Academy of Professional Dialogue Inaugural Meeting

Academy of Professional UK Bohm Dialogue logoAt the Inaugural Meeting of the UK Academy of Professional Dialogue in July I had a really great day with thirteen others including Peter Garrett (who co-founded Dialogue with David Bohm) and Jane Ball, both co-founders of the Academy and Directors of Dialogue Associates.

You can read my main page about Bohm Dialogue here.

I was made a member of the Academy and look forward to further developments and engagements.  Of course much was discussed but when I got home there was one thing I hadn’t thought of, perhaps it was too obvious.  So I asked Peter on the members online forum – about measuring outcomes. ie. how do we know if a Dialogue was a success? This is Peter’s reply, reposted with his permission:

“A good question! I think it all depends on the situation. You may be using Dialogue as a research methodology, in which case collectively learning about the current situation and what to do about it may be the measure. If you were aiming to build from a group of individuals into a team, then a better understanding of each other and the common purpose may be the measure. Or it may be a cultural change situation where the relevant thing may be a clearer recognition of the tacit ‘rules-in-use’ and evidence of changing them. Common to all of these would be deeper awareness, stronger participation, better respect and a greater openness and sense of potential. Generally I aim for a series of Dialogues, rather than a single event, so that the development can be measured in terms of progress from one Dialogue to the next.”

This final point is particularly useful as it favours a more organic approach, whereby a community is assumed or established and encouraged to flourish over time.

Some photos of the Inaugural Meeting:

In 2018 I’ll be starting a two year project in Sheffield around Mindfulness and Dialogue to strengthen links among the UK Autistic communities, particularly to improve autistic people’s independent living and employability.  In order to nurture this, at the Academy’s The World Needs Dialogue! Annual Conference, I will be leading the theme around Autism and the Self.  The project is in partnership with Sheffield Autism Research Lab (at Uni of Sheff Psychology dept), Jane Ball on behalf of the Academy, who has kindly agreed to take part in some form and other partners including Sheffield Autistic Society, SOHAS  and CMLE.  As a loose introduction to this major project, I am convening and co-facilitating a Dialogue of Autism professionals and students next month (please see flier below). There are some places still available and if you know anyone working or studying in the field, I would be grateful of you could let them know and/or email me at jonnydruryATgmail.com or Liz Milne at e.milneATsheffield.ac.uk.

There’s a new Twitter account for the project @mindfuldialogue

Autism Dialogue ShARL University of Sheffield
Click for enlargement

Mindfulness – my story

‘Mindful Awareness & Remembering’ is a better translation of the Pali word: Sati.  It has become known simply as Mindfulness.  I attended an all day conference at Sheffield’s Centre for Mindful Life Enhancement recently and was surprised to hear how popular it has become, even at Parliamentary level a report has been produced called ‘Mindful Nation UK‘ led by and  around 145 MP’s are currently practising.  The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) for the treatment of recurrent depression. Research also shows positive effects on several aspects of whole-person health, including the mind, the brain, the body, and behaviour, as well as a person’s relationships with others.

Mindfulness - in Chinese

This is the story of how I came to love Mindfulness.

I first started meditating in 1981, aged 15, using guidance from books on Yoga, Buddhism (and even Astral Projection!) from the central library.  I learned Chi Gong (mindful movement practice similar to tai chi) from various masters during the 1990’s and continue with it daily today.  In the 1980’s I had numerous experiences under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, which I know is controversial but it was an important component to my spiritual search.  In 1988 I realised deeply that drugs were not the answer to my search as their effects are temporary and limited. Shortly thereafter I met a Sufi Master of the Naqshbandi Order in a public talk at Sheffield City Hall and I became his student.  I followed the strict practices of the order for 20 years until near the time the Sheikh died.  These practices included prayer, recitation and zikr (‘remembering’ awareness by chanting both quietly alone and aloud in groups).  I lived a very ascetic lifestyle as the Sufi life took up every waking moment.   For example, I would awake every night, two hours before dawn, to do meditation, zikr and prayer for three hours until the sun rose then went back to bed and awoke mid-morning to begin again.  I fasted weekly and in Ramadan and performed many retreats in Sheffield, London and Northern Cyprus at the Sheikh’s home.  I once spent 40 days and nights in my garden shed in a village near Glastonbury meditating and chanting by myself, only eating lentils and onions.  In 2007 I broke from this religious lifestyle when I was living on the Isle of Skye, working as a postman and making a film about the island.  The intensely natural island atmosphere gave me a fresh, new perspective.  My family and I then returned to Sheffield.  I was to pursue a Contemporary Fine Art degree and a career as an artist.

