My 1st European Experience – and COM21

by Shannon McArthur

First, impressions – Europe – Sinks with one tap, cobblestones or brick roads, buildings built right on the edge of the road, bicycles, beautiful old old buildings, spires and wrought iron balcony railings, traffic dashing hither and thither but few horns, expensive cabs and confusing Metro, (but that’s common everywhere!) open-to-the-street vegetable stands and fresh-baked flaky croissants. I wish I could have smelled them, they looked like they smelled marvelous!

It would have been nice to follow my mother’s advice, to contemplate all the adventures and long walks and write down my memories each evening, but sleep and work always awaited. On the long trip back across the ocean, the touchscreen set into the back of the seat in front of me, for my amusement, didn’t like my touch – it was more trouble than it was worth! Now, I am sitting on a plane with no wifi and the guy next to me is working. Time has been provided to me. Now I’m on the connecting flight to Montreal, having spoken for a little while to my favourite girl and going through customs and walking (one of the very long walks that seem to be a theme on this trip) to get to my gate just in time to be too late. They shuffled me over to the next gate and now I’m in the air again… I wonder if my touchscreen will like me any better this time… or I could just write. I also have lots of hours in Montreal in which I could write so, no worries; all will happen as it should.

Sometimes The Plan is very obscure – and tiring! Why am I feeling so much more tired now than when I landed in TO?

When I first landed in Paris I stopped at the Information Desk to ask how to get to my hotel. She flipped open a map to explain how to get there on Metro. I was confused after 3 transfers and, when she continued with two more, I asked her how much it would cost by cab. It was a really long distance and cost twice what she said but I might have made a different decision had I known! But it was perfect – later that day I got lost 5 times on my way to the Louvre on the Metro – 3 of them the same mistake repeated time after time! I am SO directionally challenged!

My first long distance on foot was across the courtyard of the Louvre. While walking I saw a platoon of young men in fatigues walking toward me holding machine guns across their bodies. Chilling, and disturbing to see such fresh faced young men, sons of mothers who worry. I then had to find the Mona Lisa and there are a lot of stairs involved, and a lot of naked artful bodies. When I got back to the hotel, there was Yan, working away while waiting for me. We went walking the streets (another long way) looking for a vegetarian restaurant – which we didn’t find and what we did find really wasn’t good, but we enjoyed each other’s company. Having known each other for a year and finally being in each other’s presence was a real kick!

Things weren’t very long distance the second day but I did stretch – my very first time doing interviews! The Climate Tribunal gave us a whole big room to set up in and Randy, the cameraman, was perfect! The original camera person decided not to come and so Robert, the third in our United Earth COM21 team, had to find someone else – exactly the person we needed: a professional with experience rather than a student doing a school project. Randy was so very nice and treated me so well, even gave me a little bit of gentle direction when I needed it. But I knew with my first interview that I was in the right place, doing the right thing – her name was Shannon too! What a perfectly lovely gift of encouragement from Spirit!

The third day we went to two more places for more interviews. In the first place (Place to B), we met Rolf Winters and his family – they made (lived!) the movie Down to Earth, about meeting, talking with and filming wisdom keepers and medicine people in tribes around the world.

Going to the Global Landscapes Forum, we learned the easiest way to get into a venue is to say you’re media – no entry fee and no line-ups! Without any advance notice we just sailed in, found a corner and set up! Then Leah Barclay found us – perfect! She was why we were there but we had no idea how to find her. Her Soundscapes were supposed to be part of the COM21 but we weren’t able to make it happen so she’s setting it up around Head Office in Rotterdam and we she’s to be part of the online festival in March (more about that later!) We got a lot of very good interviews over those two intense days and very little sightseeing although, apparently, I had to see the Eiffel Tower – when I turned down the opportunity to see it up close, I was told to “get out of the car!” and go see. I’m glad I did – it was worth every moment, and seeing all the things around it gave me some perspective. It is so much larger than I had ever thought. There are two big carrousels with beautiful horses and other things (lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!) all going around (I’ve always loved carrousels!)

