Hi, I’m Julien

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Strasbourg-born, Paris-educated, Mediterranean-blooded, I am now based in Melbourne, Australia.  As a writer and educator, my main passion is to discern and articulate the various manifestations of cultural and linguistic diversity – listen, and look for common ground.

I currently share my time between three main activities.

I work as editor-in-chief with the Global Challenges Foundation, a Swedish philanthropic Foundation stimulating reflection on new models of global governance that could help us better address global catastrophic risk.

I design and deliver programs with schools, universities and community groups to help people living across languages and cultures develop self-awareness, resilience and empathy through Marco Polo Project, a cross-cultural education design agency that I founded in 2011.

I am enrolled in a PhD with Monash University, exploring the emerging digital ecosystem of Chinese language learning.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to work with a broad range of organisations on cutting-edge cross-cultural initiatives. I am always open to new projects and opportunities, and would love to discuss them with you.

Let’s do something together! You can reach me at Julien.leyre at gmail.com.

 

Prudence – Week 10

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. I started and finish the year with prudence – or the rational capacity to distinguish good from evil. Every week, I will publish an update on this blog, in the form of a free-flowing meditation.

This week, I reflected on prudence and action.

“I learned three things about happiness during this program,” I shared in the closing circle of the three-day Manila Remix program I co-facilitated with the School of Slow Media, on Sunday evening. “First, that happiness often comes not from calculation, but irrational decisions – as, for me, the decision to fly twice to the Philippines, and be here with you. Second, that happiness is not something that we consume, like a magic pill, but something that emerges as a result of our own activity. And – consequently – I learned, also, that happiness can often manifest even as we feel completely depleted of energy, when we finished a cycle of action, and all we need is rest.”

We develop routines and ways of living that balance the various elements of our life. When we travel to new places, often, one element can be disrupted, and we topple. With my French and Italian background, good food has been a staple in my life, and – as I articulated over lunch on Monday – served as a repeated source of pleasure balancing off the many small frustrations of everyday life. The food in Manila did not suit my palate – and by Monday, I felt a growing sense of lack. Luckily that day, lunch at the Brave Design house had fresh basil from the garden in abundance – and as I chewed eagerly, I could feel myself getting back into shape.

It is important to take time off, but to do so, we must leave aside things that have to be done. There is no end to the work of cleaning and caring and organising. Therefore, time off happens only when we choose to neglect something that calls for us. This is the wisdom embedded in the Gospel scene of Mary and Martha. Yes, it is important to fuss over the kitchen and give guests a good meal – but there will be always be more to be done, and the moment will never repeat. Therefore, wisdom demands that, sometimes, we push our work aside, and take time to sit with the visitor – or with ourselves – trusting that those around us can bear with a bit of chaos, so that we be more present.

There is no centre to Manila, nor is there a clear cultural narrative of what it means to be Filipino. The people I met are open-minded, original, warm, and diverse. Life here seems to follow an ever-repeated quest for meaning, integrating the various elements that come from outside, rather than the deliberate unfolding of a predetermined existential script. This is a trading seaport – a place of creative chaos – an open structure.

Developed infrastructure reduces the need for individual prudence. Everything works as expected, and, in some aspect, this increases the range of our potential action: reliable infrastructure is a valuable public good, if we prioritise productivity. In Manila, the wrong choice of work, commitment, timing, location, can result in hours blocked in traffic. Apps and collective wisdom reduce uncertainty, but only to a degree. What’s more, in this polycentric city, there is no clear intrinsically better place to be. Prudence is therefore not only required, but cultivated – together with a different attitude – patience, and a cheerful embrace of the creative possibilities inherent in chaos.

I landed back in Melbourne on Friday, after a short and fitful night on the plane. I had discounted that entire day, projecting myself into zombie state, comatose in my armchair – but I was surprisingly with it, I finished a book, I cleared a backlog of admin work, and I chatted with friends. We can often do more than we believe – whether it’s embracing activity, or deliberately resting and reflecting – as long as we choose to resist the siren call of emptiness. And this will bring us joy.

