Walking the Dragon’s Back

Last Sunday I went on one of my favourite day walks  – the Dragon’s Back.

I went with our dog. We’ve had our dog now for about three and half years. She was a rescue puppy and has a stub for a tail. We’re not sure why. Her name is Willow. Somewhere along the line, this name has been suffixed with ‘Pants’, resulting in Willow-Pants. Again, I don’t know the reason behind this. Occasionally, the original section of her name will disappear when I’m calling her. When she is out of sight on a walk, (as she often is) the frequent solo audio performances given by the solitary suffix offer the mildly alarming impression that I’m trundling along on my own, sporadically shouting out the word ‘Pants!’ to a listening woodland or hill top path. It’s the little things…

Anyhow, Willow and I went on a walk. For me, a typical day walk can be anything between 8-20 miles. On these walks I’m more often than not alone with the dog. I thoroughly enjoy the solitude of this activity and paradoxically often wish that I could share the experience only arrived at by being on my own. Having hiked in many countries and continents, I can say with conviction that I find the Peak District to be one of the most beautiful places to walk in the world. It gives me a quiet call to nature as soon as I step out my door and I enjoy some of my most peaceful and profound periods of personal peace and contentedness when I’m quietly padding along with the hills for company and a pack on my back.

If I’m lucky, the walk will contain one or two periods of time when I am lost. Not literally lost, (although that is often the merry case – my ‘shortcuts’ are the stuff of legend amongst friends), but lost-absorbed in the moment of doing. In those liminal bubbles, space-time starts to curve and I find myself connected to my surroundings to the point of merging, and yet I’m somehow insulated from them. It feels as if, in a state of hyper awareness, everything I need is within reach – perceptual horizons are extended beyond my immediate phenomenal environment.

This ‘extended’ state of being has been approached from various disciplines and practices and has attracted numerous descriptors; John Dewey called it ‘imaginative unification’, Abraham Maslow termed it ‘peak experience’ and Victor Turner described it as ‘communitas’, to name but a few . I’m sure I’ll write more on this in future posts as I try to pick at it from various perspectives, but in the meantime, back to the circumstances of this particular instance…

Thinking back to last week’s walk, it occurred as I hit a ridge on Hollins Hill, and was able to look through sharp afternoon winter sunshine over a stile towards Chrome Hill,  nicknamed the Dragon’s Back for obvious reasons: (I took the shot below on a different walk)14883863978_1ca3874b06_o

I’d walked Chrome Hill earlier in the day, so there was a certain amount of satisfaction in surveying conquered ground, coupled with a delight in being outside, immersed in such beauty and unencumbered by the constraints of walls – literal or technological. I was acutely aware of experiencing a grounded connection with the wide world around me; a phenomenological pleasure in participating in the essence of something inexplicably complex and so simple. All senses firing, with the body-mind moving in an accelerated state of what Csikszentmihalyi called flow consciousness.

Whilst this instance isn’t replicable in itself, (nor should it be) I’m beginning to understand and seek out, on a personal level, the circumstances and conditions which lead to a greater chance of encountering this state of being-doing. Csikszentmihalyi called it the flow channel – a state wherein we become absorbed and the ‘doing’ begins to steer us, rather than the reverse. There’s even a diagram y’know.

flow-diagram

With an eye on my weekday preoccupation, (I’ll be the first to admit, it does seep into evenings, weekends and the wee small hours) one thought (of many) and one question (of very many) surfaces…

Flow is a wholly positive telenomic state; that is, one experiences a sense of positive personal expansion through flow engagement in a given activity – lost in becoming more, so to speak. Technically then, it’s the autotelic telenomy of self.

Wouldn’t it be great if we built learning environments/ patterns that were designed and created as an invite to foster flow engagement as one aspect of learning? There’s already thinking on and debate this

See you next week.

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Author: samgrogan

I am many sided; Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience at Salford University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, driven Tough Mudder runner, and a lover of the outdoors. I live in the heart of the beautiful Peak District with my wife and our pets. On weekends, you'll find me out in the countryside with the dog, running or walking up a hill, or typically cooking for friends (I'm getting better, so they say) My role at Salford is one I cherish. I'm one of the fortunate few who wake up excited about the day ahead. It's really not work when it's this much fun. As part of the Vice-Chancellor's Executive Team I work alongside a gifted and dedicated team of creative educationalists passionate about being better tomorrow than we are today. As PVC SE at Salford I hold executive responsibility for both the assurance of quality and standards of our institutional academic portfolio, and its strategic direction and character. Intertwined with this facet of my role, I am responsible for strategic leadership and enhancement of the wider student experience and the development of a distinctive Salford learning environment. My overall purpose, driven by these two key parts of my role, is to develop a bold, playful learning landscape at Salford which delivers holistic sustainable success, preparing our students for life. I'm fascinated by how people learn, and how we might collectively make that experience result in a profound expansion of personal and professional horizons and an extension of possibilities for all parties involved. My greatest reward comes from seeing thresholds crossed, barriers broken, new habits formed and changes made. To this end, I'm also endlessly absorbed in considering how we might develop better, more useful ways of integrating the digital landscape and other technologies, emerging and present, into the act of learning. I think we're just beginning - a brave new world awaits... My background is in performance - Before undertaking my PhD and before spending the first half of my university career as a lecturer, programme leader and head of department, in my early career I acted, danced and made theatre across the world. This ten year experience continues to be fundamental in shaping the way I think about teaching and learning. At its best I see it as a facilitated journey of discovery, play, risk and adventure anchored in 'reflective doing'. Not 'knowing' in this context is often a signal that a useful path is being trodden - Thinking on its own is just rehearsal...

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