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The Pandemic as Opportunity

A Learning Journey for Everyone

In waking, falling asleep becomes harder to do. We wake and a new world is born. It’s setting the stage for honesty. As more questions come up in a time of uncertainty, we need to keep ourselves sovereign and present with our internal questions. Some may believe that we know who we are, what we are, what we are going to do, what should happen. Right now, all of these things form part of our enquiry — which can change everything between us.

In reading this you might find some answers, though it’s not my intention to give them — although I might engage with some. The main question is: What is here in a time of possibility to look at?

It can open in the bardo, or “intermediate state”. A Tibetan term which refers to moments when gaps appear, interrupting the continuity that we otherwise project onto our lives. But to be precise, bardo refers to a state in which we have lost our old reality, and it is no longer available to us. We live in a time of privilege to encounter it in the experiment we are in, and discover amongst us what is means when things come to an end. In this early stage — finding meaning, making sense, sensing, is on one hand the search for the new, and on the other our efforts to understand the knowable. All prepares us for a deep inquiry into the human soul — purified and protected by the truth. Something that should be both sobering and awe-inspiring. The meeting with it, the meaningfulness of it, the significance and depth of it, the subtle, intrinsic joy and satisfaction of it, will be a real undertaking. It will speak through our ambitions, doubts, fears, dreams, and all merging aspects with reality.

The bardo teaches us about recognizing the value of giving up the illusion, and be here now, as a bare fact of being. Simply present — breathing in and out. If you consciously breathe you can feel what is present and learn how to be-with it. There is an incredible reality that opens up to us in the gaps if we just do not reject rupture. In fact, when we have some reliable idea of what is happening in that in-between, groundless space, rupture can become rapture.

Whilst exploring the new landscapes of risks and possibilities together, we can enjoy the rare opportunity of collectively exchanging the relation between the social, economical and cultural fabric through our deepest truth. To create a new cultural narrative through what is emerging, and making it capable of birthing and informing a truly regenerative human culture. Let this not be an approach to the world that belongs to the brave and openhearted, the curious, the inquisitive, and the mature — but to humanity at large.

Welcoming the outcast

As highly social creatures, most of us fear being excommunicated from our tribe. We hide our truth in exchange for some sort of comfort, to fit in. Whatever doesn’t fill the void, fills emptiness, which we fill with something else — and we learn this early on in our childhood development. We find where the line between what is socially “acceptable” and “unacceptable” is, and we spend the rest of our lives trying to toe it. These “inappropriate” qualities are usually those that disrupt the flow of a functioning society, even if that disruption means challenging people to accept things that make them uncomfortable. Anyone who is too challenging becomes outcast, and everyone else moves on.

We need the outcasts today more than anything, because we need to do things differently. We must unpack the layers of discovery of what this new beginning is pulling in, and is pulling us towards to find out to who it truly belongs.

Do not cringe and make yourself small if you are called the black sheep, the maverick, the lone wolf. Those with slow seeing say that a nonconformist is a blight on society. But it has been proven over the centuries that being different means standing at the edge, means one is practically guaranteed to make an original contribution, a useful and stunning contribution to her culture.” — Clarisa Pinkola Estés

The hidden world: a private view

In a coming of age, and a coming of place, and viewing my own characteristics of an outcast — I’ve learned, often at the cost of great personal sacrifice, that knowledge emerges through invention and re-invention. It activates the “silent emotion” that exists behind the direct surface of the visual world. It pushes underneath, and pulls towards a greater cause.

My engagement with the silent and the unseen comes from being part of an identical twin, raised in the resemblance of another “persona”. The word persona is derived from Latin and refers to a “mask”. According to other sources, persona could be related to the Latin verb per-sonare, meaning: “sounding through”. Through witnessing and engaging with the complexity of it, I have been able to develop and change my perception on it over the years. In Jungian psychology it’s the encounter of the shadow; the clearer the hearing and seeing of opposites.

I exercised this professionally through my photographic works as an artist since 2006. Simultaneously, I started doing personal development work, psychological and spiritual practice, and therapeutic training, I encountered breath work which became the foundation of everything. My experience, combined with my intense interest in the evolution of possibilities, to awaken consciousness — led to the birth Open Up; a place for discoveries to learn and to remember who we are. To re-member with the places that hold us. To connect with our essence, our truth and our feelings through the simplicity and power of our breath which is free and freedom.

My understanding of freedom is that it often happens by the feeling of being understood, better than we can understand ourselves. The relation to the unknown serves as a bridge for connection, and acts for the well-being of the whole. We become part of something that creates itself into being from where we can see it again. Logically, believing what you see makes sense. But what about those things which we have never seen, but can feel? When we only see one side of something — our truths are just based on our limited experience. Our sensory perceptions​, life experiences​ and stream of information can lead to limited access and misinterpretation. How can a person with limited touch of truth can produce a complete picture?Understanding​ that those differences​ exist and being able to consider the world from other’s viewpoint is an indispensable part of developing tolerance and integrity. The outcast — in the meaning of the renegade, deeply investigates what destabilizes, and why all the parts of the whole (picture) have to seamlessly come together, to be more than the sum of the parts.

