Who Are You Really?

“People sense that there’s something wrong, but they’re still struggling to go back and find out what the real roots of the problem are, and I think what we need to come to is a realization that it’s not just fixing an economic or political system, but is a basic worldview, a basic understanding of who we are that’s at stake.”–David Loy 

I came across this quote by David Loy in Isaac Yuen’s review of the short movie Overview on Isaac’s website, Ekostories.com. I couldn’t agree more. Industrialization has caused us to forget who we are as a species and, if we don’t remember soon, things could get really ugly for us and for all the other life forms with whom we currently share this beautiful, complex, and fragile planet.

I’m not going to write a doom and gloom Earth Day post to remind you how many species we are losing every day or show images of retreating arctic ice or even photos of cute animals. I’m not going to exhort you to plant a tree or check the air in your tires to reduce your gasoline consumption or buy local, organic produce or take your own bags to the grocery store.

All I’m going to do is ask you to take a few moments to remember who you truly are.

You are a spirit that uses a physical body as a tool to experience and interact with this world. This is pretty friggin’ fantastic because it is that body, and all the sense organs that it provides, that enables you to enjoy the fragrance of a blooming lilac tree or the taste of a fresh strawberry dipped in velvety chocolate; the sound of your son’s laugh or the sight of your daughter’s smiling eyes; the feel of cool grass or hot sand under bare feet.

You belong to the human species, which, along with every other species that has existed on this planet, has a set of fairly narrowly defined parameters within which it can thrive. Your body is made up of a mixture of the same chemical and mineral components as all other life on this planet. It regularly exchanges electrons with the environment so your body contains particles that were once a part of your couch, your mother’s favorite lambswool sweater, or your dad’s Ford. You drink the same water the dinosaurs drank and breathe oxygen that was exhaled by a baobab tree in Madagascar or a Siberian Larch or the Tree of Life in the desert of Bahrain.

This body of yours belongs to this planet.

This spirit of yours is a unique expression of the divine, endowed with gifts and a purpose that are yours alone. The other living beings on this planet need you to remember who you are, to recognize your place in the web, and to bring your inherent beauty – your love – forth in the world. The greatest challenge you might face in life is to learn to allow yourself to be fully present in every moment, to participate in the wonder that surrounds you even when your circumstances seem bleak and the world feels like a scary place. You are endowed with a powerful imagination and you can use that imagination to see the world at its enchanted best, to shape your experience, and therefore your reality.

So, on this Earth Day, celebrate by remembering that you are a miracle in the grander miracle of Life. Breathe this knowledge deep into your being so you won’t forget. We are counting on you.

And if you need a little more help visualizing your connection to the Earth, take a moment to watch this gorgeous short film, Overview.

OVERVIEW from Planetary Collective on Vimeo.

Observation, Observation, Observation

Last Monday, I asked you to do a week of observation on one aspect of your life. How did that go? Do you feel more observation would be helpful or did you exhaust your topic? Did the experiment lead you to want to do more observation in other areas of your life? Did it help you ask questions you hadn’t asked yet?


In permaculture, before a designer creates a plan for a piece of land, she will ideally study that piece of land for a full year so she can observe it in every season. She will track how much water, in the form of rain or creeks, flows through the land; where the arc of the sun is in each season; where the predominant winds (that could bring pests or fire) come from and move across the land; how the outside world interacts with the land; how often each segment of the land is used by humans in the regular course of their day; what species inhabit each segment and what are their resource needs and what roles do they perform in the ecosystem. She will analyze the soils in different locations along with the water quality. She will become as familiar as she can with the land and the humans and animals that use it in the hopes that she can ultimately make the land richer and healthier for all concerned.

Similarly, it may take a full year to effectively implement the “Observe and Interact” principle in areas of your personal or professional life that involve thought or behavior change. As humans, our routines vary throughout the seasons due to changes in the weather and available sunlight, holidays, school schedules, sports schedules, even television and movie release schedules. Electricity that gives us light and helps us heat and cool our homes for year-round comfort and the globalization of our food production that makes it possible for an American to eat a fresh strawberry or tomato any day of the year have made our ties to the seasons less visible, but when you look, they are still there.

