Archive for May, 2009

Updating the map

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

I want to speak briefly here about the map that was unfolding. Showing it to others and speaking about it, it dawned on me that the elements that I named ‘Subtle Arts’ and ‘Tending the Land’ were not the right categories and they didn’t really fit in the map either, they were not the same category of things.

Like designers who strip away what isn’t necessary and programmers who search for beautiful code, there is also a simplicity and a rightness when getting to a map that works.  Here is why the two elements weren’t working: the Subtle Arts is about right relationship with much more than the land alone, and people-place relationship isn’t only about the land but it is about connecting with all that surrounds us.

The new Meaning in Place map

Starting left on the map, it is about a subtle relationship with the past. Not as strong – and sometimes heavy – as we see in some indigenous cultures, but (much) more aware of ancestry and lineage than we do today in the West.
Also relationship with the future (right on the map), the seven generations, and more, which will follow us. Here the whole sustainable movement, up-cycling, cradle-to-cradle and so on fit in; but also what Scharmer calls ‘learning from the future’ and the subtle sensing of what is the next elegant step to take.
The work of Christopher Alexander – which I would describe as a subtle listening to the land and sensing where buildings fit in – and the many experiments these days with buildings out of local and natural material, houses and factories that use zero energy and inviting future residents in planning of neighborhoods are all practices of our relationship with the human build environment. Some are tried out for the first time; others are up to a level of mastery.
Connecting with the non-human, the plants, the animals, the landscape and the many, many layers of energy of the intangible is part of reality that we, Westerns, have to learn a lot about, but it is so essential when we want the Earth to be called our home, and not just the space within the walls of our house or apartment.

I’m sure this map will be fine-tuned when people start relating with it and work with it. It will only be by combining the many practices – in all directions of the map – that we will reach the mastery and artistry that is needed for our challenging times ahead.

Mystery, Mastery, Artistry

Friday, May 29th, 2009
Mystery - Mastery

Last bit of our journey here together, the harvest of the open space sessions and the final closing. Three words jump out: Mystery, Mastery and Artistry.

Mystery… how to describe?
Can we reach the Mystery through Mastery?
Mystery of our individual being in the world, mastery of the subtle arts, which then allows us to grow to a collective mastery, a mastery of the collective being.The use of arts seems to come more to the foreground in our inquiries, as are stories. Indeed, people were using color and paint in their notebooks, and in the conversations.

Announcement of Open Space session

Really beautiful pages I saw all around. Both arts and stories are related with our embodied presence. And both are easy ways in to let people participate in. It brings us easily from I to we. When mastery comes in, it goes even beyond the We! Collective intelligence, collective wisdom and collective being shows up.You will notice that the people-place relationship in its surface form had more or less disappeared. As we noticed in another session the areas of life: I, We and profession/vocation are collapsing into one whole, into wholeness. So also the people and place collapsed into how we are as human beings in the world – in a new way.

The importance of stories and the weaving of them into a story-field was not really new to me, but I realized that this is a big part of what I do! I weave the stories that hear and that I am part of in order to show the new meaning that is arising in many different places. I imagine the new storyfield to be an inspiring possibility and opportunity for people who feel the dis-ease of the old story.

In service of the whole
In service of evolution




Friday, May 29th, 2009

Chilly morning and some clouds… would it rain on our last day of this gathering Meaning in Place, which was also the end of the Axladitsa Immersion?

No, it didn’t. The air was so clear we could easily see the islands in the Aegean that are mostly hidden somewhere in the foggy meeting of sea and sky.
Again we opened space to give everyone the opportunity to explore the last topic before going home. Mary did a wonderful job in framing us in – with intention and attention – to have our day with a blending of our energies in service of the whole. Different questions, raised on the previous day, were offered to serve as inspiration.
What conversations serve the whole?
What holds us back?
What is right timing?
How do we generate meaning in the subtle arts?
How does weaving the diaphanous story-field build capacity for collective wisdom?

