“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
Last year I applied to be one of 60 entrepreneurial fellows to join the first cohort of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship -- a brand new 3-year long fellowship offering the world's first 'entrepreneurial visa' for 3 years, to come and prototype global solutions in New Zealand.
I was chuffed to make it down to the very final stage (I think there were something like 400 applications for 60 places - and in the end only 30 fellows were accepted). Although I didn't make it through in that round, I found the experience hugely helpful and motivating, and so I share part of the journey with you here! Onwards and onwards...
This is the first in a series of conversations we are recording, under the series name "Systers Thinking"... Sisters doing Systems Thinking, in true collaboration. Our theme here is around being a systems change-maker, and what it means to show up in integrity, authenticity and true collaboration in a world where none of those things are incentivised. How do we help each other put forward what is important, and support each other to be strong enough to "walk the talk", even when sometimes that leads to missing out on something you think you need.
Nora makes for an amazing conversation partner, and I always look forward to when we can next come together... I hope you enjoy this too!
"Cultivate constant awareness of the magic, mystery and wonder if the world; educate the senses to see the ordinary as extraordinary, the familiar as strange, the mundane as sacred, the finite as infinite." - said Novalis
"The world is full of magic things patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper" - said Yates
Turn everything on its head, re-consider, see from a new angle, jumble it up and re-order, find magic in the ordinary, learn from each detail, open up to be inquisitive, joyous and curious. Fuse modalities, connect the unconnected, abandon silos.
Last month, I had the pleasure of having lunch with Fritjof Capra, renowned physicist, author and systems thinker.
In the world of systems thinking, Fritjof's books are well known... In fact, the Systems View of Life is almost like a core textbook at Schumacher College. Other books include the Tao of Physics, which draws the similarities between ancient spiritual traditions and the new paradigm physics (of the 1970s!), and also a series of books on Leonardo Da Vinci's works, and his truly systems-thinking lens, work around nature, engineering and essentially biomimicry! Something that's crazy to think about is what modern day science would be like if we had discovered Da Vinci's manuscripts earlier.
We chatted about science, spirituality, new ways of learning, the networked future and why systems thinking is more important now than ever before. We also caught up on Schumacher and the connections between both of our works.
On top of that, we also connected over our joint paths in activism. Which brings me round to...
One of Fritjof's latest projects: Barrio Solar. A self-organising, on the ground, solar network serving hard-hit communities in Puerto Rico.
This is a really worthwhile project that Fritjof co-founded with his wife, Elizabeth Hawk, and Indira Cortez, an engineer from Puerto Rico.
Barrio Solar was created on September 21st, the day after Hurricane Maria devastated the island nation of Puerto Rico.
The idea is to purchase small, off the grid, solar units (battery packs/portable solar panels and gravity lamps) and distribute them directly via partner distribution networks on the ground in Puerto Rico.
The solar devices to be shipped to Puerto Rico will be collected and distributed by a network of 35 women’s shelters and aid organizations under the leadership of Paz para la Mujer. By partnering with these women’s networks, we will be avoiding the risk of black market profiteering and, as we are at this moment a fully volunteer network, the entire distribution effort will be done for free.
They will be sent to communities hit the hardest on the island... Distributed to shelters, community centres and homes - especially the small towns in the centre and south of the island - where immediate aid and reconstructed power sources are least likely to be deployed.
What is being shipped: solar kits (solar panels), a gravity power lamp (it has a slowly descending weight that drives an electric generator). The aim: to help rural communities in Puerto Rico get back on their feet and provide lights and electric outlets.
$90 will buy a gravity lamp and $350 will buy a solar unit.
Please consider giving to the Crowdfunding campaign! They are $16,000 of the way to $25,000 and it seems like a really direct way to support what's happened in Puerto Rico.
"What a morning. The creativity, limitless-ness and ability to totally change and explore new dimensions and angles of thinking of these kids continues to excite/astound/energise me.
Why are we not achieving this level of joy and excitement in every classroom?
Why are kids feeding back that they found science lessons boring before, that it's usually too complex - and asking me what subject this is, because it can't be science. WHY ARE WE NOT TEACHING ABOUT LIFE AND HOW THINGS WORK AND WHAT IS POSSIBLE?
By creating workshops that are pumped with excitement, relevance, and cutting edge science, kids as young as 11 are already grasping the concept of DNA as a code, As bonding to Ts, Cs to Gs, and grappling the ethical dilemmas of genetic engineering, and the subtle tensions of using Nature as a technology with people in power/with money.
What's more, is through the balance of OBSERVATION and CREATING, which yesterday we covered as the feedback loop and branches of science, kids can continuously learn and take on new thinking, facts and skills, and immediately apply them creatively to build, design and make. A constant discussion of ethics, intentions and purpose allows the connection between the what and why, which can be carried into everything we do.
Every child is a genius. How we frame their learning and their environment of learning, how we create spaces within us and within schools that are fearless and safe, and how we create two way channels of communication so that learning can be tailored, shared, and bi-directional is so so so very important.