As we’ve already discussed, the observation phase is one that is easily ignored in the design process due to our impatience to fix, re-invent, or simply change for change’s sake any area of our life that is not as fulfilling as we expect it should be. We want to be always moving forward and don’t like to sit with discomfort or uncertainty, but deep observation and the ability to withhold judgment and refrain from making quick decisions are exactly what we need to insure that the solutions we ultimately devise will have the greatest likelihood of success in creating enriching, long-term, healthy, life-sustaining solutions.

20 Things I Remembered

On my most recent birthday, I flew to San Jose, California for a 9-day Regenerative Leadership and Permaculture Design course. I went to learn about permaculture. This was a word I first heard when I was a senior at the University of Michigan in an Eco-Philosophy course taught by Henryk Skolimowski, back in the spring of 1990. At the time, I had a faint idea that maybe it had something to do with farming the permafrost. But, of course, I was wrong. Still, all these years later, I had little idea what permaculture was, just some recurring sense that it was related to the things I am interested in. So, I decided to write a book about it in order to have a reason to dedicate myself to learning about it. Fifty pages into my novel, I flew off to learn about this topic that was calling me – and, I quickly realized that I was in exactly the right place at the right time. Permaculture was essentially a word that could be linked to every thought I’ve had since that Eco-Philososphy course with Henryk.

But even more surprising than finding that I was already at home with permaculture was some of the things I remembered while I was in California that I had long ago forgotten. I have mostly worked alone over the past nine years, with very little feedback on who I am or what I do and so it is always instructive for me to be immersed in a group for any period of time. On top of that, the course concluded with two days of facilitation by Samantha Sweetwater, who helped us know things through movement and meditation and reflection more than through direct instruction. Her smile and her energy were a true gift.

The following is a list of things I wrote to myself on the plane home the day after the course concluded. They are things I think I have known – at least on some level – before, but they are things that are also easily forgotten. I did not want to forget them again and so wrote them down as a permanent reminder. I have tried to have regular contact with this list in the month that I have been home so as to keep the ideas fresh in my mind.

The first thing on the list was remembered while we were meditating on a mountain in Los Altos in late afternoon, sitting on the ground in an oak grove. The light was golden, and it reminded me strongly of the light I photographed this Japonese Acacia tree at Versailles in in October. I need to thank Samantha for providing the meditation space for this memory to come to me, as well as my post-meditation partner Charolett Knapic who smiled and patiently asked, and re-asked, the question, “Why are you here?” while tears streamed down my face and I struggled to find the words to answer. I must also thank Danielle Koppel for the series of conversations several winters ago that led to the articulation of the idea that I am here to hold light. Without those conversations, this meditation might have led me somewhere else completely. And, of course, I must thank the trees, and the sunlight, and the mountain and all of the Life that dwells upon it.

Japones Acacia at Versailles, France

20 Things I Remembered While Sitting Amongst the Trees

at Hidden Villa in Mountain View California

February 25, 2013

1. I was born onto this planet at this time because I truly love this place and I want to be here to hold light and spark the transformation needed to preserve the abundance and diversity of life on this planet.

2. I came here to hold light. Therefore, my presence here is all that is required of me. To be here. To be open. To be present. To witness.

3. If I can learn how to BE HERE, perhaps that will be the support others need to be able to learn to be here, too.

4. I am a passionate, articulate, visual, integrated, multi-talented soul with plenty of time in which to create. My life is Yes. My life is Both-And.

5. I do not need to create the one, perfect project (life’s work) to be able to use all of my talents and passions. Because my life is Both-And, I can create a fulfilling, effective, wildly passionate and creative life by pursuing several projects that move me deeply. I may need to pursue these projects in a serial rather than a simultaneous manner in order to achieve excellence and effectiveness.

6. Excellence and effectiveness are two of the core values I want to embrace. These are not to be confused with Perfection, however, which is a brake rather than a catalyst.

7. Moving my body expressively – not just for exercise – is essential to my well-being. As with yoga, dance and creative, expressive movement clear chakras and energy centers and flow joy through my being.

8. A huge part of my knowing lives in my third chakra, at the top of my belly. It is crucial that I keep this chakra clear and open and moving energy.

9. In the past, I have used food inappropriately to numb my full awareness. The upshot has been that I have piled weight, fat, and poisons on top of my third chakra to limit its ability to respond to my environment and communicate important information to the other parts of me who have been driving the ship.

10. To keep all of my chakras, but especially my third, open and clear and fully capable, I must not only move expressively, but also eat a diet that supports the full well-being of my body.

