We Were Here: Amy’s Story

We Were Here Final Story

This is the final version of Andrew Campbell and Amy Leung Barnes’ story, We Were Here, that I promised in this earlier post. It’s available in pdf format here.

“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. So we can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are. If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist. Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here-time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. “To be” is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.”
— Nhat Hanh [from: INTEGRAL REVIEW June 2009 Vol. 5, No. 1,  Leung & Campbell: Playing With Brushes on the Back of My Hand]
‘We Were Here’

    The world is a tangle, who will untangle the tangle?

“But what Amy was talking about was something even deeper, more present, and more visceral. My first direct sense of this came from a couple of recent face-to-face conversations with climate scientists and conservationists. They were attempting to talk rationally about what needed to be done in light of the constant barrage of new and startling information about the pace of events precipitating climate change and what would be required to mitigate it and adapt to it. But what was clear from the undertone of their discussions, their expressions, and the anxiety present in their answers to questions, was that they are absolutely terrified. They know it’s too late, that we have almost certainly passed the tipping point and they have a terrible sense of guilt and sadness and dread about what we may have unleashed on the world. But if they lose their composure and outward hopefulness, they know they will lose credibility and their chance to at least get people to do something. They (and perhaps all of us) are afflicted with a new kind of endemic dissociative mental illness. The dissonance between what we ‘know’, in some primeval way (like the wild animals who sense an impending storm or earthquake or ‘hear’ noises outside conscious perception), and what we ‘think’ based on the day’s news and on the conversations we have about the needs and events of the moment, is utterly inconsolable, irreconcilable. So we try to ignore that dissonance. We pretend it isn’t real.”
— Dave Pollard, August 2009

Another visionary insight encapsulates our current position:

‘I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather….In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or is dehumanized.’ (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832).


Participants’ own ‘gathered’ responses to ‘World Poverty’ (detail)

[Amy:]: Andrew and I were invited to co-design and co-facilitate a pilot event called The Monticle Challenge, in Toronto. The story there is that it was co-originated and funded by a Canadian entrepreneur,  Billy Liu who left China with one way ticket to Canada from his father when he was still young and his business partner.

Monticle (small mountain) was formed by Lampo Communications Inc. and a group who donate their time to the service of youth in society. I first met Billy at a Buddhist temple in Toronto, on a course we co-facilitated for youths several years ago. As Andrew and I both mentor young people here in the UK we decided to fund ourselves for this trip to Canada. It is an investment worth making in a world imperfectly readying itself for Perfect Storms.

    Side Story
    [Billy told us a story that reflects a shared experience. Right after the Tsunami he went to Sri Lanka, arriving with his small team. Only lacking certain drugs and supplies, they knew that Canadian organizations, sent there to help in the disaster area held key drugs and     equipment. He went to their offices after an eighteen hour flight, passing floating bodies and sick & dying people on the way to find them at their five star hotel, miles inland. He asked for vital supplies, so he could go straight back to the disaster site and start relief work. He was told that they’d finished ‘work’ at 5.30 pm and  they started again at 9.00 am, so he should come back then. This is How not to Save a World.]

Much of our own experience of how organizations deal with the challenges of this age, particularly in the tri-sector, leaves Andrew and I speechless. Dave unfolded another story for us; of how the latest US legislation for addressing Climate Change has been ‘watered down’  accommodating the prejudice of the anti abortion constituency in America so that now largely useless legislation can be passed. To a massive extent, fear, bloated egos and self interest riddle the interventionist culture.


“ The dark and gathering sameness of the world” 

The music darkens

“The young people who connected at Amy’s retreat felt it, and like the climate scientists, they were overwhelmed by their realizations, by their recognition of what conservationist Terry Glavin calls “the dark and gathering sameness of the world.” They were compelled, as they explored this, to cry out, as one, we were here! as if this message had to be expressed before it was lost — back, perhaps, into the quiet desperate dissonance, or forward to the world where the actions and words of humanity will, once again, no longer be seen or heard.”
— Dave Pollard

[Amy:] When Andrew and I first met in London he was working with a work of art that he’d held for many years; Gorecki’s Symphony No.3, “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” which he felt contains a deep ‘future message’ drawn out of the past.

    [Deep underneath the Gestapo headquarters in Zakopane, inside Cell No.3, on 26th September 1944, the then 18-year-old Helena Wanda Blazusiakówna scratched a prayer on one of the stone walls that imprisoned her. In a voice of gloom, Helena asks her Mother not to cry for her. Out of the darkness, the ringing radiance of the opening theme returns as the soprano calls out to “Mamo” (Mother). In music which weaves subtly between misery and hope, the great current of love in all its joy and pain melds together mother and child, child and mother.]

