How Pieter Spinder creates space by helping people to go from fear to freedom

Happyplaces stories (video)

The question is how I approach space. That this is very much connected to my personal situation. Since the age of 13, I don’t feel much in my legs anymore because of a disease. Since then, I started to move differently into spaces and places. What I’ve learned is that my safety for the surroundings is a challenging thing. And also the trust. To trust my own body. To know when I’m walking, I can trust my own body. So when we talk about spaces and places, and in my work, safe spaces, the starting point is that I don’t trust myself. And by not trusting your own body, often the starting point is that if you don’t trust your own body, then you also don’t trust your surroundings and the people around you because it is an embodied thing. I’m 50 now; it’s unfortunate that I only discovered it only two years ago. For me, it is essential to learn how to create a safe space for myself in the first place, what was not always the case. The focus was always on the people around me. This is one of the significant discoveries of the last two years. With a lot of therapists, coaches or whatever you want to call them, I found out the influence of places, spaces and surroundings on me as a person.


Connected to that is the subject I’m currently writing about, ‘from fear to freedom’. Because I have the feeling that me being afraid, not to fall, not to stumble, not to be secure and safe enough was a reason for me to learn more about safety, fear and freedom. I feel that everybody as a child is the embodiment of freedom, especially in the first five years. The way you learn is based on what I call ‘the twelve senses’, based on the views of Steiner that are about ‘embodied learning’. You were the embodiment of freedom. I was the representation of freedom. And slowly we managed to get fear into our system. That started when we started to go to the hockey club, to school, ‘this is what boys do’, ‘this is what girls do’. The conditioning of the mind, the conditioning of behaviour, the conditioning of thoughts, the conditioning of how you are supposed to do things as a boy or girl when you play hockey when you are at school. This resulted in two things for everybody, including me. Number one: since you go to school you are not good enough anymore. Because you always need to be better. To perform better. The teacher always says: ‘You can do better!’ You’re not good enough anymore. Number two: there is no time anymore to show yourself and to be yourself, and to be seen who you are. This is very limiting and this happens everywhere.

Fear and freedom

I work in education and consultancy. And when I’m around people, I always sense a lot of fear, packaged as freedom: we have the freedom to choose this, we have the freedom to do that — especially in the western world. But actually, it is a kind of packaged fear. Because when you don’t do this if you don’t follow the KPI’s if you don’t perform well enough if you don’t work enough hours… All kinds of things based on quantity, numbers. When you focus on quantity and numbers, you don’t focus on people, human beings. What I try to find out is what it takes to go from fear to freedom, from a human being to a human doing. It is about who you are and the ability you have to see where you can develop. But not to develop in a quantitive way, but to develop on a personal safe way of looking at yourself, looking at the world, looking at the surroundings. What I frequently say is that sustainability starts with yourself. When I have a good connection with myself, which is not always easy, then I have a better possibility to make a good connection with the people around me, with my surroundings. Then we’re not going to sell Kalashnikovs. Those are for sure not good for me, for you, for the environment.


It starts with having a connection with yourself. There are all kinds of hip and trendy ways to do this like yoga, mindfulness and more. I want to bring it back to one thing that is connected to the space you’re in: start breathing like a baby again. This is what it is about. When you manage to do that and when you manage to make the connection with yourself and can say: ‘I’m good enough and I can do whatever I want to do’, within the framework the possibilities are as many as outside the framework. It’s not only to be rebellious and to do all kinds of crazy stuff. But within the framework, be who you are and try to find out what it is you want to do in the world. Then you can do that. This is how I look at education, consultancy and at bringing innovative new ways into the world. It’s easy to use models like Theory U, Spiral Dynamics but in the end, it is about the question: ‘Who am I? What is my story? What do I want to put into the world?’ This is very briefly what I believe in and how we could change our own lives. How I am changing my own life. Being a little handicapped and not being able to trust my own body fully is okay. It took me 48 years to be okay with it, but if I can trust myself if I’m good enough and if I see myself for who I am, I can make the next step. And then I can trust that everything needs to be what it needs to be.

Try it, do it

When you are afraid, like me, because of my handicap, the easiest way out is to show other people that they don’t need to be afraid. Most people have the idea that I’m not afraid. In some instances that’s true. I facilitate, empower, enable other people to do things of what they thought was impossible to achieve. But after one week of programme, seven months of programme or five workshops in companies, they learn they can do it. I think people want to work with me because I can show them something without mentioning what it is. But I give then different views, and I show them that it is maybe possible to make the next step and do things differently and try it. Because of my disability, my handicap, it is for other people much easier because I lead by example. For example, last year, I had a Power of Light Training. I had to do all kinds of things like Kundalini yoga, dynamic yoga, and rebirthing rituals. This is also how we facilitate change processes in people during the programme in Amsterdam or in consultancy. I always facilitated it, but now I needed to go through it myself. That was something else. To facilitate it for someone else is much easier. This embodied learning is one of the most important things I learned the last two years. This is the next step we need to take in education. The next step we need to take in consultancy.

Last March we were in Milan with 12 vice-presidents and senior vice-presidents of companies. We did Biodanza with them. My colleagues were afraid to lose the client. But I didn’t care. I believed that we needed to go through it and do embodied learning. It turned out to be the best workshop we did for them, and it was the sixth time we did a workshop with them. Why? Because they felt the necessity to change the way they behave, the way they innovate, the way they learn, the way they treat their people and the way they treat themselves in the first place. They went through it. It is not borderless, but there are so many possibilities. My starting point is always ‘let’s try it’. Not only for other people anymore but also for myself.