Diaphanous… as a non-native English speaker I had never heard of it. Transparent, yes, but … a window is not diaphanous. Jacki showed the quality by moving her arms in the air as she was doing a belly dance… a dictionary helped. It is another word with a Greek root, meaning: to show through. Other descriptions that I picked up: almost translucent, delicately hazy. This word had come up in het harvest conversation the day before. It seems to be related with both the subtle arts needed to establish new meaning in place, and with the kind of network – web – ecosystem that we are. Network reminds us of exchanging business cards, and ecosystem seems a little bit too scientific. A diaphanous web, with this qualities of very fine threads, but very strong in resilience, almost invisible, and able to pick up vibration seems like a an almost perfect description of how we are together in and across these collective inquiries. To be this web is to me the new capacity we are exploring.

Emerging map

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

If you read the previous entry you can imagine that this circle took a lot of time, but we had lunch and some free time in between. Three of us had been consciously listening for patterns and themes, as we want to come up with a map that captures the people-place relationship. It dawned on my at the end that there were two maps appearing. One is explicitly on Meaning in Place, the other more on the transition we are in, but both are related, intertwined and we hope to get more clarity about it soon!

What I can share now is an extension and improvement of the map we started to use in the Powers of Place Collaborative. I will try to picture it out for you. Imagine a cross with horizontally a line that represents community. It goes from the past (left) – with ancestry and lineage – over the present (middle) to the future (right). Vertically is the line for environment, from the intangible and non-human (bottom) to the human made (top).

Extending the line of community it becomes Humanity, and extending Environment it becomes the Earth. So it seems to me that we are looking for a new way of relating Humanity and Earth, integrating the old and present ways into something really new.

The Mystery of...

During our inspiring conversation I saw also that this big cross fits into a wider circle that I would name The Mystery. Thinking deeper about it, it encompasses the sacred, the cycles of life and death; maybe it is the Mystery of Life on Earth. And all this fits into a big arrow, Evolution itself.

Stretching over the four directions there are two basic practices that I see now: the Subtle Arts and Tending the Land. We hope to get deeper insights on all this in our last day!

Mystery – Life – Reverence

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Halfway during our gathering, the morning of the third day.

As hosting team we had the sense that going deeper was what was needed, both in the group to get to the next level of meaning and between the people and the land.
Instead of the individual walk in silence we walked the flow of the water on the land – literally. Hearing the story of riverbeds drying out earlier than it used to be (maybe because neighbors have drill-holed?), the well that was full with debris and wood, a flood that changed the road and so much more. Impressive was to realize how much power – in the form of electricity – to pump up the water from the well we need for our comfort of having running water! Later in the day Jacki from Kufunda, would tell that they have to draw all the water they use in their center by hand.
How far are we removed from what it really takes… better: from what we really take from the Earth, in so many different forms, and with so little respect, gratitude and awareness. Next to the well we shared a short time in silence and the messages that we received while listening to the land.

We then settled for a circle around the question: What is the most meaningful thing for me that I am holding in my place -here or at home – at this time?

It was an amazing string of beautiful gems, guided by our explicit invitation to listen with wonder, to listen – as water – to the deepest levels, and introduced by calling in the four directions.

Most meaningful for me – and part of the invitation to the others – is the building of a new human capacity: to listen, to speak, and to act as an ecosystem. To be a collective being with many ears, hearts, minds and bodies that can be of service to nay question, issue or opportunity at hand.

Harvest of Generative Circle3

As Maria said, a lot of us are trying, struggling and experimenting with bringing the mystery back into our lives; not in the old forms with white robes, many bells or lots of incense but in a new way. But if you don’t connect with the mystery – with Life – in a gentle way then it disappears. More and more during the day we realized that we need the Subtle Arts to be able to see more, to listen deeper, get deeper insights…

Mystery. . . . .   Life . . . . .
Cycle of life and death
Balancing the grounding of a new project while pulling back to be present for a new baby….

Harvest of Generative Circle8

And Ritual

Where is my home? Of consciousness?

Honoring my ancestors, because my own story is too small.

The Earth is tired. We have to Re-awaken our Guardianship, which means: Stick with it, no matter what! And still be non-attached.

Again the subtle arts:
The story of the Wounded King,

From old to new Story Field

The owl that calls at night,

The night consciousness

Claiming old wisdoms in new ways
Focus on the unexpected
What feels right?
What is right timing?

