The Wisdom of the Tree

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A tree simultaneously stretches itself downward into the soil to draw the water and nutrients as it stretches up and outward toward the sky to capture the glow of sunlight and drink from the atmospheric delights that waft past its swaying branches. In so doing, the tree stitches the elements at its disposal together and if they are sufficient, it uses them as a vehicle to propel itself toward its full potential. A tree breaks the prior symmetries of certain structures, not for the sake of destruction, but to reassemble them into its own likeness – in its own form.

At its crest, the wave of self assembled organization that is the tree matures to relate with other trees and the creatures that call it home, and to cast its offspring to the wind in the hopes of making even more like itself. Like the tree, we need draw from places of nourishment to realize our potential. Like the tree, if we do not stretch ourselves to reach those nourishing places, we are destined live beneath the threshold of our full potential.

We have some measure of choice in where we stretch ourselves. Let’s make sure these places we cultivate our own assemblies are also those that nourish our potential – that contribute substance and strength to the canopy we all live beneath – this community of life we both live in and depend on.

The Map Is Not The Journey

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The words we have at our disposal are quite often beneath the task of sufficiently encapsulating who we are. Not only do they strain under the weight of using them to try and convey our nature one to another; we struggle to fully grasp the depth and breadth of our own being even with self reflection. Sometimes our words are worse than inadequate, they can serve as an outright delusion – a ghost that appears real, but has no substance. Once the ghosts made of words are made real on a wave of belief, they can trap us in a prison of false reality. Though our nature is such that we hunger to share ourselves intimately one to another; that which we are able to share is throttled by the delusions embedded in the symbols we use as fuel for the vehicle we use to journey to that place of intimacy.

We do things for reasons we do not understand. We then perform posthumous verbal autopsies on those behavioral expressions – as if these verbal arrows we sling at our past behaviors explains their causes – they do not. Our words are a map, but often to an unreal place, and we easily confuse the map with the journey – the symbol for the reality.

 So deep is our tendency some of us buzz around like a bee, pollinating the human flowers on our social landscape with words – impregnating them with our position. We then falsely using that belief we have cultivated as sufficient evidence that what we have said is real. In effect, our deceit has turned on us. Our true self is a vast sea of behaviors – the totality of which cannot be carried on the winds of words. It is possible the vision of our full nature is out of reach through our verbal lens.

Some of us ride glistening waves of words as if they are literal stand ins for reality, but they more often bear a resemblance to emotional steam venting from the much deeper super-heated undercurrents that move a thin skin of tectonic plates on the surface of our being. We bow to the polite fiction that our identity can be encapsulated in this thin skin of behaviors we project to the world, when in reality what we show is an extruded crusty distortion of the vastness that lies beneath the surface.

In light of the fact that we so easily conflate the superficial artifacts we adorn ourselves with for the whole picture, we should recognize that understanding ourselves is no easy task. The broken relationship with our personal identity we so commonly grow in verbal soils laced with assumption can render us a blind navigator and a spectator in our own lives. It has been said the unexamined life is not worth living. It is quite possible the unexamined life is not able to be lived at all. How can we have lived if we have never encountered our self, much less anyone else? Have we lived if we have only encountered the false gods we conjured up as a band aid over our loneliness? – A cold comforter in an otherwise unbearable world.

Our words can conjure a false reality that cripples our capacity to engage in the authentic intimate relationships we need for a fulfilled life. This visionary strangulation, fostered on a wave of words, chokes off the vital social nourishment we need. We sink beneath the waves and drown in our own delusion, starving for intimacy, gasping for air with the only tool at our disposal, the same words we drown in.

Those of us taken by the undertow of abstractions fade to the shadowy depths of a life of passionate distraction rather than genuine substance. We may still pretend to search for and move toward a purpose in life, but we have in reality settled for lies that consume our time and never render the nourishing fruit of clarity.

A few of us that get the brief opportunity to recognize the gods to whom we have genuflected our whole lives. From that perch of clarity we realize how false they are and try to warn those who have yet to waste their lives in service of them. This effort typically comes at a time when we have little more opportunity to cease the day and cultivate something meaningful. We spill this wise counsel of experience on those yet in the midst of the storm and they cannot heed our wisdom because they cannot hear it over the din of their own delusion.

One of the most important goals we can set in life is to discover our self – to become aware of the steering mechanisms that drive our experience – and from this awareness – to forge a rudder to point our vessel toward a place of fulfillment. If we are not diligent we will have passed from cradle to grave having never participated in our own lives except perhaps as a commentator, because we were lost in a storm of our own little words.

Biology is The Song The Cosmos Sings

0060-CosmicSongThe behavioral characteristics of biological structures rhyme. From the relatively simple single celled organism, to the entire biosphere there is an echo of form and function on widening scales. Behavioral characteristics at one level in the structure ebb and flow in a wave pattern at other levels.

Each cell inside our body has a skin in the form of a semi porous selective membrane. The membrane is geared to sense, communicate and negotiate relationships with the internal and external environment. These relationships are aligned under such purposes as sensing and responding to the environment, communicating with neighboring cells, letting in nutrients, expelling waste and defending against pathogens that might disrupt the function of the cellular system. The larger organs in our body have these same principles of form and function embedded in them. The external parts of our body including everything from skin, eyes, ears, anus, hands follow the same principles of form and function expressed at the cellular and organ level. The structural ideas reflected at the core are echoed in a rhyming pattern throughout our biological system. We are, in effect, a song written in the fabric of space-time and matter-energy.

If we widen the lens, this same rhyming aspect of form and function echoes outward beyond a single organism. A species develops a skin. Human communication itself is largely based on abstract membranes we call words that form the effect of a skin around a concept. Tribalism is the description of a cultural body that is also an ideological, ritualistic and sometimes geographic or resource driven skin. Expansionism and assimilation is the same principle as eating and digesting external resources. Religion, government, business, and professions as well as academic disciplines also develop this same skin like attribute within their structure.

Of course skin is just one of the many form and function aspects of a biological system that are echoed on many scales. The point here is not to outline all of them, but to describe the rhyming process itself and use it as a platform to gain some insight into ourselves. If we turn our eye toward understanding our nature with any degree of accuracy we must concede that we are far more a reflection – an echo – of the form and function of nature. The more we understand the depths of that communication made to and through the cosmos, the more able we are to navigate with intention through the waters she defines.

The Key to an Intentional Life

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There is a fungus that infects ants and manipulates their thought and behavior patterns.1 Infected ants are rewired by the fungus to change their basic behavioral nature. The rewiring shifts the ants behavior from a role that supports the sustainability of the ant community they depend on for life to instead devote their lives to ideas planted in their head by the fungus. They are now compelled to go on a journey into the forest in search of a place that best serves the purposes of the fungus.

The fungus overlord that has taken over the life of the ant drives them to find a spot suited perfectly to itself under a leaf at an appropriate level off the forest floor. The ant is then driven to attach itself to a major vein on the underside of that leaf where it starves and dies as it is slowly devoured by the fungus it served and sacrificed its life for. The fungus then pops a fruiting body out of the ants dead skull to litter the forest floor with more spores to spread itself to other ants.

The notions that we encounter in our lives that inform us who we are can be a powerful current that steers us much like the fungus steers the life of the ant. Some of these notions come from the inside – who we are without outside influences – what we might aspire or want to be. Some are from the outside – roles that others have planted into us by virtue of whatever prejudicial arrows they happen to carry in their behavioral quiver. Can we forge an intentional live in the midst of currents such as these? It can be difficult. Like the fungus, ideas installed from the outside in can seem like they are our own. Some of us hold ideas about money or other cultural institutions that we will sacrifice our lives for – not because we believe in them, but because we have been infected by them.

One of the necessary ingredients to forge an intentional life is a healthy bit of skepticism about the ideas we hold as our own. These things we think about our self – who we are – may be installed from the outside in, not born from the inside out. Sifting through the pile can be a difficult task. We develop momentum in terms of identity. What we become accustomed to thinking about ourselves becomes harder to see from a different perspective. The longer we hold on to ideas and behave as if these notions are our own, the more we see them as who we are.

Searching oneself honestly and then choosing to be aligned with being the person we choose to be, rather than quietly accepting the roles cast on us by social pressures can be quite a challenge. But it is a necessary one if we don’t want to to be driven to go where the cultural winds take us and end up under whatever leaf it decides is our fate. There is a Lebanese proverb that says; “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.” Each of us must decide if we’re going to be part of the caravan that moves on – making things happen, of one of the dogs that barks out commentary about those happenings.

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Ophiocordyceps unilateralis

An Economy That Mimics Sustainable Biological Systems

As the notion of community is further understood as the foundation of wealth – and as we more clearly understand that the message embedded in the structure of the living biological systems of nature itself is one of dependency on sharing nourishing value between us; ideas like those that Ferananda Ibarra speaks of here will become more common.

Ferananda does a magnificent job outlining this natural foundation of wealth at her TED talk. For more information on the necessary roots of a meaningful and nourishing future check out +VillageLab on google plus, or visit www.villagelab.info

What if Our Behavior Mattered More Than Our Talk

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Each of us is cultivated in the ideological soils of our family and culture. This is what we become familiar with. As this familiar set of ideas takes root it becomes the rudder that steers our vision and in many ways our life. It also extends its tentacles of influence outward to affect the people in our sphere of influence.

On broader scales our vision of the world shapes the relationships we have with each other and the environment. It can ultimately set in motion irreversible sequences of events that, once we cross the event horizon, we lose control over. Carried by their own momentum, we become spectators in our own lives.

Sometimes what we become familiar with and move with intention to preserve is toxic and contrary to what we need as a global community. How do we find a vision that extends beyond our narrow cultural endowments and embraces this larger body of life we are both in and inseparably part of? Perhaps the first step is to value how we treat each other more than we value what we may have learned from our local environment.

The True Foundation Of Wealth

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At a fundamental level, real strength is built on built on the degree to which individuals collectively act in the interest of what nourishes and strengthens the entire community. This doesn’t mean self denial. To the contrary, it is critically important for each of us to be open to receive the things we need to stay strong, but this strength must be converted to something that enhances the entire community in order to produce real value. A mutual stake in each other’s success that extends outward to protect the sustainable flow of essential nourishment is the foundation of a solid community.

Collectively, we wield the power that crafts the idea of what is acceptable and what is not in our community. When we behave toward each other as if we all matter – when this is expressed through behaviors that demonstrate that we care for our streets and homes – when we educate by example and take an active stake in our community – these kinds of things are as contagious as a street full of security bars and trash is to generate the idea of what is acceptable and what is not. Leadership always flows from the bottom up. Community minded people at the bottom is what makes community minded action a priority at the top of any social order.

Generally speaking, there are those that lead and those that follow, but each of us, no matter what our station in life has the power to participate in cultivating the common wealth that flows from community. Sometimes this is as simple as holding a door, smiling, bringing a meal to a sick friend or picking up some trash, or painting a bench. For a business owner it might mean doing responsible things to make the lives of all the workers and the community better in tangible ways. Whatever we have to contribute to the community is ultimately sets the level for what that community is capable of doing. When a mutual stake in each other’s success erodes, so does the community’s capacity to carry the weight of it’s inhabitants. It’s as simple as that – and as complex.

Some of us erroneously think our wealth comes from competition. While competition is necessary to engage at times, cooperation is primary driver of wealth. Our value is rooted in  how much we collectively translate  what the community has to offer us as an investment that returns even more value back to that same community. This is the seed of real wealth.

Please share your thoughts on building community.

The Origin of Success

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The most profound forms of intimacy are based on relationships where the participants do their best to identify each others needs, and give each other their best. Wealth and strength emerges from the elements of giving that strengthen community. If we consider the fact that a thing as simple as a pencil could not exist unless many persons with many skill sets combined their gifts and shared we begin to get a picture for how wealth emerges from this community principle.[1]

From an economic perspective, we do ourselves no favors by clogging up the flow of values that cultivate each other’s success. If segments of our culture are aligned around exploitation the result is poverty. A diseased body is imbalanced, as is a diseased culture. Our values are the currency that drives these behaviors.

There is great value in the mutual stake in each other’s success. This need for a mutual stake in each other’s success does not negate the unpleasant fact that this organic flow can get ruined by one wayward greedy relational element the same way a forest can burn down on the power of a single spark. Community is strong, but it can be fragile as well. On a personal level trust and confidence grows from mutual trust born of actions that serve our collective needs. We must stand together and act in the interests of the whole biological community we are both in and of in order to realize our fullest, most satisfied state. In this sense, we are game players, not rule makers.

[1] For more information on this community principle read “The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves” by Matt Ridley or “I, Pencil: My Family Tree as told to Leonard E.”

Life is a Limited Time Offer

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Investing in an occasional focus on the things that emerge when we take a wider view of our life can pay real dividends if we take this vision to heart. If we are not mindful our lives can drown in the clutter of everyday things that will be forgotten. Sometimes we need flotation devices like this reminder to keep us buoyant.

Swimming in the Same Pond

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At a fundamental level all the wealth and community we have been able to accumulate and sustain over the years has been built on the degree to which we have been able to forge cooperative relationships. A mutual stake in nourishing each other’s success and well being is the foundation of all real wealth.