These days our attention turns to the lessons learned over the past year and how to apply them during our next orbit around the sun. Whatever wisdom we have gained, our minds organize it into patterns. We develop systems for action that we believe will produce certain results, "Early to bed, early to rise makes one healthy, wealthy and wise." We focus on tasks that will enhance our food, shelter, clothing and communities while they enrich our bodies, minds and souls. We begin the new year determined to work smarter, try harder and love more. As the months unfurl, our visions of a better life can get lost in the day to day challenges we encounter. So, what is a practical and sustainable way to apply patterns of wisdom to daily life?
For me the answer is depicted in a story I came across more than 40 years ago. I found it in a sidebar of the Whole Earth Catalog and carried it with me for years. I used this tale to open my first book, The Temple in the House. It goes like this: The Japanese tea master Sen no Rikyu built a teahouse on the side of a hill overlooking the sea. He invited three guests to the inaugural tea ceremony. The guests had heard about the beautiful site and expected to find a structure that took advantage of the wonderful view. After arriving at the garden gate, they were perplexed to discover a grove of trees had been planted that obstructed the panorama. Before entering the teahouse, the guests followed the custom of purifying their hands and mouths at the stone basin near the entry. Stooping to draw water with a bamboo ladle, they noticed a small opening had been clipped through the trees. This opening framed a view of the sparkling sea. In that humble position, they awakened to the relationship between the cool liquid in the ladle and the ocean in the distance, between their individuality and the ocean of life.
What I draw from this story is that patterns of wisdom are a means to connect with what is beyond patterns. They are forms that set up the experience of what is beyond form. Patterns of wisdom are physical vessels of life that allow us to drink in the energy and intelligence that animates and guides daily living. We may enact our wisdom by creating a vision board describing our ideal house, car, physique, wardrobe, partner, family, community and world. But, more than these objects, we want the experience of being alive that we believe this object will bring. Because, these forms are hollow if we are not ignited by the sparks of energy rushing through them.
Sitting on the meditation cushion or stretching out on the yoga mat are, therefore, vessels for feeling the life force flowing through our minds and bodies. Eating a healthy meal is a vessel for tasting the life force moving through the world that produced the food. Going shopping is a vessel for embracing the life force animating and connecting your community. Every physical form from a blade of grass to a galaxy is a vessel for accessing the miracle of life energy shimmering through it.
The application of wisdom is not how to get the things we want. It's how to feel the life energy surging through everything we already have. It's not how we can reshape the world into our preconceived patterns; it's how we can open to the vitality and intelligence animating the amazing patterns that are already and always forming and reforming our lives and the world.
As I focus on the year ahead, I think of expectations of the guests as they arrived at the tea ceremony all those years ago. I recall the small opening the tea master clipped through the trees and how that opening pointed to the ocean of life beyond the trees. I feel how the guests sensed the waters of life pouring through the ocean and through them. I'm inspired by the way this pattern of wisdom awakened them to the life force beyond the pattern. I sense how to apply the patterns of wisdom life has shown me, to honor each physical form I encounter as a vessel for the revitalizing life force surging pouring through it.
The word "change" sparks images of new forms, different relationships, other places and alternate times. There's another type of change that one friend after the other is telling me about. It's not a change in appearance or environment. It's not a transformation in healthcare, politics or economics. This change is as close as your breath and enormous enough to shatter the world. Where it's coming from is hard to say. I sense this change doesn't come from a distant star or from the core of the earth. It's not descending from heavenly gods or arising from neurons within the brain.
The best I can determine is that this change is coming from the spaces between atoms, the gaps between heartbeats and the openings between thoughts. It's coming from within any and every crevice in the fabric of creation. It's the big bang of consciousness, erupting from nowhere, anywhere and everywhere all at once.
To our structure-loving minds, this explosion of change from within is unbearable. Our brains toil every waking moment to shape the world into understandable and predictable frameworks. They live to know where things are coming from and where they're going. The change that is radiating from within blows all that. It's not a transformation of structure. It's the dissolving of structure. It's not a new form. It's shedding of form to reveal the radiance animating form.
