Sinai journeys

Hussein with his neighbours on Amria's Dam just after the first rain filled it.

On April 24 there is a collaborative journey to build a dam between Green and Away volunteers and SKGR (Self Knowledge Global Responsibility).  This is the next Makhad Trust journey to Sinai and we will be building the 12th dam in the mountains around St Katherines.  Last March I led a party of school children from King Ethelbert’s School in Kent to build Spayiers dam and while I was there, one of the Bedouin came to talk to me about the dams.  He said that the dams were making the most difference to the most number of bedouin and that their gardens were coming alive again with the increased water made available from the dams.  Hussein had such a light of excitement, and passion in his eyes and his voice as he told me about his neighbours planting trees in their gardens again after they had been abandoned for nearly 10 years.  Hussein inspired me to want to bring another party back this year to build another dam and now it is finally going to happen.

School children from King Ethelbert's School and local Bedouin last March after completing a dam.

There is the little matter of raising the funds to build the dam first though.  The dams are built high up in the mountains where there are no roads and all supplies including the cement have to go up the mountains on camels.  This is expensive and with other building costs we have to raise £2000 to make the dam happen.  I have opened a Just Giving web page for anyone who would like to donate.

The dam we are going to build will help trap enough water to help at least 30 gardens further down the valley.  Each garden provides food and an income to a family of 10 or more people, so that’s a lot of people who will benefit.

The journey will not just be all work and no rest though, as we plan to spend time

Our desert retreat camp

exploring the desert and having a short retreat for those who would like to.  The profound stillness of the desert enables a deep connection with self and with the earth and nature in a way we don’t often experience.  It is why a succession of desert hermits have lived in Sinai for centuries. It is also why we are running a Desert Retreat with Peter Owen Jones in October.  There is more information about both journeys on the Makhad Trust website.

Posted in Green and Away, Makhad Trust | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Musings on Leadership

Ever since I took on the role of co-ordinator of Green and Away, I have worried and agonised over my leadership style.  There are so many ways to lead, some good and some uphelpful and not every style is applicable to every situation whilst the ego just adds to the confusion by lapping up any kudos associated with the role.

Over recent years, and amongst the less structured, green organisations a different style has emerged that some have called flat management.  This is where there is no-one in overall charge and responsibility and management comes from a team of people.  This works very well for some organisations, especially where each member of the management team has a specific job and there is plenty of time to discuss each and every decision to get a concensus of opinion. The advantage is that it allows for creativity and innovation to arise and for everyone to contribute what they want. The disadvantage is that one needs a great deal more time to achieve the aims if they are realised at all.  This is directly opposite to the traditional way of one person taking overall responsibility and making nearly all the decisions. The advantage of this way is that it is strong and focused and the aim is very likely to be achieved but it can be stiffling of creativity and lessens feelings of ownership by the workforce.

In my opinion neither style would work well with Green and Away.  If we had the flat management style and long discussions about every issue we would never get the centre built, never mind being in a state to host conferences.  If we had the old strong tradition of leadership and I imposed my will on all aspects of the project, it is likely we would alienate or loose our volunteer work force.  The beauty of working with volunteers is that they force a different positive approach. They are our most valuble resource, but one that has the capacity to vote with their feet; if they are not happy then our resource is gone.  The balance between facitiating our aim of building and running G & A with keeping people working hard and enjoying it, is a difficult one.

So far I have led by gut instinct but not always trusted it.  Last weekend we had a social gathering of volunteers and trustees.  Rather than tell everyone what to do, I stepped back to see what would happen with minimal coordination.  We got through the weekend fine but time was wasted in working out what walks to do and waiting for people who did not know they were being waited for.  Meals were cooked and dishes were done but some people did more than their fair share while others contributed rather less.  There was less focus and less to do.  I think the weekend was a good experience for most people but it could have run rather more smoothly with more direction.  None of this mattered for an informal gathering but during our set up phase, when there is a whole conference centre to build in 12 days we have to have more focus.

The answer to what style of leadership suits Green and Away best is one that is firm and focused yet soft and adaptive depending on the situation. It needs to be both soft in an adaptive, yeilding way to encourage creativity, but firm of boundaries and to keep the focus on the aim.  To achieve this requires constant vigilence and always keeping a balance between the best interests of the organisation as whole with the needs of of the workforce.

