Two times a year we organize a retreat in a tucked-away estate; a little oasis in the forests of central Netherlands. A place where the seasons can be closely experienced; In winter only contours are left to see. You wake up each day with the wintery morning haze lingering around the trees. This quietude allows you to hear all that is important to you and listen to all that has been shouted down. What excites and inspires you truly? What happens in your body and what do you want to bring into this world? Winter is the perfect moment to slow down, to reflect, to connect deeper with yourself and others, and to prepare for spring.

 

Themes that will come up during this retreat: How do you find meaning in this accelerated society?; How do you get into a creative flow?; What is the difference between fear and intuition?; How can you develop yourself, in dialogue with others?; How can I deal with anxiety or pain, and transform those feelings? How do I relate to others in an open and vulnerable way, and stay true to myself?

 

During this retreat we focus on silence, meditation and reflection, combined with physical sessions (martial arts, improvisation, yoga) and creative workshops with artists, writers, actors and directors. All sessions are aimed at experience. On average, three new sessions are offered each day. Our trainers are all renowned specialists in their own field of activity. This retreat is held at a beautiful estate, tucked away in the forests of Lage Vuursche. Food served is vegetarian, prepared mostly with the produce of the estate’s kitchen garden.

 

This Winterretreat will be in English and in Dutch.

 

Read the experiences of former participants here:
https://yourlab.nu/longreads/interview/

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by Robin van den Maagdenberg

Brussels Central Station, right beneath the Departures display, is where we’ve agreed to meet each other. Alicja Gescinska lives in a village nearby the Belgian capital. She became well-known for her television show Wanderlust, in which she goes on walks with prominent Flemish and Dutch writers, artists, musicians and philosophers. An exceptional appearance on television, she never tries to impress either her guests or viewers, seems to be at ease with silence, and can even be shy at times. Her sense of wonder is captivating. Apart from her work in television, she is mainly a philosopher and author. Recently she joined Your Lab’s Advisory Board.

 

I wait for half an hour, but there’s no sign of her. Something came up: her son fell ill and had to be picked up from school. A good hour later we meet after all, at a café close to the station. There we start our conversation, with frequent stretches of silence. She speaks of the freedom her parents hoped to find by migrating from Poland to Belgium. Of her father’s lack of initiative, and how she resented it. Of her award-winning books: a philosophical inquiry into what it means to be free in today’s world, and a novel; a quest for the meaning of love. As we cautiously tackle these subjects, it is not only Gescinska’s powerful mind that impresses—it’s her ability to combine mental acuity with great passion that is effortlessly seductive, letting you drift along with her thoughts and impressions.

 

‘More often than I like to admit, I’ve felt incapable of getting myself started. I’ve been through periods of complete inertia. Gradually that state of immobility transformed into movement. The transition set in when I read the novel Oblomov. About a lethargic character who puts everything off until tomorrow, and it eventually destroys him. A sizable book, so I had plenty of time to identify with the story. There was so much I recognized. “I’m dying just as well,” was my thought when I had finished it. I was always procrastinating. Plenty of plans, but in the end I was living in my head much more than in real life. That was the first wake-up call.

 

‘The biggest kick up my arse was my father’s death. He had cancer at age 59, and shortly after his sixtieth birthday he passed away. My father was a person who was always planning to do things someday. It was tragic that his illness took away that ‘someday’ definitely. But I also thought: what if it had been me? What have I contributed to the world? What’s the purpose of my life? Suddenly my own lethargy became unjustifiable to myself. From then on, I decided, I was going to do the things I wanted to do. Not that my life has become all work and no play, mind you. When I intend to write a book, I now know that I need seclusion, I need to write, to study and read books. But I also know when to spend time with the children or when I can open a bottle of wine. I’m still not the most disciplined philosopher, on the contrary—I often feel swamped in chaos, but I don’t waste my time any longer. Every day, I make a conscious effort to lead a meaningful life.’

“We often tell ourselves: I’m stuck, so I’m going in search of my true self and then I’ll do something. I don’t believe in that. It’s in your actions that you’ll find yourself.”

‘We all have different pasts, different fears, sometimes traumas. Looking at my own story—and I’ve made no in-depth study of this—it seems possible that the fact of being a Polish migrant in Belgium was a cause of my blockage, my lack of faith in my own capacities. Some school-teachers were dismissive about migrants’ intelligence and maybe I began to believe them. After I emerged from my state of inertia, I didn’t want to spend too much time looking back, I don’t feel the need to do so. We all have our own blockages, there is no magic formula. All you can do is ask yourself why you think that you’re stuck. The answer might not even be the correct one—we don’t necessarily understand our own traumas well.

 

‘There still is a lazy side to me, staying in bed is easier than getting up. Then there’s also uncertainty and doubt. That hasn’t changed, my nature has stayed the same. We often tell ourselves: I’m stuck, so I’m going in search of my true self and then I’ll do something. I don’t believe in that. It’s in your actions that you’ll find yourself. Want to know if you’re courageous? Put yourself in situations that require courage, that’s where the answer is to be found. Don’t crawl into a corner to think about it, you’ll never know for sure. Do it! Live your life! That is who you are. As the Hungarian writer György Konrád once put it so well: “to the important questions in life, your life is your answer.” Are you a writer? Are you a loving mother? Are you an initiator? The only way to find out is by really taking on that role. It’s the ‘doing’ that sheds light on who you are.

 

‘Our acts shape our personality and our personality causes us to act. That is one of the main themes in my work, which is also addressed in De verovering van de vrijheid (The conquest of freedom). Freedom is not a passive right, it’s a practical skill. Mastering skills is a requirement in order to be free. An illiterate may have the right to read, but it’s an empty liberty as long as he hasn’t actually learned to read. Gaining freedom is very active. At the same time, a retreat into silence or contemplation can also be an active deed, an assertion of personal freedom. It’s about living a conscious life, not a necessarily active one. Your life may be small, yet valuable, meaningful and free.

