All / Originally Posted on Skirt

Whistling While You Work (or, The Blindfolded Sheep)

So now I know what it’s like to use a whistle while laughing. 

For the past few days I’ve been on an intensive researcher training/development retreat designed to help PhD students consider career options available to them and to develop skills like leadership, teamwork, problem-solving, those kinds of things.

One of the tasks involved some blindfolded sheep.  Okay, actually, it was my team members who were blindfolded and then placed in various positions in a field.  Meanwhile I, the shepherdess, was charged with the task of herding all the sheep into the pen in the corner of the field without verbally communicating with them or touching them.  Instead, I wielded a mighty whistle.  

Before being sent to our various field locations my teammates and I devised a system of whistle commands so they knew when and where to move as I tried to guide them.  The first few sheep (there were six total) got back without a hitch, though I did learn that blindfolded people can’t easily determine whether or not they are walking in a straight line.  They still bumbled their way into the pen, though.  

Then we got to Sheep #4.  Somehow Sheep #4 had forgotten his number.  I blew the signal for sheep #4 a couple of times and hoped somebody would take the initiative.  Nothing happened.  Okay…on to Sheep #5.  Both Sheep 4 and 5 started moving now.  (Sheep 5, by the way, was the only one of my blindfolded sheep to salute me.  I felt like General Bo Peep.) 

So now I had Sheep #4 and Sheep #5 careering around the field at cross purposes–every command I gave they both obeyed, so when one headed in the right direction the other would zoom off in a tangential and unproductive manner.

Naturally, I started laughing.  Have you ever tried to blow a whistle while laughing?  It sounds a little like “TWEEEET!  TWEET, TWEET, tweeheeheeheehee!”

I’m pretty sure they knew something was wrong considering the massive amounts of whistly laughter coming from the sidelines, but as they couldn’t see, they couldn’t be sure what was going on.  Finally I managed to get them close enough to each other that they basically walked into one another (with the guiding influence of our team leader to keep them from incurring any sheepy injuries.)  They sort of stood face-to-face for a second, tentatively grabbing one another’s arms, then spontaneously went in for a big sheep hug.  Linking their arms around each other’s shoulders I now had one giant uber-sheep to aim back to the pen; they made it despite me falling about with laughter the whole time. (Sheep #6, by the way, didn’t give me any of these problems.) 

I arrived back from the training course caught up in a whirlwind of thoughts, feelings and impressions of those four days, then headed straight for my jiu jitsu class with nary a minute to process all my experiences.  That’s probably why I’ve basically been in hibernation mode since I got back on Thursday evening–I needed the sleep to wrap my head around things.  I believe it is the Kagyu school of Buddhism that counts dreaming sleep as a form of enlightening meditation.  (If you want to know more about this, Google “Six Yogas of Naropa”.)  I’ve been telling myself that’s what I’ve been up to in my non-waking hours.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more dreaming to do.