‘Interest is about love’
PRE: MATS OLA LISTENS TO ME
The first time I ever sat down with Mats-Ola for a proper conversation was only a week ago. He had asked me how it was going with my studies and seemed very interested in what I was doing. Especially in a time where I had been in transition and confusion with my self-directed learning project, it felt incredibly good to meet people who were interested in it, and I had known already before our conversation that telling him about it would lead me back to my real intentions and open up for new directions. Very naturally, we entered a vivid and flowing conversation, in which I told about my path but also about my struggles in feeling completely powerless regarding ever returning lows before and during YIP, and how that had led me to my guiding theme ‚vitality’ in which I now see my purposeful work. I felt safe in sharing from a very vulnerable place inside me. His interest made me feel safe and I got inspired by telling my own story and the reflections I could take from that.
Sharing about my experience at the young medics conference at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, which I attended a few months after I had finished high school, I realized that it must have been during those empowering and beautiful days in the anthroposophical Mekka that I got a real sense of how it would feel to be at YIP. Eventually, that led to my decision to make my way up north to my beloved Sweden and to partake in a 10-month intensity which would become a profound ground for the further development and unfolding of my life.
PRESENT: VICE VERSA
Before meeting Mats-Ola 7 days after that first conversation again, because I want to hear about his journey to his work as part of this interview series, I feel very relaxed and trusting and I’m surprising myself with that. I’m used to be doubtful and slightly nervous before starting an interview. But even if was just for a brief ‚Hej!-Hur-mår-du?‘-encounter with Mats-Ola on my way back from lunch at the Kulturhuset, I never wanted to hide myself nor did I feel the need to be anyone except my truest self. There’s a deep acceptance radiating out from him, laying like a warm and comforting blanket on one’s soul, leaving all fears and nervousness of encounter in another place that suddenly seems to have moved far, far away. It almost feels as if that place had never even existed and therefore creates another feeling of never wanting to return to it again.
PAST: EARLY SEEDS IN SANDVIKEN
As I am opening our second conversation after a mutual check-in and ask how he has found to his work, Mats-Ola starts to share his story and begins with his childhood. He draws beautiful pictures with his words and I get vivid impressions in my imagination. Growing up in Sandviken, Gästrikland, meant growing up with steel industry in the center of daily life. His father worked among 9000 other workers in the factory which caused a dull rhythm in the whole town because everything and everyone in that place seemed to focus on the work with steel.
A big contrast to his father’s work though was embodied in what his mom was doing: ‚Ohlsson’s rum’ , brought 10-year-old-Mats-Ola in contact with many human beings who he’d never seen before. As he’s telling me how he always ran to the door when it knocked while holding the burning question of ‚Who is it?‘, I get a sense of his deeper roots for his current work. The picture grows as I hear that his mom was often hosting patients from the local clinic who needed some extra care‚ and Mats-Ola describes that what she was indirectly doing at ‚Ohlssons’ rum‘, was actually social work and not just housing guests. Getting to know all these human beings at difficult points in their lives had brought him fundamental experiences at a very young age as some of them had been either reformed alcoholics or they could behave very aggressive, but he says that he had always known that there was something behind these behaviors, and that something unique laid in each and everyone of them.
CONTINUATION: SOLIDARITY IN ACTION & SPIRITUALITY IN ANTHROPOSOPHY
Mats-Ola takes me and my imagination back to the end of the 60s, when he was 17, and manages somehow to give me another very authentic inner picture of how life must have been back in the days. He mentions that Jimmy Hendrix gave a concert in Sandviken, and how he found his motivation to act when seeing a lack of solidarity in the world. He founded the local youth communists party and started selling the magazine ‚Vietnam Bulletin‘. At that point, he also started with photography himself, influenced by many of his friends who had become professional artists. -‚There was enough of talking about doing something, I just wanted to be active‘, says Mats-Ola and makes me nod as I can witness that he’s absolutely taken that attitude along the road until the present moment.
He had been on search to bring some spiritual aspects into his life but never really felt at home with the Indian approaches that came up during that time. But through his friend Anita, who had been spending time in England at a curative home, he eventually got in touch with anthroposophy for the very first time. Somehow, these regular letters from Anita which smelled like incense when you put your nose close enough to them, and had a blue ‚air mail‘ sticker on the front, must have brought deep inspiration and were the starting point for Mats-Ola to engage in anthroposophy.
