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Daring by a Breath - Alive Learning Education

Serial work on a philosophy of Alive Learning Education

Art by Louise Bourgeois

If we truly start to notice that nothing is more important than breathing, it would challenge us with new ways and tasks of thinking and of learning, by feeling how to organise our body towards an intelligent state that is creative. To philosophize about it is needed.

This series explores our knowledge to create a total new set of regenerative questions to re-imagine a learning society for humans to function and have resilience. We have to include a breathing philosophy that investigates what respirating means. What respiration feels? What it thinks? How it would think? How we can understand respiration and the relations between thinking and feeling in a growing and changing world, and society. “Philosophy will find help in poetry, art etc; in a closer relationship with them, it will be reborn.” — Maurice Merleau-Ponty.

I’m proposing this series to

  1. Bring awareness to an inner-learning perspective for our educational development.

  2. Bridge-build possibilities, questions, and insights which empower and transform it.

  3. Explore what can support an optimally fulfilling, functioning, participating, meaningful and capacitating human life.

Can you imagine for a moment that what is alive in you, lives in an organic temporal life, which cannot be explained satisfactorily. To understand it better we need to care to deeper feel into our realities, into the capacity for growth, and the power of adaptation to environment through changes originating internally, through what is manifested by continual change. We need our communication to become a conscious interaction of experiencing hearing, listening, and speaking.

The understanding lies in our ability to shed a “multiple” light on the world where truth can sneak up on us, and make us become present with our thoughts in such a way that it alerts our brain to multiple layers of nuance and meaning, to structures, patterns, rhymes and rhythms. To learn is to be transported into a new world that teaches us the how to live. In an inter-cultural way, I help develop our perceptionality from an inner learning perspective and facilitate the process of opening up to that. The role of being part of such a process, is of empathically supporting the learning as an “alive form” which intelligently engages through life itself.

The centre of perception is in the lungs, in our body.

Life as we know it, is largely informed through the unknown, which is for some a ”world in hiding”. I believe that the unknown is in service of enlivening the hidden. In a re-imagining of our education, i aim to inspire to develop a learning process that is hopefully seen, experienced, or acquired recently, or now for the first time. It is an “alive learning” process that seeks to work from where life is. Alive Learning doesn’t have an epistemological authority. I would describe it today as a learning unable to defend itself, or explain itself (yet) through what we know, or think we know. It is inviting “thoughts that breathe” (Thomas Gray) to come into reality where Life can consciously develop and further experience itself. We can consequently orientate, create, and practice a meaning-making process in service of a particular purpose or goal.

The current problem is that Life and the possibilities of the breath, of the breathing of the person, as well as of the listening and experiencing, is changing. We don’t pay attention enough and loose our ability to open. We loose our poetry, as breathing is a possibility for poetry which is free and freedom. “Poetry has its roots in human breath and what would become of us if this breath diminished?” — Giorgos Seferis. Let this be a start of introducing respiration as a poetry of education. It is not enough to think about it. One must also breathe. And as we breathe, we can gather and shape thoughts that can wonder into our Psyche, into our being as the Psyche’s body of breath.

Psyche; spirit — is breath and gives way to speech. Breathing is our first experience of the possibility of speech. To speak is in fact in the sacrifice of breath. The air exhaled from our body turns into voice and speech and becomes the spine of human communication.

This gift of breath is a body of nature that allows this interruption to take place. What is interrupted needs to be restored however. This too is a learning, and a practice. The voice is a joint between body and speech, it’s a bodily aspect of speaking. Breathing is the articulation of the body that influences the functioning of our entire being, and the human Psyche.

In the ancient Greek tradition there a strong connection between “word” and “air”, highlighted in the used phrase epea pteroenta (winged words). Words have wings, because they fly up in the air. This idea is present in the lyric poetry of Sappho, whose words are made of air: “With words of air I begin, for this reason they are words soft in hearing.” Our ways of perceiving the world is largely dependent on our capacity for listening. Our communication relies on our breathing, and our silence. Maybe “another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” — Arundhati Roy.

The Narrowness needs our Connected Openness

Breathing is the most basic condition of nature. The further we are from nature, the bigger the expense to restore what it is seeking to gather and shape. In an increasingly more anxiously lived human, and society, we have largely lost connection to a natural breath. A breath that we observe to be ‘normal’ is actually not normal. It is charged with anxiety, and anxiety is a symptom, not the cause. If we treat anxiety through medication, we numb the natural breathe which influences our ‘lived’ space, both inside and out.

Learning to breathe is not to the will of power — to fix, but to surrender to what is powerfully organised inside, to restore, and revitalise. The experience of breathing “normal” therefore is increasingly complex to measure as it is inter-relational, interdependent and corresponding to the change we are globally in. Change which we have learned to interrupt, control, and manipulate. It got us into trouble. We are living in an epidemic of fear that is not trauma informed but seeks to reduce fear by framing risk, to reduce panic. We have reduced our communication to solve and fix, but what we need is space that allows people to have a more intimate experience with the threat, whether real or not, and learn how to open up to it.

Anxiety (the Latin word angustia, means “narrowness”) disturbs our breathing. Frederik Perls, founder of the Gestalt Therapy method writes: “Anxiety, the disturbance of breathing, accompanies any disturbance of the self-functioning; thus the fist step in therapy is contacting the breathing.” Anxiety closes our openness to experience, and limits us in our feeling, our sensing, our encounter with the truth of what the body is sharing. The disconnect of this ‘wisdom’ is one of the main reasons what keeps us from moving forward in a more healthy way.

