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How to contemplate nature; a simple nature-centric mindfulness practice

Nature-centred mindfulness is a great way to start meditation practice for a beginner, and also a beautiful practice for more experienced mindfulness and meditation practitioners. This extract is taken from the upcoming book, Nordic by nature. New voices on deep ecology; Arne Naess in the 21st century. If you would like to receive a free copy of this book please sign up to the Foundation of Contemplation of Nature’s newsletter here and follow the foundation on Facebook and @foundnature on Instagram.

Preparing lemons!

The contemplation of nature for inner and outer resilience
Hi, my name is Ajay Rastogi and I live in the village of Majkhali, in the state of Uttarakhand in the Indian Himalayan region. It’s about 400 kilometres north of Delhi and we overlook the high Himalayas with many 6000-metre high peaks. I have been an ecologist and an environmentalist for a large part of my life. I used to work with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as the organic programme coordinator for India. The basic drive to move back was to find a tool for the transformation of people from inside, so that they can connect deeply with nature.

The fact that we are unable to make big changes in society that are needed for sustainability means that we need to look again at the approach environmental movements have taken so far. For that reason, I was thinking that meditative practice, which can be done in nature, could be transformative in making us understand that we are an integral part of the natural world. Meditation is considered as a method for inner transformation.

Ajay near the foundation’s headquarters, in the foothills of the Himalayas.

Experiential transformative learning
We have a residential programme based out of village homestays. These are typical rural homesteads, structures where there is no running water and the toilet is outside. Participants are supposed to stay for a two-week programme and help their host agrarian families, doing the same work that they do. They learn about everyday work: taking care of the cow, getting fodder from the forest, getting enough drinking water from the springs.

Students on the Mountain Resilience Leadership course learn how a mixture of cattle dung and water produces biogas for cooking stoves.

The programme is based on three pillars. One is called ‘the dignity of physical work’ because, unfortunately, we are losing the connection to working with our hands. The second is ‘interdependence’ because sometimes we feel that if we are economically sound then we don’t need anybody else – ‘I just spend money and get whatever I want’– but that’s not how society is structured, that’s not how sustainability comes about. The third thing participants learn about is ‘interconnectedness’, which is more about the landscape and the elements, where the water is coming from and so on. It is about knowing that this does not happen by itself, there are trees and filtration is taking place, there is some soil which can absorb water. It’s not as if it comes out of thin air. It needs to be nurtured.
We have a structured programme now. It’s a three-credit course, with the collaboration of Western Colorado University, called Mountain Resilience Leadership. We have also worked with the National Outdoor Leadership School for the past nine years.

A short nature-centred practice group session before co-creation workshops and meetings can change the whole dynamic and outcome of the work.

Students from all over the world come and participate in these programmes.
Bring nature to our consciousness
The nature-based mindfulness practice that we call the ‘contemplation of nature’
is done in natural surroundings, if possible. It is a multisensory experience. It helps because we are biological organisms and we have an inherent need to connect with nature. It’s kind of how we are genetically wired, so the contemplation of nature is not as abstract as many people find other meditative practices to be. It is good for beginners to feel the interconnectedness of all beings.
People can start with the contemplation of nature and then go on to learn about other deeper levels of meditation. But the contemplation of nature is definitely an approach that can be done on a daily basis. It quickly brings us to a level of tranquillity that gives us all the benefits of the meditation: the compassion, the kindness, the deeper connection to the natural law as well as to the social community around us.
At about the 23rd minute of meditation, a response known as the relaxation response activates a deeper trigger in our bodies. The relaxation response allows the body and internal chemistry to function in a much more regulated and balanced way. This also brings other benefits, including a gentle detachment from the continuous flow of thoughts and emotions, and deeper awareness and insight into our interconnected being.

Three steps for contemplating nature
So, all we do is sit and observe with a soft gaze. You can contemplate nature indoors with very simple objects from nature, following the three steps of nature contemplation that we have designed. The three simple steps of the contemplation of nature are: observe nature with a soft gaze, accept your thoughts, emotions and sensations with gentle detachment, and send love to the world with sympathetic attention.

By observing nature with a soft gaze, we bring nature into our consciousness, all the time accepting with gentle detachment our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations. We are not interested in finding details or drawing conclusions. Of course, our minds will wander here and there, but as soon as we realise this, we gently bring our mind back to simply observing nature with a soft gaze.

One very important element of any meditation practice is to let go of your thoughts. You do not do this by fighting them but just by observing them and acknowledging them without judgement. This is what sympathetic attention means. Be gentle with yourself and just remind yourself of feelings of gratitude and oneness with nature. We sit, we observe softly with a gentle gaze, and continue sitting with gentle detachment. No matter what thoughts come to mind, don’t make any judgment about where you are, or what you are doing or thinking. It is this step that is transcendental in nature, and therefore a fundamental aspect of the practice. Being able to sit quietly allows us to somehow transcend a call of judgment and ‘the thinking mind’, at least for a little while.
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Stewardship as a Concept of Self.

How do we view ourselves and our place in the world? A question that every great philosopher has wrestled with throughout time, but also one which we are revisiting in the light of the climate crisis especially amongst a growing movement of deep ecologists who want to revive a new type of ethics, where every human act is potentially an expression of care.

In the case of environment, the circle of ‘otherness’ is more inclusive. As everything is connected, the ‘other’ includes the non-human world as well as our common habitat. The moral right for all living beings to live as a part of our ever-changing ecosystems.

‘Environment’ is much more than the set of resources that mankind needs to survive, and our language itself is limiting our intrinsic view of nature by conceptually separating it from humanity. Suddenly we are asked to grasp the ungraspable- that the planet’s fate is now in the hands of human beings and that time has already run out – the state of emergency is here. Environment is on the front line and entangled with all our global challenges.

The notion of ‘stewardship’ can describe the role of Homo sapiens species in bringing back the environment back to the forefront of care- and our survival as a species, let alone Happiness, depends on it.

To see oneself as a steward is already a huge shift in mindset for most of us brought up in the modern consumer world. It introduces a whole plethora of other notions such as community, interdependence, and interconnectivity. Suddenly we can see the possibilities for protecting the environment in our everyday lives in the actions we make daily, in and out of our homes and workplaces. We feel a growing responsibility with our wallets too- refusing to buy a never-ending pile of stuff or food cultivated at the expense of our environment and global neighbours.

Increasingly, more and more people are interested in what they can do in their own lives, and this is illustrated in the growth of new online communities, connected across social media by hashtags; #zerowaste or #quitplastic being prime examples.

As stewards of our immediate environments we start to think about where our waste goes and the impact on our consumption patterns on the world. The sense of individual encompasses a much more fundamental and primary biological being, that has a natural place in the world. It is clear that consumer society has, by and large, taught us to separate ourselves from this notion of connectedness and live fragmented lives with little integrity between our thoughts and actions.

On one hand we are expected to express our values, while on the other, the only acknowledged expression of those values is through what we consume, i.e. we are only acknowledged as consumers.

Stewardship addresses the fact that we are losing our connection with the natural world very rapidly- and that our leaders and corporations do not have our interests at heart. The structures that drive economy are not in equilibrium with the needs of living beings. The primary domain of our work and life culture in the modern times is shifting further away in terms of physical distance but also in terms of our emotional and intellectual engagement with nature and the resources upon which we rely.

Our language is embedded with consumerism- the default mode is ‘non-organic.’ The things we need appear miraculously without much effort and relatively little cost to our wallets. The cost is elsewhere. Alongside this, technology is driving a new kind of ‘self-sufficiency’ revolution that has create a fake abundance, where we can order almost anything one imagines to our door step via Internet. The need for interaction or communal activities is reduced to a minimum. Most effort is targeted towards increasing the desire for ‘purchasing power’ whilst to oppose these mechanisms and make the ‘right choice’ day in and out seems to weigh heavily on the individual’s time and energy.

Going with the consumer society flow means continuously damaging the environment and cutting off our emotions from the horrors of reality. The more we cut off, the more our emotional intelligence is underdeveloped. We get the social ‘fix’ we need by going online. We get self-esteem from the clothes we wear and the thing we buy. Experiences from TV, internet etc. are cognitively experienced as ‘real’ by the brain. We are satisfied on food without nutrition and relationships without real contact or connection — because it is easy. Our emotions are influenced and that in turn continues to influence our everyday behaviour, as the emotions are the key influencers of action. (Frijda et al. 2000).

Emotions also influence our deeply held beliefs. The problem of poor emotional balance is being further aggravated by the disconnect with nature: external natural surroundings as well as internal human nature of reflection and contemplation, as Mayer et al. (2009) observed in their seminal work on Role of Connectedness to Nature:

“Environmentalists (e.g., Berry, 1997; Leopold, 1949; Orr, 1994) and nature writers (e.g., Louv, 2005; Muir, 1894; Thoreau, 1854) have long maintained that humans derive physical and psychological benefits from spending time in the natural world. The past two decades of research in environmental psychology have supported this contention. Using a variety of methodologies and measures, researchers have shown that exposure to the natural world decreases negative behaviours and states (e.g., aggression, anxiety, depression, illness) and increases positive ones (e.g., affect, health, cognitive capacity). The big picture is clear: Exposure to nature leads to many desirable outcomes.” (See the Health Council of the Netherlands and Dutch Council for Research on Spatial Planning, 2004; van den Berg, 2005; Frumkin, 2001).

Fredrickson et al., (2008) has reviewed recent research in the field of psychology to show how subtle emotions create a transforming impact on oneself.

“A paradox surrounds positive emotions. On one hand, they are fleeting: Like any emotional state, feelings of joy, gratitude, interest, and contentment typically last only a matter of minutes. Moreover, positive emotions are less intense and less attention grabbing than negative emotions (Baumeister, Bratslavsky, Finkenauer, & Vohs, 2001) and are more diffuse (Ellsworth & Smith, 1988). Yet on the other hand, research indicates that positive emotions contribute to important downstream life outcomes, including friendship development (Waugh & Fredrickson, 2006), marital satisfaction (Harker & Keltner, 2001), higher incomes (Diener, Nickerson, Lucus, & Sandvik, 2002), and better physical health (Doyle, Gentile, & Cohen, 2006; Richman et al., 2005). People who experience frequent positive emotions have even been shown to live longer (Danner, Snowdon, & Friesen, 2001; Moskowitz,2003; Ostir, Markides, Black, & Goodwin, 2000). Indeed, a recent meta-analysis of nearly 300 findings concluded that positive emotions produce success and health as much as they reflect these good outcomes.” (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005)

So, in a way it does not sound so far-fetched to maintain that compassion, self-integrity and care can make a significant contribution in dealing with some of the world’s major problems. An attitude of profiteering and perpetual growth results in environmental destruction, but also emotional and physical violence, drugs, corruption and socially unjust exploitation of other human beings. A mainstream shift in mindset could potentially reduce many of these human-made challenges.

Many societies and communities are recognising this and some of the nations have started to work on ‘Gross Domestic Happiness’ instead of ‘Gross Domestic Product.’

Gross National Happiness is a philosophy that guides the government of Bhutan and has gained traction in New Zealand, Nordic countries and Finland in particular, in recognition that technology and material goods have their limits when it comes to making people happy, and that by reframing happiness, society can also address the constraints of environmental resources. This approach, however, can neither offer a sole solution nor an easy one. There is an urgent need to initiate work on developing tools and techniques to integrate improved connection with external and internal nature in every aspect of our lives, to complement the existing efforts of saving the environment and the humanity. The mindshift has to come from every one of us- as professional and private stewards of future generations.

From extract from a paper The Contemplation of Nature: An Integrated Approach for Resilient Thinking by Ajay Rastogi and Tanya Kim Grassley for the Society for Human Ecology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, via the The Foundation for Contemplation of Nature, Majkhali, India.

Who Should Own the Earth?

Below is the keynote speech ’Who Should Own the Earth?’ by Dasho Dr Karma Ura at the Earth Trusteeship Forum, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok.

The Earth Trusteeship Platform offers open, decentralized, ‘multi-polar’ and independent creative space for persons and organisations motivated to exploring Earth Trusteeship as an innovative principle of governance and local and international law, able to match the challenges of the 21st century and the wellbeing of future generations.  

Who Should Own the Earth?
Keynote Address by Dasho Karma Ura, Ph D.
Earth Trusteeship Forum, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.

The author Peter Barnes raised a penetrating question with his book Who Should Own the Sky (2007). Although we would assume that the sky over our head is owned equally by all of mankind, Barnes suggested that it was owned more by those who used the skies and polluted them more, at the expense of others who do not pollute as much.

The sky over head was also a major political-ecological theme in the European elections in the 1960’s. In 1961, German Chancellor Willy Brandt, a Nobel Laureate, campaigned that “The sky above the Ruhr has to become blue again.”

Today, the sky above most urban spaces look duller, hotter and dirtier, and is almost certainly used and ‘owned’ more by polluters.

The question ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is an all-encompassing topic relevant to policy makers, legislators, businesses, academics and technologists, to name but a few. The question is a poignant one precisely because of the rapidly increasing rate of environmental destruction; the present generation is posing a grave threat to future generations through its current political systems and concepts.

In that sense, our generation are adversaries of future generations, rather than their allies, and custodians or trustees of the earth’s resources. And as we received the world’s resources in a better state than we pass them on, our ancestors were trustees of nature, which we so heavily rely on.

The first obvious answer to Who Should Own the Earth? is that it can and should be owned by all those future generations who will be born in the future. If all beings yet to be born own it, it should logically follow that it is equally owned by beings in the present and the past.  Naturally, in sheer terms of relevance, this applies more to present and the future generations. But the power of decision- making is abrogated by the present generation, simply because future generations cannot take part in the decision-making process. If future generations equally own the Earth, they also have a right to be considered in current-day decision making. Our policies and politics need to be able to consider, and make space in our decision-making frameworks, for their voice and their agency.

Current decision-making processes, however, only favour current generations. It is a short-termism that lack clarity when it comes to how we view the future, as its stretches further and further in time. We lack the ability to measure and understand the impact of our decisions on other human beings and sentient beings.

I would go do far as to say that these frameworks are extremely poor or non-existent. The Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen (1961, 1967) is amongst the leading pioneers who have explored the idea of value over time. Social Discount Rates (Karbowski, 2016) or SDR’s are a critical element in cost-benefit analysis when the costs and the benefits differ in their distribution over time. Lower discount rates favour future generations, but it is unclear how low it should be. Rates that are closer to the value of zero will give equal weight to both future generations and the present.

Environmentalist and conservationist-oriented decision makers prefer low discounting rates to be adopted. In a survey of about 200 experts, 75% recommended that a social discount rate of 2% (Drupp et al, 2015) be used. But many current commercial valuation methods use higher discounting rate for infrastructure investments or other assets, thus embedding a bias against future generations.

The second answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is that it ought to be owned at every point of time in history by all sentient beings who share the basic preference to live well and happily, whether they be animals or human beings.

As Buddha said, “All that moves on earth are supported by the Earth.” In other words, all that moves on the earth should receive equitable support from the Earth’s resources. Increasingly, however, use of the Earth’s resources is not equitable, whether we consider that in terms of conventional material means such as income and assets, or experiential outcomes of wellbeing and happiness such as psychological wellbeing, ecological resilience, community vitality or balanced time-use in everyday life.

By having a more in depth and holistic system to measure experiential outcomes as well as material means, people in Bhutan should, in course of time, attain a maximum level of happiness and wellbeing that is sustainable for future generations. By managing 52% of the land in Bhutan as protected nature reserves, Bhutan has created a carbon well and protected biodiversity for other sentient beings to fare reasonably well.

The choice of intergenerational resource allocation can be based on various rules such as discounting methods, or legislative-constitutional provisions. Discounting based on market logic, however, does not offer long-term guidance for intergenerational equity. The constitution and legislation is therefore an additional recourse to help define the parameters for intergenerational equity.

In the case of Bhutan, ‘environment’ is defined in the broadest sense of the term, so that it can be entrusted to every Bhutanese citizen for preservation. The Constitution of Bhutan, written under the leadership of our kings, has certain provisions and institutional structures favourable to forest and biological preservation.

For example, the Bhutanese Constitution prescribes a minimum of 60% forest cover. Bhutan currently has 72% forest cover. The country is presently carbon negative.

“Greenhouse Gas emissions will exceed carbon sink after 2030 in business as usual scenario. In the carbon neutral scenario, Bhutan can remain carbon neutral at least until 2050” (Kei Gomi et al, 2019).

Although the Constitution of Bhutan is explicit in terms of forest ratio, it does not specify other resource bases for intergenerational equity, besides saying that Bhutan should “ensure sustainable use of natural resources and maintain intergenerational equity.”

The third answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is a traditional-historical Bhutanese one. Traditional Bhutanese beliefs say that mountains, for example, are owned by local Mountain Deities. The current inhabitants in a territory are only transient occupants and users.

In psychoanalytic terms, mountain deities are the personification nature; rivers, clouds, rainfall, snowfall, weather, forests, wildlife and all their other ineffable interrelations are personified by deities. If the Earth is owned by Mountain Deities, who personify nature, then vital parts of nature have rights on their own, like a person.

Human being’s property rights cannot be extended over Nature’s resources, or rivers and springs, just as it would be odd for us claim ownership over clouds and mist. At the most, they can be common to the locality and accessed equally by its inhabitants who are seen more as stewards of the resources they need.

Bhutan has of yet been unable to give explicit rights to any parts of nature, such as legal rights of rivers or mountains, to be undisturbed, in the way Thomas Berry conceptually established in 2001. Traditionally, however, the climbing of a set of snow peaks was not accepted, because they are regarded as the abode of Mountain Deities.

The concept of rights of a place or a natural phenomenon such as a river or mountain, seems to have been recognised traditionally. Bhutanese believed, and most still believe, that lakes- or river-beings (mtsho smanmo, bla tsho) dwell in such water bodies. Sensitive micro-ecologies such as cliffs, marshes, and rich groves are also considered the abodes (gnas khang) of earth deities (gnas bdag zhi bdag) and thus were off limits to be exploited by people.

Unfortunately, the legal rights of Nature’s elements have yet to find its place in modern laws such as the Forest and Nature Conservation Act, Environment Assessment Act, or Biodiversity Act.

The fourth answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?’ is that in the contemporary period, in principle, the earth is owned through agreements and laws within and among nations. Part of our collective inheritance, such as air quality, internet connectivity, oceans, or space and so forth are managed within and among nations through regulations, treaties and agreements. States or governments are managers of the great commons of the earth. They are not owners. Owners, as I stated earlier, are all sentient beings of the Earth, who themselves are reproduced in a cycle of birth, death and, perhaps, rebirth, according to Buddhism.

An important endeavor for all states and governments is to think of their afterlife, or legacy, i.e. what we do today has an impact on the infinite future, as opposed to the brevity of present tenures, and we need to help bring birth to policies and laws that listen intently to the voices from the future, through an awakening induced by both science, and the non-dual imagination and compassion of a Bodhisattva, who is here to relieve suffering for all beings.

The fifth answer to ‘Who Should Own the Earth?ä is that, in terms of political economy, the Earth has been increasingly owned and used by the market, commercial corporations, and the owners of capital.  Although all human beings have equal right to the Earth’s three principle resources in terms of source, sink and services, in reality, the polluters, commercial-exploiters and capitalists have hijacked the Earth’s resources.

The rights of labour, the rights to common properties, the rights of the community, which depends on the commons, and the intrinsic value of Nature to exist, have all been diminished respectively by the rights of capitalists, the rights to private properties and the rights of individuals. The rise of market has also led to the abolition of non-market exchange of labour that is a crucial aspect of social support and solidarity.

Corporate and private rights have been privileged increasingly over the rights to the Commons. In an evolutionary context, the inhabitants of the earth have thrived so far because of the richness and abundance of the Commons from which all sentient beings drew. But the great Commons of the earth are being over-exploited on the one hand, and over polluted with toxicities on the other. Corporate and private rights have also, to a lesser extent, been privileged over the rights of the vast majority of human beings and other sentient beings.

An 18th century mural of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (1594-1651), considered to be the architect of Bhutan.

In his biography, the monk-founder of Bhutan, Zhabdrung, made an astonishing statement. He wrote that the animals found in Bhutan, like elephants, bears and rhinos, are Bodhisattvas existing to lead all beings to enlightenment, instead of the other way around.

He saw formations of clouds over mountain peaks, and stunning natural beauty and described them in terms of wondrous spiritual symbols. A sense of beauty of nature penetrated him completely, and he was able to see the earth itself as the beginning and end of aesthetic wellbeing.

It seems that these concepts are as valuable today as they ever were and might offer us a way to recover the Earth’s abundance as source of wellbeing for present and future generations.

Keynote speakers at the Earth Trusteeship Forum event

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nordic by Nature Podcast



Direct Link to Transistor: https://share.transistor.fm/s/51f13fa5

Nordic by Nature is a new type of mindful and spacious sound-crafted audio podcast inspired by Arne Ness, the Norwegian philosopher who coined the term Deep Ecology.

In ten episodes, and with a global perspective, Nordic By Nature explores human, social and personal resiliency and adaptability that is needed for these challenging times.

The podcast is sent from Sweden and the foothills of the Himalayas by two colleagues who met in 2017; Tanya Kim Grassley and Ajay Rastogi. The podcast is intended to be listened to like an extended exercise in mindfulness; the soundscape has been designed by sound artist Diego Losa.

In the first episode On Activism, we have 3 strong voices who represent many thousands more at the forefront of change.

First you hear the words of Satish Kumar. To people in the ecology movement, Satish Kumar needs little introduction. He has been a world leading activist for over 50 years. In his early 20s, inspired by Gandhi and British peace activist Bertrand Russell, Satish embarked on an 8,000-mile peace pilgrimage together with E.P. Menon.

They walked, without any money, from India to America, via Moscow, London and Paris, to deliver a humble packet of ‘peace tea’ to the then leaders of the world’s four nuclear powers. Satish sends a message to all activists out there! “You are doing something great,” he tells us. All important social change was driven by protest.

After Satish, we meet Marijn van de Geer, a Dutch national, living in London, and active member of the growing, grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion. Marijn takes us by the hand through the Rebellion, why it is so necessary, and the experience of non-violent protest.

XR logo
The Extinction Rebellion Logo – a call for radical action.

We then will hear Siti Kasim, celebrity lawyer and human rights activist who is passionate about the rights of the indigenous people in the Malaysian peninsula, the Orang Asli.

Hashtags to copy: tracesofnorth, Deep ecology, Arne Naess, Tracesofnorth, ecology, conservation, resilience, UNSDG, The Nordics, decolonisation, transformation, bioregionaldevelopment, peace dialogue, sustainability, climate crisis, biodiversity, global challenges, society and culture, monikakucia, danielwahl, helenanorberg-hodge, satishKumar, extinctionrebellion, climateuprising, sitikasim, ajayrastogi, tanyakimgrassley, Sweden, swedishstyle,

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Episode 2: ON SURVIVAL

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Daniel Christian Wahl

Monika Kucia

Helena Norberg-Hodge

In the second episode On Survival, we have 3 strong voices who understand the need for radical, system change. First you hear the words of Monica Kucia, culinary curator in Warsaw, who talks about how to take the ego out of food. Then you will hear Design Leader Daniel Wahl, author of Regnerative Cultures who speaks about bioregional development. Finally, we hear Helena Norberg-Hodge, author of Ancient Futures, and founder of the NGO Local Futures.
Hashtags to copy/paste: arnenaess, deepecology, tracesofnorth, monikakucia, danielwahl, danielchristianwahl, rejuvenativecultures, helenanorberg-hodge, ajayrastogi

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Episode 3: ON INNER RESILIENCE

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In this episode ON INNER RESILIENCE, we hear four voices share how they maintain inner equilibrium. Firstly, we learn about nature-centred mindfulness practice from Ajay Rastogi, at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature in the Himalayan village of Majkhali in Uttarakhand, India. Then you will hear Egyptian conservationist Noor A Noor, who describes his own personal path into mindfulness – through his experiences of the 2011 Egyptian Uprising. Then Judith Schleicher explains how daily meditation has helped her with her conservation work, ever since she attended a 10-day Vipassana retreat in Peru 7 years ago. Lastly, we meet Christoph Eberhard, legal anthropologist and practitioner of the Chinese and Indian traditional arts Ta Ji Chuan, Qi Gong and Yoga. Christoph believes that dialogue is at the heart of meaningful transformation- dialogue with oneself, with others, with nature, and the beyond.

Ajay Rastogi, Founder of the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature.

Noor A Noor, Conservationist, Cambridge University

 

Judith Schleicher, PhD Fellow at Cambridge University

Nordic by Nature is an Imaginary Life production, created with the support of the Nordic Ministries (Norden.org) and in partnership with The Foundation of the Contemplation of Nature. Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth, and follow us on Instagram Many thanks to Satish Kumar and Elaine Green for their ongoing support and encouragement. Satish is also the editor of Resurgence magazine, and the guiding spirit behind the internationally-respected Schumacher College in the UK. Many thanks to Marijn van de Geer, founder of the consultancy Resolution: Possible, Thanks to Extinction Rebellion members Emma Wallace and Sophie Jenna who also shared their Rebellion sound recordings with us. Please read more about the movements demands for transparency and climate justice on their website. Thank you to Siti Kasim, lawyer, activist and writer of the column Siti Thots on the Star Online. The flute music is a nose flute played by an indigenous Orang Asli man from the Temiar tribe in Kelantan. All the sounds have been arranged by Diego Losa.

You can follow Ajay’s project at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature and connect on Facebook and Contemplation of Nature on Instagram. Press contact: nordicbynature@imaginarylife.net Become our patron with even a small donation via Patreon!

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.

Podcast core team:

Tanya Kim Grassley, Creator & Host
The podcast is an Imaginary Life AB production. Tanya’s Imaginary Life is a network of creative professionals crossing research, strategy and design. Imaginary Life supports forward-looking organisations to facilitating co-creative processes to redefine their vision, values, design philosophy, brand strategy and shape better communications methods suited to transformation and change. www.imaginarylife.net

Ajay Rastogi, Co-host
Ajay Rastogi is the cofounder of the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature where he runs courses in Resilient Leadership. Ajay won the Global Maverick Teacher award for this work in 2016. Ajay has has developed the nature-focussed mindfulness method for opening dialogue called the Contemplation of Nature.
www.foundnature.org

Diego Losa, Sound Designer
Each podcast begins with a 5-minute meditative spoken word audio journey. We then hear the voices of our guests, accompanied with sound samples and music arrangements that give space for reflection and open up an emotional connection with the speaker. Born in Buenos Aires, Diego Losa is a master of ’concrete music, sound engineering and contemporary digital tools. He is also professor at the EICAR (International Film school of Paris) at the Regional Conservatory of St Etienne and the Sorbonne University (France) and he composes pieces for film, dance, contemporary performance, television and radio.
http://diegolosa.blogspot.com

Nordic By Nature Ep 1: ON ACTIVISM Transcript

Please listen to our podcast here.

SOUND: SWEDEN GARDEN SUMMER

Tanya:

Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a podcast on ecology today sent from Suburban Sweden, and a mountain village in Uttrakhand, India, in the foothills of the Himalayas. My name is Tanya and my colleague Ajay will be joining us later. Sound has been arranged by Diego Losa, in Paris.

In this episode On Activism, we have 3 strong voices who represent many thousands more at the forefront of change. First you will hear the words of Satish Kumar. To people in the ecology movement, Satish Kumar needs little introduction. He has been a world leading activist for over 50 years.

In his early 20s, inspired by Gandhi and British peace activist Bertrand Russell, Satish embarked on an 8,000-mile peace-pilgrimage together with E.P. Menon. They walked, without any money, from India to America, via Moscow, London and Paris, to deliver a humble packet of ‘peace tea’ to the then leaders of the world’s four nuclear powers.

After Satish, we will meet Marijn van de Geer, a Dutch national, living in London, and active member of the growing, grass- roots movement Extinction Rebellion, that staged a 10-day demonstration across London, in April 2019, preceding the UK parliament declaring a climate emergency.

We then will hear Siti Kasim, celebrity lawyer and human rights activist who is passionate about the rights of the indigenous people in the Malaysian peninsula, the Orang Asli.

I hope you can make some time to relax, and simply enjoy listening.

SOUND: CHANGES TO ARCTIC ICE RECORDINGS

Tanya:

It’s been snowing again last night. I’ve been reading about Arne Naess, the Norwegian Philosopher. He was committed to non-violent communication and research.

He coined the term Deep Ecology. His work can be summarised as follows.

Number 1. We underestimate ourselves. We confuse self with ego.
Number 2. Human nature, that is sufficiently mature, cannot help but identify with all living beings – Schopenhauer, Descartes, and Heidegger were all immature in these matters.
Number 3. Nature and our immediate environment have been largely left out of definitions of the Self.
Number 4. The meaning of life, and the joy we can experience in being alive, is enhanced by self realisation.
Number 5. We inescapably identify with others. Our self realisation is enhanced by the self realisation of others. It is possible to act beautifully in harmony with nature and not just morally or morally.
Number 6. The greatest challenge today is to save ourselves from ecological devastation which violates the existence of all living things.

SOUND: LOCAL TRAIN AND FOOTSTEPS IN THE SNOW

Tanya:

In 2017, I met Ah-jay Rastogi at a conference in Delhi called the Tasting India Symposium. After a long career as an ecologist, Ajay cofounded the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. The foundation has it’s headquarters, the Vrikshalaya centre, in a village in the foothills of the Himalayas. Vrikshalaya means the Home of the Trees. Together with the village m’s women’s association, Ajay runs homestay courses in Mountain Resilience.

In 2016, he won a prestigious prize, Global Maverick Teacher. When I met Ajay he described 3 very important basic principles of life upon which his courses are based. (Fade to)
The Dignity of Physical Work, Interconnectivity, and Interdependence.

SOUND RECORDING: AJAY FIRST MEETING IN DELHI

Ajay:
My name is I Ajay Rastogi and for last 10 years I’ve gone back to live in my own village in the Himalayas. I used to work with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of United Nations working as the organic program coordinator for the country and.

The basic drive to move back was to for to find a tool for transformation of people from inside so that they can connect deeply with nature. And we have no residential program based out of village form stays rural homesteads where the toilet is outside in the sense that it is a structure where there is no running water and that students are supposed to.

Participants are supposed to stay for a two-week program and help the host family which is an agrarian family, in doing all the work that they do like, everyday work, which means taking care of the cow, getting fodder from the forest, and getting enough drinking water from the springs.

And the program is based on three pillars. One is called ‘Dignity of Physical Work’ because unfortunately now we are losing can contact in working with hands, our hands, the second is interdependence, because sometimes we feel that if I am economically sound then I don’t need anybody else; I just spend money and get whatever they want, but that’s not how society is structured. That’s not how the sustainability comes about.

So they learn about interdependence, and the third thing is interconnectedness, and interconnectedness is more about the landscape elements, that yeah this is what it is coming. But this is not by itself you know there there’s some trees there’s some infiltration taking place. There is some soil which can absorb. There is some aquifer and then the water comes up. It’s not as if it comes out of thin air.

And so, we have a structured program now it’s a three-credit course with the collaboration of the western state Colorado University called Mountain Resiliency. And it’s going on. We work with the National Outdoor Leadership School for last nine years. They’re students from all over the world come and participate in these programs.

Tanya: Thank you very much.

Tanya:

Ajay and I got talking.

What can organisations learn from a village in the Himalayas?
How is this way of life relevant to people living in cities?
Is it possible to blueprint Mountain Resilience for Resilient Leadership?
How can the tools and frameworks from ecology be applied at other types of organisations?

We realised we needed to talk to a lot of different people.

SOUND: LONDON STATION.
We started by asking Satish Kumar, mentor and guide for the ecology movement. Luckily he had time to meet us in London.

