The inevitable warmth of the Self


There is a point where the leap in front of me feels inevitable. It’s not rational, or even easy to explain. I just know it is time. Bruce Grierson describes it this way:

Every day, in almost every field, individuals perceive themselves to be on the wrong side of a divide.  The ‘second brain’ in their gut – that ten-billion nerve knot – tells them their life must change.  And, on more or at least deeply personal, grounds, they jump the gap.  The apprehension can seem so sudden that it straightens them in their chair – and then seems inevitable.

The divide shows up in a variety of ways. It can be a chasm I have been walking alongside for years but choosing not to look over and see what’s on my flank. It can be non-existent until something happens in life that makes it magically appear. It can sneak up on my consciousness, or it can boldly jump out in front of me.

Regardless of how it appears, when it is in front of me and I look at it fully, I recognize its inevitability. The persistent, practical problems I face will not be resolved until I cross the divide. I am compelled to leap, yet I must choose the right leap, and to do so, I must allow myself opportunities to step back from the edge from time to time.

Facing a threshold, let alone crossing it, is significant work because it requires us to delve into our inner knowledge, our in-tuition.  Our recognition of the crossing comes not from others, but from within. Our ability to make the crossing comes not from others, but from within.

From threshold to threshold new layers of our being emerge. What we become, and our ‘becoming’ relies heavily on our ability to explore our inner struggles. This is not easy work. It’s like looking into the sun: compelling and harmful. We can not fully look into ourselves, but we can let the bright sun warm us up. As the sun travels with us everywhere, so too does the Self, the higher Self in each of us that wants us to do well, be well and become our fullest potential.

Struggle, conflict and tension are not avoidable in life. I believe they are part of our lives because they serve as opportunities to learn. Each time we face a struggle, small, large or monstrous, we have a choice – go forward or turn away. Both choices are right. Its the choice itself that offers the opportunity to learn about our struggles and our path to become our fullest potential, as individuals, as families, neighbourhoods, organizations, cities and as a species.

John O’Donohue:

Without warning, thresholds can open directly before our feet.  These thresholds are also the shorelines of new worlds.

As we make our way through the world, we struggle regularly. When we choose to explore our struggles for what they teach us about ourselves, we begin to explore the shorelines of new worlds.  As we explore the world, shoreline by shoreline, we learn of the intelligence within each and all of us, basking in the warmth of what we know.

What shorelines are you exploring?


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This post forms part of Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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Bruce Grierson, U-Turn: What if you woke up one morning and realized you were living the wrong life?

John O’Donohue, Bless the Space Between Us

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Destination and emergence


Over the course of the last nine months, I have been sharing bits of the book I am working on – Nest City: The Human Drive the Thrive in Cities. I made a decision to share the book on my blog while I was working on it. Five chapters and 126 posts later, the decision to share this work before it is officially in book form is one I revisit over and over in my mind.

For each post to appear on my blog, I have to hit this button:

'publish' button

The word ‘publish’ is rather official. A recent author acquaintance of mine cringed when she heard I was sharing what I was working on: “Why are you giving this away?” Another author friend says, “Good for you. I blogged most of my book before it turned into a book too.”  Others have warned me that publishers will not look at the book now that it has been ‘published’. I am of the opinion, still, that writing here is serving me and my readers well in several ways:

  1. I learn in bite-size pieces. I get to dive into small passages and sort and sift around in my being to seek out what I am learning.
  2.  I write in bite-size pieces. These are small pieces that serve to help me wrap myself around a thought. Blogging helps me discern the pieces I have to work with, that will later shape up into book form. This is essential time to practice the craft of writing.
  3. We find each other. By sharing the pieces of my exploration, fellow explorers and I are able to find each other. As I share, I reveal myself to my audience, and my audience reveals itself to me.
  4. We build supportive relationships. I am receiving feedback from readers: the odd comment here on my blog, an email, a ‘like’ or comment in facebook or Linked In, or new followers on Twitter. I am hearing about how my writing supports others and the work they do. In return, readers are supporting me too by using my blog posts on their webs sites, as they teach, and simply by giving me feedback on what resonates for them.
  5. We grow our understanding – of selves and cities. The more we explore individually and collectively, the more we learn and improve. We are expanding our consciousness.

