“How do we see what kind of information the research that we’re doing is giving toward our decision making and actions?” – Nora Bateson.
In July whilst driving back from the Second Systemic Practice in Autism conference, where I’d presented a paper on Autism Dialogue, a news segment on the radio caught my ear. A doctor was speaking about a fascinating new area of micro-surgery; rewiring nerves to bring back movement in paralysis patients. I had the image of live cells migrating from a snipped live nerve on being joined to a dead one, to ultimately, and literally, bring back life to that part of the body. Something about it resonated deeply. The piece concluded with a patient movingly describing how much his quality of life had improved (by use of his hands being restored) since the operation and intensive physiotherapy.
A few days later, I watched a video from The International Bateson Institute, founded by Norma Bateson, colleague of Dr. Gail Simon, host of the above conference. In the video, Howard Cornfield MD describes while focussing on a certain problem in his paralysis patients, he realised that knowledge gained can be transferred and applied to global systemic problems such as climate change and the rise of terrorism.
These connections and coincidences are beautiful to me. They seem more common since I’ve inhabited the areas of dialogue, systemic thinking and liminality.
Also at these potent moments, on imaginary journeys between gaps in the fabric of perception, I experience a certain kind of anxious excitement and subtle stress… where the unknown comes looming up from beyond the sharp edges of meaning, and I’m dimly aware of other forces at play, like energy around me rising, and I struggle to rise with it. It’s an odd yet oddly common feeling.
I pressed pause on the video, to quickly grasp the moment, to face this slightly unpleasant sensation head on, to try and examine it, and this piece of writing began to form.
I stopped. I experienced. It wasn’t very pleasant, but I was curious, and fearless.
A distant tapping noise.
A disconcerting sensation in the ‘here and now’ (to borrow from Gestalt or Advaita, whichever you prefer) and then something I can only describe as a super-friendly mysteriousness. I asked, “What is it you want show me?” A distant inner voice replied,
“I’m showing you. But you’re not looking.”
Do we share our lives enough with the unknown? I feel in my haste to assert my own interpretations of life, I’ve missed something. I’ve become too concerned with being perceived as a person who’s not busy enough, or a procrastinator. In our manic pursuit for positive knowledge, we’ve not only left out the mysterious, existential joy of awe and innocent wonder, we’ve allowed the imposter syndrome to strengthen: there’s a whisperer on your shoulder you don’t even know is there.
How can we break the spell? How can we accept and even invite sudden change, chaos, the unknown and bright new experiences, and the unpleasant sensations that these often come packaged with?
Are these sensations the very tools one can work with, individually and collectively, by freezing time, to bravely sit with them and gaze deeply at the most obvious, that which is presenting itself in the here and in the now?
As I began to write, that tapping, scraping noise. Unusual, slightly irritating, repetitive; a metal-against-stone of someone scraping, rising from the street through the open window. I spontaneously chose some music and the sublime ‘Gurdjieff: Sacred Hymns’, on piano by Keith Jarrett filled the room. As soon as it started playing, I heard the noise, as if for the first time, and now it had become part of the ambience, not at all irritating, relaying the spirit of someone working. Person, task, tools, materials and sounds at one with the piano and the new atmosphere and me. I’m reminded of Rumi in 13th century Persia, when, on listening to the tapping of all the different metal workers in the market he is propelled into ecstatic union, a different zone, one of congruence and connectivity.
Do we build enough moments into our lives, where what’s happening all around, right now, is acknowledged for what it is, in all its simple, ordinary, yet mysterious glory?
I believe that by consciously gravitating towards space and slowness, using conscious stopping and mindful awareness to strengthen our ‘space muscles’ and face the unknown, we can perhaps help to join the fragmented and paralysed areas of life together with moments of aliveness and potential.
“Matter is frozen light.” – David Bohm.
Header photo: River Derwent, Chatsworth House by Jonny Drury
Graphic: Thinking tree by Jonny Drury
Autism Dialogue is a new space for dialogic enquiry into the autism and neurodiversity phenomena. Gail Simon leads the Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice at the University of Bedfordshire, UK. She is a systemic supervisor, trainer and runs writing workshops. Gail is editor of the new journal, Murmurations: Journal of Transformative Systemic Practice. She has taught systemic therapy at Masters level and presents at national and international conferences on systemic practice, the politics of psychotherapy, autism, reflexive research methods and research as social and political intervention.