Monday, December 7, 2009

Gaian Tea Party to Receive and Celebrate Earth Gifts

Inspired by the hospitality of Vesta's oikos, I imagine a community ritual based on the logic of the gift to express the key qualities of feminist ecological economics. Through ecological service and community networks, or because they are out for a walk, or because they would like to share seeds and plants, neighborhood and community members receive an invitation. They congregate in a city park or greenspace and sit as they are moved to, at one of many tables, each table laden with herbal tea and flower essences poured and shared in wild cups and saucers served with bioregional snacks.

The bell rings every thirty-three minutes, and everyone shares a moment of silence, then a hum for the good and the blessing to be shared out from this place to all places, a love wave of beneficence to bless the bees, pollinators, thank the sun and rain, and praise the beloved plants and gardeners and farmers who have gifted their creative verve to make this magic possible. At each table, folks imbibe the magicked tea along the themes of Care, Community, Compassion, and Connectedness, inspired by the opportunities to initiate conversation from the Position Statement for a Peaceful World – Feminists for a Gift Economy, presented at the World Social Form in Porto Alegre, January 2002 (Vaughan, 2007, p. 375). (See Table 1.) Women and beloveds write poems and share conversation sparked by questions, quotes, and blessings scribed on leaves (See Table 2.)

Table 1. Tea Pots by Theme and Constituents

Theme --Flower Essences & Herbs -- Qualities
(Kaminsky & Katz, Philpotts, Cunningham, Sargent)

  • Iris, Corn, Nicotiana, Sweet Pea, Trillium, Pink Yarrow, Holly
  • Fennel, Mint, Verbena, Cinnamon, Lavender, Apricots
  • Awakened creativity, full embodiment, to feel nurtured and sustained by Earthly forces, to feel there is a place on the Earth for us, overcoming greed – opening to an ability to work for the common good, Loving and nurturing with respect and boundaries. Universal love force.
  • Essences: Calendula, Golden Yarrow, Quaking Grass
  • Herbs: Basil, Marigold, Lemon, Passiflora, Licorice, Mallow
  • Qualities: Able to be warmly receptive as well as dynamically active, listening, healthy boundaries, gentleness, nurturing care, purification of the ego, bending and blending of individual egos for a common purpose.
  • Essences: Sunflower, Impatiens, Lily, Roses
  • Tea Herbs: Eglantine, Rose, Mugwort, Rosemary, Clover
  • Qualities: Compassionate presence, positive parent, opening the heart, patience, full embodiment, strengthened and vitalized, relating to the Earth as a living being, opens the soul.
  • Essences: Angelica, Arnica, Echinacea, Yarrow, Yerba Santa, Dill
  • Tea Herbs: Bay, Borage, Lemongrass, Yarrow, Thyme, Nutmeg
  • Qualities: Harmonious sensitivity, ability to receive guidance, releasing armoring as traumas heal to instill etheric wholeness, upliftment, restoring the sanctuary of the heart, capacity to be nourished by quiet beauty and not overwhelmed by machines/ noise/technology,
Other potential Table and Tea themes include Peace, Prosperity, Generosity, and Adaptive Complexity.

Table 2. Affirmation Cards and Questions for Tea-Party Goers- Hand Scripted on Leaves

• What inspires you today? What do you care about?
• Name three ways you treasure the Earth.
• Name three ways the Earth treasures you.
• Join hands and beam love.

• Offer an impromptu verse for how the community of Earth nurtures you today.
• Offer toasts to the center of the Earth and the stars, who share our birthplace.
• Share a memory of community that you carry with you.
• Share a vision of Earth community that unfolds in you.

• Name four of the books on the shelves of the Library of Kindness.
• How can you connect across what feels like a chasm (political, cultural, class)? What could you actively do?
• Hold a moment of silence to increase receptivity in the deep heart.
• Share an area where you can increase your self-compassion and what that would look and feel like.

