An experiential day of practice and research hosted by

The Oxford Praxis Forum

Green Templeton College, Oxford University

The day is organised around these two questions - what are the entry points to a heightened level of awareness in our professional lives and how do we develop and practice this awareness day to day?

The interest in these questions is stimulated by our ongoing fascination with changes in organisational life. Some of the focus of our current research and writing is how corporate leaders develop a level of awareness in their profession that enables them not to have to rely on high levels of control, planning and certainty in order to keep moving. This is particularly relevant considering the difficult phase shift these corporations are currently in - from a mechanical age to a social age.

Systems that are reorganising and redefining themselves are usually chaotic at the edges of the status quo. They have to go through a degree of disturbance that exerts additional stress; so methods of developing awareness that are sustained when under stress are particularly helpful for this inquiry.

The day is being facilitated by:

Marshall Young, Fellow at Said Business School and Green Templeton College and Director of the Praxis Forum

Rob Poynton, Author, improviser and educator

Khurshed Dehnugara, Author and Partner at Relume Ltd

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I'd like to do an experiment with anyone who is interested. It's to see if I can help people learn transcendental meditation in a short period of time. TM is a simple process but in the "meditation market" it comes with a ton of baggage (the maharishi being one of those bags) plus TM normally requires considerable investment: time and a significant chunk of cash. I'd like to explore the possibility of transmitting the technique (or a very similar one) really quickly and to a group -- where there is very little time and zero financial commitment. I'm curious about this partly for personal reasons involving memory, and family (mine), as well as having a feeling that it might be fun and interesting and maybe even useful.

I came with some half formed musings about the spectrum from dance improvisation to a tightly choreographed score. Over a couple of years I've been working with my friend and colleague Paul Loper towards an event that we will present in September of this year; a somatic, spoken and filmed celebration of  how 60 years of synchronicity and adversity, and specifically 30 years of HIV/AIDS, has shaped our very different selves and our loving friendship ---- survival of a strong and beautiful thread which runs through the core of our being, we two.

In the course of developing this piece I have found myself being drawn towards wanting the challenge of more structure - some places where I have to remember steps, my place on stage and relative to Paul.....

This raised questions not only about movement text, but about life itself. Not just about "Kay, now" but about other individuals, groups and different times and situations. (Leaving aside our musings over the last 2 days of the very concept of time, which I loved.)

Some of those questions are
- What is the quality of awareness needed to improvise authentically, and what quality of awareness is needed to follow a text or score?
- Are we all sometimes more comfortable with improvisation, and at other times more comfortable with structure (a choreographed score)?
- Do some of us tend more to improvisation and others to structure in all things?
-  How does the element of improvisation within a score add to the performer and audience experience?
- What constitutes score and improv? (As Paul H. observed, playing music while we improvise our dance itself adds an element of score to our movement.)
- And finally - are we ever really improvising - or is being human and having lived a life itself a "score"?

I'm not really interested in "answers", more in the process of exploring the questions, and I'd like to thank the brave souls who helped me to begin the process on Monday afternoon. I think we saw very clearly that, at that time and in that place we did indeed have a wide range of responses to being choreographed and being let loose!
Perhaps more important, you helped me to form my questions, and also to design the next experiment in imprography. Over the coming weeks I'll be designing a half day workshop based on the 45 minutes we spent together on Monday, but also drawing on some of the other mind opening experiments in which I participated on Monday and Tuesday.
I will of course let you know when I plan the next experiment in Imprography and hope that some of you will be able to come along and play.

Thank you all so much.
Kay

 Kay as a dancer you referred to this as increasing choreography. Thought that was a really useful metaphor. The reflections that have emerged for me now - 
1 Free improvisation instructions. How did I feel about the free improvisation - I found myself looking for distractions from the discomfort. (Mainly through tidying up the room!)
2 Choreography instructions.
Slightly choreographed - I felt more free, less conscious, knew what the game was.
3 Highly choreographed - It became about memory, can I recall the structure? Became a game to complete. Stopped feeling each position I was occupying and then got bored.
It demonstrated well to me that there is such a thing as 'just enough structure' for us that enables the highest states of creativity. 
Am left wondering what we could construct as a tool for the teams we work with that would demonstrate that insight and experience for them individually and collectively? Particularly with most of them slowing themselves down by over structuring their work and time. 

In the middle of trying to process my experience from the two days of experimenting with awareness (my familiar analytical way of going about things) I find myself writing a poem (not so familiar territory). I'd like to share the poem with you. I'd be delighted if it triggers any reflections on your side...


Somewhere?

I'm not sure where this is going.
I am following a hunch.
Something that feels important.
Who knows?

I am fighting with the need to know.
To be able to explain where I am going and why.
To be able to explain fluently and with conviction
all that I know.
But I can't.

I feel I need some structure.
Otherwise I'll be like a boat drifting in the vast ocean
pushed around by the whims of the wind
and the wills of all that surrounds me.

When do I navigate? When do I drift?
And how to I recognize the difference?
Should I? Can I?

Yes I can!
This is the power of intention.
Of visualizing a dream or desired outcome.
And then letting go.
Being open to whatever might
move me closer to my intention.

Or somewhere else.

Hi folks, 

What a wonderful, inspiring, mind expanding time it was with you all in Oxford. Huge thanks again to our hosts and organisers and glorious leaders.

