Loving Better – The Power of Conscious Thinking
“ Everybody’s life is precious, if we can come from that place to give ourselves a chance to remember that sometimes. Be really generous and kind with ourselves when we don’t remember it. “
Becoming human is the phrase that really resonates. Becoming, evolving and developing is something that never stops.
Deborah Barker has lived in rural Sussex most of her life. She had her son at 27, and then another two children at the time she was 33. “I’ve always really valued the family life, and friends, and making meaning.” She has been driven by wanting to make a difference. When I encountered the arts, it helped her find an important way of making sense and understanding the world.”
She was the first person in her immediate and extended family to go to university. That was a real gift, It took a lot of courage to go, because there wasn’t any history of anyone having had any academic achievement and she experienced a lot of imposter syndrome. She absolutely loved it and she loved the learning. Today, her youngest daughter is doing her PhD!
Late seventies, early eighties, there was very few women in any positions of power or authority or responsibility. “I came from a family where either the women were housewives working from home, working at home looking after children and family or hairdressers, or the shops. I really didn’t know what you might do other than that. I love living in the Countryside. I’ve always been interested in the rural economy in agriculture. I love dyeing, in natural dyeing and textiles .And I really love the arts.”
For over 40 years Deborah has woven a path through all of her different roles, bringing together all the different strands of her life and loves together. Finally in the last five years, her different worlds have come together. “ I feel very, very privileged that I’ve managed to sort of weave in my family life with my work life.”
American poet and writer Wendell Berry talks about the difference between a household and a house. The house becomes a home and you work out of it. And that’s the centre that you work from, “My partner’s Walter is a sculptor. We’ve been together now for thirty something years. So, together we’ve been able to create this environment. And because our values are very aligned and they’re very much about making a positive difference in the world, and meaning, and friendship rather than money. It hasn’t always been the easiest route.
Now that we are in a sort of climate crisis, and sort of an economic crisis, it’s actually given us tools to manage quite well. We’re used to growing our own food, we’re used to being very self reliant, we’re used to changing how we were and pivoting and seeing what’s needed. “
Talking about new growth areas, years ago, regenerative agriculture wasn’t even a thing then. So being an advocate for regenerative farming and organic farming has been one of the threads that has come together after so many years. Deborah now has a contract with the “High Wheels A & B” to develop events for farmers.
Wendell Berry writes “whether we know it or not, whether we want to be or not, we are members of one another”.
Listening to Deborah, she is teaching me about what loving better entails!
00:00:00 Paula: Welcome to “TesseLeads” with your host Tesse Akpeki and co-host Paula Okonneh. “TesseLeads” is a safe, sensitive, and supportive place and space to share, hear and tell your stories and experiences. You hear how top experts and thought leaders are creating opportunities, navigating a diverse range of challenges and confronting their dilemmas while shaping their futures and our futures. Our guest today is Deborah Barker, who works at the “Intersection Of Visual Art, Crafts, Fashion, Textile and Agriculture”. From her natural guy studio in East Sussex, she collaborates with farmers, independent designers, makers, and artists. Alongside her work as a natural dyer, she works as a freelance researcher, also as a consultant and project manager for regenerative form and fiber projects and designers. She’s deeply committed to bringing the learning from her years of working with not-for-profit organizations and charities to shape the organization and to embed a regenerative culture into the heart of any organization. She’s also a fellow of the “Royal Society Of Arts” and contributed to the “RSA Regeneratives Futures Program”. Our topic today is “how I can love better, the power of conscious thinking”. Welcome to “TesseLeads” Deborah, we are thrilled to have you here.
00:01:47 Deborah: Thank you, Paula, and thank you so much for inviting me. It’s such a privilege.
00:01:51 Tesse: We’re so grateful to have you, Deborah. We’ve been trying to do this, had a few false starts, but here you are. And it happens when it happens. I’m really keen Deborah to hear a little bit about your own backstory. Tell us a bit about you. And I think about you Deborah the woman, you Deborah the artist, you Deborah the mom and the wife. Tell us about you. Who is Deborah Barker?
