User Tools

Site Tools


transiency_maja_kuzmanovic

Transiency Maja Kuzmanovic

The core team of FoAM bxl, including me, started our macrotransiency with the new moon in February 2016. We carved out a year to lay fallow and pursue things that “there isn’t time for”, to explore the unknown and embrace the unexpected.

Visual impressions of the year can be found in my "transient" album and on FoAM's flickr pages, which also include photographs from my fellow transients Rasa Alksnyte and Nik Gaffney (from whom I borrowed some of the images on this page as well).

This page is the informal log of my transiency process, in reverse chronological order.

Echoes from my fallow year

February 2017

Week 53

I wanted to end my fallow year up north, in the cold and dark of the long winter night. The Nordic penchant for darkness and intensity soothes my senses and sensibilities. So does the acceptance of the mysterious, otherworldly or magical. The “unknowable” is simply a part of everyday life. It’s suffused in the landscape, which gleams in the stark and unrelenting beauty of solitude.

I wanted to be immersed in dim surroundings that would invoke one more deep dive of introspection. Once I submerged myself deep enough to find a place of raw honesty, I wanted to look over the insights I collected over the last year, to see what emerged as promising directions. Instead of darkness though, I encountered a continuously changing light. From the breathtakingly intense colours of dawn and twilight (each lasting about three hours), through the many hues of water, snow and ice, the wabi-sabi colours of the vegetation, to the luminous moonlight and the eerie northern lights. The darkness was fiercely luminous.

The crisp light in the north was not just awe inspiring but also completely 'absorbent'. I witnessed all of my carefully laid out plans dissolving into the landscape. Instead of deep contemplation, I experienced the most profound stillness. A state of absolute presence, an active passivity which is for me the epitome of being fallow. I spent hours gazing out of windows, viscerally experiencing timelessness of each moment. The thoughts and worries - which were still just as present - seemed to glide off me like water off a seal’s coat. After a few futile attempts at resistance (consisting of opening my computer and editing text), I surrendered and let go. I ended my fallow year by being utterly fallow.

The last day the sky descended so low as to be indistinguishable from the sea, obliterating all colours into dark shades of grey. As the darkness grew, so I began turning inward. Many memories rose to the surface, with as many emotions in tow. I watched them play out, a syncopated movie in slow motion. The directionless flow punctuated by daily rituals, seasonal observances, intimate celebrations and subdued mournings. A melancholy sense of loss entwined with gratitude.

I ended my pondering on the fallow year with the aftertaste of gratitude. To myself, to the core team of FoAM bxl and other foamies near and far, to our funders and clients, members and friends and to all of the mysterious forces of the universe for conspiring to make this year happen. It was far from perfect - and far from perfectly fallow - but it was necessary and it was valuable. I began the year rather depleted. I can’t say that I’m coming out of it completely refreshed and energised, but at least when I look forward I see more possibilities than obstacles.

The fallow rhythm allowed me to crystallise insights that were dormant under the surface in the previous years of living with dis-ease on both medical and professional fronts. I’m going to leave them scattered across this page as shimmering crystals. In lieu of a summary, I’d like to end this entry with some of the questions that arose in the past year, to guide me in the next phase of inquiry:

  • How to thrive in uncertainty?
  • When faced with uncertain or difficult situations, how to “stay with the trouble”, rather than fight, flight or freeze? From a place of openness and awareness, how to discern and cultivate promising alternatives to the status quo?
  • How to move from the politics of surviving to a culture of thriving?
  • How to tackle “wicked problems” in a complex, turbulent world?
  • How to consciously live in perpetual states of transition (as individuals, organisations, societies)?
  • How to “weaponise” prototyping futures (e.g. as a tactic of resistance to a fear-mongering litany, among other things)?
  • How to hold space for embodied learning of complex, systemic phenomena (e.g. the effects of climate change)?
  • How to design experiences for immersion and absorption in the thick present and the long now?
  • What kinds of experiences stimulate contemplation and celebration?
  • What experiences encourage wonder and wandering?
  • What (new) myths and belief systems could foster alternatives to the current culture of fear (including fear of impermanence and the “other”)?
  • How to translate animist or mystical attitudes towards interconnectedness of all life into worldviews compatible with techno-materialist societies?
  • What kinds of relationships between human and non-human worlds could be cultivated in an era of mass-extinction? What parallel arts, sciences or technologies become possible if we widen the sentience spectrum?

On a more “meta level”: Which of these questions are most relevant to explore? What would I/we need to be able to answer these questions? What does the next action research cycle look like? In which contexts, cultures and environments to explore these questions? Etc.

Warmed by the curious glow of possible answers, I’m taking my leave of the fallow year…

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
-William Blake

On lights and tunnels


Week 52

I’m enveloped in darkness. The darkness of the pre-dawn hour while I write this entry. The darkness of early February, the in-between time of Imbolc and the inception of spring. The darkness of the fallow land and the fallow year, teeming with vigorous yet bitter energy of life below its surface. The darkness of a crumbling cocoon, too tight for the creature craving to emerge from within. “Not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb” (Valerie Kaur).

On Thursday morning, when the flight from Singapore landed in Amsterdam, the first announcement I heard was “Watch your step when you get off the aircraft, there is a technical problem with lighting in parts of the airport.” Under the watchful eyes of the grim security personnel, we descended into a dark corridor, pulsing with emergency strobe-lights. A river of flight-dazed passengers walking slowly in a disordered line, up a rickety escalator, people’s faces glowing eerily green. I felt as if we stumbled onto the set of Blade Runner. Cyberpunk incarnated. The colour faded into bleak shades of greys and browns when we stepped off the train in Brussels…

A stark contrast to the cheerful pinks, reds and oranges of the Chinese New Year that illuminated our last walk along Marina Bay only half a day earlier. The first days of the Year of the Rooster heralded interesting opportunities for the nomadic FoAM studio in Asia Pacific. We spent several tropical evenings in the company of Honor Harger (and Co.), discussing times of transition and complexity, technological and social innovation, consciousness and religion, and a myriad of possible futures in Singapore as a temporary outpost for FoAM’s nomads.

We are curious about the changing relationships between human and non-human worlds, in what Whitehead calls “mysterious reality in the background, intrinsically unknowable“. We’re particularly interested in exploring ecological connections between worldviews, including kami (shinto), viriditas (christian mysticism) and panpsychism (philosophy). Our focus is on creating experiences to convey or encourage a sense of wonder. Our media include Romantic Machines, the vegetal mind, meditative environments, rites of passage, human scale systems and non-human technologies…

- Excerpt from a letter Nik and I wrote in Singapore

Transients in between...


This was a week of contrasts and crossroads. From 33 to 3 degrees Celsius. From a city that buzzes with seemingly effortless efficiency, to a city that seems to struggle with blockages of all kinds. From an optimistic sense of lightness and possibility to a sense of drowning in mud. From distilling insights for the future to unravelling the convoluted commitments of the past. From connectedness to separation, from offers to demands, from abundance to scarcity. From thriving to surviving.

Brussels is a city for those who have patience, time and imagination. It is for those who question the increasingly frenetic pace of urban life and work. It is for those who appreciate understatement and refuse homogenising labels and manufactured “hip” concepts. Perhaps, however, what keeps Brussels attractive is its latent sense of expectancy, the promise of a perpetual becoming which is never fulfilled. - Katerina Gregos

I’m not going to dwell on my frustrations with circumstances in Brussels again. Suffice to say that I find the phase of re-integration quite difficult. The process of transition necessarily results in change - often manifest as finding a new role in an existing context, the transformation of the context itself, or a move to a completely new context. The only approach I haven’t yet tried with FoAM in Brussels is the latter. What I find difficult at the moment is that the direction and pace of my personal transition seems to be at odds with the place where I currently live and work. So much so that I don’t see any way back. It feels like I’ve outgrown the cocoon that has sustained me for years - if I don’t break out, I will suffocate and perish. I’ve seen this reaction with FoAM’s transients in the past. Our advice to them was almost always to stay close to where their renewed energies lie and to find ways to let go of the unsustainable ties to the past, no matter how painful the cutting of ties might be.

During the past year I have glimpsed my preferred futures and experienced resonances with new places and people across the globe. Yet there are forces of friendship and commitment that keep pulling me back to Brussels and into old habits, behaviours and situations. It takes a lot of energy to resist, especially when paired with feelings of doubt, guilt and shame that I’m letting people down. It’s painful to cut ties to a place and a context, when there are people I care about who will remain. I don’t want burning bridges to light my way, I want to leap off the bridge into a bioluminescent sea…

The isolation spins its mysterious cocoon, focusing the mind on one place, one time, one rhythm (…). On the Offshore Lights you can live any story (…) and no one will say you're wrong: not the seagulls, not the prisms, not the wind. - M L Stedman, The Light Between Oceans

Luminescent gardens


January 2017

Week 51

The week began in Melbourne and ended in Singapore, with a social stop-over in Adelaide for a few days in between. Farewell to Australia and its motley collection of people and places, which increased my belief in the value of “strong opinions weakly held”. My experience in the last month was one of stark contrasts and a few incongruities (beyond just the weather and the landscape). Farewell to my fellow hermits, cancer patients and mer-witches, to close family and remote acquaintances. To those precious people with whom I renewed and deepened bonds that defy geographic distances, and to those with whom I felt a creeping distancing of mindsets and lifestyles. Those who grew up, those who are still growing, and those who - like me - will probably never grow up.

After a smooth flight on one of my favourite airlines, we arrived in our temporary “jaunty” studio in Bukit Batok, with only a few days before the end of the lunar year. The studio is in a peculiar building, our neighbours ranging from car mechanics to mysterious import/export dealerships. Further afield we’re surrounded with national parks, residential blocks and highways. I write overlooking a water-tower, three giant lightning-rods, a Buddhist-Taoist temple with amputated swastikas and a stray piece of jungle destined for development in the near future. The monotonous sound of ceiling fans and cicadas is occasionally interrupted by screeching tires and echoing gongs. It’s good to be back in Asia, with its convoluted entanglement of the past and the future, where impermanence and tradition co-exist in surprisingly congruous juxtapositions. So familiar, yet so appealingly “other” to me.

We are in Singapore for only a week, so we immediately settled into a comfortable routine. Waking up before dawn and going for walks ahead of the heat or rain. We discuss our insights from the fallow year, write and rest during the day, then roam the city after dark. It takes a while to get used to the tropical food and climate, so I’m quite tired and lethargic, with occasional and unpredictable bursts of energy. One of the best aspects of the fallow year is being able to follow my natural biorhythm more often. Obviously I feel better, less stressed and more capable when I can wake up without an alarm-clock, when I can rest if I feel tired and allow the rest to last as long as it takes - minutes, hours or even days. It must be possible to organise my post-fallow work in accordance with my physical needs. I know it makes me more effective and more resilient, but it takes quite some discipline to resist falling into the maelstroms of constant “business” when working with others. I believe that having a clearer direction and a set of principles could help. I’m planning to take time in the coming weeks to distill the insights from the last twelve months. I’d like to articulate a direction, together with a set of questions for the next phase.

On the 27th of January was the New Year’s Eve in the Chinese lunar calendar. We cheered to it with a delicious mandarine-scented cocktail in the Tippling Club. Let the year of the Fire Rooster begin!

“Fire by its very nature is the element associated with brilliance, warmth, passion, spark. So a brilliant and enthusiastic rooster, combined with the salient characteristics of fire, heralds an enterprising and fruitful year, a year of results, achievements. This year we can fulfil all of our dreams.” (Zhao Li).

Well, the Fire Rooster couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Time to mark the beginning of the end of the fallow year…

Week 49-50

Nik and I operated as a transient FoAM studio in Melbourne for a couple of weeks. We began by developing a sense of the city as a place to live and work - sourcing food, walking, taking public transport, frequenting places suggested by locals, meeting friends and family. We arranged to meet specific people who could help us find our way into (working in) Melbourne. Through a range of planned and spontaneous conversations with young and old (including a chance encounter with Stuart Candy on a tram), we uncovered some of the opportunities, challenges and practicalities we would be faced with if we decided to work more extensively in Australia. The most promising directions for our work in Melbourne include connections between health/wellbeing, futures, entrepreneurship, research and experience design. Food futures resonated with most people we spoke with. While this might be an easy entry point, our work with inhabiting uncertainty might be most useful in the long run (considering the city’s environmental, economic, (multi)cultural and infrastructural issues). There were several conversations that lead to possible offers in academia, but I would prefer to work as FoAM on the edges of academia and other sectors. We left with a sense of possibility, a list potential collaborations, and an intention to return in about a year.

Aside from paying attention to the world around us, I was conducting an experiment of my own: observing if and how my body can find a new balance after surgery, long distance travel (and it’s associated side-effects) and a few weeks of physically disruptive lifestyle (managed through medication and meditation). The basic requirement to be able to become a “drifter” in the transient/nomadic FoAM studio is that I must feel well enough to work wherever I am. In other words, I should feel at “home” physically and mentally. Based on my experience in the last six months, this can take 1~2 weeks, depending on my activities and surroundings. The time is substantially reduced if I can organise my own time and cook most meals at home. After I find a physical and mental balance, I can focus better on working with others and contributing within the local context. My current working hypothesis is that we could have 3-4 nomadic bases per year, with occasional shorter travels in between (if needed). I’d like to keep one of the bases in Brussels, at least for 2017. I know I’d like to spend longer periods in Croatia, and that I’d like to give Melbourne a try. For the rest, I remain open to different possibilities, and observe where I feel a strong resonance (like Japan).

Some put down roots, others spread antennae


We no longer have roots, we have aerials. We no longer have origins, we have terminals.” — McKenzie Wark

Operating as a FoAM studio in Melbourne included not only the aforementioned experiments, but also collaborating with people on site and remotely. We wrote two articles, facilitated two personal scenario workshops (promising line of work, though economically unsustainable in its current form), co-ordinated upcoming events in Europe and maintained bits of remote admin and logistics for FoAM bxl.

The first article we worked on (with Time’s Up) was a short piece about our work with physical narratives for the Journal of Futures Studies. The reviewers had requested that the article should situate our work more explicitly within Futures (the academic discipline), while conforming to the format of the journal. The process reminded me of the rather insular and self-referential nature of contemporary academia, where transdisciplinary theory (or rhetoric) and practice rarely overlap. It also reminded me of one of the main reasons we started FoAM: to have an independent entity that can work WITH institutions (such as universities), rather than each of us being individually employed by them. Seventeen years later, I think this position is perhaps even more relevant than when we started.

Working as an independent, but well connected transdisciplinary network we can function as a bridge across oft disparate worlds of theory and practice. We can only do that if we exist in the (often lonely and unrecognised) spaces in between. This is nothing new for us, but perhaps we should more clearly (and vocally) articulate this position. Not only is the way we work across various divides beneficial for the people in FoAM, but some aspects of it can be useful for others. Our work with Marine CoLABoration for example, where we translated our collaborative processes into a programme of workshops for a range of organisations working on marine conservation. While our direct involvement in the programme ended about a year ago, the CGF invited us to write a reflective article about it. We spent several days unravelling FoAM’s interpretation of the “lab approach”, using Marine CoLAB as our case study. We wrote the first draft of the article, to be finalised in February.

Every morning we had a discussion over breakfast to asses our progress, which usually lead to putting the fallow year on hold to meet external deadlines. Combining the transiency with several overlapping experiments, doing work for clients and worrying about various loose ends in Brussels caused tension at times. All of us in the core team felt frustrated and desperate at various points in this fallow-ish year. Even though our reasons and circumstances varied, all the difficulties seem to originate from not having set clear boundaries around our transiency and making inevitable compromises. As the year draws to its end, a paradoxical sense of urgency to hold the space for reflection is increasing. At the same time I feel as if I’m crouching on starting blocks, my (mental) muscles tensing for a sprint. I must be watchful and pace myself as I begin the re-integration phase. I have to keep reminding myself that the next phase is going to be more like a long hike on uneven terrain than a short run with clearly delineated start and finish lines…


Week 48

In the first hours of 2017 I glimpsed Australia as I had previously imagined it, before I ever set foot across its quarantined border. A group of people - likely a conglomeration of several beach parties - had invented or spontaneously organised a game loosely based on quoits which involved covering a tree with looped glow-sticks. The tree was quite tall and the people in varying stages of drunkenness, so few of the glowing loops would reach their target. Successful throws received gaudy cheers, the ones that failed were jovially encouraged to try again. The tree was silently glowing in fading rainbow colours, surrounded by convivial echoes of laughter and multilingual conversations. The very air suffused with the ease of communal wellbeing and a relaxed, non-competitive playfulness. Diversity, social inclusion, non-judgmental collaboration, all qualities that the EU is explicitly aspiring to were playing out in front of me, on the other side of the globe. I knew it wouldn’t last, which only made this fleeting sensation of kinship with total strangers even more precious.

Kinship, kinfolk, kindred spirits, kith and kin have been a leitmotif of my first week in 2017. The first couple of days I luxuriated in the verdant garden of the Blue House, in the company of Franscesca Da Rimini (GashGirl, doll yoko, liquid_nation, VNS Matrix…) and Alkan Chipperfield, two of my favourite Aussies, both who I would consider kin. The remainder of the week I spent in Melbourne in the company of my extended family in-law, other kin, celebrating the “Vv Festival”, which included several birthday parties, cocktails, pub-food, fine dining and backyard barbecues.

In between the festivities I was happy to begin exploring Melbourne as a potential nomadic dwelling. A warm midnight walk along the Yarra river and the botanic gardens, together with the abundance of the South Melbourne market seem to hold a lot of promise… I’ve been skeptical of the infamous hipster foodie culture, but I’m beginning to experience some its virtues - I can get fodmapped foods in corner stores, and no one rolls their eyes when I list my various food intolerances (side effects of chemotherapy). I laughed at myself while ordering a “decaf short mac” or an “iced matcha latte” and I can’t help but admit that - as someone who gets heart palpitations from coffee but likes fluffy drinks - I truly enjoyed the experience (of the drinks not the terminology). Beyond sophisticated food and drinks, I’m looking forward to delving deeper into the local geography and culture next week, when most of the family departs to other cities and continents.

In the rare pauses between being with family, I’ve often caught myself pondering FoAM as a kinship network, a “clanarchy” of sorts. I’ve heard most foamies (and some of their blood-relatives) describe themselves as part of the “FoAM family”. Even if we don’t work together for years, there often remains a sense of belonging, which doesn’t seem to fade. When we meet new people, there are some who 'feel' like long lost relatives, while others don’t. In some subtle ways we’re akin (pun intended) whether or not we work together. Sometimes collaboration can get in the way of kinship, sometimes it enhances it…

I’m curious to explore how (and if) the FoAM network could function as a kinship network. In a way we already do. However, it’s not clear to me what would be required to maintain such a network when it isn’t bound by “work”, but rather by likemindedness and care for each other. It might make sense to explore and experiment with diverse forms of kinship which could enrich and expand the FoAM network. I can’t yet clearly articulate what this would entail, but I think it’s something worth contemplating.

Orana


December 2016

Week 47

It’s been a while since I was involved in a full-blown family Christmas celebration. This year in Glenelg I was fully immersed, albeit occasionally distracted by jetlag, motion sickness, heart palpitations and painful lymphedema. My body felt like a marionette, wobbling on the strings of willpower, circling around breakfasts, lunches and dinners with extended family and family friends. Food and cooking (and cleaning) for days on end. Mountains of gifts, mountains of waste. Balancing on the fine line between generosity and (over)consumption. With my socialist understanding of the spirit of the holiday, I put myself in service and helped where I was needed, which sometimes included simply getting out of the way. It reminded me of birthdays in the Kuzmanovic clan, which often numbered over thirty or forty people. Navigating such occasions is strangely similar to the state of mind I associate with being in the flow on my own. The sense of self dissolves into a state of alert attention. I felt like a leaf carried along the strong currents of a turbulent river. If I resist it in any way, it could become unbearable, but if I just let things happen, boisterous storms passed over me and through me… A good practice in how to avoid feeling “peopled out”. From sunrise to sunset, the house was echoing with running feet of the young and old, a crying baby, children’s high pitched, high decibel voices and rapid fire of simultaneous conversations in a myriad of Aussie accents. When I’d return from a sunset walk along the beach, the soundtrack changed to all-night doof-doof of bad music and drunken destruction inflicted by our neighbours.

As the temperature cooled from 41.5C to 19C, facilitated by a storm of monsoon proportions, the family commitments thinned out and we could venture further afield, meet friends and collaborators (including Tim Boykett, Sarah Neville, Matt Thomas and Pippa Buchanan) in a pleasant mix of socialising and work-talk. Aside from reminiscing on times gone by, resonating themes included trans-local communities, futures and transitions, various approaches to collapse, uncertainty and adaptation, life-writing and body-writing. Our Doing nothing is still intriguing to most, especially on organisational scale.

