Sunday, June 16, 2013

What does a Feeling have to do with Achievement?

In both my private practice and part time employment I am  involved with children who don't seem to learn at the same rate as their peers. This can sometimes require assessment for a specific learning disability with recommendations on how to support them in the classroom and at home.  I recently purchased the book photographed in this post and consider it one of the best I have read.  I am in awe of the amount of research undertaken by its author and her ability to bring it all together.

When our thinking in is in 'flow' insight often comes to mind.   'Flow' is usually associated with creating a wonderful art piece or whilst playing sport. For me, if I am engaged with what I am reading, 'flow' can also enter.  It was whilst reading this book that my mind turned to how difficult it was for me in the beginning to understand the definition of several of the terms she was using and how I still get a sense of fuzziness every time I come across them.  And then I realised!  I first came across the terms when I didn't know their meaning and had to talk with another professional using them in language.  If I wasn't going to appear ill informed I needed to understand those terms in the moment - which was impossible, so I simply kept the conversation going until I could go away and locate their definition.

But do you know what?  Every time I now come across the specific terms my body goes into anxiety.  From neuroscience we know that neurons that fire together wire together.  Here I have a personal lived example of anxiety neurons firing at the same time as I was required to engage with several key professional terms.  And now, every time I come across those terms, no matter how often I have looked them up, attempted to memorise them, considered various mnemonics I could employ ... my body goes into anxiety and the terms always feel 'fuzzy' like I just don't quite know what they refer to.

Three little words, I have a 'fuzzy' experience every time I encounter these three little words, all because of the powerful wiring that occurred when I first had to use them.  Imagine what it must be like for children in classrooms or at home, first attempting to read, or speak in front of others, or write, or spell .... thinking they should be able to do it, wanting to appear competent ... and anxious.

So much research is revealing the fact that if teachers and adults around children spend time cultivating a relaxed feeling .... cultivating rapport, then children learn with ease and perform better.  All children with learning difficulties and disabilities exhibit the interference of anxiety. At times it is like detective work trying to determine specifically what their anxiety is connected to and how this plays out in other areas of their learning.  Then the task is to rewire, create feelings of peace and ease when interacting with tasks and situations that previously held high anxiety.  Staying in an open space ourselves, observing, experimenting/playing, intuiting what to try next, being curious ..... love.   What is good for the soul is also good for learning.  The effectiveness of evidence based programs can never be separated from the feeling the teacher or adult brings to learning and the feeling state of the child.  Thankfully we live in times in which our understanding of what makes a program effective and how feelings impact on learning is rapidly expanding. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Thought About Addiction

During the week I caught myself in one of those sublime moments when I was in 'flow'.  Doing nothing special, nothing in particular on my mind, just moving about, doing what I had to do, singing whilst I did it.  When I noticed, I moved my attention to my body - it felt supple with an absence of aches and pains that come with age.  I then moved my attention to how I was feeling - light, carefree, at one with everything.  And then the thought came to me .... "Ah, this is who I am!"

You might think this a strange thought, but ... it is truth.  All of us, at our core, are a sublime feeling.  We are not our jobs, our intellects, our muscles, our homes, our cars, our 'number of friends', we are .... a feeling.   My heart warmed at the very feeling of 'me being a good feeling'.  That feeling is ME, I actually don't have to do anything to make me better or fix me up, I just have to remember that that feeling is me.  No one can take that feeling, the feeling that is who we are at our core, away from us - except ourselves.  And how do we do that?  With our thinking! 

There is nothing wrong with using our intellects to work and build, buying things we like, or having friends, but when our sense of who we are is dependent on them then we have lost our way.  When created in the right spirit these things are expressions of our use of innate powers within.  If we know and remember who we really are, then having these things in our lives are a source of immense delight and curiosity.  

My thinking moved on to addiction - in my experience, definitely not a state characterised by delight, curiosity or light heartedness.  What is it?  At its core, addiction is the innocent seeking of a good feeling in the wrong places.  The good feeling is actually alive within us all the time, it never goes away, but we take ourselves away from it with our thinking.  It is our thinking that creates our feeling states.   We begin life with an incredible flexibility in our thinking (as reflected in our 'unpruned' neural pathways) and go through some amazing periods of growth and refinement in neural pathways.  Adolescence in particular is a time of massive growth, hence the emotional turbulence as a result of our all different thoughts!  It is only when our thinking becomes more honed or refined (strengthening and pruning of neural pathways) that we 'mature' and our thinking 'muscle' (the brain) is capable of responding well to the environment around us.

If we all had parents who understood the interplay of Thought, Consciousness and Mind at our core (whether using these words or not), they would have taught us differently about life, our emotions, and how to realign ourselves with flow.  But most of us weren't and so we emerged into adult thinking that (a) our emotions are direct indicators of life around us (they aren't), and, (b) we all need to find strategies to ease those emotions so that we get back to a good feeling.  The truth is (a) we ARE a good feeling, (b) it is our personalised thinking that takes us away from that feeling (we are experiencing our personalised thinking rather than our innate good feeling), and (c) if we could see the role of our thinking we wouldn't need anything to make ourselves feel better because the 'seeing' disconnects us from that thinking immediately.

I'm not saying breaking out of addiction is easy.  I was raised in a culture of little understanding of our true nature just the same as everyone else.  I too have travelled down the path at times of thinking that I needed something outside of myself in order to feel better.  I am also lucky enough to have come across a deeper understanding and chosen to direct my free will in the direction of exploring that understanding in my life.  And as time goes on my feelings of equanimity and the quality of my life just gets better and better.

