Impressions from Totnes (UK) and the workshop: “The Gandhian Iceberg and the Gift Ecology” by Kai Sawyer
How does one actually change the world? Are you also sometimes pondering on that question? Shortly after considering possible answers, many people get to the conclusion that it is impossible. I believe, that this is simply a wrong assumption as in history, humans always changed the world again and again and, in fact, change is the only constant this world is in. Besides, why would I want to live a life without perspective and hope? So, let’s crack on and make this world the place we want it to be. But how can we change the world for good – and what does ”good” mean after all? That’s a topic Kai Sawyer concerns himself since quite a while and I had the chance to meet him when visiting his workshop The Gandhian Iceberg and the Gift Economy in Totnes.
This article covers my visit of the transition town Totnes and what I learned about the Gandhian Iceberg.
A special place
Totnes, on first sight a town like any other. On arrival, the expectations of my wife and me were disappointed. Besides a sign showing “Fairtrade” Town Totnes, everything looked like in any other normal town.
It was the possibility to visit an interesting workshop that finally led my family and me to south west England. Our expectations were high, visiting a town that allegedly was leading in sustainability – and it seemed quite disillusioned on first sight.
Little did we know that our opinion fortunately was about to change during the coming day.
Change and sustainability
If you know my wife and me, you will agree that we are a little bit “different” in many aspects and since a few years we experience ourselves to be in a phase of change, having rearranged a lot in our lives.
In the recent years, we consciously redefined our careers and our lifestyle. Our move to the UK in 2015 was one key aspect of this change.
Our drive and desire is to live a sustainable and meaningful life. One that doesn’t just make us happy, but one of engagement for a society that is willing to adapt to upcoming challenges instead of ignoring them. A society that ends suffering and inequity with the help of empathy, compassion and esteem.
The workshop “The Gandhian Iceberg and the Gift Ecology” in the „REconomy Centre“ Totnes was a perfect match to get new insights and get a feeling on what’s next for us.
A second view reveals the true value
Luckily, our first rather sobering impression wasn’t going to last. A morning stroll through the transition town (find out more here) lightened our mood. It revealed to us small local shops partly taking a local currency as well as a local market with regional, mainly sustainably produced or second hand goods and products. Scattered around the town we found information boards about community projects and community gardens.
What a lively town. What met our eyes immediately was the diversity of its inhabitants and visitors and for people that like to put others in boxes – well, they would need A LOT of them in Totnes. Here you will find people from many cultures and backgrounds and there is a relaxed buzz everywhere. Overall, the atmosphere differed significantly from other towns and cities. Somehow, I felt snug, more relaxed and peaceful. Definitely different than in other towns.
Time seemed to function different here. Living in England since four years, I was used to small talk – even on the check out. Quite opposing the efficient customer service in my home country Germany, in the UK there is always time for a quick chat and nobody bothers the time spent for the regular “how are you – fine – how are you”. How often that made me visualize an angry mob of two waiting customers on a German check-out.
In Totnes it went even beyond shallow small talk. Chats were more open and of deeper content. If that was a symptom of the general atmosphere or just my relaxed state on that day? Not sure.
Workshop – A welcome with an unbelievable story
Kai lived in the City and suburbs of Japan, the rainforests of Costa Rica, Hawaii, in Santa Cruz CA, in central America and Orcas Island, WA. It may well be that I even missed out on something. He is a peace activist and peacefounder. His life also revolves around permaculture, mindfulness and love. His way of life was affected especially by 9/11 and America going into war just after his arrival there, as much as the Fukushima catastrophe after his return to Japan. He also did a 10-day Vipassana which he even wasn’t allowed to pay for himself.
- Vipassana = Insight oriented meditation or mindfulness meditation
But that wasn’t all, as we heard about his life stories including a 360° panorama compost toilet in the Costa Rican jungle. Check out his blog for more stories.
Among people with values – and with the child
Being a home educating family, we have a lot of flexibility which is why it was possible for us to go all together to the workshop on this Friday, to all learn from it and spend quality family time together. We anticipated that our daughter didn’t want to be in the meeting with us for the whole eight-hour long workshop, but being a bundle of patience with us boring adults, she snuggled in a bean bag or used the coworking space of the REconomy centre for artsy self-realisation, being in quiet concentration for quite a long time – so long and quiet, that we actually went searching for her at one point. A big thank to the REconomy centre team for making this possible.
The group in the workshop was of mixed backgrounds and ages, some participants already attended Kai’s presentation earlier that week.
Kai emits experience and calmness, despite sharing with us that he is still nervous even just speaking in front of the 15 of us, which is almost hard to believe in the context of the story his life brings, of someone that has cooked with leaders and given many talks like this one by TEDxTodai: An invitation to stop: Kai Sawyer.
I just felt reassured that everything he creates, he does because it is important to him and that he follows his path, no matter how hard it might be.
The more you care, the more pain you wear
There were options for many group conversations in the workshop, all with the intention to connect with each other, to reflect our own thoughts and actions and to get inspired by those of the people around you.