New Year’s Eve began for me with writing in the garden, basking in the warm glow of the last hour of sunlight in 2016. After a solid roast, Nik and I walked into the sunset and into the new year (most of the time against the current of crowds). It’s an important transition point for the two of us. The end of FoAM’s decade as a structurally funded “kunstenwerkplaats” (arts-lab). We still have some funding and legal obligations to fulfil in 2017, but the bulk of the work and responsibility was carried off our shoulders by the wind blowing from the Southern Ocean.

We walked along the edge of the water for hours, fuelled by whisky and smoked almonds. In the distance, the horizon a deep black expanse extending into infinity. Closer to the shore, the water lightened to a myriad of greys, continuously churned by the rolling waves and fast moving clouds. Above it all hung the southern sky, with its (for me) unfamiliar constellations… Around us the darkness was broken by fire twirlers, salt lamps, flash lights and the comical dances of disembodied glow-sticks, attached to limbs, necks and heads of humans, dogs and trees. The atmosphere was convivial and festive, yet hushed by the rumble of the ocean and the wind. We were surrounded by people, all moving but going nowhere in particular.

I wanted to meet the new year walking. We passed solitary meditators, intimate couples and small beach parties. The fireworks shot up, people stopped and cheered. we kept walking. Invoking our new year’s resolution to leave the burdens of the past behind and move forward, together, into whatever the new year may bring…

Into the darkness with you, 2016!


Week 46

A week of travel and transit, from from the northern to southern hemisphere, from winter to summer, from work life to family life, from the stillness of our Brussels apartment to the syncopated fluttering of the Blue House in Glenelg. In between Nik and I found ourselves celebrating 'winter' solstice in Singapore, one degree north of the equator, where duration of day and night remain nearly constant throughout the year. When the sun began returning to the northern hemisphere, at 6:44PM (local time) we were eating an Omakase (お任せ) dinner. Omakase, “I’ll leave it up to you”. In one word, it intertwines trust, artistry, skill, spontaneity, grace, hospitality, lightness, deliciousness, flow and letting things be just as they are. Every sip and each bite was an invocation of these qualities. May they guide us as we begin to transition from inner journeys of the fallow year to the year of outward-oriented experimentation.

Winter solstice, underpass.


Week 45

I was hoping that the weeks before winter solstice would be truly fallow so I could enjoy the mysterious chill and darkness of the season, unfortunately this was not the case. Timeless, careless absorption in the present - one of the key aspects of the fallow year - emerged occasionally while walking along misty streets illuminated by Yuletide fairy lights.

Yet another pause in the fallow year (where pause means a flurry of fast-paced context-switching activity). A compromise. Meetings, conference calls, design sessions, accounting and administration. Promotion and documentation. Scheduling. Work-related travel, with one Eurostar journey which lasted over eight hours (instead of two), due to suspected stowaways on the roof of the train and the convoluted incompatibilities between high-speed and regular train lines in Belgium. My final post-op checkup of 2016. A series of rushed farewells. Perseverance keeping emotional swings in check. From tension to hope, frustration to affection.

The week began with Rasa, Nik and I finally deciding to let go of our beautiful, yet entropic studio space, likely sometime in the spring of 2017 (legalities and details TBC). The week ended with the bittersweet aftertaste of our last FoAM apero as a “kunstenwerkplaats”. I spent most of my time wrapping up past commitments and consolidating plans for the near future.

I sent a message to the mailing list of the hosting community, after staying away for a few months. I wrote, “After some distance, I feel the need for clarity and conscious closure (of a phase, scope, involvement…), which is difficult to do in isolation. So I was wondering if there would be interest and energy to come together once more with everyone who was involved in 2016 to reconcile different perspectives, learn from the past and allow those who want to continue to do so in a spirit of friendship, that was for me the strength of the group at its inception. What do you think?” My message met with complete silence. One person replied off-list that she wants to meet with me alone. For the rest, nothing. As if I'm talking to a void. I think the time has come for me to completely let go of this group. Otherwise I will just keep reopening old wounds. Neither leaving nor staying doesn't seem fair. In fact both seem cowardly. Still, if I check my “energy accounting”, it feels like all that I have poured into this group for nearly four years has drained away into negative space in the last six months. I will have to ritually close this chapter on my own, as difficult as it may be to do in isolation. It makes me wonder if the “process facilitation” working group that emerged from this community can be any different. I hope so, but I'm a bit more reluctant to throw myself into it wholeheartedly.

To end this entry on a more positive note, post-fallow stage of my transiency - the re-integration - has begun gradually filling with a series of experiments. From March to July 2017 my calendar includes bursts of collaborative activities (workshops, events, design sessions) interspersed with longer periods of solitary work, in Belgium and abroad. It looks like a comfortable rhythm, but doesn’t have much space for adding anything unplanned, ad-hoc or serendipitous collaborations. Instead, the first half of the year is about re-affirmation of existing working relationships, which Nik and I would like to continue in our new guise of a transient FoAM studio. For the rest of the year, I’d like to keep enough (head)space and balance between vision and adaptation to respond in interesting ways to whatever might emerge.

Barren luminousity


Week 43-44

My time in the last couple of weeks has been mostly future oriented, occasionally slipping into the troublesome past (with my convoluted invalidity status) and subsiding in the melancholic present (with unpredictable energy levels, and several endings to mourn and celebrate). The very near future - the last couple of months of the fallow year - required finalising travel plans to Australia, Singapore and Norway. After that, in the early spring of 2017 we will be entering a “non-fallow” phase of the transiency. I’ve decided that my transiency will continue in 2017, considering the many interruptions during 2016. I still feel the need for reflection, strategising and writing (in particular my cancer memoir and the GYOW kaiseki articles, which I will not manage to finish this year). Also, Nik and I would like to explore what it would be like for the two of us to function as a transient FoAM studio - drifting, popping in-and-out of existence where needed. Without a physical HQ. We need to research and experiment with “how” this nomadic studio could function and support itself. Although the “real” work will begin from March 2017, our collaborators are starting to need our input now. To ensure that our “new” commitments remain in line with promising directions, we conducted a futuring exercise looking at longer time horizons and possible alternatives.

We asked ourselves “What things that we resonate with should we commit to?” Over the course of this year we touched on this question in informal conversations, but this time we attempted to find possible answers with a structured 2×2 scenario exercise. From a forest of signals and change drivers, we ended up with four critical uncertainties and distilled two scenario axes: capitalism ↔ post-capitalism and materialist anthropocentrism ↔ ecological panpsychism. The scenarios helped us clarify which aspects of our work might be most relevant in the world today and in the possible futures which we can see emerging. While there were no surprises, the exercise helped us connect and distill some of our intuitive resonances to larger societal trends. We came up with a few speculative directions:

If we live in a world where climate chaos is tackled through materialist anthropocentrism in a capitalist society we might want to play the long game. We could spin-off Certainty Ltd. weaponising our work as tactical consultants for climate futures, crypto-currencies, uncertainty and antifragility. FoAM itself could exist as a refuge and an alternative without attempting to change, communicate or contribute, but simply to live and let live. An ark of sorts, where things can still be otherwise, on a small scale, ideologically isolated from most of the rest of the world.

If the world we live in has embraced a philantrocapitalist deep ecology, FoAM (as a Thalient Design Consultancy) could research and design holistic entanglements with non-humans as aesthetic and experiential services. We could provide situations and technologies for inter-species interaction and panpsychic dialogue.

In an anthropocentric post-capitalist society, FoAM (aka Facilitators of Aberrant Mysticism) would thrive in prototyping unholy alliances, mediating, facilitating and introducing weirdness to question dogmas and data alike. Our work with transiencies and transitions, as well as ritual observances could be fulfilling a dire need in this society. We could be recognised (with official status) as a distributed pagan post-theist cult/guild for education and growing worlds.

In a world of post-capitalist ecological panpsychism, a FoAM commons could grow into a trans-local kinship network, including human and non-human entities, individuals and collectives. It would describe itself both in terms of doing and being (together). A fluid entity, with ever changing activities and members, governed by shared organisational principles. Years of experience with emergent governance structures would allow us to become mentors and advisers for other commons. Our work would be diverse, recognisable as “FoAM” in its widening of the sentience spectrum - whether as transdisciplinary research, immersive experiences/art-worlds, species-connecting technologies or sentience widening retreats.

The task is to make kin in lines of inventive connection as a practice of learning to live and die well with each other in a thick present. Our task is to make trouble, to stir up potent response to devastating events, as well as to settle troubled waters and rebuild quiet places. In urgent times, many of us are tempted to address trouble in terms of making an imagined future safe, of stopping something from happening that looms in the future, of clearing away the present and the past in order to make futures for coming generations. Staying with the trouble does not require such a relationship to times called the future. In fact, staying with the trouble requires learning to be truly present, not as a vanishing pivot between awful or edenic pasts and apocalyptic or salvific futures, but as mortal critters entwined in myriad unfinished configurations of places, times, matters, meanings.“ - Donna Haraway

November 2016

Week 41-42

I had my fourth reconstructive surgery on the 16th of November. The following weeks passed in convalescent limbo, coloured by a persistent sense of displacement and un-belonging. I exist in a parallel dimension, just a few oblique seconds away from consensus reality. The vertiginous dissolution began with a general anaesthetic seeping through my forearm, the distance to physical existence increasing, with giddiness and weightlessness as pleasant side-effects. My “self” gradually evaporated beyond the edges of my body out into the world which itself then vanished into thick darkness.

I woke up a few hours later shivering in the ICU. I was wrapped in a “portable sauna”, with nurses doing their best to raise my temperature above 34C. They asked me to grade my pain on a scale from 1-10. I know by now which numbers correspond to sufficient amounts of pain killers. It took me a while to answer, my sludgy brain having difficulty with languages. I watched my tongue move between “sedam” and “seven” until it finally settled on the Dutch “zeven”. After a few minutes the comforting wave of ContraMal spread slowly through my veins. A sense of liquefying peace. The physical boundaries of my body began shifting, as the morphine commenced its merry dance. I was a spectator in an augmented reality performance. The physical sensations in my skin, organs, limbs, nerves and neurons were superimposed with a speculative map of my subtle body, flickering in and out of focus. Time and space stretching and compressing with a hint of nausea.

The surgery was successful and I was discharged in the evening. My convalescence proceeded without major complications. I remain wrapped in bandages and compression garments until mid December, but the pain and physical discomfort have been much more bearable this time around. The weakness and fatigue are still present, as usual. I’m expecting to be back to “normal” in a few weeks. We’re all hoping that I have entered the last stage of breast reconstruction, with no more major surgeries on my horizon.

I spent my first week of recovery in a pleasant obligation-free abandon. My comfortable mental state was assisted by the appropriate medication, ferally traded in exchange for facilitating a “personal scenario building” session. I spent most of my time staring at the last autumn leaves fluttering to the ground, listening to audiobooks and watching period dramas. Visits from friends, skype conversations with remote family members and slow walks in the park provided occasional moments of congealing back into the here and now.

When I was well enough to stop the medication I began to feel restless. A sense of dislocation from the world, its affairs and inhabitants which I had experienced as pleasant in the first week now felt like a nagging itch. I had a feeling that I was wasting precious time and becoming more irrelevant with each passing day. Forgotten. Out-of-touch. Out-of-place. Out of sight and out of heart. It didn’t help that one of the first impositions from the 'outside' was that of faceless bureaucracy. I spent days lost in Kafkaesque labyrinths between the Belgian tax system, social security and health insurance. It drove me to blubbering despair, episodes of escapism and agreeing with Virginia Woolf that ”The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think.

The best antidote to such mind-states has proven (again) to be meditation and simple daily rituals. With meditation (tonglen in particular) I could delve into my despair and observe that it isn’t specifically “mine”, but an inevitable side-effect of being human. We all occasionally experience fear of failure, separation and disconnection, on a personal scale and as societies. Both meditation and daily rituals (such as morning practice or afternoon tea) help me find an anchor in the present - in the energising movements, scents, sights and sounds that make me so grateful for being alive.

“… just then, for that fraction of time, it seems as though all things are possible. You can look across the limitations of your own life, and see that they are really nothing. In that moment when time stops, it is as though you know you could undertake any venture, complete it and come back to yourself, to find the world unchanged, and everything just as you left it a moment before. And it's as though knowing that everything is possible, suddenly nothing is necessary.” - Diana Gabaldon

Spying on SS


Week 40

Back on the road, this time to London and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to help design an event with them. Most of the preparation needs to happen before the end of our sabbatical, but it’s a concession we decided to make due to our excellent collaboration in the previous years. Nik and I spent a few days preparing, hosting, then summarising the first design meeting. Enjoyable work.

The morning of the meeting we woke up before 5AM, still somewhat jetlagged. Our hotel room had a mind of its own. Lights, heating, cooling and an errant TV turned themselves on and off randomly. At some point in the early morning the TV came alive and greeted us with the headline “Tears for Clinton, cheers for Trump.” Well. Good morning! I wasn’t surprised. Still, a sense of resignation to 'interesting times' drifted into the room. Someone tweeted: “Octavia Butler was right.” The USA finds itself on a slippery slope towards Earthseed.

Civilization is to groups what intelligence is to individuals. It is a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve ongoing group adaptation. Civilization, like intelligence, may serve well, serve adequately, or fail to serve its adaptive function. When civilization fails to serve, it must disintegrate unless it is acted upon by unifying internal or external forces.

(…)

God is Change.
-Earthseed. The Books of the Living.

(…)

- These things frighten people. It’s best not to talk about them.
- But, Dad, that’s like… like ignoring a fire in the living room because we’re all in the kitchen, and, besides, house fires are too scary to talk about.

- Octavia E. Butler

The US election strongly tinted the moods and conversations of the Londoners we came across. A cold, grey and rainy day, perfectly matched the doom-mongering that spread across newspapers, cafes, tube stations and offices like a bad smell. It took quite some hosting alchemy to get the design meeting going, but we had done what was needed and have good material to work with.

In this strange atmosphere (which felt like the eerie quiet before a forecast storm), we arrived at St Pancras station with a couple of hours to spare before our train departed to Brussels. Over some darjeeling and apple brandy, we mused that we might it be time to start “Certainty Ltd.”, FoAM’s uncertainty consultancy. Fear in the face of uncertainty can lead to absurd situations. I had flashbacks to the time just before the Balkan wars. We didn’t believe that could happen either. But it did. And so did Trump. And climate chaos. And the GFC. And the refugee crisis. And many other things that might have been avoided if uncertainty wasn’t such a taboo. If this isn’t a strong signal pointing to where we should focus our energy, I don’t know what is.

matter


I can see the need for something like an “Inhabiting Uncertainty Training” wherever I go, but especially in Europe at the moment. Europe seems particularly fragile to me. Most Europeans have lived in relative comfort for decades and tend to take “certainty” and “security” for granted. Few now remember the horrors of world wars, others were born so removed from mass conflict that they can’t even imagine what it’s like. Consequently mistakes of the past begin repeating and rhyming. Populism. Xenophobia. Conservatism. It may look bleak yet there is still much that can be changed for the better. The old Clash refrain kept looping in my head… “Should I stay or should I go now? If I go there will be trouble and if I stay there will be double…” Should I stay in Europe at this quite bleak time in its history?

When Yugoslavia was falling apart, it looked like there was no way of putting it back together. The forces of fragmentation and destruction were unstoppable. The country - and with it my national identity - dissolved. Yet I still felt like I belonged on this continent. I felt European, more than anything else. I remember the graffiti I read on a wall somewhere at the end of the 90s, as the Euro-zone was being introduced: ”Europe could be my fatherland. Europe doesn’t exist.“ In all its elusiveness and vagueness, it holds a promise of alliances and collaboration, of celebrating difference and cultural experimentation. It seemed a perfect (non)place to spawn FoAM - an entity that’s all about dissolving borders and extending edges. In recent years though, it seems like the forces of fragmentation are rearing their ugly heads in Europe again. It’s not as far gone as Yugoslavia though, there is still hope. Which brings me back to my big question - “should I stay or should I go”?

Last month I felt more at home in Japan than I have in Belgium in the last few years, or in Croatia since its inception. I don’t care much about the concept of identity - national or otherwise. I don’t feel an allegiance to any nation, region or belief system. I belong on Earth and often feel more connected to the rocks, plants and air than to human societies. My human 'clan' is a loose knit network of people scattered across the globe, people unafraid to “grow their own worlds.” I don’t belong anywhere in particular and at the same time I can feel at home everywhere. I can’t believe that in the 21st century this kind of thinking could get me into trouble - Cf. Theresa May’s infamous statementToday, too many people in positions of power behave as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass on the street. But if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don't understand what citizenship means.

Well then, I am a citizen of nowhere. So now what? While I felt welcome in Belgium and Europe, I was happy to contribute to and to benefit from the fantastic systems of cultural funding and humane healthcare. But I don’t feel as welcome here any more. The question remains, is it time to fight or time to leave? Or as The Clash sang, ”Should I cool or should I blow?“ Whether we stay or leave, what would be the most appropriate tactics and strategies in these times? Or as Changeist asked us - “how do you weaponise your work”? Should I fully focus on devising contemporary NNNI disaster drills? Become an uncertainty consultant? A post-antibiotic combat herbalist? Organise the underground of Unholy Alliances? Extreme transiencies anyone? Or is “nothing” the most radical thing I can do after all? A militant act of unnoticed disappearance.

From a private message:

M: If you ever need me, you know where to find me.
K: Yes. No man’s land.

Melancholy and impermanence


It’s the 11th of November today. Remembrance day. In London I saw many people wearing poppies on their collars in memory of WWI. I wonder how many of those people agree with Theresa May’s creed. Have they forgotten or do they refuse to see the parallels? Does their present seem so unique and their actions so much more evolved and insightful? Do they think no one tried similar thing before (and failed)? Similar questions arose from being back at the FoAM studio. Repeating patterns and energetic blockages. The pain of indecision, loss and detachment. Not wanting to hurt the people I care about, but also not wanting to deny the reality of my own needs. Yet my mere presence may make the hurt inevitable. I felt something in me die, sinking in the magma of collective amnesia. Whatever it was, may it rest in peace through the winter months, to become a fertile compost for something fresh and wondrous next spring…

Week 39

Our flight from Tokyo landed in a very quiet Brussels on All Saints Day. I was happy to be home, even if the train smelled of cat piss and the information design was still as deliberately contradictory. The trees haven’t lost all their leaves yet, and there are lovely little shops and restaurants opening in the neighbourhood. Our apartment was warm thanks to the remote activation of the thermostat and the indoor plants welcomed us by still being green and alive. A few days later I had my six-monthly medical check-up at UZ Brussel, which resulted in an “all clear, though with slightly elevated tumour markers”. Another good news was that thanks to the “find my iPhone” app and the kindness of several lovely Japanese people, my device and its data are currently in transit from Tohoku back to Brussels. Amazing. Arigato gozaimashita.

Afternoon walk...


I can conclude that my travel experiment worked, to a degree. I know now that I can manage long haul flights and train travel with sufficient buffering of “doing nothing” on both ends. However, working while travelling (which includes intense long days and eating out) is tricky, as is staying in hotels where I can’t cook for myself. I was on various medications more or less continuously for three weeks. This may be manageable for short periods, but I couldn't resume my old lifestyle of travelling and working in different countries a few days at a time. I imagine that longer stays, several weeks for example, in one place with our own kitchen would be much more manageable. We’ll continue this experiment in Melbourne in January.

Our trip to Japan made it clear that it's time for Nik and me to leave Belgium (perhaps even Europe). It probably won’t happen tomorrow, next week or next month, but we shouldn’t wait too long. Spending a few weeks in a culture that I find energising and resonant, I was reminded that there are other parts of the world in which our contribution could be more appreciated. I don’t know if Japan will be our next destination. Iceland was another place which emerged in conversations. Or perhaps it will be Singapore or Melbourne or Pula or Berlin or London or Thimpu or Timbuktu or all, some or none of the above. The important thing for me now is to more consciously and deliberately loosen my bonds to Belgium to allow space for other possibilities to emerge. This includes having more concrete discussions about the future of FoAM’s Brussels studio without Nik and me at its core…

October 2016

Week 38

My appreciation for Tokyo, Japan and its people continued growing the longer we spent there. Our pace slowed down after the Summit and the Forum, allowing me not only to reduce the amount of medication needed to function, but also to take time to enjoy my surroundings, including exhibitions like Daisuke Yokota’s Matter and the grand The Universe and Art. We wandered through Roppongi, Shinjuku and Harajuku, ate delicious food and even visited Fukuro no mise, the Owl Cafe.

