This guest blog is from Nicholas Raybould, who is one of the six students on the One Year in Transition course this year. He writes about the first meet up, in September, which was based at Sharpham House outside Totnes. The induction week is designed to set the context for the year by diving into the issues that Transition is addressing and offering tools for being a change agent in whatever community and field of activity the student chooses to spend the year. In order to get the project briefs clear we ask questions such as “Who am I?”, “What do I want to do?” and “What is my territory?”. Nurturing the confidence and self-belief of each student is a priority for the year and I would say that is the single most important aspect of this course, from which everything else follows. Blogging is one of the course requirements and I will be posting the 1YT blogs up here at regular intervals.
You can find Nicholas’s blog posts at http://thebeachbeneaththestreet.wordpress.com
Here is his moving and detailed account of Meet Up One:
So began my ‘One Year in Transition’ experience
The most comfortable train journey soon became the most uncomfortable afternoon in my recent memory. So began my ‘One Year in Transition’ experience.
Monday 23rd September 2013. Bromsgrove to Totnes. The day began with a three and a half hour train journey through the beautiful countryside and city landscapes of South Worcestershire, Somerset and Devon. An empty train, a banana and a seat to myself with extra legroom. By midday I was sitting in a taxi with three strangers and we were riding up narrow country lanes and passing through stone gate posts as we climbed to our home-for-a-week, the Sharpham Trust Estate. The strangers were very nice and became known as Stephanie, Jennie and Robert. We arrived at the grand manor house and were welcomed by the rest of the group. Here we met Isabel, the course leader, Hannah, one of last year’s participants, and two other fellow journeyers Dan and Hayley.
After an hour of lunching in the dining room we made our way to the “classroom” and formed a circle that would become a prominent symbol of the week. Isabel touched upon the core ideas of the Transition Movement such as the relocalisation of the organisation of society in terms of food, energy, waste, transport and many other services and systems that help build local resilience to global problems such as climate change, peak oil, and alienation etc. This localisation can also be a catalyst for the re-growth of local economy and reconnecting communities. The ideas of Transition and the way they are presented really resonate within me and I feel a strong connection to the sense of experimentation, togetherness and inclusion the Transition Movement emphasises. Even if it can be a little overwhelming at first, it’s a healthy break from blaming capitalism and looking outside ourselves for ambassadors of social change. These are everybody’s problems and it seems the Transition model is tried and tested in creating positive change from the ground up and it’s very exciting.
Isabel and Hannah then told us the stories of their lives, as I was listening I started to realise just how much I had come to the right place. To tell our own stories was to be our first task; we went off into the beautiful grounds of the Sharpham Estate to recall our life stories with certain questions in mind and then returned 20 minutes later to vocalise them to the group. Stephanie, Robert and Hayley went before me, their stories were so rich and inspiring, and I began to panic. I had not written down my past experiences or things I’d done but had instead noted down the reasons for wanting to connect with such a movement. I stuttered and mumbled something about how I’d been lost all my life and as the group were staring at me trying to figure out what the hell I was saying, fear gripped me; partly at the thought of talking in front of a group of people which is something that has always been a problem for me, and partly at the daunting prospect of recalling my life story to a bunch of smiling strangers. I started to quiver and my palms got sweaty. I imagined the haunting question looming above my head like a black storm cloud ready to unleash a fury of acid rain from which the sound of my burning skin would echo around the room disguised as sniggers from the audience. But in reality there I was, warm and dry in a manor house, surrounded by the most supportive people I have ever met.
In my head it seemed cataclysmic, I had ruined all possible connection with these wonderful people and had broke the first rule of socialising; make a good first impression. Jennie and Dan then completed the circle, again with such inspiring and though provoking stories, before Hannah read us a poem;
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
(Lost by David Wagoner)
The poem really touched me and all I wanted to do was go outside so, just as the group were standing from the circle to play a game, I walked out. I found a tree not far from the entrance of the house and sat under it, thinking. I was filled with a feeling of self doubt, I could not articulate the story I knew best, my own, and I could not voice my longing for connection and community to a group of people that were so willing to listen. I felt lost. Under the tree, I was still; I looked into the valley that houses the River Dart. A tour boat was passing through and it reminded me of the “real world”, the world where people didn’t think about these things and where personal problems were ignored and brushed under the carpet. My brain, indoctrinated with fear and paranoia and comfort, was telling me to leave; to go home and be comfortable. The decision was being made for me and I didn’t realise it.
