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Teaching and Learning

Expanding the Foundations of Biocentric Education

January 30, 2018, Author: Chris Breen

I have revised this piece of writing from a year or two ago and re-posted it as I will be referring to aspects of Biocentric Education in a future post and it helps to have some background available to interested readers.

Biocentric Education is a branch of the work inspired by the creator of Biodanza, Rolando Toro.

Biocentric Education’s objective is connection with life. Of crucial importance is the development of internal rules of life, not intellectual or technological information. It must stimulate the Genetic Potential, the basic structure of Identity, and foreground the Sacredness of Life, the enjoyment of living. The absolute priority is the development of Affectivity and an amplified perception of the expansion of ethical consciousness. Its methodology is the Vivencia.

Over the past seven years, I have explored the topic through a variety of courses and conferences in France. I most recently attended one which theoretically empowered me to open a School to teach the principles of Biocentric Education. Most of the teachers are strongly rooted in the work of Rolando Toro and I found this usually limited the potential and creativity of what was on offer. An exception came from the teaching of Liliana Viotti who said that, to her, biocentric education comes from the work of people such as Varela, Maturana, Bohm, Prigogine and Capra as well as Rolando and that Rolando’s gift to the world of biocentric education came with the introduction and creation of the vivencia. In the vivencia, Rolando had presented us with an exquisite exemplar of biocentric education in action!

This excited me as it mirrored my own thoughts and I thought it would be useful to document a few of the ideas that broaden these foundations of biocentric education and briefly touch on some of the implications…

My main source of inspiration comes from two of Rolando’s Chilean colleagues – one of whom was a former university colleague. Humberto Maturana and his student, Francisco Varela, outlined what they called The Santiago Theory of Cognition (or enactivism) which gives strong theoretical and accepted underpinnings for a teaching approach that is based on complexity. In complexity we move away from an ego-based approach to learning that is based on the rational mind and systems and structures and rote-learning. Instead we move towards an ecologically-based approach where our foundations include others and the context and uses all our sources of wisdom (mind, heart and body). Relationships, intent and shared information form the focus of this learning in complexity.

This approach links strongly to Edgar Morin’s Seven Complex lessons in Education for the future as well as to the basic principles of Biocentric Education. It moves away from Descartes’s I think therefore I am to a new position of I act therefore I am.

Another missing piece about Intelligence also comes from Maturana. In 1998 he co-wrote a presentation called The Biology of Business: Love Expands Intelligence that strongly supports Rolando’s work on Affective Intelligence from a very different perspective. Maturana does not accept that there are a whole lot of different intelligences (cognitive, emotional, affective, spiritual, etc). He says that there is only one Intelligence which he defines as being the flexibility to adapt to changing behaviour and relationships. This means that you can evaluate a person’s intelligence in how they act and not through what they say. He says that any behaviour that is fixed and rigid and ignores changing circumstances, is not intelligent. Maturana believes that our intelligence is expanded or diminished according to our emotions. For him, the only emotion that broadens or expands vison and intelligent behaviour is love. Fear, competition and ambition diminish our intelligence! If you want to work successfully with others, you have to accept that we are all equally intelligent or you will not trust that the others will act competently. And if you want to encourage autonomous behaviour, you just need to open a space of love, and intelligence will appear! You don’t have to do anything else – just accept that the other person is equally intelligent, even if they have a different lived experience, makes different life choices, or has different beliefs. You validate the other through your own behaviour. When the emotion of love is there, vision expands.

These are all fundamental principles of biocentric education and Rolando’s belief in affective intelligence. So our focus for any intervention using Biocentric Education can be included under an intention to foster an environment that allows everyone to become more intelligent.

Some Implications, Challenges and Dilemmas for the Teacher

The act of foregrounding Intelligence has several serious implications, challenges and dilemmas for the Teacher.

There are two crucial aspects that need to be included as a thread in the whole curriculum on the themes of awareness and noticing. Caleb Gattegno said that ‘only awareness is educable’ and this becomes the major challenge of the teacher. Formal practices of starting the day in silence and checking into the three wisdom areas of mind, heart and body and making the conscious choice to be present in the moment of what is happening here and now, need to be introduced into the curriculum. In additional specific practice and training in being present with the other in deep and respectful non-judgmental listening can only add to and enhance the learning possibilities.

These are especially important practices for the teacher who has the additional challenging responsibility of embodying those behaviours that s/he is introducing to the group. This is a huge challenge. If intelligence can be seen in our actions rather than in our words, then it is not enough for the teacher to pass on information as to how to live a life according to Biocentric Principles. Teachers have to live these ideals to the best of their ability – and not only during the workshop.

The challenge of producing good results and intelligent decisions in the moment means that it is simplistic to claim that ‘love is all you need’. The teacher has to be fully aware of the role that Power is playing in the dynamics of the group and how to make sure that Power is used in service of the learning of the participants. Teachers need to be fully aware of their own shadow and trigger points and blind spots so that they can continue to hold the space with care and safety with strong boundaries even in the most difficult of times. It is especially important in those moments of stress for the teacher to stay present and grounded and not to snap or reprimand as a result of having been triggered by the other.

This responsibility of the teacher to hold the space with Power as well as Love is an important aspect as we move towards more presence and intelligence-in-action. Holding the space with love and encouragement and appreciation is a wonderful starting point but the teacher also needs to be able to hold a mirror up to the way participants interact with themselves and others. Too much self-reflection in isolation (with too much appreciation) can reinforce and encourage old stories from the past that have served their time. In all cases the challenge for the teacher is to pick up the sword of discernment and hold the mirror up to the other with love and in service of learning and not to allow it to be done from an irritated or ego-driven source.

The key insights from complexity require education to move away from a linear ego-centred to an intelligent ecological focus. The ego-centred approach is driven by a cognitive rules and procedures formula where people are regarded as machines and there is a correct way to do everything in all situations.

When moving to an ecological approach, the teacher knows that what is taught and how it is taught strongly depends on the content being taught, the participants and the context in which the learning is taking place.

In terms of methodology, the teacher faces the challenge of needing to have a deep understanding of the specific content that is being covered in the session and to be aware of the core concept that lies at the heart of that content. The question that needs to be faced in the next step is to explore what methodology and what activities will best serve the learning of that specific core concept. And even here there is a challenge. The challenge of complexity is to offer as much embodied learning as possible so that the participants can make use of all three centres of wisdom. Talking asks participants to go into the source of words which is the mind and takes them away from the embodied experience. Even when they have been offered an experience of feeling, talking about that feeling sends them into the mind! So the teacher needs to vary methodologies to maximise access to heart and body learning.