THE SUMMER OF REGENERATION
In the summer of 2023 I made an incredibly hard decision and left a dream organisation, working with the most amazing people, the most magical community of changemakers and embarked on a journey of unknowns. Not to a tropical climate did I venture nor did I have to face creepy crawlies, this was a much tougher road. The journey inward.
Taking inspiration from Satish Kumar and his call for “Radical Love”, I decided to embark into a period of reflection, restoration and regeneration. Off I went to a ten-day ayurveda and spiritual retreat in Austria with notebook in hand. I was going to detox, cleanse, journal and meditate, immerse myself in nature and the plan was that I’d go back to London with my demons dealt with, my inner-child cared for and the future purpose of what I want to dedicate the next 40 years of my life to totally sorted. Easy.
CONNECTION TO BODY
After a few days of having oils in me, on me and come out of me, I realised that this was just the beginning and the “consultant brain” that I’d been trying to quieten, was still partying inside me. It needed to chill out. This “summer of regeneration” was going to take much longer than I’d bargained for.
Never before had I really stopped to listen to what my body was telling me. Ayurvedic principles combine mind, body and spirit and takes a very holistic and integrated approach to health and wellbeing. You can’t be ok mentally if your gut health is wonky and stress and trauma held in the body will clog spiritual and mental wellbeing. The living system of our bodies affects everything, yet it also reveals everything; you just need to listen.
It was unsurprising therefore that whilst my insides were going through a deep clean, the treatments and ayurvedic massages were bringing up feelings and people from the past that I thought were long forgotten and shedding light on the (unbeknown to me) held onto emotions about the social injustices of the world. Coupled with spiritual coaching and my first encounter with Emotional Freedom Technique therapy I was guided into recognising, acknowledging and reconditioning my relationship with some of these emotions. Or at least, beginning the process.
It took a couple of months after my return for the noisy mind to slowly begin to declutter. This only happened with a diet of regular yin yoga, frequent meditation and mamrapuncture to establish some kind of grounding. I learnt that our neuropathways have an incredible tenacity to stop us from doing the deep inner work which is really hard by providing us with distractions and procrastinations. Sticking to the deep listening plan is key.
CONNECTION TO CREATIVITY
My self-inflicted time-out provided space and lots of quiet. I began to tap into what I really craved after living alone during the pandemic and spending so many hours on zoom each day. The first things that I knew that I longed for were creativity and beauty.
A few post-detox days in Vienna provided a creativity, arts and culture hit and I strolled through galleries, listened to Vivaldi, did a workshop on classical music, learned about rebel artists in the Secession movement and wandered the magical streets camera in hand. On my return, the desire for creative outlets led to afternoon trips to the cinema, the theatre, wanders around galleries, the opera, and enrolling in a week-long Photography Summer School.
This immersion provided a deep dive into powerful storytelling, a crash course into understanding and representing different perspectives and an outlet for my own creative expression. The real learning came from the street and wildlife photography lessons which rather than the technicalities of apertures and shutter speeds, taught the value of faith and patience. If you want to get a great picture, whether a human in a street market or a deer in Richmond Park, stopping to just observe, allowing something to emerge in its own time without holding on too tightly to the desired outcome, is the only way to go. I had heard wise regenerative leaders and Buddhist monks speak of this magical way in relation to responding to the challenges of the world and in relation to yourself…I hadn’t really fallen for it emotionally before.
To continue my connectivity to creativity and be of service practically, I joined the Board of the Aakash Odedra Company and started working 1:1 with the CEO of Vault Creative Arts. Both organisations nurture incredible talent in the performing arts with impact in their local communities as well as world-wide, both have strong social justice mandates built into their being.
CONNECTION TO NATURE
There’s so much talk about connectivity to nature in the regeneration and wellbeing worlds that it’s bordering on a cliché. A hike in an Austrian forest had me bitten from head to toe in the first few minutes despite the many layers and left me itchy rather than zen.
My connectivity came from being still and deep observation. Just sitting by the lily pond and watching the dragon flies dance, listening to the frogs sing and the leaves sway to the rhythm of the wind allowed me to engage with my surroundings in a way that a good hike never would. My poor ex-work sibling was sent a series of unexplained photos of giant snails, colourful bugs and blurry frogs as I struggled between trying to be present but also delighting in documenting nature’s delights.
Later in the year I headed to Spain and stayed in an eco-lodge dedicated to regenerative forestry and also explored the delights of La Junquera and Campo Altiplano and learned about their approaches to regenerative agriculture and water management in drought intensity. Through the observation of nature comes the appreciation of it and the desire to learn from and protect it. I’d heard people talk about this numerous times, but I’d not slowed down for long enough (physically or mentally) to ever feel it completely and to connect it to the systems change work I’d always wanted to accelerate.
CONNECTION TO SELF
I don’t want to over-do the idyllic sounding nature of this stopping and reflecting time-out. It was at times painful, frustrating and lonely.
