Workshops in Attention Training for Social Change


This is a training adapted for the needs of social change in the 21st century. It looks at how we hold this space we call “we” and how we can function more effectively in it.

by Anna Betz & Andy Paice

Up until quite recently little attention has been given to awareness itself in the context of group situations and how we humans hold this inter-subjective space. Philosophical and contemplative traditions from both East and West have tended to focus efforts on realizing the nature of one’s own, personal subjective experience. Likewise the realm of politics has been dominated by hierarchical styles of governance based on individualistic expertise.

The Occupy movement has demonstrated on so many levels that we are amidst something of a cultural shift away from “me” and “my” concerns towards “we” and the concerns of people in general. This movement is also showing its capacity to unite the domains of ‘inner’ meditative change with ‘outer’ social action. This new context gives rise to the necessity for an updated form of attention training that explores our styles of interaction so that we can move forwards with cohesion and effectiveness in creating social change.

How can we facilitate workshops (and indeed any group activity) in which everyone experiences themselves as a teacher or leader?

One wonderful emerging quality within the movement is the fact that individuals are sensing their own capacity to offer something to everyone. The whole domain of education has been restricted to a structure based on certification and “expertise.” Whilst this system does have certain advantages and qualities it often fails to acknowledge that everyone has a unique life experience which when shared can be a source of knowledge and benefit for everyone.

For Occupy the difficulty however can be in creating shared spaces, assemblies and workshops in which our contributions are motivated to further the movement and society as a whole rather than getting bogged down in egotistical agendas. Working together for social change is likely to be ineffectual if we as individuals are not prepared to bring awareness to our habitual ways of seeing and thinking and our routines of interacting with others that have been programmed throughout our lives.

If we are to nourish the healthy growth of what is of real value to everyone, our sharing has to come from a place beyond self-interest and ego. This is where attention training can be of value.

On an individual level, through attention, we simply become more attuned with what is. The next step is that collectively we can share experienced truths. By sensing into the essence of our experience and sharing those truths with others, we can express ourselves in ways that are immediately felt by others as being truly authentic.

The role of a facilitator is then simply to prevent the flow of conversation from falling off track and remaining focused on what really wants to emerge and be shared by the circle.

In this way we can discover the value of what we say by the way others engage with it. If it is of real value, it will be passed around the circle and grow every time someone engages with the conversation. If it comes from self-interest alone, the response or lack of it in the circle will make it evident that it came from a smaller perspective.

Only that which is impersonal and beyond egotistical concerns will encourage everyone to actively engage rather than be content with being the passive consumer of someone else’s truths.

This kind of attention training can only take place when we share experiences that go beyond ones separate personal experience or concern with oneself.

How can we share something from our own personal experience that is valuable to everyone – to the Whole? What makes it valuable? Is it me or is it the experience that I am sharing? How do I discern what is of value to the whole and what is simply my desire to speak about myself? It seems paradoxical because without ‘me’ the experience wouldn’t have even happened but the ‘me’ wasn’t the important part of the experience. When our attention is attuned not only to the personal but also to the Whole our expression gains in depth and appropriateness. In this case we are functioning more as a channel from a deeper perspective which we shape and connect to the present moment. Our words connect our own energy with that of others.

Attention training is something which requires regular practice with in group situations. For the muscle to become a strong and natural part of our being, it needs to be stretched and challenged so that we get to a point in which we naturally switch on our attention button and fall into a larger perspective, beyond ego.

A whole new world is waiting for us, to be birthed through us. How we communicate with each other will be of vital importance in this birthing.

Questions to share:

Workshops of Attention Training for social change have been taking place in Occupy London. The following question came up in the last workshop as being one of the commonly experienced challenges for those involved in the occupy movement. We’d like to use this opportunity to engage in a generative conversation with readers.

• Does this sound familiar? – Losing focus of what we set out to do and ending up feeling frustrated having not achieved anything tangible and useful for the Whole except finding ourselves submerged reading large amounts of online material that we don’t know what to do with.

• What ways can we work with our attention and what methods are there to deal with the common challenge of getting carried off in endless directions when working online?

Any suggestions or comments would be great and potentially useful to Occupy as a whole!

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Categories: Inner Work, UK

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