Momentum: an ode to Baltimore


I see a Baltimore who mines her gold
from the shadows behind abandoned houses.
I see a city of parks
with tree roots reaching deep beneath surfaces
tapping hidden sources
and joining the disconnected
with living bonds
visible even to eyes grown weary of witnessing.

I see neighborhoods of parades
of dancing and singing
lighting sacred fires
standing arm in arm in solidarity
kneeling down on cracked pavement to pray
to ask blessings and invoke peace
to appeal to the wisdom of the ancestors
the vision of the young. Continue reading

This threshold of despair, fear, anger, and pain could be an opening to a new conversation


“I believe that all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share.” ~ Dalai Lama

I am breaking tradition and using a photograph to start this post because it is such a beautiful, heartbreaking image of the pain and fear that keep us separated. There are only a few inches between the faces of these two men, yet it is a wholly unbridgeable gulf. This is a scene from the streets of Baltimore yesterday, a place of constant tension, trauma and hatred, from which those of us living our quiet, privileged lives in other neighborhoods are usually insulated.

Truth be told, I am still insulated, tracking these events, unfolding mere miles away, via social and traditional media. It’s been fascinating to see how people react when our old cultural stories are so blatantly exposed and people act out and behave in ways that shock us. Many are expressing righteous outrage, as when our mayor called the instigators “thugs,” and questioned their intelligence with this comment: “It is idiotic to think that by destroying your city you’re going to make life better for anybody.” Continue reading

The essential questions at the heart of our lives

Still-Life_620wLately, I keep bumping up against that old saw, The older I get, the less I know. I have more questions than answers, and while it is an invitation to humility and surrender, I find myself getting frustrated too. Looking for signs and affirmations that I am on the right track. And suspecting that the signs are everywhere, if only I would notice them. Sometimes I think maybe the questions themselves are the sign.

I recently heard Ricardo Semler speaking on NPR’s TED Radio Hour. In 1980, he took over his father’s company, Semco, and redesigned it to be a corporate democracy, where people design their own jobs, define pay levels, and select and evaluate their supervisors. During his 2014 TED talk, Semler recounts his discovery of the power of asking “Three whys in a row” to access deeper wisdom. Continue reading

What the river says


. . . We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
~ William Stafford, from “Ask Me

When I go out into a forest with awareness of my senses, I find myself being called by one of the Others who dwell there. A hawk may circle overhead. A spring wildflower may signal its curiosity. A stately poplar tree may entice me with its craggy bark. Whatever encounters I have will leave me with a sense of wonder, marveling at the intricacy of this tiny part of the animate world. At its unique perfection, a beauty that extends far beyond physical qualities. It is an invitation to the peace of belonging.

A marvelous thing happens when I compare what I have heard in wild places with what others hear. When we gather for Restorying retreats and send people out on the land, they return with movingly personal stories that are also messages to all of us, individually and collectively. It is not unlike working dreams with a few friends. Even though the dream may seem at first to be meant only for me, after some consideration its universal themes begin to emerge. There is the distinct feeling that the dream was sent through me to benefit others, as well as myself. Continue reading

While we are making plans, the Earth is making us


All I want is to sing to you
The song that no one has heard
~ Krishna Das, from Heart as Wide as the World

We seem to be fond of comparing ourselves to animals, or, as native people tend to call them, the four-leggeds. Our post-Enlightenment minds play this game by finding ourselves to be superior to those “Others.” One story we like is that we are the only conscious beings on the planet, which is rapidly being debunked even by modern science. I did recently think of this difference, though: we make plans. We take on long-term projects that last beyond seasons, that may take five or ten years to complete. And sometimes our projects fail.

Plants and animals are seasonal, and their physical aims much simpler: survival and reproduction. They don’t seem to have the ambition to change their surroundings or invent things or look at distant galaxies, let alone travel to them. They don’t make musical instruments or write symphonies or Shakespearean plays. And yet they are part of a vast dance, a swirling ongoing Creation that is impossible to comprehend in its entirety. While we make plans, the Earth makes us. Continue reading

Keeping good company

Breaking Through_adjusted

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

Improvisation unlocks the magic of spontaneity and connection


All told, we’ve collaborated to offer eleven Restorying retreats over the last two years, with more in the planning stages. They’ve come to have a dynamic balance between structure and improvisation. We are learning as leaders to be present and notice the field, to give ourselves over to what wants to happen next, what the earth is dreaming for us. Within a framework of ritual and ceremony, poetry and mythic time and space, we enter the door that leads to the realm of heart and soul and mystery.

