pedagogy of attunement

In this historical time, we have learned to think about education in association with the transmission or production of knowledge: what is known and what is knowable. This tendency has been normalized through the Western Enlightenment, which is centered on the idea that being is about knowing (I think therefore I am) and that knowing is about meaning. Therefore, very rarely we encounter institutionalized forms of education that are about exploring the relationship we establish with knowledge, with knowledge production, with meaning making, and with what is unknowable and/or unimaginable. The educational experiments described in this section are grounded on a more ancient notion that asserts that being cannot be reduced to knowing and that both being and knowing exceed meaning.

These experiments are meant to deepen our experiences of “entanglement”, both within and beyond codified language. We define entanglement not as something that “exists”, but something that “insists” that we are all interwoven within a wider metabolism. From this perspective, it is impossible to define entanglement in “thick” language – language that attempts to capture reality in place. That is why we use the “thin” sensorial language of metaphors in an attempt to gesture towards it. For example, we can talk about entanglement as a visceral sound, in between and within everything, something that moves, and that gets us moving: the sound where ontogenesis (the birth of the possibility of possibilities) happens. As a timeless song, it reminds us that being cannot be reduced to knowing and that we are neither autonomous or separate.

In this sense, entanglement is not an intellectual choice, an allocation of will, an innocent space of virtue or beauty, a codified spirituality or a dialectical negation of separability. Entanglement commands a different level of “impossible” responsibility for the whole shebang– for everything, all the time. This responsibility is the reason why, perhaps, entanglement does not register in the frequency of rage, fear, control, vanity, righteousness, purity, sanctimony, or self-congratulatory avant-guardism. The insistence of the song of entanglement shows that the ways of knowing and being that have enabled the current system so far, grounded on separability, sovereignty and superiority, are reaching their limits and are not going to be able to provide direction for new horizons of possibility. However, since we are deeply embedded in the current system, we cannot simply jump beyond separability and existing horizons into something new without first digesting the lessons from the old and facing and composting its waste. Since listening to the song of entanglement is a difficult challenge today, the pedagogy in the experiments described in this section is one of attunement, of resetting and recalibrating our affective, intellectual and relational reception and broadcasting dials, putting them at the service of what needs to happen next, without pre-determining the outcomes.

The pedagogy of attunement issues two invitations: 1)taking a step back to examine the discursive regimes of visibility, intelligibility and affectability that police the boundaries of your imagination (the analectic dimension), and 2)exploring the terms that enable/disable the folding/unfolding of existing and new possibilities (the dimension of ontogenesis). The first invitation, the analectic dimension (as opposed to dialectic), involves overcoming the fragilities that prevent us from facing our complicities in harm, and working through the dis-illusionments involved in interrupting our satisfaction with and investments in harmful intellectual, affective and material economies. The second invitation, the dimension of onto-genesis, involves developing the stamina for the long-haul of facing the difficulties, uncertainties, and paradoxes of ‘hospicing’ a system in decline and assisting with the birth of something new, undefined, and potentially (but not necessarily) wiser.

Through the pedagogy of attunement, we are invited to activate our capacity to experience that which exceeds what is intelligible, to imagine beyond categories of thought and affective entrapments, to acknowledge the inevitability of pain, death and (re)birth, and to “sit with” the passion and the pain of the world without the need for identification and/or dis-identification. This involves looking in the mirror and not turning away when facing both the beauty and ugliness of humanity in each of us, through a deep recognition of our entangled vulnerabilities: our strengths and precariousness, gifts and manure, light and shadow, capacity for love and violence, and, crucially, our own arrogance, muck and contradictions.

If we are indeed “entangled”, part of a wider metabolism and metaphysics that cannot be captured or fixed in meaning, the first thing we need to do is to figure out what creates the illusion of separability, numbing ourselves to our sense of connectedness with each other. This is counter intuitive to our socialization in seeing meaning as a proxy for reality and the expectations that through meaning we can create unequivocal knowledge that will explain everything, fix everything, mediate our relationships, engineer the world, and give us a sense of hope, identity and purpose. This relationship with knowledge-in-meaning are the reason why we talk about meaningfulness as relevance and meaninglessness as pointlessness. Our sense of self-worth and belonging are also tied to these assumptions as we have been told that our legitimacy and status correspond to the amount of (sanctioned) intelligible knowledge we can (re)produce.

