Saturday, September 6, 2014

Author Talk at the Hornsby Library

We are excited to be doing our first author talk at the Hornsby Library.  We have invited some friends but we are really excited to see many unfamiliar faces in the audience.  The topic of Rethinking the City has resonated with many people and drawn a large crowd.  Many people have started to question the way things have always been done and are starting to ask if it might be possible to live differently.  The idea that we might build a city that is founded on the ideas of freedom, collaboration, equality, authenticity, trust and resonance with the natural environment is exciting to many.  So we ask—is it possible to rethink the city?  Please remember that when we say City we mean the habitat for humanity...

We structured the talk so we would first address where we are today and then discuss the issues around Fate or Destiny and Rethinking the City.  The crux of our talk is structured around the fact that we believe we are in a time of change.  Just as coins once resulted in a paradigm shift in the ways cities are constructed, the internet is creating another paradigm shift today. 
I start by explaining some of the ideas behind my photographic work.  While I won’t discuss the entire talk here, I will explain how we can work toward the ideal of understanding our destiny.
I think the first step to finding your destiny is to understand yourself. What is it that really makes you tick?  Listen to the voice inside you that reminds you of the dreams you had as a child--see if you can remember the talents or desires you buried because you were too afraid to dream.
The second step to realising your destiny is to have courage.  Often we are afraid to chase a dream because we think that we might hurt the people who love us.  But true love will encourage and support our dreams.  We must also realise that love and acceptance must come from within us.  If we only make choices to please other people, then we will never be happy ourselves.
The final step in searching for your destiny--is to take some action on your choices.  To start living an authentic life that has meaning for you.  To start living in the NOW rather than putting off living—till we win a million…or till we retire. 
The photos in my exhibition are divided into two parts - Fate and Destiny.  During the talk, I explaine some of the ideas behind each one. 

Steve’s talk centered around the choices make when constructing a city.  They are:
   Direction of the City - Fate or Destiny
   Scale of the City - Economy vs Democracy and Infinity vs Eternity
   Balance of the City - Love, stability, safety and certainty vs change, risk, variety and freedom
   Orientation of the City - Hierarchical (inequality) vs. Lateral/networked (equality)
   Ownership of City - Ownership vs. Access
   Connection to Land - Separation from nature vs connected to nature

If you wish to know more or wish to purchase our books, please be in touch:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fate or Destiny - My Speech at the Launch

Good evening everyone and thank you for being here.  Firstly, let me say a big thank you to Steve Frost for launching this event for us and for his kind words.  We are very grateful to him for all that he has given us, both professionally and personally.  Thank you Steve. 

This launch is a very special celebration for us as it marks an important milestone for Steven, who turned 50 a few days ago.  Happy birthday my dearest Steven.

I want to acknowledge everyone who played a part in pulling all this together, and especially to my dearest
Steven who curated my exhibition, edited my book and constantly encourages me to discover talents I never knew I had.  I also want to thank Hornsby Council and Merilyn Hills in particular for her help, support and encouragement. Local government has played a huge part in our professional careers and it is wonderful that it continues to do so in our creative endeavours. 

Are you living your fate or creating your destiny?  

Have you ever consciously thought about what it means to make a choice between them?  Many people use these two words interchangeably but I believe them to be very different ideas.  To allow fate to govern your life is to let life happen to you. To choose destiny, is to happen to life—to chase a dream, to discover your purpose for being here and to figure out your unique contribution to the world.

I want to share with you a few stories from my own life, which I hope will give you a small insight into the experiences I drew on in preparing this exhibition and my photo book.

For the first half of my life I religiously followed and excelled on the trail that had been laid out for me.  The trail was revealed to me as much from my parents as it was implied from the culture around me.    I did well in high school and graduated in Civil Engineering, one of the ‘most coveted disciplines for someone growing up in Sri Lanka.  My life had evolved without too much effort on my part.  It was a wonderful start but I knew there was more.

Yet ever since my late teens, I had felt a deep desire to explore life outside the secure confines of my parent’s home.  To feel that sense of freedom when you—and only you—are making the decisions that shape your life.  But I had no money of my own so a post-graduate degree at Berkeley was my ticket out. 

I was 25 years old when I consciously chose to go in search of my destiny.

I took my first plane ride and travelled half way across the world to what might as well have been another planet.  If you have experienced a mono cultural, conservative city like Colombo and also travelled to an unconventional and incredibly diverse place like San Francisco, you will know what I mean.  I was excited by what I found and I formed an instant connection.

I believe that we need to remove ourselves from our familiar environment, from the routines and rituals that define us, and immerse ourselves in a completely different place to create the space and time to discover our destiny. You find your destiny when you take a risk.  Or as Martin Luther King said, “when you have enough faith to take the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase”.  For each of us, the risks we take will be different but must involve stepping outside our comfort zone. If we only live a life that is ‘safe’, if we only walk down the well-trodden trails, then we may never discover our full potential. 

I also believe there are high impact moments in our lives, which are catalysts to making these life changing choices.  They demand that we consciously reflect on our past and question our future.  Often, these moments will be when you experience a deep sense of loss.  I lost my father the same week I got an email informing me that my divorce was final.  It was April 2009 and I was in Sri Lanka, sitting at my mum’s computer when the email came through.  I was surrounded by friends and family who loved me but I had never felt more alone in my life.  I had been with Dean for almost 20 years and I was 47 years old at the time.  I also remember feeling incredibly moved by everything that was written in the Sri Lankan papers about my dad.  Born in a little village in Sri Lanka, he had gone on to achieve incredible success, both as an eminent civil rights lawyer and later in life as a diplomat, being appointed ambassador to the United Nations. 

The last of the ‘Greats’ the headlines screamed…and I asked myself this question.

What did I want to look back on when I reached the end of my life?  I was proud of what I had achieved so far, including in my career in local government in Sydney.  I had stayed far longer than the 3-5 year limit I had set for myself, because my boss Steve Frost, understood my need to be challenged and came up with new projects and ideas, to keep me engaged.  His work ethic and passion for the environment inspired me greatly and shaped my professional career in Australia. 

A few months after my dad passed away, I also lost one of my closest friends in Sri Lanka and I knew it was time to re-evaluate my own life.  In my twenties, I had set myself a goal, to travel to all 7 continents before I turned 50.  On the day of my friend’s funeral, I walked in to a travel agent’s office and booked a voyage to Antarctica—till then the only continent I had not explored.   I was suffering from a lot of grief at the time and making that decision to go to Antarctica resulted in my taking a leave of absence from work and completing almost a year of solo travel round the world.  My adversity gave me courage I didn’t know I had.  That journey helped me grow in ways I never imagined.  I met incredible people with whom I instantly forged strong connections because they too were on similar paths.

My father’s death and my own separation brought life to the words of Elizabeth Kubler Ross:  “It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth—and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up—that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”

In 2010, as I was departing on my year of discovery my best friend Steven, gave me a parting gift.  It was a book called The Alchemist, by Paolo Coelho. The book is full of my favourite quotes, but the words “To find your destiny is a man’s only obligation” resonated with me and shaped that journey.  The story ironically is about a young shepherd boy who travels the world in search of his destiny, only to return home and discover his treasure.

During my travels, I learnt that Steven too had separated from his wife.  Two months before I was due to come home, while on a Skype chat, we acknowledged that we had feelings for each other that ran deeper than friendship.  Just like the shepherd boy in the Alchemist, I had taken the brave step of going in search of my destiny—and I knew then that I was coming home to find my treasure.  Steven was waiting for me at the airport when I returned.  We had known each other for so long, that we just moved in together.  It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to both of us.

But pursuing your destiny is not only about a solo journey.  In fact, having the love and support of someone who travels alongside you is a wonderful blessing.  I have always believed in the concept of a soul mate or soul mates for various stages of your life.  People come in to your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Sometimes letting go, so you can move freely to the next stage of life, is also part of discovering your true purpose.  The words associated with separation have the most negative connotations.  This is what fate teaches us.  My own experiences taught me that change is the one constant in life.  When we stop fighting it, we can stop looking back at the doors that are closing behind us and walk through the open doors ahead of us…to potentially unravel the next part of the mystery. 

In 2011, after I came back from my year away I returned to work but I was constantly restless.  They say that once your mind has been stretched by an idea, it never regains its original dimensions.  Two years after I came back from that solo trip around the world, I quit work to join Steven in the consultancy he started, where we hope to integrate our life and our work. We don’t want to constantly struggle to find a work life balance—creating a tension that implies our work is not a part of our life.  Sometimes, there will be financial rewards and other times the rewards will be richer.  It is another passage up an unknown stairwell.   To leave a secure job with excellent benefits at 50+ would be considered foolish by many.  But my love for writing and photography, which came to life during that solo trip around the world, is something I need to pursue. 