Prudence – week 9

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. I started and finish the year with prudence – or the rational capacity to distinguish good from evil. Every week, I will publish an update on this blog, in the form of a free-flowing meditation.

This week, I reflected on prudence and priorities.

While practicing fortitude, I let most of my regular planning slip off – to simply focus on the present and exercise. On the first of returning to the practice of the virtue, I carried with me some of that wisdom, and deliberately restrained the range of my activities. I was in Adelaide for a conference. My default approach would be to move around the city through the day, looking for good food and memories. Instead, I limited the scope of my movements to a small set of streets in the East End, while working on a paper due the next day. I prioritised rest and work over exploration – and was immensely satisfied.

There is a lot of hype around the abundance mindset – if only we could think beyond scarcity, what would then be possible! Sure – but prudence also demands that we recognise where scarcity exists, and how we might best deal with it. In the opening speech of the LCNAU conference, a local MP came to speak and invited language teachers to do more this and more that – sure, but if we must do more of and more of, without ever doing less of – then we shall burn out, and give up. Instead, I anchored my talk in this idea: by understanding the new digital tools available for Chinese language education, could we figure out what we might be able to do less of?

Prudence combines active decision-making, and the subtle art of going with the flow. At the LCNAU conference, for two days, I followed natural affinities, spent fun times with people I got along with and had further chats with a few people I already knew, and might want to work with on existing projects. There were a number of experts in indigenous language education. I had been keen to meet some of them to discuss potential new projects – yet, on this occasion, didn’t. Was it a missed opportunity, something I should mourn over and resent myself for? Or should I rather think of it as a small step forward, and a wise way to approach each thing in its time?

I flew to the Philippines on Wednesday, 7h45 minutes on the plane. I normally would have fallen for the big Hollywood pictures, but noticed, increasingly, that they do not nurture me. Since I was heading to Manilla for a ‘mindful media’ program, I thought I should apply prudence to my choice of cinematic fiction on the plane. I read, and watched the two Chinese movies on offer instead of War for the Planet of the Apes – which triggering long, cathartic flows of tears, and had the added benefit of allowing me to practice my Mandarin.

There’s a thing I would like to call the ‘if only’ mindset: when a place or a person appeals to us – if only that one annoying characteristic could change. Manila, certainly, calls for this – if only the traffic was better. Maybe, but cities, and individuals, are systems of interconnected parts, and who knows if what people rave on about – the friendliness and resilience of the people – is not somehow connected to the crazy traffic. This is not to say that we should never aim for change, and accept everything as it is – but rather, that we should appreciate places (and people) as they are, in the moment, appreciate that the most irritating aspects could be directly connected to what we most love about them – and when we wish for change, be very very careful what we specifically wish for.

Friday was the beginning of the School of Slow Media Remix program – three days of Mindful media training. We finished the design of one activity the previous night at 11pm, some were not even entirely completed that night – and yet, it was a brilliant success, deeply transformative, and moving. I cried at times, while participants mapped out their ‘story universe’ on the floor of Pineapple Lab, and later, when Samuel presented the principles of Slow Media. Participants were moved as well, it seemed – and, as far as I could see, teams were bonding fast. Things do not need to be perfect in order to work – in fact, sometimes, cracks and imprecisions in the run sheet allow for on-the-moment creative insights, and make a facilitated program alive, and fertile. Consciously delaying completion goes against our perfectionism and anxiety, but may be the condition for truly great things to come to the world.

 

 

Fortitude – Week 13

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil.

On the last week, I reflected on the transformational effects of daily practice.

As I enter the lat week, I refocus on the execution of each exercise, acknowledging how narrow my focus has become – but also, how transformational it has been. Through the days, all I can feel is a sense of growing relief, as I anticipate the reps of the final days, and see the total amount diminish. Beside, there is a sense of physical well-being – and a touch of vanity – to feel lighter, and more toned than I’ve ever been.

