Multi-Disciplinary Artist & Futures Designer

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Breakfast Experience + Talk 

Learning to Live
and Die


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This talk and breakfast experience, that I co-hosted with my dear friend and food alchemist Edwin Sander of The Morning, explored the deeper layers of interconnection between humans, nature and technology.
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What is changing within me, and around me if I express how I wish to live and die?





All photo credits: Nina Slagmolen


Photos by Nina Slagmolen

“Stop being distracted. No one will save you. All the answers are within.” 

- Rilke


   

Introduction

For a long time I have felt the call of immersive, multi-sensory storytelling as my medium. To move my audience beyond words and concepts into their own experience; to make the shifts that we are all part of tangible through the senses.

This one particular journey stemmed from a broken heart: when my father had a stroke in the Fall of 2018 there were moments that we didn't know if he would make it.

The shock of his potential death triggered a dystopian scenario in me. A scenario in which we would have never talked about how he would want to die and be remembered.

So, I decided to have the conversation with my parents; and then spread the call to another 55 people I didn't know. The invitation sounded like this: "Let's talk about Death, Over Breakfast."

Not only would we talk about how we would want to die and be remembered, more so, we would have a powerful conversation about the meaning of life.

Especially in these days, where the quality of our attention is constantly diluted by the presence of digital bling and glitter, these Big Questions are important to ask. Our phones are with us all the time. Our social interfaces have moved beyond the physical into the virtual. Our phones are tools for augmenting our reality and feed our desire to overcome the mortality of this physical body. Our tech is transcending, yet also an easy excuse to not have to connect to people around us, to not have to connect to nature, to not have to feel.

Do we really want to grow a telephone prosthesis - an extension of our brain in our hand? Do we really want to live forever if we could leave this body and disappear in the virtual world? Or do we want to live an embodied life, and then: how to do that?

The impact that death has on life is mostly hidden from the senses. We may suppress our fear of death. We may never allow ourselves to grief for past losses. We may actually become zombies by not facing death as a reality. But does this really serve us? The obvious answer is no.

To be confronted with death can have positive effects. Like it had on my family. I have been telling my father it'd be healthy for him to meditate in order to calm his restless mind. But it was only after he was confronted with a death scenario that he downloaded Headspace and has been streaking there ever since. Same for my mother, who is a buzy-bee doctor who was always in doing mode. Since the 'event' she is more open, more relaxed, more vulnerable. She had to face her own fears, let go of control, and surrender to grace.

For me, the effect has been maturing. I can see my parents for who they are now, as my friends. I could dive deeper into my own inner child healing and finally cut the chords that fueled unhealthy patterns in our relationship. 

Obviously a random experience changed the course of history. Because of what we learned about death (that it is there, inevitable and unforgiving), we learned to live better.

What follows is my conversation with the audience, that stretched over three courses, exploring three 'senses' that make us future-proof. 



1 - Sense of Authenticity




2 - Sense of Presence






3 - Sense of Belonging





This was my Talk


Course 1 - Sense of Authenticity

Mother Earth is in pain. But while the Earth is on fire, technology is thriving. Billionaire and CEO of Amazon - Jeff Besos, is spending 100 million of his ‘leftover money' on a space-travel company for the layman and transhumanists spend $200.000 per person to experience ‘death in de deep freeze’ in an attempt to become immortal.

It is obvious that not all of us want the same future. That both the trans-humanist movement that wants to live as supermen and give birth to designer babies, and the back to nature movement who discard technology altogether, should have a say in the future that we want to create.

In this moment we have an opportunity to make sense anew; to relearn how we want to live and die.

Today, I chose this theme because it is December and we are about to start a new year. December, to me is a month of connecting past, present and future. To reflect on the year that has passed and start the new year with intention. But I also chose this theme as I have contemplated death much more over this year than in previous years.

I discovered that I grew up in a world where everything was talked about at the dinner table, except for the one big scary taboo that we all inevitably have to embrace - sooner or later, but never talk about.

Death.

Death is not a topic we talk about every day. But maybe there’s a relationship between how we treat the earth, and how we are denying death as a reality. This is the experiment I would like to take up with you today.

For this I asked the question:

What can the earth and our body teach us about living and dying in the algorithmic age?

I love the future, speculating about the future is what I do for a living. Last year I broke down emotionally because of unresolved childhood traumas that wanted to be felt. Before then, you could say that I lived in the future. I was always moving on the next thing. My imagination was my best friend. A crazy one indeed.

