Sunday, February 8, 2015

Precious the Gift: A Short Film by Rene Sing Brooks

As in nature, a diverse system or community, where each member has the opportunity to contribute to its overall success, is one that is potentially more robust, vibrant and resilient.

Last year, I interviewed John Maney (Connections: An Interview With John Maney, Jr...) about the writing and poetry workshops he conducts. During those sessions, he creates a safe space for those who have often lacked the ability or opportunity to give voice to their experiences. In so doing. . .helping them to capture and share their diverse, but often marginalized, perspectives.

This desire and ability to include rather than exclude is indeed a precious gift artists share with us every day.

Therefore, I am very pleased and excited to present here, this brief film, an artistic collaboration between Queens micro-filmmaker Rene Sing and Bronx poet/writer John Maney, giving us an additional peek into John's creative process.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

Terms of Intent: A Brief Glossary

As human beings, we all exist and interact within the context of some sort of system.  Whether that be family, work, school, one's community or some other organizational setting.  So, becoming more aware and understanding our role and impact within that context is an important first step towards a lifestyle of intent.  The chart to the left consists of a few basic terms that can help us to evaluate the quality of the systems we may be part of.

Systems, whose characteristics correspond to the terms listed on the left of the chart, tend to be less robust or resilient than those characterized by the terms on the right.  As a result, their overall performance may not be as strong, and they are at greater risk for partial or complete failure, during or in the wake of a disruption or catastrophic event.  However, as we begin to make the conceptual shift from the terms on the left to those on the right, we become more equipped to make choices that better support the creation of healthy, abundant and resilient systems that perform well and for the benefit of all their members.

Detailed definitions for each of these terms are below.

  1. cultivation – to show care and consideration for all parties to a transaction or exchange; to treat fairly.
  1. degeneration – a process of depleting resources without replenishing them, or doing so at a rate greater than they can reasonably be replaced before endangering, adversely disrupting or destroying the “system” from which they have been taken or “extracted”.
  1. diversity – the state of having or being composed of differing elements, both living and non-living, within a group, organization or system.
  1. eco-efficiency – tends to be a piecemeal approach primarily concerned with doing things as economically as possible, by minimizing or decreasing inputs in order to increase outputs or value (e.g. using less gas while increasing car mileage). Results may also be tracked within the strict time frames consistent with those typical of business cycles (e.g. monthly, quarterly, annually, etc). (see McDonough, W. & Braungart, M. (2002) Cradle-to-Cradle, Chapter 2, p.51-53, 61-67).
  1. eco-effectiveness – a holistic approach that takes into consideration the quality of engagement or outcome in a transaction, (e.g. worker or customer safety, health, well-being, the environment, etc.). Value is derived over much longer time frames than are typical of business cycles (e.g. several years, decades, a generation) (see McDonough, W. & Braungart, M. (2002) Cradle-to-Cradle, Chapter 3 for more in depth discussion of this term).
  1. eco-intentionality – to deliberately make decisions or take actions consistent with an eco-effective approach.
  1. exploitation – to make use of meanly or unfairly for one's own advantage and potentially to the detriment of others.
  1. extraction – to take without giving back; a transaction that fails to exchange something of equal or complimentary value.
  1. holistic – relating to or concerned with considering a system in its entirety rather than just its individual components in isolation.
  1. mindfulness – the state of having conscientious awareness of other elements, both living and non-living, within a system or one’s environment.
  1. regeneration – a process that actively or deliberately seeks to replenish, build or cultivate. This approach tends to contribute to the overall health, well-being and resilience of a system by promoting complexity and diversity. Regenerative processes also work in both the short and long terms (see Roland, E. & Landua, G. (2013) Regenerative Enterprise: Optimizing for Multi-capital Abundance – version 1.0, 8, p.20.)
  1. resilience – the ability to recover or continue functioning in the midst or wake of an event or situation that causes the failure of critical infrastructure, disrupts key relationships or access to key resources.
  1. system – “a collectivity of units which are functionally differentiated and engaged in joint problem solving with respect to a common goal. The members or units of a system may be individuals, informal groups, complex organizations, or subsystems. . . . Each unit in a system can be functionally differentiated from every other member. All members cooperate at least to the extent of seeking to solve a common problem or to reach a mutual goal. It is this sharing of a common objective that binds the system together.” (adapted from Rogers, E.M. & Shoemaker, F.F. (1971) Communication of innovations: a cross-cultural approach. New York, The Free Press, p.28).

