As part of an amazing adventure shared with my friend and neighbour Jerry Horseman I was asked to meet Teachers and children at an inspiring charity run school to explore how outdoor Experiential Education could be integrated into the curriculum.
“I heard a call to step out into a different way of living, one I felt I could be proud to pass onto my children and their children, my great grandchildren and their great grandchildren. I didn’t know what that meant, other than to step out into the world with a bag and see what happened. To trust that. I have learnt that the earth really does speak to us when we stay still and listen.” Journal entry from my two year journey into gifting, trusting and learning to listen to gaia.
Two years ago after attending Mac Macartney’s Journey programme at Embercombe, I set out on a journey, to discover how I could authentically support the changes the world needs right now, without letting economic constraints hold me back. I wanted to see if I could step out of the systems and habits that had always kept me from really bringing myself to the world. I wanted to prove that you can do amazing things that those around you may say are impossible, and you didn’t need to wait for the money to arrive first.
I very quickly met the gift economy, which took my experience of paying it forward, and deepened it. For the last two years I have been gifting to communities and individuals, and I have been exchanging. Money is still welcome in my life, but it isn’t the reason I do the things I am doing.
Living into this way of being in the world has been huge, challenging, frightening. It has led me through the Embercombe leadership apprenticeship, a full and rich experience where I began sewing the ideas that have now come to fruition.
The experience has introduced me to the best of myself and the worst. It has led me to feeling ridiculous in front of those who haven’t understood the gift in the gifting journey. At times I have felt a failure, a fraud, a loser.
And it has been amazing, I am creating a blog from my journal entries of the last 2 years that I hope will capture the incredible learning and growth that I have been blessed with. And now I am at a turning point, with the opportunity to take a leap forward, to watch all those seeds come together and weave themselves like delicate threads, into something I believe is of real worth.
I have the opportunity to set up 2 projects in London, both gifted work, one of them will create an income stream for me further down the line, enabling me to continue gifting my time to the other project.
I am looking for someone to gift me somewhere to live in London for a few months, or a few people for weeks or a month or two each, so that I can get these projects off the ground.
Helping to set up a social enterprise embedding the teaching of mathematics in school gardens, through growing food. This will then be repeated in other countries, and become a networking platform for children from different countries, cultures, facing different life challenges, to connect directly with each other, through the commonality of growing food to eat. This project is a vehicle through which more than mathematics can be taught. I will be working with a lady called Ezra Blondel, a woman with a beautiful heart – curriculum specialist, teacher trainer, sustainable agriculture trainer, Winston Churchill fellow.
Care for a Square is a project that can be read about at www.careforasquare.wordpress.com
This is a project that a group of young people in London will take forward. I will be gifting my time as a mentor for them and holding a container within which they and the project can develop. The project will extend across the UK and to different countries through an extended youth group network.
This is an important moment in my life, when the learning journey that I have been on for the last 2 years is taking me into a new chapter.
I have learnt that sharing our knowledge, skills and resources is the most important thing we can give our society. Being able to ASK, to GIVE and to RECEIVE allows us to help and trust each other, this experience then roots itself into our collective human consciousness, creating that deep resource we need to create a new way of being on this planet.
If you would like to have a conversation about either of the projects, or about gifting me somewhere to stay in London between the end of November 2014 and the end of March 2015, or if you have any networks you could pass this information onto, I would so enjoy sharing this gifting journey with you.
With much appreciation
This November I went to Plymouth university as a visiting lecturer to work with students on the MSc in Sustainability for learning. We explored the theme of Creativity for learning; creating a huge seasonal mandala on the top floor of the education building. How can creativity allow new pattens for learning in a changing world? How can we build relationships and plant seeds of connection by really looking and acknowledging what is around us? As Vandana Shiva says ‘Creativity is whole when it shapes our world’.
It feels exciting to take the work I am doing at Embercombe out into the word and build on Embercombe’s growing relationships with Plymouth University.
A poem the students collectively wrote:
The environment dictates how we are;
How we work in the year
Yet time stands still for no-one.
Watching the change over
Seen most in vegetation;
Leaves, flowers, fruit seeds in cyclic union
There is beauty in every season, every stage, every moment.