I experience this change from within the gaps as the bleaching of solid matter and the emergence of the light of consciousness. It's the fading of the veil and the shining forth of the glowing mystery behind the veil. This revolution doesn't produce new leaders, new societies or breakthrough technologies. It blasts everyone with our own light, the luminous energy and wisdom that has been hidden but expanding within our cells for ages.
This change is painful when we follow old patterns of resistance and control. Anais Nin described the transition beautifully in her famous line: "And the day came when the risk to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
The task-less task is to Release your current form and let the light shine through. It is to trust that the emerging glow that seems to be dissolving you is not destroying you. It's lightening the burden of your solidity and increasing the radiance of your being. It's time to discover the unbearable radiance of change.
More discussions of transformations on your life journey can be found in my new book 24 PATTERNS OF WISDOM. To see a flipbook what's inside, click here.
When we begin a journey we usually have a destination in mind. If we don't move toward a particular place, we travel toward an experience such as adventure, treasure, love or enlightenment. Most of the time we don't arrive exactly where we planned or have the experience we precisely desired. Instead, the path we take often takes us away from our expectations. It reveals places and sensations we didn't know existed. We are shown regions and relationships within ourselves that make wherever we are more beautiful and meaningful.
It's been the same with my life journey. Time and again, I thought I was headed toward one place or experience and have landed, instead, in an unexpected location with a surprising group of people that opened to unanticipated experiences. Over time, a theme has emerged. The settings and sensations life has carried me through have pointed my attention beyond forms and emotions. They have guided me to see the elusive energy and intelligence animating them. My life journey has revealed that this world is a vessel for consciousness.
In this structure of world vessel and animating consciousness, every person and place serves to reveal the countless qualities of the life force that guides and shapes our thoughts, words, actions and achievements. There are no perfect or imperfect vessels. As water flows down any shaped ravine, over any rock and through any channel, consciousness flows through any twist and turn of mind, body and environment. If a stream of consciousness is blocked, the life force, like water, gathers and reveals the qualities of stillness, depth and reflection.
From this perspective, my journey through the world has been a less about discovering the world and more about recognizing the elusive forces working behind the scenes. It's been an adventure of seeing through the characteristics of the vessel and getting to know the possible characters of consciousness. On this journey, the same consciousness that is looking through my eyes at this moment looked through my eyes when I was five years old, twenty and forty. This same awareness sense my childhood home, my school, the work places I have spent my days and the far flung lands to which I've traveled.
Experiencing the world of matter as a vessel for the ocean of consciousness doesn't guarantee the bills will get paid, glowing health will last forever, or love will grace every moment of the day. It does, however, make every environment and encounter come alive. There's never a "been there done that" moment. Every object shimmers with a fresh inflection of consciousness being revealed. Each conversation reveals a deeper relationship with the mysterious forces that create, dissolve and renew the world. Ever step of the way is both a homecoming and an exploration of fresh territory.
Here, now, stop for a moment. Look at the place you occupy and the people inhabiting that place. Look behind the forms to sense what is animating those forms. Allow the consciousness perceiving this place through your eyes to meet the consciousness animating the forms surrounding you. Experience what it is like to see world anew, to perceive it as a vessel of consciousness.
More detailed and thorough knowledge about this experience is described in my new book 24 PATTERNS OF WISDOM. To see a flipbook of what's inside, click here.
Today, millions of people will listen to John Lennon sing Imagine. For me, Working Class Hero reveals the man behind Imagine. It also depicts the pain that makes Imagine such a hopeful anthem for humanity. The first lines of the song grab the shattering experience that shaped his life and music—As soon as you're born they make you feel small / By giving you no time instead of it all / Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all. The soul wails. It aches of coming into this world, bright spirited, curious and music-filled and having the wonder of being alive deadened by neglect. John and we feel less than zero. We drown in the confusion of not knowing why our parents brought us into the world only to abandon us.