Fortunately I am supported by a wonderful bunch of people who make up the Trustee body and who have responsiblity for various departments.  Out of season we have the time to talk through all the various decisions to reach agreement on the way forward and my job then is to impliment those decisions once on site.  It is a way of working that has evolved over 20 years and one that seems to work very well.

Meanwhile I will now trust to my gut instinct that has served me so well so far.

Preparing for the morning briefing

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Winter Stillness

Two days ago I went for a walk in Randwick Woods near my home.  There had been snow two days before but now there was bright blue sky and cold still air.  The snow had melted a little and then frozen again and there was a top layer of crunchy ice.  The woods had a wonderful quality of stillness and silence – there is something about snow on the ground on a calm day that seems to magnify the absence of sound.  In the stillness, it is as if everything is more real, more alive, and the space between things is thicker and richer.  When nature is more alive, I feel more alive too, and more in the moment.

Further on, on a promentary of land where the sun and winds had been strong,  most of the snow had melted and then frozen again.  Bushes and grass were covered in twinkly, rainbow icicles, glistening in the sun.  Such moments as these are fleeting and rare and all the more precious.  I took some photographs but it is hard to capture the magic of the reflecting ice.  What a beautiful day…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Courage to make a difference

In a recent blog, I mentioned three women who inspired me, Poly Higgins, Clare Dakin and Scilla Elworthy. However they are not the only women who have given me a longing to make a difference to the world.

Jay Griffiths has written  a book called Wild that is one of the most influential books I have read and I can’t recommend it highly enough though it is a difficult read at times. Jay has travelled the world meeting indigenous people’s and living in harmony with the Earth, experiencing the beauty and fragility of life as well as the ugly desecration of nature by corporate greed.  Her writing is powerful, potent and hard-hitting as well as poetic and inspirational.  Underlying her story telling is a courage to go to extremely remote wild places on her own, facing challenging climates and people.  What comes through is her capacity and willingness to show her vulnerability.  Without the ability to listen and be vulnerable she wouldn’t have earned the trust of many of the people she writes about, nor would she have seen all nature’s beauty as it is only when we are open-hearted that we are connected enough to really feel the intense, achingly beautiful and painful sights of the world.  And behind all this is a passion for life in all its wildness.  Her book has the potential to make a difference to those who read it and possibly to those she has written about.

Another woman who is making a difference is Jenny Jones, Green councillor on the GLA.  Jenny was elected in 200 and has worked with both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson.  Although the greens are a minority party in terms of representation on the council, their influence has been disproportionately large.  Jenny has sat on a wide range of committees such as Metropolitan Police Committee and the Firebrigade  as well as London Food.  In all her work she champions the cause of green issues. In the previous Mayoral administration she was the Mayor’s Green Transport Advisor, advising him on sustainable forms of transport. She was also Chair of London Food, a Mayoral body looking at ways of giving Londoners fresher, healthier and more affordable food while minimising its environmental impact.  Jenny is changing public perceptions in London to seeing that sustainability makes a positive impact on people’s lives as well as being better for the planet.  Jenny is standing for mayor in the elections this Spring against the usual strong opposition of the main political parties.  The fact that she is unlikely to win the election is not a reason to give up on supporting Jenny.  The more votes she gets the more the Green Party has to be taken seriously.  I don’t live in London but I would urge any London voter with a Green conscience to vote for her. Jenny spent a year as Deputy Mayor to Ken and could fulfill the role again in the future, bringing more sustainable policies into action.  Jenny has great passion, wisdom and integrity and we desperately need more politicians like her.

Behind these inspiring women are not only motivational hopes and dreams of a better world, but courage to stand up in front of people and say ‘this is what we must do’.  They have the courage to take action and carry out their intentions despite hardship, failure and derision.  At a time when we badly need more people doing this, I wonder what stops me and others from doing the same. There is courage in everyone’s heart if we look.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

   

Mark Twain

“Come to the edge.”
“We can’t. We’re afraid.”
“Come to the edge.”
“We can’t. We will fall!”
“Come to the edge.”
And they came.
And he pushed them. 

And they flew.

