If all we have is Jack Ryan, everyone looks like a terrorist


In her mesmerizing TED talk, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor tells the story of having a stroke in her mid-40s. She points out that, biologically speaking, we are not thinking beings who feel. We are feeling beings who think. Great intelligence resides in the space of our heart and when we nurture that with breath and awareness, our resilience and creativity in crisis increases dramatically.

This innate wisdom and gift of connection to our fellow beings is lost in the rush to analysis brought on by recent crises and instability around the world. We channel our inner Jack Ryan when we resort to habitual ways of relating to the crisis, to each other, and to any possible courses of action that occur to us. Still, in modern western culture, reason and analysis are revered above all. Anyone who suggests a more feeling response is ridiculed as soft or complicit. Continue reading

Beyond cause and effect

11.24.15_Tree-compositeEconomists and statisticians distinguish between correlation and causality. What if, one day a year, those two were switched? What if they switched once a month, or once a week? Maybe in the minds of the desperate, the distinction is meaningless.

Two Swiss researchers found that when plankton levels in the ocean drop 10%, Somalian pirate activity ticks up a corresponding 10%. With the collapse of the fisheries they’ve relied on for generations, they are driven to find other uses for their boats.

Last year, earthquakes over magnitude 3.0 increased in Oklahoma from an average of less than two per year to 585. Bore holes from fracking chewed their lacy patterns into the earth’s mantle like termites under a house.

Years of drought in a country with poverty and ethnic and religious tensions destabilizes an already stressed situation and tilts the people into civil war, as well as making them easy prey for terrorist organizations. If they’re under authoritarian rule, this is even more likely. Continue reading

What happens when we return to trusting our senses?

11.7.15_Horse2_620wIn the final two chapters of his exquisite book, Becoming Animal, David Abram unleashes a series of simple and brilliant observations and proposals for a way forward. One point he makes is that when Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo discovered that the earth is not fixed after all, but rather orbits a fixed sun, the senses were increasingly derided as deceptive and untrustworthy. It was thought that our observations had led us astray into primitive and naïve beliefs about our place in the cosmos, and therefore about ourselves.

It’s true that oral, place-based, indigenous cultures did rely on the body’s perceptions of, for example, the way the sun left the sky and traveled beneath (within) the depths of the earth at night, reemerging in the morning to begin anew its daily transit of the sky. This observation kindled a relational understanding of the fire that is visible in the sky being in league with the fire that is within us. They understood through direct experience that the gravitational pull of the earth on our body is the same attraction between the sun and the earth. Are these two ways of perceiving mutually exclusive? Continue reading

Does asking ‘when’ distract us from juicier questions?

Old-New-storyWhen I first started giving talks using the lens of “old story – new story,” I would illustrate my points with examples. Old story is factory farms, mountaintop removal coal mining, clear-cutting forests, Peak Oil, suburban sprawl. New story is organic farming, renewable energy, selective logging, urban agriculture, Net-Zero building, intentional community. I tried to tease out the stories behind them, the contrasting worldviews at the core of these choices. I would say that the world we live in is created by stories of who we are and why we are here.

Several years ago after one of these lectures, a student asked a question that I think about often. Students have a knack for this. At my first teaching job in 1988, a freshman architecture student asked me if the Greeks thought of themselves as “modern.” It was a humbling and exciting moment in which I hoped any knowledge I might be able to impart would not interfere with his ability to ask such juicy questions. This time, the student wanted to know when all this begin, this shift to the modern worldview, the Story of Separation that produces the world we live in today. He asked, When did we start thinking this way? Continue reading

Stories are a starting point, not the literal answer


In the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, two themes on social media have caught my attention. One goes along the lines that eradication of all evil by violent means is the only possible response to restore safety and normalcy. The other chastises people for identifying with and feeling compassion for Parisians, but ignoring Lebanese, Syrians, and refugees of other ethnicities.

