Imaginary Life

Episode 10: ON CONNECTED VOICES

Episode 10: ON CONNECTED VOICES

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Transcript:

Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a feature length podcast on ecology today inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.

In this episode ON CONNECTED VOICES, you will hear from two guests, prominent in the world of internet access and freedom of speech.

First you will hear the from Walid Al Saqaf. Beyond his daily research and development work, Walid combines his roles of free speech advocate and software developer to focus on the non-commercial use of Internet and its impact on democracy and freedom of speech.

Walid founded a ground-breaking news aggregation service in his home country of Yemen, which spurred him onto work with tracking Internet censorship and enabling activists and journalists to bypass government-imposed firewalls to access news and social media websites.

Walid is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Internet Society (ISOC) and co-founder of the Society’s Blockchain Special Interest Group. His work in tech development for increasing Internet Access has earned him international recognition, including a TED senior fellowship, and Örebro University’s Democracy Award, and he has been featured by global media such as CNN, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post.

After Walid, you will hear from Bahraini civil rights activist, and blogger Esra’a Al Shafei.

Esra’a is the founder of Majal.org, a network of digital platforms that amplify underrepresented voices in the Middle East and North Africa. She is passionate about music as a means for social change, and is the founder of MideastTunes, where musicians across the world with Middle Eastern and North African origin can share their music that is often censored on mainstream music platforms.

The World Economic Forum listed Esra’a as one of 15 Women Changing the World, and she was featured in Forbes magazine’s 30Under30 list of social entrepreneurs making an impact in the world. She also a senior TED Fellow, and Echoing Green fellow. As an outspoken defender of free speech, Esra’a was FastCompany magazine’s “100 Most Creative People in Business and The Daily Beast one of the 17 bravest bloggers worldwide.

I hope you have time to sit back, relax and listen to this podcast with your headphones!

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WALID AL SAQAF

Walid Introduction.

Yes. So, I’m Walid Al Saqaf.

I’m a senior lecturer at Södertörn University, in Journalism and Media Technology. And I do a lot of research in Internet studies, areas such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, Internet of Things, big data, social media analysis, etc..

In the area of big data, for example, there is a lot of discussion around how to analyse the amounts of data that exists. There are numerous sources of data. For example, we have the social media. One area in social media is network analysis, to understand how people communicate with each other.

What makes them attracted to certain types of content? This is more or less in the marketing domain. So many companies wish to know how to attract audiences would like to analyze this mass amount of data.

And furthermore, there are decentralized solutions in technology nowadays emerging. You may have heard a blockchain, for example. There has been an issue regarding trust or shall I say, distrust in centralised media. And among those platforms that have been often criticised is Facebook. And then you have the notion of politicisation of content online and how to recruit certain elements like bots and hackers to attack individuals online.

Walid Al Saqaf Caricature!

So, there is a lot going on in the media technology, space, cyber space in particular. That’s where I’ve been quite active. I feel that the human rights has a place in this newly developing digital world, and I must say that within the scope of human rights, for me, freedom of expression stands its own ground and is really an important aspect for us, particularly those who come from the Middle East, as I originally am from Yemen, though I’ve been living in Sweden for a while.

I do attain my identity as a Middle Easterner and try to promote freedom of expression in the Middle East in any way I can. And I feel that technology in various forms can be a supporter or a helper in this space, particularly in the area of eliminating censorship. When it comes to censorship, there has been a lot going on in the last decade or so.

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On the Arab Spring

You recall what happened during the Arab Spring? And well, some people don’t like to name it that way. But nonetheless, the popular revolutions that took place in the Middle East, in Yemen, for example, in my homeland, we had various platforms that emerged at the time. And much of what has been published on these platforms was user generated. So it was users trying to promote their ideas, get their voices heard through the Internet, because in places like the Middle East, China and elsewhere, where there are authoritarian regimes, there has been suppression of freedom of the press and media and expression in general, particularly as the mainstream media are controlled by the state most of the time.

And so, and individuals ended up finding the Internet as their refuge. So, they used it to promote their viewpoints, expressed their opinions, have things published that may not otherwise not be published. So during the time of the Arab Spring and even before that, I had been working on developing a news website- well you can call it a news aggregator website – which collects various forms of content from Yemeni news websites and then promotes these based on the clustered information. For example, if there has been an incident, how did various news websites cover it? It was so the search engine would aggregate and cluster information so that people would get a mosaic of views on the particular incidents. And so over time, it grew and became one of the more popular websites in Yemen. But the authorities at the time, led by Saleh, President Saleh, who used to be an authoritarian leader, ended up blocking the website.

I recall the day I was opening the website, trying to reach out to various users and understand how things are going. I realised the website was no longer accessible in Yemen. Since then, I’ve become quite an advocate of against censorship and trying to use tools to promote freedom of expression online and circumvent censorship. Because the first thing I thought is that the Internet itself is not controlled by anyone. So, the authorities in Yemen may well be able to stop certain individuals from accessing a particular domain, but they cannot stop the internet as a whole. So, I ended up building tools. One of them was called Al Qasar. Al Qasar is an Arabic word, meaning the circumventer. And I built it mainly for the users in Yemen to access my website at the time. It was called the admin portal. So, whoever wanted to access news content published on my website, would use Al Qasar.

And over time, I realised, OK, this is not only a Yemeni problem, it is actually a Middle Eastern problem and maybe even a global problem, because there are many countries outside the Middle East that also censor and still ‘til today. So, the tool ended up becoming a hit. Generally speaking, it got used in many countries such as China, Iran, as even as far away countries as Australia and the USA, where certain types of censorship would take place. For example, in closed environments, in particular, working environments, etcetera.

So, it ended up becoming a tool that was useful to many individuals. And so alongside working on Al Qasar, I also started searching and researching and understanding how censorship affects people, what is involved in censorship, why are various tools used to suppress certain voices and how so that became, of course, my Phd. So, I worked during 2011 to 2014 on censorship, circumvention, research and censorship research on the media. And I ended up publishing that with the help of data I gathered through Al Qasar. And so, yeah, it was a very must say, eventful journey in that space. Yeah, but things have changed in the last few years, to say the least. I mean, all the dreams we had in the Middle East and Arab Spring had faded away, maybe transformed to nightmares.

And additionally, much of the technology that initially were used to bypass censorship were actually no longer as effective simply because authorities also evolved. I mean, the way they censor the Web’s websites and content online has evolved in such a drastic way that makes you wonder whether they have their own research teams and various scientists working alongside them, because a typical case is surveillance in the past.

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From Censorship to Surveillance

Censorship used to be like the first intention or objective of the authorities. And so, what they ended up doing actually is still censoring in such a way that would allow individuals to access content, but then they would be monitored throughout this period. And if caught, they would then be prosecuted or penalised. So, it made people, yes, able to access content, but always mindful of the fact that they may be watched. And that is even worse kind of censorship.

To be honest, because if you know that you being tracked all the time and any action you take on a Website, particularly if at that website is known to be anti-government, for example, then you are exposing yourself to a greater harm, greater risk. That is what drove me to consider surveillance as perhaps the second evolutionary stage in the form of censorship. Technically speaking, as well as traditionally.

It creates not only censorship on the technical aspect, but also internally. Or maybe one can call itself censorship and it causes people to no longer trust their own judgment when using technology. So, it’s quite a frightful scenario. I’m not sure how one can confront that because of the fact that a lot of users aren’t media literate. They don’t know how technology works and operates.

So they are sometimes taken advantage of. I mean, one cannot overstate the impact that the scandal of Facebook camera’s analytical, for example, had caused in terms of distrust of media companies and media technology in general. And so, I mean, we are now at a very different ballgame to sort of speak as something that requires much more strategic thinking and long-term vision by researchers, activists alike.

Blockchain technology potential
But there are certainly some promising technologies, in my view. Among them is blockchain technology, because one thing that it introduces is the elimination of the central authority or what we used to call the owner of the media technology. And so, what happens in a location environment is that instead of having an individual entity or one single entity in charge of storing the data, the data itself becomes distributed.

So it is stored on various platforms, various servers across the world. And these servers, each individual server alone, cannot control the types of content that it saves, etc. because it’s built around a consensus mechanism. So, you have, for example, in the case of Bitcoin, which is the first location, you have thousands of nodes across the globe recording the same data and ensuring that this data is protected from malleability or manipulation.

And so that leads us to consider this as a way to ensure that and no one single central authority is in charge or is in control. That is one positive thing I would consider in location technology. Another thing that is also likely to be of value to activists is that it becomes censorship resistant in a way, because if you think of having your content published and this content becomes part of a blockchain, then it is no longer possible to block the central, let’s say, database that used to publish content in the past.

Now you would actually have governments actively find out and or shut down or shut access to any of the nodes of the blockchain that are ever in existence. That would be a very expensive procedure. Economically speaking, more expensive than the value that governments would have.

So that’s something that I think would be of interest to activists and those involved in freedom of expression. And the third aspect that I think would be valuable is something that we at the university here said in turn are beginning to research, which is confronting fake news.

And the way it works is that if you have original content being published by, let’s say, an entity such as an official or a celebrity. This content can have its original copy saved on the blockchain. And so since this content is possible to verify through it, since it is signed within a private key, something like a digital signature. So, this information would then be related or better connected to the originator or the creator. No one would be able to forge this content because it’s signed, it’s encrypted, graphically signed, and it’s known to the lot belong to a certain individual or entity. And so over time, record of creative content that’s original becomes established on the blockchain. I mean, this is a project that we are working on today on the university.

Developing a user case for blockchain journalism

We’re trying to see if this could develop into a user case for blockchain in the journalism space so that if the individual journalism items are stored on the blockchain or at least their hash, which is like a code connected to it, is stored on the blockchain, then it would be possible over time to find out what original content has been published throughout the years. And at the same time, we would identify elements trying to forge content and at the same time eliminate the possibility of fake news going to the mainstream, because mainstream, let’s say, social media or any form of platforms would all be able to verify and double check if that content is in fact on the blockchain.

And it was signed by the original writer that the no, I mean, I can identify and relate to. And if it’s not, then it has not proven its authenticity. So that’s one user case that we are considering researching today. And we hope to come up with some papers on this in the future.

If you think of media as a product, any product cannot be worth anything unless there are consumers of this product. So, in the case of news content, people have come to a phase where there is so much distrust that there are those who never believe what is published anymore. And media in its various forms, including, for example, the extreme types of media, right wing or even the extreme left.

I mean, various forms of media and propagating messages that are not factual. This obviously led to a cycle of what one can call confirmation bias tendencies, where people only tune to the what they think is correct or factual. And this brings us to the notion of extreme opinionated content reaching the mainstream as factual content, which is dangerous.

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Polarisation

If you only confine yourself to your own bubble of information or thoughts, you can never change your mind. I mean, it’s rarely that you will need to change your mind because you’re surrounding ourselves with the same type of content. And so that causes polarisation. And when you are in a polarised society, that leads to tension and possibly violence. So it’s a massive threat to democracy as we see it.

So, one thing that I would consider as helpful in the long run is to establishing better ways of verifying content, meaning that it would be possible to be more objective than simply saying this is true and this is not. For example, by providing evidence verifying if factual content through, let’s say, use of tools such as in Asia, forensics, for example, videos that have been produced that are fake can be traced to their original copies. So original content.

So that would mean that there will be more media literacy requirements not only on behalf of the public, but also journalists themselves. They need to be trained so that they understand what is objectively factual and what is an opinion. And that’s something we are working on at the university. We feel that education is key to helping confront the ongoing slaughter on journalism as a profession, as an industry, and hoping we hope that through going back to the basics by verifying content before publishing.

Ensuring the public understands what the verification tools or methods or steps are and how one reaches to those conclusions. If we do that, then journalism would perhaps survive. One reason why people also don’t trust the media as it used to because they realize their interests being served and the typical example that they’re offered often. And when we talk about countries such as the United States, where capitalism is reigning in, as you know, and it is more of a polarised, either Republican right wing media, or Democratic leaning left wing media, that led to the belief that if there are interests involved, or if it’s not purely for the public good or public interest, then it means that these interests will take over the professional journalistic ethics or principles.

Jeopardising or compromising these ethical principles of journalism would lead to a downgrading of the whole profession for everyone, even those who are honest and trying to cover facts with integrity. Yes, there is a very evident decline in trust because of these private interests. And while I cannot offer a solution, there are some better examples to follow. For example, the public broadcasting sector in Sweden, Scandinavia, etc. that are based on fees paid directly or through the tax system.

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Public TV and crowdfunded channels

I mean, the Scandinavian examples proves that there is some premise in having a directly funded media organisations such as Swedish TV or Swedish radio, which are said to be among the most trusted in the world. And percentage of relatively speaking. If you have that opportunity, then that would help ensure that journalism remains faithful to its principles and to ethics. But on the other hand, this is not possible in all countries. I mean, in this case, there are other examples such as The Intercept or The Correspondent.

These start-ups that are looking to not necessarily getting money from every single individual or all the population, but from those who are able to afford it and who believe in the message of journalism. They can cover every single thing, but they can dig deeper into investigative stories that are of grave importance, such as issues related to politics or corruption or mismanagement. I mean, serving the watchdog role. So he has there, as I can see, challenges, but they’re not insurmountable, we’re able as homo sapiens to evolve and find ways that allow us to overcome them.

Net neutrality

So, I mean, with new technologies come various challenges, and one challenge that came with the Internet is the need for the protection of net neutrality. And net neutrality is basically ensuring that Internet service providers treat content of all types equally without privileging or giving advantage to certain types of content. A typical example that is offered is when you offer one company faster speed, access and throughput so that it can promote its content and it loads faster on your screen. Another company offering another type of content, for example. Or maybe it’s not favourable to the internet service provider.

No throttling, no shadowing, no blocking and no paid prioritisation, Image from IP Vanish VPN

They are capped so their content gets loaded much slower, which means that you’re giving advantage to certain companies that are offering content over the others. And I’d say it’s counterproductive in the long run because it leads to creating bias, creating favouritism. That means that the internet is no longer the open space for all to contribute to and to access. It will be skewed to those who pay higher or who are more influential. So, it causes to fragment the internet and make it more like islands than a whole global space where everyone is welcome to produce content and consume content. Additionally, that creates also a major obstacle to newcomers and start-ups and smaller entities who would find themselves competing with much bigger entities. And that’s capitalism at its worst because it makes them stronger and richer, richer and the poor poorer. So, it creates a divide.

Net neutrality is opposed by many, including, for example, the father of the Internet, Vince Cerf, who adamantly opposes trying to control or govern content because the Internet was built around open standards, open infrastructure, and these types of filters or controls affect this seamless design of the Internet. And then this obviously results in portraying the technology as not open and not fair to everyone.

Concentration of Power

Another challenge apart from what I’ve mentioned already about distrusting the Internet for various reasons, such as the fake news phenomenon as well as net neutrality, that’s the limits to net neutrality is where there is what we call the ‘concentration of power’ on the Internet. And this leads to a looking at the Internet as privately-owned corporations controlling vast amounts of it.

And that’s actually reality, unfortunately. If you look into the top domains that are being accessed online, you would find five or so controlling more than 90 percent of this bandwidth and traffic that is in the public domain. This is maths, of course, excluding what is called the deep web, which is the ones that are not necessarily public.

So, these companies, such as the Googles and Facebook and Apples and these are in fact having a share that is disproportionate to what they’re representing. If you look into the population distribution across the globe, you would also notice that these companies are mostly located in the Western Hemisphere, in fact may mainly in Silicon Valley.

So, they are not at all representative of the diversity and of what we see around the world. And add to that the difficulty for companies to emerge. And in less fortunate societies such as now countries in developing countries, because they do not have the same authority, you’re already behind and those at the very forefront are running much faster, so it’s extremely difficult for you to catch up.

This disparity, I believe, is one reason why some countries such as China and Russia that are already involved in building their own internal or intranet instead of Internet being the global space, they are focussing more on closing down their environment and not allowing external entities to penetrate.

Closed walls and fragmentation

China has been relatively successful in the fact that created its own search engines, created its own social media, and Russia to some degree is following the same footsteps.

And additionally, this would serve as a model for other countries to begin to realize alright, since these conglomerates based in the US are in the forefront and it’s not possible to compete, then let us just simply close access or confine ourselves to working on what we have internal. And this leads to nationalism on the rise and leading to more people no longer communicating with others across the globe and contained within their own bubbles and their own national boundaries.

And that’s fragmentation. That’s clear and simple. So even with the infrastructure that exists today, fragmentation online is still possible. And the fact of the matter is that the most and the highest concentration of cameras detecting any group of people is in London, not in Beijing.

So, you can say that this has become more of a competition between governance. Who is able to surveil more people in a shorter period of time and using much more advanced technology?

Deep surveillance

What is scary a little bit now is that not all of this is transparent. So, you find that the obvious scandal over NSA and the Prism and the Snowden revelations, these have showed us that much of what is happening in terms of surveillance is underground. It’s happening behind closed doors. What we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg. And that leads us to consider the fact that if we learned about it only with these leaks, then that means that with the repression of WikiLeaks and Snowden etc., governments are hoping that whatever they do next will be even much more discreet and much more hidden.

The stealth mode operation that will take place in the future are going to be even much worse. And add to this the new challenge of having to deal with new technologies such as 5G, which, as you can imagine, is now on one of the main conflict issues between the two main powers, China and the United States. This is pointing to a future where there would be competition in terms of open standards or let’s say, standards of technology. If the Chinese end up being the one that set the standard for 5G, then that would put the U.S. as at a disadvantage. But at the same time, even though it’s going to be open standards, the technology that accompanies open standards might not necessarily be open.

That leads to risks of hiding certain proprietary code that may end up surveilling not in the hundreds of thousands, but in the billions of people. And so that means with faster technology, with more efficient, effective, robust technology. There would probably be more politically oriented acts of surveillance that would them further, in my view, damaged the trust in the Internet.

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The race towards 5G

It’s a matter of who will control technology because it’s a multi-trillion dollar industry. You know, likely whoever controls 5G will now be the next dominant superpower.

China has grown over the years because they thought of it as slow and steady. They don’t want to leap forward too fast and then fall too fast as well. So, they’re taking it incrementally. And so, they built this stealth mode, very peaceful and very quietly. And now they’ve reached a tipping point where if they secure the next 5G and having 5G as their own standard that they step, then they would actually flip the scale and take over.

The U.S. has been involved more with the short-term investments of selling arms and war profiteering and trying to dominate in that respect and getting big oil deals. But Chinese have been investing long term and very cleverly in this technology that don’t necessarily get the results right away, but they are not for wars.

The U.S. have always been for wars, from Vietnam to the Iraq war and Yemen. So, there are different mindsets here. And I think the Chinese are winning the long run because the United States, they don’t have the same stamina. They cannot fight (wars) forever. There will be a collapse of their economy if they keep on only depending on selling weapons and only certain types of technology.

Potential for change

I mean, I do not want to leave you all with this dark themed ending. The real situation we have now is that technology, with all its negatives and positives, are a conduit. Eventually they are in the hands of individuals and we can use them in whatever way we see fit that serves our purposes. But then when you look back in history, you realize that those who you abused technology did that without us knowing whether that technology would be useful or not in the long run. And so, there is this a very popular saying that humans generally tend to underestimate the long-term impact of technology and overestimate the short-term impact with the Internet. And there is also this notion of decentralized blockchain solutions as having maybe a short-term impact in the way that they are facilitating cash transfers as the case of Bitcoin.

But the long-term impact might even be much more drastic in the sense that it would facilitate to some degree. Decentralisation of communication, as well as storage of data and also leading to a revolution in terms of smart contracts. They basically automate execution of contracts. You can actually have this contract with all its points embedded into a particular piece of code that would then be stored in a box. And so, it becomes permanent. So, these things are rather ambitious on the surface, and they can be used positively to make things much fairer and have people get what they expect without it, say, meddling or intervention by third parties. But they can equally lead to unpredictable things, for example, to the shrinking of the labour market for regular jobs that end up being useless because everything can be done automatically through code.

Technology is evolving, so if I were to explain the process of censorship moving from extreme rigid blocking to surveillance. This in itself is a story, autocracy or authoritarianism has braced or evolved its ways to control. That’s one thing. And equally, technologists and activists need to also evolve in ways so that they can catch up and blockchain is one way in which they can experiment, because it has this possibility of escaping centralised rule.

So, there is a lot to digest.

We’ll wait and see how things evolve.

END

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ESRA’A AL SHAFEI

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ESRA’A INTRO

My name is Esra’a Al Shafei. I’m from Bahrain, where I still currently live, and I’m the founder and director of Majal.org. Majal is the Arabic and Persian word for ‘giving away’ or ‘creating an opportunity’, it’s MAJAL.org. For the last 30 years, Majal has served as a network of digital platforms that amplify marginalized and underrepresented voices.

Esra’a’s caricature!

HOW IT STARTED

I first started it as Mideast Youth and that was in 2006. I started it because I really felt that there was a major gap in how young people in the Middle East, how we communicated with each other. How often times you saw in the blogosphere, Arabs were writing primarily for Arab audiences, Kurds were writing primarily for Kurdish audiences, and we were all really still very separated and isolated from one another.

So, the idea behind Mideast Youth is that we were going to have a group community, where we have all kinds of ethnic and religious minorities; people with all kinds of political and social beliefs and sharing the platform to talk about our everyday lives.

It was at the very beginning, very difficult to attract an audience. We started working for it was on a monthly basis. We had to go from one community to another, asking if this is something that they would like to be a part of. And most people were really excited about that they liked the idea of sharing an environment sharing a platform, rather than having a personal site because for a lot of people they also were having an issue creating an audience for one specific blog. So, when we combined all of these voices in one place, we started seeing that the traffic was tremendous, the opportunity to create podcast, videos, campaigns together were a lot more effective than if we were working very individually.

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What it Mideast Youth was

It was really just a WordPress blog. At the time, we didn’t have many developers that we were working with but even the blogging format itself was very restricted. So, I had to learn how to develop WordPress themes how to develop plug ins. And I started creating a very interactive format, because we didn’t want people to feel bored by words. A lot of people felt that there were a lot of long articles. There wasn’t a lot of interactivity going on. So, we had to incorporate video.

We started working on animations. We started doing satirical videos. We started actually doing comics. And the comics were very popular. We were doing it in Arabic, Farsi and English. It was very satirical, and people liked that — they liked that humour.

They just were really excited to be a part of something different at the time. And that’s exactly how we started attracting a bigger audience, it was because it was very unique, it was very home-grown. It was very easy to get along with other authors, because everybody wanted to get their word out.

If somebody wanted to appear in a podcast, and they didn’t know how to do it. there were always people available to help with production. This was during a time in 2006 before Twitter, before Facebook was really huge. Before there were a lot of you know interactive ways for people to communicate. Because to be interactive, you really needed to be a developer, to understand how to integrate them, and how to use them.

The funding was hard. Myself, and another partner of mine, that was sort of volunteering his time, we got together, and we started doing development work for our clients.

All the money that we got we put back into the website. That’s really how I got the hosting funded. That’s really how I started getting more support with design and development for myself, to make sure that we weren’t doing just everything, but there were a lot of things that I wanted to do that I was not capable of developing because I simply didn’t know.

So, I was able with that money to hire more people to help me build out this platform to something a lot more robust, a lot more accessible.

Yeah, that’s really how it took off.

All the users were co-creators I was really managing the platform itself. I was also blogging actively, but I wasn’t the main blogger. There were a lot more authors that were far more active than them myself. We then had editors. We had availability in three languages; English, Arabic and Farsi. English and Arabic were the ones that were most used for the region because a lot we had at least 30 percent of our authors were Kurdish. And we had maybe 10 percent Turkish. Then we had maybe 20 percent Iranian, and 40 percent Arab.

