By: Rachel Musson
Schumacher College Volunteer
Baking the cake of imagination for 25 years
When it comes to understanding the pleasures of cake, we need look no further than the hallowed grounds of Schumacher College. Anyone that has spent time here will have imagined, created and indulged at some time or another in cakes aplenty – of both the literal and metaphorical variety.
It was therefore fitting that the 25th Anniversary celebrations for Schumacher College (held at Totnes Civic Hall on Tuesday 27th September) were shrouded in cake: from the abundance of home-made cakes on offer around the room, to the baking references made by so many of the speakers throughout the evening, to Julia Ponsonby’s birthday-cake masterpiece rounding off the revels.
Schumacher College has, for the past 25 years, been ‘baking the cake of imagination’ (to quote Satish Kumar), who began the evening’s celebrations by talking of imagination as being the “fifth element” that we are embracing in our lives; one to which the college dedicates much of its teachings. And when it came to igniting and nurturing imagination, the celebration indulged us all, with Satish’s invitation to fall in love at Schumacher being encouraged from all angles. With the soft warm glow of home being brought so effortlessly into the civic hall - fairy lights twinkling like birthday candles around the room - it was beautiful to see Schumacher transition down the hill to the centre of Totnes, bringing with it all of the light, life and imagination that resides up on those sacred hills of the Dartington Estate.
The evening celebrated imagination as a core ingredient of Schumacher in all of its slices, with many of the teachers and faculty members touching on the importance of stepping off the path of rationality onto a journey that only the heart can know. Satish talked of the need for students to come together as the raising agents of transformation, learning to focus on the cake underneath the icing in the pursuit of understanding, whilst using the wholeness of head, hand and heart to do so.
Former Holistic Science student Nick Topping guided two panel discussions through a journey of exploration from past to present to future, beginning with a taste of hope for the new economy. Some of the college’s ‘emulsifiers’ spoke of their hopes for the future, with Jonathan Dawson calling on us to re-think and re-tell our stories of relationships to self and other in order to re-understand the place of humanity on earth. Stepping away from the old stories of who we are and bringing the heart into the head (and the story) is key in finding a new economy and our place within it, with Helena Norberg-Hodge calling on us to connect, collaborate and educate on our journeys of imagination and transformation.
Throughout her work and teaching, Helena is encouraging an international alliance for localisation and travel to exchange ideas and meaning on our journeys – inspiring us to be learning from each other and sharing stories of what it really means to be human and alive. Julie Richardson told of the networks already happening and the learning journeys being shared between countries and communities, urging how if we are to embody the new economy we need to be the new economy and fill our imaginations and learning with connectivity and collaboration.
“Our hearts know what we can feel but our heads hold us back – yet when we step out of the story of what we think is possible, we can truly make life happen”. Charles Eisenstein’s musings stirred discussions into a heartfelt embracing of the imagination and the power of intuition, calling on us to re-learn what really makes life rich and taste delicious and to be exploring ways for us to find ‘the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible’.
The second slice of the evening began with The Dance of the Temptress: a Mohiniyattam performance from Kerala in Southern India celebrating abundance in nature and humanity. Miti Desai flowed like water upon the stage, with the pulsing heartbeat-rhythm of the music giving promise of the blooming of love and life throughout her dance. The beauty of awakenings and new beginnings born from a time for change was evoked through the grace of her body and the elegance of the poetry of Saint Poet, Kalidasa. Gifts from Gaia were celebrated and rejoiced throughout her dance, and then more literally through a bountiful raffle presentation from the Growers, whose gifts from the earth have blessed the kitchens and tables these last few months, and whose hard work and dedication to the college gardens was rejoiced throughout the evening.
Celebrations then moved on to a ‘holistic’ panel discussion, with Bruce Lipton presenting the myriad ways in which we are all entwined through wholeness – a collection representing oneness and each other and an expression of humanity. We are both ingredients and bakers in the cake we are all working to create; a collective cell in the organism of life. These discussions introduced the relationship between science and spirituality (heralding the dawn of a new Masters programme at Schumacher in January 2017 on Ecology and Spirituality). Pat McCabe lamented on the disruptive, often destructive, nature of conventional science when it serves to find answers by removing a part from the whole in order to study its meaning. Former student Glenn Edney continued these thoughts, explaining how the calamity of our current condition is the reduction of experience into what we want to measure, explaining how by trying to quantify and measure everything, we are failing to trust in the beauty and meaning that imagination and intuition can bring. Pat spoke of how we are suffering a crisis of right relationships, in many ways serving as unbalanced ingredients struggling to find or trust our roles as individuals, often turning from that which that binds us all together.
Head of the College Jon Rae introduced the final portion of the evening, emphasising how arid many of the narratives of human existence have become, how empty of meaning - much like the artificiality of icing that Satish encouraged us to scrape off the metaphorical cakes we are all baking. Talking of how we are constantly encouraged to be divided (intuition versus rationality; head versus heart; self versus other), Jon reaffirmed the holistic pedagogy that lies at the core of Schumacher, bringing head, hand and heart together in harmony. Schumacher College is working to bring back the human scale of spirit and practice into the world, and is soon to introduce a virtual network to ‘lift the veil’ on how alumni are using their imaginations across the world, encouraging collaboration and the blossoming of a global Gaia consciousness.
Seductive storyteller Martin Shaw opened the evening with the evocation of the scent of knowing and being, graced through the pelt of a wild fox-woman. He closed the celebrations with some sound advice from a pig farmer (“Dance with the girl standing by the light, who knows how to rhumba…”) and led us all in a ritual cleansing of our past lives and past narratives; throwing the apple of the old ways behind us, leaving our hands free to cherish our own fruitful imaginations…
With thanks to all those who made such a celebration possible; to those that had the vision and idealism to make Schumacher a reality all those years ago, and to the chefs, recipes, methodologies and ingredients that we are all a part of, working together to bake cakes more beautiful than our hearts know is possible.