Creative Discussion using Plain Pair Groups

Creative Discussion – a key to insight and change

William Plain
Emeritus Professor, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies

Plain Pair Group Teaching (Plain PGT)
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Plain Pair Group Discussion (Plain PGD)
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A flash of insight is the spark of cosmic intelligence.
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Awareness Training in Learning and Teaching

Chapter 6

A paradigm for awareness


The awareness training process

It is difficult and perhaps even misleading to make a distinction between ‘awareness’ and ‘awareness training’. It could be said that the former is concerned with the faculty of awareness within the person who is practising it, while the latter is the means by which that awareness is acted upon by another person, in this case in the role of lecturer. There is however some difficulty in proposing such a watertight separation into two distinct areas.

Awareness is a very personal experience which has specific characteristics for each and every individual. Unlike many skills or ‘knowledges’ which can be characterised, calculated, averaged and described as (more or less) equal for each person, awareness responds with extreme reluctance to such treatment. It is possible to teach content and have a general idea of the form that takes in the mind of the receiver. You can train for a particular skill, and the observation of its practice can demonstrate the fact that it is roughly equal for most people. Awareness however is more like the eddies and whirls in a turbulent current. A certain pattern can always be recognised as such, but it seems to come from different and unpredictable directions and take on shapes and forms that are never the same from one moment to the next, even in the same individual. Awareness training then cannot be seen as a form of input, it cannot be supplied on a platter. Awareness training rather can be recognised as a form of stimulation by the lecturer of internal processes that are specific to the individual he has before him.

While the lecturer can appear, even to himself, to be isolated from his student when engaged in an awareness training activity and to be himself unchanged by such a process, it becomes apparent that awareness training – when practised at a certain depth in any case – calls for and automatically involves the functioning of awareness within the lecturer himself. He is not imparting a static knowledge or capacity that he has stored inside himself, but rather is including the class within the sphere of the dynamic activity of the ongoing process of awareness that is taking place within himself.

“The ceiling of learning is set by .. what the teacher is learning at that moment. .. The teacher is learning the students and the students are learning the language, ... (in Gattegno’s terms) ‘putting on spectacles to see learning’.” (Adrian Underhill)

This is also the difficulty with specifying rules for the teaching of awareness. Just as the action of awareness within the individual student will vary from person to person and from moment to moment, so also the mode by which this awareness is stimulated by another will be in a state of continual modification. The lecturer can in fact use similar and even identical activities to ‘teach’ awareness, but each person before him will react in a very individual and virtually uncontrollable way to such activities. In order to obtain a direct ‘link’ to the student, the lecturer must act out of his own state of awareness. This seems to constitute a fundamental factor in the dynamics of awareness training.

In order to illustrate this ‘direct link’ between teacher and student I would like to refer to my personal interpretation of one aspect of a book on Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) by Bandler and Grinder. In reading Frogs into Princes (1979), it seems that the authors are describing a series of techniques which use similar theoretical principles to those used in awareness training and Action Science. This is especially the case with their reference to ‘reframing’ (1979:160) and models. (NLP however would seem to be based more on a form of manipulation on the part of the therapist rather than taking awareness as requiring the exercise of a very personal and fundamental form of inner freedom.) At first reading everything seemed clear and apparently declared. However at a certain point I started to develop a personal interpretation of the book, a reading between the lines, that said that a good part of what is actually written on paper (or said to the audience – the book is a transcript) does not represent what was happening at all. It appears rather that the effects that they had on their clients (or subjects from the audience) was the effect of a very direct form of hypnosis. This hypnosis however was not hypnotic induction carried out by a hypnotist who was himself in a normal state of beta consciousness. The hypnotist himself was in a very specific state of quasi-hypnotic consciousness and seemed to transfer that state to the other, partly by his words and actions, but just as much by the fact that he himself was already in precisely the state that he wished to induce in the other, and could not have done so, as effectively at least, if he were not.