I do not pick up on my meditation – but reading, I do. I finish Adults in the Room by Varoufakis, and a book on China’s one Child policy that I started halfway through last month – leaving only the second volume of The Man Without Qualities to complete by the end of the year. Even here, I have just about 10 hours of reading left, the final posthumous section. Before November ends, I can return to choosing my books. My papers are not in a state of perfect order, but I know that there is no large backlog – and I can confidently return to prudence, for the five final weeks of the year.

I wonder, as the week closes on a high: had my goal been, all along, to finally embrace fitness – and prepare myself for action?

Exercise tally

Over the season, I will systematically train mind and body. For this, I will do a daily set of 6 physical exercises, with particular focus on core muscles, adding 1 rep/day for each, execute a daily qi-gong routine based on the 5 elements, adding 1 rep/element every week, and practice meditation, adding 1 session of 30’ every week. 

Exercise tally

Push-ups: 453

Sit-ups:453

Squats:453

Dog-cows:453

Bird-dogs:453

Back twists:453

Qi-gong – 5-elements: 5 x 13 reps for each element

Meditation: 1 session

Fortitude – Week 12

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil. 

This week, I experienced despair, even as I broke down my sports routine into smaller chunks.

The number of reps in my exercise routine has now reached a point where – like with the books I decided to finish earlier in the project – they cause complete despair. As the end approaches, however, I try to calculate backwards. I have 781 reps of each exercise left, down to 735 at the end of Monday, and 158 for each element in my Qi Gong routine. I can visualise doing it all – but then, as I do, more things come up that I had not thought about, work to finish, books to read, and I feel so tired! So, on the Monday I try lateral strategies – 24 squats, that is 6 less for each of the remaining 4 days. I continue with other exercises – and reduce the burden. Qi gong, too, I go through multiple sequences, and reduce it to 9 reps per day for the week. So that, by the end of Monday, I calculate that I have roughly 3 to 4 hours of exercising to do.

Breaking up my Qi Gong practice, and rather than committing to 12 reps in a row, doing sequences of 4 or 5, was a genius move: now, each day, I am committed only to 5 repetitions for each element, much easier than 12. I sense the end with extreme excitement – by the end of Tuesday, there is only 93 x 5 Qi Gong movements to do, so little!

I land in the Philippines on Wednesday. Tropical heat and chaos, I have spent a day on the plane, it is late, there is jetlag, I have  a report to finish – but I push ahead, and on the tiles of my Quezon City airBNB, lift up my legs and arms for more dog-birds, before getting to the shower and sleep. The next morning, I experience despair again: I have done so much in advance, and yet, here I am, pushing ahead, weak, tired, on the hard floor, lifting myself up on my arms and legs.

Earlier I wrote – I put myself under pressure to see what would give. There were three weekly commitments: a physical strength routine, a qi gong routine, and meditation. I gave up on the last without realising – this week, I only did 3 short meditations, rather than the expected 12. As for my goal to clear all my files and prepare for death – well, I made some progress, and scheduled more around my birthday next year. But I do notice – I seem to be doing things faster, I worry less, and back pain is a thing of the past.

Exercise tally

Over the season, I will systematically train mind and body. For this, I will do a daily set of 6 physical exercises, with particular focus on core muscles, adding 1 rep/day for each, execute a daily qi-gong routine based on the 5 elements, adding 1 rep/element every week, and practice meditation, adding 1 session of 30’ every week. 

Exercise tally

Push-ups: 417

Sit-ups:417

Squats:417

Dog-cows:417

Bird-dogs:417

Back twists:417

Qi-gong – 5-elements: 5 x 12 reps for each element

Meditation: 3 sessions

Fortitude – Week 11

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil. 