The mythopoetic as part of our discovery

Individually we don’t yet fully understand what those parts are, but the more our life respects and reflects the truth that we understand the known, the more we can understand and actualize the reality of what it is to be a human being. We have to involve all parts, recognise them, and work with them. Mythopoetics is about creating something new. It’s not about making sense of what exists already; it’s not about gathering data. It’s about finding words for intuition and imagination, with what resonates, with how we actually experience life. This includes the trajectory of the deep treads of the stories that are showing up, and keep showing up — and bring us where we are, and symbolize our culture and evolutionary path. Amongst us we can explore and redefine our story — and make it more conscious to understand what gets passed on in cycles of life, and use it as an instrument for action.

The reality about ourselves is actually a story about ourselves in who we tell ourselves to be. The storytelling functions as a means of self-understanding, to restore, renew or revitalize our reality and open to the new, understanding that all would be lost if our human piece wasn’t there. The practice includes things as presence, engaged listening, reflection, imagination, collaboration, spontaneity, curiosity, and the dynamics of learning, to look at the embodiment of it. This participatory quality is needed to discover and build new systems for learning, to implement restoration. In turn it is necessary to learn how we can participate and to let that go hand-in-hand with an underlying shift in the way we think about ourselves, our relationships with each other and with life as a whole. But how does learning become innocence and cooperative driven?

In my experience of working with people, the most tangible aspect to unlock this participation is the drive to prove we are something, which can make up for our mistakes. Not through willpower, but through a willingness to explore what we could do different, with the potential of improving much more. We are entering a time where purpose and meaning rises from our mistakes.

My hope is that the deeper meaning of sense will form the foundation to create a better world. One that transcends and includes sustainability. One that is breathed in an embodied way, felt in the body, articulated through intelligence. One that restores healthy self-regulation in ourselves and to local ecosystems. One that can make a participatory involvement a commonality in life’s processes and the unity of nature and culture. Making it one of continuous learning in response to, and anticipation of, inevitable change, to transform it. One where we offer each other authentic relationship, and are changed because of it. The quality, not the quantity of our connection will give access to a deeper knowing of what is needed for us to evolve.

The practice is to watch how a system behaves. Any system for that matter. Whether it is your internal organism, or a social or economical system — watch it work, operate. Like a piece of music, study its beat. Pay attention to the value of what’s already there. Share in an investigative way and invite others to challenge your assumptions and add their own. Consider all of them plausible. Stay humble. Stay a learner. Learn to trust your intuition more, and be prepared for surprises. All this contributes to learn how much we don’t know. The way you learn is by experiment as it unleashes control. What’s appropriate when you’re learning are the small steps, and a willingness to change course as you find out more about where it’s leading.

Look for the ways the system creates its own behavior. Pay attention to the triggering events, and outside influences. Blaming or trying to control, decreases responsibility that is designed for feedback to make better decisions by the ‘decision-makers’ that should aways go for the best of the whole. The whole will help to remember that there are parts of a system that cannot survive without the whole, and to see them more clearly. Whatever is set in motion can radiate out for decades to come. A promise we’ve learnt from the past.

The bardo and the gap

Between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next’, we are (obviously) in a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing. This liminal place, (derived from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold) is a great place to be in, if we let it form us, and if we learn how to be there. Its purpose is to really find out what is ours, and for that we must try to look beyond what we already know.

Please consider that the great level of reality out there might all be different than what we think it is. On a deeper level my understanding is that if we would know everything, we wouldn’t suffer so much — and that part of our knowing creates the separation. Underneath the shady and the evident, are the more nuanced spaces that carry the value of something greater. Something that can soften the more sharper edges and can stimulate a global curiosity to view tough situations more creatively, and create space for discovery. Being ok to be in the wrong allows us to relax in what is not perfect. We deserve it to experience this fully. This profound matrix is a bardos state that educates us about death, and ending — and equally about birth, for a new beginning.

The liminal invites us to have a play with experience and to view confusion as the raw material of wisdom. After an ending, life simply keeps going. It just keeps going. That is the learning journey. If we appreciate these cycles, then we can value the bardo for what it is; the pause that makes movement apparent, the silence that makes all sounds more vivid, the end that clarifies what exactly we will now be beginning. With the right questions we can open to a certain direction.

What we understand at some point may be wise to go to immediately to explore if it’s true, and include the possibility to meet our self-deceit from which we may suffer. “The point of suffering is that suffering is not the point, but something that we go through, to get to the truth which exposes it. All the hurt, suffering and fear it takes to become present, can eliminate suffering by exposing the lies that actually cause it.” (A.H Almaas). What doesn’t function, functions to purify assumptions to an essence, to transcend it. Let us go there, now.

The gift of illness

When I feel into the pandemic, the illness of the world, I’m also reminded of my own illness — my cancer, a decade ago. One that I consider to be a spiritual one, manifesting itself in a physical form, and affecting all layers of existence. Somehow I feel fortunate to have experienced it. My cancer drew me to a different perspective. I journeyed to a number of places with illness and I had to address it on all levels — shifting, deepening and transforming the nature of my work. It taught me that at the deepest level life brings a radical openness and connectedness, and emerging of truth. My hope is that we all feel the illness to some degree — its message, and undeniable force to spread and distribute itself through our whole “being”.