The four years I have now spent with Steven seem like a lifetime when I think of the memories we have created and the experiences we have shared. Last year we embarked on 7 months of travel through Europe and Sri Lanka, as Steven searched for answers to the questions in his mind on Rethinking the City. 

The photographs you see here were taken either during that time or after we returned this January—in various parts of Australia.  The photo book contains images from both my first exhibition and this one. All of the writing has evolved from our collective travels and my own experiences.  We have no concrete plans for where the future will take us but rather shared values about the ideas we are exploring.  We let life unfold with little to fall back on and are constantly amazed at how happy we feel. 

You may not agree with all of the ideas expressed here, but art is meant to be thought provoking and I hope you will grant me that.  The spontaneity of our new life is addictive and I hope we will inspire you in some way today.  Exploring and discovering my creative side has been one of the missing pieces in the puzzle of my destiny. 

Susan Cain said “the task of the first half of life is to put yourself out there, and the task of the second half is to make sense of where you've been”.

Today, I hope I have inspired you to start thinking about taking a risk, to put yourself out there and then to make sense of it. 

Please enjoy the evening. Thank you for being part of our lives. I feel lucky to share my life with my soul mate.  To be with a man who cares as much about my own dreams as he does about his own.  This feeling is mutual. 
I leave you today to ponder these words from Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— 
I took the one less travelled by
And that has made all the difference. 
Thank You. 

Launching of Fate or Destiny and Rethinking the City

Firstly, I would like to show my respect to and acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, of elders past and present, on which this event takes place.
Welcome also, to all of you here tonight, I am delighted to be able to welcome you on behalf of Nilmini and Steve and say a few words in support of two creative and inspirational people who I
known for many years. I have worked with both Nil and Steve and seen first- hand the passion and commitment that they bring to whatever they set their minds to.
Tonight we see the flowering of their creative efforts over the last few years - but watch this space, because this only the beginning.
   Immediate Past National President of Stormwater Australia
   Current Director on the Board of Stormwater Australia
   Director on the Board of the CRC for WSC
   10 years in the private sector
   35 years in local government
   President of the Australian Shen Long Tai Chi Society (40 ?years’ experience)


I want to speak briefly in my opening remarks, so that you all can hear from Nil and Steve. So, I promise to be brief – no matter how long that takes!
However, it’s challenging to be too brief given the depth of what Nil and Steve have created in both the books and the exhibition being launch tonight.
So, I have chosen to make some remarks about two aspects of what has captured my imagination.
First, there is the question posed about Fate and Destiny: Are we pursuing our destiny or accepting the fate that was dealt to us?

The second is about the concept of ideas as a creative force in the physical world. I can only provide some reflections on these two aspects that permeate what I’m sure Nil and Steve will be talking about.

Rather than philosophise about fate and destiny, I want to tell you a story from my tai chi background. The concepts of fate and destiny underpin much of Chinese culture. And permeate much of their approach to life and philosophical thinking. In the middle of the 16th century, a man called Liao-Fan wrote a book for his son about fate and destiny. It is called Liao Fan's Four Lessons. He wrote the book to teach his son that destiny can be changed through proper cultivation. And one should not be bound by fate, but by one's own conscious and deliberate actions. It all began when Fan was told by a Taoist monk surnamed Kong that he would only live to the age of 53 and have no son. 