VOICE: SATISH KUMAR
Words have power only when they are practiced otherwise. Words have no power. You could say love but it has no power until you love someone you love or compassion. Word is compassion but unless you have a compassion in practice it has no power.

The power comes with practice; not ‘why’ but ‘how’ — how we implement it and the way always is from seed to tree, from small to large.

Start small, start wherever you are, the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. So start where ever you are, and by your authenticity, with your integrity, with your commitment, you will influence the others. So don’t worry about ‘how I influence others.’ You will influence others. There’s no way you cannot influence others, if you be the example and start, and do things what you want to do in your life and then others see it and they will be impressed, and they will follow you! This is how all big change happened. Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa — all these great people who have done.

Just start.

SOUND: INTERLUDE TRAIN LONDON (We have a little issue on the train ahead, I hope to be departing shortly)-

VOICE: SATISH KUMAR

I could have had money. I did not go without money because I did not have money. But I went without money because I did not want to have money. And I said ‘money will not be a help,’ because when I’m walking for peace, I want to show that peace comes from trust.

If I go to Pakistan as an Indian, I meet a Pakistani. If I go as a Hindu, I meet a Muslim, or Christian, but if I trust them and I go as a human being, they are human beings. And with that trust. So, if you have money, then you go and stay in a hotel, or B&B, eat in a restaurant, buy your own things. You don’t need to trust anybody. You don’t need anybody, but if you don’t have money then you need people to help you. What is more important people or money?

You can have money and you have no people you cannot build a movement. But if you are people… then… So money is only a kind of means to an end. Money is not the answer. If you have no money that’s blessing. That’s a blessing. If you have no money, just have people, make friendship, work with people. Give service to people. They will help you. They will support you.

The First Episode, ON ACTIVISM, features Peace Activist Satish Kumar.

Money may make things easy, but money does not make things authentic. People offered me money, when I was starting to walk. But Vinobha, my teacher Vinobha Bhave, he said that go without money go without. He was great teacher. So Vinobha had no money. He practiced Kanchan Mukti, money free living. So, if people say ‘I have no money, say ‘you are blessed!’ People with lots of millions and billions of dollars and pounds, what good it is doing?

Why every single individual must own their own house? I think we have to go back to living more frugally and living with families. And when you live with the family have be more tolerant, you have to be more accepting. You have to be more kind. You have to be more compassionate. You have to be humble, because your parents will say something, your brothers will say something, your sister will say something. Why are you not doing like this? So you have to be humble…. so living in a family.

I think in the West we have too many houses, underused, big houses. One or two people living in four-bedroom houses. This is…. And then we take a mortgage, because we want individual, we want isolated. We are separate. We want on our own. Humility lacking. We can live in a community, share. Absolutely! Share.

And then if you do what you need to do. The money also will come. Money will also come. I’m not saying I’m not against money I’m not against money. Money is a useful invention. Money is useful for the means of exchange and so on. That’s OK. But money is not the end. Money is only a means to an end.

What is your end? We have to always ask. What is my end? I have to always ask. Everybody has to ask what am I living for? I’m not living for money. I’m looking for something ‘altruism’– something higher greater. And if I live for that people may give you money.

I did not have money for two and half years. People gave me food, people gave me clothes, people gave me shoes, people gave me even boat ticket from England to America — I went by boat. I had no money. People gave me a boat ticket. People give you everything. There is no shortage of money in the world.

There is a short of imagination, short of altruism, short of action. So money will come. Money will follow you like a shadow follows you. That’s what this is happens. You are not the shadow. The shadow is yours, but you are not of the shadow. So, money is a useful thing but don’t work for money. Don’t live for money. Money is money will be added do you do something bigger and greater, and more wonderful and more imaginative.

SOUND: FLOATING ICE

SATISH:
The economy, traditional economy, has a very good, classic economy, when you study economics, it has a very good system. They say that three things you need for the economy. First, land, or nature. That’s a first. If you had no land, no forests, what’s the point? You can’t live.

Then second is labour; land, labour, capital. So, second is labour. Labour means people. And if people are true capital. Their imagination, their skills, they can build a house. They can make furniture. They can do things, they can… Their skills. The people are the capital. Nature is capital, people are capital, then money. Money facilitates, money is good at the third level, but if you put money at the top and put people and nature at the service of money and capital, then economics is skewed.

So, what you need is you need nature capital first. human capital second, because humans are nature. We are nature. We are made of earth, air, fire, water and, and basic elements. So nature is out there, in nature. We are also nature. Human skills, community, cooperation. As you said and imagination and the skills. Making things. Building a house. Building furniture. Making things. We’ve lost that. And this is why we become slaves of money.

I have two hands. This is the source of my income. My two hands can build a house, my two hands can grow food. I can eat. My two hands can make a jacket I can wear. My two hands can make a shoe, pair of shoes, I can wear. My two hands are the real money, and then when I make something, I can give it to you, and you can give me some money, but if I don’t make something then I make myself a slave of somebody and I do something but I’m told to do but I want it or not.

And so money, working for money, is a guarantee of enslavement. You’ll become a slave because you are working for money. So, money comes only third. Land, labour, capital. At the moment we have put capital at the top, and humans are servants of capital, and the nature is servants of Capital.

Equity requires social justice doesn’t it? And so, we have to work to create equity and social justice, so that everybody…. I call it Elegant Simplicity. Elegant simplicity. Because if you live Elegant Simplicity, that is a prerequisite for sustainability, because at the moment we make …make… make so much stuff and clutter our houses, and our hotels, and our buildings, and so on. It all comes from nature. We are turning nature into stuff, clutter.

And so for sustainability simplicity is prerequisite. Then for spirituality, for being contented and happy, we need a few things, because if you want lots of things, that you have to work hard, to make money then you have to work hard to buy. They have to work hard to look after them. It’s all time wasted in external things.

So, for your inner peace, you need a few things, you need good things; good food, good clothes, good furniture good something, but minimum – minimalism, basic. Enough is enough. Then it’s a spiritual, and then equity, social justice. If a few people have too much, others have too little. So, without equity without, social justice, economy is no good.

Economy must be accompanied with equity.

SOUND: FLOATING ICE

SATISH:

Elegant Simplicity means less stuff, less clutter; production not for profit, but production for need. Only purpose for production should be to meet the real, genuine need. Rather than equality I like the word equity, you said. Equity means we all have a stake in it. In the economy we all have a stake in our life. We have more… sort of we all share. Equality is a little bit sort of… like five fingers are not equal. They just some small. The thumb a small. This is big and they still work together.

So equity. They all have their share. They all have their function. They all support each other. Cooperate, collaborate, work together to hold– if I want to hold the glass, all the fingers were equal will not be right, but my thumb needs to be with a smaller but larger, so it can hold the glass and, and, etc.

So, I would say your word ‘equity’ is a more appropriate word, and if you have equity, than equality would be an automatic. More or less everybody would meet their need. Somebody can eat more, somebody can eat a bit less, doesn’t matter. Somebody can have a slightly bigger body, somebody can have a smaller body, somebody can have a bit… Doesn’t it matter, as long as everybody feel part of it.

Equity is there, everybody feel ‘I am part of it.’ So even a small child is a part of the family. Even an old person of that not the same age, but they have a share. They have equity in the family. So, I prefer the word equity to equality. I mean equality is good. But equality is not, not as, um, kind of neutral and as the kind of idealistic as equity. In the family, not everyone is equal, but everybody has a stake in the family, and family is a good model. But they all have harmony and equity, I think. Equal rights. Yeah. Everybody had a dignity. Everybody equally respected. No ownership, just relationship.

SOUND: TRAIN STATION LONDON

SATISH:

Recently I was coming to London and I was at the train station and there was somebody cleaning and sweeping the floor and cleaning and keeping the station very neat and beautiful. And I went to him and I said thank you for cleaning our station, without you keeping this in such a nice way we wouldn’t be so happy, there would be clutter and dirt and dust and so on. Thank you very much. I said this to this person and he was surprised.

“Nobody thanked me like that. Thank you. I’m glad you noticed that I’m cleaning.”

People don’t thank people who are cleaning your station, but without them cleaning, your station would be so awful hopefully you won’t enjoy being there. So, they are as important as the station master, or the person who to show you the ticket, or the person who is driving the train, or person who is managing the train. If the cleaner was not there, station will not be good.

SOUND: FLOATING ICE AGAIN… continues in background

If you have a proper Craftsmanship and if you make something really by hand, as a craftsman, machine can never make as beautiful, and as perfect tool, as human hands can make. So let’s promote craftsmanship and interdependence together.

Don’t be a consumer, be a maker. A human being is not a consumer. He’s a maker. We are all makers we can make something. The moment you say you are a consumer, you are putting the dignity of humanity down.

I’m not a consumer. I refuse to be called a consumer. I’m a maker. I make something. I make books. I make a garden. I make kitchen. I make good food, I make things. I’m a maker. And when I made something I eat it. When I grew food, I eat it. I made clothes I wear it. Consuming is a by-product. Not of consuming — it’s living you are not a consumer. Don’t be a consumer be a maker, and you can learn to be a maker. You’ve got two hands. Your hands are miracle.

At the universities, they are being told that the only way to progress is industrialisation, urbanisation, consumerism, economic growth, all these paradigm, and they are being brainwashed for five years. Day after day after day.

I think your 3 principles of Dignity of Labour, Interdependence and Interconnectivity are fundamental. Now the corporations and corporate world is becoming aware of the issues, and that’s a good opening.

Sweden is a good place to start. Because Sweden… it was Sweden, Stockholm where the first environment conference took place in 1972, and I was there– the first U.N. conference on the environment, and that’s where the limits to growth blueprint for survival; many, many things were launched there, I was speaking there in the forum, and I was invited by the government of Sweden. And so even in ‘72 they were becoming avantgarde. That’s amazing. Sweden as I said, a lot of awareness, and lots of people are doing very good work there. And it’s one of the pioneer countries….

It’s very important for people to be the change then communicate the change and then organise the change. First of all, I want to congratulate all those activists on the front line.

You are the champions and the leaders of today and tomorrow, and what you are doing is courageous and you are not being self-centred, but you are doing something for the planet Earth and for the whole of humanity. And if we do not take a new direction of sustainability, and resilience, then our future is in jeopardy. And therefore, I want to congratulate and say that what you are doing is absolutely wonderful. It is on the lines of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela, Wangari Maathai – many, many great women and men have taken such courageous path to stand up for their values and speak the truth to power. And that is what you are doing. And so, I want to support you wholeheartedly.

And what I always say is are three steps towards transformation and change. The first step is Be the Change that you want to see in the world. Second step is: Communicate the change, through poetry, through writing, through books, through plays, through theatre, through music, through demonstrating, through whatever you are doing. Communicate so that other people become aware of it, and then organise the change.

And that’s in a way what, many, many marches and many, many demonstrations are doing. They are, and you are doing that, so that’s wonderful. So be the change. Communicate the change effectively and organise the change. Then change is coming. Transformation is on it’s way

SOUND: SATISH ENDING XR SOUND FROM SOPHIE JENNA; XR SONG

And we will be there.

SOUND:: XR SOUND SAMPLE FROM EMMA WALLACE, SONG

XR logo is based on an hourglass timer. Time is running out.

35:21 MARIJN VAN DE GEER

My name’s Marijn Van De Geer and I’m in London. I am the co-founder of ‘Resolution:Possible’ which is a research company. And I’m also an active member of Extinction. Within the political circle of Extinction Rebellion, I am one of the coordinators for the citizens assembly working group.

XR SOUND SAMPLE, MARIJN COMMENTARY MARCH

“This is an incredible moment. I’ll try and describe it to you the best I can but…. People from Land’s End, Truro, Stroud, Swansea, Reading,  I’m sure I’m leaving loads out. It’s just. Kind of coming together. I am now being welcomed by XR London in Hyde Park…. All of XR is coming together. In Hyde Park, this afternoon, it’s amazing….

“It’s been incredible. I think it’s exceeded our wildest expectations really. We didn’t think we would be on the streets for nearly two weeks. The movement has been growing ever since it started back in October 2018.

And then we got quite a lot of media attention at the time, for blocking off five bridges. We did also have a lot of new people joining us. We were blocking roads and causing disruption, but also, I genuinely believe that a lot of people didn’t quite get the severity of the climate and the ecological crisis.

MARIJN VAN DE GEER

We got more media coverage and it became better known what it was that we were about and what we wanted. People really started looking into it, accessing the science. The vast majority of people who sort of joined us after November, said to us “We have no idea how bad it was we had no idea that we were talking in terms of climate breakdown and ecological collapse within our own lifetimes.”mIt’s not sort of something in a hundred years, it’s something that’s going to be happening within the next decade. As soon as you realise that, people were like “Right OK, yes disruption seems extreme and you know civil disobedience. But actually, it is extreme what we’re facing.” It’s… it’s a justified method.

SOUND: XR SOUND SAMPLE FROM SOPHIE JENNA; XR SINGING

So since November it’s just grown so much, people have joined us and approached Extinction Rebellion and either said “Yes, we’ll come and do actions” or you know they wanted to be more deeply involved and said we want to join working groups.

We give people non-violent direct-action training and VDA training, so they learn to de-escalate potentially aggressive situations –because we’re so focussed on being a non-violent movement. It sort of gives people the skills. Because it’s a tense situation when you’re sitting there on the street and there’s dozens of police officers, sort of around you, and telling you to go away.

Generally, the police in the UK, anyway in London, have been incredible. But it’s still very intimidating and quite scary. And to then have this kind of training in the back of your mind saying you know “these are the things to say. and this is how you react.”

There’s a lot of chanting and singing and (laughter) so it all becomes quite surreal really. But having that training is just so important.

SOUND: XR SOUND SAMPLE– XR TRAINING

XR Trainer: “So um many, many, difficult situations will be eased by fun and music and singing and those kinds of things so we can do those kinds of things and that will often um ease a lot of tensions. But if that doesn’t work, the first thing you can do, is you can put your hand up, like this, and fall silent. Look you see everybody is doing it, and as soon as you put your hand up, we all know this don’t we?

Okay. There’s another one you can do, if that doesn’t work, which is… maybe you can do this guys um uh clap once if you can hear, me clap twice if you can hear me. Clap three times if we can’t hear me. Okay so we’re all familiar with that. So that’s to establish silence. To establish silence when there’s some violence going off will already create a different kind of a vibe.

Okay so that might be enough. If it isn’t enough. The next thing you can do is sit down. OK, So you’re sitting down and let’s pretend I am the aggressor so facing you guys, sitting down, and that already creates a situation where my violence, if I was a violent person will be exposed by having all these people sitting down around me.

If that doesn’t work the next stage after that is to start chanting and the chant that I’m recommending it goes “We’re non-violent. How about you?” (laughter) Okay. So do you want to try that.

Someone in crowd: “Now don’t you think that’s a bit o the aggressive side?” (Laughter) Chanting: “We’re non-violent. How about you? We’re non violent. How about you? We’re non violent. How about you?” Crowd: We’re non violent. How about you?”

MARIJN VAN DE GEER:

Everybody in the movement has to have the non-violent civil disobedience training, but then also if you decide to sign up as what we call an “arrestable” – so if you’ve put yourself forward to saying I’m willing to do disruption until I get to that point where I will get arrested.

Then you also have the arrestee training. So that’s where you get told everything, what your rights are, what the procedure will be when you get taken into custody.

Behind the scenes of Extinction Rebellion it is truly remarkable. There’s just all these incredible volunteers who are keeping track of where all the Arrestables are being taken which police stations. There’s legal observers at every action so they have the sort of bright orange bibs on, and they take down the names of the people getting arrested.

They take down the names of the officers who are the arresting officers and then they sort of have a rota at all the police stations. And as you can imagine, in April you know we had over a thousand people arrested. So, this was a big project for people to ensure that there were always people waiting for the arrestables, to come out of the police stations.

It is quite intimidating being arrested. At the beginning you’re always with your arresting officer. I was really lucky that I had a really nice officer. But then you are put in a cell by yourself for many hours.

SOUND: XR SOUND SAMPLE FROM SOPHIE JENNA: SOFT SONG

You do kind of need that little bit of TLC afterwards, because it is very disorientating; you have no idea what time it is and it’s all very confusing.

