SDG Presents: Global Generation Project, Voices of The Universe is pleased to share the work of Dr Jane Riddiford and Global Generation as the featured work for SDG Presents: October (2021)

October 1, 2021

Global Generation Founding Director

Much of what I have brought to Global Generation’s work in London has roots in the group of islands 18,300 km across the seas that form Aotearoa New Zealand; the land where I was born. The covid pandemic meant that what might have been a brief trip for me and my husband, Rod Sugden, to visit my 95-year-old mother turned into a five-month stay. 

This time in New Zealand was a chance to immerse ourselves more deeply in the renaissance throughout the country of the relational worldview of Te Ao Māori. During our visit we reconnected with Chellie Spiller and her Wayfinding leadership work. As I left her house, Chellie gave me Nga Kete Matauranga[i]a large treasure of a book holding stories of Māori scholars working at the interface of Western and Indigenous knowledge.

Slowly I made my way through different chapters as we travelled around the country. Chellie’s chapter “Wayfinding Odyssey: Into the Interspace”, calls forth an eternal inner space of strength. Quoting Mau Piailug, Chellie describes how, in these stormy times, rather than praying for fair weather, we should pray for courage.

Not for the first time, I was struck by the resonance between a scientific account of the history of the universe and the Māori creation myth, which begins with Te Kore, the empty realm that is full of potential. I experience the primordial and ever new ground of emptiness as the deepest and most positive part of myself. Chellie points out that covid and the reality of climate change asks us to draw upon Te Kore. She says this requires us to go on a journey of discovery, explaining that the word ‘discover’ can mean to pull apart.

A journey of discovery involves a fragmenting, so shafts of light can shine through the cracks and we gain new perspectives.
It’s not the most comfortable place to be, but then true adventures encourage us to reimagine places in ourselves and in the world. This journey starts with ourselves – to inquire into our experience. And in the odyssey of discovery old maps won’t be enough.

The thirteen-hour time difference between New Zealand and the UK in the summer months meant that Rod and I received emails in the morning about the London projects we had left behind. Amidst the challenges our colleagues were facing, we observed shafts of light breaking through due to the lockdown necessity of finding new ways to work.

Our Voices of the Earth fellows moved onto a new project with Rod called Voices of the Universe. Whilst working remotely, our young fellows took the practice of thinking large and seeing small to new heights. Rod and sound designer Daniel Balfour invited the group to imagine they were the Universe going through its epic, tumultuous and creative phases of evolution. This included the empty place before the big bang, the stars, the galaxies, the supernova and the sun, the earth and the wondrous array of life on earth.

Creative writing in the first person was done by the fellows, on their own and simultaneously online using a google document. Each person imagined how they might have felt being the universe as it made its way through epic twists and turns. The fellows recorded themselves on their mobile phones and posted them to Daniel who created a spectacular sound piece. As I listened to the final audio of the different lines spoken by the fellows combined with music, I heard humility and wonder in their descriptions of the scale and mystery of the universe and the intricacy of life on earth.

From smoke, fire and dust I form
From eternal night I bring a new day
I am the one and the countless many and we spin through space as giants
We are the fiery jittering balls of light dotted across the galaxy
Have you seen the detail of everything inside of me,
look at the sky, see the clouds so delicate and unique
Now look at your hands
Look at the sea, watch the intensity of colour, I am so deep that even
light can’t get through

Dr Jane Riddiford - Blog Image

My colleague, Silvia Pedretti, has supported hundreds of young people on Global Generations projects to feel and express their best and biggest self. Silvia describes the sense of journey and discovery she observed in the Voices of the Universe piece: 

“This piece creates the right sense of fear and calm that the nothingness can create in our imagination. The audio feels like an adventure. To me, this is a highlight in these strange months of the pandemic and an example that the universe, this Old Story, can still support young people and their feelings after millions of years.”

It is easy for any of us to feel self-conscious when we hear our own voice and so it was encouraging to get the feed-back from the fellows about what they had created after they listened to the audio. In many ways it is the effect of this work on the young people we have had the privilege to work with that has given my colleagues and I the confidence to keep exploring new opportunities for how this universal story might be expressed. 

Lucy Sheikh and Cassie Adoptante
Lucy Sheikh and Cassie Adoptante

"Listening to the Voices of the Universe audio made me feel a sudden burst of energy that shot up through my heart, leaving shivers down my body.
I felt excited to hear everyone’s audio pieces and to listen to mine too."

"The project allowed me to be more grateful and aware of all that’s around me. Being in lockdown this time around, I spent more time in nature and although I was alone, I wasn’t lonely. It helped me gain more confidence in being independent and opened possibilities to life."

"As I listened to the Voices of the Universe sound piece, I felt the strangest sensation of what it means to be proud of oneself. But the even greater feeling was my awe for the gifts and talents of those around me. Such a unique way to tell the story of creation from the scientific perspective, while giving room for us as participants to write our own story, inspired by our own perspectives."

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