Ride the release safely


Ride the release
North Saskatchewan River in Edmonton, April 27, 2013

I knew three years ago that a transition was coming for me in April/May 2013. In 2010 I was elected my my professional planner colleagues to serve one year as president-elect, then two as president, for my professional organization – the Alberta Professional Planners Institute. Our AGM was last week and I have officially handed the reins over to our next president. And I have picked up a new set of reins; as past president, I am on the board of the Canadian Institute of Planners for two years. Knowing this transition was coming, I stepped down as president of my community league.

The nature of the transition is clear and unclear. I have shed my two “presidential” roles and took on a new board. The other transitions I am less clear on. Two significant pieces of contract work are concluding and I don’t know what will come next to help pay the bills. As I look at my schedule for the coming weeks, I see that I have created space for myself to make a transition of some kind. My antennae are work!

Last week, I spent a day with David Whyte, reflecting on my work and where it is going. A big realization came to me: Lost? Let the city find you. On my way to spend a day with a group of women exploring their personal leadership, from the inside to the outside, the ice flows in the river have firmly caught my attention. Just when I think spring’s work is done, when life is flowing freely, a jam I never knew was there releases. I don’t see the jam, just the ice and the debris it carries. The smooth surface of the river’s spring flow is now a torrent, a rush I only noticed with the ice. There’s some inner work to notice what is flowing in and through me, and how to ride the release safely, or how to boldly grow the self.

Today, I have gathered with 40 other circle practitioners to explore our work creating the social containers our world needs at this time. For me, the social habitat is a critical aspect of making cities that serve citizens – and citizens that serve cities. While the gathering is work related, it is equally about my personal social habitat and my approach to myself and my work. My operating principle remains the same: nourish self, others and place.

I have no idea what will come next, but I choose to spend time where I feel nourished, where I can nourish others and the places we live, work and play. I choose to nourish my/our social, physical habitats and my/our economic life. This is ultimately what will enable me to ride the river, and whatever she throws at me.

What ideas and practices support you in your life’s journey? 

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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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Stand on the city’s river


Over the weekend, I found myself exploring the valley I visit most mornings, as part of my centering practice, from a different perspective. Instead of standing and sitting at the edge of the ravine, overlooking how the wild knits itself into the city, and vice-versa, I found myself leaving the top of the bank and heading down to the North Saskatchewan River.

As I peeled away from the infrastructure of the city, I was reminded to slow as I headed downhill, with the flow of the trail, where a stream used to be, toward the river.

bridge and slow sign

As I arrived at the river’s edge, I broke off the formal trail to explore a trail closed by officials, just above and beside the river. I walked along for a few minutes, but a wee path behind me was calling me down to the river herself.

river edge path

path down to the river

More specifically, the footprints on the river were calling me. As I had been walking parallel to the river, I realized the reason I was staying on the land was because I was afraid of stepping down, onto the river. Upon closer inspection, I could see that once down the bank I would still be on land. I could see the ‘beach’ on this outer edge of the river angling ever so slightly down to the flat of the ice, the river herself. I have spent a lot of time in my river city, but I have never been on my river. So I stepped out for a new view.

City from the river

After a few cautious steps onto the river, I noticed that I did not have the courage to venture out as far onto the ice as others had – I chose not to step out as far as many footprints left behind before me. My comfort had rippled out far enough, so I trusted my instincts and stayed put for a while, curious about this perspective of my river city in winter.

I have been pondering how the city and the wild knit themselves together. Cities begin with settlements that are appropriate to the geography –  early explorers and settlers navigated for settlement habitat. The city and the wild, however, are never fully separate. The wild reaches in, and the city reaches out, yet as I have walked, cycled and driven over this river for decades, I have not been on this river. I have stood on the river, and I recognize a need to be on the river in the opposite season, summer. This coming summer I will paddle through my city. What will my city look like? How will it change what I see, what I feel about my home?

Like most journeys, it is when I turn to return that I see something else.

the city's edge

The city is not simply up on the riverbank; it is in the river. Concrete remnants of construction and a beer can have reached down to the river. As I look downstream I see storm sewer outfalls that will whisk water away from the city into the river. The city continues to reach into the wild.

As I look upstream I see a couple making their way down to the river and making their way toward me. While the footprints on the river were a clue that others had been here before me, they were further evidence that others travel with me and that others travel further than me. There are so few situations when am truly the first to do anything, yet there are endless situations when it is my first time.

It occurs to me that first times can be daunting and exhilarating, scary and thrilling. First times, and how we handle them, play a critical role in our ability to see possibilities in all aspects of our lives, for seeing possibility often means seeing things from a different perspective, with a fresh look. A fresh look might mean a new physical perspective, or a mental one. It means finding a way to look anew at an old perspective, generating a ‘first time’ feeling that allows possibilities to emerge.

My lesson – stand on the river to see new possibilities. While I wasn’t the first person to look at the city from here, and I won’t be the last, that isn’t the objective. The objective is to find courage to step out on the ice and to simply see what I will see, and to see what I will do with what I see.

I had to step into a new place in my city to see me differently.

What do you do to create the conditions for seeing possibilities?


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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: