing non-intellectual space for wise, essential knowing to distill from complex situations, and at the same time for a rich diversity of knowing to proliferate..

…through suspending the intellect, and dwelling in uncertainty in this way, we open ourselves to receiving inspiration…

Suspending then… is about connection and about coming to detect, discern and pay attention to our whole body responses to experience and context.’

Chris Seeley and Ellen Thornhill, Artful Organisation

It’s hard not being in control. Projects you’ve worked on can’t happen, the government tells you to stay home, your son is meant to be learning about Homophones and Fronted Adverbials, but just wants to talk about lightsabers. It feels wrong, feels uncomfortable, it’s not what was meant to happen, and its tempting to wrestle back control by planning the hell out of things.

It feels like a kind of grieving. It’s a loss and its tempting to fill the void that is left (I’m reminded here of Margaret Gearty and her explorations into Poetic Activism as she asks ‘How can I stay with the trouble?‘). But the ‘things’ that we want to plan, if they are to be successful, will take time to form. The compost takes months to turn from slimy banana and mouldy cucumber into the rich life-giving plant food.

So I’m trying my best to practice Kathy’s conscious waiting. As she says ‘you can’t rush it, you can only respond‘. I’m carrying on making with what I have available using my Kitchen Sketchbook, I’m setting my camera trap on my daily bike ride with my son to let animals record themselves. And I’m trying hard not to lose my temper with a boy who is adapting to massive changes in his own life, and who I’m sure would much rather be out playing football with his friends.

2 thoughts on “Leaving Room for Different Voices

  1. James, I really do take a lot from your writings. You show such love and positivity to your world and your life, I find it very encouraging in this difficult time.
    Take care and stay safe. Mary


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