Most memorable I found the “mingle dance”, which was quite literally used to mingle by dancing through the room singing “mingle” and finding a new combination of micro-groups every time.
Snacks were provided all day by all workshop participants and nobody ever was hungry, giving a nice taste of the “Gift Ecology” part of the workshop.
What about this “Iceberg”?
The tip of the iceberg – Satyagraha
After a good introduction and warmup of our minds – the full-day workshop gave enough time for it – we started our deep dive on the iceberg, which covered the content of the book “The Gandhian Iceberg, A Nonviolence Manifesto for the Age of the Great Turning” by Chris Moore-Backman.
In a nutshell, it is about what each of us can or even must do for the society and ourselves to make utopia real in form of universal peace.
The book title is based on the achievements and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. The peaceful activism he tried to convey is hard to grasp for many people. The Sanskrit word Satyagraha describes holding onto truth with all its consequences. Despite having had a lot of time to reflect and discuss the topic, we barely scratched on the surface of it and it is worthwhile to further investigate some topics related to it:
- Non-violent direct action
- Civil disobedience
Not so effective
I know a lady that participated in protests in the 1970s and once asked her, whether the strikes ever lead to real change. She answered with a clear “No”. But what’s the point in it then?
It seems everything has to be measurable nowadays, which is useful for many things and even has led to years of prosperity. But especially for thinkers, people that follow the path of logic, the act of non-violently accepting pain and suffering seems meaningless and ineffective. And if we look at our world today, then it seems that Gandhi’s mission was a catastrophic flop. There are wars all over the world, no sign of peace and equality.
And I am not just pointing towards big societal conflicts but also every single one in our private lives, as small as it may be. Now, does this mean that we can give up on non-violent peace and bury ourselves in despair?
Satyagraha means to actively hold onto truth and contribute to it with all its consequences. Even if this means suffering for ourselves. In history, we can find repeatedly such extraordinary people like Gandhi, who did this.
But I am no Gandhi. How can everyone, even me, always act from love? The Gandhian Iceberg consists of more than its tip. Let’s go one level deeper to the constructive programme.
The big part on the surface – The constructive programme
If we look as the iceberg as floating object, the constructive programme is the part that mainly sits on the surface. It is the sum of our doing, the daily tasks that everyone can see.
You see it if you ask yourself these questions: What do I do in autopilot, without concentrating? How do I behave around people at work or in my village? It is about the things we do for other people and the society, either because we chose to, or because it is just normal for us. Most of this we have been programmed to do in the first 13 years of our lives, so it is indeed an autopilot.
They all are based in something within us – the work on ourselves.
This work on ourselves is the biggest part of the iceberg, the underwater foundation for everything we see on the surface. So, let’s look at it a bit closer.
Under the surface – The self-enlightenment
The work on ourselves until self-enlightenment. Is this getting spiritual now?
I believe speaking about the principle of Gandhi doesn’t exactly work without at least some spirituality. The Gandhian Iceberg is a model showing us how to get to self-enlightenment – or self-awareness, to name it with a less spiritual word. This requires time, a lot of it, and work on oneself and one’s thoughts.
Kai is a guide and leader in a movement asking us to slow down. The story of his life is a pretty radical example how to repeatedly slip out of the hamster wheel. Surely, it doesn’t work for everyone that way, but each of us has to follow their own path.
In summary, what did I learn from this workshop?
- Why non-violence is so important and how I approach it. Especially one of Kai’s sentences impressed me, talking about his experiences as new father: When he reflected on “How can I be so angry at such a small and innocent being?” relating to the daily challenges parenthood brings with itself, the expectation to always function as adult and always be a loving parent.
- Peace can be created through connection and diversity. As we spoke about different opinions, a sentence came to my mind: “Oh, I love your different point of view!” – Just imagine everyone could honestly listen to everyone else. By the way, this is a topic I will cover on my Empathy Tour, cycling from the UK to Germany and back.
- How does one reach self-enlightenment? Always stopping and observing. I can afford to stop and reflect my actions and observations.
- Non-violent civil disobedience is possible nowadays as well and together it’s more fun and meaningful. It is not about results but about doing the right thing. Doing the right thing cannot be an expectation, as much as expecting to always be right cannot. Truth has different layers, e.g.:
- my own truth
- societal truth
- cultural truth
- truth of the zeitgeist
- Personal success is to embody one’s values. In a world that makes everything measurable, many successes are not seen. Following this mindset, many people set their eyes on the ultimate, measurable way of life: A career. The “right” career rewards us and (financial) reward is often defined as success. No or less reward means no success. But what if we could feel successful without a direct, measurable reward? This would be a great step towards self-awareness.
- Moved by love. Books inspire. During the workshop, we received the book suggestion “Moved by Love”, by Vinoba, who, inspired by Gandhi, walked from village to village over the course of 20 years asking land owners to donate a small part of their land to the poor. I want to take this as an inspiration to do good, which is why I want to be guided and moved by love during my cycling tour to proceed on my inner and outer path of love. Following the motto: Leading the way – on my bicycle.
Did you like this article? Then please share it with someone important to you.
In my next article: How to change the world – the Gifting Economy
Live life meaningful,