Indra’s Net: We are all connected

There is an endless net of threads throughout the universe … At every crossing of the threads there is an individual. And every individual is a crystal bead. And every crystal bead reflects. Not only the light from every other crystal in the net but also every other reflection throughout the entire universe. ~ Anne Adams

This post itself is a tangling of threads. It is in part a reflection on the first day of the national Australian Association of Research for Education (AARE) conference, which I am attending and at which I am presenting a paper. It is also part of a wider conversation I’ve been having through blogging. It was incited today by Robyn Collard’s Welcome to Country in which she used the above Anne Adams quote which refers to Indra’s Net, a Hindu and Buddhist concept that articulates the interconnectedness of the universe. It imagines each individual as a dew drop, jewel or pearl: reflective and distinctive, but also interconnected with all the other dew drops via the threads of the web. Parts and whole. Dazzling individualism within collective network.

This quote and concept added a layer to an already-layered conversation I’ve been having in the blogonet with Helen Kara and Naomi Barnes. It started with Steve Wheeler’s #blimage (blog + image) challenge. When Helen shared a photograph of tangled dew-bejeweled spiders’ webs in her garden, both Naomi and I responded to the image. Naomi wrote about the messiness of research. I wrote about how technology connects people to one another. I’ve since also written about the web-weaving spider as a metaphor for the researcher. And today I was connecting at AARE, in person, with a web of academics who I know mostly through their work and through Twitter.

So here I am again. Contemplating the web. And the dew drop jewels. And their infinite reflections and refractions. Their beauty and fragility and separateness and togetherness.

I spent much of this first day of the AARE conference in a four hour symposium in which scholars brought diverse perspectives to the same general topic of leadership in education. They agreed and disputed. They converged and diverged. It was a great example of respectful, well-considered and articulate debate. Graceful disagreement. Elegant contestation. Research as conversation.

For instance, in conceptualising leadership as artistry, Fenwick English noted the webbed connections between research, art, leadership and creativity. Scott Eacott discussed the relational aspects of leadership and of research, asking scholars to consider how their work relates to that of others. Christina Gowlett approached school leadership from a perspective of challenge and critique, agitating against dominant approaches, norms and expectations by embracing alternate theories of uncertainty and transgression.

Additionally, Gabriele Lakomski and Colin Evers discussed thinking in schools as a wide cognitive net. They define cognition as a dynamic system, comprising reciprocal interactions between people, artefacts, resources and environments. They noted that thinking is not just computationally logical-deductive; it is interpretive, intuitive, behind consciousness and beyond awareness. They explored the notion of the extended or supersized mind which distributes cognition. Our tech is our selves. Our communities and social networks are change collectives. Gabriele and Colin noted that cognition occurs “beyond skin and skull”, challenging the myths of the stand alone thinker, the heroic leader and the change agent. Individuals influence and are influenced by each other. Thinking and being is connectivity. Web not hierarchy.

These ideas resonate with the perspective I will be presenting at the Heroism Science conference in 2016, which suggests a reimagining of heroism in school leadership. That is, that school leader ‘heroes’ can work subtly, fluidly and invisibly in the service of their school communities. In education there needs to be shared vision and individual purpose, collective and individual capacity. Strengthening the web while protecting and nurturing the dew drops.

Like Costa and Garmston’s (2006) notion of holonomy (which is based on Koestler’s 1972 conceptualisation of the ‘holon’), Indra’s Net shows the dual importance of the individual and the collective. The jewel and the net. All are simultaneously together and separate. A change in one is reflected in a change in all.

So as I reflect (like the dew drop), I imagine webs of learning, webs of emotion, webs of relationships, webs of identity. I wonder: What influences the symbiosis between individual and collective? In what ways might we shape others? In what ways might others shape us? These could be questions for families, friendships, organisations, communities, nations, the world. What about our selves can we control and what choices are we making about what our own self-jewel reflects onto those around us and onto the universal web? In what ways could we harness the global mind, the universal self and the interconnectedness of humanity?

Imagine a multidimensional spider’s web in the early morning, covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And in each reflected dew drop, the reflections of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum. ~ Alan Watts


6 thoughts on “Indra’s Net: We are all connected

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