Outdoor Learning Facilitator and Educator
For the Dough:
250g Plain Flour
For the Filling:
1kg Apples (weight of whole apples)
250g Sugar (you can reduce or remove this completely)
750ml Cider/apple juice
Mix the ingredients together for the dough, then place in the fridge for 30-60 minutes.
Remove from the fridge and roll out and place into a round cake tin.
Peel and core the apples then slice them in 5 mm slices (ish!)
Mix the cornflour with a little cider/apple juice will dissolved.
Bring the rest of the cider/juice to boil and add the starch mix.
Add the sugar and remove from hob.
Mix in the sliced apples and pour it onto the dough base.
Bake for 75 mins at 170 degrees.
Leave it in the tray to cool down till the cider core is set. For at least a few hours, otherwise it will fall apart while slicing!
Winter on the education team is still busy. As well as dreaming and developing our program’s we have still been working with student and university fellows alike.
Exeter Steiner Class Three have been coming to plant wheat and put the garden to bed. This ongoing project will allow these children to see the journey from seed to plate. By July they will have harvested and milled their wheat to make their own bread in the pizza ovens. It is brilliant to have developed this long term relationship with a local school.
Our Tribe program continues with students from South Dartmoor Learning Enrichment Centre. This year long program helps these young people thrive at home, at school and in their community and support their life long connection with their natural world. Embercombe’s day visit to their school allowed the students to give our team a guided tour of their environment, an opportunity to reflect on learning from their residential at Embercombe and time to dream the pizza oven we will be building in February.
This December Embercombe hosted a day for education faculty staff from Plymouth University. This exciting collaboration is the development of a rich partnership and will hopefully result in more students coming to Embercombe and the MSc will have a new Embercombe Sustainable Learning module.
Short days are upon us where work outside finishes by half past four. The energy of growth has left the plants as their energy has been spent in seed production, or concentrates again at their cores. You could say that plants become more radical at this time of year – the etymology of this word meaning pertaining to the roots.
So, it has all slowed down and so our focus can change. We have been ‘putting beds to bed’ for the winter so that we can find them again in perfect planting condition come spring. This involves weeding, adding compost/lime/wood ash as needs be, and covering with a thick layer of mulch of some description. Over the winter the added ingredients get taken into the soil and integrated, and the mulch prevents weed growth, prevents erosion and any damage from harsh winter weather.
Our work over the next few months will include converting our field scale production area into an alley cropping system where rows of trees giving harvests of fruits, nuts and timber are planted in between the annual crops. This system has many advantageous beneficial relationships in it.
We will have rejigged the medicine garden come springtime and have sown or planted all the herbs that we wish to cultivate (which we don’t have or don’t have enough of already) in order to be producing a range of our own products with medicinal and health-giving properties, in line with our needs here. This will include producing a range of our own herbal tea blends, medicinal balms for skin complaints and tired hands, tinctures and herbs for culinary use (still medicinal!)
Winter also offers an opportunity to be working on maintenance and building projects whilst the growing forces are slow. This winter we will pave a beautiful path to the centre of the garden with recycled bricks, linking it with the gardener’s bothy (shed, office, seed drying sanctuary), the pizza ovens and the Linhay. No more unnavigable mud!
Blessings on the dark times and blessings on the light. May they both be welcome.
Each invitation I receive to travel and speak abroad confronts me with questions familiar to many of those whose work includes air travel. Sometimes I refuse, but not often. I truly hope that in years to come I will know that my decision to accept the opportunity and negative impacts of air travel was, in balance, the correct one. I guess time may tell.
I was invited to speak at the annual conference of the International Academy of Collaborative Practice in Vancouver. The IACP supports lawyers and health professionals to seek the resolution of their client’s divorce disputes through dialogue and collaboration, and avoiding the win-lose outcomes inevitably associated with litigation. At last year’s annual conference the keynote speaker showed my seventeen minute ‘Children’s Fire’ talk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0trkAY39M5g and this prompted them to invite me to the 2014 conference. It was truly gratifying to find that so many of the delegates use this video to persuade their clients to place their children’s welfare and happiness at the centre of the divorce settlement process.
