The most interesting, and most rewarding part of my journey with Transition has been around the aspects of Inner. The world I (and most of us) have been brought up in values getting things done, being busy, the tangible and the pursuit of external things to fill the sense that something is missing. I left a very main stream, London-based, corporate working life when I could no longer ignore the questions I was asking myself about the value and purpose of my life. With great luck I ended up in Totnes in 2006 as Transition was being born, and soon got involved. I’m grateful that my Transition work has mostly been in a paid capacity – I set-up and co-ordinated the initial Transition Streets project for Transition Town Totnes, and initiated and now run the REconomy Project for the Transition Network.
While switching my work to deliver the aims of Transition rather than enrich corporate shareholders felt good, for quite some time I was still caught up the work ethic of the world I had left behind – being driven, working intensively, and trying to control process and outcomes to go the way I thought they should. In 2009, I had the good fortune to start working with one of the TTT mentors every 2 weeks. I remember being totally perplexed the first time she asked me “do you ever just sit there and be?” What a ridiculous question I thought, what’s the point of that?
Needless to say this mentoring support, and other wise counsel from friends and colleagues who have been grappling with similar issues, helped me see how out of balance I had become, stuck in a cycle of ‘doing’ with no attention to the resting/being part of the flow of life. I then noticed that while I was working less, there was still a feeling of intensity and pressure and trying to cram everything into those work hours. I noticed how I felt much more relaxed and present when I wasn’t working. I wondered why this was the case, and how would it be to have a feeling of ‘it’s the weekend’ in my working day.
I’ve also been doing a retreat programme over the last 3 years that combines ‘Western’ psychological understanding of why we do what we do, with ‘Eastern’ practices around presence and mindfulness. All of this combined to help me understand more about what motivates me around work, and I’ve seen through some of the unhelpful beliefs driving my behaviour. I remember one day realising the only person putting such pressure on myself was… me!
Now I pay much more attention to the signals that I am doing too much, feeling stressed or disconnected with myself and I build in time to balance my being and doing. This can be simple small things like setting my phone alarm to go off every 50 minutes when I’m working at my laptop, to remind me to go and walk around the garden, or do 5 minutes meditation.
5 years on, I am now pretty good (if I say so myself!) at not over working, keeping clear boundaries around work time, and trying to give all parts of my life equal value – my relationships, my leisure time, time alone, time in nature, volunteering time as well as Transition/work. But I still care deeply about my work, and get a lot of useful stuff done… and I get to experience my life as it happens, rather than get to the end of the day and realise I haven’t even noticed most of it.
I’m finding more of a sense of deep, inner satisfaction, feeling more connected to myself and to others which means I’m looking less often to external things to satisfy this longing. This shift seems to represent something to me about the wider challenges we’re all facing, about what’s fuelling our consumer culture and unhealthy work ethic, and where we need to look for real solutions.
So I’ve been asking myself if I’m integrating inner aspects in the areas of REconomy I’m responsible for – and what does this actually mean in practice? If my work is around helping a new local economic system to emerge, how should it be different from what we have today? What are the underlying values that represent a more integrated, balanced model, and how do we bring this to life?
Those of us working with REconomy agree we need a system where the local economy is in service to the community, not the other way round. Some Transition groups have crafted a purpose statement that puts the wellbeing of the whole community at its heart, along with fairness and environmental respect [see below].
The ‘entire community’ includes those excluded from the current economy for whatever reason, and ensures they are well cared for. I’m also interested in how we might ensure a more balanced representation and participation of the full diversity of our community in our local economy, from the perspective of gender, income class, ethnicity and so on. I’ve blogged about this previously, and clearly this shift can’t happen without some open heart surgery on issues including privilege and access to power and resources. Thorny issues indeed, but it’s time to grasp them. If not now, when?
Our new system also needs to recognise, include, and value equally all the unpaid work that keeps us and our society functioning – raising our children, caring for the elderly and those that need extra help, volunteering our time. Just because money does not change hands doesn’t mean the ‘transaction’ or trade doesn’t have value – how might this perception be shifted?
One project that’s starting to explore this is Caring Town Totnes, something that emerged out of the Economic Blueprint work. The Blueprint looks at transforming the town’s local food and energy sectors, but also includes the health/care sector as a vital underpinning of our community’s resilience. It’s looking at how the 70 or so local statutory and voluntary health and social care service providers can better work together to meet the growing needs of the local population, and how local economic transformation in terms of commissioning models, for example, can stimulate more good local jobs and livelihoods, and create a culture of reciprocity where people might get help, but they also give it back in some way. It also aims to explore more about the health connections with local housing, food, energy, transport etc., and design systemic solutions – it’s early days but Caring Town Totnes feels an important and exciting area for Transition.
We have also crafted some principles for the kinds of new enterprises that are emerging from Transition that embed good financial, social and environmental practices and models [see pic for summarybelow].
But this doesn’t quite capture everything yet around inner aspects. Perhaps we need to add a new circle, or a thread that runs through the enterprises and the overall system, which is about how we work together and how we treat ourselves and others at work. What are the things that help create good work places that enhance our health and wellbeing rather than leave us drained and deadened? That allows us to find and express our unique contribution in service to the whole? That don’t require us to leave our real selves at the door?
Rob already mentioned in his blog some ways Transition Network is developing a new kind of organisational culture, especially the focus on time for reflection and celebration, asking ‘how am I doing?’ and ‘how are we doing together?’ I feel privileged to be part of an organisation that’s doing its best to model a new way of working that puts balance, integrity, openness and enjoyment at its core, right alongside action. This has come mainly from the inner focus brought by Sophy and others, which has not always been an easy ride for them given our strong attachment to constant doing and action and results.
In some ways it’s easier to design a model that works this way in new enterprises. But given we need to transform all parts of our economic system, and work together collaboratively, what role might we have in influencing established businesses, third sector groups and the public sector to integrate some inner aspects? I often hear concern that bringing inner aspects into a council meeting, or a business workshop for example, is risky and ill advised. Personally I think we just have to be skilful, considerate and respectful in how we do this.
One way is in modelling different ways of doing things at events or meetings: suggesting a check in where people say hello to each other and say a little what’s going on in their life; use of things like open space to allow creativity and the unexpected to emerge; sharing responsibility for good event/meeting outcomes; asking what can be given back as well as taken; taking time for reflection and listening rather than packed-full, action oriented agendas; and modelling a mix of being and doing.
In all these ways, and new ones I’m sure, it’s interesting to see how this inner strand of REconomy continues to emerge, and how I can help ensure it’s fully embedded and valued at the heart of our work, as well as at the heart of myself.
Inner aspects have brought depth, challenge and satisfaction to my life in ways that continue to be transformative. I think it’s one of the main things that gives Transition its heart, it’s what underpins successful ‘doing’, puts this doing in service to the greater good, and what we need more than anything if we are to succeed with our fantastically ambitious aims.
Fiona Ward, April 2015
REconomy is a project running in 10 other countries as well as the UK. If you want to know more about REconomy then look out for a range of practical and informative guides, articles and videos during May and June, when REconomy is the featured theme on the TN website. Meanwhile find out more at www.reconomy.org.