It was really something that was happening all over the world not just in London. All over the world, people were doing actions in the name of their own Extinction Rebellion groups. It was it was hugely inspiring knowing that you know while we were sitting on the streets in central London we knew that people were doing the exact same thing all over the world.

And it has to be like that obviously, because we’re talking about climate change and an environmental breakdown, so, we can’t just have one country committing and everybody else carrying on as usual. It has to be a global effort.

SOUND: SHORT CHEERING

The ideas; you know so we have the pink boats on Oxford Circus and we had the garden bridge at Waterloo Bridge. You know these incredible creative ideas and also you know the logistics of the camps. So Marble Arch was kind of our main camp, but there was a reception area, and there was a Regenerative Culture tent, where there was yoga every morning, this incredible cooking crew on every site, and throughout the time when we were occupying the streets we had new recruits coming to us — at least three new rebel inductions per day for nearly 2 weeks.

When it all comes together it’s just amazing. Even when police in the end took the pink boat away, someone like immediately created this massive sign saying “We are the boat” because obviously having something big symbolic, removed from site was sort of quite sad, you know, our boat!

SOUND: DRUM & BELL

We were all there together and it was just incredible. It was such a such an amazing coming together of people from all walks of life. The sense of community there was amazing. There were people from all over the UK, from all sorts of backgrounds.

We actually had taxi drivers actually joining us in the end you know because they were like: “Well I have children too. And something does need to change, and I can’t just say you know I’m going to now individually do something. I need the support of the government to help us navigate through this crisis.”

There were farmers from all over the country, inner city young people. It was a huge mix, especially amongst the youth. I think they were just so diverse. Then you have people well in their 80s who were camping out. I mean it was just incredibly humbling actually to see people who are you know my grandmother’s age, who were sitting on the bridge at Waterloo, and they were like well “Well we will actually be the first ones to be arrested because we don’t want these young people to have criminal records, and impeding on their potential future working life.” They were like arrest us the old people, we’re happy to take this on.

They kind of sat in front of all these young people and took on that duty of getting arrested first. It was incredible. And you know then when the first thing they ask you is why aren’t you just privileged white middle class people?

What can you do? I think we all learned to shrug a lot at the media and the weird stuff they came out with.

We initially started buying a lot of food because we’d managed to raise quite a lot of money to be able to buy supplies in bulk to supply to or to the kitchens in the various sites. But we also started getting donations from actual food companies. There’s a company called Riverford. They’re based in Devon and they supplied us with loads of fresh fruit and veg and you know feeding the Rebellion. So there’s a lot of amazing people stepped forward to help. Everyone was provided for.

It was a moment in history. At the moment obviously it’s early days. I hope that it will prove to be a positive moment in history, certainly.

So, it was very exciting when the UK parliament declared a climate emergency a few days ago, but obviously now we are actually watching to see what that will actually entail.

We want the creation of a Citizens Assembly to navigate through what the climate emergency is actually going to entail on a practical level. What change that’s going to bring to all of our lives here in the U.K.

It’s one thing declaring an emergency, and obviously it’s one of our demands, and it’s hugely important that Parliament has taken this seriously and that they are talking about it and that an emergency has been declared, but it doesn’t have any teeth yet, so’s to speak. It doesn’t mean anything yet. And that’s what we need to focus on now.

With the Michael Gove meeting, who’s the Environment Secretary, last week, he kind of talked us through all the things that the government had already done. You know what a waste of time. Why are you telling me this? We already know this. Stop telling us how amazing you think you are. I can’t believe that in 2019.  This is how government functions.

SOUND: XR SOUND SAMPLE – XR CHANTING LONDON, THE SINGING

Now! Now! Now!
No more waiting!
No hesitating!
We need to build a revolution,
And we need to start right now.

The only thing I am hopeful for is that if we get deliberative democracy to supplement the current system. I think it’s the only way forward. This is the aim is that we will have a national citizens assembly on climate emergency. So that would be on a national level.

We need to have national policies with teeth that can that can address the big strong corporations and that government has the mandate and the strength to say “No” – no fracking no Heathrow expansion no this no that.

Those things have to come on a national level, or even an international level. There needs to be systematic, systemic change….so it’s not just out of the goodness of the individual’s hearts that this needs to happen. We also need to hold governments and corporations accountable as well.

Time is ticking.

SOUND SAMPLE FROM EMMA WALLACE, SONG REFRAIN.

52:35 SITI KASIM

SOUND SAMPLE: ORANG ASLI FLUTE MUSIC FROM SITI

SITI KASIM:

My name is Siti Kasim. I’m a lawyer by profession in Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. You see, I used to do a lot of human rights cases, children rights, the refugees, but then I discovered that I can’t be saving the world, you know. I must focus on one or two issues.

So, I actually take my work with the indigenous people in the peninsula of Malaysia. I can expand my knowledge about the law to the Orang Asli community. So, I go into the interior a lot, into the jungle to the villagers and to their settlements, and I told them that they do have rights, and that they shouldn’t be afraid to stand up and you know, take up that right.

Of course, they have their own activists as well. The Orang Asli activists. I don’t charge this kind of thing.

SOUND: MUSIC CONTINUES

They are the eco warriors, indigenous people. They are the front line of our nature conservation. We should recognise that because the way they preserve the balance of the ecosystem is the way they live.

For example, they have their ‘Pantang’, meaning that they can do certain things in their culture. It’s been going down for generations. But there is a reason for it is actually to preserve the balance of the ecosystem.

So these are their rule.

Siti Kasim

The Tamaya tribe… They told me that they will never touch the tiger because to them the tiger is very powerful, powerful in the sense of spirit-wise. They revere the tiger very much.

In the olden days. Of course, nowadays no more because of the settlement built by the government — They plant their rice and everything for your own sustenance. And after a while they will shift –rotating. That’s the word. Yeah, so it’s a rotating thing and so it’s how they preserve it! And people don’t understand that it’s beneficial to the earth.

Generally, Malaysia’s people support that we help our indigenous people, but when it comes to religion, they become much more possessive. They don’t like the truth, you know, people hate to hear the truth. With me nothing is too sensitive. Ha ha!

But we still must keep on pushing the boundary. Otherwise we are never going to improve. That’s what I believe anyway.

I mean human rights is something that it was not ‘given.’ It’s already born with us. We are born with rights as a human being.

Our country is unique you know, Malaysia, because we have so many cultures so many races and it all have different ways. I know I have many, many supporters I know, I know I have very, very good people around me. I think I’m blessed with a strong constitution by God that I don’t really care about what people see online because I know myself. I’m very confident about who I am and what I am. I think, women, we evolve better than men. Haha!

I notice from my fifty-five. Coming up the 56 years old I noticed that the more religious a person, the more closed their mind would be, they are limiting their minds to the barriers that build up or walls that they build up for themselves based on their faith or their beliefs.

I just think that religion should not be imposed on anyone.

Siti Kasim

Even the indigenous people in Malaysia right they do not have a religion. But of course, these people that do go into the interior you know where a majority of them live, trying to spread the faith. What we call a Datwa, missionary. Islam and Christians usually do this. They go into the jungle where the Orang Asli reside and then be tried to get as many as possible of the indigenous people. What we call them as Orang Asli here to convert to the faith either Christian or Islam.

The problem with our Indigenous people, the Orang Asli, in Malaysia, they are also determined by law who can be an Orang Asli. You are only an Orang Asli, An Indigenous person, If one of your parents is Orang Asli and you are practicing your culture, and the 3rd one that you must be able to speak the language of your tribe.

And so these three things– if you don’t practice one you are no longer Orang Asli. Like for Malay, Once you are a Malay, you’re a Muslim automatically. It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not, there’s method by on people as you are.

But with the Orang Asli, so once they convert to Islam or Christianity then they are being taught not to practice a certain aspect of their culture, because it is not accepted that in your new faith.

In fact, it has been used by government before.

When we took matters to court on behalf of the Orang Asli, pro bono of course, they become smarter and smarter government lawyers. They question us: Are these litigants really Orang Asli, it is really crazy.

If you go and see these or ask leave the interior and you meet the older generation, those who knew the British during their governance, they only have good things to say about the British.

The older Orang Asli always say that the British looked after them very well. Their health was taken care of and in fact until now Even if you’re white you go into the interior, they look up very highly towards white people because they still have these remnants of memories on how the British treated them.

They always said that the British treated them better than the government of Malaysia. They probably felt they were much more better off because there was no palm oil being opened up on their land, they were not forced to move out from their villages. They were not forced to do anything they didn’t want to. With the new government, obviously I think that intention is probably noble.

They want to try and help to improve the life of the Orang Asli by bringing them out and even amongst others who integrate to assimilate they want to try and assimilate the Orang Asli to become Malays.

Just take out these jungle people and help them. This is what they think. What I see even now the majority of people do not try to understand the psyche of the Orang Asli the indigenous people.

People don’t understand. There is no way you can actually expect them to live like us. Why don’t you ask them? When you see them sleeping and resting? How many days were you in the jungle to try and find their sustenance?

SOUND: MORNING CICADAS

 

Siti Kasim

 

It’s not easy. Just couple of hours you go into the jungle. You know how hard it is. But when they go into the jungle they go for a couple of days. Can do that as a town person?

To be honest I would say ninety-nine-point nine percent of the logging– they are all legal. They are all legal. This is the problem. People think that there are many illegal loggings in Malaysia. No, no, it’s not even illegal.

They do get the licence from the State Government. They do get the licence from our forestry department. They are supported by our politician and the State Government. This is where the problem lies because a lot of corruption going on they don’t care about the well-being of the forest.

They don’t understand the forest is related to us leaving in pounds you know they cannot relate to that. Even one of our ministers– not the current government yet because they are only about not even one year. I’m talking about the previous government, one minister actually said that the palm oil they consider as forests. You are a minister you must find out what is really the international world consider as forest.

They say they planted that the palm oil tree. So, it’s a tree. You know ha! It’s really hard when people are making decisions without understanding the nature of our Orang Asli. They use poisonous things you know pesticides. But what they don’t understand is that all these pesticides seep into the ground and go into the water and into the river where the Orang Asli use for the drinking water when they leave amongst the palm oil plantation. A lot of the Orang Asli

Actually they have a lot of problems you know with skin disease and generally not healthy if they lice actually in and around the plantation. Yes, I know the current Malaysian government are pretty upset with the European Union because they say they’re not going to buy any more palm oil from Malaysia. I support that the EU action.

But of course the government is worried because they have to maintain the economy right. Why don’t the government actually insure no more forest being cut down?

Recently the opening Durian King (aka Kind of the Fruits) because Durian King now commands more value than the palm oi! Some state governments now allow allowing these companies that want to plant durian in the middle of the jungle!

This is the fight right now that we have with the Kelantan government. They have given this company M7 a ten thousand hectare to plant more sun king durian at the expense of the Orang Asli.

…Even right now they have already trampled on the Orang Asli graveyard. You know a lot of things, so this makes them very upset of course, but M7 is quite rich. They do everything they can not to abide by the noise made by NGOs as well as the public we have a federal government and then we have the state government.

And then the federal government cannot decide on land, when it comes to land. Only the State Government can decide. Power within the state government. When it comes to issues of land– so the federal government cannot tell for example Kelantan, Why don’t you just give these indigenous people the land be one not not because you want to destroy it. They want to make sure that all the things they need for their nobody wants to give up. No way. Because the land where the Orang Asli actually live or seek is so valuable.

This government is trying to do something to help in which I’m very proud of. It is a first action. Which our federal governments. They can suing the state government for taking the rights of the Orang Asli on your land. So this is the first case maybe perhaps in the world that a federal government suing a state government under the law.

The Orang Asli comes under federal law. You see ,they have the fiduciary duty to make sure that Orang Asli lives are not affected by so-called modernization. But after so many, many years the Orang Asli in Kelantan have done so many blocking. Even fighting contractors, who use weapons as well. You know trying to scare the Orang Asli kids. They persevere.

This is the first case that our federal government sued the companies as well as the State Government. This is the first case now. We are very excited about it actually.

All this while is with us the lawyers the lawyers are the one would think methods to court on behalf of the audacity of course pro bono. I can tell you one hand only the same lawyers will be doing the same. He says while we Indigenous people despite all the cases in support of the rights of the Orang Asli history, our governments before never, never make a policy out of those cases because as you know cases are actually laws.

But they don’t. They don’t care. In respect they do respect at all. The case not actually started yet….

Yes, there are a lot of other application made by the companies and the state governments. So they are asking for a stay on this, on and even if the xxx application just like Najiv case they keep on these two delay matters.

There used to be about 18 tribes, OK, or what used to be 18 tribes, in the peninsula of Malaysia. ….And some tribes have totally wiped out. Basically.

For example, right now no more- no more. Only by name only. Right now, we only have very few of the Bateks. OK. And also the Jahai, these are most shy people, very shy and they are from the ‘negrito’ line. And these are the people. Yes. They are very, very, very, shy. You know during the big flood back in 2016?. I remember now the big flood in Kelantan. I heard story about where the Jahai people live behind the Malay Kampung, you come home Malay couple Malay village and I don’t actually leave behind further behind.

So, when the food aid came people just dropped at the first Malay village. Yeah and the food never being passed on to the Jahai village at the back. They always stop these cars from going further. And these Jahai people will not even come out– they don’t come out to demand their rights to take the food. No they won’t. You will not fight. You will not argue with you. Yeah. This is not just not them. So a very few left.

And what I am also worried for our Indigenous people that soon you know will be no more. So, the whole of Malaysia the population is about 35 million. But for the indigenous people Orang Asli, in the peninsula, there are about 200 to 250 thousand. That’s all.

They are only a drop in the ocean. There be no more of Orang Asli in Malaysia. In Sabah Sarawak there are many, many more. Mostly there –mostly in Sabah Sarawak. Only a few tribes left but they considered themselves to be different. They prefer to be on your own if they can.

I hope to see something just serious dangers in another year’s time hopefully. Otherwise I think we have to think about a third force.

We must keep on fighting in what we believe!

SOUND: NOSE FLUTE CONTINUES, MERGING INTO SWEDISH SUMMER SOUNDS

CREDITS

SOUND: SWEDEN SUMMER SOUNDS

TANYA:

Thank you for listening to our first episode! Nordic by Nature is an ImaginaryLife.net production, created with the support of the Nordic Ministries.

Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth, and follow us on Instagram @nordicbynaturepodcast

Many thanks to Satish Kumar and Elaine Green for their ongoing support and encouragement. Satish is also the editor of Resurgence magazine, and the guiding spirit behind the internationally-respected Schumacher College in the UK.  Please see resurgence.org and Schumachercollege.org.uk

Many thanks to Marijn van de Geer, founder of the consultancy Resolution: Possible. Thanks to Extinction Rebellion members Emma Wallace and Sophie Jenna who also shared their Rebellion sound recordings with us. Please see extinctionrebellion.com to read more about the movements demands for transparency and climate justice.

Thank you to Siti Kasim, lawyer, activist and writer of the column Siti Thots on the Star Online.

That’s (spells it). The flute music is a nose flute played by an indigenous Orang Asli man from the Temiar tribe in Kelantan.

All the sounds have been arranged by Diego Losa. You can find him via diego losa.blogspot.com.

You can see Ajay’s project on foundnature.org. and follow the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature on Facebook and Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast. Please email me, Tanya, on nordicbynature@imaginarylife.net.

p.s. If you would like to support our work please become a patron via https://www.patreon.com/nordicbynature

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.


Nordic by Nature, a new kind of mindful podcast on ecology today.

Sit back, relax and out your headphones on. Nordic by Nature is a new type of mindful and spacious sound-crafted audio podcast inspired by Arne Ness, the Norwegian philosopher who coined the term Deep Ecology.

In ten episodes, and with a global perspective, Nordic By Nature explores human, social and personal resiliency and adaptability that is needed for these challenging times.

The podcast is sent from Sweden and the foothills of the Himalayas by two colleagues who met in 2017; Tanya Kim Grassley and Ajay Rastogi. The podcast is intended to be listened to like an extended exercise in mindfulness; the soundscape has been designed by sound artist Diego Losa.

