Let’s Gro- an Inspiration Festival


A vegetable garden for everyone

Last summer,  I heard that Charles Eisenstein would be at Findhorn’s, ‘New Story Summit’ conference. At first I wanted to go, but the idea of attending a conference put me off. I’ve gone to similar gatherings only to experience a few intense days of inspiration, then being unable to maintain the ‘conference high’ back in familiar surroundings. The seemingly promising contacts also water down, and in a few months, I’m left wondering if I couldn’t have spent all that time and money more wisely.

From what I heard of the conference it sounded like I’m not the only one to resist this old way of orchestrating knowledge-sharing – despite positive feedback there were serious rumblings of rebellion and dissatisfaction throughout the week.

Mailing briefly with Charles after the conference, he understood my concerns, yet noted that this form of gathering was still precious in that it created a space where diverse people could meet and exchange experiences. But he, too, has been feeling the urge to explore more open-ended ways of doing this.

Well, last week I was very lucky to experience a fantastically successful alternative to the old conference form. And I didn’t have to go abroad to do so. I’m privileged to live just outside of Groningen- a culturally rich university town in the northernmost end of Holland. It has always been on the progressive side despite the Calvanistic influence, but now, things are really starting to hot up.

The Let’s Gro Inspiration Festival was a perfect platform for exploring transition. There were 122 events planned over 2 days in or around the centre of Groningen. The theme was ‘The future of the city Groningen’. All the events were geared to exploring alternatives to existing forms. The scope was huge: community greening initiatives, socially engaged art, repurposing buildings, recyling, upcycling, social work, new energy alternatives, rethinking transport in the city,exploring community in various forms, etc.

Here is a small selection of what was available to do, most of it free!

  • a masterclass in self organisation in the city, how to initiate citizen actions
  • a pop up restaurant using locally produced organic products
  • a talk about creating community green spaces by residents who did so successfully
  • a presentation on the ‘home of the future’ featuring new technology to enable the elder home-owner to remain at home longer
  • panels and events for young entrepreneurs in the creative industries
  • a guided tour around a garden started for low income families, to give them work and enable them to grow their own food
  • a ship container with a display of cradle to cradle projects, and a room where oyster mushrooms are being raised on coffee grounds collected from the huge Internal Revenue building’s restaurant.
  • a café run by volunteers, serving free meals, using only donated food slightly past hold by date, or surplus from restaurants and local farmers
  • a nature hike in the city’s green spaces
  • a vintage clothes swap event
  • a party for internationals- students and young entrepreneurs

There was music, dance, partying, art, theatre, film, and this water sculpture on the main market square. There were seminars on urban beekeeping, on providing a basis income for everyone, creative strategies for the city, safety in neighborhoods, sustainable entrepreneurship, a mini Maker’s Fair, and more.

What I loved about it was the free form way you could put together your own program. You could meet or not meet other people, you could choose where to linger, when to go, what to see, taste, hear, experience. The knowledge gained could be applied locally, which was the intention. And the people one met lived nearby enough, had enough common interests and networks to make keeping in touch realistic.

I attended several events on one day and though I didn’t come home on a conference high, I was quietly inspired and grounded in my neighborhood and in Groningen in a new way. Possibilities opened up I’d not been aware of before. This is truly a place where people are exploring new ways of building community together. There is so much going on!

As a result of contacts made there, I may be assisting a student project about social initiatives, and have since heard about some other socially engaged artists.

And speaking of community, I learned about the Community Lover’s guide to the Universe, which I hadn’t been aware of until now, were you?


Disrupting the old story

The world as we know it is built on a story. To be a change agent is, first to disrupt the existing story of the world, and second, to tell a new story of the world so that those entering the space between stories have somewhere to go.
-Charles Eisenstein- ‘The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’

Eisenstein speaks  about ‘disrupting the existing story’ as an effective way to detach from the *old story and help create the new.
He points out that methods of trying to convert people to a new story won’t work if based on the old way of thinking. You can’t convince people your story is the ‘right’ one, because you then imply that theirs is  ‘wrong’, and this will threaten and provoke people to dig in more deeply to their own viewpoint. Anyway, everyone uses their own logic to argue their point.
Also, you certainly can’t force people to change their beliefs through guilt-tripping them, that would only create resistance.

So how does one disrupt the old story? One way is walking out of it into the space between. If I’ve been obediently going to work everyday despite dissatisfaction, and because of social and financial pressures, then stopping disrupts the story that ‘in order to survive, we all have to do work we don’t like’. Or the ‘economy needs to be kept running’, etc.  Or ‘if I don’t work, I’m not a valid member of society’.

