Valerie and Aunt Hillary

Randomly searching for interesting blogs I came across the Virtual Philosophy Club and Ira Glicksteins’s interesting post on The Gaia Hypothesis – Three levels of hypothesis.

What I like most about this post is his use of the terms ‘Aunt Hillary’ for the communal interaction and emergent behaviour of an ant hill and similarly ‘Valerie’ for that of an entire valley.

Having also watched both of his presentations which work through the same material as the blog post I was also intrigued by the concept of sentience which is defined on wikipedia as “the ability of any entity to have subjective perceptual experiences …a minimalistic way of defining ‘consciousness’ ” which made me think about the paralells in human communities:

When an organisation/community becomes ‘poorly’ it is often a symptom of not knowing what the staff are thinking, not understanding the behaviours of its customers or ignoring the needs of its members. This is in effect a reduction of sentience. Using a Sensemaker/narrative approach provides the ‘system’ with a first wash of material to make sense of. Facilitating the self realisation of this material allows ‘sentience’ to emerge in a form appropriate to that ‘system’.

The strength/benefits of this approach is therefore not just the sense making but the ability to react to the sense being made and create feedback loops both encouraging and dampening for the long term survival of the ‘system’.

Now I am not proposing we then call the community Aunt Hillary as Ira does but it is an appealing thought that we may have reawakened or perhaps re-balanced its knowledge ecology.

Making sense of Whitby

I have just got back from a wonderful holiday in Whitby with my wife and dad. Dad has been very poorly these past few years, his mobility greatly reduced but it was terrific to see him enthusiastically picking jet on the beaches not far from our cottage.This was never intended to be a storytelling based holiday but what emerged over the week was very interesting:

We started by boarding the yellow Whitby Tour bus and were instantly drawn in by the stories our tour guide started to tell, historical facts about the bridge, locational points of who lived where, weak signals of the old butcher shop fronts on the now posh jewellers, aspirational stories of town planning not quite achieved.

We decided to disembark at the top of the 199 steps and visit St Mary’s Church next to the Abbey. Here we were lucky enough to catch the showing of their DVD story of Whitby but this time from the perspective of the church. We learned about St Hilda and the snakes, the transforming role of the industrial Alum works further up the coast and the fascinating mysteries of merging ancient and modern religions, still ‘smirking’ down at us at the tops of the carefully carved columns.

The next day we visited the Whitby museum to wash ourselves in the geological and fossil history of the area. My Dad’s current obsession is jet, the hard black fossil remains of the monkey puzzle tree, and here there are pictures of the old workers, samples of the raw product and some of the best carved jewellery and even chess sets ever made. The room full of replica ships, mostly of those built in Sunderland set my dad off with his personal recollections of ship building, the dry docks and the launching of these magnificent pieces of engineering.

Our cottage was located at the base of the 199 steps directly upstairs above the Whitby Jet Heritage centre so we dropped in to have a look. Hal, the owner asked about our interests and then for almost an hour shared with us a lifetime of experience of handling, carving, polishing and restoring jet. My dad was enthralled, asking to touch the buffer wheel, quizzing about the use of dobber sticks, comparing his lathe with Hal’s. To see my dad as the young naïve apprentice was a sight not to be missed. As a result we spent five full afternoons, scouring the beach for suitable sized pieces of jet to feed his new addiction.

The word ‘cynefin’ meaning ‘multiple belongings’ sprang to mind constantly as we began to connect with so many of the locations, people, objects, historical and mythical stories that it is now much harder to fight the urge to want to live there and find out more. We have stayed at so many different cottages now that I can reconstruct a full 3D image of the town in my mind, 4D if you count the stories.

Tales to Sustain – Part 1

Stories and songs by the fire

This years Tales to Sustain (T2S) gathering was a smaller more intimate gathering which I only just found out about a few weeks before. Thirteen other storytellers from around the UK bringing a vast amount of, but very differing, experience and approach.

Located at the BurnLaw Centre, an organic farm of 45 acres of pasture, old and new woodland, wetland, orchard and kitchen garden, in the Northumberland, North Pennines not far from Haydon Bridge, While there the sun shone, the landscape lit up and in the evening the stars shone like I have never seen before. One of our group, Jon was so star struck one evening that he walked back to our dormitory through the pond.

All Four days I was constantly in a state of disbelief. The story of Jonah and many more allegorical tales that match the cyclical disappearance of the moon matched identically our four days and three nights outside of our ‘normal’ worlds. The thirteen storytellers matching the thirteen moons that had been and gone since the last event at Cae Mabon. The chance to listen and absorb some of the most passionate and eloquent stories about sustainability ever created, and a surreal moment when on arrival I met two lads who showed me the International Frisbee Golf Course outside our dormitory that I had only ever (very recently) experienced on the Wii Sports Resort. If ever I thought I was imagining my own reality this had to be my best yet.

The centre itself is a fabulous mix of traditional old farmhouse, living community and religious retreat with its Yurt, Kiln, Lovers Lake, Labyrinth and Temple of Love. The welcome, and way we were instantly treat as part of their community was an example to us all.

An Ecobardic Manifesto

The art we need in an age of ecological crisis should be fundamentally relational rather than self-expressive because of the heightened need to nurture respectful connectedness among people and with nature.

So said Suzi Gablik in The reenchantment of Art and quoted in the Ecobardic Manifesto – a recently published short pamphlet  calling for the arts to respond whole-heartedly to the ecological challenges facing our planet.

The manifesto proposes five ‘ecobardic’ principles, the first of which nicely wraps itself around most of the work (and leisure pursuits) I have been doing recently:

1. connecting with one’s own roots in time and place while celebrating the diversity of other cultures and traditions;

At the end the manifesto flags up that the ecological crisis presents practical conflicts that are very difficult to manage which is very timely and I see that yesterday Natural England published a response to the latest DEFRA Climate Change predictions  stating that

we have to allow natural processes within the environment to function. We cannot rely on technology or on building our way out of trouble.