Hannah came out to meet me; I voiced my concerns and struggled to tell her that I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry under the tree, feeling lost and afraid, I wanted to curl up into the foetus position and tell her about how I felt so disconnected from the natural world it made me uncomfortable to be around people who were tying to change the way we behave when such a primordial connection is missing. I felt the full power of a collective longing for reconnection; I was channelling this feeling for my family, my friends, my ancestors, everybody I knew and have known suddenly came to the forefront of my mind and I wanted them to feel how I was feeling. I wanted them to trust their intuition and feel the void I felt when confronting such a disconnection from nature. Instead I put on a brave face and stood up. She could see my concern and tried to comfort me and questioned how I was feeling and why. I told Hannah I wanted to leave, I was so overwhelmed by the stories of the others and doubted I could ever be so inspirational.
We re-entered the house and Hannah went to tell Isabel of my decision. I waited in the lobby, still unsure of what I wanted; I was split in two. Half of me wanted to go home and be safe but the other half was daring me to stay and push myself over the edge. Isabel walked into the lobby and confronted me in the most elegant way. She asked if I wanted to leave, which I replied, “yes, I think so”. She convinced me to stay for the evening and see how I felt the next day; from that moment on I knew I would stay the entire week. I knew that no matter what happened or how I felt I would be supported and cared for with the utmost humility and affection and the challenge became not to stay and receive such warmth, but how to give that to the other members of the group.
We walked up to the campsite; a beautiful opening in the woods with bark spread over the ground and six tents waiting for us. The kitchen area had wooden surfaces, a dining table, sink and gas cooker; all covered by a timber-framed canopy, wow! There was a bell tent for common use and just on the edge of the site a round wooden ledge from which protruded a carved totem pole. I had never felt so happy to be camping. So began my ‘One Year in Transition’ experience.
Tuesday 24th September
The next day we met Hamid van Koten, a Totnes resident that has been involved in Transition since he co-initiated a group comprised of four villages in Scotland. Hamid immediately struck me as somebody with bags of patience and gentleness. His ability to talk to a group and involve everybody put me at ease from the off and we had a great session learning about the ins and outs of Transition, Hamid is somebody who delivers Transition Training and effectively that’s what we were getting over two days; Tuesday and Thursday.
Transition Training is something offered to help people start and maintain a Transition Initiative in their own community. We learned about the principles and ingredients of Transition, how the Transition Town Totnes model works and the process by which a successful Transition Initiative can take shape and grow. Resilience is a key word in the Transition Movement and there is a lot of room for experimentation in terms of how individual groups work towards creating resilience whilst adhering to the principles. The first steps are to form an initiating group and work on a collective visioning process to create a community blueprint of how best to move forward and to set the intention of the group from the beginning, always looking back to this blueprint as things progress to make sure the group is working towards the original vision. This is the stage my local Transition Initiative is at after being dormant for a while and I am excited about being involved in this process.
Wednesday 25th September
On Wednesday I felt terrible and only made it down to the morning check in before retiring to my tent to sleep off a migraine. I don’t get them often but when I do they are unbearable and sleep seems the best remedy. Hannah suggested that maybe the build up of stress from weeks passed and been released all at once after finally relaxing properly and I think she may have been right.
Sophy Banks was the tutor on Wednesday; she is another Transition Trainer and started the ‘Heart and Soul’ group in Totnes that later became known as Inner Transition. The session was focused on the inner transition we face when making changes in our lives and when we step out of our comfort zone. I was upset to miss out on what sounded like a great day for the rest of the group. I got a little bit of feedback and Stephanie and Dan talked me through the main points Sophy had touched upon. Inner Transition is about gaining awareness of new experiences to widen your comfort zone by learning new things, taking risks, connecting with others and accessing potential. It’s about leading more open and trusting lives and asking ourselves how we can create culture that helps us feel resourced, safe, empowered, connected, valued and open to change.
