The Meeting Map: Making Both Process and Content Explicit

This is the first of three articles that stem from last weekend’s Next Edge Festival in Montréal. I’m grateful to the wonderful organizing team and all the participants who made the event a success and a great learning opportunity for me.

Meeting MapI have long been a fan of mindmaps as a tool for recording what transpires at a meeting, displayed up at the front of the room so that everyone can see the ‘official’ record (and correct it when needed). The mindmap can then serve as an instant set of ‘minutes’ by emailing it to all participants (and non-attendees) at the end of the meeting.

Last weekend Arthur Brock and his amazing team at Emerging Leader Labs showed us the work they’ve done with Gameshifting, a tool that promises to do for meeting process what mindmaps do for content — making it explicit. It uses a combination of wallboards, hand signals, and tablets or similar remote machines for participants to report on what they see happening (or would like to see happening), process-wise, during the meeting/event.

At this stage the tool is largely manual, and fun both for revealing what would otherwise not be known about meetings in general, and about our own personal group behaviours in particular.

As I participated in the “making-explicit” “game”, I began to dream about what might be possible, with today’s technology, that would:

  • Combine the display of process, protocols, and progress from Gameshifting with the display of content from mindmaps (or other graphic recording tools), and
  • Incorporate the patterns of exemplary group process from Group Works into the display.

The graphic above (you can download a higher-resolution PDF here) illustrates how it might work. Here’s a walkthrough:

  1. Before the meeting/event begins, the facilitator and sponsor would (a) key the major agenda items into the Meeting Trajectory blocks (upper left on the chart) and turn the first block green; (b) identify the major and secondary objectives for the meeting (upper right) and turn them dark and light green respectively; an X would appear in red beside each, showing them as not yet accomplished; (c) key in the major nodes (bubbles) on the mindmap (lower right) to correspond with the meeting/event objectives; (d) key in the initials of the people in various Roles (lower left); each box with someone assigned would turn green; (e) initialize the Process Mode for the first agenda item (centre left) to correspond to the mode that will be used to achieve its objective, turning that box green; (f) initialize the Process Style to the primary means to be used for this agenda item (Arthur’s model suggests a variety of different Styles for each Mode, or you could even enter a method like Open Space or World Café), turning that box green; (g) initializing the Interaction Protocol (centre right) to the one most appropriate for the mode and style selected, turning that box green, and (h) turning off all the Alert (lower left) ‘lights’ to grey.
  2. Ideally, all participants would have an app that would allow them to feed back their thoughts on the process electronically as the meeting event proceeded: (a) they could comment on the agenda and, as it proceeded, click on the boxes ahead of or behind the current green box in the Meeting Trajectory to request that the group move on, or go back (one person doing this would turn that box yellow; a majority doing this would turn it red, hopefully signalling the facilitator to “trust the wisdom of the group”); (b) they could click a ‘done’ flag on an Objective box when they thought that objective had been accomplished (when most, or all, depending on the will of the group, did this the red X would turn to a green check mark); (c) they could flash a red “!” or a yellow “?” beside any node of the mindmap to indicate they disagreed or had questions about what had been recorded; (d) they could click on any of the other figures to suggest a change in Mode or Style or Interaction Protocol or a change to the person in any of the Roles (again one person doing this would turn the suggested box yellow; a majority would turn the box red); and (e) they could click on any of the Alert buttons to express the appropriate request to the facilitator.
  3. Any participants familiar with the Pattern Language for Group Process (or wanting to practice learning it) would be able click on any of the 91 pattern cards to indicate either (a) a wish to recognize and thank someone for invoking that pattern very effectively (highlighting that card and turning it green), or (b) a suggestion that the facilitator and/or participants consider invoking that pattern (if the group is stuck or needs process help), highlighting that card and turning it red. For example, in the illustration, someone has turned the Story card green (indicating that someone just proffered an excellent story to the group), and the Honour Each Person card red (indicating that in their view someone is likely being ignored or disrespected by others).

I think you get the gist. All of this is done wordlessly, without interrupting the “audio track” flow of the meeting. It’s only a dream, but if used correctly this could absolutely transform the way we conduct, and collaborate in, group activities. The technology wouldn’t be that hard to implement. Much harder would be getting all the participants up to a base line of competency in what is actually going on in group processes, and what constitutes good versus bad group process. Which is something everyone who has to suffer through horrific meetings should learn, and value.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Arthur and his team do next with Gameshifting, and seeing how both mindmaps and Group Works can be incorporated into their vision. This could be awesome.