Most importantly, we spent time with friends. We were honoured to share home-cooked meals with Maki Ueda and Kohei Nishiyama’s family, and afternoon tea in a post WWII cafe with James Kondo. Old connections were quickly rekindled, with hopes, wishes and suggestions for more shared time together expressed on all sides.

Fluorescent breeze


The coming four years may well be a good period for us to spend more time in Japan. There seem to be opportunities opening up in preparation for the Olympics, an openness in the creative sector and elsewhere. Working in academia (particularly art schools) combining teaching and research was an oft mentioned option (it seems important to have institutional backing to help with relocation, immigration and reputation building). Another approach could be to start a PhD or a fellowship at a university in Europe or Australia, with extensive fieldwork in Japan. We’d like to explore ways for FoAM to partner with academia on joint research projects with 'real world' and practice-based outcomes in Japan and Asia. Topics of current interest are future preparedness/inhabiting uncertainty, robotics, food, climate change and green energy, experiential learning and experience design, experimental rituals, disaster and death, etc.

Our artistic work is appreciated and there seems to be a lot of interest in my memoir, but at the moment we probably couldn’t rely on income from such activities to afford living in Tokyo. Maki was suggesting possibilities on Ishigaki where living costs are much lower and there is an interest in having more foreigners involved in the local cultural scene. However, Ishigaki island is quite remote which would make our connection to other FoAM studios and working in other parts of the world rather difficult.

We left Tokyo keeping various conversations open, hoping to restart them once we have more concrete plans for the next phase. With all the information and bustle of the city still buzzing in the back of my head, we arrived in the foothills of Japanese Alps. I spent the afternoon breathing in mountain air and staring at autumn foliage. I felt profoundly at peace. Before my sense of self completely dissolved in the landscape, I had a glimpse of what I’d like to work on. Translating it into words will necessarily fall short of the impression, but I’ll try anyway;

I’m interested in the intertwining of environmental and spiritual/philosophical dimensions of embodied experience of uncertainty. How do spiritual/mental models influence our relationships with the environment, including non-human entities like plants, animals and landscapes, as well as technological systems? I’m curious to compare how the world (and our place in it) is understood with concepts such as kami (shinto), viriditas (christian mysticism) and panpsychism (western philosophy). From historical, contemporary and futures perspectives (hindsight, insight, foresight). This research could inform more speculative/artistic aspects of the work including experience design (rituals, celebrations, contemplations, peak experiences, daily practices). Experiences that can convey or encourage the sense of wonder, which could in turn influence values, mental and behavioural changes in relation to environmental turbulence specifically and to impermanence and uncertainty in general.

I don’t think I can phrase this more concretely at the moment, but it should be enough to remind me of the 'glimpse' in the coming months.

3539-24


During our last days in Japan we let go of possible futures to become immersed in our present experience. It was just past peak koyo time in the Japanese Alps of the Nagano region. We spent a few cool autumn days exploring the Nojiriko lake and Myoko-kogen region, from a strange hotel straight from a Murakami story. The strangeness of our experience was enhanced by losing my phone, and blindly navigating the rural wilderness by deciphering low-res wooden maps and hunting for cryptic signs for forest trails and learning to recognise kanji characters 苗名滝.

What we see before us is just one tiny part of the world. We get in the habit of thinking, this is the world, but that's not true at all. The real world is a much darker and deeper place than this, and much of it is occupied by jellyfish and things. -Haruki Murakami

When we left the Nojiriko lake, I was in a state of complete confusion (amplified by the side-effects of medication) with an ever decreasing confidence in my ability to understand my place the world, let alone function in or contribute to it in any meaningful way. A state of utter liminality. Humbling and disorienting when attempting to make sense of it, but strangely pliant when I’d allow myself to go with the flow (which included not loosing track of Nik, whose head was luckily sticking far enough above the sea of other passengers).

Kinetosis landscape I


In this state we arrived back in Tokyo. It was late afternoon when we emerged above ground in bustling Shibuya, a stark contrast to the forlorn places of the Tohoku countryside. It was All Hallows Eve, which meant an even higher concentration of the usual cosplay characters, gothic lolitas and other kawaii in Harajuku and Ura Hara. We joined the flow of motley humanity oozing through the tiny streets, temporarily escaping into a park and a tiny restaurant for our last soba dinner.

At the end of the afternoon we boarded a packed rush-hour train, where the halloween party-goers with vampire teeth and boiling flesh (some wearing 'real’ cold-masks) merged with uniformed school girls and black-suited commuters. The blurring of fiction and reality continued. It was a perfect closing of our stay in Japan. We ended the evening in another chapter from a Murakami novel, the sky lounge of an airport hotel, listening to the bar’s eerie soundtrack and watching a stream of planes land in the pouring rain. We sipped tea and whisky, while I conspicuously “disappeared” a spoon under the watchful eye of a polite yet very stern waiter.

“Everything has boundaries. The same holds true with thought. You shouldn’t fear boundaries, but you also should not be afraid of destroying them. That’s what is most important if you want to be free: respect for and exasperation with boundaries. What’s really important in life is always the things that are secondary.” -Haruki Murakami

Nojiriko lake


Week 37

Our second week in Japan provided stark contrast to the first. We moved to Tokyo and spent most of the week with nearly 600 Young (and not-so-young) Global Leaders at the YGL summit, followed by the World Forum on Sport and Culture. The latter was organised by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. I saw this week as an opportunity for horizon scanning, a moment to begin extending our feelers towards the future of our work at FoAM, as well as a chance to re/establish contacts in Japan, Asia and beyond. It was an intense experience on many levels.

With participants including political and business leaders from ~70 countries and session titles such as 'The Future of Humanity','The Big Ideas' and 'The Fourth Industrial Revolution', the YGL summit raised expectations. “We stand for generosity, authenticity, respect and impact. This is a space for sharing and action!” For the most part, it was an event designed for overcommitted extroverts, aiming to strengthen a sense of belonging to a community and a feeling that its participants can change the world together. Needless to say, for a couple of (gnostic) introverts and transdisciplinary wanderers like Nik and me, being immersed in such a crowd can be inspiring but also quite exhausting.

YGL Summit 2016


Even though “future” became a buzzword for the event, there were no surprising new insights for us, just slowly moving waves. It was amusing to observe how things like futures, systems thinking or resilience have gradually seeped into the WEF jargon, while I still remember getting blank stares of incomprehension when talking about such things a decade ago. Yet for all the talk of futures, it was also interesting to notice how difficult it seems for many people to speculate and extrapolate. Many prefer to remain in the comfort zone of generalisations, platitudes or opinionated statements about the past and present. “Uncertainty and crisis need collaboration and dialogue. Focus on the positive and personal stories. Put yourself on the line to bring out the voices of the unheard. We are the elite and we are responsible. We need to build communities and connections. It’s all about systemic change. We need systems leadership for a values-driven Revolution. Do not forget the emotional, intuitive and spiritual aspects. We need more women leaders. You can rewire the brain for inclusiveness, equality and innovation. We need to mobilise large scale action and innovate locally to build trust. Emerging technologies can have positive power (watch out for AI!). Within our system even tiny things can make a difference. Be yourself. It’s up to us.” etc. (I’ll have to postpone my analysis of emerging signals for a while, as my notes are temporarily in limbo on the phone that I lost a few days before leaving Japan.)

One (unsurprising) signal that stuck with me is how often Europe is seen as troubled. People keep drawing parallels between the 1930s and current events. There is a sense of unease that Europe could pull the world into chaos and conflict once again. There was a sense of urgency, with warnings that we should not dismiss things that seem ridiculous to most of us (such as Brexit or a Trump presidency). The voices providing viable alternatives are too quiet, too abstract, too fragmented. We are not speaking in a language 'the majority' want to hear. In light of such views, our work with 'future preparedness', inhabiting uncertainty and visionary adaptation seems quite relevant for the years to come. Definitely an aspect of FoAM’s work to keep developing and applying in different contexts.

This brings me to my aim to spread feelers and observe which aspects of our work resonate with YGLs. Aside from (experiential) futures, our organisational transiency, Doing Nothing, and more broadly working with life transitions grabbed people’s attention. If we wanted to offer transiencies for people outside of the cultural sector, there would likely be quite some interest. For people who can’t commit to long transiencies, shorter retreats, rituals and other experiential formats seem attractive. Generally speaking, people were interested in our approach to connecting personal, organisational and systemic transformations. “Pure” workshop facilitation was less of interest than content-driven participatory experiences, such as food futures. Our work with food as both topic and experiential format is an aspect that still captures people’s imagination.

'Stillness' was received with praise and gratitude, as was my simple business card ritual. It reminded me that we need to find appealing ways to “package” our work for such events. Small, encapsulated, distilled experiences that can give people a felt sense of what we do. Describing our work almost always falls short, especially for people who have about 15 seconds of attention before moving on to the next conversation.

I realised just how out of practice I am with fast-paced networking. In this phase of my transiency, I’m more inclined to deep, personal conversations rather than confidently pitching the next big idea. I kept swinging from feeling worthless and out of place to having heartfelt conversations with old friends like Penny Low, Raju Narisetti, Kohei Nishiyama or Paula Escobar, as well as finding promising new alliances, including people such as Julianne Lee Jihyun, Sputniko!, Felicitas von Peter or Julia Novy-Hildesley.

The World Forum on Sport and Culture was a shorter, less interactive event, with panel discussions ranging from 'The City of the Future' to 'Japanese pop-culture', 'Aikido' and 'Performing under pressure' to 'Growing up Digitally' and 'the Future of Food'. The highlights for me were the two contrasting cultural evenings. One was a trance-inducing kami invocation in the form of the traditional performance of Divine Dance SAMBASO (Kami Hisomi Iki), directed by the wonderful Hiroshi Sugimoto.

Åγαβαμβι


The other event was held on the 52nd floor of the Mori Art Museum, including a spectacular promenade performance by the formidable AyaBambi and crew. The evening was described as:

“a powerful presentation of the strength of Tokyo and its metabolism where ceaseless change and updates continue in a display of formidable local character while ensconced in trans-historical, trans-media and global networks. Tokyo - the only city in the world that is Asian and animistic, bathing in the disorder of chaos, and yet gives form to these traits with ultimate sophistication.”

Just reading this description made me want to move to Tokyo ASAP. The event itself was ultimate eye-candy - from the night panorama of the city and the glowing installations to the well groomed guests enrobed in elegantly weird designs by Yamamoto, Miyake, Watanabe and the like. I very rarely find myself as a participant at an event with so much aesthetically resonant sensory bombardment. Yum.

Week 36

The trip from Brussels to Tokyo was my first long haul flight since the surgery in 2015 and the subsequent onset of kinetosis (motion sickness). The flight in particular, and the trip as a whole were experiments in maintaining a nomadic lifestyle with an unpredictable body and dwindling energy levels. I prepared for it as best I could. I packed a 'survival kit' containing an arsenal of pills and emergency food supplies. The travel plan included generous pauses between travel and work or socialising (in case I was too incapacitated). The most difficult (but crucial) mental preparation was to allow myself to rely completely on my travel companion - Nik in this case - to navigate unfamiliar situations while my brain was too occupied with bodily discomfort to do anything else. This was quite a contrast to the alertness of my mind and body which I used to rely on previously. This time I couldn’t. Or more correctly: I couldn’t be sure I could. Sometimes my thoughts were so clear and my limbs so agile to make me believe that I was being too cautious. Then suddenly the tide would turn and I couldn’t read, navigate, nor look at anything moving. Other times I was too nauseous and short of breath to do anything else but walk slowly and occasionally swoon down onto a bench or lean on walls. It helped when I could be unwell in a calm, energising environment. Hence we planned the first week in a hot spring, as an inspiring buffer between long travel and the YGL summit. I spent a lot of my time sitting and staring at the garden.


“The garden is located in the center of the site like a large thicket of assorted hardwoods. Here, the trees grow freely and thrive as if one is part of nature. Close your eyes, feel the light breeze, and breathe with the nature as if you have entered the country of nothing - mukayu.” -Sachiko & Kazunari Nakamichi

We stayed in a ryokan owned by Sachiko and Kazunari Nakamichi, whose aesthetic sensibilities are very close to ours. My senses were soothed by the atmosphere from the moment we stepped through the door. Jetlag and nausea only added to the sensation of sinking into a timeless, purpose-less present.

“An empty room will be filled with light because of its emptiness. These are the words of the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi, who lived 2300 years ago. His words signify that a mind entirely free of everything exists in a place of nothing - a place belonging to nowhere.

Mukayu (無何有) is a word from the philosopher Zhuangzi (莊子), meaning “non-existence”, “non-purpose” or the natural state as it is. He used this word in his essay “Mukayu country”. In Mukayu country the values of people are overturned. Things considered useless are instead regarded as possessing great value.

Take for example a large tree standing beside a road. Because the tree is bent and twisted, it is of no use for timber and so is left uncut. And because it has grown so tall, it is able to give a pleasant shade to weary travellers on the road. Consider the time that remains as empty space in a busy schedule book.

It is in fact time filled with freedom because it is empty. It is the peace of mind found in the shade of a large tree that had initially appeared useless.”

- Kiyoshi Sey Takeyama

Staying in a ryokan marked the beginning of our exploration of Kaiseki (懐石), a Japanese multi-course meal that arose in response to overly decorated and formalised Honzen ryôri. Kaiseki literally means “pocket stone”, describing warm stones the Zen monks wore inside their clothing to warm their bellies and require less food. Over several centuries, kaiseki developed into an art form in itself which includes the freshest seasonal ingredients, paired with carefully designed crockery, ikebana, delicate sake and tea. The tastes and scents are subtle, as if inviting the diners to practice the art of noticing. The food tends to be raw, lightly grilled, steamed or simmered, easily digestible and uplifting. Every dish is prepared and presented with utmost care and the whole meal - including the gestures involved in serving and eating - becomes part of a multisensory experience. As Ishige notes in the History and Culture of Japanese Food - “Japanese haute cuisine since the eighteenth century has sought to present the philosophy of the garden on the dining table.”


We spent three days immersed in (temple) gardens and steeped in edible gardens of kaiseki meals (IBS compatible). There were countless moments when I felt my cells resonating with the environment and the culture that emerged from it. In the Natadera temple I experienced the Japanese connection to nature in a distilled form, while in the Kakusenki gorge I spent hours dissolved in wonder on the fine edges between wilderness and cultivation. There was nothing else to do but absorb the experience, enjoying the visceral and mental resonances. The world imbued with “kami” (神, spirit or essence in Shinto religion).

…kami refers to the divinity, or sacred essence, that manifests in multiple forms. Rocks, trees, rivers, animals, places, and even people can be said to possess the nature of kami. Kami and people exist within the same world and share its interrelated complexity… the power of phenomena that inspire a sense of wonder and awe in the beholder (the sacred), testifying to the divinity of such a phenomenon.“ - About Shinto

I had landed in the land of Princess Mononoke, where the syncretic interactions between shinto and buddhism have developed into a form of nature worship echoing with viriditas, shamanism and seasonal pagan rites that I intuitively feel drawn to. Furthermore, as opposed to many pagan traditions, shinto embraces all human and non-human entities - including technology - as sacred nature. Talismans are sold to protect computers from crashes and rites performed on car assembly lines. I could taste kami in the food we ate, sense it in small acts of kindness performed spontaneously by people we came across, see it in the co-existence of anime and the animated world (in all the different meanings of the word). It was as if the dormant kami in me awoke and remembered that this might be its long lost home.

Mononoke land


September 2016

Ah, The Art of Knowing When Not to Intervene…

Week 31-35

After weeks of being in the flow of my transiency, I found myself in the midst of other people’s problems. For the first half of September I was in Pula, surrounded by my various “clans”. It was one week before the general election, with dark thoughts colouring every conversation. Unemployment, poverty, corruption, rampant greed, nationalism, broken relationships, life-threatening illnesses, to name but a few. A general sense of disillusionment and helplessness, tempered with a good dose of Balkan black humour, fuelled with copious amounts of coffee and alcohol. It was difficult to watch the people I care about feel so worn out by life’s circumstances. Especially when it came to the widespread resistance to - or impossibility of - change. I would listen, without giving advice, without attempting to help or intervene. That was all I could do, all they wanted me to do.

Knowing when (not) to intervene is indeed an art. And a craft, in need of practice. FoAM’s motto “grow your own worlds” alludes to an ability to cultivate one’s own reality. Our work with futures is all about imagining how things could be otherwise, then experimenting and prototyping the alternatives. When sharing my experiences, most people would tell me that I live in a sci-fi world. That such things were not possible in their lives. Whether I was talking about using meditation to live with post-op pain, or about having funding for an organisation-wide transiency. My life, work and worldview seem to exist in another dimension. Because of my (unfamiliar) lifestyle, people seem to think that my life is easy and my problems trivial. “You’ll find a way, you always do.”

There were exceptions to this pattern, of course. As well as the wonderful time I spent with my mother, brother and grandmother, I reconnected with a few high-school friends with whom I still have a lot in common, including Elena Skoko, Paola Orlic and Branka Bencic. New opportunities for collaboration and sharing arose from several conversations. An exhibition on organic abstraction, a workshop for cancer patients, a surprising interest in experiential futures and occasional gatherings of “hermits anonymous”. It’s encouraging that I can resume conversations with these people as if no time had passed, even though we only see each other infrequently. At times it makes me sad that the people I’d like to work with are so scattered around the globe. Other times it’s a delight to know that in almost any region of the world I travel to, there are people I could collaborate with. In dozens of cities across all continents there is at least one person with whom I can have a heartfelt connection.

sunset fabric


Far From Fallow…

I returned to Belgium full of elan. Nik and I hadn’t seen each other in nearly a month, and were looking forward to spending time “doing nothing” together again. However, the second half of September (and the beginning of October) felt like living in a “Far From Fallow” land (so much so that I'll add another month of transiency in 2017).

The publications I had hoped to “harvest” this autumn have been left by the wayside, while I let myself be railroaded (by myself above all others) to various other pursuits. To begin with, new opportunities for 2017 are beginning to arise. With the arrival of autumn people have begun planning for next year and asking for input. I ended up writing three proposals, and accepted a keynote at the Anticipation conference. At the moment these seem in line with what I’d like to do after the transiency - experience design, experiential futures and process facilitation. Still, it’s risky doing such things when my/our post-transiency directions and purpose hasn’t solidified yet.

Doing this kind of work puts me in a state of mind which is the opposite of fallow. Accounting for FoAM and my one-woman company has further compartmentalised my brain into spreadsheet-compatible units. My free-flowing openness and joyful creativity of the summer quickly narrowed to a goal-driven mindset in a matter of days. This has happened several times during my transiency, and it still amazes (and concerns) me how quickly I switch into “organisational mode”. It’s not something I want to shy away from. I love the feeling of an ordered overview of accounts (especially when they match my budget projections!), or the sense of accomplishment that comes after submitting a complex and well-rounded funding proposal.

Wotking on the Stillness book was the most enjoyable endeavour this month. The proofs of the book were ready for our inspection a few of days after I got back from Croatia. A couple of weeks later we received 200 copies at FoAM. The book is beautiful. Not only as a book of wonderful photographs, but as a physical manifestation of the fallow period. Even after looking at the photos hundreds of times on various screens and prints, the book is still as inviting for me to slow down and notice the many details, the delightfully rough texture of the paper, the filmic sequence, etc. The whole process and result of this project (including the event in February) were a highlight of this year for me.

stillness


I put quite some time and mental energy into writing up a description of integrative process facilitation with some of the hosting community. It felt right to do this as part of my transiency. Process facilitation is one of things from FoAM’s past that make sense for me to continue in our next phase. Working on the text and diagrams helped me clarify exactly what it is that I want to be doing, and how my skills and interest can be complementary with others in the group. I think this working group has potential to become a true community of practice. Our respective (un)availability and travel schedules still remain a challenge, which could be remedied if there were means for us to work intensively on projects for short periods as well as having a way to maintain momentum when we’re not directly working together. It’s a bit like the FoAM network… Working directly on such challenges though is something for after my transiency. For now, I’ll use the description of the work in my scoping conversations with potential clients and partners.

