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!