Inspired, co-evolving human beans

A friend just said she sees nature as a reflection of herself, and also herself as a reflection of nature. For her, the soil they walk by every day by the field is a fertile ground, and a reflection of herself as a fertile ground in which things can grow… the soil needs to be replenished and restored, nutrients must make their cycles and water run through the soil – just like we as humans need continuous input of things and these conditions determine largely what the quality of life will be. Plants that she observes remind her of herself. At times, plants do well, especially when they grow on good soil and have the right nutrients, enough water and light. Sometimes they go through hard times, and may blossom and thrive again when conditions are right. Indeed, this friend often feels she’s like a flower, or a bird of paradise, right in her place and in need of certain few essentials that will keep her going. But that she’s learning more and more of what really is needed to truly thrive, and she learns a lot about this through observing nature… To see these things around us, and see what other creatures also need for their survival and thriving, is a wonderful way to reflect on oneself and on one’s place in this world.

Indeed, nature has always been an inspiration for poets, philosophers, scientists.. after all it is all around us. What differs between individuals is what kind of eyes we have for the various things around us.

Steven Kotler in his book “A Small Furry Hope” interestingly summarizes research on the evolution of human-animal relationship. He speaks of how humans have interacted with animals so intricately since probably the dawn of (human) time that these interactions have over the time altered the very physical as well as spiritual being of ourselves and our animal companions… He ponders on the question of why humans in some societies consider certain animals as sacred. One reason that is suggested is that animals were always there as the first points of comparison. We’ve probably always looked around and learnt about ourselves through observing those around, and apart from other humans, those around have ever mostly been animals, plants and other representatives of the natural world. We have pondered what is similar in them as in us, and what is different.. we have learnt from them and through them.

And so even today, many of us keep doing these comparisons and reflecting.

How are we then currently evolving? Always changing, where are we as humans going right now… We do reflect on nature and its things for sure, but how about people living in the cities; aren’t the comparison points rather different? What kind of influence will it in the long term have on the human brain and cognitive functions that people in many current societies have the advancements of technology and digital reality as their daily reference points.. Sure enough, these things have been around for a very short time in the very course of human history, and yet, it is interesting to ponder what all of our current actions mean for the future of this species of human beings.

Human beings, we are called, and some say that this should be a great reminder of what we all are actually about; we are not called human doings, which might be an apt description taken the extent to which so many people today swear to the name of achievement, over-working, ambition and material wealth, just to name a few things that sometimes do become issues. Instead we are called human beings which maybe refers to the fact that there is more to humanness than only doing (we of course only survive because we do things).. an existence that doesn’t require or imply anything else than what it is.

Or, to make a link back to being inspired by and reflecting on oneself through nature’s things, the character Big Friendly Giant in a film named after him had a way of speaking rather unlike proper English, and he thus had come to call human beings human beans. That’s not so far from what we are, actually, is it..! Just little human beans that need a little water, light and nutrients, and preferably some love, to grow big and healthy…

Here are some poems and quotes that compare humans with nature, or are inspired by nature, for those who like to read:

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.”

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, Troilus and Cressida

“There is new life in the soil for every man. There is healing in the trees for tired minds and for our overburdened spirits, there is strength in the hills, if only we will lift up our eyes. Remember that nature is your great restorer.”

CALVIN COOLIDGE, speech, Jul. 25, 1924

“God made the forests, the tiny stars, and the wild winds–and I think that he made them partly as a balance for that kind of civilization that would choke the spirit of joy out of our hearts. He made the great open places for the people who want to be alone with him and talk to him, away from the crowds that kill all reverence. And I think that he is glad at times to have us forget our cares and responsibilities that we may be nearer him–as Jesus was when he crept away into the wilderness to pray.”

MARGARET ELIZABETH SANGSTER, “The Gypsy Spirit”

“Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. Let your awareness rest upon it. How still they are, how deeply rooted in Being. Allow nature to teach you stillness.”

ECKHART TOLLE, Stillness Speaks
“Nature, hating art and pains,

Baulks and baffles plotting brains;

Casualty and Surprise

Are the apples of her eyes.”

RALPH WALDO EMERSON, Nature I
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein

 

“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
― John Muir

 

“…and then, I have nature and art and poetry, and if that is not enough, what is enough?”

– Vincent Van Gogh

 

A poem written by my dear friend Mekhala:

“I see myself in you.
I have cried your tears,
those shed in pain and despair
and those shed in joy and laughter.
We are bound to one another,
as we are bound to the earth and all that exists.
We are bound by the Great Mystery that surrounds us
And at this very moment moves within us all.

I see God in you
In you, I see myself.”

 

And lastly a haiku poem…

 

 

 

In the twilight rain
these brilliant-hued hibiscus –
A lovely sunset

– Matsuo Bashō

Love, nature, politics.. and the choices we make

Benefits of nature to well-being are known throughout time by people ranging from layman to prophets to politicians and more recently scientists. So much so that it is rather arbitrary to speak of people and nature as somewhat separate, as what are we if not nature made up of same particles, same stuff and completely relying on things around us for our survival.. In any case, lately there is much talk about disconnectedness; the idea that humans often don’t deeply feel, experience and express the interconnectedness between all living and non-living things. This then can be related to conservation problems as well as many social issues on a small scale or across the globe.. See for example the book called Children & Nature by Kahn & Kellert (2002), research about nature’s benefits to Xhosa people of South Africa by Cocks et al. (2012), or article about children’s use of and play in nature by Alexander et al. (2015). Many of the problems as we may see it facing the world today are thus rather linked to human psyche.. Shall we say, problems and solutions? For both of these always are there. Read more about the links between social and ecological, conservation and psychology, and interconnectedness in for example Folke et al. (2011), Zylstra et al. (2014) and Price & Lotz-Sisitka (2016).

