Visualising the transformation of complex interventions and interprofessional working.

As I complete a three year project that evaluated a healthy weight programme implemented across three health boards in Scotland and working in its most disadvantaged communities,  I’m reflecting on how visuals helped me understand the complex relationships involved.  Through visual workshops with the range of professionals involved in the implementation I gained insight into the maps they used to navigate how they cooperated and learned from each other.  Rather than standing apart, as an evaluator I was invited to the joint planning meetings, which they called shared learning meetings.  This meant much of the evaluation insights I and my colleagues were developing, we tested with the implementation team.  These conversations led to mutual insights–for us as evaluators, but probably more importantly, for those still working at adapting their strategies to the many challenges they faced.    Both the project leader and myself had experience of working with a co-production ethos.  This leaves me wondering to what extent I can call our approach co-produced evaluation, and how I would define this as being distinct from conventional evaluation.  The use of visuals definitely helped make transparent and accessible the networking and organisational theory within the analysis.  I also think it meant projects did some transformational work. Changing the picture as we worked together.  Alongside the blog is the presentation we used to introduce our visual way of working to the team. Presentationvisuals

New Inclusive Normal

I’m helping explore what Inclusive New Normal might look like particularly for post graduate students and for PhD research going forward. There are interesting conversations ongoing about changing the shape, process and ownership of research. Underlying all that are practices that could make spaces of engagement more accessible. Here I discuss with Sally Witcher, former Chief Exec of Inclusion Scotland, what we’ve learned about inclusion from Covid and what we need to keep bearing in mind.

Shamble as creative space for dwelling with for professional sustenance

Jennifer Markides and I are working with a practice to hear from each other and ourselves about our journeys. We started by doing differently the editorial of a special issue we edited on Wayfinding. We opened up as a space for all contributors to tell us about the way they’ve found.

We wanted to work further with this practice, taking further inspiration from the anthology Jennifer helped to edit: Looking Back Living Forward and examining what our material space around us intimates about our journey, our current pratice and our aspirations.

I was playing with this notion of shambles, precisely because it troubles the normative conceptions of professional as perfectionist, and because Terry Pratchet’s description of the practice of making a shambles resonates with my experience of where real lived wisdom acrues– by attending to our senses, to the close at hand, the everyday:

Some things start before other things.

It was a summer shower but didn’t appear to know it, and it was pouring rain as fast as a winter storm.

Miss Perspicacia Tick sat in what little shelter a raggedy hedge could give her and explored the universe.  She didn’t notice the rain.  Witches dried out quickly.The exploring of the universe was being done with a couple of twigs tied together with string, a stone with a hole in it, an egg, one of Miss Tick’s stockings which also had a hole in it, a pin, a piece of paper and a tiny stub of pencil.  Unlike wizards, witches learn to make do with a little. The items had been tied and twisted together to make a  . . . . Device.  It moved oddly when she prodded it.  One of the sticks seemed to pass right through the egg, for example, and came out the other side without leaving a mark. Yes, she said quietly, as rain poured off the rim of her hat. There it is. A definite ripple in the walls of the world . . . . . “

There is much about Terry Pratchet’s witches that is worth taking on board as I consider being a professional otherwise. So here is the invitation to borrow making a shambles from Terry, and repurposing just as Miss Tick repurposes her stocking with a whole in it.

Making A Shambles: If the things you carry in your pockets or around your desk say something about your work, what’s one thing that you’ve been most proud of in your career, the areas you are most comfortable working in, something you always wish you could get to or had time for, and one thing that you’d want to be in everyone’s pocket from your work. If you dumped these things out, what would they look like or how could they be represented? How do they “fit” with others in the room? Work to create a shambles with others or on your own. Share a sketch/image of your shambles from your pockets.

The photo here is my first try at a Shamble. This is part of my attempt to do the unlearning that Vidya Shah encouraged us to do in her IPDA keynote, that asks us to re-examine embodied knowledge, relational knowledge, and spiritual knowledge, and builds also on the impetus to reconsider how I know that Shirley Steinberg’s work on bricolage has given me. Thinking through what I brought together in the process of making the shambles this came:

Shambles November 2021

Shamble by Beth Cross:

I woke up thinking about making a shamble and the first thing that came were a few quotes that resonate from far back,  they came to me in the crucible times of my youth and have lasted. Yet I doubted myself—yes, they are important, but do they really say anything about my pedagogy?  How are they a life philosophy?  I don’t know.  I just know they are what I see when I look back.  “Teach each other to teach each other to teach each other “ on a pink strip up paper around the office of the  Women’s Shelter in DC brings to mind the strong women there, the working out what would respect look like between women on the street and those of us volunteering,  how can we better understand and enact respect across the differences in our lives and the stresses we found ourselves in?  We all had something to teach each other, we all had something to pass on, recognising that was how we could be together.  As someone who’d just dropped out of college convinced I needed to learn from life before philosophising about it, frightened and disoriented, those words anchored not just my time there, but in all that’s come since.  Sometimes I expand them to: learn from each other to show each other to learn from each other.

