In times of shapeshifting ask What If


You can listen to this piece here (10 mins)


I planted them months ago. Into the dark they went. Then cold came the winter and long came the winds. Strong was the attendant weather, doing winter’s job to cover the becomings with time and with waiting. This little thing called tulip bulb, so yet uninhabited by the bloom to come, buried only with my hands and the notion of promise inherited from all the tulips bulbs of its ancestry; a knowing that the story of the blooming forth is the way of bulb and the way of spring. Does the bulb know to trust? Set the conditions, wait the course, and witness the rise of stamen and stem? New forms come to those who know the shapeshifting secrets of the dark. 

Months now on, as the days tend more towards the light and an equinox has tipped in favour of uncovering, I opened my front door to a memory of burst. I had forgotten I had planted bulbs in that particular pot, in that particular place, and now that place was transformed; bulb but a memory. Here now is an uprising of red tulips, classical and confident, giving testimony to the evidence of time, forgetting, waiting. My smile has the length of winter in it. It has been a long ride to get here, but I can see now: in darkness I too can trust. Yes, dark can also be the colour that leads onto red, onto bloom. 

It’s been a dark winter indeed, at the tail end of a long year, some year. Our day to day lives, the very shape of them, rent apart, eluding stasis. I think we are still too much in ‘it’ to understand ‘it’- ‘it’ being the shapeshifting the world is moving through, almost as if a mythopoetic metamorphosis is underway deep in the narrative mantle of what binds us. We are in a time out of time, an altered state of play, turning the dial on what we once called normal. The shape of our lives, loves, relationships, knowings are undergoing a reformation- a re-form-ation. We too are being altered. And so it is no wonder we are struggling to find the rails, because rails are no longer sufficient. It’s new ground we are seeking, new containers, and new language to give to our yet unnamed becoming from this dark; a change which is already reconstituting our binds and bonds. 

This change is happening everywhere. It is in our health systems, education, social and financial systems. It is altering our definitions of work, of home, of place, of identity. It is re-defining what it means to breathe. What it means to be. What it is to human. Our very shape is changing shape. 

Let me invite you to my own particular case of education. Today I opened my door to tulips and my desk to China. I mean it literally. Myself and fellow facilitators in University College Dublin are hosting a week long Creativity and Innovation module with 30 undergraduate students in Beijing. They are in their dorms, and we, by virtue of technology and necessity, are beamed and pixellated from West Cork and Dublin- shape-shifted- into their rooms. The university is deconstructed in an instant, the role of place reconstituted in zoomland, and our notions of what is possible stretched like an elastic band, which, when released, will never go back to its original form. We already know that as educators the very fabric which holds us has been fundamentally altered and, in many ways, expanded. In these last months, we’ve had hundreds of students taking courses who have said that prior to their online learning option, they would not have been able to participate for reasons of family commitments, financial, commuting time or even confidence. Our student body is becoming more global, more representative, more mobile. As educators, in one day we can travel from Beijing or Vietnam back to the wilds of rural Ireland. We can collaborate across timezones, culture and languages. What was is no longer. What will be, is being revealed. 

All this said is not to deny the challenge and pain of this time of change; not to demand that skin will always need other skin to touch; not to contradict the power of the right people connecting around a coffee table, or a bar or at a conference; not to dispute that the body as a physical abode of learning is the ultimate destiny, but it is to stand into this moment with one hand on the heart of grief and the other on the pulse of the possible. Perhaps in our loss, we can also claim the what-if. Perhaps this is a time of perhaps. 

What if we could give access to global quality, relevant, revolutionary education without the need for expensive infrastructure. 

What if redundant office space was be transformed into urban farms. 

What if the time spent on business travel could be time spent with children on the beach, spinning tales, mending broken hearts, planting tulips. 

Perhaps our time to radically re-imagine in ways we never thought to imagine is in this moment we call now. 

And what if we are in fact the mythic shape-shifters for this time- the once feared sorcerers, shamans, healers and mystics who understand that a power in the dark force can also gestate the power of the seed. As many a mythic shape-shifter will know, form is not fixed, and in accelerated time, in the time of altered states, time is neither linear nor logical.  So, what if we could inhabit this world with a reverence for the sacred breath which binds us all? What if love was the foundational practice of education, government, healthcare? And before we let the cynical voice de-anchor the power of these questions, may I place some words into this mythic timeline: why not? And why not now?

In a year that has felt like ten, and in a time when the pace of change has been accelerated beyond our imaginings, I want to hold room for this moment to also speak to the power of this transformative dark time- held together with the rhythms and rituals of the seasons, informed by the altered conditions of this moment, and with a trust in the fundamental knowing of each seed: that of becoming. 

So, perhaps, in this time of shape-shifting, can we each be the shape-shifters needed for this reformation, holding the possibilities of new forms in our hands, and new imaginings in our hearts, for outside your front door, there is a spring, and there is a winter, there is a force of dark and a force of light. What if we call upon the nature of trust and give our confidence to that force of tulip, and that of bulb, and that of power of imagination. What if this is the time for that which has been waiting in the sacred dark, like a seed, to bloom forth too. What if the real questions we need to be asking right now begin with what if.