Switching Spaces
Switching Spaces
Switching Spaces

Contributions by Mandy Hetherton and Roma Claudius

On a sunny June Saturday afternoon in Islington, North London, four women could be seen engaging in some strange activities. They were replacing litter – especially plastic items – with small impermanent sculptures, made of shells, pebbles, flowers, and chalk drawings. They were also leaving behind small tags made of biodegradable paper (see picture). Oh, and they were laughing quite a lot....

This was the manifestation of the 'Switching Spaces' community project which came out of our Building on the Basics (BoB) course. The idea is to replace rubbish with temporary beauty…it's simple, pick up plastic rubbish and in its place leave something beautiful, impermanent and biodegradable.” It was the inspiration of Mallika Krishnamurthy, one of the BoB participants.

As an international group, we needed a project which we could all take part in wherever we were, and this was perfect. Switching Spaces activities took place as far apart as New Zealand and Latvia. It was great to know that we were all doing this over the same weekend as a way of completing our BoB journey.

The activity gave us a rich opportunity to reflect on the 16 Guidelines. We were engaging in an act of Kindness to our environment, showing Humility by picking up rubbish, and thereby being of Service. Although our actions were a tiny drop in the ocean in terms of impact, I remembered Margaret Mead’s wonderful statement: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." This seems to me to encapsulate both Patience and Aspiration. I hope that we generated some Delight for others who paused to look at the beautiful things we had left behind.

I also thought about Forgiveness – as I found myself feeling judgemental of those who had dropped the rubbish in the first place – and vowed to be more Courageous in future in challenging our throwaway society. Noticing my tendency to criticise others made me look at my own failure to ‘do the right thing’ for the environment and resolve to try harder to live by my principles.

And a final effect of the project has been to make me much more appreciative of those whose daily job is to remove rubbish, so I’ve started to make a habit of saying ‘thank you’ to refuse collectors, whose work is too often taken for granted. It feels uncomfortable (I’m an introverted Englishwoman) but the response has been great – people seem to like being recognised and appreciated, oddly enough...!

Taking part in the community project was a wonderful way to finish this part of the 16 Guidelines journey. Thank you to everyone who made it happen.

Anyone can take part in Switching Spaces...check out our Facebook page for some inspiring quotes and images.











 Switching Space Reflection by Roma Claudius

* Find a quiet space where you can relax. If you are taking part in Switching Spaces as a group, you may like to read this reflection aloud:

* Sit comfortably with a straight posture. Become aware of the points of contact between your body and any surface you are touching: the floor, chair or ground. To help you settle into the ‘here and now’ become aware of your breathing. Take three deep breaths, releasing all the air on your outbreath. Notice the sensation of the breath coming in … and going out. For a few minutes enjoy the experience of coming to rest, gently bringing the mind, whenever it wanders, back to observing the breath.

* Now focus your attention on the sounds around you and name them. (If in a group you could take it in turns to say what you hear). Consider that beyond these sounds made by people, traffic, animals or weather are further sounds, near and far, that you can’t hear. Let your imagination picture this world of activity as stretching out from the point of stillness where you are now. Can you connect to the world beyond, where other people are right now breathing, thinking, feeling, doing - living their lives?

* Next focus on the others who are participating in Switching Spaces today. Consider your shared motivation. Imagine all the people, near and far, who are involved in other projects, who want to help others and to make a positive difference. As you focus on the goodness in you and in the world, smile and connect with your heart.

* Take time now to reflect upon the words ‘Switching Spaces’ and the intention of this community action. Going out into our environment and replacing a piece of rubbish with something beautiful or playful comes from a wish to benefit others. Imagine a person you don’t know walking later through the area where you will leave your art and how they might respond.

* The ‘switching’ performed today in an outside space is a metaphor for the transformation that can occur in our inner space and in our lives when we think, speak and act mindfully. Are there any areas in your life where you could, swiftly and with delight, switch a behaviour or thought that causes harm or unhappiness, for a new way of acting or thinking that leads to happiness? Throughout today every switch made will make the world a better place. Reflect on the fact that, similarly, each time you choose to act with kindness or patience; each time you can respond with forgiveness or generosity you are taking a step, however small, toward creating a better world.

* Finally, consider the ephemerality of the piece of art or the performance that you will switch for the litter. It will, like all else, fade. Can you sit with this awareness of impermanence and use it as motivation to want to act for the benefit of self and others? To stay awake to the preciousness of life, this moment, our world and each other?

* Delight in your day! Close with the wish ‘may everyone be happy.’

Switching Spaces