00:02:20 Deborah: Well, I’m 61 and I’m still learning. I can’t give you the definitive answer. I mean, the older I get the more I realize that becoming human is the phrase that really resonates. Because for me, becoming and evolving and developing is something that I see now never stops. From an early age, I was always really curious about the world, and the older I get, the more questions I have. And in spite of all the dire things happening in the world, and there are dreadful things, you know. From climate crisis, to wars, to increasing injustice, to white supremacy. So many things that need challenging. I don’t seem to be able to eradicate my hope. And I think that’s partly because of the sort of life that I’ve chosen and partly which I’ve been privileged and lucky enough to have. So I’ve never chosen an Orthodox route. I was brought up in the Sussex countryside, and I’ve always knew that the countryside would be really, really important to me. And I studied at university, I studied the history of design. And I was the first person in my immediate family and my big extended family to go to university. So that was a real gift. And it took a lot of courage to go, because when there isn’t any history of anyone having had any academic achievement, I had a lot of imposter syndrome. But I absolutely loved it, I loved the learning. And I also knew that I was never someone who was going to go into a corporate job. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and people who’ve always sort of lived in different ways, certainly not in any corporate culture. And for me, the arts were a way of making sense and understanding the world, they were really important. And so after I’d finished my degree, I worked with a lot of artists and became very interested in collective working. Have my children, it seemed quite old compared to my mom and her generation all had their children in their sort of early twenties. I was 27, I had my son at 27, and then another two children at the time I was 33. And I’ve always really valued the family life, and friends, and making meaning, and also always being driven by wanting to make a difference. I think because I grew up really not knowing what you might be able to do as a woman. Late seventies, early eighties, when I was doing a degree, there was still very few women in any positions of power or authority or responsibility. And I also came from a family where either the women were housewives working from home, working at home looking after children and family or hairdressers, or the shops. I mean, I really didn’t know what you might do other than that. And when I encountered the arts, it really gave meaning and helped me understand make sense of the world, and offered a place almost of sort of refuge actually. And then over the past 40 years, it’s taken me a really long time to bring together all the different strands. I love living in the Countryside. I really love the arts. I’ve always been interested in the rural economy in agriculture. And I’ve also really loved dying, in natural dying and textiles. And I’ve sort of woven a path through all of those in different roles. And then finally in the last five years, they’ve all come together, which is quite extraordinary because nobody could ever have said, you know, you’ll have a job where you bring these things together. I mean, regenerative agriculture wasn’t even a thing, apart from the indigenous communities who were still held onto their traditional practices. It was very much a small interest of a small number of people. And now it’s becoming mainstream. So I feel very, very privileged that I’ve managed to sort of weave in my family life with my work life. And when my children were younger, I home educated my youngest daughter, who’s now doing a PhD. So it was a total act of faith. But I guess, you know, it gave her what she needed, which is what I most was concerned about. I guess, because I’ve worked a lot with artists, I was able to work in a way that allowed me to weave my family life and my work life together. In fact, there’s an American poet and writer Wendell Berry, and he talks about the difference between a household and a house. And I really love this idea of the household so that the house becomes a home and you work out of it. And that’s the center that you work from. And my partner’s a sculptor. We’ve been together now for thirty something years. So, together we’ve been able to create this environment. And because our values are very aligned and they’re very much about making a positive difference in the world, and meaning, and friendship rather than money. It hasn’t always been the easiest route. We’re still renting a house, which at our age is very unusual. In fact, now we’re renting a studio and we have two studios here. But I feel really blessed to have got to 61 and feel like the time that I’ve spent is my own. I mean, there’s been points of work that I don’t enjoy and there’s been periods where I’ve had to do work in difficult situations. But I’ve never felt like I’ve surrendered my life to somebody else. And for me personally, that was really important. And I think strangely a lot of the values in a lot of the way that I’ve lived with my family and with my partner, Walter, over the years. Now that we are in a sort of climate crisis, and sort of an economic crisis, it’s actually given us tools to manage quite well. We’re used to growing our own food, we’re used to being very self reliant, we’re used to changing how we were and pivoting and seeing what’s needed. And also the areas of interest that I’ve worked in. So I’ve worked as a director of a charity for visual arts. And I’ve worked as director for a storytelling charity. I’ve worked on education projects, research. It’s sort of all come together at this point, where there’s actually an interest and a demand for that. I think, the thing that’s I’m trying to do now in my personal life is bring all those learnings from all those different organizations that I’ve worked with, where. Actually I have to say, even when I’ve been acting director, I’ve still been freelance. So I tend to go in when there’s a crisis, rather than working with organizations that are in a place of, or not necessarily crisis, but where they’re starting up or they want support. So I’m sort of a bit of a fly on the wall, so I can often watch and see and observe. And now I’m trying to bring a lot of that learning into developing the Southeast England Fibershed, which is my main interest in a larger organization at the moment. One that I’ve set up with my daughter and a knitwear designer to create regenerative textiles. And I think it goes back to what I was talking about before. It’s about values, it’s about trying to learn. And I know when we spoke recently, I was talking about how do we love better? And I think for me, that it’s trying bring that learning from my personal life and from my professional life and not create this firewall. It’s typically there, but to really integrate all that learning in a way that’s makes for a kind of more balanced way of living.
00:10:54 Paula: Fascinating you are a….
00:10:56 Deborah: DId any of that make sense ?