• Offer a toast of gratitude for the algae, mushrooms, molds and fungus.
• What is a creative way you could connect with three of your neighbors, even though it might feel awkward?
• Name a deeply held hope and ask the others at the table to carry it with you.
• How could your yard or patio inspire connection? Your work space?

During this tea party new connections and bonds are sparked, and we leave refreshed and affirmed, opening our hearts and minds to new possibilities, awakening ancient knowing we have always carried. As Berry (1984) suggests, "we pray, not/ for new earth or new heaven, but to be/ quiet in heart, and in eye/ clear. What we need is here" (p. 156).

"We should try to co-municate with the earth…. If Gaia is alive, surely she has a language. She is goddess who speaks to us through synchronicity and nurturing and in other ways as well. How can we speak to her? She is another order of being. We are like cells in the body trying to communicate with the whole body. What gifts can we give?" --Genevieve Vaughan, 1997, For-Giving, pp. 407-408,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sea Turtles and Climate Change

A recent New York Times article reports that ocean water rising level and temperature threaten further the fate of the leatherback sea turtle in Costa Rica.

In the style of Joanna Macy, John Seed, and Arne Naess's meditations from Thinking Like a Mountain, where they create a roll call of endangered and extincted species, we can take a moment for the leatherback turtle. We can only hope that this species and the others in the litany of species threatened or gone due to human planetary practices can serve as teachers for us. One part of the article relates the efforts of teenagers in the area to protect the turtle eggs that were still laid, so that they can be buffered from rising tides and baby turtles escorted to the tides after birth.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Stone Age Information Architecture

Just heard about this, it makes so much sense! I was cruising for great information architecture (IA) diagrams on the web. I came across this site's post about how information architecture cannot die. It included this fabulous Incan knot tying system of encoding memory visually for an oral culture - "This is a quipu, an information system used by the Incas (1100 - 1500 AD)"

"Alex Wright's Stone Age Information Architecture presentation at the [2006] IA Summit went even further back. Alex looked at the information systems of pre-literate cultures and their significance to today's information problems. And guess what? There are many relevant lessons we can learn from stone-age IA, especially about our own latent disposition toward hierarchy." Wright's work has culminated in this juicy book I want to check out: Glut.

From Wright's site: (Check out how modern web interactions parallel more spoken/oral cultural patterns than print culture... perhaps we are in a resurgence of the ancient communications technoogies and modes that served balanced, pre-agrarian biocultural diversity and co-evolution for tens of thousands of years!)

Quote begins:
Briefly, my talk explored the question of how pre-literate cultures manage their collective intellectual capital. In particular, I focused on the use of folk taxonomies (not to be confused with "folksonomies"), visual symbol systems, and the cultural effects of the transition from oral to literate cultures. Finally, I tried to probe the relevance of these systems to present-day problems in information architecture.

We tend to give Stone Age people short shrift as systems thinkers. In the popular stereotype, "cave men" are cultural simpletons, too preoccupied with the day-to-day business of survival to pursue the loftier avenues of civilization. Modern literate societies tend to write off these cultures as "prehistoric," drawing a sharp dividing line that relegates them to narrow domains of inquiry like archaeology and anthropology. This bias towards literacy runs deep in our culture; and we tend to bound our questions about modern cultural conundrums to the limited horizon of the last 2500-5000 years. In truth, however, pre-literate peoples develop remarkably complex systems for managing information. My working hypothesis is that those systems hold instructive clues about modern problems of information architecture.