In 2008 I was reading works of Thich Nhat Hanh, which I found very healing at the time I was going through divorce. In 2010, I decided to see what the Sufi practices felt like again. I also undertook a counselling course and trained how to be a Muslim Chaplain; here it became evident to me I was trying to marry my spiritual leanings with a practical vocation.  I applied for a couple of volunteer chaplaincy posts but then realised it wasn’t for me.  When I was on my final year of my degree I learned Bohm Dialogue, a radical, mindful way of group dialogue, as part of our wider critique methodology.  Dialogue was the best part of my whole three years at university.

Two years after graduating I learned Mindfulness Based Life Enhancement (MBLE) on an eight-week course led by Dr. John Darwin, based in the University’s Multi-faith Centre.  I began reading and watching the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the man generally accepted as the leading exponent of the modern Mindfulness movement in the West. He defines Mindfulness as “Awareness gained by paying attention to the development of experience with intention, here and now, moment by moment and in a non-judgmental way.”

On the MBLE course were formally taught a variety of tools including: sitting meditation, full body-scan, watching the breath, sounds, thoughts etc. mindful walking, mindful moving (yoga, chi gong etc.), thee minute breathing space, mindful dialogue, communication and eating and the Core Relational Qualities (loving kindness, compassion, empathic joy and equanimity).  We were taught that informal practice is about having mindful moments throughout the day where one is conscious of what is happening and what one is doing and experiencing.  We explored the relationship of mindfulness to positive psychology, negativity bias, savouring, optimism, hope, gratitude and forgiveness, through experience not exposition.  The course included a Day of Silence near the end which was a very good way of deepening the practice.  Since then to the present day I maintain a morning Mindfulness practice and maintain contact with the Centre.

In 2015 I visited Plum Village Monastery, the Mindfulness Practice Centre of Thich Nhat Hanh, with my father.  This commune is a very peaceful and loving place in the French countryside, where one can easily find deep peace, solace and love.  Here I even met a famous African war general.

Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh

Many of the Mindfulness practices and principles of Buddhism match closely with the essence of Sufi practice.  The core of them both is the premise that All is One – the universe is an indivisible unit.   This understanding has always excited me and driven me to pursue learning and meaning.  Mindful recollection of our primordial state is at the heart of the spiritual quest.

I have learned about many techniques and met numerous teachers. I read and watch interviews on an internet channel called Conscious TV.  I have been on various Vipassana retreats of up to three days, with Sheffield Insight Meditation Group.

Chisholme House, Scotland

In 2011 I spent time at the Chisholme Institute, the home of the Beshara School in Scotland.  I attended a short study course and worked in the forest. At Chisholme there are twice daily thirty-minute group meditation sessions. All the courses, learning, practices and living at Chisholme is done mindfully.  I then started my own monthly study group in Sheffield, which started with thirty minutes’ silent meditation and ended with a mindful group walk in our nearby woods.  Hester Reeve (my previous university tutor) and I held a four-hour Bohm Dialogue session at Chisholme for sixty five people and this was commenced with my leading a twenty minute guided Mindfulness session. Mindfulness is an intrinsic part of Dialogue and it is evident that for me it needs to be practically incorporated into Dialogue practice.  I am now a member of the UK Academy of Professional Dialogue.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and ADHD, after going to my GP to ask about mild depression and unusual thinking habits.  I had also done the online test and came out positive.  The diagnosis involved various interviews with neuroscientists in quiet, dimmed rooms.  During one of the interviews I discussed my experiences with meditation and the notion of universal consciousness.  This diagnosis and new understanding helped my mental state greatly and I could improve my meditation techniques.   I have realised my spiritual journey is not separate from my diagnosis and my practices have helped me manage it and even lessen some of the more negative effects.

