senses

Get On The Grass

I have fond memories of grass related activities as a child. We made mud slides in paddocks (picture supplied, T’shirts never recovered),  played hide and seek in waist high kikuyu (think a grass version of waist deep snow) and learnt the seasonal prickles via experience. I reckon most kiwi kids recognise the green to brown change of onehunga weed in summer. I remember doing athletics and hoping not to get ‘the prickle lane’. Some sports like hockey have benefited from the move to artificial turf but I reckon those of us who battled the natural stuff learned a lot about friction and the usefulness of sleeves for wiping mud out of your eyes.

But it’s even simpler than that. I remember making seed head sling shots and blowing dandelions.  And who can make a grass whistle between their thumbs? (Well it sounds more like a cross between a fart and a scream combined than a whistle). Today I remembered and shared these with a young person and the delight and joy of mastering the art of mimicking flatulence was as it has always been.

So come on all you grown up kiwi kids time to bond over some seedy weed fun with younger kids. Lets not lose these traditions to technology or lawn mowers.

Sticks and stones and a pile of dirt

Standing on the river bank watching the inky black pool break and run free. I throw a stick in and the child with me throws one in as well. We watch them float down then spin out of the current. A perplexed look crosses her face, a wondering and an opportunity to play and learn – current affairs. We throw more sticks and observe them, describing what is happening nothing more. An urge to up the stakes and race, but what to do when that pesky eddy throws a reverse current into the mix. Stones enter the picture, there are plenty to choose from. But where to throw? How big? More experimentation and my young apprentice catches on quick. Making waves and calmly enjoying the rush of success. Wet feet and cold hands our reward and some hydrology terminology experienced.

Later a mountain of dirt in a field and some tame ducks with a dog who’s instinct to herd everything boarders on OCD. Two of them scramble up negotiating feathered and furry friends. Clumps of soil are picked up and hurled backwards and forwards like snow balls. Shouts and protests make way for tentative rules with animals being completely off limits. The sods are flying and the faces smiling as they quickly weigh up the line between dusting yourself off and mud in your eye. No-one is crying and the ducks seek shelter behind the scrambling legs and flailing arms. The dog is relentless. Friendships blossoming between all creatures. It’s messy and chaotic, perfect.

Gumboots discarded, they just fill up and slow you down another lesson in mass and inertia. Running free and feeling the earth beneath feet. Resting finally in a drain to pick watercress. This is how I remember learning and how I always wanted to teach.

Shelf Life

Book cases are snapshots of who we are have been or wish to become. Mine is a curious mix ranging from childhood favourites, various interests and fields of study. They aren’t particularly well organised, like the messiness of life and the multiplicities, intersections we live. I have one exception, my complete collection of Frank Herberts Dune. Each copy dog eared as I have worked my way through it at least a couple of times. There are numerous gaps however, books that have been borrowed and stayed borrowed or given away as gifts to those who need them more than I do. I’ve been thinking about some of those books I hoped would return but haven’t and whether or not to seek new copies. But there are two in particular that I miss.

First there is Stranger In A Strange Land. I’ve read a lot of science fiction and I know when it was first released in the early 1960’s it was provocative and much like 1984 by George Orwell (although less widely known) the questions it raises about what it actually means to be human are no less relevant today. I love the word ‘grok’ and it is a bit like saying ‘take the red pill’ as a way to strike a chord of recognition and connection with others. The second is Skallagrigg by William Horwood. Perhaps one of the few books that had me from page one and kept me on an emotional roller coaster, cleaver and intense. I’m surprised so few people know about it. It’s a bit like the Tardis of books – infinitely more expansive than the title or plot summary describe. Once you open it you are in for an amazing journey.

These two books fill more than two slots. It is something about what they provoke and stir and I suppose it is the thrill of the creative force they contain that spills through my memories or at least my recollection of how I felt reading them. Even in their absence they maintain a strong presence. Both seek out something beyond the threshold of the familiar, unravelling and splintering linearity and the comfortable containers we prefer to give shape to meaning and materiality.

