Leigh Biddlecome

Dissonance, Resonance, and the ‘Interface problem'

Nathan Vanderpool, Part II

Cohere+ Profile

NATHAN VANDERPOOL IS A PART-TIME MONASTIC, wisdom practitioner and convener, and musician based in Berlin. We first spoke online back in autumn, and then we continued the conversation this spring. A few weeks ago Emerge published the first part of this two-part profile, which focused on how the wisdom network Respond emerged. 

This time we’ll dive into the challenges around coherence for the network and why it is difficult to get funding for meta-level design for wisdom curricula. We also speak more about the congruence of his spiritual work and music, touching on his performances as part of the Sacred Chord Collective, a group of Berlin-based songwriters who perform original, secular compositions for church spaces.

This is part of our series of profiles for Cohere+, a European Union Erasmus+ funded project. The multi-year project focuses on the emerging field of social change agents and organizations throughout Europe, and is in collaboration with four other organizations, The Hague Center for Global Governance, Innovation and Emergence; the Institute for Integral Studies; Life Itself; and the Ekskäret Foundation. Ultimately the profiles will contribute to our understanding of the on-the-ground, human experience of change agents, their challenges, and how we might tackle developmental gaps within this field in order to develop learning innovations fit for 21st century change.

– Leigh Biddlecome

Leigh Biddlecome: How has the Respond Network evolved since we spoke a few months ago?

Nathan Vanderpool: At the moment Respond is on pause. After the group met in August there was a kind of polarization amongst the yin folks who wanted to focus on first person research approaches and then the yang folks wanting to theorize and create structures to train others. They had a lot of trouble finding their way to each other. 

There was also a financial side because the Vervaeke Foundation funding for the incubation phase ended. There was an option to offer online courses and try to get people to sign up for them, but for me this was not the point of the project, which was to bring different teachers together and see if we could find a synoptic way forward together.

While at some point it may have made sense to offer what we're learning in a structured way I think the idea would have been more to create something that's in the commons, that isn't a paid offering that we're trying to promote. And the problem was that all of the resources and time and energy would have had to go into promoting the course rather than doing the project.

So it's on pause for now, but the people involved are now doing things that came out of those relationships — like Daniel doing the Church of the Intimate Web, or Ethan and Taylor doing a “Self-As-Instrument” course where they're working with the Vervaeke foundation and developing some tools.

But also it didn't cohere in the way that we hoped the whole field would come together. 

What do you think was the reason for that challenge around coherence? 

There is a certain interface problem — this really idealistic wisdom research project, and the realities of capitalism.

So many people in this space have a similar vision, a resonant picture of a better world that they want to work toward, and the ability to come to a collective vision. I think there was a missing piece there that I'm still looking for — like what is it to actively have a vision as a group, and to be inspired as a group. How can we bring people into that common space? 

With Respond, people were really inspired, but by different things, and then they didn't find each other.

Within the Cohere+ research this is really interesting, because we are trying to understand the forces and processes at play in these situations. Are there gaps and skills here that we can actively work on as a field? And to what extent is this mainly a contextual and structural issue?

Yeah, it seems to me that there are a number of issues that are hard to solve. One is how to bring people together who themselves often are financially not well-situated. How do we give them the time and the space, and the freedom to move around in that space to develop the amazing things that would come out of that? And without immediately needing to be able to sell something. That's a hard piece.

There’s also something about the challenges around collaboration. To be clear, it’s not that wise people can't collaborate. But one of my takes on that is we're driven to collaborate by belonging needs. And most of the people in this space have met those needs already — so they don’t feel so drawn to commit themselves to a group in order to belong. This is not the case for everybody, but for many working in this field, their identity doesn't lie in their relationship to a group anymore — they’ve grown up and matured their identity beyond group belonging.  They still need people and relationships, but they don't identify with them like those who might just jump into a group in order to belong.

