I have three stories about adventures in learning about creativity through direct experience. Embodied learning is experience-based learning that occurs by interacting with subject matter aesthetically, emotionally, and/or physically. In a world dominated by computer screens and pushing buttons, embodied learning is more important than ever. Each story involves accessing knowledge and wisdom via the arts through a “felt sense” or aesthetic knowing – to anchor learning new subject matter.

1. Learning in a virtual space

Creativity, Resilience and Managing Transitions was the first teleclass Cathryn Hrudicka and I hosted.  We wanted the technology to be dead simple, so we avoided webinars and in favour of simple conference calls. If we wanted to show images, we emailed everyone a PDF to look at during the call. We also created a private collaboration space on groupsite.com for people to connect with each other.

We attracted a group of highly accomplished people, most of whom have a creative praxis.  Each week, class participants were given homework, involving various forms of creative expression, to explore different aspects of resilience and transitions.

At first some of the participants complained about homework –which we stressed was voluntary, and then the most extraordinary thing happened. People started posting their dreams, stories, poetry, and art on the group site. Susan Loughrin posted beautiful images she created from  the classes on her blog. We created an atmosphere of safety and intimacy from day one, and as the weeks progressed people  sent each other words of praise and encouragement, creating an atmosphere of empathy and respect.

A sampling of email exchanges between calls:

“Our virtual meetings are like being at a fine dinner.”

“I read every word of your story… it fills me with possibilities that I am not alone in believing that art is a life force like a natural resource. It is sustainable because it is part of our DNA.”

“What if I was to consider “doubt” as a peripheral vision?  a place for it in full light and full consciousness. If in fact doubt is stillness, then of course I will pull it up a chair! Oh but the discomfort of “doubt”!

“Certainly not your every-day conversation with acquaintances.  Thank you everyone for being so open and forthcoming. It has been a privilege to so quickly share our intimate thoughts and fears.  To me it is fascinating that even though we’ve never met, there has been such a high level of trust and respect that I/we are sharing things that (speaking personally) I haven’t shared with anyone else.”

Monique Léger (a dancer) and Suzie Leblanc, (a soprano) collaborated on making a video for their homework assignment. They gave me permission to post it here.

Monique said, “In my resilience are two things: Movement and doing something I’ve never done before. I asked Suzie if she would sing her poem while I danced my hands. I’ve never danced on YouTube!” Their video is called “Love and Doubt.” Watch it here:

I asked Monique to comment on what embodied learning means to her. She says,

If I had to put words in a nutshell to have it float across an ocean I would say that embodiment is about space and trust. Space within and without — asking ourselves questions about our relationship to it, accepting getting silent answers, being patient, and trusting our physical self. So much intelligence lies sleepily here and awakes when given space.

When this intelligence awakes, let it be without judgement. Recognize what judgement feels like and then gently move it to the side for rainy days. The cells in our body have an unlearned intelligence, their own seeped in life force…a bit scary and awkward at first when they awaken but then, what gifts!

I wonder if the depth and breadth of creative expression would have occurred if we were using a webinar platform, instead of conference calling. Would the platform have dictated our behaviour? I’m guessing the lack of technology on the calls freed people to use a full range of media for creative expression.

2. Getting to the heart of collaboration – and ditching PowerPoint.

It was a Friday afternoon, and I was daydreaming about what activities I would use for my workshop on collaboration for managers at Royal Roads University, the following Monday. While browsing through Orchestrating Collaboration at Work, and looking for ideas, I got a flash of insight while reading Todd Siler’s “Searching for genius in all the unexpected places.” The objective of his activity is to foster collaborative learning and problem solving, and to provide an adventure in innovation thinking, using photography. Perfect.

I didn’t have the nerve to ask the school administrator to contact everyone and ask them to bring a camera. I assumed people would have a phone camera. Luckily I was right. My plan was to use the Hatley Park gardens on campus as the medium for learning.

We spent the morning exploring the theory and practice of collaboration in teams and organizations. In the afternoon I sent everyone off in small groups, (3-4 people) to the gardens. They had one hour take photographs that conveyed principles of collaboration.

When they returned to class, we uploaded all the pictures to iPhoto on my Mac, and in five minutes we were looking at a slideshow. Each group explained what the images conveyed about collaboration, and in so doing, we surfaced metaphors, symbols and stories. Their next assignment was to capture the essence of these stories and present a short lesson about an aspect of collaboration.RRU iris

An example:

Characteristics of Collaborative Interactions include:

  • Synergistic behavior
  • Partnership orientation
  • Open space, free flowing ideas, time for reflection
  • Flexible, fluid boundaries
  • Look for brilliance in others
  • Creativity
  • Create a framework to contain chaos
  • Organic

These are some of the images created in the workshop. Can you find these characteristics illustrated or symbolized  by these images?

reflectionWhen I asked participants what they liked best about the day, everyone said the garden activity was their favourite, and I wasn’t even there! It just goes to show what can emerge from facilitating  learning, and getting out of the way.

They also liked that we did not do any fake team-building exercises. Amen to that.


3. An Arts Expedition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

AGO Italia Gallery

While working with clients in Toronto last March, I organized an arts expedition at the AGO with the help of Debra Pickfield, Think Master at Thinkspot.ca. Since we were a small group, we did not ask for permission from AGO to conduct our expedition.

We simply met in the cafeteria, where I gave a slide show on my laptop about points I wanted to make concerning what business leaders can learn from the arts. I then asked the group to define a challenge, (they wanted to know how to create more community engagement with the arts) and we proceeded on our expedition through the contemporary art exhibits to find an answer.

In one example, Anthony Billoni, a Creativity Facilitator from Buffalo NY, came across a sculpture of bird’s nests. Three bird’s nests were arranged on a separate tier inside a glass box, and ranged from what could be a Robin’s nest, to a nest made of found industrial objects, painted black.

Anthony said the nest represented the mess and the sanctuary of an arts community and the egg made him think that new life is possible if the community is able to hold the nest together.

Our group also sat down to talk about the meaning of an abstract painting and what its message might be.  We could have spent hours looking, reflecting and finding meaning in the various pieces of art, but we only reserved 2 hours for our expedition –too short. As one participant said, it was “kind of hectic frenetic kinetic.”

I hope these stories will inspire you to be more adventurous in your learning, to use your environment in new ways, and to make it a practice to embody learning using artistic forms of expression.

Learn more about creating learning adventures in your organization here.