What is holding back our current education model? We have amazing resources, amazing technology, and also amazing Teachers. I think framing and prioritisation is what is important -- allowing teachers to have freedom of how they frame content, and prioritising communication, emotional intelligence, creativity, kindness, consciousness into our centres of learning."
I like millenials. I like the quality in them that says "I won't 'settle'". I won't settle for slavery at work. I won't settle for doing something I hate. I won't settle for a lack of choice. Now all we need is millenials with ethics, with deep concern for the planet, human and non-human beings, with care and responsibility and service. Millenials 2.0.
I am sleeping in a simple small hut stacked with books, herbs and potions, in the middle of a permaculture garden in Oakland. Life is blissful and adventurous. I am in an intentional community of about 30 that serves as a hub for the work that reconnects, social and environmental justice, and youth initiation. This place is like a hidden oasis in the middle of the city, in total service of The Great Turning. My trip continues in meeting and talking to people across all kinds of movements building the more beautiful world. Whether in Silicon Valley or this tiny acupuncture point in Oakland, lots of us are deep in the work of developing and uncovering Technologies For Humanity... all with different ideas as to what that is. It makes me hopeful. But not lazy - there's so much work to be done.
When we meditate, some people say we are practising dying, again and again. In relationships we have the same. How many times can you let go - again and again? How many times can we die, only to trust in coming back to Life, more vigorously and authentically than ever before? It is as a friend put in an email this morning:
"It is just like you trust breathing - letting all the air out of your system despite not seeing if there will be more air to breath in seconds later."
NB: this only works when the letting go and the dying really is felt authentically. You cannot have a near-death experience where you actually know all along that you will live. It's a bit crazy, but this is what we must go through.
“In the first movement, our infancy as a species, we felt no separation from the natural world around us. Trees, rocks, and plants surrounded us with a living presence as intimate and pulsing as our own bodies. In that primal intimacy, which anthropologists call "participation mystique," we were as one with our world as a child in the mother's womb.
Then self-consciousness arose and gave us distance on our world. We needed that distance in order to make decisions and strategies, in order to measure, judge and to monitor our judgments. With the emergence of free-will, the fall out of the Garden of Eden, the second movement began -- the lonely and heroic journey of the ego. Nowadays, yearning to reclaim a sense of wholeness, some of us tend to disparage that movement of separation from nature, but it brought us great gains for which we can be grateful. The distanced and observing eye brought us tools of science, and a priceless view of the vast, orderly intricacy of our world. The recognition of our individuality brought us trial by jury and the Bill of Rights.
Now, harvesting these gains, we are ready to return. The third movement begins. Having gained distance and sophistication of perception, we can turn and recognize who we have been all along. Now it can dawn on us: we are our world knowing itself. We can relinquish our separateness. We can come home again -- and participate in our world in a richer, more responsible and poignantly beautiful way than before, in our infancy.”
― Joanna Macy, World as Lover, World as Self
"Every established order tends to make its own entirely arbitrary system seem entirely natural."
— Pierre Bourdieu
When I first heard one of A Capella Science's music videos, it quite literally blew my mind. I think my brain must have been releasing 5 different neurotransmitters at once, it was like a short circuit of the brain! It was a joy to witness such pure talent and passion translated into a catchy song... It also reminds me of just how much privilege we have as scientists, and those who understand science, to access the mind-blowing secrets of how our complex life forms and solar systems self-organise and what happens at the molecular and grand cosmic level.
I feel the same way when I read anything from Buddhism, or listen to Dharma talks. There is such a rich source of knowledge and wisdom available to us in our short time on the planet. So those who are translating these quite frankly spiritual happenings into accessible forms, like music, art, poetry, or teaching - you are serving humanity in a huge way. Thank you.
Thank you to the person who introduced me to this channel. <3
A quote I’m pondering —
“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, ‘What else could this mean?”
― Shannon L. Alder
What if we were to hold paradox and complexity, and pause - without feeling the need to jump to conclusions, to have the "right" answer.
What if our education system rewarded this sort of behaviour - instead of breeding people who thrive off competition, one-upping, and getting the answer before anybody else?
What if we asked the question: "What does it feel like to be you?"
"We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely."
- E. O. Wilson
Life is surprising
Adapt, transform, flex.
Walking through the Da Vinci museum in Rome, I was filled with awe and admiration at the prolific inventions, designs, drawings, and totally different ways of thinking so characteristic to Da Vinci. He has been a mentor-beyond-the-grave for me throughout my life, starting from when I was very young and used to sketch anatomical drawings from a huge book filled with sketches from Da Vinci. I always loved how in the presence of his work, I felt comfortable about the lack of distinction between 'Art' or 'Science' - both fed each other for him, as they have for me.
This time round studying his works, I was also struck by how strong the practise of Biomimicry was in his works and way of thinking. He, too, also looked to Nature and her mechanisms for inspiration in his inventions, and would obsessively study the human body and intricate workings in a hope to build better machines.
It also reminded me of my decidedly left-handedness since a young age. I have been independently researching some of the studies of the 20th century that led us to understand the complex functions of the right-side of the brain. While the left-side of the brain which controls the right hand, and promotes rational, sequential, logical and 'time-based' thinking, the right is the majority contributor to our intuitive thinking, holistic thought and understanding, subjective and 'space-based' thinking. The left hemisphere (right side) is also the verbal processor - which often makes it difficult for the right side of the brain to translate its realisations and intuitions into words - and some say has even had consequences in the language we use to describe 'left' and 'right'.