What has made these weeks less enjoyable was the context switching, even though the activities themselves were quite enjoyable. Funding and accounting, scheduling skype calls and meetings, stillness promotion, travel, writing, Filastine and Kate Rich’s inspiring BBB residencies, aperos, birthday celebrations, a bizarre salon on immaterial values (which made me realise just how much I truly do not understand some Flemish people), making a decision about the studio (we’ll keep it until the end of March 2017, at least), medical appointments, planning for Japan, convoluted renewal procedures for my Dutch passport, lovely but nauseating electronic music concerts…

Context switching wasn’t the most difficult thing in September though. That place was reserved for my ambiguous relationship with the hosting community. In June, I enjoyed preparing gatherings the way I like to experience them, which was perceived as walking over people and not fulfilling their needs. When I tried to share my own needs and doubts, they were met with accusations that I'm bringing bad energy to the group, taking responsibility away from others and not allowing them to help me. I listened to the critique and stepped as far back as I could to make space for others to step up. A few people organised the community re-treat in September. While I noticed the same mistakes I used to make as novice retreat organiser, I let them “pass over me and through me”, not wanting to criticise or come across as taking over again. Instead, I focused on doing exactly what was asked of me. I showed up as a participant and hosted a session I wanted to experiment with. For me, this was Living with dis-ease.

barefoot walking


I was looking forward to extracting parts of my memoir and translating them into a participatory session. The session included readings interspersed with short meditations. I spent a few days designing it and felt quite inspired. I wanted to share the practices which have helped me in my darkest, most difficult moments. I had hoped that they could be as helpful to other people. I also wanted to share my writing with people who I felt close to.

As a guiding theme I took the title of Treya and Ken Wilber’s book Grace and Grit. I described seven episodes from the last seven years of my life, where the 'grit' of dis-ease become fertile ground for grace. I focused on mind training - particularly in meditation and rituals - as a way to experience grace in the midst of the grit chronic illness. I was curious to see if/how this could work in terms of content and format. I decided not talk about all aspects of my illness, but to focus on the theme I found most relevant to the re-treat, namely the connection between illness and contemplation.

With all my good intentions, I did not take into account how my selection of excerpts (with a focus on how I helped myself through dis-ease) could inadvertently hurt people who know me. Some felt guilty or even angry at me for not asking for more help, or not sharing enough, or for not acknowledging their contribution to my healing. Others felt remorse for not having done more. One of my closest friends burst into tears and a half-hour tirade of accusations that I have so much rage in me and express it in ways that only hurt others, making them feel incapable and unworthy.

living-with-dis-ease


Regardless to say, I was taken aback. I felt ashamed that my very well-meaning actions could cause so much pain. Again. At the same time, there was a nagging question arising from somewhere deep inside me - why should even the experience of my own illness be about making other people feel good about themselves? Why is it that whenever I share my most honest feelings, doubts and longing with this (supposedly supportive) group, my words are misinterpreted as an attack and the conversation becomes about other people’s unfulfilled needs? Am I toxic to this group and vice versa? Is it time to leave it all behind? The hosting group and my cancer memoir? Is writing and publishing my memoir only going to cause more grief?

The re-treat wasn’t the time to resolve such questions, so I let go of my worries and immersed myself in the sessions. They were enjoyable, yet the retreat itself wasn't flowing (for various reasons). Still, I got to sing a partisan song in a church and to co-design a sonic meditation with Stevie. I participated in playfulness and contemplation, as well as contributed to Barbara’s ritual for unmotherhood. The latter was particularly inspiring (especially when we continued developing the design in October). It allowed me to work with my infertility as a creative source. It’s a delight to be able to translate my personal experience into something meaningful for another person. Rituals, immersive experiences, transmedia stories, gorgeous objects like the Chemo Singing Bowl. It feels like an alchemical process of transforming pain of disease into healing beauty.

However, the pain that characterises most of my recent interactions with the hosting community needs time to heal. I won't go into any more details here, but suffice to say that I am rather crushed by the experience. I need distance to understand if and how to continue relating to this group. I hope that the distance will help me find some meaningful answers. If resolution proves impossible, at the very least I hope to find enough equanimity to close this chapter on my own.

When wishes are granted, joy comes gently. And when they are not, we hang suspended waiting for release in the space between the heartbeats. -From Call the Midwife inspired by the memoirs of Jennifer Worth

Electrically tangled


Back to Not Holding Back

During my transiency, I have uncovered parts of myself which lay dormant or have been held with tight reins for years, while I was running an organisation and supporting dozens of people through their personal, professional, financial and emotional issues. This year I promised myself that I wouldn’t hold back any more. I want to be able to enjoy the flow of my creativity in whatever I do. I should either fully commit to something or not do it at all. At the end of my transiency I want to have a clear(er) sense of purpose, so that I can better prioritise and only work on things I can completely stand behind. For three weeks in September I felt like I was in a tiny room filled with strobe-lights and screaming women. I must reduce the amount of such stroboscopic, high-pitched experiences in my life, literally and figuratively.I have only a limited number of years to live with dwindling energy, and I can’t allow myself to be so drained any more.

… it’s not about the joy, it’s about the work, and there has to be some kind of joy in the work, some kind from among the many kinds, including the joy of hard truths told honestly. Carpenters don’t say, I’m just not feeling it today, or I don’t give a damn about this staircase and whether people fall through it; how you feel is something that you cannot take too seriously on your way to doing something, and doing something is a means of not being stuck in how you feel. That is, there’s a kind of introspection that’s wallowing and being stuck, and there’s a kind that gets beyond that into something more interesting and then maybe takes you out into the world or into the place where deepest interior and cosmological phenomena are at last talking to each other.

What we call success is very nice and comes with useful byproducts, but success is not love, or at least it is at best the result of love of the work and not of you, so don’t confuse the two. Cultivating love for others and maybe receiving some for yourself is another job and an important one. The process of making art is the process of becoming a person with agency, with independent thought, a producer of meaning rather than a consumer of meanings that may be at odds with your soul, your destiny, your humanity, so there’s another kind of success in becoming conscious that matters and that is up to you and nobody else and within your reach.”

-Rebecca Solnit

With such thoughts, I'm ready to get on the flight to Japan, in anticipation of much koyo (autumn leaves), sport and culture, networking with Young Global Leaders, shojin ryori and kaiseki research, and other promising adventures…

Bamboo forest


August 2016

August is approximately the midpoint of our transiency. Time to take stock and move into the next phase. I collected various insights from this page, my journals, conversations and meditations. Here are a few excerpts:

Aspirations

A few 'impressionistic' paragraphs that describe the felt sense and imagery that arise in (what feels like) moments of clarity. Maybe when I look at this in a few months time, something will jump out and I’ll be able to distill a clear and evocative 'mission statement' out of it. Or not. No matter. I’m writing it down as an invocation.

When all the words fade away, when I’m not attempting to analyse, fix, improve or “figure things out”, what arises as my aspiration?

  • Revealing, focusing and (re)framing small marvels in everyday life. The intensity of greenness when light shines through translucent leaves. The scent of tea. The silence of daybreak. Moving shadows and reflections. An unexpected encounter. A kind word. A caress of textured matter; sound, fabric, surface tension, damp soil. Sunrise and sunset. A ladybug landing on my hand. A fleeting embrace. A shower of autumn leaves.
  • Absorption in (peak) experiences. Direct experiences. Mystical experiences. Awe-inspiring landscapes. A shifting sense of scale. Melting. Mystery. Alternate states. Displaced perspective. Time unbinding. The colours of twilight. Flavour pairing. Synaesthesia. A resonant soundscape. A responsive environment. Immersion. Stillness. Creative flow.
  • Wonder and wander.“Walking in beauty.” Unfolding, blossoming, dissolving. Unveiling contact, connection and belonging (of everything with everything else). Making my life matter while accepting myself as I am. Appreciation of being alive.

Now it can dawn on us: we are our world knowing itself. We can relinquish our separateness. We can come home again – and participate in our world in a richer, more responsible and poignantly beautiful way than before, in our infancy.“ - Joanna Macy

What inspirational and aspirational patterns emerge when I look at my work in the past? “The triangle”: uncertainty, experience, panpsychism/panexperientialism/viriditas. What’s in the middle, at the intersection?

  • Noticing. Patterns, constants and variables across different scales. Sensing change of different magnitudes. Emergent tendencies, deep set habits and weak signals. Imperceptible systemic fluctuations. Massive tectonic shifts of a global crisis and minute tremors of an emotional breakdown. Patterns emanating from the instant of the now to the infinity of the long now. Uncovering, connecting and translating. Unholy alliances. Individual experiences, societal megatrends and geological aeons. Connections between personal and collective experiences, micro and macro scales. The art of living with dis-ease.
  • Thriving in uncertainty. The taste of impermanence. Shifting sands. Transitions. Presence and action in the absence of certainty, despite ambiguity of hope, pessimism and optimism. Delving into experience underneath emotional turmoil. Experiential futures. Equanimity and ecstasy. Staying still in a storm. Unearthing futures in the present. Prototyping how things might be otherwise. Pre-enactments. Inspiring a sense of agency. Approaching life as an experiment with varying, context dependent levels of vision and adaptation.
  • Experiencing. “Nothing ever becomes real 'til it is experienced” (Keats). Tending and attending. Daily manifestations and opus magnum. Contemplation and celebration. Inspiring and enabling. Grow your own worlds. A spectrum from reflective writing to immersive experiences and back again. Horizon scanned in a cup of tea. Big picture distilled into embodied experience. Borrowed scenery. Rites of passage. Seasonal observances. Abstract thoughts become delectable sensations. Smoke and vapour. Inhabited theory. Transmedia stories. Ambient foresight. Culture and cultivation. Cultivation of minds, incarnated. Public experiments. Hosting culture. Minimum production, maximum effect. Clarity of intent. Wise effort and effortless commitment. Adaptive perseverance. Knowing when to let go. Conscious closure. Leaving no trace of mess, only deliberate, meaningful traces worth preserving.
  • Beyond being human. Panpsychism. The “mysterious reality in the background, intrinsically unknowable” (Whitehead). Non-anthropocentrism in the anthropocene. Romantic machines. Viriditas. HPI. Dark ecologies. Exquisite handprints on the path to extinction. Luminous Green. Embracing shadows. Machine Wilderness. Technologies at a human scale. Thalience. Consilience. Edge habitats. Co-working space with Planetary Others. Care. Wu Wei.


We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting. -Khalil Gibran

Rhythms

When the pressure of external deadlines and commitments falls away, what rhythms emerge?

  • Fallow rhythm. Cyclical immersion in the present. It flows from receptivity to activity and back again: doing nothing → noticing → tending → cultivating → leaving be → doing nothing → noticing… It’s a slow process, an intimate courting of cultivation and “rewilding” or letting grow. The magic of the moment is only revealed through complete absorption. Then the minuscule changes appear delightful and miraculous.
  • Transitional rhythm. Re-integration into society after a period of convalescence or seclusion isn’t necessarily a linear process. It’s more of an edge than a switch. If the transition is too abrupt, it can set the whole process back again. A gradual addition of energy-demanding activities is preferable. Unfolding and turning outwards can be fast and exciting, but the process of greening and revival is much slower and imperceptible.
  • Seasonal rhythm. As we already noticed at FoAM since 2013, acknowledging the 'natural' seasonal rhythms increases the amount and duration of flow experiences, and it reduces stress and tension. The length and quality of daylight, as well as the temperature and the weather have a strong influence on the types of activities I/we like to do. Seasonal rituals, as observed in the pagan wheel of the year become crucial to punctuate the rhythm, as observances of moments of transition, allowing me to shift the energy and gradually change focus to different types of activities.
  • “Pseudoiterative” daily rhythm. Something akin to the monastic rhythm, though much more flexible and adaptive to changing circumstances. Structuring every day in more or less the same way gives me a sense of freedom, as I don’t have to use my headspace for scheduling and planning.
  • Introvert’s rhythm. It took me nearly forty years to realise that I have introvert tendencies and get drained when I spend time with people. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like being with people, far from it. I just need to be on my own to recharge. Introversion is a “chronic condition” - spending a month on my own isn’t enough. I will continue needing regular periods of seclusion for the rest of my life.
  • Creative rhythm. Periods of laying fallow are crucial for creative endeavours, as we all know but often forget. They can last anywhere from a few hours to our 'fallow year'. The experience and quality of the creative work improves immensely without the constant pressure of deadlines and context switching. My creative cycle works best when I “touch things lightly, then let go.” Over and over again, in slow iterations, with a good dose of patience.

The beginning of writing is not when you sit down and write, but you write while you live your life. You carry the story in you while gardening, washing dishes… - you observe. When you sit down, you give birth to a story. A story that you have been carrying with you for a while, while doing other things. In the time we don't arrange flowers (e.g. while walking) we arrange them. The moment you sit and arrange, you just put it all together, but the arrangement is already determined - through prior observation & mindfulness - in your idea of beauty, harmony and aesthetics. The beauty of the flower arrangement depends on the quality of time when you are not arranging flowers.” -Thich Nhat Hahn

L1003889


Collaborative conundrums (still unresolved)

A set of open and unresolved questions related to collaboration and governance:

  • How to balance receptive and creative flows, in moments of 'intensive interaction'?
  • How to deal with issues of trust, respect, commitment and quality of work in horizontal and distributed structures (like FoAM)?
  • How to continue working on long term projects with a lot of flexibility, without relying on structural funding?
  • What kind of governance structure would facilitate a flexible network, a collective of freelancers bound by resonance to FoAM’s principles? How do we include and exclude members? How do we decide which activities are worth doing as FoAM?
  • How can we co-create a light and clear community structure to avoid ’tyranny of structurelessness’ allowing the collective to become agile and adaptive? Is the 'flotilla syndrome' a universal one for loose 'horizontal' communities? Is it possible to have and hold a collective vision and governance created and shared by everyone?
  • To keep or not to keep the studio in Brussels?
IMG_3151


Week 29/30

From the heatwave in Brussels to the Croatian summer. Transitioning out of the focused reflection into a smattering of this-and-that of everyday life. One week began with tax returns and ended in a high-school reunion. Spreadsheets and budgets. Logistics, administration and co-ordination. UPS debacles. Culinary experiments with tetragon and shiso. Incessant watering of plants near and far. Travel and the usual subsequent collapse. The second week started with severe heart palpitations and bodily discomfort. Blood and blood ties. Re-invigorated and held upright by the bitter scent of the sea, drying herbs and dust. The days follow each other in rapid succession of casual meetings, medical checkups, siestas and sunset walks. With an unexpected flurry of preservation and distribution of aronia berries donated to the Anti Cancer League.

Uprooting and re-rooting. In warm rocks and drying shrubbery. Reconnecting with people, after weeks, months or even years of distance. Family ties. Distributed clans. Aging classmates and young collaborators. BFF. Funding partners. Process facilitators. Time's Up. My beloved 95 year old grandmother. People, stories, past and future selves. Entangled.

(up)rooted


Week 27/28

Similar to the first two weeks of the transiency, I felt as if I was moving one step forward, two steps back. In February this rhythm felt frustrating, now it seemed just right. I spent quite some time looking over the materials from the last six months to distill insights. I'm hoping they will help me focus the next six months. Some of these are summarised above, others are still in note form scattered across digital and physical notebooks. The “one step forward” was actually many half-steps in many directions.

I went back to the one draft I wrote (in November last year) for the 'kaiseki' version of the Grow Your Own Worlds publication. I got the transient reality text in a better shape, now awaiting Nik and/or Alkan to get their teeth into it. I rationalised the chapters (there are seven now instead of ten), which makes it a bit more manageable. To help me get into the 'worlds' (aka chapters), I began the humongous process of cleaning up FoAM's digital archive, starting with (!) the Libarynth itself. I dared editing the front page, which lead to days of wiki-gnoming. I enjoyed doing it, but it also reminded me just how much mess there is to clean up and just how ungrateful the task it really is.

A slightly less daunting task was putting together a proposal for the Gulbenkian Foundation, for work in 2017. I realised that being an 'experience design consultant' could be a job cut out for me. I never thought about it this way. At FoAM, experience design meant being involved in all aspects, from the initial idea, through to implementation, presentation (that we endearingly call the 'art jail', as we usually sit in dark rooms behind the scenes and/or guide the public through the experience), documentation and clean up. By the end of it, I am usually happy with the result but physically broken. The CGF proposal is quite the opposite: all the benefits of our design expertise, without the weight of implementation. At least theoretically. Let's see how it goes.

Another task that I thought would be 'manageable' in a few days (silly me!) was putting a list of my publications online, somewhere a bit more visible than FoAM's own little corner of the woods. I started by creating a page on Academia.edu. This in its turn lead me to adventures in BibTeX, and frustrations with incompatible formats, as well as with the rigidity of academic boxes. I am absolutely the wrong shape for them; there are always things awkwardly sticking out (why am I surprised?!). At the end, Zotero seems to be the only place where I could upload the bibtex file as I wanted. Now I 'only' need to get all the abstracts, links and full publication texts in there, and I'll be done. If I'm to do all the archiving properly, I need (at least) another year, as originally planned… Or a clone army. Or I'll just do what I can and leave it semi-wild.

And then, there was my own 'coming out' into various social platforms, from tumblr, to flickr and even the total ego trip of about.me. To make it easier for myself I began creating recipes to connect everything to everything else through IFTTT and Buffer, which lead to even more work and wild goose chases in labyrinthine rabbit holes. Finally I ended back in the Libarynth, realising that I have a personal page here too, with nothing but one quote on it for nearly 15 years. Mesmer talking about grains of sand, or somesuch. After a few hours of linking various places I tend to on the Libarynth, it looks a bit different now; it's at least a little more organised. Well. It's a start. As I wrote in my flickr profile, what I'm attempting to do is create “a collection of delicate traces held lightly above the abyss of oblivion”. In other words, I'd like to draw attention to the precious moments that remind me why life is worth living, despite - or perhaps exactly because of - the imminent threats of (cultural) decay and various extinctions. Perhaps my “set of oblique lenses through which I watch the world unfold” will be of interest to someone else but me, or not. Regardless, creating these collections as myself rather than as FoAM helps me to see what the world looks like when my sight isn't cluttered with other points of view. I had all but forgotten what that's like, having been an amorphous being at the heart of the collective for so long. I see my online presence as a manifestation of one of my aspirations “to reveal, focus and (re)frame small marvels in everyday life.”

There have been many everyday marvels in my life this summer. The most important one is spending time with Nik when we're both relieved of the responsibilities of running an organisation. When we both work creatively, as well as take time to relax and enjoy each other's company. Our relationship, in all its aspects, began to effortlessly flow again. If this fallow year accomplishes nothing else, this is already more than enough for me. What I experienced this summer gives me even more motivation to work with Nik as a “duo”, a nomadic FoAM studio, working in different contexts and parts of the world.

Aside from work, we strolled through the lush summer forests and parks, through the streets of Brussels with their unpredictable cadence of silence and buzz. We visited the FoAM studio occasionally, which usually got us too depressed about lost opportunities that we ended up not 'inhabiting it' as planned. In the sanctuary of our home we'd find our joie-de-vivre again. We sat on the terrace at midnight with whisky and cigars, in the morning with porridge, smoothies and tea, or the whole day doing smoking experiments with the Big Green Egg. Our rhythms synced, desynced and resynced again. We enjoyed being “alone together”, as well sharing experiences. Nik was working 'the night-shift' when the streets would be quiet enough to work on sound. I would do the early morning shift, meditating in the murmur of a waking city. We never had as many breakfasts in bed and picnics on the terrace as this year. We had something to celebrate, almost daily. But most of all, we had time and head-space to listen to each other.

What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. -Heather Plett

Around midpoint

August full moon, the end of the middle of the fallow year

Week 26

August began with Lughnasadh or Lammastide, the first harvest festival on the pagan wheel of the year. A time to dismiss regrets, to begin the harvest and preparations for winter. As appropriate for the festival, Nik and I held informal contemplations of our crafts. We made an “altar” celebrating our various tools and spent time thinking about the things we can do well, things we’d like to get better at and things we’d like to learn to do. During one of my musings, I wrote down a few of my (rather abstract) skills and talents, all of which take a lifetime to refine:

  • Inspiring and enabling
  • Initiating, connecting, experimenting, reflecting
  • Contemplating and investigating (through meditative experiences, research and writing)
  • Designing and hosting (multisensory) experiences and participatory processes
  • Observing emergent patterns, synthesising and translating them to “human scale”.

For five days (until the astronomical midpoint between the solstice and the equinox) we occasionally cheered to various accomplishments, beginnings and endings of things. We baked corn pies, barbecued spelt pizza and sweet corn, and prepared (blue)berries in different guises.

This week is the beginning of the midpoint of the transiency, which will go on for about three weeks. It took us as long to tie up loose ends in February and truly begin the fallow period. Therefore, I see the middle of the transiency as an edge as well, rather than a single turning point.

I began by taking stock of my insights gathered over the first six months, distilling key points and questions to take to the next phase of my transiency. They include notes on my purpose and aspirations, challenges, collaboration, promising contexts and possible projects, as well as musings on the different rhythms that arose when external deadlines were more or less removed. At the moment the text still in a messy note form, but I’m planning to write it up over the next couple of weeks.