I can’t remember when I first read The Colour Purple, before DC though, still a teenager, before I started to veer from the path laid out for me by my upbringing. That feeling of recognition going way back,  of seeing in it a route through, a lode star to set my course by.  As I tried to bring the shamble together I googled the quote I remembered.  But couldn’t find what I remembered so well anywhere. What was quoted was almost the opposite of what I’d taken from the book.  I began to wonder if I’d made it up.  So I crawled under the table to get to the bookshelf where my oldest books are, the ones that had made it with me over 12 moves across two continents.  And there it was close to the end, underlined in green.  The quote about God being pissed off if you walk by the colour purple in the field.  And, yes, the bit of the quote missed out in all the versions that I had seen on line:  What does God do then—What does God do when it gets angry?  It makes something else.  That has stood the test of time, led me out of the darkest times, has reminded me when I don’t know what to do with anger, I can create. It is the best way out of paralyzing anger.  What would I have done without it? 

Adrienne Rich came about the time I was in DC.  I am so struck by how it paves the way for what women have articulated this last decade within posthumanism,  we are still taking up the task that Adrienne articulates taking place over and over again by generations of women. I am still casting my lot with them.   How I analyse the world is bleak, so I need Adrienne’s perversity.  How do I offer that as a possibility to others in my pedagogy?  I haven’t been bold enough with this.  But in answer to the prompt what do I want others to take from my work,  that would be it, strength in the perverse grounded joy of creating despite what would break us.

That’s why I chose the little grater in my look around my surroundings.  I have rubbed people the wrong way, grated,  gone against the grain, intentionally or not.  That is who I am and in some ways not a bad thing.  Sieving into fine detail is also something it brings to mind, and is important to the discourse analysis work I do.  It seems violent, counter-intuitive, but it’s oppositionality attracts me, for reasons that have not yet emerged into articulation. And that’s part of what may be useful about this activity, letting intuition lead the way and trusting my rational mind to sense a way to understand the path made.

I conceptualise my pedagogical work as holding a space, thus the clay dove.  It’s moulded from clay from my father’s farm.  The creek bed that cuts down into layers of history has streaks of red, yellow, and grey clay.  I don’t evere walk there without respect for what lies under the surface coming to mind.  Both its sturdy shape of the dove and the protected shallow are important to me.  It’s almost boat like, a coracle, the kind of working boat a small team would set off in, which is, yes, how I envision what I am doing with those I learn with, that is my aspiration. 

The yarn that connects is Scottish wool from New Lanark, bought on a trip when I’d just started at UWS.  The walks along the Clyde there have been a space of thinking through, coming back to heart and pulse many times and always a reminder another Scotland is possible, another society is possible, an attempt at doing things better is possible, doing things in a way that sustains better, radical departures from the status quo are possible. Robert Owen’s tearing up the rule book of industrial manufacturing still standing here are a testament to that.

Hematite restores, strengthens and regulates the blood supply and regenerative tissues.  There’s a small ring of it in there, it connects me to my family, and I wear it as a reminder to work from care for myself out to others. I am still wondering why a shamble should always have something with a hole in it. That seems deeply deeply right, for reasons I’m still dwelling with.

Shambles must have something living in their middle.

I wanted to take that time to be surprised, to step outside and see what of the world would speak to me.  The wind had shaken the last of the hornbeam berries.  I have a tree, the house goes with it,  but it’s what I love best about my home.  Hornbeam trees are a gateway in Philip Pullman’s triology, and I welcome that association.  My tree’s daughters are scattered around the neighbourhood.  I only discovered this during Covid, exploring close to home.  It has grounded me here as I was not before, though here 10 years.  And the nasturtium blossom:  tenacious, hanging on through drout, a slow grower, taking people by surprise at the late generosity.  I love them for the tangle of their leaves, and for being both beautiful and useful.  They are peppery and nourishing, and that is a good guide to go forward with.  Robin Wall Kilmmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass encourages me to pay more attention to my plant teachers.  Here, I guess, is a start to recording and reflecting on what that might look like.   It’s the process of doing them that’s important, they are never more than a momentary wayfinding that go back in the pocket as I travel on.

