flowful meets... flowful - A journey beyond sustainability

This is the 12th episode of flowful meets… Reason enough to talk to ourselves about our journey beyond sustainability and what we’ve learned during the last 1,5 years with flowful. Time to reflect on our approach to contribute to a better world; from the beginning, to our first steps towards a life beyond sustainability and our theory of change.

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Our story and the story of flowful

We started with flowful 1,5 years ago but had our first interview for flowful meets… already in May 2017. I still remember that day, and how nervous we were. Anyway, flowful is not only me, even though you just hear my voice in this podcast. flowful is Lars and me. Our journey together actually started in Hannover, our hometown, but we left Germany around 5 years ago. We’ve been living the van life in Australia, did wwoofing in New Zealand, moved to Vietnam for work, and right now we’re living at Gaia Ashram, a community-based education centre in Thailand. That’s a little of our background.

Now flowful is 1,5 years old. On flowful we share our journey and thoughts in a blog and also portray change makers from around the world in our podcast flowful meets… which you are actually listening to. Furthermore, we started to share our experiences in courses, talks and workshops whenever we can.

flowful meets... flowful Hannover, Germany

A Permaculture Design Course brought the first thoughts about flowful

Karla: Our first thought about flowful actually was after we did our Permaculture Design Course (PDC) in Chiang Mai which was in January 2017, pretty much 2 years ago. I still remember that by that time our time in Vietnam came to an end and we did not really know what to do. Especially me, as I didn't have a proper job or whatever you want to call it. I did some freelance stuff but I wasn't really fulfilled by that and I was looking for something else. When we came to the Panya Project, the place where we did our PDC, I immediately felt ‘wow, this is how I wanna live!’. The place grows food and has natural buildings and is just super pretty and I felt super good there. It just felt right to be at this place. And Lars actually also had a good feeling. After our time there we were thinking about how we can do the transformation from a corporate city life to a life in that we can live sustainably from the land and be connected to nature but also to other people. We also acknowledged that we already are on our journey as we already started to live more sustainable, like thinking about our consumer choices, our food choices, and what not. For us, we thought it was hard in the beginning but once you are in this flow it is quite easy or easier to go ahead. So yeah, I guess that was the first time that we had the idea of doing something like flowful, even though we did not have a proper picture of what flowful could be. But we had the idea that there should be something.

Lars: Yeah, that’s right. For me, the first steps on our journey beyond sustainability already started when we gave away all our things. When we started to get rid of our two flats and had to minimize our things. This was the first start for me, even though we didn't know where it will end. This was my first lesson on becoming more mindful and more sustainable. We put a lot of effort and time in giving away our things or giving them another purpose for other people. We basically did a first step into a circular economy where we try to believe or started to believe that all these goods still have a value, not for us as we didn't need it anymore, but for somebody else. This is also something we learned during our van life. It needs a constant reminder. Once you have space again, even if you don't buy things you start accumulating stuff again. Just because you feel well we might want to use it later, why not keep it for now. What we learned through this time is to link everything back to your values and give yourself some time to inhabit this new way of looking at things; and let it become a habit over time. This is actually where we also base flowful on. We were looking for our values; we are always looking for the positive in a story  

Change starts with deep listening and open spaces.

Change starts with deep listening and open spaces.

Motivating people and sharing positive stories.  Photo:   Julien De Backer

Motivating people and sharing positive stories. Photo: Julien De Backer

Flowful encourages to transform in a joyful and easy way

Lars: We believe that motivating people is something that enables change and that change or a transformation process or a transition should be joyful, should be fun and easy. We’ve put all this into flowful saying we want to motivate people to have a look where they can change in a joyful and easy way. And if we are able to enable more people to do so, to just take it easy but still focusing on the bigger change and the big picture, we can achieve a lot.

Karla: This is quite the contrary to the current situation we are living in. When you have a look at the newspapers or media they are writing apocalypse scenarios that the world is going down, that the world is gonna die, it is about extinction and deforestation, it is about war and people suffering. You can see really dark pictures on the media. It is the truth up to a certain point but what that does with people is that instead of feeling hope and motivation to be part of a change, or to be the change, they get anxieties, depression. So what we actually want to do and what we also believe in is that every choice matters and every voice can make a change. That's why we started flowful. To be the counterpart to all the dark news.

Big changes need grassroots movements and policy interaction

Lars: But flowful is more than just us and our journey. It is seeing solutions, finding and exploring alternative ways of living from different perspectives. We are just a random couple, trying to find our way. We feel like it is important to look to and talk to change makers around the world. And it is also important to acknowledge that there are a lot of things going on already in terms of policy and corporations changing to a better. It might be not fast enough, or it might be sometimes depressing to see how slow things are moving, but we are moving and that’s good!

What we believe is that it definitely needs two parts. It needs the policy level, where changes in the law can be made, but it definitely needs the voice of the grassroots movements, it needs people coming together and asking for change and practice and live this change. Because that will accelerate the need and the movement and it will ensure that the voices are heard on the policy level. That is the reason why flowful meets... looks for young pioneer projects. We are looking for change makers and we are looking for projects around the world that can be copied, or can be partly copied into every reality.