Rather than the traditional mode of education of filling a cup with more meaning/knowledge, this pedagogy is more about observing the cup, checking its contents, re-evaluating our identifications with it and experimenting with wordless knowing. The invitation is not to let go of meaning, knowledge or the cup, but to change our relationships with and expectations placed upon them. It works like an internal continuous “spring cleaning” that invites us to check and evaluate the usefulness of our intellectual “boxes”, of our affective “safety blankets”, of the “fences” we have created between us and the world, and of the “sugar addictions” of pleasures perceived as entitlements that distract us from a healthy co-existence and that have made the wider metabolism severely ill (possibly diabetic). Rediscovering our capacity to exist beyond boxes, blankets, fences, and sugar addictions requires an on-going process where we are constantly moving beyond the fragilities of epistemic certainty (where we hold on to these things), towards cognitive and affective reflexivity (where we get disenchanted and, ultimately disillusioned with the false promises and pleasures they offer us), and towards a (fleeting) state of onto-epistemic openness where we are comfortable with the discomforts of uncertainty, indeterminacy and affectability (all necessary for experimenting with something potentially “new”). Then we are back to certainty (although this time we know it is provisional), and the process starts again.

This translates into a gradual disinvestment in identity-brands of mastery, virtue, innocence, and heroism, and a re-investment in the decentering and disarming process of learning to be present to the uncertainties, difficulties and discomforts of working through complexities, paradoxes, different worldviews, and individual and collective traumas and delusions – not easy work. This is about the mobilization of intellectual accountability and existential surrender to enable existential accountability and intellectual surrender. Learning to digest together, we are encouraged to make different mistakes, to see failure as the greatest teacher, to find insight and revelation as sources of joy, and to recognize ourselves as both insufficient and indispensible within the wider metabolism.

Disclaimer for those thinking about trying it out: this pedagogy cannot be imposed on anyone because the irritations involved are considerable – people need to choose to do it with full awareness of its unavoidable side effects. On the one hand, working against the grain of what we have been told to expect in education (answers, models, methods, solutions, certainties, hope, happiness, redemption, coherence, progress, predictability, canonical figures, saviours and redeemers) inevitably involves discomfort, uneasiness, catharsis, anger, resistance, deception, disillusionment, inconsistencies, and failure. On the other hand, it may also lead to deeper insight, epiphanies, healing, better relationships, sensefulness (as opposed to meaningfulness), new ways of thinking, renewed creativity, reconnections, and new forms of joy, but there are no guarantees. This pedagogy does not offer you specific answers, but can help you become more comfortable with the discomfort of not having them. In its initial stages, this pedagogy requires someone to hold space who “lovingly does not care what you think or where you arrive at” (this is for you to decide) as s/he challenges, encourages and kindly pushes you to dig deeper into difficult and awkward places that you would not have willingly chosen to go. Once you learn the drill, you can take responsibility to push yourself there.

For those thinking of holding spaces for others: hosting this kind of space is about balancing a meta-bio-chemical equation of physiological-neurological, affective-intellectual responses. It is like trying to conduct a neural/endocrinal orchestra to perform a “song” of responsibility before will. The tuning of each instrument is an “un-coercive rearrangement of desires” at the interface between what is conscious and unconscious. Metaphors work as sensorial switches in that interface. Since “art” is the authorized space for this kind of work in modern societies, this pedagogy can be described as “artistic” as its vocabulary consists mainly of metaphors, as well as embodied and “ludic” inquiries. These artistic strategies can potentially bypass the defences of the ego and get away with changing bio-chemical equations and challenging the status quo without getting noticed – or caught. However, they are not meant to prescribe pre-defined outcomes. The pedagogy itself is not to be interpreted as a normative orientation to guide all (or even most) forms of education.

The pedagogical experiments in entangled co-existence presented in this section offer images and vocabularies that invite you to rationally explore the limits of rationality and to consider possibilities that lie beyond our fields of intelligibility and learned desires for consensus, coherence, certainty and control. If you want to read more about this approach, the articles below presents similar ideas through different genres of academic language.

Invitation for readers: this text itself is already a pedagogical experiment. It invites you to sit with the invitation it issues. Observe the physiological sensations and responses it has already prompted in your body. Keep these responses in front of you without inhabiting them. What do you identify and dis-identify with? Can you be present to these identifications and dis-identifications without getting drawn and lost within them? What happens if you let them go? Try to read the text again just “presencing” it, without the need to agree or disagree. Did you arrive at a different meta-bio-chemical space?

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