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The wondrous world of wordpress

I love beautiful websites. For years, I kept wanting to learn how to design them, but it felt like a daunting task, so I would just keep that dream on my “some day” list. In the meanwhile, I kept diligent track of sites that moved or inspired me, like Ashes and Snow.  And then, in the winter of 2009-2010, I started dating a yoga teacher who also worked as a web designer, and this seemed like life’s perfect invitation to learn!  He patiently started to teach me how to use Dreamweaver, but we didn’t get very far, because as soon as he introduced me to WordPress, I immediately realized that learning how to customize an existing template was all I really needed to learn.  Why spend a gazillion hours learning how to design a website, when there are 1001 beautiful wordpress templates available on the web for less than $50? And that is how I entered the wondrous world of wordpress. My first blog was called The Gipsy Life, and I set it up in less than an hour, using a very simple WordPress theme called Misty.  It was a private blog for friends and family. Since then, I have created many more websites, including currency designer Bernard Lietaer‘s (using the Arthemia Premium template), a memorial site for my mother who passed away in 2010, this website (Sparks of Life), and three sister sites: Aya’s Rivers, Learning to Linger and Befriending Life.  I love the process of visually organizing and articulating ideas and possibilities to make them more visible to others.

Here is a brief primer I wrote up in January of 2012 to support a few friends who wanted to start blogging but did not really know how to get started.  This ‘primer’ is based on my own experience, as well as advice I received from my two favorite tech support wizards, Till Kruess in Bali and Chris Tucker in Canada.

Step 1 – Choosing a WordPress Template

You could go two ways here.

(1)  The cheap experimental version.   If you are new to blogging, and are not entirely sure whether you will enjoy it and stick with it, or are in the process of discovering what you want to write about, the easiest way to get started is to sign up for a free wordpress blog.  This gives you an opportunity to experiment and play for a while before you invest more time and energy into developing a more sophisticated website or blog.  Your url will look something like   For about $17 / year, wordpress also gives you the possibility of upgrading that url to your own url (  Later down the line, once you get clearer about what you want to write about, and whether you feel comfortable and committed to blogging, you can upgrade that basic free template to a fancier premium version.   I used a free wordpress blog for a whole year before moving on to a premium version.  To set up a free wordpress blog, simply go to this link, sign up for a blog, browse through all the free templates, and find and activate one you like.  Then read step 3 below.

(2) The fancier premium version.   If you would like to get started with a nicer template, then I recommend you explore the following sites:

Nowadays, it does not really make sense to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to have a site be specifically designed for you unless you have very specific needs or you have the financial means to afford something really unique and fancy.  Other than that, chances are you will find something you really like amongst the many beautiful templates that are now available on line for less than $50.  When buying a theme, it’s a good idea to look for online reviews, and choose a designer that offers customer support and an online community forum.  This will minimize the chances of picking a theme full of glitches, or be left to your own devices when it comes to troubleshooting challenges.

Step 2: Uploading and activating your template

If you have selected Option 1, and chosen a free wordpress theme, you can skip this step, and go straight to step 3 below.

If you want to install a premium theme onto your own domain name (Option 2, under Step 1), then you first need to buy the domain name and register with a web hosting service.  This is not hard to do and any good web hosting service will get you set up in no time.

My web designer Till Kruess, recommends Greengeeks, Dreamhost or Hostgater as hosting services.

Some themes are very easy to install and others are harder.   I personally recommend getting someone to install your premium theme for you.  Any web designer / developer with basic wordpress experience will know how to do that.  In two hours of of time and less than $100, you’ll be ready to go.   If you want to install the premium theme yourself, then you’ll have to research how to do that, as I have never done it myself.

Step 3: Creating your site’s basic structure

This involves deciding what will be your main tabs (e.g. “about tesa,” “writings,” “connect” etc.) and blog categories on your site.  I find it best to keep your main tabs on the main menu to a maximum of five or six so you don’t overwhelm your readers with too many options.  You could actually start a blog with simply two pages: “About me” and “blog.”  Or you could start a basic website with three static pages: “about me,” “short stories” “contact.”   The kinds of tabs you will have will of course depend on the purpose of your site, so you’ll need to spend some time getting clear about that. Blog categories allow you to organize your blog posts thematically (poems, interviews, essays etc.) so readers can find what they are most interested in easily.  All wordpress templates offer the possibility to create static pages as well as posts which means that your site can function as both a website and a blog.

Once you are clear about the basic structure you want, you will need to create a page for each tab (see step 4 below), and then select menu (under appearances in the left column of your dashboard) to select the order in which these pages will appear on your main menu.

Step 4: Developing contents

There are really five simple skills you need to master in order to develop and update your own website yourself.  Each of them will only take about 5 minutes to learn.  (1) How to create a new page, (2) How to create a new blog post, (3) how to categorize a blog post, (4) how to create a hyperlink in a page or post, (5) how to upload a document, picture or video.

WordPress has a comprehensive archive of tutorials with screenshots and guides about how to do all the above.

Step 5: Customizing your template

Most wordpress templates have a few options / settings that allow for customization within the template.   Some themes will allow you to choose background color, front page layout etc.  You can access these settings by going to Theme Options under Appearance.  You don’t need professional help to customize your template in this way.  You just need a bit of time to read the instructions.  Most templates can usually also be customized beyond what the theme allows, but that requires hiring a good programmer in order to do this well and not mess up the current theme.