It always starts with one, and if there is one person that wants to change something; there is a way of changing. We are talking a lot as mankind about sustainability; we are reading about sustainable movements, we are reading about sustainable agriculture and businesses in the newspapers. But actually I feel it is not enough, we need to move beyond sustainability. We already have taken so much out of the earth that it is important to give back rather than just taking out more.

flowful is forcing us to leave our comfort zones

Karla: I actually still remember our first interview we did. We did it with Cashewbert, a vegan cheesemaker from berlin, with Anderson, a super lovely guy. We attended his workshop on vegan cheesemaking. It was super nice and super yummy also. But we were so nervous! We both aren’t journalists at all. And we both tend to be in the background and observe first. Both of us aren’t people who directly approach someone and ask questions. So we had to force ourselves to really do this. This was the first time and I thought ‘oh shit, the whole flowful thing doesn't make sense because it is just horrible’. However, we decided to go through that and we started the website. It was a super interesting process to start the website.

Protecting the beauty of nature is worth the effort.  Photo: Julien De Backer

Protecting the beauty of nature is worth the effort. Photo: Julien De Backer

Trying alternative ways and accepting feedbacks.  Photo: Julien De Backer

Trying alternative ways and accepting feedbacks. Photo: Julien De Backer

flowful’s three topics: food, lifestyle and being

Karla: When you do a website you kind of visualize the mind map, like all your thoughts you had before. You visualize it and bring it to a form where you can click a button or whatever. This was so helpful to really come up with a structure! In the beginning we didn’t really know we’ll  have these 3 topics. We knew we wanted to talk about food, about lifestyle choices but also about something more universal like being, well-being, spirituality. Something like this, but we didn’t know how to find that structure, so making a website was definitely helpful to bring it into an order. I guess we are both into food, that’s for sure but yeah, I'm definitely the yoga person, well we both are into gardening, but I am actually more into natural buildings or natural products, like how can you avoid to buy a shampoo, what to use instead or not use at all, but anyway. I guess that would be more my topics.

Lars: It is definitely true that you have the motivation to put all this effort into research into figuring out how to substitute a product with a different one because we don't want to buy it anymore or we feel like it always comes with plastic. I just wouldn’t have the motivation to research it. It is really great that flowful is more or less the perfect combination of your interests and strengths and my interests. My topics that I am really into are firstly coming from a professional background: renewable energy and appropriate technologies. Mainly I feel it is more the social, the environmental and the animal justice component. It goes with organic food for all, giving people the possibility to be part of a change. Because only together we can achieve a bigger change. This is also the reason why we chose food, lifestyle and being. Because you have to eat every day. Lifestyle choices are such big factors when it comes to consuming or producing waste. And starting to love yourself is so important when it comes to peace and social justice. If you love yourself you would treat others in a similar way. That’s the reason why these 3 topics even though quite broad totally make sense.

Change starts with yourself

Karla: flowful also reminded me that change starts with yourself. You have to adjust your habits first before you want to change the bigger world habits. flowful gave me a lot of challenges and hardships. As I already mentioned that approaching someone for an interview or just talking to people... It was the worst thing for me at university when all the people had cool projects and they were talking about it. This always gave me a strange feeling not to have a project. And now I have this project but talking about it feels still super weird for me. Because I always think, yeah, you know, it is a blog but nothing big, nah, don’t look at the website; because it still feels odd! I really grow with that. To be confident enough to talk about what I do and what my values are. I mean the podcast idea for example was my idea, what is kind of weird, because I suffer from social anxiety but I chose a format where I really have to talk to people and I have to listen to my own voice and I have to talk into that microphone and deal with the fact that people might listen to that. flowful definitely challenges me a lot, even after 1,5 years but I also grew a lot and got much more confident in what I do.

Lars: flowful comes with a lot of fun, but there are a lot of challenges, too. It is really about expectation management. It is the two of us, we are putting a lot of time into it, but we actually want to balance it in a way that we still have a lot of fun with it. Because without fun we would let go our vision that change is fun. It is really about managing the expectations and the time. Saying it might be ok to just have one blog post a month, even though I feel like I would love to write more. But if I put more time into the blog post I would explore less on the land and I want to be on the land. It is always this balancing and that makes it sometimes very very challenging for me to be happy with the results.

Natural building is one of Karla’s passion and one of her flowful topics.

Natural building is one of Karla’s passion and one of her flowful topics.

In 2018, we focused on building a house with natural materials and sharing our knowlege about it.

In 2018, we focused on building a house with natural materials and sharing our knowlege about it.

Finding balance

Karla: This also brings challenges for us as a couple. There are two different ways of working, different perceptions of quality, two different expectations. I just published my first blog post in 12 month of flowful being online while Lars is producing blog posts like crazy. I have the feeling that I’m just proof reading and I just don't have the time to be creative. I need my space in order to write something. I cannot do it in between.