Thursday 26th September
Thursday was the second day with Hamid and the final part of our Transition Training. The morning began with entrepreneurship; we looked at the qualities an entrepreneur might posses and at the differences between entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship. It was good to look at some examples of each and compare how they and their businesses operate.
On Tuesday Hamid had touched upon decision-making and group dynamics and today he expanded on that. We did an exercise that taught us about the ‘6 thinking hats’ method, which was invented by Edward de Bono. This is where you have a group discussion or individual problem and you use 6 coloured hats to explore different ways of thinking. The White Hat calls for information, either known or needed. So if a person was concerned about an issue or a certain aspect of something during the discussion, they might use this hat to ask for some more facts. The Yellow Hat symbolises brightness and optimism, it is used to explore the positives and probe for value and benefit. The Black Hat signifies caution and critical thinking and is used to offer concern about why something my not work. The Green Hat focuses on creativity and new ideas. It is used to express alternative perceptions and explore different possibilities. The Red Hat signifies feelings and intuition, where emotions can be expressed without explanation. The Blue Hat is used to manage the thinking process, the facilitator. Hamid’s sheet had a seventh hat added which was the Purple Hat, used to call upon inner guidance, to have silence and create a meditative state.
Later in the day we did a group exercise that helped us create a more concise brief for our projects. We asked five questions;
- What is my territory?
- Where are my assets/blocks?
- What is my agency?
- How do I need to be resourced?
- Where do I want to be in three years?
Asking these questions and presenting the answers to the group after the exercise was a great way of exploring my project and the ideas I have but have never vocalised. It was also great to hear everybody else’s project ideas after missing a similar exercise on the first day.
On Thursday evening we went to Isabel’s house for dinner and to meet Jenny Mackewn, unfortunately there were some problems with Jenny’s train so we spoke with her on Skype instead. Jenny is a trainer and consultant in integrative arts psychotherapy, creative organisational development and ecopsychology. I think Jenny had an effect on us all; she had such a powerful presence, even over Skype, and we were left inspired and infused with a positive feeling that lasted the entire evening and into the next day.
Jenny spoke to us about Action Enquiry, which is a method of action research in which a group or individual can focus on transformation by holding a question and asking that question to themselves regularly over a certain period of time. The answers and questions that arise from the process then inform the next stage in the transformation of that group or individual. We were asked to come up with a question that related to our projects or our place in our community and we then took turns to announce our chosen questions to Jenny. She gave us some feedback that made the questions clearer and gave us advice on how best to approach the Action Enquiry process. We will be holding a Skype session with Jenny every six weeks to report on the process and how the question may have been explored. I will be talking about this process in more detail and you can view my findings on the Action Enquiry page.
Friday 27th September
Friday was a magical day that I think was felt by everybody in the group. A man called Martin Shaw came in to tell us some stories and to talk about storytelling. Martin is a teacher at the Westcountry School of Myth and Story and a wilderness Rites-of-Passage guide.
Martin told us two stories; the Russian fairytale ‘The Firebird and Princess Vasilissa’ and the Norweigan fairytale ‘Tatterhood’. Both were incredible and, to a person uneducated in the art of mythical storytelling such as myself, just fairytales. But when Martin talked about the history of storytelling and its role in ancient cultures and indigenous societies they became so much more. The symbols in the stories represent certain stages in a person’s life and the stories hold secrets about the many transformations we face in life. The stories are a way of communicating and passing on these secrets through generations, and they act as a rites-of-passage in ancient cultures to help prepare people for the transition into the next stage.
Martin talked to us about how storytelling is image led not word led, and these images are created in the mind of the person listening to the story. Storytelling is active listening as every person hearing the story will imagine it in a different way, even though there will be similarities, and every moment will mean something else to each person and resonate with them in a different way. Because of this storytelling can be a powerful and awakening experience, not, as fairytales are perceived, a form of enchantment or a means of escape.
This art has been lost in most of the modern world and the lesson of the day was to recapture that magic that was once inside us as children and as a culture. Not to be afraid of our imagination, but to use it in every way you can to play with new ideas that might touch upon the edge of what is the norm and what is accepted. To become heroes of our own myths and to find a deeper meaning to everything we do.