I started personal study of various other methods of meditation including some from the Advaita Vedanta tradition and now often incorporate some basic self-inquiry practices from this tradition.  The thing I enjoy about Advaita is the philosophy that Supreme Consciousness is ever present and there is no difference between our inner and outer world.

Mindfulness is my own private practice where I have  away to escape all of my thoughts and find bliss.  To visit such communities and places such as the wonderful Plum Village is a bonus and to be able to connect with Mindful people locally is really great too.  I am pleased that my children are very much involved in Mindfulness in their own ways too.

This year I am undertaking a Mindfulness teacher training course with the British Mindfulness Institute.  I will be applying my experiences and these teaching skills to a two year course for autistic adults starting in 2018.

THANKS for reading this far!  Hey, I’m trying to raise a few pounds on Just Giving to pay for my first teacher training course.  If you’d like to help me and many other autistics get into Mindfulness and improve independence and employability, please go here:

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/jonnydrury

Is God an Autistic?

Jonny Drury

I’m working on my memoirs.  They’re the record of my life’s attempts to mine the jewel of that all-pervading mystery of why things are as they are.   My goal is to tap as deeply into pure consciousness as possible, to discover the meaning to my existence.  It’s a story of becoming, and how late diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome at age 48 unravelled many mysteries and revealed to me my vocation.

Through my newly acquired lens of the autistic spectrum, I explore a life of soul-searching and mysticism, including twenty years living as a strict Sufi-Muslim, an overland trip to Mecca for the Hajj.  I reflect on a turbulent childhood with glimpses of a truer world, a troubled youth in Sheffield taking hallucinogens and hitch-hiking to free festivals, a spell in a young offenders institute, finding a way out of drugs into religion, marriage, home-schooling, divorce, as a postman on the Isle of Skye, as a multi-faith chaplain, a film-maker and an experimental music promoter, an artist-educator, a university student, a food business owner and finally working in Mindfulness, Dialogue and Autism.

My book works with the idea that life is our greatest teacher and so has growth to selfhood at the core.  It is thus a personal account of loss, hope, reconciliation, finding happiness and becoming human.

I explore the challenges of living spiritually, consciously and socially in the Western secular world, personally and by observation, the many challenges of Aspergers and ADHD and being labelled as disabled.  My interests lie in the self and cultures and going forward I intend to focus on this in an upcoming Masters degree in Autism.

The book will hopefully appeal to a wide audience, particularly those working in the field of autism and different cultures.

I never would’ve considered myself disabled. I argue that disability, particularly autism, is a societal and contextual matter.   Autistics can have a ‘spiky profile’ with social limitations but at the same time may be of higher than normal intelligence and therefore utilise aspects of their condition for positive means, excelling when alone. A person with no legs is no different from a person with legs, when both are lying down. Taking this discussion as wide as possible, self-acceptance of one’s uniqueness becomes a positive, identifying factor.  Is autism a social phenomenon? I want to know why some autistic people on one hand need to assert their individuality / autism as a strength but at the same time seem to be frustrated with a perceived lack of others’ acceptance of them.  Autism has become a movement, which seems to have some paradoxes…

A disability as complex as autism requires an experiential viewpoint and from people who have lived on both sides of diagnosis.  I present my own experiences and it will be up to the reader to decide if I’m an expert or not.

‘Is God an Autistic?’ is the working title and publication is currently planned for Winter 2017.