Guillaume Apollinaire,   1880-1918
And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.   

Anais Nin

There are many more quotes like these on Inspiration Peak Have a look and be inspired

Posted in General, inspiration | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Nature as Inspiration

This week I went to the Natural History Museum with my daughter to see the Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition. There were hundreds of the most extraordinary photographs of animals, birds, insects, mountains, flowers – in fact almost all life on Earth was represented here. (The only life not on show was human life.)

Each photograph captured a split second in the life of a creature or a scene, in a way that we don’t ordinarily see and the result is the most amazing, beautiful, vast diversity of life depicted in full glory.  Each picture seems to be a small fragment in a story, a freezing of time, that makes one wonder what happened before and what will come next. Life in these photos was stunningly bigger than ‘normal’, more poignant more real even, more ….  well you will have to have a look for yourself, click on the link above.

Photos have a way of making us see the world differently, of making us wake up to what is really there, – even the mundane parts of nature of life can be inspiring.

The exhibition was so inspiring it is difficult to take it all in and it reminded me of the words at the end of the film American Beauty….

It’s hard to stay mad when there is so much beauty in the world.

Sometimes I feel like I am seeing it all at once and it’s too much.

My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst.

And then I remember to relax and to stop trying to hold onto it

And then it flows through me like rain.

And I can’t feel anything but gratitude

For every single moment of my stupid little life.

To watch this go to You Tube American Beauty

Acacia tree in the Sinai desert

Posted in General | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Be inspired!

Yesterday I was googling information about a speaker for the forthcoming Resurgence Readers Weekend conference due to be held at Green and Away this summer, and it started me thinking about people who inspire me.

The speaker I was looking up is Polly Higgins, who is campaigning to bring in new laws to outlaw the crime of ecocide. Polly is a barrister, author and creator of new laws to protect the Earth. Polly has proposed that Ecocide is the missing 5th Crime Against Peace, to sit alongside genocide as an international crime throughout the world. Her campaign highlights the awful things that are being done to the earth and the earths resources in the name of progress, the free market and ultimately – for money.

ECOCIDE the extensive destruction, damage to or loss of ecosystem(s) of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.

At present no one or no business has to take into account the fact that they are killing animals or destroying habitats and there is no law that say the polluter pays.    I think Polly is very brave to be standing up to powerful people to tell them that it is time they woke up to their responsibility to the Earth and to all the people and creatures living on the Earth.  How do you find the courage to do this?

Click on Polly Higgins

In Bristol and Stroud there are more brave women with a vast agenda.  Treesisters have made it their aim to reforest the world!  I was sent an email with a link to their website and sat watching their video clips with astonishment and tears.  To think that big is a courageous act because it carries the equally big possibility of failing.  However founder Clare Dakin, has a wonderful way getting over the fear of failure which holds so many of us back from doing what we feel inspired to do, which is to say it is an experiment, and you can’t fail an experiment, you can only learn.  Please watch Clare explain her audacious plan for saving the world at Tree Sisters

Another great woman I have had the good fortune to meet is Scilla Elworthy.  Last March I was asked to support her in leading a retreat in the Sinai desert (see the page on the Makhad Trust).  Scilla epitomises the archetypal wise woman.  She has worked tirelessly for world peace by setting up Peace Direct and the World Council of Elders. Her biography is a staggering list of achievements.  Scilla has achieved 100 times what most of us would feel proud to have done.  She has worked with people with fame and power, has the most amazing tall but true stories and has both an unworldly radiance and ordinariness that make her incredibly approachable.

We all need to be inspired – especially me.  Please follow these links to find out more about these amazing women and the work they are doing and be inspired too

Forgot to share this!

Posted in General, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What does it feel like to be on a desert retreat?

I have just found this video of Peter Owen-Jones talking about his three week retreat experience in a cave in Sinai.  His recounting of his experience is an inspiration as he relates the significance of taking time out of our ordinary lives. Do have a look….

We should all do it – take a month out of our lives and see who we are –

Posted in Makhad Trust, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Queen of Retreats endorses the Makhad Desert Retreat

The Queen of Retreats has featured the Makhad Desert Retreat on her stunning online magazine. The Queen is Caroline Sylger Jones, a professional author & journalist who recently placed Makhad Retreat as one of the top 20 retreats in the world in her New Year article for The Times. To read more go to

Queen of Retreats

Desert Silence in Sinai

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Desert Retreat with Peter Owen Jones

Today The Times is running an article on the Top 20 Retreats in the World and the Makhad Trust retreats are in there!

