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.
Small group sharing of insight can change the pattern of human intelligence.

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Insight to Earthsight

It seems that there is a central core element to many of the problems we face, in many areas. Universities and education generally face lowering standards, young people face decreasing job opportunities, entire nations face lower standards of living, the planet faces virtual depletion of many of its resources, including the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the atmosphere which protects us. On the other hand there are areas of plenty. The population continues to expand, corporate globalisation is spreading to cover the entire planet, all forms of pollution abound, etc.

All of these problems are similar in one important aspect. We have less and less of what we need, and more and more of what we could well do without. But what about their solution? Is there a simple answer to each of these problems?

Each of these areas presents such a complex array of causes and effects, that any attempt to provide an answer is fraught with extreme difficulty. The problems themselves continue to evolve, showing that attempts to date have not provided a solution.

Does that mean that no solution can be found, that no answers have already been found? I don’t believe so. Rather it seems that those who find an answer keep it to themselves, not to hide it, but rather because they know no one will listen to them. They find an answer that is valid within their own lives, but because both the source of the answer and the application to their situation are within the realm of the personal, the answer cannot be taught or transferred, it cannot therefore be publicised, made part of the curriculum, or sold. But the answers are available to each individual, from one’s own personal resources, it does not have to be created, it pre-exists, it is there to be discovered, to be seen, to be understood.

The problems we face are not individual, they are collective – even our apparently personal problems are largely caused by our insertion in the collective. Problems arise within the complex local and global networks of interactions which are both influenced by our collective decisions and create the very world within which we live.

However, there is an underlying personal component which often goes unnoticed, this is the fact that each individual is the interface both to the collective world within which problems arise and propagate, and to something intangible yet real, the source of all that we are, both personal and collective.

It seems that when we look for an answer, at a certain moment it presents itself to us, preformed and immediate, as flash of insight, not created, and not really discovered, for we did not set out to search for it. Rather it is there, the mind opens for a moment, and we see, we understand. It may then take considerable time to work out the details and their application, but the whole answer is present to our minds in one moment of seeing. It seems there is a something that can never be the object of our mental gaze, but is rather the subject of our inner space, looking through our eyes as it were.

Such a ‘field of knowing’ does not inhere in any specific level of being, it is neither personal, nor collective, nor even planetary or cosmic. Yet, as physics is now teaching us, each point is the centre of the whole, and each part is the whole. Wherever I am, I am the centre of the universe, and I am the universe. This may not mean much to me as a physical or social part of my world, yet this reality can be my way of understanding that I do not have to go elsewhere to achieve wisdom, it is wherever I am – if I see, if I only realise that I do see.

But, because our problems today are global problems, because the answers we seek will involve the global community, as well as the role of each individual and group within that wider community, I feel the most useful locus of a ‘field of knowing’, of an unknowable subject of my inner vision, is the planet which we risk outgrowing, the garden of man which we are stripping, not only of weeds, but of the soil itself. The Earth then, is not only the physical, chemical, geological, life-support system of which we are part. It can also be felt, sensed, if not understood, as the source of our very selves, not only of our physical life, but also of our psychic life, of our wisdom.

This is not to deify the rocky planet on which we live. It is not necessary to see the planet as a living conscious organism, as it probably is – we are now familiar with this possibility through the concepts of Gaia, of recent years. Rather it is to place the universal centre both in our inner self and in the planet which, for now at least, represents the total extension of the problems we face and are creating. The answers will come from where we are, from our centre. And our centre is equally in the self and in the planet.

As however many of our problems are generated by that very sense of self that gives us our identity, it is better to look beyond the self, to the totality of interactions and networks that identify and create our human and natural world. As the essential element of this is the seeing, the flash of understanding, the total visualisation of a solution, what we know as insight, I use the term Earthsight to join the two elements: the insight which we experience, and the Earth, from the totality of which such insights arise.

What then is the answer, the solution to each of the multitude of problems we face, on a personal, family, work place, national and planetary level. The complexity of multiple interactions means that no answer based on human reason or technological information can provide a durable answer. However, in practice, we do often find an answer, the precise answer at the very moment such an answer can be effective. But such an answer is never universal, can never be applied beyond that ‘window in time’. No solution can be taught or transferred for use in another place, at another time. The answers, the ones that really work, and have no bad aftertaste, are always intensely personal, here and now. And me – and perhaps my immediate environment – only. Why?

Physics also tells us that time and space are not a fixed part of our universe, they are totally relative, and ultimately not essential to our reality. While physics allows us to retain space and time as useful elements of our physical world, the sciences of wisdom tell us that they have no useful role in our psychological world, the world where ultimately all solutions to our problems are to be found. The past and the future do not exist, psychologically. There is only now, this instant – except that our thoughts always allow us to live in a remembered yesterday and an imagined tomorrow, they provide us with a false sense of time. And while we are doing this, and dwelling on and trying to solve our problems at the same time, we do not, cannot live in the present.

Space, physical space, is separation from all that is around us, a sense of being alone, an immense difficulty in being a part of our world. Time means that we are never what we are, we are created by our past, and a slave of our future. When we move into the psychological world, the ‘real’ world within which each individual lives and experiences the outer world, space and time need to be left ‘outside’. Space, physical space transferred to our inner world creates a sense of separation, of aloneness, of non-participation. Time in our inner world locks us into the past and the future, and separates us from the now, the present, from what we really are. In such a world, insight, wisdom, a sense of tranquil presence, are well nigh excluded. Only in moments when we ‘let down our guard’ do flashes of insight or a deep sigh of well-being occur.

For answers to be found, the right answer at the right moment, certain elements are essential. Perhaps two of the most essential are – ‘space’ and silence. Space here is not the space of separation and physicality of the outside world. It is the sense of psychological or mental space, that openness around one’s sense of inner presence that involves a breaking down of the walls of the self habitually limited by thought, by memories, by reasoning. And silence is the inner silence, the absence of thought, the state of attention and conscious presence in inner space.

It is in such a mind that insight occurs. And when we realise that inner space is not a separation from ‘other’, but rather a sharing of all space, both outer and inner, and silence means we actually watch and see, then we realise our wisdom is that of the Earth, and the Earth sees through our eyes, is conscious through our consciousness – of itself. This is Earthsight. And the individual answer to the problem present in the precise moment in which we attend to it, is provided by Earthsight, by our conscious participation in the Earthfield, the totality of life which is totally present in each of us – here and now, never yesterday, nor tomorrow.

Written on October 16, 2002

Recognition and remuneration


© William Plain  1990-2016 (print) 2005 - 2016 (website)