The fiery gifts of the dragon

First – look the dragon in the eye

Two weeks ago, a board I serve on was brave enough to look the dragon in the eye and see the truth: it was time to let our organization die with dignity. Despite her fading spirit, we were expending excessive energy keeping her alive. Before it faded too far, we needed to find a new home for her spirit, a place to serve what she longs to be today, without the substantial, gloomy baggage that has been bringing her down and holding back her potential for years.

The people closest to her heart, the board of directors, knew the status quo was no longer possible. We named the decision to celebrate her dignities and wind down her current ‘home’ so she could have a fresh start in the fullness of possibility. As we started to talk to others, in confidence, to figure out how to do this with the greatest of care, a colleague and friend tweeted the news out to the world. We were chucked under the bus, unable to get up when battered with accusations of misconduct and hate mail. Our ability to respond well to reasonable demands for information were lack-lustre. We weren’t ready because we were just figuring out how to handle the news ourselves. Everyone was hurting.

But let’s pause here for a moment . . .

The dynamics in play are bigger than the people involved, including me and my twitter friend. It is a cultural norm to do whatever is necessary to deny endings, and in doing so we refuse to see the possibilities that come with an ending. An ending does not have to be an end. It is only a catastrophic birth – a transition from one stable state of being to another stable state of being with a messy, awful feeling in the middle.

Assume for a moment my colleages and I were accurate in discerning a diagnosis of “terminal illness” for our organization (I’m always open to a second, informed opinion). As we reached our decision that day, we realized that we had been experiencing the stages of loss and grief (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross humans feel when facing death in loved ones. Our love for our organization and the loss and grief of its end are no different:

  1. We denied the reality of the situation. We found endless reasons and means to keep her alive. We blocked out the facts.
  2. We were angry. We looked for other people to blame for our situation.
  3. We were bargaining. We looked for excuses, recognizing that if we had only (insert action here), we would be ok now.
  4. We were crying. We were sad and low, full of regret. We wished it didn’t come to this, wished we could have done a better job. We wished the facts didn’t say what they said.
  5. We accepted that death was inevitable. This wasn’t a matter of giving up, but rather choosing to be in a good relationship with our organization – and her membership –  for her last days, enabling us to retrieve all her goodness to share with others. We no longer needed to know why, no longer needed an explanation.

This is what transition feels like, when we move from one reality to a new reality. A typical first reaction is that we don’t want change so we deny the transition is needed or we get angry. These are natural human reactions my colleagues and I recognized in ourselves, and we knew would be experienced by the members of our organization.  This is exactly what happened after the tweet and the ‘diagnosis’ spread: demands for facts, new facts, better facts, precise facts; anger and fury and frustration; and even bargaining to find a way to keep her alive.

My sadness in this whole endeavour comes not in the death of the organization, because I accept that it is the right thing to do, but in our inability to tend and care for the people affected by the diagnosis. We did not have an opportunity to figure out how to do the ‘ending’ work with care. In an effort to make me feel better, a friend said to me, “the band-aid came off quick and at least the band-aid is off now.” My colleagues and I feel like someone swooped in an punched us in the face before pulling the band-aid off. Mostly, I feel bad that there was no opportunity to care for people, even to feed them the facts they were looking for. We had just reached the realization ourselves and it wasn’t as simple as, “the cancer has spread throughout your chest cavity and is inoperable.”  It’s like the doctor’s friend took on sharing the doctor’s diagnosis because it seemed like the patient shouldn’t have to wait a day or two, even though the doctor had a role to gather the evidence in a way that would be helpful for the patient. It was the doctor’s information to share, not the friend’s.

Second – trial by dragon

I feel a dragon in my midst.

The ultimate dragon is within you, it is your ego clamping you down.
Jospeph Campbell

The dragon isn’t my friend, but rather the feeling of betrayal, swooping down on me each day, breathing hot fires of sickness and disappointment on me. Searing tears from a wound deep down in my soul come forth, rocking me, demanding a deeper-than-usual inquiry between my ego-self and my Higher Self. A Higher Self that is not from a ‘high’ place, but a deep place. I need new language to describe my Higher Self, but I’m struggling to find it. My Deeper Soul-Self?

… it’s not about what the dragon looks like; it’s about what the dragon activates inside of us that makes it so difficult to face.
Sera Beak

The metaphor, or symbol, of the dragon has shown up a few places this week, calling me to look at what is difficult for me to face inside me, not in the outside world. The friend that betrayed my confidence is a metaphorical dragon. What does the betrayal activate?