In my own teaching I regularly make use of ‘imagination’ pauses, either as a means of introducing a reflective pause on work already done in that class, or as a lead-in to a specific activity. I have often noted that if I myself am not in an appropriate state of relaxation, alpha state or what have you, then many students do not respond appropriately. If however, I ‘feel my state of consciousness into the others’, the result can be startlingly different.

I feel that there is an analogy here between this particular aspect of NLP and awareness training, in that this state must be generated in the classroom by the active awareness of the teacher at that moment. There is a form of active participation in that state ‘floating round the room’, and each student is able to take from it according to his own needs and capability at that particular moment. There seems in a way to be a breaking down of the barriers of individuality that separate each person into an island of consciousness, and a form of trans-personal awareness field is created. In this way the lecturer can be seen as producing something which is individualistically tuned to the need of each student. He himself may not be consciously aware of this, but it may well be a form of ‘collective field of self’ (this concept is developed further on p. 60) which does it for him.


The inner structure of awareness

The discussion in the previous chapters has led to the view that ‘skilled’ practice of awareness training is characterised by a ‘certain intangible quality’ and ‘timeliness’ (see p. 27). This seems to imply two main factors which I would like to discuss further, viz. a form of ‘transpersonal awareness field’ as mentioned above, which in turn would seem to presuppose a creative link to a field of ‘knowingness’ which is not synonymous with the conscious ego. A search for a better understanding of what awareness is and, in a sense, where it comes from, will take this discussion somewhat beyond the bounds of conventional learning theory and practice. I feel however that it is necessary to go a little deeper in an analysis of awareness, in an attempt to throw more light on the issues which have been discussed so far. Although it is not possible at this stage to make strict links between such theoretical enquiry and the very practical concerns of the classroom, I feel that this is a direction in which further research will provide valuable insights for the practical application of awareness training to the fields of higher education and language learning, and offer this, in part as a theoretical conclusion, and in part as an indication of a direction for future research.

In the previous discussion, a central element in awareness training (see p. 40) was seen to be our subjection to established models which determine, often unconsciously, our approach to learning and to teaching, and the need to bring to conscious awareness such limitations. This subjection to paradigmatic limitation however is not restricted to the sphere of learning as discussed in this paper, but applies equally to virtually the whole gamut of education, whether in home, society, school or work-place. Through this process of becoming a member of our society, we slowly become wrapped up in a cocoon comprised of our beliefs, attitudes and ‘knowledges’. It is not often that common man, and even uncommon man, is conscious of the relativity of his mental acquisitions, and while such learning permits him to play out the personal and social roles allotted to him, this whole baggage of memory and the linking structure of thought provides him with a ‘protective shell’ (cocque auto-protectrice de memoires: see Linssen 1976:47). This mental ‘shell’, which is created through the accumulation of memories in the early years of life (see reference to Piaget below, p. 60), represents the conscious ego. The ego is a person’s intimate experience of individuality and social belongingness, yet at the same time deprives him of that link to what is ever new, to creative freedom.

The whole range of human experience then from consciously structured learning, down to rote learning, to attitudes, feelings and presuppositions (conscious or unconscious), and even to the realm of the collective unconscious and its governing archetypes, can all be subsumed under one form or another of conditioning. They are all elements in the binding of man’s consciousness to the old, to structure, to heavy, linear, sequential thought processes. To time and memory as Krishnamurti says (see p. 63).

‘Human experience’ then is the cline of limitation, of structure, while at the same time providing firm roots in the physical essence of human corporeality and the ‘ideic’ expanse of human knowledge. It is also the origin of our well-nigh indissoluble link to human mediocrity. What then is beyond this global structure of human-ness?

When I chose ‘awareness’ as the subject of this paper, I was searching for a way to reach as far up ‘the ladder of convergent thinking’ (see p. xi) as possible in an attempt to generate concepts that could provide as rich a source of useful insights as possible. I tend to see linear analytical thought, or scientific thought (when seen as technical rationality – see quote from Argyris p. 180), as the expression of limitation. All this means the conscious rational mind, the ego, conditioning, and being subject to our models and world views. Just as the successive contributions of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton led us out of an earth-centred view of the universe (see p. 41), many feel we now need a new revolution, a paradigm shift, which in turn can lead us out of the dominant psychological, social and scientific paradigm of the present age and away from our essentially anthropocentric vision of our world.