‘Every life is incomplete. My own life is thoroughly unfinished. There’s at least eight books I want to write, that are already buzzing in my head. And then there are subjects bound to grab my attention in the future, for me to write about. As if they were pieces in the puzzle of my worldview, of which I’ve only shown a few fragments. I don’t know what the completed picture looks like yet, I still sculpting. Philosophy is a perpetual discovery of new things, a curiosity for all the thoughts that haven’t occurred to you yet. Philosophy and literature are different disciplines, but both offer a clearer view of the meaning of our existence. They’re similar that way, which is why I’m able to develop my thoughts in novels as well as in non-fiction.

 

‘I’m not a philosopher who suddenly decided to write novels. Style is not my main concern, I want to communicate ideas. Authors often proceed from autobiographical experience, something close at hand, whereas my starting point is usually at a remove from myself. In my student days I read the diaries of Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman who died in a concentration camp. She was in love with an elderly man, and she describes that love in her diaries. Reading that, I was struck by the fact that this love story seemed utterly remote to me. I thought: what is it that makes us love another person? What does love do to people? Simple questions, but on closer scrutiny they’re so difficult to answer.

 

‘For further investigation of this theme, I thought of writing a story about a young woman and an elderly man who love each other, perhaps despite themselves. I was curious whether I’d be capable of a convincing portrayal, avoiding the stereotypical ‘young student with mature man’. Why should we only fall in love with one of our own generation? Why not someone forty years older? Many people consider that perverse. Why? Is it about physical fitness, the intellect or experience of life? Such were the questions that engendered my novel Een soort van liefde (A kind of love).

 

‘I had many questions concerning love, and even though I have’t found definite answers, I do gain insights when writing. We often speak of love very rationally. We can exactly describe the type of person we’d like to be in a relationship with, and almost predict what kind of love it would be. But is that really so? Is there anything to choose or is it all decided for us? It might even be contrary to our own will. I think we have less to say in these matters than we like to believe. It can be a torment to love someone you can’t be with. Sometimes you’re in need of a fresh start but your heart is still caught up in the previous chapter. Very little you can do about it. In the media, love is often reduced to the notion that there’s someone for everybody. That’s not the kind of love my book deals with. It’s about the question how we love and how ideas about loving shape our experience of love.

I am a writing being. To sharpen my thoughts, I must write.

‘Elisabeth, the novel’s main character, is convinced of her father’s inability to love, so much so that she herself is incapable of loving. She thought of her father as a cold man, but reading the book one gets the impression there’s more to this story. He did feel love and he cherished a deep affection for his daughter. Her own interpretations stood in the way of engaging in a relationship. How often we think we know for certain what another person feels about us. It’s almost funny. We’re all just guessing.

 

‘While I was writing my novel I wasn’t consciously thinking about my father. But in hindsight I do see parallels between the book and my own life. Elisabeth is a person who only really gets to know her father after his death. She couldn’t love him and turned away from him. When she discovers he was not the man she always thought him to be, it’s a reconciliation.

 

‘I did live with my own father, but mostly he simply annoyed me. He was ill at ease and prone to strange behavior. I felt ashamed of him quite a lot. Only now do I see how much courage it took to move from Poland to Belgium, it must be really hard to leave your country behind. He was tormented, yet he kept fighting his demons.

 

‘It was never my intention for the character to be a version of myself. I didn’t know my father well enough during his life, let alone admire him. I did often tell him that he was annoying. Moments that can never be redone. He deserved a more loving daughter than I’ve been for him.

 

‘Only after completing my book did I see the comparison with a book that greatly impressed me: Embers by Sándor Márai. It’s about the friendship between two men who grew up together. Something happens, they lose sight of each other for forty years and meet one last time towards the end of their life, as friends. That is so intriguing. It raises all these questions about friendship: what is it that we call friendship? Can friendship endure a forty-year absence? Can a friend be forgiven the unforgivable? It’s a fantastic, spellbinding book. If my own novel raises similar questions concerning love, I consider it a success.

 

‘I am a writing being. To sharpen my thoughts, I must write. Philosophy is not a matter of mere chatting. It’s in writing where the limits of your knowledge and of who you are become apparent, and by writing you find ways to keep expanding those limits.’

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In this program, aimed at future leaders, we invite 15 attendees to develop and expand a personal innovative leading style in order to serve themselves, their current or future team members and the conscious transition we are seeing in our world. These times call for new leaders with an entirely different vision and approach, no longer intent on constant competition and conflict but directed towards connection and growth for everyone involved. This new generation of leaders intuitively feels when a new phase of life is appearing, but is often restricted by tutors or managers who think and act from older mechanisms.

 

New Leadership involves embodiment of your unique role within the whole and facilitating others in their unique roles.

 

It’s clear that these times call for new leaders who can interact in a fast changing world with creativity and flexibility, putting collective growth to the top of their priority list. However, a new way of leading requires much more than just learning a few more skills.  It requires the embodiment of your unique role within the whole and facilitating others in their unique roles. Your Lab helps to guide future leaders as they discover their own personal innovative leadership styles.

 

Kick off: YL Leadership retreat – 19-24 September

The Leadership year program begins with a six-day retreat focused on cultivating authentic leadership and acquiring insights into our rapidly changing cultural arena. You will learn how to approach these changes from openness and intuition, emerging into ideas of collective growth – not only within your own team but also within the larger social perspective. The retreat will be held in a beautiful convent in the Umbrian region of Italy.

 

Monthly “intervision” seminars

After the six-day retreat, the program continues with monthly seminars in which attendees contribute by sharing real life examples and ideas from their daily work spaces. This will give us many opportunities for further reflection, resulting in deeper elaboration and integration.