For them to really communicate effectively the common language was English. Although there were also a lot of Arabs and Kurds who spoke either Farsi or Arabic, as well or Kurdish, and they were able to kind of move from one platform to the other.

And we did a lot of translations as well, because sometimes there would be an beautiful article written in Farsi that we wanted to make accessible around the world, because it was also not just a way for all of us to communicate with each other, but also a way for the world to understand what young people in the Middle East, in their diversity, how they were thinking.

We were battling so many different stereotypes, not just from within, especially with government propaganda which was really pitting us against each other in a very political and strategic way. We had to fight that, by owning our own voices, by making sure that nobody was going to hijack our narrative, and really being forceful in making sure that everybody equally had a voice, regardless of your race, ethnicity, your religion.

This was really important for us. We just were fighting a tremendous amount of propaganda, where they say members of the Baha’i faith are spies, members of the Kurdish community are militants and terrorists. It was very important for us to understand where this hostility was coming from and making sure that as young people, we didn’t replicate it in each other and in our communities.

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On Women

It was maybe 60 percent women and 40 percent men. We always naturally attracted more women for some reason. The entire team is women now. I think women always felt the responsibility to speak up, the need to speak up. There is a lot of strength and courage in women, that I think is sometimes underestimated.

I think we had more to prove in a way, because we were always disregarded. I, for example always applied for jobs in the technology industry, and they said “we only wanted male developers to apply” and this really was hurtful obviously, but that’s really what made me want to pursue web development.

I had I felt I had things to prove for myself, but also things to prove to society. It was very difficult at the time for women founders to get any funding for a Start-Up for example, because a lot of the funding was going for male owned businesses. Back then it was the discrimination was very clear amongst investors. They will give away a million spread around 40 different women. Whereas, it’s very easy for a male founder to raise 50 for one Start-Up. So, there’s still a huge disproportion when it comes to the way capital is being spent.

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On MidEastunes

One of the projects I’m currently working on is called MidEastunes, Midesast Tunes. M I D E A S T U N E S dot com. which has now become the largest web and mobile application for independent musicians in the Middle East and North Africa, who use music as a tool for self-expression and social justice advocacy.

We have over 2050 artists, we have shared more than 12000 individually produced songs and tracks — all originals. It’s the largest platform for its kind in the independent space, but it still is incredibly difficult to find for it and no one really takes it seriously as a Start-Up. And I think one of the reasons is it is very much a women run.

We get a lot of requests because on our about page we don’t say who the founders are. We don’t say it’s women run. The focus is really on the artists themselves. The majority of which are women. As soon as we speak with potential investors, in the region or donors, they get discouraged by the fact that it’s founded in Bahrain, rather than a place like Dubai, and run by women, rather than the typical you know male founders that you would usually find.

SOUND: 5. TAMTAM IM SORRY MAN SAMPLE.wav

Mideastunes vision

The other thing is that we’re very vocal about the fact that we are here, to ensure self-expression. We don’t want to be the next Spotify. We don’t want to compete in the music industry. We want to make sure that music is accessible and not censored, because right now for example for Spotify, for Apple Music for all of them to be present in the region they have to censor content.

That means that you don’t hear many songs that are about LGBT youth. You don’t hear many songs about religious freedom, about gender identity. This is something that is available very prominently, on MidEastunes, and something that we’re proud of hosting, where they get rejected on other music platforms because they’re too political, because they’re too controversial, so they don’t get hosted. But for us that’s exactly where we want to make sure that their voices are heard. Because this is a way for us to bypass censorship or surveillance through creative means.

We have maybe 400,000 or so across the region. But that’s only people who’ve signed up. That’s not including people just come in stream for free because it’s 100 percent accessible. A lot of free users are in places like Iraq, are at places like Libya, where they can’t afford, you know, to pay a subscription fee. So, there’s a lot of models that are applied by music platforms that are actually completely irrelevant because then it’s only the privileged people with access to a credit card that can actually listen to music.

We have an offline listening model as well, where you don’t have to be connected to the Internet. You go in and once it loads up, that’s it, you can listen offline for as many times as you want. And this helps for people who are in places like Gaza for example.

It was very important for us to find models about ‘how do we make this as accessible as possible?’ and as inviting as possible for young artists who are not quite production masters, but they’re starting out and they’re using music as a way to share their stories and their personal experiences. And a lot of musicians talk about trauma. For example, created bands in refugee camps. They created bands and situations where they’re facing warfare, they’re in conflict zones where they’re facing complete and utter destruction of their properties and their homes and their livelihoods, and they turn to music as a way to cope, in places like the Middle East and other situations where they’re constantly faced with political and environmental instability, music becomes a way for them to reconnect. With their past with their present, to ensure that they have a hopeful future and many of the songs are very uplifting.

They are there to tell people don’t give up and we have the right to be happy. We have the right to live with dignity. And change will come and happiness will come, and a lot of young people listen to this and they’re very excited by that, because every day we’re faced with bad news, with news of destruction, with news of poverty, dealing with these situations and these economic disasters where people are losing their homes, they’re losing their lives, they’re being imprisoned for expressing themselves.

Music has really lifted a lot of people from that kind of hopelessness.

SOUND: 6. TAMTAM WONT GIVE UP.wav

On documentary film

So, we created a short documentary film about the intersection of music and social change in Palestine, and it basically follows five musicians in their everyday journeys, and why they turn to music as a way to cope with their everyday lives.

The film is called ‘From Beneath the Earth’ and right now we have showed it at several festivals especially those that are dedicated to Palestinian cinema and film making and it’s going to be available online pretty soon. But right now, it’s mostly just a trailer that’s available. One of the reasons we didn’t create it online is because we’re also looking for a funder or a sponsor to help us develop the page to put this all into context to do more production work so that this can actually become a series. The next ones we hope to have is in Saudi Arabia. and Jordan. So, we don’t want just to end it there in Palestine. but we want to go country to country and really show the world what young independent musicians are doing,

Please Vote!

We get so upset when we see that other people have the right to vote in a genuine election and not use that right. Because that’s what you when you end up with a situation for example. People said don’t worry about Trump. It doesn’t concern you. Of course, it concerns us. We’re thinking now about a potential war in Iran.

We think when people elect a president in the U.S. they’re not just electing a president for the US, they’re electing a an individual that has the capability to override Congress. to override any other decision and create a war.

The weapons industry is massive. And so, you see a war in Yemen, then you see a war again in Iraq. And then you see a continued war. I mean it just constantly going on and on and all these proxy wars. And in Syria. Who’s paying the price for all of this? Innocent civilians. And so, it’s very upsetting for us when people abroad don’t take the right to vote seriously or abstain from voting because they should really understand the foreign policy. How is this going to impact not just people in that country but the entire world, because security is not the same thing from one place to the other.

I don’t think future generations can ever forgive what happened because they would be the ones mostly paying the price. But we are in some way. but I really fear for what’s about to come. We will leave the next generation with absolutely nothing.

On Environmental issues

Young and young people in the Middle East are becoming more and more aware of climate change; of environmental issues. Now we see a lot of young people really advocate for things like plastic waste or for things like water and air pollution.

The unfortunate thing is that young people also have a lot of fear and anxiety speaking about these issues because of the large powerful corporations often receive funding and support directly from the government.

So, censorship is not only for political content or political expression or political debates or religious debates but really a lot of it is also about the environment. You can’t challenge any corporation or factory that is run by the government because it is seen as you’re threatening their authority and it is seen that you’re criticising the government; criticising any government for not doing enough to protect people.

For them that is threatening enough. And it makes it very difficult for people to be encouraged to talk about these things.

The other issue is grants. Young people do not receive grants because donors don’t want to support controversial things, which is so unfortunate that the environment can be seen as controversial. It’s not nothing to do with regime change, it’s nothing to do with dictatorship. That is for no matter what we do no matter what form of government we have. The environment is the only constant we have and it’s not being respected at all.

And for this reason, it does become harder for young people to take it upon themselves to take action. But more and more they are trying to figure out a way to collaborate with the government, so that they are not seen as dissidents, so they’re not seen as revolutionaries or rebellious, because they would have to pay the price for that depending on how vocal they are.

So, we also have a lot of different challenges and obstacles when it comes to who can sign up to become a legal entity. A lot of environmental entities every year are rejected by the government because they’re not seen as necessary or they’re seen as they would be a threat or contrary to what the government wants you to do. So I have many friends and colleagues who have started environmental entities and even consulting firms and trying to do so much around this topic who have been rejected and their bank accounts frozen. Oftentimes they’re not able to accept any grants and they’re not able to have any sort of partnerships. So the road is blocked there and I think a lot of people don’t sometimes understand the challenges that come with speaking up. It’s not that young people are not aware the awareness is there and it’s becoming more and more apparent. But the issue is whether or not they have the permission to be able to do all of this.

And a lot of young people don’t want to do it with a risk. They want to do it properly. They want to do it lawfully. They want to do it with the assistance of local schools. They want the assistance of government officials to make sure that they’re that their speech is protected that we’re able to criticize a factory for polluting our seas and it doesn’t matter who owns this factory if it’s government or not that we have the right to criticize because it’s impacting our water we have the cancer rates are very huge in the Gulf region in particular the waste is enormous. We see it in our sea. We see it in our drinking water, the lack of filtered water where everybody just imports water bottles and increases the toll on our plastic waste.

So, I mean it’s a disaster really.

On Optimism

I have to be optimistic, because optimism is what keeps you going at the end. It’s if you have the huge responsibility to speak up for injustice you can’t be pessimistic because otherwise, you’re not doing this work. I’m optimistic because I knew from the very beginning that this work was always going to come with a huge amount of challenges. This is a lot of hard work and it’s a lot of resources. It takes an emotional toll, it takes a financial toll because oftentimes we end up funding this work ourselves due to lack of resources. It’s very taxing.

Internet Voices – LGBTQ

I would argue that we have slightly less homophobia in the region because we have access to platforms and tools that enable us to hear the voices of the LGBTQ communities where they are coming out and to and telling their stories about how they were abused about how they’re persecuted and judged simply for who they are. And it makes it very hard for people to hate something that they don’t understand, just because the government said this is a western phenomenon and it’s disgusting and it’s unIslamic and it’s all of these different things.

Well now you have a lot of people who are very active Muslims and they’re also identify as being part of the queer community. And that was very important for a lot of people to truly understand what this community was all about.

SOUND: 7. TAMTAM Stand Together-Solidarity Sample.wav

Migrant workers

We have a significant amount of migrant workers in the Gulf who are literally enslaved, not just abused but really enslaved on a daily basis, due to something called the sponsorship system, or the Kafala system, which gives their employers ownership over them. This is a completely legal thing that is still active in our societies and this is something that we have to document and fight.

The migrant community, the majority of them are from Southeast Asia, primarily India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. But where the domestic workers a lot of them also come from Indonesia from the Philippines and more and more we are seeing it from Uganda from Kenya. So it’s very diverse, but they all share very similar challenges, and some Embassies are more active than others, but a lot of the time unfortunately they are left to their own devices. A lot of migrant workers come out of desperation and after being recruited by a lot of rogue recruiters who are taking advantage of them, and it’s really difficult for them to fight for their rights when they’re being abused in this way and what they’re taking advantage of.

And we see a lot of reluctance now for people to just accept things as they are because when we go and write their stories, when people see these videos of workers talking about how they were stuck for 20 years without their families how they’re starving how they’re constantly living in poverty how they’re unable to get access to their documentation. Raped, beaten, sexually harassed abused forgotten or even sometimes their very own embassies abandoned them, and they were just there living on the streets with nothing with no access to their family, with no way for them to ever go back home.

On persistence

This is very important for us because well when we brought these stories two to life when we started documenting them and we haven’t done this for 13 years. It took 10 years for people to listen you know– only 10 years. So sometimes people don’t understand the need for persistence, because when you’re that persistent when you’re that consistent, also, in the work that you do, people eventually have to listen to you.

And have to listen to the cause and have to listen to these voices that have been ignored for so long. So, a lot of the times people tend to think especially nowadays with new media is oh well if the campaign doesn’t succeed in three months we just move on or we move on to a different theme or move on to a different topic. But that’s not how change really happens at the core. We might change one or two stories we might save one or two lives but at the end of the day are we challenging the system the status quo that enables this in the first place for that to happen. We need a decade would be two decades.

We need a lot of consistency, consistency and a lot of persistence and this type of work which is exhausting.

I’m not saying that all of us should go on the frontline and fight and risk our life but there are many ways to do that while remaining within the limits.

SOUND: 8. TAMTAM IN THE END SOLIDARITY SAMPLE.wav

On resilience

In the context of human rights resilience means supporting all communities equitably. That includes the

sharing of resources and technology needed to bring communities sustainably out of poverty, and to effectively

recover from a crisis. And to do so not on their behalf, but rather in an inclusive manner to ensure that their needs and voices are not hijacked in the process.

Middle Eastern youth have developed a different identity than what it was before. Whereas before we actually embraced anonymity and now you see a lot of young people actually embrace their connectivity you know showing their faces to the world. Video blogging is really massive in the region. Podcasting, snapchatting is really huge. And so, you see a lot of interaction. More so than it was before.

But the interesting thing is that there’s also kind of two separate identities as well. There is an identity that they would take on in public and there would be an identity they take on in private, where they’re more expressive and more political. And you see a lot of people sharing political thoughts back and forth all the time and the main thing about that is that you actually see people be arrested for private discussions; for discussions they’ve had on Facebook messages, or WhatsApp, and that only shows the power of surveillance and the power of censorship. Oftentimes you don’t need to use the Internet to be publicly present, and to be very vocal but sometimes, just having that one on one conversation is enough to land you behind bars. So it’s very difficult for people to draw the line.

I think people are speaking up. I think access to the Internet is encouraging and enabling people to speak up and have a voice and have a really strong presence and to be able to control their stories and their narratives and that gives me hope because it means that we can no longer allow propaganda to get away with lies to get away with abuse to get away with persecution because we are actively calling it out. We are documenting it, and we are hoping to correct it. And the most important thing that comes out of all of this is solidarity.

There is a lot of hopefulness because now people understand.

SOUND: 9. TAMTAM SOLIDARITY OUTRO.wav

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CREDITS

SOUND: TANYA SUMMER GARDEN

TANYA:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature podcast, ON CONNECTED VOICES.
You can find more information on our guests and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast

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

We are also fundraising on panteon.com/nordicbynature.

The music and sound have been arranged by Diego Losa. You can find Diego on diegolosa.blogspot.com

Many thanks also to Esra’a Al Shafei and Walid Al Saqaf. You can contact Esra’a via mideastunes.com and Walid via Södertörn university in Sweden.

TamTam is on mideastunes.com, as well as Spotify and Apple Music.

If you would like to find out more about nature-centred mindfulness, please the work of Ajay Rastogi on foundnature.org.

You can also follow the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature on Facebook, and on Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast, so please email me, Tanya, on nordicbynature@gmail.com

END

Episode 9: ON ART

Simple Landing page: https://share.transistor.fm/s/4ae3f02b

Direct download of mp3: https://media.transistor.fm/72c1084f.mp3

Introduction:

TANYA’S VOICE:

Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a feature length podcast on ecology today inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology. In this episode, ON ART you will hear the voices of two Norwegian artists, Catrine Gangstø and Laila Kolostyák. Catrine and Laila are committed to using ART as a meeting point for engaging the local community in thinking about equity, identity and our inner and outer natural worlds.

But first you will hear a few words from my colleague Ajay Rastogi, at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. Ajay works closely with the women of Majkhali village in foothills of the Himalayas, in Uttarakhand, India. He set up the Vrikshalaya Centre there to be a meeting place and knowledge hub for the villagers and other communities in the Himalayan lowlands, as well as visitors and homestay guests interested in learning about more meaningful forms of sustainability.

Catrine Gangstø is the founder of the Peace Painting Foundation, that runs painting workshops for children, youth and adults all over the world, including war zones. Through her idea of Painting for Peace, Catrine has engaged over 3,000 workshop participants and many more through travelling exhibitions of their work. Catrine has proven that painting can be a safe space for sharing difficult experiences and emotions as well as a way to communicate hopes and desires for peace in the world.

Then we hear from Laila Kolostyák, a visual artist who works with snow and ice. Laila and her colleagues have engaged a whole generation of young people in creating and enjoying outdoor snow and ice experiences that culminates in the Borealis festival in Alta, which lies 375 km north of the Arctic Circle.

I hope you have time to sit back and enjoy listening!

Peace paintings from Norway

AJAY: My name is Ajay Rastogi, and I’m joining from the central Himalayan region of Uttarakhand state in India.

It’s a lovely sunny morning and we have the mountain views of the high Himalayas in a very spectacular way. And that reminds me of the work of Katrina and Laila, as they do in Norway and all across the world, with the children as well as with all age groups, inspiring the people to connect with the art.

It’s a bit of a concern that art is increasingly thought of as something which is only about creativity and not as something which fills us with joy or something that we need to do as a part of our daily schedules are something that we need to connect with in a deeper way. As a community because somehow the distinction of work what should be there vs. what is leisure is somehow the art has shifted to the world of leisure whereas what we feel is that art and innovation and creativity was a part of our every walk of life.

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

We did it in food and we did it with clothing. We did it with the shelter. We were very deeply connected in how we can have a community deeply connected with the landscape drawing resources from the landscape and making them artistically feasible for us to enjoy. And in a very communitarian way. Somehow, we feel that it’s the art which brings a lot of cooperation and collaboration. Art is also the measure of expression when we create works of art with natural Lord and in nature. Then I think we are definitely also a lot of harmony in more leaning. So there is a considerable amount of happiness and joy.

So, I think engineers can create art. Doctors can create art. Lawyers can create art financial people can create art. Art also creates us. We don’t just create the art. And I think that’s where we get in deeper in connection with ourselves with our bodies with our minds without emotions and we feel that empathetic connect with the community at large.

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CATRINE INTRO

SOUND: Skype ringing.

Catrine: My name is Catrine Gangstø, and I have grown up in the northern part of Norway. and I am working with peace painting. It’s an Equality Project for Children and Youth. We started in to 2007, locally, but very soon it became international because we had grants from the foreign departments to try out the way of working with children and youth in other countries.

Catrine on holiday in Bindalen, Norway

It’s a lot of years since they had the idea in using colours as the main platform when we work with equality among children and youth. And that is because I can see colours in words. It’s called synaesthesia. I can see colours in words and everything.

I think I was thirty years old when I realised that it was not common to have this skill. When I was a child …for instance if I didn’t like the Colours that occurred on the on the city, I didn’t want to go there. It was the same when everything. It forms my antipathy and sympathy, when I was a child and young woman.

When I was studying art history, teaching and different religions, different beliefs. And then they had this idea to try to make a equality project for children and youth. And using visual art and making texts.

it became a big success locally.

CATRINE ON SEVEN NEEDS

First of all, we always have an inspiration time, where we talk about seven human needs that everyone has, and we knit it into colours, but in the end, we say every colours is in every colours. So it’s open you can connect all you want.

Maybe they just start painting. But we talk about seven human needs as physical needs. emotional needs, and concentration so you can learn, and love and communication, and everyone need to to use their imagination. We talk a lot about this.

Your imagination, everything starts there, and we talk about to make something, make a good environment, to make friendship. Everyone has a need for making things. And then they start painting.

Catrine with Laila in Iran, where they held peace painting workshops for kids of all ages.

CATRINE ON STARTING PAINTING IN WORKSHOPS

We have a method to make them start. For instance. we always use wide brushes in the beginning, and we always have the same size in every board 50 x 70 centimetres, and they are sitting there in front of this quite big board. It’s ‘more easy’ to start. It’s not about the details. It’s about the colours and movements so it’s another way of starting.

CATRINE ON POSITIVE FEELINGS WORKSHOPS

We work with all ages. It can even be children who are two years old and then maybe they have their parents together with them or grandparents. And up to 20 30 years old. It’s very nice to be a mixed group with different ages.

I think it has something to do with the inspiration time we have in the very beginning to make everyone equal.

We focus on the nice things in life. It’s a positive focus.

They also take part in the inspiration time. Which colour do you like just now? Maybe in the evening it may be another colour. Everyone chooses and associates to the colours they choose. Yes. That’s the very beginning. It’s very important for them to take part in the inspiration time and in a way, we get known to each other.

Peacepainting in Iran.

CATRINE ON COLOURS AND MEMORY

We connect the colours to the body in a way.

Colours is visible light. And I always say what can we see when it’s the sun and the rain at the same time and then everyone says the rainbow. And I talk about in our bodies, we have a lot of water up to the shoulders……. In my head I imagine that we have a it becomes a lot of beautiful rainbows in our bodies this just like raindrops increase when it has been raining and the sun is coming and making a lot of diamonds in the trees.

And then we can talk about seven human needs. Everyone has and we connect it to colours. And to the body. Then everyone feels relaxing because we feel equal, and after this session we started, they started to give from their own life experiences, when they start choosing colours one by one.

So for instance one child can choose a colour. And then I say. “Oh, what do you associate with this colour today” and the child says “it this colour it reminds me about A trousers my grandfather used to use and I can see my grandfather is not alive any longer.”

So, you see it’s very personal what they come out with. So when everyone has given an association to the colour they choose. We have quite often we have been through all the human rights in a way.

It’s a kind of de- focused communication.

Yeah it becomes a very good atmosphere.

CATRINE ON HOW MANY PEOPLE?

10 is the best number. That is the very best. Quite often we need one to translate. It goes very well it’s not the big thing, because we are in this abstract language.

CATRINE ON CHILDREN’S  MESSAGES

We have been Refugee camps in Lebanon, and we have had workshops, in other countries with children who lost all their relatives in war. And we can see that children who has this terrible experience in losing or their relatives in war, or some people who were close to them. They are really really wanted their painting to go out in the world. So we bring their painting out in the world and making exhibitions. So, the children and the youth can have the feeling that their messages are being heard in a democracy.

People who are taking big decisions that influence on a lot of people need to hear from children and youth. It’s a good inspiration for children and youth.

I remember one painting it was a really big flower and the earth was….full of zig zag – very hard. And the painting was called “to rise from the darkness” so it was it was really easy to see that the children really wanted to look forward to the future.

Peace Painting workshop in Iran, 2019

CATRINE ON DE-FOCUSSED THERAPY

It’s a kind of therapy, but we do not focus on it. Every time a painting is painted. It is a mirror.

And they are sharing what they have inside to the rest of the world, and they feel that “I have something important inside” that that people really appreciate.

So that is the environment we are making the workshop.

AMBIENT SOUND: 3. Kids-playing outside.wav

Art is a very good subject to use as a tool.

What if equality could be the normal way in acting and forming systems on the earth? It would be so interesting to see what would happen with um Ecology with Nature, with the wars and so on.

It’s so amazing to see who a like people are all over the world, and what they want to describe, which message they want to give it to each other.

We have been in a lot of different countries and cultures. Tunisia, Lebanon, North Korea, Philippines, and Sri Lanka. Poland, Russia, Portugal, Bulgaria, Finland.

It’s very alike, all over the world.

9.07.

SOUND BRIDGE TO LAILA

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LAILA INTRO

Well my my name is Laila, last year. I’m an artist and I live in Finnmark, Northern Norway, in a little village outside Alta,. [00:04:51][9.7]

ON ALTA CITY PARK

I am working with the Alta city centre making an ice park at the moment.

I involve a lot of people in the projects like schoolchildren. 16 years old, everybody in Alta at that age make an ice sculpture. From the transport they move the ice, and then the builders build with the ice, and then professional artists and then, friends and sculptors from Russia come in to the project, and there are volunteers, there are people, who call me.

There is an architect office, all of a sudden is just growing and growing and growing, and what we’re doing is we are actually creating a park where you can spend time out of doors.