Posted in Working Smarter | 10 Comments

Speaking Grosbeak


“Hear that? That bird just said ‘So now what?’ Awesome!” Rafe pointed up at a nearby tree.

Daria had found a clearing beside the stream not far from their regular forest path, and Rafe had quickly stripped and was splashing about in the stream. Daria was sitting on one of the cushions they’d brought, her feet dangling above the water.

“That’s a grosbeak”, she replied. “They say a lot. If you could make out a ‘So now what?’ in that essay of a song, you, my friend, are guilty of excessive patterning. You can probably see a prophet in that cloud, too”, she added, pointing overhead.

“Well, actually, yes. At least he has a prophet’s beard.”

“I rest my case. You’re asking ‘So now what?’, not the bird. The bird knows ‘now what’, and isn’t particularly concerned that you don’t. You want to know ‘now what?’? Watch the bird, don’t listen to her.”

Rafe gave her a raised-eyebrow scowly unconvinced look. “It’s such a long and wonderful song, it must be telling us something.”

“It’s telling us life is complex and unfathomable.” She laughed at him, pulling off her shoes and dipping her feet into the stream, splashing him as she raised them back up.

Rafe fell back into the stream trying to avoid getting splashed. He sat there for a moment, and then said “She only needs a note or two to convey that. What is all the rest of it saying?”

“That she is complex and unfathomable and therefore she is joyful and excited to be a part of it. A good mating call message, I would think.”

He laughed. “Wow, I wish I could find a mate that wise and self-aware!”

Daria tossed the second cushion at him, which he caught before it hit the water. Rafe towelled off, plunked the cushion down and sat beside her. They listened to the birds, the wind through the trees, the happy gurgling of the stream.

Rafe broke the silence, speaking slowly and quietly, sighing: “So… now what?”

“Watch the birds. Pay attention.” She stripped off the rest of her clothes and turned to kiss him. They kissed for a while.

“So now I know that ‘I’ don’t exist”, he said at last. “That there is no self. No ‘thing’, in fact. There are only processes. The scientists and philosophers now agree. Even time is an illusion, an invented construct so our poor overwhelmed brains can sufficiently simplify reality to make sense of it usefully. I know this, yet I feel and act as if nothing’s changed.”

“Nothing’s changed”, she replied. “You are who, or what, you are. It’s the only life you know. The only way you know of acting and responding and being. You do OK.” She smiled at him.

“It’s like I’m one of the characters in Plato’s cave. Imprisoned in place and able to see only shadows. But suddenly I’m told, and it makes sense, that there is another reality out there, a real reality. I want to see it.”

Daria rose and started paddling in the stream, doing impromptu dance and gymnastic moves. “You can’t. You’re imprisoned. You want to fly like a bird, too, you keep saying. You want to be a bird. Not happening. Be who you are.”

He sighed. “Yeah, I guess. I’m such an idealist. Too many years daydreaming of what could be, of what I could be. Who I am is that gentle scared kid locked inside my head peeking out longingly.” He stood up and leaned against the closest tree, watching her. “I feel like I’m running out of time to really see.”

Daria stopped dancing and stretched out her hands to him, inviting him into the stream with her. They danced in the water, closely, slowly. He watched her face, the reflection of the sun in the water sparkling across it, and the shadows of the leaves as she turned.

“‘Really seeing’ isn’t something you learn”, she said. It’s not a skill, it’s a way of being. You’re not that way. You’re pretty amazing, Rafe. You’re intelligent, imaginative, caring. You’re incredibly fortunate. You’re healthy. And you’re with me.” She gave him a wry smile. “That’s enough, if only you would let yourself be, and stop dreaming of being something else.”

He held her tight, lifted her up, and sighed. “That’s just it. I can’t stop dreaming. What I am and what I feel and what I can see is not enough. I feel as if my way of being is not being at all. It’s a shadow life, a life imprisoned, no matter how comfortable the prison’s decor. I want to be free.”

She wrapped her legs around him and they stood like that, in the water, his face buried in the lovely soft skin of her body. She lowered her face to his hair, and whispered close to his ear: “Then be who you are. Really inhabit it, experience it. Live it. I’m guessing if you could really do that, it would be enough. You would no longer be restless to be otherwise. You would be free. You would be connected. You would discover how perfect you are.”

He walked to the side of the stream and set her down, gently. He spread out the towels and lay down with his head on one of the cushions. “So how do I do that, oh lovely all-knowing-one?” He smiled to let her know he was teasing.