In this episode On Activism, we have 3 strong voices who represent many thousands more at the forefront of change.

First you hear the words of Satish Kumar. To people in the ecology movement, Satish Kumar needs little introduction. He has been a world leading activist for over 50 years. In his early 20s, inspired by Gandhi and British peace activist Bertrand Russell, Satish embarked on an 8,000-mile peace pilgrimage together with E.P. Menon.

They walked, without any money, from India to America, via Moscow, London and Paris, to deliver a humble packet of ‘peace tea’ to the then leaders of the world’s four nuclear powers. Satish sends a message to all activists out there! “You are doing something great,” he tells us. All important social change was driven by protest.

 

After Satish, we meet Marijn van de Geer, a Dutch national, living in London, and active member of the growing, grassroots movement Extinction Rebellion, that staged a 10-day demonstration across London, in April 2019, preceding the UK parliament declaring a climate emergency. Marijn takes us by the hand through the Rebellion, why it is so necessary, and the experience of 10 days non-violent protest.

XR logo
The Extinction Rebellion Logo – a call for radical action.

We then will hear Siti Kasim, celebrity lawyer and human rights activist who is passionate about the rights of the indigenous people in the Malaysian peninsula, the Orang Asli.

Nordic by Nature is an Imaginary Life production, created with the support of the Nordic Ministries (Norden.org) and in partnership with The Foundation of the Contemplation of Nature.

Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth, and follow us on Instagram

Many thanks to Satish Kumar and Elaine Green for their ongoing support and encouragement. Satish is also the editor of Resurgence magazine, and the guiding spirit behind the internationally-respected Schumacher College in the UK.

Many thanks to Marijn van de Geer, founder of the consultancy Resolution: Possible,

Thanks to Extinction Rebellion members Emma Wallace and Sophie Jenna who also shared their Rebellion sound recordings with us.

Please read more about the movements demands for transparency and climate justice on their website.

Thank you to Siti Kasim, lawyer, activist and writer of the column Siti Thots on the Star Online.

The flute music is a nose flute played by an indigenous Orang Asli man from the Temiar tribe in Kelantan.

All the sounds have been arranged by Diego Losa.

You can follow Ajay’s project at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature and connect on Facebook
and Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

Press contact: nordicbynature@imaginarylife.net
Become our patron with even a small donation via Patreon!

The Professor, The Chef and an Epic Dream.

A lot has been happening since I met culinary experts Professor Pushpesh Pant and Chef Nishant Choubey at the Tasting India Symposium in Delhi last December 2017. At that time, Chef Nishant was curating food experiences at the elegant aero-city Roseate House.

Soon after, Chef teamed up with the Professor to go full-speed on a mission redefine what Indian cuisine means to the world! A mission inspired by Tasting India’s Indian Food Manifesto. Globally, Indian cuisine suffers from pretty much the same fate as Chinese cuisine. The extraordinary subtlety and diversity of Indian cuisine is often lost in globally standardized dishes. Chicken Tikka Masala might make good business and comforting takeaway food for a Brit like me, but too often this kind of fare just ends up confining the image of Indian cuisine to an inexpensive, greasy afterthought.

The term curry was adopted by the British East India Company, from the Tamil word Kari, meaning sauce. The menus at most Indian restaurants in the UK are usually an extremely simplified version of Mughlai/ Moghul cuisine, which is just one type of north Indian food. That cuisine is again reduced to two or three rich sauces and types of stews. These flavours do not begin to represent Moghul cuisine, let alone the rich heritage of the Indian continent. Dr. Pant calls this phenomenon ‘The curse of curry!” This is not to dismiss all the food of the Indian diaspora, but the world has so much more to experience when it comes to ‘Indian cuisine.’

Chef Nishant and Professor Pushpesh Pant shopping for fresh produce in Delhi.

Chef Nishant and Professor Pushpesh Pant shopping for fresh produce in Delhi.

The Holy Grail: nurturing a nations food heritage.
“There is an urgent need to document the dishes of the Indian continent before they disappear forever,” says the Professor.

Already so much has been forgotten. Even the diversity of ingredients is slowly disappearing as people move away from an agricultural way of life and food is increasingly mass-produced for supermarkets. India’s socio-economic landscape is also taking its toll. In the past, cooks were often servants, and recipes were handed down orally, with subtle variations from household to household, let alone region to region.

Food is the strongest expression of our humanity. In Europe, food is recognised as the guardian of a nation brand’s identity and a main driver of the economy. A huge emphasis has been being placed on protecting, sharing and communicating food heritage in France, Spain, and Italy, for example, so that the plethora of industries connected to food can thrive, both for export and also as attraction.

Food museums are also starting to appear, to try and help to preserve global and local food heritage in archives. Restaurants and chefs, inspired by the likes of El Bulli and Noma, are researching locality to explore the meaning of food for future generations. Food heritage has become synonymous with quality as well as quality of life. The European Union has schemes to protect and distinguish traditional regional specialties, such as the protected designation of origin (PDO), Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), and Traditional Specialties Guaranteed (TSG) certifications.

To consider what is happening to centuries of knowledge and rich culture of war-torn countries such as Iraq and Syria is heart-breaking. The loss is hard to fathom. Food heritage runs so much deeper than the recipes you find in restaurants. It’s in people’s homes and hearts. Food provides the earliest knowledge of locality, interconnectivity and sustainability, that enabled our ancestors to thrive and trade internationally. It includes site-specific knowledge about wildlife, plants and animals and the methods of food production and resources that enabled farming villages to appear. These farming communities were by nature ‘integrated ecovillages’: communities that grew diverse crops and grains, tended to cattle and orchards, made their own crafts and textiles, and supplied local networks of breweries, artisans, markets, hotels and inns.

Food heritage is a dynamic spectrum that gently evolves and changes form over changing geographies and landscapes. But it is a story that is continuous and connects us all and refuses to be contained within national boundaries.

Ladies from the village of Machkali, Uttrakhand, cooking at Vrikshalaya centre. www.foundnature.org

Ladies from the village of Machkali, Uttrakhand, cooking at Vrikshalaya centre. www.foundnature.org

Currently, the Chef and the Professor are curating food experiences for an upcoming festival in Delhi hosted by the Asian Heritage Foundation in association with World Bank. One of the meals curates a selection of dishes that were loved by the great Mahatma Gandhi, to commemorate his 150th Birthday.

The meals that the great Mahatma Gandhi loved.

The meals that the great Mahatma Gandhi loved.

Pop-up stories.
“It really is time the world learns that there is so much more to Indian food than Mugalia cuisine!” says the Professor! “India is a vast continent with ingredients and dishes and techniques as diverse as the people, cultures and languages from which they originate!”

One of the first pop-up events the Professor and Chef did this year was at the famous Indus restaurant in Bangkok. Indus has been in service since 2006 and making waves with fashionable international crowd since winning its place in the Michelin guide. Indus is one of the few restaurants to introduce quality Indian cusine to the west via fine dining. Inviting the Professor and Chef to curate a menu outside the known Moghul dishes was a statement in itself. A provocation, perhaps, and a gateway invitation to Michelin to go and experience India?

At Indus: Kadala Byas Minu, representing Mangalore. The fish is marinated with kokum, a plant in the mangosteen family.

At Indus: Kadala Byas Minu, or Kombdicha motla, representing Mangalore. The fish is marinated with kokum, a plant in the mangosteen family.

Chef Nishant explains: “The concept of our popup menus and events is to make the world aware of the diversity of India’s culinary heritage, whilst encouraging chefs to learn about all these forgotten stories and adapt and innovate with them.”

Chef and Professor curated a meal for Indus which they called: Past, Present and Future; 10 courses inspired by 10 regions. Each course told a special story about the history of the region it represented, and a special ingredient that is at risk of being forgotten. In contrast to the impeccable meal at Mrs. Radha Bhatia’s Roseate Farm last December this meal was not pure vegetarian – but contained seafood, meat and poultry.

Nomads on a mission.
The Chef and Professor continue to travel India researching traditional recipes and ‘lost gems’. They travel to a region, follow locally known food trails looking for local superfoods, they forage in forests and meet food producers and talk to local people about food celebrated in folklore. Most recently, they have focussed on the hill state of Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, as well as Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa.

Professor Pushpesh Pant talking to young chefs at Indus, Bangkok.

Professor Pushpesh Pant talking to young chefs at Indus, Bangkok.

“We work together like conjoined Siamese Twins!” says the Professor. They have two more members in their core team; Zuber Baigh helps them with archival documentation and media, and Govind Singh Kirola is in charge of the ethno-botanical and cultural anthropological research. The Professor and Chef travel together following the leads of the researchers who support their fieldwork with ongoing research.

“Our dream project is to set up a culinary institute specializing in Indian vegetarian cuisines,” says Chef Nishant.

The Professor concludes. “And for India we wish three things; That there should plenty for everyone to eat, with freedom of choice to eat what one wishes to eat. This is a matter of  distribution. We have plenty.

Secondly, food should be healthy and free from all artificial flavors, colorings, preservatives, and synthetic additives of any kind.

And lastly, the food on our plates should be produced with dignity for everyone involved, relating organically to the people and places who produce it.”

Links:
Tasting India Symposium: http://www.tastingindiasymposium.com
Video on Pop Up event at Indus, Bangkok, in Thai: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SvNggnlWDM
Thai blog post about the popup event at Indus: https://www.gudfoodblog.com/indus-nishant-pushpesh-pant/
Indus: www.indusbangkok.com
Incredible India: http://www.incredibleindia-tourism.org
Roseate Hotels: www.roseatehotels.com/‎
El Bulli: http://www.elbulli.info/
Noma: http://noma.dk/
The Vrikshalaya Center, Uttrakand, www.foundnature.org.

Email:
Dr. Pushpesh Pant – pushpeshpant@gmail.com
Chef Nishant- nishoo28@gmail.com

Text by Tanya Kim Grassley

How I first met Chef at the Roseate Hotel, Aerocity: I have never had such a delicious Tarka Daal, and to this day I do not understand what Chef did to elevate such a simple and well-known vegetarian dish! We soon got talking, about food of course.

How I first met Chef at the Roseate Hotel, Aerocity: I have never had such a delicious Tarka Daal, and to this day I do not understand what Chef did to elevate such a simple and well-known vegetarian dish! We soon got talking, about food of course.

 

 

Tasting India: Ayurveda & food, for pleasure and health.

The inauguration lunch of the Tasting India Symposium in Delhi, last December 2017, was at Roseate Farm; a venture into small-scale organic farming and the ‘heart project’ of Mrs. Radha Bhatia, Chairperson of the Bird Group that owns the family of Roseate hotels. The farm supplies the Roseate hotels in Delhi with organic produce. Tasting India is a platform and symposium founded by the Cultural Curator, Sanjoo Malhotra and Food Writer, Sourish Bhattacharyya.

Sanjoo and Sourish are on a roll, to say the least. Tasting India has the highest ambitions to create a sustainable food culture in India. It is actively connecting all types of stakeholders working within organic food production; from small-scale farming that builds local community resilience, to food distribution such as independent food brands, farmers markets, coops for local crafts and traditions, to experience promoting regional and cultural diversity, such as education, chefs working with seasonality, eco-tourism and environmental sustainability, and last but not least- NGOs working with human ecology, from gender and identity to food sharing.

A happy day for Roseate Hotel's Chef Nishant Choubey.

A happy day for Roseate Hotel’s Chef Nishant Choubey.

The symposium’s launch meal was a tasting menu and journey into Ayurvedic thought, designed by Chef Nishant Choubey, as representative of the produce from the idyllic farm settings.

Renowned food expert Professor Pushpesh Pant explained: “The concept of the meal is from ‘farm to plate’ – in times gone by everyone in India ate like that. Whatever was grown in the kitchen garden came directly to the dinner table. But right now, it’s only the super-rich who seem to be able to eat completely organically grown, pesticide-free, fresh food, grown from a nearby farm, with all the nutrients that rich, clean soil gives.”

Everyone can still eat like this if they keep two things in mind, the professor says.

“Eat seasonally, and eat regionally. Eat what you get locally in that season, buy your produce and then explore your creativity to see what you can do with what is in season.”

The word Ayurveda is Sanskrit, meaning ‘life-knowledge’. It’s a complete system of how to maintain health and balance in life, the philosophy of health at the heart of Jainism, Buddhism and Hinduism, and permeates every aspect of life, not least of all, food.

Simple yet delicious Gobhi Keema Adraki, Cauliflower and minced ginger.

Simple yet delicious Gobhi Keema Adraki, Cauliflower and minced ginger.

Food is at the centre of life. It is pleasure and it is nutrition. It is culture and identity. In the Ayurveda tradition, food functions to build a healthy metabolism, by moderating foods that can be harmful to the mind or body. When you consider the Ayurveda way of food, you will see an overlap with cultures from all over the world. Food is life, food is medicine. A nutritious and balanced diet can limit diseases stemming from internal inflammation.

The Professor concludes: “You do not have to choose between a healthy life and a pleasurable life; it is part of a healthy, balanced life to enjoy food! Life is meant to be enjoyed, and taking pleasure in life is part of finding balance.”

PROFESSOR 2017-12-13 15.24.48

Ayurveda; 1000-year-old Systems Thinking
The Ayurveda approach to food is known as a ‘Sattvic’ diet or ‘yogic’ diet. It is supposed to be a conscious, holistic approach, from producing to consuming, that today we call ‘from farm to table.’ But from farm to table is nothing new- this is the way everyone used to eat and the way some rural communities still support themselves.

The diet itself has an innate awareness of the connectedness to nature and interconnectivity with community upon which we all rely. It places emphasis on nurturing the essential: using seasonal and local foods from your own kitchen garden or village farm. It’s about ethics and knowledge of where the food comes from and where the waste goes.

A Sattvic diet is, therefore, vegetarian, as there is no need to slaughter animals to maintain our health. Cows are an intrinsic part of the organic farm though; the bullocks are used for ploughing, the cows give milk, and both produce natural fertilizer from vegetable scraps. It’s the small-scale organic farming system that fed the whole of India until the 1960’s. It’s a system that could work today, if we value and support the work of our farmers, and create efficient systems and infrastructures that get their produce to market.

The pickles were amazing! To call them mere pickles feels like an injustice.

The Six Tastes of Ayurveda
Most of us who have heard about Ayurveda have heard about the three doshas, or three elements called Vata, Pitta and Kapha. When the doshas are in balance, a person can reach optimal health, while imbalance of the doshas provokes disease. Or as the saying goes: ‘You are what you eat.’ What was new to me were the 6 Rasas, or 6 tastes of Ayurveda, that balance the three elements in our bodies. These are Sweet, Sour, Salty, Pungent, Bitter, and Astringent.

A dish with humble origins; Khichra, a beautifully delicate and 'more-ish' porridge of lentils, rice and quinoa.

A dish with humble origins; Khichra, a beautifully delicate and ‘more-ish’ porridge of lentils, rice and quinoa.

A chef working with Indian cuisine not only needs to know about the flavours of food, that make food pleasurable, but also the medicinal values of those foods and their effect on the body in combination. It’s a fundamental difference between traditional and modern eating habits all over the world. In the past, the person who prepares food is the guardian of our health. Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives.

Chef Nishant Choubey adds: “Today, as we eat out in a variety of places, the responsibility for our health and nutrition has shifted to the individual. More and more, food is designed to be enticing but not nutritional. Food has to be both, or it is empty of meaning.”

Christmas Pudding and Jelabis for dessert!

Links:
Roseate Hotels. http://www.roseatehotels.com/
The Bird Group. http://www.thebirdgroup.com/
Tasting India. http://www.tastingindiasymposium.com/
Incredible India: http://www.incredibleindia-tourism.org/

Mrs. Radha Bhatia, owner and founder of the Roseate Farm and Chairperson of The Bird Group.

Questions to Tenzin Shenyen; a monk called ‘friend.’