CIMG3567

Exploration of these matters led me personally over the past few years to consider more and learn about topics and practices related to eco-psychology, nature and compassion, and transformative learning. Eventually over the past year or so it has emerged in material reality as activities related to nature and compassion. I worked with Lunchbox Theatre who educate about environmental and social issues through live theatre.. I’ve been making music with the intention of providing something beautiful to ourselves and to the listener.. and I became more recently involved with Sunshine Sanctuary and MOYA Animal Outreach who work with holistic animal welfare in the Crags. As an ideal, the work includes working with the families in the local Kurland village to enable them to better care for their animal companions.. which also incorporates the aspect of being able to better care for themselves. On a practical level, the work often means rescuing animals from dire conditions and nurturing them back to decent health, after which new homes are found for them.. it also means organizing events for awareness raising, learning, sterilizations and other animal welfare matters, as well as a lot of fundraising and outreach. Some of the most profound moments during this work are when someone’s perception of or way of being with their animal changes, perhaps for the more compassionate.. And, when you see how simple acts of unconditional love may change the whole being of an animal that has gone through some hardship. Touching moments.. and the work has a physical, direct effect in Kurland village, where dog and cat populations still soar rather uncontrolled.

The explorations of human-nature interconnectedness also led to initiation of forest school activities. This we’ve been doing together with a Waldorf teacher and what pleasurable activity this has turned into. Children join from various schools, and we’ve thus far organized the activity as morning time forest school.. adventuring in the forest of Kurland hotel grounds, exploring what comes our way and loosely facilitating activities. The name of forest school is a little misleading for it has very little to do with traditional schooling.. rather, the idea is to lead children to outdoor activity that enables them to explore, reflect, and learn skills such as bushcraft, tracking and identifying nature’s things; but also to enable an environment where free exploration, risk-taking, taking responsibility and developing compassion and self-confidence may take place. It is something of a normal way of being for many children around the world, yet at the same time something that many children in today’s societies do lack these days, for reasons such as habits at home, safety concerns, and the possibilities of engaging with the digital world.. The engagement in activities such as forest school, then, has indeed to an extent been linked to greater care and compassion for other beings, ecologically beneficial behaviours later in life, and emotional well-being (See for example O’Brien 2009; Louv 2008; or Zylstra et al. 2014).

I also started facilitating Nature Network sessions, with some children in Kurland village, to engage with them in outdoor activities that go along these lines as well. We explore the local environment, engaging with it through games, use of all senses and free exploration.. and we’ve been playing music which the children absolutely love.

At the core of these activities lies the desire for, if at all possible, enabling environments, encounters and moments where love, compassion and care may arise.. and perhaps through time and through regular experience and practice, these may be sustained and their effect felt in the circle that surrounds each individual.. Though this is not in a person’s hands in any way; all one can do, really, is to give of what one can, in as an honest way as possible, and if this is inspirational to another being then so be it..

In the past times (a year; two; ten or a hundred..?) it seems that there’s lots of corrupt politicians in power. Especially in the recent times, all over the world, the right-wing parties are gaining in power.. there are a few politicians having money and power in their hands and influencing a little too much the lives of many others.. All kinds of problematic things. These thoughts are possibly fueled now by the current cries in South Africa to change the leadership of the country..  The above kinds of occurrences easily cause division, intolerance, and quarrel. Yet the world is in an ecological crisis and this is thus a social crisis too.. This is seen on small or bigger scales. So where are our priorities and what are we focused on..? Of course, there are then things counterbalancing these; there arise the movements of tolerance, peace, compassion and love. Always love.. And these start with each individual. Even when we talk of large scale changes and events, they are made of many individuals’ world views, perceptions, identities, values and behaviours.. Each of us make choices.

Love and compassion seem to have been things that many have pointed towards as pretty good ways to go, throughout the histories, for the human being to get along with him or herself and other beings and things around in an at least reasonably sustainable and sensible way.. When there’s greed, jealousy, fear and anger, things get messy. Yet humans are always in this battle sort of, with themselves and with each other. We sometimes forget that loving is often a bit easier to do.. loving and letting go, takes so little effort after all, whereas quarrelling and acting angry and inquiring lots of possessions for oneself only take a lot of energy.

Loving actually is giving too. These days, as probably always has been and will be, it is so important to give and share of what one has. Just that, and that is love. When we enthusiastically work with something we believe in and it sustains us, we are living our calling, so to say.. and perhaps giving something good off, somehow. If we honestly, fully, totally are happy with what we’re up to and can be honest about with everything and everyone else around as well. And to be fully happy and honest and fulfilled we need certain things that come from the environment around us; thus it would make sense (so easy to say these things) that when we live full and honest and happy, we are living in fully realized and enacted interconnectedness.. considering with all our actions also the other than ourselves.

Just personally, these things have become my quest, guideline, mission and source of much fun and interest.. as one is ever changing and learning. And thus, these activities, forest school and Nature Network and the animal work also are aimed at encouraging connectedness, honest encounters, making links and having choices… also at having fun, and freedom to explore, reflect, and choose. Ideally so.

The idea is that when one is exposed to several things, many ways of being perhaps, or at least given the honest answers, honest reasons, then one has more of a capacity to make choices, and take responsibility. Even later in life, one then has more of a choice, more easily.

