Transition Open Space – patterns of the future, part 4

Here comes the final episode of insights from the Transition Open Space festival I attended in July.

Presence of Spirit and Earth

May magic return to the world

At no time was any explicit mention made of spirituality, and yet both Earth and Spirit were very present at all levels throughout our time together. A lot of subtle energies were at play – we worked with systemic constellations around a number of topics (family and money, in particular), and many people could sense shifts in the energy of the place in response to what was happening with the people.

The riveting stories that Jeanne Hoogenboom shared with us of how she came to Kasteel Nieuwenhoven and the subtle work she has had to do with archetypal energies, forgiveness, the lifting of curses and the unblocking of ley lines, illustrate just how much of what shapes our ‘reality’ lies under the surface, in the invisible realms where our science cannot follow.

May we learn to love the magic in the world.

In our diversity we are whole

The last two days were dedicated to ‘harvesting’ what we had learned from this collective experiment, and preparing some initiatives that had been born during our time together to take their first next steps out into the world beyond.

We walked together through Wilber’s 4 quadrants, placing our various experiences in these different perspectives and understanding also how ‘transition’ can mean moving from one preferred quadrant into another that is less familiar. There, too, we saw that while the individuals might have a partial coverage of the quadrants, every quadrant and every possible permutation of transition among them was present in the group as a whole. We saw that our diversity is our wealth, as without it we are less whole.

May we learn to honour our diversity as our wholeness.

Be yourself!

Be yourself, everyone else is taken!

The individuals, too, saw that their own beliefs and sense-making patterns were simply their own, not more right or wrong than anyone else’s. It was spoken again and again, into the circle, that all that is needed in order to create heaven on earth is simply for each of us to learn to be fully ourselves, and to live our lives as an expression of who we deeply are. Throughout our time together, we witnessed each member of the community – people of all ages and developmental stages – stepping more fully into their own skins, encouraged, mirrored, accommodated and appreciated by the community as a whole.

My own 15-year-old daughter was also present throughout, and I was constantly in awe of how beautifully this sensitive and authentic young woman blossomed in the light of the community’s appreciation and what an impact she in turn had on what took place.

May we all be so blessed.

Living the future we choose, together

As I witnessed all of this unfolding, in all of its complexity, at all those different levels, I felt as if we were living a future in which society is able to heal itself and stitch itself back together into a nourishing, self-transcending whole, embedded in a relationship with nature, where we observe and honour her natural patterns, that allow us to live in abundance.

Making seitan together

This is by no means the first time such an experiment has been conducted. Each time something of this kind happens, it is easier than last time, and it makes it easier for the next time – even if none of the same people are involved and the experiments don’t know about each other. Rupert Sheldrake’s morphogenetic fields spring to mind.

Many new connections are made, and small projects shoot off in all directions, as people begin to work together in new ways. The social fabric is slowly but surely restored as new interconnections are made and people understand what is possible when we work and play together.

As our civilisation as a whole hurtles inexorably towards the extreme of pathological separation and enclosure of even our intangible commonwealth, there is no point waiting to see what the future will bring. Beneath the surface, instinctively, what we were doing during this week was reclaiming parts of our lives from folly of rational self-interest that is homo economicus

May this movement continue.

Staying local

Part of what made this such a powerful and hopeful happening was simply that we were grounded in a place, in a natural bio-region, and the focus of attention was on how we live together in our families and our local communities – where the rubber hits the road. Because this was a regional event, the resources didn’t fly in from all over the world, and didn’t then all fly out so far and wide into the world again afterwards – it is possible to go on working together, supporting each other and nurturing the seeds that have been sown.

May it be so.

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Transition Open Space – patterns of the future, part 3

After a bit of a break, more insights from the Transition Open Space festival I attended in July.

Intentionally spreading seeds of possibility

Taco expounding on permaculture...

As it happens, this place is where I learned the basics of permaculture myself (from Taco), and fate brought me to purchase a homestead only 20km away from Nieuwenhoven where Ria, Chrisje and I are taking our learning and practice of permaculture and natural building to its next level. Ria and I took a group of people over there one afternoon to show them the place – I was able to tell them the story of Nina, my colleague in Brussels who has been so inspired by my stories of our adventures in permaculture that she has started creatively growing fruit and vegetables in her small city garden. This is the way ‘transition’ travels, spreading through viral inspiration at whatever scale is possible, moment by moment.