Communication is bigger than conversation

We change from being story-holders of the old story to story-makers of the new. Then a new story-field will arise.

My place is where I am.

Have you listened to the Earth?

Thursday, May 28th, 2009


Yes, the earth speaks, but only to those who can hear with their hearts. It speaks in a thousand, thousand small ways, but like our lovers and families and friends, it often sends its messages without words. For you see, the earth speaks in the language of love. Its voice is in the shape of a new leaf, the feel of a water-worn stone, the color of evening sky, the smell of summer rain, the sound of the night wind. The earth’s whispers are everywhere, but only those who have slept with it can respond readily to its call.

The earth speaks in many ways, on many levels. For the Australian Aboriginals, perhaps the oldest continuous culture in the world, the features of the earth are an everyday part of their living heritage. They read their story of life in the landscape itself. For them every mountain, every river, every valley speaks of ancient events. A gigantic monolith becomes a rock dropped from the sky, a stone outcropping an effigy figure, a mountain range a great lizard. For the modern geologist, the earth speaks of ancient events as well, but in this instance, those features are the direct result of the natural phenomena of the planet. A hill represents a glacial remnant, a solitary boulder an erratic, a canyon a timetable. However, for the earth lover, each fold, each depression, each peak in the crust of the planet speaks of new discoveries in a lifelong quest to seek out magical places, to be intimate with the earth and its life.

Yes, falling in love with the earth is one of life’s great adventures. It is an affair of the heart like no other; a rapturous experience that remains endlessly repeatable throughout life. This is no fleeting romance, it’s an uncommon affair, one that is unconstrained by age or storm, and strengthened rather than diminished through sharing. In fact, the more one gives it away, the stronger it grows.

Come, listen to the earth.

The Earth Speaks
By Steve Van Matre and Bill Weiler

Depending on the Earth

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

There we were on the second day of our gathering. Again a beautiful, sunny Greek Spring day. As we had decided, we started – after framing the day – with connecting with the land; a half hour alone in silence. We were offered to pick a Tarot Card as inspiration, and off we went.

The Star

The funny thing is that ‘the Tarot’ is a language that I never can remember. My card was The Star. Not bothered what books or masters would tell about it, I used my creative expression to draw the card in my dairy. I saw an angel and a reflection of the star into the water. I understood them as subtle energies, and an invitation to use more of them in my life.

We were then invited to a World Café to look together into the emerging patterns we could notice in our field of inquiry about people and place relationship. It was a deep conversation, difficult to capture… but I will give it a try here.

Chaos, distraction, stuck energy, loss of meaning… it asks for a simplicity that allows a holding of the complexity. Then meaning – meaning in place – can emerge. We would need the science of natural rhythm and the science of subtle sensing to be able to receive messages – both from the land and ourselves. The point is to go beyond separateness, to an embodiment of the vibration of the land. Then we are living in true partnership with Earth, in wholeness.

Again and again, silence was named as a condition to come into this conversation with the land.

Another line in the conversation was about death, endings, the shit, the dirty… and the need to re-integrate, re-weave it into our lives. Because we have separated it out, but it belongs to us, to Earth, to our lives.
One question: How is standing in the shit a sacred act?

Suddenly there was a burst of energy in the harvesting circle. There was a call for action! Let’s do something here, on the land! Is it time for action?
Is it right relationship to be on the land and not contributing to the growing of the food?

Of course these was much, much more…
Sacred in the ordinary, the ordinary in the sacred/rituals
Balancing individual and community
The giving and receiving with the land

And a deep recognition:
Our lives,
being alive depends on the land, on the Earth.

Humanity and the Earth

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

This first day of our gathering of Meaning in Place was a collective orientation into the topic. During the day I didn’t have the impression that we were on to something, but by the evening my sense was that this will not be a ‘normal’ gathering, but that it will take us to the depth and width of the relationship of people and place. In other words we are dealing here with the relationship of Humanity and the Earth.

