There can be a kind of denial or hesitation in committing to anything but 'the light' in the new-age-world of positive visualizations and optimistic activism. Yet there is so much more than light this is beautiful, and if we do not embrace the darkness, we never get to see the awesomeness of the night sky and stars. If we turn our backs to bad weather, then we become surprised if we end up in the middle of a storm. Honesty asks us to take a closer look. Actually, there are no rainbows in the sky today, and actually there's some serious change that needs to occur on a societal level in order for cultural healing to take place. Conversely, many angry-activists forget to balance "saving" the world with "savoring" the world, and need to remember the beauty of what we desire, and what we are, and embody it. This is a balance of will and grace. Action and appreciation. We need to remember that rainbows exist, but not pretend they're there when they're not.
Cities are amazing nexuses of collective energy. I'm in Portland, Oregon this week, and more than half a million people live here. That's a lot of collective energy. Many people rave about the unicorn burial ground-magic fairy dust-dreamy community feeling-lifestyle of this big city. I lived here for a time and I love this place, but I'm also practical. This big city is full of busy streets, and cars, and parking lots, mills and factories and malls, and one of the largest superfund sites in the country - the Willamette River. It's noisy during the day, the sky is orange at night, and we're nowhere close to meeting the basic needs of food and shelter - on a local level - for the people that live here. During the day, the sky is not even the rich blue I remember high about, let alone on the now-white horizon. It is washed out. Even without getting into the implications and causes of these things... on a basic sensual level, these are problems that effect everyone. Overall, Portland in an amazing place for sharing ideas, but it is not collectively making the kind of physical shifts necessary in order for its landscape to regenerate and provide a truly place-based culture.
It takes an enormous amount of imaginative power to convince ourselves that anything less than a place-based culture makes any sense... that more than half the wild and arable land space is paved with concrete and asphalt, that we pollute the air we breathe, the water we drink, and by design, we are separated by zoning home somewhere different from work, somewhere different from agriculture, somewhere different from production, somewhere different from the forest, and never mind the spiral of gentrification, social inequality, and hierarchical power structures. The majority of our needs are met outside the bounds of where we live and work and brought to us using fossil fuels. All the while there is plenty of space to grow the food we need in the space we have, and a choice within each individual to welcome a pace of society that calls us back Home into a feeling of Belonging.
When we free the imaginative power we've been using to tell ourselves cities and towns (the way they are) make sense, then a flood of creative energy opens up for us to use, and collaboration makes this creative potential in cities off the charts.
So, this is about Honesty. What is really going on?
To recognize that something - from a neighborhood or a personal relationship - is hurt or dysfunctional or requires apology is to notice its potential for change. There is no need to be sorry if no change is required. When we are real with ourselves about how we are feeling - truly feeling - in a culture of such intense isolation and disintegration, we are supporting each other in healing and making changes. Forgiveness implies correction.
The Village Building Design Course - a four day class for future Placemaking Project organizers - just ended and I'm debriefing my feelings about the course with Ron. The more I process the experience of class, the choices in facilitation, the content, and the incredibly positive feedback, the more I feel my critical mind incorporate what I could have done differently into the course's evolution and relax into realizing that the class was exceptional. No rainbows, but a supportive and thorough group training process of embodied collaboration. Yes! I'm so looking forward to teaching it over and over again as it evolves and the ripples keep ringing.
Transforming cities to be a vibrant and direct reflection of the values held by those who live here. To dismantle the grid in literal, physical ways, and to also free our minds and our hearts to reconnection and integration. To Remember old and familiar patterns of multigenerational family relationships to each other and their Place.
Is it impossible?
And this is no rainbow bridge, either. Place is embedded deep into our bones, and transformation is already happening. Just this week, during the annual Village Building Convergence, 30 neighborhood Placemaking sites are simultaneously pulsing a strong Heart-Beat in the city, and those represent only official projects of this year. A neighborhood in NE Portland I worked with in 2012 - Rabbit Hill - closed a street in exchange for a community garden, I know of at least a dozen instances of neighbors taking down fences within a block, and hundreds of simple Poetry Posts scatter Portland neighborhoods. Yard sharing, work party swapping, and alleyway alterations happen casually all the time, and not just in Portland, but these stories travel from all of the world in cities everywhere.
