Changing games

Footy Yogyakarta backstreets

Rosily the sun sets over a game of soccer, between trees and bikes as we move through slow side streets. We drift past Yogyakarta houses all lolly coloured - yellows and pinks and teals and fluttering red and white flags.

The field glows in the late afternoon, and young figures are loping around an unseen ball. I gaze hungrily at the match as we inch by, imagining how to introduce myself and start playing.

And I feel the slipperiness of discomfort and disconnection. Desire to say something or regain control, to create a social media story, to reach out to people across the internet, to rattle through my lists of ideas and things needing doing, to scroll others’ rattling.

Sitting in air-conditioned comfort on the backseat of a Grab car, I appreciate the kind driver playing pop and delicious Dangdut music. Sometimes we try a few hardwon phrases in Bahasa or English or across Google translate. “What beautiful streets!” I chirp, and he waves in the direction of the traffic snarl we are evading.

We talk study, travel, work and computer repairs as best we can, as I had been nursing a bung laptop across Indonesia and had just failed on the latest repair mission. The trip stretches out and settles into curious silence.

I trace the slipstream of people, motorbikes, trees and vegetables and homes and wires and smiles and flags, textures flourishing and breaking down, constructing and colliding. I lean into the moment and welcome the world in.

The young players lit up across the reddening field, their image stays with me with sticky emotion. Back at the hotel, calls to prayer now gloriously open up the evening and I put down my pen.

Over breakfast the next day, I reflected on the yearning to play that lingered with resonance. How I was busting to connect and interact to give and take, to achieve goals and share the field, to laugh and lose and keep playing, together! How playing can help us sidestep translational and transactional murkiness, fuel action and smiles.

You know, the joy in being and moving, losing and achieving, being seen and heard, immersed and in the moment.

The sun rising over Borobudur, surrounding volcanoes, mountains & community.

The sun rising over Borobudur, surrounding volcanoes, mountains & community.

I dissolved again this morning, and shifted goalposts as we visited Buddhist temples and monastic life.

Before dawn together with our leadership group on a bus, we coached and chatted and softened into meditation on the way to Borobudur Temple. I dropped all the “I think, I believe, I don't know, I understand, I feel…” that had signalled something of the laborious process of deconstructing and transforming and giving and growing over recent days. Instead, I let the world in, lovingly and with David Whyte’s poem singing through me, with a sense of being nurtured.

In darkness I climbed the ancient temple, with devotion and wonder, and we slowly welcomed today. There were selfies and giggles and so many people, but this temple has survived several disasters and social upheavals, over unimaginable time and change.

More moving still was visiting the monastery nearby, and meeting the Venerable monk. While he shared such bright smiles and grace, I clouded with fear about the conflict and crises we face. I felt such weight of responsibility to ’light one candle rather than curse the darkness’.

Our amazing #artsleaders2019 group at Borobudur Temple.

Our amazing #artsleaders2019 group at Borobudur Temple.

This remains with me. Our responsibility of imagination and play, with respect and disruption. The roles we can play as creative leaders in broader social, economic and environmental arenas. The deep power I feel compelled to trust, that we can build the foundations of our future as yet unknown.

I think about the urgency invoked by Greta Thunberg - that we now start laying foundations for climate solutions we do not yet have answers for - calling upon Cathedral thinking as the Notre Dame burned down.

Here in Indonesia, I feel into the metaphor of building a temple. Building with devotion and dexterity, over generations, to create meaningful spaces that survive cataclysms and conflicts across centuries.

Celebration.jpg

With creative leadership and shared efforts, we too can lay enriching foundations for future generations, and share stories that redeem and outlast us. It is time for inspired action and for deeply connecting, beyond familiar Western paradigms. Time to find out what it means to tap into power with and power within, rather than that familiar old mode of exerting power over people. Many things are within our power, as individuals and within our communities.

In how many gazillion ingenious ways can we illuminate new questions, meaning and solutions to grow with? We tell stories that bring us together, spark ideas and create value in countless fields. And we humans can simply support each other with warmth and courage when darkness threatens.s

The beauty of the soccer match, the Bhuddist temple and the Islamic call the prayer, perhaps even the Christian Ark… I'm not quite sure how to weave together such complexity of traditions and meaning... And I learned so much from Indonesian leaders, artists and producers, entrepreneurs and activists - each helping to shift my footing and give new glimpses of what is possible.

Thanks to everyone who inspired this renewed drive to change the games we play, with joy and seriousness and love.

Kathy Yogyakarta reflection

Together let’s create foundations that are new and old. There is great advantage to innovation that is deeply situated in our culture, stories and the land we belong to. There’s mighty need to shift how we wield capital, connections and power, purposely for our collective good.

Calling you business and creative game-changers…

How way we devote ourselves to tackling problems in new ways, together?


I scribbled this reflective story to be shared with my extraordinary Arts Leaders Program group. The words poured from my hands into my journal over the last days of our intensive program, and with storytelling burst out with many tears. So I share this raw post here to honour the intensity of experience and learning, and in near future will create more insightful posts and let you know news sparked in Indonesia!

Huge thanks to the Australia Council, DFAT, all the Indonesian leaders we engaged with, and to Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan AO who warmly hosted us all for this picture!

Huge thanks to the Australia Council, DFAT, all the Indonesian leaders we engaged with, and to Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan AO who warmly hosted us all for this picture!

We Australian, Indonesian, Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and Papua New Guinean leaders were brought together in Indonesia in August 2019, with thanks to the Australia Council for the Arts and many extraordinary local collaborators.

Kathryn Gray