Anita had described her colleagues as women who were dressed in skirts that were longer than over the knees, who were wearing shoes that were friendly to the feet and that they were drinking herbal tea.
–‚So what did that mean?‘ I need to interrupt, admitting to myself that I don’t really have a clue about those times. I learn that it was unusual to wear long skirts as a young woman because previous fashion had been short skirts. Birkenstock hadn’t existed before and herbal tea was something Mats-Ola had never heard about up until that point.
– ‚And what are you drinking today?‘ I ask with a smile in my face looking at his cup standing on the wooden table right next to him. – ‚Herbal tea!‘ he says and I realize that over the years this new thing from back then must have become his daily life drink.
It was in those letters from Anita that Mats-Ola heard first about Rudolf Steiner which made him ask for anthroposophical books at the local library in Sandviken but they didn’t have any. To my question if he knows what is was that made him be interested in Steiner, he says he didn’t know why but that Anita had simply loved to be there, referring to the English curative home.
What followed after high school was a 5-month journey over land to India. Mats-Ola tells me that by traveling through all sort of different countries such as Irak and Afghanistan he had met people in different consciousness states, that he had experienced that like a time travel. In retrospect, the whole experience was a big opening in his life: Using the picture of having been in a tunnel, India was the point after the tunnel, embodying freedom and light. Returning back to cold Sandviken in February, he started reading Steiner’s Theosophy with two of his friends: ‚It always felt like as if it were my own thoughts and I was always surprised why haven’t I thought this before?‘
ARRIVAL: COMING TO YTTERJÄRNA
It was because of these friends, one of them named Bengt, who had visited Järna with Anita before, that Mats-Ola made his way to Järna for a 3-week youth seminar in 1972. As he’s describing how he made his way from Järna station to Ytterjärna, he talks about walking over the highway close to Saltå because there wasn’t a bridge yet, and how he then met a man with a stick in his hand and a hat on his head. I’m fascinated by the metaphorical potential of these experiences: The Crossing of the highway as a picture of stepping into the new and when mentioning the man with the hat, I actually see Mats-Ola himself standing there, as if he met his future self.
However, that man was Hans Glaser ,the first ‚real‘ anthroposophist’ he met, the founder of ‚Saltå by‘ curative home, who asked Mats-Ola (as he was in that moment observing an autistic boy) if he knew how they were working there and without really waiting for any reaction, Hans Glaser had answered the question himself by saying they believed that a human’s core was always healthy. The second important encounter followed in Ytterjärna right after that: It was Arne Klingborg in person who welcomed Mats-Ola at the White House:
-‚It felt like never before somebody had look at me in that way – so welcoming, so warm and strong. The atmosphere was fantastic. I had the feeling of landing in a place where people were not disillusioned but saw possibilities and they were not just talking about them but truly implementing them. It was the first time I trusted that something in the world is growing, which has given me a very positive energy that there’s at least one place in the world I could always go back to. Doing something for the world out of spiritual ideas fit together with my ideas about solidarity I had in my earlier youth.‘
Mats-Ola shares how he asked 90-year-old Arne Klingborg years later, shortly before he passed away, why he thought it had been such a fantastic atmosphere at the conference as they were looking back at the experience of the youth seminar. ‚That was because we were so interested in you‘ Arne had said, and another origin for Mats-Ola’s authentic interest that I’ve always felt so strongly has its roots revealed.
DAILY EXCURSION: DEVELOPING INTEREST
-‚Interest has to do with love. How can I develop a true interest in each and everyone today? It nurtures growth in each of us.‘
This statements stays with me and echoes in my ears even many weeks after my conversation with Mats-Ola. It strikes me and connects wonderfully to one of my guiding questions of my individual studies. Through having asked myself every morning ‚What interests me today?‘ I have found the themes I deeply love, areas that make me feel alive and even the topic that I want to work with. Developing curiosity in everyone I meet has now become a daily practice for me and through that I experience that I can build an authentic relationship with pretty much everybody, as soon as I find at least one tiny thing that I am interested in the other person. It’s up to me to develop that capacity.
Mats-Ola Ohlsson (*1952) is one of the founders of Norrbyvälle gård, a place for curative education and social therapy on a bio-dynamical farm in Järna. He has worked with young people with autism, as a Waldorf class teacher, as well as given support to unemployed and long term ill people, strengthening to new self-confidence through work and crafts. He is also co-founder of SOFIA, a developmental aid organization on anthroposophical basis. Since 2008, he has served as the general secretary of the Anthroposophical Society in Sweden.