It’s not the Grail, it’s the Quest that Matters

Philippe, France


Recently I have had the pleasure of working with groups on Hal Gilmore’s Big Green Canoe initiative.


It was a participant of a recent group that partook in the delights of a Transition Tour with Hal himself that got to the heart of the matter and it is he who I have quoted in the title of this blog.


It is a metaphor that speaks volumes, particularly relevant in Our times. When we think back to the Knights of old we know it was the grail they were searching for, but to this day we don’t know exactly what the grail was, or whether they ever found it; it depends on whose version of the tale we read.


In Our times we talk of Transition. This word can conjure up a myriad of different images and they are as diverse as the people who imagine our future and how it will be. Will it be a Mad Max scenario, Business as Usual, Techno Fix, a Utopian return to the past, or will we achieve a Power Down low impact future that embraces the best of the past with that of the present whilst still innovating the new?


In the Age of Chivalry they were looking for a representation of the feminine principle, which was somewhat sadly lacking back then. Nowadays it could be said we are looking for something more like balance. How do we celebrate diversity, honour both masculine and feminine roles, respect that both doing and being are of equal importance, understand that there is a time to act and a time to reflect, in all of our lives, and at all times in our lives.



Whatever the Grail of a time and its people, it is, as Philippe so beautifully said, “the Quest that matters”.


This has been brought home to me so poignantly with the death of my father this month. Did he ever find his grail? Has he found it now? I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know though, pretty intimately well, was his Quest. I know how he struggled with being the child of poverty and repressed Northern emotions, and having a big heart. I know how he struggled with the Victorian beliefs instilled in him when still young by his already old, maiden great aunts who took him in when his mother died when he was at the tender age of 7, and his own capacity for connection to nature and his intuition.


I know that he compromised his longing to live on the land, to fish, hunt, listen to the birds, and walk through woodland, to bring up his family in the manner of everyday folk of his times. My father’s Quest led him to compromise his health, for love of his family, his demons; the authoritarian figures who challenged him to work hard and pay a mortgage to keep a roof over his family’s heads, bring his children up well by sending them to school that instilled the values of the times in them, when his heart told him that recognising the plants and trees were things worth knowing.


My father’s Quest was about Love. Love for family, love for our earth, love for the poor children he struggled with watching on the TV, starving with hunger whilst he saw food being thrown away before his eyes. My father never compromised on that. His Quest tested his Love at every turn, as he struggled with the balance between his heart knowledge, and the stuff his head had been stuffed with from an early age.


My Quest is about Truth. I believe we need both Head and Heart. I believe too they need to work in tandem, not in compromise, not in one accepting dominion over the other, not in forsaking my own inner knowing for one given to me from the outside. Right now my Quest challenge is to follow my heart’s guidance, and then engage my head to act accordingly.


My website is my living experiment upon myself to test this out. My father never saw the finished site, he was too ill. It is his legacy though. His love for me guides me to trust my heart, and my search for the Truth engages my head to act.


I can feel the beginnings of faith in my way. Already the book that refused to be written for a conventional publisher has orders. Orders for each chapter that is written to be sent out month by month, to delight those that enjoy the plop of the written page on the welcome mat as it drops through their letterbox, and orders for the leather bound uniquely written limited edition volume of the Tales of Our Times. A cheque arrived yesterday with the words £100 with lots of love written across its bureaucratic body.


My Quest is for the Truth. It is also to see the never ending story of our lives be told, not just by historians, not just by those who we set up in authority over us, but by each and every person that has the honour of living in Our Times and helping the story unfold.


I don’t know what our Grail looks like, but I do know our Quest, intimately. I join in every day as I believe we all do, whether or not we are awake to that truth.


One of the ways I play my part is to chronicle the tales of the people I meet. Another, aptly enough, is to play the giant interactive Transition game, The Quest.

The Market Place
The Market Place

This game had its genesis in 2008 when playwright Hannah Mulder handed the task of designing an activity to enable young teenagers to envision a positive future to Guy Chapman and myself. Inspired by the young people we knew and their near obsession for Dungeons & Dragons type computer games, we developed a giant classroom sized board game, which has grown and developed over the past 4 years into quite a living project.

Its aim?

To find community led responses to the wellbeing of individual settlements and their bio regions.


Since I took over the facilitation of Transition Tales (the first Transition project to engage young people) from Hannah in 2009,  the Quest, with the help of a diverse and ever changing group of engaged and enthusiastic people, both in Totnes, and further afield (we have had collaborators based in London and Glasgow, Budapest and LA) has been played with kids from 6-16 and adults of all ages (the eldest in his nineties) all over England, in Scotland, Hungary, Spain, S Africa, and the States.


It has changed too, under the influence of all those many collaborators.  It has moved from being board based to classroom based, to woodland based. In Edinburgh they wanted more varieties of sheep added to the resources, in Glasgow they wanted to know why there were no High Rise flats, in Hungary they missed the bees, and a little boy in Rattery wanted to know why cricket couldn’t become a skill. The original 20 skill cards and the same number of resources now have 100 cards each in their packs, as each group that played added their suggestions.


The Quest mimics our real life challenge. How do we transition to a more positive future? As the years go by new challenges cards are added to the pack. In the beginning we were asking what we would do if oil became more expensive. Last year, as more and more groups formed to work together to bring about change in their local communities, we started asking how we deal with the dynamics of people when one feels excluded, or another takes on more than s/he can cope with.


As we encounter challenges on our Quest to a Transition future we learn, as children always have, very effectively, through play and image – ination, to try things out, think and act creatively, and be amazed at what is possible when we stop thinking according to the stories we have grown up believing, and begin instead, to co create a new story – the Tales of Our Times.


In Quest workshops we describe GNP as being part of the old story, the reaction to the Depression of the thirties, and GCH as being part of the new story – Great Community Happiness.


Yesterday Earthwrights playscape designer, Mike Jones, and I were out in the woods with a group of German teenagers from Freisberg, and their teachers, playing the Quest for real. Participants got to enact their challenges and responses to them in settlements they had built for themselves out of wood and found materials.

 a Quest temporary settlement

a Quest temporary settlement

They struggled with boundaries, what happens when the neighbouring settlement trades unfairly? What do you do if your neighbours are not cooperative? What is the basic requirement for a community to maintain its state of well being? Some found that they were very active in defensive mode, others felt peaceful self sufficiency was more appropriate. It is endlessly fascinating how play mimics real life.


It is an interesting challenge we face in Our times. How do we learn to interact with one another in a state of balance where all communities are able to be reflective and inward thinking enough to maintain their own state of wellbeing regardless of what is going on around them, and equally are able to contribute to the well being of those around them without losing their own equilbrium?


There are four buzz words in the Quest; Diversity, Trust, Collaboration, and Resilience.


My sense is that when we are able to utilise these qualities during our Quest, we shall stop worrying about our Grail; we will be too busy living in our Transition future.


Watch this space tomorrow for the tale of the Kids in the Woods.