plā′wėrk′ings, n. Portions of play matters consideration; draft formations.

Posts tagged ‘baba ram dass’

Further draft workings: hyper-focus, time, and about the very now

Something strange happens to time when you’re hyper-focused: it doesn’t reel out in quite the same way as the norm. ‘Time’ seems to be one of those themes in this writer’s writing: something that recurs. Here, I’m thinking about the time in a talk-discussion given/entered into, and I’m thinking about what I’ve previously called ‘playground time’. Firstly, and again, thank you to Lauren at the South London Gallery (SLG) for inviting me to explore (an indulgence for me) on many of the lines of my current thinking, this past week via the monthly Play Local talks. I’ve still yet to process everything that was said, and that wasn’t said, that evening, but it’ll come.

The kick-start for this particular piece of writing here is a story I told at the SLG talk. I told the tale of Beowulf, or my own oratory version of it, but it was told at length, or so it seemed. Perhaps it did go on for a while, but when I checked in with the clock soon after, nothing of the time I’d thought had passed had actually passed. It’s the same, or similar, often on the playground. When the children are playing, when all is as fine as it is and can be in that moment, when I check in on the clock just to see out of curiosity, time has a habit of being strange. This is kind of the opposite of ‘time flies when you’re having fun’.

Last week the sun was shining again. We have been spoilt these past weeks after summer has bled into the start of the new term. It’s had its positive affects on the children, or so it seems. I remember standing in the middle of the playground, as the play has happened, sometimes slowly, sometimes in bursts of action, sometimes ponderously, and I remember this on several occasions, and I thought how ‘very now’ it all was. This isn’t the phrase my ‘in the moment’ thinking took, exactly (I don’t even think there were words at all, as such), but there was the sentiment of ‘very now-ness’. This is both something I’ve written about before, here, and something I thought about maybe bringing up at the SLG talk, though I didn’t because it wasn’t the discussion that was forming.

Here’s what I wrote in my SLG notes, taken from the former blog post, but redefined in more visual form:

About the Very Now

So, here I am revisiting the ‘very now’. When I stand in the middle of the playground and I see the children scatter, on coming in from school, like (in my current writing simile, though not in the thinking of the then as it was) they’re pieces of paper released, I feel the ‘very now’ but without the words to describe it as such; I feel it when I see the children wandering around tucking into fat ‘fish finger and ketchup’ sandwiches, or when I see them engrossed in experiments of squeezing the end of the hose pipe to see which way the water goes, and how far, in the hazy sunlight; I feel the ‘very now’ when I watch the intense concentration of one boy, one day, as he carefully dissects an old computer with a screwdriver, peering into its innards from close quarters as if inspecting the very essence of its life-force itself.

I don’t know what time’s doing in the heads of the playing children; what time does in me is something strange though. Nothing at all else matters. If I’m in a story, as I was when I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying or was about to say next when telling Beowulf, or if I’m observing the play that is happening and not thinking about the play that was or will be, there is no time. This isn’t to say that in these moments I’m not thinking: far from it, but I don’t have the words still or perhaps ever.

I’m reminded of something else said at the SLG talk: I was told, from the perspective of one seer there, that once you start trying to define this thing we’re calling magic, it loses its magic, or it isn’t there. She pushed away a tea cup! It’s like this. When I’m on the playground, and if I try to define what this ‘very now-ness’ is, as it is, there, it may cease to be. So, I try now with words to describe what I shouldn’t be trying to describe, because then, what I’m trying to describe gets lost.

Perhaps this is a particular problem of ‘those who see play’: ‘those who never will see play’ can’t be swayed because there are no words succinct enough. Yet, we try. Perhaps what we should do instead is smile benevolently (though some will no doubt see this as patronisingly) and not say anything at all. That’s difficult when you believe in something so strongly. Perhaps we should show this ‘seeing play’ by sitting and ‘just seeing play’. Others might follow suit, you never know. When you bother to look you just might see.

