Sunday, 31 January 2010

A little boy reminded me how powerful intentions can be

27 January 2010 – Seven-year-old Charlie Simpson of London originally planned to just enjoy a bicycle ride in the local park with his father. Instead, he made a five-mile trip that has raised more than £150,000 for children affected by this month’s Haitian earthquake, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has announced... read more

Friday, 25 December 2009

Inspiration for 2010? Uk's great examples on transition

Being back in London, back from India, the mountains and Tibetan refuge in Dharamsala, the inspiring organic learning community and probably the accumulated time of 8 months with various communities and life styles, I felt like coming off a roller coaster with many intense spinning loops that make you feel all dizzy when you are back on the ground. That kind where you knees get all wabbly and it takes some moments of deep breath and a firm grip to the handrail to reorient yourself to your environment and go back to carry on doing what you were doing before you went onto the ride in the first place.

It became very clear to me, that moving back into urban life - well pretty much London's fast paced metropolitan life - where things are very different, it will be rather difficult for me to carry on doing things the way I was doing them before I left and also really I don't want to.

Manish's term of 'Home Activism' stuck with me, where the way you life your life - not on the streets, in the public but for yourself and with your family and friends, can make a huge difference. I think the film below on transition towns in the UK and in the world (there are 256 transition towns in the world) is a good reminder at the end of 2009, of all the great energy and great stories of people and communities moving into more wholesome living across the country in the UK and inspiring more and more places in the world to follow the initial move of Totnes.
(The film is about 45 min long and worthwhile seeing in one go)

'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.'
- Margaret Mead

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The evolutionary case for the 'Survival of the kindest'

Via Paul Fernhout, from Science Daily in P2P Foundation

“Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are challenging long-held beliefs that human beings are wired to be selfish. In a wide range of studies, social scientists are amassing a growing body of evidence to show we are evolving to become more compassionate and collaborative in our quest to survive and thrive.

In contrast to “every man for himself” interpretations of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of “Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life,” and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.

They call it “survival of the kindest.”

“Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others,” said Keltner, co-director of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. “Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. As Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct.”

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Rethinking Education - understanding the biology of learning

I met Jinan almost at the end of my 2 months trip in India. He was one of those special visitors stopping by at Shikshantar who I should meet up with said Manish, saying I would like Jinan. Manish, the founder of Shikshantar, always seemed to have an extraordinary antenna for who to put in touch with each other, or around which particular topic. In my case he's always been spot on, actually more than that, I almost felt that he had an ability for some form of pre-emergent sensing, as if he was a pinch ahead of us, maybe without even realising himself.
I just came back from spending a couple of days outside of Udaipur, celebrating Diwali with an Indian family in a nearby village and by that time had already forgotten Manish's special announced guest. When I entered Shikshantar I saw an older man with a long white beard, somehow Sufi like, sitting on the big rug in the light near the big window with lots of people around him, listening to his stories and looking at the art albums he brought along. I was curious what everyone was looking at, what they were listening to and so fascinated by.

When I approached the group I saw the images he brought along in a book of a workshop he led. It was filled with images and creations of artisans, of potters and of children from the numerous villages he had visited in the past 20 years. The images were portraying the beauty of their creations, of their work, their plays. There were clay figures, tiles, images and objects made from leaves, twigs, colour arrangements and others.

Jinan was immediately captivating though I only really got to know him and his stories on the following day, when I had the chance to interview him for an article in the learning bulletin which Shikshantar publishes on a regular bases. Manish suggested I speak to him about what he called "biology of learning" as it would fit quite well with the theme of the next bulletin being centred around that topic and the challenges of cognition.

Speaking to Jinan has been a tremendous pleasure. I felt I couldn't have met him at a better point of time in my trip. I very strongly resonated with his interests around natural processes of creativity using all our senses and our capacity to experience the world, on aesthetics and creative learning, on child development and human life cycles in the context of Nature and community. Hearing about his experiences and insights from spending the last 20 years in rural India with indigenous tribes and illiterate communities, felt like receiving a huge gift, a gift of affirmation to something that has been with me throughout my travel, like finding some of the responses to the questions which I have carried with me for some time now without ever articulating them, but carrying them with me with a sense of unease, doubt or discomfort but also with an inspiration for a different way of living, creating and upbringing of our youth which has not arrived in our very conscious, sorted and clearly articulated world yet.

Thank you Jinan for a true inspiration you have brought to so many of us who had the chance to meet you these days!

(Part 1 total length - 12:01 mins)

(Part 2 total length - 17:05 mins)

( Part 3 total length - 14:13 mins)

( Part 4 total length - 5 mins)

Jinan's website

Unlearning and Uplearning - making sense of the world around us

One of the most preciously valued explorations I have had while travelling and in particular while being at Shikshantar was the contemplation on how we learn and make sense of the world around us. In the last couple of months I was finding my own pace
and intuitive way of engaging with my environment. Through dance and movement or play and immersion in Nature I slowly began to experience different ways of learning, 're-sensitising the senses' and bringing learning back into whole body and being. Shikshantar was a great place to enhance that experience even further and to meet like minded people who are on the same path of exploring wholesome learning and learning spaces in community with others.

