Theory U narrative for the question
How can I work with food in a way that supports the health of people and the ecosystem we are part of?
Prior to practicing Theory U, I had practiced mindfulness for 2 decades, explored Vedanta, and had been a student with a Tibetan Lama for 3 years – Lama Jampa Thaye of Dechen.org. I had worked in sustainability both professionally and at a grassroots level for one and a half decades. Initially at a grassroots level in relation to food and alternative economies, then, after taking a degree in Global Futures (1996-1999), professionally.
While reading Theory U, I felt a deep resonance with the process – coming down the left hand side of the U and arriving at a place of presence, is a practice found in both Tibetan Buddhism and Vedanta. The conceptual shift for me was to think in terms of an emerging future making itself known, and the journey up the right hand side of the U – crystallizing and prototyping while working from the whole.
Shortly after completing my reading of this book I was offered a place on a course called The Gaian Leadership course, at the Gaia Coach Institute. This was a short course that facilitated participants to discover how Gaia would like them to help bring the best future into being. By the end of the course we all had a sentence to take away with us, mine was, I set people free.
It was at this point that I started to work with Theory U, because I hadn’t the first idea what this might mean – opening my mind, my heart and stepping out of my ego’s need to have a plan, and through my personal daily practice, remaining at the bottom of the U. It was a few weeks before I had my first aha moment – I had to set myself free first!
And so I did, I set off with £200, a rucksack and a bag on wheels, giving most other things away, and headed initially to a project called Embercombe, where I signed up to volunteer for 3 months. During this time I continued with the practice of holding presence, to see what wanted to emerge.
During this period I discovered a great deal of fear within me, but with my daily practice I kept my mind and heart open, and witnessed with unconditional positive regard my ego’s need to have a plan, as I shifted in and out of my small and bigger self, practicing the art of remaining in a place of presence.
I’d like to say this was easy for me, but far from it, the experience squeezed me in many ways and presencing was a practice that I kept returning to, over and over again. And each time I did, something would open up, a synchronicity would appear, it took 3 years before I really got that I could relax into this.
It may seem strange to think that with years of mindfulness practice behind me, that I struggled with this process, but I had an achilles heel – the need for financial security and was managing the condition PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). I think the reason it took so long was due to the PTSD condition, at the time I didn’t realise there was a cure. It’s a strange condition, because you don’t realise that situations are triggering it, you simply jump between the rational, conscious, intelligent part of the brain, and the primitive, unconscious fear and flight part of the brain – when you are in the latter you can’t be rational and talk yourself out of it, or even realise what is happening, because you’re not in the rational part of your brain. My time away using Theory U to inform my journey, enabled me to really discover this about myself.
What started out as a gap year to set myself free from an economic system that had me playing safe all the time, turned into 3 years of opportunities, personal growth and discoveries, learning, synchronicities, unexpected meetings, with the next step always appearing to keep me going on the journey, as well as weeding, ploughing and re-sowing my psyche, with all the incredible opportunities that appeared when I remained at the bottom of the U. I have since realised, there was a pathway that I was following, but not one I could see, as I sensed my way forward, and practiced level 4 listening, to life.
The themes of the journey on the surface were different types of community building, the gift economy and food. Drop a little deeper and the whole journey was about creating the conditions within my psyche to set myself free, and in doing this, developing the skills to support others to do this.
I ended up at Embercombe for a year and a half, and while there I worked with the Theory U process. I found it was not a linear approach to letting the future emerge, in fact I spent most of my time moving about between the bottom of the U and the left hand side.