Meanwhilst I was busy doing, my body was under constant tension being. My body doesn’t want to live in the future, it wants to live in the present moment. And for that I have to open my heart and emotional core, to truly be in this body, present with whatever pain or feeling wants to arise within me, or within the people that I am present with.

This female body, more so than the masculine body, cycles through time to give life and give grace to the past. The more I connected to my femininity, the more my body started to soften. Grief and pain became an intimate reality. And as I opened by heart for those emotions, I was also able to feel much more love.

Now this is also how the mind of a speculative futurist in general works. It is consequential. And it knows that only if I give grace to the past, I can be in the present and impact the future from what wants to live - not what should have been dead for a long time.

We can ask ourselves: "What should have been ‘dead’ on this planet for a long time?"

War, Trump, Sexual Abuse, Loneliness, Environmental Rape. The obvious suspects.

Why are we still keeping them alive?
Because the alternative path is scary:

Facing our Suffering.
Facing...
The Unknown.
The Mystery.
The Wilderness.
The Unsollicited and Scary Journey into our own Inner Dungeons.
The Solitude.
The Silence.
The Movement.
The Impermanence.

And all those things we rather deny.

We rather live in fear than live with the one thing that we fear MOST.
Not Knowing.
Losing Control.
Losing Status.
Losing ALL OUR FOLLOWERS and/or any other form of External Validation.

Instead of putting our inner peace as a priority we let our thoughts run wild and free.
And believe them.

We believe them!

Don’t ask Trump to ‘let things be’ for a day. He believes he is right. So why would he give up that oblivious security for an uncertain alternative?

I was like that! I was always seeking external validation. Wanted to be the smartest, strongest, prettiest, sexiest, coolest, most successful, most spiritual, most intellectual. I wanted to be the bravest and the fiercest. I wanted everything that you can write down with exclamation marks and IN CAPITALS. All at once.

But what I really wanted was to be seen. Because I was scared.
Scared as fuck that if I wouldn't be seen, I would die.

Ironically I found out over the years that the reality is completely the other way around.

I was really, really, dead during those years that I was always running to the next Big Thing. That I was convincing others of my truth. That I was aiming for success.

I was empty within. Suppressing the reality of how I felt, and unable to express from that place of inner longing in an authentic way. 

So I came to find out that my job was not to be the next Oprah Winfrey or Steve Jobs, but to come to grips with death and grief, in myself, but also in others.

And it set me free. I feel better, lighter, clearer, more inspired, intuitive, loving and powerful than I have ever felt before.

Did my parents always agree with the steps I have taken?
No.
Did I receive validation from friends or a million followers on Instagram? No. 
Did I care? No! I had to step out and face the inner demons to set myself free!

This was an evolution thats required trust and self-love. Things I didn't have but had the opportunity to re-member and welcome in my awareness.

And the luckiest thing is that through this journey of embodying the authentic me, I could again be in the future. But now not as something that is lurking me into the far away. No, I started to experience the future as the deeper layers of reality that I can already perceive in this very moment.


In my work I try to make the future from something abstract and scary into something personal, something perceivable by the senses. In this way I consult companies and professionals to make better, more intuitive and heart-centered decisions about the future.

That is also why we, Edwin and me, are combining food and futurism today. Edwin has a beautiful vision for these gatherings: to share analogue moments of connection. And when I asked him what the main reason is for people to join these gatherings he said: to experience connection.

If this is what we are craving for, it is interesting to realize that we are living in a time and place where the mind and the body have been so disconnected. Where our telephone prostheses have made us into cyborgs, who always have an easy excuse not to have to connect to other people.

These are also the times where 10% of the people in this city have been recorded as ‘lonely’, and we are locking up the sick and the dying in increasingly tech-driven environments, as well as the cows that we eat and the workers that make the clothes that we buy.

There is this tension.

We are searching for belonging in the megalomane, the grand, the fast, the furious.  And then we are expected to always know: what we do, who we are, why we are here. It is depressing.

Especially men have never been taught to never ever ’not know’, to never ever be vulnerable, to be disconnected from their emotions and their bodies. Women have to be connected as our hormones make us. We cycle through life and death every month, but it’s also in these times that we are sick and tired of not being able to keep up with men and are working hard to reclaim our part in this world.

If we pursue this path, in the long run, dismissing our body’s reality as mortal and inferior - we end up in space, eating things that artificial intelligences think are healthy for us - us, forever disconnected from our feelings and emotions, from our light and our pain, all the things that make a life meaningful.

So, how can we learn to live a little bit more on this Earth Body? To stay a little bit lower to the ground, to listen to its messages? So that our senses perceive more of what is actually going on?