This week, I reflected on backlogs and focus.

Extremely tired after a bad night on the plane and a big week in China, I lie down in bed, and rest, rather than blindly commit to my exercise routine. By Monday, still feeling a bit sick, I have to push ahead nonetheless. I’m not alone in the office, there is a lunch and a dinner to be had – and I leave aside my exercise routine again.

By Tuesday, there is a backlog, and a decision to make: it’s been four days, will I give up entirely. I decide that fortitude is also, when the ball dropped, as soon as possible, to pick it back up, resume, and when possible, catch up. I do more than 150 reps of each exercise, and by 7h30pm, feel gently tired out.

 

There is a dark side to fortitude. I push ahead with blind determination, but the bigger picture disappears. Why again am I doing those exercises, or this project even? I only write a few lines every day, the brain is blank, focused on work and push ups. I’ve adopted a certain military logic: here is the mission, let’s do the mission – not, why this mission, and how to get it done best? Maybe this is precisely why I feel so torn apart by multiple commitments. The very fact that I turned an entire 11 weeks, originally conceived as a long reflection on death, into no more than a gigantic work out, shows the limitation of the virtue, or my understanding of it. In the books I read, including Aquinas, fortitude has no more than a few pages. What is there to understand?

By the end of the week, I have caught up on my backlog of purely physical exercise, though meditation slipped off. I have finished, also, the Story of the Stone, and am on track to finishing my entire backlog of books. I don’t know that my room is in order, but my files and shelves are, kind of. I’m planning for a fortieth birthday next year on the theme of death. I have no more back pain, and I notice that I seem to be doing things faster. Maybe, during this time, I have achieved something after all?

Exercise tally

Over the season, I will systematically train mind and body. For this, I will do a daily set of 6 physical exercises, with particular focus on core muscles, adding 1 rep/day for each, execute a daily qi-gong routine based on the 5 elements, adding 1 rep/element every week, and practice meditation, adding 1 session of 30’ every week. 

Exercise tally

Push-ups: 381

Sit-ups: 381

Squats: 381

Dog-cows: 381

Bird-dogs: 381

Back twists: 381

Qi-gong – 5-elements: 5 x 11 reps for each element

Meditation: 8 sessions

 

 

Fortitude – Week 10

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil. 

Over the week, I reflected on the need for accomodations under pressure.

As I grow stronger, I realise how exercise engages more than external muscles: if I increase the rhythm, and go through fifty-five sit-ups, push-ups and squats in a row, my heart pumps faster, and I start sweating. The goal now is not only to grow my biceps or my gluts, but engage my entire body.

When I arrive in Shanghai late at night, and the Great Firewall sets all my tech systems amiss, I reflect on the benefits of fortitude: that not everything has to be pleasurable, that sometimes, shit happens, and you must deal with it, but you don’t have to take it to heart.

On my first morning in Shanghai, I go through push-ups and sit-ups and squats in a row: now that I’ve developed a habit, time is no longer an issue. But when it comes to lower back strengthening, and even more so with Qi Gong, the same does not apply. As we develop strength and competence, we can do more in the same amount of time – but we still need as much time to stretch and rest.

There is a certain form of courage whereby we deal with the known. There is another whereby we deal with the unknown Travel subtly trains the second. In a familiar environment, years – or even just months – of repeated journeys have made us intuitively tuned to the surroundings. We know where obstacles will be, where the going will be smooth. But when we go beyond the familiar, every corner hides a dragon, and we must always keep on guard.

Sometimes, things press on, and we must give up either on practice or reflection. I attended a conference on Thursday, two days in Xuzhou, departing hotel at 7h40am, return expected at 9h30pm. I woke up early, and followed through with all my exercises – but only wrote a couple of lines. On Friday, same schedule, but there was a paper to give, conversations to continue, a Skype call to Sweden, and a dear old friend to finish the night with – and so, I decided, on that one day, I set aside my physical training, and simply focused on presence.