Widgets are sidebar extensions on the side or bottom of your site that can display additional things archives of old posts, a search button, the last five comments etc..  To select the widgets you would like to add to your site, select widgets under dashboard.  If you have a premium template, it is good to install the Jetpeg plug-in, so that you can have an email subscription button display on your site.

Spam protection

These days proofing your website against junk mail and unsolicited ads flooding your site (through the comment box) is really a must.  Here is a tutorial on how to activate Akizmet plug-in, which will provide good spam protection.   Akizmet gets automatically installed if you use one of the free wordpress themes, so you only need to activate spam protection if you use a premium template.


One of the reasons why developing my own websites was fun and fulfilling is that I did not try to handle everything by myself.  I had support from my friend Till Kruss who saved me the stress and headaches of handling any tech challenge that felt way over my head (like installing my template, and customizing certain parts of the format).  If you want to develop your own website, I highly recommend finding a good tech partner, who can handle the operational side of things, and troubleshoot glitches.  I’m developing a small list of WordPress Wizards to recommend to friends who are looking for technical support as they embark on the adventure of developing their own website.  If you are (or want to recommend) one of those experienced wordpress wizards, please send me an email.  Make sure to include details about skills, experience and hourly rate!

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When the dance claims you

When the dance claims you, “it is almost like riding on the back of a horse.  At some point you are really floating on air and barely touching the saddle.  Something propels you.” I love that ‘something’ and that moment when life just breaks free and explodes with vitality.  I cannot get enough of this Dances of Ecstasy video which I found on my friend Adam Barley‘s beautiful website.



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Staying with the question

I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms yet to enter or books written in a foreign language…  Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer.   Rilke

One of the things I like to do when I wrestle with a particular challenge is find the question that underlies the issue, and simply stay with it, and feel it, without trying to fetch an answer, just letting it come in its own sweet time.

Great questions are amazing doorways into new possibilities.  Asking a question is being willing to stand in a place of uncertainty, not knowing the answer.   And in that moment, a deeper kind of listening emerges.   It does not matter where the question comes from: a worry, a need, a sense of curiosity, or a longing.  It only matters that this question has come, that it seeks our attention, that it opens up a space of inquiry and invites us to connect with something that has eluded us till then.  The problem, often, is that we do not stay in that space very long.  It’s tempting to rush into the first answer.

I have been trying to build my capacity to stay with a question even as an answer comes in, continuing to ask and feel that question, rather than settle for any one answer.  I have stopped focusing on the conceptual content of the answer to pay more attention to the energy that gets liberated as a result of the openness we start to embody when we are connecting with life, with the willingness to receive something new, beyond what we already knew and thought.  Anyone who pays attention to what is happening in their body while meditating knows what I’m talking about.   Life…in all its many forms… has so much to offer when we are open to receive.

People often quote the biblical saying “ask and you shall receive” but I think the real power of that statement gets missed.  We often ask for something specific based on a prior idea of what we  think we want or need.  We rarely explore the power of asking a question for which we truly do not have an answer, to be willing to stand at our evolutionary edge with a question for which an answer has not yet come into existence, and to be willing to receive that answer vibrationally, pre-verbally, as sensations in the body.  Yes, words and concepts come as well but the deepest level of transformation happens at the vibrational level, in what we feel and experience in the body as we are listening.   When I stay with questions for a while, I often start feeling their limitations; I watch them evolve over time into deeper ones.  The more powerful questions are the ones that facilitate the greatest liberation of energy, the greatest inner shift or change.

Some questions have extraordinary power to open us up places that are constricted within ourselves, places where the mind has built tight containers of certainties to provide an illusionary sense of safety.   Questions can really open things up, when they are genuine questions, and we are willing to feel into them with our whole body.  They may be one of the most powerful evolutionary tools human beings have at their disposal.

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The radiance sutras

I entered the magical world of the Radiance Sutras in the summer of 2006 while attending a yoga teacher training with Shiva Rea at Kripalu in Western Massachusetts.  We were lying down in savasana (corpse pose) after an intense two hour long practice, and Shiva was guiding our descent into stillness.  After we all settled into a deeply relaxed and receptive state, she started reading a stunning sutra from an ancient sanskrit text called the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra.  I was mesmerized both by the slow rhythm and sensual tone of her voice, and by the sheer beauty of that sutra which opens with these lines:

“The one who is at play everywhere said:
There is a place in the heart where everything meets. 
Go there if you want to find me. 
Mind, soul, senses, eternity, all are there. 
Are you there?”

I was suspended to her lips, drinking in her every word, and noticing that the sensations in my body were getting increasingly subtler, as my heart was softening and expanding in all directions. I started feeling connected to every one else in the room, not as a concept, but as an actual felt experience. And this is how I fell in love with “a place in the heart,” sutra 26 of the Vijnana Bhairava tantra, translated by Lorin Roche as the Radiance Sutras.  Right after class, I asked one of Shiva’s assistants where I could get a copy of what she read, and was happy to hear that it had been included in our teacher training manual, along with a link to Lorin’s website.  Later that day, I visited the site, and discovered that thirty more of the 112 sutras which make up this magnificent text were available on his site, each one more beautiful and inspiring than the other.