Little by little winter tourism has become very important. So, now there are tourists come along, they also sometimes ask if they can help and they participate.

And so it’s like this become this kind of meeting point, the whole park, of lots of people, and we start already working outside in January, and it’s finished in 7th of March.

And it is sort of growing and sometimes I don’t even know how many people are working there. So it’s interesting. But the main thing when I started the project was I think Alta should be a nicer place. The winter is really long and I used to really hate living here because it was so cold.

DIEGO ICE SOUNDS
ON ALTA END OF EUROPE

 

Alta has two months of polar nights from from November until end of January. It is really dark with no sunshine. And we are five hundred kilometers approximately above the Arctic Circle, and Alta is situated by the fjord, not far from the Arctic Sea from the Barent Sea so it’s quite far north. And this 3 hours drive and you end up at North Cape.

So that’s the end of Europe. So you can’t get further north in Europe.

DIEGO ICE SOUNDS

Yeah So that’s where I live. You know sort of on the edge of Europe really cold

Laila On Play

When I was a child I loved being outside. I just. And I was never too cold because of course you have lots of sensible clothes on. So you just enjoy being out of doors. And snow and ice have for an artist and for a child has enormous potential for play and for fun.

You know you can create and you can build really fast, really big, or you can create little things and you can do what you want and you’re using your body all the time you are working so you get tired, but then you start again you rest a little bit and then it’s like, um,I don’t know. It’s really fun. People ask Why are you doing it? Why are you working like this? You are a grown up woman. Playing in the snow.

That’s the only way I can live here actually!

On not liking the cold.

You know I left Alta because just because I hated the cold, I went to Paris when I was 19, Working as an au pair in a family. It took me twelve years before I came back to Alta to live here.

Yeah first I was living in England. A little bit in in Holland, in Hungary, In Oslo, I was living in Bergen, and then I went to Lofoten and so little by little I returned to the north. But I was really really dreading the cold winter and the only thing I was thinking was I was longing to go away. And what can I do inside?

And then somebody asked me “Would you like to participate in an ice sculpting workshop?” And I said No, no I’m an artist, you know Ice is not a serious material for an artist.

Then I went anyway. And then they gave me this kind of really thick clothes like children wear, you know like a whole suit. Now really thick and big. And we went to this lake and there were people from the Ice Hotel in Sweden doing this ice course.

And they gave me this tool, really sharp tool.

And then there was the ice and then I just remember the first the sound of cutting into the ice. This “shhh” it was just amazing. It was just like hooked immediately because this has it’s such a nice feeling of just the movement of with a sharp tool into the ice.

And then all of a sudden ice transformed, it became really interesting.

ON THE MATERIAL OF ICE

I started to look at it differently, I thought you know it was first of all it’s interesting as a material because you could see on both sides. At the same time all the environment around it is reflected into the ice. So if you put an ice sculpture outside then all Nature is reflected into it.

Sculpting snow

 

And then when I was working more with ice I was started to reflect on the fact that it is water. You know it’s life. I am 70 percent water. This is hundred percent water. So it is only 30 percent difference between this block of ice and me. And every life is dependent on water.

So… So it came in a way from being a material that I didn’t take seriously it became a material that I don’t think there is any material as interesting for an artist.

And then the changes all the time with temperature lit… Slight changing time in change in the temperature. And it goes from ice to water, from and it’s all the time. From being concrete form to vapor, you know.

That’s why you when you put things in a deep freeze and you have to cover it cover it otherwise it dries out. So ice is drying out all this time, it disappears in front of your eyes.

Ice from Nature

In Alta we are so fortunate that it’s so cold that we go to a lake, and we take out the ice from the lake. So we don’t have to produce it. I mean the nature is producing it for us. [00:13:32][11.2]

The way the ice look like it. It depends on the temperature, that winter or that month. Before you take it out you can take it out when this really is day and night or leave it until the March is it up thicker and you can even take care of the ice so that it will grow thicker, and you can take off the snow that protects the ice. And then if you don’t take away the snow then the snow can push down the ice into the water and the water will come up and will form white ice on top.

So you’ve got two qualities of ice. Ice is all the time moving because there are forces, big forces is ice when it’s created. So there are cracks there are bubbles that little fish, even you could find leaves, and dog shit, whatever.

The water is never the same. You can take it out from a river.

The North

1000 YEARS BACK

And then when you take the ice out then you can look at it and you can see Ah it’s been a cold winter or it’s been a mild winter and then you will see that’s yeah.

You Can see that. And then that’s how they can read. You know in Greenland when they drill big holes or in the Antarctic, to to do research, on one winter, you know. So we got one winter and we create from one winter. But they they have you know they can see 1000 years back and see how the climate the temperature and they can measure it. So it’s interest… So there are stories in the ice, you know.

Temperature

I check the temperature every day several times a day. What kind of weather would it be and what I look at is is not if it’s windy or snowing or is it above or is it below minus. I don’t want to see the red. I don’t want it to be warm in the winter.

So because it means as an artist because it since we are working outside that our things that melting so that we have to try to protect it or whatever. And I can remember my childhood in March. Maybe I’m wrong but this is kind of memory I have that it used to be minus 10 during the day and minus 20 during the night.

This is sort of my memory and we didn’t. I remember because it wasn’t until end of March we would go up into the mountain, go skiing because it would be too cold to go skiing very far. So we will stay. Not so far from the house. And every single weekend I used to go skiing with my parents in the mountains. But we didn’t do that. We didn’t do that in March because March was too cold. And then now when I look, you know March is sometimes you have 8 degrees you can have like a warm spell in February. Eight degrees, really really really warm, maybe for a week sometimes, but not every year is like that. But that’s sort of the occasional year. And I can’t remember that from before you know.

And since I’m working with ice I’m really really sensitive all the time you know how what what is the weather like tomorrow.

DIEGO SOUNDS WARMING

In Kirovsk, Orenburgskaya Oblast’, Russia.

LAILA: [00:18:26] What I can see is that you’ve got trees growing higher up. Little by little there are new trees coming higher up right there before there were just mountains and rocks. So you can see trees are growing faster and higher. So it is getting warmer. It is getting warm. You can see that. [00:18:42][15.7]

ON PREVIOUS PROJECTS

9.00. As an ice artist, I remember when I really really took it it was actually when I brought 15 tons of ice to Copenhagen, in 2004. That was supposed to be the coldest week in Copenhagen. You know they used to have cold winters in Copenhagen before. [00:19:02][4.9]

So we would do this ice project doing Sami manifestations of Sami artists in Copenhagen. So we created it but it was so hot it was so hot the whole time. And it was like 12 degrees and just that night until the morning the wind has changed and shaped the ice and it was just disappearing but at the same time it was really beautiful. So then I started to interest in melting ice. You know what is happening to the ice that is melting. ´

And then I got into reading about the Tundra and I did a project for a festival outside Paris where I brought twelve tons of ice to Paris. It was next to Paris, to a city called Lime. And I made an ice circle of twelve tons of ice.

It was six metre diameter, and then put earth on top, and grass on top and it was melting.

Even it. It was 24 degrees on the opening night. It took like a month to to melt. And then a year after when I came back I could see the change of the different grass that was growing up.

Because the grass that we had left on top people would be stealing. You know so. So. And so when the ice was gone people took the grass and brought it back to the back gardens. And it was like a year after. There was a circle of new grass.

Sculpture from Crazy Saw Ice sculpting competition. Team- the Ice Queens!

Laila on how she started.

My first year I was doing ice sculpture, with just one star made of ice. I just remember I made a star. And that was my first ice sculpture. At the time because I just moved back to Alta, I didn’t have a studio. And I wish I had a studio, and I had all these plans in my head. I need to build a studio, you know. When everybody else had left the lake, I took the last block of ice, and I carried it back to my car, it was quite a big block of ice and drove home. And then I took my shovel and then I shovelled outside in a big heap a snow. And then I put on some lights. I put this block of ice, I put on the radio, and I said I got my studio, but a studio outside.

I don’t need to build a studio. I already got a studio outside.

DON’T LIKE THE COLD continued

All of a sudden I realised that it wasn’t the cold I was hating. I really liked the cold. I didn’t like ‘being’ cold. It’s really simple you know because that’s what people don’t like. They don’t like being cold. But if you is it’s it’s the clothing that’s important that you have good shoes you covered with wool underneath and you have proper clothes and then and then you are free when you’re outside. You can sit down on the ground, you can lie in the snow, or you can do whatever you want, you can sit on the terrace and have a glass of wine, you don’t have to sit inside, you can look at the stars and the Northern Lights or whatever.

There is always light!

THERE IS LIGHT continued

I remember I came back from Paris just before Christmas and my son came to get me at the airport. Well when I said to him driving through the snow covered landscape and there were stars and a little Northern Lights and God it’s light, it’s really really light, and he said “Mom it’s not like it’s dark.” There is no sun. It’s dark. And I said No no you compare compared to anywhere in Europe now it is really dark. It’s really dark. It’s black because all snow makes it light. You can see the landscape even when it’s dark.

This reminds me of my grandmother and I used to go into her house when I was little and she would sit in the darkness complete darkness, during the dark period. You know the polar night period and I wouldn’t. I would ask my grandmother why are you sitting here in the darkness and he said. Come come have a look. If when I’m in the darkness I can see the little light outside.

And if I put on the light I don’t see anything.

The snow and ice project, it gives sort of an identity to the young people, so that now everybody expects that when they are in 16 years old they’re supposed to do an ice sculpting course, one that the high school building department Transport Department they all enjoy and the art department they all take part, in this creating of the festival As long as well as professionals.

THIS YEAR- THE RIVER & ALTA AKTION

And this year we are doing a project about the river. Elva and that’s because this year it is the year of the wild salmon.

And then I thought that would be good to focus on the river, you know. The river is all cultures, you know agriculture, people’s lives are from the river. So we are making a big river going through the park full of live from from the mountain plateau. Until the fuel within the fjord will be an ice skating rink and it is also voyage from the Sami drum, until the fight, for the Alta river, Alta Aktion that was here in the 70s, ‘80s.

For five years there was this big battle against building out the river. Eventually they lost but the sound we gained. Well we as a Sami we gained our Parliament Sami Parliament.

Laila with her colleagues with Elisabeth Kristensen and Mari Charlotte Bottolfsen in Kirovsk, Murmanskaya Oblast’, Russia.

2019-2020 The river project and copper mining

The Norwegian government just decided to put a lot of waste from our copper mine decided to give permission to copper mining company can put it in the field not so far from here yeah. A copper mine in it up of yours. And then you think. How is it possible today with all the knowledge that we have. Do we need this copper so badly that we cannot think where to put the waste? Even if it’s a bit more expensive.

I think this river project that we’re doing, maybe people will think well it’s it’s still an issue, because we’re dealing with the environmental battle from the river of Alta. And this happened when I was young and you know so my father he was working for the environmental organisation. He brought me to do all these demonstrations and manifestations against building out the river. ALTA AKTIONEN no you should read it.

DIEGO SOUND

Life is diversity! 

In Alta. There is a tradition for having a big market twice a year in do in November and in March exactly when the festival is so traditionally the Sami would come from the mountains.

To sell their stuff and the Russians would come and we would all meet and we. And now today is exactly the same. A lot of people from Russia come to sell their products and there are the Sami people selling their handicrafts or local produce, and making teas, or meat, or Thai people making making.

And there there is a guy in the van. He’s selling kebab. And I think he’s from Syria. After the meeting of the Samis, the Norwegian and then the Kvan, the Finnish people. So it’s a meeting on. The basis of the local people here are are a mix of people. We had a really long time ago. No now we got people I don’t know from 40 different nations living in Alta.

The identity of a place

When I talk about identity for me what’s interesting is is what happens now, that we can we can share and we share. We share the cold, you know doesn’t matter what kind where your father came from. If you live here it is cold, and You have to deal with the cold.

——————————————

Neighbours.

15.40 We also have been working a lot with Russian artists and this year. We also will have Russian students coming from the Arts School on Murmansk. So it’s really I’m really happy for that because in a time when when you are not so you we are all the time looking for faults. And how we cannot cooperate. I think it’s even more important for artists and people to actually to connect and try to still work

We have to to create a better future. It’s not possible to close your eyes to your neighbour. Not Possible.

The basis of what we are doing is actually. You know it’s cold. So if it’s if it gets warmer we can’t do this. snow and Ice thing. And it’s really strange because when I was young tourists came to visit the north to see the midnight sun came here. So that was not. There were no tourists at all in the winter period. And now it’s upside down. Because of that I think it is because of the climate change. All of a sudden people are interested in the cold because Europe doesn’t have any long winters anymore. So people come here and and discover that yeah.

We need to take care of the cold.

And for the local people it’s actually a resource, it’s it’s a part of our identity. You know imagine if we didn’t have any winter you know what would we do without the winter before we used to think what we do when we have the winter you know. So it’s it’s turned upside down.

I think the period when you see the most people are out of doors and spending time in the centre is actually during the festival, when we are making snow and ice out when it’s the dog sled race. So it’s one of the year time of the year when we build up everything that there are really a feeling of life. And things are happening otherwise I think it’s quite dead.

Because people staying indoors

20.54

On teaching kids

The most important work is actually you know like the teachers are doing. Or artists working we teach kids you know. That’s the the work that hasn’t got any recognition you know.

So if you are an artist and doing paintings and only thinking about yourself and put them in galleries, then you are a great artist, but if you work with kids, or you work with snow and ice or whatever then then then it doesn’t happen in that way. You see. And therefore I think a lot of artists would avoid exactly working as I do and the kids they’re just there, you know what I think is really really important for any artist to consider where they are, you know and be a part of where they are. I think that’s it’s like it’s like a duty. I feel I have a duty to give back what I’ve been given.

Outside with kids exploring nature

DIEGO SOUND

PLACE IDENTITY – ALTA AND STRANGERS

You know why do I do it? Yeah, I know the reason: I want Alta to be a better place than it was when I was growing up, that’s why I do this, because it’s it has been a very closed place. You you are skeptical to strangers you you’re not supposed to talk to strangers, and all that, and you and I always saw strangers it was the most interesting thing of all!

You know people who didn’t know what they were thinking and they were looking different and they were eating different food. I think all that’s interesting. It makes your life much more rich you know. So I think there’s not enough different people were not allowed to be as different as we are but at the same time we are being different. We are the same.

I really liked the fact that you don’t know who said that a stranger is only a friend that you don’t know yet.

If I was really realistic I wouldn’t let any of what I’m doing who would work with snow and ice and who would work with kids. Kids! You cannot be environmentalist and not think about people not think about the kids.

I think artist and doing art with children is quite important. And then doing it in a way that it resembles Play.

Land Art with children

In the autumn what I did is land art project with kids that were they were seven years old and every day there would be a class coming to the beach area in autumn. There is a beach and a forest is really beautiful. With lots of old pine trees.

And it was quite interesting to see because I have been in France and seen the little children going to the kindergarten, and then where they are in little squares with concrete and they play out and they are dressed like little women and little with skirts and short trousers, also like that in England.

And then you see this little Norwegian children. I think that made me really proud, because they are really sensible dressed, with high boots and and suits to sit on the ground, and they all prepared a little packed lunch, sausages, and they stay outside maybe even if it’s really really cold like it was minus 4 degrees or wind, , sleet and they didn’t complain, you know? They were just getting on with it and then they were grilling our sausages on the bonfire and they had all the equipment that they needed and they were all prepared and they were all really happy being outside.

So I think the kindergarten and teachers in this in the younger age in school are doing a great job with the kids being outside.

Actually I’ve I’ve read that that French kindergartens and and I come and are coming to visit Kindergardens in Norway, just to see how we actually manage to have kids being outside. I mean there are kindergartens and even here in the Arctic there are almost all the time out of doors, almost all day.

——————————

DIEGO SOUND KIDS PLAYING OUTSIDE

STORY OF THE BIRD.

LAILA: We had like a kickoff for the project at the high school with all the builders and the people from the Transport Department….

We invited the historian, to come and talk a little bit about the history of the river so that there were all everybody will have like a little rucksack with information, and and then he was telling me about something I didn’t know, that there is exists Alta. Is this the name of the town now. And the part where I come from it was called Elvabacken, and that it existed an even older name that was called Sortcots, and it’s the name of a bird in Norwegian its called Svennesnipa, so it goes is the name of a bird. 

 It is a bird that migrates. It migrates to the tropics from from from Lapland. And you don’t find this bird in southern Norway or in southern Scandinavia, so it migrates between Lapland and the tropics. And and it’s the woman that is the beauty of it has the nice feathers and she lays the eggs and she leaves the upbringing to the male bird, and she is really bossy, and she is if somebody is attacking, Then she is the one who defends him and the kids. But in the end she leaves and she goes off to the tropics again and she leaves them all the work with him.

And she also has several partners.

So it’s a world where it’s upside down. So it’s a little bit. So I just thought it was really funny that this bird has given the name to the place where I come from.

22.42
—————————————————————

CREDITS

DIEGO SOUND: TANYA SUMMER GARDEN

TANYA’S VOICE:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature, ON ART.

You can find more info on our guests and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast.

Catrine Gangsto’s website is peacepainting.org.

You can find Laila Kolostyák on Facebook, through the website, icecircle.info and her own website, lailakolostyák.com. That is (spells it)

Nordic by Nature is an ImaginaryLife production. We are also fundraising on panteon.com/nordicbynature. Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth and follow us on Instagram @nordicbynaturepodcast.

The music and sound has been arranged by Diego Losa. You can find Diego through his website diegolosa.blogspot.com.

You can read more about Ajay Rasogi’s nature-centered mindfulness and the village homestays on foundnature.org. You also can 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. So please don’t hesitate to email me, Tanya, on nordicbynature@gmail.com

END

 

Episode 8: ON KNOWLEDGE Transcript

Podcast episode 8: ON KNOWLEDGE

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Introduction:

TANYA:

Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a podcast on ecology today inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.

This episode, ON KNOWLEDGE, features two guests who have dedicated their life’s work to enabling marginalised communities protect their own resilience, whilst net-working and lobbying for policy changes around the issue of Food and Nutrition Security, Climate Change, Sustainable Livelihoods, and integrating People’s knowledge into bioregional development.

But first you will hear a few words from my colleague Ajay Rastogi, at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. Ajay works closely with the women of Majkhali village in foothills of the Himalayas, in Uttrakahand, India. He set up the Vrikshalaya Centre there to be a meeting place and knowledge hub for the villagers and other communities in the Himalayan lowlands, as well as foreign visitors and homestay guests interested in more meaningful forms of sustainability.

We then hear from Nadia Bergamini who works at Bioversity International. Nadia also lives on and runs an organic, biodynamic farm together with her husband, in the countryside, outside of Rome.

At Bioversity International, Nadia collaborates with the Satoyama Initiative, helping communities all over the world develop strategies to strengthen their social and ecological resilience, and maintain the diversity of the landscapes’ agro-ecosystems, species and varieties.

You will then hear from Reetu Sogani, women’s rights activist who is working on strengthening and evolving Cultural and biological diversity, and its integration to address Food and Nutrition Security and build Climate Resilience, in the remote areas of Himalayas and other parts of India. Reetu has addressed the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit in New York as one of the 100 women global leaders from across the world.

I hope you have time to sit back, relax and listen.

AJAY RASTOGI

I’m Ajay and calling in from Uttrakhand State. I have been a colleague of Reetu for last 7 years.

We have worked with the local small farmers here and we are aware of the beautiful work of Nadia at the Biodiversity International.

There is so much in the natural world that we are forgetting on a daily basis. The interconnectedness of the species and the knowledge systems within the landscape is something that’s getting diminished every minute, if we can say.

Close to 80 percent of all crop or food diversity is on the brink of extinction. Having said that, it’s a hope that is provided by the work of Nadia and of people like Rita who look at the policy level as well as at the grassroots level. The food cultures, the fibres for our making, our house for making our everyday life.

Things are also getting lost.

Ajay Rastogi at the Vrikshalaya Centre

The big question is, are we only thinking of biodiversity as food or are we thinking of it as a celebration of life? Each seed is life.

Somehow the work that we used to do with our own hands is considered a bit undignified at the moment. And that’s why the connection of the consumers with where the things are produced is getting longer and longer. And there is a certain level of disconnect.

That disconnect is not just about the value of the food. The nutrition of the food. But it’s also a disconnect about how those small farmers survive. What do they need? What is the kind of systems that we need to put in place in those landscapes so that the diversity could continue to flourish?

With the climate change, there is a lot under challenge.

Although the world is waking up at large to address the issue of climate change. But it is the resilience of the knowledge systems that we have for thousands of years. Developed in particular landscapes, those species, those varieties of crops which have survived these thousands of years of evolution in the particular landscapes, they are the ones which will really be the resilient species. And Reetu’s work, and also Nadia’s work speaks of that volumes about it in their experimentation, as well as in how the knowledge is being generated.

The beauty in their work is about experience learning. It’s something which has evolved and is done on the soil by hands together with the farming community.

Ajay Rastogi welcomes to the Vrikshalaya Himalayan centre, the home of the trees!

Often the argument is made that the lands are so fragmented and so small that the farming which can be supported in those lands will not be either viable for the livelihoods of the small farmers. And at the same time will not meet the scale that the growing human population needs to meet its food demands.

However, it seems very unlikely because what we have seen that when we grow diversity in smallholders’ farmers’ fields, there is much more energy production that takes place and much more diversity of food sources that we get out of it even now.

Although we may be claiming that the food culture has converted to industrial supplies and larger value chains of concentration where the food is processed and provided to the urban consumers through supermarkets, even there, if we see where is the production coming from, we find that more than 70 percent of the production is still dominated by small producers, which is being put together and processed.

And then we feel that the scale has been achieved. One of the farmers once mentioned to me and I have never forgotten that sentence. He said whosoever the person, maybe even the president of India, let us see. But he still has to eat three meals a day and that three meals I provide. So that is the level of respect that the small farmer deserves from all of us.

NADIA BERGAMINI

NADIA INTRO

Hello, my name is Nadia Bergamini. And I work as a research specialist for Bioversity International in Rome.

Bioversity International is a Global Research for Development Organisation, ugh, and that is part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. And this group is a partnership of 15 different research centres that work for a food secure future, and these 15 centres collaborate with hundreds of partners across the whole globe.

Biodiversity International’s vision is to have agriculture biodiversity that nourishes people and sustains the planet. So, when we talk about agriculture biodiversity here, we intend the diversity of crops including the wild relatives, including trees, animals, but also microbes, and all the species that contribute to the production in agriculture.

Sound: meditation bell

Nadia Bergamini

NADIA BIODIVERSITY INTRO

So, there’s a lot of diversity within an ecosystem. And we look at diversity from a species, but also from a genetic point of view. So, our mission instead is to deliver the scientific evidence, but also management practices, policy options in order to use and safeguard agriculture and tree biodiversity to attain sustainable global food and also nutrition security.

So basically, we work with the partners in many different countries around the world, mostly low-income countries where agriculture and tree biodiversity can actually contribute to improved nutrition, but also livelihoods, resilience and also productivity, and help in adaptation to climate change.

Usually these low-income countries are also the countries where we find most of the agricultural and tree biodiversity.

NADIA BIODIVERSITY COLLABORATION

Since 2018 December 2018 we have been collaborating with another of these centres which is a Centre for Tropical Agriculture which is based in Cali in Colombia. And we have actually signed a memorandum of understanding to create an alliance. So, the two organisations will actually be working together much more strongly because we have very similar agenda and very similar mandates. So, we actually are going to complement the work of one Institute with the other.

So, this is sort of a future for us as well.

NADIA GLOBAL CHALLENGES– STAPLE FOOD

So why is the work that we do important because we know that the global population is growing, and we have predictions that say that by 2000 10 in 2050 we will be 9 million people in the world or even more. And this means that we need to feed all these people, and the food availability needs to actually expand in this especially in developing countries.