Exercise tally

Over the season, I will systematically train mind and body. For this, I will do a daily set of 6 physical exercises, with particular focus on core muscles, adding 1 rep/day for each, execute a daily qi-gong routine based on the 5 elements, adding 1 rep/element every week, and practice meditation, adding 1 session of 30’ every week. 

Exercise tally

Push-ups: 285

Sit-ups: 285

Squats: 285

Dog-cows: 285

Bird-dogs: 285

Back twists: 285

Qi-gong – 5-elements: 5 x 10 reps for each element

Meditation: 9 sessions

 

Fortitude – Week 9

This year, I will reflect on the four cardinal virtues through daily practice and meditation, intentionally focusing on one per season. After starting the year with prudence, temperance, and justice – I now reflect on fortitude, or the deliberate exercise of strength and courage in the face of evil. 

Over the week, I reflected on the relationship between rest and effort.

My muscles ache – I sit on the floor for a while, after dinner, and when I try to stand up, I’m all stiff. I realise that I set up on a strengthening routine, yet never thought of building in time for stretching.

Indeed, there are two different ways that we can think of rest. One is to stop all activity, sit on the couch, and gaze into the air. The other, a more truthful description of rest maybe, certainly more useful, would go something like this: rest allows our strained muscles to relax by tensing the ones opposite – emotionally, physically, cognitively. Therefore, the answer to ‘tired’ may not be ‘rest more’, but ‘do something different’.

Not everything that we do needs to be filled with an intrinsic sense of joy and purpose. Sometimes, we must clean up shit. After a plumber came to my house and a pipe blockage exploded out of the floor drain in my bathroom, I found myself literally doing so. It’s not always about finding a way to delight in the prospect of a task, but, rather, acknowledging: this is unpleasant, but has to be done, and I’m responsible. That is fortitude at its most basic.

Much of our lives are spent not on making new things, but caring for what is already there. Whether it’ exercise to tone up our brains and muscles, the drudge of repeated housework, or the broader needs of maintenance and administration, more effort is invested in keeping channels open than dredging new ones. Patience is accepting this.

Thursday six pm, tired, I made a list of all things I had to do. There was a lot, with limited time, and I felt that I should get some done that evening. ‘Maybe you should start with your exercises,’ says Philip, ‘since when you spoke about them, you said, I hate them.’ This regular strengthening routine is an enormous burden – I’m enjoying the new muscles, but it makes me physically tired without improving my sleep, and I’m not relishing an added line on my to-do list. But since I decided not to give up, I pushed ahead. By 7pm, I had finished not only my routine for the day, but also for the next – leaving two-days off to rest. I was on a high after this proper work out – and until 10pm, was able to tick a few more things off my list.

We do so little with the freedom we have. I have the luxury to work on my own terms – as long as I deliver. There is, in particular, no constraint on my physical location, apart from occasional meetings and workshops. I live in a beautiful city, with hills and the beach and world-class terraces – where I can now afford as much cake and coffees as I like. Yet I often stay home for most of the day, working from the kitchen table or the desk – not because this is productive, but from pure lack of spirit. Energised by my work out of the previous day – inspired by beautiful weather – I embraced my freedom on Friday. Took trams and sat on terraces, in short productive bursts, and a long afternoon pause. Then, from 8pm, I finished off the day reading Hong Lou Meng.

Over the season, I will systematically train mind and body. For this, I will do a daily set of 6 physical exercises, with particular focus on core muscles, adding 1 rep/day for each, execute a daily qi-gong routine based on the 5 elements, adding 1 rep/element every week, and practice meditation, adding 1 session of 30’ every week. 

Exercise tally

Push-ups: 309

Sit-ups: 309

Squats: 309

Dog-cows: 309

Bird-dogs: 309

Back twists: 309

Qi-gong – 5-elements: 5 x 9 reps for each element

Meditation: 9 sessions