The same day I arrived, I slid straight into a film making workshop. I met a good crowd of creative people who did exciting stuff though it all felt like a film passively passing by. I still felt the exhaustion of travelling for 20 hrs and the jetlag, being
13.5 hours behind on West coast Pacific time, so amidst the various dynamic interactions among the participants, I decided to take it easy and observe the activities with a comforting distance to where the action was. It didn't take long before I was invited to join a group which was about to enter a conversation on vulnerability and how to craft a film around that sensitive topic. Whether you are an unannounced spontaneous visitor just entering the door or you are more of an intern-like guest as I was - one immediately gets to dive in and be hands-on in Shikshantar. This learning community is a hands-on place pretty much everyday, engaging with the making and creating of the experience rather than the debating and intellectual exploration of it, though Shikshantar does have numerous thought provoking interesting resources in writings and films to offer to anyone seriously being interested in "developing learning systems that liberate the full potential of human beings." as they put it.

From the very beginning of my stay, through conversations and further resources I got to step back from my habitual way of seeing things and through that also got confronted with the
question of deschooling or unschooling society. How is the way we educate our children through institutionalised schooling restraining us from having more wholesome and more real experiences in our lifes? Does it truly support society and in
dividuals to develop creativity, innovation and ethos or does it perpetuate a soulless and artificial biorhythm of eat, sleep, work and shop where the whole life purpose seems to centre around making more money, to do more shopping to keep the wasteful production and the economic growth going?

Along the way I was wondering, what do we really need to be nourished and in more harmony with our natural world and with each other? Not just nourished in a physical sense of what type of food we are eating - though I surprisingly also learned a lot about that, but nourished to fully live. Shikshantar through their very practical hands-on culture, has provided a space, a fertile ground for creativity and a lot of stimuli to challenge our fundamental assumptions about how to live our lifes but also giving great examples of how it could be different.

The Creative Commons Movement Magazine YES! Powerful ideas, practical actions wrote an article on Shikshantar and Udaipur as a learning city. The article is titled: Udaipur hands down skills. Shikshantar was also highlighted by the magazine as one of the top ten intiatives around world on Radical Acts of Education.

The film below is one of many films made by Shikshantar - Swapathgami Films. It portrays the essence of the learning community.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Swapathgami – making your own paths of learning and living

Since October I am based in northern India in Udaipur staying for 2 months at Shikshantar – a community of co-learners and co-creators of alternative ways to living a healthy sustainable life. People in the Shikshantar community are also called swapathgamis, people who are exploring pathways outside of institutionalised structures. As swapathgamis they walked out from unhealthy and isolating life styles, ‘trusting their own creative intelligence over the prescribed lives of the ready-made world.’ - More about that here in on one of their published issues.
Shikshantar was found 12 years ago coming from a place of deep concern for what is happening in the world and fundamental critique to existing institutions and systems and their capacity to solve the complex problems the world is facing. Shikshantar’s approaches to learning and simply living have been strongly influenced by the way local villagers live around Udaipur. Its prime motivation was to create a space where alternative or more appropriately healthier ways of living could be explored both theoretically but also hands-on doing and living it every day. Since then Shikshantar – through providing a safe, trusting and creative space to everyone – has inspired locals and passing guests from all over the world to create the same in people’s homes and personal lives, as one of the founder put it the other day "to see your own house as a live space of activism, your own activism to creating a difference in the world."

Since my arrival here I met interesting people, initiatives and gained a lot of insights into different forms of alternative education, healthy local nutrition and growing your own food e.g. through urban community gardens or by creating your own green roof top and more than anything else how to live a life that hardly produces any waste, best known as zero waste management.

Zero Waste Management and living a healthy life

I am thrilled – in the month that I am living on my own in Udaipur I don’t think I even filled half a bag with non-degradable garbage. 80% of what I am throwing out is compost which I dispose on a big compost pile just outside the house. Even though the extensive packaging of products and food in my home country increasingly annoyed me, I don’t think I have ever quite had the full experience of doing without. Here I buy my vegetables and fruits almost daily fresh from little movable stalls or sellers on the ground, which are all nearby. In fact one can find a veggie or fruit seller almost at every corner, we have one that is ringing a bell and announcing his arrival when he passes our house. This makes it quite easy for me to always eat freshly and local products thus maintaining a super healthy vegan diet while avoiding plastic or other packaging. I usually carry 1 or 2 bags with me to be ready to buy food along the way. One simple thing that impressed me at the very beginning was seeing people here have their self-made little sized cotton bags for loose fruits and veggies. How simple is that? – I have never even thought about making little cotton bags for myself, it hardly takes time to create these and saves the hassle of having to pack your apples or other small items into more useless plastic.