The important thing to remember about dragons is that they guard our buried treasure. When a dragon appears, it means gold is right behind it… if we have the courage to stand our ground and fully meet it.
It is Meeting time…
Sera Beak

Here’s the gold I met behind the dragon: the truth is I don’t believe I am good enough. Deep down, my ego-self believes I deserve to be taken out at the knees. Deep down, my ego-self believes I deserve to have 200 colleagues continue to kick me while I’m down.

The true betrayal is that I have betrayed myself.

We’re our own dragons as well as our own heroes, and we have to rescue ourselves from ourselves.
Tom Robbins

The betrayal has nothing to do with whether I was right or wrong when it came to ending an organization. That was right. The betrayal was my lack of confidence in trusting the decision we made, and feeling shaky about that decision in the face of powerful forces that work hard to keep change from happening, that keep improvements and evolution at bay. It was a much deeper betrayal.

It was a test of me, revealing that my ego-self does not trust my Higher Self, my inner authority, or my Deeper Self, my Soul Authority.

That is the power of the status quo – it works deep inside of me. Even when I feel I am immune to it, I am not. It is deeply at work, tricking me into feeling weak, tricking me into thinking that transition is not what I want. All along, it was lulling me into indifference, denial, anger, bargaining and tears. Then undermining even my acceptance of Me.


The powerful force in the world that does not want change works on my ego as much as it works on others’ ego.

Third – receive fiery gifts 

In unwrapping the betrayals I am experiencing, I have so far received 10 fiery gifts from the dragon’s mouth.

What I now understand about the world around me:

  1. There are unconscious energies running the show. Huge forces are at work, at every scale, to keep us where we are. They are all around us and all within us, at times healthy and at other times unhealthy.
  2. And they take whatever action necessary. The systems in which we work are attached to the status quo and will work hard against anything new that will cause upheaval. The systems, and the people in it, will go to great lengths to maintain the status quo.
  3. We spend vast amounts of human energy on denial and anger. We deny transition, often without even thinking about it. We hunker down in anger and join in mob-like defiance of realizations we don’t want to acknowledge. We are quick to fuel the status quo, often unconsciously, saying things we regret later. A friend and colleague was saddened by the sharp words he spoke in the emotion of the situation: “you should be ashamed of yourselves.”
  4. The words ‘this isn’t personal’ are code for ‘this is personal.’ When angry, we often say and think that our attacks on others are not personal, that we do not mean to hurt others. The truth is that the speaker is hurting and the words allow the speaker to deny the hurt within himself or herself. It is personal, just not where s/he thought. Transition hurts.
  5. Possibility for the new is more nourishing than the anger and denial that fuels the status quo. There’s a tipping point where serving the status quo, or some hybrid of it, takes more energy than switching gears to fuel a fresh start. But the myth of stability and the status quo will tell us this is not so, fuelling us with denial and anger and a misplaced investment of our energy. There is a point in the transition from the old to the new where there is more energy for the new possibility. The trick is in noticing when this happens.
  6. The birth of a new system is impersonally personal. Even though our reactions to change are personal – it hurts – the changes themselves are not personal. Perhaps it is the impersonal nature of the world around us that hurts us. The Universe is not conspiring to personally attack you or me, but it is sending us experiences from which to learn. Maybe it is personal; just not how we think it is.

What I now understand about me in the world:

  1. I am capable of listening to, and hearing, a great deal of anger aimed at me. While not fun, I am capable of sitting through hours of what a colleague named as a “public stoning.” I recognize hate mail as an expression of anger and denial – and hurt.
  2. My ego-self is hurting, but not all of me. The parts of me not hurt are able to listen to my ego-self and hear her story. My Higher Self and my Deeper Soul-Self are able to see the bigger picture and support and witness the agony of my ego-self.
  3. I do not need to ‘fight’ to make my ego-self feel better. I do not need to hunker down into anger and denial of my own feelings and fight back. That makes it impossible for others to begin to hear themselves.
  4. The friend is not the ‘enemy’. I am just as capable as others of making decisions that hurt other people. My twitter friend is as human as I am. The trust is gone, but not the human I know and recognize as part of a powerful game bigger than the decision to share confidential information. If I put my personal energy in conflict with the friend, I give my energy to the forces that demand the status quo and suck the life out of anything new.

From a short distance of time, I see that the essential kernel of truth is out there – that the status quo of our organization is no longer possible. While sad we were unable to share this realization in a healthy way, I trust that this is how it needed to happen. An effort is underway to renew life support, and perhaps this long absent cry for life will embolden her spirit, or, better yet, fuel the fresh start that is waiting for our energy.

