Exploring Freedom at Cumberland Lodge

Just before the Christmas break I was lucky enough to be invited to the majestic Cumberland Lodge to run a session for the International Student Christmas Retreat on the theme of Freedom.

Cumberland Lodge is an educational charity that seeks more peaceful, open and inclusive societies. We tackle social divisions by equipping and inspiring people to engage in constructive dialogue.
— cumberlandlodge.ac.uk

Every year Cumberland Lodge invite international students studying in the UK, who are not able to be with their families over the Christmas break to take part in festive celebrations and some thought-provoking sessions. 

I was tasked with running the first session of the day, with over 50 students to engage at 9am in the morning! I started by asking them to sit on the floor in two circles, easier said than done, for a group check-in, with the question, 'what have you been most grateful for in 2017.' People and opportunities seemed to be the most popular answers, demonstrating that relationships and fulfilling our potentials come high on our list of meaningful things to be grateful for. Then after a short mindfulness exercise we moved to the next room for a paper tear exercise. I love this exercise to start off a session as it helps build relationships, relaxes the group, whilst also showing individuals how they relate to others and to tasks given. It is natural that some embrace their creative and playful sides, whilst other more task-focused individuals rush to 'get the job done.' After the first part of the exercise I challenged the students to write as many words that they associate with freedom or feeling free on the paper. Below are some of the results.

After the pairs had discussed their differences and similarities on the topics of freedom and feeling free we went into a Knowledge Cafe style discussion, with three rounds of conversation building on what had emerged in the first exercise. I introduced this by sharing with the students the root meaning of the word free, a meaning that surprised me when I was researching for the workshop.

 Source: etymonline.com

Source: etymonline.com

To frame the further discussion on the topic of free with the idea that it originated with the words love and friendship, among others gave a new energy to the room. I also shared an excerpt from David Bohm's book On Creativity

The tendency to “fall asleep” is sustained by an enormous number of habitually applied preconceptions and prejudices, most of which are absorbed at a very early age, in a tacit rather than explicit form. Therefore, whoever is really interested in what it really means to be original and creative will have, above all, to pay careful and continual attention to how these are always tending to condition his thoughts, feelings, and overall behaviour. After a while, such a person will begin to notice that almost all that is done by the individual and by society is in fact rather strictly limited by such largely tacit and essentially mechanical constraints. But as he becomes sensitively aware of how the whole process works, in himself and in others, he is likely to discover that the mind is beginning to come to a more natural state of freedom, in which all this conditioning is seen to be the triviality that it really is.

After a very lively Knowledge Cafe we met again in our circles to check-out with our reflections and thoughts on what had arisen in the conversations, and any new perspectives that were discovered. It was a rich session and we created much new thinking in a short space of time. Thanks for having me Cumberland Lodge!




The Value(s) of Dialogue

Here is my second blog post for World Values Day

“A society is a link in relationships among people and institutions, so that we can live together. But it only works if we have a culture-which implies we share meaning; i.e. significance, purpose and values. Otherwise it falls apart. - David Bohm

David Bohm was a quantum physicist, a contemporary of Einstein, whose work focused on his theory of Wholeness and the Implicate Order; believing that our reality and consciousness form a coherent whole. In his later life he developed a friendship with Indian philosopher, Krishnamurti, and during this time developed his theory of Dialogue; a form of group communication that has the potential to create new ways of thinking by sharing meaning together in a non-judgemental and free-flowing space.