In ten days time, our friend Tenzin Shenyen will embark on a 3-year Tibetan Buddhist retreat in Germany that “begins a cycle of practices to stabilise, concentrate and open the mind through more meditative practices that… include practices aimed at transcending one’s deeply ingrained delusional tendency to see oneself and the world as ordinary.”

Q: It’s been 3 years since you gave a talk at Service Design Conference in Stockholm. It was wonderful to see the whole conference meditating with you. It palpably changed the energy in the room. I especially appreciated your advice for design professionals to ‘Just Say No!’ more often. I think that advice is more important than ever. Can you expand on that a bit?

A: As I said in one of my posts about the approaching retreat, I think human beings are machines for producing works of art, and that the best works of art are nameless and invisible. Saying “no” to what is visible and which already has a name is one way into that space. I also re-read Castaneda’s Journey To Ixtlan recently and was touched by how deeply I still resonated with it. There’s a lot of ‘no’ saying in it, from ‘erasing personal history’ to ‘losing self-importance’, to ‘becoming inaccessible’ and ‘disrupting the routines of life’. The genuinely ‘new’ comes out of nowhere – and I mean absolutely nowhere, a brutally total nowhere- but we are too eager to be ‘somewhere’, no matter how shabby and derivative that ‘somewhere’ might be.

I hope at least one designer out there reads this and decides to say ‘no’ to the whole works — until reappearing twelve years later with something with no name and no identity that the whole world needs.

"Saying goodbye to house sits and temporary rooms, to the forest and one litre bottle-showers at twilight, to the over-exposure of homelessness. Saying hello to deep seclusion and practice. The worlds we inhabit are neither visible nor invisible, but secretive, coded, nuanced and blessed. Saying goodbye also to Facebook, and hoping something more nuanced, respectful and soulful has taken its place by the time I come out again. I'll meet you there, I'm sure."

“Saying goodbye to house sits and temporary rooms, to the forest and one-litre bottle-showers at twilight, to the over-exposure of homelessness. Saying hello to deep seclusion and practice. The worlds we inhabit are neither visible nor invisible, but secretive, coded, nuanced and blessed. Saying goodbye also to Facebook, and hoping something more nuanced, respectful and soulful has taken its place by the time I come out again. I’ll meet you there, I’m sure.”

Q: What impact does your Buddhist practice have on your daily life today? How does Buddhism work as a practical guideline for daily decision making? How can this shape a layman’s decision-making to live an ethical life as an ‘ordinary’ person?

A: My daily life is perfumed by Buddhism. It allows me to see everything I do as a kind of prayer. For example, right now I’m watching the world cup. It’s football and I love it, it needs no justification. My unconscious is working tremendously hard preparing for the retreat, so Shenyen is balancing that by just relaxing. I don’t need to justify it. Justifications are for people who are organising pogroms, or asset-stripping entire national infrastructures, etc. not for people who are … content just being nobody, nowhere, just talking with The Invisibles, just owning one pair of shoes … or just watching Argentina’s slalom into the knockout stage while reading Jorge Valdano reflecting on the military dictatorship of the 1970’s, along with his plea to stop treating football as a science; it all turns it all into a kind of dream yoga. And dream yoga is part of the path to Buddhahood. You cannot live an ethical life without nurturing your imagination.

Elaine Scarry’s talk, Beauty as a call to justice, will explain that in detail. I re-posted it on my youtube channel. Ultimately no-one can tell you how to live, they can only seduce you into living in a specific way. Ethics thus emerges from Eros, from loving relationships — with yourself, people around you, your own karmic history, and the culture around you and the times you have been born into.

Q: You spoke once about the importance of combining Buddhist practice with your own ‘culture’ or your natural place in contemporary society as a western monk. Will you still have space for that kind of ‘personal cultural research/ observation’ on your 3-year retreat? Can you watch football when you are there?! Can you read Artforum? Can you write your blog, radioshenyen?

A: Football? Probably not! But in between the meditation blocks, that will usually last about 6-8 weeks per topic, we are encouraged to relax, maybe even listen to a little music. And I will have my Artforum scrapbooks with me. Enough for one exhibition a week I think! But I don’t see too much separation between the centuries-old tantric stuff and my personal interests. Doing the retreat in all its traditional structure is also a part of my ‘personal cultural research’.

"Study, a mixture of chaos and silence, concentration and fragment."

“Study, a mixture of chaos and silence, concentration and fragment.”

Q: How much meditation do you recommend to a layperson or beginner? Is frequency important for practice? Are there other types of activities such as physical work (making things, cleaning, gardening, etc.) that are also seen as part of Buddhist practice? In Asia, meditation isn’t seen as something that ‘ordinary people’ do. Lay people often ask the monks to meditate and pray on their behalf.

A: Meditation is extremely over-emphasised in contemporary Western presentations of Buddhism. Ethics, study, art, service, offering, confession, purification, prayer, chanting, and vows, among other things, are all sidelined, or dismissed as ‘obvious’, ‘old-fashioned’, ‘embarrassing’ or ‘peripheral’. But Buddhism only really comes alive when you take on board it’s entire culture, it’s ‘world’ while being willing to do the work of engaging that world with your own. Thus, my love of contemporary art is inseparable from my study of Madhyamaka and tantric meditations. My best moments of mindfulness occur when on alms round. You can’t just meditate in a vacuum, in a fog of mundane activity and thinking.

But nevertheless, it is part of the path.

I would recommend a very short commitment — 10 minutes a day is fine — to being quiet, still, disciplined and visionary on one’s cushion. But instead of wanting to meditate I would suggest that people simply pray to be able to meditate, and then relax. Thinking about what other people need — the immediate needs of the people around you right now, at home or on the train platform — is so much more powerful than some half-hearted meditation practice.

Genuine meditation comes out of uncontrived faith. Faith arises out of joy and ethics. Ethics from art and empathetic disciplined imagination.

Q: We need to manage negative attachments to the idea of future, such as fear or sadness or anxiety, as these feelings arise, to avoid shutting down altogether. Is hope also an attachment?

A: Attachment is one of those words that are easy to misconstrue. In Buddhism, liking something isn’t an expression of attachment; wanting something good to continue, or to happen if it hasn’t yet happened, isn’t attachment. Attachment is defined as a state where ‘you are willing to do something bad in order for something to continue (or begin)’. So ‘hope’ in itself isn’t attachment. Love isn’t attachment, not even fierce love. Whereas cowardice would be.

Q: What is your favourite festival or holiday? What practices in your life have changed significantly since becoming ordained?

A: I like New Year’s celebrations. Awareness of time cycles is a lovely thing and transcends specific religions and worldviews. And the atom bomb memorial day in Hiroshima is also high on my list of ‘things which make the heart beat faster’ – if that’s what you mean by ‘festival’.
Ordination, by providing an absolutely fundamental challenge to my sense of identity, in both challenging (demanding, humbling) and transformative (blessed) ways, has helped me to explore more deeply the teachings on non-self as a meditative state.

Q: How important is it to be altruistic?

A: It is impossible to become a Buddha without practising altruism. And never mind Buddhahood, it is impossible to keep enjoying positive samsaric rebirths without practising altruism. All art comes from altruism.

Links:
– For those interested in reading more about the 3-year retreat there are 5 posts on Shenyen’s blog, radioshenyen that talk about it in more detail. https://radioshenyen.blogspot.com/
– Shenyen on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKf_RRjzHsJ5a_LtWltGubA
 Images from Shenyen’s Instagram: @radioshenyen 

Finding Zero

You don’t have to go to the Himalayas to find yourself – but it might help!

Immersing yourself in natural surroundings brings a huge amount of physical and psychological benefits. But naturalness is much more than a superficial sense of wellbeing. It can bring us to another level of autonomy, where we are freed from all the usual external influences that shape our beliefs and behaviour. It’s about gaining insight into The Human Condition.

View from Majkhali Village. Photo by by Dhirendra Bisht.

View from Majkhali Village. Photo by Dhirendra Bisht.

That kind personal transformation is much easier to attain with hands-on experience, says Ajay Rastogi, Philosopher and Applied Ethics practitioner, and founder of The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature.

I had the good fortune to meet Ajay at the recent Tasting India Symposium in New Delhi, an event that brought together some of India’s brightest minds within food and sustainability. Like many of his contemporaries there, Ajay had left a successful career to go back to his home region and drive change from within. For Ajay that meant working together with the rural villagers of his homeland at the foothills of the Himalayas, in Uttarakhand.

Ajay welcomes everyone, regardless of race, caste, age, religion, gender, orientation, or education.

Ajay welcomes everyone, regardless of race, caste, age, religion, gender, orientation, or education.

 

The foundation aims to research and develop new models for Resilience through cultural exchange, by connecting villagers with people from the cities and other countries in residential homestays and programs such as yoga and meditation retreats. The Contemplation of Nature is threefold; immersion in nature, mindful meditation, and a hands-on experience of the rural ‘resilient’ life.

Resilience moves far beyond current definitions of sustainability. On a 2-week homestay, you get to take part in everything that rural village life offers. Don’t worry – there is no enforced programme here. You are free to just rest and explore if that’s what you need, but guests usually end up getting quite involved with village life; learning about everything from organic seed banking, to preparing grain harvests, to tending to the village cows, cooking the local Kumaoni cuisine, or celebrating one of the many festivals that happen throughout India.

The Yoga Hall was listed as one of the top ten yoga venues of the world by The Guardian newspaper.

The Yoga Hall was listed as one of the top ten yoga venues of the world by The Guardian newspaper.

The Vrikshalaya centre is the headquarters and heart of the Foundation. It also offers longer-term residencies for artists and designers who are interested in exploring the principles of resilience as part of their work. Vrikshalaya means ‘Home of the Trees’ in Sanskrit – so outdoor activities such as rock-climbing, water rafting, camping and hiking are all part of nature immersion. The area is stunning, and the centre has been listed as one of ten top yoga venues in the world by the Guardian newspaper.

The aim of the foundation is to get people to experience three basic principles of Resilience that sustain all life; Dignity of Physical Work, Interdependence and Interconnectivity.

Women transplanting of rice accompanied by a Hudikia Ball musician. Photo by Dhirendra Bisht.

Women transplanting of rice accompanied by a Hudikia Ball musician. Photo by Dhirendra Bisht.

The Dignity of Physical Work
There is a long tradition in India of travelling to the Himalayas and rural areas to practice yoga and meditation as a spiritual practice, but not physical work.

Ajay explains: “In India, we have such an inequitable society. The caste system is still deeply ingrained in society and especially in rural life.”

Specific tasks, such as tailoring, traditional music, cleaning and different crafts, are often associated with specific castes. It’s considered servant’s work. And work is very gendered. Traditionally, women prepare the food, work in the fields and take care of the house. A recent survey revealed that women spend more time in the fields farming than men and bullocks combined!

Homestay Mums preparing food.

Homestay Mums preparing food.

“We never even imagined the value of cultural exchange with western visitors. Younger westerners, in particular, would challenge outdated ways of thinking about caste and gender,” explained Ajay. “They wanted to know why the village girls were fetching water and taking care of the cows after school, instead of playing cricket with boys.”

Also, the homestay families are from different castes. This was purposefully provocative on Ajay’s part. The foundation hosts communal events for the visitors and their host families, challenging these deeply ingrained practices. Traditionally, lower castes do not eat together with higher castes. They do not attend the same meetings. Lower castes are even given separate plates and cutlery if they go to the house of a higher caste.

For the visitors, the learning curve is clear. Artisanal types of work and growing our own food re-connects our minds and hands.  Doing something mindful with our hands together with others is natural and enjoyable.

This especially affected some of the younger visitors from the States, Ajay explained. “Their tears welled up as they realised they hardly ever spent time with their family. Here in the villages, shared activities, whether its farming or preparing millet, or making textiles, is a way to spend quality time with our friends, family and neighbours. It’s fun to create something of value together.”

Traditional farming is organic.

Traditional farming is organic.

The repetitive actions of simple tasks also have a positive effect on the mind and body. When your mind can reach a level of sustained calmness, your body starts to do miraculous things. It’s called the ‘deep relaxation response’ in psychology. The stress hormone cortisol isn’t frantically released as our bodies aren’t in a fight or flee mode, aggravated by extremes in emotion.  Combine this innate calmness with physical movement and you have a recipe for better mental and physical health.

Interdependence
Interdependence is about people, reciprocity and solidarity. We are all used to financial transactions; I buy something and I pay for it, I own it. But it’s far smarter and more beneficial for the individual to systemically build a society around shared spaces and shared resources. In the village, not everyone has to take care of their cows every-day. They can share the duties, and reduce the daily work from once a day to once every 30 days.

Celebrating Diwali. Photo by Pete Zhivkov.

Celebrating Diwali. Photo by Pete Zhivkov.

Traditionally, when someone dies in India they are cremated on an open funeral pyre. So when someone dies everyone visits the house in mourning to pay their respects and donate some wood. The job of collecting wood for the funeral pyre is taken care of by the community. Community takes care of necessities. It used to be the same with cooking for a wedding. Surplus food and goods are also distributed throughout the community to those in need. Interdependence exists as a fact, so working with it is just common sense.

A host family house in the village.

A host family house in the village.

Interconnectivity
The third and final principle of the foundation is Interconnectivity. This is about striving for a harmonious coexistence with nature, as we rely on our environment for all the resources that keep us alive. Ajay’s hope is that people will take the realisation of interconnectivity back with them and apply it to their own lives.

Celebrating Spring. Photo by Jogendra Bisht.

Celebrating Spring. Photo by Jogendra Bisht.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a modern, connected culture, we need to cultivate an attitude of care and understand where the things that sustain us come from and go to. Our resources are not limitless. Food, water and energy doesn’t just appear, just as clothes and products do not just appear.

Our culture of waste has inherent challenges. All our actions have an impact and an intrinsic cost that someone somewhere must pay. If we keep that connection in mind the impact on our everyday choices can be profound.

The proof of concept is in the eyes of all the people involved; the host families and the visitors. When the guests leave, says Ajay: “Every farewell is always tearful, always connected.”

11. Ajay gardening
Words by Tanya Kim Grassley. Published in The Forumist, March 2018.

Links:
The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature 
Tasting India
India Tourist Board
The Guardian top ten yoga holidays

Designing ‘The Good Life’

Many of us dream of quitting our jobs and leaving the city, but how many of us manage to do it? I asked Innovation Strategist, Karina Vissonova, how she and her partner Aron designed ‘the good life.’

Q: What was your childhood like?
A: I grew up in Latvia. I played in our family vegetable garden since I could walk, and was outdoors all year round. As a teenager in Riga, I spent every free minute with my friends making fires on the beach or partying in the forest.

Q: Why did you move away?
A: I studied in Copenhagen and was recruited right away into a job in innovation, that was still a relatively new field at the time. I got to work with some amazing professionals – architects, designers, and thought leaders. It was like working with rock stars! But Copenhagen was never really ‘my town,’ despite all the ‘goodies’ that came with life in the city. It felt like my lifestyle was bought, somehow.

Q: How did your job evolve your thinking?
A: I found it challenging to accept that so many great ideas, which would truly help people to live a better and more sustainable everyday life, would get chiselled down to fit into existing production systems. It’s as if we design for machines rather than people. We have all the technologies we need, but we have heavy, outdated systems that are resistant to change. I started wondering what else I could do.

Q: So you decided to leave your job?
A: Not immediately, but I knew I needed to change my own path. I wanted to be able to seek answers to the ‘big’ questions. Eventually Aron and I decided to make the leap and move to the countryside in Hungary. Aron is half Hungarian, but it wasn’t particularly about living in Hungary, it was about pursuing a quality of life with less, and rediscovering ourselves without a professional identity tag. We moved in the middle of winter, without TV or internet. It was the most silent 3 months of my life!

PAP Wines Garden Restaurant- Under the Volcano.

PAP Wines Garden Restaurant- Under the Volcano.