By constantly returning to a place of presence through opening my mind and my heart and stepping out of my small self again and again, a string of synchronous events took place that led to: my receiving EU funding to skill-share around food with an off grid project called EcoDharma in the Catalonian Pyrenees; being invited to help in the kitchens at the Schumacher College where chance meetings shaped my ideas and directions and got me started with an Ayurvedic food approach to heal the IBS and Leaky Gut I had been managing, completing this health care plan while out at Ecodharma; returning to the UK via walking the Camino de Santiago with a small group of people that life spontaneously and synchronistically brought me into contact with, who were exploring how to create intentional transitional community with people weaving in and out, while walking a personal pilgrimage within a community container. As I walked the 670 km from Logrono to Santiago, I both learnt a lot about developing community and the importance of the appropriate container, and integrated my learning from the previous 3 years. I also discovered that my digestive conditions were completely healed.
When I arrived back in the UK I didn’t think my question had been answered during those 3 years – How I could work with food in a way that supported the health of people and the ecosystem we are part of? But now 2 ½ years on I realise the journey just wasn’t complete. I came to see that I was still on the journey, and it had all been about discovering who I was and what my work should be, and that the initial question had come from a place of downloading! This wasn’t a bad thing, because it had become a container for the real question, who am I and what is my work?
On returning I continued to hold a place of presence, but now began to travel up the right hand side of the U, creating and prototyping. At times I have slipped into downloading, and things have always gone horribly wrong or the synchronous events dried up and the flow disappeared.
I have been studying Ayurveda and building a business called Peaceful belly so that I can help others understand how an Ayurvedic approach to food can heal their digestive problems. My background with food had been edible gardening, I now have the skills to show people how to grow food and how to create a health care plan through the food they grow. I have discovered how to help people with digestive disorders, so that they can be nourished again. And I have discovered that stress disorders of all sorts are connected to digestive conditions. Through personal experience I now know there is a cure for PTSD – what had been a lifetime condition was cured in 5 sessions by a good solution focused hypnotherapist using the rewind technique, again a series of synchronistic events made this possible.
Supporting people to heal the numerous stress related digestive complaints that underpin so many of today’s lifestyle diseases, through Ayurveda, involves reconnecting people to an ethical approach to nature which includes themselves.
My journey with Theory U has been a long one – 5 years. When I started out I had no idea what the future would be, I had a sense that I would be working with the soil in some way, because that is where my passion is. But the soil I worked with was the soil of my own psyche.
After about 3 months after being cured of PTSD, while working on the Peaceful Belly book, I found myself suddenly aware in a deep way that I really was cured, and this incredible wave of gratitude rolled through me and I found myself writing a short piece about that, about walking out into the world without the shadow of this condition constantly tripping me up, and while holding presence at the bottom of the U a few days later, I knew this was something I needed to do for others.
I didn’t know how I would make this possible and parked the thought, but life had other ideas, and what seemed like a miraculous turn of events has led to my training to do this right now, at the same time as completing the Ayruvedic training and taking the Peaceful Belly business into its next phase.
As I continued to work with Theory U, I had an idea of how I thought the next stage would look, but what I am experiencing as I continue to open my mind, my heart, step out of my small self, surrender and hold a place of presence deep within is that the way really does have a life of it’s own, which is still making itself known to me, and I am still learning how to play from the macro violin.
On reflection I can see that I have spent so much of my journey practicing the Theory U process, on the left hand side of the U and at the bottom holding a place of presence. I have also been practicing this process on my own and so have not had much opportunity to practice level four listening and speaking skills with others. And it is easy to fall into the blind spot within your own being – although I find life lets you know this very quickly! With the next stage of the Peaceful Belly business I am hoping to work with others using the Theory U process, in order to continue my learning and journey into living life from the emerging future.
While continuing with the process of keeping my mind and heart open and stepping out of my small self, observing, listening, surrendering, waiting I find myself re-visiting the original question and what it really meant – How can I work with food in a way that supports the health of people and the ecosystem we are part of?
What was underneath this question? In a word nourishment. Soon I will be in a position to really help to nourish people, their bodies and their minds. And strangely, I will in the process be setting people free.
Lucy Fleetwood: linkedin.com/in/lucy-fleetwood-5aa0b912