A wise friend taught me something yesterday that is so profound, simple, and fun that I couldn’t wait to share it. Her lesson came in two parts. First, we each have a superpower. This is a talent or predilection that comes so effortlessly, we might overlook it, or assume that everyone has the same ability. It’s a familiar idea. Michael Meade, for example, calls this our genius, that spark inside that each of us is born with. It fuels our work and allows us to offer our gifts to the world.
What my friend said next surprised and delighted me. She said, think of when you were a kid and you kept doing that thing that you couldn’t help doing, to the point of driving everyone around you crazy. Your most annoying habit. Your mom, dad, siblings, and peers would tell you—beg you—to stop. But you couldn’t help yourself. That’s your superpower. Continue reading
Despite its obvious downsides, 2016 had some good moments, too. I made a list of them on New Year’s Day and was surprised to note so many highlights. The exercise filled me with gratitude and appreciation for great friendships, abundant love, a healthy family, robust community, interesting work, modest successes, and many material comforts. It was a good frame of mind to receive the words that will guide me in 2017.
This year, a friend helped me to consult Tarot cards. I am new to this method; it offers a view that is simultaneously retrospective, introspective and speculative. It’s like hiking up a long hill with a sweeping vista on the other side. Each card is a picture story, and together they form a linked story that twists and turns, confirming what is known and revealing what is hidden. It’s like hiking up a long hill with a sweeping vista on the other side.
I enjoy the mix of intuition and rationality involved in reading the cards and interpreting them. As part of a skeptical culture that dismisses the language of symbols, a suspension of disbelief is necessary. And the payoff for such trust is insight, surprise, and a fair bit of having one’s complacency shaken up. Continue reading
I recently dreamed this thought: our country’s mantra is every man for himself. In that light, it makes perfect sense that one of our national obsessions is about the economy. Remember It’s the economy, stupid? Of course we care so much about making as much money as we can, making more than the other guy. We are on our own. Nobody is going to help us if we fall on hard times. It’s all about feeding, clothing, and sheltering our families, first and last. Every man for himself.
When I wrote this in my journal in the early pre-dawn, it looked a bit puny on the page. It was momentous when I opened my eyes, as if I’d been mucking around in the secret stuff of life, that realm where answers live. Trying to catch this dream message is like seeing a landscape all sharp and shimmery after a storm, as if for the first time. I’m so immersed, so indoctrinated in this story that I rarely even notice it. It seems so true that it’s boring. Obvious. Hardly worth stating. But our lives are not only about survival and meeting basic needs. Everyone should be able to do at least that in a just world. There’s plenty to go around, but the story of scarcity makes us forget. Continue reading
I had an exchange on social media after the Paris climate talks, a back and forth of articles and videos with an acquaintance who challenged the veracity and conclusions of what’s known as “accepted” climate science. I let myself be annoyed by his posts, dismissing them as straw men. (The book and film, “Merchants of Doubt,” shows that many of them are). Among the challenges to climate science, the one I find most absurd is that scientists are after big government grants, so they’ll say anything. It’s just not persuasive when you consider that it’s usually leveled by those who DO have a financial stake—like the Koch brothers and others in the fossil fuel biz.
Then I had to laugh. Here I was defending science, when I’m more inclined to question its assumption of human exceptionalism and elevation of reason to exalted status over intuition. Rupert Sheldrake’s book, Science Set Free, shows that modern science, for all its value and rigor, has gotten so dogmatic as to be almost fundamentalist in its stridency. Anything that doesn’t fit the accepted paradigm of materialism is ignored, dismissed, and labeled “anti-science.” Data that doesn’t fit the expected outcome is shoved into a file drawer and not published. Continue reading
As a resident for the last 25 years of Baltimore, Maryland, I have spent many days on the Bay, usually in a sailboat. I, like many Marylanders, am acutely aware of the state of the Chesapeake Bay and her many tributaries. My son has been studying water quality in his 7th grade geography class, which included a trip to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s study center on Smith Island—a truly special place, one of only two inhabited islands in the Bay. Tom Horton’s wonderful book about his time living on Smith, An Island Out of Time, is aptly titled.
The recent Report Card issued in late 2014 by CBF gives the state of the Bay a D+, the same grade as in 2012. Hard-won improvements in water quality were offset by losses in other areas, the impression of no progress defying the efforts of thousands of people and the expense of millions of dollars. The Bay is a complex ecosystem, its watershed sprawling over parts of six states, including major urban areas, two shipping ports, intense suburban development, industry and farmland. As the Report Card says: Continue reading
This guest post is by Lindsay McLaughlin. You can read a bit about her on the “Denizens” page.