At the same time, I began the process of turning outwards. I made a diagram of how my online presence could work across different platforms, which I’ll gradually setup and populate (with the assistance of ifttt). The first thing on my list was to finally start my zibaldone/commonplace book on tumblr, which I’ve been planning for years but never got around to it. The design is still very much in progress (and I need a better URL), but I like it as a way to collect random tangents and see patterns emerge…

And last but not least, the week was immersed in stillness. Not only has the city emptied out (which makes Brussels in the summer a wonderful place to be), but Nik and I got back to Stillness - the book. I wrote the epilogue, spent time with Nik reviewing the sequence, layout, colophon, bindings, fonts, printers and other bits and pieces of book design and production. It’s wonderful working on a creative project together again. May there be many more in our future…

July 2016

July was an intensely introspective month, interspersed with just as intense moments of just witnessing life unfold. Shimmering refractions of sunlight on white walls, dancing through lush green foliage. Fresh air in the park. The juiciness of summer fruits and smokiness of barbecued vegetables. A few days of hot weather, when the atmosphere turns viscous and soft breezes glide across slippery skins. Breath moving in and out of the body. Mesmerising minutes of harmonic resonance between Hildegard’s favus distillans (dripping honeycomb) and Arabic chant at Midis Minimes. A mystical mingling of sensual and spiritual ecstasy, as in the Song of Songs.

Speech is born out of longing,
True description from the real taste.
The one who tastes, knows;
the one who explains, lies.
How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?
And who lives as a sign for your journey?
- Rabi'a al-Adawiyya

The month began in acute discomfort, which gradually transformed into recognition of individual and collective patterns. With daily practice, the painful anguish was followed by acceptance. There were even a few brief glimpses into my aspirations and creative challenges for the coming phase. How to reach a new (dynamic) balance of creative and receptive energies in myself and in my work with others? How to open without grasping or expectations?

Summer skies above Brussels


O virtus sapientie / O power of Wisdom
que circuiens circuisti, / who has surrounded surrounding
comprehendendo omnia / all comprising
in una via, que habet vitam / in one way, which has life
tres alas habens, / having three wings,
quarum una in altum volat / of which one flies to the high
et altera de terra sudat / and the other toils on earth
et tercia undique volat. / and the third flies everywhere.
laus tibi sit, / praise to you,
sicut te decet, / as it is becoming,
o sapientia. / o wisdom.
- Hildegard von Bingen

Week 25

This week was a transition from one phase of my transiency to another. From creation to harvest. Transition within transitions.

I completed the editorial pass of the opus magnum of the memoir and brought it up to date. Over a million characters, over 190.000 words. They feel like an extension of myself. Each of them rooted in my experiences, relationships, practices and reflections of the last seven years. The main thread is cancer and its effects on my life and work, with infertility as the most drastic consequence. Many a paragraph is devoted to my coming to terms with my changing body image; on my own and in the intimacy of my marriage. Deconstruction then reconstruction of my femininity, over and over again. As much, or more attention goes to my entanglement with work and its influence on my wellbeing. Creativity, collaborations, stress, burnout, transformation. Everyday life peppered with peak experiences, rituals and mysticism. Travels to wondrous landscapes and cultures. My many relationships - with Nik, my parents, family, friends and collaborators; with the medical establishments in the east and west; with FoAM as my (brain)child, and its becoming an independent entity.

The memoir speaks in my many voices. I describe experiences in minute detail, which allowed me to re-live, accept and commit them to the past. I puzzle over my convoluted relationships. I pragmatically take notes of “methods” I experimented with to complement medical treatments - diets, herbal medicine, ayurveda and TCM, physical exercises and meditative practices. Occasionally I slow down and ponder. I contemplate on contemplation and meditation, living and dying. There are glimpses of my aesthetic sources - quotes, music, books, movies and artworks. I flashback into the past and invoke preferred futures. All in all, it’s an honest and intimate account of my life with its many ups and downs. I enjoyed creating it, with myself and for myself. The process was liberating, as long as I didn’t think about the results.


As the midpoint of my transiency approaches, I feel the pressure to bring the story out into the open. For now, this means selecting and rewriting parts of it, to publish as web-articles. I necessarily have to begin thinking about audiences, assess the text on its merits for others, etc. It feels as if I’m preparing to strip naked in front of a judgmental crowd. The content is so close to my heart that it is tricky for me not to take criticism personally. Not only is the content very intimate, but my insecurity about the form rears its head too. Underneath it is the fear that the writing is not good enough. I wrote in English, which isn’t my native language (not that I have one anyway). I can never publish something without asking for help from a native editor. At the same time, I don’t want to bother anyone with it. I’m sure they have better things to do… Yet, when I don’t think about the “audience” and just work with the materials, I get completely absorbed in the process again.

This is the first time in years that I’m working on my own public profile rather than FoAM’s. I spent a decade and a half developing a collective identity, where we build on each other’s strengths and where individual authorship isn’t important. It’s all about transcending individual identity for the benefit of the work which we create together. Now, when I’m beginning to think about my individual work in public, it seems like I can’t do anything properly. I miss the bouncing of texts (and other media) back-and-forth, until the individual voices disappear in the flow of shared ideas. At FoAM I developed my craft of collective creation, at the expense of my individual expression. It isn’t surprising that I lack confidence and skills to present myself as an “individual artist” (or generalist, or whatever other unfitting label I should use). Or that my public profile on social media is full of holes, in disarray or even non-existent. I avoided social media in the last years as I could barely manage my everyday work and life without the endless chatter, comments, likes and dislikes.

I’m beginning to see my public profile as a creative challenge. Can I distance myself from the content and work on the material as an independent editor or curator would? Can I discern what of my work has sufficient (artistic) quality? Can I see my public profile not as a representation of myself, but as a collage of things I care about? If I was my audience, what would I like to see? Can I just allow myself to play? When I think of it this way, I can feel the creative juices beginning to flow. I’m not very good at promoting myself and my work or having open-ended discussions online, but I relish creating and curating coherent wholes out of chaos of seemingly unrelated fragments.

Let this be my challenge for the harvest season: public experiments in harvesting and distillation. Transforming the messy fruits of the past and present into “deliberate and meaningful traces worth preserving”. The memoir, kaiseki publication, stillness, hosting. My own and FoAM’s public profiles. Let’s see how it goes.

Week 24

Heatwave


All “realities” and “fantasies” can take on form only by means of writing, in which outwardness and innerness, the world and I, experience and fantasy, appear composed of the same verbal material. The polymorphic visions of the eyes and the spirit are contained in uniform lines of small or capital letters, periods, commas and parentheses - pages of signs, packed as closely together as grains of sand, representing the many-coloured spectacle of the world on a surface that is always the same and always different, like dunes shifted by the desert wind. -Calvino

Week 23

An enjoyable, mundane week filled with context switching bits-and-pieces. Random acts of (FoAM) admin. A lovely dinner with the core team (& De Wel boys), catching up on our transiency processes and summer plans. Meeting with Yin Lei Zhang about her work on linking community development and urban interventions, and her interest to become a part of FoAM (if only I had met her a few years ago when we were looking for someone to take over from FoAM bxl…). The first ultrasound of my 'new' breast tissue, which looks like the refraction in one of the images below, including dark circles of benign cysts. I was a bit taken aback, as I thought I would never see cysts in my breasts again. Apparently it's normal to have cysts in reconstructions with fat tissue, which are caused by the necrosis of fat cells. Ah well… I had my second-to-last lasering and one of the many check-ups with the onco-surgeon (all fine). Autumn planning and travel booking. Idle weekend.

Documentation for the hosting community was the cantus firmus of the week, appearing betwixt-and-between my other activities. While most people I work with find post-event documentation a tedious task, it helps me to make sense of experiences and discussions, to distill what's important to remember. Once I take sufficient distance from human interaction I can fully focus on the content. Off-topic details and emotional colouring fade away, allowing the essence to bubble up to the surface. The Activity mapping is beginning to take shape. My perspective on the difficulties changed when I rephrased my conundrums into constructive questions:

  • How can we, in this community, find a good flow between creative and receptive energies, between collective, goal-driven activities and supporting/nurturing individual members (think of the flow in the yin-yang symbol)?
  • How can we co-create a light and clear community structure to avoid the “tyranny of structurelessness” (see quote below), allowing the group to become agile and adaptive?
  • How do we balance the drive to hang out together and co-create new activities with the “time & money” pressure the individual members are struggling with?
  • How can we be available, committed, reliable and punctual, so that we can enjoy “being and doing” together? So that the logistics and co-ordination tasks can be evenly and effectively distributed and exchanged, while also having time to socialise, celebrate and relax, i.e. enjoy each others' company?

Writing about the activities for which I'm a 'steward', helped me get more clarity what I'd like to do. The descriptions are still sketches, and perhaps not all of them will materialise, but at least it's becoming a little less vague what I'd like to do with this community:

  • Process facilitation. Great to finally put something in writing regarding my/our/FoAM's approach to this promising income-generating avenue…
  • Living with dis-ease, for me an interesting link between writing, public speaking, experience design and facilitation, where I could transform my personal experience with illness into something that could help people in difficult situations
  • Life writing - another interesting connection between writing and hosting, where the participants (including me) would become a part of a support-group of writers, readers and editors, specifically focusing on life-writing including memoirs, journals, commonplace books etc.
  • Guided Meditations. An attempt to reclaim contemplation and meditation as an artform.
  • Hosting Craft, a repackaging of the hosting craft training as a service.


Week 22

When you live among people, you live in a state of ceaseless chatter. If you want to find out who you really are, you have to go off alone. (…) Stop talking, even stop thinking words and be absolutely alone. Listen to the great silences.

Things are what they are and they do what they do.

Dust is full of gods and the pores of your skin contain many universes. Yet it is still the same everyday experience. But look at ordinariness! Look at what you miss at every moment!

The world, just as it is.

The world likes to make noises, blow bubbles, dance in a ring and that’s what it’s all about. We’re surrounded by nothing but senseless process. Good heavens, think of that! It’s not so bad after all… Appreciate the “suchness” of it. It is not a form of “Nothing Buttery” (…) There is simply a stream of what you could call a luminous experience.

Do you want to say yes to the world, or do you want to say no?

There isn’t a method. Lose everything. Let go completely. Use no energy to fight the storm. Drift. Then play with it.

- Alan Watts, Thusness

Refraction


After the frustrations of June, I decided to dig deeper into my habitual patterns. Over the last weeks, I recognised the increased mental blockages and reactivity, which I learned to I associate with times of intense pain or stress. The acceptance of the situation took a while - when I’m in the grip of discomfort, I (as most other humans) tend to forget how to get out of it. I obsessively try to fix things, judge (myself and others), try to get away from it all by indulging in mindless activities, etc. Once I finally recognised the state I was in, I knew how to deal with it. I’ve done it many times in the past, in much worse situations.

To begin with, accepting the difficulty can already loosen the resistance. I can then see the stressful situations not as a problem, but as a creative challenge. Without attempting to find answers or change anything, I begin by recognising and acknowledging what’s there. My habits, reflexes, thoughts and emotions that arise in and after difficult situations. I let them linger for a while, and occasionally wonder what I could learn from them, without trying to find an answer or a solution. Just ask myself how I could evolve “past the past”. Issues surrounding trust, ambition, control, perfectionism, compassion, insecurity, failure and empathy mingled in my head and body for days.

The tricky thing is not to attempt to resolve the discomfort too quickly, as the initial answers tend to be only superficially correct. So I forced myself to inhabit the difficulty and observe. Witness my mental and physical reactions to stressful situations and their after-effects. I meditated daily, reflected in writing and by talking to Nik, Eva, Stevie and my mother. When I got to the point beyond judging myself, others or the universe, I wondered what vulnerability is laying underneath all the discomfort. What does that tell me about what I really need? What do I aspire to? What arose were things like belonging, unfolding, blossoming, creative flow, absorption in peak experiences, contact and connection.

Shadow


Amidst such inner investigations, I was also dealing with medical checkups and planning, FoAM admin, entertaining friends, writing an article, designing and participating in the hosting gathering. The latter was definitely a creative challenge: how to bring up my (rather emotional) conundrums about the detrimental effects of my involvement with this group, without derailing the flow. I only wanted to bring my doubts out in the open to acknowledge they exist, without needing to resolve them immediately. I brought my ritual dagger to “… to bind and pin down negative energies or obscurations from the mindstream of an entity, person or thoughtform, including the thoughtform generated by a group, project and so on, to administer purification.” (Wikipedia on Vajrakīla). I mentioned that I used the dagger in my meditations over the last week, to try untangle why I recently felt so uncomfortable about my involvement with the hosting group.

IMG_2897


While the dagger meditation helped me get clarity, bringing it to the gathering was perceived as threatening and aggressive by others. This seems to be a recurring issue for me (with some people) in this group. My honest and heartfelt actions are experienced as too forceful or even domineering. After the session I hosted in early June, no one took initiative to facilitate the next gathering. All the while I kept thinking about the participants' reaction at the end of the “zoom-out” session - they wanted to work on developing activities rather than discussing the big picture. As the day of the gathering was coming closer, I sent an email to our mailing list: “As a hosting “community of practice”, our primary purpose is to support our individual and collective hosting practices - through discussion, advice, testing, co-hosting and co-creation. We could use the upcoming gathering see what this would be like - in practice. Rather than talking about how the community could work - we could try it out in an open space session. Anyone who would like to discuss, test, or co-create an activity can host a session, lasting from 30-90 minutes. Before we begin the open space session, I'd like to do a mapping exercise, to get an overview of existing and potential activities/practices that each of us would like to contribute to the group. We can possibly use this map to come up with a set of criteria for inclusion of activities.” No one objected, so I proceeded to design the gathering on my own. I prepared a substantial framing, as there were several people who had missed a couple of previous sessions. The preparation also helped me synthesize everything we discussed over the last six months.

In the middle of my framing, a couple of people began crying in response to my suggestion that we map only those activities that people are truly committed to. I hoped to avoid a big swamp of possible projects that we wouldn't have time realise. I have seen other groups (including FoAM) become discouraged when faced with too many interesting initiatives. How to choose? How to prioritise? What principles or criteria can guide meaningful selections? People in the hosting group were reluctant to work with abstract concepts as success factors and change drivers. That's fine. I thought that in this gathering we could try a different approach. We could be guided by the individuals' intuition or “gut-feeling” to distill the activities we'd like to work on. I was excited about experimenting with this approach. In my excitement, I forgot myself and used my forthright Balkan/Dutch way of speaking, with no gloves on. What a horrible mistake that was. My enthusiasm and directness was experienced as brute force. I felt as if I was clumsy bulldozer with broken brakes. Even though no one said much to me at the time, later (and behind my back) I was accused of not trusting people, of not taking their needs into account and of blocking their personal growth by my “hostile takeover”. While I didn't know exactly what people thought, I felt a great amount of hostility towards me, which I couldn't place at the time. I paused, sat down and listened. What ensued was an emotional check-in that lasted until lunch time.

I saw myself fading into nothingness. I was a facilitator, therefore I did what the group needed. The problem is that I am as much a part of this group, but my needs are at odds with the others. My habitual behaviour came back with a vengeance. I halt my own creative process as soon as someone else has an emotional problem. I put myself in the backseat. I feel guilty and ashamed, blame myself for all that happened - even for other people's reactions. In this state, I did everything I could to slow down, to smooth the situation and find a compromise. The day picked up, but we did less than half of what we planned. I’m not sure if this is the best way to work with a group for whom “time and money” is one of the key success factors. Regardless, I was hoping to talk through some of this over dinner, but people began leaving even before the end of the last session. As I was walking home I realised that I felt worse than I did in months. It began by being blocked and deflated. In the evening and for a couple of days later, I went through the usual limbic fight/flight reactions: blaming myself, blaming others, wanting to leave the group and even to leave Belgium.

Through various meditation, primarily on compassion and forgiveness, I realised that I care too much to just leave. Instead, I chose to share my painful emotions, insights and conundrums with the group. And I brought the dagger to pin down my own negative energy and transform it into something else. Another mistake.

As I was describing my conundrums in the closing circle, people felt the need to “help”, defend themselves or prove me wrong. A known impulse in situations when well meaning (but emotionally laden) feedback is taken personally, when it is easier to give advice than to sit with the discomfort. I find advice in such moments completely counterproductive (it makes me feel incompetent). Unfortunately I was too caught up in the whirlwind of hosting and participating (aware of the time slipping away and people having to catch trains). I didn't recognise what was going on while it was happening. Everyone, including me, was becoming defensive. This wasn't what I hoped for. Perhaps I was naively taking the group's commitment to honesty about our doubts too literally. Perhaps our ways of working and communicating are not as compatible as we thought. Perhaps our various insecurities and emotional baggage are clouding our judgement. Perhaps we just can't truly listen to each other at the moment. Or perhaps it was simply my raw and unskillful delivery of concerns that came across as judgement. If so, I am truly sorry. I hope to get a chance to creatively resolve these conundrums together. For me, it's all a part of the practice…

edge habitat


While we were cleaning up, Kathleen came back from the metro a few minutes after she left, having witnessed someone jumping under the train. This refocused everyone’s attention. Stevie and I had planned to improvise a guided meditation which didn’t happen earlier, but it now it seemed more than appropriate.

Stevie played the hurdy-gurdy while I spoke, asking questions that I asked myself in the difficult month of June: What does distress feel like? What’s underneath this feeling? What does this difficult situation want to teach me? What does it tell me about this moment? What do I notice right now? What if I had only a year to live? A month? A day? An hour? Just a few moments? What would really matter? We closed by acknowledging the preciousness of being alive. Letting everything else fade into the background, as Stevie's sound gradually faded into silence.

At the end of the meditation we were all shivering, with tears in our eyes. All my doubts and fears temporarily dissolved. I felt in the flow again. I sensed what was needed, poured all my intention and artistry into creating an experience through improvisation. The experience was nurturing, while I got my “fix” of improvised creativity. A flow of yin and yang, of masculine and feminine drives. Goal-driven, creative nurturing that worked.

A slightly longer flow experience for me these last couple of weeks was co-authoring the Making things physical essay with Nik, Tim and Tina. I enjoyed the collaboration immensely. The topic was Physical Narratives, which Time’s Up explored more actively in the last years, but we at FoAM have done our fair share in the past. I took the lead, setup calls and proposed a structure. We discussed it, everyone made comments and we jointly made changes. Time’s Up started the first round of actual writing, sent us a draft that was about 1000 words too long, so it was our task to shorten it without losing the essence. It was a major rewrite, but I thought it was much better for it. As this was happening at the same time as the hosting gathering at the end of June, I was terrified that I had bulldozed over the text in the same way I did with too firmly framing the workshop. To my delighted surprise, the response was very positive. The article improved, and it didn’t matter who did the improving. Relieved, we spent a few more rounds of touching up and nudging the text and images until we were all satisfied. At the beginning and the end we spent time socialising and cheering over skype. There was time and space to talk about our lives, but none of our personal issues impacted the flow of the work. Our egos were left at the door and when we got onto working, the quality of the article was all that mattered. While the agreements were generally respected, there was also sufficient flexibility so that when something had to change, everyone was informed and could adapt, without stress. We finished the article three days before the deadline and could all stand behind the results.

L1026581


I think I might have found the crux of my “spiritual” practice for the coming years: to find ways where the “intense interaction” between creative and receptive energies (i.e. the dots in the yin-yang symbol) can produce flow rather than blockages and resistance. Where creation nurtures and nurturing creates. I know it works well when they’re separated (as it more-or-less did at FoAM from 2013 onwards). I know it’s trouble when one overshadows the other. It works best when the two are seamlessly and intensely entangled, spiralling, flowing from one to the other.

You are not too old
and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out
it's own secret

-Reiner Maria Rilke

At the end of the week I spent three days in retreat on my own, at home. I meditated on my stress triggers and reactions; on past traumas, present conundrums and on my inability to resolve them by myself; on my present needs and longer term aspirations. I walked in the hot afternoon sun (finally!), listened to podcasts, and watched movies when I felt I needed a break from intense introspection. After weeks of uneasiness, I finally came back to myself.

When I see you and how you are,
I close my eyes to the other.
For your Solomon's seal I become wax
throughout my body. I wait to be light.
I give up opinions on all matters.
I become the reed flute for your breath.

You were inside my hand.
I kept reaching around for something.
I was inside your hand, but I kept asking questions
of those who know very little.

I must have been incredibly simple or drunk or insane
to sneak into my own house and steal money,
to climb over the fence and take my own vegetables.
But no more. I've gotten free of that ignorant fist
that was pinching and twisting my secret self.