If anyone is in the grip of addiction or on the path of innocently developing one, if you simply allowed yourself the possibility of seeing your 'thinking' as the cause of your ill feelings, then you have opened up a different path ahead.  It is not necessary to define the content of your thinking (although you can if this intrigues you) rather just to see that 'anxious' thinking is creating feelings of anxiety, or 'pumped up' thinking is making you move fast, or 'angry' thinking is making you feeling angry!  We all experience different types of thinking, but isn't it interesting that we are all conditioned to doing something about our 'anxious' thinking whereas our thinking about the latest movie we can just let slip by. Thought is thought, it all creates feelings, and those feelings vary according to the intensity or quality of our thinking.

When we are in negative states of feeling, if we 'see' our thinking' then the thought of seeing our feeling immediately takes us out of the feeling we were in. We have broken the 'bad feeling' train of thought, AND, we have inactivated the neural pathway we were entertaining.  Neural pathways wither and die with disuse, whilst new pathways are constructed and strengthened with new types or qualities of thought.  WANT to have a different relationship to the thinking that innocently creates thinking and you open up a crevice of change.  WANT to have a stronger relationship to the innate good feelings that are you and you open up another crevice of change.  'Bad feeling' thinking does not need to be attacked (creating attack feelings), it is a lack of paying attention to them as truth (when they are not) that allows them to die away.  

SPEND TIME remembering moments when you were in a good feeling and simply glad to be here. We have ALL had them, even if they were years ago, we have had them.  CONSIDER the possibility that those feelings are who you are and that they still reside within you.  ASK yourself if you would like to know them clearer in your life, and if so, then simply LISTEN to what surfaces quietly from within you and FOLLOW it.    Change can happen overnight, and it can happen slowly.  But once you open yourself to the POSSIBILITY it WILL happen!  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

'Feeling' and 'Thought' in the Classroom

There is much research on the value of Social and Emotional Learning in education, not only to young people's self esteem but also to their academic performance.  And in Western Australia there are a number of excellent programs available for whole school implementation.  And sometimes, with commitment and persistence, these programs yield amazing results.  But at other times enthusiasm wanes, or, the energy to even begin just doesn't gather enough momentum.    And, moving around schools I know that teachers have a lot on their plate.  A new national curriculum is being rolled out.  Classroom lessons need to be differentiated to meet the range of abilities and difficulties that exist in the classroom.  Much learning and adjustment by teachers is already underway.  Learning more in the area of emotional and social development so that they can bring this too to their students may just seem like too much.

In my own practice my intention is to be of support to the student and the teacher.  I am mindful of not overloading both and of doing my best to make a difference.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I am 'called' to explore the situation before me with greater depth, so that I may deepen in my understanding of people and how to bring them more easily to learning.

Bringing SEL Programs to schools can be a bit like bringing reading to someone who has difficulty with reading.  The takeup is hugely variable and the mediators in all cases are (a) the 'feeling' of the 'teacher', and (b) the 'student's' thinking in the moment.  Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Programs are fantastic at bringing explicit language around emotions and social interactions to students.  I think this enriches their thinking, particularly when conversations around such issues don't occur in the home, and provides them with more tools to bring to their emotional health and relationships with others.  I applaud the many teachers who have immersed themselves in these areas of learning for the benefit of their students.

And I ask the question is there a way we can bring the foundations of SEL programs to all classrooms regardless of whether structured programs have been implemented or not.  Because the reality is that SEL is being taught in all classrooms, families and social interactions, but perhaps not in the way that we would like. All social interactions, particularly by key people in young people's lives, teach.  Whether we are good at being emotionally buoyant or not, good at the subtleties of great social interactions or not, or good at being resilient or not, we are 'teaching' children through modelling and imitation.  I see this all the time when I work with students, observe the way their thinking patterns determines their behaviours, and see the obvious parallels with the way of the adults in their lives.

Three Principle (3P) Psychology offers an understanding that can potentially change all those 'SEL teachable moments' that occur every day in the classroom and beyond.  It offers an understanding that can enable all teachers (and adults) to stay in a good feeling regardless of what is going on around them and to use explicit language that brings awareness of the power of thought, and the nature of feelings to the classroom.  It allows everyone to be perceived impersonally, without labels and judgement, as simply being unaware of how they are using thought.  It's use has the power to create classrooms of security and safety in which all behaviours are understood as a process in the moment.  And it provides direct experience of seeing tense feelings for what they are and the value of creating space in the mind for common sense to surface.

If you would like to explore further the possibility of what understanding of the Three Principles can offer your classroom or school or family, then I wholeheartedly recommend the following paper:  One of it's authors (Roger Mills Ph.D.) worked extensively in what would be regarded as dysfunctional communities and with youth at risk.  In Three Principles Psychology, 'dysfunctional' is understood simply as an innocent habit of seeing personal thinking as truth.  Whether we are aware of it or not all of us have the capacity to turn instead to thought that naturally flows through us and does flow through us when we allow it be unhindered by our personal thinking.  May we all live in 'flow' more - and more about my personal experiences with this in later posts.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

New Beginnings

Welcome to my new blog ... one dedicated to supporting young people wholistically with their learning.  Every new venture needs an entry point.  I have two!  For young people in Rockingham I am offering my services as a specialist tutor (trained with Dyslexia Speld Foundation in Perth) on school premises every Thursday. Dyslexia Speld will provide my name to those parents who have had their child assessed through DSF and parents will need to liaise with their child's school if this is an option they wish to pursue. For those parents not currently associated with DSF you will need to become a member to access my services (about $75 a year) and reap the benefits that come with access to their wonderful resources and expertise.

My second start up platform I am building through  This is a collective workspace and entreprenurial venture located in St George's Terrace Perth.  This organisation is an inspiring example of what our young people of all educational backgrounds will bring to the future of our community.  I look forward to bringing my realm of future creativity to the collective as well as taking some of what they offer to broader networks.  Keep this site posted!