Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Serendipity at work

Cows discovering their sense of purpose at Buitenwerkplaats.

“What is serendipity?”, said the handsome young Dutchman, opposite whom the waitress had seated me. I didn’t dare ask him, myself, if I could sit at his table. He was too good-looking, too blond, and too alone, to be approachable. It was the waitress who decided I should sit at his table.

Serendipity, I hazarded, “is a coming together of random events that produces unexpected and happy results. Our meeting,” I continued, “is serendipitous, because we are discovering so many things in common, and the chances of us sitting at the same table, in the same cafĂ©, tonight, must have been very small.”

Going with the flow

Have you ever spent time in a Dutch Polder surrounded by water? The cows and the sheep graze on the greenest squares of grass, and the herons flop from ditch to ditch. High above the houses, cyclists and barges sail by. The sound of the water lapping in the canal can be alarming if, like me, you are more used to the noise of traffic. Why does the water from the canal not drain into the fields, I asked? “Our dykes are extremely well built”, said my host. 

Discovering our purpose

Last month, I spent a week living and working at Buitenwerkplaats, an architect designed space for people who want to reflect, plan, create and do. You can browse the books, interpret the art, and lose yourself in the watery landscape. The furniture, like the food, is carefully curated. 

Buitenwerkplaats encourages intimacy. Guests can float between indoor and outdoor spaces. Meals are tethered to tables under the trees, or moored to the boardwalk by the pool. There are no barriers between the people who work there, the groups who come for a week, and the guests who come for a day's thinking time. I connected with the lady who changes the beds, the poets who came to plan, and the couple who are writing their first novel together.

Buitenwerkplaats has a ‘sense of place’ that I believe is key to helping people to connect with themselves, and with each other. And in the process of making discoveries about ourselves and other people, we may discover a sense of purpose. The day after I left Buitenwerkplaats, I went to Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam. This is a quote from Anne’s diary that I read on the wall.

“I know what I want, I have a goal, I have opinions, a religion
and love.”

Anne Frank, 11 April 1944

Later that day, I met the young Dutchman who asked me to define serendipity. Just like that. 


I didn’t mean to write this blog, today. I didn’t plan to go to yoga, this morning. But I woke in time, splashed my face with water, and went with the flow. And after we had breathed, and bent, and stretched, our teacher read these words to us:

“Water is fluid, soft and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

Lao-Tzu, Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)

And I thought, serendipity. I need to write this blog today about embracing fluidity and making connections and discoveries that I hadn’t looked for. And I hope it will make sense to all the wise people who, quite by accident, inspired me to write it.

2-3 September 2013

Oxford Online Definition of Serendipity
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way

1754: coined by Horace Walpole, suggested by The Three Princes of Serendip, the title of a fairy tale in which the heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’