I don’t know – yet – what my writing will add up to. I do know that my writing, when published as a book, will not read as it does here. While I have a destination in mind – a published book that we can lay our hands on physically and digitally – I do not know exactly what it will say and how it will say it. I have a frame that I am using here, with chapters and the like, but I an open to that changing if and when that makes sense. With each post, my sense of direction gets more clear. Even what the book will say gets more clear. But the real book to come is in the process of emerging.

The very process by which we create our cities, through the interplay of destination (chapter 4), a learning journey (chapter 5) and emergence (chapter 6), is in play for me as I craft the book. I have a destination/direction; I am on a learning journey; I am about to explore the thresholds that each of us, and our cities come across as we emerge.

The next series of posts will explore the role of emerging thresholds as we organize ourselves and our cities for continuous improvement.

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As I dive into sharing parts of Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds, here are some plot helpers for Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book that I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:



Destination both alive AND adrift


The last series of posts explored the role of destination as we organize ourselves – and our city habitat – for continuous improvement.  In Destination alive or adrift, I proposed to cover the role of ‘purpose’ in a city, what makes a city alive, how we can tell when we are adrift, and the connection between individual work and city purpose. All of this to reveal why our work matters.

Cities are alive with purpose. Higher order purposes give us something to latch onto, allowing us to focus, learn and choose. Higher order purposes are not precisely planned, but we do have an opportunity to shape them because the purpose of evolution is evolving. We are moved to improve our conditions and this takes place in a self-other dialectic; we pursue self-improvement and give to the wider community at the same time. This is the evolutionary influence at work. Evolution has a purpose that is co-created by the agency of humanity.

This evolutionary impulse is alive and adrift. It is very alive in each of us, and the collectives of which we are each part, yet since we don’t know the purpose of evolution, which is itself evolving, things are also adrift. As Steve McIntosh put it, evolution “cannot be discerned with finality because it is still in the process of being determined by the beings whose choices are required for its creation (p. 161).”  The highest order purpose, or destination, can not quite be defined because it is alive.

The city’s purpose, as it is for each of us, is survival and improvement. At every turn, we aim to survive and improve (see 100 urban trends), which adds up to our continuous attraction to move “toward more complex forms of social organization (McIntosh, p.  146).”  Our impulse to thrive in cities is alive and well, and the result is a nest of city purposes (Figures A and B), at every scale (from individual, to city/region, to planet):

Nest of city purposes - colours ascending order.002.002
Figure A: Next of purposes
Spiral of purposes - 8.005
Figure B: Spiral of purposes

Our short-term destinations and our bigger destinations are connected, with each of us, between each of us, and between each of us and the larger collective. There are scales of purpose in the purposes themselves and the scales of our social organization. The small is connected to the small – and the large.

As we discern that the city’s destination is our own evolving purposes, it necessitates looking at our role – and purpose – in the city. To use Steve McIntosh’s language, each citizen, as a whole evolutionary entity, has intrinsic value. Citizens have value both as a whole, and as a fundamental part of something larger. As a part, it is instrumental. Citizens are of instrumental value to the intrinsic value of the city created by us. Instrumental and intrinsic purposes are evident at scale. The intrinsic value of each citizen is instrumental to the city.

How we show up as citizens, showing up for our quest for survival and continuous improvement, for both self and others, is critical. If I don’t show up, then I affect my personal ability to survive and continuously improve as well as my city’s ability to do the same. Self and the city are only as good as we make them. Everything we do matters. Our cities are as good as we make them.

Destination is simultaneously alive and adrift. It is most alive when we work from our passion, our inner drive to improve. When we catch glimpses of bigger destinations, for both self and the city, our direction, through short-term destinations, is discerned for fleeting moments. Between these fleeting moments, we feel adrift, which is to feel alive.

What is your intrinsic value? 

How are you instrumental to your city?


