On a stormy Saturday morning fifteen people enter an Amsterdam canal house to participate in one of our Your Lab programs. We kick off with a wordless introduction. Simple Aikido exercises provide an experience of bridging the distance between oneself and the other without any further knowledge of each other’s lives. These ancient martial arts techniques shed new light upon everyday situations; a state of relaxation enhances strength. By taking in your own space, you give others the opportunity to take theirs. Slowing down becomes acceleration. The urge to win creates mostly losers.
A Dutch author starts the afternoon program with a Creative Writing workshop. “You get an important message, how does that color your world?” One participant writes a dialogue, one describes his inner world and others write stories that forever will change how we see cleaned dishes on a dish rack or a simple bench in the forest. The participants get to know each other through the stories they share, which reveal a lot about the individual: their eye for detail, their self-image, their perception of a situation and what they include or leave out.
Andre Platteel and I started Your Lab ten years ago. We’re both writers with an interest in how stories form us and shape our worldview. Luigi Pirandello’s novel One, No One and One Hundred Thousand was an inspiration for Your Lab. It’s about a man staring in the mirror when his wife passes by and asks him if he’s looking at his crooked nose. The man is in shock, as he has never seen his nose that way. When he asks his friends to describe him, they all paint a different picture of his appearance and character. He realizes that he is not one story, but many stories in the minds of many people. By holding on to one story, he had deprived himself. He then decides to let go of all ideas of who he’s supposed to be, because he “can be born every single moment in time, as new and without any ideas. No longer within myself, but in all the things outside of myself.”
At Your Lab, people from diverse backgrounds are brought closer together: business people, executives, creatives, scientists, worldly homeless, old and young, colored by life, religious, atheistic, superstitious – a cross-section of society. Despite our differences, we are united by that which makes us all human. We explore the stories we hold to be true about ourselves and discover how they shape our identities. These stories are created during our upbringing, by our society and culture and through our own personal experiences in life.
In the course of a five-day program, held in the city, in natural surroundings or in-company, we offer new ways to experience a state of being that is present before all ideas, experiences and thoughts. Most narratives operate on a subconscious level and hence it can oftentimes feel like you’re reacting instead of directing. This is why we focus on slowing down and silence, to be able to explore the common thread in your own story. This allows you to change the plot, invite new characters in and possibly rewrite your own role in your life’s play.
We work with writers, artists, musicians and actors — exploring breathing exercises, meditation techniques, the Socratic conversation, improvisation, martial arts and silence. The program is carefully curated to assist you in cultivating a strong connection between your mind, body and spirit; with yourself and with the world outside of yourself.
Four times yearly we organize a retreat in a tucked-away estate; a little oasis in the forests of central Netherlands. Here, the seasons can be closely experienced. In summer everything is covered with a layer of crisp green leaves and little bundles of sunlight lighten up the Japanese garden. In winter only contours are left to see. You wake up each day with the wintery morning haze lingering around the trees. This quietude allows you to hear all that is important to you and listen to all that has been shouted down. What excites and inspires you truly? What happens in your body and what do you want to bring into this world?
On a hot summer’s day, the participants are guided by an opera singer
with the forest as their silent observer. The singer is not there to guide everyone to the heights of an aria, but instead, to let them experience the interconnectedness of their tune and tuning. After the exercises, the soft voice of a young woman sounds like a polyphonous orchestra and the monotone bass of a giant man sounds layered and uplifting. Everything sounds different when we allow ourselves to be heard and when we’re
Your Lab also has an Artist Residence. Every year, we invite a few international writers and artists to stay with us in the attic apartment in our canal house. At a desk surrounded by books and with a 360º view, one feels like floating in a boat above the city of Amsterdam. The resident runs a workshop at one of our Your Lab programs, where the participants are invited to look at themselves and others through a new and different lens. Recently we welcomed the American writer David Vann as our guest resident. He talked about the complex relationships in his family, a recurring subject in his body of work. Through writing he could answer questions he wasn’t able to solve otherwise. Fiction is his real-life doorway into feelings he had never been able to experience before.
Daily life often doesn’t give us enough opportunities to dive into our stories and experiment with new perspectives, without the pressure of outside forces and free from all roles we’ve taken on. Your Lab is a safe ‘laboratory’ — a space to slow down, see everything as new and become more connected to yourself and to everyone around you.