At the root, the future can be born from the potential that we hold in our conscious intention, but we can never know how it will manifest: you can count the seeds in an apple, but you can’t count the apples in a seed.

May many seeds bear fruit.

Healing the relationship between the masculine and the feminine

As spontaneous offerings from the community, one evening there was a men’s circle around the camp fire, while the women took care of the children. The next night, the women did a full-moon ceremony and women’s circle while the men did the babysitting. I was quite struck by the way the men stood much more strongly in both power and service after their circle.

Every evening at the close of the ‘programme’, we danced the Elm Dance (as propagated by Joanna Macy) – it was one of the highlights of every day, and gave  towards the end we experimented also with different permutations that could shed light on how the masculine and the feminine could interact and play different functions in society. Particularly ‘hair-raising’ for me was the experience that the women could stand on the perimeter, shielding the men from disturbance as they met in circle to bond as brothers.

Elm dance

Things happened in the circle that felt healing for a lot of old trauma for both the masculine and the feminine.

New community patterns and permutations of relating and interacting are emerging for men and women as we move into the future.

May the healing continue.

Witnessing and reflection as practices that birth collective wisdom

Sometimes a child...

All of the above emerged from the complexity of the interactions in the community. In many cases, meanings and insights were picked up and illuminated by one or other of the ‘elders’ of the community (sometimes a child!) so that the whole group could relate to the issue in a more conscious way.

It was this practice of witnessing – never once explicitly spoken of in the full circle of our community – that allowed our diversity to be present without exploding the container.

Witnessing will be a core capability in the future we were seeking to prototype together during this week. Here is what the Cosmic Family has to say about it:

“There is no end to that which can be witnessed, but it is necessary to start small. Witnessing is what makes it possible for an individual, when invited, to step seamlessly into a functioning collective, and what allows a collective to seamlessly embrace a new member and be transformed by the embracing. With each embrace, the old collective dies and the new is born. The witnessing is of everything – the inner and outer, the individual and the collective. Part of the practice is to speak that which is witnessed, and to witness that which is spoken. Part of the practice is to speak what is witnessed as it is experienced – in joy or in rage, in sorrow or fear or indifference. The emotional charge is part of the meal, to be metabolised by the collective body. The more the collective body can metabolise, the broader the range of its responses to that which transpires in the greater whole.”

May we witness the miracle unfolding.

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Transition Open Space – patterns of the future, part 1

As promised, here come some of my insights from the Transition Open Space festival I attended in July.

Core teams

The event was conceived and designed by a small group of friends with different skills and predilections. Their intention was to invite a collective, co-created, experiential inquiry into ‘transition’ (deliberately left rather vaguely defined, but basically inspired by the transition towns response to peak oil and climate change).

This group then began working with another group – people living and/or working together at Kasteel Nieuwenhoven, an old abbey/stately home set in 20 hectares of land with natural water features (ponds and streams), woodland, meadow (with alpaca and horses) and a permaculture garden which is hosting a community supported agriculture (CSA) scheme for the surrounding district. The place offered itself as the location of the gathering and a core team formed to explore what might happen at such an event.

The pattern of the ‘core team’ is appearing in many different places. A small group of people follow their passion and take responsibility for starting an inquiry around a question that calls to them deeply from some invisible realm of potential outside space and time. Their role is not necessarily to make things happen, but could simply be to hold the perimeter of the ‘field of inquiry’, to allow new potential to manifest around their question.

May we never have to work alone

Containers for self-organising and diversity

The whole gathering was held within a very light structure, using Open Space Technology, World Café and similar processes, which are intentionally designed to allow for maximum emergence and self-organisation.

The children officially opened the closing ceremony

Some 60 people showed up over all, in a number of waves, each new wave being integrated into the community without any need for intervention by the organisers. There were many generations present: grandparents, parents, children – elders, young adults, toddlers and babies. There were people from all backgrounds and educational levels, from urban and rural contexts. And yet, the culture was rather cohesive, because all those present spoke Dutch – so folk from the Netherlands and Flanders, mostly. The children brought in as much depth and learning as the elders, and were treated with equal respect.

