Have you ever found yourself blaming the system for not realizing a dream you once had? Have you declared not wanting to be part of it anymore? Have you called for ‘systematic change’? I certainly have. But what is the system?
In 2017, a group of us spent a week together. We danced, laid on cold grass, cooked, shared stories, sang, and had unhealthy amounts of cookies and tea. By the end of our week we came up with a question that mattered to all of us:
- How do we find our path in a changing system while continually discovering ourselves?
To unpack this question in the most creative way possible, we came up with a bunch of questions and took turns coming up with fun activities to answer them.
Below, I share the activity I designed to answer the question; “What is the system to me?”. I invite you to take some time for yourself and dive into this exercise.
Remember, the magic does not lie in the questions we pose (though some can be an opening for magic to happen), but how we approach them. Be ready to engage you body and your mind, to use your imagination to travel through the past and into the future. We invite you to enter this space lightheartedly, to dare greatly and to be opened to surprise yourself.
What follows are the three activities I designed to answer the question.
To get grounded and energized for the journey, we’ll start with a system we always carry, a system we inhabit, our body. Secondly, I’ll invite you to travel in time with a meditation, observing how the perception of our environment changes as we grow older. In the last exercise, I’ll invite you to pick one of your current challenges and draw a mind map of all actors and networks who are influencing your decisions.
Find 3 to 4 hours for a creative date with yourself. Make sure you allow yourself to relax into the exercise – let thoughts and processes unfold at their own pace. If you want, you can invite a friend to join you. You can also do the exercises individually and meet up once both of you are done, to share and reflect on your experiences.
Ready? Let’s go – or, let’s dance, let’s meditate, let’s draw!
I hope you will enjoy the exercises! We’d be curious to read, hear or see your answer.
1. Sinking in: The systems in our body.
Imagine your body as a habitat of various systems: the nervous, the digestive, the respiratory systems, the circulatory system… (can you believe we have 11 important organ systems in our body!?). Find a comfortable standing or sitting position. Look at your body, then close your eyes (well, first read this section, then close your eyes :)). Think of the blood running through your body, nourishing every cell. A river system, powered by the beat of your heart. What organs does it travel through? This is the circulatory system of our body. Secondly, perceive all the nerves that run in your body, connecting the senses to your brain, allowing you to initiate movement, to think, to imagine. This is the nervous system of our body.
Thirdly, think of eating a piece of apple – and imagine how the bite travels though your body. The digestive system. Lastly, focus for a short while on your breath. In and out. The respiratory system. It connects you to the world around, through every breath you take in and out. These four systems abide in you. They interact – within you and with the environment they are part of. Open your eyes. *You’ll find a audio of this guided meditation at the bottom of the page*.
2. Follow the pinky toe.
Our bodies are great teachers if we pay attention to them. To learn from them, we will explore the movement of the body as one system, guided by different centers. You can choose whether you want to use some gentle music (preferably without lyrics) or stay in silence and whether you want to work with yourself or ask a partner for help. Either way, read through the exercise and then do it, or ask your partner to read it out loud for you.
Imagine how your body looks like from the perspective of your navel. How does your body move when the navel is the center.
The navel moves, the body follows. Explore this.
Next, change center. How does your body look like from, for example, the nail of your right pinky toe? Again, this center initiates all movement, explores the world – and the body follows (the right pinkie, the right foot, the right ankle, the right leg, the hip, the buttocks, the upper body, and also the neck, the head, the arms and the left leg follow).
Rest. How does your nail of your right pinky toe feel now?
Change center: pick a new one (or let your partner indicate the next center by touching that part of the body). After exploring at least five centers, instead of switching to the next steering body part, add one. You have now two centers, both initiating the movement. How does this feel? Explore. Add a third one and then a fourth.
Now, imagine how every single part of your body feels when they lead, deciding independently where and how to move. Finally, rest. Take a moment to notice how you feel and observe the thoughts that come up.
It is optional to film (a part of) this exercise (it would be helpful to see yourself and observe your movement from the outside).
3. Guided meditation.
Find a comfortable position and play the audio below this post. The meditation takes approximately 20 minutes.
The end of the meditation will lead you smoothly to the third exercise. You can reflect on this exercise with a 10 minute free writing exercise. To do so, take a pen and write down whatever emerged in your mind during the meditation, without ever putting down the pen. If you don’t know what to write, you just write “I don’t know what to write, I don’t know what to write..” until the rest flows. You can start your entry with the sentence “During the meditation, I…”
4. The ‘What-do-I-Want Map’.
You just finished the mediation. What is the next step you want to take? What is emerging as the next step for you in this moment in your life? Find something specific.
Write down in one sentence in the middle of a big piece of paper what this step is. Next, map all the actors that are involved in you taking this step. Next, ask yourself: what experiences in the past brought me here?
Write, draw, put them down.
What circumstances allow me to take the decision I are taking? What resources do you have?
What is the context that sets my boundaries and facilitates my actions?
Take one hour for the exercise. You can think about a way to share your results with your friends (a picture of the paper, writing down what you did, do the mapping on your computer etc.). You can also come back to your map in the next weeks or months and add aspects you think were missing.
Once you have completed all the three exercises above, let your friend know. Alternatively, you can also carry on this last activity on your own.
Find a time to reflect on the following questions together:
- How did the different exercises help me to become aware of different aspects of the systems that surround me?
- What actors played a vital role, what circumstances?
- If asked ‘What is ‘the system to me’? – what would you now answer?