Honesty is also about scale. Where does it make sense to focus our energies? Governance and transformation on any scale larger than a neighborhood block starts to become unnecessarily complicated.
I was watching a red wing blackbird chase off a crow today, relentlessly flying at it, following and swooping and pecking. The blackbird doesn't let the crow tear apart its nest. It doesn't allow for the invasion of its home. And it isn't hating the crow. Its actions reflect a simple desire to unapologetically keep Safe what is Sacred. All the while, never abandoning its own simple purpose in order to band all the blackbirds together against the crows to destroy them. Not every blackbird will even need to engage a crow once. They stick to being themselves, and in doing so, they are a part of a flourishing ecosystem.
Placemaking Projects act from the same nesting place. Public spaces, spaces for people to have in common in the landscape of our living Place, are an irrevocable necessity for Human Beings. We must make our nests, and we must swoop and peck to create them if necessary. When we concentrate on what it is that we Love and Create it, it is inspiration for the world, and a totem of positivity and transformation. What will it look like? It depends entirely on the community and its needs; each distinct, each powerful in its own way. Focus on what is beautiful, what is at the intersection of humanity and nature, and what feels balanced and good.
Ron and I have walked to a near park, singing on the way there. When we get together, it's like we remember the universe and forget the universe in alternating moments of contradiction and perfect sense, in genuine love and interest and listening. We both feel deeply and find peace and joy in trying out ways of talking about spirit and nothingness, of listening and learning from each other. For years, he's been working on a way to graphically map implicit, unnamed, and timeless essence and explicit, named forms in the now by paralleling the various levels of "one" and "all", past and future, of being Human and of being Infinite. Each time I see the next iteration of this chart, it is so different and so beautiful. It's a lot of careful thought, and a lot of words, and he looks at me and asks, "Should I be less philosophical?"
Then, I found myself remembering all over again, and saying, that we need never apologize for who we feel called to be. It is not what you do, but how to you do it. Philosophy can take you out of your heart and into your head, or it can be a way of expression. Talking about your feelings can take you out of your heart and into your head, or it can be a way of transformation. Teaching can be hierarchical, or it can be empowering for everyone. We can change the world in fear and anger, or we can change the world in love and creativity.
We should ask ourselves not 'what should we do' but 'how do we feel when we do?' How does it feel to be philosophical? And if the answer is good, then there is no need to change. The catch with Honesty is, this a moment-to-moment check in. One moment philosophy is needed, the next a simple sensual realization. One moment we're done with a project, then we're making plans for the next. One moment we are breathing in, then we are breathing out. Honesty and transformation are really the same, because they both lead us to a deep awareness and sense that anything is possible because anything can be felt, and that each moment lends itself to the next in a unique and ever-changing way.
My friend Cameron (the same friend from the beach in an earlier post) wrote the other day, "writing when pursued genuinely can be a kind of alchemy, a digestion of experience, a transformation of the awareness with which we meet the world. we can write ourselves deeper or further into certain stories and look up to find that the world around us has changed." And I have found this to be completely true for me.
I write when I want to. And it is not really that I feel so sure of everything I say that I feel it's 'worthy' of being timelessly put to print. Why I feel so confident in saying one thing or another about... anything... the universe, the nature of being Human, the direction of society, is probably because after it is said, I feel all at once able to say something completely different. I do not take my own words as absolute truth, in a way they are not even "my" words, only a means of expression that I hope is sensibly shared in an accessible way... writing helps me draw ideas together, and as someone who willingly spends most of my time alone, I simply pay attention to what I notice, and in my noticing, I am inspired to share and grateful for a way to do so.
I'll leave off with a song this time, as I've been singing it all day.
"Heaven is Just" by Laurence Cole.