Don’t take your thoughts too seriously


The momentum of the world around me is overwhelming at times, particularly in cities. We tell stories about our cities to ourselves and the stories we tell are the stories we create. Do we tell ourselves that cities are big and ugly and inhumane, or that they accelerate the development of our well-being, in health practices, the arts, and economic opportunities?

Eckhart Tolle (in Stillness Speaks):

The stream of thinking has enormous momentum that can easily drag you along with it. Every thought pretends that it matters so much. It wants to draw your attention in completely.

Here is a new spiritual practice for you: don’t take your thoughts too seriously.

As a citizen, there is great value in recognizing when I am simply getting caught up in things, particular the drama in my mind. As Tolle puts it, “it is easy for people to become trapped in their conceptual prisons.”

We have thoughts, and we ought to notice those thoughts and tell the stories of what we are noticing because we notice ways to improve our cities and this serves the evolutionary impulse. But we do not need to get caught up in the momentum of what we see. See it, be aware of it, and yet hold it light enough that we do not take the new story so seriously that we hold onto it as tightly as we held the first story.

To be comfortable with uncertainty, we need to be able to hold our stories lightly enough to toss them when they no longer serve us as well as they could.

Are you holding a story that limits your experience of the city?

What new story is emerging in the city you see? 

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This post is part of Chapter 9 – Be the Best Citizen You Can Be. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Be a conscious voter

188 - Be a conscious citizen image

As numerous as the candidates were at last night’s election forum that I moderated for the Downtown and Oliver Community Leagues, most remarkable were the 140 people in the audience, attentively listening and taking notes. (For a recap, check out Mack D. Male’s post.) These citizens were taking the opportunity to see their future councillor in action. These citizens are taking the initiative to be informed voters.

Now that’s a good way to serve your city. Exercise your vote.

An even better way to serve your city is to vote consciously. Here are some questions I ask myself before casting my vote:

  1. Who is running for election?
  2. What do they stand for?
  3. Do they have the ability to run a large organization?
  4. Do they know what that large organization is for?
  5. Do they know what they want to do, and can they realistically do it?
  6. Do they have good relationships with people they disagree with?
  7. Are they open to learning new things from any source?

These last two are important, because it is not possible for a councillor or council to please everyone. It is unreasonable to expect every citizen to be happy with city hall, because we will all be unhappy with something. The real question is whether the people we elect are smart enough, skilled enough and have the emotional intelligence to build relationships to get things done. I don’t have to agree with everything they do, but I do have to trust that from their vantage point, they see things I don’t see. To trust them, I need to see that they are open to learning from anyone wanting to have their ear.

That’s how I vote consciously.

What action do you take to vote consciously?


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Want an election forum in your league? You have the support of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues. I will help you design your event and moderate it. Just get in touch –

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Choose the city you want


As citizens we spend a lot of time talking about what we don’t want, what we don’t like about our cities. Our government isn’t good enough. There is too much poverty. We are causing great environmental damage. Our economic systems are collapsing. We pay too many taxes. The potholes are not fixed.

When we pay attention to what’s wrong, we get more of what’s wrong. When it comes to our cities, it is time to pay attention to what we want. It’s time to choose the city we want.

There’s a municipal election coming in Alberta on October 21, 2013 – are you telling candidates what’s wrong, or what you love about your city and want more of?

What makes you feel alive in your city?

What city do you choose?

Choose it. Name it. Once you do, we’re on our way to having it.  

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This post is part of Chapter 9 – Be the Best Citizen You Can Be. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Be profound


As the opening remarks and Candy Chang’s opening plenary at the Canadian Institute of Planners national conference on Sunday July 7, 2013 have been brewing in me the last few days, I realize I just needed to notice what was wanting to happen. A poem:

180 - what wants to happen poem

In other words, be the best citizen you can be.


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This post is part of Chapter 9 – Be the Best Citizen You Can Be. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Notice what surprises you


A real, live magic-wand-toting fairy godmother came up the escalator at the Edmonton International Airport on Thursday, her slightly chubby body in a sparkly, puffy, baby-blue bustier dress. I was startled when I saw her face under the  large bouffant blond wig – I expected her to be 28, not 68.

My surprise took me by surprise. Why on earth would I imagine a fairy godmother as 28?  I tried to think of the images I have in mind, from childhood, and all I could come up with were mostly frumpy looking, heavy old women. I searched images on the internet and realized that…

My fairy godmother was wearing Cinderella’s dress!

179 - Cinderella and FGM

As I explore my response to this, I see that her age isn’t what bothers me, for most fairy godmothers are older, but that she was wearing Cinderella’s costume. It was as though Cinderella was 40 years older, adamantly reliving that wonderful night with blond hair that screamed bad wig and squeezing into the magic dress. After many good deeds, she has been granted a wand of her own to pay her godmotherliness forward. She is out in the world following her passion, doing good work.

Does it really matter what she looks like?

That bias is my own. I can choose to feel betrayed by a much older woman who has taken Cinderella’s part, or I can choose to be amazed by her persistence to live the Cinderella dream. I alone let what other look like change what I think of them, and I have to keep an eye on that, notice my bias and how it colours how I see others around me.

What I learned: Notice what surprises you and learn a lot about yourself. You reveal your bias.  

What surprised you today, and what made it surprising?


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This post is part of Chapter 9 – Be the Best Citizen You Can Be. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Citizens are city makers


I am learning about what I am writing while I am writing. While I sit here, I shape what I write and in return my writing is shaping me and what I write next. Its the same endless loop, on a grander scale, at work in our cities too.