Then I often wonder, did the corrupt politicians have choices? Or those who want to wage war on other nations…

Then again, how is it we judge so easily anyway. We wage war in our own homes with each other, so better sort that out first before talking of anyone else. 🙂 Give love to just oneself and one’s closest, isn’t even that hard sometimes. We are all different; different habits, desires, thoughts.. yet we’re all somewhat the same as well, we can see ourselves in each other if we wish.. We can just keep offering choices, to ourselves and each other. We can live as an inspiration if we so wish.

All is in its place, somehow… Yet I could recommend a good few huge dosages of nature exposure to Jacob Zuma, Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and all the rest of those folks..

And to you too who’s reading this, for sure! Go out, go out, feel free, wonder and explore..

References:

Alexander, J., Cocks, M. L., Shakleton, C. 2015: The landscape of Childhood: Play and Place as Tools to Understanding Children’s Environmental Use and Perceptions. Hum.Ecol.

Cocks, M.L., Dols, T., Vetter, S. 2012. “God is my forest” – Xhosa cultural values provide untapped opportunities for conservation. S Afr J Sci. 2012; 108(5/6), Art. #880, 8 pages.

Folke et al. 2011. Reconnecting to the Biosphere. AMBIO 40:719-738.

Kahn, P.H.Jr & Kellert, S.R. Children and Nature. Psychological, Sociocultural, and Evolutionary Investigations. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2002.

Louv, Richard, 2008. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. In: And the Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age. Algonquin Books.

O’Brien, Liz, 2009. Learning Outdoors: The Forest School Approach. Education 3-13, v37 nl p45-60.

Price, L. & Lotz-Sisitka, H. Critical realism, environmental learning, and social-ecological change. London; New York; Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.

Zylstra et al. 2014. Connectedness as a core conservation concern: An interdisciplinary review of theory and a call for practice. Springer Science Reviews 2: 119-143.

 

 

Busking and connecting

Just gotten on a bus from Turku to Jyväskylä, I feel like reflecting on the past weeks’ experiences.

This Europe trip has already taken us to far corners and interesting encounters. In Cologne we got together with the “nameless music group”, braved ourselves and got to playing in the streets of Cologne and Heerlen. After some days of family-friends time there we set on a journey towards Finland.. driving through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to reach our one destination. We camped on a lovely family farm in Latvia and got to admire the quite chilly Baltic Sea. In Tallinn we had a brief one-hour stop that was enough for a stroll through the beautiful Old Town and a 15-minute busking on an old cobbled stone street with Shariah. From there the ferry took us across to Helsinki, and from there we drove to Kintaus. Welcomed by my mother and Arttu we were able to enjoy lovely days of Finnish summer in the little Kintaus and nearby Jyväskylä.

During these weeks we have all gotten to know each other a bit differently and also are happy to have some new friendships. Travelling and living closely together makes us ponder on ourselves and our relationship with other people and the rest of the world.. It has for me been yet another important set of lessons that are only going home with enough repetition. I am reminded by some of the not-so-healthy ingrained behaviour patterns that take place with these dear people that I have lived or do live with, and how I could constantly learn more to be the loving, peaceful ray of light I aspire to be. Sometimes this is frustrating, realizing that the journey still is a process and maybe always will be, but the lovely thing about connecting deeply with some people around is that they can actually encourage you to accept yourself and be the loving, patient mother and friend to yourself that you always can be, while growing and changing. I am grateful for these friends, lessons and reminders.

Finland in summertime has also offered wonderful chances for connecting deeper not only within oneself but also with the surrounding environment. For me these places in Kintaus are in my heart and soul wherever I go, the forests, hooks and nooks, lakes, little hills and places; light and fresh warmth of still summer nights as well as quiet, freezing days of deep winter, and all in between. I realize that these aspects of space, stillness, natural sounds and working outside are those that I most am drawn to everywhere I go. It is a wonderful source of strength actually that I have with me, developing, that has to do with trusting oneself and ones companions as well as trusting the world around, or trusting in something greater, everywhere. Perhaps learning to adventure, explore and trust myself as a child in the natural surroundings have contributed to this trust, as have the love and caring passed on by our parents and family.

The other companions found the aspects of the environment soothing and attractive as well. The experience of having a sauna by the lake and taking a swim in the cool, calm waters seemed special for them as for me. They seemed to enjoy the quiet, space and slower flow of life. It is nice that for Petra, Shariah and Mekhala these days provided such experiences and resource that they, too, can perhaps draw from and be reminded of in their days. And we had wonderful adventures! We had dinner with my brother in town; went for a horse ride; busked at the “Compass” in Jyväskylä city centre, providing light entertainment for the afternoon crowd; took Shariah to the airport and she almost missed her plane but made it just in time, to spend some holiday time with her daughter in Cologne; took part in a friend’s birthday party near the Russian border.. and we made a trip to an island by the lake in Kintaus, sitting by the fire till late at night and sleeping in the forest with birds, mosquitoes and other island creatures as our company.

Well, for me at least this has all been highly invigorating, inspiring and enjoyable. I have managed to continue some work for Lunchbox Theatre as well, and finished one more funding proposal, hoping to acquire some funds to start further research on the theme of nature connection. And there has been some time to connect with my mother, Arttu and the dear brothers whom I will hopefully see more of still during this last week in Finland. Now we are off to see my grandmother, uncle and aunts in Oulu, more to the north, while Mekhala and Petra are just boarding a ferry for Stockholm, ready to drive down to Germany.