My fresh start is elsewhere.

This is my next discernment.

Fourth – the catastrophe of birth

These words of Joseph Campbell – the catastrophe of birth – help me see that what feels catastrophic is a flag for transition in me.  I am letting parts of me die off, and welcoming deeper, truer parts of me.

A calling may be postponed, avoided, intermittently missed. It may also posess you completely. Whatever; eventually it will out. It will make its claim. [It] will not go away.
James Hillman

I am engaging in extreme – but humane – self-inquiry, and I have a choice to make. Will I midwife myself into being more Me?

… there comes a point in your path where you need to fiercely embrace that which you are still in the process of becoming.
Sera Beak

There is a fiery Beth emerging. In dancing with dragons, she will shed her skin over and over again, renewing and regenerating, ever finding ways to live from and embody her Soul.

Every ending is a beginning.

The Ultimate ride for me isn’t about losing any part of my Self; rather, it’s about coming into conscious alignment with every part of my Self.
Sera Beak



Rewire the reptilian


In a month’s time I will be going on a vision quest. My intention is to recalibrate my reptilian being.

I wrote last week about citizen superpowers and two parts of our brains: the part that serves as our deeper, higher Self (the middle prefrontal cortex, what Shirzad Chabine calls the Empathic Circuitry (mirror neuron system, the insular cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex) and the right brain; and the  fight-or-flight parts of our brain (brain stem and limbic system). The former generates what I call our citizen superpowers, our passion to improve, while the latter is the source of Chabine’s ten saboteurs (see citizen superpowers).

The brain stem and limbic system is also known as our reptilian brain. It is in survival mode at all times, but in  my life, I do not need to be in survival mode at all times.  I have reliable shelter. I have a good food supply. Far more than my basic needs are met. Yet this old part of my brain tells me that there is never enough, that it will never last. I puts me on the defensive and the offensive. It feeds my behaviours that sabotage me and my ability be my best Me.

The reptilian me is focused on scarcity.


When it comes to food, I have engrained habits that are based in deprivation. I eat whatever is in front of me because it feels like it is my only chance. A few years ago I tried my first diet and it worked wonders. I lost 30 pounds, was physically active and felt super fit. I felt wonderful. I even learned some good habits in the process – I now crave vegetables and fruit.

Inevitably, I started to gain weight back because I lacked the willpower to deprive myself of the foods I want. And when I have access to the food I want, or when I find myself super hungry, I eat like I will not have an opportunity to eat for a couple days. After depriving myself, the reptilian part of my brain takes over when it has a chance. Depriving myself of food I like/want is a pattern of scarcity.

The reptilian me is focused on scarcity.


I can feel a shift underway.  I long to trust my body and its signals about what I need to eat and when. I want to fully appreciate what my body is and what it looks like. I want to shift to appreciate my body from  within, rather than external measures (weight, people’s comments, the mirror).  To pursue this exploration, I am embarking on an experience that will involve true deprivation: a fast.

In June, I will be heading out on a Wilderness Quest on a mountain in the Eastern Cascade mountains with the support of Ann Linnea, Christina Baldwin and Deborah Greene-Jacobi. It is a rite of passage that started when I chose to do this, though I can not better describe what I am moving from, or moving to. That will come. What I learn on this journey could be entirely different from what I imagine. I know I will ease myself into life on the mountain for a couple days, then head out alone, fasting, for two days, then circle up with my fellow questers to “digest” our learnings and prepare to re-enter the world.

My only expectation is time to explore and discover. And I may discover nothing right away.

There is a bigger ME that sees abundance.


My intention is to rewire my reptilian brain, to awaken my whole being to what real scarcity looks and feels like. My intention is to experience what the reptilian me sees, and bend with it to more fully see and appreciate – and embody – the abundance in life.

My quest is my abundant Self. 





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?

_____ _____ _____

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:

______ ______ ______


Courageously smitten


Our work in cities is a convergence of direction, personal journey and emergence that results in new, emerging possibilities. These possibilities are both things we dream of and recognize, as well as possibilities that are unexpected, unknown to us until they arise.

Consider David Whyte, in The Three Marriages:

Being smitten by a path, a direction, an intuited possibility, no matter the territory it crosses, we can feel in youth or at any threshold, as if life has found us at last… But to start the difficult path to what we want, we also have to be serious about what we want.

Following this path of increasing levels of seriousness, we reach a certain threshold where our freedom to choose seems to disappear and is replaced by an understanding that we were made for the world in a very particular way and that this way of being is at bottom nonnegotiable. Like the mountain or the sky, it just is. It is as if we choose and choose until there is actually not a choice at all. 