In the months that followed, I started learning several of these sutras by heart.  I just loved what happened to me whenever I would spend time reading and reciting their lines.  I would spend hours with them, taking them on walks, bringing them into my yoga practice, and sharing them with friends.  I eventually contacted Lorin to express my enthusiasm and gratitude for his work, and to inquire about the other 70+ sutras not included on his site.  He said he was in the process of editing them, and did not yet have clear plans for their publication, but kindly offered to keep me posted.  Then, a couple of years later, in February of 2009, while I was in Bali, I attended a week end retreat with Ateeka, another wonderful yoga teacher.  She had just facilitated a three weeks long teacher training, and several of her students were present for the week end.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that they were each carrying a copy of the newly released print version of all 112 Radiance Sutras!   I was delirious with joy!   Ateeka unfortunately did not have a spare copy for me to buy, so I begged someone to lend me theirs and stayed up half of the night, reading and savoring the sutras I had never read, and typing them up. I later bought several copies of the book, so I could give them away to friends.

The book is still one of my most treasured possessions.  The sutras have literally changed the way I experience ‘reality.’  This text is much more than a book.  It’s collection of rare and precious gems, each of them a portal into presence, an invitation to experience all aspects of life more fully by connecting with our life force with all our senses.  In Lorin’s words, the book is about “full body spirituality, being at home in the universe, and techniques for accepting every breath, sensual experience, and emotion as a doorway into deep and intimate contact with the energies of life.

The sutras have played a big part in my embodiment journey, and learning them by heart has kept giving me opportunities to feel and experience my inner body and subtle energy while moving through life, walking, playing, working, and dealing with day-to-day curve balls.   Each sutra is an invitation to enter the body fully and then let the deepening of that connection naturally expand one’s sense of self beyond the boundaries of skin, and the constrictions of identity and personality.


You can listen to audio recordings of my favorite radiance sutras on this site, and order a copy of the whole book on Lorin Roche’s website.   You can also join the facebook page, and read Lorin’s stunning commentaries about the sutras in the LA yoga magazine.


Lorin Roche’s preface

This little book is the Bhairava Tantra, one of the early teachings on yoga and meditation.  It is my favorite meditation text ever.  The name, loosely translated, means “The terror and joy of realizing oneness with the Soul.”  It is said to date back to the second millennium B.C.  For most of that time, it was purely in the oral tradition, meaning that it was changed and memorized.  I say it is little because it is only about three thousand words in the original Sanskrit, perhaps forty minutes of chanting.   It is astonishing that in so few words it describes the essence of many of the world’s meditation techniques.  I call it The Radiance Sutras because it is so luminous.

A tantra is not poetry, although it may sound that way in the original and in translation.   A tantra is a manual of practices.  This is what a how-to-book looked like several thousand years ago, at least in one of the meditation traditions.   It is a book of meditation instructions, set as a conversation between lovers.  The focus is on full body spirituality, being at home in the universe, and techniques for accepting every breath, sensual experience, and emotion as a doorway into deep and intimate contact with the energies of life.

The text feels as though it was composed by a couple, a man and a woman who sang the verses to each other as they co-composed.  They lived this teaching.  The techniques that are described here occurred to them naturally, as an evolution of the questions they were asking of life, and their explorations of the body of love.   As was the convention of the time, they frame the conversation as the Goddess and the God in them speaking.  The conversation is about how to enter into the vibrant essence of the world with the dual balance of passion and detachment.

An early translation of this tantra came into my hands about thirty years ago, and I have worked with the methods every day ever since.   It has been a love affair and I am blessed.  One day several years ago, I started to write an English version and it evolved into this book.

February 2009, Marina del Rey, California


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saskia shakin

Saskia Shakin

Saskia is one of these luminous beings that you can’t help noticing in a crowd because she exudes so much joy.  I met her in August of 2009 at a Radiance Sutras retreat with Lorin Roche.   On the last day, she and I sat outdoors for lunch in a stunning part of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts, overlooking lake Mahkeenac and miles of forest.  And we dove into a soulful conversation which has been unfolding ever since.  Saskia is a public speaking coach who has helped many leaders and academics find their authentic speaking voice, and she has also spent many years of her life teaching economic experts how to testify in court in a way that members of a jury can actually understand!  She has inspiring things to say about the essential role that silence and connection play in authentic communication.  She even wrote a book about it called More Than Words Can Say: The Making of Inspired Speakers.  It is a collection of inspiring short stories about what she has learned through her work.

Saskia is also one of the angels who has kept encouraging me to go ahead and make this blog public when I kept delaying launch date because of “one more thing” I felt I needed to tweak!   In one of her emails, she wrote:

“I encourage you to put your words out now. Don’t wait for perfection. You are writing for connection. And what I know for sure is that you can never be clear enough, never be precise enough, never be exact enough to assure that your readers’ reactions will be what you wish. We never can control how others receive our offerings. We can only control the spirit in which they are offered.”

Sparks of Life is now live, and I am deeply grateful for Saskia’s steady support and encouragement along the way.  I always treasure my conversations with her, whether in person or by  email, and I usually try to pay a visit to her in her home upstate New York whenever I come to the United States.   One of my favorite kitchen table chat with her is published in the interviews section of this blog under the title “moments of grace.”