Andrew started the day using the phrase: ‘playing with the brushes on the back of my hand’, as a way of encouraging the young participants to pay deeper and unfamiliar attention, allowing this tool to become an extension of them- connecting with the brush, listening to the brush as it ‘speaks’ and feeling it’s contact with their skin, turning and tuning into the textures, quality, sensations of contact….


‘first contact’

We drew this inspiration on the day, working out a previous co-creative collaboration, at INTEGRAL REVIEW June 2009 Vol. 5, No. 1, 156 Leung & Campbell: Playing With Brushes on the Back of My Hand from which this is taken,

As a context that is “generated by the immediate presence that binds together a conscious “self” with a conscious “other.”  the interhuman offers a key dormant dimension of inter subjective experience that learners discover through I-Thou meeting: When two individuals “happen” to each other, there is an essential remainder that reaches out beyond the special sphere of each-the “sphere of the between.” In an essential relation the barriers of individual being are breached and “the other becomes present, not merely in the imagination or feeling, but in the depths of one’s substance, so that one experiences the mystery of the other being in the mystery of one’s own.” The interhuman involves relating to others as partners in a living intersubjective event, bringing about a context where I-Thou relationship may emerge.

Buber’s characterization of the interhuman signals describes a subtle way of the being with others from the condition of presence, presence-based realm where former barriers or boundaries between self and other soften, offering an existential referent in that it enables the self and the other to become more immediate, tangible and real. Buber’s work offers a helpful insight into the transformative potential of addressing one another through deeper presence in the inter subjective encounter, which can give rise to an ontological shift in the context of our inquiry and learning within educational settings. By implementing contemplative second-person approaches that are not only aware of the relational and sacred implications of I-thou encounters with our students, but also committed to enacting the interhuman as a primary concern, I believe Buber’s contributions to intersubjectivity can shed important light on one of the necessary preconditions for collective contemplative methods informed by the deeper ontological realms of the interhuman sphere of the between.

We stood in the round and as as a whole, looking at a large collective ‘map’, made of painted waterways of semi visible water, no colour…they had made their first right mark…Splash, splat, …lines, curves, clouds, symbols, a few words – love appeared in wrinkled sheets, as trees remembered rain…then we gave them the three primary colours to run through the sheets with, brought together now into a new global flag, a flag of their disposition.


Waterways, flag and subsequent small group work, with primary colours

They moved into groups of six or so, making paintings in one of the primary colours, images of whatever comes. They were also encouraged to engage emotionally in each other’s work, while also now talking about their own ….Joining in some of the groups we were keen to encourage them to look upon their output as a part of themselves.  We were in awe of some of these images- the sensitivities…A: ‘What do you see in this picture?’ P: ‘A boat in a storm…’ A: ‘How does this relate to leadership?’ P: ‘Well, it’s about knowing what to do when things are stormy..’ A: ‘Is being fifteen sometimes stormy?’ P: ‘Yes….(nods all round)..’ A: ‘Do you always know what to do?  ….I guess life can be quite confusing sometimes…’ hmmmm… A:’ So, maybe leadership is not always about knowing what to do…’ P:’ Maybe….courage….’

    Courage is not the towering oak
    That sees storms come and go,
    It is the fragile blossom
    That opens in the snow
    — Alice MacKenzie Swaim


Untitled: A Boat in a Storm


(top): First set of images (left), and second set of images (right), framing the first set.
(bottom): Detail: girl her with hand on her heart. ( The word courage comes from the old French cour for ‘heart’ )

“In your heart of hearts” — Dave Pollard

[Amy:]: In a Reos Partners film of work with policy advisers to the Dutch Government, some of whom Andrew worked with in London, who face their own amassing systemic problems, there is a telling clip/. It’s of a senior adviser who works directly with the Prime Minister. Her group made a little hand made model of a typically ‘complex problem’. The woman explains in the film that she sees some hope  in their little co-creation – pointing to the paper figure of a man in the tableau, which has a little paper heart pinned to his chest, she says, “.., I am close to him, I am hopeful now because I know this issue is close to his heart.”

Once again, participants laid down their work- the collective of images hit me in the guts– my voice was shaky with emotion…we spoke a little more about ‘art’- what we were seeing was not about whether the output was ‘good’ or ‘bad’- we suspended that judgement, what they’d created and co-created was the expression of a intrinsic part of each of them- every picture was a unique expression. One round of images were produced by swapping and painting each other’s pictures…there was an exponential change in complexity and- coherence….again some of the images were breathtakingly powerful.


