Reflections on 2021, gratitude and growth, and embracing the emerging future
The end of a year and the beginning of a new one encouraged me to reflect back on 2021. And to look ahead. To the future that’s wanting to be born. A future that’s being called into being by the actions we take here and now, in the present moment that’s unfolding right in front of us.
By Niels Devisscher
2021 has been a difficult year for many. In our latest Mental Chatter, someone alluded to the fact that the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic has the same effect on our nervous system as being in the middle of a car crash. Tormented by fear of infection and bad news, prolonged lockdowns, and the uncertainty of not knowing when things will go back to normal again.
From my fairly privileged perspective, it’s not been a perfect year, to say the least, but one with an abundance of opportunities and growth nevertheless. And I’m deeply grateful for that.
I’m grateful for having the opportunity to build something that has never been built before. Masawa the first impact investment fund exclusively focused on mental wellness. We’re a growing community of people that has expanded far beyond our core team. We’re connected by the shared purpose of empowering individuals and communities to find healing and explore their unique aliveness. Deploying and nurturing capital for the greatest positive impact in the minds and lives of people. How cool is that?
But like any startup journey, ours is by no means without its ups and downs. The good news is that the response we have been receiving on Nurture Capital is truly remarkable. It needs no convincing that investors must expand their definition of what is valued and measured. Founders aren’t cogs in a machine that can be oiled when things start to get rigid and simply replaced when their service is proven. Behind their role as founders are real people with real psychological and emotional needs. Just like anyone else, they are prone to burnout and mental health problems, especially when their investors are demanding more than they have the energy to give. Mental wellness is a long-term asset. Let’s treat it that way.
On the other hand, we have come to realize that raising a first-time venture fund as emerging fund managers is tough. Even if you can rely on a highly expertised and complementary team of advisors who trust you deeply. Even if you developed a unique approach that promises to significantly reduce investment risk by addressing people problems and mental ill-health at work. Despite setbacks, we won’t give up. We have people’s trust. We have made important pivots and things are moving. As Joshua always reminds us, we’re exactly where we need to be.
In 2021, I explored more deeply the psyche and pondered the depths and peaks of the human experience. One question that kept reemerging was: What do we truly need to be and feel well and to flourish, individually, as well as a species? This question remains central to Masawa’s mission as we co-create the future of mental wellness.
I experienced revelations. Realizing that we humans are bound in spirit and consciousness to all other life forms; that we are embedded in an intricate web of relationships that needs balance and harmony to sustain itself. Relationships are the natural condition of living reality. It’s the creative force that forges life and makes itself anew. Its opposing force is separation, which is felt through disconnection and loneliness. Disconnection hurts. It cuts deep and aims straight for the soul. It hits like a wildfire, turning green growing trees into black barren lands. But regeneration is possible and not confined to soil alone. Through loving reconnection, we humans can help each other re-emerge from the depths again. We are co-creators in each other’s ever-unfolding process of becoming. As impact investors, we can use capital to seed life-affirming innovations that enable us to heal and flourish, together. And nurture capital to ever expand its potential.
At the core of life is death, which I experienced in different ways over the last year. The death of a person, of a romantic relationship, of ideas and identities. The most difficult aspect of death is letting go. The discomfort that comes with saying goodbye to someone or something that has given you so much. Like a house you lived in for decades that stands right before you. Its doors and windows completely sealed. Still present, yet somehow inaccessible and out of reach. Nothing still feels the same. You walk away, knowing fully well that the only way is forward, but your gaze disagrees as it stares behind you. Focused on what was. You know you don’t have to wait until the last wall is crumbled, so you move on.
Some deaths are more difficult than others and take longer to process. But they can also spawn powerful transformations. Caterpillars metamorphosize, or change shape, by decomposing their old bodies. All that’s left is a genetic soup, which imaginal cells use to form body parts, wings, and antennas. Shortly after, these creatures emerge again from their cozy cocoon into the world as a butterfly — a transformed being, exchanging the ground below for the heavens above. In the living world, the old must perish to give rise to new life.
This is true for individuals as much as it is for businesses, societies, and economies. My breakup taught me important lessons about myself and my needs; about love and what it means to love and be loved. Moving to Berlin, leaving behind the town that shaped my past and myself, allowed me to express and develop different aspects of my personality, some of which I didn’t even know existed. At Masawa, the letting go of one idea gave rise to a whole spectrum of new possibilities. And the existential crises we’re facing now as a species, allow us to abandon old notions of what an economy is and whom it should serve, and to radically reimagine our social and economic systems to better accommodate and sustain life on earth. To open up to new ways of thinking and being, and embrace the magic of the ever-unfolding present. For magic, in the words of Aleister Crowley, is “the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will.”
Niels Devisscher is Content and Ecosystem Strategist at Masawa, the mental wellness impact fund. With a background in international business, the visual arts, and systems thinking, he explores topics of enlivenment, healing, and wellbeing. He’s on a mission to support change-makers revolutionizing how we think about, approach, and innovate mental wellness within the wider context of living systems.