General Characteristics of Resilient Systems

  1. all elements (large and small) each have a part to play (or primary function) that contributes to the system’s overall, effective performance

  2. each element should also be able to perform other functions, in addition to their primary ones

  3. there should be redundancy for all “mission critical” system functions, in the event of the inevitable disruptions or failures that can occur. Mission critical functions are those that are absolutely necessary to a system’s well-being or performance, in achievement of its overall goals.

Resources For Further Reading

Background for Core Philosophies

  1. Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability (2002) David Holmgren (co-originator). Australia: Holmgren Design Services.

  2. Cradle-to-Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (2002) William McDonough & Michael Braungart. New York: North Point Press.

  3. Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual (1988) William Mollison. Australia.

  4. Gaia’s Garden: A Guide To Home-Scale Permaculture, 2nd ed (2009) Toby Hemenway. Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing Company.

  5. Interior Design With Feng Shui: New and Expanded (2000) Sarah Rossbach. Penguin Group.

Strategies for Regenerative Design

  1. Regenerative Enterprise: Optimizing For Multi-Capital Abundance – Version 1.0 (2013) Ethan Roland & Gregory Landua.

  2. The One Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming (2009, pbk) Masanobu Fukuoka. New York: New York Review of Books.

Strategies for Designing & Leveraging Systems

Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2002) Malcolm Gladwell. New York: Back Bay Books.

Strategies for Designing Holistic Interior Spaces

  1. Apartment Therapy (2006) Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan. New York: Bantam Books.

  2. Green Decorating & Remodeling: Design Ideas and Sources for a Beautiful Eco-Friendly Home (2008) Heather Paper. Connecticut: Morris Book Publishing, LLC.

  3. Universal Design (2010) Barbara Krueger. Connecticut: Morris Book Publishing, LLC.

Collaborative Strategies

The Empowerment Manual: A Guide for Collaborative Groups (2011) Starhawk. Canada: New Society Publishers.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Living With Intent: Five Ways to Grow Your Spiritual Self

by John Maney, Jr.

cloudsHave you ever been unfulfilled after obtaining something you thought would make you happy?
Did this make you wonder if there’s more to life than accumulating things?
Have you ever thought about why you’re here?

Many of us may have asked ourselves one or all these questions at some point. We’re more than the flesh and bones of our bodies, so these questions come naturally. In our essence we’re spirits, and it’s through spiritual development that we begin to understand.

Of course, great mystics and the religions that grew from their teachings have sought to guide us in this area. Each time a Christian takes Communion. . .or a Muslim turns toward Mecca to pray. . .or a Buddhist closes their eyes in meditation. . .or a Jew recites from the Torah, it is this understanding that they seek.

But which one is right? Which path should we choose? While a spiritual (or intentional) life may involve religious practice or affiliation, it is not limited by that.

The great mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi once said “what you seek is seeking you”. The thing about increasing your spirituality/intentionality is that as you grow, it becomes clear you’re part of something bigger than you. Your essence exists as part of a greater essence, which has been waiting for you to plug your awareness in. This greater essence can’t really be confined in the practice of any one religion, but is found in many. The key is in how any practice connects you to it, and the thing that connects is love. Religions, practices, and faiths that teach you to love are leading you in the right direction, because love dissolves illusionary barriers. The Apostle Paul from the Bible wrote “but now faith, hope, love abide these three; but the greatest of these is love”.

You may be asking yourself what does that mean? Love who? Love what? The real question however is, what is there you shouldn’t love? If we’re part of a greater essence, as is everything, then shouldn’t we love everything? The answer is yes, except things that bring separation.

So, whether you practice a specific religion or not, here are five things you can do to help develop your spiritual as well as intentional self:

1. Engage in Daily Acts of Kindness

It can be volunteering for organizations that help those in need; or giving money without judgment to someone begging on the street; or maybe giving your seat to an elderly person on a crowded bus or train. Try to find something unselfish to do.

2. Give thanks

Say thank you sincerely, with a smile, even when someone may not be expecting it

3. Be appreciative

Take delight in the natural things that contribute to beauty and delight in the world. Before bed take time to reflect upon the stars, and when morning comes, the glow of sunrise. And again, say thank you, not to these things, but the force that connects you.

4. To err is human…

If you’ve done anyone wrong apologize, and seek to make amends. Similarly, if anyone has wronged you be willing to forgive. Don’t be imprisoned behind bars of resentment.