I had thought about telling another story at SLG, but never did. It was a brief version of Ernest Scott’s telling of Baba Ram Dass (formerly Dr Richard Alpert) when he trekked into the Himalayas to meet the guru sitting in the field. Scott writes that Alpert, as he then was, wanted to know what the whole deal was about LSD and that he thought the guru would know. The guru, an old man who’d never experienced such narcotics before, apparently, took several times the ‘starter’ dose, and Alpert waited anxiously for the inevitability of the after-effects. Nothing happened. The guru didn’t need the drugs: he was already there. So the story goes. You can connect your own dots . . .

When I’m hyper-focused on the play, or in the discussions, or in the thinking, or in the moment of the moment that is, there is no time. There is only ‘very now’. Stories help to fill in the edges of what we can’t fully describe, but ultimately what we feel, in the moment, should be acknowledged. All stories are true: they become things in themselves; moments, though, are tea cups that can disappear.

On teaching, learning, wisdom

One of the things I would do if I were going to teach a child, I would as quickly as possible get out of any model that I was going to teach this child. That is, by hanging out with this child and saying, ‘OK, now what?’ You see?

Baba Ram Dass (1970), from Doing Your Own Being.
I come back to Baba Ram Dass in my reading. I’ve been thinking this week on teaching and learning, and from several perspectives: there is my own journey of learning (and here I’m not talking about academic learning); there is my role as a teacher, of sorts, of adults; I think of my adult learners; I think of children at play and what they receive from this play.

There is a tension of adult and child in the dynamic of play-based relationships. There is a tension of humility and assertion in the dynamic of adult/adult ‘teacher’ and ‘learner’ relationships. I’ve often felt these tensions and have a need to explore, to think as I write.

In his lecture at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas, in May 1970, Baba Ram Dass (formerly the psychologist Dr. Richard Alpert) discusses teaching and learning. He adds, regarding his thinking on if he were to teach a child:

‘I am now under the model that the child already knows everything, and my job on myself is to thin the veils that keep me from knowing it all, and to not contribute to increasing the veils that keep him from knowing it all, right?’

This ‘work on the self’, it seems, is critical. It feeds into all aspects of the perspectives and tensions I list above: my own journey of learning (or wisdom); my skills as a teacher (both academic and as an open being); the journey of my adult learners, and my interactions with them; children at play, and my interactions with them too.

Ram Dass discusses how, in an ideal world, he’d like there to be a programme for ‘teachers to work on themselves.’ He says:

‘I think I would be inclined to surround children with as high a consciousness as I could find . . . I would put [these ‘teachers’] in an environment with these kids where whatever the vehicle [the moment of learning possibility] was, the teacher saw that as merely a vehicle for us to become conscious together . . . I’ll play for the long shot that they [the children] will open to the universe, which is within them.’

When I’m with children, I’m not teaching them as such: playwork isn’t about this. I have heard the argument, however, that there is a necessary dynamic of ‘informal teaching/learning’. Perhaps this is true. Perhaps the flow of what the adult knows can’t help but be passed on to the child. However, I’m not necessarily the ‘highest consciousness’ at any given time. I have learnt a great deal from children, and I’m not talking about ‘knowledge’ the way the education system sees it. Ram Dass also concludes:

‘Sometimes [the highest being is] the teacher and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s a kid.’

We shouldn’t read ‘highest being’ as something or someone aloof. We should read it in terms of ‘being wise’. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge.

Recently, I read a beautiful comment on another blog post. Laura Grace Weldon writes, in her blog, about the concept of educating too early, which is itself an inspiring read. However, one of the comments to that post also caught my attention:

‘What these high-minded early education experts don’t recognise (or don’t care about since all they want is to feed the education system) is that our civilisation is best served by people who have learned how to love, how to direct themselves, how to enjoy their own company in quiet, how to discover and create and imagine, how to be within the real world not some fake environment where sitting still is more important than anything their bodies and beautiful brains inspire them to do.’

This speaks to me of the acquired wisdom of children, but also of the acquired wisdom of the writer.

