The Holist

October 4, 2021 | Mustafa Osman Turan

The whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.” Aristotle

“Hope is not bla, bla, bla. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action.” powerfully advocated Greta Thunberg at the YouthCOP. She is a modern-day parhesiastes, one who speaks the truth to power, who inspires and mobilizes millions around the world to take action towards the goal of climate justice, now.

We have no time to lose indeed, if we were to stop the ongoing plunder of the finite resources of our planet. Steering clear our spaceship earth from the current collision course would require more Gretas to be trained and supported by communities of solidarity and wisdom. A beautiful flower does not make a garden. In the face of one of the most powerful human instinct, that is greed; truth and justice seekers would need not just knowledge and courage but also wisdom to build a new model of sustainable living. This is why we, the TACT Agora people, have decided to co-create a school of holistic life, a safe haven for those who want to think and act now for more justice and beauty in the world.

Why the Holist?

We, the pioneers of the school, are the holists. We believe that wisdom is possible only if we acquire knowledge and experience on all aspects of life. And that wisdom is available abundantly in ancient traditions. We just have to go back to our roots and fetch it. This is the idea of sankofa. Roots are also important in nature. Through their roots trees communicate with the mother earth and with each other and create resilient ecosystems of forests.

I personally have another reason for choosing to be a holist. And that is also embedded in ancient wisdom traditions. Aristotle once famously said, “the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.” That’s how we actually evolve. Evolution is nothing but the gradual development of progressive series of wholes, stretching from the “inorganic beginnings” to the “highest levels of (aesthetic) creation” (Smuts, 1936). It is the network of neural connections in the brain which enables us to perform the most difficult tasks. The same principle applies in communities. If we fire together, we wire together. What is more fulfilling than aging in a thriving community of humans who trust and support each other? A recent Harvard study has proven that embracing community helps us live longer, and be happier.

The Origins: TACT Agora people

It was at the Burning Man Festival in 2016 that I have experienced, for the first time, what it means to live in a community where radical self-expression and civic responsibility go hand in hand, and what it means to interact with other like-hearted humans in a space of safety and solidarity. This experience inspired me to start building a global community of change-makers through co-learning expeditions, called TACT Agora.

The word TACT represents the culture of our community as a skill and sensitivity in communicating with others or dealing with difficult issues. It also stands for “Think and Act”. The word Agora means for us an eye-to-eye hospitable gathering place where we meet and travel to exchange ideas, inspire each other and possibly take action together. It also means “now” in Portuguese and emphasizes the sense of urgency for taking action, hence our motto: Think & Act Now!

With these intentions, a number of action-oriented individuals from across the continents and diverse backgrounds collectively initiated TACT Agora in August 2017 in Karagöl near Urla. Since then, we reconvened in Ayvalık (2018), Mardin & Urfa (2020) and Çanakkale (2021). In our maiden journey in 2017, we had asked ourselves “what is most needed and most scarce in the world?” At the top of list was trust, so we concluded “all we need is trust to build a community”.

From thoughts to collective action

In our community, we have been curating meaningful conversations but with very few cases of action. Long lasting lockdowns of Covid-19 have provided most of us with time to reflect and get prepared to think and act for what really matters, like never before. One evil is worth of a thousand advice.

During these times of reflection, it became crystal clear to me that we need to move from words towards collective action. Collective action in hierarchical communities is much easier. Leaders lead, the rest follows. Is this the way we should govern communities? After all, wasn’t it this governance model which brought us where we are today? Can we not co-create systems in which everyone is heard and decisions are made by consensus, not by the articulate and dominant majority? How can we deal with conflicts and mediate between diverging views? How about underlying emotions which are, in most cases, at the root of conflicts? Without answering these questions honestly and collectively, it would be very hard to build a resilient and thriving community based on trust. I have made a commitment to myself that the community I would like to be part of is the one that is willing to seek the answers of these questions.

Kemerdere sandbox

One of the best ingredients of community building is the availability of an inspiring communal space. I have been looking for such a space last year along the western and southern coasts of Turkey. I found Kemerdere and fell in love with it.

Kemerdere is a very small village near ancient Troy in Çanakkale. It is located on top of a hill overlooking a valley. There is a tiny river and a small lake in the village. Over the river an ancient aqueduct, which still stands today, was built for carrying fresh water to Troy. Kemerdere is on the Kaz (Ida) mountains where the air quality is one of the best in the world, thanks to the widespread forests with many endemic plants and trees. The village is also close to Assos, the world capital for philosophy; and Lesvos, the Greek island where Ai Weiwei had his atelier to work with refugees.

The natural habitat of Kemerdere was protected and cultivated by one of its residents, the late chemist Yüksel Ergen until he passed away in July 2020. I was accompanied by his nephew Tuna during my visit to the village in the summer of 2020. He told me the inspiring story of Yüksel Bey who relentlessly worked towards his vision of making Kemerdere a center of attraction where organic farming and ecological tourism would flourish together with arts and culture. Together they planted 150K trees in the surrounding hills of the village. He was very keen on preserving biodiversity and wild life in the area.

After several conversations with Ergen family who owns vast pieces of land in the village, we decided to organise a camp to design a school of holistic life in Kemerdere together with the volunteers of TACT Agora community. Twenty three of them showed up from different walks of life and age groups. We spent a day and a half in the village, walked through the forest, meditated near the lake beneath the aqueduct and discussed on our shared purpose, values and principles to design the space, to curate content and to build our community. All agreed on the need to research the local knowledge and to integrate villagers as stakeholders in the project.

To identify our shared values, we asked ourselves what would we not give up? Most of us said: trust, joy, authenticity, creativity, peace, respect and freedom.

School of Holistic Life in the making

Some of our community members were not able to join the journey but were very interested to take part in its evolution. So we organised two virtual calls with them to share the progress achieved and receive their feedback. In a nutshell, our shared objective emerged as “co-creating a flexible and self-sufficient model of sustainable living“. This would include:

  • designing a safe space for exploration, inspiration and collaboration for regenerating life on the planet,
  • building an inter-generational and inter-disciplinary community of learning to co-create solutions to the challenges of our times based on knowledge and wisdom.

We dream of a school built on seven pillars of life:

  • Health – Body & Soul
  • Beauty – Art & Play
  • Nature – Solidarity & Harmony
  • Skills – Creativity & Empathy
  • Mind – Science & Wisdom
  • Governance – Participation & Justice
  • Tech4Good – Impact & Entrepreneurship

This holist content will be curated by our partners who are aligned with our values. A yearly curriculum of activities will be prepared for those pioneers of change who could be both learners and teachers at the same time.

Where do we go from here?

Now we formed a group of forty seven volunteers who will work in five different task groups: strategy, branding and fund-raising; knowledge; space; content; and community. A group of Coordinators elected by the task groups will manage day to day business while the Council, where all volunteers will participate, will make decisions by consensus. Our immediate goal is clear: a full-fledged project proposal by the end of 2021.

We are hoping that in April 2022 our community will be able to test our ideas in the form of an international festival of holistic life with a view to laying the foundation of the school in July 2022 and launching it in October 2023.

This is our amazing holist family by choice! Together we will put a shared dream into practice. In today’s world of fragmentation and disconnection, we, the holists, can be the pioneers of systemic change towards sustainable and regenerative ways of living that the planet earth urgently needs. We will blend contemporary knowledge with ancient wisdom in achieving our shared objectives.

Together we can make a difference!

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