5. Humour

Keep a sense of humor, even when what you’re laughing at is you. Humility helps us take that first step on the road to a more spiritual self.


By developing your spirituality, you move closer to a life of intent. Your sense of consideration or appreciation for that which is outside of yourself or immediate interests grows.  This will allow you to expand your regard to include other living and non-living things, and an appreciation for the ways they enrich the world.

Changing Your Intent

Growing Your Spiritual Self: What You Can Do Now!
  1. Try practicing these five things each day for a month.
  2. What changes do you notice?  Are you happier? More at peace? Have greater appreciation for your family and friends?
  3. Whatever it is, let us know! Share your experiences here or start a discussion on the With Intent Facebook or Google+ page.
John Maney, Jr is a poet and creative writing workshop leader.
He has been published in several anthologies and magazines. You 
can connect with him at or his website maneywords.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Connections: An Interview With Kalena Slaton - Girl Scout Cadette

Terrarium, tn.jpg
Terrarium: a Mother/Daughter Project
That everyone can contribute something useful or valuable to the well-being of his or her family or community, no matter their age, background or specific talents, is a fundamental theme here at  With Intent.

For this Connections interview, I reached out to Kalena Slaton, the daughter of a good friend of mine. I wanted to learn more about her involvement with the Girl Scouts and her recent “bridging” ceremony. The Girl Scouts, founded in 1912 by Juliette Gordon Low, is an organization affording young ladies in grades K-12, opportunities to make new friends, build confidence and character, learn new skills and help make the world a better place through community service and other activities.

Read on to find out more about Kalena’s “bridging” ceremony, what involvement in the Girl Scouts has meant to her, and how all of that relates to living with intent:

So Kalena, how long have you been a Girl Scout?
Kalena Slaton: I have been a Girl Scout for approximately seven years.

Wow, that's a long time!  How did you come to be involved with them?
Slaton: I was five years old in kindergarten at Colson Elementary School, and they had a table with information about Girl Scouts. I was interested and wanted to join so I asked my mother to sign me up and I joined the “Daisies”. Daisies are the first level of Girl Scouts. My Mom was a Girl Scout.

Ahh…so your Mom was a Girl Scout too! Did that play a part in your wanting to be one or did you only find that out later on?
Slaton: Yeah, I think I might have known, but yet don’t remember if I did. I’m not sure if it influenced me, but I think my mom’s knowledge about past Girl Scouts helps me today.

I know that you recently "bridged". What does that mean and what did you have to do to achieve that?
Slaton: "Bridging" is the term used in the moving up from one level to the next in Girl Scouts, for example, Daises to Brownies to Juniors to Cadettes.

In the bridging ceremony, me and my scouting sisters cross over a small bridge as a symbol of moving on from Junior scouts to Cadettes. Each girl must show up to Girl Scout meetings and participate in all group activities including community services in order to bridge and earn badges.

So you kind of come to rely and support each other as well as your community through your participation in the activities. . .
Slaton: Yes, we work together to help ourselves and the community (especially the community). Helping it, we get badges to earn cool awards.

Tell me a little more about the kinds of skills you have learned through your involvement with the Girl Scouts.
Slaton: I learned about setting up community projects and events through planning a party we had for Juliette Gordon Lows' birthday. She founded the Girl Scouts. I’ve also learned about event planning— our troop planned a Breast Cancer Awareness event fundraising and public speaking, and  participated in planning a sleepover during my “Finding Common Ground” badge teaching.

That sounds interesting. What is the “Finding Common Ground” badge? And what are some other badges you have earned?
Slaton: It is basically about how to make decisions so everyone can be happy with the decision you made. Before I taught my badge, we learned the Trees badge, which is about trees and more of what they do for us.

Those two badges sound fantastic! The ability to help people feel comfortable with decisions when working in a group is a really good skill to have.  It helps us to be resilient. I also like trees! I don't think people really appreciate all the great work they do for us.

So, would you recommend other kids participate in the Girl Scouts or an organization like them? If so, why?
Slaton: Yes! I would recommend others to join Girl Scouts or other organizations like it, because:
  • it helps you to learn more about your community and make new friends
  • it teaches respect for yourself and others
  • it teaches teamwork, leadership and making lots of fun crafts
Getting to know others in your community, the teamwork and leadership involved in working together, and most importantly, respect for yourself and others as well as the environment is exactly what living with intent is all about. You’ve also shown that it’s never too early for kids to learn these skills so they can start giving back to their community!