Primary images (left) and Untitled : Red Guts

‘Turning to the sharper end of the brush’ — Andrew Campbell

[Amy:] The afternoon was spent exploring ‘pointed’ global issues. Andrew said to them that, while they ate lunch, two thousand more children had died of starvation. They were then invited to write down key words and phrases associated with war, poverty, water and sanitation, flooding, global warming…unprompted, they produced mini scenarios …[In our keenness to integrate the two days, we had a longer than expected interlude, when their instructors told stories of ‘foreign humanitarian  adventures’] – so that their focused energy dissipated somewhat, as if air had been let out of a balloon- we thought that as facilitators we had ‘lost it’. I remember sitting on the stairs with Andrew saying ‘…what matters is now- NOW…what’s gone is gone…what matters now is that we still have a small amount of time and a lot can happen in that Time…’

We reconvened the group, and we saw that during the afternoon break they’d covered their skin in the paints they’d used on the paper. Some looked like urban guerillas, warriors, others like South American – Amazonian Indians. It was a  spontaneous emergence, wherein the medium has joined themselves as their living skin.  


[In Native Tribes, face and body painting has been used for artistic expression since ancient times. The art of transforming ourselves is a universal phenomenon. Just as we sought to vent our artistic impulse on a cave wall, we painted on our faces and bodies. Amazonian Indians have said that in this power to change ourselves we demonstrate our humanity, set ourselves apart from the world of the animals.]

It is easy to dismiss such ‘fragile insights’, especially with youngsters. Andrew’s friend, the scenarist and former Reos adviser Napier Collyns and his associate Schwartz co-founders of GBN would argue otherwise. See their piece, How is America going to end : The world’s leading futurologists have four theories, by Josh Levin in Slate Magazine. “The big picture: If you want to glimpse the future, seek out remarkable people and open your mind to loony-sounding ideas…Schwartz happily plays the emcee for the end of America. He speaks more quickly and authoritatively than anyone else, and he’s the one patrolling the line between what’s crazy enough to destroy the United States and what’s just plain crazy. His first idea: racial warfare.”….

We invited each person- if they felt so moved- to commit to one single thing they will do in the context of everything they had done that day…


lining up and signing up to act

At the last moment we stood together for the last time, and each person was invited to say one thought, something to close their day. As we stood looking at all the artistic expressions of ‘selves’, we asked the group what they would like us to do with their work…several people offered suggestions- a couple of people picked up their pictures to take home…then one person said:

‘It would be good if you could keep it for the future…it’s like….saying to others….we were here…’      

The proof of gold is fire

    “It is said in the Confucian tradition that the mark of any golden era is that children are the most important members of a society and teaching is the most revered profession. Today, fear, anxiety, overwork, and under-appreciation characterize a great many professions, but few more so than teaching. Realism tells us that the journey to regain our sanity regarding children and teaching will be a long one. Passion tells us that the path to the future is the one we tread here, now. – I say to sustain teachers is to sustain us all— for who are we at our best save teachers, and who matters more to us than the children?”  

— Peter Senge, author, The Fifth Discipline.

If enough of us say it, and begin to act on it, then at least our collective realizations might move forward from exclamations of “we were here” to proclamations of “we are here”

 — Dave Pollard

Post script:
While we were in Canada a friend sent Andrew a picture from South Africa (below) which he never saw until his return. The little boys are members of a family in a small community who struggle daily with hunger, lack of education, AIDS and the bitter cold. He had coached     the project leader, Pauline pro-bono last year, and gave them some little money. The boys are seen wearing warm coats, prior to which they had only t-shirts, like the ones worn by the Monticle Challenge youngsters, in temperatures of minus 2. The idea is to help establish a     garden and an orchard for fruit. On the very same day that the image and message below arrived in the UK, Andrew and I were sitting together in a café in Toronto, waiting for Dave to pick us up. On the music system Coldplays’s anthem, Lights Will Guide You Home, struck up. Through the thin walls of their tin shack, their only abode and a world away a bright beam of light shines through onto the older brother’s new coat. It is exactly the same shape as Billy’s project logo.



…But what Amy was talking about was something even deeper, more present, and more visceral. My first direct sense of this came from a couple of recent face-to-face conversations with climate scientists and conservationists. They were attempting to talk rationally about what needed to be done in light of the constant barrage of new and startling information about the pace of events precipitating climate change and what would be required to mitigate it and adapt to it. But what was clear from the undertone of their discussions, their expressions, and the anxiety present in their answers to questions, was that they are absolutely terrified….

— Dave Pollard

The world is a tangle, who will untangle the tangle?

‘We Are Here’

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1 Response to We Were Here: Amy’s Story

  1. Savannah says:

    Thanks for sharing Amy’s story.I’d like to recommend a networking site -the Young Entrepreneur Society. The group for young entrepreneurs around the world to learn more and succeed.http://www.YoungEntrepreneurSociety.comand their new movie ”The YES Movie”<ahref=http://www.TheYESmovie.com>www.TheYESmovie.com produced by Louis Lautman.

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