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A transformative learning experience in Co. Cavan

by Nathalie Markiefka on the 28/06/2019

Something had changed between the day I walked into Castle Saunderson and the day I left. But what was it? Indeed, I expanded my knowledge about the SDG’s but this was not what made this course so transformational for me. It was a combination of the beautiful setting, the open-minded attitude of the participants and the skilful use of methodologies by the facilitators.


Transformation happens when we are challenged and need to reconsider our core beliefs about ourselves and the world. My challenging moment was during the “Game of Stones”. A game I didn’t particularly enjoy, as most of the rules were not known and the game invited a sense of mistrust and division amongst us. We were given specific roles in small groups and the only rule known to us was to get the most out of it for ourselves. While this challenged my sense of justice and disrupted my peaceful and happy feelings, I tried to take part by taking on my role as a diamond miner. But in truth, I was only waiting for it to be over. Many negative emotions bottled up inside of me, which had no way of finding release as I knew it was a “just” a game and there was no one there to blame.

Should I stay, or should I go?

Reflecting on this experience and why the facilitators chose to use this particular tool for learning I can say that it offered space for reflection on personal values, group dynamics, emotional triggers and automatic responses. The physical separation of the groups, not being allowed to talk with the other groups and only being able to communicate through a spokesperson represented a personal challenge for me. I value transparency, openness, fairness, communication and cooperation. While in our small group we were able to cooperate and communicate I still felt very frustrated by the game, which rules were not transparent and I didn’t get to understand even by playing it.

On the contrary, they seemed rather random, and we were losing out. My frustration went that far that I wanted to stop playing the game and to go on strike, to walk out and go to the next meeting as a group, demanding better rules. But some of my fellow group members didn’t think it was a good idea to show up as a group at the next meeting, as this would break the rules of the game. Only one spokesperson was allowed to join. I considered leaving the game on my own but I didn’t give up, and instead, we decided to threaten with strike and drew some protest signs. All that gave me food for thought. How can we change an inherently unfair system, if deep inside we think that we need to obey the rules of the society/group/community or “the game” we are part of?


What would have happened If I had walked away from this exercise? How would that have affected my group, the whole group and myself beyond the game? In the end, I’m glad I didn’t because it gave me the space to go to the bottom of that experience. But I still wonder. The transformation happened when I had to face a personal dilemma. I chose to stay with the group, with the experience, instead of walking away from it. I was the next spokesperson and had a meeting with those from other groups. I brought forward our intention to strike, if this was going too far and I could see the genuine will of everyone to work together and to make the game fair for all. But still our ability to act within the rules were very limited and in some of us, there was a doubt if everyone was playing fair and if we should play fair. After all, the aim of the game was to make the most out of it for your own group.

Society in a nutshell

For me, this game provided a mirror of society. Neo-liberal economic theory proclaims that we are all egoistic and only seek to maximize our own benefit. We all know this is not the case, but we are still somehow governed by it. Companies tell us every day to “get the best deal”, to “pay less for more”, creating a sense of pressure and competition amongst us (“grab it while it lasts” etc.), imposing unhealthy values and playing with our fears and emotions. This is what they taught me in Business School. Create a need, a want, sell them an illusion by tapping into their subconscious fears.

This subconscious conditioning can influence our behaviour and create cognitive dissonance. A term which describes the feelings of discomfort that result when our beliefs or values and our behaviours are not in harmony. We can either work with that feeling of discomfort and make a conscious effort to change our behaviour or we can push it away and invent reasons why how we’re acting is right. The selfishness, greed and irresponsible behaviour we observe around us results exactly from that. It takes deep self-reflection and the will to change, for us to step out of a system where selfishness and greed are normalized and to build something new based on different values. Transformative learning experiences like Kaleidoscope offer a safe place where this reflection of our roles in society and change can be initiated.

While this exercise brought deep reflection through crisis for me, it stood in stark contrast to another exercise where we worked together as a group using only non-verbal communication while building a map of the world from natural materials. The only way I can describe this process is that something like a hive-mind was activated and by tapping into this collective consciousness we didn’t need any words. A simple look would suffice to know what the other person was trying to achieve and to know how I can support them, as well as instinctively knowing what I needed to do myself.


Heart-based Leadership
This experience and later the second part of it when we changed the map into a Mandala was the antidote to the negative experience I felt during the game. It showed us how, if we are all open to the experience, we can work together to achieve something beautiful and unifying. It tapped into the intelligence and wisdom of our hearts and therefore felt more like a flow and not as a process. The HeartMath Institute discovered that the electromagnetic field of our hearts are much larger than those of our brains, making our hearts the most powerful information emitters in our bodies. This is what I felt, that we were all part of a large intelligent field into which we were tuning into to receive and exchange information. That experience was transformational too. The experience of acting in unity revived my hope that we can build a better future for all if we let our hearts guide us and use our minds as creative tools.

For this to happen we all need to let go of something, may it be a belief, an assumption, a judgement, conditioning or fear. But once our hearts become lighter and freer, more possibilities open themselves to us. Kaleidoscope 2019 has left me feeling different about myself and my relationship to the world. It showed me the importance of non-formal education, the integration of nature in learning experiences and it’s combined power to bring about inner change and support deep reflection.

After all, if we want to change the world we need to start with ourselves.


1 comment


said on 28/06/2019 at 17:06

Thanks for sharing.