The universe and the light of the stars come through me.
I am the crescent moon put up
over the gate to the festival.

-Rumi

Glow


… la luce del sole o della luna, veduta in luogo dov’essi non si vedano e non si scopra la sorgente della luce; un luogo solamente in parte illuminato da essa luce; il riflesso di detta luce, e i vari effetti materiale che ne derivano; il penetrare di detta luce in luoghi dov’ella divenga incerta e impedita, e non bene si distingua, come attraverso un canneto, in una selva, per li balconi socchiusi ec. ec.; la detta luce veduta in luogo, oggetto ec. dov’ella non entri e non percota dirittamente, ma vi sia ribattuta e diffusa da qualche altro luogo od oggetto ec. dov’ella venga a battere; in un andito veduto al di dentro o al di fuori, e in una loggia parimente ec. (…) il riflesso che produce, per esempio, un vetro colorato su quegli su cui si riflettono i raggi che passano per detto vetro; tutti quegli oggetti insomma che per diverse materiali e menome circostanze giungono alla nostra vista, udito ec. in modo incerto, mal distinto, imperfetto, incompleto, o fuor dell’ordinario ec. -Leopardi in Zibaldone

June 2016

It’s like when the irresistible force meets an immovable object. A state of maximum frustration. I cannot do, I cannot not do. If you feel safe, you haven’t got the point. You have to know clearly there is nothing to depend on.

-Alan Watts

Enlightenment is the absolute co-operation with the inevitable.

-Anthony De Mello

June started and ended for me in a “state of maximum frustration”, with occasional attempts at “co-operation with the inevitable”. I have spent time in the grip, with my own wrathful shadow, watching it erode my will to exist as a social being. Yet I also hung out with the same person, as she is during flow experiences, when absorbed in creative work (alone and with others). I’ve also spent time with her on days when physical and/or emotional dis-ease confines her to the couch and mind-numbing series-watching marathons. It was as if I was looking at myself through a kaleidoscope.

Reflection


I’ve seen some of the FoAM’s unsustainable collective patterns beginning to emerge in the hosting community, including the tyranny of structurelessness, unclear boundaries between nurturing and creation/goal-oriented work, issues with availability, reliability, individual vs. collective needs. I’ve also seen my own afflictive patters re-emerging in response, which drove me to despair. A terrifying deja vu.

June came to its confused end in the pouring rain, that stopped just enough for us to have a G&T at Recyclart, kicking-off summer holidays in the freezing cold.

Week 21

The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.

From Permaculture Principles, quoted by Ali Crosby in At the Edges of Art, Technology and Democracy:

…the edge in permaculture is not a boundary on the periphery of a design, but a site of interconnection, hybridity and exchange, that produces adaptable and different possibilities.

A week of borders and edges. It began with the first meeting of a think tank on “immaterial values”, integrated approaches and paradigm shifts, with a lecture by Marc Luyckx Ghisi. I'm one of nine people in this diverse group, conceived by my oncologist and her partner - a naturopath and business consultant, and including a university professor, a nun, a psychologist and a yoga teacher. After an inspiring weekend, the week turned out to be much more mentally and emotionally draining than anticipated. Instigated by the the hosting gathering that put me “on edge” (more about this another time), I proceeded to work full time on the physical narratives essay, designing the multistakeholder strand of the hosting community and applying to the course on the “leadership at the edge”. I ended the week by beginning to seriously contemplate “edging away” from Belgium, before my Balkan intensity and drive completely dissolve (or worse) in its slushy miasma of climate and culture.

Belgian summer...

Belgian summer during the gloomiest and wettest June since records began in 1833

On a more positive note, here's my current thinking on leadership, edges and possible directions, written for the application to the Transformational Leadership course, but also relevant to the notes and conundrums on this page:

In the context of your current work, what does “leading at the edge” mean to you?

In my work “leading at the edge” means several things: creating an “edge habitat” to connect dissimilar fields and cultures, working on the “cutting edge” of futures and cultural innovation, and “balancing on the edge” of personal and professional limits. In my case, the challenge is to find a balance between leadership and service, ambition and compassion.

As a generalist, I am - in a way - an embodiment of edges. I “specialise” in connecting divergent ways of knowing, learning and experiencing as part of my creative practice. I founded a “transdisciplinary lab for speculative culture”, where people from diverse fields work together to encourage and co-create more holistic approachs to life. In a sense, “leading at the edge” means continuing with my work; minimising borders and maximising edges between people, places, ideas and worldviews.

Another “edge” in my work is futurecrafting. While I have a background in foresight, I’m less interested in futuristic projections and more in bringing futures closer to the present - prototyping how things might be otherwise and thereby inspiring a sense of agency. Stray too far, and this could be seen as too avant-garde and perhaps irrelevant, stay too close to the present and risk losing sight of what’s emerging on the horizon. “Leading at the edge” requires a continuously shifting, delicate balance, demanding an experimental approach, with varying levels of vision and adaptation.

In the next five years, what are the professional issues you will be working on, and how do you hope to make an impact?

I’m currently on sabbatical, which involves reflecting on what is emerging in my work and in the world, to figure out where and how my contributions can be most relevant and impactful. As I’m not yet half way through, so I’m reluctant to say with certainty which issues I will be working on in the next five years. Participating in this course would help me comb through many possibly interesting directions. For example:

  • The art of living with dis-ease: based on my insights as a cancer patient, I hope to inspire and enable people experiencing some form of dis-ease (not necessarily chronic illness), to approach their physical and emotional difficulties as a creative challenge. The impact I’m hoping for is empowerment in the face of dis-ease, as well as a more integrated approach to wellbeing, illness and loss.
  • Designing services for uncertain futures: a “real life lab” tackling complex and urgent issues from multiple perspectives. The impact I’m hoping for is the emergence of multistakeholder networks to co-create and facilitate transitions towards more resilient lifestyles, on personal, collective and systemic levels.
  • Living in post-normal times: With the increasing threats of environmental turbulence, we need a radical change of mindsets and cultures, away from short-termism and anthropocentrism. On the edges between inhabiting uncertainty, experiential learning and panpsychism, I hope to inspire change through creative experiments, as well as developing supportive communities of practice. Aware of possible extinction, we need more inclusive relationships between humans and the Earth, including its non-human dwellers.

Week 20

A scattered week of listening, observing, editing and contemplation, best reflected in a series of fragmented quotes and thoughts:

Regarding (my) health, FoAM's work and the state of the world:

We need hope without optimism.
- Srecko Horvat

The week began with First they came for Assange, an interesting discussion on democracy, transparency, the future of civil society in Europe and other big topics, with the two co-founders of Democracy in Europe Movement. While my transiency is definitely not about being involved in solving “big” societal problems, I notice similar dilemmas arising both in my little life and on a societal scale. I mentioned this earlier on this page, but I'll say it again: finding connections/translations between personal and collective experiences, between the micro and macro scales, resonates with me as a creative endeavour. This week I saw my private doubts about social interaction, belonging, leadership, isolation and survival reflected on a much larger scale in Horvat's quote above, the senseless murder of my fellow YGL Jo Cox, as well as the depressing Brexit referendum and the curious developments at Ethereum (which could end up having a direct impact on our uncertain post-transiency existence):

There will be further bugs, and we will learn further lessons; there will not be a single magic technology that solves everything.
-From the Ethereum blog

A similar sentiment, from a very different context, in which I'm more closely involved (most recently as copy editor):

… while our society is increasingly fearful, alienated, agitated and sometimes even paralysed, there is also an increasing sense that something may be missing. There are many people looking for meaning, security, togetherness and new forms of collective consciousness. This becomes especially prominent during the moments of ‘small transitions’, such as personal or professional crises, traumatic experiences or major changes in one's life.

-Barbara Raes in Beyond the Spoken

Summer solstice


Regarding wild and cultivated processes (of my transiency among other things):

Solstice eve, 20 June 2016, Belgium

Although both sun and moon are hidden by thick clouds, they continue their infinite cycles unhindered. The crops sown in spring are growing, yet remain in need of care until the time of harvest… Think about the things in your life that are in process right now. What, like the sun, is on an unstoppable course? What, like the crops, requires tending and cultivation? Where do you need to work, and where do you need to let things be? (a contemplation I adapted from a Druidic solstice ritual)

“A dead branch is a flower on its way to become garbage, to become another flower. Life is always there, ready to spring out.”

-Thich Nhat Hahn

Tending and appreciating


Regarding governance of communities, such as hosting and FoAM:

Unstructured groups may be very effective in getting women to talk about their lives; they aren't very good for getting things done. It is when people get tired of “just talking” and want to do something more that the groups flounder, unless they change the nature of their operation. Occasionally, the developed informal structure of the group coincides with an available need that the group can fill in such a way as to give the appearance that an Unstructured group “works.” That is, the group has fortuitously developed precisely the kind of structure best suited for engaging in a particular project. While working in this kind of group is a very heady experience, it is also rare and very hard to replicate. (…) Once the movement no longer clings tenaciously to the ideology of “structurelessness,” it is free to develop those forms of organization best suited to its healthy functioning. (…) Mostly, we will have to experiment with different kinds of structuring and develop a variety of techniques to use for different situations. (…) But before we can proceed to experiment intelligently, we must accept the idea that there is nothing inherently bad about structure itself – only its excess use.

- from The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman

Regarding my on-off relationship with leadership… I've been invited to apply for a YGL summer course at the Oxford University, which could help me deal with issues of taking a lead in “horizontal” organisations and communities, transforming my role from “artistic and business director” to a more amorphous “Leadership at the Edge”, etc:

We will draw together humanities, sciences and thought leadership (…) to immerse you within four days of intensive development and self-discovery.

-Transformational Leadership

033_0126


Regarding the FoAM studio in Brussels… “To keep or not to keep” that is the question“ (which keeps seething in the back of my mind, until we finally decide what to do):

The honesty and trustworthiness of the environment speaks for itself. If someone has been suspicious of what you're doing, when they come into an environment that you've created and they can see your vision actualised, they might begin to relax and accept you. When you transplant the sun of wisdom in your head, there is wakefulness, there is a natural sense of existence, and there is genuineness, all at the same time. It is quite a cheerful world, extraordinarily delightful.

-Chögyam Trungpa

… but then:

Having absorbed the negative Karma of sentient beings, the buildings and infrastructure (…) collapsed.

- From the website of His Eminence Jangtrul Yangsed Rinpoche (the III) aka JJ, our guest in Brussels this week.

Regarding FoAM's work with futures… Our paper Enacting Futures in Postnormal Times is finally in |prepress state at the Futures Journal. Time to begin co-authoring our next futures paper, this time on physical narratives:

Physical narrative can be described as a theatre without actors, where the spectator becomes a visitor to the space and explores the environment in order to discover the narrative embedded within. It focuses on designing physical spaces and objects that invite exploration. The futures are revealed through artefacts, (interactive) sound and visual media, as well as the environment of the room as a whole. There is no guide and no actor; the audience must gather and interpret meaning in the same way people often gather meaning in their everyday lives: by reading the signs. Experiencing a physical narrative can be intense and disorienting. We therefore surround the experience with spaces to socialise, to compress and decompress. Within these spaces, such as a bar or living room, the uncertainty of play is cushioned in the safety of a comfortable and known situation, where the players can gather to share and pass on their newly acquired knowledge, connect the experience to their life in the present or make sense of the experience together.

- Abstract of the joint FoAM and Time's Up paper for the Journal of Futures Studies Special Issue - DESIGN AND FUTURES

Liquid speculations


Week 19

It's June already. Half of 2016 already behind us. Not quite halfway through the transiency yet. Before the fallow period began, I imagined that I would spend about half of it looking back - writing my memoir and the “kaiseki” version of the grow your own worlds publication. When we designed our programme for 2015-2016 this work was going to be completed last year, so that all of 2016 would be dedicated to being truly fallow and open to looking forward (with many detours “sideways”). Unfortunately, due to other commitments the “looking back” was more or less postponed to the beginning of this year. Now we're six months into the year and I'm still only on my first editorial pass on the memoir.

There are days when the plans and times don't matter to me and I just enjoy whatever it is that I'm doing (or not doing). Other days I have to remind myself that I'm supposed to lay fallow to be able to relax into the present. Other days again I do some work at FoAM, then feel guilty that I'm working as I used to again, which feels like failing in “doing nothing”. I wonder sometimes if my memoir writing too keeps my mind too occupied, when I should actually let everything settle so that I can see what emerges. Curiously, just while I was pondering such things, we received a message through flickr that On Being used our photos in their article “Writing and the permission to succeed:The Intersection of Art and Shame”. I saw photos of myself in an article written by someone else “daring” to write a memoir. A strange parallel experience…

Quiet the noise around you; soften its pitch. Our deepest stories are our best teachers. Let the weapons of the weak — the poison, the nagging, the gossip — burn themselves to ash. Cast them to the wind. Take back the permission to succeed. Make it yours. -Elissa Altman

On the same day I read about the “permission to succeed”, we went to the book launch of Durf Falen (Dare to Fail). One of the chapters features FoAM's biggest failure: lyta. When I received my copy of the book and saw the article preserved for posterity, I could finally let Lyta rest in peace. The article reflects on the process and summarises my insights, making our failure something that others can learn from as well. That's just one project amidst hundreds that make up FoAM's previous phase. I'd like to do something similar for this phase as a whole. Only after a conscious closure can I truly move on to new adventures. Writing about it, publishing and sorting out the archive (physical and digital) seems to be the best way for me to deal with this. It's similar to my (somewhat obsessive) impulse to clean the place I'm leaving before I travel elsewhere: “leave no trace” of mess, only deliberate, meaningful traces worth preserving. At the moment, FoAM's past is still too much in a disarray for me to be able to let it go. I'm hoping to use the summer to clear up the past, marking a halfway point of my transiency. Maybe. And then maybe not. Doubts, doubts, doubts, whatever I decide to do. I guess this is the known discomfort of liminality in a transition. One step forward, two steps back…

L1026591


Unconditional fearlessness is cheerful and very light. There is no need for any kind of cowardice or fear, or any moments of doubt. It might actually be better to speak of being doubtless rather than fearless. (…) Whenever there is doubt, that creates another step on your staircase. Doubt is telling you that you need to take another step. Each time there is an obstacle, you go one step further, beyond it, step by step. -Chögyam Trungpa

A few days ago I began thinking about the “triangle” again. Last spring, while we had several transiency conversations at FoAM, I drew a diagram of possible directions I was interested in exploring with Nik. Ideally we would find an intersection of the three directions as a focus for our work together:

  • inhabiting uncertainty; enacting futures, future preparedness, visionary adaptation, antifragility, long now…
  • experience design; experimental situations, peak experiences, rituals, synesthetic/total experiences, etc
  • romantic technologies (in ref to Romantic Machines); panpsychism, animism, vegetal mind, human scale systems, non-human technologies.

What could be at the intersection of these things? How could this intersection also cover 'things I'm good at', 'things people are willing to pay for' and 'things I want to do'?

Pondering at Rt Kamenjak


The power of memories and expectations is such that for most human beings the past and the future are not as real, but more real than the present. The present cannot be lived happily unless the past has been “cleared up” and the future is bright with promise. There can be no doubt that the power to remember and predict, to make an ordered sequence out of a helter-skelter chaos of disconnected moments, is a wonderful development of sensitivity. In a way it is the achievement of the human brain, giving man the most extraordinary powers of survival and adaptation to life. But the way in which we generally use this power is apt to destroy all its advantages. For it is of little use to us to be able to remember and predict if it makes us unable to live fully in the present. -Alan Watts

Week 18

The liminal phase


The beginning of June was a delight. Nik came to Pula and we spent a weekend exploring the surroundings and hosting family meals. After two weeks of a healthy daily rhythm, plenty of fresh air and the familiar southern light I felt more energetic than I did in months. However, the evening before our departure to Brussels, I got food poisoning and spent most of the week emptying out all my carefully cultivated energy into the toilet. When it was finally over on Thursday morning, I was empty and exhausted.

I dragged myself out of bed, looking forward to seeing Vali for morning tea. We only exchanged a few work emails since last year. Our conversations usually energise me, but this time our meeting drained the last remnants of my already depleted energy. A work-related disagreement which we left unresolved since last autumn has begun threatening our friendship. We had to talk it through, both of us shivering and with tears in our eyes. It's so difficult to mix professional and personal relationships when we don't live in the same city. Rebuilding trust and respect for each other as collaborators is tricky to do at a distance. Regardless, we parted agreeing to see our situation as a creative challenge, to experiment with different ways to resolve the conflict and try to regain trust and motivation to work together. This could help us both get better at dealing with conflict at work, as well as be more able to resolve disputes in groups we're hosting.

The rest of the day I spent preparing for the hosting gathering, propped up by copious amounts of the new harvest of the First Flush Darjeeling. A while ago I asked Nik to host this gathering with me, to which he initially agreed, but then pulled out. I had been trying to involve Nik in the hosting group because I miss his input and because if he wants to continue occasionally hosting, this group can support his practice too. However, I realised that I'm perpetuating an old FoAM pattern of treating collaborators as family members: involving everyone in everything. In the past this has lead to problems and a resolution to only work with people who are have the appropriate capabilities and are fully committed to an activity. So I left Nik to his own fallow processes. I designed the session on my own and asked for help from the other willing participants.

Most of the hosting gatherings so far were focused inward - on the people involved and activities that we'd like to do for ourselves. The number of (potential) activities has proliferated, as usual with such inspired and motivated groups. At the end of our session in April, I suggested that I'd like to try to host a gathering in which we could look outward for a while. To investigate what might be the relationships between internal and external factors or driving forces in this group. In my past experiences with FoAM, Marine CoLAB and other collaborative groups, it helped to zoom in and out, over and over again. It was beneficial to keep aligning intuitive responses with wider (societal) concerns. I've also experienced that when the two are out of balance, things don't work out. Too much inward-orientation becomes incomprehensible and alienating navel-gazing, too much outward orientation leads to cold strategic games (both extremely draining). So, I suggested to try a zoom-out session which could inform the co-creation of new activities. People agreed.

20160610-kpu


On Friday morning I woke up so tired that I wondered how I was going to make it through the day. It went better than I expected in that I remained on my feet until 8PM. However, it seems that what I find exciting about “zooming out” isn't shared with most others in the group. That's all right, it was an experiment which didn't work out as well as I hoped. People want to dive into the activities that excite them. Fair enough. I wasn't so happy with my hosting, but with this group of people I don't feel the pressure to always be at my best. We agreed that we would be honest about our vulnerabilities and misgivings, ask for support and not judge. What a relief! As soon as I feel the relief though, my doubting devil raises its objections: what if the individuals' vulnerabilities and desires become the driving force at the expense of the collective? That's a very well known pattern to me. I've experienced its detrimental effects it in FoAM's past. Can we rely on each other when the going gets tough? I'm doubting whether what seems to be the strength of the community internally, could become its weakness when working externally. This might become a challenge: how can we be vulnerable yet reliable, caring yet constructively critical? It's a delicate balance…

While the hosting community seems like a promising avenue, it can only be one part of my work. I realised that I miss the more scientific, technological and philosophical angles that are more prominent at FoAM (or at least in my vision of what FoAM should be like). Hence, I agree with the rest of the group that it's better that we see the hosting community as a FoAM spin-off rather than a continuation of FoAM bxl. It's interesting for me to work on something that I know is not going to fill all my available time. In the last 15 years, FoAM has been so all-encompassing that I couldn't do anything else. I like to be absorbed in my work, so that fragmenting it across different entities sounds like trouble. Would I end up giving 120% to each of the entities, and making it even worse than it has been with “just” FoAM? Or perhaps working with different groups of people in different contexts will change my way of working

At the moment, just writing down “working with different groups of people” makes me weary. If I look back at the last 7 years, I seem to be most energised when I work as a hermit, on my own (or with Nik), only occasionally having bursts of collaborative work with bigger groups. I always saw my hermitism as a temporary escape, but what if this would become my primary modus operandi in the long term? What kind of work could I do this way to be able to support myself financially? Could I do this as part of FoAM (which would be my preference)? Alternatively, should I seriously start to think about a PhD, a writing fellowship, a research position, or forming a FoAM studio with just Nik and me?

May 2016

The turbulence of April was replaced by the slow and steady rhythm in May.