So what of my perspectives and tensions on teaching and learning?
My own journey of learning (or wisdom)

If I’m open, here and present, I’m able to see the way others inspire me. When I’m closed it’s because I’m ‘stuck’ in cycles of not understanding the self, of ego, of past and future thoughts. If I’m open I may see high consciousness in any other, irrespective of age. There’s a tension even here in the writing of these thoughts: these are notes for my own work on myself; these are notes that may read as directed at the reader. I write them in order to think them out. I keep the rest to myself. You find your own way.
My skills as a teacher (both academic and as an open being)

In his prologue to the transcription of Ram Dass’ lecture, Ernest Scott writes that the former Dr. Alpert began to feel ‘the pretence that those who were teaching, knew’.

If we teach, or try to teach, do we really ‘know’ at all? The tension of humility and assertion is always there. How much more can I help my adult learners, by standing back and being the medium through which their own desire to find something out is played?
The journey of my adult learners, and my interactions with them

If I input information directly, will it stay in there as well as if the learner who is ‘ready’ absorbs such things? Reading books is all very well (of course, the playwork literature is important), but ‘information’ is not the same as the experienced feeling of the moment in playwork. It is ‘knowledge’ and ‘wisdom’.

How shall I guide and not pollute that journey any other is on?
Children at play, and my interactions with them too

If I’m privileged to be invited into children’s play, I feel I’m invited in because of who I am, at that time, in that moment. I’m usually not invited in as a teacher, though sometimes children have asked questions because they want information. (‘What’s that?’ Gack said to me recently, as he got in really close to a yellow and black version of the ladybird family crawling over a wooden bench). Mostly, in play interaction with children, I feel I’m in it because I’m not teaching, because I won’t teach, because the children seem to sense this. I feel this because, the moment I slip into a more widely understood adult-child dynamic (a small frustration, or a more assertive request of mine to the child), there’s often a subtle (or not-so-subtle) shift in their demeanour towards me.

If I think it to be a good idea to input some ‘knowledge’, directly, into an interaction of play, I’m often ignored. It’s because the child isn’t ready. They come to learning of their own accord. These are notes to remind myself of constantly.
Things the ‘thinking whilst writing it’ has shown me

Teaching and learning has its tensions, as does work with other adults and with children. It is my learning, my absorption of information, that tells me that play is play because it is play: it is of the moment, and the moment is all. However, much more than this, in words I can’t really write because I don’t know how to, my experience shows me that play is the feeling of now. Play is the wisdom of now. It may not be a feeling or concept I can adequately teach. It may just be a concept that has to play itself through me.

Baba Ram Dass concludes:

‘The whole history of knowledge is as a drop in the bucket compared with wisdom. We’re trying to preserve something and what we’re doing is preserving at the cost of something much, much higher than is what we really want. We would like to train for wisdom, not knowledge. And what we’re training for is knowledge, because we can measure it. But knowledge is not convertible, necessarily, into human happiness or well-being. Wisdom is, because wisdom is learning to live . . . in harmony with the world at the moment it is.’

Being one with the Universal space of play

My thinking, lately, is concerned with the ego that is ‘playworker’. I’m putting together some thoughts for a presentation that will take place, though this is focused on a different subject matter, and it’s a couple of months down the line anyway. However, the thoughts are directing me towards ‘purpose’ and ultimately about ‘I am a playworker.’ Ego. I playwork therefore I am? Opus ludo ergo sum? (I never learnt Latin, does it show?)

Now, I’m struggling with this thinking on ego. You see, when I’m with the children, it’s not about me. This is my understanding and belief. This is what’s ingrained in me. There’s a great line in a film, the title of which I forget, but the line is delivered, I seem to remember, by Bob Hoskins: ‘I’m here to serve you, but I’m not your servant.’

This is kind of the colour of what I see my playwork practice to be, as it stands. Yet, in serving, how can there be any such thing as absolute altruism? I mean, whatever we do when we give ourselves, no matter how much we truly want to do it for someone, there’s still something small that we get from it ourselves. Can there ever be such a thing as getting absolutely nothing back and being content with that no return? Even ‘being content with getting nothing back’ is getting something back: contentedness. As I say, I’m struggling with this: working with- and for- the children really isn’t about me, right?