At the same time, there was a great deal of diversity, partly because of the inter-generational nature of the gathering, and partly because the whole spiral of human development was present. Although the theme of development was not explicitly introduced in the proceedings, the hosts were very aware of the dynamics and challenges of all the developmental differences at play, and chose to allow all of this to be held in the container of the processes and simple principles that set the stage for Open Space self-organisation:

  • Nothing needs to be fixed or solved – opinions and tensions are aired, witnessed and allowed to be present in the space and transform in their own way, in their own time.
  • Individuals are invited to take responsibility for their own expectations and experiences, and to take what action they deem appropriate, without waiting to be told what to do by the ‘organisers’.
  • The law of two feet – all those present were invited to follow this principle: if at any time you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, let your two feet take you somewhere else where you can.

May we learn to trust our ability to self-organise

Coming next: Alternative currencies and learning to live from the land

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Transition Open Space – patterns of the future, part 2

Here continue my musings on the Transition Open Space festival I attended in July…

Alternative currency as a means to surface the shadow of money

Trudo - bridge between the money economy and the gift economy

For four days we experimented with an alternative currency, named the ‘Trudo’ – after St Trudo, a 7th century saint of the area – as a sort of bridge between the money economy and the gift economy. The intention behind the introduction of this ingredient into the mix was to ‘help the community flourish’ by encouraging many more exchanges, of more different types, among those present than there might otherwise be.

The experiment was introduced at the start of the mid-week section of the festival, after an initial two days of introduction to the place, the land, the community and the concept of ‘transition’. It stirred up all sorts of interesting reactions and turbulence, which was most revealing about many aspects of our individual and collective shadow around money.

Alain and Anna manning the Trudo bank

Because the community ‘container’ was already in place, these disturbing elements could be illuminated and worked with further. The experiment was introduced as a game – participation was optional – and it was interesting to see how quickly many people forgot that and felt it as an imposition. Power was projected onto the ‘organisers’ who had invented the rules and the ‘bank’ that issued the currency to the participants.

It was also interesting to see that the children took to the system really well and had no compunctions about being creative with the currency and asking some really challenging questions – like “how come you can use this toy money to buy ‘real’ things like ice creams and pancakes? Won’t Johannes (at the café) lose out?” Some of the adults refused to engage with the experiment at all. Erwin, who was constantly giving away Trudos in exchange for work in the permaculture garden, ended up with more of them than he knew what to do with…

Because this experiment with alternative currency was just that – an experiment – part of the transaction involved writing on the back of the Trudo note (i) the name of the person who first put the note into circulation, and (ii) the transaction for which it changed hands each time. At the end of the four-day experiment, all Trudos in circulation were returned to the ‘bank’, which is now in possession of the story of all the relationships fostered by this experiment.

It is hoped that the currency will continue to develop and function after the gathering.

May we liberate our lives from the slavery of money logic.

Learning to live together with the land

About half the group camped on the land and self-organised in a field kitchen, harvesting from the land and preparing food together. That turned out to be a whole learning process for those who took part – again the challenge of different meaning-making systems rubbing each other up the wrong way. Not everybody was happy with what happened, but that was also allowed to be there without losing energy on trying to fix it.

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A lot of collective work was done – building firepits and clay ovens, planting seedlings, harvesting food, gathering seed, learning about herbs and edible food in the wild, making seitan. Taco and Erwin, who live at the Kasteel, are steeped in the practices of permaculture. It was thanks to their labour that there was so much abundance on the land, ready to be picked and eaten: plums, early apples, blackberries and raspberries, courgettes, beets, salad, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, eggs… these two men were constantly surrounded by children and adults, soaking up their knowledge and connecting back into nature for life-changing inspiration.

Making seitan

Engaging together with food – growing, gathering, harvesting, preparing, eating – grounds the spirit in the body and creates community. Community feeds the soul while much of our current consumer lifestyle starves it.

May we remember our love of the land.

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Transition Open Space – the future will be together

The future will be together

At the beginning of July, I attended an eight-day Transition Open Space festival in Flanders. Here is an excerpt from the invitation that gives a flavour of what the gathering was about:

“Many people find that we must do things ‘differently’, but don’t know how. Some people feel that they are personally ‘in transition’, while others are seeking to change course in their professional lives … Many are searching, experimenting, learning and taking a first step. But what’s next? We see many beautiful mushrooms: permaculture, local transition initiatives, transition arenas, the Art of Hosting, systems thinking, sustainability, participation, local economy, etc. But who has noticed that there is an underground, invisible system – the mycelium – that connects all these visible mushrooms? What is possible if we see this together, experience this together, and take our next step from there?”