Follow my work on Twitter
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All in my mind

Well, I’m going to be an academic again, having been offered a place on the Master’s Degree for Autism Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. It was an interesting process choosing whether to return to Fine Art, do Art Psychotherapy or even an MA in Mindfulness which is now on offer.  You get where I’ve been these last few weeks.  But one thing that’s swayed my decision is that this MA will be about myself. Yep, three years of good old narcissistic gazing into the mirror of my soul, psyche or naval, weather depending..

‘Self as subject’ I heard myself say yesterday to my wife on my way to Prof. Nick Hodge’s inaugural lecture at the Autism Centre, while explaining the reasons for my final decision. Whilst an art student at the same uni, I recall hearing about someone who did a Phd literally about themself, which sounded fascinating, if a little mind-boggling, though  I align very much with the premise that the best form of teaching is by example, which is where the particularity of self-knowledge takes on the universal form, in society.

The point I want to make here is about the sensorially enhanced and metaphysical, shifting nature of the autistic experience, with an urgent quest for selfhood at its heart.  I am driven by the possibility that we each can take part in this quest and work directly with the ineffable nature of life itself.  The ancient Chinese call life-force chi, the Sufis refer to tajalli and the Hindus call it prana or Shakti, and we’re not just discussing electro-magnetic energy!  Each individual human already has the tools, raw materials and laboratory for the alchemy of self-realisation, but it takes knowledge and community to help light the crucible.

Here’s a thought: The opposite of something is nothing.  Nothing exists. Nothing has to exist because something exists…  OK, bear with me. When experience gets too much for an autistic person, when the social environment becomes too much to bear,  they go into ‘meltdown’.  One purpose of meltdown is self-preservation and in an absolute sense it is the final shutting down of social consciousness, which can even result in passing out or types of breakdown, so in effect, the opposite of conscious experience is the unconscious, or is it? What if, during a prolonged overwhelming experience an autistic mind learns to shut down ‘most’ of itself and yet a ‘part’ of the mind (the purely autonomous mind) manages to stay continually conscious, learning to adapt and from a safe viewpoint experientially learns about the constant unpleasantness and the consequent closure of a large ‘part’ of the mind?  My younger brother, may he rest in peace, had this little chant he used to repeat, that went, “Every piece of mind is in a different piece of mind”.  What if being constantly overwhelmed by the senses meant a constant and intelligent battle for survival emerged from a whole new ‘mind’?   What would that new-age autistic warrior look like?

I escape from the intensity of my surroundings increasingly since a child, using a variety of methods and writing my life-story from the autistic point of view is helping me understand them all.  Storytelling is crucial to a healthy life and our the rich, symbolic wisdom of stories is everywhere in our ancient cultures. Working chronologically I find I’ve arrived at the recent past and it’s starting to feel complicated because now I must write a true reflection of the experience of this nothingness.  To me, nothingness is where everything disappears, it is the abode of indescribable bliss and paradoxically, emptiness ‘becomes everything’.  I’ve continued to develop and evolve meditation practices for thirty-five years and as a young child would involuntarily live in ‘other worlds’ as a young neuroatypical person.  This isn’t a rare phenomenon and most people can relate to unusual inner experiences, particularly as children, prior to too many layers of conditioning.  Artists attest to being a conduit for ‘another power’ and the seer, medium or shaman might recall little from a trance because they weren’t ‘present’.  Both are voluntary acts of surrender.  An emergence from this nothingness must inevitably occur and here’s where we return to self-knowledge in the societal context.

Shakti – the primordial cosmic energy.

I read somewhere the autistic person has a regard for the truth as holy*.  Living entirely in a domain of heightened sensitivity is a constant inner struggle (this is the true meaning of the Arabic word jihad). Expanding self-knowledge aided by methods like Mindfulness is ammunition and victory over malignant spirits, from a cacophony of interchanging parallel worlds is rewarded by holistic alignment, inner peace, freedom from unnecessary guilt, and gratifying acceptance of the truth.

