As an artist, Peter Von Straten finds inspiration in all that exists, especially the natural world. Through painting, Peter expresses the richness of both himself and life as a whole. Driven by the preciousness of life and the poignant fact of our mortality, he embraces every opportunity available to him to soak up the miraculous world in which we live.

This film features Peter van Straten and was filmed in South Africa.

Learn more about Green Renaissance through our Grateful Changemaker feature.*

To support Michael and Justine in their film-making journey visit Green Renaissance.

Questions for Reflection

What feelings/thoughts/questions surface for you in viewing Peter’s story?

How does Peter’s story move you?

We invite you to share your reflections below the video transcript that follows.

*We are transitioning the format of our Grateful Changemakers series in an effort to deepen the ways in which we “celebrate programs and projects that serve as beacons of gratefulness.” Our film series partnership with Green Renaissance represents one such possibility. Stay tuned for more!

Video Transcript

Am I OK with dying? No, it’s not OK…it’s really not OK. And I’m hoping they’ll make an exception. I’ll explain that I feel it’s hurtful that I must die. And if I’ve got a good legal team, I think I’ve got a chance. 

I’ve completely fallen in love with reality. And now the idea of leaving is just nasty. You are aware that this is a limited gig. And you only have so many years in which to experience things, and you want to dive into the ocean of all of that. The richness of reality is this constant feeding frenzy for my brain. I sometimes think of myself as Bruce Bogtrotter, the Roald Dahl character who gorges himself on cake. I’m basically always gorging myself on reality. Everything you see, all the time, could be used in a painting or in a story or in a song. So I’m like a kid in a sweet shop the whole time. 

I just have a playful mind. It just goes and goes and goes. It demands expression. I work 8 to 4 every day as if I’m employed by someone which I am… I’m employed by my left brain. Painting itself is a meditation. It’s a break from reality. It’s like a switch. It’s resetting the mind. 

If you don’t take reality for granted, at all, any of the time, then whatever is in front of you is absolutely miraculous, particularly natural beauty. Nature feels like a portal to me. When I’m in nature, I get the sense of falling through into another place…a more profound and beautiful place. All the minutiae of interaction, it’s all the little tiny moments. The idea that I was trying to somehow capture it in a realistic way is too absurd to contemplate. 

There is a lovely Salvador Dali quote, which is, “The only difference between me and a madman is that I’m not mad.” We are all a bit touched. And it’s about how much courage or the lack of fear that you have with allowing the more exotic elements of yourself to display themselves, or whether you have a terror of that. And one wishes everyone could express themselves more freely and without needing others to OK every thing that you do. The most dreadful thing in life for me ever has been those few times when I was younger when I was not friends with myself, which then means you’re in solitary confinement.

For at least eighty years or something you are pretty much stuck with yourself. And that relationship needs to work. Your goal in this life is to play the hand you were dealt, which is very different in everyone’s case. Whatever attributes you have, those are the ones you run with. What do you like about yourself? What do you not like about yourself? You have to weed out the stuff you don’t like about yourself. And sometimes that’s not easy, sometimes that’s horrible.

And then you have to nurture the things you do like. I see a person as this thing that is constantly reshaping and morphing and coming together, falling apart. It’s not a static. 

The famous Shakespeare question is, “To be or not to be?” And obviously it is preferable to be, that goes without saying. The more realistic question, or the more useful question, the more pragmatic question is, how do you remind yourself to be? And that’s crucial, because you can drift off, you can fall asleep at the wheel of your own life. 

There’s a vast, vast treasure trove of reality and nature and gorgeous moments. It’s crucial that you do whatever it takes to keep those moments coming.

The meaning of life with a capital L is life itself.

Life is the meaning of life.”

Green Renaissance

Green Renaissance

About the author

Justine and Michael are a creative couple living in South Africa.  Their project, Green Renaissance, works to spread positive stories that reflect the wonder of the world. With the goal of sharing ideas and inspiring change, they produce gorgeous short films that are posted online and available for anyone, anywhere, to watch and share freely.

Through their films, they explore what it means to be human. They touch on topics that can often be difficult for people to discuss – from loss of a loved one to aging and retirement to friendship to love and courage – universal themes that we all deal with at some stage in our lives.

By sharing these stories, Justine and Michael hope to remind us of one simple truth – that we are all human – that inside our hearts and minds, we are all facing similar challenges.  We have so much to learn from each other, and our connections run so much deeper and stronger than we think.