The UN has stated that our actions over the next ten years may be crucial to the future of the globe.
And that we still have the opportunity, within a short number of years, to decisively reduce the external difficulties humanity faces: curb global warming, eradicate war, hunger and poverty and take the necessary steps towards a sustainable society worldwide.
Today, we have sufficient skills, knowledge and tools to turn this vision into reality. However, we still need to further develop our sense of connectedness. This is what the Dalai Lama, the economist Jeremy Rifkin and many others with them have called 'a global leap of empathy'.
The possibility of this leap, scientists and spiritual teachers say, is based on our innate ability to comprehend each other mentally, and to experience our basic interconnectedness in our hearts.
This ability of connecting is an inborn capacity. An infant is born with a completely open heart and with an open mind, which, if the child experiences care and love, has the potential of developing naturally.
An international project works towards this goal. The project - with the title Certification Program for Compassionate Systems Master Practitioners - is taking place at the Center for Systems Awareness at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and at the Garrison Institute outside New York. It is founded by system theorist Peter Senge, whose teachings and books on the development opportunities of organizations have international prominence and significance, and by biologist, PhD, Mette Böll. American professor of pediatric psychiatry, Dan Siegel, the Danish professor of management theory Steen Hildebrandt Rhonda Magee, professor of law at the University of San Francisco and the author of 'The Inner Work of Racial Justice', the developmental psychologist Kim Schonert-Reichl and several others are among the teaching staff in the project. My involvement, as contemplative faculty at The Center for Systems Awareness, is focused on the contemplative content of the program.
Mette Böll has summarized the project in an interview, which can be found in its entirety in the podcast at the bottom of this page.
The Center for Systems Awareness has investigated what it takes to create a good learning- and living environment. They call this the magic classroom. It is stated in the interview that already at the current stage of the study it has become clear that this space is relational; it is about the relationship between the people present.
The adults, the teachers and the educators, have the overall responsibility for this relationship. The magical learning and well-being space come into existence, says Mette, when the teacher is able to establish an atmosphere of respect and openness towards the students, and when he or she realizes that learning and human development are not limited to the information transmitted from teacher to students, but that the students are also little scientists who need space and support for their own exploration process. Those social spaces, for both children and adults, generate deeper human contacts, a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of reality and ideas for new possibilities for action. This is what Center for Systems Awareness calls a generative social field.
It is both exciting and gratifying that these experiences are the same as those made by the family therapist Jesper Juul and the psychologist Helle Jensen in Denmark. In their extensive development of the concept of relational competence, they too emphasize the importance of the adult's ability to meet the child and the young with an open mind, clarity and kindness. They too highlight the understanding that children to a great extent learn through their own exploration.
Therefore is seems only natural that several members of the Danish Association for Children's Life Sciences, of which Helle Jensen and Jesper Juul are co-founders, can be found among the teaching staff at the Center for System Awareness.
Based on the aforementioned experiences of the importance of relationships, Peter Senge, Mette and us co-teachers educate school teachers, school leaders, conflict resolvers, educators and administrative leaders in the education sector, from 12 different countries, in anchoring awareness and kindness inwardly. And from this deeper place within oneself to begin opening up to the outside world with the clarity and courage of the heart needed to see and feel others as they are, without prejudice and with acceptance of their individuality and diversity. Based on this training, we work with comprehensive forms of system understanding and organizational learning. That is, when we analyze the social and organizational contexts we enter into, and in training our ability to maneuver within them.
This understanding and extended possibility of maneuvering social situations simultaneously include an aspect of clarity – of mental, factual rational understanding of others and of our surroundings – and a more intuitive, irrational, direct perception of the contexts and systems we form part of.
Mette emphasizes that while this project appeals to natural, inborn capacities, it requires courage. One needs courage to loosen up those habits that cause us to protect ourselves by closing in around family, our own nation, race and ourselves.
Some of what touched me the most to me during my first meetings with the participants of this education, is the way this big-thought project is actually being realized around the world. There are participants working with refugee children, with children in ghettos, with American emigrants. Leaders from the very top of the American education system, leaders responsible for tens of thousands of employees and millions of children, and others from the remotest capillaries of relief organizations working directly to alleviate suffering are taking part in this education. All these people, from vastly different social and geographical places in the world, from a school in Gentofte, from refugee camps in Jordan, from village schools in Mexico, from working to create a sustainable daily life for poor Indian women and children, all these passionate souls meet in an atmosphere of mutual cordiality and compassion, unsentimentally facing the global crisis. And with a quality of creative trust in the vast opportunities we have, as individuals and as members of the international community for experiencing global connectedness directly.
M.A., psychotherapist, architect and meditation teacher. She is the founder of Kontemplation which offers MBSR-programs and group retreats where mindfulness, presence yoga, compassion and creativity are interwoven into an integrated practice.
She is a part of the organizational group behind The Danish Society for the Promotion of Life Wisdom in Children, an association placing special emphasis on relational competence, teaching the practice of empathy and presence to professionals working with children and young people.
Hanneli lives at Vækstcenteret, a contemplative community in Denmark under the guidance of founder Jes Bertelsen. She divides her time between counseling, teaching, and long-term individual meditation retreats.