We shall not cease from exploration and the end of our exploring will be to arrive at the place we started and to know it for the first time. T.S. Elliot
I have become so used to sharing this poem with people over the past twenty five years that I may have begun to lose the significance of what I have been saying for myself. That was until this week.
If you think you know something, you believe you have a depth of understanding, application and experience about a truth or insight. However, life has a way of creating an opportunity to show you how shallow your understanding really is. For the past week I have been delivering lectures and workshops on my humanistic model for values based education known as 'The Butterfly Model' in Japan to graduates, post graduates and faculty members at Soka (value) University in Tokyo.
Supporting a journey
The purpose of me doing a 13,000 mile round trip from rural Northants to the dynamic energy of a Tokyo suburb was to support a student exchange programme between the University of Buckingham and Soka University. I was invited, as part of this innovative collaboration, now in it's second year, to work with students prior to their arrival in the U.K. My role is to assist them to not only prepare for the more independent and creative approach to studying at a forward thinking and progressive U.K University but to become more resilient and innovative both in their academic and personal lives. In short: to help them create more value for themselves, others and the world. Not too much of a demand then!
My experience over the past few days has forced me to reflect upon my own starting point made 25 years ago. I had been challenged by a friend and mentor, sadly no longer alive, to invest my energies for the coming quarter of a century to be part of the global movement for a more humanistic model for education.
In pursuit of this, I have had many setbacks and disappointments over the years and more than once imagined that the folly of youth had led me to take on a burden that I was not competent enough to carry out. However, a few people I have encountered along the way have acted as a comfort, support and inspiration to continue on this often lonely road. I will not name them here but you know who you are.
So, I launched into this weeks lectures with students and academics with the familiar (above) quote from Elliot and a visual representation known as the 'learning line' showing the three steps of the journey that lies ahead for all of us. These three simple stages of development 'knowing', 'doing' and 'being.'
This combination between science and art, rationality and intuition always creates an adaptive, resilient system and delivers results. Always. The challenge is getting it right at the start and being a good gardener throughout the lifetime of the venture.
Depending on the age, capacity, culture and values of the students and adults that I work with, as well as the context in which we are working and the content we have to explore, determines how fast we travel down this road and what activities we engage in along the way.
A process, in transition
In Japan this week our first task, as a self-organisation action based research group, was to create our learning line. This meant translating the language of the learning line into Japanese. This simple task was the catalyst for my own (re)awakening. By exploring what I had come to be very familiar with in another language I was dramatically brought back to my starting point of 25 years ago.
In Japanese the characters used for writing can be formal or informal and can have a variety of meanings based on a the influences of context, time, relationship and purpose. Translating 'knowing', 'doing' and 'being' generated interesting and passionate debate between myself, the students and the the professor co-delivering the programme with me as to what kind of knowing we were talking about.
Dead knowledge or emergent truth?
Were we on a discovery that would require us to let go of what we now know and replace it with what could be?
Were we talking about our simple current self and challenges or our greater self and life purpose?
How does our existing comfortable knowledge connect with this disruptive, emergent wisdom?
Although we are working with just a handful of students on this pilot research project in preparation for the launch of the three or five year programme in January 2016 I am impressed and genuinely moved by the passion and determination of all involved. I have rediscovered that being witness to the emerging vision and insights of others can reignite a flame within us that may have begun to burn too dimly or even been extinguished completely.
We settled on three words each consisting of two characters with each word connected by the same second character. Sounds complicated? It is. Here's the final translation:
Know - Shiru: an awakening as to where you are and what your purpose even mission is at this stage in you life and evolution both personally and professionally.
Do - Suru: the action to repeatedly engage in battles with yourself and other opposing forces to overcome your smaller self and reveal a more evolved you.
Being - Aru: discovering a more courageous, compassionate, capable and wiser self by letting go of the burden of earlier ignorance (stupidity), frustration (anger) and unconstrained desire (greed).
This process is also known in Buddhist thought as Ho Sheku Kempon: to discard the transient and reveal the true.
And my own personal and professional revelation? The knowledge that I currently have is insufficient to get me to where I need to be. Yes, I know the process and principles of the learning line. Yes, I have created the tools and content for 16 core and up to 64 adaptive modules to support learning and change that has never failed to have an impact on those open to the process. Yes, I have written books on the related areas of art, science and psychology that supports this simple system but I had lost my own 'Shiru' (knowing).
Why am I doing this? Had the business of delivering programs become more important than the bigger purpose, the greater passion? Had I become so obsessed with the how I could create a simple, but not simplistic model for everyone from a four year old starting school to a fifty four year old been there seen it cynical teacher or business leader? And at what cost to me? What cost to my family? It would not be too far off the mark to say that my long suffering wife has, over the past 20 years been more of a single parent than either of us would have wished for. Whilst I have great satisfaction in the work I do I have got more than a little distracted in my 'Suru' (doing). Too obsessed and focused on the big picture to deal with the important details of the day.
I realise that, despite all my efforts over the past twenty five years, I am far away from my 'Aru' (being).
So, what now? The block to my progress and the fuel to my obsessive attention to my work is to challenge those that should be part of the solution but are part of the problem. No more. I've had enough of educators and collaborators, school leaders, enthusiastic staff and so called friends who not only didn't act on the values they said they had but positively acted to reveal the exact opposite in their behaviour. I have had abuse, betrayal and downright lies directed towards me from those I believed and hoped had shared values. So, I return home ready to remove myself from those that give the outward show of 'Suru' but only to serve their own selfish agenda. My new 'Aru' demands that I don't spend a moment longer than I need to in the company of those that create confusion and conflict, doubt and despair in the hearts and minds of the people they are there to serve and support.
It's ironic that it has taken a week out of my life, a round trip of 13,000 miles and the challenge of a foreign language for me to find a group of people who are speaking my language. I now know, after 25 years, why I started this journey. Not only do I now know it for the first time, but I now know where I'm heading for the next 25 years. Or at least I think I do.