Living in the place in between stories is a disruption personally but also in a broader sense socially. The answer to ‘what do you do’, is not readily explainable to people still functioning in the old paradigm. Lately I’ve been saying,’I’m, 64, I am in a transition between life phases and professions, and to tell you the truth, I am just resting and waiting to see what is next’.

Eisenstein argues that:

the best way to disrupt the story of separation is to give someone the experience of non-separation. An act of generosity, forgiveness, attention, truth or unconditional acceptance offers a counter example to the world of separation.

I think that alot of the new art forms (or unforms) demonstrate these qualities. Flash mobbing is generous and humorous and disrupts taking one’s surroundings and daily routine for granted.

Flash mob performances catch an audience unawares and before they can mobilise defences,  the music goes straight to their souls.

And attention; the attention I was able to give to people with dementia and their families when I worked as a volunteer activity director in a nursing home, was disruptive as well. It challenged many negative beliefs about what people with Alzheimers were capable of or not. Attention is a powerful tool for healing and change, and it went hand in hand with unconditional acceptance.

Forgiveness is harder, it means letting go of feeling wronged. It means softening and giving up one’s ego position, it means admitting I’m also wrong. And it does disrupt all the old stories of unworthiness, guilt, shame, anger, separation.

Personally, my present activism seems to be to give gifts where I used to charge. It isn’t easy moving into a gift economy mode after a  lifetime of being in a professional one. In the past when I have given work free of charge, there were always hooks in it, it was never truly free. I wanted something back in the place of the money-  gratitude, recognition, more work, etc. So I was still functioning from a business paradigm. And eventually I stopped giving my work and time away because, ‘I really can’t afford to’, ‘it is never appreciated’, ‘you get taken advantage of’,’the universe doesn’t work that way’ etc.

But over the years there arrives some kind of tipping point, a lot of us are experiencing now. Being in the place in between has certainly helped this process. By completely disengaging from my professional work and identity, I’ve been free to function closer to my nature, which enjoys giving purely for the satisfaction of seeing people being made happy. And it arises from the conviction that there is enough after all and that I will be provided for.

Actually, the more I give the richer I feel. This is such a cliché, I know, I can’t believe I said it. But when entering a disruptive activity completely, the experience can be transformative.

This article on Random acts of Generosity goes a step further in linking gift with art, and exploring the shadow side of gift giving.






*In his book, ‘The More beautiful world our hearts know is possible’, Eisenstein speaks of the ‘old’story as the paradigm we are currently enmeshed in, it is one of separation, an indifferent or hostile universe, everyone out for himself, money as the bottom line, etc.

The new story wanting to be born is one of connection, to one’s neighbourhood, to nature, to the cosmos. It is one which naturally fosters service,community, caring, and wholeness.

Message from inside the white cloud

It is such a resounding blank sometimes, there is no motivation to begin anything, no real reference points which make sense of putting in the effort. I’ve hesitated to write about my life right now for fear of sounding whiny. After all, I have my health, knock on wood, am married happily, am surrounded by loving friends and family, there is nothing to really complain about.

But things that used to make sense no longer do. I’m still working with Charles Eisenstein’s, ‘The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’, and he spends a lot of time addressing ‘the space in between’.  One of the characteristics of leaving an old story behind and entering a not yet clear new one, is chaos, vulnerability, uncertainty. So, while in the middle of this kind of turbulence, it is difficult to collect one’s thoughts in a way that makes sense.

Where this is most difficult for me is in relation to art and my old professional identity. The creating part is fine, that is an intimate discipline between me and my own heart. It is when third parties become involved that it gets complicated.
Recently a friend was here and saw, really saw, my most recent work. And there was an urgency-“Why aren’t you exhibiting these, why aren’t you selling them on the internet?, why don’t you sign up for the art gallery route, why don’t you contact this gallery owner” etc etc?  And there is no answer in the context of this old story that could make any sense to her.

Charles also says that holding a new story alone is almost impossible – friends, family, the pressure to earn and compete, the society itself keeps drawing us back to the old forms. We need community to keep re-enforcing the new direction so together we can hold and create the new story.

The world asks me for goals, career moves, achievement, promoting myself and my work, creating an aura of glamour (making a name) so that I will be appealing to potential buyers.

For years these have been utterly empty strivings for me, and I have withdrawn from them with all the consequences of isolation, lack of income, losing face professionally that has brought.

