Unleashing your creativity for sustainable development
Insights from the Findhorn Forum for Sustainability
A few weeks ago, I attended the Forum for Sustainability organized by the Findhorn Foundation. Created 55 years ago, the Findhorn Foundation and the community that brings it to life, bring together the values and practice of service, nurturing nature, and spirituality. As you can read on their website www.findhorn.org (which I strongly encourage you to visit!), “the Findhorn Foundation is a dynamic experiment where everyday life is guided by the inner voice of spirit, where we work in co-creation with the intelligence of nature and take inspired action towards our vision of a better world. We share our learning and way of life in experiential workshops, conferences and events that take place within a thriving community and ecovillage.”
Since 10 years, the Findhorn International Centre for Sustainability (FICS – fics.findhorn.org), has been organizing an annual 4.5 day retreat for professionals working in, or passionate about, sustainable development. During these days, I had the pleasure to meet a fascinating set of individuals working in all sorts of sectors and organisations: a lawyer advocating for sustainability in corporate law; an investment banker working on socially and environmentally-minded investments; the sustainability director of a large food processing company; a doctor seeking ways to integrate sustainability in medical schools; a soil scientist; sustainability experts advising companies on innovative sustainable business solutions; a professor of spatial transformation; a renewable energy advocate; a nature appasionata who cycled down the Andes over a year to raise visibility about biodiversity, and the list goes on! This eclectic group of 20 was put together by the delightful and energetic, Yvonne Cuneo, the FICS Director of Programmes.
The agenda was shaped by the questions, concerns (sometimes despair), curiosity, values and aspirations of the participants. Over four days, our wonderful facilitator Robin Alfred (from the Findhorn Consultancy Service) guided us through all sorts of spontaneous discussions on the political systems that would be more conducive to environmental policies; on how to stay positive when the pace of environmental degradation is so alarming and apathy reigns; on how to create incentives for sustainable investments and behaviours; and much, much more. Our reflections were inspired by moments of meditation, working on the community’s farm, walks in nature, poetry, and – for those who gave me the pleasure of their company early morning – yoga!
A central theme that ran throughout this encounter was reflecting upon our life purpose. Many of us struggled with the questions: “What should I be doing with my life?” “How can I have an impact?” “Am I doing enough?” “What is my contribution in the struggle to make the world a better place?”
Our reflections were richly nourished by Robin’s love of poetry. He opened the first day with the words of the dancer Martha Graham:
“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.
And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.
You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work.
You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate YOU.
Keep the channel open.”
“Keep the channel open”.
These words touched me deeply. They reminded me of Julia Cameron’s words in The Artist’s Way (a must read): “We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.” They also resounded profoundly with my own reflections about Yoga (see my blog post of April 26th on Yoga and the SDGs to find out why!). A central part of Yoga is letting go of our attachments, our fears, our negative emotions, so as to let the energy flow through us. And this energy flow brings health and well-being. It’s also about letting our creativity unfold, and letting Life guide us even on journeys we were not ready to make…
I believe each one of us is born with unique passions, talents, curiosity… with a unique voice. We often feel we have duties – towards our families, our societies – or we try to comply with others’ expectations. This is often a strong driver amongst activists like ourselves who want to make the world a better place: “We must save the world from upcoming disaster! And we must do it now!” And in trying to fulfill this duty, we often stifle that unique, creative voice. Yes, of course we have duties, and it’s a beautiful aspiration to make the world a better place. But what if the most efficient way to fulfill them – what if all that is really asked of us – is to listen to this unique voice and let it sing? What if singing the song that makes you happy were also the way to make the most significant contribution in the world?
Because you see, the experts who were gathered were not just scientists, doctors, lawyers, professors, sustainability experts. They are also singers, painters, archers, percussionists, writers, birdwatchers, poets… And maybe singing out loud on the radio that “There’s plastic in my fish n’ chips” (which will be a sure hit when Oliver DudokVan Heel and his band release it! 😊), or painting the colors of coming together, or teaching how to accompany an arrow to its target, can bring about as much – and maybe even more – change than being the “experts”.
“Follow your heart” says the old adage.
Robin also invited us to meditate and exchange on the commonly cited words of Albert Einstein:
“You cannot solve a problem on the level on which it was created.”
Maybe we’ve been trying to solve problems with our heads too much. Of course they’re important. But maybe the keys to successful sustainable development also lie in listening to our hearts and souls, and unleashing their magic…