What I experienced and observed during our week together nicely illustrates some of the recurring patterns I am witnessing in the cultural shift beginning to peek through the cracks in mainstream civilization:

  • The core team
  • Containers for self-organising and diversity
  • Alternative currency as a means to surface the shadow of money
  • Learning to live together with the land
  • Intentionally spreading the seeds of possibility
  • Healing the relationship between the masculine and feminine
  • Witnessing & reflection as practices that birth collective wisdom
  • Omnipresence of Spirit and Earth
  • Understanding diversity as wholeness
  • Be yourself!
  • Staying local to support the trans-local.

I’ll be sharing more of the story, together with my thoughts and observations about these patterns over the coming days/weeks – in the meantime, here’s a lovely short video by Berto Aussems with photos and film taken during the last two days of the festival.

Posted in Aquarian practice, healing, moving the edge, Nature, Storytelling, transition | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The tale of the Green Witch

Every story holds within it the time, place and circumstances of its telling. My story, as I tell it here, arose out of a process of inquiry and sharing in a workshop called ‘Embody your Calling’ offered by Ria Baeck and Mary Alice Arthur. It took place at Kasteel Nieuwenhoven, a place which holds much magic for me – it was where I first learned about the work of the Green Witch.

The height of winter, when the world is most deeply asleep

Once upon a time – in the right place, at the right time, as these things always are – a Green Witch was born. She was born at the height of winter, when the world is most deeply asleep, in a wild and forsaken place far from civilisation (at a time when many people were born in hospitals) and close to many ancient places of earth power. Her birth took place in the last hours before a new decade, at the blossoming of the age of modernity, when humanity still thought progress meant cutting away our dependencies on nature and Mother Earth.

The little Green Witch was given the gifts of connection to the invisible realms of faerie and spirit, to the deep hidden lore of place and the unmanifest realm of epochal flows and patterns. She was given the gifts of music and language, subtle sensing and intellectual power. Her birth was attended – midwifed, actually – by a Fairy Godmother who gave her the gift of Mysticism.

From her parents she received the gifts of the material realm, of practical skills and also of appearances, together with the injunction to anticipate and adapt to the expectations and needs of the inhabitants of the human realm she had chosen to be born into.

For her mother recognised that she was a Witch, and she was afraid. Because this was a place where many witches had been burned in the past, and there were no outward signs that it was any safer today than it had been back then. So she whispered to her daughter “you must learn to dissemble who you are – let people see who they want to see, not who you are”. She was so afraid for her daughter that she never told her that she saw who she was – in case her daughter might discover who she was for herself, and be tempted to go down that dangerous path.

And so a misunderstanding was born. As she grew, the little Green Witch carefully guarded her secret life of communion and exploration in the hidden realms, for she had understood that there was something terribly wrong with her, that if she showed her true essence, she would likely not survive. And she had learned that her family pooh-poohed all that was not applauded as success in the material realms of work and society. So she navigated her education and career choices through sensing the approval of those whom she depended on for her physical and emotional well-being, learning so well how to anticipate their desires for her that she could take these with her as her guide even when she left home and went out into the world.

A longing and an emptiness so huge...

But our little Green Witch was not happy. Wherever she went, she knew she didn’t fit in, so she lived in her inner world and found it hard to make friends. She was filled with a longing and an emptiness that were so huge that sometimes she thought they would swallow her up before breakfast. And she saw in the eyes of the people around her, the people she loved and needed, that all they wanted from her was for her to be well, to be strong, to be sorted, balanced, healthy and successful. And so she learned to show these things to the world, and to cry alone at night, when she sometimes felt desolate for the gradual withdrawal and loss of the magic realms she remembered from her dreams.

But although she felt alone, her guardians, who were denizens of the realms that had sent her willingly on her life’s mission, always kept an eye on her, and populated her dreams with reminders of her power and lessons about the nature of space, time and the miracles of life. And yet she experienced these dreams of her power as horrific nightmares, and awoke from the dreams of life’s miracles into depression at the drudgery and greyness of her daily life.

And still, the world itself lent a hand, keeping her on track despite her forgetting, thanks to chance encounters that broke open her heart and changed the course of her life time and time again.