But now I can start to sense what is emerging and it has nothing to do with ‘goals’. The elements are vague but create a sense of openness and delight when I name them;

gardens, walking, village, friendships, cooking, community, cooperation, painting as discipline and joy, wellness, more walking, wayfaring, crafting, house, stewarding, nurturing, cultivating, horses and foals, tending, gathering.

Another point Charles makes which is important, I feel, is that bringing in the new story can’t be willed. Like the volition to act itself, it comes as a gift. Here are some relevant direct quotes and paraphrased passages from the book:

When we are trapped in a story we can only do things that  story can recognize. A lot of stories have to change, it goes all the way to our basic understanding of self and world.

That is why an activist will inevitably find herself working on the level of story- the most practical hand-on actions tell a story, they come from and contribute to the making of a new story.

In between the old and new is an empty space which must be navigated. The lessons of the old are integrated, there is completion. Returning to the place between stories we can choose from freedom and not from habit. A good time to do nothing is when you feel stuck. We feel vulnerable chaotic, nothing makes sense, old choices seem absurd, you can’t imagine new ones. The challenge is to trust that the next story will emerge when the time in between has ended.

Doing nothing is specific to the time when a story is ending and we enter the space between stories. Non- doing here is used as non-forcing. It means freedom from reflexive doing; acting when it is time to act, not acting when it is not time to act. Action is thus aligned with the natural movement of things, in service to that which wants to be born.

The wisdom to act in entirely new ways comes from nothing, inaction, the void.

These words are a solace to me who has felt increasingly unable to act in the ways expected of me. And who has sensed a deeper and kinder rhythm that my soul already knows- one that involves trust, waiting to see what comes on my path, patience, and yet more trust.

Maybe that is why walking is taking on such an importance lately, putting one foot in front of the other in trust, not rushing, taking in the scenery, being grateful for the miracle of just being able to move out in the fresh air and open road.

No New Year’s resolutions, no professional goals- gentle musings for 2014

While on vacation in America last spring, I had the time and distance to re-evaluate parts of my life. The friend I was staying with had a book on ‘finding one’s purpose’, and I thought that working through the exercises might bring me clarity for my next step.

Believe me, in the past, I’ve done my share of visioning, goal setting, etc, led by a book or workshop promising to find my real ‘vein of gold’, which if exploited would bring me fulfilment and prosperity.

They never did, and I admit I approached this book with a certain cynicism. There were valuable points in it; and though I obediently envisioned a goal; went through steps on confronting and removing obstacles from the past that were keeping me back from ‘succeeding’; and  did the bit on breaking the grand vision down into manageable steps;  I finally baulked on the ‘committing to go for it’ part.

Here is what I wrote at the back of the workbook:

After working through this book it is clear to me that this approach does not work for me, and never has. Using rational methods and the force of will to bring success feels too based in old methods of control. I’m at the point where I’d rather create a fertile, joyful, intentional field within myself – and trust the right thing to come my way.

8 months later, this conviction was affirmed by Charles Eisenstein in his book
where he says that some teachings speak of creating a vision,  ‘but this is mistaken; the proper way to start is to receive a vision…’

A vision of your path or purpose or next step is a gift.

My heart has always known that.

When doggedly pursuing one goal, I often miss what life is offering me. Or in my ambition,  am blinkered to things that also need my nurturing, and may not directly serve the goal, but would definitely enhance my life.

Another confirmation of the more gentle path I seem to be entering on, came from a quote Cat sent me in a recent mail, and it is my motto for the new year:

“It’s far more creative to work with the idea of mindfulness rather than the idea of will. Too often people try to change their lives by using the will as a kind of hammer to beat their life into proper shape. The intellect identifies the goal of the program, and the will accordingly forces the life into that shape. This way of approaching the sacredness of one’s own presence is externalist and violent.  It brings you falsely outside yourself, and you can spend years lost in the wilderness of your own mechanical, spiritual programs. You can perish in a famine of your own making.
If you work with a different rhythm you will come easily and naturally home to yourself. The soul knows the geography of your destiny. Your soul alone has the map of your future, therefore you can trust this indirect, oblique side of yourself. If you do, it will take you where you need to go, but more important it will teach you a kindness of rhythm in your journey.”
by John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

A radical and reckless act of faith

We still carry the old world’s conditioning- we want to rid ourselves of the burdensome habits of the old- not only do they no longer resonate with who we are and who we are becoming, but we recognize that trapped by those habits, we cannot help but create the world in their image.

To release the habits of separation is more than an issue of self-cultivation; it is also crucial to our effectiveness as activists, healers and changemakers.

