As a yoga teacher and practitioner, I have been fully engaged with the importance of being #present, mindful and awake to each flowing moment of life. That life is temporary and precious, is a felt insight born from being willing to be alert to our present experience. They say, this is not only the key to being happy, but to avoiding the judgements that form when we are 'in our heads'. Presence encourages us to not hold onto interpretations that form resentments and asks us to see more fully so that we don't miss the nuances, details and glances that make up the beauty of our existence.
But recently, I have found a potent and disturbing problem with presence.
It is all we have.
We, as we know ourselves, have always been, are and will be, ever and only present. Where ever we were, weren't we? The renowned author of 'The Power of Now', Eckhart Tolle describes how being present allows us to be free of time. The practice of yoga encourage us to breathe into presence to dissolve the binds that have formed in our bodies. It is as though we could be somewhere else?
Bringing our minds back to the present moment is the practice of meditation, with the promise of happiness and peace. As a yoga teacher and human being with a busy agenda, this makes sense. However, as a teacher and environmentalist, my imagination is wild, yelling, calling me to go to other places, other times, and see within, beyond appearances, into the fuller story of things and into the bigger picture of each moments context.
My present self replies, 'but I can only be here now!'
'Let your mind go! Be free!' calls my rant of images, stories and visions of other needs, wishes, plans and goaly dreams. "Let your empathy and vision take you!'
This turned into a longing, drawn by the hand of sustainability, which is a future, or just an idea, something yet to become... They both call me, promising understanding, they sang, "Come! there is understanding and purpose here".
That is a risky truth, can imagining promise understanding? I'm not sure, but I feel there is a problem with presence. The idea of sustainability demands of us, something more, the more real, that the limitations of our presence cannot allow.
We can only ever be here, now. Trapped, limited, locked in this scale of time and space. I don't mean our feet are tied to the ground. I don't mean we are immobile, or that we can't catch a plane to Paris at free will. I mean that we can only ever be in the place that we are, and in the moment that we are in. As the scale of the world has become global, and our knowledge has reached the nano, the quanta, we really are locked in this space/time scale of being human, nevertheless.
Being present is a problem because sustainability demands of us to understand the origins of things; where did my food come from? Was in farmed organically? Food Miles. Is this recycled paper or from a rainforest? Where did this power come from? How was is made?
Sustainability demands of us to understand things that are beyond our abilities. We need to incorporate the global picture in our understanding, how plastic waste, fossil fuels, carbon emissions. water quality and deforestion affect others in a global sense. How our personal and local output affects the bigger picture - this is sometimes hard to imagine. We can put out our recycling in to the kerbside and be 100% Zen present, but shouldn't the presence that informs the choice to act environmentally responsible include awareness of that which is beyond and other to oneself?
Sustainability also demands us to consider the future. The later than now requests planning, consideration of impacts, consequences, possible and alternator futures, assessment of benefit. Under the umbrella of sustainability, we should consider the consequences of our actions not only our illusive immediate, convenient and disposable present experiences. Are we breeding a society of now-interested citizens who value fast food, moment-to-moment entertainment, immediate gratification and convenience? Surely that is an over-exaggeration. But this is the problem of presence.
Perhaps these demands ask us to expand our presence to include a wider sense of our self, so that the ground on which we stand, and its history can be included in presence. Or the future that is certainly involved in our choices, be infused into our sense of presence. Perhaps sustainability education needs to include practicing these embodied presences within the apparent presence of objects and consumables.
Perhaps the demands of sustainability are asking us to grow our presence by educating our awareness, so that we can see a cloud in a piece of paper. We see the cloud, the rain, the crop, the field, the family, the ideas... because we can perceive the embodied life of the whole planet in one morsel.