Kalena, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us here at With Intent about your participation with the Girl Scouts!
Kalena Slaton, tn.jpg Kalena Slaton is twelve years old and lives with her parents in Brandon, Florida.  She is in the sixth grade and attends  Orange Grove Middle Magnet School for the Arts in Tampa, Florida.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Skill Set: How Does Your Garden Grow? Part 1 - Welcome to My Indoor Edible Paradise!

hudson valley seed packets 

. . .with silver bells, and cockle shells. . .And pretty maids all in a row.

In Building Blocks of Intent (Pt. 1), we looked at the importance of developing or refining different skills in leading a life of intent. I refer to them as “life skills”— those directly related to meeting basic human needs, such as
  • food and nourishment
  • shelter
  • clothing
  • maintenance of basic health and well-being
With that in mind, one of my goals this year was to do just that. So, this past January I enrolled in an introductory gardening class through the New York Botanical Garden’s adult education program. I had always wanted to try my hand at gardening, but just never got around to doing it until now.

You’re probably wondering “January! Why would anyone take a gardening class then?? What kind of gardening could you possibly do in the dead of winter especially with all that snow we got…???” You are not alone! Everyone I told about the class asked these same questions. However, there’s quite a bit that goes into achieving the beautiful (or edible) end result that most people associate with gardening, and we spent the time covering fundamental theories and concepts such as
  • the basic parts of a plant how they function
  • soil health & structure
  • organic gardening techniques
  • pest control
  • basic garden tools
  • plant selection and care
  • propagation and pruning
  • general site considerations when planning your garden
all done from a nice, warm and cozy classroom!

Also, you may not realize it, but there's a life cycle to gardening, so there's always something to be done year round.  In fact, our final course assignment was to take what we learned and create a simple plan covering a year of maintenance and planning for the garden of our choice (you can see my final report here). The tail end of winter is a key time for indoor seed starting, so your plants will be ready to go into the ground come spring. Then of course, there’s the main growing season from spring, through the summer, and depending on what you’re growing, even into the fall. In the late fall it’s time to begin preparing your garden for winter…clearing out dead growth, sprucing up the beds and so on. Something else you may not know is that there are things you can plant in the late fall at the end of the season, also known as “cover crops” or “green manure” (e.g. ryegrass, winter rye, clovers, oats, buckwheat, etc), which help protect and prepare the soil for spring when the cycle begins anew! This provides ground cover that helps prevent soil erosion, replaces nutrients depleted during the growing season (e.g. nitrogen), and helps with weed suppression as well as pest control.

Unlike most of my classmates, I don’t currently have access to any outdoor gardening space (not even a terrace!), so I will be adapting what I learned for an indoor garden. Another challenge for me is that I live in a small apartment with limited space.

But, be those things as they may, I am starting with the picture on the left and intend to move towards the picture on the right!

indoor garden, before & after

And, after listening to a podcast by Erika Harris of Empathic Writer, during which she talked about her grandfather and his talent for turning his back yard into paradise (go to Episode 001: Say the Things You Want to Hear in the World and jump to the 00:03:09 to 00:03:30 mark), I was further inspired to create my own Indoor Edible Garden Paradise.

As described in my garden maintenance plan, my goals are modest. I plan to get started with some herbs and other edibles (cilantro, scallions and rainbow chard) suited to my particular site constraints.  I have some seeds I purchased from the Hudson Valley Seed Library. I originally bought them because the outer packets were so beautiful, never thinking to actually plant them, but now I figure “Why not!

However, I also have a Plan B, just in case! I purchased a BurpeeCulinary Herb Garden All-in-One Kit”.  According to the package it includes “everything you need to grow 5 delicious herbs

     > 5 seed packets – parsley, cilantro, chives, basil and oregano
     > 3 containers and a watering tray
     > growing pellets
     > instructions
     > recipes!

So, we’ll see how it goes and which approach works for me. I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and be inspired to try it yourself! If I can do it, I’m sure you can too!

Changing Your Intent

Get Skilled: What You Can Do Now!
  1. Pick a new life skill that you would like to learn whether it’s gardening, sewing, cooking, first aid, fishing, or whatever tickles your fancy. Your local weekly paper is an excellent resource for discovering workshops and classes that might be going on in your community.