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This post forms part of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Click here for an overview of Chapters 4-7 (Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence). Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.

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Further reading…

McIntosh, Steve. Evolution’s Purpose: An Integral Interpretation of the Scientific Story of Our Origins




Journey and destination


Does having a destination in mind make the journey any easier?  While there is so much to say about the uneasiness we experience in our evolutionary journey with cities, it is time to look more closely at the role of ‘destination’ in our journey.  We organize our cities; do we have some kind of destination in mind?

It seems that having some sense of direction is key as we organize for emergence, but do we have a sense of direction?  Are we on a journey with a destination or are we adrift?

We are living in a culture of extreme advocacy, of confrontation, of judgment, and of verdict.  Discussion has given way to debate.  Communication has become a contest of wills.  Public talking has become obnoxious and insincere.  Why?  Maybe it’s because deep down under the chatter we have come to a place where we know that we don’t know… anything.  But nobody’s willing to say that.
John Patrick Stanley *
Over the course of the last series of posts, pieces of Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey, I argue that our cities are a platform for our never-ending journey. It is not an easy journey, but it enables us to grow and learn together. I identify 10 practices that help us travel in this uneasy fashion, rather than fight it.
As I dive into sharing parts of Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift, here are some plot helpers for Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book that I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

The next series of posts will explore the role of destination as we organize ourselves and our cities for continuous improvement.

Is your city alive with a sense of direction, or adrift?

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* In the playbill for The Citadel’s production of his play, Doubt, 2008-2009 season (Edmonton, Canada).



10 practices for uneasy city journey


Embracing our cities as part of our personal and collective learning journey requires practice.  It is not easy work, yet it is essential.  Here are some practices we can engage in with self, each other, and our cities to enable ourselves and our cities to be the best they can be:

  1. Notice y(our) response to the unknown. No matter how hard and smart we work, we can not shake the unknown. The more conscious we are of our inner worlds, the better we are able to serve ourselves, others and our cities well.    
  2. Notice if it is time for change. An essential practice is noticing if the conditions are right for change. If not, be patient, if yes, seek out the ways to influence the conditions for change.
  3. Seek out freedom, growth and joy for self/city.  When we align ourselves with our work, great cities that serve us well will emerge because our work is aligned with our true selves.
  4. Organize for emergence – fractally. At every scale, from self to planet, we can choose to organize well by sorting out our destination, embracing our learning journey and allowing the city we need to emerge.
  5. Allow cities to be as good as they can be. When we put our attention on what we want to fix, to where we are, we stay there.  When we put our attention to where we want to go, we move in a new direction.
  6. Perform with purpose. Choose to work with purpose – and with feedback loops that reveal when on/off track. Notice when the wheals are spinning and when there is traction.
  7. Stop and listen – to Self and city. Break the momentum from time to time and check in with Higher Self, seeking alignment with your work.  This serves Self and the city.
  8. Use ‘not knowing’ purposefully. Seek out the unknown from a positive-feeling stance for the purposes of learning. Noticing what we do not know helps see wrong decisions, ensure we have the information we need and see what needs to be known.
  9. Create feedback loops. Our city infrastructure is slow to change, but we have the potential to be wonderfully adaptable with that infrastructure. The customized feedback loops emerging with social media are reshaping our view of cities.
  10. Flexibility rules. Rules have a critical role to play in our world.  They are at their healthiest when they align with the purpose they are meant to serve.  And those purposes are always changing in response to our changing world.

 What practices do you use as you participate in the uneasy journey of our cities?  What would you add?  


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This post forms part of Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey, of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities.

Nest City is organized into three parts, each with a collection of chapters.  Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.  Click here for an overview of Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence, chapters 4-7.



The plot for Part 2

Here are the highlights of how Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence is organized.  Chapters 4-6 each focus on one of the circles in this diagram: journey, destination, emergence.  Chapter 7 explores their relationship with the city’s habitats from Part 1, our economic life, social habitat and physical habitat.

Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey recognizes that change and adjustment within ourselves to co-create cities that serve us well is a very personal journey.  Both as individuals and as a collective.  This is a journey that is not meant to end.  It is a journey full of uncertainty.  By naming and exploring this reality of organizing cities we can find ways to allow this uncertainty serve us, rather than hinder us.

Chapter 5 – Destination Alive or Adrift teases out the role of destination as we organize our selves and cities.  Knowing where we are going does not mean we know exactly how we will get there and this compels a different way of being and thinking. It will take practice.

Chapter 6 – Emerging Thresholds explores the role of bravery and risk as well stand at the threshold of organizing ourselves for possibility to emerge.

Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibility wraps up Part Two of Nest City, reconnecting Chapters 4-6 to our social and physical habitat.  The quality of this relationship has an impact on our abilities to release our fullest potential.


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Nest City is organized into three parts, each with a collection of chapters.  Click here for an overview of the three parts of Nest City.


Nest City’s second part


Nest City is in three parts.  Part 1 looks at new ways to see patterns a cities that take into account the city’s complexity.  Part 2 proposes ways to organize ourselves to see those patterns and use them.  Part 3 articulates how to integrate the organizing patterns to co-create cities that serve us well.

Part One – City Patterns is behind us.  (Until I add more!)  It articulates the evolutionary relationship between humans and our habitat – our cities.  We have a distinct impulse to build cities, organize them and thrive in them.

Part Two – Organizing for Emergence is next.  It will explore our organizing patterns: we organize to reach a destination, we experience uncertainty along the way, and the future that comes to pass is something unexpected at every turn.  I will show you how the nest works: destination, journey and emergence.

Part Three – Nest City, will integrate these elements of destination, journey and emergence.  I will show you a second level of ‘nestworks’ that articulates how our city making and civic practice relate to the city that is emerging.  And of course a sweet spot where it all comes together.

Here’s another way to look at Nest City and  how it is organized: John O’Donohue’s blessing below.

The first five lines capture Part One.  As linear as we think the creation of cities is, it is always unfolding.  There may be patterns in cities, but they are emerging.  We do  not know exactly what they will be like.

Part Two is captured with the text beginning with the words, ‘Often we only know it is time to change’, through to the line, ‘Into the unknown that beckons us;’.  We often know it is time to change but we can not put our fingers on what needs to change.  We feel uneasy but we are not sure why.  We lose track of our destination and may be adrift, yet there is always something unknown that beckons us.

Part Three acknowledges, as the rest of the blessing does, that we are called to offer great trust in the unknown.  We know, quite deeply in our very souls, that we can move beyond the confinements we confine ourselves with, and unleash our soul’s desire.

I wonder what our collective souls’ desire.  I wonder what the city’s soul desires.

Choice of work matters to the city


This note to myself has been sitting on the side of my desk for a while, waiting for the right time to act on it. Now that my immediate tasks as Co-Designer, Interviewer and Harvester for the Integral City 2.0 Conference are looked after, I can refocus on my writing here.

 The last month has been gruelling.  Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the month of September explored one of the 12 evolutionary intelligences of the human hive, as identified by Marilyn Hamilton.   I co-designed the program of over 50 visionaries whose work makes the world a better place, many of whom I had the opportunity to interview.  My other role was to catch the story of each day and grasp the essence of each intelligence and the conference as a whole.

This window into the growing planet-wide community of thinkers, designers and practitioners confirms my belief that our work is the life force of our cities, whether we realize it or not.  Our work, and our approach to our work, is what releases our true potential IF that work is aligned with what we wish to offer the world.  The more our being is aligned with what we do, our work, the more our cities meet our needs.

My September experience compels me to revisit many of my posts since my declaration in April to blog my book, Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities.  So far, I have shared three chapters with you:  1 – The City Impulse, 2 – The Planning Impulse, and 3 – The Thriving Impulse (click here for a recap).  They paint a picture of how cities come about and the nature of our evolutionary relationship with cities.

Over the next few months my attention will be focused in two directions:

  1. Behind the scenes, I will be turning these first three chapters into their own publication that I will share with all readers as soon as it is complete.
  2. On this blog stage, I will share Part 2 of Nest City, focusing on how we can effectively organize ourselves in cities by taking into account our destination, the journey and the emergence of ourselves and our cities.