Embodied Crossroads: emerging thoughts on different practices to encourage embodied learning (Ulab, Interplay and Forum Theatre)


Beth Cross

I think there is increasing acceptance that making the path by walking it or building the airplane whilst flying it is becoming more of a way of life. Many of us are becoming more cognisant of complexity and integrating this awareness into our lives in different ways and working more adaptively as a result. 

These metaphors of adaptation suggest we look to embodied capacities to better inform our planning and collaborating. Part of healing the Cartesian breach means reassessing the vital importance of this knowing and adapting.  Embodied knowledge tacitly takes complexity into account, has always been multi-modal and sensitive to small but crucial changes in conditions. Even  as I write my own embodied knowledge is adapting instantaneously to what is going on around me: the need to breath, attend to posture as well as word choice, the balancing act between attending to writing this and awareness of my son’s activities elsewhere in the house.  We have always been engineers of fluid dynamic equations.

Here I want to discuss three different strands of work that all offer resources to increase the range and depth of resources with which we can further incorporate embodied knowledge more explicitly within the change work we do.  These are all practices that re-engage embodied awareness and embodied creativity.    My practice of two of them stretches back seven years, that of Interplay and Forum Theatre.  My introduction to Social Presencing Theatre is more recent.  And, as all writing is to an imagined audience, as Bakhtin’s Circle advise, it is an utterance that responds to previous utterances and anticipates further rejoinders. It is important to state at the outset that, as well as a more generalised audience of fellow travellers, this piece of writing most particularly is in response to a recent SPT workshop conducted by Arawana Hayashie  and Aggie Kalungu-Banda in Oxford in mid-November 2017.  I came to the workshop looking for ways to further embed Ulab theory and practices into my teaching at a university, but also willing to share facilitation with other groups with which I work informally and with the Scottish Ulab community more widely.

There are some important arguments or precepts that shaped how I came to the workshop that I think it is worth sharing so you can begin to get the lay of the land on the particular path I am making by walking and thus orientate for yourself how our pathmaking can be of mutual benefit.  In academic terms, it could be said these are commitments that grow out of an engagement with socio-linguistics and linguistical anthropology, though these became academic areas of interests for me because earlier life experience focussed my attention on the very kinds of issues these disciplines seek to understand.  The socio-linguistic ideas associated with Bakhtin and his interlocutors are core.  Bahktin is frequently quoted as stating it is not from dictionaries that we get our words.  I am persuaded by the argument this statement arises from: that is, word use does condense into widely agreed meanings, but all of these are in flux.  The words we use are based on our experience of the speech communities in which they are used and our position within them.  Within speech communities there are always centripetal forces, bringing word use and meanings to serve a centralised purpose, and centrifugal forces suggesting alternative, deviant, marginalised meanings and allegiances.  We are always a complex blend of at least both these forces.  How we use words at any point is in response to a reading of these forces, our positions within them and our intentions.  So common is this practice that it goes on as a subroutine barely surfacing, except when new situations call our attention to meaning choices.

The social presencing theatre workshop for me was one such encounter and my reading is that it also confronts many who come to it with novel ways of both meaning and being that challenge our established sense-making and saying.  Very early in the workshop Arawana introduces us to the Japanese concept of Ma which she described as “a quivering not knowing”.  What this means in practice, in fullness, was the core learning to be done in the workshop.  Complementing that by necessity was also crucial learning about how to approach and move beyond Ma or move with Ma always as counterpoint to action.  Presence and action, being and doing, walking the path and making it. 