Here’s another start point. Yesterday I wrote about a quote, about a rose, that arose in me. So, I find myself reading that book again: that transcription of a talk given forty years ago by the former Dr. Richard Alpert, about his journey of self-discovery. Here’s a story he shares, or a part-story, at least:

Ram [an incarnation of Vishnu, the Preserver]’s wife is taken away by the bad man, Ravina . . . and Ram, of course, is beside himself, because his wife’s been taken away, you know . . . He’s determined to find her. He goes to the king of the monkeys and he asks for help. The king of the monkeys assigns his monkey lieutenant, Hanuman, to serve Ram. Hanuman becomes the perfect servant. Hanuman is a representative of pure, unadulterated service. He’s not serving in order to take over Ram’s job. He’s not serving in order to get patted on the head by Ram. He’s just serving because he serves. And Ram says to him, ‘Hey, Hanuman, who are you, man, monkey?’ And Hanuman says, ‘When I don’t know who I am, I serve you. When I know who I am, you and I are one.’

Baba Ram Dass (1970), Doing Your Own Being, speaking of a story in the Ramayana, Indian holy book.

On my own journey, where I am at this exact here and now, this appeals to me. There is still the concern of the ‘I’, of the potential of ego (but maybe I’m reading this incorrectly, or maybe I’m not centred enough, or maybe our language isn’t full and rich enough to allow such expressions as those that are trying to be conveyed); there’s still the concern of the ‘I’, but ultimately I read: When I don’t know who I am, I serve you, children. When I know who I am, you and I are one.

When I don’t know who I am? Am I not playworker? No, it’s not this. When I don’t know/realise that I’m part of everything, I serve, because that’s what I can do, must do, just do. When I do know that I’m part of everything . . . well, I found this following story in my play writings:

Notebook, February:

I’m sitting cross-legged on the mat in the middle of the main room, waiting for the rest of the children to arrive. When they do, they put their stuff in the cloakroom, as usual, and – as they pass me on their way to the other side of the room – a couple of the children ruffle my hair without saying a word. It is a hello, but also more.

In Buddhist thinking (I came across the following, somewhere, once, and as I’m prone to do, logged it in my memory but forgot where it came from), the concept of egolessness is not about ‘going beyond the ego’; rather, we realise that there is no ego to start with.

If we strip away the thought of ego, the Universe can flow through all. Being conscious, egoless, connects us with the essentialness (or whatever we term it, in the here and now of where we are each at) of others.

Samadhi, from the Sanskrit, is (according to the great Wiki in the sky): ‘a higher level of concentrated meditation . . . a non-dualistic state of consciousness in which the consciousness of the experiencing subject becomes one with the experienced object, and in which the mind becomes still . . .’

Egolessness, Samadhi, could all be perceived as irrational, I suppose; though we think we live in a rational material world, seeking concrete proofs, we forget to know. I’m not talking about knowing stuff; I’m talking about the knowing that happens when you’re conscious, clear, open, at one.

So, I was conscious, clear, and the children ruffled my hair without words, knowing, I felt, and they went on their way to the other side of the room, and the moment that is became the moment that was. I knew who I was, I think. When I’m not so sure, I serve, because that is what I just do. It isn’t about me. I think.

The door of perception (and splintered behaviour management)

‘Yet how could a man who had seen a rose as a coalescence of pure energy be expected to take his mortgage seriously?’

Ernest Scott (1973), The Start (Introduction to): Doing Your Own Being (Baba Ram Dass, formerly known as Dr. Richard Alpert).
Yesterday evening I attended a briefing on the new EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage), which is expected to be delivered in settings from September 1, 2012. The EYFS still affects playworkers. It’s a legal requirement, a statutory framework, which must be implemented in settings that accept younger school age children. I write this text so far in a deliberately dry manner.

Some way through, we (being mostly made up of out of school setting staff) were directed towards page 23 of the statutory framework, as produced by the Department for Education – still dry, yes, but hold on . . .

Page 23, section 3.50 ‘Providers must have and implement a behaviour management policy and procedures. A named practitioner should be responsible for behaviour management in every setting.’

