Our final seminar in the symposium features a dialogue with Nora Bateson. Nora’s profound and visionary work centers around an idea that she has named symmathesy. Using the art of symmathesy, we see that reality is made up of a multitude of overlapping, co-learning relationships. I was introduced to Nora’s work through her film An Ecology of Mind and, through her work, I have been introduced to a profound vision of how everything is always learning in relationship with everything it comes in contact with.
Our dialog began with a discussion about how all agency is contextual. That means that the choices that we make are always influenced and shaped by the context within which we make them. A new kind of contextual understanding is necessary for us to navigate successfully through the deeply interconnected reality that we live in. Nora speaks about this as the "paradox of agency".
She states clearly that we must remain in the uncertainty of paradox, not knowing how much our choices are truly our own and how much they are being dictated to us by circumstances and influences that we might not even be aware of. This means that we must keep zooming in to look at our choices in isolation and zooming out to see the context within which they are being made. The capacity to zoom in to look at specifics in isolation and zoom out to look at the context is an essential skill for the future of humanity.
As the conversation develops, we speak about the idea of symmathesy and how it can be practiced so that we can develop a new kind of contextual sensitivity. We mention how the core practices of any mystery school involve entering into the unknown in ways that open our senses to unseen possibilities. We go on to explore how our ideas about reality are fused directly into our experience of reality. In order to move beyond our current perception of reality, we must enter the liminal space that lies beyond what we think we know.
Symmathesy is a way of seeing that will allow us to see more clearly forward into the future. And to do this, Nora explains, we must learn to look less for the effects things have upon each other and more for the ways things are affected by each other. In other words, we could say that in order to see into the future clearly, it is more important to feel reality than to understand how it works. Developing a more sensitive way of perceiving will be essential to move into a new paradigm.
Our conversation also addressed the workings of a school and we explored how a new kind of school would be structured and organized to unleash powerful co-learning and co-evolutionary potentials. There is an art to creating a new kind of learning environment and we share a mutual thrill about establishing such a school of new paradigm learning.
This dialog is accompanied by three additional resources. A written review of Nora Bateson’s film An Ecology of Mind, as well as an audio clip of Nora explaining how to think about contexts of mutual learning, and finally an audio recording of Dr. Timothy Morton explaining how far from our current reality we might need to go in order to save our world.
Nora Bateson’s conception of symmathesy, and her vision of life as a multitude of co-learning relationships, is a powerful model that is being incorporated into the structures and organization of The Mystery School for a New Paradigm.
In this seminar with Nora Bateson, she introduces a new way of perceiving reality that she calls symmathesy. We’ve been trained to look at life in terms of the effects that things have, but symmathesy re-trains us to see how everything is being affected by the elements of its environment. According to Nora, we need to be less concerned with the effect that things have, and more sensitive to how the context is affecting everything in it. Nora speaks about developing the ability to alternate between zooming in on specifics, and zooming out onto the context.
Spend a few minutes practicing going back and forth between zooming in and zooming out. This morning I was at a coffee shop. I zoomed in and watched what one of the baristas was doing, then I zoomed out and became aware of how she was being affected by ao many elements of the environment. Try this with something or someone in your proximity going back and forth between zooming in and zooming out.
How does your perception of the situation change after doing this for even a few minutes?
Nora Bateson like her father Gregory Bateson, sees living systems as co-learning communities where everything is constantly communicating and at the same time constantly growing. All of the growth in the system is shaped by the communications, and the communications are influenced by the growth that is occuring. In his book Mind and Nature, Gregory Bateson gave a simple example of a living system - a thermostat. The lowering temperature of a room makes a metal filament in the thermostat bend until it completes an electrical circuit and turns the heat on. As the temperature rises, the filament bends in the opposite direction until the circuit is broken and the heat turns off. Information about the temperature of the room is constantly being communicating to the thermostat and the thermostat is then influencing the temperature of the room. This cycle of communication is the essence of any living system.
Using this model see how many living systems you can identify in your immediate surroundings.
Can you see that if you broaden your understanding of communication, soon everything appears to be in constant communication with everything else?
Nora Bateson is an award-winning filmmaker, writer and educator, as well as President of the International Bateson Institute, based in Sweden. Her work asks the question “How we can improve our perception of the complexity we live within, so we may improve our interaction with the world?”.
An international lecturer, researcher and writer, Nora wrote, directed and produced the award-winning documentary, An Ecology of Mind, a portrait of her father, Gregory Bateson. Her work brings the fields of biology, cognition, art, anthropology, psychology, and information technology together into a study of the patterns in ecology of living systems. Her book, Small Arcs of Larger Circles, released by Triarchy Press, UK, 2016 is a revolutionary personal approach to the study of systems and complexity.
As an educator she has developed curricula for schools in Northern California and produced and directed award winning multimedia projects on intercultural and ecological understanding. Her work, which has been presented at the world’s top universities, is described as “offering audiences a lens through which to see the world that effects not only the way we see, but also the way we think”. Nora’s work in facilitating cross-disciplinary discussions is part of her research into what she calls “the ecology of the conversation”. Her speaking engagements include keynote addresses and lectures at international conferences and universities on a wide range of topics that span the fields of anti-fascism, ecology, education, the arts, family therapy, leadership, and many more aspects of advocacy for living systems — she travels between conversations in different fields bringing multiple perspectives into view to reveal larger patterns.