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

Speculations on courting synchronicity


Living from trust, magic and play means stepping out of received ideas and habitual thinking about will and action, goals and results. Recently, a friend told of an event that happened in Costa Rica, during a period of crisis and change in her life. Working for an eco-tourism project, she was on the beach sketching a logo, thinking about an image from a well-known children’s book. Pretty soon, a shadow fell over her, belonging to a man who questioned why she was working in this beautiful place. Sure enough, the man was the author of that famous book.

When things like this happen — as they do, to all of us — I’m often amused, sometimes a bit bemused. It shakes up my usual concept of time, of cause and effect. I have come to accept such occurrences as confirmation that I’m on the right track, though I may have no clear idea of where, exactly, I will end up. These events are usually so singular, an entire exchange with someone well met takes on a heightened quality. Continue reading

Restorying my way from longing to belonging


The other day I outlined Restorying to a longtime friend, whose honest feedback has raised many questions in my mind. I’m so used to this frame — we live by stories, have built our world on them, our current ones are mistaken and damaging, let’s find better ones — that I forget how shocking it may sound to someone who is just trying to get along and live a decent life. I shouldn’t be surprised when confronted with this resistance; I have experienced it many times myself, and it’s taken me to some dark places. My friend admitted that he avoids pulling on that thread, for fear of unraveling the whole sweater.

It’s not hard to understand: once you see that we are in the grip of stories that need changing, where can you possibly you go with that? Within our cultural fabric is woven the sanction to avoid the void, to eschew the unknown. Sure, my friend has his Qigong, his Taoist understandings, and he even agrees that our culture’s denying of the world of spirit is causing harm. But there is a powerful resistance to look under that rock. Why summon the Three Strange Angels of D.H. Lawrence’s poem? Better to go about your business and hope they never turn up. Continue reading

You get what you’re available for


You get what you’re available for.

This advice, given to me by a wise elder years ago, has been echoing in my mind lately. Originally, I understood it in reference to meditative experiences or attempts to enter alternate reality, and it strikes me now that it has a much wider application.

Last night, I had the experience of handling a situation of conflict differently, and with surprising results. During dinner, my husband and son got into a disagreement over something that seemed trivial to me, but felt important to each of them. Neither was willing to come back together, to drop his stance and reconnect. By some miracle, I could see clearly how much they both yearned for connection, yet their pride wouldn’t allow it. Continue reading

Ruined by the brutality of separation


In a recent conversation with a friend, I found myself saying that we can’t achieve wholeness by pulling things apart and analyzing them. To achieve wholeness requires the kind of synthesis and spacious container that art provides, a place where contradictory, even warring, elements can co-exist.

I take away a similar message from the brilliant talk by Iain McGilchrist, “The Divided Brain,” that’s illustrated in this RSA Animate video. He opens by saying that neuroscientists don’t like to talk about the division of the brain. It’s not true that one part of the brain does emotion; both are profoundly involved in both. And it’s not true that language resides only in the left hemisphere, or that visual imagery is only in the right. Important aspects of those, and other functions, reside in both hemispheres. In other words, the two sides need each other; they are both specialized and connected.

Last night, I experienced the sort of synthesis available in great art when we went to a production of Lynn Nottage’s play, “Ruined,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2009. Here’s the summary from her website: Continue reading

Climate change invites story change


In twenty years as a self-declared “green” architect, I’ve worked with many clients to focus on their values and priorities. No one project can do everything, because no budget could withstand it, so we have to choose between goods: certified wood or radiant floor heat, composting toilets or bamboo floors or solar panels. These are not apples-to-apples decisions, so prioritizing is done within the context of big-picture values and vision.

One thing I’ve always emphasized is energy efficiency, partly because it’s the easiest sell — when your finished building uses less energy, you save money — but mostly for its direct link to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Of course, when I got into this gig two decades ago, there was a very different story about climate change than there is now. Continue reading

The generosity of trees, an elegy


My son has always loved to draw trees from his imagination. The one here is recent and typical of his “style,” if a thirteen year old can be said to have style. We are both fascinated by the tracery of bare trees at this time of year – how they seem to mirror the design of our own circulatory systems, as diagrammed in anatomy books. Come to think of it, he used to love looking at the multi-colored drawings in anatomy books when he was younger.

One of my favorite passages in any book is Annie Dillard’s musings about trees in “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” I loved it so much, when I first opened my own firm as an architect, I put a phrase from it on my business card: “Trees bespeak a generosity of spirit.” While that does sum it up quite neatly, the whole passage is a treasure: Continue reading

The magic and the trap of language


How often are we aware of the language we’re using, of what our words signify, of the energies that we are calling into presence? Recognizing, for instance, the way that words entangle pain, pleasure, emotion, and the longings of our senses, helps reawaken us to their magic. I might say I’m feeling “lighthearted,” or observe that someone is “tactless,” without fully appreciating the source and significance of those choices. “Tactless” means lacking a tactile sense, literally feeling or touch. Within a simple adjective hides a physical connection to the body.

I’ve been thinking a lot about words lately, about their abstraction, the way in which they distance us from the very things we are trying to communicate. Logos keeps me immersed in a world of symbols, removed from the dimensions of reality that mythos has an easier time conveying. For this confusion, I have to thank Aldous Huxley’s short memoir, “The Doors of Perception,” about taking mescaline in the mid-1950s. The transcendent experience reveals to him that we are so steeped in our abstracted world of symbols — i.e., language — that we’re convinced this is all the reality there is. 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

On trauma, simplicity, art, healing, and love


A useful practice for living into new stories is to pay attention to themes or patterns that show up, especially coming from different directions and sources. Lately, I’ve been encountering the theme of healing trauma — in podcasts, conversations with friends, dreams, memories, and articles. It started with Bessel van der Kolk’s interview on “On Being,” describing his research into using yoga to train and improve people’s “heart rate variability,” which greatly improves resilience in the face of trauma. This work is groundbreaking in treating PTSD.

In a webinar I watched yesterday, he spoke about how profoundly interconnected we are as a species, that emotions ripple between us and into our bodies whether we’re aware of it or not. He showed two slides of a mother and baby monkey. In the first, both mother and baby are calm. In the second, the mother is agitated and screeching, the baby looks terrified and stressed out. I found myself thinking of my own childhood, steeping in my mother’s anxiety, depression, and (as the psychologists call it) hyper-arousal. Continue reading