Then we started driving – THIS was a VERY LONG distance! Our drive took us out into the countryside… Not much to see really, other than flat land and rock/brick walls right on the edge of the road. Lots of trees lining the roads too. I was told that Napoleon’s men couldn’t figure out where they were on the featureless flat grassy meadows. To help them orient themselves Napoleon had trees planted along the roads. It does give definition to the land but there were no wild places! I missed that.

We were on our way to a castle… and my first meeting with Chief Phil Lane Jr. – a man full of passion and purpose, doing all that he can to bring us all together. I had never met him personally, but had taken an online course, Indigenous Wisdom for Compassionate Living and Unified Action, that he had presented through The Shift Network. Over the year since, we had come into contact and I had introduced him to Yan and Robert of United Earth. Brother Phil had invited us to be present that evening and while we felt honoured to be invited we were not sure what was to take place. The castle, a chateau really, was very old and I loved the feeling of age. We gathered in a smaller building (~20’ high ceilings!) across from the main building, with lawn and trees between. Many many indigenous people from all over the world filled the room, some who had gathered there, like Uncle Phil, for the Wisdom Summit at which a number of Marine Sanctuaries around the world were declared. Uncle Phil presided over the proceedings of the evening. He was in his element; people looked to him, gathered around him, honoured him as he graciously and humbly greeted and smiled at everyone, making sure that all were comfortable and everything taken care of. He suggested I sit behind the altar that had been created on the floor and at one point my shoulder was tapped by a young person who whispered, “That place is reserved for special people. Maybe you should move away.” I thought about it and replied that Chief Phil Lane Jr. had invited me, and she quickly replied that of course I was in the right place and she was sorry. It was very nice to know that I had been placed there intentionally, to honour me. He was a wonderful host and there is no doubt in my mind that he is doing this work because he is called to do it. Over the days that followed when he was part of the COM21, he was not well but covered it well and gave everything we needed to our gathering.

The ceremony we witnessed was for a young woman whose whole family was killed right in front of her due to a “land dispute” with a mining company – her father would not sell his land. Uncle Phil asked her who she would like to help her and she chose two grandmothers from different cultures: one who anointed her with spring water, washing away her pain; and the other gently patted her long hair, shoulders and back with a feather. During the long and powerful song that followed, women placed their hands gently upon her back and shoulders, and others upon their backs and shoulders, creating a conduit through which to send their compassion, energy and strength to the young woman – it seemed to help her, and being a part of that conduit, that ceremony, was a truly powerful experience for me.

We were then fed royally and used another iteration of the extremely small sinks and very efficient toilets that always seemed to be available. I remember when I was small there always seemed to be difficulties in finding facilities – we even had to pay sometimes (oh, right, that happened in the Library in Amsterdam.)

We then drove onwards to Rotterdam. Our beds weren’t ready yet so we stayed at Robert’s house on the floor of the living room – another night sleeping beside that beautiful man. Damn I wished I were younger! I knew, however, that it was perfect the way it was because, had I been younger, we may have been distracted from our work.

Perfection was a repeating theme throughout my time in Europe. First in Paris; and after, it just continued being perfect. Though there could have been some disagreement about what perfect looks like, every time we thought about the challenges, we realized the perfection underlying it and the reasons why it wasn’t some other way.

The next morning, we drove into the cobblestone parking lot / courtyard of a huge empty building, walked up looong flights of stone stairs – into our very own office. It was a refuge and a home after so much time away from home. Immediately I picked my place, moved furniture and plants, and connected my iPad. The building is a school built in 1923 of stone and brick and our office is on the top floor in the middle. No view out the high big windows at the back and only the corridor out the front – though through a small window into the corridor you can see the windows on the other side of it that look out (if you stand on a chair!) over the courtyard / parking lot. The children from the school across the street play there during their breaks. There are 4 floors and all the stairs are stone. There’s a circular marble one that leads down from the auditorium to the conference room. Ooooo…. But that’s getting ahead of the story… Let’s go back to the office. One of the smaller rooms, it has no view but it has Internet and is next door to a toilet.

