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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

The oil spill

Friday, June 25th, 2010

I open up my reader – where all the blogs I’m following appear on one page – and read both these blogposts, both by women, both on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico…

One is about workers who are cleaning up the big mess, and are not allowed to talk with anyone about what they are doing.

The other one is about being part of the system that created this.

Quote on maladjustment

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

“Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.” … Certainly, we all want to avoid the maladjusted life. In order to have real adjustment within our personalities, we all want the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurosis, schizophrenic personalities.

But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good societies realize. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence…

In other words, I’m about convinced now that there is need for a new organization in our world. The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment-”

Dr Martin Luther King
December 18, 1963
WMU speech
(Thanks to Pierre Goirand to send it around)

What is maladjusted? The roots of the three breaking the asphalt, or the asphalt not adjusted to the growing of the three roots?
Actually, I always love these kind of cracks...

Invisible Capitalism

Friday, May 21st, 2010

After been away for three weeks in Axladitsa – Greece, here something I like! (more posts coming from my time over there)

Interesting thought

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

From a friend of mine ‘down under’:
It is interesting to think of needing the cooperation of a volcano to travel!
I was thinking how interesting it is that Iceland has ground Europe to a halt twice in the past year — once through the financial crisis and once through natural causes. What does this have to say, do you think?

Grief and Climate Change

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

An online friend of mine, Toni Stafford, had an inspiring blog a few days ago: Kubler-Ross’ 5 stages of grief applied to Climate Change. I had never thought about it in these terms, but there is a lot of value in it!

It has long been my position that what is commonly referred to as resistance to change can be better understood as one of the first four stages of grief. In my own personal history I have experienced all five stages in relation to global climate change. And while I’ll describe that in order, I want to emphasize that my progression through the stages has been far from linear. Before reaching acceptance I swirled and spiraled around and through the first four phases a number of times.

Difference and resonance

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I have a few bloggers whom I follow regularly and one of them is Jack Ricchiuto. One of his last blog post, which are mostly very short, is about the combination of difference and resonance. A truly powerful combination if you want to go for resilience and emergence! Here is most of what he wrote:

One conclusion so far is that the possibility space for change opens up when we connect different people who can begin resonating together around shared stories, opportunities, and dreams. It’s a process of liberating people from the confines of clusters of sameness and ideological colonialism so they can move toward more diverse connections and pragmatic alignments.

As it turns out, the fusion of difference and resonance is a powerful approach because in that space, people move away from trying to change each other, which opens the space for the possibilities of creating innovative and scalable changes together. Resonant listening to one another’s differences allows us to join in both-and innovations that could never be possible in an either-or constrained world.

I also like his concept of ‘resonant listening’ – if just the world would have more of that these days!

The House of Belonging

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

This bright home
In which I live
This is where I ask
My friends to come,
This is where I want
To love all the things
it has taken me so long
To learn to love.

This is the temple
Of my adult aloneness
And I belong
To that aloneness
As I belong to my life.

There is no house
Like the house of belonging.

by David Whyte
Send to my by Mary-Alice Arthur; thanks!

Updating the map

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

I want to speak briefly here about the map that was unfolding. Showing it to others and speaking about it, it dawned on me that the elements that I named ‘Subtle Arts’ and ‘Tending the Land’ were not the right categories and they didn’t really fit in the map either, they were not the same category of things.

Like designers who strip away what isn’t necessary and programmers who search for beautiful code, there is also a simplicity and a rightness when getting to a map that works.  Here is why the two elements weren’t working: the Subtle Arts is about right relationship with much more than the land alone, and people-place relationship isn’t only about the land but it is about connecting with all that surrounds us.

The new Meaning in Place map

Starting left on the map, it is about a subtle relationship with the past. Not as strong – and sometimes heavy – as we see in some indigenous cultures, but (much) more aware of ancestry and lineage than we do today in the West.
Also relationship with the future (right on the map), the seven generations, and more, which will follow us. Here the whole sustainable movement, up-cycling, cradle-to-cradle and so on fit in; but also what Scharmer calls ‘learning from the future’ and the subtle sensing of what is the next elegant step to take.
The work of Christopher Alexander – which I would describe as a subtle listening to the land and sensing where buildings fit in – and the many experiments these days with buildings out of local and natural material, houses and factories that use zero energy and inviting future residents in planning of neighborhoods are all practices of our relationship with the human build environment. Some are tried out for the first time; others are up to a level of mastery.
Connecting with the non-human, the plants, the animals, the landscape and the many, many layers of energy of the intangible is part of reality that we, Westerns, have to learn a lot about, but it is so essential when we want the Earth to be called our home, and not just the space within the walls of our house or apartment.

I’m sure this map will be fine-tuned when people start relating with it and work with it. It will only be by combining the many practices – in all directions of the map – that we will reach the mastery and artistry that is needed for our challenging times ahead.

Verwonderend Vlaanderen

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Donderdag – onze tweede dag in de Art of Hosting training – met het thema van Ver-beeld-ing. Gisteren startten we met de Ver-wonder-ing en morgen gaan we door met Werk-elijkheid.

Een opening… een voorwerp…
Voelen, ervaren, met open aandacht waarnemen…
Ruiken … en proeven…
Een rozijn.

Vraag: Als verbeelding aan de macht is in Vlaanderen, wat gebeurt er dan?

Als Vlamingen kwamen we traag op gang, maar de diepgang van de gesprekken was er zeker niet minder om.

Een bloemlezing

Het is niet wat het is, het kan in VRAAG worden gesteld.

Het hosten van de vragen…

De spreekwoordelijke box… een poging tot betekenis maken,
Samen betekenis afchecken
Zien we dezelfde realiteit?
Out of the box
Het leven zijn gang laten gaan

De feitelijkheid van het samen op deze grond te wonen en te leven – dit Vlaanderen – niet oude ideeën erover

Wat heeft je geraakt?
Wat zien we nu bij mekaar komen?

Individuele expressie.. vrolijke kleuren… schoonheid
Het inspirerende… geen vaste structuur
De levensstroom die door alles heen gaat.

De ver-beeld-ing blijft gehoorzaam aan de ver-wonder-ing. Het beeld mag sterven… de verwondering aan de macht, de verbeelding om ze tot expressie te brengen,
Verwondering komt uit het leven…

Vlaanderen is waar we nu leven…
We zetten onze levensvreugde niet vast in een bekende doos.
Wat als we het leven er doorheen laten stromen?


Ik leef hier – op deze grond – naast mijn buurman

Verwondering is drager van het potentieel.

Prettig gestoorde verwarring…

Kleine en grote verwonde”ring
Niet los van mekaar

Zijn – samen – nu – uniek

Bijna iedereen kan omvallen
Uit mijn hoofd vallen

Stroom zorgt voor drang
Drang laten gebeuren in een licht
Stroom is beweging