Friday, March 27, 2009

In the Moment

During my training in Socratic Seminars, there was a phrase that still echoes in my mind, holding much deliberate relevance to an almost intuitive understanding of the learning process: "Stay in the moment." I am currently reading Oliver Sacks book, Musicophilia, and have encountered the following concerning music: "Listening to music is not a passive process but intensely active, involving a stream of inferences, hypotheses, expectations, and anticipations..." Shortly after, Sacks refers to the work of Victor Zuckerkandl who writes in Sound and Symbol, " Hearing a melody is hearing, having heard, and being about to hear, all at once." In my mind, these three thoughts are all interrelated and imperative to an understanding of the workings of the mind with regard to learning, though not exclusively so.

When one is in the moment of listening, studying, engaging in dialogue, or playing a piece of music (and on this latter I am surmising for although I have long played the guitar, I am far from being an accomplished musician), one is drawing on past knowledge while simultaneously confronting the information of the moment and anticipating the next moment. To "stay in the moment" was, without a doubt, a call not to allow the remembrances of things past or the anticipation of things yet to come to distract one from the now, the moment of occurrence. However, I now suggest that staying in the moment does suggest that one will be simultaneously aware of the now, the then, and the yet to be, but that such awareness occurs perhaps subconsciously as a mental process. "Staying in the moment," in the here and now, is a means of suspending the intrusion of memory and anticipation to experience what is being seen, heard, felt with greater poignancy, deepening the experience and leading to learning--if one accepts that learning emerges first from experience.

I am reminded of a passage from Anne Rice's book, Interview with the Vampire (a most excellent read that surprised me with nearly every turn of the page). I can only summarize the passage here--for I am staying in the moment and loathe to run off to find the passage, fearing that I might lose my way in my thinking. In the book, the author wrote how the one vampire (I apologize for not remembering the names--It has been several years since I read the text.) listened to the other vampire the way we always hoped someone would listen to us, not waiting to pounce on the next pause but hearing every word while also sensing the tone of the words, the timbre of the voice, the intonation of the eyes and facial features. It was listening as if what was being said was important. And THAT is what each of us longs for in being heard. And THAT is what it means to stay in the moment.

Similarly, when one is speaking or writing--as I am doing here at 4 a.m. (I don't care what time it says this posts. I'm up early.)--when one is speaking or writing, one must concentrate to stay in the moment, to hear his own words and weigh their import--knowing vaguely where one wants to go, remembering vaguely where one has been, but focusing for the moment on where one is. In Sacks book, he writes how in performance the multi-dimensional awareness helps us to move through the performance. Knowing simultaneously where we have been and where we are going helps us to deal with where we are. If we were to think too intently upon each individual step we take, we might find ourselves unable to walk.

I distinguish this from the staying in the moment advocated in Socratic Seminars and in learning relative to finding one's way on stepping stones to cross a creek. If I have crossed that creek a hundred times, I am likely not to break stride but to step lightly from stone to stone to find myself on the other side without a second thought. But encountering the creek for the first time, I am much more cautious and likely to slip and end up wet to my knees. And THAT is staying in the moment.

So what? Allow me to suggest an action. Listen, not waiting for the next pause so that you may pounce upon the conversation and demand the attention of those you are talking at, but the way you want people to listen to you. Whether you are listening to your students, to parents, to colleagues, to your children, or to your spouse, listen. Then, when it is time to speak, begin by restating what you have heard so that the other person can know that you have listened, then speak. This brings up another cliche from Socratic Seminar training: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

From time to time...choose to stay in the moment.

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