A sense of direction and purpose emerges in our lives as we make our way along a very personal journey in life. Thresholds emerge to challenge us, inviting us to make our way to new possibilities. At this heart of this dynamic, we are courageously smitten with a path. This is the thread that pulls us through, allowing us to emerge to new destinations.

This dynamic takes place at individual and collective scales. At the scales of me and my city. We create our cities, and our cities are a platform for our never-ending journey.

John O’Donohue’s blessing, Time for Necessary Decision, shapes the arc of Nest City – these words stand out as I explore (un)known possibilities for us and our cities:

May we have the courage to take the step

Into the unknown that beckons us


What are you/we courageously smitten with?

What are you/we courageously stepping into?


_____ _____ _____

This post is part of Chapter 7 – (Un)known Possibilities. 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:



Emerging to new destinations


I started this series of posts with emerging thresholds, a post that articulated my transition in writing about “destination” (Chapter 5) to writing about “emergence” (Chapter 6).  I recognize that I am now making a transition out of “emergence” and into “possibility”. Before I do so, I need to revisit the three elements that are crucial organizing ourselves in cities: journey, destination and emergence.

Destination venn

A key habitat we build for ourselves on our evolutionary journey is cities, and they are meant to feel uneasy. Cities are a platform for our never-ending journey, in which we see need for great improvement. The improvement we see is a destination that is both alive and adrift. Our destinations/purposes are both planned and not planned, for they are continuously shaped and reshaped by our life conditions. What emerges along our journey depends upon our destination and journey AND changes our destination and journey. These three elements are in a continual dance with each other.

We never build the city we think we will – or the lives we think we will – because what we conceive of what we want moves as learn on our journey to get there. And when we “get there” we see a new destination to move in. A new destination has emerged to challenge us to improve.

When it comes to organizing our cities, and all the intelligence embedded within them, it is essential to spend time noticing where we wish to go and how we’ll get there. It is equally important to ensure we create habitats to learn along the way so that as things emerge to thwart or aid our efforts we skillfully navigate our way, creating new patterns of order on the other side of chaos. We learn to handle new life conditions, get comfortable with those life conditions until we reach another chasm, facing another journey across another threshold and a new order again.

Thresholds have a critical role to play in our individual and collective learning and growth. Each is the ‘shoreline of a new world’, as John O’Donohue puts it. It is a reminder that my/our chosen destination, the direction we wish to move in, is in another world and we need to embark on a journey to get there.  And when we get there, it won’t be what we thought. It can’t be, because it is another world. Being in relationship with thresholds is a learning journey itself, where we begin to think, make and do new things, allowing new patterns to emerge. The quality of our relationships with the thresholds we face – as individuals and as a collective – is a factor in our reaching desired destinations.

So we articulate where we wish to go – a direction, or a specific destination. Along the way, we encounter things that get in the way of moving in the direction we wish. Life conditions change in any manner or at any scale, requiring adjustment on our part. The obstacles can be any manner of chasm – threshold – that requires us shift and adjust. Our adjustments take place consciously and unconsciously. We learn consciously and unconsciously, spurred on by persistent practical problems. We struggle with chasms seen and unseen.

In the end, we chaotically reorganize ourselves by exploring our  in-tuition. We  take a step back from the edge as needed in order to choose the right leap for the context. We are learning how to let a scary idea warm us up first, then explore the inner struggle, recognizing that each struggle is powering us up for something bigger and more challenging.

The more we consciously explore the thresholds before us, and their nature within us, we will make wiser choices: go forward or turn away.

It is in each of us to reach the places we wish to go.

What thresholds must you cross to reach the places you wish to go?

What thresholds must we cross to reach the places we wish to go?


______ ______ _____

Sources / Further reading

Peggy Holman, Engaging Emergence: Turning Upheaval into Opportunity

John O’Donohue, Bless the Space Between Us

David Whyte, The Three Marriages

_____ _____ _____

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.

_____ _____ _____

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.

_____ _____ _____

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:



Nested purposes


When looking ahead at our expansive, evolutionary future, there is a distinction between specific and general destinations. We do not know specifically where we are headed, but the general destination is known: survive and improve. But destination is not only way out in the future; we choose immediate, short term destinations in our day-to-day lives. The closer these choices are to the present, the more specific they seem to become.

Let’s touch base with the scenario introduced in Cities are as good as we allow them, where I dream of crossing the Rocky Mountains to reach the West Coast of North America to surf the ocean waves.  I have a long-term destination in mind: to get to the coast. My short term decisions are more specific: I need to get fit, I need to buy the equipment I need, I need to research how I will cross the mountains, and I need to start saving money for this trek. I know nothing about surfing, so I will not know where exactly I will surf until I get to the coast and check in with locals about a good place to go.

