Archive for April, 2011

The man who planted trees (’88) by Jean Giono

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

This film tells the story of a shepherd who repairs the ruined ecosystem of a secluded valley by single-handedly cultivating a forest over a thirty year period.
A nice piece of art and a true story from a man called Elzeard Bouffier !

Community is an accident…

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

that’s what Michael says, somewhere in this video… He talks about the need of relationships – in gardens, in nature, in communities. His organisation is called City Repair (Portland, Oregon) and they are doing incredible, artistic stuff!

how to be an artist

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

how to be an artist

stay loose.

learn to watch snails.

plant impossible gardens.

invite someone dangerous to tea.

make little signs that say yes! and post them all over your house.

make friends with freedom and uncertainty.

pink blossom

look forward to dreams.

cry during movies.

swing as high as you can on a swingset, by moonlight.

cultivate moods.

refuse to be “responsible“.

do it for love.

take lots of naps.

give money away. do it now. the money will follow.

believe in magic.

laugh a lot.

celebrate every gorgeous moment.

have wild imaginings, transformative dreams, and perfect calm.

draw on the walls.

read every day.

imagine yourself magic.

giggle with children.

listen to old people.

open up.

dive in. be free.

bless yourself.

drive away fear.

play with everything.

entertain your inner child. you are innocent.

build a fort with blankets.

get wet.

hug trees.

write love letters.

Josef Beuys

Horrific reality

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

More from Bob Stilger:

Dear Friends,

I spent Sunday the 17th traveling to, working in and returning from Ishinomaki City in Miyagi Prefecture. Site of some of the worse tsunami damage.

Part of being here is just plain strange. My hotel is shaking as I write at 3 in the morning. I’m beginning to be able to gauge them now. This one is feels like more than a 6 and is continuing for some time. I still do not feel in danger here, but it is a little strange to live like this, checking my iPhone app for the latest earthquake information.

Todays trip requires pictures… More pictures at Flickr.

Today continues to work and settle in me.


Early morning in Roppongi. Just after 5am on a Sunday and the streets are already lively. We rush, a little late to join a Young Global Leaders group going to Miyagi Prefecture. I am the only one not young and the only foreigner.
Something almost surrealistic about getting on a bus in urban Tokyo on a spring morningand going north. Sakura — cherry blossoms are giving way to leaves. As we travel through the countryside, it looks just like green, growing Japan in the spring. We stop at a roadside rest area filled with people and food. Lively conversation on the minibus is interspersed with naps. Young men and women who have done things like started Ashoka Japan this year or Social Venture Partners in years past. All active in various leadership roles in civil society.

Like me, this is their first time to travel to the disaster area.

Hours later, we cross some invisible line and suddenly we enter an area where the tsunami struck. The lively conversations on the minibus quiet and we all look around. I see a rowboat in the middle of a rice field. Then, mysteriously, we cross an invisible line again and are surrounded by fields being worked – with no huge trees scattered like toothpicks. No change in elevation. But the waters did not come.
Now, an elevated highway creates a barrier. Life as usual on one side. Destruction on the other. I was aware of being unprepared for the sight of the destruction. I had not thought about the power of seeing life “as usual” so close alongside, and intermixed with the destruction. A world that works for many surrounding life that works for none. Used car lots with sparkling cars a short walking distance from a wasteland. MacDonalds and Sunday afternoon traffic jams just minutes from destroyed lives. Young adults walking hand in hand towards their homes, only a song away from those who no longer have a home. We sit on the minibus, all talking about how striking this contrast is.

We’ve gotten up before dawn and driven six hours to help, bringing boots, face masks, gloves and goggles. And here, in another part of Ishinomaki City, people fill their gas tanks at self-serve stations in business clothes.


We arrive at the volunteer coordination center. A makeshift campground on a school grounds; roughly 500 people stay here now. Two warehouses, one for supplies and one for food which flow in from all over Japan.
Donations from thousands of individual people. Sometimes mistakes are made – like when people started shipping in cooked rice because they heard there was no water. One small NPO that normally runs a school stepped forward to coordinate. The job needed to be done. They are stretched way beyond their capacity, but invisible to international agencies like the Red Cross which will not acknowledge their work or support them. My organizing self says a network of these NPOs is needed: they could share learning and experience and approach international agencies with one voice that would be hard to ignore.


We continue on and begin to encounter some of the worst destruction. It is almost mesmerizing as we drive along. Mile after mile of debris. Cars in houses; houses on cars. Massive accumulation of trash that was important stuff in people’s lives six weeks ago. I’ve seen it on TV. I’ve seen it on You Tube. I’ve seen
pictures on the Internet.Nothing prepared me for the visual assault of this destruction.
And remember, just minutes away, people live seemingly normal lives. And this is just one neighborhood in one city. Nearly 30,000 dead or missing. Ten times that number living in shelters.


We continued on to high ground, some fifty-five feet above the sea. A hospital stands on this bluff. It’s first floor was flooded. The water
is a sparkling blue today, this little harbor has a lovely entrance. It is an idyllic scene, until one looks ashore. The destruction is immense.
One three story, medium sized apartment building near the sea picked up whole and crashed on it’s side. A car rests atop the shell of another tall building. A family walks through their former home…

The level of the land dropped almost 4 feet because of the earthquake. Then the tsunami came. The tsunami came at nearly 400 miles an hour, almost 60 feet high. A smiling woman greets us. “My house was down there in the rubble,” she said. “Some of us came up here by the hospital. Some went to the third floor of that house over there. Helplessly we watched them be destroyed. This was a lovely place to live. Lots of fish; a cool breeze in the summer.”

“They strung the power lines back up last week,” she says. “It gives me hope.” She thanks us for coming and goes off as we each continue a dazed stare.


We continue onward. Finally I mostly stop taking pictures. This can never be captured in a picture, I know. Taking them is just a way to set aside the anguish, if only for a moment. To dwell in the horrific reality, while setting it aside.

A bike resting on top of a debris pile catches my attention. Someone rode it through these streets six weeks ago…

It takes 30 people 2 hours to clear the remaining debris from a sake shop. Bottles salvaged, cased and stacked. Meaningful possessions now garbage hauled away. Mud shoveled from the floor. Moving with amazing speed and coordination for a team that has never worked together, the purpose clear.


I didn’t even know the owner of the shop was among us. I had thought, ah this is how it works – crews go from building to building and clear away the debris. But then one man said, “please, please each of you take a remaining bottle of my sake away. It is the best in the region.”. How could he smile so much, I wondered. He literally beamed. He’s not focused on what he lost, I knew. He is focused on what he has.


My friends Hide and Yuki had equipped me with over-pants, work gloves, heavy-duty face mask and goggles. A neighbor of theirs who coordinates the volunteer fire department measured my feet and went to get boots to fit me. “It is the least I can do,” he says, “thank you for going while I cannot. All decked out and clumsier than usual, it is only when I feel my right ear’s high-tech hearing aid drop out that I realize somehow in the frenetic activity my left one
disappeared. I carefully retrace my steps and search the muddy floor. Futile, of course. My hearing aid joins the debris of many people’s lives. I still my irritation with myself: many lost lives, homes, businesses and livelihoods, how could I even think about complaining about this loss. I have so much, in so many ways.

We stop for a bathroom break before heading home. Minutes away from where we have toiled, we stop at a mega store, filled with people and all imaginable goods. Unbelievable in it’s own way.

Darkness has settled now. We’ve begun the long trip back to Tokyo. No injuries. Hot showers and every food imaginable in Tokyo restaurants. Clean clothes. Comfortable beds. By the time we arrive, the volunteers with be asleep in their cozy tents in the brisk winds, having spent another full day doing labor that tired me after two hours.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to come. Grateful to have worked alongside such purposeful friends. Grateful for the real gratitude the sake shop owner expressed for returning his washed out shell of a shop to him. Grateful for health and breath and spirit. Iʼm still just in the experience of this. Unable to make meaning. A bit overwhelmed. It has been almost 24 hours since I woke to being this dayʼs journey. Time for sleep.

