Visions of the Future

I want to explain why I feel strongly about community and collaboration and why I proposed a series of workshops for us to learn about different models of collaborative living and techniques of how to apply them.

Human beings are an odd mixture of angel and devil. We are one of the few species on the planet who can be consciously kind to other species, the environment and the planet. On the other hand our unique ability to hypnotise each other with ideas like “Growth is Necessary” and “Greed is Good” mean that we are raping the planet and on track for total ice-melt and 100ft sea level rise with vast areas of the planet being made uninhabitable. Drinking water is running out, droughts will be commonplace and the aquifers are emptying. Basically, for a species that can’t control its greed, there are far too many of us. The fragile ‘civilisation’ we live in is not sustainable.

So I see, not far ahead, a dramatic collapse of civilisation rolling towards us like a tsunami that is almost invisible as it crosses the ocean but rises up without warning as it reaches land and drowns everyone in its wake. The wave of refugees from climate change and water shortage will dwarf the present tragedy of two or three million war refugees. Literally billions of humans will be desperately searching for new places they can live in a land mass that shrinks as the seas rise.

Maybe the politicians in power also see this vision and are preparing for it by closing down borders and creating regulation systems to tightly control their populations.

I see three ways this can turn out:

Digital Dictatorship: This is already happening in China where powerful Artificial Intelligences with face recognition technology and 200,000,000 CCTV cameras will, by 2025, be keeping watch on everyone and “keeping everyone safe”. However, this also means that people with creative ideas, those who disagree with the government and those who are unusual in any way will be locked out of the system and effectively silenced. Click here to see how this is actually happening. The UK is close behind. The only countries that have more surveillance of their populations than us are North Korea and China.

Mad Max: The formation of protective strongholds by the rich, the powerful and the strong. Everyone else is a threat and will probably be killed if they try to break in. This would be the worst side of ancient tribalism but with powerful weapons that can defend against hordes of desperate people. In a way, Trump is modelling the Mad Max model, trying to turn the USA into a huge stronghold.

Cooperative localism: Local communities learning the difficult task of being truly collaborative. This means being really generous, unattached to possessions, valuing others and caring for consequences. If incoming refugees are welcomed and valued then there is a chance that local communities could be sustainable without having to defend their borders. But this requires real spiritual development. It’s hard work to let go of fear, of protection and of one’s personal property. There are a few communities around the world who are experimenting with ways of living together that are not based on hierarchy, status and wealth and there are several visionary models that show how collaboration and community could work. But they require us to work on ourselves and to practice collaboration in our daily lives now.

As should be obvious I hope for the third but it needs preparation, One of the problems about past revolutions such as the French Revolution and the Russian Communist Revolution is that, although the aims of the revolutionaries were excellent, they themselves hadn’t changed. So after the revolution succeeded they really had no idea how to BE what they preached.

There is a movement growing for uprising of people in the west to resist the domination of the banks, multinationals and the corrupt political class. I applaud these people who want to act in a non-violent but determined way to make change, But I also see the need for prior training. If we succeed in helping the old system to implode then there has to be something positive to take its place or else the Mad Max scenario will be the only option that people can see.

This is my motivation for proposing the series of “Collaboration Workshops” in Frome that Elderventure is sponsoring.

Last year we hosted a weekend workshop on the Eight Shields Model of Regenerative Community, which showed a really inspiring and practical way in which all ages and capacities of a community could be equally valued.

This year we have invited Daniel Körner to give a one day introduction to the Dragon Dreaming model of Collaborative Organisation which shows how projects can work without hierarchy and with care and value for all participants and for the environment.

The Dragon Dreaming workshop is next Saturday 3rd November at the Bennett Centre in Vicarage Street. Our aim on this day is to develop the primary techniques of Dragon Dreaming collaboration and to use them to support one of the community projects already happening in Frome.

To enquire further or reserve a place on this day, please contact me at bill@seed.org

To read more about Dragon Dreaming and see more details of the course CLICK HERE

Crying for Elderventure

by Beatrix Bliss: A director of Edventure and group facilitator.

Elderventure is a new group that’s started in Frome that comes from a realisation that older people are not valued in British culture and want to change that.

What most surprised me about the first Elderventure gathering that I attended one evening a couple of weeks ago, was not that I was the youngest person there, but that I found myself crying for a good part of the second half. As people approached me at the end to comfort me, looking a bit perplexed at the outpouring of emotion, I reflected on what it was that I was feeling sad about, and what was this feeling of grief for.

