Building zeppelins from trains

Zairah Khan
5 min readAug 15, 2021

The space in the middle of a polarizing world

Modestas Malinauska

Take a rubber band and pull it in two directions it will either break or snap back. The widening gap between hyper capitalism and post-modernization is creating an ever increasing centrifugal power that pushes the marginalized to the extremes. We live in a world of extremes, the question is how do we keep it together?

In the past year I’ve shrugged my shoulders at the pro- and anti-vaxxers and watched Richard Branson going up to the moon and thought… why not have a hamburger today? Beyond vegetarianism I’ve seen a number of my principles being watered down. Looking for a reason I would pinpoint a combination of fatigue and rebellion. Fatigue from trying to do it all and rebellion to a world which increasingly is demanding the impossible.

We can’t trust the food industry, so we need to process and grow our own food. We can’t trust the medical establishment, so we must study medicinal plants and become amateur dieticians. We can’t trust the educational system, so we must home-school our kids.

At the same time it seems the professional world is becoming increasingly ‘high-brow.’ We have to keep learning just to keep up. Sense making is becoming a way of life for many of us here writing on Medium. But sometimes I feel we’re only chasing butterflies; fleeting and whimsical and always just beyond reach.

The power of imagination

I imagine ourselves not building the train while it’s driving, no that would be to easy. We are taking the train apart and reconstructing it to become a zeppelin before the tracks stop.

In a world of extremes we need the power of imagination more than ever. We need the visionaries, the poets and the crazies to show us what we cannot see, even if the images are fleeting. I’ll leave you the judge in which category to place me, I’m at home with every one of them.

Lithuanian artist Modestas Malinauska paints impossible machines. I’m a regenerative designer myself and for me regeneration means integration over separation. I feel like kindred spirits in trying to create the space in which the seemingly irreconcilable can co-exist.

I find the image of a zeppelin that is at the same time a train to be a perfect description of our predicament. The additional challenge to turning a train into a zeppelin is not loosing our passengers in the process.

We can’t let them fall

We have to somehow keep the train going because we have a responsibility to the people on it. I’m talking about real people that need jobs to live, require medical care and that desperately need their kids to have a better future. Ordinary people that are increasingly at the mercy of the centrifugal powers pushing outward and out.

In response there are those who opt out before being pushed out. Building their own (imaginary) utopia far away from mainstream society. We are expected to be nearly 9 billion people in 2030. The reality is that most people don’t really have the luxury of ‘leaving the system’ to live in an ecovillage or become digital nomads.

I fear that the powerless, the rejected and the refugees will fuel the hyper-capitalist machine even further before adopting a self-reliant eco-lifestyle. We cannot allow for that to happen, because it would be the end. But rather than to let fear be my driver and run away I choose to sit with them in the middle of it all.

Kindness before perfection

At a personal level I’m surely not immune to the pressures that comes with living in a system that is stretching beyond it’s capacity. And in order to cope with it I have to remind myself that I’m not trying to change the world. I’m only trying to change my relationship with it. And I guess the lesson is that I’m not perfect and neither is the world. Richard Branson certainly isn’t and neither is the educational system, the medical establishment, the food industry. It’s all stretching under pressure.

I suppose it all starts by showing kindness not just to our present selves but also to the selves we used to be and the selves we might become.

I remember when I was not a vegetarian or very principled about things, I remember being a stranger in a foreign country, I remember being poor. All of these experiences help me imagine other realities than my present one. And I can imagine the desperation that comes with not having opportunities or options.

It is the diversity of experiences and perspectives that creates common ground to meet each other, connect and collaborate. Not just online, in the safe and perfect digital world, but in the streets downtown where the ugly reality lives. It takes the artists among us and inside of all of us to see beauty in that.

Sitting in the middle

To be a regenerative expert means I’m deeply aware of the interconnectedness of life on this planet. It means I know that the demise of soil is the demise of humanity. But also that the suffering of another person is my own suffering. It means my own freedom cannot exist in isolation. It means that if Richard Branson travels to the moon we all pay the price, which is what pissed me off about it in the first place. But it also means that we all have possibilities beyond our wildest dreams.

Imagine at least half of those 9 billion would be part of the solution and help regenerate our ecosystem. That is my wildest dream. Yes, they might be angry at the changes they face now, because they feel powerless and they might not agree with some of my ‘enlightened’ concepts and views. But that doesn’t mean we can’t build zeppelins together.

I don’t need to be perfect, all I need to do to rise to the challenge is to stay put, right in the middle of it. And I invite whomever is called to the challenge, rich or poor, schooled or unschooled, visionary or crazy…to sit there with me. Reminding ourselves that someday we will fly, but until that time it’s enough to just keep going.

I’ll keep my head high to see zeppelins

Holding my hands out to grab you from falling

Feet anchored on the little space that I need

My eye on the world that lives within me

Making it softer with kind words and understanding

We live both on earth and in the sky



Zairah Khan

Regenerative Entrepreneur, Permaculture, BlueO2- Dreaming big from the ground upwards