Folk taxonomies provide the most compelling example of how pre-literate people create complex, hierarchical systems to keep track of what they know. Every tribal culture ever studied has created a taxonomy of plants and animals; and as far as we know, these systems stretch deep into our species' past. While these systems vary considerably in the details, they all share a surprisingly similar structure. The key hallmarks of folk taxonomies include:
  • Hierarchical categorization (5-6 levels deep)
  • Psychological primacy of a "real name" in the middle of the categorization (what Lakoff refers to as basic-level categories)
  • Binomial naming conventions
  • "Affiliate" (or meta) classes that run horizontally across categories
  • High degree of conformity
Why do folk taxonomies matter today? One popular assumption in Web circles these days is that old hierarchical systems are doomed in the face of networked information systems, that the emergence of the Internet signals a new order of knowledge that will render the old top-down systems obsolete. But the high degree of similarity between folk taxonomies suggests that we may have a much deeper disposition towards hierarchy - and a will towards consensus - that stretches deep into our cultural past. In other words, rumors of the death of hierarchy may be greatly exaggerated.

Folk taxonomies also provided a basic semantic scaffolding for human cultures to encode layers of shared knowledge: kinship networks, mythological systems, and cultural norms. From the Zuni tribe of the American Southwest to the Wakelbura of the Australian Outback to the ancient Greeks, synaesthetic systems of knowledge took shape around a basic hierarchical template. As Hobart and Schiffman put it: Genealogy provides the ideal classificatory tool, for it narrates a sequence of actions. It sustains the tradition while subjecting it to a hierarchical ordering that clarifies the nature of various figures. When gods are considered, genealogy becomes a means of understanding the cosmos when mortals are considered, it becomes an encyclopedic framework for historical and geographical as well as social information. As some human cultures crossed the threshold to literacy, these systems formed the basis for modern constructs of knowledge, like contemporary academic disciplines. But the basic hierarchical template persisted - taking shape as ontologies of knowledge and administrative hierarchies. As literate culture flourished, those hierarchical systems escalated in complexity.

The linguist Walter J. Ong coined the term "secondary orality" to describe the similarity of online communications to older oral traditions (although secondary orality differs from "primary" orality in the sense that secondary orality is deeply bound up with writing). On the Web, a great deal of user activity hews closely to oral modes of interaction - e.g., blogs, email and IM - styles of communication that are constantly shifting, lacking the epistemological fixity of traditional print culture. If we look around the Web today, we can see these two cultures of spoken and written words negotiating an uneasy embrace.

Oral cultures also rely heavily on symbol systems to create bonds of trust in distributed social networks. Totemic objects like beads, bones and cave paintings functioned not just as decorative or ritual objects, but as tokens of information, used to negotiate social relationships, serve as markers of trust, and enable people to forge bonds with each other beyond their immediate kinship circle. Totemic objects thus facilitated a "release from proximity" that allowed progressively more complex social structures to emerge. Today, we also rely on totemic symbols for exactly the same reason. Mechanisms like Ebay trust points, Amazon reviewer ratings, Technorati rankings all give us a means to accomplish the same kind of release: to forge bonds of trust with people we don't know, and to engage in new distributed forms of socializing that don't require the proximity of social encounters.

In conclusion, I suggest that the study of Stone Age Information Architecture offers three central lessons:

1. Ontology is underrated

2. Social networks are symbol networks

3. "Orality" is the new literacy

End of passage. Thanks Alex!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Wilderness and Experience as Medicine for Ecological Overwhelm/Abstract Thinking

I know that many people turn from knowing more or looking into the "ecological crisis" because it feels overwhelming to them, an abstract wall of doomsday numbers and nothing/little they can do. I hadn't made the connection with the abstract thinking involved... Perhaps our abstract thinking is sourced in our connection with our bodies, and if we are disconnected from our bodies, we are unable to fully succeed in abstract thinking, or we have become so deracinated from embodiment and corporeal strength that we are "developmentally arrested" before embodiment and abstraction?

It does make sense to me that for many, a personal connection, with discrete processes, lifecycles, hands-on, this round fruit above this particular soil, the way the light comes from the clouds, how the nut casing eases off and roasting then ... becomes our food. Or this particular kind of jigsaw puzzle bark, this avian visitor.... This is spirit and body medicine for the doomsday cloud that hovers over the Western conception of our current occupation (I mean that literally) of Earth. [Humans as an occupying army, shoulder to shoulder, hill to hill, jammed in, tents and tents, our air conditioners and dishwashers are our weapons, the earth is filled with us as an invading army....sorry, rather bleak, I digress...]