First Imprint

I did not come to the workshop believing that once Arawana first defined this word I would know completely what it meant. I believe to better understand what Ma meant I would need to glean as many clues from both what else Arawana said and how she herself embodied SPT practice.  As Gadamer once argued, for me, having walked my path, to understand something of what Arawana meant from her path would require a fusion of horizons.  My attempt to bring our different horizons into conciliation draws on my early training in deep discursive practices at St. John’s College with its radical departure from mainstream university curriculum, known as The Great Books programme. It is a programme that asks the learner to eschew any reference to text books or commentaries, and to bring their own intellect directly to bear on a series of profoundly engaging texts, those most responsible for shaping contemporary Western thought, Plato, Hegel, Marx, Nietzche alongside Euclid, Darwin, Einstein, Watson and Crick. There I learned that to engage with an original thinker’s setting out of their ideas meant not reading once but reading and re-reading, with each new use of an important term requiring a going back and checking how this concept was previously framed so that the text itself becomes the reference whereby terms take their shape and meaning.  The more original the thinking the less reliable generic meanings of words would be, in fact they are to be distrusted for the false leads they suggest.  I took this same wariness of too quickly assuming I could comprehend what was meant to the exploration of embodied learning with Arawana.  I attempted to translate into embodied learning an attentiveness I had learned through textual learning.  This is part of how I suspend the Voice of Judgement, that Ulab asks us to be aware of.

Within the workshop Arawana asked us to imagine our body as a “B” and to be attentive to its relation to the earth body, reminding us that to re-member the body, bring back into relationship its members, is to understand how your members are together in the membrane of your being as you move in a membraned world.  Key to this is sensing your back, not moving forward without it. It is these essentials that support the art of making a true move.  As with my earlier scholarship, appreciating what this set of guidance meant, involves not just one attempt but a deepening series of attempts.  And so I listened and engaged in the exercises trying to keep open many possible different meanings or ways of understanding, always listening for how the next layer of activity resonated and amplified some possibilities or dampened others.

The warm up practice, where for twenty minutes we are invited to remember or revisit how we learned and grew into movement from lying to rolling to sitting, crawling, crouching, standing, and beyond felt as if it opened up new departure points within each transition.  The collective version of this activity is known as the Village. Within it, patterns emerge across the group as each person walks, stops, sits, runs, acknowledges, follows and leads.  Both ask participants to wordlessly engage over a period of time long enough that movement sheds routines or strategies like outgrown shells. Moving into the not predetermined not foreknown seems to me to be an important analogy to the cognitive work we seek to do to change patterns of work and relationships.

Within these activities I come to my first dilemma or discussion point I want to have with SPT developers.  Perhaps the best way is to trust over time these simple steps will realign one’s awareness with the fullness the body individual, social, ecological can communicate.  However, my concern is that most of us are enmeshed in lives in which it does not make sense to give this amount of time as a starting point.  Of the people whose Ulab experience could be enriched by SPT, many of them are not familiar with body work.  At least here in Britain there is a cultural history that still very much shapes a very tightly corsetted, stiff in lip shoulder and hip way of being.  Whilst Arawana asked us to consider that actually knowing less about body work may mean a person can come to SPT more effectively and honestly, this may depend on the cultural context. The common ways of becoming more familiar with how our bodies move is through very tightly choreographed routines, that make up the bulk of body movement teaching, be it ballet, judo or even football.   Even yoga and capoeira rely on drill, with its militaristic roots leaving those who have experienced their bodies through these routines with much to unlearn if they are to hear a different kind of prompting from their body or our bodies together.  Given the likely starting place many of us find ourselves, activities that move more gradually and use more common interactions as a starting point may build a bridge to SPT that could be useful.  One such more gradual approach is the incremental approach of Interplay, a way of working that’s been developed over the last 20 years by Cynthia Winton Henry and Phil Porter.

For instance, a common Interplay exercise is called “I can tell you about”, where partners trade back and forth a completion of that phrase.  A sequence of such an activity might go like this, I can tell you about the shoes I bought yesterday, I can tell you about running out of milk, I can tell you about left over tea bags . . . the point of the activity is to allow participants to hear what might be told without speakers at once having to tell the entire story.  The first step is to just name it, and in playing with the possibility of several stories, loosening up what it is they could say.  The next small sequenced step asks the pair to choose one of their “tell you abouts” and spend some time recounting it. A further activity in that sequence can be to tell the story again, only this time in just three sentences.  Each of these activities takes perhaps five to seven minutes, requiring less of an investment and if you like more guidelines than SPT.  However this is all in the realm of words.  The interplay, the articulated bridge, if you like, happens when these activities are combined with movement.  Interplay frequently uses a shorter activity that invites similar movement to SPT’s The Village. It invites the group to choose to walk stop, run for perhaps five minutes and then to stop and notice how that felt, each person for themselves speaking from the I.  A second walk stop run is then invited. This time, depending on the ease and daring evident in the group, the group may be invited to lead or follow movements that catch their eye.  Each activity by itself asks small risks, gets participants used to a greater capacity for both moving and being attentive.  These steps can then be brought all together to create a way of the group listening across the range of experiences within it. For instance, the group is asked to walk/stops/runs with attentiveness to the whole so that when one person moves to a center point and stops, everyone else stops and listens to the three sentence story of the person in the middle, who then leaves the group so that movement lessens, quietness grows and often something utterly alchemical emerges from the small stories being told in an increasingly attentive but supportive space.  This interplay of noticing and being part of movement together and then hearing the distinct journey people are on as they articulate their stories, for me, is an important bridging of embodied and articulated knowledge that helps my growing awareness of holistic health both individual and collective. There are many differences with SPT but given Ulab’s aims as a whole, there are dynamics and aspects at work here that are supportively co-emergent.