My own map of my Meaning in Place

From our individual stories we were telling each other in the morning one thing really stood out for me: Place has massive influence on people! It is so obvious, but at the same time so unconscious! So obvious that we don’t really notice, that it isn’t a field of study (yet). If I translate this into the bigger picture we can state: Earth has a massive influence on Humanity, so obvious, but so unconscious!

Humans Creating Meaning
This gathering is about Meaning in Place, and how to host that. That is what we humans do all the time: create meaning. And in these challenging times we try to create a meaningful life with a new story, a new meaning we have to find together, as humanity. Because meaning is life-affirming to us.

We came to realize that a meaningful life these days means to live our full potential, nothing less. It requires our attention, our time, our commitment. To say it in other words, it is a practice.

What if meaning in place is grounding the disorientation in the world? (Maria S)

Earth and Nature
Of course many stories were about nature, about a sunset, the desert, the garden in our childhood, a special tree and so on.
Some quotes:
Nature goes straight back into the heart, into some kind of innocence, into a longing. Nature connects us back into the slowness of my soul.
A powerful place is when my spirit smiles.
The gift of nature and the nature of gifts.
Isn’t the Earth giving us messages about ourselves?
Where are the farmers, the guardians? What is the form of farmers or guardians in these time?

Home and Belonging
Belonging to – or relationship with – place seems key to make life meaningful. Without this relation meaning is hard to sustain. That’s why we garden, why we gather on our stoops and create gatherings like this one here. It seems to us that we need to (re-)install a culture of belonging.
But in these times, at least for people from the West, we are not bound anymore by a specific place, a specific profession, a specific religion, a specific relation… we have the choice! To the extent that it becomes overwhelming and we have no ground to stand on anymore. Lots of young people don’t know their place anymore… this happens on a variety of levels… there is a hunger for contribution, a hunger for new meaning…
Where am I welcomed?
Where is Home?

But places are calling for stewardship, and people are calling places into being. Let’s stop waiting!

Reconnecting Earth and Humanity, People and Place
It seems to me that we named a few basic, grounding practices during our conversations throughout the day. Maybe a better name is Intentions? Because having intentions is basically a human feature. Here are some:

The Act of Making Life
So many people on this earth are behaving as tourists, sharing only a few pieces of their life with the land they live on. We noticed that birthing our children, living with our children and our extended family, burying the death, drinking the water – on and of the land – is core in the people-place relationship. Of course our relationship with food is the same story. At least we can eat local and seasonal food, it’s a fast track to relationship with place. Grow your vegetables your selves will teach you to get into an intimate relationship with place.

The Act of Witnessing
Just noticing, witnessing, without attachment to how the outcome might look like is a huge power that awakens potential, both of people and of places. It is about being fully present to the piece of land you live on, without any intention to commodifying. It is about our capacity to listen deeply what is the right timing and the right thing to do in this moment. The act of witnessing activates the resilience that is lingering underneath.

Listening to centuries of sleeping stories. Rocks hold the stories.
The potential of the land is dormant until it is listened to again.

The Art of Welcoming – Community
Stories reminded us of doors that were open, kitchens where there was time to listen, gatherings where everyone brought something to the table, employees that wants a kitchen in their office so that they could eat and chat together over lunch. There is so much potential in these simple but profound acts of creating intimacy!

Place creates the ability to be heard and seen.

Honoring and inviting the Magic
There are infinite layers of looking at reality, at place, at the world. They all exist and it is up to us which layer we call in. Devas are everywhere. Our being on the land, in the world doesn’t need to be heavy! There is light energy and magical levels everywhere.

Something in the land is craving to be enjoyed!

Meaning making together – co-create
In order to create together you first need to be conscious of your own meaning, your own ground.

Another chance in evolution
In the evening we asked the Tarot cards what was the meaning of this gathering in the context of this time in the world. That was the point I began to get a sense of the deeper meaning of our people-place relationship inquiry. The card that was to give us advice told us that there were ‘three cups’ that had been spilled and that there is still a need to grieve about the pain of what we haven’t achieved yet; all this in order to be able to look at the ‘other two cups’. Listening deeply to the message, the group that was around the table realized that we had been together in another time and now we – as human beings – were given another chance to learn about the power of creation and to live in harmony with the earth. At that other point in time we didn’t live up to our real full potential as we were caught up in so many power struggles. And there is pain to deeply recognize that. One of the challenges is to balance the power of creating with humility and respect. The non-material energies need to be recognized again and become a science, because we didn’t use them or we used them in the wrong way.