We actually facing a lot of global challenges like the challenge to reduce global malnutrition to adapt to climate change but also to increase as we said productivity and reduce risk, and also to address shrinking food diversity which is happening all over the world, and reduce the negative impacts of agricultural production on natural ecosystems.

And we think that production needs to focus on a diverse range of nutritious foods, which come from production systems that are highly biodiverse. We think that it’s better to increase their production in these type of systems rather than increase the volume of the few staple grains that presently cover 50 percent of the world’s energy intake.

And these grains are rice wheat and maize.

We are actually convinced that using on safeguarding agricultural and also tree biodiversity can help meet all these challenges.

And also, we know that farm households unruly corn wheat communities which are the people we work with have long since used agriculture and tree biodiversity to diversify their diets, to manage pests and disease, and also weather-related stress. The problem is that in the past policymakers and researchers have never considered these types of approaches as economically viable. Research has never gone into this direction or very marginally. But recent scientific evidence that has demonstrated that actually agriculture and tree biodiversity used in combination with novel technology, and also approaches, can offer a lot in addressing all these challenges.

It also brings increasing recognition as a tool to achieve a global sustainable development goals. which we’re all working towards.

NADIA SMALL SCALE PRODUCTION & DIVERSE

We work with agricultural biodiversity, so as I said, we promote small scale production that is highly diverse. So not only diverse in number of species that are that are cultivated, but it could be also diverse in the number of varieties of the same species.

For example, we work a lot with the farmers in Africa who cultivate beans. And what we have seen is that cultivating on the same field, different varieties of beans can actually reduce the impact of pests and diseases on the production systems.

So, we actually promoting genetically diverse systems because they actually much more adapted to climate change because they have a lot of more variety and there’s much more than great opportunity for some of the right varieties to perform well in different environmental conditions.

NADIA ON MILLET

We work a lot also with university and research institutes in these countries. We also work in preparing university curricula on agro-biodiversity. For example, we have a big program on the so called the neglected and under-utilised species which Millet is one of these species.

What we have done in the projects working with the with these species is actually to show what are the advantages for the farmers to cultivate these species, because they are actually proven to be more adapted to marginal environments. So, for example in India we have been working with minor millets and some areas of India are really facing a lot of heat and drought problems. And we have seen that some of these minor millets are really adapted to these environments.

They can thrive under low input and stress stressful growing conditions, that usually limit the productivity of staple crops. And they’re also highly nutritious. So they can actually contribute to healthier diets. And they also have a lot of potential for development as novel consumer products because we also engage with local private sectors and try to find ways to make these produce more attractive to young to young people but also to adults creating new recipes and way of presenting millets, for example in cookies or other plates.

And also, it is important to conserve these neglected and under-utilised species because they are also linked with the local culture and traditions. We know that by strengthening the use of these conservation and the use of these species we are also strengthening local identities. And we also contributing to empower marginalised communities.

NADIA ON LOCAL CULTURE  & WOMEN

Yes, we have a program on, on specifically on gender and trying to see the different roles that men and women play within the agricultural sector in especially in these low-income countries. And we have actually seen that although women often are not included in decision making. They actually play a very important role in managing farms. Women are usually engaged in cultivating the so-called home gardens and there where they usually select different varieties of medicinal plants but also condiments and which actually compliment a lot for the health and also for the diets of the whole household.

And women are also very much involved in selecting seeds. So usually when they have to choose the seeds that they would like to plant for the next season women are involved in this activity because they are also the ones who usually have to prepare food and so they they know which type of characteristics the different crops need to have the they know which beans Cook in less time which have a better taste which are better for some dishes or others or even the importance of some of the varieties for specific traditions or rituals or festivals.

So, the role of women is really is very important in maintaining this diversity within the household and also in ensuring more diversity in the nutrition of the or the household itself.

NADIA ON SYRIA
We have been working also on this because the situation in Syria is so dramatic and it’s so terrible and it’s really an extreme example of what can happen to people in a war situation but actually traditional knowledge and local knowledge is being lost all over the world because of globalisation because of a lot of times because of modern technology and so on and so we work towards trying to conserve this.

NADIA ON PROGRAMS/ REGISTRIES / RECIPES

This local knowledge and making sure that is it is transmitted to the younger generation. So, we have programs working with schoolchildren. But we also encourage communities to conserve. For example, biodiversity registries. So they have at the community level and they will keep a registry where they will note down all the diversity that is in their community all the different traits that different crops have and what they use for how they are managed on farm and this information is very important to keep at the community level and to make sure that is it is then transmitted to the younger generations because we also seen a big pro black problem that is that sort of migration to cities so younger generations also eating the agricultural systems to go on and look for jobs in the cities.

But not only agro-biodiversity registries is important to sort of keep track of this knowledge. We also work with the seasonal calendars where communities themselves will list all the different products that they are available during the different season in a year. And together with the name of the crop and the characteristics there is also different information on how it’s used for example.

And we also try to have community members especially women write their own recipe books. So, we have worked a lot in Central Asia with producing booklets that report all the different recipes. We have done this also in Cuba where we have all traditional recipes which are not known at all in the cities. And so this is also a way to keep this this knowledge alive.

NADIA ON GLOBAL NETWORKS

There are different networks that can be that can be used to share information. I was thinking of one that is the platform for agro-biodiversity research, which is actually hosted year in Bioversity International, and it is a network where anyone who is interested in agro-biodiversity can sort of link to and also put any type of information that they would like to share with other people.

And it’s actually a global network. So, this could be a way to share information. Obviously, language can be a barrier. We tend to stick to English, French and Spanish, but not even always we manage to do translations into French and Spanish. So, language can be a barrier. But I think networks of this type can be a good a good solution. Also, if communities have access to internet because it’s not always it’s not always the case.

NADIA ON URBAN ENVIRONMENTS, e.g. CUBA

We did have a small program looking at um from rural to urban looking at also gardens and the creation of a vegetable gardens in urban environments. A lot of times we are trying to link the rural sector with the urban ones so that there is a sort of mechanism that products can flow directly from the agricultural sector to the cities.

We have seen for example that in Cuba there is a problem with the food supply and that is basically linked to the fact that transport is very bad there, and farmers are connected to the to the government. So the government cooperatives are other ones who go round the different farms to collect the produce that they want but not all the products are requested. So, a lot of the fruit that is produced, for example, in the farms, is then wasted because there is no market with the government cooperatives.

So that for example we have worked together with the Urban and Suburban Program which in Cuba is very strong, to try to create local markets that actually can be supplied directly by the farmers, and it’s working quite well because people in the cities are actually very interested in getting fresh produce, and also varieties that they are not used to have in the cities.

NADIA ON HER FARM

In actual fact I have a farm myself. So my husband is is a farmer and we have an organic farm not very far from where where I work. We have seen changes in climate of a very short period of time. I mean we have been we have been cultivating for maybe 15 years and it’s really very difficult to predict what’s going to happen, and to know when you have to plant you your crops because you might have a cold spell, you might have a lot of rain, or it may be very hot and dry so the only way to overcome these problems is actually to have a bigger array of diversity where you can choose from. And so, if you cultivate different types of tomatoes that have that are resistant to two different biotic and abiotic stresses then you might have a better chance of picking some of the tomatoes at the end of the season.

So I mean this is the only way that we can actually go, and I would say that Italy we’re very fond of our food and so we still have quite a lot of connection with the land, and a lot of young people are sort of going back to farming maybe because it’s difficult to find other jobs, a job that that can with which you can actually survive both because you work you can eat your own food, but also because it’s actually there’s quite a lot of requests for fresh organic foods here in Italy. Yes.

Farms in Europe I would say have to differentiate their income so It’s not only farming but usually it’s also a transformation of some of the products, or even restaurants or having school activities. So taking sort of educational plans with schools so schools come to the farm they actually do some experience. They do some work and they and the kids actually see where their food comes from. Yes, this is quite common.

The market has just a certain amount of space and I don’t think everyone can sort of go towards agro-tourism because the market at least here is quite saturated at the moment. Yes.

DIVERSIFICTION = RESILIENCE

This idea of diversification is what we also call resilience. And we have been working quite a lot on this with also with other partners around the world. And one of them was the Satoyama Initiative which is an international partnership made up of a lot of different institutes from all over the world, who have come together basically to work on the so-called social ecological production landscapes or seascapes, because the idea of conserving nature without human beings is actually an idea that doesn’t work anymore.

We have seen that all this all the ecosystems of the world have been altered in somehow by human beings. And a lot of these systems have core evolved with human beings. So, they have been shaped by their activities. But they also have to withstand the test of time. So, a lot of these systems are actually still producing and still sustaining the livelihoods of the people working on these systems. What we have tried to do is actually to understand what has made these systems resilient over such a long period of time.

And we have seen that resilience is actually depends a lot both from a social and ecological point of view on the diversification. So, the same definition of social ecological production landscape is in fact of a mosque a mosaic of different land uses and habitats. So, for example village’s farmlands, grasslands, forests, pastoral lands, and coasts that have been for old and maintained through the interaction between people and nature in a sustainable way.

Satoyama Initiative Framework

And we call them Satoyama, we call them social ecological production landscapes. There are other programs that work with these types of systems on a landscape level. Resilience is actually linked to the capacity of these systems to adapt and to change to the changing conditions. But maintaining their sort of main functions and their main structure.

and so as I was saying we have been working with a lot of these type of landscapes and the communities that live in these in these landscapes and we have seen that to increase resilience they need to have a lot of agriculture to maintain a lot of agricultural biodiversity that

Local culture and knowledge is extremely important that also diversification of farming income is increasingly important so that they don’t depend only on one sector and this can be done through ecotourism it can be done through artisanal work or differentiating the sources of income through different types of activities that are ways that still are sustainable for the environment.

And this is why then in the end we developed a series of indicators, social resilience indicators that were actually developed to do this to measure resilience within these systems. But these indicators are a sort of a participatory approach so they are they are mostly I would say qualitative more than quantitative indicators. And it’s the communities themselves that assess the resilience of their own of their own systems, because resilience to them it might be different from what we see as resilient.

They all have their own world views. They have their own aspirations and might see things in a different way. For example, one of the indicators that comes to my mind is that we look at infrastructure within the landscape and often as a Westerner we might think that they lack a lot of primary facilities that for us would be essential like, for example. electric power. But some of these communities are actually interested in different things on electric power for them was not their primary concern.

So it’s interesting to use this this approach because you actually have the communities himself assess what they think and what they see they see as resilient in their system, and then they are able also to work on their landscape and try to improve the resilience through different type of activities.

So, resilience is the capacity to learn and adapt to the changes. So, a system is resilient not when it stays in its own stages for a long period of time it’s not conserving a museum for example but it’s a dynamic there. We’re talking about dynamic systems that change over time. But the capacity to learn and adapt for changes and the base has to be a rich system in biodiversity wild and natural biodiversity. Governance is important within the systems culture needs to be something that we tried to conserve. And those are the sort of the local ways style of life and so on and on and at the same time introducing also technology, I mean we’re not trying to if technology is useful in these situations it’s a good thing.

Equity, participation are absolutely fundamental. Yes.

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REETU SOGANI

REETU INTRO.

My name is Rita Sogani, and I have been living in the in the hills in the State of Uttarakhand in India, for the last 20 years, and have been working very closely with the grassroots community, especially women and that marginalised community on the issue of traditional knowledge systems and practices.

The work primarily is about how to protect and conserve the traditional knowledge systems and practices which exist in the area of agriculture, forest, water, natural resources. How to strengthen the knowledge system, and how to promote the knowledge system as one of the important base of livelihood of people here.

Reetu Sogani with women in the Himalayan foothills.


ON TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE

When we talk of traditional knowledge, then what we mean is the knowledge that people have been accumulating, have been experiencing, have been observing, for centuries together, actually.

It’s an oral tradition, you know, which has been handed down the generation, from the one generation to another orally. It’s not documented. It’s not coded.

For example, how to grow or agriculture, in very hilly area which is around 1500 meters or 1500 meters to 1700 meters. The kind of soil that we have here how to use that soil in growing different kind of crops, how to manage the forest sustainably, but at the same time also use it in such a way that we have it for the generations later on.

That knowledge that people have, is something that they have a have heard their parents or grandparents speak about.

In other words, it’s just common sense.

REETU ON GENDER ROLES
When I started working the hills in 1998, I had absolutely no idea of what the situation is as far as the local knowledge in the hills is concerned.

I had no idea how it is connected with women and men.

It’s the women actually in the hills who have been very closely connected with the natural resources, be it forest, be it agricultural, be livestock management, be it even health related practices, governed by food items and herbs.

The roles and responsibilities of women are such that they stay in the house, and they carry out all the activities close to the house, you know, which are connected with natural resources. So, agriculture in the hills is not just connected with land, or is not just connected, you know, with growing crops. It’s very closely connected with forest, very closely connected with of course water, very closely connected with livestock.

So, she is the one who is very closely connected with all these sectors, and she is the one who is interacting with them on day to day basis.

She knows what grows where, what leaf should be used if the goat actually has indigestion. Or how the compost is prepared, and how those leaves can be used for the preparation of compost.

So, she is the one who has been interacting with all these ideas, and so she has the knowledge, and she has the skill; first-hand knowledge and first-hand knowledge systems and practices in these sectors.

ROLE OF MEN

Men definitely they are also contributing in agriculture but only in couple of activities. But of course this is a general picture but men mostly prefer to work outside in the villages, or outside, they migrate to the towns or sometimes they migrate to the main towns like Delhi, Bombay and other places, to bring in money.

In fact, the hill economy is also called the money order economy, where the money actually comes in through this money order or through the check, and many people in the hills have also joined the army.

So, it’s the women who has been associated with agriculture and related areas.

One of the research institutions came out with this figure of 98.5 percent, 98.5 percent of the work relating to agriculture is being carried out by women.

Land and forestry management is in the hands of women. Shown here, the women of Majkhali take compost to the fields.

 

REETU ON WOMENS VIEW OF HEALTH

I ask this question from one of the women as to ‘how do you describe health? The word health’

She gave me such a beautiful and different answer.

She said: The animal that you see is still important for health. The kind of crop that we are growing and the methods we are using. That is also connected to the water that we are using. That is also connected with health, what I’m eating and how I’m eating is also connected with my emotional health.

She said, it’s so difficult to describe because all the things around me, are contributing to health, and the air that I’m breathing in, you know, that is also part of health. The forest is responsible. The trees are responsible.

So, she described health in such an integrated and holistic way. That was my first lesson actually.

I mean, if you asked this question from any doctor or any person in the urban area, he or she would say health is the absence of illness. ‘I don’t have any illness.’ How compartmentalised our approach has become, you know in comparison to how people think.

REETU ON CHANGE

And when it comes to women we have to work at various levels. It’s not just at the grassroots level but we have to work at various policymaking levels. Even the grassroots level is very important there, women are not able to make their voices heard even in the local self-governance bodies.

Because of the kind of roles and responsibilities they have they don’t have time, they’re not supposed to be seen in those decision-making forums and processes, because they believe that they’re not supposed to be here. They’re supposed to be doing their household chores.

So that kind of mindset actually has to change, and gender sensitisation has to come about at all levels. Also, at the household level. It’s not something that is very easy, but it’s happening now.

Last year we had a meeting at the state level, in which we had invited the government officials, of not just our state but of the nearby states also, and there were several organisations, Forest department was also there, Agriculture Department was also there- I was so happy to see Parvati who is a wonderful farmer, extremely knowledgeable, spokesperson of our forest Committee, standing there in front of everybody and telling people ‘we want traditional crops we will grow really traditional crops, we will not use any of the chemical fertilisers that you  people from promoting because of these, these and these reasons.

REETU ON WOMEN FARMERS  LAND RIGHTS

One of the other issues which I have not mentioned actually right now, but which is very closely connected to the women farmers; they are doing the majority of the work related to farming, they are actually not known as farmers. They’re not recognised legally, administratively and even socially as farmers, simply because they don’t have land in their name.

It’s really sad. It’s very deeply sad and very ironical I would say.

If you take into consideration Nepal, India, and Thailand, not even 17 percent of the total landholdings actually belong to women. And these are the areas where women contribute maximum to the agricultural economy.

There is still such a tough battle going, on because the land does not get inherited by women. But it has very serious implications on her work, on her capabilities, or no capacity building, on his skills.

Because she is not recognised as farmers, it’s only men who are being invited to the workshops by the government, by any other organisation. Women don’t have access to credit. They don’t have access to the government.

The first thing they ask for is to have the land title in your name, and with increasing migration, and reduced access to resources, the condition of the women has actually worsened over the years, I would say.

We have a big network. This is called Mahela dichotomous that is ‘women farmers rights’. And we are doing everything possible to influence the government, to change the land inheritance rules to include women, which will take many, many years because land is a very important source of power.

But at the same time at least I recognise them as cultivators. At least recognise them as cultivators — at least give them the right to be able to access the bank, and access the credit, whenever they want to.… to access the government, the schemes, the government schemes should not be asking only for the land titles but they should be asking the name of the cultivator. I think it’s very much possible.

This is making the life of the woman very difficult and it has made the situation worse actually over the years because with the decision making vested in absent men, it becomes so difficult to make good important decisions at the right time.

Work relating to agriculture continues to be done by women, but without any decision making it becomes difficult for her, you know, to carry it on for her. Pretty frustrating, very frustrating.

EXAMPLE OF ADMINISTRATION FAILURE

One of the women from our area she had gone to the bank and she was just filling up one form. I think she was opening an account and there was this column that said what is your profession?

She wrote farmer, and the bank officials refused to accept it. He said “You are not a farmer, you are a housewife.”

She had the understanding, she had the business, and also some confidence when she was with other women also there. She said: “I’m a farmer, you have to put down my name because I’m the farmer, I’m the one who is tilling the land, I’m the one who is cutting, I’m the one who is weeding, I’m the one who is harvesting, how can you not call me a farmer. I will not delete the word farmer.

I will continue to use the word farmer. He had to accept it. He did accept it! She was only opening a bank account.

The gender sensitisation hasn’t taken place at that level. So that’s why I’m saying administratively she is not recognised as farmers.

She is still considered to be somebody who is carrying out only the household chores. Her unpaid work; be productive, or be reproductive, or be it caring responsibility, is not being recognised, it is not visible is not being acknowledged.

Here, widows get the right to land title, once their husbands pass away, you know. Parvati also mentioned this in that meeting, in the keynote speaker speech. She said “As long as a husband alive, you know, we have no right over land. Only when he dies, when he passes away, only then we are allowed to have the right over land.”

It hit them really hard. Even the rule which is in favour of them in an actual reality they’re not recognised not just legally but also administratively. It’s the structural change you need to bring about. It’s just that it is the system which responsible for this state of affairs. It is connected to globalisation.

REETU ON FILM BY CDKN

The biggest NGO working globally. On climate change. [00:11:23] Climate Development Knowledge Network, made a film on these women who are part of our group, and the title of the film I think is ‘Missing Women in Decision Making’ and these very women video recorded themselves, as to what they’re doing, how they’re doing, how it is connected with climate change, how it is actually helping them mitigate, how it is helping them adapt themselves.

Women with me have gone to Malaysia and in Malaysia they have spoken about these very things, they have shared their experiences their opinion their needs, their priorities, everything.

We have settled myopic way of looking at things, interconnectedness with nature.

This is what interconnectedness is.

I mean it’s not about just interdependence it’s also about cooperation. People are interdependent. But more than interdependence there is this cooperation, amongst these then villages of the micro watershed around these sectors.

View of Mountains from Majkhali Village, The Vrikshalaya Centre.

Traditional knowledge is not just about technique. It’s not just about practices. It’s about a very integrated interconnected interdependent system you know, which runs through people’s cooperation, which again actually is on the decline.

The social cohesion, the value for the simplicity, you know, the value of the equilibrium all these values, they were very, very integral part of our traditional system, or way of life. And all of these values they make people more resilient. Social cohesion was such an important aspect of people’s lives fiscally those were more modern life like for example.

Diversifying Crops

We have a practice in the hills called Palta, P A L T A (spells it out) — which means that people contribute in each’s labour.

People from not just my household, would contribute, but people from the other households in my village, would contribute, as well as from other villages also.

And the same would happen, I would go and contribute, my whole day, the entire day you know. In carrying out that activity. And this would help mostly those people single women. Women whose husbands or who’s the men folks have migrated, but they’re not… they’re not…there. And the elderly couple households.

So social resilience and social cohesion and all these values actually increase people’s resilience. But unfortunately, that kind of agriculture that we are following now makes people very individualistic.

WHAT WE NEED TO DO

I think one of the important things that we have to do is do to have our resources to have belief in our resources, and to strengthen the existing biological diversity, and the cultural diversity, whatever little remains of it.

It’s not that it’s impossible because I worked in certain areas in the hills for the last ten years twelve years and people have changed. I mean they have brought about changes in their food diet, they have brought about changes in their agricultural system. And we are not going to those areas anymore.

The experience that they have already you know, and the awareness that they have is enough actually to last for a very long time. And also, it could get transferred to their children. They’re also growing cash crop, but at the same time they’re also getting finger millet.

They are buying things from the market but at the same time they have their agriculture to fall back on.

ON BIODIVERSE FARMING

Biodiversity based ecological farming, mixed cropping system, done organically– They can also produce much more, not just equivalent to chemical intensive farming. This is one great disbelief that people have, the government have, is that chemical intensive farming can feed the mouths of the increasing population, and organic farming can’t.

This is all wrong actually, and so many studies are there to prove it otherwise. I would not call it organic farming, but biodiversity based, ecological farming. In balance with the nature.

Because organic farming can also promote mono cropping which is happening actually.

Organic farming is just one component of biodiversity based ecological farming. When it comes to chemical intensive farming of course, the adverse impacts are quite well known, and even the government of Uttarakhand and other state governments are not promoting chemical intensive farming anymore, but they are promoting organic farming.

We are talking about biodiversity, also, you know in the farming and the ecological farming

keeping in balance you know with the ecology the surrounding ecology, which is most important.

ON ORGANIC FARMING

Organic farming can also promote mono cropping. Organic farming only talks about cropping system which is minus chemicals, minus synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

That is one important component of the farming system that we are talking about, but we are also talking about mixed cropping system, which would take care of the health of not just the soil but also of course take care of the health of the livestock and also take care of the health of the human beings, because it will ensure availability and access to food and nutrition at all things of the year.

ON 9 CROPS

We have a practice of growing nine different kinds of crops in one single season during the rainy season. And these different crops are about Grains, Spices, Oil seeds, different pulses, all these nine different kinds of crops would grow in one single field, in one single season and it will get harvested of course at different times of the year but it will ensure availability of some food you know in the household at any time of the year.

Now the studies have also proved that both of us based ecological farming on mixed cropping system done organically will take care of not just the production but also of the health aspect.

We have the studies and we have the data that can prove, you know, that their production can be higher than the production of mono cropping. Done just next to that field.

ON NUTRITION

The amount of nutrition which is coming out of that one acre of land and it’ll be much more in comparison to the mono cropping which is growing this next that the one acre of land in one year it is able to absorb two thousand pounds of carbon in a year. Where are doing mixed cropping organically. In comparison to chemical intensive farming which actually releases 300 pounds of carbon per acre, per year.

Considering the global warming which is taking place, it is very, very important to also come up with ways for mitigation; mitigating strategies are much more important and unfortunately nobody talks about it because it is connected with again you know big corporations.

It is connected again with fertiliser companies and nobody is invested in mitigation right now.

Nobody is talking about agriculture which is a very big contributor of carbon emission but can be a very important strategy to sequestrate the carbon, prevent it from emitting, and also absorb the carbon which is in the atmosphere.