That was the interregnum, in fact, the naked moment before the next exfoliation of habits, the time when one wandered doing things randomly (…), a good pseudoiterative, an interesting one, the pattern constructed as a little work of art (…) Of course there was no such thing as a true repetition of anything; ever since the pre-Socratics that had been clear, Heraclitus and his un-twice-steppable river and so on. So habits were not truly iterative, but pseudoiterative. The pattern of the day might be the same, in other words, but the individual events fulfilling the pattern were always a little bit different. (…) In the pseudoiterative, one performs the ritual of the day attentive to both the joy of the familiar and the shiver of the accidental (…)

The time without skin, the raw data, the being-in-the-world.

- From 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

L1026436


Week 16/17

Once I was sufficiently recovered from the latest surgery, it was time to visit my family in Pula. It took several days to decelerate to the slow Mediterranean rhythm of my mother's life. Work in mum's household is slotted in the gaps between everything else, not vice-versa - as my life unfolded for most of my adulthood in Northern Europe. My mother has a comforting routine, where everything gets done without stress. I'm learning from her by (not) doing…

Home...

Home…

My days in Pula are rather 'pseudoiterative'. The morning begins with exercises and meditation to the sound of barking dogs and wobbly elevators. Making breakfast. Eating breakfast (slowly). Walking to the market. Buying small amounts of fruits and vegetables that are picked a few hours earlier. Having a coffee (with grandma, aunts, uncles, and random friends). Walking home. Making 'marenda'. Eating (not so slowly). Walking the dog. Writing. Making lunch. Eating and drinking very slowly (lunches lasting 3-4 hours are commonplace during weekends). Siesta. Writing. Walking the dog. Drinks at sunset, surrounded by the scent of the sea, 'brnistra' and wild thyme. Movies. “A place to call home”. Deep sleep in the bedroom where my brother and I grew up. Now in this room alone, for the first time in my life. Repeat. The “pseudo” includes exchanging siesta for TV or baking bread; weather permitting, the time for the market and morning coffee is replaced by going to the sea. Stocking up on vitamin D, and occasionally dipping my toes in the water until they go numb.

Week 13/14/15

Surrounded by foliage

Surrounded by foliage

Towards the end of the week nr. thirteen, I finally returned to editing my cancer-flavoured memoirs, nestled with my computer amidst foliage on our terrace. I went all the way back to the beginning of the text, to the end of January 2009. I will continue one long editing pass until I have read everything I have written so far. I might add more text at the end to include the chapters post March 2016. Unfortunately the story won't end in June 2016 as I was hoping. There is likely to be at least one more surgery in my near future. No matter. Perhaps this story will keep going until I die (though I'd like to put a full stop at the end of this volume at some point).

I have decided that I will publish the memoir in one form or another. I have spent so much joyous time and pleasant effort on it and it seems to be shaping up into something worthwhile. Also, there seems to be enough interest from (nearly) everyone I speak to (even Gosia said she can't wait to read it and my oncologist is already planning joint presentations). It would be a pity not to do anything with the material, so to hell with all my doubts and insecurities! At the moment I'm still happy to keep editing without discarding anything substantial. I'd like to get a sense of the whole before chopping and selecting what to publish and what to leave safely on my password protected hard-drive. The selection, I expect, will be a major challenge, that I'm happy to tackle in the summer.

Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
It is the beauty of things modest and humble.
It is the beauty of things unconventional.

–Leonard Koren in Wabi Sabi

Veronique Linard asked me to share my hair story, as part of her Hair Project in Jamaica. I went through the memoir and pulled out paragraphs related to my hair - before, during and after chemo. I think that for my first selection of texts, I'll do something similar: extract thematic chapters and publish them on medium as relatively short articles collected in a “publication”, perhaps entitled “living with dis-ease”.

(…) Today – one day before my first chemo session – is The Hair Cutting Day. I woke up extremely nervous. It felt like I was about to kill a part of me. I saw my hair as if in a flashback movie: spraying sea water after a dive as a teenager; a tangled mess of hair and sweat raving in my twenties; strands caught in a passionate kiss and caressed by different lovers; caught on film in a photo shoot; sat on in busses, pulled by hairdressers, stray hairs encrusted with dust on many floors around the globe… I got out of bed and had a bath. My hair was floating around my head like Medusa’s snakes. I brushed it one last time. Brushing was always difficult, but this time I enjoyed it. I said good bye to every knot, knowing that it was never going to come back again. (…)

The story continues on Veronique's Hair stories page.

(endless) life writing

Endless (life) writing (in very ergonomic positions), with occasional breaks to walk in the park…

In between my writing sessions, I had morning tea and afternoon tea and lunches and dinners, at home or out, with Nik or with friends. I socialised with a only small number of people, one or two at a time. Walked in different parks. Visited a few exhibitions. Nik and I found a good balance between “being fallow” on our own and being together without impeding each other's “fallowness”. Desynced then resynced, several times. A pleasant pseudoiterative…

I tried to avoid thinking about FoAM's future too much. One thought kept recurring: FoAM should be more true to its name - a mass of independent bubbles, that temporarily exist together, popping in and out of existence. “Independent” being the key word here: a collective of free-lancers, not bound by a hierarchical organisational form (like a vzw), permanent working relationships, nor unhealthy dependencies. We work together when the work “calls” us to collaborate, in different constellations. Even though this is how we are supposedly organised, the reality of it was different so far. I was still the (artistiek en zakelijk) “leader”, and the core team still carried all of the weight of the organisation, which had to function as an institution to fulfill the funding requirements. Not to mention the archaic legal form of the board and members, which never fit. FoAM as a vzw is like wearing high heels on a mountain hike. A more appropriate governance structures and clear ways for people to become new bubbles and to pop-out-of-existence are things to think about in the coming months…

While I wasn't strategising about FoAM's future post 2016, we did book our (FoAM related) travel for this year: Japan, Australia and Singapore. It's been difficult to decide to travel long distances again, as I'm still not over my annoying travel sickness… But, I bit the bullet. Nik and I both feel there is some kind of future for FoAM in Japan. We have a strong aesthetic resonance with the land and the culture. There are many people there we'd love to learn from and work with. Also, the food is perfect for my troubled digestive system and there are plentiful places for retreats. We'll go to the YGL Alumni Summit in Tokyo, set up a few encounters and then let serendipity take its course. Australia and Singapore are meant for spending time with friends and family, but also exploring possible future work in Australasia. For now, this still seems very ambitious for me, when a train to Ghent or flight to Pula make me queasy and miserable. Another thing to add to my list of chronic ailments?

A visit to a neurologist confirmed my suspicion: I likely have a permanently damaged vestibular nerve. More tests and treatments are needed to make a definite diagnosis, but the damage can't be repaired, so I'll have to “learn to live with it”.

Away

(this is approximately how I feel when I travel, read, watch action movies, or walk in shopping malls…)

If Pascal’s pessimism can effectively console us, it may be because we are usually cast into gloom not so much by negativity as by hope. It is hope - with regard to our careers, our love lives, our children, our politicians and our planet - that is primarily to blame for angering and embittering us. The incompatibility between the grandeur of our aspirations and the mean reality of our condition generates the violent disappointments which rack our days and etch themselves in lines of acrimony across our faces. Hence the relief, which can explode in bursts of laughter, when we finally come across an author generous enough to confirm that our very worst insights, far from being unique and shameful, are part of the common, inevitable reality of mankind. Our dread that we might be the only ones to feel anxious, bored, jealous, cruel, perverse and narcissistic turns out to be gloriously unfounded, opening up unexpected opportunities for communion around our dark realities. (…) A pessimistic worldview does not have to entail a life stripped of joy. Pessimists can have a far greater capacity for appreciation than their opposite numbers, for they never expect things to turn out well and so may be amazed by the modest successes which occasionally break across their darkened horizons.

- Alain de Botton in Religion for Atheists

April 2016

A month of convalescence and confusion… What does it mean to be fallow? Nik asked this question several times in the last weeks. For me, being fallow doesn't mean doing nothing at all. It is about being able to burrow through the seemingly depleted layers of soil, only to discover forgotten treasures and hibernating seeds. There is time to glue together the shards and polish the treasures until they gleam again; there is space for the new plants to sprout and blossom in unpredictable forms and colours. For Nik being fallow seems to be about letting the wind-swept seeds float and 'stochastically' land here and there, letting things be and keeping options open… For both of us it means taking sufficient distance from the 'land' to allow the soil to regenerate. It takes time for an over-cultivated soil to become fertile ground… Rasa is going through a very different process. She has been swept by a flurry of activities and is keen to travel to different FoAM studios as part of her transiency. She seems to be in a lush, expansive, blossoming period…

If we literally closed the studio during this period, it would have been much easier to explain to ourselves and others what a 'fallow period' means. As it is, we're all making it up as we go along. As Nik said, we haven't set our individual and collective boundaries clearly enough before starting the sabbatical/transiency/laying fallow, which now causes tensions. The boundaries are different for each of us in the core team, so we're all tiptoeing around each other and still managing to step on each others toes. This month just goes to show that collectively laying fallow isn't as easy as it might seem…

Week 12

My preferred fallow rhythm is that of a slow breath or big rolling waves, in-(pause)-and-out-(pause)-and-in-… Last time I experienced this rhythm was in the days following the spring equinox. Since then my daily and weekly rhythm has been either stalled by being physically incapacitated, explosive with bursts of ecstatic energy and subsequent collapse, syncopated or completely discordant, with a lot of stopping and staring, distractions and irritations. This rhythm seems to be mirrored by the chaotic late April weather. Inner and outer storms…

Inner and outer storms


This week (which actually lasted for ten days) was far from fallow for me. I worked every day. Marine CoLAB report and documentation. Tending to a couple of futures papers and potential funding opportunities. The Hosting community meeting and wiki-gnoming. Kate's BBB residency (which felt more like a micro residency). Several indecisive discussions about what to do with the FoAM studio. Financial management, followed by financial worries. Planning work and family related travels to Croatia, Japan, Australia, Singapore… (and experiencing a paralysing panic attack that I won't be able to do any of that without damaging myself in the process, while spending lots of precious money). Six-monthly cancer tests (all clear this time). I decided that if I have weeks like the last two have been, I shouldn't be upset with myself that I broke the 'fallowness' and instead just add the same amount of time to continue being fallow at the end of the period.

Crusts, stories and flower petals


Although by the end of the week I was again exhausted and had the same physical discomfort as the week before, I felt better about the world and my interactions with it. I was energised by the promising Hosting spin-off, where I could potentially develop some of my ideas for the art of living with dis-ease. Exchanging ideas with Kathleen, Eva, Kate, Stevie, Louisa, Tina and my oncologist (with whom I might do a joined talk in November) got my creative juices flowing again. The highlight of my social interaction was a weekend spent with the Gaffney brothers and finally a beautiful beltane/wedding anniversary, which made me feel completely alive and embodied again. Things are beginning to look up…

Week 11

Shimmering


Feeling better doesn't mean feeling well

I should tattoo this sentence onto my forehead, to avoid weeks such as this one. My medical leave officially ended, and I was eager to feel able-bodied again. The pain subsided to only occasional stabs, which meant that I could extend my orbit by walking and driving. Whenever the weather allowed it, I wanted to be in parks and forests, absorbing the energy of spring greening. It's been over six weeks since I've been with people (except for Nik), so I was looking forward to meeting friends, going out to Art Brussels, Faust's party, Eisa's performance and eating out (San on Vlaamse Steenweg is a great new discovery). It was wonderful to be immersed in 'art-stuff' without it feeling like work. However, there was also a backlog of FoAM admin and logistics to deal with, with the usual tensions and falling back into old behavioural patterns and reflexes. By Thursday morning I was exhausted, worn out by digestive problems and heart palpitations. By Saturday I was swooning regularly and had to be confined to the couch and bed for a couple of days.

Angles and artworks


Physical discomfort aside, I was plagued by confusion, emotional upheavals and mood swings. There could have been many contributing factors: I stopped taking pain killers (including codeine), my monthly hormonal surges tend to be severe after GAs, my daily routine was disrupted and I felt pulled in many different directions, without having one of my own (except that I wanted to begin turning outwards, which didn't work so well). Also, we received news that our EC proposals haven't been successful. With this news I saw our financial safety-net post 2016 dissolve into nothingness. At first I was relieved, knowing that our fallow period can now truly last for a year (rather than being interrupted by the start of EC projects already in October). But as the days passed, my worries began to mount. It didn't help that I felt physically weaker and weaker with every passing day. If I can't handle one week of moderate stress and social interaction, how will I be able to trust my body to persevere when we return to full-time work after being fallow? If we don't have any secured long-term income, and I have to work even harder, what if I won't be able to? Should I pause the sabbatical and make sure we increase the financial buffer for ourselves and for FoAM? When I took time to analyse the situation, I knew that it was only three weeks since my surgery, and that I shouldn't extrapolate to how I might feel in nine months. I knew that worrying about future finances is not going to help me feel better, and is actually counterproductive to being fallow and open to whatever happens. Still, as soon as I'd let my guard down, the daemons would rise their ugly heads and cause havoc in my mind and body, leaving me hopeless and lost in their wake.

Death and deliciousness

“Cancer made me a carnivore”

Something to remember: the time of transition from convalescence to health should not be underestimated. Similarly, the transition between retreat and re-integration into social and working life needs to be handled carefully. Otherwise, all the benefits of seclusion and contemplation can evaporate in a matter of days. Not to forget the bitterness and anger that often arises in the spring (for me at least). The new growth is fresh and vigorous, but the life-force that pushes the shoots and buds outwards can be furious and relentless as well…

Week 9/10

Fat, scars and painkillers; haze, bruises and period dramas. Otherwise not much to report. I survived another surgery and spent a couple of weeks recovering from it. I'm still quite nauseous when I look at text so won't spend much time writing lengthy reports. Just wanted to note a couple of things that wafted through my 'codeined' thoughts in the last days…


  • the conundrums of social isolation in chronic illness
  • imperfection in collaborative processes


Why use a canvas to make art when you have your body and the whole world? (paraphrasing Swan Er Hong, artist and former asteroid terrarium designer from 2312)

March 2016

Week 08

As soon as 'the world' began seeping in this week, the month of silence and ease evaporated in less than 24 hours. It's scary how easy it was to slip back into my usual 'co-ordination mode'. Postponed logistics and communication needed my attention, various preparations for surgery and recovery could not be avoided, and I wanted to sort out some reading notes, administration and HR for FoAM in the few days that I was online and mobile. Tomorrow morning early I'm off to the hospital, then two weeks of sick leave. Nik and I only had three days together before I'm incapacitated again. I hope I can recover quicker than the previous times, as I'm going into the surgery much more rested than usual…

Week 07

My month of seclusion ends tomorrow, the 29th of March. Aside from reassuring people that I have not died in the attacks last week, I have spoken only to Nik, my mother and a few shop keepers, I emailed with another handful (as there were a few “emergencies” that needed my attention). I can’t remember when I had been that incommunicado for a whole month. I wasn’t sure how I’d react to it, whether I’d have “withdrawal symptoms”, or get bored of my own company. I’m not sure if I should be happy or worried that I’m thriving in solitude. I didn’t miss being around people for a moment. Now that the retreat is coming to an end, I’m wondering how my slow re-entry will effect my mood and energy levels. When I came from sabbatical five years ago, I returned to a full-speed production schedule, which - to put it mildly - didn’t work so well. This time the situation is very different. We’re only a little over a month into the fallow year, so I can just dip my toe in the water, and if I feel that I need more retreat time, I can take it. I can also experiment with different approaches to be a hermit, while still participating in social life and work. I’m not quite sure what that will look like, but it’s a thread worth following.

The social fast did wonders for me. I experienced what I’m like when responsibility and care aren’t my primary drivers; when I see myself as I am, rather than as I’m reflected in other people’s opinions, suggestions, requests and expectations. The main difference is the complete lack of stress. Which, unsurprisingly, unveils aspects of my personality that are usually hidden, ignored or even suppressed. It’s as if a dammed river could finally flow over its banks and keep flowing until it ran out of itself. Another difference is that the absence of fixed goals and deadlines (especially in the last week), as expected, encourages the “active/passive attitude that concentrates on emptiness and decomposition, enabling it to be open to the fullness of the moment” (Ton Lemaire). I became much more aware of my inner and outer worlds, and had time and headspace to “tend to” things. Instead of forcing my time-stream in my usual “persevering” mode until I'd fulfil my aim, I would observe what needed my attention and “wanted to be done”. Then I would do it, for as long as it felt right to be doing it. By that time something else would emerge in my field of attention, and I would pause for a bit, have a cup of tea, observe whether this new thing was the best use of my time. If it was, I would focus completely on this new task, with abandon. If not, I would sit and stare at plants, or the changes in the colour of light, for example. Or just breathe in the scent and warmth of tea. At some point I would notice something in the room that needed fixing, I felt the need to move, I remembered to write or research something, or a thought arose that needed deeper introspection, or something else presented itself. Sequential mono-tasking.

Living like I did for a month was like being in a permanent state of improvisation. Going with the flow. Effortless doing. Taoists call it wu wei. While it sounds easy, it also requires continuous attention and observation of what’s happening in the environment, the body and the mind. It doesn’t work if you’re mindlessly flitting from one thing to another, as many of us do when we feel distracted or when we're multitasking. Instead, I was absorbed in the thing that I was doing, for as long as I was doing it. As soon as I noticed I was getting distracted, it was a sign that I should start letting go and move onto something else. There was one thing that I abolished from my life for a month: the verb “must”. If something felt like a burden, or I felt a sense of aversion or repulsion, I abandoned it. I ended up being very productive. Not only did I complete my writing task (one of two, but the second one was the FoAM publication, that fits more in my next phase of sabbatical), but I exercised and meditated for more than three hours every day, I mended and fixed many things around the house, cleaned up my filing system, organised my and FoAM’s administration, went for walks, took care of the plants (they look much better for it), experimented with my IBS diet (and kept track of the effects of different ingredients), etc. It felt effortless, but I was active from 6AM until 10PM, with a few breaks to watch movies and listen to books. If anyone ever dares telling me again that laying fallow is being lazy, I dare them to try it.

Now, it’s time for a conscious closure of this wonderful time. I’ve unfolded myself to fill up the whole house, but I should re-fold enough for Nik to have enough space for himself too. We’ll need some time to re-sync, as our month couldn’t have been different. I stayed within a few kilometres, Nik travelled across the globe. I remained in the European winter, he basked in Australian summer and tropical hot-and-humid non-seasonality. His days were filled with socialising with friends and family, while I was completely turned inward. Let’s see how that goes. In any case, we’ll have much to talk about and reacquaint ourselves with being a couple, without the pressure of immediately going back to work. That’s going to be a new experience too…

Talking about work, I mentioned last week that I kept a few notes about things to consider for my and FoAM’s future. I’m going to type them up for myself, as bullet points, as they’re far from completely formed thoughts or ideas. Just so I don’t forget (some of it probably doesn’t make sense without further explanation):

  • Community of Contemporary Contemplation and Celebration
  • Inspire, rather then merely enable
  • I feel good when I’m engaged in visionary endeavours with a wide purpose. I enjoy observing patterns of reality in and around myself, then translating them in words and multisensory experiences. While I love writing, I also need to see my work more “manifest”, as experiences and other embodied experiments. However, to create experiences as we used to at FoAM, we need a different (and bigger) production team. I always end up exhausting and damaging myself in the process, even though I love the results… We should find ways to design experiences for maximum effect with minimum effort…
  • Nik and I work best together on long-term research, writing, creation and reflection, away from busy production schedules and hectic social situations. When we work with other people, it's best to do it in short, concentrated bursts.
  • We should research how to more with private foundations (like CGF)
  • I’d like to work with Nik and Stevie to design a series of soundtracks for contemplation/meditation/stillness; contemporary sound/music/field recordings, guided meditations, etc. - This needs to be reclaimed from the horribly shallow new-age-ish music and meditations that have spread like disease online. this has lead to contemplation and meditation being regarded as 'fluffy' (cf. Nik’s publisher hating the title Stillness). I’d like to make an artistically qualitative meditation CD, with great sound and guidance that doesn’t shy away from darkness…
  • I need to work with competent and committed people, otherwise I get frustrated. They should be people I respect and I should find the object of our collaboration worthwhile. We have to be more discerning in our selection of collaborators, based on the qualitative resonance with their work and life. There has to be a clearer difference between collaboration and mentoring/teaching/coaching (or other “nurturing” support), where competence isn’t of primary importance. In the latter, commitment is still key, but instead of competence, potential and motivation are more important.
  • I’d like to write up all the various solitary (seasonal) rituals that I designed/improvised over the years… and write it in a way that could be used as a “kit” for others who’d like to try it themselves, including intentions, colours, materials, food, meditations, actions, etc.
  • It might be valuable to write an article on FoAM’s approach to residencies and other ways to support creativity. I don’t think I want to host residents in the near future, so it might be good to record FoAM's successful residency formats “for posterity”.
  • Similarly, an article on FoAM’s “Lab Approach” could be a good thing to write about. We have extensive experience with it, while it’s just becoming “fashionable” in a range of sectors.
  • I’d like to make an “immersive” lecture-performance (with participatory elements) based on my insights during the last seven years living with cancer (and other uncertainties), with readings from my diaries, photos of my changing body, examples of practices, sounds, sights, scents and foods that made me appreciate being alive (or got me through difficult situations)
  • Doing Nothing allows me to become more perceptive and notice what needs tending in and around me. It’s a process, an intimate courting of cultivation and letting grow…
  • Perhaps the interest in Thriving in Uncertainty is the connection it makes between abstract ideas or societal megatrends and our own lives (as individuals and community (the sector)). This connection interests me to pursue more in a wide range of our activities.

