Amazon U-School on Global Well-being

Monday, January 28th, 2013 | Uncategorized

I am writing this on my return trip from launching the Global Well-being and Gross National Happiness (GNH) Lab with a journey to urban favelas in Brazil and to communities in the Amazon rainforest region near Belem and Santarem.

It was fascinating to hear each Lab participant reflect on these community experiences from a different angle. Where some of us (mostly participants from North America and Europe) saw a real sense of community, others, mostly from the Global South (who often have experiences of much deeper community), saw a lack thereof. Where some of us (from the Global North) saw unacceptable poverty, others, particularly from the Asian Global South, saw quite advanced conditions of material livelihood. Where some of us (from the corporate sector) saw good sustainability and community partnership practices (like revenue-sharing), others, from the global civil society movement, saw just another capitalist trick to manipulate and disenfranchise marginalized communities. Where some of us, particularly North America–based grassroots activists, thought that the positive contribution of government equals zero, others, particularly from East Asia, Latin America, and Europe, saw the government in a much more mission-critical role.

In short: the Lab is a bit like a microcosm of our global community, a diverse group that spans all continents and sectors and many systems and ideologies. Listening to the conversations in the early part of the week I wondered: did these people really visit the same community I did? We talked as if we had had immersion experiences in very different worlds—and I guess, we did.

That being said, one thing that everyone was deeply impressed and moved by was the power of the social entrepreneurs that we have met in the favelas and communities. Amazing individuals that effect incredible changes under the most challenging conditions. It makes you feel really really humble. In many ways, what we intend to do with the Lab is to help to unleash the power of social entrepreneurship from often local or project bounded impact to transforming and shifting the whole system.

In the second part of the week we went to the Amazon rainforest area. We will never forget the last 3-4 days that we spent on a regional boat that we boarded in Santarem and that took us via the Amazon, Tapajos, and Arapiuns Rivers to the Atodi community. The boat had three levels. The first level was for food and eating. The next level had 35 hammocks hung in two dense rows that allowed us to sleep— the whole group in a single space (picture).


The third level was the Global Well-being University deck on which we conducted our discussions under the open sky (the picture below shows a Lab participant from SEWA, the Self-Employed Women’s Association in India, presenting the work they do with their 1.6 million members).

Sitting in the circle of our open-sky Global Well-being School made me really happy. It’s what I dreamed the could bring into being. (I first experienced a similar feeling in 1988 when I teamed up with a dozen of European students and faculty to take the trans-Siberian train from Budapest to Beijing, where we joined a World Future Studies Federation conference.)

On the second last day we took a six hour silent hike into the rainforest under the guidance of the Atodi community. The experience was beyond words. We felt embraced by nature’s essence in our whole being. It was a deeply regenerative experience. It reconnected me and us with our source. (picture: a rainforest tree shot from the roots upwards)

Coming back from the Amazon, our group was no longer the same as when we arrived. Each of us had changed. We feel more open on more levels, in more profound ways. We could feel the collective body of our heart to heart connections. As a group we also realized that GNH and the Global Well-being Indicators — beyond GDP — are just a very small aspect of the profound changes that are necessary today.

As I write these final lines, I am sitting in my office back in Boston and watching the snowflakes fall. I feel blessed by the wonderful things that I have always taken for granted: access to clean water; access to food and shelter; access to quality space; access to energy and transportation, access to community.

I also feel that a part of the Amazon and of the whole Global Wellbeing Lab community is still with me, in my heart. Quite amazing change makers from Bhutan, India, Brazil, China, Europe, Sri Lanka, North America. I know that something will grow out of these seeds that this past week were planted in our hearts. But at this point, no one can say what it will look like. So let me end with a nice shot of our Amazon boat at night…

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7 Comments to Amazon U-School on Global Well-being

Robin Alfred
January 29, 2013

This is a beautiful and movingly written piece, Otto, for which many thanks. I have been to the rainforest in Ecuador and felt similarly. I wish you much power as you continue to presence the future and hope our paths will cross again soon.

Lydia Kan
January 29, 2013

Muito Obrigada, e Parabens Otto!

The best line is “It’s what I dreamed the could bring into being.” Your courage, resilience and generosity in building and the Theory has given the 10K+ Presencing Community a path to support/lead global social change. Thanks for sharing THIS experience immediately — and for ‘putting forth.’ With gratitude, Lydia

Luiz Lunkes
January 29, 2013

The seeds are spreading in Brazil.

Joanne Hanrahan
January 31, 2013

Thanks for sharing a profound experience. It speacks of hope in our common connectedness.

Simone Amber
February 5, 2013

Otto, I can imagine you all on this journey. Thank you for sharing it. I have been working in Brazil lately. Looking forward to ways we can collaborate.

Stan Lobo
February 12, 2013

Hi Otto, i have been reading you and practicing some of the principles of Presencing in my life and i sometime would like to share my own experiences as an individual in contributing my own way through my faciliatting groups, where i use the principles reflections and enabling people to let go and experience a life in its true form. Thanks for being the inspiere of the concept and i would like to soon attend one of your programs and go deep into myself and integrate myself into the nature as in Amazon !! Thanks Otto for being my inspiration. God bless you.

Narendra Goidani
April 17, 2013

Dearest Otto,
What a brilliantly written expression. You just widened my vision. We are a group of dedicated people in Pune in India who are working in the education sector.
We truly believe, it is the teachers and the new citizens of the world, who will bring in the change, guided by the now responsible adults.
All the best in your work. If there is anything we can do for you, please let us know.
Would love the opportunity.
With love, prayers and best wishes,

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