The more you give yourself space to deal with the messiness of life, the more messiness emerges. It’s like moving home; you always create more chaos before getting to the stage of the neatly labelled boxes! Stopping, having an unticking mind and patience aren’t things I’ve traditionally been known for.
As I immersed myself in reading, watching and listening to things on regeneration and regenerative systems I got increasingly frustrated. The dominance of western “experts” as leaders, the lack of representation of the incredible work I knew was happening around the world, the badly veiled cultural and intellectual appropriation and new-age colonialism, all had me a bit depressed. Figuring out how I wanted to respond had me stuck. But this new connectivity to my body and a sharper radar for how these triggers were affecting me physically meant that I was homing in much more acutely into my senses. So I made myself read and watch more by the people who were apparently bugging me and I talked to much wiser souls about my frustrations. Again, the lesson was patience and kindness, “let people do their thing, maybe your role is to call things out in your own way to influence not the whole universe but your own little planet.” I let myself sit in the frustrations for a bit and allowed myself to challenge my own judgements and learnt a few things about me along the way.
CONNECTION TO COMMUNITY
Over the course of the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be an active part of a global community of social entrepreneurs from around the world at a time when I’d never been so London-bound. The bonds and friendships formed are something that I cherish deeply. As I reflected and sat in my discomforts about different spaces though I wondered about how I show up in communities I’ve been part of and what they mean to me and my identity. In my mind there are two sets of communities; of practice and place. It felt like place had been neglected and because of the pandemic, an isolation had set in.
As I explored what place means to me, I took myself back to Madrid where I’d been a student in my early 20s and had been adopted by my Spanish chosen family. Friendships that had the affection to withstand nearly a decade of non-communication were rekindled and those who had been in touch, were deepened. As I wandered along cobbled streets, I had a sense of coming home. Back in London, I gave space to getting to know my local neighbourhood and its quirks. Building a local community foundation is a work in progress but it starts with leaving the building and showing up.
CONNECTION TO PURPOSE
One of the drivers of the “summer of regeneration” was to really dig deep into my purpose, how I wanted to show up and what I wanted to dedicate myself to. The more unblocking and unpicking that I did, the more I was presented with questions rather than answers.
Some of my biggest questions have been;
If we know the extent of the socio-economic and environmental challenges we face, what’s the real reason we’re not shifting all the needles? Why aren’t organisations redesigning their operating models? Why aren’t we (re)distributing wealth in meaningful ways?
What are the psychological reasons for inaction and the “left brain right brain” juxtapositions at a societal level? Why do some think it’s ok to dehumanise those that are fleeing persecution or are the most vulnerable? How have we come to being a world where this is ok?
If we can get people to connect with their real feelings about the state of the world, could we get them to do something about it?
And if we connect people to their real feelings in community, could we have better outcomes for co-creation and collaborative systems change?
How can we show up in inclusive and respectful ways that challenge dominant culture and call time on the colonial and appropriation but do it with love rather than frustration?
These questions have made me dig deeper and develop my consultancy offerings with a much more embodied approach to the strategic counsel that I’ve built a career out of. It’ll continue to grow and developing as living systems do but figuring out the answers in non-binary and practical ways is defining the way forward and how I show up.
MY TAKEAWAYS SO FAR
As the journey continued (as cheesy as that sounds), and the summer turned to autumn and then winter there are some things that I’ve already learned about myself and regeneration.
By slowing down you’re much more able and likely to create change at speed.
Love yourself. Indulge in the things that bring you joy; it makes you not take things too seriously and it’s fun.
Tap into opportunities to learn; from experiences as well as books, people who are open to sharing their wisdom and even from people you think you don’t really like.
Take the time to deeply observe – humans or bugs it doesn’t really matter, it all helps to deepen your observation of yourself.
Feeling into the challenges of the world and acknowledging where they sit in your body gives them respect, helps you to care deeply, and it accelerates meaningful action. A triple win.
Things don’t need to be perfect to move forward. Rather than being frustrated with what isn’t, it’s healthier to be grateful for what is.
People; a tribe to learn from and play with to unpick the messiness of the world are fundamental to making this a less lonely road. Collaborations are great but true partnerships are better.
There is an elitism and western-centric domination of the discourse on regenerative systems but this merely reflects the information bubble in which I exist. We can all take ourselves out of these bubbles and seek out deeper learnings – we need to be conscious in deciding what we’re influenced by.
Theorising only gets us so far, getting to the practicalities and messiness of how to actually do the doing is difficult but energising.
It’s good to say no. Sometimes you need some space, or just don’t fancy it – whatever it may be. Honouring that is an act of service to yourself.
I’m very conscious that things are constantly evolving for me and the biggest lesson of all over these last few months has been stepping into and being ok with sitting in the unknown. It’s been a privilege to gift the space and time to myself, but it’s been a conscious choice. With a career spanning over two decades, calling a time-out to regroup and feel into what could be next has been challenging. It’s been necessary though to get back to being excited about what comes next; the amazing people that I am going to get to work with and the magic that we will create together. I know it’s going to be fun.
*All pics courtesy of photography summer school!