Agriculture done this the mixed cropping done organically is considered to be the only way through which we can do carbon sequestration at a very fast rate.

This is in total contrast to the policies of the government which is talking about monoculture, growing only pine trees in the forest area, and also promoting mono cropping.

I think we have to have a very multi-pronged approach you know, the statistics are also important in certain areas, and case studies are equally important.

Transplanting rice in Majkhali

CONVINCING MEN

The village women I had been working with constantly since 2001. They already had been a witness. They had some difficulty to convince the menfolk actually at the household level.

But gradually they interacted with a mentor also and they also started coming to our meetings. We made them interact with few people who have never switched over to chemical intensive farming and make them use their experiences.

We did workshops for them. He showed them video films we showed them many educational documentaries. We took them out on educational trips to some people renowned people who have been working on saving seeds for many, many years. Made them interact with other groups also working on these issues.

We took a walk actually for five days through different parts of Uttarakhand, and they interacted the different communities they exchanged you know their experiences, they heard about their experiences, and gradually they finally got the confidence to do what all of us had been talking about.

They shifted from chemical intensive farming, to gradually organic farming and the mono cropping to mixed cropping. Surrounding villages have also actually turned, after having seen them you know after having heard their experiences, they have also gradually turned organic, and they have also gone back you know to those mixed cropping systems, through their interaction so they have become kind of leaders actually in all the.

The government of Uttarakhand declared itself organic many, many, many, many years ago but it has not created any market where farmers can actually sell it organic produce. That’s a big challenge too. It’s not that they have no idea. It’s not that they have no awareness. They know that that middle person actually the takeaway a major chunk of profit, you know, and the farmers are not able to reach the market.

That struggle is still going on, but at the same time in parallel, there are women’s federations and they are selling them now in the market to different outlets. And do value addition packaging, labelling, everything and then sell in different outlets.

This could be the government outlet as well as some other private outlets.

That is happening and that is adding to their income.

They’re also catering to the urban taste you know by having single malt cake or finger millet biscuits. Over the last two three years their children have started offering this local produce.

The things that they were used to eating from outside.

I think in India we have the civil society is quite strong, and the women’s groups are also very strong.

SELF AUTONOMY

To self-reliance self-confidence and self-esteem; these are all connected.

So we can’t say that everything in the name of knowledge, which we have inherited, which has come down the generations. is good and very effective. Many of the things that are effective but some of the things are not very effective. Maybe because the situation has changed now, so a good amalgamation, a very balanced amalgamation of local knowledge with the new knowledge also needs to be done from time to time, now, to address people’s emerging needs and requirements.

The most important thing in the amalgamation is: Who is controlling the knowledge? The point of control. It has been a gradual dependence of people on the market. Self-reliance Self Sustenance. Has. Been replaced with total dependence. And that actually has an impact on the self-confidence and self-esteem of people. When we talk of local knowledge. And the replacement of local knowledge. People lose out on this self-confidence the self-esteem and self-reliance.

You should be looking like us it could be an institution it could be a country it could be a civilization, could be a region it could be a section of community it could be market, and a particular section in the market, and it could be an advertising agency who wants you to look like people they are advertising.

We lose identity we lose address we lose the language we lose our food we lose our systems we lose our knowledge we lose their practices and we lose ourselves completely. Lose autonomy, lose autonomy, lose our freedom.

END

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CREDITS

TANYA’S VOICE:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature, ON KNOWLEDGE. You can find more info on our guests and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast

You can contact Nadia Bergamini via BioversityInternational.org.

Reetu Sogani would like to thank the women of Chak dalar and Chama chopra in the Bheerapani area, in Nainital district. The women in Talla Gehna in Nainital district. And the women in Tola area in Almora district.

She would also like to say thanks to the Chintan international trust-India.

Nordic by Nature is an ImaginaryLife production. For more inform The music and sound has been arranged by Diego Losa. You can find him on diegolosa.blogspot.com

Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth and follow us on Instagram @nordicbynaturepodcast. We are also fundraising on panteon.com/nordicbynature.

If you are interested in nature-centred mindfulness please see foundnature.org to read about Ajay Rastogi and the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. You can follow the Foundation on Facebook, and on Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast.

Please email me, Tanya, on nordicbynature@gmail.com

END

 

 

 

Episode 7: ON ETHICS Transcript

Transcript: ON ETHICS

Link to simple landing page: here

John and Ajay Rastogi at Majkhali Village, Uttarakhand, India.
Recorded 27.10.2019

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Tanya:

Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a podcast on ecology today inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.

In this episode ON ETHICS, Ajay Rastogi at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature in Uttarakhand, India, invites Dr. John Hausdoerffer, from Western Colorado University in Gunnison, USA, to speak about what constitutes Ethics today.

Both Ajay and Dr John, as his students call him, are part of an growing movement that calls for a new kind of ethics that views all places as part of our home, all generations and beings as part of our scope of responsibility, and all actions as potential expressions of human care for the world.

Dr. John and Ajay were at the Foundation’s HQ, the Vrikshalaya centre, in Majkhali village, at the foothills of the Himalayas, at the time of this recording. Every year Dr. John and Ajay lead students on an experiential Mountain Resilience Course, that is part of a longer-term Sister Cities program between Gunnison and Majkhali.

The long-term aim of the partnership is to share climate change solutions between the two Mountain Communities, and co-create a project based transformative Masters’ degree course that is both transferable and scalable.

I hope you can find time to relax and enjoy listening.

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Intro
Ajay: Hi, my name is Ajay Rastogi, and I’m joining in from Uttrakhand State of Central Himalaya. It’s a very beautiful afternoon. We have the majestic mountain views in the front, and I’m happy to have this conversation.

John: My name’s John Hausdorffer. I’m the dean of the School of Environment and Sustainability at Western Colorado University, and the founder of the Mountain Resilience Coalition, co-founder, and co-founder of the Resilience Studies Coalition, and a humble and honoured friend of Ajay Rastogi’s through our Sister City partnership between Gunnison, Colorado and Majkhali, India.

Dr. John Hausdoerffer

What are ethics?
John: For me, the ethics is different from morals. Morals or notions of right and wrong that we received from society, from elders, from family, from law, from religion, from popular culture, literature, philosophy, external claims about right and wrong. And ethics is our capacity to question, analyse, evaluate those moral claims as to whether or not we want to live our lives based on them or unsettle them and create new visions of how to live.

Ajay Rastogi at the Vrikshalaya Centre

In an outer sense ethics is about how do we know what’s good for the world beyond what’s good for me. How do we measure right and wrong beyond what’s right for me? How do we understand what brings good to any being, system or community with its own value? Whether it’s human or more than human? And how to extend our own value out into the world. But it’s also about internal resilience; What is the good life? And to me, these questions of the climate crisis, questions of social justice movements, questions of deep ecology, re-enliven in very ancient questions.

What does it mean to live a good life when seen from the point of view of social and ecological systems that sustain us from which we evolved? Of which we are a part? It’s really about the good life and re-asking old questions like “What is the world? Who are we? How are we to live?” with frameworks that come from a global consciousness about anything from our economy to the climate crisis.

And so, again, ethics is simple. It’s our ability to analyse moral claims, but it’s become really complex. Now that those moral claims involve things about ‘How driving to the corner store to get a gallon of milk might affect farmers on the other side of the world.’ These old questions are much more complicated now, as complicated as they were before.

SOUND: BELL

Ajay: The issues are far more complex. As Dr. John Hausdoerffer often has mentioned, and this whole thing of that we carried on for several decades about north south are temperate and tropics. It seems that this North-South divide is no more a clear cut north south divide, because there is a south in the north and there is a north in the south.

Every community seems legs to be fractured. And fractured so much that we have a highly multicultural societies that are evolving, multi class societies that are evolving, and to address these concerns of social equity above all, access. Access to basic amenities. On the one hand, we are seeing that the world is being destroyed.

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

The biological diversity is being destroyed. The oceans are being destroyed. And on the other hand, we feel that there is a crisis of development because there is not enough water for the people. There is not enough food for the communities. So, this looks like a highly complex scenario where it cannot be just dealt with by technological solutions.

We need a certain kind of a transformation, maybe a radical change in the way we look around. I think within societies, the notions of development therefore need to be challenged.

If so few people with their affluence can destroy 90 percent of the resources of the world, or consume 90 percent of the resources of the world, how do we learn resilience to the entire society so that there is more equity and there is more ecological security? It is not just about outer resilience, but there is those of us who are privileged to have the resources. It’s also about our inner resilience to be able to share with others.

On the middle-class desire for ‘Greatness’
John: If we reduce the climate crisis to carbon emissions, we reduce climate actions to technological strategies for shrinking carbon emissions, we lose out an opportunity for growth in ourselves. And what I mean by that is that. When you look at the emergence of ecological science in the 20th century, or you look back thousands, ten, thousands of years, a traditional ecological knowledge both come with an evolution of perceiving the complexity of living systems in the human place in them and an expansion of our capacity to care for that complexity.

And I worry that when we reduce ecological problems, social ecological problems, either natural resource, quantity or tons of carbon in the atmosphere, we lose out on the opportunity for inner growth, for expanding our capacity to perceive of, and care for complexity in a new way.

Gas, 1940, by Edward Hopper

It’s really about the growth of the human spirit that I’m worried about as much as I’m worried about deforestation and loss of snowpack, I’m worried about, the commodification of the human capacity to care through just seeing the value of the natural world is quantifiable resources, reducing our role in the world to doing less bad rather than our role in the world as loving, perceptive beings.

I think that the moment we’re in is a great opportunity to work across cultures, to grow that capacity to care, and if we just frame it around carbon emission reduction by 2050 we’ve lost the deep ecology moment that we’re in.

Arne Naess reminded us to make a distinction between bigness and greatness, and I would also ask us to make the distinction between smartness and greatness. It’s nice to humble ourselves and to — think of the language here –shrink our carbon footprint, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Leave no trace.

But at least speaking for middle class Americans, we’re not inspired by making ourselves smaller. We want that greatness that Naess was talking about, but greatness doesn’t need to mean bigness in terms of our global impact.

Greatness can be around a great capacity to care for each other, a great understanding of ecological complexity. A great and compassionate global community.

And the alternative to big is not just shrinking ourselves. Ajay was sharing with my students the story of Lakshmi, who represents eight kinds of wealth. Ajay? So we think about richness in so many ways. You know, there’s all these kinds of richness. We’re looking at together; social capital, human capital, cultural capital, intellectual capital, natural Capital.

SOUND: BELL

A new context for old questions

John: One of the things we were talking about yesterday, Ajay and I, looking out at the Himalayas was how some of these questions that are emerging from the climate crisis and emerging from global equity and poverty are old questions. And what we were asking the students is that, you know, are they comforted by the fact that these are old questions or are they disheartened by the fact that these are old questions?

There is a concern that lack of inner resilience, that whole inside of us driving a kind of external greed that will destabilise us inside, but also create injustice in the world on the outside.

That relationship to an inner and outer resilience is what Jay and I have been talking about with our students is at the core of ethics. How does an outer resilience movement like, for example, sustainable agriculture or water conservation or renewable energy, stem from and how is this sustained by a kind of inner resilience?

And how does our inner being find fulfilment and satisfaction from those outer resilience efforts? If those two aren’t merged…. I know plenty of American organic farmers or environmental non-profit workers who got burned out.

Enviro-non-profits have a high turnover rate and so they may be doing out resilience work with their collapsing for lack of inner resilience.

We’re trying to find that sweet spot as the core of ethics in the Anthropocene.

SOUND: BELL

What is resilience?

John: So resilience, I hesitate to offer a simple definition because resilience emerges from so many cultures and time periods. But in the Western scientific discourse, it really starts with, in my view, Aldo Leopold, the American conservationist who did not even use the word resilience, but when he talked about the health of land, he talked about the capacity for self-renewal. And that gets at the core of resilience. Resilience is the ability to adapt to shock or disturbance.

Before ecology we’ve seen that word used in psychology, how people respond to trauma, whether they grow from that healing or collapse from it. But in ecology, it really emerged from Buzz Holling in 1973. And he really shook up ecology and the sciences and talking about the capacity to persist, because for him it was no longer about nature’s equilibrium. It’s no longer about how an ecosystem reaches a sort of climax community status and then has natural balance.

For him there is this adaptive cycle that requires disturbance. And so suddenly resilience is about the capacity for a system to absorb and adapt to disturbance, to thrive on the other side of that disturbance. So, thinking about a low intensity forest fire clearing out excess of dead and living trees to allow for the understory and the forest to thrive in the habitat to thrive.

By the 21st century, we have Brian Walker and David Salt taking Hollings’ notion of the importance of disturbance. And they’re actually now using that phrasing in a definition. They’re saying resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance.

But the real turning point has been in the last decade. I think there’s been a revolution how we think about resilience. An essay by Carl Folke, 2010. He talked about the capacity to create a fundamentally new system. Now, Carl Folke, talking about transformational change is the definition of resilience. So, resilience is now the capacity to create a fundamentally new system, literally transforming our political systems around capping carbon or a carbon tax or disrupting campaign finance, so that oil and gas companies no longer have so much power.

Carl Folke

It’s about building awareness into our citizenry. And really what he says, here is a quote from me says, “Transformational change often involves shifts in perception and meaning, social network configurations, patterns of it, of interactions among actors, including leadership and political and power relationships” Right? So suddenly resilience is about activist democratic co-creation of economics, social, political, environmental justice.

I was lucky enough to talk with Vandana Shiva in 2018 about this. I just asked her point blank. What’s your definition of resilience? And she said, “Dealing with illusions is the resilience of our time.”

So think about that arc, you know, from Leopold’s capacity for self-renewal to Buzz Hollin bringing disturbance into how we understand ecological systems, to Folke talking for transformational change, to Vandana Shiva just saying resilience is just whether or not we can deal with illusions.

And I think those illusions are outer and inner. The illusions can be the way in which companies have spent billions of dollars to get people to doubt scientists, but illusions can also be internal. The illusion of the separate, individualistic self being fulfilled by consumption. That illusion is also driving resilience, the illusion that we’re not part of one global community together, we’re in competition with each other.

Vandana Shiva

SOUND: BELL.

How can outer resilience drive inner resilience?

How do we become renewed when we work together to renew the world that’s inner and outer resilience? The second layer, though, is going back to Arne Ness when he talks about realisation. Already using realise in a double way, you know, he’s first we’re first intellectually realising, like Eureka, my self is bigger than just my mind. My self extends out into the river that he protested through chaining himself to a dam. Right that was part of his larger self. He realised that intellectually, from saying, OK, collagen interconnects, everything physically, why wouldn’t it interconnect the self with the world?

But I think realisation for him is also about you make something real. So, you realise your full potential of yourself through intellectually realising it is the world, but also through fighting for the realisation of a free-flowing river. You are realising your own self-actualisation, but also the liberation of your larger self.

Self-realisation again, there is an inner and outer resilience coming together. Ani ness chaining herself to a dam right as a way of realising his self-actualising potential. I mean, just last week in United States, the actors Ted Danson and Jane Fonda; He’s 71. She’s 81, they were handcuffed and arrested for protesting climate change.

Sitcom prime time actor Ted Danson said “Being handcuffed focussed me.” Now, think of that. It’s an outer action to push fellow citizens to take on climate change. But what do they say there? “It focussed me.” So how will he be energised from that focus. It’s almost like Thoreau saying: “The jail cell in a slave society is the only place for a free man,” Right? It focussed him in civil disobedience.

There’s that inner resilience.

Jane Fonda and Ted Hanson arrested at Climate Crisis demonstration at Capitol Hill.

 

On the Mountain Resiliency Course at Majkhali Village
Ajay: So in 2016, we developed a collaboration with the Western Colorado University and a graduate student. That time, Brendan McNamara. He visited us and we in collaboration designed a course which is now called Mountain Resiliency. It’s a three-credit course.

And students have been coming for the course together with the dean, Dr. John Hall, staffer and the course is being offered in much cuddly. It’s a month-long course. We also have customised courses for different universities, which could be shorter duration anywhere between a week, ten days to two to three weeks. And the mountain resiliency module is getting quite an attention, in terms of how much transformation it can bring about in the students.

This is a course which started with this thinking of place-based learning and place-based learning based on those three pillars of dignity, of physical work, interdependence and interconnectedness.

But we are encouraging students to think and to interact with people in the community who understand more about those themes.

So, for example, one theme in the mountain resilience course place-based learning is local co-operatives, which is about the five forms of capital.

How do the students understand that it’s not just the economic or the financial capital that is important, but an enterprise should build ecological capital and social capital, natural capital and human capital?

So for that, we go to a local co-operative who has been working here with 2000 women as members and we learn from them. How have been your experience of building these five forms of capital in the institution?

Similarly, another theme is lifestyle thinking. Lifestyle thinking is about the purpose that you mentioned. OK, so what is the purpose? How about happiness? What are the sources of happiness? Is it just about acquiring and consumption? Or is it about social connectedness? Is it about the meaning of how we relate to each other? Is it about trusted relationships?

About the interconnectedness? Then we think about in how many forms do we get what we need from the landscape and how do we maintain reciprocity and equilibrium with the resources that we get from nature? So, It’s also about traditional ecological knowledge, about agriculture, about forestry use, about livestock, etc..

Now, water is another very big issue in the mountain areas. And water also, as you know, connects right from the watershed down to the spring and to the kitchens of the people. So how do we take care of the water? What are the traditional norms of taking care of the water?

Why are the forests in the catchment of water springs sacred? How does it relate to our customs in this society? And do those customs help us in more rejuvenating water use for everyone?

So that’s how the place-based learning module has been evolving.

One very important aspect of the course is a walking journey. We have just finished in this course. It is walking journey like last time, we passed through villages. We talked to the people. We have discussions. We have circle time.

Students get to go across different kinds of village, different kinds of agriculture around the villages, different utilisation of the forests, and then they can talk to the communities. It’s also intergenerational learning because when we talk to the youth, you get a different response. When we talk to the elder, you might get a different response.

How do you reconcile the aspirations of the youth? So, I think students are able to grasp the social complexity, the ecological complexity and the cultural complexity.

It is not just about carbon. It’s a whole lot of a complex scenario that we are facing in this society. And to be able to comprehend it, to be able to contemplate what would be the possible scenarios of intervention, that is little bit about the outer resilience.

Now, if you turn it other way down, what is my responsibility? How do I accept my privileges? What do I do as a responsible citizen in this scenario? I think that is where the inner resilience also plays a big part.

Diwali and notions of wealth
The social events like for example; we are at the moment celebrating Diwali. The students are a part of those festivities in the village. What is the message that the Festival of Diwali gives? What is it? What is the concept of wealth? Because in the valley, the general notion is that we offer prayers to the goddess of wealth. And the wealth is not just about money. So, it is about liberation. It’s about food security. The wealth is also courage to be able to behave responsibly. We need courage. And courage is a kind of well, it is. Wealth is also about being able to follow the path of resilience and also how we can destroy the suffering.

So, we need to be giving up certain things and taking up certain other things to be able to make these adjustments in life.

It’s a beautiful course that students are able to experience in a different culture.

SOUND: BELL.

Sister cities

John: One of things we’ve done out of a concern that American students don’t simply swoop into a community where their guests think they can solve problems and swoop out without a proper needs assessment, without humbly co creating solutions with community leaders, is that beyond the course which lasts a month, we’ve created a sister city partnership between Gunnison City Council in Colorado and Majkhali leaders here, so that there is a continuity between each year’s course and one of the glue between each year.

Undergrad course is a graduate student living in Majkhali, keeping a mountain conversation alive when the course is not happening so that students feel like if they contribute something in Majkhali, it’s within the intellectual capital of this community and can continue beyond their presence here, knowing that they’re part of a larger self that students will come long after they’ve left.

Project based Master’s degree courses at Colorado University

Brandon MacNamara designed this with Ajay. He did it as his master’s project. And when I created the Master and Environmental Management Program at Weston, I did away with the thesis, and said the world needs these students defending theses to expand knowledge, but why do we have master’s degrees?

Why not to extend the reach of visionary but overextended organisations by requiring a yearlong project for that organisation? Five years later, we’re sending twenty-five thousand hours of these projects around the world to extend that reach for organisations, and we’ll have a thousand of those by 2035.

But they’re playful. Students don’t just get bogged down in complaining about who the US president is and what the global impact of that arrogance is. They are playfully creating solutions. We call the IMBY program instead of not in my backyard. In my backyard. What do you want to create? What do you want to grow? What kind of wealth do you want to promote? Scale it up.

Yeah, actually through the United Nations Mountain Partnership there, they’re connecting me with what they see as a similar project driven programs around the world. The Resilience Studies Consortium I’ve started is looking to find those partners. We found a beautiful one. Eberswalde, a university in Germany? We have a nice partnership with them. The first the job is to create an excellent model. We haven’t perfected what we’re doing yet. We never will.

SOUND: BELL

On Inner and Outer Resilience
I’d like to expand on inner and outer resilience. Ajay was talking about water, and one of the aspects that we share between sister city communities is water.

We both are on the edge of major mountain ranges. We both rely on snowpack, from spiritual fulfilment to economic need, to forest health, to eco tourist potential, to family traditions. And in Colorado, there’s a community, San Louis, Colorado. Someone you should interview one day is, Devon Pena, writes brilliantly about San Louis, Colorado, and what happened. There was Culebra Peal, a fourteen-thousand-foot, or four or five thousand metre peak.

The snowpack of that mountain is not necessary for a two-hundred-year-old food system in the town of San Louis. It’s Hispanos traditional farming community that uses ditches, bringing gravity fed water to the fields. That water is managed democratically. So, water, democracy and that water actually expands the riparian ecosystem.

So, the way in which that community produces their livelihood and sense of cultural self, the food of their ancestors in their stomach, also renews the ecosystem. How exciting is that, when we have examples in the modern era of social livelihood resulting in more biodiversity, rather than less?

And that’s not just a movement making itself smaller. That’s finding a new great story of human communities as co-creators of social ecological renewal.

That’s been disrupted. Logging companies have tried to clear cut on the mountain, which speeds up snowmelt, threatening the growing season.

The movements there have been really resilient, though.

We’ve seen examples of, conservative in some cases farmers, linking arms and chaining themselves to a gate with Earth First tree sitters. They care about those trees for different reasons. But there’s something resilient in the intersection between them.

For me, out of resilience really is really told by that story that to have the resilience of that forest ecosystem protected from a clear cut, we need the social resilience of a community’s water democracy, which needs the cultural resilience of that community’s diet and traditional food practices; its deep food, which needs the emotional resilience of its youth.

Many of the youth of that community are leaving for economic opportunity in Colorado Springs and Denver. And it is a lack of that deep connection to the intrinsic value of being of that place among the youth that’s going to be the tipping point for the rest of that community’s resilience collapsing.

We don’t have a next generation that feels spiritually fulfilled in doing the hard work of managing that community’s food system. Suddenly, the expanded riparian system, as well as the food system, as well as people who protect that forest as well as people who want to protect the amount of snow on that mountain will collapse.

And I’m finding that here as well. On our trek to the Himalayas. Interview after interview with Community Elder, they talked about the loss of youth to economic dreams in Delhi. Now, even the ancient stone walls are starting to crumble because the youth are leaving.

How to build inner resilience in the youth, spiritually and I don’t mean religion, I mean fulfilled as beings in a place so that then cultural, social, ecological resilience follows?

Ajay: It’s a very big question as to how do we connect our youth to the beauty of the place and wisdom of the past? It’s not an easy answer.

It’s also rooted in the fact how and what is projected as respectable in the society. And that, I think, has changed.

It was, I think, possible if the environmental degradation was not there to the extent that we have seen, it’s also to do with the policies of the British Commonwealth. Now, the big change that has come about is in the last 25 years.