Just about here, the Ernest Scott quote I offer you at the start of this post came rising up in me. (Substitute ‘a rose’ with ‘play’ and read again?) I’d read the quote many years ago, and it’s stuck with me, but I couldn’t remember who wrote it or the exact context. It didn’t matter at the time. I did some digging around today (because an itch needs scratching) and found it buried in the introduction to a 1970 paper, a transcription of a talk, delivered in Topeka, Kansas by Dr. Richard Alpert, also known as Baba Ram Dass – a name given to him by a yoga teacher, presumably whilst on the self-discovery trail, in India. Alpert was one of the pioneers of LSD experimentation, along with Timothy Leary at Harvard.

EYFS to LSD. This post isn’t really about either. This is not a post condoning drug use, nor is it a post about the education of young children in the UK. This is a post about . . . well, let me put it this way:

Notebook, October:

In the canteen, the children are having lunch and my colleague is controlling things, subtly but too much for my liking. I feel uncomfortable with how she works, a small but significant repression of the children. When she goes on a break, almost straight away, I notice a slight rise in the children’s volume and a looser feel. Indy throws a wet paper towel in the air, slowly, en route to the bin.

Notebook, March:

Jody comes to club on a Monday for the first time. She seems determined to be ‘on top’. In the hall, she makes sure that her younger friends, Shaun and Riley, can play football as Vincent and the other older boys are buzzing around the space with pedal cars. Vincent gets in the way and Jody’s straight over, so Vincent backs off. He isn’t wary of anyone at club apart from her. Jody looks at me, as if she’s checking: maybe I’d have a go at her? But no. I just shrug. Inside, I’m amused by the dynamics. Jody and I seem to have an understanding that’s not ever been directly said in words.

Notebook, January:

I had decided to keep out of the space today so that I could observe from a little distance. I wanted to know if my presence was affecting the way the children interacted with each other and the team. I stayed in the kitchen. Whilst I wasn’t directly in the children’s space, I was able to communicate with them through the hatch. What happened wasn’t intended.

As children start bringing their plates up, as per the dictat of the leftover regime, I say thank you to every one of them. Soraya brings her plate up and puts her arms on the worktop and starts talking with me. She says that she likes the food, so I ask her: how much? I put my hands out by a short distance and ask: this much? Then I put them wider apart and say: this much? Then wider again. Soraya says: more, and that she likes the food further than I can put my hands out. She stays there at the hatch and we’re just chatting around. At some point, someone says behind her that she needs to sit down. Soraya turns around and says, sharply: ‘I’m having a conversation!’

Notebook, February:

Eddy is anxious again. He’s kicking off at the other children and the space is too small for him really. He needs out, I think. I think a lot of things all at once. The quickest route out is through the kitchen. No children in the kitchen. Right. Out the back, in the garden space, he’s red in the face and throwing things around. He pokes around and I really don’t know what will happen next at this point. It’s ‘think on my feet’ time. He’s shown before that he’s strong, and strong-willed. Eddy is poking around near the fire bowl. He finds big lumps of leftover charcoal pieces. I see the big roll of card that’s been sitting outside for a few days, under the eaves. I roll it out. Eddy’s still fretful and pacing, so we start throwing the charcoal down onto the rolled out card. The pieces smash. Eddy likes this. We smash more and he starts laughing. He gets his hands good and black and smears them over my t-shirt. We start more ‘art’ by drawing, or by drawing with the soles of our shoes, scrawling the charcoal along. Eddy’s not angry now. He just needed something, not some blanket ‘do this and this, now.’

Play, dear Ofsted, dear Department for Education, is more than dry words: much, much more. Play is astounding, beautiful, sublime, frightful . . . ineffable. Yet we try to describe. We try to see. We try. Play is not of the ‘Square World’ (thank you, Ernest Scott).

‘At all times, [there are] three separate humanities. The first contains those who live within the five senses and never suspect that further senses exist. The second contains those who suspect ‘something’ but for whom the ‘something’ remains a theory, a myth, an unease in the blood, plausible or implausible but never confirmed. The third contains those who know, not as theory but as experience.’ (Scott)

The ill-considered policy is an un-planed wedge at the base of the door of perception.

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