Art & Mind

 In Stories of People, Sustainability Leadership
Mark drawing
Drawing by Mark Spokes

If you are looking for peace, you might not start your search in Israel and Palestine. Yet, here I am. As the Chief Flourishing Officer of Ākāśa Innovation, I am here to reflect on what flourishing might mean in different contexts. I am also here to heal a deep soul wound and find some inner peace that will help me in my own journey towards a life that is flourishing.

I am certainly not alone. This afternoon I met Mary after she had just fulfilled a dream to step into the Sea of Galilee. Mary had travelled from Virginia, USA after a tumultuous year, in which she lost both her husband and son. She described the calm of this place as being a step closer to God. I understand. I can only describe a swim in the still waters of the Sea of Galilee, as like sliding through silk sheets. The vibrant sounds of assorted animals surround you and it is hard not to feel closer to the creation of life and closer to yourself.

Having these positive experiences is essential for flourishing, according to the positive psychologist, Martin Seligman. Finding the space to remember the meaning and purpose of your life is also important. Ākāśa Innovation has interviewed some leading figures in sustainability, who all feel that the level of comfort they have reached and the opportunities they now have to contribute to the world in a meaningful way, have helped them to flourish.

It is perhaps far more impressive that a number of faith leaders I have met on this journey are flourishing in more difficult external circumstances. Despite ongoing discrimination and the looming spectre of violence, they maintain an inner peace. Their faith clearly provides courage and strength to persevere through difficult times and hope that a just peace for the region is still possible.

Sustainability leaders have plenty of passion and will need a similar strength to build a world for all life to flourish in. Roy Baumeister suggests that sheer ability is less important in predicting success than the combined traits of persistence and passion that create “grit”. I am forever working with students and colleagues to help them overcome a lack of focus or motivation to be the change they wish to see in the world. I can draw upon lessons from an earlier life in the military to find the self-discipline needed to get the work that I care about done.

I am becoming more aware now that faith leaders have another important lesson for sustainability leaders. I work with far too many changemakers suffering from stress, anxiety and burnout. In her new book, “Thrive”, Arianna Huffington describes the limits that are being pushed in corporate executive suites around the world; but changemakers are also pushing themselves towards breaking point in their relentless work to save the world, or at least play their own part in making a positive difference. The faith leaders do not need to carry the burden of the weight of the world on their shoulders. They do not feel the need to sacrifice their own wellbeing in service of people and planet. They have someone else they can count on.

I know that back home, there are people I cherish who do not have such faith; they are driving themselves into the ground in a spirited attempt to build a future that we can all flourish in. I am sure you would normally find me racing alongside, or even ahead of them. These sustainability leaders have built, what Ed Hallowell describes as, a “Ferrari of a mind” without brakes. The neuroscientist, Adele Diamond, warns us that we must learn to apply the brakes and interrupt our fast-paced lives before we hit a wall. The main lesson that I have learned from Mary and the faith leaders I have met so far is that discovering the inner peace to flourish can start with the simple step of finding a peaceful place to connect to the world.

P.S. I am no artist and I have not drawn anything for two decades (much to my own disappointment). However, instead of taking a snapshot of the place I sat to write this, I decided to spend the time to draw and really observe my surroundings. I am afraid you will just have to use your imagination.

Mark Spokes

Showing 2 comments
  • Valeria

    I loved this blog post so much! Thanks for always encourage us changemakers form wherever you are! There is nothing more joyful than to embark on a journey towards inner peace. I try to achieve that through yoga but I’m still too far to even know what peace means holding those postures. I find inner peace doing what I feel passionate about: social justice. Anything related to that makes me feel connected to a bigger picture in which I know my actions have an impact to others and myself.

    Thanks for bringing to light the anxiety and burn-out effect some of us feel when working in this area. It definitely takes its toll and might feel like we are alone in this battle, but we are not. Community is a very important way of recharging our energy to keep fighting this fight collectively. This is something we should focus more on.

    Can’t wait to hear about your trip and see more amazing drawings! What a morning inspiration this was!

  • Andrea

    I love the drawing! You’re a natural 🙂 I’m sure your journey will allow you to connect your growing inner peace with the possibilities of peace between Israel and Palestine. Have a wonderful experience, would love to hear more about it!



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