Tuesday 17 April 2018

It’s about time too – by Phil Ralph

I have teached. I am officially a person who has teached.

(I’ll cut to the chase for those of you who are pressed for time and say that this will be a blog where I reflect on my recent experiences teaching at Schumacher College and I really hope that you might be intrigued enough by my musings to consider joining myself and Fern for our ‘Practising the Art of Living’ course at the Centre for Alternative Technology near Machynlleth, mid Wales, from Monday 24th to Saturday 29th September 2018. Full details and how to book can be found by clicking this link.)

This blog is therefore a sort of sequel, or next instalment if you will, from my last blog of 25th January where I looked forward to my first experiences teaching with not a little amount of fear and trepidation. Well, I sit here today as a person who has teached. (I know the correct word is taught but I quite like the sound of teached…) And let me tell you, it was quite an experience…

To briefly precis the last blog (although if you have LOTS of time, you can read it yourself here) I have come to realise that my fear of teaching – of standing up in front of people in a role that offers myself, my thoughts, my experiences and my being in service to them and their lives – was actually a fear of some kind of lack in myself. And, after developing a spiritual practise, having a loving, supportive partner and a teacher who doesn’t allow me to get away with any nonsense, I realise that there is no lack in myself. There isn’t even really a self to have a lack of. All there is, I now realise, is an organic lifeform present on this planet for a short space of time between birth and death with a profound and genuine desire to serve. And, if I really want to follow that desire, then it’s about time I offer whatever I have to others.

And so I did. I have teached. Taught. Whatever.

At the invitation of my dear friend and extraordinary writer, Manda Scott (if you haven’t read her stunning quadrilogy of novels about the warrior queen Boudica then you’ve really missed a treat), I went to Schumacher College at the start of this month to offer two days of teaching on Changing the Frame – The Science and Art of Communicating for Transition. To quote from the course website –

This course provides an opportunity for a deep dive, in the company of internationally recognised scientists, writers and artists in various media, into the science underlying the process by which we make sense of the world and how we can use this knowledge to become more effective communicators in the service of liberation.”

Manda Scott
Manda had invited me to be part of the course faculty late last year and I had not hesitated to say yes since I love Manda and am always swept along by her enthusiasm, passion and creativity. And then, as the date for the beginning of the course grew nearer, I began to be assailed by doubts and fears. Especially when I read the full description of what the course was about and most especially when I read who else would be teaching on the course… A veritable cornucopia of incredibly learned, erudite and experienced people such as amongst others A.L Kennedy, George Marshall, Prof Chris Rapley CBE, Kate Raworth

 And me…

I know comparison is unhealthy and we must never do it. But we all secretly grapple with it, don’t we? And I certainly grappled. I grappled bloody hard. So, I arrived at Schumacher already scared. I was scared because of all the above and, most especially, I was scared because… well, because it was Schumacher…

Schumacher College is the place where I met my teacher, Margaret Wheatley. It’s a place where I can absolutely assure you that my life changed beyond all recognition. And I can say with absolute confidence that my experience has been replicated by thousands of students who have passed through the Old Postern at Dartington in the past quarter century or so. This is a place that changes lives. And here I am – teaching there…
The Old Postern - Schumacher College
The old questions were rife in my mind: Who do I think I am? And why am I doing this now?

But this time was different because I knew the answers to those questions.

I stepped into the Play Room (what a fantastic name for a teaching space!) at Schumacher on Tuesday 3rd April with an open heart and the desire to be of service. I was met there by a group of people from all walks of life and all four corners of the globe. And all ages too. And I shared my life and my experiences with story.

Story has been my life’s work. I have been an actor, writer and storyteller since I was six years old and I have been a professional creative artist for 26 years. It is endlessly fascinating to me how much we as human beings are story making animals. We imbibe story with our mother’s milk. We tell ourselves stories about ourselves every waking moment and our dreams tell us stories while we are asleep. And, right now, as Charles Eisenstein and many, many other people say: We need a new story. Or an ancient story. Or a different story. And we need to learn how to tell this new/ancient/different story as well as we possibly can and as fast as we possibly can because things on this planet are not going well.

I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of my experiences at Schumacher in too much detail because I’ve already rambled on for long enough here. But suffice it to say it was a truly wonderful experience. My fear – totally natural and to be expected – galvanised me into offering myself and my experiences as fully as it was possible for me to do. Myself and the students – alongside Manda and the brilliant, compassionate and kind Jonathan Dawson – talked story and we played in the Play Room.

For myself I learned the deep joy of sharing and, yes, teaching. I learned of how enlivening and invigorating it is to open oneself to others with no hope of anything more than enrichment for all. I also learned of how heady and seductive it is to sit in that chair. To look out at a room and see people staring back at me, hanging on my every word. I learned how easy it must be to go from being a nervous, insecure, fearful person sitting in that seat to being a person who believes they deserve to sit in that seat because they are a natural genius and everything that drops from their mouth is gold dust. I learned how seductive it must be to imagine oneself a guru. And I gave thanks for these revelations, laughed at myself for noticing them and then went back to offering what I have in service to others.

And after I left Schumacher? I learnt to expect shame and embarrassment. They turn up regular as clockwork after every single one of my One Eyed Man offerings and here they were again after my first experience of teaching. Back come the old questions: Who do I think I am? Why did I say that thing? Or this thing? Why did I reveal so much of myself? Why did I go so far? Why didn’t I say that other thing that I should have said but didn’t realise until two days after I’d left? I learnt that these voices always show up and to expect and welcome them. And not to take them seriously. There is always something to learn from every experience, no matter what. But that learning never, ever comes from kicking the shit out of myself for my perceived failings. Failure is only valuable when it is seen as an opportunity to learn. A creative life should be rife with failure or it simply is not a creative life.

I got home, awash with joy and shame, exhilaration and failure, and shared it all – as I do everything else – with Fern. We talked about it all. And we talked about how we can apply what I learned to our course ‘Practising the Art of Living’ at CAT in September.

Fundamentally what we realise is that we are conducting an endless series of experiments in the art of living. We take our inspiration from Prof. Tim Jackson’s quote: “The art of living well within the ecological limits of a finite planet.” What does it mean to live well? And to practise it as an art?

It means to be open to everything and to learn from everything and to say yes more than we say no. And it means to teach through the same principles – openness, experiment, failure, joy. These are what we practise and this is how we live.

Since the beginning of January when I last blogged, Fern and I have set aside an hour a week to sit together and discuss our practise in preparation for our course. We tape our conversation as a record and to focus our minds. We learn a huge amount by stepping into this space of the unknown together every week. We've just posted the first of our short vlogs about this process.

We’d really love to invite you to join us – both at CAT and at other events and teachings that we will be sharing in future.

The world is in a parlous state. We think it’s time to figure out how to live…

And about time too…


Fern is co-facilitating on a Vision Quest with David Wendl-Berry from 18th to 27th May 2018

She is also running Woman Time with Jenny Archard from 9th to 14th July 2018

Phil is assisting on Margaret Wheatley’s Warriors for the Human Spirit programme from 28th April to 4th May 2018. The programme is full for this year but for more details and to express an interest for next year’s programme visit – www.margaretwheatley.com

And we are both teaching on Practising the Art of Living at CAT from 24th-29th September 2018.

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