The fields of our residential community: the little one behind Pinestone, and the larger one that embraces the garden and often hosts the sheep, are awash in shades of green. The grasses are growing, it seems, more than an inch every day. The hummingbirds are back, dancing in the azaleas; the whippoorwill sings like a fool in love outside our windows and doors every night. Rabbits and squirrels hop and scamper. In the garden, radishes are busting out of the earth, lettuce and kale and an array of other growing things make a thick green blanket from fence to fence. Insects buzz and hum and chirp and whirr. The wood frogs trill and the air is thick with pollen dust and the smell of warm earth. The rain and chill of only a couple weeks ago is another world.
All this heat and bother is waking up the reptilian, cold-blooded creatures in our neighborhood. Scot, who seems by some charm to find or be found by such as these, has encountered (so far) a milk snake in the sheep field, a black snake in the wood shed, a ribbon snake by his front door, and a very stubborn copperhead in the woodpile. Each time Scot tried to catch this copperhead, it slipped the noose and dropped down into the woodpile, wrapped in a cloak of invisibility. Its disappearing act forced the practice of patience, as Scot waited for it to emerge and settle on top once more. This dance went through four revolutions until finally, after re-designing the snake stick, Scot was able to catch the snake and escort it far up the power line. Continue reading
I’ve committed to exploring and living in this threshold between stories, this liminal time of both/and, not because I believe it’s Right and anyone who doesn’t get it or come along with me, or who cannot relate to this perspective, is Wrong. Or that this is The Answer, or The Solution to all our problems. I just love the people I’m meeting, who challenge and inspire me. I enjoy being with them. They are good company.
About fifteen years ago, my partner and I had a thriving green architecture firm. Hip deep in LEED consulting, small design projects, sustainability initiatives, lecturing and teaching, we were helping to put Baltimore on the map of community sustainability and eco-mindedness. I had always been a very focused architect, completely dedicated to my profession and craft. So much so, looking back, that I was oblivious to the real reasons we do this work. I thought it was to be the best, to make beautiful (if not perfect), technically excellent buildings. To dive in deep, control all the variables and requirements, and create an innovative project that not only solved all of the client’s problems, but also a few more we threw in just to keep it interesting. Continue reading
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
There is a literal way of seeing this that comes out of my Catholic upbringing. How fitting that I should finally be considering this final verse of St. Francis’ prayer on Easter weekend. The literal story is that Christ came to live among us as a man. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. . . .” So the verse goes. I was taught that Christ gave his life so that humans may have eternal life—in a place called Heaven.
It requires a certain effort to pan out to see a bigger picture. The story can be a lens through which to view an individual life (mine), in the context of a culture and, beyond that, ecosystems and planet and universe. And, zooming in the other direction, inspired by the great short film, “Powers of Ten” by Charles and Ray Eames, to see what goes on beneath the surface of my skin, in those interior realms of thought and belief and intuition, and deeper still to shadow and unconscious, into the place before thought and individuality. Continue reading
For it is in giving that we receive
This phrase is familiar to most of us. The joy of giving is greater than the pleasure of receiving. Yet giving carries risk and requires courage. Whatever we are giving may indeed be ignored or refused. If it’s something sourced from deep inside, an intimate, heartfelt gift, refusal can be devastating, even shaming. Giving makes us vulnerable. It’s no wonder that many of us hold in our generosity, especially if we have been burned in the past.
St. Francis doesn’t specify what we receive when we give, only that we receive. We may at times receive a harsh lesson in humility or in the importance of detaching from outcomes. I have been known to give with a certain expectation of how the recipient would react, only to be crushed by their indifference or dislike. The lesson is not to refrain from giving. If anything, it is that giving without expectation is like the graduate school course in generosity. It’s not for the recipient’s reaction that we give; it’s to experience reciprocity. Continue reading
To be loved as to love:
A cursory reading of this suggests St. Francis is speaking of loving our fellow man (and woman), but he could have a much bigger meaning here. Maybe he’s advising me to love everything I can. I have observed how alive I feel when doing something I love: designing or writing. My heart glows in my chest and the work flows easily. I feel like dancing.
Come to think of it, I love to dance as well. And to play the piano and watercolor. And walk in the forest, and sail on the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and creeks. And play cards by the fire with my son and husband. And pick tomatoes in the garden and eat them still warm from the sun. What if St. Francis, in this one sentence, is giving us all permission to do what we love, what nourishes us and connects us to the breathing earth and to each other? Continue reading