‘In the New Copernican Revolution .. the individual ego, which has for so long been assumed to be the centre of our inner universes, would be put in its proper position, that is, revolving around the pure Self, the true centre of all consciousness – T.S. Eliot’s ‘Still point of the turning world’.’ (Russell 1984:137)

I feel that concepts such as individualisation, autonomy, creativity, freedom, and (in terms of the practical applicability of the present research) awareness and awareness training, are all terms which help us to reduce our tendency to remain subject to paradigmatic limitation.



Karl Jung seems to provide a valuable means of understanding the process of personal development which is implied in terms such as creativity and awareness. He talks of the process of ‘individuation’ as ‘a sort of hidden regulating or directing tendency at work, creating a slow, imperceptible process of psychic growth (von Franz 1964:161).’

Individuation can be described as a process of psychic growth or evolution through becoming conscious of the normally unconscious or supra-individual processes. This process of personal development is directed by the Self, the ‘totality of the whole psyche .. frequently symbolized by the tree, whose slow, powerful, involuntary growth fulfils a definite pattern (idem p. 161-2).’

It seems that man has always been intuitively aware of the existence of such an inner centre, and the Naskapi Indian of the Labrador peninsula, who lived in isolated family groups, typify the ideal relation between conscious mind and Self. Through his dreams he attempts to bring his consciousness to bear on the Mista’peo, the inner companion or Great Man, who will guide him not only in his inner behaviour but also in his relationship to external ‘practical’ events such as the weather or in his hunting.

The Self then is seen as ‘an inner guiding factor that is different from the conscious personality’ (idem p. 163). The conscious ego is a form of reflection of this inner reality which should have the role of lighting up this central factor and bringing to consciousness the totality of one’s psychic dimension.

‘It seems as if the ego has not been produced by nature to follow its own arbitrary impulses to an unlimited extent, but to help to make real the totality – the whole psyche. It is the ego that serves to light up the entire system, allowing it to become conscious and thus to be realized. If, for example, I have an artistic talent of which my ego is not conscious, nothing will happen to it. The gift may as well be non-existent. Only if my ego notices it can I bring it into reality. The inborn but hidden totality of the psyche is not the same thing as a wholeness that is fully realized and lived.’ (idem p. 163)

One of the basic practices of Jungian (analytical) psychology is concerned with the process of becoming conscious of the archetypical symbols inherent in dreams and thus bringing about a raising to consciousness of the inner wholeness. Jung also introduced the practice of ‘active imagination’ (idem p. 219) as a means of developing a creative link with the Self. I feel that the type of insight generated in the process of individuation has interesting parallels to the spontaneous insight that results from the reflective mode.

‘The process of individuation is real only if the individual is aware of it and consciously makes a living connection with it.’ (idem p. 164)

Just as an awareness of the process of individuation is necessary in order for this process to take on a living functioning reality in the life of the individual, so also is an awareness (a raising to consciousness) of the process of awareness raising itself necessary for creating the ‘mental set’ which would enable this to assume a practical role in our personal and professional life. (Thus the need for students to engage in conscious reflection on the awareness training methods which they experience during the course – see pp. 22-24).

Awareness can be seen as functioning at two (theoretically) distinct levels, the ‘awareness-of’, which is the form of awareness most often applied to the awareness activities element of the classroom, and ‘awareness’, without the ‘of’, which is the point at which ‘awareness-of’ inner processes becomes the process of inner awareness, where the practice of awareness reaches the level of the ‘skilled performance’ or ‘natural, implicit awareness’ of Polanyi (see p. 171). If ‘awareness-in-action’ can be seen as a practical exercising of an awareness capacity (e.g. in the learning and teaching process), then ‘awareness of awareness’ represents that level of skillful reintegration of a higher order skill and the consequent ‘acquisition of artistry’ (see p. 177).