Interplay does not set itself to be done in order to solve problems or devise new strategies.  Perhaps, an underlying belief about human nature that it shares with Ulab, is that the most fundamental changes come when not intended or sought.  It claims nothing more than play.    At a recent workshop one of its co-creators explained, routines normalise a very restricted register of movement.  When we know the world only through this restricted range, we are impoverished.  It is a good thing to know through a wider range of ways of moving. Interplay invites an exploration of this wider range by much shorter activities that can be tried individually or sequenced together to develop the kind of interaction that comes to a similar place as the longer SPT exercises.  Interplay like SPT asks participants to take some time to become grounded.  Where SPT may draw your attention to Ma in every moment, Interplay asks you to pay attention to your breath and that pause between breathing in and breathing out, between each activity a breath is encouraged.  Interplay does invite participants to notice what is happening along the way, giving participants the opportunity to notice changing language they might use to describe what is happening and helping a common language for working together.   For ULab hubs seeking to integrate some embodied work into their meetings, some Interplay activities or adaptations of them could lay groundwork for more adventurous SPT work.

An important aspect of Interplay is that different modes cross-fertilise each other.  It is not only that pausing to reflect and speak about what has been felt when moving helps participants better grasp movement’s possibilities.  The direction of reflection or insight moves both ways, in that the opportunity for wordless movement between storytelling seeps into and frees up the stories, so that both stories dance more and movement means more deeply.   Interplay invites participants to play about with differing combinations of moving and telling. I find improvising with this brings me to the place of speaking, decluttered, more open to prompting, more settled to hear.  Intimate in a way that is not invasive.

Well Stuck

The paths towards a deeper attentiveness to movement and what it tells us about our stored memories, capacities and potential can come through Interplay or other precursors to SPT.  Capoeira, Yoga, mindfulness practices all bring a rich tapestry.  My sense from the workshop with Arawana is that SPT differs from these in that it asks us to combine a deeper sense of self with a deeper collective sense, that is, co-presencing, a wider reading of the world and how we interconnect with the different systems that comprise both it and us.  This stretch is profound.  How to approach this paradoxical task was evident in what for me was Arawana’s paradoxical way of being.  At one and the same time she evidenced a very careful considered way of being and moving, encouraging us to do likewise and at the same time seemed delighted and light of heart when encountering anything that might interfere with this.  This quite literally turned my head.  When participants voiced that their minds, their problem solving always wanted to get in on the act in unhelpful ways her response was to embrace these lightly, without fear or frustration.  At the point of writing I am still not much further forward in the ability to describe why this is key to understanding what Ma can mean in practice, but I am quite sure it is.  It is one of those points, that, like I used to do at St. John’s, I have to go back and say, wait a minute, there is something here more than I yet know how to imagine or understand.

As we worked from the preliminary activities towards individual gestures of stuck and then systemic portrayals of stuck in the 4D Mapping exercise, Arawan encouraged us by explaining one of the rewards of 4-D mapping a stuck is that  “you could find out you are more genuinely stuck”.   The solace I take from this is that exploring the self-organisation of stuckness through group movement may show it to ourselves more deeply than we could otherwise fathom.   Further solace and is that juxtaposed right up against this is Arawana’s observation that no one is stuck by themselves and that stuck is not a place of rest. Stuck wants to move and all those involved in stuck have within them the urge to move to something better.  People are asked to take a position in the stuck based on feeling a resonance with it.  The key challenge may be continuing to listen, to remain faithful to that resonance throughout.

In reflecting on these core activities of SPT I wrote in my journal, how to be true to the stuckness and not retreat into anxious helping, rescuing that is part of the problem?  Can we dare not to be polite, not compliant, not well intended?  What needs to be stripped away?  What essential sense needs to stay?   At this point I write a cryptic note to myself:  magic solutions?