I realised that I was crying for a whole host of reasons, and almost channeling a collective sense of loss I was feeling on behalf of the society to which I partake every day. I was crying for the sense of loneliness and isolation that one member of the group, a 91 year old woman living at the Blue House, expressed. I was also crying for my grandfather who I never really knew, and who died having pretty much given up on life and very depressed. I cried for all the people who are feeling alone and isolated, old or young.

I was crying for the sense of being invisible that people in the group expressed, especially in relation to people who might have felt attracted to them before, describing that moment of realization when they suddenly felt unseen – for one man it was when on holiday in Italy and he realized that the donnas he was admiring could not ‘see’ him.

But most of all, I was crying for the young people in my generation who are calling out for elders. Elders not in the sense of people who are old, but elders in the sense of people who can be there – to lend an ear, to be steady (in their post-rat race pace), who have cultivated wisdom that they are now able to share, not in the sense of giving advice, but in the ability to ask the right questions at the right time.

Bill Palmer, co-founder of the group described the subtle yet important distinction between ‘elder’ and ‘older’ in terms of the direction of energy “as people get older there’s a tendency for the energy to contract inwards and become more self-absorbed, in an elder all of that experience is coming outwards and going back out into the world, rather than contracting inwards and focusing on the past or yourself”, and that “peoples attitudes to older people won’t change until older people change their own attitudes towards themselves.”

Another way to describe the motivations behind Elderventure is this idea of “trying to complete the circle so that life becomes a circulation, like the seasons’ cycles, the fruit drops and the nourishment that’s built up in the fruit is used to plant the next seed, as opposed to what currently happens in society and older people are put on the rubbish heap.”

I moved to Frome two years ago, and feel privileged to have been working at Edventure, where we support young adults to set up social enterprises, but also lucky to have been working in a cross-generation team. The oldest member of the team, Neil, also co-founder of Elderventure, has brought a refreshing, relaxed sense and perspective to our otherwise 20/30 something team stressing ourselves out to do more, faster, better, all the time.

Moreover, the presence of people like him and his partner Ali, and other neighbours Cameron and Daniela offering a place to stay, an ear or even a stiff drink after a hard day’s work(!) is invaluable. Knowing that they are there, should I need their support gives a comforting feeling of safety and belonging to which I am eternally grateful (and I think the feelings might be mutual).

I just hope that by the time I’m their age, the work they have started through Elderventure will trigger a ripple down effect through the generations, so that by the time I’m an elder, I’ll be surrounded by younger people, sharing wisdom across the generations, learning from each other and taking care of each other, just how it should, and used, to be.

My vision of Elderventure

by Bill Palmer: Co-founder of Elderventure and director of the School for Experiential Education

The idea of Elderventure comes from a realisation that the elderly are not valued in British culture and we want to change that. Older people could be an enormous pool of resource for society instead of being perceived as an increasing burden.

I believe that the first step on that path is to help people who are getting older to update their self-image so that they see their own value.

As we get older the things that give us a sense of value must change. Our physical attributes such as prowess, sexual attractiveness and fertility fade. If we have felt useful because we are bringing up children, at some point they leave home and get on with their lives without needing us. If our sense of self value has come from the position we hold at work or our skills then when we retire, that becomes a memory rather than a reality. So many of the reasons for which you are valued and through which you value yourself fade away.

We need to update our self-image. If our sense of self is still dependent on how we were in the past then it is doomed to failure. Getting older is inevitable!

How do we do that?

We are aiming to set up a group of people (not necessarily older) to explore how to update our sense of self-value as we age, to maintain energy and health and to share our experience with the younger generation. These can be summarised:

  1. Updating self image through awareness exercises and group process
  2. a) Letting go of youth
  3. b) Exploring your expertise
  4. c) Publishing your resources

 

  1. Body Process
  2. a) Dealing with physical deterioration
  3. b) Developing a personal practice
  4. c) Being kind to yourself and to your body

 

  1. Being a Resource
  2. a) Being a resource for young people
  3. b) Creating lessons
  4. c) Developing elder capacities 

Two experiences formed my personal vision for Elderventure.

One was my experience of visiting China. I was invited by the president of Beihang University in Beijing to spend some time helping him to translate a book he had written. Universities in China are complete communities. Both students and staff live on campus with their families.

Every morning I went to the park in the middle of the university to do my Qigong and the park was full of people doing the same. But their average age was about 75! I got talking to them and they explained that most of them were the retired lecturers and professors. The university kept housing them and supporting them because they were seen as a great resource of wisdom and experience. That sense of being valued kept them energised and, because they valued themselves, they cared for themselves.

Professor Li Wei, my sponsor, was also soon going to retire, and the incoming president, Xu Huibin, confided in me that he was happy that Li was going to ‘stay on’ after retirement, because he (Xu ) felt he had lots of energy to develop the university but not enough experience or wisdom. Xu realised that youthful energy and elder wisdom was a perfect marriage.