11. I am ready to commit to dramatically reducing or eliminating the most poisonous foods in my diet. These include high fructose corn syrup, sugar, fatty foods, and animal flesh.

12. I am willing and able to commit to greatly reducing my consumption of cheese, eggs, and dairy products to improve my well-being, reduce the planetary impacts of cow and chicken production, and to support my ability to co-create with all beings on this planet.

13. If I hope to re-animate the world for others, I must also re-animate it for myself. One way to do this is to recognize each being I encounter and appreciate its being-ness and power. Therefore, I am cultivating a practice of gratitude for the food I eat.

14. If I truly hope to co-create a new reality with all of the world’s beings, it would be best if I adopted a completely vegan diet.

15. As I move through my days, it is important that I take time to speak to animals, plants, and water in joyful recognition of each being’s innate beauty, power, and intelligence.

16. I am in the process of deepening my energy healing practices and am filled with the intention to give Reiki to myself and my family daily, as well as to share it as fully as I am able with all whom I encounter.

17. I breathe into my life and experience an abundance of all that I need, especially an abundance of time and energy to create and experience in the most satisfying ways.

18. I am powerful. I can hold huge visions with integrity.

19. I am fully capable of creating anything and everything I imagine. Therefore, I will imagine and create excellent things and experiences.

20. I am enough. I am ready. I am beautiful because I am Life and Life is innately beautiful, enough, and always seeking and maximizing opportunity.

♥ ♥ ♥

Do any of those things resonate with you?

Can you create a space in which you can get enough distance from the pull of your every day life to remind yourself of who you truly are and what you need to remember? A few moments might be all you need.

Your Invitation to Join My New Project!

Recently, life has had an air of expansiveness. Have you felt it? The feeling that anything is possible; that there is enough time and enough energy to do the things that bring real joy and not just the satisfaction of crossing something off the almighty To-Do List. The feeling that ample resources have already been gathered and now there is an opening to actually begin doing the real work, not just preparing for it. Seriously, have you felt it? I hope you have! It is an exciting and delicious way to experience the world, and such a welcome relief from the worries and stresses and not-ready’s and overwhelming not-enoughs that can dominate life when we let it.

After several years of starting and stopping various projects of importance to me and surfing waves of manageable depression that rolled in along with feelings of inadequacy and “stuckness,” last July I was rear-ended in my car while I was stopped on the freeway trying to exit during evening, rush-hour traffic in Raleigh. It was the second time I had been rear-ended while stopped during my commute and it was the second car that was totaled as a result. It also turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Suddenly I found myself in the kind of depression that was so deep I couldn’t stop crying and I lived my days in dread of having to face even the most mundane of my life’s responsibilities. I got news from my doctor that I was heading rapidly toward diabetes and news from my husband that I had become nearly impossible to live with. I am fortunate enough to have health insurance, thanks to my hard-working (and patient and loving) husband, and in August, I began seeing a therapist who helped me begin to put things in perspective.

By mid-September, I was feeling much better, was taking better care of my health, and had become a pleasant person again. Almost as a reward, I received the Message from the Universe that I had been expecting to receive during the cross-country bike trip I did in 1998 and had despaired of ever receiving. It was an understated-though-profound message and it quietly and suddenly shifted my entire perception of life. It enabled me to rewrite the last chapter of my memoir, Your Mileage May Vary, so the book ends on what I feel is the authentic note on which I always felt it should end. (I posted the new, last chapter on the book’s website and you can read it here if you are interested.)

In October, Hans and I spent an exhilarating and exhausting ten days in Paris. It was our first trip outside of North America and it fired up our desire for more international travel. Despite the months of planning, neither of us was convinced the trip would actually happen. We spent many moments pinching ourselves and saying, “We’re in Paris!” It was a true perspective-shifting experience and it heightened my new feelings that anything was possible.

In November, I signed up for NaNoWriMo and got serious about writing the novel I had spent much of the year outlining. The main character in my novel is going to be someone who becomes deeply involved in Permaculture, which is the application of principles observed in nature to design in the human world. So, in December, when the Regenerative  Leadership Institute in California opened registration for its next Permaculture Certification course, I signed up, justifying the expense and the time away as necessary to the completion of the novel.