When we are deeply affected, touched, moved and inspired there is a simultaneous collapsing and expanding of spacetimematter, it is sublime. To share a book is to share life, passion and indeed love.

Broken sleep open mind

I haven’t had a lot of sleep the last few nights and it’s having a curious effect on my body and awareness. My senses seem dulled and strangely sensitive and I’m not sure why I am finding my piles of washing amusing. Noises and smells seem to move through me triggering cascading thoughts memories and ideas that seem impossible to guide or shape into anything coherent. I’m out of it but what is it that I am out of?

Had I taken something to get into this state I might be judged as irresponsible or reckless and warned against the dangers of messing with brain chemistry. We sanction the body and its uses in so many ways including what we are allowed to perceive through our physical and non-physical selves. The policing of consciousness, pleasure and desire is not always obvious and although we might know instinctively that there could be more to experience or want to learn more through experience, the fear of being ostracised, ridiculed, judged or excluded by others pulls us into line and so we publically agree ‘drugs are bad’ or if we want to take up a resisting position we must do it within the acceptable discourses available – such as legitimisation via scientific research or medicine.

I don’t know if I would recommend sleep deprivation, it’s pretty hard to sell. Maybe it could be a gateway phenomenon that leads to other natural highs like laughing lots or taking in a concert or potentially the most dangerous of both dance festivals! Oh what might the world come to if we danced all night outside in limestone sink holes to pumping music and glorious night skies.

Better stick to something safe and legal like alcohol.

chasing rainbows

The USA is awash in colours today. The orange, white and blue of the stars and bars put aside for a moment for some to fly the rainbow flag as the Supreme Court delivered marriage equality. Not everyone will be celebrating and I’m sure within hours or even minutes the moral panic theories will be unleashed with all sorts of dire warnings of the slippery slope into legalised paedophelia, the marrying of animals or that children will now grow up deeply confused about the meaning of life, and possibly the human race will die out from lack of procreation…think we’re ok for now on that front. I welcome this kind of hysteria as it allows for the irrationality of fear to be exposed.

Here is the curious thing. We see a very small fraction of the light spectrum and assume that what is seen represents the world and what is real and true. So while the rainbow flag symbolises diversity it also reminds us that colour can be both definitive and illusory, unifying and dividing. And some might be on the same wavelength in one spectrum of life a small shift in frequency sends understanding into an invisible realm of the unknown. In the absence of visibility the invisible becomes mysterious and prone to darker shadowy uncertainty.

When flags are no longer needed to declare or announce a separation of people then love will open its doors to unseen realms. Let there be light.

It’s life gym…

“but not as we know it” if you couldn’t help saying it then you will likely “live long and prosper”. I can’t imagine living inside a giant tin-can in space, although I spent an hour inside a smaller tin-can this week watching kids doing gymnastics. Parking my bike outside after a bit of a squally ride – wind rain cold, a perfect Auckland day I wandered upstairs as parents were barred from the floor to a curious picture of contrasts. Downstairs, a hive of bodies moving and exploring apparatus. Waiting their turn, sharing space, encouraging and supporting each other. All ages mingling and united in their enthusiasm and determination to master skills. Upstairs other children sitting around using apps, isolated from each other, age segregating them as younger children tried to explore the space but were met with annoyed looks and dismissive gestures. A clear sense of territory and personal space emerged. I picked my way through gingerly trying not to break the concentration of those staring into screens to look into the den of activity and caught myself thinking ‘I want to be down there’. Under one roof a simple line had been drawn around play and while the wind howled and the heavens opened, inside all were happy doing their thing.

Riding home in the driving rain passed by tin-cans on wheels I felt the pounding of my heart, the drenching of skin all my senses working together to adapt to the elements. Laughing at the ridiculousness and enjoying the sensation of complete and utter saturation that those in tin-cans will never know. It was life gym and I am glad to know it.