What we are seeing is that the educated youth would venture out from the communities and they would find certain employment. But the rest of the family would be here. And therefore, the lands would be fertile. Their traditions would continue. The festivals will happen, the deity…The resident deities of the landscapes would be offered prayers regularly. Now, if the whole families migrate out, then it is an even bigger question. How do we keep those lands productive?

Food systems used to be kind of the central pivot for a society. Most of the festivities, the ceremonies and the connectedness with the landscapes was around food systems. So just the economic answers may not be able to fulfil the needs. Although it may seem that economics may be at the root of beginning trying to bring a change. It appears that connecting to the roots, the identities of the place, the ancestral locations that we have. I think those are the kinds of bigger connects that will bring us in with a better comprehension of wholeness, that I would feel, not just by being myself a lot, but in a community and a community which is not just about neighbours, but it’s also about the trees and the forests and the water and the air and the mountains.

Camping on a hiking trip in the Himalayan lowlands.

John: We ended our trek from much collie and Kausani and visited with Jay’s friend Deeraj runs B2R, you are as a company dedicated to keeping the youth in the mountains in the foothills of the Himalaya through having them serve banks and other industries through mass data analysis and double checking PDFs and things like that. And they take an incredible amount of pride, as Deeraj put it, in being participants in a global conversation in their little mountain town.

Would even Deeraj would say, you know, as proud as he is of that, he really wants to then have that transition into a more holistic connection with their place. He’s done it for 10 years. He’s employed three hundred mountain peoples, youth mainly. But for him, it’s half the battle to keep them in the town.

And the question is, what is the value of that life in that town? And how do you make that mountain life in itself whole? Rather than making it feel like a mini Delhi? And I think that’s where Ajay and the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature really comes in. To connect people to the sacred value of the land they walk on through the dignity of work.

Yes. One should take great pride in being educated technically in this new economy and finding a voice in that economy by walking from the farm to Deeraj’s computer station. But how can one have the same level of dignity, if not more, from returning home and milking the cow or splitting wood, repairing that ancient stone wall, repairing that ancient stone temple?

I think the dignity of work and the dignity of mountain work must merge with bringing opportunities to mountain communities, and there’s something in that bridge that’s necessary.

SOUND: BELL

On renewal

John: I think a lot of what this conversation is about is about renewal.

When we talk about renewal. We’re talking about anything from ecosystems capacity to renew itself, to certain cultural practices, renewing themselves, to keeping and having that spiritual renewal in the face of a collapse of a way of life.

And, thinking about, you know, beyond the Himalayas, where, by the way, the infrastructure for that kind of connection with renewing cultural and social and ecological systems that are traditional, that infrastructure is still there. Whereas the United States is being rebuilt, in a lot of cases we’re seeing audit growth in farmers markets, we’re seeing a lot of backyard gardens. There’s a really inspirational place in Chicago called Eden Place, where the south side, where the predominantly African-American community that had hardly lead contaminated soil has renewed that land by cleaning up the soils, turning into community gardens, and then renewing that confidence, in being a land based people, after their ancestors left the south because of what happened on the land.

So, it’s not just a renewal of lead contaminated soil. It’s also a renewal of the spirit of a people who are traumatized by land itself. And so, I think we’re starting to see renewal come together and all of these ways. Renewal from cultural trauma. Renewal from ecological collapse.

Vandana Shiva talks about the living energies that are still embedded in the infrastructures of rural India, while fossil fuel driven infrastructures are coming in rapidly in food systems with pesticides and tractors and highways, systems and automobiles and industry.

She’s saying, you know, these living energies are still here and the energy of the cow, and the energy of compost, the energy of shared networks of labour, the energy of the sun, the rain. Those living energies are very much still in place. And her concern is if we shift fully into that fossil fuel infrastructure, a lot of carbon will be released in the atmosphere. Right, but you’ll also have that loss of renewal. People being displaced from their farms has led to a quarter million farmer suicides in this country in the last 20 years. Talk about the opposite of renewal.

I think a lot of this is about renewal, inner and outer resilience, and Brendan MacNamara, our colleague who developed this course with Ajay on inner and outer resilience. He’s adding this other form of capital that he’s calling spiritual capital. And I think for me, that’s not about making sure a certain religion is still followed, to me as being a spiritual being is simply being more than a body that consumes bodies in a global economy.

Two teenage boys at Majkhali Village.

Inner resilience is a thing in itself that’s not taught enough. We have enough doom and gloom about, oh, the loss of the Ganges, and the loss of the Om glacier, and that kind of fear of loss is just not a sustainable fuel in that instead, we have to start talking about what are we going to gain? And if we see them in a reciprocal relational way, inner and outer resilience.

Maybe they keep each other alive rather than just, if we make people feel scared and guilty enough, maybe they’ll do some mindfulness exercises so they keep fighting against climate change and don’t burn out, then go on a mindfulness cruise, right Ajay?

SOUND: BELL

A young perspective

[Actually, on the track, my 8-year-old and 11 year old daughters joined us and you know, they understand the changes happening around them. They’re not that much younger than Greta Thunberg. And they have some clarity and some climate anxiety, and I just asked him on the track. I said, how is it fun? How is it more fun to fight climate change?

And one daughter said, Well. If we have a pretty yard with fun plants that attract butterflies, we’re not using gas to mow the lawn in the yards, more fun.

And I think my daughter was onto something there. There’s beauty, there’s fun, there’s creativity. We are talking about the core of our evolutionary species being. What are we, if not adaptive, creative being’s right? Karl Marx said we’re producers, which means we can imagine something in our mind and make it real in the world. That’s somewhere most human.

Why not view these climate solutions as playful, carnival last celebratory expressions of our evolutionary species being as adaptive and creative members of this blue ball flying through space?

The American middle class of the last three generations represents the first time in which private life has been more pleasurable than public life. And that’s very dangerous.

END

SOUND BRIDGE

CREDITS

SOUND: TANYA SUMMER GARDEN

TANYA:

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature, ON ETHICS.
You can find more information on our guests and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast

Please help us by sharing a link to this episode with the hashtag #tracesofnorth and follow us on Instagram @nordicbynaturepodcast. We are also fundraising on panteon.com/nordicbynature.

Many thanks also to Ajay Rastogi at the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. If you would like more information on Courses in Resilient Thinking for both students and professionals, please write directly to Ajay via foundnature.org.

You can also follow the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature on Facebook, and at Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

Thanks also to Dr. John Hausdoerffer. Dr. John has written and co-edited books on the intersection of environmental ethics and social justice including “Catlin’s Lament“; Wildness and his upcoming book What Kind of Ancestor Do You Want to Be?

He is also the founding Dean of the School of Environment & Sustainability and Director of the Master in Environmental Management (MEM) program at Western Colorado University. . He co-founded the Coldharbour Institute with Butch Clark on 350 acres of land east of Gunnison, Colorado, to exemplify sustainable mountain living in the Rockies. He also co-founded the Resilience Studies Consortium to unite environmental programs from liberal arts colleges across the world, so they can provide what he calls “multi-place, place-based education in hands-on, interdisciplinary “learning laboratories.”

You can find more information on Gunnison’s “Sister City International” partnership with the Himalayan community of Majkhali, on https://sistercities.org/

We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast, so please email me, Tanya, on nordicbynature@gmail.com

END

Yvette Neshi Lokotz: ON BELONGING

Yvette Neshi Lokotz is the CEO of the Star Nations Organization, that publishes a magazine and creates and sends out a variety of radio programmes that hope to contribute to a shift in mindset and increased sacred connections across cultures and geographies.

Neshi is also a tribal member of the

, with Ho Chunk Nation and Yaqui Nation descent. She was raised in the traditions of Ho Chunk and Potawatomi since birth. Neshi teaches about Native American hand drums, drumming, the medicine wheel lifestyle, and space clearing.

Neshi has more than 12 year’s experience making drums and has taught hundreds of people how to make their own hand drums. She has over 30 years of space-clearing experience and has lived the lifestyle of the medicine wheel her entire life.

Neshi lives in Tomah, Wisconsin.

NESHI INTRO

Bosho, that’s hello in Potawatomi. My name is Yvette Neshi Lokotz, and I am from Turtle Island, the United States, and I am a Native American woman.

I would like to introduce myself in the old way. You always want to know who your people are, see if you’re related.

SOUND: NeshiDrumming_6/4/19_2.mp3

(Introduces in Potawatomi language)

(Nesh nabe nos wen, Bneshikwe. Nshe dodem tthigwe. Dwagen, Tomah Wiscconsin. Nshe mesho, Skama-ben. My Gaga, Ho Chunk, Spreading Wing. Nshe nos, Kabance-ben. Nshe no ye nan, SheweKwe.

My name is Bneshi-kwe, which means bird woman, , my clan is Thunder. I live in Tomah, Wisconsin. My grandfather, Misho, Shkama-ben. My grandfather’s name was Shkama-ben that he has walked on; He’s passed away. And his native name, his Indian name, meant new chief. My grandmother who is Ho Chunk, I don’t know how to pronounce her Ho Chunk name but it meant ‘Spreading Wing.’

And my father, Kabance-ben means that he passed away, the ben part, but Kabance means to Walk On Earth. And it’s really about the imprint of the moccasin in the soil on Grandmother Earth.

And my mother who is still living. She-We-Kwe means ‘Leading Elk’. And so that is how we would normally introduce ourselves so they have an idea of how to address you. It’s all about who is connected to you. It’s much more personal.

SOUND: Rattle.wav

Neshi Lokotz Sacred Hoop Drum Maker and CEO of Star Nations, and Star Nations Radio

NESHI INTRO CONTINUED

I’m an enrolled member tribal member of the Potawatomi Nation, the Prairie Band. There are nine bands of the Potawatomi Nation. When we were forced onto reservations is when we kind of got split up that way. And that’s on my mother’s side. Her father, my grandfather. Skama-ben, he was he was the Potawatomi.

We follow the patriarchal line, and this has more to do with the colonization. We’re enrolled underneath my grandfather’s who was an original lottee number when he went to the reservation.

My grandmother on my mother’s side is Ho Chunk. We might classify her as an activist. She was she was one of those people who would be a part of changing the norm. And so she was a very strong woman. My grandmother on my mother’s side.

Ho Chunk has been in Wisconsin for hundreds and hundreds of years. The Potawatomi started out on the East Coast and migrated west.

On my dad’s side, he was a Mexican Indian. Yaqui is his nation. Where he is from would have been around the southern border between Texas and northern Mexico. The Yaqui nation actually is on both sides of a border now. (laughter) Before there was a border.

I also have some French Canadian as well intermarried into the Potawatomi Nation and also the whole nation as well.

That is the connection to Turtle Island.

Illustration of the Turtle Island Creation story by Jane Schnetlage

 

On Turtle Island

Turtle Island is really comes from an indigenous creation story. What we’re talking about is the United States. And the story goes the creation story goes is that the creator created man.

And that what happened was that

there was this this rain. It was a deluge. And there wasn’t any land to speak of. And so animals and we’re trying to survive. The animals would volunteer to dive all the way down to bring up soil to create to create an island. The turtle volunteered to carry the soil on its back. so that we could all survive.

It was the muskrat that was able to dive all the way down, and grab handfuls of soil to bring it up. And so that is how Turtle Island got to be. And how everybody got to survive and to thrive, is because they all worked together. And it was the turtle who volunteered to carry us on its back. So, we have a very strong connection to turtle. Turtle medicine. And it means that you’re very grounded and connected to grandmother earth, and you also have a way to protect yourself too.

On a multicultural background

Growing up in the household that I did, there was one way to communicate there, and experience life there, and then I would go to my grandparents’ house, and that was another layer of a way to communicate, because there are certain ways like any other culture, right? You don’t look an elder in the eye. You don’t keep that constant eye contact, it’s disrespectful. You’re not asking a million questions. You know and those kinds of things. And so then when you’d go to school it’s the complete reverse. It’s like if you don’t have eye contact. It’s disrespectful. If you’re not asking questions you’re not interested. (laughter) On occasion I would get into trouble. (laughter)

Neshi wearing traditional Medicine Dress

On Standing Rock

Standing Rock, literally it woke up the world. It shook the world. And so much came out of that both positive and negative. But really it brought the world together in that one tiny little space, they had over. 500. Indigenous flags flying. And people from all over the world came. Right. And the premise was to do this in peace and then the ceremony. And for the most part, that that was true. There are some things that occurred that you know.

The aftermath. But we all learned a whole lot from it. And. It really did ignite the passion and to for people to use their voice in their own backyards. Right. So, there’s a lot of things that have come out from this and the Sami came not once I think they were there like, three or four times different times over that.

It’s also a free press and they we’re really riding on the edge of an extinction of the free press. Really. We’ve been dealing with the US government for generations and we’ve survived we’ve survived them time and time and time again. Now that doesn’t mean that we don’t have people like Leonard Peltier still in prison. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have a high proportion of numbers of Indigenous people in the prisons. But we’ve survived this government for a long, long time. A long time.

And so that that is why Standing Rock was so important because it was a renaissance that was reigniting, reclaiming our power as indigenous people.

Now many people would say that we don’t or that we don’t have much power. But Standing Rock really showed us that yes we do. And a very it turned out in a very quiet voice. And it was the youth that really brought it to the forefront and they turned to the elders that still knew the ceremonies that still knew how to call in spirit and have spirit present during that whole thing.

SOUND: Crickets.wav

Neshi On Spirit Guides

So many people non-native people non-Indigenous people to Turtle Island are still very, very interested in Native American or the indigenous culture. To be more specific in the spirituality. I encourage them to really search out who their people are.

But we’re carrying our ancestors’ wisdom and also their trauma in our DNA and our blood and in our bones. And so, we can make that connection through our ancestors. You don’t have to make that connection through my ancestry.

The culture I grew up in, we talked about spirit all the time, it wasn’t anything new, but coming into what’s been known as the new age world, realising that all these people had Native American guides. And I’m asking why don’t I have Native American guides? Because I don’t. So how come I don’t I have Chief Red Cloud as my spirit guide? And it’s like this because you call them ancestors. It’s like it’s like –oh OK so your light bulb went on.

But why do so many non-native people non-Indigenous people have Native American guides? Because they’re being taught or given opportunities to remember their connection to Grandmother Earth.

And so with indigenous people, our belief is really about our connection, that we have this very loving and strong connection to Grandmother Earth. Protecting sacred sites. Cleaning up the water. Picking up your own trash for goodness sake. Those kinds of things, right, is a calling on your spirit guides to help you to rekindle or reconnect to Grandmother Earth because it’s hard wired in us to like it’s in us humans. To protect what we love. And if we can remember how much we love the Earth Mother Earth grandmother guy up we’re going to protect her.

Being indigenous to this continent and growing up the way that I did. OK. There’s some things that I took for granted. In my culture, that I didn’t realise until I was a young adult…. is that when you grow up in the culture, the spiritual connection that we have to the earth, it’s just your life, it’s your way of being.

You don’t question why we do ceremony. and call in the four directions, why we address Grandmother Earth and grandfather sky. because everything goes back to grandmother earth. Our culture is based on our connection to her. It’s your life, it’s your lifestyle already.

There’s many of us who do keep that connection and nurture it because like any other relationship you’d have to pay attention to it. And so sometimes they think that we take for granted that kind of connection. It’s when someone else outs that’s not indigenous, they’re looking in to this life, they see this connection and they yearn for belonging.

And so I think that’s where you get a lot of people wanting to have the same kind of connection but really. Really trying their best to be able to do that. And sometimes it takes on a different a whole different role.

In order to have to retain and to foster to nurture that relationship to Grandmother Earth you have to practice it every day that becomes your lifestyle. That is your life. And so it’s a way of being and it’s a way of walking this earth is to be able to remember your connection to her and it becomes your lifestyle you live it every single day.

Yvette Neshi Lokotz

On cultural misapproproation

Cultural misappropriation basically, is a put a nice way of saying stealing. The using of another culture when it’s feeding your ego more than your soul then I think that you have to step back and say “What did I just steal?”

When you are an indigenous person and you’ve lived that life and you have people who are non-Indigenous coming into your home basically. you know your community, they feel like they can use it, without any of the training, without any explanation, without the foundational information. It’s for their ego more than it is for their soul.

And so that’s my two cents on cultural misappropriation is that many times it’s it’s being a part of themselves that is not a part of their spirituality. I think it is but it’s really feeding their ego. Those are the name droppers. They’re keen on the word Chief you know.

And I tell you there are some Native Americans some indigenous people who get very upset with this. They’re very upset because they you know I’ve heard it said that they’ve taken everything else and now they want to take our souls too. They want to take our Spirit.

On terminology and names

What do we call ourselves…. right. I agree it is important. Whether we call ourselves cells Native American or indigenous are First Nation is really for the benefit of the person that we’re speaking to that is non-native.

And it’s a misnomer. Let’s take the term Native American Native American really is what I would call a misnomer. OK. It has become antiquated because anybody who is born in the United States could could say that they’re Native American. So it kind of washes out the first people who were on this continent.

And so what, what do we ended up calling ourselves when we have multiple generations who have now resided in the United States. They came from a different continent. And so there is this term called colonisers and that we are being another thing being usurped from us. But. And. I in my world in actuality. The term Native American Doesn’t really describe the indigenous people here on Turtle Island, it really doesn’t describe, in truth the original people here. And especially not American Indian. (laughter) Because this this this man who said he found this new world we’re already here. And he was lost. He thought he was in the East Indies. That’s how we got the term Indian. That has nothing to do with the original people who were already here.

Now Canada has started a movement and calling natives from Canada Indigenous people from Canada started using the words indigenous. And also First Nation. Which I think is a bit closer to accurately describing people who were here originally on this. But you know what I tell you.

We slide back and forth between depending on who we’re talking to.
And I’ve also found that it’s generational.

Because my mother who just turned 100 on Saturday, she still uses the terms American Indian or Indian and also uses Native American. And no matter no matter how many times I will ask her, are referring to East Indian or indigenous people. And so, she’ll look give me this look and she says I’m referring to our people! (Laughter)

She was part of the mission school generation. And most non-indigenous people don’t realize that that’s still occurring that children are still being taken from their homes and placed in boarding schools to create a person who is more.

Non-native non-indigenous. Still happening in this century. Some things never change, I suppose.

Yvette Neshi Lokotz

 

You know, I think language in itself falls short of really truly describing the emotions that are underlying, because even when we use the word ‘indigenous’ we have to qualify it indigenous to what continent. because there are many people who are Indigenous, but indigenous to their own part of grandmother earth right?

And so I think we still have to qualify what part of Grandmother Earth are we referring to when we’re talking about indigenous people.

Indigenous. It’s a start.

In the Indigenous world we there is a belief that our culture is connected to our language. And so, when you lose the language you lose your culture and so much has already been lost. And so there has been a many and about two decades worth of a renaissance where many people are learning their indigenous language.

On home

Our ancestors survived. Survive so that we could be here. They went through so much for us to be here to live these lives. They went through genocide. They went through colonization. They did what they had to do to survive, so that we could be here. It makes us stronger. For what they did for us now when we talk about where’s our home.

And the thing is is that we have to be clear in. When we use the term ancestor when I’m using it I’m talking about and referring to them as this spirituality the spirit of not the physical the spiritual. Not the physical place. No.

When we’re talking about our connection to the earth. We belong to her not the other way around. Literally our bodies come from her. And our bodies returned to her. When our spirit is released.

Our complete physicality. Is connected to her are brainwaves or connected to her.

She literally gives us Life.

On ceremony

Ceremony and ritual touches that part of our brain. We recognize it. Oh something important is happening here.

It’s about making that connection, to nature – or to all that is really. The creator, all the planets, the sun, the moon, the four directions, to all the animals, to all bodies of water, to all things green, to those who fly to those who swim to those who crawl, all of creation. The entire universe.

So when you do those kind of ceremonies, we are all watching and listening and we are also feeling our connection to each other and to the earth, and to all of creation and that we’re reminded that that we are a member, of nature. That we’re not separate from it or separate from each other.

And so when you’re looking at nature. And the ecosystem that we’re all a part of. It’s a very large body that we call Earth.

You can’t take one piece out and take a look at it and say this is this is the only thing that we’re going to be concerned about. There’s something from an indigenous point of view is that all of Grandmother Earth is sacred. All of it is not just one aspect over here one aspect over there but the whole. Is sacred. And that we have a commitment to her. To take care of her. That’s why we call her grandmother. (laughter) is that we have a commitment to take care of her.

And so if we can look at her as a whole being rather than bits and pieces of, that we can start to remember our connection to her. And that we actually see ourselves as a whole being rather than bits and pieces.

You know there’s another thing is that we don’t we don’t own her. If she decided that she was done with the human race done with a two legged it would be so easy for her to shake us off her body.

We have such a loving and complicated relationship with her. And she literally we are one of her children. So how does how does a parent how does a parent corrector. Explain to the child why they can’t do this you can’t do that or why they should do something.

How does a parent do that?

Shows them consequences. And I think we’re being shown consequences. And so, for those of us that are awake and we see sense or feel it is to be able to use our voices in some way. To say you know let’s listen to this. Let’s go out and actually pick up some trash. Take your children with you to pick up the trash. Yes. Yes. No, it doesn’t. You know some people think that it’s so overwhelming. What can I do? You know I’m not going to affect anything but when everything that we do affects someone else. We’re so interconnected.

Start locally, start in your own backyard. What are you doing to effect your own home. What are you doing? And so you know and if you feel like that’s the extent that you can help. Well then that’s fine that’s good at least you’re doing something. There’s others that will take on a more regional or national or international… Because they’re meant to.

How are we planting our garden, how are we tending it? We live in a world of duality. When you see. The really negative and the very low vibrational side of it. What’s the opposite? Because there is an opposite. So where is that? Where is that? And go there put your energy in there.

With gratitude

I can’t tell you how much I’ve appreciated this opportunity to be with you and to express, my belief my heart. We’re all a part of the same universe.

And so thank you. In Potawatomi It is Kttche Megwech, which is a very large thank you and Igwien, Igwien is a more formal thank you that we reserve for elders and for special occasions. And so I want to tell you Igwien.

END

CREDITS 

TANYA’S VOICE:

SOUND: Tanya’s Garden in Sweden the Summer

Thank you for listening to this episode of Nordic By Nature, ON BELONGING. You can find more info on our guests and a transcript of this podcast on imaginarylife.net/podcast

Nordic by Nature is an ImaginaryLife production.

The music and sound has been designed by Diego Losa. You can find him on diegolosa.blogspot.com

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

We are also fundraising on panteon.com/nordicbynature.

If you are interested in nature-centred mindfulness please see foundnature.org to read about the Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature. You can follow the Foundation on Facebook, and on Contemplation of Nature on Instagram.

You can contact Andrew and Kayla Blanchflower via their website roguedwellings.com

Yvette Neshi Lokotz is the CEO of Star Nations, a multi-media company with a global community. Please see starnations.org.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on our podcast.

Please email me, Tanya, on nordicbynature@gmail.com

END

Andrew and Kayla Blanchflower: ON BELONGING

 Andrew and Kayla Blanchflower are the co-founders of Rogue Dwellings, and Andrew is also a contributer to Dark Mountain magazine. As a family they manifest their environmental activism in their way of life, free from land ownership, and through their presence at Standing Rock.

Andrew and Kayla Blacnflower, and their 5 beautiful kids born to tipi living; Rowan, Ayla, Sequoia, Tamarac and Raven inspire others to see how another type of parallel low-impact life is possible where we consume less and live more.

Living in handmade tipis that they teach others to make and travelling in an old school bus, the family invite strangers in for chai and a chat about life with respect for mother nature. Through their voices and sound recordings, listeners can feel a glimpse of how their everyday life also shapes a closeness to each other and how external resilience can in turn create an inner resilience, that also results in a softer impact on mother earth.