So that our energy is less outwardly focussed, trying to go with every temptation? So that we live, die, and express from the heart of our being?

How can we have a dialogue with our bodies? So that its systems can work together - to heal ourselves? Just as the earth is healing herself - through interconnectedness. How can we work with nature to reestablish this equilibrium in ourselves?

Before you are going to eat the first course I would like to take some examples from nature. How would mother earth talk? Does she have a face? How does she communicate with us? Do we really understand her? Today - in this gallery - that is all about evolution of the animal kingdom and our co-existence with nature, we are learning to live and die from nature. To then be able to weave these principles in the conversation we have with our bodies, with our technologies, and with the world.

First I would like to show you what mother earth has to say to you - what we may not understand yet.


Pinar&Viola - Mother Earth in Paris from Pinar&Viola on Vimeo.

Now, I would like you to indeed close your eyes and move your body a bit. Move your hips. Stretch your face. Feel your feet on the floor. Take a few breaths.

Now, imagine you are somewhere in a forest.

A forest you used to go to as a child. Smell the scent of it. Feel your feet on muddy ground. A breath of air on your skin.

Now imagine a light coming from the sky, going gently into your body, flowing through your spine, lighting your entire insides, imagine how this energy flowing through your feet, and growing a network of roots below your feet, connecting all of our roots to each other.

All the people here today, from now on, share the same roots, together we stand strong on the Earth.

Now you can open your eyes again.

What did your forest look like? And what would an animal see if he would be there?


ITEOTA TEASER from Marshmallow Laser Feast on Vimeo.

What we perceive of reality is real to us only. 

It is our journey - of coming to full expression - to fully own our experience of reality, as it is giving us opportunities to learn, to live, to die - to grow and evolve.

As I said before, we have two options with technology, we can choose to let it connect us to ourselves and add to our sense of authenticity - by giving us opportunities to express ourselves as who we truly are - OR - it can perpetually float us into space, disconnected from our bodies.

I believe this following video is a beautiful example of how tech enriched the life of someone, to make him come to his full authentic expression.


CYBORG FOUNDATION | Rafel Duran Torrent from Focus Forward Films on Vimeo.

What do you think? Is this an example of how you can you be both authentic and merging with technology and the environment?

Now - you are going to eat the first courseIf you want the future to be colourful, beyond what you have been told, you have to create your own dish, add your own sauce to your life’s experience.

- What part of yourself are you longing to show more of?

Photos by Nina Slagmolen


2nd Course - Sense of Presence 

I hope you enjoyed the first course. And that you gave expression to your creativity! The creative act of stepping out of the way and letting something greater than yourself guide you, is not always easy. It’s for a reason that artists have an intimate relationship with depression. The creative pursuit comes with despair and pain. A rich emotional life is a necessary feat for the true creator. True authenticity is impossible if it is controlled, also when it comes to our relationship with death.

Right now, technology is a beautiful mirror of how we are controlling death and suprress the emotions associated with it, as something that should be circumvented. When I asked Siri for the nearest bridge it bombarded me for weeks after with advertisements for the best local therapists, anti-depressants, and self-help books. My friend told me yesterday that in the year that his father died, Facebook threw him a way too happy ‘celebrate 2017’ video in the face. There, on the screen he saw his father pictured in the hospital, during his last days, and even some when he had already died. There, Facebook found a mare’s nest.

Tech likes it if we keep our behaviour and relationship to life and death predictable and controllable, so that it can bombard us with advertisements based on what our data show what we need.

I come from a background in food and tech - I had a small catering company during my studies, and then I built an ‘AirBnB' for chefs to connect people to local food culture, VanChefs.com.
The digital aspect was just an extra feature to connect more people - not the goal. But it is so easy to forget that tech is not the goal - that making money is not the goal. In the tech world, what would truly make a difference is if we design ethical, sustainable business models that empower people.

In 2007 I went to study in China because I felt China was the future: there was all the opportunity to innovate at pace - unburdened by a slow democratic process. But when I was there, I found out this wasn't going to be 'my future’. I found people deprived of their spirituality. Robotic, driven by capitalist values and monocultural beliefs. I found a China that was emotionally disconnected, as it still is today. The government has announced that its currently building a ‘Social Credit System’ – where they will use big data and various surveillance systems to publicly rate its citizens on sincerity scores. People will know they are being watched and their standing in society will be affected by their behaviour. You are only be as much as your data karma will allow you to be….