One is dangerously myopic; the other tips too far the other way by insisting that without a worldcentric perspective, your compassion falls woefully short of what is needed right now. I don’t mind having my awareness tweaked. I do object to holier-than-thou snarkiness that judges what I care about. And yet, maybe my discomfort stems from the sudden recognition that I, too, am guilty of looking down on those who don’t share my views or meet my expectations. Continue reading

We are all Parisians

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The horrific event on November 13 in Paris has a familiar tone to it, an energetic signature much like a terrible earthquake and tsunami or a hurricane with devastating flooding. Prediction and prevention are just as imprecise and impotent as in the face of a huge “natural” disaster. The victims are struck with random cruelty. We feel helpless in the aftermath.

True, the attacks in Paris were planned and carried out by people, acting out of a story they fervently believe. As such, we may tell ourselves that acts of terror or riots of unrest are preventable—if only we have better intelligence, stronger police response, more proactive targeted drone strikes—in short, we push back. Better. Harder. First. Continue reading

“Grayson” models wonder and humility


In her book, Grayson, author Lynne Cox looks back to a March morning in her 17th year when she was out training in the ocean off Santa Cruz. By then she had already swum the English Channel and the Catalina Island channel. Some of her descriptions of the sea life she encounters are mesmerizing. She takes you there: the ache and tingle of the 55-degree Pacific, the glitter of phosphorescent algae in the pre-dawn darkness, the rain of 35-pound tuna leaping to feed on smaller fish, the glory of the sunrise over land.

The story wraps around her encounter with a baby grey whale, a male, 18-feet in length, who has just been separated from his mother. Cox is on her way back to shore after her long workout, looking forward to hot chocolate and a warm croissant when her friend, the bait shop owner, comes to the end of the pier to warn her. If she swims to shore, the baby whale will follow and beach himself, which would be fatal. Continue reading

Creativity is my drug of choice


I self-medicate by making art. When I mentioned this recently to an artist friend, she responded that making art stresses her out. Her work isn’t up to her standards. And isn’t that the game we are all playing? My Muse inspires me, drives me to create. I try my best with the materials and skills at hand to give material form to that inner stirring, to share that non-material vision / impression / idea. Its only chance of being seen, of touching others, is to emerge through my hands into the light of day.

And it never—and I do mean never, ever—comes out the way it shimmers in my imagination. On rare occasions, it may surprise me with being far better. Or delight me in some unexpected way. It’s like doing Improv with myself: I make a move on the paper; I catch myself off guard; I respond with “yes-and,” and make my next move. Eventually, a scene evolves. Continue reading

The power of yellow to defy gender roles

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This is one of my mother’s rare collages, which I’m sharing today in honor of her birthday. It reminds me of how much she loved blues and greens. I have a theory about favorite colors, related to this post about the chakras. What if we wear and surround ourselves with certain colors, out of an unconscious need to balance our energies, or because of how dimly they resonate in our body? Maybe our favorite color points to a deficiency or some other fraught relationship with the energy of that chakra.

For me, it’s red, the vibration of the root chakra. I do struggle with being grounded. I have a history of questioning my right to exist, my worthiness. For much of my childhood, my presence felt tentative, provisional, like waking up in a strange place and you don’t know how you got there. We moved every year or two, uprooting and relocating, making it difficult to feel at home anywhere. Our wider circle of relations was far away. We saw them once or twice a year, feeling like outsiders to the close-knit extended Italian family of cousins and in-laws. Continue reading

The humility of yielding and being led

Watercolor by Julie Gabrielli, 10.10.15

Yielding is not well regarded these days. To give in to the will of another, to allow oneself to be led in an unknown direction, to withdraw from conflict—these are all seen as signs of weakness in a culture obsessed with leadership and action. This is at odds with the messages I keep getting to slow down and be still. To, as this turtle recently showed me, pull into my shell and wait until it’s time to continue.

I am a student of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese “Book of Changes.” As an outside source of wisdom, it teaches me to trust my own intuition and be more present to the many lessons I can learn just by showing up more authentically in my life. I use it not so much as an oracle, but as a reminder to stay open to situations as they arise. Continue reading