Each the shadow of the other

In time she settled in a foreign land, where she married and had children – although the quest to satisfy that longing for family and motherhood was long and traumatic. Born to her were twins who were each the shadow of the other, somehow mirroring her own life’s paradoxes, bringing them to life in manifest form in such a way that she was forced to reconcile them so that she could nurture and protect these two souls who had come, for a time, into her keeping.

As her children grew older, and the season of her life came for her to claim back her own destiny after the long, long years of her apprenticeship in the world of appearances, there came a time when the invisible realms erupted again into the centre of her life, and she found herself in the company of other witches, with different and complementary gifts, who could see who and what she was, just as she could see them. Together in the Coven, they learned that Magic was indeed real, and that Witches were not only no longer burned, but now needed and called forth in to the world. Her heart fair exploded with the joy of recognition and the obsessive thirst to steep herself again in the depths of the unfathomable invisible realms of her soul’s domain.

In the company of other witches

And so she found herself at the Crossroads called Dissolution. Torn in two, with a terrifying longing to jettison all she had built and become in the world of appearances, in order to follow her sisters into the mysterious caverns of the unmanifest deep. But she wasn’t alone at this crossroads. Thinking to step off the path and enter the caverns, she found herself eyeball to eyeball with a large blue heron. She stepped aside to pass him, he stepped to bar her way. She wasn’t surprised to find herself developing a crippling headache – and to hear the heron’s voice inside her head. “At this point in the story, I am supposed to give you a manuscript to take with you on your journey. As you can see, I am not equipped to write manuscripts, so you’ll just have to pay close attention and listen well:

“I represent the cosmic family whose bosom you left to embark on this life’s quest. I am sent here to tell you that you can go no farther from this point until you leave certain things behind. You have learned to show others what they want to see. It is time now to show them who you are. You must drop your protection of appearances and re-member who you are. You have been given certain gifts that are yours to steward and employ on behalf of that which brought you forth and that to which you belong. You are an elemental being and unless you openly step into the fullness of your own being, the world cannot be complete.

... gifts / flaws...

“Your gifts are not to be used in the place from which they came, but in the places where they are not otherwise to be found. You belong to two worlds, the visible and the invisible. You have reached a space where you are equally comfortable in both and you are called to bridge the two.

“There is in you a flaw that will be your guide in this work of re-membering. Remember that you are not only extraordinary, but you are also ordinary: you are a woman, a mother, a person with needs and a personal life. Take care of the small things, like being true to who you are. We give you this knowledge so that you can complete your journey.

“Now, go and get on with living happily ever after.”

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Apprenticing to the Earth – Working with disturbance

Towards the end of the recent Apprenticing to the Earth gathering, we came to the realisation that our community had not been whole. Throughout our gathering, energy had been leaking out. Repeatedly, individuals brought in discomfort and vulnerability, and for some reason it vanished into a black hole. Somehow, the space wasn’t safe for expression of our inner dissonance, and so the individuals feeling disturbance either stayed away or showed up without being fully present. All this despite the beautiful, deep space that had opened up during or storytelling circle on the second day.

The whole is more beautiful than just the light

By speaking about this aspect of our gathering, I intend no criticism of the group, of the hosting team, or any of the individuals present. Our gathering was what it was – the only thing it could be – and it was a precious and perfect experience just as it was. And part of its uniqueness was this ‘tear in our field’, as Maria named it. This, too, I feel called to witness. In it, I sense there is potential for much learning.

On the last day, I called an open space session about “Truth” – about speaking our truth from an authentic space, and what the conditions are that allow us to do that. Not surprisingly, we didn’t get to the bottom of it, but it stimulated a whole cascade of reflections that have been working in me ever since.

As a species learning to live in a radically different place with itself and the planet, it’s a topic we really need to get to grips with. If we don’t, whatever the new patterns we weave into the new social tapestry, they won’t be quite ‘real’ – they’ll be fundamentally flawed from the outset, infected with the unfinished business of the dying era. Since it’s not our intention to forge a phony path into the future, we had better heed these warning signals.

So what is it that’s so important about speaking our truth from the heart? In my experience, this truth is often uncomfortable to speak (because it’s often outside the accepted social discourse), and to hear (for the same reason). But it’s when we voice our truth that things begin to shift.