On a final note, even music making itself provides fantastic chances for self-reflection and the practice of living in the now. We have been doing some voice opening before performing and realized this is a chance to let go of some of the tensions in the body and tensions of the mind.. let yourself look and sound funny; it actually feels very liberating. While playing or singing, sometimes the mind wanders, or gets agitated: am I doing it right, what are those people thinking, my voice is cracking.. these tiny moments can be chances to stay in the present, live through whatever is taking place and continue from there still with peace in mind, steady hands, calm confidence and smile on one’s face. While at other times one ends up feeling tiny, unimportant and incapable of doing music at all. J So these moments are wonderful opportunities, to choose how to be and what to give power to! At the same time, the music making moments out in public can at best be inspiring and even healing both to the musicians and those around. Not that everyone will ever enjoy any specific music, but we had one such day in the old town of Porvoo where the environment, easy atmosphere and happy people all contributed to a very enjoyable musical experience. At least some of the on-lookers really enjoyed; this photo was taken by a market stall holder who said that our music had been a lovely remedy to lighten up his not-so-profitable market day and ease an aching head.

Photo Porvoo

Feeling a little sentimental, I also just remembered a dream from last night, in which we prepared a celebration of some kind for my father. When I met him and hugged him in the dream, we looked at each other with great warmth and connection and the whole celebration afterwards was very warm. Our father no longer lives, and indeed, I can imagine that those whose loved ones have passed away would know the feeling of that kind of a dream in which you meet them and you truly feel their closeness. Now I also realized it was on this day 5th of August that we heard of his passing in the previous day 12 years ago.

So these things, leaving, travelling, feeling the presence of those who have passed and the love of those dear ones nearby, are all contributing to this one specific moment in time for this one person.

That is life itself; breaking down, fractured, changing, and at the same time, completely connected and whole.

Pondering on how to be, at the start of a nature-busking trip in Europe

Sitting on the balcony of a dear friend in Cologne, I feel at ease, rested and peaceful. Shariah has decorated and filled the balcony with the most beautiful flowers and pots, pillows and artworks. It overlooks an inner yard where high beech trees now show their green summer glory and in those trees the blackbirds and finches sing their songs that echo across the yard.. between these high buildings. There’s a fountain in the pond that adds the sound of flowing water to the serene picture. There are three tortoises that live in the pond.

Surrounded by such peace apparently I also feel at peace. I feel good, great and alive. We came here to Germany and elsewhere in Europe to meet family and friends, to spend time in the summer nature and to do some busking. We started playing yesterday, in Cologne city centre, and are happy about the experience, though it felt so hectic in the big town, all the people..

Apart from what is “happening”, just this moment feels at ease. Yet I also know that the next moment something may arise that disturbs it somehow.

Quite a lot in the past few days have we been pondering on the problems people have. Most everyone I’ve met in the last weeks, before departing South Africa and after arriving here, have had their share. Problems, troubles, dilemmas.. self doubt, shame or guilt. Questioning the whole meaning of life and sorrow over the futility of current actions. There is feeling trapped, or unable to control something that is happening, or worry, and worry over worry..

We listen to each other and offer a listening ear or supporting hug. Some people dwell alone in their own dilemmas. Yet for everyone there are at least little moments when the dilemma doesn’t seem so big or overwhelming. Moments or long times of laughter, lightness, and full love. Even moments when you ask, how could I ever feel otherwise?

Surrounded by these high buildings or walking in the streets of Cologne, I look at people’s faces, see their way of moving or listen to their words… there’s happiness, and then sometimes trouble or doubt.

These we all have. I may feel at ease now but yet here I go, worrying over worries and pondering on problems. 🙂 A little bit useless, but, if there’s something there to learn..

We realized just the other day now that humans are like pigs. It was Mekhala who offered this after a friend mentioned how she thinks he is the seemingly most content, peaceful person she has met. And there have been more to think similarly, me included. It is like being pigs he suggested; now, we all have our mud around us. There’s always mud and grass, wet or dry mud. We may try and avoid the mud, run away from it, or ignore it.. pretend it’s not there. Or, we may roll in it and take something of the experience. Maybe it helps to shed off something old and create space for new. You don’t exactly have to enjoy rolling in the mud, but you might as well accept it.

In some of the Eastern religious traditions it has been believed the way to “happiness or peace” is through full acceptance of what is, and also, through full entering into the very depths of human being.. facing all that there is and leaving nothing into hiding. There is this thing called a charnel ground where a body is left after a person dies. Some people would meditate in these very places, in order to face fully all the aspects of life. Death, living, sorrow and laughter.. they would be reminded of their “inner monsters” and find a way to deal with all of it. This very theme inspired Shariah to write a song, about the monsters inside that we might wish to face in our lives should we wish to find some peace. So these themes have been on many of our minds’ a lot lately.

So, it has been suggested by many that a happy life is a continous journey of climbing to the highest peaks and needing to go down as well. Or needing to roll in the mud every now and then. Each situation can be seen as an enemy or as an ally, and something to grow from. And this is up to oneself.

So easily said, and we wonder what the key is. Some say the key lies in the here and now. So it is a solution of a little moment. This moment is the only moment we ever have, some say. No matter how we are able to think of the past that is gone or keen to think of the future that may never come, we can only choose every single moment our way of being or feeling the world if that is the only moment we ever have. Without ever forgetting the past or the future.

This can be such a relieve if one embraces it. I can be happy, free and well right now. No matter what is going on in my life I am actually standing here, breathing. What do I wish to concentrate on at this very moment; perhaps the only moment of my life?