Ecological Learning as Pro-Active Relational Healing - for Family Interventions

My friend Nicole recently spoke about how experiential education would be most effective when it was woven with the experience young learners have with their families, and how this would build a sense of earth connection.

It brought up a question for me, about how the experiential aspect of young people connecting with earth processes through connection with the family, "bringing it home," would/could interact with families who have been disrupted by poverty or addiction. Is there a case to be made here that part of how we could do multivalent intervention in disrupted families (e.g. the teen gang programs that Multnomah County had designed a few years ago) could include this kind of pro-active ecology/cultural earth-based collaborative learning activity/process as part of the design for the intervention? That the very embeddedness we seek to generate in ecological approaches is the same as the one that would weave and mend families whose relationships, resilience, and capacities have been severely impacted by the consequences of cultures of domination and inequity? I'm sure folks are working on this various places, would love to hear what anyone has heard about!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Blessings to the Daughters of Creation

The wild winds of the East breathe you inspiration and the Muse whisper's of tomorrow's people; the gyring fires of the South invigorate you with vim and vigor; the resplendent waves of the West dolphin-sparkle you with the deep power of compassion; the fortifying rocks of the North nurture and affirm your strength of being. Above sings you lullabies from guides and constellations which also make up your bone marrow and the matrices of your cellular splendour while Below grounds you in this right now breath of whimsy and delight. Sacred Center is a kiss that goes through your whole being, welcoming you here, dear daughter of creation. Welcome!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Organiform Tree of Knowledge Libraries

Yesterday I reveled in this book: Builders of the Pacific Coast. Today I visualize a library that literalizes the tree of knowledge metaphor - (something I think they incorporated into a Dr. Who I saw once, now that I'm thinking about it) - where different portions of the branches of the building, in organiform unfurling, nest related books. (Here's some snaps of the pics in the book, a great slide show of it here. [Pictured at right: from Builders of the Pacific Coast, photo of the Lloyd House, Lloyd Kahn]

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Creativity and Connectedness -With Slices of Lemon and Guided by Beetle and Amaranth Blossom

I never studied latin, but I will never forget Mrs. Wolff in seventh grade teaching us poetry. We walk into class and she is slicing lemons. She invites us each to get settled in our chairs, and pay close attention. Then she has us each bite into a slice of lemon. A sudden ray of sun, a life-changing moment, an awakening. I will never be the same for that one slice of lemon.

I know this is going to sound so results oriented but I want my teaching to be elemental/alchemical when I'm "in the groove" - catalytic and activating: wings rise; sparks fly; empathy flows; wisdom deepens. So if I were assessing classroom experience, I would want to have a pulse on the direct embodied experience and the fruit of that experience for 'learners'/co-teachers. I wish we had a wow-o-meter that could measure the wow-waves when classes are amazing, synergistic, autopoietic. Then another question for me is what happens with the wow? Can we sustain it? Is some of it subtle and synchronistic (how do we optimize for subtle and synchronistic, guided by beetle and amaranth blossom as much as human mentation or design)-- Is that a longitudinal study? Is that about a way of measuring ecological (relational) richness? The more things it sparks, the better?

As in creativity theory, this might be a new thing related to the quality of elaboration and originality; amongst the main four - according to some-: fluidity, flexibility, elaboration, and originality. Or is it a different factor to assess for; there is definitely a tension between originality sourced in divergence and (innovation) and creativity which connnects. Perhaps there is a form of creativity which has been undervalued in innovation-addicted scientific reaserch on creativity, which perhaps would be a form of originality that would also favor connectedness and relationship instead of difference. It's possible what we need to cultivate now is ecological creativity that connects us to larger cycles and flows of Earth wisdom. Instead of a creativity of divergence and difference, a proliferating profusion of connection, biomimetic, pulsing, alive.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Earth Creativity and Regenerativity