00:10:57 Paula: It did. I was sitting there, you probably saw me leaning forward, cause I was writing things like… you are a pioneer, you’ve said ,you’ve always taken a nonorthodox route, done things in a way that’s different. But I mean, you are a pioneer, that you are the first person to go to university from your home. And so you’ve done things differently. But even with that, I heard so many other fascinating things, like your involvement in regenerative farming, the way you have integrated your personal and business life so that you’ve created a culture that works best for you. Not just keeping that to yourself, you’re sharing that with others. And then you even talked about your daughter and how she does regenerative knitting, is that what you said?
00:11:46 Deborah: Yeah, she’s a farmer, regenerative farmer. She works on a community, as part of a team on a community farm. And she’s responsible for the livestock, the sheep, and developing the yarn business.
00:11:59 Paula: Fascinating. Is that where your involvement in the regenerative farm comes into play?
00:12:05 Deborah: Well, it’s one of the aspects, but it’s something that I’ve had a personal interest in. So I also grow dye plant. Because I grew up in the Sussex Countryside and saw this terrible decimation of the biodiversity and building that went on. I’ve always had a really strong interest in farming, and how the impact of industrial farming affects the land. So being an advocate for regenerative farming and organic farming. Also, I have a contract with the “High Wheels A&B” to develop events for farmers as well. So, it’s something that I’m rooted in. And I’ve always lived in rural Sussex most of my life actually.
00:12:47 Tesse: So if you’re kind of weaving these together, as Paula said, it’s just so rich. This is meaningful stuff. This is life blood, really. Weaving it into creating environments that are generous, and loving, and caring, and kind, and nourishing. What kind of messages would you like to leave our listeners with in relation to this kind of environment, that is generous and loving and kind?
00:13:14 Deborah: I think it’s really important to find ways of working that give you meaning. There was a time in my life when I was faced with the potential loss of one of my children. And in that moment I realized so clearly how important it would be that at any point, if I knew my life was coming to an end, I would feel that what I had done was meaningful, and the way that I had behaved to other people was as good as I could make in that moment, which is by no means perfect but as an aspiration. And I think if you can live in that way to know that, I mean it sounds like a cliche to live as if every day is your last. But I think if you can occasionally remember that we’re gifted with this sort of precious time and this precious moment, and that everybody else ultimately has the same kind of. Everybody’s life is precious, if we can come from that place to give ourselves a chance to remember that sometimes. And also just to be really generous and kind with ourselves when we don’t remember it.
00:14:25 Paula: I love that summary. Generous and kind even when we don’t remember it. In other words, what I heard was leaving your footprints in the world. So that when you’re no longer there, you have given of yourself to the world that you remembered. Not because, you know, you made a lot of money or so on, but you made a difference to someone’s life or to the world in general, by what you did or what you contributed because, everybody’s life matters.
00:14:57 Deborah: Yeah.
00:14:57 Paula: Thank you, Deborah. You’re an amazing woman. And I’m trying to think of a different adjective. I’m not the one, the word person. Tesse give me the word.
00:15:06 Tesse: I feel after this, and thank you Paula for that, accelerated, exultated, excited. And all those things, all those things, Deborah, remind me of a butterfly. You know, cause, she’s gentle, and kind, and caring, and delicate, and brings a sense of beauty and peace. And those are the things that I really value in Deborah, that the calmness she brings, and she gets things done. So Deborah to me, you demonstrate a kind of leadership with, which I feel the world needs right now. That it doesn’t have to be abrasive or aggressive. Because you get things done, but you don’t have to push people around when doing it. And people work with you because they want to, they enjoy it and they grow, you grow, they develop, you develop. So thank you for the leadership that you show up with in the world. Thank you.
00:16:10 Paula: Thank you so much. Just listening to this, I’m lost for words. We’ll have to use Tesse’s words, exhilarated, exciting, warm, very warm woman, Deborah Barker. We want you, our listeners to know that each and every one of your stories are precious to us. All lives matter. So please share your stories with us. And we also encourage you to head over to Apple podcast, Google podcast, Spotify, or wherever else you listen to podcasts and please click subscribe. And if you have found anything you heard from Deborah today helpful, please let us know in your reviews. If you’d like to be a guest on “TesseLeads”, please head over to “Tesseakpeki.com/tesseleads” to apply. Thank you, Deborah. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. It’s been an incredible time hearing your story and listening to how you are making an impact in the world.
00:17:16 Tesse: Thank you, Deborah. It’s been amazing. Thanks.
00:17:19 Deborah: Thank you both for the, it’s such an honor to be on here, especially all those amazing guests you’ve had before that I’ve listened to. Thank you.
00:17:28 Tesse: And Paula, Deborah has listened to quite a number of our episodes. So not pretended to this role of listening, she has listened!
00:17:36 Paula: Thank you, Deborah. Thank you. We appreciate everything.