  2. Tell us about what you've decided here or start a discussion on the With Intent Facebook or Google+ page.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

Maybe that title should read “Make it go! Make it go! Make it go!

car covered in snow It’s winter time here in NYC and this year it came with a vengeance! Freezing cold, snow, snow and MORE SNOW! Even a few of the southern states, that don’t normally get snow, got it this year. And, like those ubiquitous, white, icy flakes, the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue was “When will it end!?” and “What to do with it all until then???” In an urban setting like New York, the snow can slow everything down to a crawl, or even a complete stop. People quickly grow tired of the daily traipse through the slippery, slushy and increasingly dirty mess, or of digging their cars out from under it. And, of course there’s the scrutiny on public officials as to how well they handle clearing it away and keeping things moving.

However, even as I too lamented all of these things, it also got me thinking about whether the snow, typically thought of as an inconvenience or hazard, might instead be viewed as a potential "opportunity" in disguise! Hmmm. . .a problem containing its own solution. . . ! This seeming dichotomy is a key principle in permaculture. In “Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture” author Toby Hemenway states
". . .Constraints can inspire creative design, and most problems usually carry not just the seeds of their own solution within them, but also the inspiration for simultaneously solving other problems." Put another way, "We are confronted by insurmountable opportunity" (attributed to Pogo, the eponymous character from the long-running comic strip created by Walt Kelly), p.7.
So, rather than an annoying, even dangerous obstacle, perhaps all those mounds of snow and ice potentially represent just such an "insurmountable opportunity" to be taken advantage of!

snow drifts on streetWith that in mind, I set out to find examples of projects that deliberately captured "unwanted" snow and somehow “put it to work". Please note that my Internet "research" was by no means scientific. Here are some of the examples I found.  They all describe plans to store snow in the winter and use it later on, to help with cooling in the summer:
  1. Snow Becomes a Splendid Cooler – Exciting Challenge in the Town of Funagata (M. Kobiyama) – this article appeared in the scholarly journal “Snow Engineering”. It described an experiment conducted in Funagata, Yamagata Prefecture (Japan) back in 1997 to investigate the feasibility of using snow for cooling. A system was developed and installed in the Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery Practices Building there, and was found to work quite well.

  2. Snow Cooling in Sundsvall – a hospital in Sweden has utilized a snow cooling system since 2000.

  3. Snow To Be Used to Replace 30% of Japanese Airport's Cooling Energy Needs – in 2008, Japan’s transportation ministry began making plans to collect snow in the winter to assist with summer cooling needs at New Chitose Airport, located on the island of Sapporo, in Hokkaido, Japan. Apparently they can get 20-30 feet of snow each year, so finding something useful to do with it is an excellent example of turning a problem into a solution!

  4. Ottawa To Investigate Snow-Powered Air Conditioning's Potential – also in 2008, the Ottowa council (Canada) in conjunction with Hydro Ottowa (a power utility), announced plans to study the feasibility of collecting snow from city streets to later cool institutional buildings. I wasn’t able to find any subsequent references to this project, so don’t know if they ever ended up implementing it.

  5. Lawson To Be First Convenience Store To Save Winter Snow…For Summer Air Conditioning?! – a little more recently (2013), a Japanese convenience store chain announced that they would install and test a snow cooling system at one of their locations in Akita Prefecture (Japan).
Again, my research methodology was in no way rigorous or comprehensive, but just considering the question led me to the following insights:
  1. as you cans see, the references I found for productive snow reuse, were for projects being considered or undertaken overseas-- Japan, Europe and Canada-- so, it appears that at least for the moment, the notion of large scale snow reuse is kind of under the radar here in the United States. These references were also infrequent and spanned across time (1997 to 2000, then 2008 and most recently 2013), so it is not exactly a regular or ongoing topic of discussion, either.

  2. that living in a modern and increasingly urbanized society, may tend to color how we perceive and treat resources. All too often, we may be completely unaware of them until they occur in excess (or abundance!), and disrupt our routines during or after a storm event. Then, they become or are perceived as a nuisance or hazard to be removed or discarded as quickly as possible, rather than the potentially valuable assets they actually are. In the case of snow, it is something we hope will melt down a drain or simply disappear into thin air, after a day or two.
However, extreme weather events are not limited to winter, and will likely only grow in frequency, occurring year round. Therefore, eventually it will become necessary for us to shift our attitudes and perspectives about what those natural events bring, and figure out how to take advantage of those “gifts”!

Changing Your Intent

Catch and Store Energy: What You Can Do Now!

  • Read about a project making use of snow as an environmental service? Or, maybe you have your own idea for doing that? Share it here or start a discussion on the With Intent Facebook or Google+ page.