Yan and I slept the first night in the office, before anyone else got there. The dorms didn’t have any bedding yet and the rooms would have been cold and echoey. Besides, we had work to do and we worked like crazy people. It was so wonderful having him in the same room instead of across the ocean! He has a mission and he so wants to get back to doing what he loves – teaching permaculture, etc. He says the mission comes first for him – reminds me of the commitment shown by Uncle Phil!

Throughout the day Bret came with Chris and later, Nico arrived. All are beautiful young vibrant passionate men with skills and ability that impressed me greatly. They were amazing… I listened to Chris and Bret talking Noomap and computers and I was blown away – I’ve dreamed of this! I’ve felt a deep longing for it. And they love me. I feel like we were parted at birth and have finally found each other – who’s to say it’s not true? I got to speak to Andrea, Bret’s wife, and she and I immediately felt connected. I’ve felt that with Sheri too – she’s the fourth of the Noomap team and has curly hair I have been fascinated by all my life! Anyway, I’m getting off the subject…

Lisa joined us and worked with us, getting together the Children’s altar and being so very helpful and bright. Next day Annette joined us and we then had 3 in our dorm. Karin joined us for a couple of nights and then a young woman from Amsterdam, Aansan.

We just worked like mad until time for the conference and we dealt with all the challenges and made it look easy. Skype was an impossible challenge and I hope to have canned material next time, to fill in should the connections go awry. We lost a lot of time with that, but for the most part, I think that the participants felt engaged throughout, with just enough downtime to make it enjoyable. Yes, there was too much on the agenda but it allowed us to drop things and concentrate on the things that were important. It was important to keep on top of things and I kept losing things (business cards, programs, etc.) but maintained, I think, an air of elegance. I’d like to think so – had one young man come up and ask me “how do you do that?” referring, I gathered, to my hosting/speaking. After telling him it was partly a gift, I told him about Toastmasters. I think he will be starting a club in his University!

Talking about the conference here, without anything to refer to is difficult but I can recall the high points – moving the chairs from lecture format to circle and welcoming everyone; telling them the plans for the afternoon/evening, supper and writing things to be burned, supper of Chinese food (because when you’re living in a sharing economy, sometimes someone else enjoys the bounty before you!) going outside to burn notes containing things of today’s world that will be fodder for the future, food for the Unity Tree of Peace we planted the next morning with Uncle Phil,  the children from the school across the street and city officials. Nicholas dug the hole and in the morning when we came out, the ashes from the fire had already been put in – there weren’t many because it was blowing so hard the night before it almost blew the fire out! Instead it made the fire very hot and the only reason we had any ashes at all was because Annette found cement paving stones at the side of the garden and brought one, and others followed suit, and we sheltered the flames and the ashes so some were left for the tree! Makes me think of the way of the world, we are living so fast we are burning everything and leaving little behind. It was a lovely ceremony. Uncle Phil wore his headdress and did a ceremony and song – one I knew! Wy-on-ki-ay… And then we went in to start the work of the conference.

First we heard from Yan and Robert about UE and then Chris and Bret talked about Noomap and then Uncle Phil had to leave. We had some small breakout groups to talk about Next Actions and we women all got together to talk about a 24 hour free online festival to bring attention to UE and the need for Global Unification and collaboration. Rajesh from Share the World’s Resources came to add his expertise and experience to the hot fire of inspiration burning in Aansan and Annette, Lisa, Miriam and me. At one point I went to talk to the small group that were talking about networking and came asking questions just when they needed to be refocused on their purpose… how could I know? But everything, magically guided, was perfect!

The third day we gathered in circle, as we had the previous two days, then did more talking, managed some Skype interviews and failed on others, decided on our course of action for the short term and then got together in circle again to reflect on the things that happened for us throughout the conference. I said something like: “Coming into this room was like coming out of the whitewater into a wide deep river, with lots of stuff going on under the water – I was a scuba diver trying to navigate gates that kept changing!” I could have said many things, like I’ve written here, but I was so full of excitement with the finish line being in sight, that I lost all power of rational thought. It had been such a blast of not knowing, dealing and adjusting; it was exciting and inspiring and so in-the-moment decide NOW. I loved the experience but was disappointed that I wasn’t able to remember and focus – I just did the best I could, knowing that the agenda was loose and we were creating parts on the fly. I know that I threw a few curves at my co-hosts but they were gracious and worked with what I gave them. It all seemed to work, and I cannot fault myself that it wasn’t perfect – because it was, even though it was a different perfect from the perfect I had in mind!

