Allowing emerging new stories to have their way with us



“We need a new story” seems to be coming out of more and more people’s mouths these days. From Thomas Berry to Joanna Macy and Charles Eisenstein, to David Korten and Duane Elgin. Each of these deep thinkers and actors has their own unique spin on the diagnosis, as well as ideas for what we might do to begin changing the story. One of my personal favorite pieces of writing about this is “Dark Ecology,” by Paul Kingsnorth, the co-founder along with Dougald Hine of the Dark Mountain Project. At the end of that essay, he cautions:

“If you think you can magic us out of the progress trap with new ideas or new technologies, you are wasting your time. If you think that the usual “campaigning” behavior is going to work today where it didn’t work yesterday, you will be wasting your time. If you think the machine can be reformed, tamed, or defanged, you will be wasting your time. If you draw up a great big plan for a better world based on science and rational argument, you will be wasting your time. If you try to live in the past, you will be wasting your time. If you romanticize hunting and gathering or send bombs to computer store owners, you will be wasting your time.”

Continue reading

We have a lot to learn from nature’s design intelligence, even if throwing a hammer in first doesn’t help

Hunters Field_620w

Yesterday, I mentioned David Korten’s work on new economic systems, which he calls “living economies.” This strikes me as a beautiful interim step away from our unquestioned disconnection from nature and elevation of reason over intuition, towards a more humble, conscious, and connected relationship with the living earth. We’re talking here about “biomimicry,” which I first discovered from Janine Benyus, a science writer who published a book by the same name in 1997.

Biomimicry has three basic principles. 1) Nature as model. Study, learn, and imitate how nature works, rather than how objects in nature look. 2) Nature as measure. Use an ecological standard to judge the rightness of our innovations. Nature has a 3.8 billion year head start on us and has learned what works, what is appropriate and what lasts. 3) Nature as mentor. Approach nature not from a perspective of what we can extract, but of what we can learn. Continue reading

Accept the muse’s assignment


2.15.15_Winter woods_620w3“Don’t forget to let it do its work on you.” These words were spoken by a retreat leader in response to my telling him I was eager to get back to work on my novel after the inspiring experiences of the week. It was a beautiful piece of advice, one that I knew immediately to be true on many levels. I was reminded of it again yesterday, reading Steven Pressfield’s blog post on how he healed his self-doubt by working for two years on a book about Alexander the Great, arguably the most confident man in history, one who knew and embraced his destiny even as a child.

Pressfield’s advice on overcoming Resistance in his book The War of Art, fueled me through my novel’s first draft, so I tend to listen to him. His point in yesterday’s post is that the muse gave him the Alexander the Great assignment for his own good, and that all art is a soul contract. What that says to me is: don’t question the inspiration too analytically, just answer the call, put in your best work, and let it do its work on you. Continue reading

In the terrain between stories, trust that maps do exist

2.15.15_Two pines_620w

I am a framework junkie. I love the satisfaction of seeing a complex process or perspective distilled into diagrams, able to be grasped at a glance. Sure, some detail is omitted, but the best frameworks capture essence and convey key information to guide understanding and/or action. A good map is one example, or an infographic about, say, the growth in income disparity over the last decade.

I keep hearing it said that, in this time between stories, we’re wandering in unknown territory without a map. And that is how it feels much of the time. Yet, there are workable maps and frameworks that can inform both personal and cultural choices, if not direction. I’m thinking particularly of various takes on developmental psychology, like Spiral Dynamics, or Rudolph Steiner’s seven-year cycles, or Bill Plotkin’s map of the human psyche. I find it comforting to have a picture of where I’ve been and to see possible routes on my continuing quest for wholeness and belonging. Continue reading

Playing our way back to connection


A wise teacher advises in times of uncertainty to turn to activities that go back generations deep. Ancient activities like walking, or storytelling around a fire, or cooking, or hugging, can be very grounding. These basic actions remind us of our humanity, of our animal nature, and our belonging.

To that list, I would add feeling and expressing emotion. We have been conditioned to push emotion away as wrong, unseemly, embarrassing, toxic, dangerous, imposing, selfish, anti-social — there are any number of labels the ego likes to have at the ready. Last night, I discovered an excellent way to practice emotions: improv class. Continue reading

Recasting economics for 7th-graders and everyone else


One thing that’s helping me live into new stories is to question received information and to seek out wiser voices, especially those who bring a perspective that goes beyond the our human-centric world. Sometimes that takes the form of a weekend retreat in the woods, a chance to literally get away from “civilization.” At others, it means challenging a “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality.

Recently, I was helping my seventh-grade son study for an upcoming economics test, quizzing him on the definitions he had carefully written in his notebook. I was becoming uneasy, tempted to tell him that it’s all just a construct, one way of viewing the world and of organizing materials, systems, and people to fit that view. Here’s what his notes said next to the word “Economics,” which stood out in bold red: Continue reading

Rejection’s good side


I’ve been submitting work to journals lately and have received two very kind rejection emails in the last two weeks. While it’s never fun to be rejected, I’m also curious to dig into it and reflect on what lies beneath the surface. Rejection isn’t the same thing as failure, but it sure feels like it on one level. What happens if I play with Lincoln’s famous words about failure?

What concerns me is not whether you’ve been rejected, but whether you are content with your rejection.

For much of my life, I’ve gone to great lengths to avoid rejection: playing it safe, drawing inward instead of reaching out for help, not rocking the boat, following rules, doing what’s expected of me by others, conforming to societal norms. Continue reading

Listening for the birthday song


One day, fifty-two trips around the sun ago, a soul made its leap into the body of a baby being born. The young mother had an artistic spirit and was already stretched to her limits with three children. She wouldn’t let herself admit her misgivings about this fourth because her husband, a soldier, was a good man who loved his growing family.

The soul saw all this and chose this family for its earth walk, and to help the child weather the coming storms, it bestowed these gifts: Continue reading

Leaving (and returning) home


Our ancestors spent many millions of years swinging from trees. Most likely, climatic shifts caused us to come to the ground, learn to walk on two legs and discover uses for our clever hands other than hanging from branches. Walking and running on two limbs, making and using tools with the other two — these are radical changes that separated us from the rest of our animal kin.

When we left the forests, we left the cradle of our evolution and we’ve been leaving ever since. Most of us forgot to return, even for a visit. It would be like if I left home to go to college and failed to call or write a single letter (we didn’t have email or texting back then), never returned for Thanksgiving dinner or breaks, simply severed all ties with the family and never looked back. Continue reading

In praise of maintenance


A common refrain for clients over the years has been to ask for a “maintenance free” building, which in their mind often meant plastic, vinyl and other space-age materials that promise immunity from aging. Yet the laws of physics (otherwise known as the conditions governing all of life on earth) make that patently absurd. As soon as any building is finished, before the paint is dry, the furniture moved in and the art hung on the walls, the process of decay begins. Certainly, some materials are more durable than others –brick versus wood, for example. But mortar and even brick break down over decades of exposure to sunlight, water and freezing temperatures.

The maintenance-free mantra is another example of our futile attempts to master the forces of eternity. Continue reading