Charles Eisenstein– ‘The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’

Elsewhere in his book, Eisenstein says that many individuals are discovering that the things they know how to get, they no longer want. This casual sentence has massive impact when translated into a life situation. It propels one into an identity crisis which, at first seems only work-related, but when followed all the way down, rocks the foundations of being.

When I, as an artist, am faced with questions of livelihood, the  issues no longer stop at, ‘Do I want to use my energy to uphold the old, money and status based gallery system’, vs., ‘Do I want to use my art in service to the community?’.They encompass the question of which story to I want to belong to and help create- the one of separation, competition and struggle, or the one Eisenstein calls, the Story of Interbeing which emphasizes the interrelatedness of all things.

I know how the old story works and what its structures are. I was successful within its framework and chose voluntarily to walk away from it. But I didn’t succeed in creating new sustainable forms in which to function as an artist whilst producing a viable income. (Eisenstein gives a bit of encouragement here by noting that those of us not working at converting nature into products and relationships into service, probably won’t be financially successful.)

Caught in the space between stories, much of my recent writing has been to explore the feelings of failure (old story) and renewed inner purpose (new story)  that seem alternately to battle for my attention. I’m trying to make sense of my choices, how some of them have empowered me, and others seem to have had the opposite effect. In certain company, I feel as if I don’t count, am talked over, ignored, and I feel invisible. Yet, in other contexts, I feel alive, powerful and on track. We need to ask ourselves what kind of values are we measuring our self worth against, and are they relevant to where and who we want to be?

Eisenstein points out that we cannot hold a deviant story alone, we need allies.

Books certainly help. ‘52 flowers that shook my world, a radical return to Earth’, by Charlotte du Cann, and ‘The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’, by Charles Eisenstein help because they are personal stories of individuals grappling with the transition from one story to another. Not as an abstract concept, but in life-shaking, crisis making, and identity threatening ways.

Eisenstein’s book doesn’t document his personal journey as much as du Cann’s book does hers, but the former is extremely helpful for bringing clarity and compassion to the process.

Du Cann forces you to travel with her into uncomfortable places, and she is still angry. Both books carry power enough to fuel one’s own tipping process if one is ripe for it.

Reading of du Cann’s ‘time of ashes’, was particularly enlightening for me. I experienced a similar ‘fall’, from being a privileged child and successful professional, to finding oneself in a world where one is alienated, demeaned,and invisible.

Du Cann found out that there can be a terrible catch in walking away from privilege and success. You may slip their trappings, but by putting yourself outside their influences, you remove yourself, too, from the power and credibility they bestow- forces which could help you more easily achieving your new goals.

But these are only problems in the old context. In the process she describes, of coming to terms with humiliation and powerlessness of being treated as a lesser member of society,, an alchemy took place.

Her book may be  about intimate communication with the plant kingdoms, and activist journalism, but above all it is about finding one’s personal power and identity outside the old systems. And reuniting with the part of oneself who is and always has been on purpose, not alone, and deeply rooted in nature.

This knowledge is not easily gained and costs everything. Both du Cann and Eisenstein speak about the need to traverse real despair to get to the other side where hope is- not a naive hope in some new age visionary promise, but a hope deeply rooted radical consciousness change and in small hands-on, acts.

It is hard living in both stories. Eisenstein acknowledges this repeatedly- it is lonely holding the new story alone especially when consensus reality says you are crazy or stupid to do so.

As an artist, I’ve progressively realized that exhibiting not only is a goal I no longer believe in, but one that actually negates the things I do stand for. But that continuing to make work still brings up old conditioning- ie, it is stacking up here, so it must not be – I must not be good enough. So underneath the powerful conviction that selling art in the old ways is not my path, there is still the niggling closet entrepreneur (plus the entire society) reinforcing the idea that if I can’t earn with my best efforts, I have failed.

I think that this kind of split is unavoidable in a time of transition. Until there is some kind of new vessel to channel my creative energy where there is also a flow of return, or until there is a working gift economy, these questions will always remain.

Neither Eisenstein  nor du Cann have arrived at some perfect place of resolution. They are both still in process and transition, thank goodness! If they keep documenting their journey with the same passion and honesty they’ve shown so far, they will continue to provide me and others with at least the coordinates of this new land where we find ourselves. Where nothing I originally wanted or was trained for seems to make sense anymore, and both moving forward and holding still require a most radical, reckless act of faith.

There is a time to act, and a time to wait, to listen, to observe. Then, understanding and clarity can grow. From understanding and clarity action arises that is purposeful, firm and powerful.

Charles Eisenstein,The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’