Some examples of the themes we will explore are: how to create authentic leadership? What does it mean to serve social, situational, empathetic and authentic leadership? What qualities are needed and how are they integrated in an appropriate personal leadership style? What is the role of innovation, creation and communication when you are focused on collective growth?  How can you combine openness and empathy with being professional, effective and decisive? How can you manage your team members to achieve inner sustainability so that their “doing” is based on “being”, and remains sustainable? What new techniques can you use to facilitate collective growth (e.g. co-creation, holistic meeting techniques like Holocracy, and other innovative innovation techniques)? How do you transform resistance into creation and connection?  How do you achieve that powerful connection within your team, the connected flow in which strategic games, endless competition and burn-out no longer threaten or even exist? How do you use your new leadership style to realise everyone’s potential, enabling every team member to use his unique qualities in serving the ultimate objective of individual and collective growth?

 

Monthly tailor made case studies

The monthly seminars are followed by tailor made case studies with which the attendees can further deepen and refine their relevant personal experience. Your Lab will reflect on these cases to facilitate a further deepening of the practice of innovative leadership.

 

Reflection partner

All attendees will be coupled with a “reflection partner” from the business world. People who are innovative leaders in their fields, will offer attendees the opportunity to learn from their approach and techniques. The partner will also provide dedicated, focused reflection on the individual process of each attendee.

 

Closing two-day training

The year-long program will close with a two-day training course, guided by skilled, experienced and innovative leadership trainers, all with a business background. Practical guidelines and further techniques for innovative leadership will be offered and a leadership expert will personally interview each attendee, giving direct feedback on your own unique and personal leadership style. Attendees will receive a certificate, since Your Lab is formally acknowledged as an educational institute in personal development.

 

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When I worked as a consultant in the business world, not-knowing was no option, I had to justify my towering fee with concepts filled with insecurity. This is what the world will look like. This is how you will succeed. But there came a time when I couldn’t do it anymore. During a presentation with a group of high level entrepreneurs, I fainted. I literally couldn’t stand it any longer, because the foundation of my advice was missing. Years later I tried again, advising at Unilever and Sara Lee, no longer with a vision, but with not-knowing as my starting point, my foundation for the conversation. Quickly I was sent home.

 

Text: André Platteel

 

Leadership is not about long or short-term, but about daring to not-know, about exploration, finding the essence of what makes a company unique and what society needs right now.

 

Now it is different. Entrepreneurs have become more of our time. The only thing we know is that we cannot predict tomorrow, and this has become painfully evident. The entire foundation that holds up our Western World is shaking and tearing apart. Leadership no longer has to do with smart five-year-plans or scenarios based on vain imaginings. We can see these now as distractions, short term goals with only individual profit at their core.

 

Leadership is not about long or short-term, but about daring to not-know, about exploration, finding the essence of what makes a company unique and what society needs right now. This essence can differ at every moment. So it needs empathy. And space. It requires us to empty ourselves of concepts and frameworks, allowing the now to flow freely through us. You are connected to what is, and to what is at stake at this very moment. When we reach beyond the extent of our knowledge and wisdom becomes central, ideas arise from within. We sense more intuitively, being connected to everything, and we act from there. This leads to a true and more authentic leadership.

 

Many existing frameworks and concepts obstruct our view of what is at stake now. They place a filter over reality, creating a mirage and causing people to lose the sense of what they are, who they are and the contribution they make.

 

Large companies, notably banks and other financial institutions, offer more and more complicated products, so neither the company nor the consumer know what is involved. Employees in big companies don’t really know what they are contributing, and this is a recipe for burn-out. When we lose touch with the reason why we do things, why something has value, there is no energy return, no reciprocity, and we get exhausted.

 

Not-knowing makes us humble, but in a good way. Humility contains the word humus, meaning earth. Away from castles in the air, we do the extraordinary simply by being here, by being present entirely, with our feet in the clay, fully here and fully now. When you can once again feel how you are carried and supported by the earth, you spontaneously create, timelessly and effortlessly.

 

But this is not simple. Through continuous fear we have been ripped out of the present moment. We live in the past (conservative) or the future (opportunistic) and we forget to be realists, using what is here, right now. And there is another obstacle to this process of surrendering to not-knowing. It detaches us from almost everything we hold dear, all the ideas from which we have derived our identity. You can see that it is all rooted in fear, but do you dare to let it go? When you let go of everything that holds self and security, it feels like dying.

And yet it is necessary. Now more than ever before.

 

What we need now are courageous leaders who dare to operate through not-knowing.

 

Many of our current leaders are full if fear and so create a fearing culture. With their ideas they do not combat violence, fighting, intolerance and exploitation, they bring it forth. They are the motor behind it, and the fuel is fear.

 

So what we need now are courageous leaders who dare to operate through not-knowing. These leaders will bring forth a more spacious culture in which love, creation and entrepreneurship will grow and be nourished.

 

I throw down the challenge to current leaders who believe in this idea, even if they still feel fear. I challenge them to die, and through dying allow what is now to flourish.

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Alan Ratcliffe attended the Your Lab Leadership Program and joined the Personal Retreat.

 

“My own spiritual practice over the last 30 years has been a process of meditation and reasoning within myself to reach satisfying answers to the deepest questions regarding the true nature of our being. Your Lab can be very helpful in answering those same questions, but it is a different process than the path of reasoning that I know so well.

 

“The Your Lab retreat proved conclusively to me that there is more to understanding life than mechanical logic and detached thinking.”


Quickly establishing an environment of safety in which we could feel the trust and vulnerability necessary to open our hearts, the Your Lab retreat created a warm, loving, sharing space for the trapped energy of locked emotions to start shifting and flowing. I was deeply moved by the connections I made and the stories I heard, especially from young women whose stories drew me into a deeper contemplation of my own daughter. I felt for the first time that a blockage of love had entered this important relationship and, as a direct result of this retreat, I saw the natural actions that could bridge the gap and allow love to flow freely once more. It was unforced, intuitive, completely unexpected, and I am very grateful for it.

 

The Your Lab retreat proved conclusively to me that there is more to understanding life than mechanical logic and detached thinking. Thought must reach to the depth of heartfelt feeling, to empathy and compassion for all our fellow beings, to a love that embraces all in the oneness of life.”

