As an academic institution, there’s no way we can get away from some degree of conformity, especially if the material being covered is hands-on. Students have to be in class on time or they miss the intention of the class and distract other students when they get there. Teachers have to keep attendance records so that the Department of Education feels OK about the loans and grants they give to help with tuition and so on and so on. There are ways, as mentioned in the last entry, to use the imposed structure as the springboard into the inquiry experience and the beginnings of self-empowerment. I used the metaphor of how a flute provides the structure for wind to become music when you blow on it. Let’s look at a couple of examples of how conformity events can actually be converted to inquiry events with a little creativity.
Upon application to our school students are required (by the state) to submit a biographical sketch in order to provide information about who they are, a description that might be relevant to the process of deciding whether or not they would be an acceptable candidate for attending our program. Since we have an open enrollment policy, questions that would affect a candidate’s actual acceptability, i.e. mental health or criminal history, are asked elsewhere in a direct manner, so the sketch really fits the classic definition of a conformity event. We’ve tried to convert this into an inquiry event by asking them to address their intentions, expectations, strengths, weak points, etc. We also ask individuals to describe themselves as they believe someone else might see them. To write the sketch, the inquiry process at least has to begin. How much a student puts into it is really up to them but we have begun the process of providing a space for the student to question and learn about themselves.
Another example is the test taking procedure. We have to conform to the necessity of testing our students. It’s a state requirement, but a test can be a hoop to jump through and prove you have conformed in the way desired, or it can be something that helps clarify and focus the material in such a way that understanding is more probable or at least possible. We may take the test in class or at home. It may done with books open or closed. The students may be expected to help each other for a particular test or part of a test. We then go over and grade the test in class. Each student grades their own test. This gives the student the opportunity to become clear about which areas need more attention, and if a student doesn’t do as well as they think they should they have the opportunity to take the test or something like it again.
I could go on, but the general idea is, when possible we take conformity events and convert them into inquiry events where the students change the rules of the game and begin to set their own standards and learn about themselves.
Another thing we can do to create a space where self-awareness becomes possible, is to set up exercises where little epiphanies or realizations happen. It’s like participating in a certain type of musical event or experiencing a piece of art that has the potency of a transcendent effect where the world stops and you stop existing as a fragment and come into the reality of relationship. The course doesn’t stop with the mechanical skills to apply different types of massage or the anatomical background for those skills. What is really going on is the possibility of self awareness in the context of touch. Massage is elevated to a relationship-based art form. I hope to continue in the next entry to show how, when offered with this intention, touch can be not only a tool for personal growth but a powerful force to change how we relate to the world in a much needed way.