Awareness is a freedom from paradigmatic limitation, a consciousness of the boundaries within which we are held by our world view, and one of the most binding of all such ‘windows on the world’ is an inadequate use of consciousness of self, of the ego. It would appear that while the conscious ego limits the practice of awareness, Jung’s concept of the Self is a means towards a fuller understanding of a more appropriate role of the ego and of the necessary process of ‘decentering’ which is involved in skilled performance of classroom awareness training.



In certain forms of awareness of internal states, in particular those which aid in the process of individuation, the ego consciousness in a certain sense turns back to its source, which is the Self. It may be argued that the Self is the origin of all conscious (and unconscious) activities, yet to the normal conscious mind, it is the external consciousness which is the only one which is present to us. Awareness however is the realisation (sometimes subliminal) that the origin is elsewhere. The process of ‘straight’ acquisition of knowledge or learning hides this fact from us, as it is precisely the external consciousness involved in such learning which appears to be the originating centre, the master. In awareness, the passive ‘seeing’ element then has a ‘return to the sources’ discovering or insightful experience in which we find that which is, rather than inventing that which is not yet.

It is important to see in this respect an approach to awareness raising which calls for a form of decentering or non-ego centred awareness. There is in awareness, and even more in the experience of insight (the flash of genius), the sensation that it is a ‘discovery’ and not an ‘invention’ (Steven Smith). Awareness is something that comes to us from ‘outside’ as it were, with a wholeness and an appropriacy which can only subsequently be analysed. It is not directly the result of analysis, created piecemeal by the thinking mind.

It would appear in a way that what we take to be our normal mode of knowledge and learning tends to be a process of which in a sense we are part, and therefore unconscious of the process itself. We are conscious of the object of our knowledge, but the ego takes itself to be the inner self which is aware of what is happening around it. This misappropriation of the role of the Self, the dimension of inner wholeness, creates an inability to becoming really conscious of what the ego is in fact doing, and of the processes by which it learns and projects its own limitations. By making itself the origin, by seeing itself as being at the centre of its own world view, the conscious ego inhibits itself from seeing the processes by which such knowledge is acquired. Awareness then is necessarily a stepping outside of the ego as an ego centred activity, and placing the ego in the role of lighting up the creative activity of the Self, of realising ‘otherness’ by recognising the origin of the insights that come to us. Awareness implies a form of separation from an ego-centredness and a certain ‘objectivity’ in viewing knowledge and its process of acquisition.

Thus it can be said that awareness of internal processes possesses a certain receptivity element, in that such awareness permits the free action of the real ‘subject’, the Self, of which the apparent self, the ego, is the object, the receiver. What is also very interesting is that in identical fashion, awareness of that which is external to our cranial world also provides a form of receptivity, of experiencing a non-ego subject of which we are the object. While I can accept that something deeper inside me can be the ‘real’ subject, the real knower of my ontological expanses, it is more difficult to see the relevance in this sense of an object (in the physical world or in the world of knowledge) as exercising that ‘I’ role in relation to my ontological field. However the external object is not separate from us. Just as any model within a field of knowledge can never be anything other than a totally arbitrary division of a unitary field which could in fact be divided in any other way imaginable and unimaginable, so also the ‘model’ each of us creates and which he entitles the ‘I’ is nothing but an artificial and entirely arbitrary dividing line drawn between that which is internal to the model and that which is external.

If we reflect just a little it will become clear how difficult it is to draw a consistent line between that which is ‘I’ and that which is not. We accept that our bodies and brains have partaken in a long evolutionary process, which means that virtually every element of our physical structure is shared with all other members of the human species, past and present – and future. Likewise not only our mind but also the deeper strata of our mental ‘contents’ – images, beliefs, archetypes etc – have also come about through a process of evolution and are thus equally shared. It is also evident that the experience of ‘I-ness’ itself is shared, although the boundaries allotted to this phenomenological entity vary considerably from civilisation to civilisation, with the so-called Western civilisation creating an ‘I-ness domain’ which is more exclusive than that of most others.

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