Podcast episode 6: ON BELONGING
Introduction:

TANYA’S VOICE:
SOUND: DIEGO INTRO

Welcome to Nordic By Nature, a podcast on ecology today inspired by the Norwegian Philosopher Arne Naess, who coined the term Deep Ecology.

As Naess once wrote, there seems to be no place for PLACE anymore. The things, we need appear like magic into our lives. For that convenience we often have to sacrifice connection and community. We become isolated from each other as we become more dependent on faceless corporations to provide the things we need, rather than people who produce them. Our ecological selves are being separated from the very idea of home. But somehow, the loss of place is felt, on a deeper level, and the longing for home persists.

According to Naess and deep ecology, we need to articulate what it means to belong to a place.

For example,

Number 1. As humans, we are locally and globally connected at all times. Our everyday life patterns and culture interweave with every other living thing. We need to understand this experience if we are to create profound relationships of stewardship for our own lives and the lives of future generations.

Number 2. We must not confuse a place with our own house. We do not own a place. Other humans and non-humans have the right to be part of the ecology of a place.  It is important for us to share our sense of place with others, for that a place to thrive. It does not threaten our own identity or way of life to invite others to share the spaces where we feel we belong.

Number 3. Natural experiences are not commodities to be consumed. A place is a living entity, a collection of interconnected ecosystems. A place has a value independent of the services it provides humans. But humans can be an integral and natural part of an ecosystem.

Number 4. There is Wilderness and there is Countryside. One sees Nature as separate to humankind and the other sees humankind as a Keeper of Nature. Both concepts are human constructs.

Number 5. We need to regain a sense of scale. Places and their ecosystems are being degraded by massive amounts of waste. Microscopic damage is also occurring depleting the soil and our nutrition. We must also conserve the invisible equilibrium on which all life relies.

In this episode ON BELONGING, you will hear from three people who have thought a lot about what ‘home’ means to them and what defines our relationship to a place.

First you will hear the words of Andrew and Kayla Blanchflower, tipi dwellers and makers whose way of the life can be an inspiration to all of us to live lighter. Andrew and Kayla met and fell in love in Oregon in the States, and decided to raise their family with a closer contact to the earth and Mother Nature.

You will then hear the voice of Yvette Neshi Lokotz teacher of hand drumming and making, practitioner of the Medicine Wheel or Sacred Hoop healing, and tribal member of the Potawatomi Nation.

Please listen to this podcast with your headphones.

Andrew Blanchflower, founder of Rogue Dwellings.

Andrew’s Story

My name’s Andrew. I’ve lived in tipis since the early ‘90s. The story goes back to those days in Hulme. We would go up to Saddleworth Moors and graze on mushrooms in the autumn. I think that was my first taste of the system that was bigger than any political system that there is the system that is…I could just call it Mother Earth or Gaia right now….

SOUND: Walking through woodland

We’d come back to Hulme like this low rise six story social housing disaster, which was actually great for squats and young, single people and ….I think I’ve forgotten that time of my life my early growing up until my late teens that there was such a longing and such a missing, like, I remember that when I see people in town these days just with that confusion or that… that kind of “there’s something bigger than this, I know that there’s something bigger than this or just something… that has to be more.”

I remember having these conversations the Shenyen who was then named Martin and it would be like: “What was the most amazing life that you could dream of, that you could imagine+” For Shenyen, it was being an ordained monk in India or Tibet. For me it was living in a tipi.

SOUND: Yorkshire-moors.wav

And then it was like “Okay well can we just, do you want to just try moving towards that and see what happens?” And so that’s what happened, and then I met people that live in a tipi community in Wales of all places and my people that live in tipi he’s in Wales all year round to me was a revelation that people could still actually do that.

And I met some of those people at various festivals, at Glastonbury Festival and various healing gatherings, and they were just making a cup of tea around the fire, and I was just perceiving these people like these amazing epic characters that knew how to just boil kettle in a few minutes.

SOUND: BLESSED BE SONG.m4a
SOUND: 2. ANDREW PENNYWHISTLE.wav

INTRO: KAYLA’S STORY

SOUND: 3. BACKGROUND BIRDS KAYLA.wav

I love the way we met. I think it’s, it’s so romantic. He was playing the penny whistle. There was one evening he was playing in this little town called Ashland in Oregon and at night he was playing his whistle on the street. And I was out for a walk. I was actually quite heartbroken that night. And I was going on a walk with a friend, sort of crying and sharing my, my broken heart. And then we parted ways this friend and I, and I heard this whistle in the distance. It just felt so healing and soothing to me and so I decided I would close my eyes and walk to where that whistle was coming from.

And now here we are. However, many years this is later. This is like almost 20 years later and we have five children. 

On Tipi Life

ANDREW Basically we live in tipis because we can be on the ground around the fire. Like it’s a way of manifest in our elements directly. I can get wood and water, find the spring or a creek or something. There’s like two basics taken care of as far as elements.

KAYLA At the moment everyone’s busy in the shop. All the kids are in there making things; we’re making shoes for the trip, and making backpacks, a travelling lodge and a bag for the travelling lodge, and Ayla is making some gifts. She wants to bring these baby carriers to give to some kids that she knows over there. Yeah. everyone’s really busy using the sewing machines right now and making things for the journey and that’s a lot of fun.

SOUND: 4. WHITE THROATED SPARROW.m4a

KAYLA So we have five children. All of our children were born to living in the tipi.

That’s sort of one of the things that I kind of captivated me about Andy was that he, he lived in a tipi and he had come from a tipi community in Wales, and he knew how to make them, and how, how to live in them in a way that wasn’t like roughing it or camping but quite luxuriously.

The Blanchflower Family

And so all of our children were born to the tipi. Not all of them were born in it. Some were born outside of the tipi or in water, or our firstborn was born in a birth centre. It was a beautiful birth and it was that birth that then set up the rest for us to be pretty strong about just having him and I be there for the births.

So, we had a midwife for our first child and she was a wonderful woman. She’s dear in my heart. I have sought counsel with her throughout all the rest of our children, but not as a regular midwife and she did not attend any more births.

I’m grateful for her and it really helped me get in touch with the wisdom in my bones of just how to how to birth with a lot of love with whatever family was around.

SOUND: 6. AMBIENT LODGE 1.wav &  7. AMBIENT LODGE WATER.wav

On  Tipi Village, from Wales to Oregon

KAYLA It was when we were pregnant with our second child that we wanted to just be somewhere wild where we could feel really comfortable and at home and so we decided to just go to those mountains in the distance, and we set up our lodge, and I don’t know a little while after we set it up maybe some days or so. someone came down and it turned out they were the title holders.

But they loved the Tipi. We made them tea which is what we’ll often do when surprise visitors come. And you know let the fire do its magic on them like it does. They came down and they had tea and they welcomed us and said that they you know they had access to thousands of acres. They opened it up to us. I mean that the short version.

And that’s where the valley the tipi Valley model where Andy came from in Wales had such a strong influence in this little place in Oregon which we ended up calling tipi village.

It’s amazing that those stories, those people, those events, in Wales they’re all of those how far they travelled and how they’re like seeds that floated over and just grew in this other place, and I guess stories do that. They kind of travel like that.

People would come and visit and find out if they wanted to stay for a while or not. It was a pretty organic process because you know, if if people were up for it, fetching wood and water and cooking on a fire, and living with the elements, and dealing with mould and rodents, and you know, rain dripping in and all of these things that have to be dealt with– then they would, you know, they’d make themselves a tipi and rise to it and love it —and

other people would find you know quickly or not so quickly that it wasn’t for them, and so there was no need for any, you know, egos to get involved to say you can be here. You can’t be here. The earth did the sorting out. I guess, maybe.

SOUND: 2b Rattle.wav

ANDREW Tipi Valley in Wales they always had that big lodge that was always open, and it brings so much perspective. If we want new stories new narratives, we can look back to stories that 5000 years old what’s so common in a lot of those folk tales, is the answer to the problem comes from the periphery. It doesn’t come from where we’re looking at the problem. Like it comes a spirit of the lake or an old woman in the roots of the tree or…. But we have to be open to that we have to be at that point. Maybe it’s not going to be until we’re at that point of desperation that we will be open to that and hear it.

SOUND: 8. DINNER BLESSING.wav

On what is home?

Fireplace and FIRE CRACKLING.m4a

Sewing in the workshop tent

KAYLA [00:10:58] What does home mean? These are thinking about these things are really they’re meaningful to me, and we talk about them often in our home. It’s been quite a thread for us because of I guess we kind of considered ourselves as ‘displaced’ which is interesting to say because Andy isn’t from the west of Turtle Island but we made our family there, all the kids were born there this whole village from out of the ground and blossomed there, other children in the community were born there.

For many years we all moved together seasonally. There was a summer grounds and winter grounds and so we’re very connected with a place there.

We moved within a range, a valley, and a mountain range and so we had high elevation camp and we had a low elevation camp.

We often hear that the only place where that’s normal is where you’re at like the Nordic regions is like that that kind of stuff is more widely accepted and known in here. It is a little bit. I mean sometimes we’re in places where we might be a bit more of the freak show. We don’t find so many but enough that we aren’t alone really. Right now, all winter we’ve been living on this beautiful ridge and with three other families.

I mean a community doesn’t need to be a huge amount of people, there’s enough people here where we can bounce off each other and there’s enough, you know, diversity be amongst the different skills between the grown-ups that the kids can like, you know, they go to what’s inspiring for them for input and there’s other children here and they have this wide open wild space to just be in and learn about together.

SOUND: 11. CRACKING FIRE & ROWAN.m4a

On Stories

KAYLA Because I think there is some great power to us knowing the stories of a landscape and feeling how our stories are woven into those stories and then we know our place because we know the land so I feel like home. Place is relevant in talking about home, but I don’t think it’s exclusive to place and I think it could be at least here in the United States, there’s that consciousness of its like its ‘settler colonialism’ that really claims a place and says this is mine.

ANDREW Stories really intimate and woven in with place, like they come from a place and they emerge out of the ground. As far as a new narrative is becoming apparent that a monolithic… a single narrative isn’t really the way forward. It seems like in order to find unity we’re having to kind of decentralise. Someone a few years ago on a radio show was talking about that the only thing that unites us is our uniqueness. Like the thing that unites us does our uniqueness. We’re all different. So the ability to adapt. We’re forgetting how to adapt.

People are forgetting how to write down on paper, through the seduction of convenience, people forget how to feel a bit uncomfortable, and just rise to the occasion. I don’t know what there is to do other than just try and be resilient and adapt.

ANDREW That brings it back to that relationship with place being something more dimensional than mere economics. It is just one single level or dimension of how a holistic relationship to ‘place’ can be.

Rogue Dwelling Tipi in snow

KAYLA I think at that time I might have been very much one to say that home in place were more closely related but then as Tipi village, I mean the story as tragic, and it’s beautiful and it was you know, the land titles shifted hands and that’s a long story.

It was enough for us that push was enough, and we got a school bus real quick and made a quick conversion and got on the road and for the first year I would say we travelled around just traumatized and gutted like we had lost everything that, that meant something to us like the birthplace of our children, and we had such a vision woven in with that place, of a future of a way forward that we were so dedicated to and believed so firmly in.

Tending the land, tending wild plants, returning seasonally, watching it grow, living lightly with a place, as a people, as a community. So then that’s when I think the journey of being separated from place but still maintaining home, began for me personally.

SOUND: NeshiDrumming_6/4/19_2.mp3 (DIEGO Arrangement)

On Standing Rock

KAYLA: And then we kind of heard that call to go to Standing Rock. Well not kind of. It came through really strong. That’s another story. I mean it was quite an incredible direction for us to head in, after having gone through the seven years of tipi village, and being able to be in a bus, with a workshop that made tipis, and we can just pull up to Standing Rock and make shelter and have our home with us. And I think that’s where maybe the journey began to shift for me in realising that home is much bigger than a place because we got there, and it felt like we met our people. I met our people.

And that our people live all around the world, like people were there from so many places, but there was such this common thread that united us. And we kept saying in so many ways it was like we had gone home.

It had such a profound impact on our lives. We were there for a year. It was the land of the paradox for me just the richest place I’ve been.

The spiritual richness was so potent that fire was burning so strong and that’s what kept us there for that long and the poverty and pain that’s there is equally as strong. It’s just the poorest and richest place. And I guess I am speaking beyond our time in camp at Standing Rock because we stayed on further with relatives that we met who live on the various reservations in the Dakotas and lived with them after the camps were closed down in February. We continued on, pitched our lodge with some other people who live between the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Rosebud reservation

On Nature and healing

ANDREW This thing that they pejoratively called the environment as if it’s an issue as if it’s something that needs to be taken care of as if it isn’t the whole of everything. All of life runs through this about out of proportion, I think.

KAYLA We’re all very present. We don’t have anywhere else to be except right at home and with each other. We’d like to say that sometimes it’s kind of like we have seven pairs of eyes were like this one body with all these eyes and all these noses and all these ears just kind of moving through space and time together and and so it feels like we’re that much more aware if we’re in it together taking care of each other paying attention to each other’s bodies. But we heat water on the fire. We have a washtub. That’s how we have baths. The healing journey requires getting sick together.

We’re blessed to have each other to have the family. I send a bit of that good feeling out to those who aren’t as fortunate to have a family container to hold them through their challenging times.

I feel humbled and blessed that we do have that with each other and we have all the time we’re so rich with time so there’s just no hurry or there’s no loss of job money. Getting ill, it has information in there of how to be live even better, how to be more activated in ourselves, maybe.

Our bodies are maps.

On being open

KAYLA With the way we move with in the bus and where we’ve been travelling across the country. It’s sort of been a requirement that we be very open. I mean I guess we could do it in a closed way but I just that’s just not the way we do it. We move really slowly and in a very open way always receiving whatever guests we meet. It’s it’s so curious to me the way a journey can unfold when we go with such open minds and heart.

Especially with technology these days we could really plan our route and plan where we stay and close our reality down so much with all this planning and being so destination bound, and then I think we miss out so much, and so, by being so open, we’re always in contact with so many different kinds of people, which I think grows in our kids a kind of adaptability and some resiliency. and a way to navigate different cultural contexts.

Cosy at home

ANDREW Well the way we’ve done Chai is to serve it straight out of the bus because we have a 1988 Chevy Bluebird school bus like classic American school bus, and that’s what we travel, we carry our whole trip in that which is a tipi and a 28 foot seven-sided tensile tent shop.

So we might just be pulled over in a rest area or in a town and we’ll put a sign up saying “Now serving organic Chai” on the sign is to say. Donations welcome and then we thought it has a poor aesthetic, so we just even scrubbed that off, and people still managed to make donations, and sometimes… sometimes someone wouldn’t leave anything, sometimes… most people leave a couple three dollars to occasionally someone’s left one hundred dollars or bunches of kale or someone’s brought us some venison or Buffalo or whatever.

Hearth living

We pull up in the town and the person who’s got TB poles on the roof is painted brown and it’s got water protective signs on the side and people are curious and often there’s a person in a uniform who’s bold enough to come and talk to us and you know we’ll charm them but. we have to invite everyone in for a cup of tea because if we don’t, if we’re not open, then we’re dangerous and we’re suspicious because we are so different.

And it is curious that there is a longing. People come in and they just smell it. And I don’t know what we smell like anymore, like mostly we just smell like wood smoke, I think, you know we’ll be cooking in there and there was a smell of chai and, time and time again, there’s just that longing for trust.

I think it’s it’s not like there’s no fear there anymore it’s more like a willingness to engage with that fear and maybe that’s what we have to do in order to stop plundering our ecology our environment is just give over and relax and know that there is enough abundance in the world.

Playing and learning skills

SOUND: 10. FIRE COOKING.m4a

Everyday life is our home

KAYLA There’s these threads we have that we bring through wherever we go; the tipi and the fire and all the dailies that are required to keep that functioning and I think those are like it’s kind of the main spokes of the basket. That kind of give it some structure, and some kind of that’s their identity maybe? Maybe it’s maybe it’s like this is what we we are as a family is is what we do. We have our bus and our lodge, and we move seasonally and we don’t claim any one spot but we like to meet lots of people, and love places as we go if it’s planting trees or building labyrinths or developing springs, at different places, or transplanting things, or gathering plant medicines or praying, building sweat lodges.

There’s so there’s so many ways that we engage with the places that we go and love them where we go and then and then we are moving on. But I have to say there is some heartache and sadness about…it’s almost like we have to keep moving because of the way the system is set up.

I’m not entirely like anti…staying in one spot and I don’t. I’m not against that. It’s just not viable unless we do it in this very entitled way. This land ownership thing but tending to a place and loving a place and getting to know the stories of a place and weaving into it, I think that’s profound.I think this is crucial really for a sense of well-being, and for our knowing our own individual place and all of creation.

Even when we look at hunter and gatherer cultures, I don’t think they that people have ever just wandered around that there’s been a purpose. If it’s going for. A certain food that is ready in a certain place with the certain time of year.

When the salmon run or when the maple syrup is flowing, the wild rice is ready.

ANDREW This time last year we were in New Hampshire and we were tapping maple trees where we made 15 gallons of maple syrup and we still have some leftover. It’s that way of just diversifying. From my experience of travelling with indigenous peoples, and indigenous cultures it’s like there’s a resilience woven into those kinds of cultures.

Looking back to the dictionary definition of what Indigenous means, basically emergent from place. If I can emerge from a place like the elements that make my body, that way is to be alive. If I can honour that as much as possible as part of a… like everything else in creation. I am a strand in a multi-dimensional shimmering tapestry of life that is all my relation, which means all my relationships.

Kayla

So, it’s like we have all these relationships not just the physical well I can see and hear and feel and touch around me. But things that make up what is me they the things within me and without me. How does that shimmer in the way that it’s supposed to in the way that all the rest of creation has the potential to do — if I can perceive it like that?

SOUND: REFRAIN OF  2. ANDREW PENNYWHISTLE.wav

KAYLA There’s intention and purpose. It’s not kind of a bumbling about so working with what we have, it’s been beautiful, there’s people here who take care of this place. They said come and be here for the winter. And so we have, we’ve arrived. We’ve been here as fully as we can. This is art we’ve loved this place. And it’s been amazing. Arriving in the fall when it was all going to sleep. And now being here in the spring in this completely new landscape that we don’t know a lot of these plants and trees and they’re all waking up and coming alive and surprising us at every turn. We had no idea. We were surrounded by trees that were going to give off so much colour in the spring. It’s been beautiful to get to know a new place.

It’s been quite an epic and beautiful journey. A lot of it just feeling like it’s a journey of coming more whole, and a lot of weaving.

I think we weave so beautifully together, Andy and I.

Living light means living in harmony with nature, with the least negative impact

END

 

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.

Helena Norberg-Hodge, ON SURVIVAL

 
Helena Norberg-Hodge is the author of Ancient Futures (1991), a seminal work about traditional systems, globalization and change in the Himalayan region of Ladakh. She is a leading proponent of localization as an antidote to the problems arising from #globalization and founder of the International Alliance for Localization (IAL) in 2014.

Helena Norberg-Hodge also produced and co-directed the award-winning #documentary film The Economics of Happiness (2011), and along with Jerry Mander, Doug Tompkins, Vandana Shiva, Martin Khor and others, she co-founded the International Forum on Globalization (IFG) in 1994.

She is also the founder and director of Australian-based not-for-profit organisation # Local Futures, previously known as the International Society for Ecology and Culture (ISEC). Local Futures is “dedicated to the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.”


Helena Norberg-Hodge, Nordic By Nature Podcast Transcript.

I’m Helena Norberg Hodge and I’m the director of Local Futures, an international charity. For the last almost 40 years I’ve been promoting what I call ‘decentralization’ or ‘localization’. And that’s because I had the experience of working in cultures that had not been affected by the global market. Cultures like Bhutan and Ladakh, and later on a lot of experience with places like Laos and many parts of the world.

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In the mid 70s, Ladakh or Little Tibet, it was a part of the world that had not been colonized nor developed in the modern era. And there I found people who were still providing for all their basic needs from their own resources producing a range of things, some vegetables, grain, they kept animals there had their own architectural tradition of local materials. They still wove their own clothes from their own wool. And I started at first working on a dictionary, and travelled, actually walked through the whole region, it’s about the size of Austria. But in this high-altitude desert there were small villages, that survived by irrigating the desert from glacial melt.

As I got to know the people, I found that they were the most relaxed, the most joyous, the most vibrant people I had ever met.

I also saw that the opening up to the area to outside development was beginning to bring rapid change.

So, I ended up starting projects to demonstrate an alternative to conventional development, which among other things included demonstrating renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.

I also had my eyes open to the craziness in the global market.

So, I literally saw in a very short period after the area was opened up have having been sealed off for a long time. But that had travelled for more than a week over the high Himalayan mountains coming in and being sold for half the price of butter that came from the farm next door.

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So, this opened my eyes to then doing studies around the world as I was invited to speak or to start projects similar to the one in Ladakh. So that included Bhutan. I was in parts of Africa, invited to Mongolia, to Burma Myanmar, to Laos and everywhere I went. I would keep my eyes open for this. What was happening with the global market and what it was doing to the local production and local producers.

And I found the same pattern; in Mongolia where they had 20 million milk producing animals, in Ulan Bator, most of the butter came from Germany.

In Kenya, I found butter from Holland crossing half the price of local butter and as I returned to Europe. I found the same thing.

I became a passionate advocate of the need to strengthen local economies worldwide.

Small producers; farmers, fishermen, forest workers that were producing a range of things from diverse, adapted species of animals, and plants were being replaced by bigger and bigger monocultures. And they were being pushed off the land into bigger and bigger cities and in those cities, there were fewer and fewer jobs.

Traditionally in these cultures there had been no such thing as unemployment.

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As people were driven off the land into larger and larger cities, all of them created through huge investments in fossil fuel-based infrastructure, there was the beginnings of tensions between people who had lived side by side in more local economies, based on local resources where they were interdependent.

Now suddenly they were dependent on anonymous institutions lost bureaucracies.

And there was this dreadful artificial scarcity of livelihoods of jobs.

After only about a decade of opening up the local market the local economy to outside development these pressures led to violent conflict– to bloodshed. People had lived together side by side for generations.

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Most people have never experienced intact local economies.

We have a historical development where colonialism and slavery already destroyed more diversified self-reliant local economies. So, once you have destroyed the fabric of interdependence local interdependence fabric or more diversified production, based on biodiversity, then it’s very hard to see a clear path towards localization.

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Most people are not looking at the global system.

This is not about good guys and bad guys. At some level we all know that we depend on the living world, we all know that the real economy is the earth. But there is very little clarity I think about the way that we have lost sight of that.

Politically left and right in this regard is completely meaningless.

Finding a way back to a genuinely sustainable way, will require recognizing first of all that, that food is the most important production product that we have. It’s the only thing that every person needs every day. The only thing.

To allow a system where governments are continuing to subsidize greater and greater distance between each individual and the source of their food. That that inefficiency is responsible by far for the ecocide that we’re witnessing.

We have today a system that has allowed this to go so far, that countries routinely import and export the same product.

The US exports about a billion tonnes of beef and turns around and imports about a billion tonnes of beef …. The UK exports as much butter and milk as it imports. Right now, the UK is exporting 20 tonnes of bottled water to Australia. Australia is exporting 20 tonnes of water to the UK.

On top of that in this global food system we now have big business, being basically condemned to roam the world for the cheapest labor and that means that they will fly fish from Norway to be de-boned in China and it’s flown back again.

Apples were flown from England to South Africa to be washed and flown back again.

This is going on, on a massive and increasing scale, while we talk about climate change.

At the same time the emissions from those planes and giant container ship that are shipping things back and forth. Those emissions are not even calculated.

This is not about some…one evil corporation or that every CEO is evil or that every government is completely self-interested.