The battle continues.

 

*Quote: Sif S. Stewart-Ferrer

Conscious Art

'Fear of Other People'. (2007)
‘Fear of Other People’. (2007)

Consciousness creates constantly. You are continually, consciously perceiving, interpreting and creating meaning.  Therefore consciousness & creativity are constants and preside before anything else., except that which presides before anything else.

In the realm of art, in whatever medium, consciousness is of course extremely important, even crucial.

The painting pictured here took around 30 minutes.

I spent a whole year on a single painting once, without realising all I really, ultimately needed was to get out of the way and become a mere conduit for a ‘higher’ art… a higher consciousness.   When I look at that painting, it does feel somehow satisfyingly ‘real’ to me as something of that era in my life was unintentionally transmitted onto the canvas through the brush and colours.

I’m very interested in how art can connect with, and be a celebration of, the absolute and pure source of all creation, residing in and with each one of us.

Here’s a few more of my artworks.

Below is one of a series of workshops I designed and ran in schools and galleries.

My Sacred Identity – School Workshop.

How do you blog the present?

Spontaneous activity is what fascinates me the most.  Being ‘in the zone’ writing for others to read is an interesting idea.  The question of a book or a blog is how much weight of the original essence or the immediacy, does it carry? It’s the same with any art form and I studied this academically and experiencially at university (although I’m not sure we came up with any answers!) I do have a 4ft square painting hanging in my lounge which took me the best part of the whole of the first year on my degree, whilst I searched for the spark… it stands as a testimony for the search but how much of the ‘spirit’ of that search?  My final piece of the whole degree was a collection of video clips of people in the town centre staring into the camera. I’d also experimented with public ‘interventions’ such as randomly introducing myself to people or unreeling a cotton reel down a busy shopping precinct and consequent interaction with strangers, this uncovered something of the social and empathic in me.

After emerging from meditation, which I just have, I feel writing is a satisfying and useful medium to express spontaneity, merely because one’s nature is more spontaneous, this being the goal of meditation; to be free from concept and relativity. I have tried vlogging these moments but immediacy on video somehow gets confusing for me or it’s just too crude and live-streaming has already offered us a window into the worlds of the less sophisticated.

So we’re left with the age old problem of capturing time.   As a kid I recall conversations with my brother around time’s elusiveness, “Come back second!’ we’d laugh.  An art form must somehow embody something eternal, even if the message is about transience or temporality.

One thing I deduced from my reflection earlier is that it’s not totally futile to try to pass on the spirit of peace, love and tranquility cultivated in a sitting aimed at transcendence..

All states pass and all art can do is honour the total powerlessness of itself.

Livestream anyone….?

Om Shanti.

Meditation makes you happy.

Meditation doesn’t change life.  Life remains as fragile and as unpredictable as ever.  Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is.  It teaches the heart to be more accommodating; not by beating it into submission, but by making it clear that accommodation is a gratifying choice” – Sylvia Boorstein

“Our notions of happiness entrap us.  We forget that they are just ideas.  Our idea of happiness can prevent us from actually being happy.  We fail to see the opportunity for joy that is right in front of us when we are caught in a belief that happiness should take a particular form” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Know God

Single pointed, focussed, concentrated, aligned, harmonious, absolute, humble, singular purpose and annihilated separation into unity and submission and acceptance with all.

Do you think you can reach such a state?

That thought is your faith.

Know God. It’s going to be ok.

Unconditional Friendliness: A Retreat

Unconditional Friendliness: A Retreat led by Zohar Lavie.
Whirlow Spirituality Centre, Sheffield.  24th & 25th September 2016

It’s 9pm and the retreat finished four hours ago.  Here are some notes I wrote during it.

Day 1.

I am not my job.
I am more than my business.
I have much more to offer.
I wish to be of real service.
The aware breath is the pure breath.
I wish to teach the dharma.