All pictures taken by Bob Stilger

Hosting the grief in Japan, and beyond…

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

A next message by Bob Stilger.
April 14, 2011

Dear Friends,

Yesterday morning the earth shook in Tokyo twice as I sat here at my hotel desk. They are what are now considered mild quakes — just a little more than 5 Magnitude — and both around 100 miles away. This is part of the new normal here. The earth just shakes from time to time. People notice immediately (sometimes aided by little iPhone Apps that set of an alarm). I notice I wait, a little surprised, but not really, and wonder how long will this last and should I be doing something other than sitting here, watching the shaking.


A little later, I went downstairs and outside into a lovely, sunny Tokyo morning. Spring has popped completely into being here. The cherry blossoms have moved past prime, but on my street, gorgeous purple tulips now mark the path. Such an interesting contrast — earth shakes and purple tulips bloom. Life finds a way to be normal.

Lot’s of thinking activity going on on about how to grow a network of 500 or so FutureCenters as spaces of innovation and change. I’ll write about that a bit later. Right now I want to share some of what happened at a gathering last night. Forty or so people came.


Most were folks I had an opportunity to meet and work with last year — teachers, students, personal coaches, web designers, business people, government workers, facilitators. A somewhat unusual collection of wonderful folks who have become community to each other through Art of Hosting. In a check-in circle, we reminded each other of when we each had become part of this community and then talked about how life has been since 3/11. A number of those present have spent time volunteering in the Tohoku region in the last month. Some have family there.

As I listened, one of the themes which came up time and time again was that people are searching for the right way to stand with and behind people who live in the Tohoku. Sano-sensei, who has left a post teaching social innovation to graduate students at Rikkyo University is starting an NPO for this purpose. There’s just a boat load of people wanting to volunteer, people starting NPOs, corporations wanting to help. Earlier in the day I heard about a major data services company which is seeing its mission shift from “exchange of data to exchange of personal will.” They’re planning on sending people in to Tohoku to listen deeply to discover how people what to be connected and exchange their personal wills.

But back to last night’s meeting. Part of the sense I picked up is that for everyone, trying to think of all the Tohoku is just paralyzing. They need to find one place where they can form more intimate human connections. In that place, they need to listen and listen and listen. They need to find the local people who are starting to step forward with some leadership and work with them. They need to not rush in and try to fix things.

One of the things I’ve shared on a number of occasions is something Meg Wheatley wrote earlier this week. Normally in situations like this people go in and ask “what do you need?” Its a totally overwhelming question. The question to be asking is “what do you have?” Starting from this place of what we have will often eventually lead to needs. But needs which arise out of what we have are totally different than the staggering weight of asking someone whose old life is gone what they need.

The sensitivity to wanting to come into right relationship with people from communities in the Tohoku is strong. One of the things we keep talking about, probably since I am present, is how to create and connect self-organizing systems in the Tohoku. There’s a knowing that first there needs to be a continual hosting of the grief everyone feels. People outside the Tohoku feel guilty for having grief when they have not personally experienced the devastation of Tohoku’s people. The grief is just everywhere. People speak of how often, and how easily tears come to the corners of their eyes. This grief will be present for a long time all begins by hosting it.

Some of the folks who had been present at Kiyosato last weekend spoke of how it was important for us to have spent the first day just being in our confusion together before we started to move on to develop some ideas that might be of help. Grief, confusion, listening. They’re all needed before action comes.

Another thing that happened during the evening is we talked about how different the disasters of 3/11 feel than the Kobe earthquake 16 years ago. Certainly there are the physical differences — much wider area, many more people, the triology of quakes/tsunami/nuclear, the continuing medium magnitude quakes, the unraveling nuclear disaster. All those differences play a role, AND it feels like there is something deeper present as well. A couple of days ago one person I was speaking with talked about how in this collectivist culture, grief and emotion travel subtly and rapidly through the cultural membrane. So there’s this feeling present and it is present all over Japan. Another colleague talked about how she has found ways to switch the feeling off — to be able to act as if normal is here. It gets easier to distance oneself from this emotional field when further away than Tokyo. But it is still there.