This is where working with SPT crosses paths with a tussle I have long carried with me from working with Forum Theatre.  Forum Theatre, first developed by August Boal and practiced here in Edinburgh by Active Inquiry, also encourages participants to act before thoughts hobble what actions can help you discover.  Forum Theatre provides a platform for thinking through interactions from the personal to the systemic.  In-depth engagement with it aims to develop an appreciation of the deep embedment of structural inequality at junctures of action from the micro to the macro, indeed from the macro always inside and around the micro.   Forum Theatre uses the depiction of stuckness as a focal point.  A great deal of work is put into crafting stuck points that are resonant, believable and disturbing, ones that evoke an urge to act and yet also have built into them the very forces that will mean action will have to contend with the larger systemic forces.  In creating and working with these focal points participants are challenged not to create magical solutions.  Magical solutions are ones which evade dealing with systemic forces by manufacturing exceptions to the rule.  An example of a magical solution would be a single mother facing the risk of losing her job due to childcare problems suddenly being given a kindly neighbour who babysits at all hours or an exceptionally tolerant manager that waives health and safety regulations so that the child can be in the work place.  These ways of becoming unstuck work for one person, but leave unresolved how this could be scaled up. 

 On the face of it Forum Theatre works in a very different way from SPT.  It could be said to be a realist approach whereas SPT is abstract.  However, as participants we come to either activity with both a capacity to move in the abstract and a desire to translate back to real situations where we really do want to act, move and be in different ways to different affect through being able to read and respond to the wider system differently.

 In either way of working, participants face the dilemma of magical solutions where resolution leaps over the very dynamics of stuckness that need to be better understood.  In my witnessing the 4 D mapping at the SPT workshop I was surprised at how many of those taking a position in the stuck quickly moved to be supportive and compassionate.  I found it difficult to follow or recognise how this might embody change in the real world.   This prompted me to search my FT experience for clues to how to address this.    

That these are my thoughts suggests some of my own particular forms of absencing.  Others who regularly are in a role to take responsibility for a group as a whole may recognise them as well.  In thinking through further, I realise one of the very useful practices I experienced in both Forum Theatre and Interplay is the capacity to play and replay.  Forum Theatre particularly takes a brainstorming approach asking for lots of different possible perspectives to inform a different take of the stuck. There can be a trial and error development towards perspectives that demand more systemic change, which it then becomes a challenge to embody in the scene.  This approach allows people to dip a toe in and experience acceptance that then allows them to try bolder interventions. Often it is not any one take but the experience of seeing many possible ways forward from which something emerges that feels transformative.  This multiplicity of voices, in itself provides for me the most useful resource towards a changed way of being in the world.   Having an SPT studio would be another way to create the space for many reiterations to reveal something that single experiences cannot. 

Before leaving this consideration of FT it feels important to say that FT has a converse dilemma to the one just articulated at the stuck point, and SPT may too.  In my own portrayal of an FT stuck as well as asking, are we giving way and portraying too easy a solution?  I also have to ask,  am I imposing my political or sociological reading of system dynamics too rigidly? rather than acting intuitively and trusting that the systemic problems will emerge for both of us?  One can be too aware of one’s theoretical understanding of problems to let one’s self experience them in a new way.   I struggled with finding a middle ground between not too quickly acquiescing and not being too rigid in my embodiment of structural authority.  If I impose on the interaction inflexibility, does that interaction become one of manipulation, turning art and the co-discovered moment, into a predetermined lesson to be communicated, that is, propaganda?  In the very decisions around portraying stuckness there are many temptations to absencing, even though, this point is represented as being furthest away from it at the bottom of the U. 

It also seems important to relate here, that my most hopeful experiences of FT have been working with members of learning disabled community who are FT facilitators, specifically, “The Good Life Group”.  The lesson has to do with permission and boundaries.  In working with them and a room full of people who make powerful decisions over their lives, they move seamlessly and without any fear into acting through an issue rather than talking around it.  There is no standing on ceremony.  They very adeptly invite people to take the role opposite to that they would normally enact in practice.  That the least powerful are the facilitators and sharing some of the most important embodied resources is itself system change at work.   They also bring to the work, like Arawana, an inspiring approach to mistakes, namely there are none that in some way aren’t useful, if only in providing an opportunity to laugh with each other at our collective fallibility.

Carrying away seeds.