And that brings me almost up to the present. On my birthday last month, I was on a plane flying to San Jose, California for a nine-day certification course and just last Friday I received my Regenerative Leadership and Urban Permaculture Design certificate in the mail! Image

Considering that I did not truly know what I was getting myself into when I signed up for the course and had given myself permission to not finish and/or not get my certificate if it proved to be too much to handle, I was thrilled to receive the piece of paper in the mail. The permaculture course was an exciting experience, and one I’ll elaborate on in other posts, but I’m going to skip ahead now and tell you about the project I’m excited to be launching!

Starting today, I will be using this blog to write about my Personal Permaculture Experiment. I can see your eyes glazing over from here! I know that “permaculture” is not a familiar or obvious term, but I promise you it is an exciting one. So for my first permaculture project, I will be applying the permaculture principles to my own life and showing examples of how you might apply them in your life on a personal or community-level basis. I will also be blogging about my novel’s progress and, hopefully, also making more regular posts about the other things going on in my life.

I will be back here on Wednesday with a list of 20 Things I Remembered while I was on my permaculture retreat in California and again on Friday with a list of 10 Things to Remember to Live Your Most Awesome Life. Then, every Monday, I’ll be here discussing the exciting art of Permaculture!

Are you ready to take another road less traveled? If so, I’ll see you Wednesday!


“I see you.”

When it comes to power, those three words must be on par with “I love you.”

If you are doing something you shouldn’t, those three words can be quite scary. With any luck, they may even set you on a better path.

But if you are feeling alone, invisible, or taken for granted, those three words can reaffirm your value in the world, convince you that you do exist, that you do count, that you are unique and beautiful. These are the words so many of us – even those of us who may not appear abandoned or lonely – long to hear, whether we are aware of our need or not.

As I think about how the economic upheavals of the past 3 years will reshape our society in the long-term and what recent events will teach us, I come down to 1 major lesson: Interdependence. This financial crisis has demonstrated that the governments, institutions, ideas, and people that populate this planet are intricately connected in ways that we have not previously appreciated and cannot fully predict or easily see. The truth is, we belong to a single body, a single organism. We all thrive or, ultimately, we all die. If we deny this, we die.

If our goal as a species is to thrive as part of a healthy planet, this newly focused lens of interdependence highlights the many challenges that exist at every level of human interaction, from relations between nations down to relations between next door neighbors.  In essence, we are being challenged to let go of our Us vs. Them mentality and widen our gaze beyond that of our own narrow experience to include that our neighbor’s–whether that neighbor lives a few feet away or thousands of miles. We are being called to witness the events of the world, how they affect us individually, and how they affect others, as well as to consider the part we play in those events.

At their foundation, the protest movements that have swept around the globe in 2011 have been an answer to this call. Individuals all over the world are stepping forward to shine light on the injustices in their lives and to call for change. They are not all speaking with one voice; they are not all moving in one direction; they are not all pointing to the same problems or proposing the same remedies. They are, however, listening to each other. They are stretching their capacity to view the world from the perspective of others. They are, in essence, learning to see with new eyes.

I don’t have to debate whether this rEvolution is mine or if the protestors in the streets speak for me. I don’t have to take an overnight bus to Wall Street or even leave home. I don’t need to make a sign or chant any slogans. To spark my own rEvolution, I need only truly look at the person next to me and say, “I see you.”

What New Language Are You Learning?

Since finishing the triathlon–and receiving those super lovelyprofessional race photos in my inbox (I especially love the one, taken seconds after I hauled myself out of the pool, of me pulling my shorts up while simultaneously pulling my bra-tank down, all while running toward my bike–how’s that for transition efficiency?)–I have been counting Weight Watcher’s points and trying to be more conscious of what I eat, when I eat, and why I eat.  I have decided that if I’m going to eat “treats,” they need to be really good treats that are worth the calories, sugar, and fat.

The other day I was craving chocolate and decided to stop at Weaver Street Market, a cooperative grocery store that specializes in gourmet and specialty foods, to buy an organic brownie with walnuts from their bakery.  (We are talking about a seriously good brownie–good enough that I was able to stop after only two bites and save the rest for a later craving.  Totally worth the hit my “diet” took!) 

Before I found my way to the bakery section, however, my eyes landed on an endcap featuring progressive and alternative magazines.  The first one I saw was Yes! Magazine whose tagline is Supporting you in building a just and sustainable world.  This magazine focuses on positive stories surrounding some of the world’s most challenging issues–climate change, globalization, health, social and racial justice, peace–and I was psyched because I hadn’t seen a copy of it on a newsstand since I left Seattle six years ago.  The cover headline read, “The New Economy Starts Here: why this crisis might be our best chance.”  My hands grabbed the last copy of the magazine without waiting for my brain’s permission.  (You can get your own free, trial copy here!)