Maverick vicar and TV presenter Peter Owen Jones will be leading two spiritual retreats in the Sinai desert in March, offering participants a special taste of the remarkable  solitary three and a half week ‘desert cave experience’ he famously endured during the filming of his ‘Extreme Pilgrim’ series for BBC TV.

The 8-day retreats, which will run back to back in March, from 1st-8th and then 9th-16th, are being facilitated by the Makhad Trust, a UK charity working to sustain the heritage and traditional way of life of the Sinai desert’s Bedouin tribes;  60% of all proceeds from the retreat journeys will contribute directly to the local Bedouin economy.

Peter Owen Jones invites you to release into the desert silence and embark on a journey to your inner wisdom. The Sinai desert has long been a hallowed place for contemplation and connection; in this spectacular and dramatic landscape, alive with astonishing colour, the prophets of three major world religions have emerged. This is the land of the Burning Bush, the Exodus and the Tablets of Stone.  In this mythical land of miracles, the wind-carved Sinai wilderness flashes with silver sand and golden rock, pink granite mountains and green oasis gardens.

The silence of the desert has a quality that supports deeper inquiry – and within this vast, empty natural world, connected to the core essence of life, you can be alone and discover who you really are.  During his cave retreat for the Extreme Pilgrim series, Peter relished the hard earned gift of self reflection that arose from solitude in this wild open space, away from life’s usual distractions like TV, internet and various other forms of technology.

`                                                                                                                                                                            Continues…

Peter Owen Jones said:

‘The desert is the greatest teacher I have had…I have returned faced with the truth that knowing ourselves is an intensely difficult thing to do because we always seek our reflection in others. But the desert is a clear, almost unblemished mirror. In the desert, I realised I could not go on making excuses and I realised how I had embedded these excuses in the fabric – in the very pattern – of my existence.’

On retreat with Peter, hosted by local Bedouin, you will sleep under the stars protected by a nomadic tent.  There will be a day of desert exploration followed by the opportunity to spend two to three days alone in solitary retreat.  Everyone then comes together in celebration of food, company and spirit. Later you will travel through the desert for two days, trekking by camel or walking in the footsteps of your nomadic Bedouin hosts, before returning home.

Writing about his Sinai cave experience in his book Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim (published by Rider), Peter Owen Jones concluded:

‘God I loved the desert.  It allowed me to see to what was broken – with all my hate, with all my love, my unknowing, my unbeing – and gave me the time to begin to mend.’

  • The cost of an eight-day Sinai desert retreat with Peter Owen Jones and the Makhad Trust is £850.00, excluding flights and including road transfers from Sharm El Sheikh. 60% of your journey contributes directly to the local Bedouin economy

For more information go to http://www.makhad.org and click on Forthcoming Journeys

Posted in Makhad Trust | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The quiet and stillness of deep winter

It is nearly the end of the year and a good time to review the highlights of the last year and set intentions for the new year.  This time between Christmas and New Year feels like a present – stolen time.  The run up to Christmas is so frantic with so much to do, people to see and so many expectations to live up to.  Then comes the day after Boxing day with a  “Well, what now then?” feeling and there isn’t anything, just a blissfully large helping of time….  that most precious commodity so often in very short supply.  Suddenly the birds are singing and the sun is shining more brightly, at least in the absence of stress these things are more apparent.  Even the bare, skeleton trees seem more beautiful and things conspire to remind one of the beauty of life itself.  Now it is possible to see and feel the important things in life and to realise that most of them are already here and there is a feeling of gratitude that all is how it should be and all is well.  It reminds me of this quote from the film American Beauty:

It’s hard to stay mad when there is so much beauty in the world.

Sometimes I feel like I am seeing it all at once and its too much.

My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst.

And then I remember to relax and to stop trying to hold onto it

And then it flows through me like rain.

And I can’t feel anything but gratitude

For every single moment of my stupid little life.

 

For the full version go to

Happy New Year!!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment