Simon writes: I had the opportunity to catch up with Emma last month at our good friends’ Ben and Zemfiras’ wedding celebration in Totnes. Like me, Emma has a deep interest in the work of Henri Bortoft, and her dissertation, supervised by Henri, was an exploration of his philosophy in relation to education and our way of knowing the world.
While many of us are waiting for Henri’s new book to be published later this year, I invited Emma to write this introduction to her dissertation, as I strongly feel that it not only captures much of Henri’s teachings, but really helps explain how this teaching can be both applied, and integrated into our daily lives. Emma is one of the few people I know who is very much consciously attempting to live her entire life in this deeper way of knowing the world, and I for one am really looking forward to seeing her own book of her own insights and reflections from this amazing path, should she ever decide to write it.
I have just spent last Friday and Saturday at Joinville, at Sustentare Business School teaching much of Henri’s work to executives and managers in HR, and it was phenomenal to take them through the same “movement of thinking” that Henri takes us through, via the philosophy of phenomenology, the study of the history of science, hermeneutics and the science of Goethe’s delicate empiricism. His book though can be a really tough read, as you really have to go beyond the words, and use your intuition to grasp this great movement of thinking which when you ‘get it’ dramatically alters your conception not just of nature, but of complex systems and your ability to understand and comprehend them from a very profound level.
For this reason I very much welcome Emma’s dissertation as a major piece of work which can bring Henri’s teaching to a wider audience, and I really hope you enjoy reading it. Although Emma’s dissertation has previously been available to download here, this version has her contact details, should you wish to get in contact about finding out more about her work and opportunities for workshops and classes on what she terms re-cognition.
Re-Cognition: The re-cognition of our connection to Nature through Goethe’s way of seeing
To me life is a miracle. We live on a beautiful, earthen ball of rock, with a furnace for a belly, spinning around a much larger fireball in the depths of some unknown, vast dimension called ‘space’, and when we look up at night there are hundreds and thousands of what look like fairy lights lining the sky. We are surrounded by what we call ‘life’ – plants, trees, animals – they are dynamic and ALIVE! We are supported by complex Earth systems that maintain the delicate balance of our environment, enabling us to live – every breath of air we take has been gifted to us by the life provided to us on this ginormous rolling ball of rock, which, oh – happens to be floating around in ‘space’.
Now is it really just me? Or this just downright incredible? Not to mention wonder-full, awe inspiring, mind blowing, fascinating, humbling, curious and extraordinarily mysterious. I feel like in understanding the depth of this, that I am in the minority, and that the wonder of this Earth, Universe, and life generally lives in our culture only as the ‘big white elephant in the room’. In Western culture we get very serious about our daily human matters; the economy, politics, science, shopping, last night’s soap operas, or what we should have for dinner tomorrow – whilst appearing to forget, or to celebrate, that the sheer fact that we even exist is, what you could call, a miracle.
I don’t know about you, but when I feel this in awe of life, I find it hard to get on with the status quo, with the social norms that we have created, to follow ‘business as usual’. It mostly seems to pale off into insignificance. My curiosity gets heightened, I want to experience more of this mystery, pay reverence to this wonder, and to respect this incredible life supporting system, that without which I would not even exist. I want to be able to share these thoughts with people, to celebrate these miracles together, to bathe in the wonder collectively. However I feel in mainstream culture that this is almost regarded as socially unacceptable – a faux pas, a taboo. I can talk about cutting carbon, recycling, saving the planet; they are still not accepted by all, but they generally seem more openly accepted.
To me however, they are still human-centric endeavors that maintain a sense of dominion over, and separation from the life giving Earth from which we have grown. There is generally not much celebration in recycling, or a venture to ‘save the planet’ – but plenty of fear. Fear says – “We are making a terrible mess on our own backyard, so we’d better clear up some of this dirt or face extinction”, but wonder says “I wouldn’t even be able to take my next breath if it wasn’t for countless trees, insects, and amazing earth systems that are all still largely unknown, and full of mystery.”.
We are so caught up with what we ‘know’ that we forget to be amazed by the mystery, and all that we as of yet do not ‘know’. In my dissertation I explore a holistic, phenomenological way of seeing through the work of Goethe, which challenges this separated knowledge; inspiring and reinvigorating a sense of wonder with the world, and re-connection to nature. I feel that the re-cognition of the world which is achieved through this holistic way of seeing is fundamental for any attempt at ‘Sustainability’ and that only through inspiring wonder and deep connection with life, will we collectively imbue our actions on the Earth with the respect and reverence needed for us to survive. In re-cognizing the wholeness of nature, we are re-cognizing the nature of wholeness and what it truly means to be whole, and part of a whole, on this earth.