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.

2 books of hope and promise

I’ve just finished two books within days of each other, which have left me reeling. It was good to read them together- Charles Eisenstein’s, ‘The more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’, and Charlotte du Cann’s, ’52 flowers that shook my world, a radical return to Earth’.

I read them as a reader, but also as a writer, feeling the discomfort of my own unborn book prowling around the edges of my consciousness, prodding weak spots in my defences, looking for a way out-  while I look for a way in.

When I received these books several weeks ago, on my 64th birthday, I held them both in my hands feeling hope and promise. I chose them because I sensed they would tell me something I needed to know, that taking the journey with both these writers, I would be brought to a new level in my own understanding. I was hoping their passages would give me the courage to set out on my own journey back to my true heart. And they have.

What struck me most about these two writers was how true their discoveries rang for me. And that this truth was a product of them both having navigated one or more difficult periods, falls from professional acclaim, periods of invisibility, loneliness, directionlessness, and humility. And that neither of them have arrived at some perfect all-knowing condition where they will tell us what to do. They both have been hurt and both still have issues to work out. Their travel reports don’t chart the territory that  I have to navigate, but they tell me I’m on the right journey and it is ok that right now I’m walking in a land with no signposts.

It seems that the books we are getting and perhaps need most now are by real people, asking the same questions that are on  our minds, but asking them from a new perspective. Not theoretical, but rooted in a hard won knowing of their place in the world and in their own internal landscape. And that this is perhaps their greatest gift, that they have faced down obstacles of low self worth, isolation, criticism, to emerge whole with a story to tell. A story that can help each of us do the same.

I know I haven’t gone into the subject matter of either of these books in this post, that is for another time. These two books’ gifts to me were of two very different people and their journeys to find their own truth. And their compassion and clarity in describing the movements of their innermost hearts lights the way for me as well.

Into the tipping machine

I’m deep into Charlotte du Cann’s, ’52 Flowers that shook my world, a radical return to Earth’. So far, it is a good and unsettling book- makes you think:

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, in the light of this book, looking at my own life, what is working what isn’t.

On another track, but related: In an attempt to come off my extreme anti-marketing position and try to work with the channels available, I had a gallery owner here looking at my oil paintings. He liked the work, but it isn’t unique enough, and I myself don’t carry enough of a reputation to enhance the gallery’s ambiance.

I realise that if, at this stage, I want to show my work, I would need to put a huge amount of time and effort to building up an image of my art and myself as desirable and exclusive. Unless, of course, as I did when I first came here, I  go around to libraries and community centres, and frame, hang and show the work for free, then take it all home again- having supplied them nice no-charge wall decorations for a month. the path of exhibiting in galleries, as I felt, is not tenable for me.

Then this: recently I read an article about the new transition type art- mostly shamanistic, conceptual, often with a social message relating to shifting paradigms. And realised that my art isn’t directly about that either!

And while I was digesting this, my husband showed me a wonderful article by the director of a Dutch bank working with alternative values. The author was taking a look at transition and associated terms- the ‘tipping points, the cultural creatives, economy transformers, paradigm shift’ etc. He was asking if these new buzz concepts didn’t leave behind some valuable things. He said that there are certainly things in the  ‘old’ paradigm worth holding onto- but to voice that is a new taboo because, ‘everything has to change-  it all has to go into the tipping-machine’.

My neighbours are just normal people. They take care of the old and ill in the street, work in the community gardens, keep the local billiard club going- they just do these things naturally. They don’t sign petitions for women’s rights in the Middle east, they just do the shopping for the woman next door. They don’t know that you can lease a recycled pair of jeans, but they hardly ever waste things because ‘that would be a shame’. They don’t start a social media community, but they do volunteer work for their community centre.

They like nice, good things- the garden, children, friendship and warmth. And they work together for the benefit of their school, street and billiard club.

All of this completely ‘person-centred’ and ‘sustainable’.

Do they even know that?

Jeroen Jansen Director of the ASN Bank

It is what I keep coming back to: being here fully. Taking time to do the things that need doing well, caring for the home, the garden and others.

And the questions about where my art does or doesn’t fit in aren’t really the relevant ones, though I admit that matters of recognition and success still come up as a result of  being a professional artist all my life.  But I sense that my answers don’t lie with identifying too much with either the transition community or the ‘old’ career ways, but with sending roots down into myself, anchoring in my own story, as well as the local area.

And as far as my painting goes, it is, like Tai Chi, my discipline; it is something I can go  deeper into every day forever, and be led to layers of discovery and insight. It is where I come up against myself, and am lifted above myself at the same time. Du Cann emphasises internals. Questions of success and recognition, or having a visible task, of standing out either here or in the transition community are externals and all depend on validation from outside.  How do we validate ourselves inside? seems to be the task at hand.

The heart of the machine

Once I had an unrequited love and I suffered fittingly. It took 2 years from the time I decided to stop the involvement,to finally be free of it.

I woke up every day of the first months in all consuming emotional pain, with no idea how or if it would ever end.

Looking back on that process, I see that the only way I got over it was to develop into another person. To try to change from within the paradigm which caused the problem in the first place was useless. No act of will could take away the hurt. I did everything I could to help myself get over it- introspection, keeping away from him, dream work, meaningful personal rituals- they all helped. By increments. But it was time and personal growth which changed me and ultimately freed me from the obsession.

Now I can recognise a similar situation coming from a mile away, and I am more aware of the danger. And though I’m not immune, I’ve changed in ways that  make me less prone to recreating those types of situations.

I believe that some of the same principles can be applied to larger change processes, which are in essence matters of consciousness change. Many of us are now awake to the worldwide systems collapse taking place economically, environmentally and otherwise.