At a few points Arawana repeated an important point about Ma.  That at any point, no matter how much damage we carry with us, no matter what the oppression we face, we can take a new creative step not predetermined by that past.  I think she said this more succinctly, more beautifully, but if I am taking away kernels from the workshop, this is another important one.

At one point Arawana explained the movement from (Ma) at the base of the U to crystallising as one of micro-phenomenology.  Understanding the significance of this one sentence, in itself invites an in depth journey conversant with, (I wonder who for Arawana?) For me with Bakhtin, Buber, Kierkegaard, David Abrams and Brian Sutton-Smith.  Along with the more practice based questions, here in closing I return to philosophical concerns that attach to my intrigue about this sentence.   One of the founding precepts of ULab, borrows Einstein’s insight, that is, to continue to use the same thinking that created the problem to try to solve it, is not helpful.   For far too long we have been conditioned by philosophical traditions that privileged inductive and deductive reasoning, carried out at the remove of symbolic logic and codificiation, over abductive reasoning which moves across symbolic and immediate sense perception.  Abduction is the process of reading, comparing and making decisions about correspondences of patterns.  Some of the most important patterns are those for which we have few words but much sense experience.   In order to recognise a prototype, we may need more practice at abduction.  We need to look in a different way, with more resources than we often know we have, with an integration of senses we don’t have much experience bringing together. 

Arawana talked about the moment from the depth of the U to the point of crystallisation as one where work still needs to be done, where insights and ways to translate have yet to be articulated.  Her advice, as I recorded it, is to focus on data not meaning, on facing the right direction and taking the first step with gentleness  For my part I have enough of a translation of some of what Arawana and Aggie shared, in Gadamer’s terms, a glimpse of how horizons might best come together, to want to continue learning, to find out more deeply the moments of Ma and the first steps they turn me to face.  Interplay and Forum Theatre experience have been part of my learning how to sense resonance, how to be at home in moments of Ma and I think they remain valuable tools to bring with me on Ulab journeys, be they my own prototyping or facilitation of hubs. What I have learned in comparison to what I have yet to learn is still very small.  The larger puzzle, the experience of others and whatever paths through which they have learned, offer greater riches and a wider horizon than I can yet conceptualise.  The greater part of the journey is still to come.  I share these reflections as my next step in listening for the Ma and what comes after.

Abram, D.  (1997) The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, London: Penguin Books.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1981) The Dialogic Imagination; Four Essays, ed. M. Holquist, Austin: University of Texas Press.

Gadamer, H. G.  (1975) Truth and Method, London: Blackwell.

Sutton, Smith, B. (1997) The Ambiguity of Play, Boston: Harvard University Press.

Homestretch Creative Companion

The Journal: In sessions we often ask you to draw and journal, and we thought it best to give you some space to do so. As the cover of the journal says, we hope you walk into some of your best thoughts and have a place to record them. May you see what you haven’t seen before and hear the listening in your life in new ways.

Thought Stretches: Throughout the sessions we like to drop little quotes that have a time-release capacity to spur further thinking. This little envelope is something of a chinese fortune cookie. It contains a few such quotes that you can draw on from time to time as seems right to you. Let us know if they set you on any adventures.

The Loom: Tim Ingold invented this simple loom as a way to glean as you walk and weave what you glean into something to carry the sense of the walk home. Walking does weave into our life and how we write. This practice proffers the possibility of becoming more aware of how this might be so. The idea is that you record of your walk through weaving found materials on your path as you go. This could be feather, twig, blade of grass. You may find a place for it in your study space and be surprised by the thoughts its captures or returns you to at the odd moments of taking a break from work. (COVID HEALTH WARNING: Be careful as you go and make sure you do wash your hands thoroughly before touching your face.)

If you are interested in Ingold’s work and how it underpins the Homestretch approach, please do take a look at this beautiful little essay Lines, Threads and Traces on what writing walking and weaving have to do with each other: may that set many lines of thought running for you.

You can also read this excerpt of his book. Ways of Walking, ethnography on foot, edited with Jo Lee Vergunst and with this chapter by Ray Lucas look at Taking A Line For A Walk, which is, itself, a quote from the artists Paul Klee.