Week 6/7

170667 words, 939760 characters, 233 pages further… I have finished writing up my life in the last seven years. Instead of writing a summary of the week, here's the last entry from my diary, written on the 22nd of March 2016, with the soundtrack of loud sirens and helicopters outside of my quiet living room. There have been two bomb attacks at the Brussels airport and Maalbeek metro station. Dozens of people dead, hundreds wounded. Considering the scale of other armed conflicts in the world, this doesn’t sound significant, but every life lost through such pointless violence is a tragedy.

It’s beautiful early spring weather out there today, after a week of greyness. I was planning to go for a walk in Jubelpark, as I had to be in my bank at Schumann, which - if I took the metro - would have taken me past the Maalbeek station. I decided not to go and stick with the writing instead, which I hoped to finish today so I could dedicate all of tomorrow to a vernal equinox ritual. A celebration of balance between day-and-night, the beginning of spring and alignment with viriditas. For me, this is a time to begin turning outwards again. Time to thaw the frozen places in myself by meditating on forgiveness, then watch new growth emerging in and around me. I started the meditation on forgiveness already on Sunday (at 5:30AM, the astronomical vernal equinox). There is a lot I need to forgive, starting with myself, then expanding to include people and situations that caused me to harden, become more defensive and judgmental than I'd like to be.

After the meditation I made breakfast and opened the windows to let in some fresh air, annoyed by the persistent police sirens and cars rushing through our street. This noise is such a constant backdrop of my “urban retreat” that I didn’t pay much attention. I sat down and began writing when Nik called me from Singapore to ask if I was ok and if I had seen the news. I hadn’t, of course, being in the phase of withdrawal from the comings-and-goings in the outside world. He told me the news. The attacks happened just a little over an hour before. Then text messages started pouring into my phone. I thought that I could shut it all out and go back to my writing, as I couldn’t do anything anyway, but it didn’t work. I went online, saw my inbox filling up with the same questions, so I posted messages on social media, checked all the news sites to see what the media had to say and if there were some particular instructions I had to follow. Within an hour, my carefully cultivated poise was rattled by the media frenzy, as well as a stream of tweets and facebook messages asking if I was ok and sending me words of support. Touching to know that there are so many people out there thinking of me, while I’m close to the centre of the storm, alone. However, the agitation was also quite unnerving. I turned it all off, closed my computer and realised that I was trembling. I’m usually quite levelheaded about such things, but I was still open and raw from my meditation, so that the events and their aftermath affected me more than usual. I walked around the house shivering and sniveling at the pointlessness of it all.

My life and all of the hardships I was describing in the last weeks pale in comparison. I’m glad that I was very close to the end of writing up all my notes and diaries of the last seven years. I’m sure this rude awakening would have changed the writing substantially. The depths of my inner life would have been lost to external noise and relative irrelevance of my little worries. Yet for me, this month was invaluable. I must take care to nurture my “inner hermit” in my daily work and life in the future, even when I’m not in retreat. I feel too good now to let it all dissolve when I begin interacting with people again.

For four weeks I kept a relatively regular routine. The regular rhythm was an anchor to help me stay with my life story, no matter how painful it was to have to relive it all again, or to keep on track when it all seemed irrelevant. When I wouldn’t worry about the results and just enjoyed the process of introspection, it was an emotionally healing experience. As soon as I would wonder whether it would be useful for anyone else, the doubts would arise. Who would want to read this? In what format should I present it? How is this useful? Why do I want to work on this material any more? How dare I think that my life would be worth reading about? Would I hurt people around me by posting sensitive or intimate information online? Should it be freely available online, or should I try to find a publisher and make a book? Would I just expose myself and my whole tender emotional life to ridicule, judgement and rejection? When I’d start thinking this way, I just wanted to finish writing and then delete it all. Or print it and burn it. Or just keep it in one of the chests in the bedroom, perhaps to be found after my death. But then I’d remind myself that I don’t actually mind if no one ever reads this. The primary reason for this life-writing of mine is that I needed to have an honest, deep review of a difficult phase that is ending. Like a person on their death-bed seeing their life unfold as if a movie. With the added benefit that I still have a chance to change things in my life, unless the Islamic State decides that the Minimen church next door is a nest of “infidel crusaders” and bombs it today.

During my writing, I re-inhabited every difficult situation in the last seven years. I explored its various dimensions, until I would reach the essence of my pain, on which I would meditate until the emotions subsided and I could release that situation into the past. Let it rest in peace underneath the written words. I also experienced many beautiful moments again, peppered throughout these “difficult years”. The years I’d see as a homogeneous, continuous agony when I was depressed and burnt out. As with chronic pain, there were waves of despair, moments of quiet and times for celebration. I noticed that no matter how desperate my situation was, it would usually be followed by a realisation that I could do something to improve it. This “something” tended to be some small action (like mixing a new herbal tonic), or a change of surroundings that would help me get myself out of the emotional and physical quagmire. This happened over and over again. Observing the unfolding of seven years of my life in a few weeks of writing helped me acknowledge this innate resilience. An encouraging quality to be able to count on at the moment of crossing the liminal threshold of transition. Whatever happens, I should be able to cope with it. Furthermore, my relationship with Nik should be able to cope with it. We have lived through so many ups-and-downs together, which would have made many a marriage fall apart. I am grateful for that, to both of us.

And then there is FoAM, the troublesome child that I was ready to let die a couple of years ago. This month was going to help me distance myself from FoAM, but I realised (again) that my life is so inextricably entangled with it, that there is no point to try to separate us. In one of my meditations on the possible futures of FoAM I saw Nik and me “spawning” visions and initiatives. We have been using the metaphor of spawning for a while, usually when we talk about not building a large institution but spawning a network of studios, as well as about our “open source” policy - where FoAM plants seeds of experiments that are then taken up by others, adapted to different situations, scaled up or transformed. At the moment I think that the Nik and I should embrace our role as the “spawners” within FoAM, while the network, and all of its different people and studios, are the incubators. As far as I know, no one else is as interested in visions, patterns and emergent trends as the two of us. If we’re not neck-deep in the mud of daily management, we can deploy our “antennae” and translate what we find in our inner and outer worlds into “spawn” that we scatter around the network (and the world). As with plants, fungi and aquatic animals, after the seeds or spawn are released, we let them go, instead of (what we did so far) painstakingly cultivating them ourselves. The seeds or spawn could be insights or ideas in the form of publications or artworks/experiences, or they could be processes that enable others to come up with their own ways of living and working in uncertain times. Whatever the seeds might be, they would connect the everyday with the infinite, the personal with the collective, the present moment with the long now.

Some of the seeds might take root in most unexpected places, new organisms might come to life while others might die. Nik and I would remain unattached, light and swimming above and through it all. My socialist upbringing has always had trouble with the idea that I wouldn’t be involved in the “menial labour” of implementation. It felt elitist. I'm most proud when I can say that I did everything, from fundraising, to art direction and cleaning toilets. However, the people with whom we’re working actually enjoy implementation and 'making' much more than the envisioning, conceptualising and making sure everything fits together. They thrive in it, while I can get frustrated that I’m losing sight of the bigger picture. If I let go of the notion that I’m relegating people if they’re not as involved in visioning, and if I’m not essential for the nitty-gritty of management, administration and production, I might regain some of the lightness and freedom that I so crave. Maybe. I might change my mind when I’m immersed in the outside world again. I have been collecting loose insights and potential directions for myself and for FoAM, but I’m leaving them as notes for the moment to follow up when I finish reflecting on the past. I’m giving myself until June to finish the “spring cleaning” of my life and work. By then perhaps my breast surgeries will be finished and I can put a full-stop on that chapter as well.

I have reached the present moment in this sweep of the past. I’m not going to write any conclusions, as there are a few more things in the near future that are still a part of this story. I will stop writing for now, and spend my last few days of solitude editing what is already written. But first, I'll spend Ostara, the equinox moon, celebrating its balancing energy, my slow turning outward and opening towards new horizons and experiences. Let viriditas spring forth in and around me…

Week 05

Continuing transcription of my diaries. It's been slow going, as there are many gaps I left unwritten while being snowed under EC audits, demanding projects, troublesome collaborations, medical disasters and emotional upheavals that lead to a depression in 2012-2013. There were times this week when I wondered why I'm doing this to myself. In order to be able to write about this period in as much rich detail as the things I've recorded in my diaries at the time, I have to dig deep into my conscious, unconscious and somatic memories. I have to bring myself to feel the way I felt then, so that I can translate the experience into words. Sometimes I truly am a fluffy gothic daughter of the Balkans, wallowing my own pathos and despair! Luckily the sun returned to Brussels this week so when I wasn't writing I was walking, happy to be in 2016 again.

I made two exceptions this week and made small contributions to projects by Barbara Raes and Stephen Barras. Both of them were related to what I'm currently writing about, so I didn't mind. With Stephen I edited the artist statement for the Chemo Singing Bowl, to be presented at the Out of Hand festival in Sydney. It's the first that my body has been included as the “co-artist” in an exhibition. Stephen created the beautiful Diagnostic Singing Bowl (pictured above) using CAD based on my blood pressure data during chemo and bevacizumab treatments in 2009-2010. For Barbara I wrote the following testimonial of the ritual she guided for me just before my surgery last June:

Vorig jaar moest ik afscheid nemen van mijn borsten, een belangrijk symbool van mijn vrouwelijkheid. Een paar dagen vóór mijn bilaterale mastectomie heeft Barbara samen met een groep krachtige vrouwen een bijzonder afscheidsritueel gehouden. Het was een geladen en ontroerende beleving waar ik er helemaal mocht zijn, met mijn gebrekkig lichaam en al mijn zorgen en verdriet. Barbara omhelsde mij bij de ingang en leidde mij door de studio waar ik dagelijks werk. “Ik ben hier voor je” zei ze “ik zal je dragen.” En inderdaad, voor een uur lang voelde ik mij door de vrouwelijke oerkrachten van mijn vriendinnen gedragen, onder Barbara’s zachte begeleiding. Onze bibliotheek was omgetoverd naar een groen rustoord; in het midden van de ruimte een nest van kussens en dekens waarop ik mocht liggen. Mijn vriendinnen waren getransformeerd tot de archetypische godinnen. Hun krachten en energie hebben zij als poëtische wensen aan mij geschonken. Ze namen mij mee door een stroom van zintuigelijke ervaringen, waar mijn maelstroom van emoties zonder remmingen mocht razen, tot dat ik de serene stilte van acceptatie had bereikt. De kleuren, geuren, geluiden en strelingen brachten mij tot een alternatief bewustzijn. Mijn lichaam vloeide buiten de oevers van mijn huid, en ik zweefde gewichtsloos, opgehouden door de fluisterende stemmen en warme handen. Het ritueel eindigde in een euforisch vuurspel, opgedragen aan de zonnewende en hernieuwing voor ons allemaal. Ik voelde mijn feminiene vitaliteit ontwaken, zo omringd door mijn glimlachende, stralende zusters. Het was ongelofelijk belangrijk om op zo’n bewuste manier afscheid te nemen van een lichaamsdeel die mij veel vreugde en veel pijn heeft gebracht. Barbara’s rol als ritueel begeleidster was een onschatbare ondersteuning van mijn rouwproces. Zij heeft mij geholpen om aan mijn verlies bestaansrecht te geven. En daarmee veel ruimte voor een nieuw begin. Ik ben haar mateloos dankbaar.

How to keep the time-wasters from taking over your life? The most important thing you have in your day is your time. How you apply and wield that time will determine the course of your life. Not to be too dramatic about it, but — yeah, that’s pretty much it. If you have three hours, how much of it are you spending on what you want to do, versus what other people want you to do?

- Rachel Sklar

It’s hard for my wife not to feel cursed. Instead of a warm and welcome space for her children, she can picture her body to be dangerous and uninhabitable. She wants to think of Aiden as our miracle child, the only one to survive the harsh climate of her broken body. Can you imagine feeling that way? Can you imagine how difficult to hold those thoughts at bay, to prop up a sense of hope and self love in the face of it? How tremendously tiring for her to stay in the mindset that life sprouts up abundantly, without help, all over this planet.

-Chase Reeves

Writing Through Cancer is an online resource designed to encourage anyone living with cancer, debilitating illness or difficult life circumstance, to write out of that experience. (…) Here’s how it works: Each week, I post a writing prompt designed to inspire your stories or poems that arise out of your cancer experience.

- Sharon Bray http://writingthroughcancer.com/

But beware:

This macabre trend in modern essay writing, whether it manifests itself as a cancer column in a newspaper or as a cancer memoir with a maudlin title is not really the fault of the writers themselves. It’s entirely understandable that someone afflicted by cancer would be unable to think about anything else and might find it useful to put down on paper what is happening to his body and mind. No, what turns the cancer-ridden writer’s rational myopia with his mortality into a pretty sick publishing phenomenon that one British observer has branded “the pornography of death” is a public appetite for details of decay, a public lust for a peepshow-style glimpse at the process of dying.

-Brendan O’Neill https://www.vice.com/read/cancer-memoirs-are-breaking-out-like-the-plague

Week 04

I began transcribing diaries, editing and writing about my last seven years of living with cancer… in silence. I'm resting my vocal cords and feeling the pace decelerate. My 'lent fast' this year is a social one, I'm abstaining from people and from afflictive emotions related to people. I'm turning my gaze inward, to see what is really in there when all the social noise is removed. My days follow more or less a fixed routine. I extended the morning practice (meditation and exercises) from 20 minutes to an hour or longer. I have breakfast, I write, have lunch, rest, write, have afternoon tea, go for a walk, follow random interests wherever they take me. In the evening when I start feeling cold I put on my headphones and dance for a while, then do anything I feel like doing. It usually involves listening to books, watching movies or meditating. Sleep comes easily and the work nightmares are lessening. I'm becoming more comfortable with uncertainty.

Even though I am working 6-8 hours each day, it feels effortless without interruptions and the pressure of deadlines. I'm enjoying the process without worrying about the results. Whether or not these texts are ever read by anyone but me doesn't matter. I see it as a purging, a steady removing of ballast. I commit the experiences I write about to the past, with every sentence and every chapter. There are tears occasionally, and other raw emotional moments. When they subside, I bury them under the words; lay them to rest in a text file, outside of me. It's clearing my mental space, and at the moment I'm leaving it empty. No new beginnings, just space. It feels like I've only cleared out a tiny corner of a giant warehouse filled with junk, but the only thing I can do is persist, and hope that gradually there will be more space than clutter. One word at the time…

When stillness climaxes, it can produce movement (…) This is the natural cycle of patterned energy and is nothing strange. “Who can be murky and use the gradual clarification of stillness? Who can be at rest and use the gradual arising of movement after a long while?” The first statement says that if people can be still and quiet, then the murky energy in the body will gradually change into clear energy; the second statement says that when one has been still and quiet for a long time, then movement gradually starts again. (…) “Reaching the extreme of emptiness, keeping quiet steadily, as myriad beings acting in concert, I thereby watch the return. The first two lines are about the extreme of quietude, the second two are about the production of movement.

A skilled artisan leaves no traces. She enters the water without making a ripple. (…) The skilled appear to have no abilities, the wise appear to be ignorant.

When people cultivate reality, if they cannot awaken all at once, they must practice it gradually. One thing they can do is fasting and discipline to purify the body and empty the mind. Another is called staying in place, abiding in seclusion in a quiet apartment. A third is called sustaining thought, gathering mind back into the nature of consciousness. A fourth is called sitting forgetting, in which one ignores the body and forgets the self. A fifth is called spiritual understanding, which all realities convey to the spirit. A practice like this is very difficult, and cannot be perfected in a day and a night. Those with determination accomplish their tasks; it is just a question of how powerful the person is. -One Hidden In The Sky

My body lives in the city,
But my essence dwells in the mountains.
The affairs of a puppet play
Are not to be taken too seriously.
When the polar mountain fits into a mustard seed,
All the words in the universe may as well be erased.

It is said that the great recluse lives in the city, while the lesser recluse lives in the mountains, emblematic of the idea that true transcendence does not depend on favourable external conditions. Mundane behaviours are described as affairs of a puppet play insofar they are controlled by conditioning rather than by autonomous individual decisions. The image of the immense polar mountain fitting into a mustard seed comes from Buddhism, and represents the attainment of mental freedom through experiential realization of universal relativity.

If you don't know the essence and don't know life,
You split the creative and the receptive into two paths.
But the day you join them together to form the elixir,
You fall drunken into the jug yet have no need of support.

The secret of the receptive
must be sought in stillness;
Within stillness there remains
The potential for action.
If you force empty sitting,
Holding dead images in mind,
The tiger runs, the dragon flies-
How can the elixir be given?

The receptive is the mother sign of the I Ching, associated with the practice of stilling compulsive mentation and said to be the beginning of the practice of the Way. The last part of this verse emphasizes the point made time and again in Taoist meditation texts, that the practice of stillness does not mean quietism, but is a technique for clearing the mind so as to release positive energy from the prison of mental habits.

(…) marriage itself was an outward cloak of an inner affinity, a miniature esoteric organization within which higher developmental practices could be carried out in private.

From Immortal Sisters (ed. Thomas Cleary)

February 2016

Week 03

The newsletter is sent and the accounts approved. Farewell to Christina and Bart and best wishes with their move to Finland. With their departure another link to FoAM's (troubled) past is loosening…

Lying fallow in the Ardennes. Sleeping, eating, reading, warming by the fire, soaking in the bath and hiking in the sun, snow and rain. Only now I begin to truly let go…

\

Celebrating with delectable tastes of Air du Temps… Until we get abruptly brought back to reality by urgent texts and voice messages demanding that we find one of FoAM's artists' power supply. It seems like even for people closest to us it's still unclear that a fallow year means that the core team will not be taking care of daily management at FoAM.

Back in Brussels, taking down the Stillness exhibition, printing and sending the yearly report, paying bills and updating the website. Ritually cleaning the blackboard and pulling down the shutter of the admin closet.

Nik departs to Australia.

On Monday 29/02/2016 at 17h I finally close the FoAM door behind me and begin my writing retreat and social fast for a month. A month of being on my own, without having to take anyone else's wishes and needs into account. Just thinking about it the weight begins dropping off my shoulders…

As I come home, I'm greeted with direct sunshine on the wall (for the first time since October), refracted through a crystal into dozens of tiny rainbows…

Week 02

Day one: CGF evaluation notes online, emptying my inbox, meeting Luea, working on the newsletter. Again too tired to go out in the evening to see Rasa & Pieter's event at Q-O2.

At least the hours of daylight are getting visibly longer…

The rest of the week: gradually working down my to-do list. Finishing the yearly report and the winter digest. With every item that I cross off, a I feel small atoms of space and lightness spreading in my head…

I wonder, what would my own tree of contemplative practices look like?

Week 01

  • Day one: collapse after Stillness.
  • Day two: meeting of the hosts in Gent. a lot of driving in the rain, whirlwind of participatory design sessions, collapse, driving, collapse.
  • Day three: total collapse and a marathon of period dramas, instead of a planned visit to Artefact…
  • Day four: back to work - tying loose ends, making to-do lists and automatic reply messages, designing the transiency page, writing text for the newsletter, hearing about pre-advices for other structurally funded organisations (and irrationally having second thoughts regarding our decision not to apply)… Walking home feeling that we're moving one step forward, one and 1/2 step back…
  • Day five: finalising the funding report for the Flemish Authorities, paying bills, sorting out finances for Marine CoLAB and closing FoAM's financial year 2015 and then apero. Sounds like the same old Friday…
  • Day six & seven: codeine+nurofen assisted rest; sleep, eat, stare at screens (more period dramas); some positive thoughts start bubbling again with ideas for my writing retreat and a long futuring process for FoAM in the spring, dispersed with deep-set fears about (financial) insecurity (which I can 'meditate' away, sometimes)
transiency_maja_kuzmanovic.txt · Last modified: 2017/04/08 08:48 by maja