What’s Emerging in 2023

Academy Founder and President Aaron Stern invites you to explore our emerging work in the world, and stay tuned for what’s next in 2023. 

Dear Academy Friends,

As we begin this new year, I find myself turning once again to the wisdom of Joanna Macy, the remarkable deep ecologist, environmental activist, and Buddhist scholar.

More than two decades ago, she offered counsel that I find as encouraging today as ever:

“Future generations, if there is a livable world for them, will look back at the epochal transition we are making to a life-sustaining society. And they may well call this the time of the Great Turning.”

Macy went on to describe how this transition — this turning — would be accompanied by immense planetary challenges, a phenomenon she calls the “Great Unravelling.” I cannot imagine a more poignant way to describe the chaos and uncertainty of these last few years — it feels as though the world is unraveling indeed – and from Macy’s perspective, necessarily so, to make way for the next.

This “epochal transition” can plunge us into a state of deep disorientation, but it need not leave us frightened or paralyzed. In fact, as you know from our work at the Academy for the Love of Learning and likely from your own life experiences, there can be a great gift in disorientation, an opening into what we thought was closed, unchangeable; an opportunity to wake up from the habits and patterns that delivered us to this very point, and make way for new, more “life-sustaining” ways of being. Octavia Butler put it perfectly in her novel Parable of the Sower, published years before any of us could have imagined the COVID pandemic: “…it took a plague to make some of the people realize that things could change.”

Things can change, because we can change. We can transform, individually and collectively. This belief — this knowing — is at the heart of the pedagogy at the Academy for the Love of Learning. I think of it as a pedagogy of faith — faith in the human capacity and proclivity to learn, grow, and transform — to become better at being human.

As our work at the Academy demonstrates, we have the power to slow ourselves down, wake ourselves up to patterns that no longer serve us, and transform them into actions that are aligned with the most noble, compassionate, and alive parts of our selves.

And as those of you who follow our posts have surely noticed, over the last two and a half years, the Academy itself as an organization has done just this. During the pandemic, we have by necessity slowed down, nearly to a standstill at times, and turned inward. As have many of you, with great care and intention, we have reexamined deeply our own patterns, including how we bring our work to the world as we enliven our mission. In doing so, we have discovered exciting ways to bring our learning practices into new contexts, and sought to uncover how our unique contributions support the communities we already serve — and new ones — and how those communities enrich and support us in our own learning.

As we begin 2023, we are thrilled to share with you, our larger community, two beautiful examples of what is now emerging from seeds we have planted and wells we have dug. Projects that we imagine will serve meaningfully in an emerging new time. Both projects exemplify our key new work form: Learning Exchanges.

Seed Syllables: Seed Syllables was initiated during the first year of the pandemic, when I reached out to my dear friend, Academy Creative Practice Fellow and long-time faculty member Chrissie Orr, with a simple yet potent question: “How can we somehow get glimpses of the emerging intelligence, wisdom, and capacity for a new time, being born from these times of great challenge?”

Touched by this question, the inimitable Chrissie imagined a creative Learning Exchange to be designed and developed in partnership with a colleague, and which explored and tracked what is arising in the wake of the current moment we are in — the still-COVID-present world in which social injustice and anti-Black violence have been exposed anew in horrific ways — and radical re-imaginings that are emerging for us individually and collectively.

This Learning Exchange creates spaces for healing and honest engagement with communities that are still hurting from the extreme events of the past two-plus years – and especially BIPOC, immigrant, and Native American communities, who have been disproportionately affected by COVID and racism, ongoing.

Seed Syllables is steered by a collaboration between Chrissie Orr and Meena Natarajan (Co-Artistic and Executive Director of Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis, MN), with invaluable contributions from staff at the Academy and Pangea.

Chrissie and Meena engaged in carefully held conversations with 32 artists/activists/cultural workers/visionaries across the U.S. and Canada through Zoom, focusing on what participants were going through as well as their hopes and images for the future. These conversations have been distilled into poetic expressions.

In the coming year, those poems will be curated as a participatory incantation/rite incorporating these resonating words for our times with music, images, and movement as a means of expression and community healing. The first iteration of this was prototyped in Minneapolis in summer 2022. We are planning another iteration in the spring at the Academy, with a small group that will include the Santa Fe participants. Then again in Minneapolis, in the neighborhood where George Floyd was murdered, which is where Pangea is based, at end of summer 2023. All of this is being captured in video or audio recordings to be shared through the emerging new Academy communications channels.

Those of you familiar with Academy pedagogy know that among its cornerstones is the consolidation of experience through symbolic expression — known as Poesis — essential to the process of deep learning and transformation. Through these expressions, we can see and witness together the meaning and wisdom arising from experience. We can see this power and poignancy in Seed Syllables.

Impression without expression means depression. With expression it becomes liberation.” – Dennis F. Kinlaw

Well of Being: Well of Being was an inspired vision imagined and initiated by esteemed and beloved long-time Academy faculty member Acushla Bastible, to support intimate family-to-family conversations – well-to-well – in sustained, networked, intentional relationships, strengthening our capacity to foster beloved community. It is an invitation to look to ourselves, to our families (past, present, and future), and to our communities, as “wells-of-being” from which we can draw and share wisdom, fortitude, and inspiration.

Arising from a belief in the connective and generative power of beloved families within beloved community, our hope is to identify and explore strategies that help families connect to their own sources of strength (their wells-of-being) and to each other: so that families can be like wellsprings for each other, sharing wisdom and resources and fostering supportive cross-community learning exchanges.

Led by Acushla and a small support team, Well of Being is currently in the Prototyping phase of its development. For this, we selected a cohort of participants — all of them known to us from past collaborative work — who were already in a careful and thoughtful process with their own families. The prototype cohort includes Acushla and myself, alongside Hakim Bellamy, Randle Charles, Christine Gonzales, Vanessa Torres McGovern, Hanna Negusie, and Edie Tsong.

Together, we are co-creating the design (form and content) of the project. Foremost in our minds is designing a process which draws upon the inspiration and strength of each family, is readily accessible, fosters intentional community exchange, is mutually enriching and nurturing, and allows families and communities to share resources, knowledge, and wisdom. Surely, this kind of deep, intentional family-to-family engagement is part of the future we want to see.

In Spring 2023, our plan is to test and develop the resulting prototype model further with new family cohorts and then offer this form out into the broader community. We’ll do so by linking for the first time to our new technology infrastructure – our LEM (Learning Exchange Matrix). Wish us luck and stay tuned for news about this beautiful project.

We at the Academy are deeply excited to share these examples of our emerging contributions to the world we wish to see. Please stay tuned to our communications channels, and learn about other emerging projects and activities, including our very first Youth Summit: The Learning Spirit!

We send all blessings and kind thoughts for 2023.

Warmest best wishes,

Aaron Stern
Founder and President
Academy for the Love of Learning