Thanks to Hazel Tree contacting her friends on Canada’s west coast, I was then whisked off and treated with such generosity and warmth it was hard to leave. I gave a public talk in Vancouver, meeting many vibrant, open-hearted, and interesting people, a good proportion of whom were involved in one or more social and/or environmental projects from tiny to huge. We travelled up the Sunshine Coast, taking a ferry to cross the deeply indented coast, and marvelling at the wild land all around us – bears, wolves, elk, beaver………., before then heading on to some land that the group was interested in purchasing. I shared some of the experiences and learning from our journey with Embercombe, but not too much as every group and every project has it’s own unique characteristics and it felt much better to be focused on listening and learning than offering opinions.
It was my Linked In network that brought about an invitation to speak at the Harvard Business School Club of New York (HBSCNY). In terms of business speaking opportunities anything associated with one of the big United States Ivy League business schools, is good news, but I was uncertain how the themes I speak about would be received by Manhattan executives. I needn’t have worried, it went really well, even if the audience occasionally looked startled, disbelieving, and occasionally disorientated.
Rajasthan is desert country. It is a dusty, vivid, raw and achingly beautiful place. I was here once before with Unilever Asia, camped nearby a desert village, and wreathing myself in the sights, sounds, and scents of a way of life that like so many other places is fast disappearing. This time I was with Leaders’ Quest with whom I am an associate. This wonderful organisation has provided me with many opportunities to see behind the veil and receive experiences that it would be almost impossible to access without their help. I was with them as one of the LQ team, hosting a group of one hundred and five guests at the annual Pow-Wow. Our guests were all people who whether they think of themselves as such or not, are leaders. Artists, bankers, social entrepreneurs, activists, business managers, speakers, and authors – all of them are energetically working for a better world. On three occasions I ran a workshop called ‘Desert Council’ and each time we were joined by a group of village children. As we sat in council, they gathered all around us, attentive, respectful, very curious, and somehow happy to be participating. Something about the simplicity of our surroundings, our tiny circle, the children, and the broad sweep of cultivated fields around us, touched everybody very deeply. There is a magic in these moments that is subtle and delicate, yet unmistakeable.
Another day we set off in a minibus and visited a remote village where Jaipur Rugs http://www.jaipurrugs.com/founder.aspx has trained many women (and some men) as weavers. It’s an extraordinary story – from 9 village weavers to 40,000; thousands of families benefiting from NK Chaudery’s vision, and thousands of girls now receiving an education which in earlier times was not possible.
In the late summer I received an invitation from Bruce Lipton https://www.brucelipton.com to speak at the Uplift Festival in Byron Bay, Australia. Carole Catto had sent him a link to some of my talks and he passed a recommendation on to the organisers. Unusually, all of the presenters, musicians, poets, and workshop leaders were invited to gather for one whole week prior to the festival itself and explore the potential of our combined presence. Organic India http://www.organicindia.com/ was the organisation that funded both the gathering and the festival, and we really were treated with exceptional hospitality and generosity throughout our stay. Byron Bay shares some of the culture and feel of our very own Totnes, but much warmer, with miles of golden beaches, and the relaxed laissez faire culture that only a place bathed in sunshine year long can achieve. Just a short distance inland and you really feel the sub-tropical climate of this very beautiful forested country, replete with wild dogs, snakes, huge spiders, cockatoos, kangaroos, wallabies, and iguanas, to name just a handful.
The presenters included a wide range of people covering topics including new science, nutrition, spirituality, wellness, and sacred economics. Many of you won’t be surprised to hear that one topic which frequently surfaced was ‘Being and Doing’, and the related subjects of activism and personal spiritual practice. I made many new friends, invaluable connections, and learned a great deal. There were representatives from different indigenous peoples around the world, including of course, the original people of Australia. Their generosity, warmth, open-heartedness and humility, sat together with the unresolved and largely unacknowledged tragedy of terrible wrongs, racism, and ignorance. Even now in 2014 all of them continue their search for healing, dignity, and justice. Some of you will remember Bob Randall, the aboriginal elder who stayed with us at Embercombe some years ago and for whom a young Eucalyptus tree grows near the apprentices cabin. It was good to see him again, good to spend time with the oldest of the thirteen grandmothers, Agnes Baker Pilgrim, and good to join Loretta Afraid of Bear in ceremony.
