Apr 172009

Over the past several months I have been discussing “intentional community” with a colleague who shares the same background in community development, but unlike me, has continued to actively promote and participate in an intentional community (a co-housing site). We have been talking about the potential uses of social media to strengthen and extend learnings across the network of these communities as well as into the public sphere.

In the course of our conversations, I realized nearly all of us live in forms of intentional community, in the sense that we are consciously and continually choosing where to live, with whom, and for how long, under the pressures of multiple and often conflicting personal, economic, and social influences, planned and unexpected. We are able today to see with new clarity our own specific family, neighborhood and cultural traditions as simply one strand in a myriad of other, increasingly diverse family, neighborhood and cultural traditions, across a historic journey of awakenings, woundings and transformations.

In this context, formally structured intentional communities such as co-housing units serve as a point of reference, regardless of whether we have ever or will ever live in such settings. We all have much at stake and a shared need to maintain our bearings to determine future directions and next steps. The use of specific technical infrastructures, such as social media, may then make sense and fall into place, as naturally as a pot luck supper or a backyard conversation.

For many, the decision to live in an intentional community is a decision to explore a deeper level of shared responsibility and mutual support in a world in which dislocation from place and fragmentation of essential human relationships are closer to the “norm.”

“Sense of place” is central to the self-identify and cohesiveness of intentional communities. That is, members of intentional communities may see their responsibility and relationships within a given location as a direct expression of their care for the earth and “those who dwell therein.” The place in which one lives then becomes, consciously or unconsciously, a prototype, a declaration, and a promise for future generations.

This physical presence or “sense of place” sets the framework for the relationships within as well as for interactions with the broader network of intentional communities and the wider public sphere.

Next, there is an emerging consciousness of the importance of common story, a repeated retelling of a yet unfolding chronicle of how the community has come together, with its vision of the future, and the trail of challenges and breakthroughs that make each community unique.

These formal and informal tales of origin and destiny provide the “woof” to the “warp” of a sense of place. To participate in an intentional community is to engage in a journey, with all the unexpected
twists and turns, joys and sorrows that the term, “journey,” entails.

At some point, at various levels, there may be a shift in consciousness, a sense of transparency and connection: We are here, in this place and time, because being here is enlivening and somehow makes a difference in our wider concerns for mutual respect, justice, sustainability, and peace.

The emerging communications ecosystem quickened by social media becomes, then, a natural partner to this recognition of the immediate and intimate connection of local and global; for now, as never before, it becomes possible for the most mundane of events to have broader impact and significance, in as few as 140 characters at a time.

That is, regardless of social station or class, anyone may experience a moment of discovery, an insight, a new connection that is worth sharing as another trail marker in the overall journey, a significance that blossoms anew in the act of sharing.

It is now possible to shape a common memory from everyday voices scattered in diverse communities across the globe. It is now possible to gather and draw upon the collective wisdom of a new people, as quickly as new learnings are gained, whenever we choose to seek it.

It is now possible to add to an ever-deepening reservoir of experience in the moment, as part of the eventfulness of the moment.

Just as the settings and occasions of face-to-face conversations vary from place to place and time to time, the rhythm and content of blogging or twittering, for example, may be unique for different communities today. It would not take that many from any given location to begin the process of adding to the reservoir, providing momentum to the strengthening of mutually supportive connections within each community, across the network of communities, and with the broader general public that shares the same fundamental concerns for a just and sustainable society that is continually enriched by its diversity.

There is an opportunity for identifying and engaging people, where they are, in the roles of journey guides, historians, elders, visionaries, stewards or guardians, technicians, journalists, gardeners—whose reflections, stories and experiences give visible, public form to the significance of living in community.

And there are ways for this to happen that objectively enhance both personal and community life, in the midst of the everyday.

That’s the promise and the possibility of a new communications ecosystem for today’s resurgence in community, for our life together, in whatever form or structure such community takes.

Feb 242009

In every movement the entire body should be light and agile and all of its parts connected like a string of pearls.

T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classic

Typically interpreted to describe the flowing of energy within the body in the course of each form, the “string of pearls” can also be seen as a metaphor for the complete set of forms, the flow from form to form, from moment to moment, from each complete “now” to the next complete “now,” in gentle yet decisive contrast to “managing change” or creating “transformation strategies.”

Each form, each moment, is complete and entire in itself, from opening to closing, from inhaling to exhaling, from receiving to releasing. There is no place to go, no destination, no other place, only the realizing of fullness in this movement, this moment, this now.

Being completely and entirely embedded in the overall environment, the broadest reach of the senses, centered here—movement from center to center—part of nature,

…like ocean waves, or blades of grass…governed by the endless play of repetition and variety created in the presence of the fact that all things pass away.

The Timeless Way of Building (Alexander)

When practiced outdoors, the sound of wind or waves, the rustling of trees, like gulls or hawks effortlessly riding the currents of air, or whales rising to breach the surface of the sea—all connected, all carried in motion by the same energy, the same source, the same vitality and fullness.

Consciously participating in the complete exchange, where all is received, all is returned, freely gifted and gifting.

The many become one, and are increased by one.

Process and Reality (Whitehead)

The flowing of a long and expansive river, from remote, ancient sources, through broadening banks, narrowing courses, across rapids and expansive stretches of calm.