My Integral City 2.0 Online Conference expedition has fed my desire to dig deeper into our relationship with the cities we create.

My next post will revive the plot for of the city’s new story: organizing for emergence. 



Nest City on pause until October

I have spent the last three months posting instalments of the first three Chapters of my emerging book, Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities.  These first three chapters constitute the first Part One – City Patterns (click here for a recap).  The two remaining parts of Nest City, which focus on how to organize for the emergence of cities and how to integrate our activities for emergence, will be posted beginning in October 2012.

Yesterday’s post articulated the roles I will be playing with for the Integral City eLab in September, which will shift my blogging attention for the next two months.  For August, I will be blogging about the speakers and ideas we will be exploring in the eLab.  For September, I will be blogging about the events and ideas of the eLab itself.

This is a wee reminder that Nest City will be on pause until October.  Also a reminder that the side trip will be full of juicy Nest City-related material.  The side trip will be worth it and  I look forward to sharing it with you.

August – guest blog about Integral City eLab speakers/ideas

September – guest blog Integral City eLab stories

October – back to Nest City blog

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Integral City eLab 2012 – Co-creating the Future of the Human Hive will be taking place September 4-27, 2012.  We will be exploring how to design prosperity systems for the human hive.  Please join us if you are interested!


Concluding city patterns


In these Nest City posts, I have looked at cities in three ways so far: our impulse to build and gather in cities, our impulse to organize our cities and last, our impulse to thrive as a species.  In exploring each of these three impulses, patterns about our cities are revealed that are crucial to understanding how to organize our cities our cities to serve their citizens well – and how to be citizens to serve cities well.

Chapter 1 – The City Impulse

Building cities as our habitat naturally occurs for us.  We work at this every day – psychologically, physically, socially and culturally.  Our work, whether paid or unpaid, is always in response to our habitat.  We work constantly to think, make and do new things, which changes our habitat and our responses to habitat.  And so on, endlessly.

Our relationship with our habitat – cities – feeds the evolution of our cities and our habitat.  Given this relationship, it is time to build the nest we need.


Chapter 2 – The Planning Impulse

The overriding purpose of a city is to integrate the needs of its people with its context, to create a habitat in which citizens will survive and thrive.  The purpose of planning is to support a city’s efforts to notice, adjust and organize to ensure the city is able to integrate the needs of its citizens with its context.

The city is a dance of voices and values and  the act of linear planning is simply a level of organizing that responds to a particular set of life conditions.  There is a time and place for linear planning, and life conditions are now emerging allowing us to recalibrate the practice of planning that holds a destination in mind while allowing for learning and adjustment along the way.  We are learning to live into a reality in which we recognize that we do not know exactly where we will end up.


Chapter 3 – The Thriving Impulse

Our cities are built by us and for us.  We do this to ensure that we survive, yet as we saw in Chapter One, we have a drive to constantly think, make and do new things in our work.  The result is our drive to thrive.  This drive results in cities.  And cities compel us to think, make and do more new things.  This is the essence of our evolutionary relationship with cities: an infinity loop.

Spiral Dynamics describes this pattern well: we grow and develop – evolve – in response to our life conditions.  12 intelligences also serve the evolutionary character of cities and our relationship with cities.  While they each offer much to understanding cities, they can be summarized in as evolutionary intelligence one useful sentence:

Seeing the whole city as alive, evolving wholes that need nourishment allows us to navigate toward cities that serve citizens well, and citizens that serve cities well.  

On to Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence

Part 2 of Nest City will focus on four things: destination, journey, emergence and the sweet spot at the intersection.  This is the dynamic of how we can set ourselves up to organize ourselves and our habitats well.


My next post will lay out the plot for Part 2 – Organizing for Emergence.  


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If you are interested in learning more about evolutionary intelligences relating to cities, you will be interested in the Integral City eLaboratory – Co-Creating the Future of the Human Hive.