Yet the solution is also not a quick fix. Even with the above in mind, the troubles may creep back. And desperation, sometimes; what do I do wrong? Many would give up; but what is there in life that we get good at that doesn’t take practice? Breathing, maybe someone would say, but if we believe certain teachings, we may come to think that even breathing can be done with greater presences, fullness and ease which can enhance the whole quality of life. So, even if a great key to dealing with dilemmas is to accept them and roll in them and decide to view it all in the here and now, peacefully, it is a solution that need to be chosen all over and over again.

Even when greatly practiced, the lows will come, and the great highs.

Yet with the practice of how to be with it, it doesn’t have to be an enemy, but it is merely another face of life. This life, these lives, that are all equally wonderful and magnificent, no matter what happens in them or how long they last. We do all belong on this Earth and this world after all, if nothing else.

The nice thing about this practice is that one can do it anywhere and anytime. There is no place in this world where one doesn’t access oneself.. one could always choose how to look, see or hear; or how to sit, stand, walk or even talk. And furthermore one could consider how to feel inside about something that is taking place; acknowledging what is, but realizing that what we make of it, then, is somehow a product of our minds. Living this way, one doesn’t have to be a victim of the world, but you have great responsibility, and thus also great, great possibility.

This is my view influenced by persons, views and stories from along the way, of how we might deal with things of our lives. There is no better or worse, as far as I know.

And so here I sit, releasing the tension of pondering on problems, and feeling so utterly problemless that it is like there never can be problems again. But that is an illusion, and I am happy with that, ready to practice, and grateful for what is right now.

Wondering about if I will get to take some photos to share through this blog at some point again! Perhaps. For now, for that who may read these words, you will have to rely on your own special imagination to picture a summer-like Cologne, with us playing music and admiring the wonderful life in it!

 

 

Wonderful learning, diversity and good life

It seems there are mountains of information in today’s world. In so many forms.. how to know what is true and what is not?  Lots of people seem to be learning, maybe more than ever, that the more we learn, there is more yet to be learnt. We try to understand, yet it’s all just our interpretations, perceptions, somehow guided by our beliefs.. Who’s to decide whose truth is true? Is there some “ultimate learning, ultimate understanding”? Can science explain everything – and what would happen if we Understood Everything? Maybe it’s the mystery that is so wonderful.. but that again is just one perception.

2016-05-07 13.10.18

Finding balance on the Rocky Coast

Some say it is this kind of learning, sharing and transformation, that we especially need to employ in this changing world. There is richness in unity, the way in which we may feel connected, feel that we’re sharing of ourselves with others and finding unity in this. And there’s the celebration of richness of differences. No two thing in the world seem to be the same.. and thus, everything is special, while being parts of the whole.

UNESCO published a document in 2015 about learning and education. This document was a central reading during a PhD week at Rhodes University I took part in some weeks back. It was discussed during the seminars and talks, and the topics carried through the days also in people’s minds..

Good life – that was the topic of one man’s speech. He discussed passionately how in his view “West” has defined in many ways, in many parts of the world, what is good, successful, or enough.. the feelings of these. For example, he mentioned how in South Africa people have over the time been relocated, they’ve lost their traditional lands, they’ve moved into cities.. how much of this was influenced one way or another by the notions of “good and bad”? Were they the individual people’s notions of good and bad or somebody else’s notions? In some ways, for many, it wasn’t or isn’t enough, good, and successful to milk cows and grow vegetables, anymore, but rather there are other notions of success. If something becomes very normal to a human being since the young age, how could it be that it wouldn’t take an honest big transformation for that to change, all the way through to the core?

I found this a touching topic. When someone else in any way defines what is good or bad, or enough, and one feels compelled to follow this, these may for individuals become personal struggles of a lifetime. Perhaps fulfilling a notion, reaching for a goal that may never have been “owned”, and so on. Sometimes these are just very delicate, intricate matters, ways and changes of behavior. And this may happen anywhere, in any society.

How might this influence, say, one’s relationship with nature..? Complex matters.. perhaps for someone, one way of being and working is not “enough” anymore because there are other ways of being that seem more acceptable or desirable. Living in a city, living in the country.. But isn’t a notion of “backwards” also just a notion, unless you truly and deeply feel that one way is not good while another is.
Who’s to say which things in life are fine to want or do and which are not?

Ultimately, no one else than you yourself. These are in any case interesting considerations when thinking of how masses are influenced, how individuals choose what they choose or value what they value. And how they consequently learn and live their lives.

I got to know some interesting pieces of research on nature connection, done in South Africa. Michelle Cocks from Rhodes did research on children’s play in their natural environments. It became apparent that though some of the traditional ways of being with the forest and with nature prevail, in an ever-changing manner, some behaviors have also greatly been influenced by several factors: in some places, children are not as keen as before on exploring the natural surroundings and playing in them because these places have become less safe. There are not always as many forests and natural areas for frequent use as there were before, and so, any practical uses or perhaps spiritual ceremonies that took place in these places are changing. If one thinks about it, many natural areas, National Parks, and so on, have been fenced off or movement is restricted by costs of entry.
It makes me ponder on how very fortunate in fact the children in Scandinavia are for example, for having such extraordinary possibilities of exploring rather freely in their natural environments, though concerns of safety do greatly influence what children are allowed to do and what not, even there. Indeed, some psychologists believe it is rather wonderful for a child to grow feeling free, safe and able to explore their surroundings in a manner which is best for them. In what manner this can take place may have implications for one’s development.. development of responsibility, sense of self-worth, sense of care and compassion.

If only it were up to each and every one to define their selves in this manner. If it were encouraged, allowed.. and if more people took the responsibility for it, upon growing up, and led the lives only their deepest selves know they can lead.
It is one side of things what the children are inherently inclined to do and explore, and yet another how society, people around, habits and customs influence the further development of the person and their relationship with nature and other people.

