When the second day dawned, many of us must have been reeling from the first.
We’d been challenged to talk to someone on the tube. I didn’t rise to it. No excuses: my carriage had only one woman in it, three seats in front. I just about decided to get up and speak when I was spoken for.
The tube pulled into a station and out she got. Further on, I sat opposite a foreign-looking young woman, dressed in black with an all-in-one head covering and face in composed contemplation as she read a book. I tried to make out the title, wondering what might interest someone from an Islamic background.
A moment of triumph: as she held the book higher I caught a glimpse – Sister Outsider. Preconceptions dashed. Was she showing a healthy interest in another religion, finding out what happens when someone steps outside the conventional fold of a belief, or had I completely misread her appearance? Had I assumed she was a Moslem when she was nothing of the sort?
All this only served to stir up memories from day one: how readily we resort to mistaken beliefs and how belief systems can dominate our responses. Yet here was someone possibly pursuing those uncomfortable edges of belief and being; the very person I ought to be speaking to but wasn’t.
It was a relief to hear Chris Paradox say in his welcome to day two that all it took was a smile from a handsome middle-aged woman with children of university age to get him floating on air. That freed me from my self-absorption, helped even further when Daniel Ludevig and partner launched into some energetic and expressive dance moves, curtain raisers for his talk on ‘Embodiment’.
‘Develop an interest in the state of unknowing,’ he said, ‘and an appetite for mindfulness.’ Soon after, the fire alarm went off which everyone tried to ignore until the sheer persistence of noise had people half out of their seats and beyond, at which point someone announced, ‘Feel free to resume your positions.’
I couldn’t help equating this unknowing episode with a climate change event and the belated response as yet another hottest, driest, wettest, windiest record gets broken. How much longer will we hear ‘Don’t worry. It’s only a false alarm. Resume your previous positions’?
We didn’t resume our previous positions for long. Daniel brought us back to the realities of mindfulness. He reminded us how little we were aware of our backs. We were invited to lie on them and be sensitive to the effect of a surface. I settled for the comfortable option and lay flat on a row of seats while many took to the floor.
‘When someone’s lying down there’s nothing much that’s expected of us,’ he said. That raised a few laughs: thoughts of what one might or might not be up to probably. Death and sex came to mind. ‘What does it feel like to always be in your body?’ he asked. ‘What does it feel like to be in transition?’ What? Half way in or half way out? And ‘What happens when we don’t have a programme or plan?’ Ready for exit I guessed. But maybe that’s a key to the state of unknowing?
Then he had us all standing. ‘You’re ready for engagement,’ he said. We were. It was a wake-up call for day two. That must have been when the fire alarm went off yet again.
Talk of engagement put me in mind of the day one talk on health and nutrition by Clive de Carle.
He had to re-engage with his body when he developed chronic arthritis and ‘bones sticking out everywhere’. That prompted him to make a personal study of health issues. He concluded that mineral and vitamin supplements cured him. We had to take account of ninety-three minerals and vitamins he said, and singled out vitamin C and magnesium for special mention along with all the minerals and vitamins .
Low magnesium levels can be the cause of muscle cramps, restless leg, twitches, anxiety, panic attacks or something as serious as heart attacks and strokes. Magnesium helps muscles relax and solve these problems. A farmer once told me that some of his cows had sudden seizures due to magnesium deficiencies in the soil and, if he didn’t inject them quickly enough, they could die from a heart attack.
Clive recommended high doses of vitamin C, iodine, trace minerals such as fulvic and magnesium for cancer sufferers and pinpointed a lack of vitamin D, which we get from sunshine, as a contributory cause. Was it indicative that the highest levels of cancer are found in places like Norway while the lowest levels are in hot regions?
The medical practice of taking biopsies can make matters worse he suggested. The body has an excellent habit of isolating cancerous cells within tumours. A biopsy ruptures a tumour and makes it possible for those cells to spread round the body.
His theories might be controversial but the possible implications cannot be ignored. He attributed the mushrooming incidence of Alzheimer’s in part to the overuse of margarines and processed oils.
The emphasis on low fat diets has created dementia and Alzheimer’s and we would benefit from high cholesterol food. One person he advised took six tablespoons of coconut oil on a regular basis and was able to reverse a two year onset of Alzheimer’s in six weeks. Type 2 diabetes was caused by poor nutrition he maintained and could be stopped in thirty days by ‘going raw’ with organic real food.
The Gratitude Attitude
What was one of the most powerful factors in assisting a person’s recovery? Gratitude, he said.
You needed to be grateful for any condition which initiated positive changes in your lifestyle. ‘Love your cancer,’ he insisted. ‘Don’t fight it. Reverse it’
The role of acceptance was picked up by Mary Daniels in a day one session. ‘When you accept, anything & everything becomes possible,’ she said. Chris Paradox put gratitude in the most fundamental context. ‘Practise every day gratefulness for the gift
of life,’ he said, reminding us that kids in underdeveloped countries take nothing for granted and that’s why they’re so happy.
Dr Scilla Elworthy termed her talk on Sunday ‘Pioneering the Possible’ and asked us to identify what we were most grateful for. The counterpoint to that could be her revelations that one billion people have no access to water and one eighth of people globally are undernourished or starving while one third are reckoned to be either overweight or obese.
I’ve been astonished to read that one in four adults in the UK was classified as obese in 2012. What can we do about such staggering inequalities? Dr Scilla hinted that we have to start from where we are. She posed three questions:
1/ Who are you? The importance of developing self-awareness could not be over-emphasised. ‘Our effectiveness is in direct ratio to our degree of self-knowledge,’ she said. ‘That helps prevent the projection of subconscious anger and fear.
2/ What do you do? ‘It’s a gift to know what you should do in the world,’ she said. Did we regularly reflect on what we should be doing?
3/ How did we do it? The realisation of what’s driving us is vital if the outcomes are to be as wholesome as we would wish.
She gave a graphic example of the process at work.
In 1974 she fell into a coma and it took six myears for her to ‘come through’ after encephalitis struck. What greater incentive could she have had to ask ‘Who am I?’ At a certain stage in her career she was aware of the need to listen to people involved in the nuclear weapon business. She realised she had to get to know them as people to open up the possibility of dialogue.
Fortunately she was able to set the right conditions for an international meeting and the signing of a disarmament treaty.
How did she do it? She made sure the venue was safe and secure from media intrusion. She arranged floral displays for a calming atmosphere and critically she vetted the people who would prepare and serve the lunch. They were meditators and while the meeting proceeded, she asked them to meditate in the room below.
At the successful conclusion of the meeting she was approached by one of the participants who said there was something strange about the room. She explained that she had taken pains to make the room as amenable as possible for the discussions.
‘No. It’s not that,’ he said. ‘There was something coming up through the floorboards!’
She concluded that the strong, spiritual underpinning laid the foundations for the treaty signing. ‘What are your strategies for coping?’ she asked us. ‘You have to deal with your demons first. Walk towards them. Develop a dialogue’ as no doubt she’d had to do in the aftermath of her coma.
‘Then imagine a world that works for you and works for all, including justice, education and peace.’
She had set out the most powerful springboard for action.
The Business of the Heart & The Heart of Business
Many people have to contend with work situations that are anything but amenable.
Andrew Thornton was founding director of ‘The People’s Supermarket’ and currently runs Thornton’s Budgens, a community supermarket. He related a Gallup finding that 87% of people are emotionally disconnected from their workplace and that one of the biggest connections with happiness is a sense of fulfilment at work.
He’s committed to putting the heart back in business. What does that mean? Building a business that really cares: for the people that work there and for ethical eco-friendly standards. He put doors on the chillers to conserve energy and learned how to grow veg on the roof of the supermarket so that it was the freshest possible. And he involves his staff throughout, taking a personal interest in their lives. When a cleaner experienced a family bereavement he was there to comfort her when she collapsed in his arms.
His philosophy is that, if you put people first, profits will follow. Such good common sense but so often overlooked with the short-term focus of companies. I was astonished to hear an employee in a Barclays Bank branch tell me that they hardly ever get visits from senior management, but not surprised when a checkout operator at a supermarket told me she never gets consulted about herexperience of or opinions about the job.
In fact she looked at me in disbelief when I asked!
Incredible. Such feedback ought to be the lifeblood of any business, engaging with employees and sowing the seeds of future growth. Andrew is actively looking for other businesses to link with on his crusade to put the heart back in business. His website is www.heartinbusiness.org.
Other speakers spoke of the need to re-evaluate the ethos of business. Oonagh Harpur talked about putting humanity back into business. ‘Relationships thrive on love and integrity,’ she said. ‘So should business.’
Geoff Macdonald worked for Unilever for 25 years. He was hugely disappointed at the development of capitalism and the way that trust had been eroded. A new form of capitalism is required: purpose is more important than profit he argued. Purpose needed to be translated into goals and objectives to drive growth and profitability.
Chris Paradox said how empowering it was when people served a higher purpose, backed by an inspiring vision. He asked some searching questions: how meaningful was our last year; how magical was it; and how fulfilling?
Mary Daniels felt that the fount of inspiration was ‘being around people who love what they are doing … and show it.’ We need many more of those!
For sheer passionate belief it would be hard to beat Sam Joseph’s mission to reduce food waste.
He told us on day one that his Real Junk Food project aimed to take any food that’s edible, prepare and feed it free of charge to needy people while other customers support the enterprise on a pay-as-you-feel basis. He challenges the food industry to be much smarter.
‘Why can’t supermarkets take all the produce from farmers?’ he asks. Instead they opt only for produce that meets arbitrary standards. Apples that are blemished, misshapen or undersized could surely be turned into own brand apple juice, pies or chutneys. That was just one example. But I never cease to be surprised at ‘accepted’ practices.
Sam told us that supermarkets will not take cauliflowers that are too big. He has outlets in Leeds and Bristol (The Bristol Skipchen) and plans to open many more.
Keep The Fires Burning
But where do all these inspiring initiatives and words take us? Some speakers grappled with this question or left it hanging, rightly so. Perhaps we each have to find or rediscover the passion that fires us.
‘Hold it lightly,’ someone said, letting the passion speak for itself. We sensed the power of that passion in Kanada Gorla’s masterclass as she helped us explore the latent energies we possessed. Many must have felt like me that there were no limits to what one might achieve when those energies were harnessed to a vision.
She awakened in us an awareness of the potential for real transformation.
In some other interactive sessions we had to open up to an unknown partner. These were enlightening moments. I warmed to the person who said he was a joker at heart and to the woman who was easily bored. They reminded me of the parts we play or might like to play at. Given the freedom to express those other selves, there can be a blossoming of emotion. It was only natural to hug those with whom we’d exchanged a confidence or an aspiration.
Throughout the two days a symbolic flame danced away in the centre of the auditorium. Mac explained its significance. He had communed with Native Americans who told of their most beautiful land and spoke of their rivers and woods as sacred places. The fire was the children’s fire. The children speak to us of life they said and, sitting around the fire, the elders affirmed that no law, no action, and no decision be made that might harm them or seven generations to come.
That had a symbolic significance for the elders.
The children’s fire, Mac said, is the beauty of the story in your hearts where even the wounds you carry help you understand life more deeply. Please make a pledge to the child’s fire, he urged. Be a warrior of the open heart.
He asked the chiefs ‘What is the purpose of life?’ They looked at him as if he should hardly need to ask.
And the answer?
To care for all living things. Have we come so far from knowing?