  1. Intention to Focus
  2. Attention on breath/body.
  3. Observe/acknowledge distraction and return to no.1

Then, it is all kindness to self.

The Four Immeasurables.

  1. Metta; Unconditional friendliness
  2. Karuna; Compassion
  3. Mudita; Joy
  4. Upekkha; Equanimity

Attitudes / acknowledge suffering; whatever is happening is the training ground – Life is all.  Reveal the true nature.  Watering the seed / nourishing the conditions to grow (small experiences are as important).Metta: we are all share at the core wanting to be happy.

Consciousness is a constant / Gom (Meditation; Tibetan)

I am in the world, not of it.  These practices are more appropriate for today’s society.

Karuna (Pali); compassion or ‘quivering of the heart’ (pain etc.) comes from or with the two; Acceptance and ‘wishing different’.  Discernment is required.

Day 2.

Gathering | Insight | Cultivation.
Samadhi: Gathering / concentration
Vipassana: Insight / Seeing clearly
Bavhanna: Cultivation / helping to nourish

Meditation: Everything is held. “Keep quiet” – Papaji.

Mudita

Appreciative joy.  Gratitude. (opposite: negativity bias).  Active Delight (not passive) eg. gifts / making others happy.  There is no separation.

Happiness: Suka – that which comes with ease (spontaneity). Science has shown even the relief of getting something (as opposed to the actual getting it) can be the cause of happiness.

Our relationship to that which comes with ease…

Sigh (of relief) – is a sign it’s not all about me.  Compassion and pain are very close.

The Glass Mask

The Glass Mask is a tool but ofttimes an incumbrance.

We all wear our personality traits (masks) and behave in special ways for different people, in different circumstances and in different social contexts and cultures. A measure of this would be to ask yourself how relaxed and open you were with the neighbour you don’t really get along with, or a store assistant. We have social norms and the way you behave with your spouse won’t be the same way you behave with your work colleagues. These masks, which are a major part of our psychology, we design not to disguise our total self but to ‘play a part’ of ourself in order to make things run more smoothly and efficiently, to get what we want and at the same time help maintain a functioning society.

The Glass Mask is a term that I came up with to describe the sensation or phenomenon of the continuous mask wearing that, an autistic person (in particular one with Aspergers, like me) might use in order to cope and maintain smooth functioning with the world at large. With the very unpredictable and usually heightened sensory stimulation an autistic person experiences, a constant coping mechanism develops; a glass mask. This could imply that the person, in wearing a mask constantly, is never their real self (whatever that maybe) but that is not the case. You can ‘see the person’ through the mask (and they can see you of course) but as the passive observer you may notice a slight unusualness about them; an odd, perhaps ungrounded-ness or intensity as the mask (and the person) does its best to maintain equilibrium in the sensory circus, which is the mind of the autistic.

For the person wearing the glass mask, a struggle is taking place. The unpredictable fluctuations of the levels of sensory input being received and transmitted by the brain means a constant guardedness is needed. Removing the mask would leave the person open to reveal extraordinary levels of brain activity, which could damage the circumstance and upset the relationship. Leaving it on, as strange and usually very tiring it may be, they know they aren’t being fully them self. This is the dichotomy of the mask; it is a simple yet profound coping mechanism, which is constant, but for some of the time (when brain activity is stable) it is an incumbrance.

Behind the transparency, looking out, there is a real person and like many people, often cautious and vulnerable. Mask-wearers are usually very perceptive and have the ability to spot other mask-wearers; they hold sincerity and truth in very high regard.

The beauty of the mask is also it’s transparency. If you look at an autistic person closely with the right eyes in the right moment, you might see through the mask and be rewarded in seeing a real, sincere and special (as we all are in reality) human being. In so doing you may even play a part in aiding them, for just a moment, to discard the glass mask.

Check this video out I just came across.  Intriguing stuff and a great tune.