Open Thinkering


Weeknote 28/2021

Two cupcakes cut in half and the opposites sandwiched together.

I’m not sure whether to start summarising this week by pointing to external things in my environment or gesturing to internal changes that I’ve experienced during it. I feel like I want to write more about the latter, but I’ll start with the former as they’re easier and more tangible.

To simply say “I bought a new tent and rucksack” would be factually accurate but descriptively poor. It would be more appropriate to talk about what walking in the mountains and wild camping means to me. But let’s start with specifics: as I mentioned last week, I did plenty of research into one-person tents and, after breaking out a spreadsheet, ended up going for a Grand Canyon Richmond 1. Not only is it the perfect size for my 6’1″ frame, it’s light and compact, with a standalone inner tent. I flirted with the idea of an Alpkit Polestar, which uses walking poles as tent poles, but decided to keep things simple (plus I could buy two Grand Canyon tents for the price of the Alpkit!)

Now I just needed a new rucksack to carry the tent and my other equipment. We’re very fortunate in having a Montane outlet located only a mile away from my parents’ house, and I headed there last Sunday intending to look at their options around the 45-litre mark. When I got there, however, I discovered their ‘Medusa’ 32-litre rucksack, which now seems to be discontinued. This has great reviews, and seemed to be pretty much the perfect size for what I wanted. It was also relatively cheap at £51. I was even more delighted when I got home and realised that my Thermarest Z-Lite sleeping mat would be held securely by the bag’s ice-axe loops.

The only other thing I decided to invest it was a Snugpak Jungle Blanket, which I settled on instead of a new sleeping bag. After much introspection, I realised that I’m only likely to go camping between March and October, so this in combination with my existing (tiny!) 2-season sleeping bag should be enough. In total, then, I spent less than the Alpkit tent I’d been looking at. I’ll be testing it out in early August and very much look forward to how much faster and lighter I’ll be able to travel!

Now then to the more internal stuff, which I’ll preface with a bit of context about the confluence of circumstances which made this such an intense week. As I mentioned last week without naming specifics, my mother-in-law passed away recently, and her funeral is in Devon next Friday. My wife, Hannah, started a new contract a few days before her mother’s death and, this week, was away for a couple of nights meeting her new team within NHS Digital.

It’s been the last week of the school term for our children and we considered keeping them off for the last few days so that, should they have to self-isolate, it wouldn’t interfere with our plans for travelling to Devon. In the event, both were asked to self-isolate on Monday after someone in their bubbles tested positive for Covid. Thankfully, my parents were available to look after them for most of the week, and the experience of remote learning meant that it was a relatively seamless transition from classroom to Chromebook.

With all of this in the background, I spent this week on a Sustainable Leadership and Deep Adaptation course. I’m still processing the effect that the experience of the five days has had upon me, but it’s perhaps best summed-up for now as being more of an emotional experience than an intellectual one. We deconstructed traditional notions of leadership using Critical Discourse Analysis, engaged in debates, and formed study groups. But the Deep Relating activities, the guided meditation, and the visceral examples of how patriarchy can be constructed were, for me, key.

There was such a mix of people on the course. Of the 16 of us who attended each day, most were based in Europe while the two facilitators, Katie Carr and Jem Bendell were in Bali. There were psychospiritual counsellors, UN staff members, former investment bankers, novelists, PhD researchers, a whole panoply of occupations.

I confess to finding the first two days difficult. I realise in retrospect this is because I spend most of my time, and ascribe most of my value to others, as being located in my head. I like to think, write, and work things out logically. As I discovered on this course, that doesn’t even get me halfway to the kinds of insights we’re going to need to respond to the climate emergency. I’ve come across people talking about ‘holding space’ before but, to be blunt, I’ve considered them charlatans. It took me a while, therefore, to come round to Katie’s style of facilitation.

After leaving Moodle last year, I went back to work with We Are Open Co-op full-time. After some internal drama which ultimately led to two people leaving, I’ve inadvertently, it seems, been drawn to work around non-violent communication, consent-based decision-making, and ways in which we can bring our whole selves to work. This course built upon what I’ve learned over the past year, layering on insights about intuitive and relational ways of understanding and knowing.

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a facilitator like Katie who exudes both strength and vulnerability. She is extremely well-organised, able to tweak things on the fly, and seemed to be able to intuit when to switch things round, intervene in a situation, or give more or less time for an activity. While I’ve worked in things like check-ins and check-outs, pauses, and focusing on ‘I-statements’ in my own facilitation work, it was amazing to be able to learn from someone with such a deeper, richer experience on which to draw.

I think the only thing I wrote this week were the 23 pages of notes from the course. These included a reflection on a walk through some local woods that formed part of Wednesday morning’s activities. I didn’t post anything to Thought Shrapnel, and I paused updating What I did do, in the limited brainspace I had left at the end of each day, was flip over to the version I created a couple of months ago. In addition, I’ve reduced the page load size of this blog via various tweaks. As a result, according to Website Carbon Calculator, each visit to my personal website emits ‘0.00g’ of carbon (as it’s less than 1KB), and this blog emits 0.37g. Apparently I should switch to green energy for them both, which I’ll probably look into next.

I’d like to mention that my friend Oliver Quinlan, aka Mentat, not only has a new track out on his own label but (even more excitingly!) has embarked on a new side project called Synth Soundscapes. These are 8-hour long “ambient soundscapes for focus, sleep and meditation”. I found it useful to have on Swirling Synths really quietly in the background while I was on Zoom calls to help me focus.

Next week is going to be… quite busy. My calendar tells me that, in the three days I’m working next week, I have two half-day workshops plus 11(!) other meetings. My brain is going to be fried from context-switching. On the plus side, those two workshops are with Outlandish and Julie’s Bicycle, the latter organisation having nothing to do with cycling but rather “mobilising the arts and culture to take action on the climate and ecological crisis”.

Team Belshaw then travels to Devon for my mother-in-law’s funeral. We’re then staying in Devon for a holiday that was already planned. It’s just a shame that Lorraine won’t be there. I’m going to miss the keen interest she showed in other people’s pursuits, fondness for walking, and (yes) the way she used to arrange yogurts in a basket during buffet teas.

Photo of two different cupcakes cut in half, swapped around, and sandwiched together to celebrate my daughter’s half-birthday. I celebrated mine last month, and it’s my son’s next week.

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