My short-term decisions are not disconnected from the longer-term purpose: surfing. My short-term decisions are not fixing what is wrong with my current state, but rather focused on what I want to come to pass. Each small decision has a purpose that is connected to the larger purpose. Each large purpose informs the purposes of smaller, more immediate decisions.

So there are scales of purpose. As we contemplate the purpose of each piece of destination, it is informed by the smaller and larger decisions. In yesterday’s post, I resurfaced my graphic of city purposes as a spiral, using Spiral Dynamics. Each level of purpose also transcends the previous purposes and becomes the foundation for a larger, more expansive purpose. There are scales of city purposes just as city systems are scaled (recall Marilyn Hamilton’s holarchy of city systems in Figure A).

Figure A: Hamilton’s nested holarchy of city systems

The destinations we aim for, and the purposes of those destinations, either for the self or the city, are nested as well (Figure B).

Figure B: Nest of purposes

These are the same purposes articulated in yesterday’s Spiral, but with two additional levels (systemic flow and global life force), the additional layers of purpose now emerging. (For more on Spiral Dynamics, here is a primer). Our decisions today, whether in the short- or long-term are crafting these new layers of purpose.  We are, in the relationship between self, other and the places we create, co-creating the emerging next purposes and destinations. As Steve McIntosh points out, the overall purpose in evolution itself is still evolving (Evolution’s Purpose).

Back to my journey across the mountains. Each step I take in the short term is a building block to the destination I have in mind. As I make my choices for food and lodging on my journey through the mountains to get to the coast, the resources I will have when I get there are impacted. I have to ensure I have both the bodily sustenance to physically perform when I get there and have enough money to pay my way. My short-term decisions are connected to both a short-term destination and a longer-term destination. Both the short-term and longer-term destinations are of value. The big destination can not be reached without the small steps, each with their own short-term purpose. The small steps we make are the fundamental steps toward the future that is calling.

Of course, when I get ‘there,’ I may find that the ‘there’ is not what I thought. When I reach the Coast and try surfing, I find that it is not surfing that was calling me, but rather floating on the water and exploring the shoreline in a kayak. My destination moved. Or rather, it emerged. I knew roughly where I wanted to go, made the effort to get there, and learned that my destination was a direction, not the destination itself. The direction was to explore the water; I just didn’t know specifically how. There was direction in the destination, just not as I conjured it setting out on my journey. A reminder that farther-off destinations are general, not specific.

The pattern appears to be that the more immediate the purpose the more specific the destination. The more ‘expansive’ the purpose, the destination becomes a direction: improvement.

How are your short-term destinations connected to the bigger destinations you feel in your soul?


_____ _____ _____
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.


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?

_____ _____ _____

* 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.



Cities – platform for never-ending journey


Our work to improve our cities is a very personal journey, both as individuals and as collectives. This is not a journey that is meant to end and it is full of uncertainty. Over the last two months I have been sharing pieces of Chapter 4 – An Uneasy Journey, the first chapter of the second part of the book I am working on: Nest City: The Human Drive to Thrive in Cities. Here are the highlights of the ground I have covered:

  1. Planning as we have is a dinosaur move.  It is essential to notice that our context is always changing. Not noticing is hazardous to our health.
  2. Our cities are perpetually unfinished because we are always learning.
  3. Cities are meant to make us feel uneasy. The human species is on a journey – as an act of travel and as an act of learning. At this point in our journey, cities are our the habitat we have made for ourselves.
  4. Our cities are itching for improvement. We are on a quest for improvement, which means we must scratch the itch. We must explicitly explore what is bothering us.
  5. Tension is an evolutionary driver of cities. The tension we feel between what we have and what we could have – improvement – is hard to live with yet essential to our evolution.
  6. As we welcome and seek deeper knowing, we invite uneasiness. Scratching the itch is what generates new ways of to think, make and do things, the source of the city impulse itself.
  7. Our social habitat is key our journey in cities.  It is time to choose to bring out the best in us, supporting each of us individually and collectively in the discomfort we find when we scratch the itch.
Cities are the habitat we have created for ourselves on a journey that will take us to unknown places and potentials.  Our cities are our platform for future growth.  The better we tend ourselves, the better we tend them.  The better we tend them, the better we tend ourselves.

My next post will recap 10 practices that have been articulated here, that support our uneasy journey in cities.  


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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.