Emerge: Hold a Beautiful Space

“A water-baby? You never heard of a water-baby. Perhaps not. That is the very reason why this story was written. There are a great many things in the world which you never heard of; and a great many more which nobody ever heard of; and a great many things, too, which nobody will ever hear of, at least until the coming of the Cocqcigrues, when man shall be the measure of all things.”

(Charles Kingsley, The Water-Babies)

This blog entry could just as easily be titled submerge as emerge. They are both words that conjure up images of breaking through, of appearing….into the depths, or above, either is a valid space to be in. They both feel right to me as when I think of either word I think of the water…going deep into cool, enveloping water, liberated…dividing the water to slide back into place.

Place has been a little fluid for me in recent years. In 2013 I moved back to Canberra to work for a national Aboriginal Peak Body. I loved it! I lead a national network of passionate and talented people. We fostered leadership and worked with the sector to bring solutions to organisations that both celebrated their work and made sense for them. We were on the cusp of delivering some exciting innovations that would have had great impact and supported the continued growth of capability and capacity for quality services. And then two things happened. One was a funding cloud was cast over the work by a new Federal government and which ultimately led to a change in funding and a loss of commitment to the work. The second thing that happened was that I made the decision to move away from Canberra.

I grew up in Canberra having moved there from Melbourne when I was about two years of age. Some thirty years later I left in search of adventures, which I found, traveling the country and working with amazing people, organisations and communities. In returning to Canberra I didn’t realise that the environment had changed and now literally made me sick (it’s not an ideal location for asthmatics). The decision to leave again surprised me…I was used to enduring all to put my work first…and I was very anti job insecurity…but I faced my fears and jumped anyway!

It turned out to be the best decision I have made in a long time. I’ve surprised myself by emerging from personal turmoil to inhabit a beautiful space of self-discovery. I’ve got myself sitting on the easel, a work in progress. An amateur artist, reaching for the tools of artistry. Making marks, mixing colours, nervous about what’s recognisable and what others will appreciate in this.

“The true artist is connected. The true artist studies the past, not as a copyist or a pasticheur will study the past, those people are interested only in the final product, the art object, signed sealed and delivered to a public drugged on reproduction. The true artist is interested in the art object as an art process, the thing in being, the being of the thing, the struggle, the excitement, the energy, that have found expression in a particular way. The true artist is after the problem. The false artist wants it solved (by somebody else). If the true artist is connected, then he or she has much to give us because it is connection that we seek. Connection to the past, to one another, to the physical world.”

(Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects Essays on ecstasy and effrontery)

What if we were to place our self as the art object in Winterson’s commentary above? What if we were to consider our self the artist who makes our own life? What if we are the one to wield the brush and ensure that we are submerged in the process of self-making and emerge to hold a beautiful space? It’s an approach of empowerment, and it doesn’t exclude a higher power or other people who we believe help to make and shape us.

I’m self-making in a context. Without self-limiting I do have boundaries, or if you like, a landscape. The landscape includes personal responsibilities to myself and others, the important relationships in my life, and the social rules and norms of living in communities. Within the landscape I’ve given myself permission to have a life only imagined, to reach for that which I thought was out of reach. It’s unheard of! It’s challenging! It’s great!

And it’s a privilege. I’ve got the privilege of education, of access to employment, good sanitation, health care, family and friends who support me. I’m in a good position to go with trust, that my future will be fine. I’ve got the privilege of connection.

The topic for the Your Turn Challenge blog today is Tell us about a time when you surprised yourself. So, giving up my job to chase improved health and to make the decision to live differently was a big surprise. I’ve surprised myself with subsequent decisions and with the ways in which I’ve problem solved and stretched for something outside my comfort zone…whether it’s been physical (not giving up on the challenge of a really steep hike), spiritual (being more present in my daily relationship with God) or emotional (pulling the Band-Aid off old wounds).

If we return to Winterson’s words and notions of making the self and empowerment, how can we take these forward to other people and spaces outside of our immediate landscapes? How can we use our problem solving strategies and personal and professional skills and experiences in or for spaces other than our own? What can emerge when we are generous and engaged?

The 2015 Gates Annual Letter has been released this week. Our big bet for the future is based on the assertion that the lives of people in poor countries will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history. And their lives will improve more than anyone else’s. It’s so great to have such a positive underpinning to seeking progress and impact.

The citizen led initiative Building Bridges is also seeking progress and impact. Its an opportunity to surprise ourselves with what we can come up with to make a difference to child survival. Climb into the space for a while and read Matt’s latest blog entry Betting on the Future for an update on the Building Bridges Design Forums and for a link to the Gate’s annual letter.


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