We live in a ‘yes’ culture, where dissenting voices aren’t really welcome. And yet, in our hearts, we all carry ‘No’s’ that are crying out to be spoken. We’re often thankful when some brave soul takes the risk and speaks the unspeakable – like the little boy in the story of the Emperor’s new clothes. But what happens next is crucial. How does the disturbance land in the group? Is it acknowledged, opened out, explored by the collective? Or is it, perhaps, acknowledged and then ‘parked’ as not relevant to the purpose of the gathering?  Or is it, perhaps, greeted with silence, and then glossed over as if it never happened?

As we step into the intentional practice of the new Aquarian patterns of co-creation and self-organisation, we are having to face the growing complexity of what it means to be mature, self-actualising individuals living and functioning within meshworks of interdependent collectives whose relational health is pivotal to the wellbeing of our society and our ability as a species to play our real role as part of Gaia’s own complexifying metabolism and place in the whole.

In this context, part of what we need to learn as individuals is how to discern when the disturbance we are feeling is part of our own process, and when we are picking up the subtle signs of a disturbance in the group, or in the wider system. Because this is such a complex and subtle affair, it is helpful – at least while we are learning new ways of being together – to have moments of collective sensing as a group, when we specifically invite individuals to speak any disturbances they are feeling. In some more innovative settings, space is made at the beginning and end of processes to allow for this to happen. I rarely see it happening during the process itself – but perhaps that’s because I’m not moving in circles where that is practiced… I suspect, though, that this is partly because we just don’t give ourselves the time to attend to our relationship at the same time as we are pursuing our task, whatever that happens to be. Failure to attend to this subtle sensing of the health and wholeness of our system can result in our screwing up our work. So it really is worth making the effort.

Disturbance is pointing to what’s under the surface. It calls for collective illumination of what’s hidden. Some individuals are really gifted at this subtle sensing, yet they often end up functioning as lightning rods: all the negativity in the system gets dumped on them, and they find themselves ostracized or scape-goated. In an organisation, they can be the ones that end up as burned-out ‘social cases’ – the casualties of the system – when they could be our greatest assets.

When we turn away from the disturbances, we miss an opportunity to bring in more of our wholeness. Let us, then, embrace disturbance as the portal to our next level of wholeness. Let us incorporate the practices of working with disturbance as an integral part of our toolkit for hosting in the future. Let us welcome the shadow into our gatherings, as part of the alchemy of radical joy.

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Apprenticing to the Earth – Nature Walk

Nature's invitation

On this day, we enter

the invisible subterranean realms.

Stepping out of our civilised sphere

Into the wild dominion of this Land.

What is the impact of my presence

When I step off the path

into the tall grass among the trees?

How does the landscape respond?

Enter her domain...

Listen to the language of the forest:

If you don’t belong, the birds will cry alarm.

Enter Her domain with the skin of a snake

The nose of a dog

The tongue of a cat

The ears of a deer

And the eyes of an owl.

Concert house of insect philharmonic

Moving further from the path

I am transported back – a child again

In a small haven of wild nature

My safe space, when my family wasn’t.

I go where I am invited – I know when I’m invited!

The plants themselves show me

How to wriggle my feet in amongst the stems

Treading delicately as an elephant

In my soft-souled shoes.

I go where I'm invited

Entranced by the insect orchestra

– what key is this concerto in?

Sensitive to the solos of the birds.

Only one alarm, in the copse below my tent

The energy of outrage is marked…

But nothing to do with me.

Come play with me

My impact is one of interaction

I am in the egoless, thought-free space of an animal.

A sensory being, following invitations

With my doggy nose,

Tasting the scents on the air

With my feline tongue,

Sensing the prickles, the undulations, the wafting breezes

With my snake’s skin.

Immobile. Beautiful

My owl’s eyes show me Vanessa,

Perched in the branches of an olive tree



And my heart swells with love.

Not human love, but nature’s love of her own.

And I understand:

Nature loves children – welcomes them

And plays with them.

When we re-enter our childhood’s instinctive knowing of her

We can walk here without fear.

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Transforming relationships for the Aquarian age

A conversation with Maria and Kamyar while preparing breakfast one morning in Axladitsa’s open kitchen brought me to an insight about how to articulate what needs to shift in our relationships if we are to successfully navigate the transition into the future we long for.

