I’m back, after a very long walk in Europe – a pilgrimage – as part of the insane privilege of a sabbatical made possible by Sally Wilton and Teresa Graham after celebrating last year the 15th birthday of the Sustainability Institute. Being the founding director, from 1999, is my greatest work privilege.
Returning midst deep personal loss, vulnerability, uncertainty and doubt I grapple with the questions we work with all year with our SI post graduate students. Who am I? What does it mean to be human? What is a good life? What is a good society? I return straight into teaching the Leadership and Environmental Ethics module. Johan Hattingh, (Dean of Humanities at Stellenbosch University) and I co-created this work and have co-taught it now for 13 years.
I find myself being shown tiny stepping stones. The beauty of the place I call home. It is so dry, I know we need rain badly. The indigenous gardens, lovingly nurtured over 15 years, survived the burning summer and the redness of the vine leaves surrounding the Lynedoch EcoVillage hold the gorgeous autumn light in a generosity of golds and browns. The double-collared sunbirds, small darting jewels, are exuberant in their discovery of the Cape honeysuckle suddenly blooming. The trees we planted over the years are thriving – each unique, each finding its own way of tree-ing.
The SI staff spent 3 months of doing brilliantly without me. An extraordinary collective tackling tough challenges. Putting in systems, figuring out what is precious, what needs to fall away – no preset fixed outcomes, no agenda, no box ticking – just a simple sense of flow, pattern and attention to process. There’s a creative surge, young leadership with no sense of the impossible, an edginess faced fearlessly as some projects hang on by the skin of their teeth. Transformative work can happen in the blink of an eye, in a kind of magic and different consciousness. It can also take time, working quietly in invisible ways. Sometimes joyous, sometimes painful, the work of the SI with its unique family and grittily embedded in what’s real and authentic in our specific place makes us who we are. I find myself dead proud. Messy? Sure. Tough? Sure. But aching, my life in clouds of debris, I walk into this place and your faces, arms, smiles and warmth thaw me and, indeed, remind me of what it means to be human.
The beginning of our module sees Johan introducing himself, and the challenges of a multiplicity of tiny and huge conversations with the #RhodesMustFall movement at Stellenbosch University. A portion of the university is built upon stolen land. The students and I are reminded of our context – our troubled country, and transitions in our democracy that bump and grind us into creating different futures. Will they be different enough? My own introduction is the interior of the inner journey. The students sense our vulnerable not-knowing, and simultaneously delve us into an evocative, provocative, radically pragmatic and intensely reflective week. Where else would I find this? The depths of morning work, nurturing, dissent, confrontation, exposing colonialism, toxic contexts and betrayals – this is SI learning at its zenith.
The explorations include the sacred feminine; wondering how to package miracles; empathy; the extraordinary connections in integrating art, drama, music and movement in the timelessness of place. Our indigenous histories perplex us, and make us suddenly wise. The ancestors are living dreams around the classroom as this group capable of deep silences work in a session on consciousness and the journey of the universe.
As we navigate our outside classroom I am struck by the ancient, 60 million year old mountainous backdrop, the Cape Spotted Owl gazing down on this band of diverse, tired individuals, the stillness of our meditation on the banks of the Eerste River, and Johan’s beautiful introduction to eco-feminism. Transformative ethics – space for radical shifts in consciousness, where the individualised and atomistic brain simply does not exist, and has no power. The experience leaves us contemplative and still. We seem to want to linger in the warmth of the sun, on the hugeness of the rocks, like lizards.
Group work, as ever on a Saturday, finds its own grace and rhythm. It is the Freedom Day weekend, and we yearn together for our own freedom, for liberation. In the eternal now, that’s all there is.
The infants and toddlers are walking in the garden, and the crèche a quiet buzz of Montessori cosmic education and lively activity. The soccer boys are full tilt, greeting me with their new breaking voices. The agro-ecology academy is struggling to be ready for the arrival of 22 new young, vibey trainee organic farmers. They are to work on Eric’s organic farm, and in the Lynedoch veggie gardens. The iShack team and the SI Innovation Lab are going full tilt – they invite me to Enkanini ‘to see’.
I write as I return to the SI that I founded, with a sense of awe and gratitude. SI staff, students, children and friends have created a community of being. As I figure out my purpose, identity and ways of expressing these through my own art and writing, I feel deeply appreciative at many levels for the landscape of Lynedoch and the SI. With all it contains.
We are amazing. Here’s celebrating the work achieved with the lightest touch of our ever-active board members,
A Walk – Rainer Maria Rilke
My eyes already touch the sunny hill
Going far ahead of the road I have begun
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
It has inner light, even from a distance
And changes us, even if we do not reach it,
Into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
We already are; a gesture waves us on
Answering our own wave..
But what we feel is the wind in our faces.