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The impossibility of transparancy

I did an internship at the Clingendael Institute, being driven by the strong desire to understand the complexity of the world we live in, where everything seems to be connected. Clingendael Institute advises the government about global developments, and those seem to go faster than ever before. I went back to Clingendael to talk to Colijn and his view on how we can approach these fast-paced global developments as a unity. Now that we slowly start to realize that everything is connected with each other and our old principles of separation and controlling no longer serve us.

Text: Robin van den Maagdenberg

Is there a development in the current International political climate that makes your heart beat faster?

In international relations, there is a continuous danger of chaos, war and anarchism. Simply because there is no hierarchical structure and there is no higher power that can say “stop making war”. Laws of the jungle reigns supreme. Because of all these conflicts in the world, the realization that we as humans have to solve our own problems is rising. A very good development if you ask me. This development sometimes goes with two steps forward and then one step backwards. The terrorist attacks are a step backwards for example. There is a certain pessimism screaming “we can’t control this”, “we have to fight each other away”. This fighting paradigm is predominant nowadays but for the long term, I don’t believe it will be. Call me naive to say this but I am convinced that we will accomplish to live together without aggression. We might need two world wars to accomplish this.

If we want to live together without fear and violence, which values will then inevitably change?

Hundred years ago the primary goal was power, occupying land and oil. Today it’s still all about that. There is a group of people and organisations that profit from chaos. They gain power and strength by fear and uncertainty. There is another movement slowly rising too, though. A movement of people that realize that global issues can be solved if we work together. A movement that realizes that everything is connected to each other. That understanding is speeding up since we have no other choice. If we mess things up we eventually will find it back on our plates. Worse case it is purely out of self-serving; if we don’t do anything about Syria, we will have to pay the bill. Something like “I am not intrinsically motivated my tax money to be spent on that, but for my kids I will do it. Otherwise, we might end up with a tsunami of Wilders-a-likes.’ People are willing to grant something to someone else if they get better out of it. ‘If we both benefit from it I am willing to participate.’ A form of hidden self-serving. The world might get better out of it but there is a difference between granting something irrespective of your own situation. Can we, for example, overcome our fears and see the coming of the refugees in our countries without self-serving thoughts? Oftentimes it is just an idea that something has a negative impact on your own situation. Are we willing to examine that idea and go beyond our fears?

“We need crisis to prevent us of an even bigger crisis. Like we needed two world wars to say “that third world war should not happen.”

What role does empathy play in this process of change?

I think empathy occurs out of crisis. We need crisis to prevent us of an even bigger crisis. Like we needed two world wars to say “that third world war should not happen”. In a sense we need these crises to know where we don’t want to end up. Like when we needed to have the genocide to later introduce responsibility to protect. We act responsively. We aren’t yet aware enough to really feel what is good for us. We are prevented from catastrophic disasters by being exposed to disasters of a lesser degree. For example, Hiroshima was the one time use of a nuclear bomb. In a sense this had the right outcome; realizing that we should not go all out, realizing that scenario needs to be prevented from happening. This is what I mean with a disaster being a pre-emptive scenario at the same time. Unfortunately, we need the start of a disaster to make us think and change. From my point of view, awareness arises on the brink of the abyss. We probably will be hit by huge cyber terrorism that we will need to conquer. Parts of society will be completely shut down. We will survive and only then we will search for solution to prevent ourselves from this kind of danger. With our climate it’s exactly the same story. We will let the water levels rise up to the edge of the “Afsluitdijk” (the major causeway in the Netherlands).

Aren’t we up to our necks with problems yet?

No, not yet. Everyone knows that it is happening and that in this speed it will happen within 50 years from now. We first need to see and experience the destruction to then make the necessary steps.

Talking about cyber problems. What’s your opinion about the influence of Julian Assange’s Wikileads on foreign affairs?

(Sigh) He doesn’t come from a strong vision or a true belief that he will make the world a safer place. It is how he rationalizes it. He said: “it is necessary to make the world a safer place by exposing secrets”. I think that in our current system confidentiality, not full transparency is actually something functional. For example, secret negotiations; who doesn’t want that somewhere in the world there are actually secret negotiations going on with regards to Syria? We often hear it afterwards, but there have been some successes in the past because of this secrecy. Thanks to confidentiality, not thanks to throwing all sorts of viewpoints and secrets on the street for the mass to have an opinion about. It’s like playing with fire what he does if you ask me.

“Transparency is a value and that is beautiful. But our current society is not build on complete transparency. Owning the power, is the safest in this system.”

Transparency in the international arena; you don’t find anything positive about that?

Transparency is a value and that is beautiful. But our current society is not build on complete transparency. Owning the power, is the safest in this system. And information is power. Like in personal relationships it’s also not always best to be open and transparent about everything. You can hurt or shock someone. Empathy means also having a sense of right timing and considering the sensitivity of the other. Just like human rights and democracy will never be perfect, so will complete transparency in my opinion not be something we will be able to reach. However, it definitely should be what to aim for. It might sound a bit ideological, but in family relations, there is a certain sense of ultimate safety and trust. If that is possible in small social structures, then why not in bigger communities?

Oil, information… what more gives power in this time we live in?

Definitely not only raw materials like oil and land. It becomes more and more about soft power. The power of being happy and being able to show that. The Netherlands is not a big player in the international political field but why do Chinese diplomats visit our premises on Clingendael? Certainly not because we are so powerful and we can impose things on them. But surely because the Chinese see that we score third on the Human Development Index. That’s all about another form of power. The Chinese think, “we don’t have to be afraid of them, but we can learn from them”. That model, as small as it might be, works. Military power might not be our biggest asset, but human development is, and that’s also power.

If I would have been a big leader in a chaotic society like China or India I would have looked closely at countries like Iceland, Finland, The Netherlands and Norway and why they always score amongst the highest in terms of education, literacy and happiness. It would be foolish for them to say its only because of our size and not dive into this. That’s exactly where they can learn from.

Does the power of violence decrease?