In our transactional worldview, where the dominant economic model plays such a pivotal role, relationships are coloured by some very unconscious, unquestioned but fundamental assumptions about how the world works. In a society where the market place rules, we step into relationships on the premise that I have a need, and that you are going to meet it. A relationship is seen as a contract.

As far as I can tell, most of us spend a great deal of time and energy projecting this unwritten contract onto each other, and then stressing ourselves by second-guessing other people’s unspoken (and probably unconscious) expectations of us and then somehow convincing ourselves that we have to meet them.

These expectations are symptomatic of the stage of development that humanity is currently going through – and our western society in particular. We are in the thrall of the adolescent syndrome of immediate wish fulfillment at all costs, and this is being acted out in the form of rampant consumerism and collective blindness to the toll this is taking on our living environment.

Part of growing up and entering adulthood is learning to recognise and take responsibility for our own expectations. Where relationships are concerned, this means recognising that the purpose of the other person is not to meet my needs. Relationship is no longer a contract, instead, it becomes purpose-driven in a whole new way, as we come together to co-create something that wasn’t there before, something that contributes to creating greater wholeness in the world we want to live in.

Part of the work in the dawning of the Aquarian age, then, is to learn to transform our collective ways of relating. Here is some of what I am learning about that:

  • The days of the lone hero as leader are over. We are starting to learn what it means for leadership to emerge from the collective. This requires us, as individuals, to awaken to our expectations of ourselves and others regarding leadership.
  • Working collectively does not mean inclusion of all in all cases. There is a need for discernment in when to invite participation and when to maintain a semi-permeable membrane. In advanced post-modern societies, there can be a huge, politically-correct pressure for blanket inclusion. There are times when this needs to be resisted.
  • Ability to work well in a self-organising collective is a function of maturity. Adults operate at different levels of maturity and there is a threshold beneath which participation in certain kinds of group (e.g. core groups undertaking interventions in complex systems) is counterproductive. Again, in our politically-correct societies, treading this minefield requires a nuanced understanding of adult development and cristal clarity about what degree of maturity is needed in what circumstances. As a corollary, practices of radical humility are also needed if we are to fend off the real danger of elitism.
  • When working with complexity, a crucial ingredient in relationships is intimacy. In all the professional environments I know, fear and mistrust are rife. People perceive authentic expression as a high-risk behaviour, so developing the degree of intimacy needed to function well together in a complex world is a real challenge. We don’t yet know enough about how to establish and maintain healthy intimacy in collective work, so some action research around that would be welcome. I am learning that calling for authenticity in high-risk environments is an act of leadership that often pays off. People are hungry for what’s real, and hurting inside from the lack of meaning in the story our civilisation is telling us about why we are here and what we are for.


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Real Democracy emerging – eyewitness account from Athens

During my time at the Apprenticing to the Earth gathering at Axladitsa, the Greek Real Democracy movement was taking embryonic shape in Syntagma Square in Athens. We were with them in spirit, holding the whole worldwide movement in our hearts as we engaged with the land and with nature and each other in our experimental ways. But it was really hard to know what was going on. Unlike the gatherings of the Arab Spring, seized upon with glee by the news channels as the sensational downfall of some ideological ‘enemies’, the rise of the indignados in the very bosom of civilised Europe has been greeted with deafening radio silence  – this movement is not being covered by the mainstream media. We were wondering why that was – the question has been asked on the Art of Hosting mailing list, and we have rather reached the conclusion that it’s a good thing to be ‘under the radar’ at this time.

Syntagma square - Image courtesy of Greek reporter

It’s time, if ever there was one, for experimentation and learning – not for soundbites and propaganda in the only language the conventional media seems to understand: language that fits with the unexamined assumptions of today’s politics and economics – that the way things are done now is the only way they can be, and that heroic leaders and political parties can somehow plan and design their way out of the perfect storm heading our way.

So the news coming out of these cradles of Real Democracy are by word of mouth. Maria Skordialos is now in Athens, and she sent us back the following account of her experiences in Syntagma Square:

“The evolution of consciousness is definitely on in Greece  – with our Greek spirit rising in a beautiful way – yet, here in Athens surrounded by people now living in Greece from different parts of the world, (English, Germans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Africans, etc.).

I want to share with you what we experienced last night (5 June 2011) and from further conversations with a friend who is working closely with what is emerging.