At first, he disregarded this monk's words as farcical nonsense, but as Kong's other predictions began to occur with great accuracy, he decided that there was no use in trying too hard and gave himself up to what he thought was his inevitable fate.
In his wanderings, he found himself at a Buddhist monastery and sat in meditation for three days with the head abbot.
The abbot was most impressed that a lay person could meditate without distraction for so long. He asked how Fan was able to do it. Fan related the story about the predictions for the way his life was to pan out and said why worry or think about anything – it has all been predetermined!
The abbot was shocked and said “I thought you were a remarkable person, but now I see that you are worse than ordinary!”
Fan asked why – And the Abbott said that he was less than ordinary because he didn’t realise that he could change his original destiny – it didn’t have to be left to fate.
The Abbott then taught Fan how to change his original destiny. Fan lived to 69 instead of 53 and obviously also had a son.
This book is still in circulation after more than 500 years and is well known and read and the book was an essential text in schools.
So, the answer to this first question is YES! And as Nil has said we are able to LIVE rather than just exist if we actively and consciously pursue the destiny of our choosing.
I believe that this is not only possible for individuals, but also possible for families, communities, and nations to choose and pursue a particular destiny.
It’s the point that both Steve and Nil are proposing that by pursuing our destiny, both individually and corporately – in the broadest sense of that word – we might actually create more fulfilled and engaged citizens - stronger and more resilient communities - and more liveable and sustainable cities.
Big ideas indeed - But, as Steve says, it’s ideas that change the world – and change it rapidly.
Ideas come from thinking – and rethinking of course! To get a plug in for Steve’s book!
In tai chi - thinking or thought is considered the fastest thing in the universe. My teacher would often say that you can go to the moon instantly with just a thought – it is faster than even the speed of light.
But where do ideas come from?
Many people would probably say - from thinking about it in my mind – but where in your mind do ideas start – science is unable to tell us and I believe that this question can only be answered by philosophy and metaphysics.
Anything that you see manifest in the physical world has originally been an idea that someone had. That idea has to take physical shape and form. It is interesting to ponder that our cities form and shape are from a collection of ideas that many people have had, which somehow have organised themselves into what we see and use in the world around us.
My work with the Cooperative Research Centre for Water Sensitive Cities is about bringing ideas to reality. We envision our cities to be places that are resilient, liveable, productive and sustainable. Water is just the framework that the ideas hang from. We want to see places created in our cities that enhance life and protect the health and wellbeing of its citizens. We want our cities to be places that provide time for work and (re)creation.
The CRC for Water Sensitive Cities exists to change the way we build our cities by valuing the contribution water makes to our quality of life and to the ecosystems of which cities are a part.
Steve’s ideas about rethinking the City align with the CRC’s vision. His ideas do indeed turn conventional thinking on its head!
Both Steve and Nil’s ideas are in many respects revolutionary rather than evolutionary!
Ideas are indeed powerful – one of the things I remember that my Father told me as a young boy was that ideas are so powerful that many people are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for them.
So tonight, who knows what will manifest from the ideas that Nil and Steve are seeding in our minds tonight – what may also stir in our creative selves in the weeks to come as their powerful images are imprinted on our subconscious and our minds absorb the words they have written!

I’m delighted to launch this event and would invite you to welcome Nil and Steve to speak to us! 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Day in Mullumbimby

The festival has come to an end.  We say goodbye to our friends Chris and Christobel who have been our hosts for the last few days and head up to Mullumbimby for a bit of alternative culture and down time before we head back home.  We find Australia’s biggest little town nestled in glorious surroundings and fall in love with its laid-back vibe and wonderful cafes.  We have been fortunate to have sold Steve’s book to a few bookshops along our way to Byron and we strike it lucky once again at the bookshop here.  It is a glorious day so we spend some time taking photographs and exploring the town before we settled down for coffee and brunch at the local cafĂ©.
We find some great initiatives in town including Mel’s Well, which provides free filtered water for the residents here.  We had seen similar schemes in Europe but didn’t realise they also existed in Australia.  Well done, Byron Council—such a great way to reduce the use of plastic.  We also discovered that the Environmental Levy was being used for Food Production on Public Land—a great way to start creating an edible landscape.  Many other initiatives caught our eye including solar powered lighting, public art, and a colour coding system at the local IGA that helped people identify locally sourced food, organic and gluten free products. 
I love taking street portraits and the chance to spend a few minutes hearing the stories of strangers.  I met a man who had moved up here from the Central Coast who was happy to share his time with me and we spent a few minutes chatting before I took his portrait.  My eyes were not the only ones that had spotted his interesting face and he told me that he already features in one of the popular photo books from this region! 

It was such a glorious day we decided to have a picnic lunch by the water.  Water has such a hypnotic effect on both of us that we could probably have stayed here forever.  All too soon it is time to head back for that long
drive back to Hornsby.  It will be close to midnight when we get home but we enjoyed some glorious sunshine, discovered a wonderful town and made some new friends from this region who we may meet again on this wonderful creative journey we are on…