(A bit of a side note here, the other day I listened to an alternative radio programme promoting a newly released film – a documentary called "Addicted to plastic". The film which is based on wide scientific research talks about the effects of plastic on the human body. One thing that stuck with me then is that average life span of a plastic bag, meaning the time its actually been is use, is in average no more than 10 mins.)

The milk – though I am currently experimenting how I am doing without - I can get from a milk store down the street which sells fresh milk out of big metal barrels. I can bring my own small pot with a lid or kettle in the morning without having to use any of their packaging (liquids are also sold in plastic bags) to carry it home. At another local food store I can get local grains, rice and pulses which they sell per kg from huge bags and again are unpackaged, one only has to remember to take along enough small bags from home. All of the above and Shikshantar’s inspiration to change who you are by changing what you eat, by also offering daily delicious healthy and mostly vegan lunches, which include local grains, zero oil preparation and seasonal veggies and fruits left me with a great experience of being able to eat well – taking good care of my health, while reducing massive amounts of waste. Who would have thought living biologically and environmentally sustainable could be that easy?

The initial reaction to all of that might be that this is India, where things are of course very different, but my experience has been such an eye-opener that I started believing that minimizing my consumption cycle is possible in any country – it all started within my own mind of what I think I need in which way and being clear what I want to break out from. This I think is the hardest obstacle to take in the end, overcoming your habits which you have had for so many years and became a second skin you got comfortable with.

The relevance to ‘minimize my consumption cycle’ has been one of the greatest insights since my arrival here. With that I am referring to start living more connected to the land again, if possible most preferably grow my own vegetables, collect my compost and make my own soil, buying locally grown products, etc. Like this complex and large cycles of dietary needs, can be massively simplified. The other simplification of my every day consumption cycle and a massive contribution to zero waste management is to consider which things do I really need and which ones could I make on my own? In the time that I stayed here and with various passing visitors and smaller demonstrations I was fortunate to see Aloe Vera masks and soaps being hand made, bags being sown from recycled clothes or other various utensils and jewellery was made from usually as garbage considered items, such as old magazines, coconut shells, plastic, and so on.

All of this really triggered my imagination and creativity, generating various ideas how I could simplify my life back at home to bring more of that energy and approaches to zero waste management back into my house and local communities. While bursting with that strong drive to bring these newly gained habits back to my everyday life in London, I frequently had flashbacks remembering how my grandparents in Hungary and Poland still live the life that to some extend I am trying to return to. My family in Hungary has almost all their dishes and pottery being hand made by my grandma, the curtains and other textiles in the house being sown and the food that is prepared for lunch or dinner is coming straight from the garden (earlier blogentry fromHungary on that). I also remember my mother telling me stories of her upbringing in a small village in the mountains in Poland where life was pretty much what we would call self-sufficient, sustainable or organic, just this was normal way of living without any particular labelling yet. When travelling through Romania and Bulgaria in August, I realised in probably many more Eastern European countries lif for the majority of the populations is exactly still that. The very unfortunate side of things is that most people there are all very eager to modernize their lives by adapting to our processed, disconnected and wasteful living standards in the name of progress.

There is a really great short documentary on the story of stuff (20 min long) - I totally recommend seeing it!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Becoming Shapeless - Bodywork in California

End of August I arrived in Petaluma, the North Bay Area of California and one hour north of San Francisco. I took a break from travelling for a month and was very lucky to find a nice quiet place outside the city. I visited two seminars at the Strozzi Institute on Embodied Learning and Leadership and for the first time also started taking Aikido classes.

While my trip before then has been much around reconnecting to my past and roots, visiting family and friends and about being in Nature, my stay in California was very much about exploring the being in the presence - mainly about paying attention to the body, on bodily conditioned patterns we develop over time, practices and movements. Spending the last weeks in Petaluma and the Strozzi ranch has been quite an impacting and uplifting experience, as it has helped me to integrate different embodied energies and enhance body-mind integration. At one point in the middle of the seminar I remember waking up the next day and having the sensation of feeling ‘shapeless’. As it was mentioned to us the next day “some might feel shapeless as they are moving away from one shape – their conditioned patterns to a new shape”.

My trip to Petaluma was totally unplanned, my plan was to go from Istanbul straight to India and from there spend the last months in Brazil. End of July I felt a strong pull to get in touch with the Strozzi Institute and explore the possibilities, the conversations went that well that I spontaneously booked a flight and changed plans to visit India in October. It seemed to be exactly what I needed to bring my previous experiences and reflections nicely together.

I find it rather difficult to articulate all of that in an easy comprehensible way, given that most of what I am talking about was a “felt experience in the body” in the realm of body and emotional intelligence as opposed to insights and understanding in the realm of mind intelligence. The work of the last couple of weeks has also showed me how much I still use to live in my head and how difficult it is to let go of my ‘mind habits’ even after all the somatic experiences and practices of the last year that helped me so much already in becoming more body aware and intuitive, I still feel the distance and continuous path to full integration.