If a leader cannot protect his nation he loses his sovereignty and recognition of being a leader. Therewith the responsibility automatically shifts to the international community that then needs to take action. So, sovereignty is not something that you have but something that you earn. With that in mind it is legitimate to decide to invade a country and its privacy, and to use violence. I support that.

So in terms of the crisis in Syria intervention is permissible?

Yes, you need to work on the root cause. The only solution is safety in those territories. It’s an illusion tot think that we can make a change with money or food. You need to use military power. This is being denied so far. If you ask me they can bomb the barrel bombs warehouses of Assad. Or perhaps make sure their helicopters cannot take off. You will do a lot of good with that. That is part of military intervention too.

What is your strategy in a personal conflict?

It’s easier said than done but I am a firm believer of not confronting but looking at the motives instead. What does the other want? Why do we have a conflict? Can we talk about it? This is the way I have been programmed – also as a democrat – hold off with fighting for as long as possible. See if we can find a solution without fighting. Even without verbal violence.

Is there a leader in the international arena with this approach?

At this moment, I think Merkel can be placed in this category. Someone permeated with the idea that Europe cannot afford to do certain things and is always considering the other side in her decision-making. Her inner belief and not only the strategic point of view. Norway is a nice example too. They consciously decided to have the following idea in their foreign affairs policy: we are a friendly and peace loving country. We come from a place of vulnerability and helpfulness in international politics. They succeeded in this. They were able to solve a lot of conflicts that never made the breaking news section on CNN. They state: You don’t need to suspect us of false motives or self-serving because that doesn’t benefit us. We are way too small and insignificant as a country for that. The Norwegians are thus only friendly. And that works. But of course, that would not work for all countries. If Russia decides to use this approach everyone would be suspicious: what is cooking over there?

Do you think we are shifting towards a world that thinks and acts more as a union?

I am not a refugee expert, but the current developments are nothing special from a historical point of view. Once in 100 years, we experience mass movements. This is a fact for the past thousands of years. The conditions for escaping have significantly changed, though. Thirty years ago the father of Assad killed four million people in Syria. A horrifying genocide. People in that time didn’t have the option to escape and take a boat or an airplane to Europe. They do have that option now. So the tendency to escape, to leave, to make a home somewhere else in the world will only increase. A new admixture is taking place; countries will arise with less of a homogeneous population. That won’t happen without conflict. We will be confronted with resistance and war, perhaps also here. But in the long term, the inevitable will come to our understanding: we live together on this planet and have to cooperate and live together whilst we are here. We can’t exclude anything or anyone in this. We can’t turn back time. We have to adapt, preferably from intrinsic motivation but otherwise forced, because there is no other way.

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I still remember what happened, the day my mother took me to school for the first time. I cried and clung to her before entering the classroom. Once inside, I fell silent. My mother stood on the other side of the window, waved, and stayed until class was over. Every time I looked up at her, she started waving again. I hated going to school. I felt unsafe and found it boring. Then I found the download button, and learning became easy. Soon, I started to identify with what I had learned. I started to use ‘my knowledge’ to outsmart others. And later on, I played ‘strategic’ games so I would win at something, or to feel safe. Knowledge, I thought, was a way for me to control my world: reflecting, analysing, and creating scenarios. By doing so, I separated myself from the experience of actually being in the world. I used knowledge as a barrier between myself and others; as a way to avoid intimacy and vulnerability through smart cynicism. Knowledge had become a tool to separate me from others and the world. Knowledge had become a mother behind a window, waving, without the trust that I could play and connect in the world I was in.

 

Today’s crisis is not economic, ecologic, political or social; it is what I call the ‘illusion of separation’. We think we are separated from others and the world. And when we think and act based on the illusion of separation, we create a world of fear, anger, aggression, oppression and greed – exactly what is happening now, and which, to some degree, has happened throughout history. The difference this time is that a fast-growing group of people is realising that if we do not emerge from this illusion of separation, discard it, cast it aside, our species soon will die.

 

Before we can change, we must first understand – experience, even – a fundamental truth. This is that we are all connected. And to understand, we need to transform our relationship with learning, and our concept of what it involves. I would therefore like to explore three ideas that make it possible to experience our common connectedness. Three ideas that can make our thinking and actions wholesome and naturally focussed on common growth. These three ideas are founded in the original meaning of the words: learning, education and school.

 

Learning comes from leis, meaning following the track

Education comes from educare, meaning to draw out what is already there

School comes from schole, meaning doing nothing.

 

 

Leis (learning); to follow the track

There is no single moment in life that is ever repeated in exactly the same way. Sounds, colours, memories, what we smell, how our body feels and reacts, what we think and how we interact with everything around us? Reality is changing all the time. Reality is like a track we follow, but which never fully arrives. When we think we are there, we find it has moved, changed. And this is where the word learning comes from: to follow the track. Somehow, we have lost sight of this idea of learning. We don’t enjoy the process of following the track; instead, we are obsessed with gaining as much knowledge as possible. We try to understand reality intellectually. We want to define, keep track of, the ever-changing reality: to capture it. But what we capture by doing this, what we take hostage, is not reality itself but our capacity to learn – our capacity to be amazed by this ever-changing reality. We loose our capacity to be amazed by life itself.

 

Today, learning has become confused with downloading information. Yes, gaining knowledge is important, but not as a means to control reality.

 

Goethe, the philosopher and writer, was interested in plants. But he didn’t want to categorise them, study them, just by looking only at their outer forms. No, he wanted to experience plants. In observing them he noticed that when we see something, we do not really see what is actually there. Rather, we project what we already know. We are not experiencing what Is, we are projecting what Was. Goethe’s method was to observe by making space: instead of projecting something, he made space for what could be seen to unfold from its own true nature. What Goethe found out was that when we are present in the world this way, everything is changing all the time. And it’s not only what is seen that is changing, but also who is seeing. By creating an observant relationship with what is seen, you can actually experience the true nature of life, which is the source of everything. From this you feel the burst of creative energy that moves and changes everything, constantly.

 

By creating an observant relationship with what is seen, you can actually experience the true nature of life, which is the source of everything.