Themes, questions, and insights begin to weave into and through the assembled group from the first gathering. We are getting better at tuning into that and inviting participants to join in the fun of giving ourselves over to what Mystery wants to do with us. It reminds me of what Malcolm Gladwell had to say about improvisation in his book, Blink. Using basketball as an example, he wrote that in practice, the players drill patterns and set-ups relentlessly, and then every game is totally improvisational. The patterns are strung together in completely new ways in every game, every moment. I can guess from the way my son talks about soccer that it’s much the same. Continue reading

Who are we at war with? Let’s be honest about opposites.


I usually refrain from engaging in arguments on political or economic theory because I don’t consider myself to be well enough informed to do any particular stance justice with supporting evidence. Today I learned that my reasons go deeper than that. I recently violated my own injunction by posting a quote from Governor Scott Walker on my Facebook page about dependence on the government. He was calling up a trope from the Reagan era, one that ignores that he and all Americans are dependent on the government for roads, help in emergencies, and education, to name only a few.

In the ensuing back and forth argument, my Libertarian cousin chimed in about the role of government, taxation, military spending, energy policy, and the squeeze of the middle class. I responded that it saddens me to see finger pointing at “those people” who are on public assistance. Maybe if their place of work (WalMart, McDonald’s) paid them a living wage, they could afford to put a roof over their head and food on the table without such help. Or if the “education” they received had actually educated them, they could get a higher paying job. It’s so small minded and petty, and reflects poorly on Americans. I still prefer to believe that we are capable of much better. And yet my salvo is a distraction from the deeper lessons of this exchange. Continue reading

Jumping out of a moving car is ill-advised, but I did it anyway


I am not by nature a patient person. Back when I was working with organizations to design and launch sustainability initiatives, we had a metaphor that I liked very much. I borrowed it from one of the early thought leaders of green architecture, William McDonough. He was fond of pointing out that a fundamental problem with sustainable design as defined and implemented is that so much of it was about “being less bad.” He would say, if you’re driving to Canada at 70 miles an hour and you realize you really need to be going to Mexico, you won’t get there by driving to Canada more slowly. You have to turn the car around.

I’m all about turning the car around. Why use all this energy when technology and craft exist to cut our energy use in buildings by 70% right now, today? Yet, clients seemed always to be dragging their feet, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. One day, when I was voicing my frustration with how long all this change stuff was taking, my colleague accused me of wanting to bail out of the car altogether, while it’s still going 50 mph. And he was right! Continue reading

What we are doing in this time between stories

3.26.15_Meeting_topI’ve been participating in a fascinating online course convened by Charles Eisenstein called the Space Between Stories. There is an active forum as part of the course and I’ve been able to join in a few conversations with people from all over the world. One of the topics that’s captured my imagination is our longing for clarity about what to do, once we’ve recognized that the dominant cultural stories, that we were raised on and that constantly surround us, are mistaken and damaging. Once we see that, we cannot unsee it, and can go with the program only at great cost to our sanity and health. Which opens up a rather intimidating question: now what?

Paul Kingsnorth of the Dark Mountain Project, has a humble and inspiring list of five actions at the end of his beautiful essay, “Dark Ecology.” While I can wholeheartedly agree with his assessment, I am also aware that part of living into New Stories is that each of us must find our own way. Not in isolation, surely, but in recognition that our paths are as unique as we are. It’s such a different way of thinking that I’m constantly having to remind myself that’s it’s really okay not to know. Not to know where I’m headed or what will happen along the way, not to know if climate change will get the better of us in my lifetime or my son’s, not to know whether this awareness is going to destroy precious friendships and relationships or whether “enough” people will come to this same awareness to make a difference in all the environmental, social, and economic collapse going on around us. Not to know much at all. Continue reading