Collage: Part of Homestretch is an invitation to embodied practices that serve to open up better spaces to live and research. Along with walking and drawing, the tactile handling of materials with different textures and colours also has a part to play. We’ve provided a few starter materials and encourage you to add to these from the ephemera in your own setting. With this collection we invite you to make a collage that helps capture a theme that is helpful to you at this time. One such theme might be exploring the mind palace or home you would like to have for your research work–what supports, windows, elevations would your work ideally inhabit? what gardens or vistas might it look out upon? With collage work it is sometimes best to let your fingers do the thinking as they arrange intuitively the shapes you have to hand or cut and tear to suit. As with walking and journalling this may lead to an insight or discovery of what will support your future process. We would love to see your creations if you’d like to share them.

As Bachelard reminds us in The Poetics of Space:

On whatever theoretical horizon we examine it, the house image would appear to have become the topography of our intimate being . . . There is ground for taking the house as a tool of analysis of the human soul. . . . . By remembering “houses” and “rooms” we learn to “abide” within ourselves. (1994: xxxvii)

HomeStrech Walking Guide


This walk is a different way to explore mindfulness.  We invite you, through slowing down the pace of speaking, to explore the possibilities of differing levels and focal points of listening.

Figure 1 Source: Presencing Institute


Speaker One response to questions: six minutes

Photo taking and swap: two minutes

(consider turning around and heading back, perhaps by a different route, to your workspace at this point )

Speaker Two response to questions: six minutes

Photo taking and swap: two minutes

This will be a walk in two halves.  On the first half one person will think through the reflective question and the other person will listen.  They should be given the opportunity to speak for their minutes without interruption other than to be reminded what the questions are.  On the second half of the walk exchange roles.  The listener is not to give advice or ask problem solving questions but to just listen and give space for the speaker’s response to questions to evolve.  We rarely have time to just be listened to without interruption and this is an opportunity to offer this.  As the speaker uses their minutes without interruption there may be pauses, times when they just think or breathe or notice their surroundings.  That’s all part of it. At the close of their response to the question the listener can feedback some of the images, metaphors, or gestures that occur to you in a few words to let the questioner know they have been heard.


  1. What changes have occurred to the way you work over lockdown?
  2. What changes would you like to support your work now?


 When you feel you have given your response the time you want, at this point both of you should pause your walk, look around for a photo to take and share it with your partner.  Take the opportunity to let what’s been shared suggest how your frame a photo, and what it’s focus can be.  The focus could be an object, texture, the play of light or anything else that catches your eye.

Techy bit: You can usually swipe up on a smart phone to open a new window to take a photo in and then swipe sideways to see all the windows open to find the whatsapp one and post the photo.  The call should continue in the background.  If either of you find this difficult you can close the call to exchange photos and then call again to begin walking and contemplating the next question.


Listen with an openness to hear the emotional tenor of what the questioner is talking about. Listen to what resonates: What images, metaphors, feelings and gestures come up for you that capture the essence of what you have heard?

ALSO: Here’s a basic guide to stretching in preparation for a walk, or at any time you want to break and regroup,

Thoughts on passing the torch

Today I learned about the public abuse of women in Cologne from a good friend. I go on Facebook and see Maihri Black making a powerful speech in defence of older women, just as I’ve come back from a packed room that came to hear an 84 year old nun speak about the American Ploughshares Movement. I went to be reminded to touch a remnant of my past. And ended up remembering together with one of the speakers the powerful important people who so strongly shaped my early experience of 247 complete commitment to activism, living the vision of kingdom of peace here on earth. But, oh, the personal violence, the genderd violence that runs deep threads through those experiences! I was reading Adrienne Rich, Marge Piercy, Dorothy Day at the time, Listening to Sweet Honey and The Rock, and doing my best to put into practice be the change, doing the best I could. But looking back I would call things differently. I would assert clearer lines, summon up the right to be respected. The personal is political, the ends never justify means because the means are our lives. How to help younger women now know their own worth and speak with it?

A Minority President: Why the Polls Failed, And What the Majority Can Do

In trying to make sense of it all, this makes a lot of sense.

George Lakoff

By George Lakoff

  1. The American Majority

Hillary Clinton won the majority of votes in this year’s presidential election.

The loser, for the majority of voters, will now be a minority president-elect. Don’t let anyone forget it. Keep referring to Trump as the minority president, Mr. Minority and the overall Loser. Constant repetition, with discussion in the media and over social media, questions the legitimacy of the minority president to ignore the values of the majority. The majority, at the very least, needs to keep its values in the public eye and view the minority president’s action through majority American values.

The polls failed and the nation needs to know why. The pollsters and pundits have not given a satisfactory answer.

I will argue that the nature of mind is not a mere technical issue for the cognitive and brain sciences, but that it had everything to do with the outcome…

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