Maybe this is what transformational learning is about, that was keenly discussed in that UNESCO document as well. How to (re)claim one’s self and one’s life. How to do this and at the same time allow everyone else to do this? In great unity and rich diversity. Great peace and tolerance. (and how often are we struggling a bit to find peace and love even for ourselves not to speak of everyone and everything else. 🙂 Yet that’s what people throughout the ages have striven to do.. )
The role of teachers, mentors and parents, friends and even strangers (as everyone can be a teacher) may then be quite crucial, for us all, on our journeys.

Globalization has clearly led to some sharpening of differences in peoples’ minds.. yet it has also led to surges of peace and tolerance. Not one without the other in this world.. There are many ways of Good Life. May us all remember this as we go, kindly and patiently practice the ways we choose, and learn to gracefully flow with the changes of life.

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Learning about nature and leadership in Nature’s Valley. Or just having a fun day out..

Filtering in the spring and nature

The spring and turn of the cycle are welcomed differently by each being. Weather turning more favourable, cyclists, swimmers and surfers emerge more than before. People say that over the season time, the town will be filling up with visitors.. There is a wonderful abundance of wild flowers and garden flowers everywhere one goes. For me it has been most obvious to observe the changes of season from home balcony and surroundings, as well as on the way to Shanette’s home office where I spend some hours a day working with Lunchbox Theatre related tasks. I have also been one of the rather unlucky ones who welcome this season with some ferocious hay fever.. but that is fascinating, too, to observe and wonder which flowers, which plants it might be that are especially irritating..! Am I differently prone to these things as a foreigner than a native would be? I don’t yet know.

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Flowers above the balcony. Do these cause hay fever..? I think not, but at this time of year, they beautifully cover the balcony in blue every morning..

Our wonderful and sometimes difficult friend Change comes by in all possible forms with the advancing seasons! As dreaded and welcome as ever! It is a guest we’re not to turn away, for again and yet again it knocks on our doors – it is better to start calling it a Brother or a Sister, for it is here to stay.

After almost two years in South Africa, I wonder if my sense of place here is limited in certain ways. If one spends a great deal of time moving from one place to another, it is rather unlikely to build a vast experiential knowledge of what is around in any particular place. How long does it take to “build an image” of a place? Then again, it may be that one can’t reach all levels of understanding of a place during such a life, yet, the encounters, meetings and exchanges may be so profound and insightful that this more than “offsets” the lack of knowledge otherwise gained spending a long time in a place. And equally, if one thinks that every single moment contains everything there is, then there are no “levels” to reach, in any way..

However it may be, I am rather enjoying the discovery of this place through eyes almost like those of a child. Are they a child’s eyes? How am I different now than when I was a little child, truly..?

I go for walks, alone or with friends, and often end up admiring the littlest of things growing by the side of the road. We admire things, asking questions of them – just to beam in the miraculous shine of these things that we don’t always have names for. Why is it this colour? Why exactly would we see it grow here but not there on the other side of the hill.. How would it ever have become this symmetric, this fabulous? The simplest of questions are the very same ones I remember vaguely wondering as a child.. the same questions perhaps led me to explore and learn through gaining knowledge of my surroundings through a rather more structured way in a school and in a university. Or, questions may have led us to explore and gain experience with our parents or other people during our lives, around any things we have had a sparkle of interest in. And the most amazing thing is, the world is full of things and we can never know it all. It is almost like a game – but a rather crazy, exciting, sometimes so difficult, yet exhilarating game of Being in this world as it unfolds.

If one believes that ultimately, all of life is one, there is no need to separate, no need to put in any order of importance the things we learn, accumulate, use and so on. For any bit and piece is part of the continuity of a Whole, and is not in any way out of place. Still, we as people develop different interests in life. It is these interests and inspiring nudges, if they emerge, that we would best follow in life for it can lead us to wonderful discoveries and growth.. And we encounter all sorts of “mentors” to help us on these journeys, during our lives.

I am enthusiastic about the ideas and practices of mentoring the youth, or adults, in (re)connecting with nature. Jon Young’s Coyote Mentoring circles around these ideas and work. The basis of his work is the recognition of a need, or possibility, for people to become more deeply in touch with themselves and with the rest of nature. (Or is it perhaps also just out of the pure enjoyment of play and exploration, alone and with others, admiring the endless wonders of the world around us..? Who could tell.. J) It is for me exciting to learn about these methods of (re)connecting with nature through a process of experiencing and becoming. Children and adults alike have different sides to them, and we all have some sort of sense of nature. It is all around us after all and everything we do, use, put out, relates to everything else – nature – that we are an inseparable part of. Jon Young, as countless others all over the world, excite children to explore the natural world through games, hands-on experience, and tickling the inquiring side of one’s soul. He uses coyote as the example of an ancient character, the “Trickster”.. no learning is so very thorough or useful if it happens out of obligation or fear (though fear can be a great push for many things). However, we can lead each other to our edges of seeing, understanding and experiencing, and from the edge one can venture further on unknown paths, to discover more.. if one so wishes.

So the role of a mentor is crucial in that they can point things to us. To see, smell or feel differently, to be in other ways. They can assist us to step out of the comfort zone, which is quite necessary for something new to come in. Mentors come in so many forms.. parents, friends, teachers. It is for any child rather important that there is a “mentor” of some sort throughout their young years. It is also quite necessary and enriching for adults to have different mentors throughout the rest of their lives, to guide on paths they wish to uncover. We are our own mentors as well, but then need to keep on continuously tickling and mirroring ourselves – it takes a great deal of honesty and openness!

