Friday, 25 December 2009

Inspiration for 2010? Uk's great examples on transition

Being back in London, back from India, the mountains and Tibetan refuge in Dharamsala, the inspiring organic learning community and probably the accumulated time of 8 months with various communities and life styles, I felt like coming off a roller coaster with many intense spinning loops that make you feel all dizzy when you are back on the ground. That kind where you knees get all wabbly and it takes some moments of deep breath and a firm grip to the handrail to reorient yourself to your environment and go back to carry on doing what you were doing before you went onto the ride in the first place.

It became very clear to me, that moving back into urban life - well pretty much London's fast paced metropolitan life - where things are very different, it will be rather difficult for me to carry on doing things the way I was doing them before I left and also really I don't want to.

Manish's term of 'Home Activism' stuck with me, where the way you life your life - not on the streets, in the public but for yourself and with your family and friends, can make a huge difference. I think the film below on transition towns in the UK and in the world (there are 256 transition towns in the world) is a good reminder at the end of 2009, of all the great energy and great stories of people and communities moving into more wholesome living across the country in the UK and inspiring more and more places in the world to follow the initial move of Totnes.
(The film is about 45 min long and worthwhile seeing in one go)

'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.'
- Margaret Mead

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The evolutionary case for the 'Survival of the kindest'

Via Paul Fernhout, from Science Daily in P2P Foundation

“Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.

In contrast to “every man for himself” interpretations of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of “Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life,” and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.

They call it “survival of the kindest.”

“Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others,” said Keltner, co-director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. “Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. As Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct.”

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Rethinking Education - understanding the biology of learning

I met Jinan almost at the end of my 2 months trip in India. He was one of those special visitors stopping by at Shikshantar who I should meet up with said Manish, saying I would like Jinan. Manish, the founder of Shikshantar, always seemed to have an extraordinary antenna for who to put in touch with each other, or around which particular topic. In my case he's always been spot on, actually more than that, I almost felt that he had an ability for some form of pre-emergent sensing, as if he was a pinch ahead of us, maybe without even realising himself.
I just came back from spending a couple of days outside of Udaipur, celebrating Diwali with an Indian family in a nearby village and by that time had already forgotten Manish's special announced guest. When I entered Shikshantar I saw an older man with a long white beard, somehow Sufi like, sitting on the big rug in the light near the big window with lots of people around him, listening to his stories and looking at the art albums he brought along. I was curious what everyone was looking at, what they were listening to and so fascinated by.

When I approached the group I saw the images he brought along in a book of a workshop he led. It was filled with images and creations of artisans, of potters and of children from the numerous villages he had visited in the past 20 years. The images were portraying the beauty of their creations, of their work, their plays. There were clay figures, tiles, images and objects made from leaves, twigs, colour arrangements and others.

Jinan was immediately captivating though I only really got to know him and his stories on the following day, when I had the chance to interview him for an article in the learning bulletin which Shikshantar publishes on a regular bases. Manish suggested I speak to him about what he called "biology of learning" as it would fit quite well with the theme of the next bulletin being centred around that topic and the challenges of cognition.

Speaking to Jinan has been a tremendous pleasure. I felt I couldn't have met him at a better point of time in my trip. I very strongly resonated with his interests around natural processes of creativity using all our senses and our capacity to experience the world, on aesthetics and creative learning, on child development and human life cycles in the context of Nature and community. Hearing about his experiences and insights from spending the last 20 years in rural India with indigenous tribes and illiterate communities, felt like receiving a huge gift, a gift of affirmation to something that has been with me throughout my travel, like finding some of the responses to the questions which I have carried with me for some time now without ever articulating them, but carrying them with me with a sense of unease, doubt or discomfort but also with an inspiration for a different way of living, creating and upbringing of our youth which has not arrived in our very conscious, sorted and clearly articulated world yet.

Thank you Jinan for a true inspiration you have brought to so many of us who had the chance to meet you these days!

(Part 1 total length - 12:01 mins)

(Part 2 total length - 17:05 mins)

( Part 3 total length - 14:13 mins)

( Part 4 total length - 5 mins)

Jinan's website

Unlearning and Uplearning - making sense of the world around us

One of the most preciously valued explorations I have had while travelling and in particular while being at Shikshantar was the contemplation on how we learn and make sense of the world around us. In the last couple of months I was finding my own pace
and intuitive way of engaging with my environment. Through dance and movement or play and immersion in Nature I slowly began to experience different ways of learning, 're-sensitising the senses' and bringing learning back into whole body and being. Shikshantar was a great place to enhance that experience even further and to meet like minded people who are on the same path of exploring wholesome learning and learning spaces in community with others.

The same day I arrived, I slid straight into a film making workshop. I met a good crowd of creative people who did exciting stuff though it all felt like a film passively passing by. I still felt the exhaustion of travelling for 20 hrs and the jetlag, being
13.5 hours behind on West coast Pacific time, so amidst the various dynamic interactions among the participants, I decided to take it easy and observe the activities with a comforting distance to where the action was. It didn't take long before I was invited to join a group which was about to enter a conversation on vulnerability and how to craft a film around that sensitive topic. Whether you are an unannounced spontaneous visitor just entering the door or you are more of an intern-like guest as I was - one immediately gets to dive in and be hands-on in Shikshantar. This learning community is a hands-on place pretty much everyday, engaging with the making and creating of the experience rather than the debating and intellectual exploration of it, though Shikshantar does have numerous thought provoking interesting resources in writings and films to offer to anyone seriously being interested in "developing learning systems that liberate the full potential of human beings." as they put it.

From the very beginning of my stay, through conversations and further resources I got to step back from my habitual way of seeing things and through that also got confronted with the
question of deschooling or unschooling society. How is the way we educate our children through institutionalised schooling restraining us from having more wholesome and more real experiences in our lifes? Does it truly support society and in
dividuals to develop creativity, innovation and ethos or does it perpetuate a soulless and artificial biorhythm of eat, sleep, work and shop where the whole life purpose seems to centre around making more money, to do more shopping to keep the wasteful production and the economic growth going?

Along the way I was wondering, what do we really need to be nourished and in more harmony with our natural world and with each other? Not just nourished in a physical sense of what type of food we are eating - though I surprisingly also learned a lot about that, but nourished to fully live. Shikshantar through their very practical hands-on culture, has provided a space, a fertile ground for creativity and a lot of stimuli to challenge our fundamental assumptions about how to live our lifes but also giving great examples of how it could be different.

The Creative Commons Movement Magazine YES! Powerful ideas, practical actions wrote an article on Shikshantar and Udaipur as a learning city. The article is titled: Udaipur hands down skills. Shikshantar was also highlighted by the magazine as one of the top ten intiatives around world on Radical Acts of Education.

The film below is one of many films made by Shikshantar - Swapathgami Films. It portrays the essence of the learning community.