Shifty Greys Of Shade

I scowl with frustration in the mirrored lenses of my glasses that are smeared with sweat and sun tan lotion. Damp patches growing as the summer heat refuses to surrender its suffocating mask of humidity. My hair pulled back in a pony tail does little to alleviate this. Crawling under the nearest Pohutukawa the dappled light offering a temporary reprieve but my skin aches for the cool caress of a delicate breeze. The temporary disorientation gives way to annoyance as a picnic blanket occupies the private space I had hoped to accommodate. Carnal urges to kick sand all over the place are pushed aside as I move toward another tantalising dark corner of the beach. Fingers already reaching deep inside my bag to fondle the corners of my book in anticipation. I duck under the low slung branches, thick matted aerial roots like hair brush my cheek. The blazing glare behind me I take a moment to orientate myself in the strobing shadows. There it is, the solid outline of sand untouched by the blowtorch outside. The cool sand pushing between my toes and the loamy smells beckoning I need no more seduction. I throw myself onto my towel and grasp the generous mass of literary flesh that is The Luminaries and devour every word. My quiet ecstasy as the words penetrate layers of my consciousness pulling me into a void filled with imagery and mystery. I am between worlds now and letting go, surrendering to the pleasure and delight of my heart and mind no longer being caged. My lips curled in a half smile and a tear of joy moves to the corner of my eye, lashes holding it until the surface tension gives way.

My neck aches, I reach inside for something to rest my head on. There is another book that might do the trick. Fifty…

Being kept in the dark can be illuminating

I am an amateur astronomer – emphasis on amateur. I do own a telescope and make use of it on clear nights. We have spectacular views of the celestial treasures in fact they are ranked as some of the best in the world.

Many people assume that viewing a full moon through a telescope would be the ultimate. However with so much light being cast over it’s surface, the effect is to lose some of the more interesting effects of shadow which often allow other features to stand out. When searching for positive metaphors in life we often find them associated with light, illumination, shining, radiance…you get the idea. Darkness doesn’t get such a spin, and yet could be one of the most underappreciated and misunderstood concepts because of its relationship with light in polarity.

We don’t like talking about darkness or are at best limited in the ways we value what the absence of light can bring forward. In fact we over do light with most things, trying to shed more light, find the light at the end of the tunnel…etc. What if we were just to be in the blackness a moment? Our eyes are remarkable, and adjust to varying degrees of light unconsciously. At very low levels of light the eye manufactures a pigment called rhodopsin that heightens the sensitivity of the retina. It takes 20-25 minutes but the effect is to allow your eye to pick up faint light. Another peculiarity with the eye is the distribution of photosensitive nerves. The majority of colour sensitive cells – cones are in the centre of the retina. Rods are distributed away from the centre of the retina and are sensitive to all visible light – and as such lower levels of light. What this means is if trying to distinguish a faint object, not looking directly at it improves your ability to ‘see it’ as the eye activates more rods. When you get good at this technique it is amazing what you can see.

I’d like to see the absence of light explored more. We could ask questions and be more curious about what we might be missing when we stay with what is most visible, bright, that draws our attention immediately. My sense is we are flooding our experience of life with ‘lightness’ without questioning what this could be obscuring or devaluing. One outcome of this I think is our current obsession with happiness, positive thinking, and general discomfort of expressions of sadness, frustration, anger and resentment. When I think about the most significant learning or turning points in my life they have almost always come from being immersed in darkness. It wasn’t necessarily pleasant or enjoyable at the time but the time mattered. Like the iris opening – parts of our awareness, consciousness and spirituality emerge and develop strength through exposure to ‘darkness.’ I’m not a big fan of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ but perhaps we have become too protective around life experiences where the outcomes might be less than pleasant but not necessarily life threatening.

Not all darkness means the presence of a black hole – with all the emotional gravity this implies. Perhaps we have an opportunity to rework another cosmic phenomenon. Lets go with astronomy again! Black holes invoke a sense of annihilation, being so powerful that light cannot escape. But at the event horizon remarkable, strange and incredible things happen to light – blasts of X-rays, gravitational lensing, it’s awesome!