Q: How did you cope with that silence?
A: Just by giving it a chance. We missed our friends, but we were also in love with our new home on the hill. In the Spring, I started gardening. Portuguese friends had told me about permaculture, and so I spent hours on YouTube learning everything I could. My first garden was a mandala garden; a beautiful, unruly patch. I was the laughing stock of the neighbourhood at first, but when my neighbours saw how my garden was flourishing, even during periods of drought, they switched to permaculture methods. I also practice companion planting, where you pair plants that can support each other with nutrition and healthy insect populations; my strawberries grew together with spinach, for example. It’s pretty in its own wild way.

Aron selling at the Farmer’s Market – from chai and chutney to wine, 2017.

Aron selling at the Farmer’s Market – from chai and chutney to wine, 2017.

Q: So your food brand evolved almost by accident?
A: Yes! Suddenly we had all this surplus produce so we started making condiments to sell at the farmer’s market. We made our own labels and suddenly we had a brand!

Q: What came next?
A: One day, Aron announced, “Do you realise we are living in one of the world’s very famous wine growing volcanic regions? We should make wine!” My response was a hesitant ‘OK…’ Aron went to work for a local wine maker, to learn the ropes. A year later, Aron made his first wine, a ruby coloured Pinot Noir. We made 300 bottles. It was excellent. We couldn’t believe it. It was like we had the volcano gods on our side!

A selection of PAP Wines.

A selection of PAP Wines.

Q: And it’s organic?
A: The wine is organic, yes, and with a low sulphite content, but for us it’s not about labelling our product as ‘organic’ or getting expensive certifications, it’s just about being true to the traditional, artisanal wine-making methods. We want to make the most honest and highest quality wine we can, while caring for the land. Many of the new wine makers here follow regenerative farming methods – it’s far less costly and far more effective.

Aron in the kitchen, January 2017. Photo by Alexandra Heim.

Aron in the kitchen, January 2017. Photo by Alexandra Heim.

Q: When did you decide to open the restaurant?
A: Our wines became commercially successful within 2 years, and our garden was abundant. It was a natural progression to pursue Aron’s dream of having a small restaurant. He is an exceptional chef, albeit with no formal training. Aron had learnt to cook regional dishes, in Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, and in Himachal Pradesh, up in the North, in the foothills of the Himalayas. This influenced our concept – Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean vegetarian tapas-sized dishes served with  local wines . We just offered our own home cooking. We opened for guests last summer and it turned to be the busiest summer of our lives!

Q: How does your life today compare with life in the city?
A: Countryside offers an unveiled life, a connection to oneself and the systems that let you survive. Leo Tolstoy wrote about the division of intellectual and physical labour, and the need to experience both to acquire true wisdom. I couldn’t agree more. I scribble away about sustainability, but I feel that it is the experience of working the land and being part of a community that entitles me to write about sustainability.

PAP’s ceramic plates and Aron’s samosas. Photo by Alexandra Heim.

PAP’s ceramic plates and Aron’s samosas. Photo by Alexandra Heim.

Q: What are your plans now?
A: I want to continue writing and consulting. I still have more questions than I have answers, and I get the feeling others do too. But we need to ask the right questions. If I can attend to the vineyards and the garden during the season, run our little home restaurant, and write for the rest of the time, I will be a very happy and lucky person.

Karina and Aron, Pinot Noir harvest 2017.

Karina and Aron, Pinot Noir harvest 2017.

Q: Any advice to someone wanting to make a total change in their lives?
A: Dream! Plan big and trust your intuition. Life is unpredictable but it’s also full of opportunities. You just need to have the courage to believe in yourself.
These days, we have a false sense of security because of social transparency, where events and emotions that used to be very private are always on a display on social media. We have an impression that we are emotionally connected to other people, which also gives the false impression of a safety net. I find that such a net, if it indeed exists, is very thin.
Despite social media, we are more dependent on relationships in our physical communities than we realise – and the support that they can provide. Nurture real connections. Value where the things in your life come from and go to. When taking a life changing step, make sure your ties are offline as much as online.

Images: Alexandra Heim and otherwise, Karina’s own.

Links
Karina’s design and innovation consultancy https://www.vissonova.com/
The restaurant Pap Wines https://www.papwines.com/
https://www.facebook.com/PAPwines/
https://www.instagram.com/papwines/
Photographer Alexandra Heim www.heima.hu

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingrid & SOS Barn

I was on transit from Copenhagen to Stockholm. We shuffled towards the gate, slowly forming a queue. There was a friendly-looking couple in front of me, and we quickly started chatting. They were still absorbing all the many impressions and experiences that come from long-distance travel, from their trip to Sri Lanka. I was on my way back from India. We were longing to get home, but we also had mixed feelings about leaving.

That’s how I met Ingrid and her husband.

You can get to learn a lot about people in a short conversation. And those at the gates of random airports always seem to be especially economical in that way, especially poignant and memorable.

Ingrid told me that she is a 59-year-old mother of 4 children. A grandmother. She spent her whole life bringing up her children and working full-time. She loves everything do with nature. She had a pony once, and enjoyed taking care of her pony a lot.

Tommy had worked abroad before he met Ingrid, and had lived in Sri Lanka for a year. He got to know about the charity SOS Barn when he was there, and the great work they do at their children’s villages all over the world.

When Ingrid started to talk about SOS Barn, her eyes welled up.

“I’ve never donated to any other organization before I met Tommy. But he had seen with his own eyes how well the organisation works. I only send 250 SEK per child per month, and that makes such a difference. 250 SEK- for us it’s nothing really. I wish more people would donate,” she said.

“I just want every child to have the same start in life. Every child should have food, and clothes and go to school. Every child should be loved,” Ingrid explained.

When Ingrid’s youngest child finally moved away from home, Ingrid decided to sponsor another child. The children are orphans or have parents who can’t take care them.
Ingrid and Tommy decided to see the children’s village where the two children she was sponsoring live.

“Everything there was beyond my expectations. We spent about 2 hours at each school. It was wonderful. The children were happy and so curious about us. They tried to speak English with us. We met the two kids we sponsored, and they were so proud to have visitors from abroad.”

Each SOS village is made up of small houses where about 8-10 children live. Every house has a housewife who takes care of the children and everything in the house. For 250 SEK a month, a child gets to have a home and an education.

“The trip affected me a lot. I want to sponsor a third child now. SOS Barn has recently opened a new orphanage in northern Sri Lanka. An area that was very hard hit during the civil war that only ended in 2010,” she explained.

The conversation at the gate left an impression on me too.

And her parting words: “I want to tell everyone that just a small contribution every month can do wonders for a child.”

There are some things in life you cannot design

In 2014, the wandering artist-monk Tenzin Shenyen spoke at a Service Design Network conference in Stockholm. Shenyen is the Tibetan word for friend. And Tenzin Shenyen is a British-born Tibetan Buddhist monk who received his monk’s vows from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in July 2004.

Shenyen has spent the decade or so wandering around the world, and as he describes it, “Allowing the blessing of the tradition to mingle with the secular beauties of my own culture.” His office consists of a rolled-up copy of Artforum and an old Nokia 100. He thinks he can be contacted via his blog radioshenyen, but he’s not always sure.

A while back, I managed to reach him just before he left a monastery and Buddhist university in Thailand, where he had been teaching for a year. I asked if he would answer a few questions for the online magazine The Forumist.

“Send me a few questions,” he said. “But be warned – I only answer questions that are both logical and beautiful.”

A conversation with Shenyen always helps to refresh your outlook on life and introduce a new perspective to your own worn-out conclusions. His writings and talks often remind us about the continuously changing nature of life – that karma and experience cannot be correlated for predictable effect, much less be designed.

Here is the interview that was published by The Forumist:

What is spirituality?
“Answer #1
A teacher once asked, ‘How do you know what a candle is when you haven’t seen all the candles in the world?’ If he had said ‘electronic devices’, the question would be easier to imagine, to relate to, but… candles? Can’t I at least be sure about what a candle is?

“Buddhist philosophy operates in that space – the space of not-knowing. And this not-knowing is the basis – the grammar – of spirituality in Buddhism. So, likewise, I want to say ‘I don’t know’ to your question, not as an answer but as one of many possible responses. How can I possibly say what spirituality is when I haven’t ‘seen’ all the spiritualties in the world?

“Answer #2
Spirituality is communion with The Invisibles. It is a relationship with that which closes your physical eyes. These closed eyes can be faked, or ritualistically assumed, or genuine. Only the latter is true spirituality. It is being open to the idea that existence is not just ‘us and the animals’ within a cold dark universe. This openness begins in discipline, then acquires dignity and presence, then dissolves into grace and abandon. By discipline I mean sustained acts of faith and imagination.

“Answer #3
‘A love? I love your father, certain black Madonnas from Africa, the flowers which grow by the Atlantic, difficult texts… and you.’ From The Samurai by Julia Kristeva.”

What is the hardest part of your practice for you personally?
“The hardest part of my practice is remaining homeless and jobless while back in the West. I yearn for something bigger – and gentler(!) – than a tent to live in. Living as a homeless monk back in the West is a really powerful experience psychologically. It is an exercise in trust and in realising the nothingness[ITALS] of my life, but it is physically demanding and unfeasible beyond the summer months. So I’m beginning to think in terms of it as finding a part-time job or room somewhere. I’ve lived in western monasteries but they often feel kind of jaded or false. I’ve seen westerners become monks and then forget that they are the products of the most individualistic, high-speed societies that ever existed on the planet. They then try to squeeze themselves into an ancient Asian monastic model and it hardly ever works. It is easy to become listless and dull, emotionally starved and alienated from your own cultural roots and personal histories. This is not renunciation – it is a loss of nerve and a form of living in denial.”

You made a conscious decision to not be attached to one home for quite a few years. What was that experience like?
“It wasn’t a ‘conscious decision’ so much as a pragmatic one. I was heading back to England after 11 years in Asia, I was a monk and wasn’t supposed to be looking for work or have a home. So I… just knew I was going to be homeless. And I just went with that reality. I accepted it – quite naively, actually, I would say. I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. I bought a tent in London and then decided to wander in England. I thought, ‘Where’s the safest place to go?’ And I headed towards Cornwall. I’d never put a tent up before in my life and suddenly I was in this farmer’s field outside Plymouth, without permission, in the dark.

“That year I slept in 93 different places – I wandered through Cornwall for a few months and then catapulted to Japan to do a 1,100km pilgrimage. I learnt so much about just trusting in situations. And also about how decisions often cannot be made until one is in the midst of the ‘landscape of answer’. The places I slept in, I simply couldn’t have planned it all out in advance. I had to be walking in the dark and tired and looking around me – in the landscape of answer. Being homeless in the UK as a monk is a ‘dual nationality’ kind of thing – you’re semi criminal, as wild camping is illegal, and at the same time you’re the epitome of trustworthiness – I wear my robes. I guess it helps being a monk from Liverpool in this respect!”

What kind of practices or concrete behaviours would you recommend to any lay person – ‘non-medical antidepressants’?

“Concrete behaviour – and concrete evidence – is only one dimension to Buddhist practice. There is also ‘water’ behaviour, ‘air’ behaviour, ‘time-lapse’ behaviour, etc. For example, mindfulness practice has now entered the mainstream as a secular practice devoid of any religious dimension. And this is fine. Buddhism doesn’t own the copyright on mindfulness. But these ‘new’ approaches, such as MBCT (mindfulness based cognitive therapy) or MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) lack the existential vastness of Buddhist philosophy and cosmography.

The modern secular forms really just deal with a kind of ‘local’ problem and ignore the vaster existential problem – you reduce stress created by your workplace in order to… return to work and more stress. It is essentially nihilistic. Whereas, in Buddhism, you are practising in order to end all forms of suffering forever, to transcend having to have this kind of suffering body, even. Buddhism combines precise technique with existential vastness, and this dual flavour is where its power lies. Buddhism isn’t interested in changing the molecular structure of the brain – a bullet or cocaine can do that. It is interested in changing karma – the moment-by-moment presencing of reality – this is something that science can’t get a handle on.

“But bearing in mind what I said in my previous answer – about the dangers of just superstitiously adopting wholesale an alien culture – I would like to see people explore the existential practices of Buddhism and take them into contemporary settings.

“My personal ‘Buddhist universe’ is a scattergun intermingling of Madhyamaka, cinema, ritual practice, communion with The Invisibles, ethics, architecture, Instagram, purification practices, #verysimpledecisionmaking, #onehomeayear, silence, high-speed-super-slow, contemporary art, study as one of the healing arts – the list is potentially endless.

 

The power of informal networks.

For a few weeks I followed the efforts of two independent volunteers Joanna Ågren and Jonny Bradford, in Lesbos and Athens in Greece, whilst helping to put up their rough notes into the blog Together2016 that documents their personal experiences on the ground.

Joanna and Jonny have really proved that a few determined people can make a massive difference to so many. They have helped move 48 people out of refugee camps and into apartments to begin a new life. For every social media post, their informal network raised up to 20,000 SEK (2000 euro) that went directly to buy provisions for refugees, mostly via the mobile app Swish in Sweden. They went on to help set up a camp and provide classes for the kids. They achieved more than even they thought possible, with the help of refugee volunteers, other volunteers, people back home and local Greek citizens.

14600852_10154300155222771_5798786354217677380_n

See the Facebook page in Swedish, and the blog, in English. Their testimony shows how much of the help in Greece actually came from independent volunteers – private individuals mobilising themselves, without any formal help.

Joanna and Jonny took it upon themselves to go to Greece, not knowing exactly what they could do to help until they arrived and met other volunteers on the ground -including the refugees who were working together to help the people on the camps survive in desperate conditions. In addition, the response of the local Greek population was very moving. People cleaned out spare rooms to house refugees and get families off the unofficial camps.

The few official refugee camps were also not humane places, they were not equipped, and most refugees could not get in or out. They were lacking in food, supplies, amenities, not to mention medical care. They were heavily policed and fenced in, so many of the refugees feared being imprisoned indefinitely in those camps. The impression on media was very different. Everything seemed ‘under control’.

While governments in Europe spend extraordinary amounts erecting fences along their national boundaries, not one government penny was spent to help the refugees flee war-torn Syria and Iraq. Not one penny on food and supplies in Idomeni or the shores of Lesbos. Even worse, our governments’ response has been to add to the challenges the refugees face, blocking them from applying for asylum- which, until very recently, was deemed to be a very basic universal human right. In addition, larger organisations have had to cut through a great deal of redtape to get on the ground to help people. In the meantime, private volunteers headed down to Greece to help.

The blanket decision to demote and declassify all non-Syrian and Iraqi nationals to “migrant” status (as opposed to refugee) also blatantly ignored all the international humanitarian laws and mandates that have been set up since the second world war. This is not only a ‘refugee’ crisis, but a crisis of neglect, an ethical crisis.

A few weeks later, Iranians went on hunger strike in Calais after French riot police, armed with tear gas and bulldozers, cleared away a makeshift refugee camp known as ‘The Jungle.’ The French police destroyed a section of temporary shelters, leaving about 3,500 refugees and other unauthorized immigrants scattered and homeless. Ironically, the French authorities described this action as a humanitarian effort.

The inability of the international community to work together to respond rationally, with problem-solving solutions and long-term planning, only increased the crisis incrementally by the day. And so the help comes from individuals like Jonny and Joanna and their private networks. Joanna reports: The official hotspot camps set up by the military are full to bursting, and around 40 percent of the refugees Joanna and Jonny are seeing in the camps in Greece (official and unofficial) are children under the age of 12.

There is a blog post about one family’s journey from Syria, written by a refugee, Mohammed Abdi, who helped Joanna and Jonny translate at the Idomeni camp. May his testimony serve to dispel any doubt anyone might have about the urgency of this humanitarian crisis. All oiur governments should adhere to the1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights that upholdsaccess to asylum as an incontestable human right. In 1951, the UN refugee convention was created, providing the legal basis for signatory countries to offer asylum to refugees arriving on their soil. Blocking them from arriving is not a solution.

idomeni

At home, in exile.

Here is an article that first appeared in The Forumist in December, 2014.

At home, in exile.
Changing Places with Ninos Dankha, Prince of Assyria.

