on staying in the zone in the learning process

by kye on May 20, 2010

Have you ever noticed how much easer it is to learn something that’s a little bit difficult for you, if you have company with it?

This paper, written in 1999, talks about why this is, and how to keep someone good company when they are at their ‘edge’–so that they can stay in the zone.  It was based on my experiences bringing several key processes into the process of mentoring children: the processes of felt sensing, being entrained with the other, and being embodied.

At the time it was written, I’d  been the driving force behind an ‘unschooling’ community for some years.  But the insights I share here aren’t limited to children’s learning, also applying to any learning situation.

The article introduces the idea of working from a felt sense while you’re in the zone of proximal development or zpd (the zpd is your learning edge where there is just enough challenge, but not too much).  When a felt sense is accessed within the zpd, it gives rise to a very intense absorption in the learning process–a state of flow which is often referred to informally as being ‘in the zone’.

The article also talks a bit about the experience of being ‘embodied’ in the learning process.  What I mean by embodied is a state of felt-from-the-inside presence in the world.  It’s your own experience of being in this particular body as it is right now: this particular living, breathing, reading-this-page-right-here, feeling-a-little-tired-of-sitting, leaning-to-the-side-just-so organism.

When we’re embodied, we’re not putting ourselves away in order to learn, and that gives us the opportunity to see how we might change the whole process so that it fits us better.  And that… but you’ll probably get what I’m talking about better, if you try it on for yourself right now.

So try it: take a minute and see what your own whole being would like, in this moment, as you’re reading these words.  I think you’ll find that as you heed what you feel like from inside–noticing your posture, those small tensions, and whatever else is part of your experience sitting here right now reading this–your mind will feel fresher and more open.

But back to the article:  in it, when I’m talking about the interaction between a mentor and a learner in the zone, the most important concept I use is  ’entrainment’.  Entrainment with another person who is really with us at the edge, makes it possible to work further ‘forward’ than we can when we’re alone.  (A side note: this also explains something of why Focusing itself is so much more likely to be practiced in partnerships.)

The article was first published in The Focusing ConnectionMarch 1999 (Vol. XVI, No. 2) under the title “As We Work: Teaching Children to Maintain a State of Flow by Attending to the Felt Sense”

An expanded version of the article can be found on the Focusing Institute website here or you can download the pdf version, which has better formatting.

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