You don’t need to know anything about the night sky to enjoy gazing up and wondering. If you need inspiration – check out this:

Sometimes I’d rather be kept in the dark. I’m all-light with that.

The nature of learning in Nature

I’m weary and sore and absolutely happy after two days in the outdoors with a great group of young people. I am drawn to nature especially water but I’ll take anything over being land locked. So to be given the opportunity to get out of the office and ‘go to the beach for a couple of days’ is a no brainer as my heart is already there and she rules these days.

I’m not sure if I still feel like a teacher in the traditional sense. But one of the few things I know for sure (perhaps) is that teaching about nature and the environment has to be done whilst being part of it. The ultimate class – room is a room without walls, where the elements and responding to these require our attention. What is needed is a reintegration of experiential learning and with schools being driven more and more towards assessment education has become a train on a track that just keeps moving and we watch the world pass by at great speed.

Add the distraction of technology in and we have added another layer of disembodiment of experience. So whilst we were doing things in an amazing place, the constant pulling out of phones to play music, send instagram messages, or just take photos did shock me a little. There was a sense at times of ‘going through the motions’ of the activity at times with the real emphasis being on how this would be communicated with the ‘outside world.’ I also noticed myself being tempted by this and was almost grateful when my phone battery died. If a phone or ipod or any other kind of device is ‘out’ and being used – no matter how innocuously – it seems to bubble wrap the user in another world. Almost like in a dream world where they are there but just out of reach.

All we really need to do is to stop and notice. Yes it is that simple. ‘Stars in their eyes’ shouldn’t just be remembered as a TV programme but the wonderment of sitting or lying under the night sky. World wide webs are also the products of spiders, and it would be great travesty if the only form of ‘tweeting’ any of us appreciated was of the #tag kind.

And while I am on a roll with over using double entendre, ‘surfing’…is best done on waves made of water.

The fine line between pleasure and pain

Learning to unicycle is nothing like learning to ride a bike regardless of whether you have feet or fins. Helping a 6year old learn to ride one is like a nexus of vicarious emotional and physical pain and joy. There is also only one way to learn – and that is to get on and FALL OFF…lots. It’s ugly and uncomfortable and I can speak from experience. No amount of verbal feedback or understanding the biomechanics and physics of unicycling will do anything to improve your riding of one. Experiential learning is powerful but is often overlooked as it side steps the expert knowledge of the teacher. It requires a back down of ego and having been a teacher for a number of years I can put my hand on my heart and say I have struggled with this.

Aside from the obvious physical challenge of learning to unicycle there is the grappling with the inner workings of the mind – particularly fear and doubt, they camp out rather comfortably for quite some time. Then friends of fear and doubt – frustration, annoyance and irritation join the party. Just getting on one without gravity giving you an ass kicking requires enough perseverance to solve a rubik’s cube (and I’m not talking about those insanely talented people who complete them in less than a minute!).

While all this is going on there is still the issue of moving. You see you cannot fake unicycling – it is a fully authentic experience. Perhaps one of the more curious effects is the perception of movement and time. People who have given it a go will probably understand what I mean when I say a few inches or centimetres feels like miles and whilst that might seem an exaggeration the joy and sensation of moving are exhilarating. I suppose it could fall into the realm of altered states of consciousness.

The compression of time is more intriguing. The pendulum can swing in the blink of an eye from an ecstasy to agony, screams of delight to tears of pain. Mind, body, spirit and life compete to imprint the meaning of that moment and this is where resilience emerges. If courage, determination, patience and acceptance are allowed to speak into that moment then no amount of skin loss, bruising of bodies or ego will get in the way of getting back on.

This isn’t just learning it is ‘know-ledge’ as unicycling itself is a beautiful metaphor for life. The only way to go forward is to be in a constant state of falling and balancing this with peddling. Even trying to stay in one spot still involves constant movement.

At the end of the day, it’s just the best leveller in the world. It truly does not matter who you are or how good you are at ANYTHING before attempting to ride one – it counts for nothing. You will be chewed up and spat out.

That is the grav-ity of the situation – this clowning around is quite serious business.