 

Today, learning has become confused with downloading information. Yes, gaining knowledge is important, but not as a means to control reality. In our ever-changing reality, the knowledge we have has a shorter shelf life than a pack of milk. Knowledge is important when it serves as a scout, enabling us to follow the track of the ever-changing reality. Learn this way and we stop using knowledge to fixate on something, or to make others feel stupid, or as a way to create a barrier between ourselves and others, and start using it as a tool to feel connected and to create.

 

 

Educare (Education); To draw out what is already there

Every Wednesday afternoon during high school, I went to visit my economics teacher, who lived on a houseboat. He loved the work of Dutch novelist Jan Wolkers, a writer who was also a sculptor and who wrote like a sculptor: strong words that created images that opened up new dimensions to me. Together, we read Wolkers’s books, and my teacher asked me questions about parts I liked: Why those particular sections? Did I recognise something of myself in them? What do they tell me about my life, my longings, my fears, my agonies, my strategies, and myself?

 

Those Wednesday afternoons were not about downloading information. Those Wednesday afternoons were discoveries. I read about love and relationships, which were so confusing to me then (and still are, actually), having fallen in love for the first time. I read about people who were having problems dealing with their father, just like me. I read about people who wanted to leave their hometowns to start a new life somewhere else. Who wanted to be someone else, just like me. I learned about emotions: anger, fear, pain, love, shame, joy. Things I did not learn at school. Things I did not learn at home. And not because my parents were intellectual and couldn’t express their feelings. On the contrary, my parents had no education. My parents simply had not learned how to express emotions and were therefore unable to teach me.

 

Reading books was reading about others’ lives, lives that is was also possible to live. It opened up my imagination. It created compassion. Because, although the characters in the novels were quite different to me, I also found similarities: all the characters involved, including the person reading about them, was longing for love, longing for recognition, longing to feel and be safe.

 

Something else also happened during those Wednesday afternoons. When I was young, I wrote short stories, poems, probably as a form of escape. My literature teacher hated my stories and poems because my grammar was horrible. But, despite my bad grammar, my economics teacher was drawing out what was in me; he saw I could write stories and suggested I enter writing contests. He encouraged me and sparked an enthusiasm in me that led me to study grammar, which I now found much easier and more natural, coming as it did out of inspiration, instead of failure. I am grateful for his support, which eventually led me to become a novelist. I wrote my first novel two years ago, and my second will be published this summer.

 

Socrates encouraged his students, stimulated them and sometimes gave gentle massages to help in delivering the baby, to help release the authentic knowing that was already inside his students.

 

My Wednesday afternoon teacher didn’t see education as being about delivering external knowledge, but as a process in which you facilitate someone in such a way that he or she discovers their own uniqueness. What my economics teacher did was do something that resonates with the original meaning of education, educare: to draw out what is already there (inside).

 

Socrates had a beautiful metaphor for the education I experienced with that teacher. Socrates saw himself as a midwife, someone who is not himself in labour, but who is helping a mother to give birth to a child that has been growing inside her. Socrates encouraged his students, stimulated them and sometimes gave gentle massages to help in delivering the baby, to help release the authentic knowing that was already inside his students.

 

Education should go back to educare, to draw out in students what is already in them. Today, most students feel they are not good enough; that they have to change themselves to fit into the system. This leads to high dropout rates and burn outs.

School comes from schole, meaning doing nothing.

Ten years after the Wednesday afternoons with my high school economics teacher, I met another mentor. I was in my thirties and my life had completely changed. Somehow, I had become successful as a marketing consultant, but I had also had to deal with the losses of my mother and younger brother. Yet despite those losses, I felt strong and thought I enjoyed my work; I thought I felt alive, until I had to give a presentation, and collapsed – fainted. I had a burnout. I tried to overcome it the same way I had become successful: by working like hell, this time to get better. But my willpower made it worse; panic attics joined fatigue. Doctors told me to rest. So I did, for years, without improving, until a friend introduced me to a martial artist, a young guy, seventeen at that time. He told me he knew what was going on and offered to help, for free. The only thing he asked was my commitment and trust: to train as long as it took to feel better again. The training was simple: not doing anything. I just sat or stood in a simple position for hours – no tasks. If a story sprang to mind, he stripped it bare. Stories about who I thought I was.

 

Through gentle self-exploration, I realised that my entire identity was actually a collection of fear-based strategies.

 

For example: I thought I was an empathetic guy. But through self-exploration I realised I had become empathetic because I was raised in an unsafe environment. I needed to put myself in my father’s position to read him – to know if it was safe to be around him. I used this strategy long after I left my parents’ house. I wasn’t really interested in other people, I wanted to feel safe and I was using empathy as a strategy for that. My empathy was fuelled by fear, and egotism.

 

Through gentle self-exploration, I realised that my entire identity was actually a collection of fear-based strategies. I had clung to stories, just as I had clung to my mother when I went to school that first day. And by letting go, a shift occurred: from living solely from my head, I suddenly became aware that I had a body with all kinds of sensation. Tracking those sensations, including what I had called pain and anger, made it possible to release those oppressed sensations from my nervous system. My health improved.

 

And something else happened, too: another consciousness arose. Without knowing it, I underwent a naked confrontation with reality that gave rise to a deep connection. I felt in every cell of my body how deeply connected I am with others and Earth. That feels powerful, safe and loving.

 

This experience is not vague; on the contrary, it is concrete. What has become vague, faded, is the form my consciousness used to take: knowledge fuelled by fear, with dissociation/ disconnection as the result. You can be well educated, but still not haven’t learned anything if you haven’t experienced the wholeness of being. Being ‘not-knowing’ opens up the possibility to act and think intuitively from a deep connection, and with only one result possible: pure goodness for everyone.

 

We therefore need to go to schole, school, and not just students, but all of us, including our leaders. We need to be humble in the face of our ever-changing reality, the complexity of life. By doing so, we become connected to the source of life, to the all-ness of being. This ‘resourcing process’ activates the empathy, intuition and spontaneity needed to create a culture of common growth.

