I received the premier issue of a new local magazine in my grocery box last week called Granville – sustainable city living. There’s that new buzz-word; sustainability. It is their stated intention to use every article to bring the sustainability of Vancouver to the foreground. I found this issue to be what they purported it would be; informative without being preachy, light, lively and intelligent, and practical. So far, so good. It’s going to be coming out quarterly and you can subscribe by going to their web site.
It got me to thinking about a talk that Ben and I gave when we were on a trip to Sweden in 1995. We were invited there by a group who were trying to do business in a completely different way than they ever had. The fellow who originated the idea placed a very tiny ad in the classified section of a Goteborg newspaper saying that he was looking for individuals who might be interested in starting a values-based business from the ground up. It really didn’t say too much more than that. He wanted to see what expertise came out of the group and explore ideas from the values instead of laying the values on top of the business idea. He was stunned at the overwhelming response he received – over 300 people. Whittling the group down to a manageable number and interviewing them was much more difficult than he had anticipated and he hired a consultant to help him – who was our contact.
I was asked to sit with the group he had chosen, and who had chosen one another, in a big warehouse loft near the harbour, on a windy October day. They wanted me to do a group reading for them. Not everyone was there that day but most of them were. It was quite exciting, although I don’t remember now what exactly I said to them. That’s often the case when I do readings. No worries about confidentiality if you can’t remember!
Anyway, they could only start this business with a very small percentage of the people who had expressed an interest, so they formed an informal group with the rest. The idea was that they had a common value system and maybe they could do something together, even if it was to get together and talk. Many of them had an ecological/sustainability sort of bent. Ben and I came in to talk to them about emotional/inner ecology as an extension of their values in the business and community sphere.
The idea behind this was that a lot of people who believe in peace can be quite militant about how they go about convincing the rest of the world. And if you take that a step further, they can be less than peaceful, or ecological, with regard to their bodies and psyches. I have witnessed this many times in my therapy practice where some of my clients were little dictators of sorts; not in the outside world but within themselves. They wouldn’t stop for lunch, would work seven day weeks, not take holidays and would beat themselves up and criticize themselves viciously. Briefly, our job that evening was to get them to think about practicing what they preached for the outside world, on themselves.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this Swedish talk is that I was wondering if there might be room for that sort of concept in this new magazine. An article might refer to being able to sustain ourselves emotionally, spiritually and physically, just as they are suggesting we do for the city. I wondered when I was driving across the city the other day, just how polluting our city affects our psyches, and whether we pay as much attention to polluting our energy fields and our relationships as we do to polluting our air and water.
I had occasion, when I first moved to Vancouver, to go to a Strata meeting for a friend who was going to be out of town. For those of you who live outside Canada, Strata Councils are groups of condominium owners who get together to discuss and vote on the issues to do with their shared building and building services. There was an agenda for the meeting that night which was loosely followed but certainly didn’t stick to the times listed. I witnessed obstruction, petty squabbling, people hogging the microphone, and a chair with few facilitation skills. In short, it was boring and frustrating. To put it simply, people’s interpersonal skills were extremely limited.
I was practicing yoga today, part of my commitment to treat my body with respect, and I was considering this issue as I tried to stretch my ham strings. I had to keep yanking my thoughts back to focus on what I was doing. That lead me to thoughts of my body as my temple. Not being a religious sort, I don’t hang out in sacred buildings of worship very often, although I like them a lot when I get the opportunity. It doesn’t matter much to me what the religion is. If the building is designed to reach ‘up’ to some ‘spiritual’ place, I usually find it peaceful and positive.
I have wondered if we miss spaces like that in our modern lives. Maybe it’s less important to go to church or synagogue or to the mosque or whatever, at designated times, than it is to remember to build sacred rituals or moments or spaces into our everyday lives. I remember trying to convince my architect brother once that the houses he designs ought to have some sacred component to them. That, in fact, every home should have a sacred component. I feel this is particularly true for those of us who do our ‘sacred’ work, or work that is sacred to us, from home.
I was in a home in West Vancouver once, when a friend of mine was house-sitting. It had a meditation space that you reached through a hidden panel in the stair wall. It was carpeted and had a small window that looked out over a beautiful garden and a view of the Burrard Inlet. You could hardly stand in it because it was designed for the owner to sit and think or meditate or read. She had incorporated her sacred, spiritual space into her house.
Hospitals and airports have nondenominational chapels in them and I wonder if we shouldn’t have something along the same lines in schools, shopping malls or community centres. Not because we’re ramming any religion down anyone’s throat but so that there’s an ‘away’ space, to borrow the term of an American architect who wrote The Not So Big House. I think we need spaces where we can remember who we are and what we’re doing on this little blue planet, third from the sun.
To bring the sacred space concept back to my body, or anyone’s body, maybe our bodies are our ultimate sacred spaces. I was daydreaming this evening about what would happen if someone were to say to be that I could only have a job that I really wanted if I would agree to eat a diet that had pesticides in it and/or work ten-hour days and six-day weeks, and/or work in an office where there was no natural light and no fresh ventilation. The idea isn’t completely realistic but I was playing out a ‘what-if’ in my mind. Come to think of it, I know someone who is doing consulting work and that is exactly what she is being asked to do. And thinking back to my days in the corporate world, I was asked to do this. My office was a concrete box that had originally been designed as a storage closet. It had impersonal, mass-produced hotel artwork, no plants, no fresh air, and no natural light. I felt like a mole.
What if this was my option and I refused to take the job saying, “Sorry, my body is my sacred place, my sacred responsibility, and I have a commitment to keeping it strong and clear. I must give it regular rest, fresh air, stimulating views and balanced nutrition, including food, education, and spiritual space, in order that it continue to operate at peak capacity for a long time.”? Just imagine! Come to think of it, without explaining it in those terms, I did just that in 1990 and I never went back.
But if we don’t make such a stand, how can we trea
t our cities better than we treat ourselves? If I put poor quality food, air, thoughts into my body and mind, then I am likely to put poor quality water into the sea. If I accept not having anything inspiring to look at at work, then why wouldn’t I settle for the garbage that is on television?
There is one definition of sacred in my Webster’s dictionary that speaks to this thought:
sacred: secured as by a religious feeling or sense of justice against any defamation, violation or intrusion; inviolate
It strikes me that just as we have to look after nature’s temple that is this beautiful and bountiful place in which we live, and look after our sacred spaces which are the homes where we need to withdraw to renew ourselves each day, and look after our relationships which are the emotional sacred spaces in our lives, we must also look after our most intimate temples; our bodies which house our hearts, minds and souls.
This gave me pause to wonder how I’m doing on that score. Yoga is a start for me but I’d like to walk more. How I allow others to treat me is another angle. Most of the time I think I’m all right on this one – but there are a few exceptions. What I eat is yet another. Where I spend time and who I spend it with is yet another. I could do better I’m sure but overall I think I’m doing all right, but it’s worth thinking about.