News

The following are announcements and commentary from the institute regarding issues in the news and new developments at the institute. The commentary represents the opinions of individuals in the institute and this is identified in the by line.

Walls of the body and Walls of the mind: a good idea?

By Simon Bell

I have been suggesting the use of short stories as a means to engage individuals and groups in a considered appreciation of their context, issues and concerns. Take a look at earlier blogs on the news section of the site. Here is another one for you to try. This one focuses on the issue of walls. These seem to me to be of particular concern to us right now.

You will need about 20 minutes in order to engage in the process.

I suggest that you place the story in a mindful setting. So, settle down in a comfortable place and take a few seconds to control your breathing, focusing on the in-breath and the out-breath. Give this a couple of minutes.

When you feel calm and your breathing is steady, read the story and let it seep into your mind, and then, look at the questions which follow:

Insulation

“At least it’s nice and warm”. And it was true. It was nice and warm. The insulation had done the trick. Marvelous stuff. It had really been a terrific purchase. The advertisement had promised a lot, but they were really not disappointed: ‘Stop all those terrible drafts’, ‘Keep out the odious odors’, and ‘Why put up with it?’, ‘Just shut them out and shut them up!”. These had been four of the most powerful headlines which had finally encouraged them to part with their hard-earned cash and get properly insulated with ‘Insular Abyss’. To be insulated was just so cool (no pun intended). The world was such a cold place nowadays. Since the ‘Event’, temperatures had been tumbling year after year and, well, a person had to take care. This was just a great way to do that. It felt terrific to be able to say: “I am insulated”. Of course, they did not get out much nowadays and had to rely on social media as the primary, well only, means to let the neighbors know. Come to think of it, the neighbors were not really the kind of people who they wanted to be in touch with right now. Actually, it was a good thing that the insulation was what the saleswoman’s avatar had called ‘Deep-cavity-abyss-filling’. That meant that the insulation was not just a way to keep out the cold. It was also guaranteed to keep out all of the other stuff too! It insulated “cross-spectrum” and: “deep social”. Great. No more need to listen to those whining voices and opposing views. And the awful smell! Was that because of the Event as some said or was it, well, you know. Personal? Anyway, safely insulated there was every chance that they would never, ever have to listen to, see or smell that kind of thing again. Or look at things which they did not want, or like. Or even maybe not like or maybe not want. Better to be safe than sorry. And, at least it’s nice and warm!”

Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story?

What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold for you? There may be many meanings which occur to you but for now try to prioritise just one.

When you feel clear on this, read the next question:

Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you?

How does the story impact on your life and your challenges right now? Why is it important to you at this point in your life? What element emerges as being most relevant?

Again, give yourself time to think of your response and when you feel prepared try the next question:

Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story. What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier?

Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are set try this:

Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you?

Finally:

Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence?

Give yourself a little time to let the ideas emergent from the story and your review settle down. I wonder how it will affect your day? You may like to swing through these five questions two or three times. Each time you may get to a deeper level of meaning and this could result in deepening senses of relevance, value, insight and action.

Flourishing with Groups. A Subliminal Story for Group Self-Enquiry

By Simon Bell

The Subliminal Stories were originally written intended for use in group contexts. They are a device for prompting a group which is managing some change process or event to begin to think about this issue by externalising the key feature(s) to a fiction or story which can in turn prompt new lines of thinking.

Try this group act of Mindful self-enquiry.

Assuming that you have some authority over the process, gather your group – you will all need at least an hour to run through this exercise.

When the group is settled and prepared to listen (a little time spent in mindful silence is very helpful) read the following story to the group. Read clearly but in an engaged and engaging manner. Try not to sound preachy.

Pole

A vast blue-sky is nailed like a dirty cloth over the burnt landscape of rolling dunes, rocky outcrops and withered vegetation. The sun, not a sphere but a painful centre of brighter and brighter sharpness hangs vertically overhead, slit in the cloth, blazing down painfully on the captive panorama which has forgotten the feel and touch of rain. The burning heat flat-irons everything below and the tiny dots of occasional, lonely, circling birds, high overhead show no inclination to explore the lifeless enormity. Best to circle and circle and move on to some place where life may at least have potential.

In the centre of our view there is a discordancy to the endless backdrop of heat, haze and limitless aridity, of people-less, life-less, point-less land; a pole.

You have seen them in a thousand locations. They are the familiar of roadside and street corner. Ranging in ranks over hillsides, cascading in profusion over suburbs, stalking up steep ravines and lost in ubiquity on the cities main drag. They carry the cables and dishes which bring the power and news, Netflix and HBO, telephone and Skype to the lives of billions. They profuse from their birth home in the industrial north, all the way to the hopeful south, the rising east and the meditative west. They are everywhere.

So, why not here?

In all the places of the fractured world, this is one not instantly consistent to the idea of pole. The place is too empty of life, too distant from interest, too desolate of content. Pole means many things totally inconsistent to the context here revealed. Pole means activity and action, people in vehicles and yellow jackets, instruments of mechanical agency, rhythmic noises of artifice and a purpose to fulfil a project, a process a task.

Purpose, project and task are anathema to this place.

And yet the pole remains, a contradiction to context and a jarring contrast to the natural, burning chaos all around. Perpendicular with precision, it seems to look out with authority over the surrounding land. Somehow the pole is the centre of it all, this latest addition, new and tarry, dwarfed and absurd; it seems to dominate the meaning of all else that provides the backdrop for its enduring verticality. An un-deviating seven metre line in a line-less place, stretching to eternity.

