Connect our dots, create a campfire, find our way.

Once upon a time, but not all that long ago, we used to find our way by connecting dots…

It has taken me many years to understand that what I love to do and what I’m good at, is connecting dots. It’s taken me even longer to say that out loud…’Hello, my name is Tink Stephenson and I’m a dot connector’.

Why do I find it so hard to say? Because while I’m in my element connecting and instinctively feel that it is worthwhile, I’ve struggled to see, let alone articulate, the value. Largely because that value lies in the space between two or more dots. In creating something where before there was simply potential. Also, because quite frankly it’s hard to quantify in monetary terms. When the action lies in the realm of potential and connections of future value, it’s really hard to know how to put a price on that…But in the last few weeks, the foundation for valuing my dot connecting has begun to take shape and the catalyst has been the word navigator.

Two weeks ago I went to the Carter Observatory to hear Paul Curnow, a lecturer at the Adelaide Planetarium, talk about Aboriginal night sky knowledge and indigenous navigation. Then later that week, during a conversation about ‘super powers’ I described mine to a wise and smart friend Nick Potter as the the ability to gather a whole lot of ingredients, pull back in order to have a panoramic view of them all, connect the dots and then then zoom in to synthesise. Or something to that affect. Nick’s response was “Maybe you could describe that as “navigator” – super powers – an ability to see the constellations and draw connections among different points of light, create an image or story that connects them and use those images to guide the way”.

I believe you can tell when people are in their element or in touch with their own super power, because they light up, their eyes shine brightly. What gets me positively fizzing with excitement is watching other people light up and then connecting their spark to another and another and so on… Magic lies in connecting people whose spark has been lit. Create a campfire, connect people whose eyes are shining and there is potential for something alchemical.

So to last week and another talk at the Carter Observatory. This one with Dr Julie Teetsov who talked about the history of Western Navigation and her own experiences of celestial navigation as she and her husband sailed from the United States to New Zealand. Early on in her talk Julie mentioned ‘connecting the dots as a way of navigating‘ and I sat up straighter. She went on to talk about the certainty of stars and their capacity to, in some way, allow us to connect with our inner selves. How in these days of sophisticated GPS systems, we may not need the stars to get from a to b, but we still need them. My spine tingled.

In my last post, I referred to Carl Sagan’s comment ”we are all star stuff” by which he meant that nearly every atom inside our bodies was once inside a star. In previous posts, I’ve talked about this point in history as a convergence of crises and a time of massive global transition which will require us all to work together and connect to our selves, each other and nature.

Here’s the thing. You’re all stars. You truly are. Not only are you made of star stuff, but each of you has an element, something that you’re naturally good at, something you love doing and being, something that makes you radiant.  And yet you shine even more brightly in relationship to other stars. When you’re connected to other dots and when you share your story. The power, the potential, so much possibility, lies not just in who we are individually but who we are collectively. The stories our constellations tell.

In learning about ancient ways of navigating, yes, I’m connecting more of my own dots and beginning to seeing its value. Which is good. But what feels great, is this dawning realisation that we really do still need stars to find our way from a to b. If we are to find our way to a brighter, collaborative, infinitely more sustainable future, now more than ever before, we need to connect dots. Your dots. And the potential in that is is making this little star shine very brightly indeed.







Wise elders and a wedge of orange cake

This evening, David Suzuki, the iconic Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmentalist spoke at the Embassy theatre in Wellington. Essentially on a “Last Lecture” tour he has been traveling in this part of the world for the last 5 weeks.

I am a big fan of Mr Suzuki and he had some beautifully profound things to say. He talked of Earth as our Mother, not just metaphorically but literally. We are created from earth, air, fire and water, he told us. We are air, every bit of food was once alive, the New Zealand water we drink has cartwheeled its way around the earth and we are fueled by plants that capture sunlight. We are created by Mother Earth and she provides us with our most fundamental needs.

This man is speaking my language. He is talking the language of Onemeall, of OMA, of Grandmother Earth. One, me, all. We are all one. We are all connected. As David said tonight, “If I am air and you are air, then I am you”. Or as the lovely Stephanie, Co-Founder of Onemeall would say “One table, us all gathered. One meal, us all invited. One planet, us all communing.”

And yet, in spite of his beautiful words I left the Embassy feeling, well, a little ill at ease.

Partly it was that he spoke of islands of plastic in the Pacific the size of Texas. Partly it was that he told us we’re past the 59th minute and at 1 hour, our time is up. But mostly, it was because I felt the sharp edge of his activism and I found it to be disengaging.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-activism.  It was my career for several years, one I lived and breathed. I come from a long line of advocates, my grandfather was a barrister known in Wellington as a champion of the underdogs. Advocacy and activism are part of my genetic makeup, my cellular memory.

David’s talk left me feeling impressed, hugely grateful for the impassioned words of a wise Elder, but it also left me feeling, once again, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the plight we’re facing and consequently emotionally disengaged. I didn’t leave the theatre feeling that there is something I can do which will really make a difference. And I couldn’t help comparing it with the other Canadian Elder I’ve listened to very recently.

Nearly two weeks ago, along with approximately 4000 other people, I found myself caught up in the magic of a Leonard Cohen concert. His music, his poetry, his storytelling. I don’t think I’d previously experienced on that scale, such a tangible sense of shared well-beng. And not in a spacey, fringey way but in a deeply grounded way.

As I left the venue, smiling and being smiled at, what I felt quite frankly was love. And empathy. The experience I had just shared with thousands of other people, all but three of them unknown to me, left me wanting to be a more loving and kinder person.

This evening, enjoying a delicious meal (thank you Mother Earth) with two beloved friends after the lecture, we talked about the sharp edges of activism and the warm embrace of connecting with friends, family and neighbours. And as we shared a single wedge of orange cake and a laugh with the cheerful waitress, that sense of wellbeing and empathy crept back into my heart.

Having said all of that, although personally I am gravitating towards the approach of a warm embrace, I suspect that we need the occasional sharp edge too. So let’s listen to the messages of our Elders, however they choose to sing their song.