Enter: Groundswell


Conlan is our first blog writer from the new cohort. He got a sneak peak into Groundswell in mid-August when he pitched his idea at the Idea Jam - and won!


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So concluded the final day of commencement, and with it, the culmination of four years of study at a small liberal arts university located in the Garibaldi mountain range.

The quote, a guiding theme in our commencement speech, was taken from Immanuel  Kant’s text “Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?” owing to our newly found release into the world at large.

The phrase concerns Kant’s belief that we must all sapere aude, or “dare to know”, in the   midst of a world that continues to present us with dogmas and ideologies for easy and slick consumption (and that’s a quote from 1784, mind you). Autonomy, a core principle   of Kant’s philosophy, is dependent on the individual’s use of reason and the courage to think for oneself, rather than simply following ideologies out of tradition, pressure, or dogma.

Whether or not one agrees with Kant’s assessment of the human condition or my attempts to render his works in gender-neutral language, the phrase begs the question:

... what comes after the “release”?

questThe liberal arts university I attended – and perhaps all such institutions or ideologies –  can be likened to a scaffold that allows us to create in the midst of an established,  recognized structure. While my alma mater is certainly atypical when compared to many,  it remains an institution that attempts to provide the tools, infrastructure, and resources to support intellectual development and personal cultivation.

The context of this quote is such that, after graduating, we’re expected to be developing the courage and means to utilize our own sense of reason in the course of our continuing education, personal development, and return to the broader human community. After all, that’s what the liberal arts are supposed to be: the tools considered essential for a free   person to successfully participate in civic society... Right?

Well, not entirely false, but not particularly helpful when one also needs to eat and live in a patriarchal-21st century-capitalist-state whose existence is sustained by the status quo.   While that much may not have changed since Kant’s time, neither has it become much easier to survive in such a world.

This is where I found myself at the beginning of this Summer: with a degree in the liberal  arts and four of the best years of my life under my belt, with relentless and undying passion, and with a strong desire ameliorate social suffering to the best extent I’m capable...but with neither means nor community with which to do so.

At this point, many naturally ask: “So, how exactly did you find out about Groundswell?”

In times of doubt, listlessness, or pathos, it can be difficult to see the potential for possibility or growth in adverse circumstances. Often, we treat these experiences as evidence of an innate deficiency in the “self”, feel unable to see any sound alternatives,  and resign ourselves through cynical fatalism to the shadows of our reality. At the very  least, we often feel incapable of dealing with what feels like an impossible number of   feelings, expectations, judgements, responsibilities, and obligations that beset us in the modern world, and are consequently paralyzed by the responsibility inherent in  structuring our own narrative.

In such times it can be difficult to see these experiences as teaching tools: opportunities for understanding reality and the ways we respond – mindfully or otherwise – to our own incursions into desire, attachment, and aversion. However, it is in these moments, states educator Paulo Freire, that “men and women develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality but as a reality in the process of transformation."

Not always entirely pleasant, mind you... but since when did real growth come from being comfortable all the time?

Dreading the reality of working in a city whose minimum wage is less than half the living cost, I discovered Groundswell during one of many attempts to turn tears into seeds: how could I actualize my dreams of an inner-city gym and learning centre for marginalized   youth – and manage to eat, shelter, and clothe myself in the process?

Having developed an exuberant love for research that only the Liberal Arts can inspire, I promptly proceeded to dig up as much information as I could on this program and its collaborators. No video, article, or website was left unturned as I searched for more –  could this community really be what I think it is? A group of engaged and innovative thinkers, artists, iconoclasts, and visionaries who facilitate the genesis and implementation of dreams into reality – and might they be interested in helping me do the  same? 22120_10152796167786921_5177860881791287234_nEnter Gilad, Emily, and Paola, my first point of contact with the Groundswell community, whom I subsequently met at an open house. While I was familiar with the bulk of information presented (I love research, remember?), I was stunned by the warmth, clarity and dedication these three presented – they actually practice what they preach, and what they preach indeed!

Needless to say, one open house was enough to convince me to return. By the time I participated in Groundswell’s Idea Jam, I was determined to join the program at all and any cost.

For those who were unable to attend, earlier this Summer Groundswell had hosted an  “Idea Jam” – an opportunity for interested community members to gather, share, and critique one another’s potential project ideas with the opportunity to win a mentoring  package. icecreamjam poster

I was privileged to attend, and had the honour of presenting my idea to the larger group after several rounds of discussion and voting.

Presenting first, I outlined my ideas for the transformative power of movement, the need for greater youth services in B.C., and the stunning success of groups like Inner City Weightlifting to inspire and uplift youth in the heart of darkness. I was blessed to take questions, hear great feedback, and be party to numerous engaging and unique ideas throughout the evening. I left the Idea jam with a mentoring package in hand and the unshakable optimism that this was simply a taste of what was to arise in the coming few months.

Perhaps, in addition to Kant, enlightenment is also as the Buddha saw it: learning how freedom is to be found in letting things go.

Nibbana, the Pali word commonly translated as “enlightenment”, literally means an “unbinding” akin to the extinguishment of a flame. In the Buddhist tradition, fire is said to be a metaphor for desire, aversion, and delusion, the extinguishment of which represents freedom from suffering. When a fire lets go of its fuel – that is, when it’s no longer fed – it no longer burns. Just as fire goes out when it ceases taking sustenance from fuel, one is released from agitation, entrapment, and dependence when one ceases to engage in craving and attachment. Far from simply an extinguishment, however, nibbana represents a path to freedom that we must actively walk, in the process abandoning ideologies, scaffolds, and paradigms that no longer serve our aims, dreams, or goals.

To me, Groundswell represents this stage in my journey: a release from the self-imposed tutelage of a liberal arts university into a place of freedom. A space and a place to let go of “business as usual” and to create anew amidst a world of suffering. A time to challenge, to question paradigms, and to thirst for new knowledge and insight.

In this sense, transitioning into Groundswell is less an extinction of the old as it is a genesis of the new – a glimpse of freedom into the transformative reality we can and will create together. And, just like practicing the Dharma, a supportive and creative community is essential for authentic growth along the path. With Groundswell, I’m confident that I’ve found such a community and greatly look forward to the honour of spending the next six months  together.