Saturday 28th September
Saturday was a very wet day and everybody seemed very relaxed and in high spirits from the previous day. We had said our goodbyes to Hannah the night before and replacing her was Lisa, another participant from the course last year. We had a short session in the morning before heading out in the rain for a vision quest; this is a personal exercise in which you carry a question and walk or sit in nature to try and manifest answers or ideas that relate to that question. The question Isabel gave us was:
- How do I need to be to support my project?
We all left into the pouring rain and headed off in different directions. I immediately headed through the grapevines to the river and as I was walking in flip-flops my feet began to slip so I took them off. Walking barefoot in the rain suddenly made me very glad it was raining and the feeling of wet mud on my feet was exhilarating. As I stood in the shallows of the river I started to reflect on the week, I felt like a different person from the one I was on that first day, and I was grateful to meet all the people that were a part of the experience.
I soon realised that I wasn’t focusing on the question so I decided to walk around and ask myself the question out loud. Ideas and answers, and more questions came to me and I couldn’t take my mind off the fact that I’d been so closed off in my recent life even though I saw myself as an open person. I started to think about who I was a few years ago; the person who meditated twice a day, read a lot of books and loved to meet new people. I wanted to reconnect with that person again. I couldn’t work out what had changed and why I had become so closed and defensive, why I felt so vulnerable and why I was afraid to be who I really wanted to be. I thought back to my most recent break up, the amount of guilt and shame I felt had affected me deeply and it had changed who I was. I realised that since then and since finishing university I have been afraid to open up, I have been afraid of letting go and falling back into the arms of strangers. I have been repressing myself from who I really. I have been closed and have restricted myself from making new connections because of that. I need to open up, be fearless and reconnect with who I really am. I need to become myself and express myself and the friendships that are meant to be will flourish and grow stronger and new friendships will be made.
With these answers in my mind I suddenly felt like the person I was back then, I had been cleansed in the rain and I enjoyed the feeling so much I started to dance in the rain.
Sunday 29th September
When I awoke on Sunday I felt sad that it was the last day, I imagined it would be one of those days where things come to an end and fizzle out before we went our separate ways. As the day unfolded it became the opposite. Everybody was riding the wave of the high that had been created during the week, we each read a few sections of a poem chosen by Isabel called The Invitation:
It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.
It doesn’t interest me how old you are
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for your dreams
for the adventure of being alive.
It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon…
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.
I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your
fingers and toes
without cautioning us to
to remember the limitations of being human.
It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me
I want to know if you can
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.
I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand on the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after a night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.
It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the center of the fire
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom
you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know if you can be alone
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.
(Oriah Mountain Dreamer)
It was such a powerful poem that reflected upon the themes and ideas we had explored during the week, and it was great to read it aloud together.
We then headed out to view some eco-homes in and around Totnes. The plan was to travel out to the furthest one, the cider barrel house, and make our way back visiting more. When we parked up to make the walk to the house we noticed on the leaflet that the house was only open to the public on Saturday. We decided to walk and take a look anyway and when we arrived the lady spotted us and invited us in. We met a couple called Rooh and Lee who were so warm and welcoming, it was like they had been waiting for us. The things we had talked about during the week, the energy we had created, the love between us, was all manifested in Rooh and Lee. Lee talked to Dan and I about how they made the barrel-house and about the legalities with the council before moving on to a conversation about the universe. It had clearly been an incredible journey for Lee as he realised his dream to convert the giant cider barrel into his home and become completely self-sufficient. He said sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and trust that the hand of the universe will catch you, you can’t hesitate and wait to see the hand before jumping, you just have to jump. He had definitely taken a leap of faith and had been rewarded for his courage.
When we made our way inside Rooh was talking about having a dream and realising it, as I looked around the room everybody had a beaming smile on their face. It was beautiful. We admired their home, such inventive craft; It had a thatched roof that was lifted slightly from the top to form a gap for the window that revolved around the perimeter of the top of the barrel.
As we left I think everybody knew they had to take a leap of faith, to dream and put faith in themselves and the universe. It was such a perfect conclusion to the week and the feeling has lasted with me ever since, even when faced with stress or unsettling experiences it has been there within me, never to die again.
I am aiming to write a blog entry at least once a week about the progression of my project and about the inner and outer transitions I am going through so watch this space. Thank you for reading and please share my blog if you think it is worthy.