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:

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I set myself to learn by your going


“I set myself to learn by your going,” are the words of David Whyte in a poem dedicated to the memory of John O’Donohue, “The Wave.”  These words invigorate me, in that they describe my travels in Ireland last month, in some of John O’Donohue’s favourite places.

A few years ago, as I worked writing a myriad of things of interest to me, I struggled to make sense of what I was assembling until I read  read John O’Donohue’s blessing, “For the Time of Necessary Decision.” I saw at last the shape my writing was wanting to take. I could see the arc for Nest City. The relief I felt at being able to see my own writing left me with a great affinity for O’Donohue and his work. Even though we have never met I wonder at how his work has supported mine, and how the work that preceded his, supports mine as well.

5800 years ago a neolithic (New Stone Age) civilization lived on The Burren, on Ireland’s west coast. This early subsistence farming civilization has left its mark in the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a portal tomb. As the interpretive panels state on the site, “they are enduring reminders of sacred spaces.” I can feel the pull of people before me, in a land I have never lived in, yet a land that is a part of me in my relationship with humanity and our common journey.

Even when we can’t begin to imagine it, our work shapes our world. The work of farmers to house their dead still stands 5800 years later, when their impermanent homes are long gone. They left their awe in the world with O’Donohue, who in turn has left his awe in the world with us, the likes of David Whyte and I and innumerable others.

It seems in place and with others, we set ourselves to learning, and we do this with our great learning partners who travel with us, before us, and ever mindful of those who will travel after us. Many of these travellers we will never meet, even those in our lifetime, but that does not mean we do not travel and learn together. We most certainly do.

I set myself to learn by John O’Donohue’s going, and David Whyte too. Thanks to them both for sharing their love and their work. It shapes our world, how we see it, and most personally, it also shapes me.


Whose “going” do you follow in your learning?


For the Time of Necessary Decision

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Further Reading

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This post is part of Chapter 8 – The City Making Exchange. 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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