 

I do believe we can create a world of common growth. But we shouldn’t try to change systems to do so. I have never met a system. I have met people, though. And I do believe people can change. I don’t believe I can change other people. But I do believe that I can change myself and become an invitation for change for others. And by doing so, by acting, thinking and relating differently, from love and clarity, change will happen all around you, us– naturally.

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By Robin van den Maagdenberg. Photography by Steef Fleur

I have always moved between two extremities. On the one hand that of the intellect and ambition, on the other I wanted to let my heart speak, to take things as they come and be sure that the direction I was going felt right for me. The ambitious, rational side prevailed for quite some time. Emotions were a thin thread that ran through everything, but things have changed and that thread became more important to me. A few years ago I went traveling on my own. The quietude enabled me to think for myself for the first time. I started to question all the ideas I had regarding a meaningful life. It became clear that the ‘extremities’ are not mutually exclusive, that it’s not a matter of choosing one or the other—and that my rational side had recieved quite enough attention. I created space for another part of myself.

I have become a participant in my own life again, no longer a spectator.

The journey inwards also led me to Your Lab’s Leadership Program. A year in which many subconscious patterns became apparent. Ironically, my ambitious side was also stimulated in the process. I was very eager to be done with every subconscious issue, once and for all. That was very insightful regarding my perfectionism, always wanting to do things better, differently. In fact I was always postponing the moment I could feel content. Now I’m able to live with the fact that my efforts might have minimal effects. I have more appreciation for the process itself, it’s not merely the end results that count.

 

Due to that I have become a participant in my own life again, no longer a spectator.

As a Law student, I was attracted to Criminal Law. The question why someone commits a criminal offence fascinated me. What makes someone commit an awful crime? What is hidden behind a person’s façade? Oftentimes a long history led up to it. I’ve never wanted to become a psychologist, but I’ve always taken a great interest in psychology, especially where it plays an important part, but tends to be overlooked.

 

This year, I found out that everything the outside world shows me is a reflection of my inner world. So if I am aware of my own dynamics, all relationships and interactions change accordingly. Our interactions are linked, my own reactions are never really separate from others’, but the change begins with me. For me, leadership is: actions motivated by inner necessity, not as a reaction to the external world. This requires mindfulness and openness of a leader.

Sometimes I wonder: should we always be making new things? Or can we view existing things afresh?

I work at ABN Amro’s Innovation Centre. Here also, I see clearly that people’s behaviour, and the underlying desires, strongly influence how we shape the world together. Technological Innovation is about change, innovation. But sometimes I wonder: should we always be making new things? Or can we view existing things afresh? The world changes rapidly, but people’s needs are rather constant. We all have the desire to be seen and heard, and many of our actions are a result of that. That doesn’t change. Before we can think about innovating the external world, we must try to understand our own nature. Technology will only be of any help to us if we know what our desires are, where they come from and whether they serve us. Are we creating something that’s an asset to society or to our lives? Or are we just always on a quest for novelty, without any awareness of where we came from, how that determines where we’re going and where we are now? On such a journey you might never reach any destination.

 

Our new Year programme starts in May 2019. Further information can be found here.

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Vivian attended Your Lab Business, together with her brother.  After studying at Business School, she had taken a responsible job in a big company. “For a long time,” she says “I thought I had the job I always wanted and was rewarded for what I did.  But in my body it didn’t feel quite right.  So when I heard about the Your Lab training I immediately subscribed.  I wanted to know:  what am I really whole-hearted about?  What gives me energy?”

 

“I don’t want to be, I want to become.”

 

“We are always comparing ourselves to other people, trying to understand how we must live a life through the reflection of others.  But I didn’t want to find my answers that way.  It feels as if we are presented with a menu from which we have to choose how to live.  But I want to set my own menu, create my own ingredients, digest what I think is right for me.  Your Lab offered me the space to find out who I really am.  And I found out that I am not “some-one”, but I am always in the process of reinventing myself.  I don’t want to be, I want to become.”

 

 “I am interested in satisfaction without filling up.”

 

“My interest is not in finding something that would fill up a void inside me.  I am interested in satisfaction without filling up. So I have stopped working and created some space for myself.  I have seen that the situation I found myself in was not caused by the job itself, but was the result of how I related to that job.”

“It can be seductive to blame the situation you are in to external causes, but everything can be solved from within.  This has to do with how we relate to ourselves and everything around us.   If we have investigated our own patterns and find that we have solved everything within ourselves, then making choices becomes easier.  I think that is a fair way of living:  not blaming anything, but investigating.  This is the way to feel wholesome.”

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Leadership Program

How can you eat form connectedness and facilitating overall growth? How do you create authentic leadership- thinking, feeling and doing being alligned? What is the role of innovation, creation and communication when you are focused on collective growth? How can you combine openness and empathy with being professional, effective and decisive? What new techniques can you use to facilitate collective growth?  How do you achieve that powerful connection within your team, the connected flow in which strategic games, endless competition and burn-out no longer threaten or even exist? How do you use your new leadership style to realise everyone’s potential, enabling every team member to use his unique qualities in serving the ultimate objective of individual and collective growth?

 

Which tendencies in today’s society are relevant to me? In which ways are my life and my (personal) leadership influenced by them? How do I become attuned to undercurrents in the contemporary world and acquire the ability to translate them into growth—both personal and collective? How do I connect with others to [expand my horizon / broaden my perspective], turning diversity and resistance into sources of inspiration? These are just a few of the questions to be dealt with during this 6-day retreat in Umbria, Italy. The location is a magnificent renovated monastery, surrounded by forests and lakes.

 

Longing for peace of mind, lucidity and a renewed sense of purpose? Are you in need of feeling connected—to yourself, to others and to the world? Do you want to be in touch with the creative resources that will allow you to be your own person confidently? Then join us on this 5-day retreat to the lovely forests of Lage Vuursche.

