Author: apfornes

The First Time: Awe

My work in empathic intelligence and sharing it with educators and changemakers is rooted firmly in a healing / therapeutic modality called Family Constellations. Below you will find the story of my first FC workshop. And if you would like to learn a version of this process designed specifically for teachers and facilitators, check out my course: Introduction to the Empathic Seminar. February 18, 2012 – Hampden, CT I showed up at the workshop with a combination of butterflies in my stomach and a heaviness in my chest. The butterflies were excitement, but the heaviness in my chest was less clear to me. I had done a little research, so I had a general idea of what to expect: we would be chosen to represent members of a person’s family system. However, this basic description information of the process revealed nothing of what I was about to experience. A man took the chair next to the facilitator. He described his issue: He had a confusing relationship with his mentor, a man he had great admiration …

Debriefing the Field Test

In the last post I described an Empathic Seminar about the “N-Word”. In this post, I’ll debrief the experience and address some common questions. What happened in the “N-Word” exercise? We created a constellation of the system by identifying three points in the system: “Black Person,” “White Person,” and “N-word”. Three people stood in the center of the room and represented each of those nodes. Then, they just reported what they noticed. That’s it! Where did the information come from? Were the participants role playing? What we discover when we step into the system in this way is that the system creates a field of information that we perceive as physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts. It’s not role-playing. I guide the participants to attend to their felt-sense (Key #2), and if we start talking too much, I cue folks to drop back into their bodies. To help participants build confidence in the work, I often work blind – that is, I do not tell the representatives what they are representing until  after we experience into the system. This way, they can have their …

The Fourth Key: Field Testing

In today’s post, you will read about an Empathic Seminar I introduced at a school in Bronx, NY.  This is a firsthand account of the Fourth Key to Unlocking Your Empathic Intelligence: Field Testing. I further debrief this exercise in my final post. “I want to know why my students use the N-word with each other. Don’t they understand the history of that word?” The questioner was an older African-American teacher from the Bronx. He said he grew up in Virginia, and he would never think of using that word. Immediately, I noticed bodies shifting in preparation for the discussion. But I reminded the group that our work this day was not to use our analytic capacity but our empathic capacity to explore this question.   “Every question contains a whole system of relationships. What are the core elements of this question?” I asked. After a brief discussion, we decided upon three elements, “Black Person”, “White Person” and “The N-Word,” and that they needed to be examined in two time contexts – 19th-century slavery and 21st-century …

The Third Key: Systems Thinking

“The idea is to pay attention to the living world as if it were a spider’s web: when you touch one part, the whole web responds.”- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Interviewed by The Sun Magazine While many of us understand intellectually that we are, of course, part of an interconnected web, the dominant approach to teaching and learning focuses on objectifying and separating out parts and individuals in the ongoing effort to find what is core or essential. “Whereas the scientific method (summarised by Popper as the three Rs: reduction, repeatability and refutation) increases our knowledge and understanding by breaking things down into their constituent parts and exploring the properties of these parts, systems thinking explores the properties which exist once the parts have been combined into a whole.” From ReallyLearning.com, Briefing Paper One: Systems thinking The ReallyLearning.com article is an excellent introduction to systems thinking. As indicated by the quote, systems thinking provides something a purely analytical approach cannot: it allows us to discover the properties that arise from the relationship between the parts of …

The Second Key: The Felt Sense

When I learned mindfulness meditation, there was a word that one of my teachers used to describe the experience of witnessing the chattering activity going on in your brain: waterfall. I loved that they had a description for that moment when you discover the endless stream – or great rushing river – of thoughts and stories and judgments and worries and fantasies and hopes that passes through our minds! In addition to our thoughts, which we experience as the inner talking of our mind, there is also the physical experience that the body is having. Now, it should really come as no surprise to any of us that we are not simply walking, talking brains. We have entire bodies attached to us. These bodies are performing miraculous functions everyday, the kinds of things we learned about in biology class. Your body is an incredibly complex biological universe communicating and responding in relationship to the parts of itself and the external environment. Through meditation, I learned to become aware not just of our loud-mouthed brains, but …

The First Key: Motivation & Intention

When I was a high school teacher, I was very concerned with internal motivation: I wanted my students to be internally motivated to agree to the choices I was giving them! At the time, I didn’t see the irony. In fact, I saw myself as a progressive, compassionate teacher. A “cool” teacher. I placed my students’ interests first…as long as their interests fit with the choices I made for them, and could be measured according to the assessments I was forced to give. Our students aren’t blind to this deception. The student who appears to the teacher as unmotivated, disruptive, unable to focus? That one is saying, “I will not be coerced to want what you want.” And so, it is appropriate that the first key to unlocking your empathic intelligence takes this deception head on. For while the words “motivation and intention” appear rather benign and straight forward, they are actually subversive and revolutionary in the context of the dominant culture of learning and education. The question is not, “what are you being told …