The second experience was witnessing the decline of my aunt when she was committed by her doctor to a care home in Guernsey. He did that from the best intentions because her memory was getting so bad that he felt she might leave the gas on and burn her house down, but I feel now that she would have preferred that way to go.

Before going into the home she was the lady of her domain, planning jobs for her carers, visioning the garden and supporting her many great-nieces and nephews. She was respected and loved.

After she moved to the home she was only loved, and that wasn’t enough. The staff at the home discouraged the inmates from any challenge and treated them like children. Very soon, because of being encouraged to use a wheelchair rather than walk, her leg muscles wasted away so she couldn’t walk even if she wanted to. The language used by the nurses was baby talk and I never heard them seriously ask the opinion of any of the elders who were housed there.

In this environment Penelope, like most of the other elders, became increasingly inactive and less alert, fading slowly into a hopeless passivity.

I realised how important respect is. It is the last flame that keeps the light of life alight. I vowed that I would never allow myself to be put into her position and I realised that I wanted to do something to change our culture that treats elders in such a way that they become passive burdens on society rather than a rich resource to be used and cherished.

When I came to live in Frome I got to know Neil Oliver, who is facilitating Elderventure with me, and Johannes Möller who founded Edventure, an organisation which helps young people to find their own value by doing something challenging and useful for society.

Johannes told me a story, which he said was one of the inspirations for Edventure.

In Guatamala there is a tradition where the young of a village are given a challenge as a rite of passage into adulthood. How they perform this challenge is up to them and they are expected to be creative, brave, resourceful and learn to deal with difficulties themselves. But, by tradition, they choose a young man and women from their group to represent them, and this pair go round the village knocking on the doors of the village elders. The young couple ask the elders to gather together to hold the space and to energetically support the youth in their challenge.

This inter-generational exchange not only supports the youth but also gives that life-blood of respect and value to the elders.

So we decided to collaborate and that junction is one of the reasons for the naming of this project as ‘Elderventure’. I believe that, when the resources formed from the distilled experience of the elders is used by the youth of a culture, that society will be both grounded and vitalised.

My Elderventure Journey

by Neil Oliver – Co-founder of Elderventure and director of Edventure.

My story starts with my father. He left school at 16 to provide a much-needed income for his family. He secured a “respectable” office job and, apart from the war years, remained there for the rest of his working life. At 62 he had a mild heart attack and was put on the “sick.” During this period he was made redundant in a very cruel, though legal way, and never went back to his place of employment. He came from a culture that valued hard work and loyalty, qualities which, understandably, he became very cynical about.

My father died earlier this year aged 92 so, for one-third of his life, he felt he contributed very little to the world around him. He found no outlet for his skills, qualities and wisdom, other than with his direct family for which I am eternally grateful.

I am now 62 and have a very different story to tell. Four years ago I met Johannes, a young visionary who founded Edventure in Frome. Edventure is an organisation which works with young adults who wish to pursue meaningful livelihoods. We met through a mutual friend and I was asked by Johannes if I would be prepared to do some training work for his new venture. He said he liked my “older energy,” and this was just what Edventure needed.

I have been a director of Edventure for 3 years now, and have reflected in some detail on what constitutes “older energy”. Firstly, it isn’t just about being older. Being older is a statement of fact, but not necessarily one that automatically gives me authority or bestows on me a set of “special” skills and attributes. It would be so easy to use my time so far on this earth to tell younger people what works, what doesn’t work and what’s best for them. The truth is I don’t know and I will never know what’s best for anyone (very often including myself!). Older energy comes from a position you hold in life, it comes from a state of body and mind.

In my view older energy has at its source the view that life is a process of letting go. If you have brought up children, letting go means helping them develop sufficient resources to make their way in this world. As an older person letting go means accepting that we are dealing with different questions than those we may have asked ourselves aged 20. When I was 20 I thought that one day I’ll play rugby for Wales, now I look at my grandson and think, well maybe he will? (except I don’t think he qualifies as Welsh). Letting go is not the same as giving up, but a conscious decision to update our self image and begin to hand over the baton to those who follow us. I believe this is easier said than done because part of me wants to hold on to everything I once was and regard myself as I used to be (one look in the mirror usually cures me of that one!).

To some this may sound quite negative but I don’t think so. Being present as you are, the age you are, with all your skills, qualities and accumulated wisdom can be a wonderful place to be, and this is what I mean by older energy.