 

Question? Contact Robin at: robin@yourlab.nl

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Michael Puett is Harvard’s most appreciated professor. His core theme: our identity, whether being that of an individual, a company or a country is a bunch of patterns, that need to be made transparent in order to create healthy growth. And that is exactly what we do in our Your Lab programs. Puett advises us to break patterns by making rituals, which will slowly start changing our behaviour. In Your Lab we work with the nerves system to heal the cause of our patterns so that a different kind of behaviour will emerge from the inside out. An interview with Puett, about making patterns transparant, and why we need leaders that are willing to investigate their patterns in order to create common growth.

 

Interview: Robin van den Maagdenberg

 

What does identity mean?

We tend to say, ‘I am the sort of person who is fearful. That’s just me.’ And at the same time we say we should love ourselves, and embrace ourselves for what we are. But the Chinese philosophers would say the exact opposite. They would say that, when I look within and decide, oh, this is just me, what I am probably seeing is just the patterns I have fallen into over time. They would say that the key is not to love and embrace those patterns, but to alter them through practice; to do things that break up the old patterns that hold us back.

Once we start to see our patterns, it is amazing to see how much of them are based on fear, anger, jealousy, resentment. These are the emotions that often drive our patterns. The irony is that for example mindfulness techniques, originally designed to break these patterns and overcome the self, have become domesticated and all about learning to love yourself and embrace yourself. Within a few months, if you apply these techniques, you’ll be happier about yourself. But it’s the wrong self. The last thing we want is be happier about a self that is a set of patterns dominated by fear.

 

Arrogance is a huge danger for growth. We often think that our failures are the most difficult things to deal with, but if we see we have failed, then we can grow from it.

 

Isn’t there a danger of falling into a new pattern, by altering an old one?

Always we fall into patterns. Even if we accomplish the very thing we wish to accomplish, there’s an extreme likelihood that a new pattern has developed, and that will again restrict us as we grow. So we must think of our lives as the constant breaking of patterns, constantly trying to overcome a limited sense of self. We’ll never get there. It’s a lifelong work of ever-growing as a human being.

Arrogance is a huge danger for growth. We often think that our failures are the most difficult things to deal with, but if we see we have failed, then we can grow from it. Success is more dangerous because, if we’re successful, it feels like you can’t fail. Then we could become arrogant. Arrogance is one of the most dangerous patterns we can fall in to, and one of the most common. Often times we don’t see it, because we think we’re being successful. I would say, when you’re successful be very wary.

 

 

How do you see the role of the body in breaking patterns?

Huge. We often make a distinction between the body and the mind. The body is just the body and the mind is where I try to become a better person. But that’s a false distinction. In fact, our patterns become part of our bodies. It’s just a way of being in the world. Once you begin altering patterns, you start feeling physically differently, more connected, more open, more whole and healthy. Your energies become more resonant and responsive to the world.

 

In Your Lab we use new technics to release the nerves systems from the cause of patterns, creating change from the inside out. Did you investigate the role of the nervous system in breaking patterns?

In recent psychological experiments you can physically see in the brain, very rigid patterns being formed because of our patterns. So yes, patterns our being nestled in the nerves system and are influencing the way we think and act. Does this imply that we have no free will? The Chinese philosophers would say that we have no free will in that sense, but this is a limited vision of what we’re trying to do. We can be absolutely active in the world, but not by having a mind that will make radical decisions outside everyday situations. You actually become active in the world by working with your patterns, developing new connections, building relationships that are open, learning to respond better and learning to affect others for the better.

 

If you look at the bigger picture, the clash between radical groups and certain countries in the West. There are patterns in play in these situations. How can we make them transparent?

These patterns are also based on fear and resentment. You have these groups thinking that all of their problems are caused by another group of people. The way to break these patterns is to do exactly the opposite. Actively begin working across cultural areas, talking to people, creating communities and educational programs that break down the old definitions of other groups and other people. Because they are not really like that. It’s just a pattern.

 

Why do you think a lot of Americans vote for someone like Trump?

I think the Americans are dealing with an intense level of frustration because of economic inequality. There’s a sense that the political processes are becoming dysfunctional because so much of the political parties are controlled by moneyed interests. There’s a lot of anger about political processes, but even more about life in general. There’s a sense that we’ve got stuck, that there is no real social mobility anymore. People are born in a certain class, and stuck there forever. This breeds a lot of anger, fear and resentment, which can be channelled in very negative ways. Many demagogues, like Trump, are successful in taking the resentment and playing into our worst patterns. Trump says: ‘follow me and we will win and dominate the world.’ He says: ‘they are the problem.’ And of course this is how all demagogues have been successful historically, playing off periods of intense resentment. To counter people like Trump, it’s not enough to simply say ‘don’t do this’ and blaming racism. The best response is to address the problems in positive ways.

When we realise that economic inequality, and all the other problems, are the direct result of the ways we are living our lives, and that this is alterable, we can then move in very powerful ways. But, of course, in moments of great fear it can also be channelled in very dangerous ways. Sadly at the moment the global phenomenon is a very dangerous one.

 

We need leaders who, instead of playing off our worst fears and resentments, are actively trying to create worlds in which people can flourish. And such people do exist.

 

How can we guide this global process in a positive way?

The Chinese philosophers would suggest that we can create a world in which humans can flourish, and for the exact same reasons as the world can seem to go wrong. It is possible to do this on an individual and global level. We can create new situations with our family, friends and relationships. And we need leaders who, instead of playing off our worst fears and resentments, are actively trying to create worlds in which people can flourish. And such people do exist. You know it when you meet such a person. People like this are contagious. If you see someone really connecting you think ‘I want that too.’ We are capable as human beings of doing great things, even though, sometimes, we don’t.

 

 

But these processes are always fleeting and fragile; we always tend to fall back into patterns, but nonetheless, remember those fleeting moments. They prove it’s possible. In the same way, we can deal with all the problems we’ve just mentioned by shifting things to create a different world both in our personal sense and in the global sense, and actively dealing with the issues. Historically, we’ve proved we can do it. And there’s nothing preventing us from doing it, except ourselves.

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