Hello! I’m Siri.

At the moment I’m an external PhD candidate at Wageningen University working on my research on transformative learning in ecological communities. I have been part of the Marie Curie ITN research project ‘Sustainable Place Shaping’ from 2016-2019 for which I worked at the Natural Resource Institute in Helsinki, Finland and travelled throughout Europe to learn from different ecological communities. 

Besides researching transformative learning process I’m involved in developing and facilitating processes for transformative engagement through arts based methods. As part of a group of researchers, we developed a Toolkit and offer facilitation services to organisations, institutions, communities or teams that are passionate about exploring their potential or strengthening their capacity as transformative change agents. 

The philosophy of yoga is weaved through all the work that I’m doing and I’m very passionate about building bridges between (sustainability) research and spirituality and ‘personal’ development and societal transformation. I completed the 200-hour Purna Yoga Teacher Training in Helsinki in February 2019. 

I hope you will enjoy learning from my story and I look forward to hearing yours!

 

We are all stories, within stories, part of yet bigger stories within even bigger stories.

This is my part of our story. 

 

If I have to think about one thing I liked to do as a child it was reading books. After the first day at primary school, age four, I came home slightly disappointed wondering when we were actually going to learn stuff. With which I meant learning how to read, write, and so forth.

 

Over the course of the years, learning, in the sense of studying, is what I did and still do. I gradually developed interests in three main things: food, health and the unequal distribution of both of these. I went to study Nutrition and Health with a minor in International Development studies. I continued in the direction of (rural) sociology focusing mainly on the impact of land privatization on rural livelihoods in the context of Uganda. After completing my Master’s Degree followed a period of a bit of personal struggle, disorientation and searching. I continued with an Advanced Masters in International Development while working as an advisor on nutrition security, realizing along the way that I did not feel totally comfortable in the arena of international development work and that the researcher in me felt slightly dissatisfied as well. 

 

Meanwhile I had entered another kind of learning process triggered by a physical issue. Through my body I started to learn about myself, about my approach to life, about perfectionism and insecurity, about anxiety, acceptance and vulnerability, about being a woman and sexuality, and about sensitivity and strength. In search of ways to navigate and deepen this learning and healing process I took on individual therapy sessions. Those were needed for me to learn about my own thought patterns, the relationships between all that my mind produced, how I was feeling and how my body was doing. I learned how perfectionism can be a disguise for a fear of vulnerability and I started to learn what it means to be kind towards myself and fully commit to life and all the highs and lows it will bring us.  

 

Alongside this process I delved into holistic approaches including yoga (critical alignment at the time), meditation (mostly Zen at the time), women retreats and all kinds of holistic body treatments. In the beginning my yoga practice focused on recognizing the tension that we all built up in our bodies over the years and slowly working my way through it while at the same time gradually regaining trust in my body and my own strength. Meditation was hard for me in the beginning: struggling with anxiety and sitting still without any kind of distraction is not always an easy combination. I persisted though and started to experience some sense of peace after a while either during or after meditation sessions. Now, both asana and meditation are as part of my daily life as is brushing my teeth.

 

Meditating in groups gave me a first taste of the energy of solidarity and support that can be present among people being vulnerable in each others presence. This connection with others has been, and still is, an important dimension of my learning process, or ‘spiritual’ practice. The experience of being human together, of sharing silence, or tears, or stories, or struggles or beauty, joy and gratitude in a safe and sacred space has at times been very strong for me. I started to realize that many of my experiences were part of the bigger human experience and some of them in fact characterized being a human, and specifically being a woman, in this period of time in the context of a society built on the modern, western worldview. Experiencing the power of connecting to others from a place of vulnerability and an energy of presence and compassion would become a central theme for me in the years to come. 

Meanwhile, my bookworm brain loved reading everything I could lay my hands on that could help me understand what I was experiencing. Books for me have always been another kind of medium in which I experience a genuine sense of connection to other people by having a piece of a writer’s soul in my hands. Some books have been pivotal in my understanding of myself and what I needed to learn. One of these books describes a lengthy and hilarious conversation between a monk and a caterpillar who is tired of being a caterpillar as his existence is too worrisome. The caterpillar thus decides it would be better if he could transform into something else, a tiger or a mountain perhaps. The monk tries to convince the caterpillar to relax and embrace the beauty of his, perhaps short, but meaningful caterpillar existence. A suggestion which the caterpillar thinks is outrageous: the monk clearly is not taking his concerns seriously. A book that feels like a blanket when you’re cold: comforting, calming and reassuring. It speaks compassion: finding your place and purpose in this life can at times be confusing and that is ok. Embracing and manifesting your purpose can be scary at times and that is ok too, as long as you do commit to do it anyways. 