I met Bill Palmer only a few months ago and we clicked almost immediately. Many of our conversations have centred on growing older and what that means for our place in society. We both see ourselves as a resource, amongst other things, with a whole bank of knowledge and wisdom to be drawn upon. We both acknowledge that we have a whole lot more to give to the world and part of that is to act as “elders” to the generations that follow.

So, the questions I now ask myself are based on legacy, what do I want to leave behind, what do I want to do with the time I have left, what have I learned along the way, including those things which may have caused me pain, which would be helpful to those who follow us? I’ve been lucky, unlike my father, I have found a vehicle for all this through Edventure. I would love you to join us in this exciting journey.

 

Visions of Elderventure

Members’ Visions of Elderventure

My dreams for Elderventure are for a warm and safe place to explore ourselves and from this place to be able to gain the strength and support to reach out with offerings to the community of Frome

If we can be open hearted together, through building our relationships and our explorations of elder being  we can be a resource for Frome – my hope particularly is for us to find a way to support leadership with checks and challenges for those making decisions for us all in Frome and with our independent expertise to become a well respected group who could help where contemplation and consideration of issues is needed by anyone in the community, for personal or public matters.

I’m excited about developing a safe place to explore what it means to be an elder in our community. I think we have huge potential to become a valuable resource to a wide range of people and groups in Frome. I’m already looking on line at other communities in the world who have elders and how they work collaboratively. It seems to me that we need to develop a few guiding principles that inform whatever we become in the future, and I would like to propose that we create these at our next meeting.

I like the idea of a group of respected people, holding a wide angle view of  the community. I hope that, in time, decision makers, young people and people in conflict can approach members of this group to talk things through and be given tools with which to resolve their dilemmas. I also like Nicky’s suggestion that this group feel able to challenge and support the executives who make decisions for us.

I think there are various things that would help in the development of this group:

1) Getting input from groups like indigenous peoples, the quakers and other collaborative experiments to learn how they operate and the tools and techniques they use to work together without fixed leaders. This might include inviting people to give us workshops.

2) I believe that a ‘wide angled’ view is complementary to a ‘target-focused’ view and that it comes from a place of contemplation and listening  rather than being focused on  thought and planning. So I would like us to develop these capacities by including awareness practices within our meetings.

3) I think that being an elder is a different skill than being a counsellor or a coach. I would like to explore this subtle difference through practice. For instance, we could use each other when we need some support to deal with our own difficulties, pain, conflict or existential doubts. We would then gain support at the same time as developing this ‘elder skill’.

Elderventure could become a group of contemplative, aware and skilled group of people who have also spent time reflecting on what they might offer to the community. l’d want to see strong leadership by which I mean one or two people who are willing to hold and facilitate the group while it gains maturity and purpose.

This group can then become a resource to the community with continuing reflection and development. It might become smaller, more targeted groups that offer their resource e.g. one group of elders offering the resource to Edventure, others to other groups. Ultimately the ‘use’ of elders would be something that would become normal and essential with any group or project in the community

What is really important about Elderventure is that things grow organically, not from planned protocols; all members joining in together rather than being led by a fixed person.

We are finding a place in the community where we feel useful. We see life as a cycle, like the seasons, the experience of the older people nourishing and supporting the energy of the young.

Being a local group is very important. We can be active, spending time with people and reaching out. It creates a foundation for a more connected  community. Our ethos is that everyone has a voice. We have openness of spirit, we are rooted, secure; a resource to anyone at any time. Our meetings are joyful.

I would like us to explore together what it means to each of us to be an Elder and so develop as a group in order to create a safe, warm, honest space where people can come to just talk things over.  I like the idea of a listening space for all.  I would like the group to be a community resource for kindness and understanding, amongst ourselves as well as with others who need our services.

Also, perhaps in the future, for us to be a resource for more practical skills.  So that skills that have been accrued over many years can be celebrated and shared with others in the community.  For us to be always open to learning new things that enrich our lives, as well as valuing what we already know.

I find the meeting content and the contributors interesting, fascinating and challenging, and even amusing! I think a group like Elderventure is important because there is a need to ‘reach out’ to various groups, ages, male and female people in Frome, not least because there can be ‘differences’ politically, socially, in wealth and in poverty, in status and in class, and in breakdown of marriages, that should and can be bridged, advised, and assisted.

The qualities that the Quakers feel are important in an Elder are :

  • Being humble and profoundly acknowledging of others
  • Being curious about and interested in others
  • Accepting people and circumstances as they are
  • Being whole and complete and helping others to be the same
  • Being committed to possibilities
  • Creating empowering and trusting relationships with others
  • Coaching others to accomplish more than they think is possible
  • Creating results and being wary of self-deception
  • Listening generously
  • Thinking rigorously
  • Enrolling others in the future
  • Having committed conversations