So, the insight that dropped into the room is that 16 years ago, most people thought they were still in a world where things were just going to get better and better. Sure, a few adjustments might be needed, but generally speaking, life was good. You might say that there was still a desirable normal to which one could return. What was clear from the work I was doing here last year is that there were already massive shifts taking place. The change in political leadership here, after a 50+ year dominance by the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) was one surface manifestation of this desire for change — but it was clear it ran much deeper and that many people were in questions about what kind of life they wanted — because they didn’t like the one they had.

This series of disasters has dropped in on top of a wide-spread sense that deep change is needed. So it ends up being experienced in multiple ways — as a horrific disaster, as a release from a future people didn’t want anymore, as a huge set of uncertainties about how to move forward. It bears little resemblance to the world of 16 years ago.



Other news from Japan

Friday, April 15th, 2011
Bob Stilger (picture taken by Tenneson Woolf)

What follows are two messages I received from Bob Stilger, who is related with Berkana Institute and with the Art of Hosting community. He has a life long relationship with Japan, knows a lot of people there and has been introducing Art of Hosting practice there since last year. Of course he was and is very much touched by what is going on there, and has recently shared some stories in an attempt to get some clarity for himself, and also to let others know what is going on there. He actually loves it that we spread this news, as he hasn’t much time to blog himself. Here he is:

April 12, 2011:
I’ve been in Japan for a week. I’ve worked with about five different groups and been a witness to what’s unfolding here. I’ve been writing e-mails, at different times, almost as a journal of my experience here. In being here, I am working on behalf of The Berkana Institute, New Stories and the ALIA Institute. Soon we will launch a small website to host these e-mails and invite response. I’ll appreciate your reflections and responses to what I write – you help me find my own center here, day-by-day. Your thoughts will help us all in our learning.

Mount Fuji

Mt. Fuji revealed itself today, for the first time since I’ve been in Kiyosato, a small town in the mountains a couple of hours south and west of Tokyo. This silent sentinel is always on the rim, hosting Japan. Often hidden by many layers of clouds, it is always there. Sometimes just a glimmer… I love it when Fuji-san shows itself. It helps me to quiet my spirit and simply be present. Again and again, that is what many of you have said in these days: Stay present. Be where you are. Notice what calls your attention. Act with respect, compassion and dignity. Stay clear while staying unattached. Be prepared to be surprised. Stay connected.

Yesterday we met for a day to sense why might want to happen. Let me give a little background. The KEEP at Kiyosato was started in the 1930s by an American named Paul Rusch who brought modern farming practices to Japan. He helped people here transform their mountainside into a demonstration center for new ways to raise cattle. Along the way he helped to build a hospital here, another in Tokyo and founded a University in Tokyo. Quite a guy, to say the least. His spirit is deeply present here, although he died in his early eighties more than 30 years ago. There never was a grand plan for the KEEP, it simply evolved over time, working with the people and possibilities present in this one small area in Japan.

Among other things, it is a lovely space now where groups come to meet and people arrive for quiet retreats. Last year we held two major training events for Art of Hosting here. While the Tohoku region where the disasters struck on 3/11 is some 250 miles to the north, the disasters struck here as well. First, and most powerful, it shows up in the subtle field. The deep connections which hold people together in Japan also mean that the grief in one part is felt throughout. So there is a deep collective grieving here. People say time and time again is that the future for all of Japan is different now. Some things may stay the same, but everything needs to be re-imagined. The new Japan that emerges will be grounded in traditional values and beliefs, they say, and the future is different now. Secondly, on a more material level, everyone is affected as well. Occupancy at the KEEP is down to 30%. Most young people have lost their part-time jobs. Rolling power black-outs have hit all of Japan, including here. Quakes have happened here in the last month as well. People know their lives have changed. They’re not sure how.