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Spreading smiles around the world

There are many ways we can make a difference in the world.  One of the most fun and fulfilling for me is to do spontaneous acts of kindness, with a big emphasis on the “spontaneous” part of it — more about why later.  After meeting Nipun Mehta in 2005, at a gathering in Colorado about Love, Evolution and Philanthropy, I felt inspired to join Help Others (later renamed Kindspring), an online community of folks who enjoy doing random acts of kindness and then share these stories on the site to inspire each other.

Kindspring is a volunteer-run venture that was started by Nipun, his wife Guri, and a couple of their friends.  It has now grown into a worldwide army of +80,000 earth angels who like to play a game of tag which involves doing something nice for others, and leaving a smile card behind inviting them to pay it forward.  This has become one of my favorite games.  It can take all kinds of forms, from paying the toll for the next car behind me, leaving a hand written thank you note for a waitress, giving flowers to the cashier, anonymously picking up someone’s bill at a local cafe, or giving your attention to a stranger who is needing to talk.  The possibilities are endless.

The stories on the Kindspring site are excellent medicine for those moments when you need your faith in humanity restored!  I recommend reading a few of them if you want to sprinkle some extra joy and inspiration over your day. You could begin with Love and Inspiration from Japan, about acts of kindness in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake.

There are now thousands of subscribers to the Smile newsletter which goes out weekly, and it keeps growing.   Nipun Mehta is someone whom I consider to be one of the great ambassadors of the true spirit of philanthropy, defined as love (philos) of humanity (anthropos). His point is very simple: anyone can do it!  It does not actually take any money, although giving it away is also a good thing! I invite you to watch his Tedx talk about three stages of generosity.

Although I am someone who likes to focus on ‘root causes’ and systems change, reading Kindspring stories reminds me that at the end of the day, there are very few things that are more transformative than being kind to others.  It may strike some of us as too simple to be true, but the fact is that if we all did it consistently, we would organically and effortlessly start dismantling a great deal of our dysfunctional systems and ways of operating: social inequities, all forms of bigotry, wars, corporate greed, the rapid destruction of our natural world through crazy agricultural, energy and consumption practices.  The ‘root cause’ of a lot of those things is a failure to respect, honor, listen to, appreciate, and care for life, whether in the form of people or other species.   I am embarrassed to say that in my graduate student days, I would just have dismissed what Nipun and the Kindspring tribe are up to as being a naive approach to social change.  Today, I am convinced that it is one of the most effective ways to lastingly change the world!  I mean: bringing love and caring into all our systems (education, finance, business, energy, government, mainstream philanthropy etc), how would that be for a revolution?  What I’m also learning is that loving the folks with whom we don’t find ourselves naturally inclined to connect really takes practice and commitment!  The heart is one of those muscles which we don’t often take the time to exercise, but truly amazing things can happen when we start working it out!   Check out this story (No Glass Ceiling, Just Blue Sky) about the act of kindness that allowed Alexander Fleming, who was the son of a farmer, to make it across England’s entrenched class lines to discover penicillin!   According to wikipedia, that story is actually a fable and not historically accurate, but you’ll still get the point, or rather the possibility!

And for those of you who are currently caring for an elder in your life, you might love this “Unforgettable Fishing Experience” which was written and posted by someone else.  I’m also including a link to another story I wrote in 2007, about my heart-to-heart encounter with my building’s garbage man!

So, you are hereby invited to join the merry tribe of folks who a performing simple acts of kindness toward friends and strangers.  Here are a bunch of ideas to get started!   And if you already belong to that tribe, please contribute your stories to the site and inspire others.  You can also read some of my own stories here.

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Building strength: an interview with Bernard Lietaer

Bernard Lietaer, author of numerous books and articles about money, is an international expert in the design and implementation of currencies, and a key figure in the complementary currency movement.  He has studied and worked in the field of money for more than 30 years in an unusually broad range of capacities including as a Central Banker, a fund manager,  a university professor, and a consultant to numerous governments, multinational corporations, and community organizations.   I have been a huge fan of Bernard’s work ever since I read the 2004 galley edition of his latest book, New Money for a New World.   I had an opportunity to talk with him in November of 2010, while visiting him in Brussels for a few days.   This interview was published in the Community Currency Magazine in January of 2011.  It was the first of a series of interviews with complementary currency movement pioneers to take a big picture look at challenges and opportunities in the movement, and what is needed to build strength and momentum.

Bernard Lietaer

Tesa:  Bernard, thank you for being willing to kickstart this interview series.   What are the questions you would most wish to explore with fellow movers and shakers in the complementary currency movement?

Bernard: History has shown that significant systemic changes in the monetary system occur only after the previous system has crashed or collapsed. What would be the most effective way to position the movement so that it can take advantage of the instabilities that are currently occurring? How do we prevent the automatic return to the old monopolistic system, which is what has happened following hundreds of crashes for the past 300 years?

Most complementary currency systems (such as LETS and Time Dollars) are by nature destined to remain small scale. Yet, we are going to need solutions on an enormous scale. How do we assess which currencies are best kept on a small scale but multiplied in numbers (e.g. 1000 systems of 500 people), and which models can be expanded in scope so that they can be directly applied on a very large scale, if needed? Which criteria should be used in making that assessment about the best approach to scaling?

