An Ecology of Life: Systems Theory, Relational Knowing and Stories to Reweave the World
This is the title of a seminar I will be offering next week at Saybrook’s Residential Conference to launch the spring semester. I’m excited to be offering it in collaboration with my dear friend and colleague Nora Bateson who has produced a profound film about her father — the anthropologist and systems theorist Gregory Bateson. Gregory was a faculty member at Saybrook in the 70s and his work and legacy has been part of Saybrook’s educational fabric since then.
“What is the pattern that connects the crab to the lobster and the primrose to the orchid, and all of them to me, and me to you?” asked Gregory Bateson. This is one of the most beautiful statements of relational knowing. In my inquiry about systems thinking and systems being, I have discovered that relational knowing is a way of connecting my mind with other minds, my emotions to meaning making, and my interactions with other human beings as an intrinsic aspect to learning.
One dimension that Nora and I will be exploring is how we are bringing to life our understanding of “the pattern that connects” as her father called it, and in which ways our experiences and perspectives as women inform our work within and beyond the systems and cybernetics scientific communities. It is our sense that we live at a time in which the notion of “an ecology of mind” is relevant not only in academic pursuits but also as a way for people to create a meaningful and purposeful life through relational knowledge and storytelling that connects, embodies and brings meaning to our fragmented world.
Some of the pearls of wisdom that I have gathered from my interpretation and assimilation of Gregory Bateson’s work are:
- Systems thinking makes us humble ~ The more we know, the more we know that we don’t know. We can never fully know the complexity within and around us… it is ever changing, evolving. A systemic appreciation is an invitation to surrender to the mystery of the universe and to embrace the mystery within ourselves, as part of it.
- Inquiry is incomplete without the unconscious ~ Dreams, spiritual experience, and artistic expression are not only legitimate ways of knowing but essential complements to our rational mind. If as systems thinkers we are going to advocate “transdisciplinarity” we need to go beyond scientific disciplines and start incorporating all the ways in which we humans make sense of our experiences.
- Interconnection is the essence of the universe ~ Everything is connected to everything else, and Bateson’s notion of “the pattern that connects” should be at the core of education. As humans, we lost the ability to sense this pattern, and as a result, we are missing the sacredness of the web of life. Why do we perceive ourselves separate? Without perceiving the pattern that connects, we act in ways that breaks it.
- Beauty is everywhere ~ Appreciating the patterns that connect opens up our capacity for awe and wonder.
- Art is essential ~ Art is one of the more holistic and integrated ways of human knowing, an expression of our being. Art serves as an interface between our humanly constructed cultures and the natural world. Art allows us to express our wild nature.
- Learning never ends ~ As human beings, we are always becoming. Learning is the way we evolve. We stop learning the day we die… maybe.
Nora Bateson's film "An Ecology of Mind" will be shown to the Saybrook community on Saturday January 25th and it is open to the public. If you are interested in attending, find out the details here. For a beautiful and thoughtful review of the film, check out this site: http://www.naturearteducation.org/AnEcologyOfMind.htm