People and Place
Humanity and Earth
Power and Love

Meaning in Place

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Again on my way to Greece and Axladitsa, the sixth time in 1,5 years. (I’m writing this on the plane) I could never ever have imagined that this was possible in my life!

This journey is part of the Powers of Place Collaborative, which is an international stew of people, all – in one way or another – passionate about the relationship between people and places.
These days many people are expanding their awareness in many different directions and being aware of place, of the land and the buildings we are in is one of them.

It all started with Sheryl Erickson, who – with here ability to sense what field of practice and study is coming to the surface – send me an email at some point.
If I knew people or places which showed a special interest in this people-place relationship?

Yes, I did! Immediately I replied with a few names and links, just from the top of my head.

Sheryl was totally on fire with the information she got… months later a project proposal was written and later a grant received from the Fetzer Foundation in Kalamazoo (I love that name!), in the US. Last January we met in person with the very diverse core team of this collaboration, both people from the US and Europe.

At this moment I’m sitting on the bus bringing me from Thessaloniki airport to the big bus terminal to take a regional bus to Volos. I just noticed that the wheat on the fields has ripened already and is ready for harvest. So different than in Belgium where we have to wait some more months for that to happen. How would these differences in seasons and weather play our in our inner being; both individual and collective… I wonder…

From Monday till Thursday we will plunge ourselves into a deep collective inquiry around Meaning in Place. Some of you, readers, might be familiar with the Art of Hosting Meaningful Conversations. This art, which favors self-organization and invites people to (re-)connect with their own passion and responsibility, is in some places used as the operating system. One of the questions we hold is what becomes possible is we use this art to create meaning – or meaningfulness – not just in conversations now and then, but in relationship with place. And place can be a rural retreat/seminar center, or an urban business innovation space, even a little Learning Village like Kufunda in Zimbabwe or even a whole region.

Oh my god, cherries are ripe her too!!! This little open van had them piled up in the back! Too bad I can’t get of the bus! It is first crossing through the busy, Greek center of the city before arriving at the regional bus station.

We will look in our four-day gathering at what is the common ground in all our different practices, and of course into how we can cross-fertilize and improve them. The purpose of the Powers of Place Collaborative is “to catalyze a new field of study and practice based on the premise that right relationship between people and place offers the potential for transformative action toward what is needed at this moment in history.”

I’m looking forward to it!

Sourcing and the illusion of safety

Friday, May 15th, 2009

This is the last bit of my harvest of Women Moving the Edge 6!
We didn’t talk much about sourcing this time, but it was happening a lot. One of the participants named I as: What comes up when I sit in my void (and I am not going to read books or scholars)? What comes up when we go there, with the collective?


Over time of these six Women Moving the Edge gatherings we see that we hold both large concepts as well as how to make things happen. They are a modern translation of the Red Tent, gatherings of women, coming together in a sacred and safe container, each bringing their own gift, and then – consistently – taking it into the world.

To sit in the void together, that’s what we name collective Sourcing. And it is a practice for a community to evolve itself.

Already during the gathering had come up the wisdom that somewhere, deep in history, the feminine had agreed ‘to stay inside’ and let the masculine do the job ‘out there’. Now the gathering was over, everything packed again and we were back in Judy’s house with our little hosting team of three.

If we were to come out more into the world I needed to know what this old deal had been about. What did the feminine get in return for ‘staying inside’? Soon enough we understood we got safety in return. And now we are caught up in this big illusion of safety provided by money, by organizations, by the system! As if we still have to deal with wild animals and have to fight over food to survive. This doesn’t mean that I forget that there are a lot of people in the world with hardly or no food, but we don’t live anymore in the Stone Age and the food problem could be easily solved like … has shown.

So breaking the deal is giving up this safety and the illusions and coming back on Earth, instead of living in ‘the world’ full of concepts and ideas that so many times don’t have any link anymore with Life itself. We need to do this to get our human essence back…