There is a huge groundswell of counter movements at grass roots level building alternatives to the inefficient mess so much of the world is in today. There are slow food and organic movements, a growing interest in permaculture, Earthships, non- traditional arts, new models for education, medicine, and community. In short, everything which is sustainable, resilient, clean and harmonious, as opposed to the corrupt, soulless, and violent society we’re living in.

It is tempting to refer to all that is wrong with the world as  ‘Empire’, and I’m hearing the term increasingly. But I feel it is useless to be against anything because a stance against, creates ‘other’. And that violates the principle of oneness/interconnectedness upon which the new emerging paradigm is based.

I recently read a post by Vanessa at Vivid questioning the point of activism if we were acting against the very systems we work for and gain our sustenance from. We all use and depend on technology for everything from social contact to making art. She saw no way out of this dilemma inside the precepts of the existing paradigm.

Like my healing process years ago, it is rather a matter of slow development out of being the type of person who is totally(unconsciously)  interdependently entwined with the existing system, to someone representing and building a new alternative.

This is a process, a slow process. As Jeppe says,in the meantime, we need to learn to live in the heart of the machine- he doesn’t say in the brain, or bowels of the machine, but the heart.

I think that a great thing for us to do would be to become the heart of the  machine. We are already doing it, by being aware that we need to change our internal environment first. I know some peace activists, for example, who are constantly at war with everyone around them. So we need to heal our shadows as much as we can so we don’t project them onto the ‘other’. And this peace and friendliness radiates out onto our relationships, we create stable, kind, inclusive bonds. And these reflect out onto our communities and so on.

From there we plant our gardens, create our rituals, help plan programs to heal our communities, write our articles, have our gatherings, create beauty , healing, renewal, together.

It is a cliché, but we can, we must become the change we want to see. When do our views inadvertently cancel someone else’s out, when do we act superior, when do we provoke conflict? I see the need to evolve into the kind of person who carries honesty tempered with kindness, peace as well as critical analysis, willingness to engage to balance my resistance in getting involved.

It is work, it is grace, it is slow, it can happen in a blink.

You meet him (her) on the street, and say hi, and it is clean, free, and clear-  you walk on.

Art holding time, new companions on the journey

Art holds time like a vase  Oil pastel and calligraphy collage

Art holds time as a vase  holds water  (Ben Okri)   Oil pastel and calligraphy collage

As I’ve mentioned before, here and at my other blog, artcalling, I’ve recently stumbled by grace into a web of connections which makes sense to me and supports what l I believe in.

My journey away from the established art world started decades ago, but ‘where to now?’ was always the pressing question. Among colleagues who urged me to exhibit even though I no longer believed in the gallery system, friends who urged me to ‘make more of those and sell them’, and countless other coaches and mentors who all agreed that I could ‘succeed’ if I would only do more to promote myself; not one person truly understood that the ladder they were urging me to climb was up against the wrong wall.

And anyway, I wasn’t the least bit interested in climbing, I wanted to walk in the sunshine with friends of my heart, and do my soul’s work in community. Somehow that just didn’t fit the business plan, nor did it have a price tag.

All of us who have long sensed the old world collapsing, yet had no intimation of what the new might be, have at some point realised that we were alone. In the company of others still functioning in the operating paradigm, the isolation was complete, at least for me. It was not only physical, but spiritual and emotional and psychological. And the self doubt at finding oneself an outsider when one only wanted connection, was at times paralysing.

So, as Cat wrote in  her introduction to my guest post, when we begin to find each other –

Thrill and relief spill over at the renewed discovery of not being alone, of finding unexpected others who can listen deeply to us in the place between stories, because they are somewhere that is like that themselves.

One common thread in most of the new connections I’ve made over the last 3 months has been ‘Dark Mountain’. I want to write about it because I’ve spent a lot of time at various sites and am in conversation with several people involved with this…what can you call it, not a movement, not a form, but let’s say – a crucible for loosely holding a multitude of transitions and visions. A place where creators of all kinds can acknowledge the shifting grounds of their disciplines, themselves and the world, express it, and connect with others asking similar questions.

I’ve been profoundly nourished by what I’ve read. And rather than try to express it in my own words just now, I strongly recommend starting with Jeppe’s post about Dark Mountain’s Uncivilisation festivals, the last one of which was held in Wales in August. If you stay with what he has expressed so eloquently (it is a long post, but rich in content and meaning), and go back and follow some of the links, a new story will emerge, and you will be able to understand what so many worldwide are starting to get a glimpse of; and by writing, making, centring, transitioning, gardening, tending, gathering, nurturing, building, conversing-  together are birthing.

Here is a teaser from Jeppe’s site:

During the last two years I have been exploring Dark Mountain partly in the capacity of being a researcher. The conversations and mutual reflections I have found myself involved in have taken me far and wide in search of some way of answering a question: “how do sustainability narratives shape lifeworlds within grassroots innovations?” I see now an almost beautiful naïvety about my question – in the implicit assumption of change-the-narrative-change-experience – but through the contours of the conversations I have had I also see the beginnings of an answer. (And I see a deeper value in the naïvety because it was not just an unquestioning naïvety but a sincere and foolish naïvety.) The trouble with the answer is that it involves leaving behind the frames of reference in which the question was formulated (for a while I thought that was a problem but it really is just the way that paradox holds the key to a transformation in viewpoint). Rather than ‘changing worldview’ by applying a new story with a different set of assumptions to the world, we begin to relate differently to the world by deepening and establishing new relationships with its multitude of inhabitants. Then we can begin to hear what stories they have to tell and practice giving voice to a different kind of story altogether.