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

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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

The source and craft of “always more”

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A friend recently began working with a new writing mentor, a well-known author who has been at it for over twenty years and has much to teach. It is humbling to be reminded that there is always more to learn, and yet I am aware that it works both ways. There is always more from the source of ideas, of images and words and revelation; I experience it daily in writing this blog. The creative source is boundless and endless, a reliable example of abundance. I have only to tune in, listen carefully and let myself be taken for a ride.

That there is always more I can do to hone my craft is at times inspiring, at times frustrating and depleting. It helps that I started in architecture, which is sometimes called an old man’s profession; it takes a good twenty or more years of practice before you begin to be any good at it. With writing, it’s said that you have to write 500 bad poems before you can write a good one. I’ve heard the same thing about drawing. Both refer to the requisite 10,000 hours of practice before mastery of anything that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in “Blink.” 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

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

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

Polishing the mirror and filling the well


Sometimes I get so bogged down in the gunk of daily living, of arguments or rejections, a cold or lack of sleep, that I completely lose track of the spacious stillness that lies behind all of it. Thomas Merton has a great prayer for this:

“May we all grow in grace and peace, and not neglect the silence that is printed in the center of our being. It will not fail us.”

There are an uncountable number of practices for polishing the dusty mirror and seeing the light of clarity and peace shining back. Daily writing is one that works well for me. And yoga. What a gift — a thousands year old method of waking up the body, of realigning energy channels, of helping me to notice and appreciate the vastness of my interior and the wonder of this vehicle that carries me around all day. Meditation, when I get around to doing it, has a similar effect of settling my busy, chattering mind and returning me again and again to the present moment. Continue reading

Storying our way to vibrant communities

Shoes_620wOften, the things I think I’m seeking in life are already present, so close I’m not even aware of them. Like the fish not recognizing the water it swims in. I may jump on a particular bandwagon, like longing for “community,” as a sort of magic talisman that’s going to right the sinking ship of modern civilization, only to be shown, in beautifully concrete ways, that it’s right here, all around me.

Last night, my next-door neighbor and I were both coming home late from meetings. He stopped while closing his front gate to call a hello through the darkness and ask if I was all right. Then he said, “Did you hear about R?” (Our 55-year-old across-the-street neighbor had just informed my husband a few days before that he’d had a heart attack in mid-December, necessitating shunt surgery. It was the first we’d heard about it.) Continue reading

Thanksgiving’s clash of stories


Americans grew up with the story of the First Thanksgiving: how the native people took pity on the Puritan settlers (Pilgrims), who weren’t quite prepared for what they would encounter in the strange new land. The Indians rolled out the welcome mat, giving them diverse foodstuffs and valuable survival skills, and the Pilgrims held a great feast to thank them. Containing elements of both truth and fiction, this story is part of the founding mythology of our country.

It wasn’t until quite recently that researchers began to discover the sophistication of the civilizations encountered by outsiders in the Americas. Continue reading

Words to the wise


Recently, I participated in an ambitious community art project called Autumn Leaves. The gatherings celebrated elders and youth, and featured art, performance, and sharing what gives our lives meaning. We were invited to give our response to three questions, one of which was: What would you say to your 21-year-old self?

My first thought was, this young woman needed so much advice! I’m not sure she would have heeded any of it, but here’s what I had planned to say.

First, rely on your heart. Learn to listen to your inner voice, and be a channel for what wants to come through you, because you’re unique and the world needs what you can bring forth. Since your work is bigger than you, you don’t have to worry about whether it’s good enough. Continue reading