It could also be that I'm not at the skill level to bring people together and find the way that their visions resonate in such a way that they create a new sort of super-vision that they all want to ascribe to and are self motivated to do. 

It seems like you would have to potentially fall back into the more ‘one person as source’ — an older form of organization.

Did you feel like there was a sense of coherence in that initial phase when you were in Bergerac and Vermont? 

There is definitely a sense of coherence that comes from being together in a space. It can go really deep, and they can fall apart just as quickly afterwards. There really needs to be somebody hosting, who has a vision of what they want to see happen. Then people can participate in that and help bring it about.

In August in Bergerac the group was ‘all in’, and even though we had this strong sense of all striving for the same thing, it just kind of fell apart later. It’s a group of very mature people — and they didn't manage to find it among themselves to hold a group together, even though while they were together, they all felt this inspiration. There are also just the practical realities of nine very busy people and their lives.

It makes it very difficult to do a group intergenerational wisdom transfer. Where’s the coherence within the generation to pass this wisdom on? For now we can only go to the individual elders, and try to learn something, and then put it together ourselves in our own bodies and discussions and lives.

They themselves couldn't manage that [coming together]. I could have probably hosted a group of teachers for more gatherings but in order to do that they would have to be so invested that they would pay me to do that – that would have to be somebody's job, we’d need to raise donations, or maybe the teachers would be giving me some money themselves.

So what is the model of bringing teachers together that works financially?

Right now it’s just about selling trainings. And I don't want to spend my time and energy just making another course, it doesn't seem productive or useful or good. If you want to go on this meta level, where’s the financing for that – to develop ‘what should a curriculum be’ rather than another course?

What else are you working on right now within the ecosystem of wisdom?

I’m working with Vivian Dittmar, a German teacher and writer, and bringing her into contact with Bonnitta Roy and John Vervaeke — so bringing teachers together into conversation. 

Vivian is training people in a very practical way, translating insights and theoretical work with depth to the practical problems that everyday people face all the time. As in — ‘this is how you experience your life right now, here are some things you can do about it.’

She is taking phenomenological experience and using that to relate to your life in a better way. We recently published The Emotional Backpack, where she talks about releasing emotional baggage. That continues in a second book, Your Inner GPS, which talks about after emotionally cleaning up and creating enough stillness to do subtle sensing, how to develop a map of transrational thought so we learn how to do “full-body thinking”.

I’m bringing her into contact with other thinkers on wisdom because they're all looking at the same thing but just talking about it in different ways. And so when she gets into conversation with them, it is illuminating for both.

Nathan Vanderpool performing as part of the Sacred Chord Collective

I want to ask one more question around your music — how do you see your identity and your practice as a musician fitting in with these wisdom practices?

Oh, it's the same thing for me! If you do music in the way that I do music it's a spiritual practice. And I didn't used to realize that but as I've gotten deeper into meditation and somatic practices, I start to realize that the more I am in my body, the more I am with the immediate experience of playing music.

The skill that I have built up over decades, it can just be there technically — or it can glow and be this amazing thing, having taken in the wisdom practice.

Everything I've done that brings me more into my body, into the moment, into the ability to train my attention on a full, embodied expression of what my experience is also tunes me into making music. In this way it is practice. It's like a meditation or movement, like a dance. I’m tuning, attuning myself, and the instrument that I'm playing into the full experience that I'm having myself, but also sharing with others. It is my absolute favorite thing.

I set up some house concerts recently in Scandinavia where I played in people's homes in gatherings of 15 or so. Everyone would just be in a meditative sitting position, or lying down, and I would tune in meditatively, and play my songs into a room almost like a guided meditation through the music. That was a really powerful experience for me, and I think for everybody else that was there.

So they’re inseparable to me at this point. I’m playing my music to get deeper into my spiritual practice. And I'm doing spiritual practice to get deeper into music.

Co-funded by the European Union, part of Cohere+

Words by Leigh Biddlecome
Leigh is an American writer and translator based in Italy.