Before I could flip through the magazine’s pages, however, my eyes landed on another magazine I’d never seen before: EnlightenNext: the magazine for Evolutionaries.  The word Evolutionaries was in red.  I was intrigued.  What was an evolutionary? The cover text read, “Envisioning the Future: what today’s brightest minds have to say about the road ahead.”  Again, the magazine was immediately in my hands.  I scanned the bottom of the magazine cover, a green bar that listed the articles inside and their authors and recognized a few of the names, Ray Kurzweil, Jean Houston, Duane Elgin.  My left brain forced my eyes over to the right corner where the price was listed–a steep $7.50–before my right brain overrode it and decided both magazines were going home with me, despite the cost.

I started reading EnlightenNext first, but I haven’t read far.  I’ve been savoring it, determined to read it from cover to cover, even taking time to study the ads to get a feel for who this magazine’s readers are.  On the inside of the front cover I was already confronted with a phrase I hadn’t heard before, “integral theory.”  My brain began to tingle.  A few pages later, in the magazine’s mission statement printed on the masthead, I found mention of “the emerging field of integral and evolutionary spirituality.”  Now, my whole body was tingling!  I was holding a portal into an “emerging field” that used language I did not know.  How exciting!

It has been a long time since I felt the thrill of being slightly over my head in a piece of writing, when I felt that I was on the brink of a whole new way of thinking, when a whole new language was about to open up to me.  That’s why the desire to savor it, to let the words unfold slowly, to let the mystery linger as long as possible.  I love new things, but I especially love totally new things and I had clearly stumbled upon a treasure.

For most of my time in public school, I felt like I was simply relearning things I had already learned before.  The first time I really felt over my head was in a freshman honors seminar at the University of Michigan titled “Imagination.”  A handful of us sat around a big wooden table for an entire semester discussing how humans create the world in which we live using our imaginations, both individually and collectively, and the mechanisms by which we “change the world” through shifts in our collective thinking.  For most of the class, I felt I was running at full speed to catch up, unable on most occasions to put together a single coherent sentence to contribute to the discussion, trying desperately to create a nice, sane, neat understanding of what was a complex, unwieldy subject.   It was totally delicious!

The next such class occurred in my senior year, a class taught in the engineering department by a professor who had a knack for turning students away from engineering, Dr. Henryk Skolimowski.  It was called “Ecophilosophy.”  We discussed the nature of life on earth and the relationship between humans and nature.  We read Teilhard de Chardin’s  The Phenomenon of Man–a book that stood my world on its head–and I was asked to summarize it in two sentences for the class.  (Skolimowski pounded it into our heads that you only have two sentences to get your point across, people won’t listen longer than that, and he had us practice summarizing our ideas in this manner throughout the semester.)  I was fabulously immersed in a new world, a new way of thinking and being, and I was in love with the entire experience.

I have encountered few things so completely new to me since my years at Michigan; nothing that has forced me to change the language I use, and therefore my world view, to such an immense degree. 

And, even as I savor EnlightenNext, hoping it will upend my experience of the world in some dramatic way, I already have seen beacons in its pages pointing me back toward familiar terrain.  For example, on page 20, I found the name Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in bold type.  What 21st century magazine has the name of a Jesuit priest who’s been dead for more than fifty years printed in it?? (Well, apparently two: this one and a recent issue of the scientific magazine Discover.)  So, this magazine may not send me into completely new territory as I had hoped, but may instead deepen my exploration of spiritual and philosophical ideas I first joyfully encountered twenty years ago–and that’s an exciting prospect in itself.  There are new words to learn, new concepts to wrap my brain around, new voices with whom to acquaint myself.  New challenges to face as I ask myself if I am living up to my ideals and according to my moral compass.

When was the last time you immersed yourself in something completely new?  Are you learning new words and new ways of experiencing the world as frequently as you’d like?  Is your life, as mine all too frequently is, already so full of other busy-ness that you close yourself off to new possibilities?  What about old passions? When was the last time you abandoned your schedule and let yourself sink into something you absolutely love but don’t often indulge in?

The next time you get a craving for a bite of chocolate, follow it.  You never know what serendipitous portals it might lead you through!