Lars: I feel like a first step of gaining more time was that we decided that flowful meets... will just appear every 1.5 to 2 months. Before we were really pushing ourselves to produce one podcast per month. And it is quite a bit of work going in. The interview is the really nice part, you are meeting people, it is exciting, but then doing the transcription, seeing which parts are really great to be used and then bring it again into a structure. That takes quite a while. So we were basically finishing one episode, giving ourselves a week or two a break, and then we were already in a hurry to finish the next episode. We realized that we have to reduce this pressure so we can be more creative. Furthermore, in the beginning we actually thought our blog post would be more like guidance than storytelling but after 12 months we said okay, let’s look on our website again, let’s see whether we have been able to achieve what we had planned. We figured out that we did but in a different way. That helped us to acknowledge that our structure should be a little different and that’s what it is now.

How to increase the impacts of an evolving project

Karla: flowful is still evolving; it is a side project even though we put loads of time and energy into it. When I think about if flowful has any impact it first of all makes me realize how strange this question is and it makes me totally understand why people struggle to answer this question. But I guess we could say that our family and friends, some people changed their diet, they reduced their waste. 

Lars: What we are doing is that we are showing people that they are not alone. When we are talking to the projects, they have to reflect and have to go from the operational level to looking from above on their projects. That's what our questions are doing. And that helped people in many cases to reconnect to their values.

Karla: In the end, we actually have no clue who reads our blog post or who listens to the podcast. So, if there are people listening or reading it and if it really has an impact on them. So, if someone’s listening to this podcast right now: do we have an impact on your life? It would be really cool to know and I would be supper happy if you message us or give us any feedback or just a sign that you are there.

Lars: Because it would be cool to increase our impact! I feel that at the moment we are quite narrow on the topics we can focus on, because at the moment we are living in a rural area in a community. It would be great to have different perspectives on our main topics. Let’s say food in an urban environment or in other countries, for example. It would be great to have this diversity of perspectives. 

Stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself every day can be rewarding.

Stepping out of your comfort zone and challenging yourself every day can be rewarding.

Stay open minded and keep leaving the comfort zone

Karla: Even though flowful is the journey of Karla and Lars, I would like to set the intention that we stay open minded, link our experiences to new frameworks and just go ahead. That we keep going out of our comfort zone and diving deeper into that sort of lifestyle that we might already living, but I mean like really commit to a live that gives back and can heal Mother Earth. But at the same time I still want to be down to earth and be connected with what’s going on out there. I mean we are sitting here in our little hippie bubble at Gaia Ashram, and we have likeminded people coming and we work in the garden, we are close to nature, so yeah, just be connected with everything around us...

Lars: Maybe it would also be good to go more out of our comfort zone, as you said. Being offline, being in cities that are around and just talking to people, doing workshops to ensure that we are actually talking about topics, issues that are relevant for the majority of people and not only for people living in such an environment like we do.

Karla: It is about telling stories, I guess. I mean we want flowful to be a platform. We would definitely love to get in touch with all of you and see if we can tell a story together or give you space if you want to share a story, or tell a story. Really make flowful become a co-creative platform that is not only me and Lars.

Strength and wisdom comes with diversity in nature and societies.

Strength and wisdom comes with diversity in nature and societies.

Fun and joy keeps us motivated on our way beyond sustainability.  Photo:    Rocks and Roses Studio

Fun and joy keeps us motivated on our way beyond sustainability. Photo: Rocks and Roses Studio

flowful’s theory of change

But let’s come to our theory of change. Well, it feels a little bit funny to think about flowful’s theory of change as we are usually using the interview to come up with the theory of change for projects. Now we have to think about our theory of change…

With the news and media being full of negative world ending stories, as I said earlier, people tend to underestimate their power to be part of the great turning and they end up being anxious or not motivated. Everyone knows that feeling of what can I do as a single person. flowful wants to empower as many people as possible to start their journey beyond sustainability and contribute to that grassroots movement powered change. With sharing our experiences and thoughts we want to reach out to everyone and showing that caring for Mother Earth is not just a dirty hippie thing. It is a journey with yourself, it is a journey with nature, it is fun. It is a lifelong journey.

Get in touch with us and spread the word!

If you like what we do, there is a way of being connected with us via facebook or Instagram. We are still on twitter even though we are thinking about letting it go. You can also email us or you can visit us at Gaia Ashram! You can find all links as usual in the show notes below and also on our website flowful.org.

We would be happy if you share this blog post or whatever we do. If you spread the word that would be amazing!

Gaia Ashram together with NextGenoa and flowful will organize a Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) Course between March 30 and April 18 at Gaia Ashram Thailand. You can find more information here or just drop us a message; we’re happy to hear from you.

At the moment we are designing the courses for our summer break (May/June) in Germany. We will have several weekend courses and also a PDC-Course happening. To get more information just write us a message; we will keep you posted.