While sitting at Navdanya, a thought entered my mind about there being a long tune resonating through our lives, and that the work in life is to avoid the distractions and noise that comes from thousands of advertisments, cynical thoughts and everything else that will drag us off-purpose. That is the sense I have about my own journey, and especially my relationship to place and purpose.
Around the same time as this thought and way of making sense of my own journey was emerging, I met someone else for whom this sort of musical metaphor seems really appropriate. Vandana Shiva hosted a visitor called Peter Sellars. I had no idea who he was, but there was mention that he was a theatre director. This immediately bought to mind my revelation from seeing stage performances Mary Poppins and Lion King in London’s West End.
As I sat watching these plays I was absolutely blown away by their complexity. Here were people moving forwards, backwards, up, down, and intertwined with each other. And dancing with limbs flying everywhere all the while. And singing. All in time with the music. All in synchronisation with massive movements of set and entrances of grand props. And all the while still communicating a meaningful story rather than descending into a dis-organised mess.
I thought to myself – it is the capacity to imagine, design, orchestrate and fine tune such a complex set of moving parts in many dimensions that is the capacity I need to develop if I want to make a difference in complex systems. In this regard, each organisation, community, project or even the whole world is like a stage, and you only have partial awareness of and ability to influence the players, but somehow your work is to gracefully influence the performance in a certain direction. Or, perhaps, be so sure of your role, your lines, and your purpose that the rest of the play starts to attune and align with you.
So, onto the metaphorical stage of Navdanya walks Peter Sellars. A short American with wild hair, a black and red flannel shirt, large plastic bead necklace reaching his navel, awkward walk and amazing twinkle in his eye. And bubbling with energy. He greeted me with a passionate and warm hug and immediately mentioning something about never forgetting that he met me!
He talked about his work, and I was really surprised to hear what he has been involved in. He basically was making the metaphor I described become real. For one, he was former Director of the Adelaide Festival . His choice of performances and themes was deliberately designed to ‘create an opening in culture, rather than the tendency towards comfort and fear of fear that characterises so much of what we do’.
While we only met briefly, his description of what he tried to do in Australia and what he continues to do in his work is inspiring. In fact, his attempts to use the Adelaide Festival to create an opening in the relationship between white and indigenous, turning towards indigenous people as those with the solutions to problems we all need to solve rather than being the problem. Australians was apparently considered so subversive that the very first act of Howard’s re-elected government was to kick him out of the country.
Him sharing his stories really added layers on layers of connections and inspiration with everything that was drawing me to my particular mission in Australia. He was the catalyst behind the Adelaide Festival, a passionate advocate for Australian Aboriginals as the solution not the problem, and passionate anti-nuclear activist. But more than passionate, he is a sort of multi-dimensional alchemist that can float in from left of stage and bring a splash of magic to every engagement. In a way, just like Mary Poppins ; )
You can read and listen to more from him on these sites, all describing him as having been at the leading edge of cultural activism for decades…