And why we would point things to each other is perhaps because we don’t see everything.

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This little lizard I wouldn’t have noticed, had it not been for a friend with keen eyes.. We can help each other see things we didn’t notice before 😉

Now you go for a walk on the street, and try to take in everything. The human mind just so happens to be that it is difficult for it to register everything. So our brains train constantly to focus on the things that are recognizable – important in some way. It is for sure a survival mechanism.. That is why we need learning, mentoring, pointing to new things, to learn more. Jon Young calls this “brain patterning”. With Lisa my friend here, we talk of her research, how her participants each see their worlds through different eyes – and this reflects in the photographs they take. They each portray a set of photos that show their special places, reasons for this, their relationship with the environment overall and the vulnerabilities they perceive them to have. How one sees the environment depends on their upbringing, all the knowledge they have.. how their worldview is constructed. And this has taken place through some sort of filtering.. or brain patterning.

Today, lots of people do not need to observe their immediate surroundings constantly for their immediate survival. We do keep our eyes open to not walk into walls or be hit by a car, but there is not a dire need to check out every living plant we walk by or be acutely aware of the sounds of nature around us in order to avoid a looming predator, or pick up a cry of a game bird.. Instead, our current brain patterning largely comprises of towns, computers, roads, television, friends, facebook.. acquiring food includes certain kind of brain patterning, circling around shopping centres, packaged foods, eating out. So these things get reinforced and filtered through to our brains, to help us in our days. Yet, not all of these activities directly feed us or contribute to our survival.. some of the activities we embark on are harmful to life. We may feel separate from the ecosystems, food systems that support us all. Of course, we all have our different interests. One who doesn’t have an affection for understanding where our food comes from, has an interest in other things. Someone doesn’t like the outdoors, but rather paints or becomes a musician. We all have our roles and parts to contribute to the whole.

If one does wish to change the current brain patterning, it takes will and effort to change it.

In that way, kindness, compassion and love are things that can be “cultivated” just as much as anything else. So is nature connection and learning about animals and plants. When it comes to youth, J. Young presents that nature connection can be something fun, encouraging and exciting that provides the chance for new doorways to open up in one’s mind – for exploration of the “unknown”, “beyond the edge”. We can show each other possibilities, open curiosity and guide it to exploring and making sense of the world around by experience, through play.

There was a three day environment event in Nature’s Valley a few months ago now where I facilitated a kind of a web of life – activity to school learners. We were immersed in the beautiful natural surroundings, and the activity was to awaken our senses, explore the surroundings through a game that involves creativity, making connections and empathising. It was a one-of-a-kind experience for me, and for the children a very special occasion for sure – they came to this amazing, peaceful place to learn about interesting things outdoors. What an adventure! They did come with their pencils and papers.. It was so clear that this was the “default-mode” they took expecting something of the session; we’ve got to sit through and write down the right answers. It made me hope that is not how teachers always feel – that they feel like their students just want to have the right answers on the piece of paper. 😉

I’d hope them to feel, and the learners to feel, that the various abilities of learners are engaged in a process of excitement, exploration and keen inquiry. How to inspire that among each other? Be it children or adults. True excitement, heartfelt keen inquiry.. To filter openly from our surroundings, and follow the leads that ignite a spark of passion within.

 

I am in the process of filtering big-time, and brain-patterning in order to know these specific surroundings a bit better.. through reading, experience, exploration, guidance by others. What an adventure it is.

The spring with its sense of life speeding up a bit, I’ve been ever grateful for the simple little space I pass through and spend time at every day: the balcony at Old Nick’s, and the immediate garden surrounding. It is here I make much of my daily observations of birds, plants, weather, sounds.. It can be a great thing, to have this kind of a “spot” where one returns to on a regular basis. This spot can become an “observation-spot”, there to take note of the things that happen around. Connecting with nature can start here and now, anytime and everywhere, because we are nature and it is all around us. Thus the wonders of existence equally are all around us and always available. I realize, for me it has been this way in most places I’ve inhabited.. the home trees in Finland, the trees and birds across our apartments in Equatorial Guinea, these trees, birds and flowers here, now. I could trace the line of my life by the birds that I’ve seen inhabiting the places I’ve lived at, or by the insects that seem to appear at different times of year.. I think we all could tell these kinds of stories of our lives.

And we may not be able to acquire all the information there is about our surroundings. Yet, a keen interest in what is going on around helps us to make our ways.. through work, through meetings, through tasks at hand. It is like, mental or physical mapping..! We can also train ourselves to filter in not only the information we are familiar with, but also information that is unknown to us. Truly, how would it be to live life without filtering, to be open to anything and everything? Might that be the way to discover all kinds of “worlds unknown”? We have words that we use to describe things around us. But sometimes they rather confuse us than help us; words can have us stuck with the thing – the word – that merely points towards something it describes.. whereas the experience, sensation of a thing may not depend on the word. Wonderful these words are – but to not get stuck in them.. 🙂 It may be, that indeed the things we can discover are only limited to our imagination. And I excitedly hope that it is as they say, that our imagination is limitless.. !

So we “build ourselves”, through questions, and answers. Sometimes it all gets shattered: places change, people and interests change…  Yet we can always continue to explore the great mystery of existence.

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Lemon tree. We might sometimes find lemons on the ground, and the monkeys use the tree on their daily journeys from the forest to the village

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Ghost in the trees – the alpha male of a monkey group that lives nearby

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Nature’s Valley is a truly amazing spot to go for hikes and observe both the sea and the forests..