They hurt you at home and they hit you at school / They hate you if you're clever and they despise a fool / Till you're so fucking crazy you can't follow their rules. John expresses the pain of not belonging anywhere. Safety is nowhere. Hurt and pain are everywhere. His natural brilliance and playfulness are shunned and disdained. Not able to escape his, or our, own nature and the world's rules drives him and us mad.
When they've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years / Then they expect you to pick a career / When you really can't function you're so full of fear. When our education in hatred, abuse and dread of the world is complete, we're thrown into the marketplace and expected to fend for ourselves. But we're paralyzed by fear. Despite outer appearances, he and we can't function.
Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV / And you think you're so clever and classless and free / But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see. Suffering from the post traumatic stress of being raised in an abusive society John and we medicate ourselves with belief, relationships and entertainment. We buy into our programing and still see ourselves as the small nothings we were when we were born.
There's room at the top they're telling you still / But first you must learn to smile as you kill / If you want to be like folks on the hill. Numb and confused, the society that abused John and us offers a way out. It tells us ti whistle while we do the dirty work of beating out the other guy and polluting the earth. Then we will have our shining house on the hill.
After this dark picture of a tortured soul, the only healthy path to recovering John's and our humanity is to imagine an alternate way. It is to enter a place where no boundary lines separate people, there's no valid reason to murder, no one hoards the wealth. In the face of society's ignorance and brutality, the courageous act is to dream of another way. It is to leave the nightmare of division and hatred and enter the dream of love and unity. John Lennon made this courageous break and showed us an imperfect, human, working class way. Every day I'm grateful he had the heroic heart to dream a new dream and he had the soul to live it in the world. Thanks, John. We love you for it.
Our minds work incessantly to put things in order. We strive to get it right, know what's up and where it's at. Despite our best efforts, life messes with our agendas. No matter how precisely we draw the plans, make the calculations, place the arrangements, or map the stars, we can't fit life into conceptual boxes. Try as we might to harness the forces shaping the world, the primal powers of life refuse to be constrained by our designs. As the saying goes, it's what's happening while we're busy making other plans.
Faced with this reality, what do our minds do? They keep making plans. Our brains are Belief Grid-making machines. Give us a jumble of forces and forms and our minds instantly look for a pattern that will make sense of the situation. As soon as we have developed a solid explanation, however, life quakes, new information emerges and our Belief Grid is shaken. In response, our minds may cry like children who have lost their candy.
A deeper wisdom within us rejoices. It knows that the blurring of our Belief Grids is the way life keeps our plans and methods vibrant. It's not order or chaos that keeps life dynamic, creative and renewed. It's the mixture of order and chaos.
So, the next time your explanation of a situation or roadmap to success doesn't hold or doesn't go the way you expected, take heart. Instead of interpreting it as a failure, engage the disruption as the primal forces of life loosening the tightness of your grip. Open your hands to allow new ways of seeing and experiencing the situation to enter. Stay with the edges where chaos overlaps order and sense the vital energies and information that are being revealed to you. As your mind attempts to solidify it's explanations of what is happening, see through your attachment to having it your way. Receive the wisdom and support of playing it life's way. Let the Blurring of your Belief Grid turn from a barrier to a benefit beyond your imagination.
To learn more about the benefits of Blurring your Belief Grid take a look at my new book 24 PATTERNS OF WISDOM by clicking here.
I'm an architect and author, writing this blog to explore the following questions—How do we live well on this planet? Confronted with the greed, ignorance and fear shaping much of the world, how can we find openings to dwelling here with wisdom, connection, creativity and delight? Looking into these questions reflects my passion for understanding how our thoughts and actions shape buildings and cities. My two books—THE TEMPLE IN THE HOUSE and A HOME FOR THE SOUL—examine the idea of design as a language of human experience. This blog expands these connections to explore how imagination influences what we build in nature. In turn, it looks into ways nature can open our imaginations to more inspiring, sustainable and creative ways of dwelling here now. Let me know what you think.