Nourishing Sustainable Networks in Singapore

In a few weeks, I’ll be participating in Sustainable Networks: The Enlightenment to the Contemporary Conference.  I’m giving a talk about the network of sustainability educators I’m already a part of here, which spans from India east to Japan and from Indonesia north to China.

Why here?  Well, this map pretty much sums it up:

More than half the world's population lives within 4100km of Guiyang, Guizhou Province, Southwest China.
There are more people living inside this circle than outside of it.

I’m also facilitating an interactive workshop, where we’ll try to map and grow the network of individual humans who are working on the problem of providing sustainability-focused higher education.  Here’s the plan:

Participants are invited to discuss and contribute to the construction of a physical model of the network of people who are engaged with education for sustainability.  As we realize the social network that has already begun to self-organize, we can discover opportunities to nurture and grow this resource.  Our work together can promote and revitalize sustainability efforts throughout the region and across the globe. These activities are based on the work of June Holley of Smart Networks ( and Keith McCandless of Social Invention Group and Henri Lipmanowicz of Plexus Institute (

So that’s cool.

I was realizing I wanted a way to get people to really be in a good mindset to engage this process.  And I was looking at the brilliant item I learned about in a Bioneers workshop last October about Biomimicry for Social Innovation. Late that Saturday evening, I was exchanging Life’s Principles Leadership Cards with some new and old friends in a small gathering for a cacao ceremony (hey, it’s the kind of event where you do things like that, and raw cacao is amazing – never pass up opportunities for chocolate).  In a classic California-hippie, I-Ching sort of way, we were passing the cards back and forth, and then trying to understand what the one we held at the end was trying to tell us about how we could better dedicate ourselves to the Great Work.

I got this card that says “FIT FORM TO FUNCTION” with a picture of a kangaroo with a joey in her pouch.  This was a tricky one for me.  I didn’t grok it at first, but after a while I realized that the thing I was interested in was inspiring people to become change agents.  That’s the FUNCTION I was after.  And where I was right then, in some way, was the FORM that FITs it.  Ceremony, in every human culture, is how people strengthen their social networks and commitment to important transformative action.  Often, but not always, that ceremony is what in our culture is glossed as “religious ritual.”  But Western hegemonic culture includes a strange separation of “religious” activity from other forms of social and cognitive experiences; most human cultures have not made such distinctions.  Is it possible, I wondered, that it is time to reclaim ceremony without hanging so many religious bags off its saddle?  How can we use ritual to create a sense of connection and purpose to do important collective work?

So, I think I’m going to give it a spin.  Nothing heavy or overt, no candles or incense or chanting.  Just an invitation to get “centered” and think about the work we will undertake together.  Here’s a draft of the script with which I’ll open the workshop:

  1. Get all the seating into a circle.
  2. Invite participants to close their eyes or look down, to relax and let go of the stress and hurry of the conference, and try to be fully present in the space.
  3. Invite participants to think about one thing that they truly cherish.  This could be a person, a place, a song, a species; go as large or as small as you want.  Think about how grateful you are for that thing or phenomenon.  Remember that when we talk about sustainability, we’re talking about the health of the complex biological and social systems that can enable that cherished thing to thrive.
  4. Now look around the room, and make eye contact with someone.  Once you have your partner selected, I want you to consider that this person also has something that they cherish deeply.  Your work is helping to protect what they love.  Their work is helping to protect what you love.  So, silently thank this person for the amazing work that they do.
  5. Choose a second person in the room.  Repeat the process above.   Then again for a third person.  Then say thank you and applaud all the amazing people here for the work they do.

This script is inspired by the work of Joanna Macy and others, and by all the delightful ceremonies devised by my dear departed friend Judy Bloomgardener.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s