Last week, as I wrapped up my exploration of Chapter 8 – The City Making Exchange last week, I sent off my latest newsletter, The Nest City News, declaring that you are a city maker. The 4 principles and 6 practices for city making that emerged on the Nest City Blog last week found a new home and audience. And the words “you are a city maker” stood out loud and clear, for readers and for me too.  How I think of this chapter has simplified to these words: you are a city maker.

As I head into my exploration of Chapter 9 – Enduring Civic Practice, I realize that my working title for this chapter needs to adjust too. If you are a city maker, then any discussion of civic practice is truly about this: be the best citizen you can be.

Everyone of us have a hand in the creation and recreation of our cities. The posts that follow offer some ideas and practices to help you be the best citizen you can be – for your self and your city. To start, off the top of your head,

What do you do to be the best citizen you can be? 


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This post is part of Chapter 9 – Be the Best Citizen You Can Be. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

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Civic practice starts with questions


nestworks all in small.057
The Nestworks

How we show up, acknowledging that life is a journey at every scale, is a critical part of city making. Part of that journey is trusting that much of what comes us in life is not what we could have known. In the poem that has helped me shake out the structure of Nest City, John O’Donohue’s ‘Time for Necessary Decision’, these words stand out:

Feel the deeper knowing in us sure

Of all that is about to be born beyond

Access to deeper knowing is through having a willingness to learn and grow, a critical capacity to build and create the city habitats we need for our emergent journey. More specifically,this capacity is about a willingness for intentional learning, but this doesn’t mean choosing what I want to learn, but being intentionally open to what I need to learn. We do know know what is in the depths of each and all of us. We just know there is learning to be done, endlessly.

The 4 principles and 6 practices that end Chapter 8 – The City Making Exchange for now, form a solid foundation on which to begin exploring Chapter 9 – Enduring Civic Practice, the relationship between our individual and journeys and emergence. Questions play a big role in this exploration of civic practice. Here are a few I am holding as I write today:

  1. What does it take to be brave enough to invite ‘deeper knowing’?
  2. What does it mean to feel ‘the deeper knowing’?
  3. How much ‘deeper knowing’ can I accommodate in my being?
  4. If tension is an evolutionary driver of cities, what is my relationship with tension?
  5. As we emerge to new destinations, how do I explore my relationship with the thresholds I face?
  6. What are my personal practices to look after self, others and our places?
  7. How can I trust what I do not know?

Here’s the question at the heart of this next series of posts:

What do you do to find deeper knowing in your life and work?

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This post is part of Chapter 9 – Enduring Civic Practice. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

______ ______ ______




Questions are at the heart of an enduring civic practice. Especially the question on when the conditions are right to sleep or be awake. Here’s what I caught in this week’s discussion with my community of practice:

Awake - poem


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This post is part of Chapter 9 – Enduring Civic Practice. Here are some plot helpers of Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities, the book I am sharing here while I search for a publisher:

______ ______ ______

Experiential strengthening


This is destination as articulated by a group of municipal employees I worked with this week. They are carving out a new way of being in their work, and their lives – their civic practice. Experiential strengthening…


Let’s synergize 
leverage opportunities 
to analyze, connect 
silos, information, platforms, initiatives 
into corridors 
of power pursuing
overlapping goals 
expanding conduits 
shocking access 
beyond the usual suspects 
there’s so much to see 
when open 
we are resource full 
experientially strengthening

for collaboration




Correct your mistakes


I snapped at someone in a circle I was hosting this morning.

35 of us were gathering for an 8:30 start.  At 8:30 only about 12 were in the room. By 8:45, with about 20, we decided to start our work and began to move our chairs closer to the center of our circle.  As we did so, a fellow asked me, “Why are you excluding me?” I see now that I didn’t quite get his question and I didn’t take the time to get it either.  I responded with, “What time did you get here?” His response, “10 minutes ago.” Me again, “we’re not excluding you, we are simply moving our chairs to accommodate a smaller group and we have just moved. It’s not intentional. We’ll make room for you.”  We did, and the fellow moved his chair almost into the circle.

It turns out he was one of the people who arrived more or less on time. He stepped to the side of the room for coffee just before we started to move our chairs and since he was not in his chair, his chair did not get moved. When he came back to the circle, what he saw was the rest of us looking after ourselves. We did  not even consider his chair. His question was very fair: “Why are you excluding me?”

After our check-in and launching into small group discussion, I approached the fellow and apologized. My reaction to the situation was not appropriate. While my reaction was not about him, but my frustration with the tardiness of many other people, I took it out on him. I so appreciate that he did not brush off my apology, but simply said I was wrong. He offered to accept my apology and let it go, and we dove into our work. He was wonderfully engaging all morning and took his place on the rim before we closed.

Today’s learnings:

  1. Prepare for the work. In my case, I did not get enough sleep for several nights and this is a contributing factor to my having a short fuse. Each day, each week, I choose how to prepare myself for the work I have to do.
  2. Notice when my frustration levels are rising, note them, ask the circle for what I need, pause, and then respond. I reacted in appropriately to my frustration without acknowledging the fellow’s take on things.  I was hosting the circle and I did not serve him, or the circle well.
  3. Apologize immediately and sincerely.  I am thankful that I noticed and apologized, but I wish I caught it sooner…
  4. Share the apology with others, as appropriate. In the moment, I see now that I should have done it in a way that everyone could hear. That way I can model the agreements AND I can convey my frustration to the circle so we can all deal with it. The tardiness will certainly repeat itself and I will have a choice to make about my response to it.
  5. When shrinking the circle, move others’ chairs first!
And as I explored this in my journal this afternoon, I noticed that the next several days of work are full of flexibility on how I will spend my time. I drew an oracle card asking where I should put my attention. My jaw dropped when I flipped it over:

Correct Your Mistakes