Making Music

15 11 2020

I have always admired people who can make music. To be able to play a clarinet or piano fluently seems to me like the most gorgeous gift. My musical talent fits into a matchbox. At school I was in awe of those musical geniuses who had the facility I lacked. I remember once picking up a guitar with a fluttering feeling of finding my instrument and being told by the teacher that I was holding it back to front.

I resigned myself to becoming a listener rather than a player. I was an ardent onlooker and observer and remained in awe of those who had the secret knowledge. Last week, I realised the true point of music is to connect.

We set up in the barn with an array of hand pans, exquisitely crafted by Lyndon Forster, who offers music workshops through his community enterprise PanKind.

We had invited Lyndon to visit in the summer and we were all entranced by the reaction of the horses to the melodic sound of the pans. As soon as Lyndon started playing, the herd, who were some distance away grazing lifted their heads. Then, as if drawn by a magnet, they came to investigate. Dragonfly, our most sensitive Arabian, seemed to connect most intensely, exploring the pan with his whiskers as we experimented with different touches to lift the sound from the metal.

The barn which is a combination of tractor garage and night shelter to two Dartmoor ponies Evie and Rose became transformed into a music studio to which we had invited a group of patients from Langdon Hospital.

One of the patients, a talented musician, was instantly gripped by the guitar and provided background accompaniment to the ripples of sound from the rest of the group. Another patient gently moved his fingers down a dulcimer while Evie breathed over his hands. Someone else touch played a pan. At one moment I realised that all the beings in the barn were utterly absorbed in the process. No words were needed. We were connected as one.

No division between animal or human, patient or staff, teacher or farmer. Just us. Playing. In a big draughty barn. It felt completely natural and also humbling.

When we allow things to unfold with a harmony and rhythm all of their own, we make music. The spontaneous music of being as we are.

Doughnuts are the future

8 11 2020

We are poised for a new era in leadership with Joe Biden’s election as President of the United States. Among many there is hope that one of the world’s most influential super-powers will regain balance, perspective and return to a quieter, more dignified style of governance. In the words of one BBC commentator: ‘The wildness is over.’

Kamala Harris is preparing to step into her role as vice-president, the first time a woman has been elected to this position. She has said the election is about so much more than the candidates. ‘It is about the soul of America and our willingness to fight for it.’

Overnight, the rhetoric of power has shifted, from angry defence and threats, to calls for patience, hope and healing as the knotty details are worked through. There is a change in the atmosphere. At a time when the world needs it most, there is at last some breathing space.

In parallel to following the US election, I have been reading Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth, which makes a case for radically changing the way countries are financed. Her Doughnut model, which has been welcomed as a new vision for humanity by academics, business leaders and entrepreneurs is also a reason to hope.

I never knew economics could be so gripping until I started the Doughnut and what I have learned is that current financial models are clunky, crude and misaligned with how most people want to live. They are straight pipelines that facilitate basic input and output of money without considering the well-being of the community which both supplies and needs the money. I recommend reading the book to get a sense of the scope of the Doughnut, which if adopted by governments as the way to move beyond the obsessively narrow focus on growth as the measure of economic success, could sweetly change the world.

The Doughnut is a series of circles that considers critical planetary degradation; the safe and just space for humanity and critical human deprivation. The model places the safe and just space for humanity between two rings: one of ecology, the other social. We can most comfortably thrive in this buffered zone where we are no longer pushing the earth’s resources past its capacity to keep us in the manner to which we have become accustomed.

“The last two hundred years of industrial activity have been based on a linear industrial system whose design is inherently degenerative. the essence of that industrial system is the cradle-to-grave manufacturing supply chain of take, make, use, lose: extract Earth’s minerals, metals, biomass and fossil fuels; manufacture them into products; sell those on to consumers who -probably sooner rather than later – will throw them ‘away,’ When drawn in its simplest from, it looks something like an industrial caterpillar, ingesting food at one end, chewing it through, and excreting the waste out of the other end.”

Kate Raworth Doughnut Economics 2017 (p212)

These ideas pose challenges to business leaders of the 21st century in the form of the corporate to do list. There are five options to choose from and working through them requires overcoming a tendency to stick with what we can do, rather than what we could do to not only boost our businesses and enterprises, but to add benevolent value to the world in which we do business. I love Kate Raworth’s breadth of vision, her clarity and her belief that making a difference in the broadest sense is possible no matter how small your enterprise.

Top of the list is generosity. A generous mindset looks to nature as a model. Nature gives bountifully, she takes usefully and she wastes nothing; she’s also a creative genius. She makes works of staggering complexity and beauty from a handful of dust. Poppy seeds flung into hard ground by winds need disturbance, light and air to germinate and bloom. Blobs of jelly become fish, elephants and human beings. Caterpillars emerge from silk duvets transformed into winged jewels.