 

Another insightful book came from the researcher Kristen Neff who researches self-compassion. This book inspired me to do the PhD research I have been working on till this day. This book described to me the relationship between my ability to be compassionate and kind towards myself and my ability to approach and perceive others with kindness and compassion, instead of judgement, expectation and comparison. I learned that the ability to be compassionate with ourselves in times of struggle, pain, grief or confusion is a central key in moving past a society which is built on competition and comparison. Once we understand that all we experience is part of the experience of being human, that each of us go through different versions of the same processes depending on our own personal life stories, we can find the basis for human connection and move past jealousy, separation and competition.

 

Combining different pieces of the puzzle, I wrote an application letter for a research position in which I linked the emergence of alternative ways of living as an answer to the many wicked problems of our times, with processes of inner learning. So began my journey researching ecological communities all over Europe, a challenging but heartwarming journey. By immersing myself in different communities for short periods of time, I continued to experience the value of learning in connection to others. Communities, I learned, are spaces where our individual and social learning processes are intensified. I learned about my resistance to being vulnerable in the presence of others, my insecurity and tendency to ‘perform’ when in a  group setting. Working to overcome this can only be done in a group setting built around trust and it is still a work in progress for me. Seeing other people’s vulnerability opened a door in me for a deep sense of love and compassion for human beings and the ability to see their beauty. I also learned about what it means to hold space for others and for difficult and painful topics. To connect to and recognize other people’s pain while at the same time being able to recognize, acknowledge and show my own anger, frustration and pain around confusing topics such as racism, colonialism, sexuality and gender. Opening up the can of worms around these societal and historical traumas is much needed and requires spaces in which uncomfortableness and pain is welcomed instead of avoided.  

 

Resulting from all of the above, I’m noticing a shift in my way or relating to others. Suspending built in structures of competitiveness and jealousy opens up the space to find an authentic way of being and working instead of competing with others. Recognizing the uniqueness and individuality of each person within the space of a team, group or community setting, is I believe crucial for any thriving community, social or work place. It is about restoring the balance by finding out everyone’s place and position, not in a hierarchical sense but in an organic sense: we need all the different parts to create the whole.

 

I moved to Finland for this research, where I immediately looked for a good place to continue yoga. This place I found and it is there where I, two years later started a 200-hour yoga teacher training in Purna Yoga. The experience of yoga for me started to shift from being confronting and at times frustrating to being joyful, grounded and all in all a peaceful experience. The focus of Purna Yoga on experiencing and deepening beautiful feelings as a way to get in touch with the energy of our heart further supported me in this. The question I continuously ask myself is how to integrate spirituality in our professional and social communities in a way that supports us in building authentic connections with each other. 

 

What I love about my research work is the process of going into other people’s worlds, immersing myself, listening, experiencing, observing and then turning back inwardly to let all this sink in, ponder, be silent, receive some sort of insight as if been given one or several pieces of a puzzle, take that often intuitive insight and start working with it. How do the pieces come together? What exactly is the meaning behind them, what are they trying to say? Why is their message important? And with time seeing some kind of theory emerge, as if I have been solving a riddle, as if something that was always there but invisible piece by piece is making itself visible. 

 

Along the way, the meaning of learning has changed a lot for me. Even though I have always had a curiosity and eagerness to know about a variety of subjects as the four year old me showed, the joy of learning and creating had been at times overshadowed by senses of competitiveness, external pressure, stress, and perfectionism. By gradually merging into a different way of being, one in which I was much more attuned to my body and intuitive ways of knowing I also changed my way of working and learning. I made the commitment to follow my curiosity and joy and to trust that my intuition and creative impulsus would lead me into the right direction. Sometimes this feels easy and joyful and at other times it is still a learning process to overcome doubt and thoughts of worry. I have felt, and still feel, inspired and encouraged in this approach by the book ‘Big Magic’ from Elizabeth Gilbert in which she describes, what, according to her, it means to live life guided by our curiosity and creativity. 

 

Half a year ago I moved back to the Netherlands finding myself again in a process of change in which I’m pouring all the insights, experiences and learnings of the past years into academic papers and a PhD thesis, in facilitating workshops using arts-based methods to support transformative engagement, and in occasionally teaching yoga.

siri pisters

Siri Pisters

 

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