This is about blindness to the workings of a global system that we are simply not looking at. And it requires effort.

We need to look at the trends from a global point of view but look at them on the ground. Local governments are responding more to the needs of people and the needs of the natural world.

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Both people and nature are diverse. This is a fundamental principle of life. A fact.

And we change from moment to moment. This is true of every plant of every animal and everything that lives.

We must change the economy so that we do not destroy that uniqueness and that life.

What is wonderful is that from the grassroots and very often through just individual initiatives, people have had enough experience, there are a whole proliferation of positive initiatives that when you analyse them from a structural point of view, you see they are about localization. They’re about reconnecting production and consumption and they’re about adapting and respecting the limits and the needs of the living world.

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When we made changes to the food economy, we’re making very fundamental very important changes.

People care most people care in every position. We want to do the right thing.

Even in some of the newly emerging hubs for localization, towns like Portland, Oregon, or ‘here I am now’ in Byron Bay Australia. People are moving there because there is more human scale community interaction. People are known more for who they are what they do what they think their values.

So those are far more attractive places to live.

The wonderful thing about localizing is that there is a structural relationship between shorter distances between the market and the farm so that the local market, the market closer to the farm, not only accepts diversity but demands diversity.

It can’t use 20 tons of straight carrots. It becomes economically interesting for the smaller farmer, or even for a bigger one that decides to localize, in order to survive economically, to start diversifying.

So I know of examples of farmers in America that were you know had been pressured to grow mono-cultures of tobacco almost all in or near bankruptcy, barely able to survive, who then would just convert a few acres of their land to a diverse range of vegetables to sell in the local market, and were then able to start getting back on their feet again.

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If we look globally, we can see there is such an urgent need to restore diversified food sovereignty.

Allow people and farmers to produce for themselves first and then keep some of their land or some of the effort for export whether to tourists or to another market.

Trade has always been there. So, this is not about ending trade.

When we start really exposing what’s going on and we understand our absolute need to reduce energy consumption wherever possible but more importantly, all laws to restore biodiversity on the land then a very different picture emerges.

We need to look at how taxes subsidies and regulations are used to favour monopolies. No self-respecting capitalists would actually believe in subsidizing monopolies but that’s what’s going on.

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You do feel that there is a shift going on.

There is waking up it’s almost like an intuitive reawakening to what’s in our DNA.

You know we evolved more connected to one another and to the living world. And you just see people coming out of the cities longing for that reconnection to the earth and to community.

Community building combined with a deep spiritual reconnection to nature is an amazing therapy.

So, if we just open our eyes, we would see a very, very, clear path to healing, at the deep psychological personal spiritual level and healing the earth.

It’s amazing how many people are actually wanting to live a life of deeper connection and caring.

There are many ways that people are beginning to come together.

One of them of course is local markets.

There are also local business alliances.

There is local financing, where various forms, where people when they understand about localization start finding ways of creating for instance a revolving fund in their neighborhood or with their local group that may be starting a food co-op that may be starting a garden at their children’s school.

There are new singing groups.

One of things that held us together as communities in almost all traditional cultures was that we sang and dance and made music together.

Only with the industrialization and commercialization of our lives, that we become a spectator culture.

This localization actually starts to help us regain many of the skills that we all have. And many of the strengths we have which have, we don’t experience when we lead our anonymous consumer lifestyles.

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The most important thing we can do as individuals is to seek out like-minded people near where we live, cook a meal together and once we start opening our eyes to it we already feel so much better.

We already have greater faith in humanity. We realize the problem is not humanity. The problem is the in human scale of an economic system that we simply have not been looking at.

 

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This is about how the global population can start providing for its needs and enriching its local economy. I want to see a growth. I want to see growth in healthy plants healthy animals. I want to see a growth in the number of jobs. I want to see a growth in the number of businesses.

 

Through the mega mergers, it looks like we’re just going to have one pharmaceutical company providing for the whole world. One seed company one water company.

No, we need to shift it so we have a genuine growth of proliferation into a number that is appropriate and that are all that’s the goal of localization; not to end trade but to restore democracy and to restore the responsibility of business to respond to ecological and cultural realities.

 

Daniel Christian Wahl, ON SURVIVAL

Daniel Wahl is a leading educator, international consultant and design expert specialising in biologically-inspired whole systems design, transformative innovation and regenerative bioregional development. He is a biologist (University of Edinburgh and University of California), and holds an MSc in Holistic Science from Schumacher College and a PhD in Design, from the University of Dundee, 2006.

Daniel currently works with diverse collaborators weaving glo-cal networks in support of regenerative development and ecosystems restoration. His first book, Designing Regenerative Cultures, was published in 2016 and is a must-have handbook for anyone interested in how to redesign the human impact on Earth from being degenerative and exploitative, to being regenerative and healing. Daniel lives with his family in Mallorca, Spain.

Daniel tweets, and he is on Facebook and he has an excellent blog on Medium.

Here is a transcript of his words from our Podcast.

Daniel Wahl, Nordic By Nature ON SURVIVAL

My name is Daniel Wahl. I used to be a marine biologist, got disheartened with reductionist science and lack of including other ways of knowing into the way we do science, and ended up doing a Masters in holistic science at Schumacher college.

At that point, I realized the power of Design in putting this new holistic world view of Gaia theory and Goethian and holistic science interaction, and have been on this path of a sense of exploring how we can redesign the human presence and impact on earth within our lifetime, so we can actually have a future as a species, because we are currently facing the possibility of short term human extinction, if we don’t fundamentally change our ways.

Life is a planetary process. And we are part of that planetary process.

I work a lot now within with the term regenerative design and regenerative development. Sustainable being something that is really ways of doing things that don’t add any more damage to the system. And restorative and regenerative, going beyond that, and actually trying to undo the damage that we’ve done over so many decades and centuries of very unsustainable practices. So, it’s very much about finding solutions that come out of ‘place,’ that attuned to the story that the place itself wants to tell, and the people who have lived with it for generations. But it also is central that it’s about enabling their capacity – of the people who actually live in that place to respond to change as in an inevitable.

My belief is that design has a huge part in making that possible.

Well, the process of the United Nations responding to climate change has been painfully slow.

With the Paris breakthrough, there’s been some form of commitment of staying under two degrees average warming globally. But more recently the IPCC has revised that, and has said that it’s necessary to actually stay below one point five degrees. The reality is we’re not on track at all.

We’re on track to six seven eight degrees warming which basically would mean the unravelling of ecosystems around the globe and the end of civilization as we know it.

The most recent report actually it was November 2008 in gave the world 12 years to fundamentally respond to this crisis. But I think that again the IPCC has a tendency to be conservative, so they don’t get criticized. And 12 years is too long of a window of opportunity to give ourselves.

I think Antonio Guterres the Secretary General of the U.N. in September last year was probably more on the mark by saying that if we don’t respond within the next two or three years, in the way that is unprecedented in terms of international collaboration, then we might have triggered runaway climate change to a point that even if we decide afterwards to do something about it, it would be too late.

We don’t even know half or more than half of the species yet that exist. Particularly the species in the soil microbes. We’re just at the beginning of cataloguing them all. And really that’s where soil fertility starts, and with it the foundations for higher lifeforms.

It’s really understanding that every single species does matter and has a role to play in creating this collaborative symbiotic system that is basically life as a planetary process. And we’re part of it, and we’re completely dependent on it.

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I strongly believe in the power of design.

I think ultimately, it’s about design as human intentionality expressed through interactions and relationships. It covers product design but it also covers other more complex issues like monetary systems, transport systems our whole economic system and even the way we do research in the different academic disciplines.

There’s a design decision at the beginning of each discipline. So, basically any act human intention has a design element in it.

In that sense, the most powerful design intervention is the meta design intervention of changing people’s world views and value systems, and the stories we tell about each other and in our relationship to nature. When you shift that then our perceived and our real needs shift. And with that our intention shifts in everything down stream changes.

I think design is powerful and designers very often oversell it, and most design schools still haven’t actually woken up to how critical design and deep ecological design thinking could be to the survival of our species.

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There are a lot of companies out there who are supplying things we don’t really need or they’re supplying them in a way that is based on programmed obsolescence and turnover of products.

And I don’t think that that kind of business practice has a future.

I think we need to create much more durable products that much more easily repairable at a local level.

But we also need to create products that are to some extent, the components are more recyclable. But really if you go deeper, you realize that most of the materials we make things out of, we’re going to run out of sooner or later.

So, all that thinking around Circular Economy and two loops in the Circular Economy diagram with a cradle to cradle diagram, the industrial metabolism and the biological metabolism, they’re really just concepts.

Ultimately, we’re going to have to shrink the industrial metabolism because most of the materials in that cycle we won’t be able to recycle forever.

So, one of the big oversells around that is this concept of upcycling. It doesn’t actually work to up cycle things indefinitely, unless you have a free source of energy and there is no such thing.

We’re really needing to fundamentally shift our material culture towards more biomaterials that are regenerative grown, in the region, for the region, and based on the resources that that particular ecosystem has to offer.

It has to be done in such a way that it doesn’t destroy the rest of the ecosystem. So, the contrary, it has to be done in a way that it regenerates the ecosystem.

Basically, these companies are beholden to their shareholders. They operate within a system that is fundamentally exploitative and degenerative. Then that system is our current economic system.

The way that we’ve designed money and the way money is created and the way that we have differential interests on deposit and loans and therefore create an economic playing field that is based on a zero-sum thinking, so basically on winners and losers. And while we have a system like that, and we have that necessity that a national economy needs to grow at a minimum at 3 percent per annum otherwise it collapses,

There are a lot of top-level sustainability minded CEOs that really do care, and yet they are stuck in a system where to some extent, most of what they do is moving deck chairs on the Titanic.

Ultimately, they really need to consider that maybe the assumption that these companies, just because they’ve been around for 100 years, have to be around for another hundred years, might be an erroneous assumption.

Maybe some of these companies actually have to program for their own… or design for their own death in ways that they can then re-emerge in like a phoenix from the ashes, as knowledge networks that help more regional production and regional consumption [00:09:39] With the innovation and development that they’ve been very good at.

That’s at the CEO level.

But for a lot of people who are working in these companies, who are beginning to see that their children are not going to school on Fridays because they’re claiming they’re right for a Liveable Future. Or they see London being disrupted by the Extinction Rebellion and more and more people getting more and more verbal about the fact that it’s five past 12.

We don’t even have a guarantee that we are still going to be able to make it if we do things fundamentally different now.

Most people today are still somewhat stuck in beginning to realize how profound the changes are that we are now called to do individually, as communities, as nations, and as one human family. And at the same time making sure our kids are in school, and that we can pay their bills, so the food’s on the table.

But we are facing transformative change in a way that these incremental innovations, and these incremental changes, just aren’t going to make it in time. So, hold onto your hat.

We have to relearn how to collaborate. Moving from competitive advantage to collaborative advantage. And realizing that we’re all in this together. Living Spaceship Earth is in danger of collapsing on us.

We’re living in a dream-nightmare, that that tells the story that was somehow separate from nature that culture and nature are not one.

—————————————–

I’m increasingly thinking that working by regionally is the scale at which we can make the biggest difference.

Bio- regionalism has been around since the late 1960s, and this whole concept of re habitation re inhabiting our bio regions, and reconnecting to the biological cycles, the ecological cycles of those regions,

Increasingly also the conversation about what would sustainable cities look like– Understand that it is a reconnection of the city back to its region. So, I could definitely see that there could be models developed in Sweden. It’s the same with a lot of regions that people have strong allegiance to their particular region.

And so, I think that’s a great starting point because one of the core things about regenerative development and creating regenerative cultures is that they are born out of the uniqueness, the bio cultural uniqueness of place.

They are sensitive to both the ecological and biological uniqueness of the ecosystems they inhabit, but they also are sensitive to the historical cultural dimension, of how people have lived in relationship with nature, and with the elements and with climate, and with the patterns of that particular place, and I think it makes …makes a lot of sense to rekindle those regional identities, but to not do so in a sort of parochial “Let’s go back and pull up the draw bridges, and create lifeboats in a turbulent world” But as understanding that that is the scale of action for a globally collaborative effort to heal the planet, that we have raped and pillaged, basically, and in doing so possibly also heal ourselves, heal our relationship to each other and heal the relationship between humanity and nature.

—————————————–

I know that in Costa Rica there’s a movement to create a bio-regional regenerative development case study in one part of the country. And actually the whole country is looking at adopting regenerative development as.. as their main development strategy.

Things are shifting.

Luckily, I also see that there’s a confluence of movements in all walks of life like people trying to transform business from within.

In recent years the Capital Institute started initiatives to work with people in regions to create these “regen” economy hubs at the bio regional scale. This movement is growing and the different players unnecessarily fully aware of themselves.

I’m also thinking of the Planetary Health Alliance with network of universities and research institutions around the world doing the research and looking into the connections between planetary health ecosystems, Health Population, Health and individual health. We need to really understand the intrinsic value of our life and planetary health to the whole community of life.

And then there’s organizations like Common land in the Netherlands who’ve developed functional strategies to do large scale ecosystems restoration, working with local farmers, and local landowners, in specific areas around the world, and transforming entire regions that are between 500,000 and a million hectares.

The momentum is building. I think the next two years are critical. I’m still hopeful. We are actually going to see this transformative change to become a global emergency response.

——————————————-

It’s only now that we’re slowly beginning to link up the people who have pioneered works in sustainable cities and sustainable architecture and in more bio-materials construction methodologies and so forth with new and pioneering in buy materials and product design, with all the wonderful work that is in kind of Earth Care and earth healing eco therapy from permaculture to agroforestry to analogue forestry and all these other techniques that have been around for a while and have been improved over years and years of experimenting.

We also have lots of case studies to point out that we can if we choose to have a positive impact on the environment that we inhabit. There are plenty of places around the world where large scale regenerative agricultural projects have shown impressive ways; the before and after that is possible in 15, 20 years.

I am thinking of the Lös plateau example that John Low was now founded the ecosystems respiration camp Foundation reported on in the early 2000s. In China, an area of hundreds of square kilometers was being transformed from arid eroding semi desert, to lush terraces that are bio productive with the springs coming back and the tree cover being permanent again, and basically increasing the carbon content in the soil, drawing down carbon from the atmosphere, improving the bio productivity of the area, improving the hydrology of the area, improving the amount of food that it generated and so on.

These things are possible, and there are examples all over the world.

The way that life creates conditions conducive to life is by continuously experimenting with novelty, and so things keep changing. Our planet sits within larger systems as well, that also affect how the conditions on our planet change.

——————————————-

There is no destination sustainability. There is no destination regenerative culture. It is a continuous community-based process of learning of how to adapt and how to respond creatively to change. To do so in ways that we enable people to discover their own essence, their unique contribution to making the system more vibrant and more vital and more valuable. But in all levels of value. not just in economics to economic terms.

We all have to walk that path. That is what life is all about. To be adaptive, resilient and regenerative — respond to change.

END

Nordic by Nature Podcast – Out now!



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, 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.

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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Simple landing page and text to share on social media:
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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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Simple landing page and text to share on social media:
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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.

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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 

Institute of Advanced Design Studies to launch in Budapest

We are very excited and proud to announce that The Institute of Advanced Design Studies (IADS), a new educational platform set to launch this October in Budapest, Hungary, co-founded by Karina Vissonova, PhD and Róbert Héjja, PhD.

Some of you may remember the article on Karina we published a while back. Well, she has been busy again! Her partner in this new venture, Róbert Héjja, is a well-known financial investor with a strong interest in green investments.

The Institute’s vision is to create a new wave of multidisciplinary design thinkers who will bring new sets of skills to their respective fields for radically increased sustainability. Ethics is at the heart of the venture; an idea that it is time for design to solve global challenges and that technology should be harnessed for the benefit of humanity and the environment.

The Institute’s manifesto is a summary of their values and learning objectives: Radically Sustainable, Deeply Ethical, Practically Resourceful, Respectfully Challenging and Openly Interconnected.

The highly integrated and interdisciplinary nature of the programmes is designed to complement well-established academic courses. The programmes are modular and combine the latest co-creative tools and processes used at leading organisations and consultancies with the Philosophy of Design and Ethics. As an independent, not-for-profit educational platform, all profits will be redirected to creating new educational and research opportunities and scholarships aligned with their values.

A One-Year Postgraduate Course for a select group of peers
Every year, the Institute will select a complementary group of 25 postgraduate students to work intensively together with some of the world’s leading names in sustainability, design, product and service development and technology. These visiting lecturers replace a traditional faculty, allowing students gain access to an immersive learning experience with experts active in their field. Both the tutors and the students explore subjects in depth, with the shared ambition of shaping more comprehensive solutions that consider the potential impact of design manifestations, whether those outcomes are intentional or not.

Students leave the course armed with the latest knowledge on current developments in design, such as Design Thinking, new approaches such as Circular Economy, and how to organise around the continuous change. At the end of the one year course, the students publish their process and findings and are issued a diploma in Advanced Design Studies for Sustainability acknowledging their attendance and accomplishments.

In parallel to the postgraduate programme, the Institute will host extra-curriculum short courses and lectures in collaboration with the Arts Quarter Budapest. These courses also are open to external students.

art quarter pic

Venue and Collaborative Partner: Art Quarter Budapest
The Institute’s activities will be based at Art Quarter Budapest, an international contemporary art centre dedicated to the development of art and new media. Located in the vibrant city of Budapest, it consists of several buildings with indoor and outdoor exhibition space, workshop studios, residencies and common rooms.
The Institute began its collaboration with Art Quarter Budapest in 2018 with a common goal of advancing knowledge in the fields of Art and Design. Our extra-curriculum workshops and short interdisciplinary courses are run in collaboration with Art Quarter.

Launching during Design Week Budapest 2018
The two founders, Karina and Róbert will present their vision at a launch party and 3-day seminar and workshop during Design Week Budapest this October. Between the 10th and 12th October, there will be a series of seminars and workshop activities on biomimicry, where artists, designers and participants from other backgrounds such as ecology, technology, or engineering will work with each other to generate ideas applicable in arts and design inspired by nature.

Bookmark www.designstudies.hu to follow!

The Vedatya Institute. A new source of culinary knowledge for organic India.

On the South of Delhi in Gurgaon is a technical college that has high ambitions to provide a new type of education within service and hospitality. Unlike others, this college has a strong focus on applied knowledge and circular economy within food, from ‘farm to forks and fingers.’

Food cooked and plated by first year students.

Food cooked and plated by first year students.

The Institute, called Vedatya, is still young but has already achieved so much. I arrived there on a sunny December day with Sanjoo Malhotra, co-founder of the platform and network Tasting India. It was towards the end of Tasting India’s 2017 symposium on food, where Sanjoo and his co-founder Sourish Bhattacharya, had collected some of India’s leading influencers and change-makers. The missing piece at the symposium, until that day, had been education; how to create a new integrated learning model for organic food businesses that would teach theory in a practical and experiential way.

Sanjoo Malhotra, co-founder of Tasting India on the grounds of Vedatya, December 2017.

Sanjoo Malhotra, co-founder of Tasting India on the grounds of Vedatya, December 2017.

From star chefs to culinary entrepreneurs.
I didn’t expect to find an organic farm on campus. Sanjay Sharma, Head Chef at Vedatya explains: “For a chef to be able to work effectively and maximize their creativity, they really need to know how food grows; what local ingredients are available, what is the seasonality, how are they grown, and which parts can be used.”

High tech buildings of the Vedatya Institute.

High tech buildings of the Vedatya Institute.

Vedatya currently has 4 acres of farmland, a herb garden, lots of fruit trees; mango, lychee, lemons, oranges, chiku, and papaya. And to complete the full ecosystem of sustainable practices, the institute is going to keep cows on-campus, for both compost and dairy and develop an 100 percent organic fish farm that can also create natural fertilizer. This integrated approach to applied learning allows current students in training, as well as industry professionals, to really value local, organic produce, and explore more sustainable culinary practices.

Vedatya chefs in the farm.

Vedatya chefs in the farm.

Amit Kapur, Managing Promoter of Vedatya explains: “India’s population is over 1,2 billion, almost 18 percent of the world, and yet we are a nation of mostly male engineers. 90 percent of those engineers are unemployed. We need to change our education system quickly and develop new types of skills. India’s education system is still in silos, and very gendered, and class divided.”

Amit Kapur, Managing Promoter of Vedatya.

Amit Kapur, Managing Promoter of Vedatya.

Kapur continues: “We really wanted to create something that will last beyond our lifetimes.” Ved means knowledge in Sanskrit, and Aditya means Sun. Vedatya, therefore, is a coined name that sounds like ‘Source of Knowledge.’ Its goal is to become a model for higher education and a hub of interdisciplinary knowledge with industry – where scientists and philosophers can work alongside farmers, gardeners, artists, chefs – and even engineers.

Chef Megha Kohli, Head Chef at the restaurant Lavaash Delhi, holding a class on how cuisines are reborn.

Chef Megha Kohli, Head Chef at the restaurant Lavaash Delhi, holding a class on how cuisines are reborn.

At Vedatya, a chef isn’t just a chef anymore. A culinary student could work anywhere in India’s food business – from being a hotelier or restaurateur, to re-branding and distributing local products to support small scale farmers and communities. Students need to know about locality, seasonality, and heritage – as well as all the soft skills of service design. One of the Vedatya’s alumni, Preet Singh, went back home and became an organic honey producer, selling his brand across India and overseas in Singapore.

Alumni's organic honey brand is sold across India and overseas.

Alumni’s organic honey brand is sold across India and overseas.

Business know-how.
Another way that Vedatya is promoting applied education is by partnering with different industry players through an industry-academic partnership model that is quite unique in India. Industry partners are potential employers of Vedatya’s graduates, and so they can be an integral part of student’s curriculum that is reviewed every two years. This initiative has led to partnerships with InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), one of the world’s largest hotel companies, and with Columbia Asia Hospitals, one of Asia’s leading hospital chains, in the healthcare industry, to name but two.

14. Wood fire cooking

Most of India cooks over traditional wood fire ovens.

Class inequity – a major challenge.
“The Institute is in a rural setting, so every year we give 2-3 scholarship to young people from the neighboring local village,” adds Kapur. “Slowly we are getting young people interested in coming here to get an education but it isn’t easy.”

Vedatya has great plans for maximizing its land with organic farming.

Vedatya has great plans for maximizing its land with organic farming.

India has huge inequalities and a very complex caste system. The villagers come from backgrounds where they have absolutely no exposure at all to rapidly changing urban life. It’s a huge sacrifice for a youngster get an education when they are expected to help their families survive.
“One of our scholarship students wanted to quit after only a few months,” Kapur explained. Eventually he told the director that the reason he wanted to quit was because he is being bullied by his friends about the formal way he is required to be dressed at Vedatya. Even his family teased him for looking like a ‘plucked chicken’ because he was following Vedatya’s dress code to be well-groomed and wear a uniform.
“It sounds funny to us, but he was deeply ashamed. There is a conflict and context that even we don’t understand. We are talking a difference of 20 kilometers. We need to support rural communities and give them a longer perspective. We also need to help these communities survive,” concludes Kapur.

4fresh produce

Fresh organic produce grown on site.

Organic India
When Vedatya and the Tasting India platform talk about food, they mean everything from the production of food, to food on the plate. Vedatya believes that organic food is second nature for India and it has the potential to be the new economic driver for a sustainable future, to getting people into the workplace and tapping into new industries such health tourism. Organic farming has the ability to feed India through new distribution channels, and offer solutions to major challenges, such as how to deal with food surplus, nurture cultural diversity within the vast continent, and create major export crops and produce that can take more than India’s current 1 percent of the growing global organic market.

Holi celebration, March 2018

Holi celebration, March 2018

Text by Tanya Kim Grassley.

 

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.