The week after 3/11, Yamamoto-san, a wonderful deeply present man who has been here for many years, got in the KEEP’s bus and drove to Fukushima, the area where the power plants are. He had to do something. Somehow he found his way to one shelter among many. A sports complex, it has some of the best conditions around. 2000 people — mostly in their 60s and 70s — now live there. Only a small portion of the total number displaced by the disasters. Only a small portion and totally overwhelming as well. He brought 43 people back to the KEEP to stay in better conditions for a while. A small drop in the bucket, but it was what he could do. 43 people who could sleep in real beds, have real baths, eat real food. 43 people who could be warm even while they still shivered with their grief. Yamamoto-san took this small step, not knowing what was next — but trusting this beginning.

So yesterday we met: What is next? What can this small place do that might make a difference? A difference in the lives of people who live near here, those from Fukushima, those from other parts of Japan. A difference in the lives of those who work here are have seen the future they know disappear. It is easy to get overwhelmed. I know I did when I first heard Yamamoto-san’s story. 2000 people living with almost no privacy in a sports complex; for four weeks each day the government has brought them rice balls to eat. Four weeks in which life as they know it is gone — and nothing in sight. What can make a difference?

Kato-san had just returned from Sendai, a region he has been many times before. When he got off the train, he knew the difference. Not just the broken buildings — but what was in the air. It just felt different. Subdued, almost glazed over. He saw some young people and talked with them. Wandering aimlessly in the rubble they wanted to know — what can we do? He had no answers of course. Almost overwhelmed by his own sense of grief and loss, he could only stand with theirs. Devastation, devastation, overwhleming devastation made even more real by the many pockets where life looks like normal. Stores destroyed. Stores shuttered. Stores opened. Side-by-side.

We spent the morning just dwelling in our confusion. Sharing impressions. Letting the grief flow. Bewildered. 2000 people. What could the KEEP do. And what about the people here, and elsewhere in Japan, with their own grief. We went on a trip to visit to the Paul Rusch Museum here to see what inspiration it might provide. Paul’s story is quite inspiring. By the end of his life, his motto of “do your best, and make it first class” was well know here. It reminds me of the principle “get a clear sense of direction and then find the minimum elegant next step,” something Berkana has learned from the World Cafe Community.

What’s the direction? Where are the starting points? What resources does the KEEP have and how can they be used? What can be done to invite people into their wholeness? What might make a difference. Many of us started drawing concentric circles KEEP in the middle, then Kiyosato, then Fukushima, then all of Japan, then all of the World. It’s all connected. AND, one of the things Paul Rusch did was he connected people.

By the end of the day, there was still no clarity. What’s the stone to drop in the middle of the concentric circles so they become ripples, leading outward to a newness? A sense was present that some of what the KEEP might do is around youth and youth leading. A sense that this facility has a new purpose. A wondering if it might be one of the Future Centers — places of innovation to discover the future — needed now in Japan.

This morning an idea began to crystalize. Yamamoto-san leaves tomorrow for Fukushima for three days. He goes to discover what they have — not what they need. He goes to look for several youth who have dealt with their grief enough to be ready to stand with each other to discover a next step. Contours of a possibility began to be visible. We will host an 3 day event at the KEEP in the middle of May. It will be for around 100 people. Most of them will be youth. The majority will come from Fukushima and they will come from three sources — youth living inside the sports complex shelter who are starting to come back to life, youth serving in the shelter, and youth from the “normal area” around the shelter. They’ll be joined by 25 or so youth from the Kiyosato area and 25 or so from Tokyo. Purposes envisioned for this gathering include:

1. Be in our grief together. Be in all the different griefs surfaced by these disasters.
2. Enjoy and breathe in this beauty.
3. Connecting youth of different ages with each other as well as with other generations.
4. Begin to see the resources we have and how to use them. What strengths, what assets, what dreams, what skills, what muscles?
5. Learn some about how to host dialogues that matter, which surface grief and joy and possibilities and actions
6. Begin to support each other in making the changes we need ourselves, while visible to and connected with each other.
7. Sensing into what else is possible in each of our lives and in each of our regions.