There were about 500,000+ people out in the streets of central Athens – the streets from Syntagma (Constitution Square) to Omonia were filled – people of all ages and nationalities.

Syntagma Square itself was filled with people – many were walking on the roads around the square, talking, friends meeting friends, children on parents shoulders.  Walking into the square – there was loads of food being sold/offered – drinks, etc.  There is a feeling of a festival – with big banners saying – We do not owe, We are not selling and We are not paying!!

At the centre of Syntagma Square – something was happening – people were sitting on the floor in small groups – there was a microphone and a screen.  A strong energy of love was present – people listening, helping each other, creating pathways in case of people needing to move – my sister Stella has a bad back – several men stood up to help her so she can sit.  Suddenly – on the screen – we are connected with Barcelona – we greet them in Greek and they greet us in Spanish – a deep sense of connection emerges in us – we feel a new sense of courage that we are in this together.  A Spaniard speaks to us – tells us that they are with us – that together we can find the courage we need to make our lives our own.  We cheer and shout thank you.  One of our men responds and tells Spain how we love them, thank them for being together with us, and that we know that we are creating a new Europe.  The Spanish cheer back and start chanting how much they love us.  We switch to Madrid – more love is poured between us – we thank each other and the screen goes blank.

A few moments of silence and then a woman’s voice speaks that the council is open.  She invites anyone who wants to share a proposal of what we should do next to step up to the microphone – 200 numbers are given out which is the number of voices that can be heard for up to three minutes each.  We begin to hear proposals of the actions we need to take collectively.  The main proposal that came up again and again was stopping the next decision being taken on 14 June for more severe measures to be placed on us living in Greece – a call for the movement to not allow the ministers to enter the parliament – for millions of us to be present – from all neighbourhoods and parts of Greece – to show that we do not want the IMF – or even our government.  The hosts of the council – one guardianing the time and the others inviting the next number – invite us to not clap or boo in response as this is disrespectful to the speaker and stops their flow.  Instead we are asked to wave if we agree – and to put thumbs down if disagree – but no sound.  People listen to each other – different ages of voices speak – different accents (not all are Greek) – really wacky ideas are given – everyone is listened to.  At 11:30 p.m.  from teh voices have been heard – a harvest of 6 key proposals have come from the wisdom of the crowd – it is time to vote on the proposals, (not all 200 voices were heard but after the vote- the voices can continue to be spoken and any proposal will be taken the next day).  For the voting – if you agree you raise your hand – if you disagree – you thumbs down.  It is easy to see the decisions that are taken clearly and are passed.  One is not clear – a vote is retaken asking everyone to vote – it is clear that it is not to be passed.  5 decisions are made, (if a decision cannot be made – people sleep on it and comes back up for vote the next day).

Drummers and other musicians play until 4 a.m – bringing back the feeling of greek ‘glenti’ – celebration.

This is happening every night in Syntagma – this movement is asking at a fundamental level for new democratic governance – and it is powerful because it is being practiced/prototyped real time.  It was begun by a hand full of people – and thousands are joining in.  Many more are circling around this centre – people who do not understand the process or are not ready to join in this way – but still want to come.  In some way they are protecting the non partisan democracy that is emerging from the middle – protecting this from being too known to soon and being squashed by riot police.

And there is more that is happening – from 12 onwards every afternoon – self organising ‘infrastructure’ groups meet – to have medical care available, the panic team (to support people if riot police attack so they do not panic but hold our ground), the secretariat team (the harvesters in our language), the artist and musician group, etc. And then from 6 to 9 there are thematic conversations – which also give rise to new groups, e.g. we have a group that are accountants and solicitors who are reading through all the legal documents of IMF and other democratic decisions made – finding chunks of money missing – they are now thinking of taking the government to the International Court.

So – this is a story of the resurgence of Hellenic Democracy – with a new collective consciousness – that everyone knows is bigger than any one of us.  Those that called this and are giving shape to this democratic architecture know that it is running ahead of them – there is no holding it back.  A new democratic governance pattern is being practiced – a new constitution is being birthed – we are becoming the democracy we want.

And we need a lot of holding on 14 June (if this stays as the decision day for the next set of measures) – because if we block the parliament – the army and riot police will retaliate – and we do not want blood shed – but will go there if we have to.  Keep calling in peace and weaving this field with us.”

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