One thing is that I do not actually think creativity (or intelligence) is a uniquely human activity. In fact I suspect that creativity and engaging in our natural/native/inbuilt capacity for creativity brings us into more alignment with the larger earth-being and other cells/organelles/organs of the earthbodysystementityaliveness. I believe creativity activates earth-wisdom capacity inside of us, and also allows us to become more connected with other earth-beings, both those in human bodies and in other bodies (rock embodiments, peregrine falcon bodies, etc.) if you will [but somehow, while saying this, acknowledging and weighting that we are all part of one thing instead of thinking of ourselves as separate beings--more feats yet to develop with the English language to express this]. Another way I might explore thinking about this, a la John Seed/Joanna Macy in Thinking Like a Mountain and more, in their evolution walk and Council of All Beings (has anyone done these?), is to discover how creativity activates our genetic and epigenetic knowledge of all Earth beings, our deeper wisdom, which we already carry within us, in the very fiber of our beings.

Moving from this place of connection/kin-action, deeply sourced across the entire wisdom of earth's profuse creativity-creation, my consciousness moves from an entirely different place. I am able to hyperdeepenleap into deeptime, creationthought, deepresence, generativeunfoldment, ____(words yet to come)_____.

I would locate the sense of source point or "pinnacle" (hierarchical construct) for knowledge not in some futurity or even current state of prime evolutionary edge (which metacognitively represents a manifest destiny of knowledge if you will), but rather that knowledge and wisdom, sourced at the very epicenter of creation (a la the new cosmologists' great unfurling/big bang or the sense of timelessness in Macy's deep time) is embodied in everything that has matter and energy unfurling. This is very different than the we-know-more-as-we-go sense of progress of the condition of human cultures (for the past 5,000 years) and more greatly resembles earlier 35,000+ years of amicable human-group-nature matrixed living. So there is a deep sense of mystery, depth, sourcing, kinship/activation as part of larger weaves of earthlife, creativity-as-aliveness, regenerativity as a native capacity of all living things that I'd like to explore and energize/catalyze/awaken.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Design Factors for Regenerative Studies

Earth Regenerative Studies favor the following dense, proliferating, ecosystemic, complex, vibrant, living and life-generating concepts in its design:
  • regenerativity
  • autopoiesis and complexity
  • ecological design and "sustainability"
  • inspiration, including poetry, story, and the arts
  • generativity, ancestral and progenic momentum
  • earth processes: shit, compost, vermiculture
  • wisdom
  • darkness, fallowness, mystery
  • symbiosis, mutualism, co-evolution, collaboration
  • emergence and emergent properties

Co-evolutionary Inquiry

My friend Richard Pritzlaff of the Biophilia Foundation says:

"As such, there is need for data and knowledge to help create the movement toward a new paradigm of coevolving sustainable human and Earth systems. It has also become obvious to me that this need and moment have come because of the false pretense of positivism; while perhaps the human world has become longer (in terms of the length of a life) and more comfortable for some, the human world has not become better in terms of depth and satisfaction within the life journey for all but a few. Meanwhile, the toll on the Earth system from creating these material benefits now threatens all of us in the most fundamental ways."

I suggest:
I appreciate the model of co-evolution. One of my favorite historical co-evolution examples is angiosperms/flowering plants and pollinators. I appreciate the beauty and synergy of this form of "extreme mutualism." Perhaps there are forms of ecological inquiry? Where we are not only acting (upon) or changing things (action research), but where we are actively co-evolving, co-learning with the participant-teachers and the autopoietic, vibrant processes we together generate? Where we design to enhance feedback loops instead of trying to remove them? Where we attempt to develop/design research as nature designs itself: stacking and stocking functions within the research...generating new living possibilities? What would that kind of research look like? Our work might particularly lend itself to seeing (and co-generating) the "evolution"/unfurling of complexity and life-generating mutualisms....