'Left' in French is 'gauche', meaning 'awkward'; in Italian 'sinistre', meaning sinister, dark, or bad. It's quite a chicken-and-egg situation, but we now have evolved as a society into one that promotes left-brain thinking in the way we provide education, test our students, and expect people to behave in organisations, even making some of the left-brain characteristic synonymous with what it means to be 'professional'.
I found it impossibly difficult to leave Art behind when having to choose between Art and Science at university - it felt like being severed in two. Luckily there was also a lot of space for creativity within the field of Molecular Biology and even learning about the neural underpinnings in Neuroscience, but still - it often felt like my right-brain self was not totally at home in our left-brain world.
Hand preference is the most visible outward sign of how an individual's brain is organised. Swapping hands in writing and other tasks can also help stimulate and strengthen different sides of the brain. Even better is to engage in activities that different sides of the brain 'win' at, and doing exercises that tease out your less-dominant side. I'm currently developing some workshop exercises around this topic, and creativity - if this is something that interests you or you know about, please get in touch!
When I first started writing as a child, I wrote with my left hand, refusing to change to the right (although I had family members who tried to nudge me!) and alarming my parents by writing right-to-left, in mirror writing - they were worried about whether I'd ever learn! What made me grin was seeing Da Vinci's intricate notes alongside his drawings, in secret 'back-to-front' mirror writing code - to keep his genius ideas and plans private! It's got me thinking... Maybe it's time to revive the mirror cursive scrawl!
I will be in Sweden next week teaching and facilitating around the formation of projects and communities that will serve the emerging future. One of the networks I am part of, with increasing involvement, is the Enspiral network. It is a thing I draw huge amounts of inspiration from, and feel committed to serving and growing through this next period of my life.
When asked, “What is Enspiral, and what does it mean to you?” the most common answer I receive is along the line: “It depends who you are talking to, and the answer you will get will be different each time you ask that question.”
Part of the intention of Enspiral is to model a "company of the future" - illustrating the possible "future of work" meshing the "more beautiful world" and our economic reality — into a really practical alternative to our mainstream way of working. I think these networks are the future, in being our best selves, unlocking our collective intelligence and potential.
How do we use our tools and new forms of viral communication to unlock our co-intelligence, do things in collaboration, outside of the system?
Enspiral, to me, is a RELATIONSHIP of RELATIONSHIPS.
When we look to Nature, how does Nature organise these things? How does Nature do governance? How does Nature do decision-making? How does Nature do finances? Communication? This is part of what is so exciting to me, as a biologist and systems thinker, about the network. This is what happens when a group of nodes collect together, and listen to what wants to evolve and emerge.
What I am enjoying about this work... The combination of biology, social alchemy and social organisation... A version of my heaven!
This diagram, from Aaron Sachs and Anupam Kundu of the Thoughtworks network, captures a nice dimension of what Enspiral is too:
"People often say about mystics, that they're holding some kind of repressed sexuality. But maybe it's the exact opposite. I think society's obsession with the erotic is due to a suppressed mysticism." - words recently told to me by a Buddhist monk, who is teaching me once a week.
In reality, meditation is a hugely sensual practise. Not sexual, sensual. And the intimacy possible between us human beings is vast, deep and unbounded, of which sex is just one dimension.
One way to keep meditation practise alive is to show up with the whole self, experience the deep intimacy, sensuality and tingling aliveness of meditation. Training the brain is a huge part of what happens, but if you treat the practise as simply 'brain-training', it's unlikely to be a sustainable practise, lasting long into life. I am learning to jump, full-bodied, into my contemplative practise.
Part of this is seeing the practise as deep and intimate time with the being you are closest to: yourself. Every biological system needs feedback to remain evolving, alive, flexible and adaptive. I think so often we cut off the feedback coming from our own very selves: How does it feel to be you right now? What is your intuition telling you? What are the signs something is wrong? What are the subtleties that you have failed to notice? Who's there?
These were part of my teachings and learnings yesterday. And part of these teachings, is sharing them onwards. Facebook, blogs, the internet are all part of our modern day sangha! I am being taught weekly by an ordained Buddhist monk. Grateful for the ancient wisdom peppered into modern day life.
On the side of all this doing and building, I am working to reverse the effects of suppressed mysticism. And I have a feeling the two may work together...
“India’s best ideas have come where man was in communion with trees and rivers and lakes, away from the crowds. The peace of the forest has helped the intellectual evolution of man. The culture of the forest has fueled the culture of Indian society. The culture that has arisen from the forest has been influenced by the diverse processes of renewal of life, which are always at play in the forest, varying from species to species, from season to season, in sight and sound and smell. The unifying principle of life in diversity, of democratic pluralism, thus became the principle of Indian civilization.”
- Rabindranath Tagore, infamous unschool-er, and inspiration to start Schumacher College.
"The future has an ancient heart"
-- Pari Centre for New Learning