The process of opening up therefore isn’t easy. In a therapeutic approach breathing aims to break the continuity of oppressive states, of interrupted cycles of breathing — to give space consciously to complete what was interrupted. This liberation can open an atmosphere of intense anxiety and sense of overwhelm. Disturbances relate to a dimension of time and place — and to being-in-time in a worldy existence. In a remembering of ourselves we gather what is part of us. The power of breathing helps us to re-connect with our breathing, re-connect with the truth that breathing is; a corresponder to the succession of developments, in keeping with its intrinsic potential, which I could refer to as “functioning normally.” “Being normally”; in coherence with Time. This could be a philosophy of breathing. A state where breathing itself (our respiration functionality and capacity) increases an openness to the world — our inner-outer relation to Being.

What does it need to open?

  • Space to breathe; the environment for “Alive Learning”

  • An openness within; which is breathing

  • An openness of truth; our ability to shed a “multiple” light on the world

Art by Louise Bourgeois

Space to breathe; the environment for Alive Learning

Giving attention to our breathing could start with giving notice to all the above, and to start feeling our breathing. Begin a practice that brings calmness, and relaxation to the body of breath. Opening up to the human who is taking part in being breathed where boundaries of the doer within can surrender to the process of ‘joining”, of “gathering”, of “shaping” reality, and our perceptions of it. It requires cultivation and the re-imagining of our education that I previously shares as “alive learning”. Learning to learn how to breathe, by first learning from breathing itself, which is spontaneous but attentive and responsible. It is presenting a possibility to learn from the representation of our personality characteristics (restrictions, confinements) in the breathing body. We work with our breathing (breathwork) to create a possibility of working on the basis of our self-understanding, personal development and inner growth. When we open up we create space, to give ideas and solutions by “breathing” ideas into our contemplation and complexity, following the opposite path where ideas can also exit our body through exhalation: “mind, thoughts, knowledge are breath which can also be breathed out”. It is a doorway. Please see our non-profit projects to deeper inform yourself on what we aim to open up in the world and where in the world we offer our work.

An openness within; which is breathing

We can breathe into an open flow of energy, and draw our inspiration from time and space, in a return to our whole being free. This wholeness is, according to Buddhist psychology a non-separation of the “I” and “Other”. I could have used the word “union”, but in the ecology, Everything is connected to Everything else. It reflects the existence of the elaborate network of interconnections of everything. It is a ‘gathering’ of quality in diversity that helps us to embrace complexity, which helps us to meet the learning. The quality of the parts of parts, in the parts that make up for the whole, have autonomy, and do not function automatically. It needs each other. The intelligence of the parts we are made of, interact with the parts of parts outside of us. The ecology is in our breath.

Openness in itself doesn’t try and conceptualise, or alter what is presenting itself, but remains curiously engaged in the domain of the “alive learning” environment. The learning happens in places where life is, and can be an endless exploration of selfhood. In a tunnel-viewing perspective (as in the Kafkaesque ”The Tunnel”) the thread and distancing of the threat, and the fear of the distance reflects on the fear to come closer to ourselves. What we fear mostly is our Self, in being ourselves, here and now. It is essential to loose our obsession of Self, and open towards a place beyond ourselves. In search for “how” to do this — the “how” also is the very nature of inspiration. This intelligence is what i consider “wisdom”. Wisdom is informative intelligence from the unknown that with openness brings speech into alive learning. The impulse of that openness is connected and travels as a signal into a resonance that can become a place of learning.

Breathing echoes back this intelligence in the body, into the nothing of our knowing where we must pass ourselves, and must pass alone to understand that no-one is not-nothing, and that “how’ we arrive to where we are is the work of our openness within. Nothing but one-self is able to face the fear and the ego’s response to an openness it perceives ánd feels. Our capacity to willingly meet the space of its authority, and to reciprocate to the gift of breath is a learning process.

An openness of truth; our ability to shed a “multiple” light on the world

Truth can transcend the authority of Ego. In our communicativeness, that can be a breath-taking experience and adventure, words can become a creative power that comes from, goes with and returns to, the continuum of energy. It is where we can find and gather truth about who we are, where we are, and where we are going. It is in our daring to breathe where we find truth. It is a “Daring by a Breath” as Rainer Maria Rilke is poetizing.

As Nature gives the other creatures over
to the venture of their dim delight
and in soil and branchwork grants none special cover,
so too our being’s pristine ground settles our plight;
we are no dearer to it; it ventures us.
Except that we, more eager than plant or beast,
go with this venture, will it, adventurous
more sometimes than life itself is, more daring
by a breath (and not at all from selfishness) . . . .
There, outside all caring,
this creates for us a safety — just there,
where the pure forces’ gravity rules; in the end,
it is our unshieldedness on which we depend,
and that, when we saw it threaten, we turned it
so into the Open that, in widest orbit somewhere,
where the Law touches us, we may affirm it.

Art by Louise Bourgeois


Note: I am cross-posting this from a Medium article.

This Open Up series is part of our development of educational and experiential programs to support and empower people to increase meaningful quality of life for all. This series is part of a body of work on Re-imagining Education in nonordinary ways, and is written by Katrien Franken.

Open Up works on building collective openness for transformative systems change. Designing methodologies, Series, innovative approaches and practices suited to an interdependent world. Breathwork as a philosophy; a tool for emergence; for descending into the world — a slowing down, an activism of inquiry, an offering to live a small and intimate life, one that can awaken vital connections with the human and more-than-human worlds.

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