by Audrey Raebeck
I find the best way to understand something, anything, is to experience it. For instance, without my experience, I might have thought “hangin’ out” has to do with a shirt tail, a tongue, associating with thugs, or letting it all hang out. But the kind of “hangin’ out” I have been experiencing, in the company of one particular group that assembled ostensibly to explore starting an alternative school, has become a wondrous time together. All participants are willing to share their curious minds, exuberant spirits and rich experiences of life. It has become a time I eagerly look forward to.
And that’s just what “hangin’ out” is for me: a group of people, any people, interested in coming together to participate in a dialogue, in which a stream of meaning naturally emerges no matter what the initial starting point. The stream of meaning that comes together through each participant’s individual experiences of life, helps each of us develop new understanding. Unselfconsciously, we are creating meaning together.
New awareness – flowing among us and through us and between us – that may not have been in the starting point at all, sparks a further flow. “Hangin’ out” in this manner is not the same as discussion, where individuals try to make points: analyzing, taking things apart, agreeing or disagreeing, in the sharing of viewpoints, attitudes and opinions. In discussion, usually some win and some lose. In dialogue, unlike discussion, whenever preconceived notions or attitudes of any sort are revealed, they are seen for that, and everyone gains, everyone learns. What we lose is the need to be right. The creative process in which we are all engaged becomes primary. The process, and not any individual or subject, is the focus point. We all feed into the process. It is what we trust above all.
“Hangin’ out,” for me, means letting go of conditioned responses, allowing myself to be stripped of familiar ways of seeing and being in my world, letting my experience of the world be extended through others’ experience or extending another’s experience through mine. It means letting my consciousness put things together from new information and experiences with my “hangin’ out” friends. These friends are in agreement that “hangin’ out” is the best learning we have ever received. At one level it might seem strange that I can set aside my many, years of formal education to embrace a way of learning that I find to be not only superior, but totally enjoyable. But then it might just have taken that to see the limits of formal education.
To give the devil his due, I must admit that without that formal education, I may not have had the interest I do in this pursuit. Yet, at some level I know and I think I’ve always known, and maybe everyone knows, that learning is a gift from the gods, a miraculous gift that encourages the spirit to soar, as it transforms the human capacities, and deeply stirs the soul. Life doesn’t get any better than that!
It took many years for me to discover that learning is the most natural thing a human can do. Learning depends on images that form in the imagination and every imagination is fertile with continuous images, whether they be in the form of pictures, sensations, perceptions, ideas or insights. William Blake and Carl Jung both acknowledged the imagination as the very source of the human spirit itself. Blake called it God. That says it for me, because I find what has happened “hangin’ out” is that my acceptance of all that is offered, without judgment, is developing into my appreciation for each one’s human spirit and love is evolving from that. I can see it happening with others in the group as well.
For the most part, my education was torturous. I forced myself to pick up books, do assignments and become educated because I believed I needed certification to be someone in this world. I was mostly concerned with not knowing enough, fear of failure, and probably every other incompetence one could think of. Sound familiar? My spirit still needs a healing balm from those pains, even though I’ve been healing on my own for many years now. I sense we’re all in need of healing. “Hangin’ out” is providing a new level of healing, because we’re doing it together this time.
Certainly – although each of us may have thought of ourselves as wide open and accepting – we didn’t start out as this understanding entity, full of benevolence and good will. When I started “hangin’ out,” a term we recently came upon and applied to our process, I didn’t think of myself as even having a vital role. Starting a new school sounded too big an order. I didn’t trust what the liberal imaginations of all of us might generate. As it happened, everyone’s imagination did run wild. To allow the process to find its own natural direction, over the months we had to stop ourselves and each other, from imposing organization and creating something in form. The more we agreed to let go of closure and let the process move, the more comfortable I became.
Is “Hangin’ out” the same as the infamous “shootin’ the bull?” I’ve always been impatient with bull sessions as a waste of time and an exercise for clever egos. But there were times the thought crossed my mind so I did a reality check on my experience off and on for a while. Now the thought doesn’t even cross my mind. Immersed in an invigorating life-giving process, I am having too much fun!
I am experiencing meaning in solid and fundamental ways. For instance, as we started to develop what constituted an open learning atmosphere, we discovered their were four cornerstones to our learning right here in the group. What attitudes were essential to our success? The first was the belief in our equality and the infinite potential of everyone, bar none. The second was that everyone requires appreciation. Blessing seems to be an inherent need of the human spirit. Then we acknowledged that each of us was a facilitator of each other’s learning simply by virtue of our being there, participating. Finally, as we shared many of our life experiences, we discovered together that all is one: everything is related to everything and everyone else.
During our seven months of meeting, what have we concluded? We are a school! And whenever we’re “hangin’ out,” school is in session.
Audrey Raebeck, Amagansett, NY