I wish for us to be so imaginative that we could infuse our present experience with that rainforest in the paper cup holding our coffee. It's fair trade laughter still heard inside it as we sip, the drip of warmth is the communities that benefit even as they are as unseen as those that were destroyed were unseen. I wish for us to see the ocean in each other's eyes, bathe in metaphorical association, play with language, flip over coincidences like our water percentages, drink the air filled with histories of dinosaur's breaths and quantum physics.
I wish that my children can be educated in a school of imagination, to give them the images, stories and imaginative muscular agility to deeply consider, conceptualise, visualise, experiment, plan, propose, reflect, and reciprocate the call that I heard a few years ago.
"Imagine: let your empathy and vision take you!"
#presence #education #imagination #environmentalimagination #environmentalimaginationeducation #sustainability #sustainabilityeducation #imaginativeeducation #educationforsustainability
I've just had my paper 'Empathy and Imagination' accepted into an international Journal, so, I'm brave enough to say what I've been working on quietly for years; that our imaginations need to be noticed, educated and developed. It's not a specialised gift or talent to be able to imagine, we all can and do, prolifically.
So is it possible to conceive of half the world? We need to stretch ourselves and our awareness so far that it expands us, so that our meagre thoughts that dismiss or disregard 'the other' become expansive ideas that integrate and include.
Imagination and social conscience has been important since the Romantic period, I love the French. The importance of being able to imagine for an equal and just society is not a new idea. But this faculty and ultimate ability we have has been neglected and misunderstood, I believe.
From my research, imagining involves putting oneself in another's shoes. Being able to do this makes a great writer and storyteller, as well as a great activist, change agent or inventor. As we learn and use our imaginations to visualise and manifest WHAT WE WANT, let us also extend our awareness to 'others'. Some of the rich 62 have such an expanded awareness that they are doing SO MUCH GOOD TO BENEFIT OTHERS. Many others are not.
Imagining that expands our sense of self is beneficial, becuase what starts to happen when we put ourselves in another's shoes, so to speak, is that we see that the space between self and others as not so far. In fact, all it takes is a little imagination to become another, and experience their achievements or loss as our own. This is what happens in the stadium or at the movies. I pray that we all GET what we want in our lives, with an expanded awareness and an education imagination, so that our 'power of manifestation' works from, not a selfish or selfless sense of self, but a truly expansive, inclusive, planetary sense of self.
WARNING - DISTURBING IMAGE of drowned toddler BELOW
Recently in Australia we have seen first hand how the power of an image can shift perspective so dramatically that critical policies are changed in a matter of days. This has been incredible to be a part and aware of. I’ve seen the image of the drowned child on the paper, on TV, across the media, and I have physically shielded my face at times because of the heart wrenching emotions it ignites within me. The power of an image in astonishing - but this power is within us, not the image; the power of our imaginations that bring a whole story to the image and feel in every cells what it might be like to be involved in such a tragedy. I believe the importance of empathy as an imagined understanding in creating awareness and action is indisputable. I am currently writing a paper discussing how images and stories facilitate imagination in ways that build understanding and awareness in ways that knowledge about ‘the environment’ cannot.
For over 15 years, Australia has had huge debate around immigration and humanitarian aid, culminating in strict and unsympathetic refugee policies. It is not that the government and people of Australian have been unaware of the war in Iraq, then Afghanistan, now Syria, the displacement of peoples, or the figures that indicated desperate need. But, in September, it was a photograph of a child found drowned on a beach in Turkey, that launched a vigil in the capital city, Canberra, and within a week the government announced Australia will accept 12,000 refugees.
CBC debated the power of the image in the media. The media clearly identified the power of this image to cause empathy and new levels of understanding. The Independent ran the image on the cover with the title Somebody's Child evoking the personal, empathic emotional identification with the image. Business Insider's headline responded, it read Heartbreaking photo of a drowned toddler embodies the world’s failure in Syria.
