What’s next? Everything.

Being in the ‘place between’ stories can get (too?) comfortable.

Place between stories

Place between stories

After several years of discomfort and kicking the constant quest for meaning and recognition via one’s profession, something settled. My life led me gently back to basics, and fulfilment came from simply doing things that came naturally. Walking, gardening, drawing and painting, writing, cooking, tending the home and relationships. That was all going on when I was focused on my work as well, but it was my work which established my rhythms, and now it is the day itself, the earth’s cycles, and my body.

The long periods of deep uninterrupted focus needed to progress on my book resulted in new insights and excitement as previously unrelated areas began to reach out across ideological space and contact each other. The book is also an excavation of sorts, and I am undertsanding better where I’ve arrived and how I got here.

In the meantime, I joined a neighborhood traffic action group and worked with them for 2 years. Our successes led to the town council wanting to work with us, and now several of us are involved with plans to take what we’ve learned to other villages. Added to our weekly meetings are also planning meetings with the municipality.

Then one of the people I was working with on that project is involved in a regional version of Let’s Gro, an alternative festival held in Groningen. I went to the first meeting for ‘Let’s Win'(short for Winsum, a largish town close by) and suddenly found myself in a group where for once, I wasn’t the only one interested in transition, and alternative forms of art and community building. It was just amazing, inspiring, and the dynamic of the meeting captured my imagination, highlighted my research on my book, and also let me see what my contribution could be as far as facilitating more creative approaches in a number of areas.

So, oops, I have another project to be committed to. All of a sudden, I can’t just take off on my Pieterpad walks, but have to schedule them between ….meetings! My life is suddenly full of meetings! And more responsibility! Is this truly the direction I wanted to move in?

One aspect of the place between is that while you are waiting for what’s next, the possibilities seem endless. I guess one reluctance is that when things start to take form again, I have to make choices, and all of a sudden things get narrowed down again.

So I’m thinking about these things now. It seems that this social engagement is a natural outgrowth of having pulled back out of society for several years. I now feel called to share some of the things that have become clear. And I definitely want to collaborate. So these needs are being filled by the path my life is taking at present. But I am reluctant to let go of the long easy (well,not always) days of doing what I want when I want, and having time to really listen and reflect.

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Let’s Gro- an Inspiration Festival

LetsGro_A3poster_IedereenEenMoestuin_Tryntsje_Nauta_WijZijnKees_website

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?

#10 In the Dutch mountains

Pieterpad- Gramsbergen to Hardenberg

On the way up

On the way up

For the introduction to this (hopefully)480 km journey, please click on the heading,’Walking the Pieterpad’ in the black bar above.

This stretch of path took me into hilly (comparatively!)country. The ‘mountain’ I climbed was, get ready for it- 75 meters high. But here in the flat lowlands, it is as much of a mountain as you’re going to find. I called Rende from the summit to tell him I’d reached it and was feeling altitude sickness coming on 🙂 – he enquired how the sherpas were doing and if I’d used all my ropes and caribiners.

View from the top

View from the top

I walked 50km over 4 days. Ample time to think, the space outside creating space for new thoughts.

I kept to my resolution not to book any accommodations in advance of the day of travel. Rende asked me why I didn’t just call and ensure that I had a place to stay, especially since it was the weekend. And I thought about that on my walk. Yes, for someone like me- used to organising everything in advance so as to prevent inconvenience or discomfort- it cost me some sleep to leave it open. But I realised it also gave me a chance to solve things as they came up. I’d first decided to not book in advance on this 480km walk so I could gain a little of the feeling of wayfaring, where you’re thrown back on yourself and  have to let go more to trust the universe to provide what you need.

So far, I’ve not once been stuck for a place to sleep, though sometimes it was a close thing. In the case of not being able to find budget accommodation I still have the option of an expensive hotel- or finding transport to another town. On this last walk, my host and hostess were helping me decide where to stay the next night because there were only 1 or 2 options and no hotels in the next stopping place. While I was trying to find possible public transport in case they were booked, the woman of the house offered to drive down and and pick me up after the walk, and bring me back to stay with them, then drive me back down there the next day.

When you solve everything in advance yourself (an illusion anyway), you don’t give other people the chance to help you. I didn’t need to make use of the woman’s kind offer, but I was really touched and it made me trust more and let go to how things were unfolding.

Here are a few shots from this trip.

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.

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.

Funny old thing, transition

I had an unpleasant jolt of insight last month when I attended a local brainstorming session concerning re-purposing an old school building.

I’d expected to encounter other artists looking for studio space or collaboration, but found myself instead in a room full of ‘cultural entrepreneurs’.  This included artists, but also bed and breakfast owners, and others connected with the tourist industry.

My state of mind at the time was extremely negative. Having rejected participation in either the gallery or business worlds, out of principle, I was the odd man out. I’d just started to have contact with the transition community and felt that no one outside that circle could begin to understand what I stood for or cared about.

Later, I realised how extreme my position had become over the years. Being ‘for’ a new, more compassionate and connected art, I had pitted myself against anything that was not that. And as a result, by intentionally cutting myself off from the old paradigm commercial artworld, unintentionally put myself outside my community of fellow artists. (Admittedly, I’ve been navigating a light burn-out as well for the last 3 years, so it has been a necessarily inward time. )

But insidiously, perhaps declaring myself ‘in transition’ had provided me with an excuse to simply not try anymore, especially if the efforts involved supporting ‘Empire’-the whole industrial-commercial complex which we so dearly want to change.

So I decided to slowly take steps outward again. I contacted someone from the dreaded gallery world (where unfortunately my art would become a mere product in simply a well disguised art warehouse). And worse, if the gallery wasn’t positive, I’d be giving someone the power to reject my work (this indeed happened and I am still alive and well.) I also became active in a local work-group  for traffic safety. And last night, I attended a cultural get together event.

This was really a long intro to that event, so I’ll save it for the next post.