This might all seem a bit dystopic, but its a very real aspect of our technological landscape. I think one of the reasons we often overlook these more problematic aspects is that we tend to think that we're powerless. But a technology's true impact will always be defined by those who use it. Whether that’s stamp collectors, New Age gurus or fascist regimes, technology becomes an amplifier and accelerator of the social, cultural and political values of the groups who use it, not those who made it.

And it will continue to be used in ways that you can never imagine.

But for now, it’s important to realise that we can confuse algorithms by clicking random products and making weird combinations. You can disconnect all your devices from WiFi so that you prevent your smart TV to overhear your conversations. You can clean your cookie database and work with a special email address to not have all companies know your name.

But it is hard work to not build up data karma. And we have to practice what we value by connecting with other people and ourselves, our bodies, our pain, our grief. It’s a radical act to let things hurt - it goes against what has been taught. But our emotions give grace to life.

As we saw in the video that I played earlier, the forest is an interconnected system of communication and relationships that we cannot perceive with our senses. But that technology can now make visible.

The largest population group in that forest (and actually in the whole wide world) is fungi.  Fungi grows on the soil of dead vegetation. It receives the hand of life from death.

And now we are going to enjoy the second course, which is an experiment in itself of how we can receive life from death. During this course you are invited to talk about what makes your life meaningful, and how you are perceiving death. You are invited to share with your neighbours where you are holding back to truly live, how you want to live more fully, and if you want to build a more intimate relationship with death.

We are practicing presence with each other. To not be distracted. But to empathise. To be in wonder and be unconditional in how we listen to other people. Again we have the choice: are we controlling each other or are we unconditionally with each other?

Before we start I want to show you a scenario as food for thought. What would happen when we turn blind to our sense of presence and unconditional love for one another?

Uninvited Guests from Superflux on Vimeo.

If we talk about death and dying, and growing older, what do we certainly not want? And what would we want?



The questions that people then discussed over breakfast were:
  • If you only had thirty days left to live, how would you spend it?
  • What would your last day look like? Who is around you?
  • What emotion do you feel when you think about death? If it is fear, what are you fearful of? Is it rational to be fearful of it?
  • Is there a spiritual faith that helps you embrace death as part of life?
  • How do you wish to talk about death with your family or friends?

3rd Course - Sense of Belonging

Our host Vincent Mock then shared his contemplations and projects to make the transience of life on earth tangible. Mock did not allow us to rest easily just yet, he excited our imagination deeper and reminded us of our interdependence with the natural world, or perhaps the link we are losing.

Then we concluded that in some way, the technological trend is driven by what may be our unconscious fear of death. During this immersion we explored how we could turn around our perception by talking about it, and feeling the feelings associated with it. We explored the opportunity to return to this tech-driven world with a greater connection to what we find important, for real. Not needing to react to every impulse. But respond with a connection to who we really are, in authenticity, in presence.

 
Review by @tevredenanthony (in Dutch)

“The Morning is voor mij een fijne combinatie van fine dining, op een unieke locatie én het brengt mensen samen. Wat ik een mooi aspect vind is dat er telkens een andere spreker is, de locatie iedere editie anders en dat daar dan iedere keer een 3-gangen menu uitvloeit van een inspirerend persoon. Het is altijd een verrassing! Wat het team van The Morning heel goed doet is het samenstellen van het eten dat je tot je neemt. Soms dan denk je: WOW dit, dit is het!

Of de spreker nou een muzikant, filosoof of curator is, het zijn stuk voor stuk mensen met verhalen waar je naar wilt luisteren. Ik vind het goud dat ik dan een klein stukje uit hun leven mag zien, horen en proeven. Echt goud!

De laatste editie “Learning to live and die” staat in mijn lijst als nummer 1. De setting was in de Vincent Mock Gallery met spreker Lisanne Buik. Een fijne ambiance in een grote huiskamer/eetkamer. Ik kijk uit naar de volgende editie op 27 januari”










Photos by Nina Slagmolen

ForesenseLab as me, in partnership with Edwin Sander Food Creative, Vincent Mock Art Gallery and The Morning.

︎


"The earth is our origin and destination. We were once enwombed in the earth and the silence of the body remembers that dark, inner longing. We carry the memory of the earth. Ancient, forgotten things stir within our hearts, memories from the time before the mind was born. The ancient rhythms of the earth have insinuated themselves into the rhythms of the human heart. The earth is not outside us; it is within: the clay from where the tree of the body grows."

JOHN O' DONOHUE, ON BEAUTY: THE INVISIBLE EMBRACE



Lisanne Buik, 2018
1015HC, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
aloha@lisannebuik.com