The harrowing images allowed our imaginations to build pictures. The empathy felt for the child involved imagining the narrative of his circumstance, family, and desperation, the loss of which was felt throughout Australia, through the image. The photograph ignited empathy, when knowledge about the crisis was not missing, bringing forth an imagined narrative that previously could not have been imagined. This enabling of empathy was so affective, it will now not only change 12,000 lives, but 100’s of Australian households are putting up their hands to take a refugee family into their homes. I use this example to highlight how images and their embedded stories enable empathy which creates access to being able to imagine the situation of another. The vibrant shift the image has made gives it agency. This example recognises that despite knowledge, statistics and large figures, the reality of the impact of circumstances on real people was not fully imagined, and the image facilitated this through imagination. The involvement of emotion is significant, being able to imagine another world is critical. The images not only ignited empathy but allowed us to imagine the plight of others whose experiences we had never shared. Images of Syrian refugees continue to flood into the news and media with the power to haunt ones imagination and emotions.
Huffington Post's headline: Haunting Image Of Drowned Boy Sums Up Consequences Of 'The Syrian War In One Photo' as well as an analysis of images and their role to communicate the personal and unspeakable; Every Picture Tells a Story - That's Why Migration Is One of the Most Difficult to Tell
The New York Times ran the story without any images:
It is critical to recognise the power of images in educating people with new knowledge and awareness because images have the agentic power of each person’s imagination within their potential. They have to power to warn, frighten and break your heart. As sustainability is one of the goals of education around the world, we need to recognise that the idea of sustainability is a response to the global environmental and humanitarian crisis. To educate for sustainability we need to realise the power of the images that employ emotion to communicate through imagination. However, it is essential to not use imagery that will harm children’s minds, bring fear, anxiety or stress to their emotional lives. Understanding the impact of circumstances on other people, beings and elements is a critical part of understanding humanitarian and environmental justice. In my paper I argue that understanding imagination and empathy in EfS is a critical part of education for a fair, equitable and safe future for all.
Whilst the image is brutal, and certainly not for children, the power of the image to communicate and ignite empathy for people's displacement and suffering. The tragedy is overwhelming for the boys father, even he wants whole world to see this suggesting that he knew the power of that image to change the world.
As I began informally researching ‘the imagination’, I saw parallels between the way the environment is imagined and the way knowledge is understood. I remembered, for the first time, how I experienced myself in the world as a child.
When I was young I went to Sydney frequently on a Qantas airplane by myself. My grandmother would meet me at ‘the other end’ at the airport. I never questioned it, but my geographical understanding of living on earth was not horizontal, broad, or global, but very much vertical and hierarchical. I imagined ‘going up’ to Sydney and ‘coming back down’ to Melbourne literally; that Sydney was located above Melbourne, perhaps, I imagined, on a layer of grass that sat on top of the clouds.
Upon adult reflection, this was the spatial, imagined structure through which I walked and felt the world. Remembering into this way of geography, my awareness was composed of, and informed by, both my experience and my imagination. The environment I experienced seemed to simulate the conceptual organisation of knowledge. Department stores were arranged in levels, buildings were vertical, hamburgers had layers, and schooling was similarly arranged in vertical structures. Voices advising me to ‘wake up’, ‘get up’, ‘stand up’, ‘chin up’ and ‘grow up’ directed me to the way the world is arranged.
What interests me is how ways of seeing the world involve imagination. There is also a feeling of a relatedness between the structures that organise knowledge and ways the environment is imagined. The verticalities in the built, urban environment are fitting metaphors for hierarchies of knowledge and knowers.
I wonder, if I grew up in a broader, treed, naturally lit open landscape would my idea of knowledge and education regard growth, expanse or brilliance as metaphors for getting wiser?
Is my understanding of knowledge constrained by my environment? Or can an environmental awareness also expand my epistemological understandings?
And why do I imagine knowledge environmentally?
I have been offline and resting from this blog for too long - but
I'm back online in blog world. I've been so busy; finishing my PhD titled 'The Nature of Imagination in Education for Sustainability' available from the library http://dro.deakin.edu.au/view/DU:30073007 . I worked at Green School, Bali for a year, and so moved to sunny Indonesia with my son.
