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  • Writer's pictureFelix Faller

Roots Grow in Silence: Insights from our Session at The Nature of Cities Festival 2024

At this year’s "The Nature of Cities" festival in Berlin, we had the privilege of offering a session titled "Roots Grow in Silence." This session encapsulated the idea that lasting, sustainable change begins with quiet, internal growth. By nurturing this inner transformation, we can develop a stronger, more resilient foundation to support and sustain our collective efforts toward a more sustainable future.

Systemically speaking, growth is innate to every system. However, the way this growth manifests changes over time. As a system matures, growth shifts towards a more qualitative nature, increasing interconnectivity and cultivating more connection to self, others, and the environment. Just as roots provide the foundation for a plant's growth and health, inner transformation provides a foundational cornerstone for sustainable practices. Without strong roots, a plant cannot thrive; similarly, without a shift in our internal values and mindset, sustainable efforts may not be effective or enduring.

To focus on the inner processes, we began our session with a meditation, allowing participants to cultivate silence and access greater clarity. Integral to the session were frequent reflection rounds, where participants could harvest and share their insights within the group, fostering a sense of collective learning and understanding. We listened to and reflected on the effects of a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke, deepening our connection to the theme. This reflection on Rilke’s words helped us explore the inner landscapes of our minds and spirits, aligning with the session’s focus on internal growth and transformation. Recognizing the lack of deep listening in most political discourses, we also focused on moving from debates to regenerative dialogues. We emphasized the importance of listening more carefully to truly and fully let in what the other person says. To practice this, we used Otto Scharmer's 4 Levels of Listening and engaged in an active listening exercise. This helped participants experience the difference between surface-level communication and deep, meaningful engagement.

The session was successful for several reasons. We had an international audience, with participants from New Zealand, America, the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany. The beautiful ambiance provided by a Tiny House, which physically embodied the concept of a Silence Space, enhanced the overall experience. Additionally, our session served as a peaceful counterpoint amidst a bustling festival, highlighting that the speed at which we address sustainability issues might be part of the problem. As Einstein noted, the same consciousness that created the problems cannot solve them. Thus, our session emphasized that, precisely because the times are urgent, we need to slow down.

Even at a hotspot for sustainability, the discourse on qualitative change—largely intra- and interpersonal, focusing on relationships within the system—remains underrepresented. We need a repeated reminder to bring this blind spot into collective consciousness to foster a more holistic transformation.

I'd like to leave you with this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke that resonated deeply with us during the session:


Rainer Maria Rilke: Love Poems to God

How surely gravity’s law,

strong as an ocean current,

takes hold of even the smallest thing

and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing—

each stone, blossom, child—

is held in place.

Only we, in our arrogance,

push out beyond what we each belong to

for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered

to earth’s intelligence

we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves

in knots of our own making

and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again

to learn from the things,

because they are in God’s heart;

they have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:

to fall,

patiently to trust our heaviness.

Even a bird has to do that

before he can fly.

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