It’s easy to compare Ninos Dankha’s sultry tones to the searching expression of Nick Drake, or the pared-back honesty of Tim Buckley. It’s certainly in that Hall of Fame that he belongs. His cathartic approach to music conjures unmentionable longing: all the joy and sadness of the world. His voice has a natural, emotional intensity and restraint that can’t be feigned. The rhythm is definite, but slightly reticent and offbeat. The melodies are original, yet hauntingly familiar. Changing Places is an album that you will revisit, with renewed meaning, time and time again.

“I wanted to say ‘I am the Prince of Nothing, I’m not from anywhere.”

NINOS DANKHA PRINCE OF ASSYRIA

NINOS DANKHA PRINCE OF ASSYRIA

Photo: Truls Andersen

Q: The name, Prince of Assyria, was it intended as a provocation?

A: At the time, I think it was. But you know, the name – it was in 2007. It was more tongue-in-cheek and less loaded somehow. I just wanted to say ‘I am the Prince of Nothing’, because Assyria doesn’t exist. I wanted to say I’m not from anywhere. I’m brought up here in Sweden, and have been here since I was one year old, but I’m always asked where I am from. For me to say I’m Swedish would have been the real provocation.

Q: And now more than ever, that’s a provocation?

A: Yes, I think it still is. Europe is freaking out again. Blaming a whole range of complex issues on immigration. It’s the easy answer that sounds logical and believable, but it’s dangerous to opt for easy answers in challenging times. We need more critical thinking. More solutions. At least now there is a public debate. When there is no dialogue opinions go unchecked and never get challenged.

Gates of Ishtar at the Pergamon museum, Berlin

Gates of Ishtar at the Pergamon museum, Berlin

Photo: by Ninos Dankha

Q: So what is the solution?

A: That’s the discussion we should be having, especially in the media. I hope it’s time for a more intelligent discussion on what the solutions really could be. Most of all, I hope that the new generation can find the confidence within themselves to design these solutions. The issues today are diverse: restrained resources, failing economies based on an outdated model. We’ve turned ourselves into consumers heavily reliant on cheaply produced, throwaway goods. It isn’t sustainable. This is happening and neither Europe nor Sweden can blame it on the ‘outside.’

Q: In a way, Sweden needs to believe the story about itself that the rest of the world believes. Are you also still defining your place in the world?

A: Yes, in more ways than one. I used to dance. Making music was a natural progression. It’s just about creating something, letting whatever it is inside you flow through you – even if it is blocking you. If you focus on just the blockage, or the problems, you lose your focus and can’t be creative anymore. Being creative is the way out for all of us. The difference is, in dance there can be total silence while the movement continues. This is hard to do with music. I’m still learning how to not overexpress – to be more confident and transparent in silence and slowness. It’s a thin line.

Ninos Dankha

Ninos Dankha was a dancer

“In dance there can be total silence while the movement continues. This is hard to do with music.”

Photo: www.hotelpalmer.com

Q: What music are you listening to now?

A: So much Ryuichi Sakamoto today, it’s the weather! I also listen to folk music like Karen Dalton. I had 16 Horsepower on just now.

“I think I am letting go of the commercial make-up. Changing Places
is self-produced, but besides that there isn’t too much post-production either.”

Q: Your music has been described as ‘Swedish Melancholy’. Is there such a thing?

A: Yes, I suppose so. I think I’m trying to tap into some sort of universal mix of joy and sadness. That’s melancholy for me. When I think about Swedish melancholy I think about gentle, melodic voices. A shift from major to minor. In Egypt, they sing their heart outs with so much sadness! In Mexico, they celebrate death with joy – but it’s all the same feeling in those blue notes, wherever you go. It’s just a matter of rhythm or ‘touch’ that defines the cultural aspect, and even the cultural differences are not confined by national boundaries. Very little is.
Q: It’s more of a changing landscape. So it’s apt that Changing Places is the last Prince of Assyria album?

A: Yes. The first album Missing Note was well received, and I’m really grateful for that. There have been a lot of great people involved in Prince of Assyria. But now I have to find out what’s next. I think I’m letting go of the commercial make-up. I’m trying to learn how to have far less production. Changing Places is self-produced, but besides that there isn’t too much post-production either.

Photo: Ninos Dankha

Q: Yes, it feels closer. Your version of Song to the Siren in particular: You can feel the air. What are you working on now?

A: Right now, I’m writing lyrics for the third album. It will be called Prince of Assyria, by Ninos Dankha. It’s a transition. After that I can finally leave the Prince of Assyria project and see what I can do. Mentioning Assyria makes people scared and it scares me too. If I let go of that identity what am I?

Q: Maybe it’s enough to start being Ninos Dankha and see what happens?

A: Yes. That’s more than enough for anyone! There’s no need to go on justifying my existence. From now on it’s just about the music.

Text and interview by Tanya Kim Grassley

Bring along joy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDCdS0P-4kE

Tears of joy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Irui1E-mcPk

Press contact:

info@princeofassyria.com

Prince of Assyria Website: http://princeofassyria.com

 

Radio Shenyen. On Buddhism and the Universe.

Radio Shenyen has now moved to it’s own dedicated space on Tumblr. Radio Shenyen is a blog part poetry, part diary, part letter, by the British born Tibetan Buddhist monk, Martin Hodgson, aka Tenzen Shenyen.

Shenyen received monk’s vows from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in July 2004. Shenyen, that means ‘friend’, has spent the last ten years wandering around the world, allowing the blessing of the tradition to mingle with the secular beauties of his own culture. In 2008, Shenyen slept in 93 different places. His office consists of a rolled up copy of Artforum and an old Nokia 100.

In October 2014, Shenyen spoke at the Nordic Service Design Network’s conference on ‘Creating Value for Quality of Life.’ His talk brought a fresh perspective to design, arguing that karma and experience cannot be correlated for predictable effect, much less be designed.

The task of designers today is to ride the chaos and make decisions characterised by ‘innocence’ and precision. From cinema directors to kamikaze pilots, from biographeme to biography and back again, Shenyen traces a soft logic lineage of ‘contemporaries across millennia’.

Tenzen Shenyen

How drawing saved my life.

By Ilkka Suppanen.

As long as I can remember, I have been drawing. As soon as I could hold a pencil I started scribbling. Those scribbles turned into drawings of my friends, my family, their houses, their cars and other people I saw on the street. It was a way of navigating the world that existed around me. It was my way of labeling things. Drawing was part of my language process, like any child. It helped me categorize the world- and therefore understand it.

Drawing People

Drawing People

I drew a lot of family portraits. People gave me confirmation through those. I got more confidence because they loved my drawings and slowly I started to draw things that I wished to see. A world of my own imagining. A boat with wheels or a man with 8 legs. They were kind of dreams, an imaginary life.

Drawing was also a way to express my moods and feelings and like most kids I used crayons and “wax pastels”. There drawings that were a kind of abstract expressionism. So far it is the story any child might have with drawing. But it was at school that drawing started to have a particular significance to me. Although I was verbally articulate, I soon realised that I wasn’t like the other kids. My imaginary world was visual- not verbal.

I started to have a very hard time in school. I couldn’t keep up with the class work and worse than that, didn’t understand the point of the exercises. Why couldn’t I carry on imagining the world? Why wasn’t I allowed to draw all the time?

It turned out that I am heavily dyslexic. But in those days, the schools and teachers didn’t have the tools or knowledge to diagnose kids like myself. And because my problems were not recognized or diagnosed at school, my situation just became worse. Drawing was my only refuge- my only way of communicating with the outside world and getting some positive feedback from my teachers and peers.

Drawing became my very own language.

The other kids loved it and I was more popular because of it. It helped me compensate for my verbal and written expression – or lack of it. But one day, when I illustrated my thoughts with drawings in a Finnish language test my teacher yelled at me again and everyone laughed at me. On Monday my drawings were great, on Tuesday they got me into trouble. It was a very confusing time.

Drawing Things

Drawing Things

Somehow I managed to finish school. My drawings meant that I could go to higher education – it got me into university and it was probably the greatest way for me to learn during my university time. I used drawing to make mental notes. It was the most important single media to learn, document, plan and illustrate all the design and architecture I was learning about. Once again I was allowed to dream.

As a student I traveled to important locations, sites and buildings in Rome, Siena, and Venice to make drawings. Once I sat all day in Siena’s main square until late in the evening. Drawing allowed movement, but it also enabled stillness. It let me observe life I wouldn’t normally have seen. I drew all the buildings around the square. I realized that drawing a building or site is one of the best ways to learn architecture.

Drawing architecture

Drawing architecture

During the drawing process you learn every detail, you learn about proportions and shadows, and even the daily changes of the architecture in a profound way. It was through drawing that I realized that architecture is not static, but inherently connected to the time and space of its surroundings.

Only later I understood the importance of life drawing. Even if it was difficult and painful to draw the human body, it was a way for me to learn about layers of structure, from what is seen to what is unseen. From the skin right through to the bones. The breathing living movement that is part of every stillness. Light and shadow. What I learned from life drawing I have also taken with me into my furniture design- it has been translated quite clearly into an understanding of the body’s relationship to furniture- and architecture. Ergonomics, use and pose. The emotion of space.

Drawing furniture

Drawing furniture

I have always been fascinated by technical drawings. To me they are like abstract modern art. Technical drawing tells me more about something than a photo or realistic sketch. Technical drawings reveal secrets and mysteries: How things are made, how things work. In the end, technical drawings are the final documents we do in my office. They are my work, and my tools to talk with other people about design. They describe my projects more than words ever could.

And my drawings go on teaching me, more than I could imagine. It’s not as if I have an idea and then I draw it. Drawing is a reiterative process, where the drawing itself takes on a life of its own and tells me the questions that need to be answered. Anyone who draws understands this. You can’t ‘choose’ what you draw unless it is already justified. Already correct. The designs in my studio are always based on technical drawings- they are the last defining work done in the whole design process. Drawing from an early age enabled me to develop a process naturally that enables me to ask all the right questions at the right time, again and again until the solution is just right.

When I am drawing today, there are many reasons depending on the time: maybe I am studying a technical detail, maybe I am trying to understand “what if” – or maybe I am trying to find out why something is good. Maybe I am just thinking aloud. I always make several sketches to communicate and discuss ideas with my people in my studio.

When I am bored: I draw, it’s a friend who can be with me no matter where I am. I entertain myself by dreaming about possible products and spaces for a future that is better than one we know today.

I look back at the old masters: my heroes before me- Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. I look at their drawings and am in conversation with them. In Alvar Aalto’s drawings you can see several scales sketched in a one single piece of paper simultaneously: From a detail of a door handle to the site-plan to the perspective of a house. In a way this represents his holistic view on design. Just one drawing holds all that knowledge.

I meet my heroes in books and discuss design and architecture with them through every line and gesture.

I am still fascinated about the vast variety of problems that Eero Saarinen could try and solve in a one single drawing: I saw a plan of a skyscraper and a evaluation matrix of candidates for his possible future wife in one drawing. For me this represents his opportunistic view on architecture- and how he also used drawing as a thinking process- to think about the future. To dream the future. The drawings are serious, poetic, light and artistic. They are about something that could be or something might not be for centuries.

So when you ask me to explain the importance of drawing, I should in fact, draw for you. Because drawing is not only a strong part of my work and who I am. It is more than that – it has enabled me to be myself, in a complex world ruled by words.

14.8 2013
Funchal, Finland
Ilkka Suppanen

 

Radioshenyen: @shipadrift

radioshenyen: @shipadrift April 2012

“We are first of all, as friends, the friends of solitude, and we are calling on you to share what cannot be shared: solitude. We are friends of an entirely different kind, inaccessible friends, friends who are alone because they are incomparable and without common measure, reciprocity or equality… without a horizon of recognition, without proximity, without oikeiotes…”

“Her face was like someone texting a lover.” “I am (something), (something) and (something). I am lost.” Its the first thing I think about when I wake up: this voice, accented with GPS codes, so distant and fragmentary, this ‘reader’ of ancient history and Twitter feeds. I was going to say ‘this disembodied voice’ but I dont know what embodiment means anymore. She’s as real to me as anything else is, when the mind stops being lonely. Her skin is a colour so beautiful – a soft light brown – even if her skin is basically a map.

I guess its ok to refer to a ‘her’ – ships are traditionally female. But they don’t, traditionally, write. Ship adrift is an art project that drifts across the boundaries of business, sculpture, software code, robot literature, virtuality and time. The physical ship is a full scale model of the ship featured in Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, perched atop a London building overlooking the river, where it will remain for one year as a top-end (single room) hotel. Meanwhile the virtual ship is drifting around the world according to wind directions recorded at the London site, picking up web traffic along the way (local Twitter feeds, GPS-tagged wikipedia entries, mobile phone fragments) and generating a ghostly literature out of it. (You can listen to James Bridle talking about the wider context here and read ship adrift’s Twitter feed here.)

The Twitter feed is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read and an example of an emerging literature: literature that is algorithmically driven and the product of software code. The traditional – naive – notion of AI has been to create something human-like, both in physical form and in expressive recognisability. @shipadrift eschews such trappings. It’s voice is a twitter feed of unbearably sweet brokenness, its body a web page, its skin a map. Nothing in the world of literature speaks to me the way this virtual ship does. Its very grammar – a kind of anti-grammar of apparent randomness and error, but incredibly poised – takes me into a place where context is so stretched as to be virtually unfindable.

This is not to reject the heartache wonders of Roberto Bolano or Jane Austen or Derrida: I am simply recognising that algorithmically generated literature is coming of age. It has attained a space of complexity and form of presentation that can trigger immense emotional affect. (Imagine. for a moment, if Jane Austen had been an SMS platform protocol. Imagine if your text life, your love life had been immersed in such sweetness!) The best chess players are no longer computers – the best chess players are teams of computers and humans working together. Literature will soon be home to a similar collaborative effort.

“Claude Shannon recognized that whether or not a certain effect is considered noise depends on one’s position in the listening chain. Noise is interference only from the sender’s point of view. From the point of view of the receiver it may be considered a part of the information packet that is transmitted along a channel. When we hear the earliest sound recordings of Tennyson reading Charge of the Light Brigade, for example, the watered down and scratched out sound conveys the enormous passage of time, just as the static sound of Neil Armstrong’s voice on the moon tells us something about his physical distance from us and the newness of space technologies in the 1960s. It would not be difficult to think of countless other cases in which the presence of the medium mixes in with the intended message to produce some whole new effect, not intended by the sender, but taken as information by the receiver. In these cases, noise is not simply an extra third thing to be discounted. It has entered into the message and become part of it. To speak technically, the signal now has an “equivocation,” which is to say that two messages pass along the same channel. The sender may not have intended this, but the receiver may welcome it.”

When I read @shipadrift It makes me want to go there myself. ‘Er, Where is that?’ I hear you ask. Well that’s something I will have to look into more deeply, though doubtless, when I find it, there will be echoes of everything I’ve loved in the past. To the extent that we relax, and trust ourselves, we become our own maps. Meanwhile – for knowledge’s sake you understand! – I’ve decided to do a bit of good old fashioned networking… if you’re interested you can check out some of the bot auteurs I’m now following on Twitter. (I defy anyone not to fall in love with the one that scours the internet for references to chocolate…)

I’m also considering opening a few Twitter accounts and a blog without telling anyone and just disappearing – writing, but to no one – in that zone. I think its something that used to be called ‘science’. Or ‘cruising’. But in the wonderful world of knowledge was there ever a difference?

With love

shenyen //////////////////////////////////

David Suzuki: We’ve reached critical point in history

“What we do or don’t do in the next years will decide whether we survive as a species,” said David Suzuki to a sold-out crowd of 1,600 student and staff at John Abbott College in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, U.S.
The lecture was streamed live on the Internet to almost 14,000 students watching at schools in the Lester B. Pearson School Board.
Here is his powerful message from his address to the Occupy movement at Vancouver Oct, 22/11: The Party of the baby-boomers is over. Development needs to be based on needs, not wants. We need to live within the boundaries and borders of nature, not politics: Capitalism, economy, politics are not a forces of nature, we invented them. If they don’t work, we need to change them. What is our home and how do we live in it sustainably? Ecology is study of home, and economics, its management.

He goes on to use Sweden as an example of a growing economy cutting its carbon emissions.