After an inspiring session today with my mentor and life enthusiast Tracey Gray, I realise there are so many stories to tell. In this systemised world there are many models of education, some are more inspiring than others, and it can hurt real good when we realise that an educational model is not working for our own deep-hearted pedagogy or our own children.
Educational ideas are inspiring and sometimes are not followed through in earnest, and this can be heartbreaking. As teachers and parents, our commitments shine strongly when our own children become involved in the world of education.
But we all realise, and we must remember, to value hard experiences that encourage us to return to our truer values and deeper commitments. Enduring the shaky 'this is not how I want to teach', or the tenuous, 'I'm not sure this is right for my child anymore', can be earth shattering. This is because our identities live within our communities; our families and our work.
Our understandings of childhood and nature, and our deeply embodied faith in goodness, freedom's purpose, live right next door to school, in the teachers lap, and in the consequences of choices made today.
And where the ground breaks, we ask, 'what do I really want?'
I want nature based understandings of knowledge and learning. I want incorporated life-learning practices that makes sense. I want more experiential journeys outdoors so that discovery and imagination thrive. I want our children to be nourished by organic learning processes like discovery and play.
There are many stories to tell- because it is created in one big story.
Do you remember the Never Ending Story?
The possibility that the imagination is an environmental force, with power and agency is mobilised through this story. According to the ‘Never-Ending Story’, the environmental force that is destroying the world is named, The Nothing. The hero of the story (sustainability) is out to fight the environmental force that is killing the world. In the following transcription, the hero boy meets Gmork, the face of The Nothing. In this dialogue we learn that the only way to stop The Nothing is to realise that ‘we’ are the creators of the created world; the world is created by human imagination and will be destroyed by the loss of it.
Boy: I have to get to the boundaries of Fantasia.
Gmork: Fantasia is the world of human fantasy. Every part, every creature, is a part of the dreams and hopes of mankind, therefore it has no boundaries.
Boy: But why is Fantasia dying then?
Gmork: Because people have begun to loose their hopes and forget their dreams…
so The Nothing grows stronger.
Boy: But what is The Nothing?
Gmork: It’s the emptiness that’s left. It is like a despair, destroying this world. And I
have been trying to help it.
Boy: But Why?!
Gmork: Because people who have no hopes are easy to control. And whoever has
the control…has the power!
Just back from a fantastic IERG Conference in Vancouver, Canada. What an incredible city, with wonderful and inspiring people and educators....and wildlife!
The IERG is the Imaginative Education Research Group based around Keiran Egan's developmental theory of imagination and the embedded critique of it's neglect in schools. My work joined the gang of Gillian Judson, Mark Fettes and Sean Blenkinsop's work that brings imagination to Environmental Education.
Some inspiring work going on is the Maple school a bit further north, where everything is outdoors. And the LID Learning In Depth project which has young students pick on topic, one single aspect of the world, like worms, or dirt, or sunshine, and take it, carry it, follow it and learn into it throughout their school years. The depth possible when looking deeply, imaginatively and patiently inspires the possibility of the presence of everything in everything. What a gift to allow students to discover and learn about our world in this way.
My presentation was about the 'Environmental Imagination'. Despite loosing my voice, it was a great chance to share the work and learning of my research at the 5 Star Sustainable, Port Fairy Consolidated Primary School. The idea of EI is to locate concepts and map them, conceptually in time and space, so as to relate the world to oneself, position complex concepts and include the self in these bigger pictures.
A valuable connection and the notion of Meittisage, that weaves the black and white, history and future, real and imagined together in writing, will grow inside me...
Thanks Canada, my 10days was unforgettable, humbling and beautiful x x
Sally Jensen is a Sustainability Educator and facilitator of the ResourceSmart Schools program in Victoria.