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Sky painted in colors, seen from the balcony one day

Monkey neighbours and music making

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Monthly blog entries, these have become..! I love writing. But I do feel I am writing quite a bit these days, in other ways than for this blog – and so, this more personal blog has in times been momentarily forgotten. 🙂

I write emails to people, to contact about possible shows for the Lunchbox Theatre and to find out about opportunities for funding.. I write to potential partners who might wish to collaborate on a new show perhaps, and then of course emails and letters to friends, to family – and to myself every now and then! Kind of a therapeutic practice, writing can be.

We went for a wonderful cycle last Sunday, to Keurbooms beach in Plettenberg Bay. The sun was shining and bicycles rolled on the road effortlessly like a gentle breath of wind.. a chill was in the air, as most days now in the middle of winter. Yet, the sun warms one up nicely, and there sitting on the beach overlooking the vast bay, distant mountains and the town of Plettenberg Bay, we witnessed a mother and baby whale dancing in the waters just thirty meters from us. Slow motions, sprays of water.. among the blue and green ocean and white foam of the waves. Sand in my toes and a dear friend by my side, watching the whales – a beautiful day indeed.

The month of July brought many new things into this existence in the Garden Route. I continued volunteer work with Lunchbox and Tshisa, and have got so many new tasks to accomplish regarding fundraising and booking of shows that the other tasks have not had the chance to start taking shape yet.. but, little by little! It is good to learn more about the organizations and be involved with the different ways they operate. An interesting bunch of inspiring people working more or less to foster cultural enrichment and environmentally beneficial attitudes and behaviours.

Last Tuesday I continued Wondering about Whales, through seeing the Whale Show of Lunchbox Theatre at Formosa Primary School. It was a lovely morning moment filled with exciting facts, laughter and being touched by the stories about whales..

You can read more about this show and the children’s reactions to it from another blog entry on Lunchbox Theatre website:

http://www.lunchbox.org.za/news/what-would-man-be-without-whales/

The past weekends the Tshisa Talent Competition Finalists of this year started a concert tour in their home communities around Plett. Such talent, sweet, unique voices, clever rap tunes and amazing dancers.. Great guys and girls, giving their best!

Wonderful Mnce, Actor, Facilitator and Dreamer of Lunchbox Theatre and Tshisa Talent

Animation Crew

Audience in New Horizons community hall

With my dear companions Lisa and Mekhala we helped organize an upcycling workshop. That was an exciting task! Paper making, plastic bottle plant holders and toilet paper roll animals.. 🙂 “healthy entertainment” for children at Knysna Oyster Festival, where music, forest runs, organic food and arty activities for children took place over a two-week period, in Knysna the closest neighbouring town of Plettenberg Bay.

Planting spekboom (especially efficient CO2 consuming plant) in plastic bottle plant holders. 🙂

Paper making at home

Plenty of upcycling at home, as well!

I got a housemate from Mekhala, and we moved to a little flat at Old Nick’s craft&art village. There is some movement during the days as the stores around the yard are open every day, making and selling wool, pottery products, arts and crafts. For the Upcycling workshop, I started making some paper at home.. and we realized we do upcycle a whole lot of things! See some images below!

Guitar stand! This was so fortuitous. A structure of plastic found on the side of the road, and a broken visor of a helmet put together, and it works very well.

Kitchen unit, second hand oven with weird but functional attachments, bin cover made of some piece of plastic and the table built of an old body of a bed. Old blinds used to cover the storage space below!

An easel also made of the old body of a bed.. notice the bat droppings.. !!

Jewelry stand made of old wire, blinds used on the front, piece of reed as incense holder, and a lovely shell to hold all sorts of various little items. 🙂

It is a peaceful environment and ours the only inhabited flat in the “village”. The loeri, beautiful prehistoric-kind-of bird of these regions, visits the trees covering the balcony, and the fruitbats are around.. just now they’re having a real party every night with the fruits of a yellow wood tree growing above the building. They eat and spit out the seeds and poo on all the surfaces.. and it is really sticky stuff to clean..! Yet very interesting to follow their activities.

There is also a little group of vervet monkeys that come browse around and play on the balcony – especially on Wednesdays which is a Food Market day at Old Nick’s. They are simply lovely creatures and I couldn’t feel more grateful for having the chance to observe them close-by when they appear, but for sure the doors and windows need be kept closed when they’re around; they are so incredibly quick and will pull out or steal whatever they get their hands on if there isn’t a vigilant eye watching over them..

Visitors interested in the tomato plants

We are exploring the common music making, for now just among the two of us although little by little getting to know some of the other musicians in the area – and they are many! Plett seems to be booming with talents of all kind, though there aren’t too many places where they could surface to be heard and enjoyed by the public. 😉

Lots of practice, feeling & listening, how do these instruments go together.. a clarinet and a guitar. What can we create with it? All kinds of things, that’s for sure..! Finding “our sound”. And learning to sing. I’ve always been singing, but somehow never have taken it “further”.. not willing to put all efforts in to develop it, find the freedom and control that I know is there, and maintain it. Feel the love that fills me when singing and playing, and still be able to project what I intend to. This past spring and the street music making was a real good stepping stone on this “path”, as was being inspired by Mekhala who started doing gigs and developing his skills in earnest. So with this, too, we’re traversing ways previously unknown, and like with anything in life, with heart and mind open the learning and discoveries spiral and intermingle with other things – always creating, and who knows what; but the journey is quite a wonderful ride indeed.

So the ride continues, towards the spring on this side of the world!

Cycling paths under heavy use