I found that the experiment that I got to play with turned out to be interesting enough to me that I wanted to write it up a little. So below is an after-the-fact / rearview mirror of the FAST FOOD TM experiment we conducted should you wish to take a look:

FAST FOOD TM 

Hypothesis:

If a group is led to relax into happy mindless awareness (avoiding unnecessary drooling), is it possible for participants to learn a technique that is definitely NOT transcendental meditation but pretty damn close -- except learnt really quickly, and without a financial transaction -- or failing that, at least they get to relax and expand their awareness. 

METHODOLOGY:

Use movement, improv games and breathing practice to tune-in to each other and to focus and expand awareness of group.

Use personal anecdotes (mine) and connections to the material and to a "story" of  TM to personalise the experience and make the process more immediate and specific to this moment, and to distract the participants from the procedural aspect of the process. 

Have the group learn a mantra and practice it

Briefly feedback on the experience.

SAMPLE

5 people plus me (3 group members already familiar with meditation) 

PROCESS:

The 45 minute session started with

Movement, improv games, breathing:

Played chasing (tag), conscious walking, walking and stopping (got good feedback on this in particular), one to twenty, breathing exercises lying on the floor.

This was interspersed with...

Personal anecdotes about Donovan who let me play a really nice guitar and how this connected to George Harrison and the Maharishi (Mahesh Yogi), and how it did not at all connect to my father, (the atheist), and only distantly to my teenage trips with him to the TM centre in Dublin. 

This ended with an illustration of the importance of the "quality of the decision" and a request to the group to actively "decide" to learn the technique I was about to teach, and to prove it should they please find the "commitment sticks" that had been kindly supplied on the sideboard (coffee stirrers) and to take one and to present it to me as a symbol of their deep commitment. 

Incense was lit, goddammit.

About 25 minutes into the session the group sat down and a mantra was introduced. (A mantra is a sound that is repeated (usually internally) to help induce a meditative or transcendental state of mind. In this case it was two syllables borrowed from Sanskrit via Deepak and … uh … me. (mantra: "So Hum", meaning: "I am that")

First we repeated the mantra aloud in unison. Then more quietly, and even more quietly, and then repeated silently, internally only in our minds, and without moving our lips, mouth or tongue. 

After about three minutes we stopped the mantra. With eyes slowly opened, instruction was given what to do if "thoughts" got in the way of the mantra (observe them and gently re-start the mantra). An option of slightly raising ones gaze behind the eyelids was suggested. 

The mantra was started again internally, eyes were closed, and after several minutes the process again interrupted and I the group was reminded how easy it was. 

The process of closing eyes followed by mantra repetition with raised gaze behind the eyelids was repeated twice more for periods of a few minutes and increasing in length. These were separated by short periods with eyes open, no mantra, and some repetition of the simple instructions. 

About 7 minutes before the end of the session the group stopped the internal mantra repetition and very slowly opened their eyes to finish. This last period was for discussion.

OBSERVATIONS AND CONCLUSION:

From that goofy look that people typically get when they open their eyes during meditation, it seemed that participants reached a significantly meditative state in a short period of prep and practice -- 45 minutes. They also said that they did, which might be a clue. 

It was suggested by an experienced meditator in the group that this technique could very well be useful with newbies. 

It was observed by one participant that sitting on an achingly uncomfortable sofa may be a barrier to achieving samadhi / nirvana or whatever. 

I personally concluded that  this was all pretty easy and fun and a sufficiently promising experiment to try to repeat it with a less practiced and more challenging group, and with more comfortable seating… 

Any suggestions, thoughts, comments, very welcome.

Warm wishes and love to you guys, 

David

I am increasingly interested in learning without trying and in how learning occurs when it wants to, often sparked off by events that happened a good while ago.  So after the experience last week, I haven't been trying to work out what I learned and I wasn't really looking or hoping for anything concrete anyway.  But in spite of this, some conclusions seem to be pressing in upon me. Conclusions that are, in a way, a simple organising of things I knew, or half-knew already, but there is no shame in that.  

So, my pretty simple learnings went a bit like this...

If emotions (mediated by the limbic system) are the way human beings read and respond to complexity, and if the body is the 'seat' of emotion, then becoming aware of the body is not a nice, additional source of information, a little riff around the edge if you will, an 'indulgence', but is absolutely necessary.  Becoming aware, through the body therefore, is a central and fundamental practise.  

That's it.  And as I re-read it, it sounds undwhelming, but of course it would, wouldn't it, because it is the clever clever cognitive mind that is thinking and writing here.  Which links to another huge theme for me, emerging everywhere over the past few months, namely that in a way there isn't really much to learn or say (in the intellectual sense) there is just a huge amount to practise..... 

I'm really enjoying reading everyone's reflections as they come through. It was a great two days with fascinating people, ideas and experiments.  

The ideas generated felt like a highly valuable currency that isn’t always recognised in places where we choose to live and work. I am interested in how this currency may can be used and recognised, alongside mainstream currencies (such as the Pound and Dollar), and in so doing further enriching the lives of these communities. 

Awareness as a currency.... interesting. 

Wrote a blog post that came from this about how and when we learn.  

Here. 

http://robertpoynton.com/learning-fast-and-slow/ 

Marshall asked me to write up a report on the event.  Here it is.  

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