The frozen misery of ages breaks, cracks, begins to move
The thunder is the thunder of the floes, the flood, the upstart spring
Thank God our time is now

A Sleep of Prisoners (Fry)

How long is the moment? How long is “now”? Is it measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, decades, generations? The question at one level has no meaning. For the moment is all encompassing, with its own intricate rhythms and counter-rhythms that emerge, interact, subside, and reappear as something that is recognized anew as somehow transformed.

Each movement, each moment, a pearl, an instance of beginning and completion, a gathering of all that has gone before, an anticipation of all that is to come, in the fullness of time, embraced in the divine economy of the universe, in which nothing is lost.

Information overload turned inside out; completely releasing the desire to consciously track and try to control every factor, to being completely open to receive information that fills out patterns at ever-finer resolution.

Receiving the whole as wholeness, from which the details emerge and unfold.

An elegant simplicity, which cannot simply be deconstructed into component parts and then mechanically reassembled. For all the technological advances that were required to create modern hang gliders that roughly mimick the soaring of birds, the effect still pales against the effortless interplay of feather against air, of wing upon current.

How many “miracles” does it take to heal a wounded lifetime? Perhaps just the next one. For by its nature, each miracle of the moment is all-encompassing, intricately interwoven, a quality of the whole.

[NOTE: This entry is extracted from another blog that I’ve retired and presented here as a reflection on the “Timeless Way” that is the quest that drives patterns and pattern languages.

Feb 062009

In the wake of the downing of a jetliner by a flock of geese, ending with a miraculous soft landing into the Hudson River, I noted on my FaceBook site, “Apparently even a single goose can still take down a jetliner–nature just keeps getting in our way; another reminder to change our way.

In response, a friend noted: “If a single goose can do that, I wonder what happens when a whole bunch of them decide to conspire something.”

What if such a conspiracy–let’s call it the Gaia Conspiracy–were already underway, with an occasional flock of geese serving as wooden shoes (sabot) in the gears of contemporary society. These apparent acts of “natural sabotage” have certainly been increasing in breadth, frequency, and intensity.

Yet the Earth does not engage in acts of sabotage; adopting that explanation simply perpetuates the illusion of our place in the Cosmic Power Structure, as in, who is getting into whose way. The natural exchange and recycling processes of the planet are absolutely objective, proportional and nonnegotiable. The fact they operate on a considerably longer time scale doesn’t soften the ultimate consequences. The Earth is capable of taking care of itself just fine, thank you, with house cleaning and remedial measures that will objectively correct the extreme imbalances of recent ages, without fear or favor for any overly exuberant species.

We really shouldn’t joke about those “stupid” dinosaurs, which did hang around a bit longer than we have so far. We neither own the Earth nor belong to it; it is not “ours” in any sense–we are simply guests with an opportunity to take part in something miraculous for a time. Eden remains; it wasn’t lost, we simply turned our backs to go our separate ways thinking we could create something better on our own.

[This is the basis for my reticence toward adopting the concept of “co-creation”; it appears to extend that same exaggerated importance of our role and responsibility in the greater scheme of things. The fact we can exterminate species after species does not establish our ability to co-manage the complexity of creation. One cosmic sneeze or shrug or simply an unexpected permutation of avian flu at the wrong time and place, and the memory of our presence becomes a brief flash of light traveling across the universe long after its source has ceased to exist.]

Even the state of co-creation in our own realm is not immediately promising, for a similar accountability is rising in the course of human affairs to confront–yes, I’ll admit it–a male-oriented propensity toward brute-force dominance as the strategy of ultimate resort. Isn’t that the perceived threat of the asymmetric War on Terrorism; two terrorists (who happened to be US citizens) can take out a federal building in Oklahoma City; ten (from somewhere else, could have been anywhere) can take out the tallest buildings in New York. There is no one place to bomb, no single leader to remove, no final assault on a last bastion to remove all fear. “We” must be right 100% of the time; “they” only need to be right once. This is the ultimate distillation of “power politics” at the extremity of personal and social despair.

There is another way.

A heaven beyond our dreams beckons, but we need to release the heaven of our dreams.

We thought we were headed from New York to Charlotte, but if we are lucky, focused and disciplined in the crisis of this moment, we may be able to land, feather-soft, not so far from where we took off, in a river endlessly flowing to the sea, the same river we had thought we had tamed, but for which we are now thankful for simply being there.

And then, thankful for being here.

This is the starting point for free and uninhibited engagement. Not guilt, not shame, not fear. Sheer gratitude for a life given in its entirety, unearned, in every moment, for as long as each moment endures. From here we can confront the moral issues of the times, devote our energies to healing the woundings of generations, for we no longer have anything to lose–what has been freely given can be freely returned in the context of a greater wholeness.

Sep 162008

Rediscovering a Sense of Place can be the beginning of more deeply engaging in a rapidly evolving situation.

“This isn’t Kansas anymore, Toto.”
[Wizard of Oz]

“God, what an outfield,” he says. “What a left field.”…”This must be heaven,” he says.
“No. It’s Iowa.”
[Shoeless Joe, W.P. Kinsella]

“Since that time, I have not complained about the weather, not one time. I’m glad there is weather…Why do people complain about the earth? We are living in the Garden of Eden.”
[In the Shadow of the Moon, Apollo astronaut Alan Bean]

“Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” [Laurel and Hardy]

Four cardinal compass points help to center attention and re-establish direction for resolving conflicts that might otherwise fracture or fragment a community, an organization or an enterprise. An overview of this framework can be read here.

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