“At the heart of the art of thinking together is an exploration of the underlying motives and intentions of the people concerned.” -William Isaacs

Bohm believed that one of the main causing factors of the challenges we face in the world is fragmentation: fragmentation of our societies, organisations and even ourselves. Dialogue in fact, starts with the self; ‘how successful am I at listening to and speaking with myself?’ Listening is the first principle and a leading value of dialogue. First we must set the intention to listen to others with respect and the intention to understand; secondly we must listen to ourselves, to the resistance, defenses and patterns of thought that occur within us when listening to other people; and thirdly we must listen to the group, for the shared meaning and collective themes that are unfolding as the dialogue flows. Non-judgement is the second principle of dialogue. It requires an openness and honesty that allows us to share our truths with the spirit of fellowship and trust. To listen from a point of non-judgement it is important that we accept that our opinions are assumptions, based on our previous experience. In a dialogue it is not necessary that everyone be of the same opinion, what is important is that we share our opinions and experiences and are able to suspend any judgements that may arise, long enough for the group to be able to inquire into them and create new knowledge from the sharing of meaning.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weaknesses.” - Brene Brown

Bohm was concerned with the thinking process and the awareness that allows us to notice what is happening from moment to moment. For many of us we rely on habitual patterns of ‘thoughts’ that rush into our minds when we are faced with familiar or challenging situations. In dialogue, if we are able to suspend and become aware of our thoughts and judgements, we will be able to create space for new ‘thinking’ to form. Discomfort can arise from this space as we have the time to reflect on why it is we think a certain way, the root causes of this thinking and how it may relate to our sense of self. To engage in dialogue therefore, requires both vulnerability and courage.

“It is our values and attitudes that drive how we speak and listen” -Linda Ellinor and Glenna Gerard

A key value of dialogue is the principle of participation, a desire to work with the collective intelligence of the group. To be open to the energy of the group, that allows for individual freedom, coupled with shared responsibility. Through dialogue we are able to see complex inter-relationships and form new ways of thinking together about how the world works. The guiding values for a successful dialogue can be felt and experienced as  listening, trust, openness, respect, honesty, awareness, courage, vulnerability, participation, inclusion and creativity. However, we each bring our own leading values to a dialogue, which will inform how we participate, and may even shift within or after the dialogue as we open ourselves to new perspectives, possibilities and the experience of relating well to each  other.  For the ultimate goal of dialogue is creative motion, to recognise that we are dynamic free-flowing beings, interrelated and interdependent.

“We voluntarily change our minds and our behaviour in response to our own internalisation of new values and thinking. This is much more likely to occur in an environment that supports exploration of new thinking and behaviours.” -Linda Ellinor and Glenna Gerard

This article originally appeared on the World Values Day website here.

Values: A Foundation for Sustainable Thinking

As a member of the UK Values Alliance and in celebration of World Values Day I was asked to write about values and why they are important to me and my work. Here is the first of two blogs.

Disposable fashion - disposable values
As World Values Day approaches I am considering my own personal journey to spending more time considering and living by my values. I first began thinking deeply about values when I was tasked with writing a research essay during my masters course; Fashion & The Environment. The fashion and clothing market has changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and is now the second largest polluting industry globally. Currently three quarters of UK consumers admit to throwing away clothes, rather than recycling or donating them. This results in 235m items of unwanted clothing ending up in UK landfill per year. For something to be thrown away so easily, it is often because we deem it to have little or no value. With disposable fast fashion clothing, we have been conditioned to perceive the value in the low cost price, with little consideration to the person who made the garment, the impact of its production on the environment, the quality, longevity and emotional durability in our wardrobes and what happens with it once we have tired of it. Our society has changed from values of make-do- and-mend to that of instant gratification and disposability.
With the realisation that without a strong foundation of value based thinking and behaviour, this value-less, throw-away consumption is likely to continue, I began to consider how it is we form our values and how in turn these chosen values affect our identity and actions.

crying world (1).jpg

Challenging Our Value Systems

In a bid to look at ways that we can make sustainability issues more engaging and relevant to people’s lives, I began to design and test a series of workshops exploring emotional sustainability. On realising that until we increase the discourse on values, we will struggle to increase the discourse on sustainability, I naturally started with a workshop helping people to explore their personal and shared values. Acknowledging that values are not something that is frequently considered amongst many people, I chose to begin with a simpler question: what is it that you need to survive, and what do you need to thrive? This became a powerful pair of questions and ones that I have returned to again and again. Not only does it help participants consider whether their basic needs are being met, and what they can do to empower themselves to reach their potential. It also highlights our differences and similarities, and the reasons for these. And finally it often shows that we take for granted the basic gifts of the earth and mother nature: water, sunlight, air, earth-things that are increasingly compromised by pollution and climate change. From the conversations that arise in dialogue from this exercise, it becomes a natural progression to speak about values and begin to understand what is important to us and why.