  • What is the origin of it?

  • How are we part of creating it?

  • Could it be that the world, our world, wants to be something else?

We are the continuation of all before us, and ahead of us in an endless cycle of learning. Thanks to impermanence, we have a chance to transform our inheritance in a new direction, in a new narrative.

Curating new narratives — what is needed? When we are able to loose the illusion of control, and open to the reality that when we are most vulnerable and exposed, we can discover the creative potential of our lives. That’s needed. Also, the mind is needing clarity. The nervous system is needing balance. Our societal woundedness, and the veil between the physical and the spiritual world, and the illusion of that, is needing truth. Some say we need to dream again. Yes. Whatever we do let it be activated through our heart’s energy. Our heart qualities are the source of our identity. When our heart opens, we know who we are. The heart reveals what we love and value. When our heart is closed off, we close off from the world and lose contact with our true identity. We loose our sense of being valued and loved. This loss is intolerable, so the personality steps in, to create a substitute identity to find other things that gives us a sense of value. Usually by seeking attention or external affirmation from others. It compensates for a lack of connection, which is a system failure.

In curating new narratives, we need practices and skills where the intellectual craft can start to flow with the current and can give voice to buried emotions in the hidden world. In the attempt to encompass the complex variety of this experience, we can look for simplicity and honesty, and distill what is needed first. This is the return to love, as a source of truth and “holding”, that together we are in the knowing that all is connected. From this source we can pursue deep thinking, social courage, individual sovereignty, joy and imagination, to renew life, together.

Whilst ”Being” may form new lines to a sense of belonging; something that can be part of something bigger than oneself — ”being” also releases that, and redefines itself as it ”becomes”. It is the “becoming” that creates the new, with its foundation in the existing, the current, the present, the now. The now calls for the attentive return of sincerity, coorporation, imagination, hope, affect, truth, and the possibility of new narratives. To offer space for sensibility and novelty without having all the answers, but at least to keep on trying to learn and engage more consciously with the potential of our time — and to make the future part of all of us in an embodied way.

Open Up

Pointing to the fact of continual growth, that we are never “finished”, we can actively cooperate with our development and choose to practice in ways that enrich and deepen our lives and of “life living itself more deeply." A perfection that is both mysterious and orderly, that is beyond us and within us, and that we touch both together and alone. This perfection we can gradually realize through conscious practice. With Open Up — the foundational practices are conscious connected breathing and self-inquiry. The practice itself is to experience that our “lungs” need receiving of our breathing. That truth is a lived experience that invites change to become part of every moment. The quality of that feeling happens in our breathing and being, in our knowing and discovering.

Working consciously with our breathing continues to inspire what we don’t allow ourselves to be-with. It is part of the inquiry; to become available and curious to receive what wants to come into consciousness. This instantly reshapes reality, and can reshape our lives, our culture. This discovery shouldn't be forced. When we force our breathing, or anything to perfect it, we distance ourself from the flow of it. When coming into flow with it and when powerful and unusual emotions flow through, the idea is to feelto knowto understand a different sight of life and meaning, which until then was hidden. This opening process is for many a door to the great flood of love. It can open a door to a world we have been feeling closed off to. A process where inaccessible memories and meanings can suddenly arrive out of nowhere. It can be a humble teacher to master the ego and enemies of the soul, and receive the gift of learning to celebrate the complexity of life.

All that is nonlinear, turbulent and chaotic is a dynamic force that spends its time in transient behavior on its way to somewhere else. This force self-organizes and evolves. It creates diversity, not uniformity. That is what is making the world interesting, that is what makes it beautiful, and that is what makes it work. All prepares us for some readiness to reopen our accounts with reality beyond the personal, which might be the biggest piece of work; forging that deeper connection and adjustment to the falling away of “the normal’, as defended by the ego. I hope you agree that we’re never going to compete our way out of this situation. Collaboration in a wise way, and by the entire collective is the only answer. It’s of becoming wise and compassionate enough to understand that thát is what’s best for everyone. This means fundamentally changing how we function and operate. It means a collective evolution into a wildly new relationship with thought.

As we are taking our first steps in a new world, not everyone will be able to navigate the process fully and will likely fall back in ‘old’ behavior. Some will suffer a hero imagination, a hero in waiting; someone to fix this for us. Let us support them and invite them to be part of the change. In rebuilding society we can select the level of participation of what we feel is adaptable in short time, and go from there. Whilst no one has the right answer, my encouragement is to stay engaged as much as you can with the questions that come up and attend to yourself with compassion in the inquiry. We are all forced to change, otherwise the change won’t be sustainable. But it’s not about sustainability, it’s about creating the world we want. Working towards a world we could live in, survive in, that does more in every generation.

Though I don’t yet know how exactly a new culture will manifest, aspects of this future is already with me, and with us. This understanding is an infinite and profound practice that can change everything between us. To discover it will be a learning journey for everyone.

Katrien Franken

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