How do we more effectively engage with the political arena? If you include government officials in a project, you run the risk than a future change of government could negatively impact the initiative under way. If you do not include them, you lose the potential support of a key stakeholder. What is the best way to navigate this territory? What questions should we ask policy makers to draw their attention to both blind spots and untapped opportunities in the monetary domain?

Tesa: These are all great questions.  What are your own answers to them?

Bernard: I would need some time to reflect, but I could get back to you in a few weeks!

Tesa:  Sounds good!  So, let’s start with what is working.  What recent developments in the field do you find most exciting?

Bernard: One very exciting development is the C3 (Commercial Credit Circuit) which provides working capital to small and medium-size businesses. These businesses represent more than 90% of all private jobs in most areas, so solving working capital shortages has very positive implications for reducing unemployment. The C3 was developed by STRO over the last 10 years, and it is a brilliant design.

Currently, I feel that the most exciting developments are actually taking place in Latin America. The Central Bank of Brazil’s endorsement of social purpose currencies as a legitimate and effective tool that does not disturb conventional policy is a significant breakthrough. In that same country, the multiplication of the Banco di Palma experiment is a practical and positive sign that progress is under way. Uruguay is now the first country to accept a complementary currency in payment of all taxes and fees, which will make the C3 currency available to everyone in the country. A similar but less known example of this positive development can be seen in Vorarlberg, a region of Austria where local complementary currencies are also accepted for local taxes. This will greatly help mainstream the use of such currencies.

Tesa: And what do you see as key challenges, obstacles or blind spots which hinder the movement’s success?

Bernard: There are thousands of currency experiments under way but very little quality data is being gathered and made available for academics to study the results and thereby provide legitimacy for mainstream implementation. Most people develop currencies for social purposes without bothering to gather the data, and a number of other factors can also interfere with data analysis. For example, the loss of support for complementary currencies in Japan due to a change of government may result in lack of access to critical information about useful currency experiments that have not yet been documented publicly. There are indeed 40 different types of eco-money projects in Japan from which we could learn a great deal.

The unavailability of data slows down our ability to gain credibility over time. We need to ask ourselves what we can do about that. I believe that we should create a neutral electronic repository of transaction and result data from different experiments, and make them publicly available on the net for researchers and academics to use. Some parts of the field of micro-finance have followed such an approach with success.

Another great challenge we face is that too few people in the movement are explicitly recognizing and addressing the need for a diversified family of complementary currencies. The reason is that many designers and practitioners are focused on one type of complementary currency only. Although this specialization has served the growth and dissemination of each of these currencies, it can also create a tendency to relate to other types of currencies through a competitive rather than a complementary lense. Until we start taking a better look at how our respective pieces serve a larger puzzle, we don’t have the scale of demonstration that would actually be convincing to everybody.

This said, the fragmentation of the movement is also paradoxically one of its strengths. This movement could not be stopped by chopping off a couple of heads. It has no visible or official leader, and this may be its best protection against those who are invested in the status quo.

Tesa: Where do you see untapped resources and unmet needs within the field of complementary currencies? And do you have any suggestions about how to bridge them?

Bernard: Well, ironically, it is conventional money which is critically missing to support many initiatives. There is a huge potential for Ph.D and Master level research of complementary currencies but the challenges are finding appropriate academics to supervise work in that area, and securing the funding for such research.

Tesa: And besides financial support, what would help the acceleration of the monetary shifts that are needed?

Bernard: My sad answer to this question is “more pain.” The Dutch have 4.5% unemployment while the Spanish have 30%. Consequently, the Dutch don’t feel there is a need to do anything about the current situation. The Spanish, on the other hand, are begging for something to be done. The problem is actually the same in both places, but it’s a question of timing and scale.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the next stage in the break down of the financial system is the privatization of government-owned assets. The inventory in the US is 9.1 trillion dollars. That includes everything owned by the federal government, such as roads, tunnels, recreation facilities, universities, and buildings. The drive to privatization comes from political and social pain. When the potholes in the roads are big enough, and the government in unable to pay for their repair, they will then sell the highways at a fraction of their cost. Ironically, these desperate strategies will be producing more pain, and that will make people more interested in finding genuine solutions. I would personally much prefer to get to these new solutions without the pain.

In the meantime, conferences and gatherings such as the upcoming conference in Lyon are really helpful in fostering a better understanding of our respective pieces of the larger puzzle. The Community Currency Magazine and IJJCR both provide very valuable platforms for cross-fertilization of ideas and experiments.

Tesa: What could bring about a tipping point in the shift from a monopoly of bank debt money toward a monetary ecology? And is the idea of a “tipping point” the best way of thinking about that change?

Bernard: The most likely candidate for a tipping point scenario would be a dollar crash, because that would force everyone worldwide to rethink the existing system. We are now looking at a possible end game. We are running out of possible ways to return to business as usual in the aftermath of such a crash. The financial sector can no longer hope that the government will be able to step in again because even by the financial sector’s own criteria, governments are no longer creditworthy. In the 1930s, the government learned that it could not allow the banking system to sink because it brought the whole economy down with it. What our governments are painfully learning now is that they literally cannot afford to save the banking system again.

Tesa: People in the sustainability movement seem to be divided between those who feel we need to organize ourselves more efficiently (the way the right has done in the united states), and those who suggest we need to trust that our diversity is organizing us (or rather leading us to self-organize) in more resilient ways. Where do you stand on this question?