values tree square.jpg

As part of my research I also conducted a small questionnaire on sustainability and behaviour change. On asking those surveyed, what bought most meaning to their life, the overwhelming majority of answers were: spending time with family and friends, doing something creative and spending time in nature. Answers not linked to material value but the the value of time spent doing things we love, with fellow human beings and our environment. It is true that there is often a value-action gap in what we say is important to us and how we act. In the same survey I asked people what they thought were the biggest barriers to sustainable living, the majority answered: time, convenience and cost. So what happens between the restraints of time and
cost, and that which brings meaning to our lives? When it comes to living more sustainable choices, there are some small changes that are simple; like carrying a reusable shopping bag and reusable water bottle to reduce our plastic consumption. But how many of us have given up our smart phones due to knowledge that the raw earth minerals inside could have be mined by children? Where does our responsibility as consumers end and the designers and manufacturers responsibility begin? And what about our joint responsibility as global citizens on a shared planet? If we consider these questions using our personal and shared values as a starting place, we can move from a position of guilt for not doing enough and feeling powerless, to one of empowerment through the knowledge that we know how we want to live our lives and what kind of world we want to live in together.

value action gap (1).jpg

This article was originally featured on the World Values Day website here.

Vulnerability & Play

I have been lucky enough to meet Play Expert Yesim Kunter and together we are developing ideas for a Vulnerability & Play workshop at monthly playdates.

Here is a short video of some work in progress.  In this exercise we are looking at shedding negative labels and limiting beliefs, to reveal hopes and dreams.

Welfare and the World | School of Economic Science

I was invited to speak at the School of Economic Science as part of their latest Inspiration Day - Welfare of the World.  I spoke about Emotional Sustainability in Practice and why I think creativity and dialogue are such important tools as agents for change and how I use them in my work and projects.

I was one of eight speakers, all of whom were very inspiring and insightful.  It was a great day and I am very grateful to have been a part of it.

As requested by some of the attendees I am posting my presentation slides.

Poetry Workshop at Lights of Soho

On Saturday I co-hosted a poetry workshop with Danielle Allen from Indigo Poetry at the gallery and members bar, Lights of Soho.

Our theme was The Feminine Principle, an area we had chosen to explore with both genders to create a dialogue on the feminine and masculine energies that we all naturally possess and the qualities that reflect these energies.  

 Source: cherieroedirksen.com

Source: cherieroedirksen.com

“We are beginning to become aware that what it means to live as a woman does not mean to be lock-stepped into a culturally-defined gender role that embodies and ensouls feminine attributes, and that to live meaningfully as a man does not mean that he must submit to a stereotyped ideal of masculine qualities. The emerging level of our current collective consciousness, regarding this issue, recognizes that each individual’s creative and unique soul-making process is an ever-evolving dance of change and renewal between yin and yang, masculine and feminine, male and female.”
— - Carol Wolf Winters, Ph.D

We had seven participants at the workshop, five female and two male.  We began by introducing the Dialogue Guidelines in accordance with David Bohm's theory.  Our first exercise was constructed poems.  Each participant was given a text relating to the feminine principle and a poem reflecting a feminine quality, and asked to construct a poem with alternate lines from the article and poem.

The results were very interesting and the text and poems provoked different reactions in the participants.

After we performed the poems to each other and had a short break, followed by an energising movement exercise we started the next exercise.  We asked participants to select three words that we provided, either two masculine qualities and one feminine or two feminine and one masculine and write a haiku with each word in one line.  Some found this exercise more challenging but there were some great results and we discussed our reactions to the words, whether we thought they truly were 'feminine' or 'masculine' and any other feelings they provoked in us.

'my own awareness,
penetrating your structure,
becomes protective.'

Our last exercise was to ask the participants to select a natural object that we provided a write a love poem or ode to it.  This exercise produced some incredible results, reflecting the power and beauty of nature and our relationship and connection to it, and what we can learn when we take the time to stop and give our full attention to something we previously did not consider or thought to be insignificant.

'The most important reason why we are out of balance with Nature is the fact that we have lost complete sight of this unifying aspect and have made the feminine principle as well as Life and our Earth our enemy'
-The Whole Elephant Revealed, Marja de Vries.

Some participants feedback...

What did you find most interesting about this workshop?
"Uncovering my own potential to write poetry! The exercises and prompts were very good at easing us into it."

What did you enjoy most about this workshop?
"A chance to write with other people rather than in isolation.  Poetry can be a lonely activity."

"Sharing our thoughts that came from the exercises in a 'dialogue'"

Did anything we discussed during the workshop change your thinking in any way or particularly resonant?
"Feminine, masculine principles; a big debate.  Pleased that the event was open to all genders."

"Creativity, relinquishing control."

"The idea of principles and exploring that."

Any other comments?
"It felt like a hug from the universe."

"So good.  I am less of a cynic now."

Poetry Games on the International Day of Poetry

March 21st was the International Day of Poetry, so a fitting day to run another poetry games workshop.

This time I was invited to a Kent based book club and as well as some profound and often entertaining poems, the discussion that followed really highlighted each participants desire to create a positive narrative within their poem, despite often having both negative sustainable text and poem.  Perhaps this desire for positivity is an innate human quality that is often compromised by the negative rhetoric that we are faced with on a daily basis within our media.

As in previous workshops, the accessibility of the exercise was very enjoyable and liberating for the participants, and the joy felt by constructing the poems and decorating the papers was lovely to see.

Here is some feedback from the participants,

What did you find most interesting about this workshop?

The process of creating something ‘original’ from existing text

What did you enjoy most about this workshop?

The interaction with the other people and the exchange of thoughts

Did anything we discussed during the workshop change your thinking in any way or particularly resonant with you?

The use of words/language in a new way and the ideas around positive and negative narratives

Any other comments?

Jessica lead the discussion in a very considered and thought provoking way. Thank you.

Below are the finished poems.

Poetry Games Workshop at The School of Economic Science

A great way of focusing on words and thoughts that arise and engage the emotions.
— Workshop Participant

On Sunday I was invited to be a part of The School of Economic Science's Inspiration Day; Words, Words, Words.

The exchange of thinking was lovely because I felt it.
— Workshop Participant

I ran three Poetry Games workshops during the day and some interesting, moving and often profound poems were constructed.  I offered poems on themes of relationships, emotions, travel, food, nature and creativity that were combined with a selection of pages from sustainability related texts.

It sort of made me realise that I can somehow write poetry too and give some meaning and voice to disparate thoughts.
— Workshop Participant

It was a lovely day and the feedback provided an insight into people's relationship with their personal creativity, the ability for poetry to focus our thoughts, often those that come from a subconscious level and the enjoyment gained from participating as a group.

The playfulness of the session. How creativity was easy to access and concentration wasn’t difficult (very creative and fun)...It was easy to express feeling with a feel of self-control rather than feeling overwhelming feeling.
— Workshop Participant

Below are a selection of the finished poems...

The Hospital Club Sustainability Week 2015

As part of my MA research I was lucky enough to work with the London private members club, The Hospital Club.  I first approached the club in 2014 when I discovered their annual Sustainability Week and subsequently was invited to join the junior committee and run some workshops in the run-up to Sustainability Week 2015.  

I really need to thank the club for the opportunities they gave me over the course of the year, to trial my workshop ideas and exhibit the completed manifesto during Sustainability Week, and even be featured in the below film!

I look forward to continuing this relationship in 2016.