It is hard for some companies to be generous because stuck at number two – do what pays – means viewing your business through the narrowest of lens. There are plenty of examples of number two: some universities charging exorbitantly high prices for food parcels delivered to students in quarantine or ill with Corona Virus springs to mind. Universities, such as Reading, are right at the top with their home-grown boxes of wholesome food. It may cost more to feed young people well, but the benefits of doing so are worth so much more than the savings gained by offering value packets of pasta or cereal, or in some cases, no food at all.

Regenerative design invites us to learn from nature’s 3.8 billion years of experimentation. It invites us to think of nature as our source of inspiration and our teacher. Generous designers such as Janine Benyus, whose innovative work is featured in the book as an example of thinking beyond the usual boundaries, creates cities that act like ecosystems. Imagine ‘rooftops that grow food, gather the sun’s energy, and welcome wildlife.’ Imagine ‘pavements that absorb storm water then slowly release it into aquifers. Buildings that sequester carbon dioxide, cleanse the air, treat their own wastewater, and turn sewage back into rich soil nutrients.’ Cities as generous as forests.

The world feels new today. There’s talk of new possibility, of unity, of ecology not as a political issue, but a universal one. Nature holds the key to solving the problem of her own destruction, if only we would pay proper attention to those who want to show us. Raworth says that ‘today’s most innovative enterprises are inspired by the idea that the business of business is to contribute to a thriving world.’ These ideas shine a light on a new way of waking up in the world, a way to feed our organisations and enterprises so that we all might thrive. Nature lead the way!

Circular Thinking

1 11 2020

It feels as if we’ve come full circle. Back to days of uncertainty within a pandemic that doesn’t seem to be blowing over like the storm we hoped it would be. The pandemic won’t go away. It circles around us, whipping up fear and panic. It forces us to confront the most pressing questions of what it means to live in the unknown. We are not good at living with the unknown. We like things to go from from A to B, from awful to better, not B to W, bad to worse. We expect things to improve. When they don’t, we’re affronted.

There are so many advantages to thinking in straight lines. We can predict things, count things, order things, make everything fit into neat rectangular boxes that we can then file away on top of other neat rectangular boxes. We like things orderly because it helps us to feel safe. One ripped open box with all the contents strewn over the floor is disconcerting and damn right inconvenient.

We will all need to review our plans now. We will adjust because we have become quite flexible if we stop to think about last November when we were still meeting for cosy pub lunches, organising bonfire parties, work gatherings, family celebrations and thinking ahead to Christmas. Only a year ago, our lives were constellated around social events.

Now our lives are constellated around not contracting a virulent disease that we will spread to others, causing harm and social dysfunction. We are not prepared for the harm we might cause because we are still stuck in last November when all seemed to be well in the world. Then, we were ready to move onto the next thing.

Now, we have no idea what the next thing is. It could be a month at home reading and decorating the front room or redesigning the garden. It could be a month working in an intensive care unit, shielded against infection, working harder than ever to keep people alive. It could be a month of total isolation, locked up in a prison cell for 23 hours of the day.

It’s impossible to make plans. We’re all going with the flow. This goes against our grain as straight line thinkers. We’re having to enter the circle and it’s freaking us out. It’s stopping us in our tracks. It’s making us pause and consider whether we might have other options.

When I teach in circles, people are often worried about allowing who they are to be seen. They feel anxious and exposed. Facing inwards, they wonder what they might find. What pain and suffering might leap out from the darkness and grab them, leaving them vulnerable. The circle is inviting, but also repelling. If entered correctly, there is nowhere to hide.

The circle is also a safe container for feelings. I recorded some words shared in a circle with the group who visited the horses for a connection day on the farm last week. The question: what would living life with joy feel like for you?

The response: Carefree; Energising; Happy; Full; Being Real; Heaven; More Colour, More Clarity; Simplicity; Lightness; At Peace; Fun; Free, Musical; Harmonious.

I love this list. It gives me hope that feelings of joy remain within our reach. I also love the character of the compassion circle. It has come to inspire my teaching in a much deeper way than I thought possible. Sitting and sharing circle space with a group of curious and courageous people who have never met before has been the gift of the most challenging year. I’ve met people differently this year.

I’m noticing, too, how the circle spirals into my everyday awareness. I see circles in places I had not looked at before; in the forms of trees, the shape of water, the flight of birds. The world, as I see it, arcs and bends and curves, honouring the earth itself. I realised today most fully that all life is circular. There is no going, no returning and what we think of as straight lines will eventually warp and roll. It impossible to keep going straight, without looking, truly looking at those we meet.

%d bloggers like this: