Sunday, June 30, 2013

Living With Intent - Part 5: Closing Thoughts
In this five-part series, we've looked at three, very diverse, design philosophies that can help support your pursuit of a life of intent. They vary in cultural and geographical origins, disciplinary focus, and even the length of time they've been in existence. Permaculture, its founders Australian, is relatively new, having only emerged about 40 years ago. It focuses on better ways to steward the land. Cradle-to-cradle is even younger, emerging about 20 years after that.  Its founders bridge backgrounds from Europe, Japan and the United States, and they've rethought the ways in which things can be created, used and then discarded.  Finally, feng shui originating in China, is quite ancient, but still has much to teach us about the intersection of human beings, the built environment and our activity within the spaces we occupy.

However, those differences not withstanding, these systems still share a common thread their emphasis on holistic approaches to living that compel mindful consideration of our relationships to the land, other people, and the objects we use daily. They also offer opportunities to rethink those relationships outside of our immediate spheres of influence. Rippling outward, in ever widening circles across time and space, our regard grows to include our neighbors, communities, and the world beyond.

Expanding our frame of reference in this way, helps to make it easier to reconnect and internalize those relationships, even when remote or distant, in more productive and meaningful ways. The impulse to preserve and protect now becomes a natural extension of this evolving perspective, rather than a chore or set of tasks we must continually remind ourselves to complete or check off of some list. Our actions become deliberately positive (or intentional) rather than arbitrary or incidentally destructive. With this shift in focus, we also shift towards a life of intent.

We've set the “foundation”. Now, we’ll begin to learn more about acquiring the building blocks and other materials to “frame up” our structure.

Thanks for accompanying me this far.  I hope you'll stay on to help with the work ahead!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Living With Intent - Part 4: Feng Shui

So far we've discussed "permaculture" and "cradle-to-cradle", two design philosophies to help us begin living with intent. This week we'll look at feng shui.

It's Not Just About The Furniture!

Feng Shui
Feng shui is often popularly thought of as a means of rearranging the furniture in order to enhance one's luck or fortune. However, this is only a superficial view at best. Instead, feng shui can be more properly and easily understood as an ancient Chinese design discipline, itself arising out of the even older discipline of the "Tao" (pronounced DOW). Translated, this means "way" or "path". Taoist principles guided thinking about the universe, nature's rhythms and man's place within that context. Feng shui, literally translated, means "wind" and "water" and emphasizes balance (yin & yang) and the mindful awareness of nature and the physical objects (including furniture!), that exist within our interior and exterior environments.

The Flow of Chi

According to Chinese tradition, "chi" (pronounced "CHEE") is believed to be the universal force or cosmic breath possessed by all things. Chi flows through all spaces, whether it be your apartment, home, office, back-yard, a park, etc, and must be properly managed, so that it moves neither too quickly or too slowly. It's speed is governed by both the presence of the natural elements of earth, water, fire, metal, wood as well as the arrangement of physical objects within a space, such as the aforementioned furniture. Adjustments to enhance that flow are known as "cures" and help to optimize a given space to better support the physical and psychological well-being and resilience of its occupants.

The Ba-gua: A Feng Shui Tool

Ba-gua - Dreamstime_m_26603960, tn.jpg
The Ba-gua: A Diagnostic Tool Used in Feng Shui

The "ba-gua", is a key feng shui tool that helps practitioners evaluate a space, the components within it, and their effect on the flow of chi.  As you can see in the figure, it is octagonal in shape.  In fact, literally translated, ba-gua means, "eight trigrams".  I've listed the names of each trigram or "gua" and their primary attributes below:
  1. LI: Fame or Reputation
  2. KUN: Marriage & Commitment
  3. DUI: Children & Creativity
  4. CHYAN: Mentors & Travel
  5. KAN: Career
  6. KEN: Knowledge & Spirituality
  7. CHEN: Family
  8. HSUN: Wealth & Power
As you can see they govern many aspects of our lives.

Our Modern Lives

Rain Garden - 005, tn 15 Obviously much has changed since these practices first emerged centuries ago. In our modern lives, technology has helped to mitigate many of nature's impacts. For example, at one time careful consideration was critical for siting a building in order to take advantage of prevailing breezes or winds for good ventilation or cooling. Now we have air conditioning! However, technology has its limits and in some cases has contributed to the very problems we now face. That same air conditioner can consume enormous amounts of electricity, which in turn contributes to other adverse effects on the environment.

Rain Garden - 011, tn 15Bottom line: whether we call it feng shui or sustainable design, members of the building and planning communities, as well as governmental institutions are beginning to recognize the importance of incorporating principles, also found in feng shui, when designing modern structures, neighborhoods and cities for both commercial and residential comfort and health.

Utilization of the "environmental services" provided by nature such as trees and other plantings, the sun, wind, rain, etc. can provide options to traditional infrastructure, that are more cost-effective to construct and maintain. And, as we saw with Hurricane Sandy, critical infrastructure in the built environment often fails, either during or in the wake of catastrophic or disruptive events.

Why Feng Shui?

Feng shui focuses our attention, not only on what or how we construct our spaces, but also on how we feel while spending time in them, and how well our activities are supported while there. With its recurring motifs of balance and reverence for nature, feng shui, is well suited not only for a transition, but for maintaining a life of intent.

Next week will bring us to the final segment of the Living With Intent series.  At that time, I'll wrap everything up and summarize why I believe combining the three design philosophies of permaculture, cradle-to-cradle and feng shui equals something greater than each one of them individually, for creating mindful lifestyle change.

See you then!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Living With Intent - Part 3: Cradle to Cradle

Last week, we discussed "permaculture", one of three design philosophies to help us begin living with intent. This week we'll look at "cradle-to-cradle".

Cradle-to-Grave: A Dead-end Process

Cherrty Tree - 001, tn 20You've probably heard the phrase "cradle-to-grave". From a design standpoint, it suggests a process by which an object has a discrete beginning and then moves inexorably towards a definitive, but final end, at which point it is discarded, to be buried or "land-filled", and never seen or thought of again. The philosophy of "cradle-to-cradle", on the other hand, asks us to envision a process that can be infinitely continuous. Under this scenario, while an object may still have a discrete beginning, its particular form and purpose at any given time is temporary! It is designed in such a way that at the end of its first "useful" life, it can either be recreated, or. . .used as "food" for something entirely new and different!

Like nature.

Birth of a Concept

Cradle-to-cradle was conceived by William McDonough and Michael Braungart and outlined in their book "Cradle-to-Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things". McDonough, an architect, noted that at various points in his life, he was fortunate to be exposed to different cultures (the Japanese and the Bedouins or two such examples) where simplicity, elegance and intelligent design were prominent features. Braungart, a native of Germany, related that he began studying chemistry around the time Germany was just beginning to consider the impact of pesticides and other chemicals on the environment. He would go on to to focus on environmental chemistry. The two met in the early 1990's and discovered they shared in a belief that industry could transcend the notion of being "less bad", and instead aspire to operate with fully positive intent. As McDonough and Braungart termed it, to be "eco-effective".

An Object's Life-cycle

To be mindful of an object's entire life cycle, rather than just the relatively short period we ourselves will use it, is to begin to ask some of the following questions:
  • how was a product made and distributed in the first place?
  • how will it be disposed of when we are finished with it - is it durable enough to be used by somebody else when we no longer need or want it?
  • how and what is it made of - can it be easily recycled, or. . . even better, "upcycled" - that is, made into something new, of equal or greater value?
Cherry Tree - 002, tn 20Consideration and response to these questions advances us a little further down the path towards a life of intent— which is to say, one that is not merely practical, efficient, or even sustainable, but is also regenerative. A lifestyle such as this also seeks solutions that take into account aesthetics, delight, and just plain fun.

In short, eco-effective design gives back as much or more to a system as it takes out, and does so with style, grace and humor.

We now begin to get a glimpse of how we might have our cake (or stuff) and eat it too!: first by asking ourselves what kind of stuff and how much of it we actually need in the first place, and then figuring out processes that give back as much or more in the way of resources as they take, in their creation and distribution.

As you can see this way of thinking inherently supports an approach to living that can be filled with joy and abundance rather than austerity and deprivation.

Still Need Convincing?

Then, I'll leave you with McDonough & Braungart's own words:
Consider the cherry tree: thousands of blossoms create fruit for birds, humans, and other animals, in order that one pit might eventually fall onto the ground, take root, and grow. Who would look at the ground littered with cherry blossoms and complain, 'How inefficient and wasteful!' The tree makes copious blossoms and fruit without depleting its environment. Once they fall on the ground, their materials decompose and break down into nutrients that nourish microorganisms, insects, plants animals, and soil. . .the tree makes more of its 'product' than it needs for its own success in an ecosystem [and this] abundance nourishes just about everything around it.

What might the human built world look like if a cherry tree produced it. (from Cradle-to-Cradle, p.72).
Cherry Tree - 003, tn 20

Next week, the ancient Chinese practice of feng shui.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Living With Intent - Part 2: Permaculture

This week we begin our journey towards intent by looking at "permaculture", one of three design philosophies I'll reference often in this blog.

Permaculture - What Is It?

Permaculture's concepts, principles and practices were co-originated in the 1970's by William Mollison and David Holmgren, both from Australia. The term "permaculture" is actually a combination of two words— "permanent" and "culture" or "agriculture". Mollison and Holmgren were inspired by the fact that in nature, eco-systems seemed to be interconnected and filled with abundance. They had also observed that indigenous cultures existed and functioned within such a context as well, and wondered if it might be possible to deliberately replicate these types of systems. In 1988, Mollison authored "Permaculture: A Designers' Manual" and Holmgren eventually went on to write about his experiences as a permaculture practitioner in his book "Permaculture: Principles & Pathways Beyond Sustainability".

Spiral of herbs
However, while permaculture arose out of a desire to identify more sustainable ways to live upon the land, its application is by no means limited to that. Because permaculture's primary focus is on the relationships between elements in a system, rather than just the elements themselves or their characteristics, there is a great deal of flexibility in applying the principles in different situations. In addition to the farm or garden, it can also be utilized in the home, the office, organizational settings, or anything else where effective relationships are key. Extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy, have really driven home just how important strong relationships are to a community's overall strength and resilience.

Permaculture's Basic Principles

Listed below are the fundamental principles of permaculture, as described in Holmgren's book:
  1. Observe and Interact
  2. Catch & Store Energy
  3. Obtain a Yield
  4. Apply Self-regulation & Accept Feedback
  5. Use & Value Renewable Resources & Services
  6. Produce No Waste
  7. Design From Patterns to Details
  8. Integrate Rather Than Segregate
  9. Use Small & Slow Solutions
  10. Use & Value Diversity
  11. Use Edges & Value the Marginal
  12. Creatively Use & Respond to Change
Toby Hemenway, another permaculture gardener, describes a few more principles in his book "Gaia's Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture", 2nd ed, (pp. 6 & 7) that I think will also be useful for us to consider here, as well:
  1. Connect
  2. Stack Functions
  3. Make the Least Change for the Greatest Effect
  4. Collaborate With Succession
  5. Turn Problems Into Solutions
  6. Abundance is Limited by Creativity
  7. Mistakes Are a Tool for Learning
We'll discuss these principles in more detail as we go along, but this will help get us started for now.

Why Permaculture?

Permaculture's inherent focus on collaborative, inter-dependencies rather than individualistic, autonomy, helps our thinking to become more community oriented, which is fundamental to living with intent.

Next week, we’ll look at the design philosophy of “cradle-to-cradle” co-developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Living With Intent - Part 1: An Introduction

Going GreenWhat do these terms mean? Do they accurately describe actions or behaviors that positively impact the environment? Or, are there terms that might be more meaningful. . . ?

Maybe. . .

. . .however, living “with intent”, has less to do with "green" labels and more with the mental frameworks or perspectives that guide our decision-making, and the way we make sense of the world. Regardless of how we spin our actions, they still result in observable, measurable impacts on the environment and that may conflict with the images we hold of ourselves.

Fortunately, there are many tools available to help us shift gears. I’ll be briefly introducing three of my favorites in this five part series, "Living With intent":
but will continually refer to them in this blog, so don’t worry if it doesn’t all make sense at first!

Individually, any one of these design philosophies would support living a life of intent. However, used in combination, I believe they offer an even richer palette from which to draw, and provide an underlying guidance for fulfilling three basic human needs:
  • nourishing and feeding our physical selves
  • having some things to call our own
  • infusing the first two with a sense of spirituality and gratitude

So! Are you ready? Then, next week we’ll begin our journey by looking at "permaculture".

Saturday, June 1, 2013

TODAY is the Official Re-launch of With Intent!



                       The official Re-launch of With Intent.

First post is up here!