Bernard: I do believe that if the movement was seriously funded, it would professionalize the field. This is basically how the right wing folks have transformed America. 5 billionaires have created a major shift toward the right over the last 25 years in America and in the world. They created new think tanks, career paths, lobbying mechanisms, medias etc. It took a bit of time but they have shifted the paradigm…albeit in the wrong direction. They are walking toward a cul de sac, but they have done it nevertheless, and privately. They have shifted the entire system, successfully, SO They have proven it can be done on a large scale.

This said, I have personally come to the point where I hope that we are being coordinated by some larger force, some wider wisdom guiding us all. Well, I really hope that we are being guided (he smiles), and that a shift is trying to happen! Humanity urgently needs a different way forward. A growing number of people are aware of that. There will come a time when mainstream people finally throw in the towel and open up to new solutions. People  are aware that the system is badly sick but feel that there are no alternatives yet. This is why the collection data to demonstrate the effects of different experiments is so important.

The best “strategy” to support this evolution is probably not based on the model of a military campaign or the introduction of the euro where you try to plan for every step of the way. That strategy was necessary then for that particular shift, but it is not what is needed now to support this new type of shift. What we need to do now is try to encourage diversity, rather than promote one model. And we need to experiment so we can discover what best supports efficiency and resilience at the level of the whole.

Tesa: A lot of valuable community-building initiatives in this movement (including the publication of this magazine) are done by dedicated people, as a labor of love, but would often highly benefit from actual financial support.  If you were given $10,000 to $50,000 to invest in strengthening the currency movement, how would you invest these funds?

Bernard: The way I would allocate funds is informed by my own bias about the key importance of academic research, but I trust that there are many other good answers to this question besides mine, and I look forward to reading about them. Here are three different things I would very much like to see funded, although funding all three would clearly require a larger budget than the one you just allotted me!

I would want to fund:

  • a coordinator to create linkages between the cc movement and the academic world to fast forward effective data collection and analysis of models that will help legitimize the results.
  • scholarships for Ph.D research on complementary currencies. I think we need to dedicate more time to exploring how to create synergy between different types of monetary solutions.
  • a mainstream movie about monetary ecology and about movement-level possibilities.

It would also be really worthwhile for our movement to have a web platform where we could propose and comment on our suggested ‘acupuncture points worth funding. This would be a very helpful resource for funders who are interested in supporting this movement. With the advent of crowd sourcing solutions, some of the most affordable projects could perhaps even be funded by grassroots philanthropists rather than larger ones. The challenge which our movement faces is that the people with the most financial resources tend to be the ones who have the least incentives to forward the types of monetary changes we are recommending.

Tesa: Any final comments?

Bernard: Yes, I am really looking forward to reading my friends and colleagues’ answers to these questions. It is clear to me that our greatest strength is in our diversity of perspectives, and we have a lot to learn from our different ways of approaching the types of questions you have just asked me. The next generation of currency designers and practitioners has a lot to offer when it comes to out-of-the-box thinking.

If you would like to learn more about Bernard Lietaer, please check his website.  Bernard is the author of many books including the Future of Money (2001 – out of print), New Money for a New World (2011), and Creating Wealth: Creating Local Economies with Local Currencies (2011).   You can also see many of his videos on youtube by searching for Bernard Lietaer.  I especially recommend watching the series of short interviews by my friend Katie Teague.

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Moments of grace: a conversation with Saskia Shakin

Saskia Shakin

Saskia is a public speaking coach who has helped many leaders and academics find their authentic speaking voice.   She has inspiring things to say about the essential role that silence and connection play in authentic communication.  She is also the author of a beautiful book called More Than Words Can Say: The Making of Inspired Speakers.  The book is a collection of inspiring short stories about what she has learned through her work.  The following conversation took place during one of my visits to her home, upstate New York, in the Fall of 2009.

Tesa:  I would like to begin with a question that I ask myself often.  “When all the noise is silenced, the meetings adjourned, the lists laid aside, and the wild iris bloom by itself in the dark forest, what still pulls on your soul?”  

Saskia: I wish to be of service by helping myself and others find their own personal joy.   I have used coaching and public speaking as a vehicle for that, but my personal goal has always been inner transformation, not better speech.

Tesa:  And what have you learned from life about finding your personal joy?

Saskia: I would not call them learnings, but grace.   I have received moments of grace that I didn’t feel I earned or deserved.  They didn’t come from good behavior.   These moments of grace when I found well-being and blessedness have come to me when I was doing the right thing for my soul, not the right thing according to anyone else.   Happiness can only be influenced, not created from the outside.  My house makes me very happy, and looking at this boulder out the window gives me internal peace in contrast to how frenetic I feel when I’m in New York, where I have a good time but can’t wait to come home.   But while I’m very grateful for the material things that I have, the blessed moments in my life have come from things that were given to me rather than from things that I worked for or earned.

Tesa:  I feel that is true for me too.   Grace is not something we have really much control over, however.   So, how can you actually support others to access joy if it mostly comes as grace?

Saskia: The first thing I learned is that we have to trust that joy is our birthright, that we are joy, that we don’t have to become joy.  What we have to do is de-clutter all the barriers that are hiding our joy, to discover that it is there, at the root.  Our work is simply to de-clutter the façade.   But first and foremost, we have to believe that it is who we truly are, and then allow ourselves to find it.   Otherwise, we are always chasing it through different things: this amount of money, this person etc.

Tesa: Has this been the underlying motivation beneath your efforts to help people find their true voice, or teach them easier ways to learn?

Saskia: I don’t know that it’s been conscious.   I’m motivated by two things: beauty and joy.   Beauty is very, very important to me, and not the Bloomingdale definition of it.   There was an ice storm here once, and I had never seen one before.  Everything froze on all the trees.  There was thick snow all around.  The ice was a good inch thick on every branch, twig, pebble.   I was driving to a luncheon, and the sun was coming at an angle, and it suddenly hit the ice in such a way that everything exploded with light, and turned into diamonds everywhere.  It was as if the crystals in the water had become diamonds.   I was transported and started driving my car at 5 miles an hour, maybe less.   I was letting it coast, because I had to experience every moment of this.   Someone else might have just driven down the road but this sight so entered my soul that I felt like I was receiving some sort of atomic joy medicine.  I had no words.   If I had been with someone, I would have gone silent and just pointed at things, saying “look at this!”  It was a freak accident of nature.  If I had been 10 minutes late, I would have missed the whole thing.   I realize now how much I am elevated by beauty, even if it is just finding flowers that look beautiful with the table.  That makes my day.   I’m encouraged by joy and beauty.  It gives me a sense of purpose.   And what I have known for many years, through my work, is that when people tap into that moment of truth and beauty in their speech, even the most boring people come alive and they start connecting in a way that I don’t see them connect otherwise.   When one’s head, heart and energy align, self-consciousness is set aside, and whatever it is people are talking about comes to life, even if the topic is economics.  Then their words are like poetry and their speech is authentic and moving, and it deeply touches me.  I’ m always very honored to be a participant in that process.

Tesa:  And what do you see as the essence of that process that allows someone to align head, heart and energy?

Saskia: My inability to answer that question was the reason I didn’t want to write a book for 25 years.   I didn’t have the words.  I considered it to be magic.  Nine times out of ten, I could make it happen but I had no idea as to how I did it, and also no idea what to write about it.   At the time, I could not find any language around it.   I finally figured out that what I did wasn’t magical at all.  What I did was listen with every cell in my body.  The magic comes from my ability to listen without judging, my ability to feel things even when I do not understand where they are coming from, my ability to listen for truth and not words, and to sift out what people just say from habit, and where they are really hitting their truth.  The magic comes from my learning how to be silent and allowing someone to dwell within themselves to a depth that they may not have been previously aware of.   I think that people know how deeply I care when I am silent.  It’s not a neutral silence.  It is a caring silence that invites what is real within people to come forth.

Tesa: I really love the words you use… “listening with every cell of the body.”  What an evocative image for deep listening!   Saskia, what kind of people do you most enjoy working with?

Saskia: I am turned on by a particular combination of curious intellect and soulful connection.   You embody it for me.  There are lots of people that I have enjoyed working with in the soul camp.  They are very interested in knowing and expressing their soul and that is where they go without much trouble.  And then there are those who live on the Cartesian level and have very interesting ideas, but what I want is both and I’m not satisfied by one or the other.  I think that’s why I chose not to make yoga my professional calling.   I felt that it would not keep me intellectually alive.   The work that I have done in my career over the years with brilliant minds really excited me.   I would go home and could not sleep.  They were not necessarily spiritual but I felt a really strong heart connection to them.   They were brilliant and kind, or brilliant and warm.   If someone is only living in a crunchy granola world, I am likely to get bored with them if they don’t have an intellectual brightness that has also been cultivated.  I am drawn to people who think for themselves, have new ideas, and can connect on a holistic level.

The places where I donate my services are service organization, like Women for Women International.   I also donate my time to the Women’s Institute at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, because these women in the Women and Power conferences are so inspiring.  I like to work with the core organizers, at the leadership level, so that the lessons that I’m offering can ripple out.  I love to work with people who are creating transformation in themselves and their communities.  I get a lot of pleasure from supporting people that have a vibrant message that I agree with and want to help spread.

Tesa: And when you imagine a transformed world, what is it that you see possible?

Saskia: I see how we would communicate with each other and drop the chit chat and small talk that serves as a barrier.   The world that I see would look like the Omega world at lunch and dinner, and in between, a world where people really talk.   They don’t go through their curriculum vitae.   The people who seem called to talk to me really start sharing right away.   Elizabeth Lesser, the co-founder of the Omega Institute, always asks very insightful questions, and she once asked a woman the following question: “Which women in your lineage is present in you right now in this moment?”   Before the woman answered, she commented: “Oh, these Omega questions… they go so deep.”  I feel that those are the kinds of conversations we would have in a new world.   Inter-personal conversation would be honest and genuine.   They would be heart-to-heart.   We would be sharing stuff that is real.   People would talk the way you and I started talking the moment we met, learning from each other, enjoying each other.   Joy and beauty, again.

Tesa: I have heard you talk about three different types of work that have given you deep joy.  They seem to be your medicine: teaching people how to teach themselves (a new way to learn), helping people communicate in ways that different audiences can really understand (‘translating” or building communication bridges across worlds), and helping people find their soul voice.  What are the connecting threads between these three things?