After our conference many of our participants melted away. We went for supper and waited for the Zeitgeist conference to start. The most amazing part of the whole time in Rotterdam may have been what happened at the Zeitgeist conference, the influence we had on it. It was the first conference of the European Chapter and their leader gave a presentation (his first, we were later told) that suggested a leaflet in mailboxes campaign. The audience were very polite. They even applauded, but they seemed depressed – the very air seemed dark and dangerous. We ladies slipped out the back. Shortly after, the leader decided to take a bathroom break in the middle of his presentation and then someone stood up and said he wanted to talk about collaborating with other movements. At that, Anthony stood up and told them that next day we would be presenting UE and a new computer program that would assist them in creating the Resource Based Economy they desired. Their appetites were whetted and they were primed for the next day!

While Yan and Robert, Chris and Bret worked on their presentations, Lisa, Annette and I were taken out for some sightseeing by Astrid, one of Anthony’s volunteers. I was very pleased to visit the indoor market that I’d seen on the Internet a few months back. It’s now famous and it is entirely justified. Apartments line the walls and overlook the market under the huge arch, like an aircraft hangar but bigger, with the inside painted like a huge garden. Even the windows are painted green! We felt smaller than ants in a green and abundant garden. The goods in the stalls were top quality and so very varied: vegetables and fruit, chocolate, cheese, balloons and flowers, ceramics and bags – bags were inside and then when we went outside there were more bags. How can the vendors make enough money when they have such similar products? I wondered.

We then went to visit another building owned by the Meesteren Foundation, that Anthony is a part of, like our head office, and I met Abe who printed our programs, posters, flyers and business cards. I took a photo of some of our work lying on the machines! He did such beautiful work!

We got back in time for me to take part in a Speaking Workshop. It was nice to be part of a small circle, especially when I have experience to offer.

Later that evening, Chris and Bret presented Noomap and then Yan and Robert presented UE. We had debated, then decided to present Noomap first because it would appeal to the youthful members of Zeitgeist. We were right – and then Yan recited the first half of his poem – they sucked it all up! They were so hungry! And it was exactly the sustenance they wanted!

A great collaboration was formed – the European chapter of Zeitgeist has joined with United Earth and an invitation to a further Zeitgeist conference in Greece has been received. Noomap will definitely be going. I don’t know who else… But they are with United Earth so we will all be there, at least in Spirit!

The conferences were over. Uncertainty set in once again – where do I go and when? I spoke to Aansan and she invited me to stay with her in Amsterdam until I could stay with Yan and his Mom. Turned out I never made it there – instead I stayed with Aansan and we went walking the canals  and streets, and visited some shops, and we worked and thought about going to a Buddhist night but worked instead. I stayed with her for 4 days in her 2 little attic rooms without once getting cross or bumping up against each other! Such a nice young woman, and she lives in such an interesting building. It’s very old – it was, I think, a family home but it has so many levels all connected by steep stairs, the first one straight up; then two spiral staircases that I’ve always wanted to experience. Her building is one of a whole block of 4-5 story homes with stores at ground level – that is the dominant building style I found in Europe. I’d wondered what the inside of those buildings looked like!

Aansan didn’t even bat an eye when we showed up a day early – just introduced us to a couple of her roommates, (all of whom share the kitchen) and went up to straighten up. She hardly took long enough for us to tell them about UE but we did our best and it was good enough to interest them both in becoming part of what is growing. Roos and Stopphil are an artist and a permaculture/business consultant (not sure about that but that’s what it sounded like!) Roos had just finished an opening, showing her geometric artwork and it had been a great success. Stopphil is looking for work and was very interested in the possibility of creating a garden at Head Office in Rotterdam.

When I asked Yan about his plans (he is also into permaculture) he talked about the work he wants to do in Amsterdam, as well as channeling the stuff that is coming through him – he deeply desires someone that can support him in his inspirations as there’s too much coming through for him to catch it all. He feels we all need to have personal assistants. He talked to Aansan about it, suggesting she might know someone that might be able to do it and she said she’d think about it.

The next day, the day before I left, Yan and I got together – he and his mom came to get me and we went for lunch at a restaurant she had found during her last visit to the opera – The Magic Flute, live-streamed from the Met in an old theatre converted to a cinema. It is one of the old buildings created back when they embellished things so beautifully. I’m so glad that kind of decor still exists. After lunch she went home and left Yan and I to walk the canals and streets on our own. We found a “coffeehouse” and I experienced a pang of regret for my lack of a sense of smell – I would SO have loved to experience the smell of legal pot! But there was no room for us so we went for a walk and found a little doorway into a courtyard that had a church in it. While I appreciated the building, Yan built us a joint and we went for another walk, looking for just the right place to puff (looking at a head shop!) Trying to figure out how to use our time to greatest benefit, we went looking for an Internet cafe (because I had no juice in my phone and need wifi, and he had left his laptop at home) but when we finally found one, it cost too much. More brainstorming… finally, library! So we made our way there and found we needed to have a card to access the machines. Yan couldn’t get a card because no bank account so there we were… no electronics and no place to go!

We decided to talk. It had taken us a long time to get to what I think we were meant to do! I told him about the prophesies of Jake and the 2 stones. I told him about the book that Miriam and I have talked about publishing. These were things he needed to know about me. We’ve been so busy ‘doing’ that he hasn’t really been aware of me, just enjoyed the synergy – and every now we share, whatever the miles between us.

He also knows that I am directionally challenged – he has taken such good care of me! I miss that already! Aansan also went out of her way to make sure I went the right way… I cannot believe the disconnection with directions I exhibit. I’m so glad I have Kamloops figured out! If/when I go places, I’d so very much appreciate having someone to lead me along! And to gather the business cards and ideas that spring up like flowers all around me!  

And to make plane reservations so I don’t have to do things like what I had to do to get home! OMG, what a challenge that was. Missed flights because of trying to do what I couldn’t do and having to get bags and stow bags and hurry up and wait. During my visit to the library with Yan, I had misstepped on the stairs and twisted my ankle a bit (good thing I had his arm) and then there I am waiting for my flight from Montreal, after waiting 6 and a half hours and spending 3 of them standing in line-ups, sitting at Gate 4 till 10 minutes past boarding time but there was no one around and so I asked and found out I was supposed to be at Gate 50… and they were leaving NOW… ankle didn’t really bother me until after sitting on the plane and couldn’t stretch.

Finally home, I had a nice long bath to soothe my ankle and my tired self – and use up some of the daylight hours that they tell me I should stay awake for to avoid jetlag. Seems to have worked except that my head really wanted to get some work done… finish this up and get onto planning the festival, etc…. finally slowing down now that it’s 5 hours later, just 9:42 am. But I’m still cold so must crank up the heat and close all the drapes and shades and make a hot chocolate or something…

A trail of thought has crossed my path and needs to be investigated here… Mom asked me within the first 15 minutes when I’d be taking off again and I said I didn’t know. I told her about the opportunity I was casually offered, to move to Rotterdam and become one of the “home team”! I told her about the online Festival happening March 20 and that I feel I need to be there.  There are so many pieces that need to be considered! My beautiful comfortable home here across the street from her and next door to the shopping centre; the Panama Canal trip that she and I and a friend have booked for February/March; divesting myself of, or storing, all the stuff accumulated over the years including my Cool Car – a PT Cruiser I wrote about in my blog. We talked about the path I walk, the goals I have and how to achieve them. We talked about my strong belief/awareness that, as I step forward, a steppingstone forms beneath my foot and becomes solid as I place my weight upon it – and my feeling that now others’ stepping stones are being placed next to mine – and it is not a footpath anymore but a road, a highway that leads us all to the more beautiful world we know is possible.

Uncle Phil says: By walking the path we make it visible for others…