Ambient jam as physical philosophy -inspiring questions, listening; and thoughts on protection and defence

* The following words were said by Mike Blackmore, Senior support worker, Lambeth Walk day centre 2006 :

“It would be good to create quiet spaces or blank spaces where we let go of the structure. How do you facilitate if the service user wants to take over? If it’s too structured then they find it harder to lead. Chaos is fine; it’s okay if things don’t work. Actual dynamics and chance of taking over is very very subtle for these students.”

It feels timely to bring Mike’s words into 2015, and into our thinking around ambient jam, when this Friday we will be holding an evaluation meeting about the work:  Around 15 people will attend. This is the first in a long time, and we will be using words! 😉 What has Mikes quote got to do with this?

Although I was very much looking forward to seeing everyone, I was feeling a growing apprehension about ‘evaluating’ the work in the traditional sense.  My growing apprehension had become defensive: words like strategic development, sustainability, replicability, elevator speech were bringing out the soldier in me ready for combat, feeling under pressure to find solutions and answers. Imagined or real, these words (that could protect the work in the outside world) had in my mind become demons rather than things that would nourish and develop the team, our members and this phenomena that is Ambient jam: a living breathing creature that often defies pigeonholing and falls on the boundaries between different sectors.

Going into defense mode doesn’t help: I stop listening, stop receiving and stop thinking. Actually I stop feeling and give no space to let ‘feelings become thoughts’ (Bion W, via Western S in ‘Where is Daddy’- Tavistock tradition of organisational thinking-1999).  I suppose my often unconscious reactivity is understandable- we are trying to protect something that remains undervalued in society: our ability to communicate through our bodies, ‘non’-verbally at times, to sense and learn about this from and alongside our friends who have profound and complex disabilities.

Then this morning I and the team received two emails from community worker Georgia Clarke and dancer Peri Mackintosh in response to a structure I had emailed everyone yesterday, in preparation for the evaluation day:

“One thought was – How do people evaluate whether a jam is successful or not? What are the criteria? P xx”

“I’ve been thinking about the impact however seemingly insignificant and subtle that the jam has on our lives outside the session. For me, it’s helping me receive and respond much more widely and authentically … i wonder what, if any, impact or difference others that come to the sessions experience; and how do we consider these happenings outside of the session in terms of successes benefits and achievements of the jam itself. Looking forward to seeing you all on Friday georgia x”

These two questions disarmed my defensiveness and need to control, as if I’d been thrown a life ring. I realised I didn’t have to create an evaluation space where we had to have all the answers yet, but one where we begin to find out what the questions are, and sophisticated ones in relation to sustainability.

A common question maybe: How can we build a strong sinewy responsive bridge between the integrity of the work and the competitive reality of the outside world, where these two realities mutually support , inform, respect, transform, and protect each other, and those of us who work within it?

*In 2006 I worked as a lecturer in movement and performance for adults with complex and profound disabilities in the Morley College outreach team. I was privileged to collaborate with experienced senior support staff like Mike Blackmore. I return to his words often as a reminder. Rebecca Swift