When I first heard of the People of the Earth (The Kogi Indians) I felt their significance and began to try and find a way of making contact. It happened at Uplift. Two of the Kogi Mamas, together with tribal elders from a neighbouring region, are on a journey of great spiritual significance around the world. If you have not seen the two films ‘From the Heart of the World’ and ‘Aluna’, you might wish to do so. Their presence at Uplift was very powerful and everyone felt it. They came with a message
Many of us at Embercombe experienced the wise words of Pat McCabe, Woman Stands Shining, this Autumn, speaking about “Thriving Life – Feminine Design and Sustainability”. If you missed her talks – at Embercombe, Schumacher and Findhorn, and her day workshops, I highly recommend listening to the recording made by Schumacher’s Rob Woodford:
There are many things she said during these talks which I return to, and which continue to inspire me.
One of these things is how if I change the way I am facing by just one degree, and then walk, as time goes on I will end up in an increasingly different place than if I had walked without making that one degree turn.
This is not new wisdom – “a stitch in time saves nine” has been said before in many ways. It is spoken by Pat with a vivid presence and open heart.
This is also at the core of the message of the Children’s Fire, close to Embercombe’s heart, about which Mac speaks so eloquently http://macmacartney.com : “The Children’s Fire is part of the Earth teachings of the elders of ancient America. Over time the elders came to understand that all human-created institutions needed to reflect the balance and wisdom observed in nature. The Children’s Fire was a reminder of the first promise: “No law, no action of any kind, shall be taken that will harm the children”. It is now time to re-kindle this fire: in our corporations, governments, religion and education.”
Each shift each of us takes, even if it is apparently small, contributes to a different future. Each time one of us chooses something life enhancing, something that acknowledges and celebrates Life Itself, we are “revolutionaries” for Life, as Pat says.
I hold this to be true in the work of conscious parenting.
Conscious parenting is a valuable contribution to actively changing our world.
The starting point is that parents all want the best for our children.
We are automatically, biologically, motivated to make the world a better place for our offspring.
When we become parents, we seem to find ourselves both repeating and reacting against things our parents (or carers) did. If our parents were overly authoritarian, we may become permissive parents, with the best intentions, and then struggle to give appropriate limits. If our parents were laid back and didn’t notice us as much as we’d have liked, we might be so diligently attentive to our children that we don’t trust them to find their own way. If our parents acted towards us with violence, we may even avoid conflict for as long as we possibly can, and then snap and find ourselves dishing out what we received, in spite of ourselves. If we are curious, and confident, these moments are golden opportunities to change – to heal our own child-aspects still there inside us, who needed something they didn’t get growing up. This takes time and a willingness to feel vulnerable. And often needs to be done with support.
The effect of us making even a slight change in how aligned we are to our deepest values, how present we are with our children, how able to allow their (and our) feelings to come and go, how much we pass on a deep trust in Life, plays out visibly before us in how open, relaxed and confident to be themselves our children are. And how resourced and ready they are to meet challenges.
And so, our own alignment to what we know to be true, as parents, and as adults around young children, even each degree to which we can align ourselves, will have its influence on those who may become leaders in the next generation.
A growing number of families are choosing to educate their children out of school (home educate, unschool, autonomous learning, education otherwise). While the movement towards a less formal learning approach is gathering pace in the UK, parents who choose this path are often asked questions that range from the curious to aggressive – Is it legal? What’s wrong with school? What’s wrong with your child? Will they be lonely? What will you teach them? How will you teach them? Very simply the question most asked, is ‘Why?’
Parents of home-educated children answer such questions very simply: our children are learning in the world rather than in the classroom.
“The respect of parent’s freedom to educate their children according to their vision of what education should be has been part of international human rights standards since their very emergence.” (The Special Rapporteur to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights 8th April 1999)
Other questions are less simple to address. Opinions about school vary widely among home educating families, some feel strongly that the school system is damaged. Others have no strong feeling about school except that it is not right for their child. There is nothing ‘wrong’ with home educated children at all – some may have different learning styles or challenges, just as many children at school do – but the majority are educated at home by choice, not necessity. Socially, learning in the world is a rich and vibrant community. The many groups and networks available to families mean social isolation is rare.
The ‘What, how and why’ of parents choice to teach their children outside of school is so diverse a simple blog could never do these questions justice.
John Holt, famous home educator and un-schooler, said “Children who are provided with a rich and stimulating learning environment will learn what they are ready to learn, when they are ready to learn it. Children do not need to be coerced into learning, they will do so naturally if given the freedom to follow their own interests and a rich assortment of resources. Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.”