Saskia: I remember our conversations during 9/11, when total strangers could connect without even speaking, and shared the loss, the pain, the bewilderment, and the connection.  It’s a form of communication when we totally know each other, with language, or without language.  How we communicate is not just how we speak or connect through language.  It’s how we are present.   One thing that makes me crazy about one of my friends is that she’s always on her cell phone. I don’t feel that she’s present with me when she’s on her cell phone.  Are we multi-tasking, and having divided attention? Real communication has to do with how we physically are in how we communicate.  It’s not just communication to get it over with so we can rush to the next event.  It’s what happens when we wish that time would stop and we could go on for ever.   It’s giving someone your total presence and attention.

How we learn is very much built in the work I do, especially when I work with academics and get them to understand that the transmission of information has to be different from the way that it was transmitted to them.   It has to be told with stories, analogies, metaphors, making it interesting from the perspective of the audience.  I want them to appreciate the difference between short- and long-term memory.   There is a quote that I love… “tell me a fact and I will listen, but tell me a story and it will live in me forever.”   I want people to understand that story-telling is organic.  It’s how we have always learned and how we still learn.  Brainy people have to begin to appreciate the value of this other way of learning.

There was something on the Women Travel for Peace website, an explanation of the fact that the women in a particular culture speak in proverbs…  that their language is in proverbs.  To take that analogy, in the world I imagine possible, we would tell each other meaningful, very short stories.  I have a book that exemplifies this.  It is a very skinny book called “Simple Truth.”   This little book is one of the most powerful books that I have ever read.  The stories are not haiku.  They are not poetry.   They are tiny stories that are utterly honest and very poetic.   The moment I read them, they really resonated.  The opening story goes something like:  “I had a dream last night and it was utterly fantastic and totally magical and absolutely unreal and I know it was true because when I’m sleeping, my sub-conscious is not smart enough to tell lies.”   Everyone who reads it sighs.  If I could design the way we would communicate… we would speak truth in short little tales that would resonate with everyone most of the time.   That’s the language I love… clean, sparse, true, effective, uncluttered.   And I think that’s why this little book resonates with me.  And that’s probably my own writing style, which I didn’t know until I sat down and wrote my book.   What I got out of being submerged  for several years in the learning approach known as the Silent Way is that nobody else ever teaches us anything.  We teach ourselves everything when we are ready.   The most the world can offer is a kind of “smorgasbord,” and we will take from it what we need when we need it.

The other thing that I have learned is that because we teach ourselves, we have to do the work.  We cannot sit back and passively take notes.   We have to engage in the process of learning.  We have to practice it in order to make mistakes, and in order to figure out which things are mistakes and which are not.  It can’t be something that you sit back and that you have poured into you.   Knowledge does not come from somewhere else.   It comes from within as we play and improvise.

Tesa: What do you feel you most need to continue flourishing?

I love these kinds of conversations.   More of this type of connection is exactly what I need.  Travel also comes to mind.   I feel like it’s time for me to travel a bit more than I have been, to be exposed to new vistas, dimensions, cultures.    I am especially drawn to the women of Africa.  I’m thinking of a particular woman who spoke at the Women and Power conference at the Omega Institute.  She was like an African queen.   She had the face of a sculpture: lean and elegant.  She seemed to have no sense of her own beauty. She was from Uganda.  She was so thankful to be there and spoke about the fact that it had been a dream of hers all this time to come to Omega.   She had read about it on the internet and wanted to go.  The sheer beauty and joy in this woman was so moving, and she started to cry.   She had some notes but she wasn’t reading and was very apologetic because she got very emotional.  Everyone became unglued.   It was as if we were in some non-alcoholic dream.  Linda Rivero from Women Travel for Peace was sitting next to me.   The two of them started talking and I joined their conversation.  This woman from Africa had found a copy of my book, and said she wanted to buy it.  I just gave it to her.  She was so happy and so grateful.  There was just something about her.  She communicated with us in the way I would envision a better world: no mask, and her voice was so dignified.   Her body was so elegant.   Linda said to me: “she has no idea how beautiful she is!”  And it was just so.  She was the essence of beauty and joy and communication from that totally integrated place, and her message moved everybody.

What moved me so much and what I think moved everybody else is that this woman kept saying that she was sorry, but her tears enabled all of us to feel what she was feeling, and moved us so deeply through her dignity and her expression of gratitude.  It made me feel grateful that I could donate to the scholarship fund that helped her come to the Omega conference,  grateful for the fact that she did come, and that we were all in this room together, inter-generationally, really feeling our oneness.  She conveyed all of that to us, minimally through her words, but the vehicle was her being, her essence.  She was such a powerful messenger!  She was really gorgeous, and riveting in her beauty.  And you could see that her soul was just as beautiful as her body.

It was just the love in her heart that she was expressing.  And this was what Linda experienced in villages in Africa.  So when I think of travel, I feel drawn to Africa.

Tesa:  I hope you get to go. I have never been to Africa but the two years I spent in Egypt were deeply heart-opening and life changing for me.  Thank you for this conversation, Saskia. I experience many “moments of grace” when we are together.


More about Saskia

Website: The Keynote Coach

Articles and Interviews:

Book: More than Words Can Say: The Making of Inspired Speakers


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