When the story has been read, allow a minute or so for the ideas to settle and merge with the busy thoughts of the members of the group. When you feel ready, ask the group for responses to these questions:

  • In general terms, what do the members of the group consider to be the main meaning of the story? The group will provide a number of insights here but find a way to choose just one for now.
  • How is this meaning relevant to the current situation facing the group? What does the meaning say about the current situation facing the group. When you have some clarity about this consider the next question.
  • What value can the group gain from this relevance and these thoughts? Value here may mean, ideas about the group’s situation, a prompt to do something or an idea about what might be important to avoid.
  • What insights emerge in terms of the value and the group’s tasks? At this point the group can flesh out the value thought as an insight to action. This usually means that the group decides upon some priority to tackle next. Finally;
  • What action does the group wish to explore as a consequence? Deciding upon an emergent action is often the trickiest part of the process. What can, should and could be done in the light of the insight?

It is almost always good to finish the consideration of the story with a period of silence and mindful ‘letting go’ of the outcome. It is surprising to me how often and silence and ‘sign off’ at the end of a thinking process can provide a potent catalyst to what ever follows.

If your group repeats the exercise it can be helpful to see if the initial meanings and interpretations for action change and deepen. Keep an action plan if action is now suggested. Certainly, note down the responses to the questions from the group. Return to these answers periodically and see how the response changes. Responses and actions can be monitored and assessed over time.

Keep your Spirit Level: a Mindful Use of Subliminal Stories

By Simon Bell

At the Bayswater Institute we make use of short stories as a means to engage individuals and groups in a considered appreciation of their context, issues and concerns. We find that stories provide a powerful means for self-examination. The fictions engage a kind of back-door to the things that concern us. They can provide a powerful means to start a conversation with yourself about the things that may be upsetting you or just causing you angst.

Here is an example for you to try.

You will need about 20 minutes in order to engage in the Subliminal Stories process.

I suggest that you place the story in a mindful setting. So, settle down in a comfortable place and take a few seconds to control your breathing, focusing on the in-breath and the out-breath. Give this a couple of minutes.

When you feel ready, let your mind wander over the issues of your day, the thoughts of the moment and your main concerns. Try not to hang onto any of these elements, just try to let your mind wander, like a bird flying over a great landscape of trees and mountains. All of it is important but it is all below you. Stretching out. No single element is necessarily more important than any other part.

When you feel calm and your breathing is steady, read the story below, The Walk. Read it carefully and try not to judge the content too quickly. Let the story seep into your mind.  and then, look at the questions which follow:

The Walk

“You regularly walk. You like to walk and there is always a good reason to indulge yourself. A walk can be for a variety of reasons. You walk maybe to work or to see friends.

Today the route is well known to you, held in muscle-memory and repeatable almost with your eyes closed. Parts of the walk are really pleasant. Vistas of park, trees, well-thought out housing developments with good combinations of different kinds of dwelling. The people you see seem to belong and to know that this is ‘their’ place. You do not feel like a stranger. You are sharing their neighbourhood, but it might as well be your own. A walk among familiar homes.

But, parts of this particular walk are more mysterious. At times your leisurely pace quickens. In some parts you walk a little quicker. In these districts you have not looked around, tending to keep your eyes in front. You have not looked down all the side streets, but you have glimpsed dark and curious buildings and there are shops which seem to have no obvious purpose. There is one shop in particular.

It is on the corner of a particularly shady side street. Is it even a shop? Well, when it first caught your attention you noticed it because it stood out in strangeness, darkly against the shadow. it has a shop window and a shady, glass door but there is no writing above the window and the interior is so dark it is hard to make out anything in the dim light.

You don’t know why but one day you are a little ahead of your schedule and your curiosity is peeked. Deliberately turning down the side street you stand in front of the glass frontage. Now you are here you notice that there seems to be a blue flickering light deep inside the interior and, as you shade your eye to look more intensely, you can see weakly lit the outlines of mysterious shapes. Statues of curious design, mirrors reflecting back the blue light onto paintings or hangings, tables littered with un-guessable objects and stands providing space for shadowy curios. You would like to go in but you are not even sure it is a shop let alone if it is open. You hurriedly retrace your steps back to your habitual path.

Each time you pass you ask yourself if you will be brave enough on this occasion to stop and enter, each time you don’t.

Then, one particularly dark and dreary day, when the rain is saturating, as you pass, you see that that the shop door stands open. Without thinking you turn from your usual route and enter.” 

Now, take a moment to breath and reflect and, with the story still fresh in your mind, read and consider your responses to each of the following questions:

Question 1. What is the main meaning of the story? – What message or core or essential meaning does the story hold? There may be many meanings which occur to you but, for now just think of one.

When you are ready. Read the next question:

Question 2. How is this meaning of relevance to you? How does it impact on your life and your challenges right now. Why is it important? Again, give yourself time to think of your response and, when you are ready try the next question:

Question 3. Think about what is the main value that you can draw from this relevance of the story. What does this value bring to the concern you identified earlier? Don’t rush your response. Take time to think about the value. The word ‘value’ is an interesting word. What do we value and what of value is here? When you are ready try this:

Question 4. What insight does the identified value provide for you? Finally:

Question 5. What action might you engage with as a consequence?

When you have considered what you might do next, spend a couple of minutes just breathing and thinking about nothing at all.

See what changes this day as a result of thinking about the story.