“We home educate because children are individuals and I don’t believe a one size fits all approach can offer all children the very best opportunities to learn and develop. We are able to create our own schedules and spend most of our week outside, learning through play. Someone once asked me ‘how will they learn?’ The answer seems obvious, how could they not?
“Embercombe gives us the opportunity to connect with others following similar pathways, learning in harmony with the land. The children have the opportunity to build friendships and gain and understanding of vital life skills (such as organic and biodynamic gardening, and survival skills) while the parents are able to recharge and gain support from one another. We’ve been part of the group for two years and it’s still the highlight of our week.” Claire Arnold, home educator, Childminder and parent to Finn (6) Evie (4) and Jude (5 months).
Embercombe as an organization supports many approaches to education. Every Tuesday a Natural Learning group is hosted on site, which is a relaxed group for home educators that holds child-led learning at it’s heart. It provides a space for experiential learning to happen as opposed to setting out to ‘teach’ the children. Families feel welcomed and nurtured by both the facilitators and by the beautiful resources of the land itself. It is a space many home educating families appreciate not only for the freedom it allows their children, but also the connections parents can make with each other.
“Unschooling is about facilitating the child’s learning choice. I only unschooled for a few months with Jude but she has retained what she learned. She went through a real desire to learn about wild birds and insect life and she has surprised me on many occasions about her intimate knowledge of these subjects. As a result of this, unschooling underpins every decision I make about my forest school and is central to developing my policies for the kindergarten.” Emma Byrnes, Forest School Leader and parent to Jude (12) and Nuala (3)
This blog was first published in http://positivenews.org.uk/2014/community/youth/16408/catalysing-change/
I first heard of Catalyst at Sunrise festival, when a group of sparkling people enticed me into their workshop with contagious smiles. They were buzzing with excitement about this course and the taster exercises we did were definitely enough to get me intrigued.
So 2 years later, after graduating from university and wondering where to go next, I spent a week on this course hosted at Embercombe. Embercombe is a community in Devon committed to inspiring action for a sustainable world. Here, it became clear the importance of providing spaces for young people to delve within, enquire into sustainable living and experience community living, all aiding them to impact positively on society as a whole.
Catalyst is a 5 day residential course for young adults who want to push their boundaries, shape the future and make an impact. Through a variety of challenges, group tasks, working with the land and 1 to 1 coaching, catalyst participants gain a valuable experience. They embark on an adventure that provides tools to carry throughout life’s peaks and dips. In a nurturing environment, participants are invited to develop the self-confidence needed to be authentic in a society that can seem so often to conflict with the ethos behind sustainable living. Catalyst invites people from diverse backgrounds to take the time to explore how best to look after themselves, each other and the planet. Bursary tickets are available to those who can’t afford the full price and the Catalyst team would not turn someone away for lack of funds.
Part of the magic was that although we had an idea of the timing of things like meals, morning routines and daily challenges, we didn’t have a clue what these so-called challenges would involve. This kept us on our toes, excited to find out what would be revealed and open to all possibilities. I can’t divulge information about this particular part of the programme but I can say that each challenge is worthwhile and becomes treasured.
Each day, we spent some time working in the gardens or in the kitchen preparing food for the communal meals. I realised how, in wider society, little time is spent actively involved in the process that food has to go through before becoming a meal for us to consume. This can be said to reflect a larger problem with consumer society where even something as essential to life as food, can become just another commodity. With Catalyst we were all given the opportunity to be part of the vital process of growing and eating, whilst working together on the land, or independently as we wished. Eating food fresh from the organic garden certainly made for an appreciated dinner. No one was left out due to dietary requirements, vegans, coeliac and gluten-intolerant people were all catered for.
Towards the end of the programme, strong friendships had been forged, a connection with nature deepened and a strong sense of self-awareness cultivated. There is a network of Catalyst alumni who are active in their communities and share information with each other about other valuable opportunities for young people, such as Bootcamp, a course to catapult students into careers in campaigning and Edventure: Frome, which provides free 9-month training in social entrepreneurship.
Embercombe provides many more opportunities to learn about sustainability, with its working weekends and volunteer programmes, as well as offering apprenticeships for young people. It’s easy to become disheartened by the worrying statistics in the news about youth unemployment, and the rise in tuition fees. However it is so encouraging to know that there are also many beneficial available avenues for young people today, enabling them to shape their own path.
By Jasmine Irving