What I try to do is based on four principles, which are paired two by two. The first set is ‘rhythm and attention’. Facilitating in a good rhythm is important. This also depends on the number of people in a group setting. And also what attention can you give to the participants based on who they are, what they want to show. In a way that they can show who they are. The second set is ‘vulnerability and enthusiasm’. Vulnerability and enthusiasm are also connected. If you have the proper group setting, you are aware of the rhythm you are offering. The rhythm of the workshop, the rhythm of the programme. Then people also dare to be vulnerable. And vulnerability and enthusiasm are very close to each other because vulnerability is very close to creativity. And creativity you can use to be enthusiastic about something you want to put into the world and to prototype it. And prototyping is something else than project management. In companies, this became project management because you are not allowed to make mistakes. In our programmes, we say: ‘Let’s just try it.’ Because of 90% of the things we try, we prototype might not work but might add to another working prototype.

Things need time

As Knowmads, we’re outside the system. This gives you all the freedom and possibility to prototype. And as a consultancy, we say that we only want to work for two five years with a company. We do that without a fixed contract up front. We just want to know when people want to change, and want to find out what the possible transformation is that the company can make, then you need to invest in it. It is not a trick. You don’t solve that in a two-day workshop, or by changing the colours of the logo, or change the way of training a little bit. A lot of programmes in companies are based on skills and on training instead of educating and learning, like peer-to-peer learning. This needs time. If we can’t get the time, then it is not interesting because you don’t contribute to actual change. Then you come in, just do your trick, everybody happy and on Monday people need to comply with the KPI’s again, mostly related to quantity and numbers. But how did this Biodanza then connect to that? You need to give people the possibility to find out themselves what it is. Ownership is crucial. If the people, the attendees in the workshop don’t have ownership of the process, of the workshop but also of the transformation of the company, it is not going to work. Because when a CEO or vice-president in the beginning just cascades it down into the organisation and just says: ‘This is what you need to do’, maybe people will do it, but they won’t feel ownership. The co-creative part, to create ownership is an essential part. This is how I try to facilitate with my friends in consultancy and in Amsterdam with education. ‘Grass won’t grow faster by pulling it.’ Things need time. And most of the time, a lot of companies and people in companies, don’t give themselves that time.


I try to do that the same way. It is difficult. I have a son of 19, a daughter of 10 and a daughter of 5. The two daughters are completely different than the son of 19. To facilitate, or to be a parent is something else. I have a lot of objections to how I do my parenthood. A lot of critique on myself and mt wife. And she also on me. The basic starting point is that my kids are good enough. They don’t need to be better than they are. When you talk with them, it is important to touch them by the arm, asking questions like ‘how does it feel?’, ‘why does it work for you?’, ‘why are you crying?’, ‘why don’t you want to go to school?’ to give them attention. To be there instead of to do things. And of course, I make a lot of mistakes. My wife and me, we have opened bank accounts for our kids and we call them ‘therapist accounts’. They will need a therapist for sure when they are 19, 20, 25 because of all the mistakes we make. Then they at least have some money to go to a therapist to recover. I don’t have accounts for all clients and students that we’ve had.


It’s a never-ending story. Training is an ending story. You can train people to do stuff. And they re able to do things, or not. But learning keeps on going forever: while I’m talking I am learning. I’m constantly learning. Education, raising kids, is a never-ending story. I felt it myself. Both my parents died. And then all of a sudden you are sort of alone, you don’t have parents to fall back on. Past 15 years, I wanted to call my dad or mother for advice. Not about how to cook cauliflower, but about real stuff. It never stops until the moment that you are not there anymore. With clients and with students I think it is essential to share their learnings, share their lives, to share where they are and what they want. How it worked in their lives up until now. Being at Knowmads, having ben through the programme. We also do that with companies. We sometimes even go to a monastery with people, to just get back to live, get back to themselves. ‘What is it what I’m learning?’, ‘What am I doing?’ We also talked about that before. ‘What did I learn the last ten years?’, ‘How did I change?’, ‘What does it mean?’, ‘Am I happy with it?’, ‘Can I make the next step?’ It is an ongoing process, a never-ending story. Like life. Yes, that ends at a particular moment, depending on who you talk to.


My story will be… I read this, it is now my own story, but I then thought: ‘This is interesting.’ The end of life is that you go through a tunnel as if you are being born again and you see the light at the end of the tunnel. And all of a sudden you are born again. And you’re a baby again in a different body, and you will make your next step in your life. My story today is that I try to stay connected as good as possible. That’s not easy, that’s what my therapists say. I try to be as good as possible connected to my heart. The heart is the first organ in the body that starts to work, and I believe that it’s the heart that connects. It’s is now also hip, cool and trendy to say ‘gut feeling’… But it’s the heart. When you feel the energy around you, you feel with your heart. You don’t feel with your eyes; you don’t see it with your eyes, you don’t hear it. It’s a combination, but the heart connects it all when you feel that something is right for you. To step into a process with Pieter Spinder. To step into a school like Knowmads. Which is, I can understand that, is not easy. But when you feel that it’s okay, your feelings won’t lie. And when you listen to your feelings, then you make the next step and everything is possible.

I hope that people will remember me by the sincere way I put things out there, as they are. With a personal twist, a Pieter Spinder twist. Which is not always the way to go for everybody. But at least they know that he tried to motivate people, he tried to persuade people to be the better version of themselves at that moment.