Of course, this will emerge and shift and change. It may be something entirely different when Yamamoto-san returns. But I think the core will remain: releasing grief while continuing to stand with it. Connecting with each other. Regaining some measure of authority over our own lives. Discovering the minimum elegant steps which will allow self-organizing to emerge everywhere, and especially in the Tohoku Region, in Fukushima, at this one shelter for 2000 people whose lives have shifted so dramatically.

Honored to be here in these conversations. Providing a listening presence and occasionally being able to speak in stories and ideas from Berkana’s work around the world.



Bob Stilger
A next email in the following blogpost.

Creating Cultures of Place

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Art and Community; Creating Cultures of Place
The recent newsletter by Michael Jones, with a link to his latest essay – worthwhile reading!

Several years ago I was a keynote speaker at a Celebrating Communities Conference in Atlantic Canada. During the keynote I asked the group to share a story of a place where they experienced the greatest sense aliveness, vitality and connection. How did this connection to place shape how they thought about their leadership and their community now?

They reflected on finding common ground in their deep ties to land and sea and how these close ties to the wildness of nature instilled a resilience of spirit in their leadership and in their communities.

Shortly after the conference, in a conversation with Peter Block, who has written several wonderful books on community, he said; “we cannot begin to understand community without first talking about place”

Since that conference I have been convening place – based conversations with leaders in communities and organizations. I have learned that leaders who are place-based recognize they need to know where they come from in order to see where they are going. In a turbulent world where there are no rules, no consensus and no clear way forward, if they have no place to stand they will lack the grounding to act wisely in the world. In this context an intimate relationship with place helps us see – and clear sight helps us create a new story of possibility rooted in where we come from and who we want to be.

This spring I will be continuing these place- based conversations with municipal, government and arts leaders in a community conference in the Muskoka region of Ontario on the theme ‘Creating Cultures of Place’

To read more please go to my Leading Artfully blog, Art and Community; Creating Cultures of Place

Themes in the Feminine Archetype

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

I said it before here, I’m way behind in blogging what I want to blog about… one big chunck that is on a pile right next to me is writing about the experience in our last Women Moving the Edge gathering. I know that one of the reasons that it hasn’t been done yet, is that our experience is getting more and more subtle, and in that way it is more and more difficult to write about it, at least when you don’t have a lot of time.
But my dear friend Helen comes to the rescue, as she has done incredible artful blogposts – using some of her fabulous pictures – on different topics or themes that are present for us. So instead of stressing myself to write I’m going to point you to her blog and my writings can still come in later.
Exploring radiance
The power of our daughters
Power of Place
Poetic response from the world
Widening the circle
Invisible beings and other dimensions
The presence of Ria’s book (Yes, mine)

A piece of art by Elena Leibbrand

A piece of art by Elena Leibbrand, made during the gathering

The power of art

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

I came acrossa blog posting by Arlene Goldbard saying this – bolding is mine!:

Below is a video made by Helen Titchen Beeth, from footage taken during our recent (10th!) Women Moving the Edge gathering. It ‘speaks’ about how we connect to different realms of knowing, when using art, color, lines…

And then I came across a blog post, written by Arlene Goldbard, related with this – bolding is mine!
“In my most recent talk, I spoke of six capacities best learned through art – social imagination, connectivity, improvisation, cultural citizenship, empathy, creativity – and their essential roles in so many realms: human evolution, healing, education, even the remarkable changes taking place in Tunisia and Egypt. My aim was to show how something that had been trivialized into mere entertainment is actually the secret of survival and resilience; and thereby to encourage people to show up full-size, claiming the space and support that the public interest in culture really warrants.”

Understanding Living Systems

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Most of my readers might know the TED-talks, with tons of great and inspiring talks. Many evenings they are my private television screen. More and more, there are TEDx-talks all over the globe, yet another stream of great content.
I’m posting here one by Michelle Holiday in TEDx Concordia (no clue where that is), explaining what is essential in the living systems view. Great explanation – straigth to essentials…
I wish I could do it that way!