She lay beside him, her head on his chest. “So”, she began. “First of all, you stop trying to be otherwise, stop trying so hard to be who you’re not, to change. Sense. Be still. Watch. Listen. Let it all fold over you. It’s doing that anyway, so might as well notice it. Let go of trying to be everything you’re not. Breathe. Try not to think so much. Dare to really feel. Just as you’ve discovered your ‘self’ and time aren’t real, realize your fears aren’t real, they’re just constructions around the ancient flight/flight/freeze instincts that don’t actually make sense.” She rolled over on top of him, bracing herself on her arms so she could look into his face. “Nothing to be afraid of.”

“Wow”, Rafe replied. “Seems hard, impossible. You can really feel all that?”

“We’re not talking about me. I’m not you. No one has any answers that work for everyone. We’re all different. I’m just guessing, trying to help, suggesting things that might help you get out of the mental box you seem to have locked yourself inside.” They just looked at each other for a while, and then Daria added: “Kali was right. All those gurus who claim to have achieved enlightenment are just charlatans, just trying to figure out what to do themselves, and trying to make a living at it while they’re at it.”

She was crying. “I actually have no idea what you should do.”

He squeezed her. They were silent for a while until her sobbing ceased. “So what about you, then. What’s your existential crisis. Maybe I can help you by guessing at some answers.”

She sighed. “I think I’m kinda past that. Don’t believe in answers. We love who we imagine each other to be, since we can’t really know. It’s enough that you love me, that you care. I’m not looking for answers. As the bird told you, we all heal naturally, if we give it time and help the process. You’re a big help.”

“I wish I could speak grosbeak. I’d sing my complex and unfathomable love to you. We could just sing it back and forth until all the world knew.” He rolled her over and kissed her, then started sliding down her body, light feathery touches and kisses.

“Wow, Rafe, I’m still a bit sore from our marathon this morning. You’re incorrigible, you know.” He ignored her protests, moved lower. She gasped. “Damn, you know I can’t say ‘no’ to you. And it is kind of sexy out here in the woods.” They made love slowly, gently, as the shadows lengthened across their bodies.

During an intermission, Rafe said: “This is one way I try to show you how much I love you, that I care. Showing is more important than telling. How else can I show you?”

Daria replied: “It feels good just being here with you. You feel good. Just right.” She thought for a moment and then added: “Despite how much you feel you’re caught up in your head, you’re actually very generous. You show me love by a thousand small acts of kindness, attention, appreciation, noticing. You make space for me. Just keep doing that.”

She looked down at his face smiling at her from between her legs. And laughing and pointing at him, she added, “And just keep doing that, too!”

(photo by ericncindy24 from flickr, license cc-by-2.0)

Posted in Creative Works | 2 Comments

More Bowen Birds

I posted some of my favourite Bowen bird photos last year. Here are four more, which I took in the last couple of days. Yes I cheated — had some birdseed that I put out left over from the winter, which attracted some species I always hear but rarely get close enough to photograph, notably the mellifluous grosbeaks and house finches.

Rufous HummingbirdRufous hummingbird, whose family is nesting and buzzing in my upstairs bathroom vent.

Stellar's Jay

Stellar’s jay, as raucous as its crow cousins, but with a spiffier haircut. Song, if you can call it that, here.

Black-Headed Grosbeak

Black-headed grosbeak, whose long and lovely song is also louder than the robins’ and finches’. Song sample. Oops, Spotted Towhee — thanks tomc for the correction.

Black-Headed Grosbeak 2

This is a Black-Headed Grosbeak (a photo I took earlier), whose long and lovely song is also louder than the robins’ and finches’. Song sample.

House Finches

Matched set of house finches, the “happy bird” that sounds like a gentle but exuberant, long-winded and slightly intoxicated robin. Song sample.

For those as crazy about birds as I am, I have put up a complete set of my Bowen bird photos on flickr here. It includes a flicker, of course.


Added June 4: Couldn’t resist adding this little guy:

White-Crowned Sparrow

Posted in Creative Works | 7 Comments

Suffering Fools Gladly


Once a year I try to travel outside my circle of comfort, both intellectually and geographically. Last year I spent nearly a week with Dougald Hine and Paul Kingsnorth, the genii of Dark Mountain, and met up at the same time with Ben Brangwyn, Rob Hopkins and some of their powerful team in the Transition Network in Totnes UK. Both meetings were delightful despite my unwarranted apprehensions and the fact I don’t travel well.

This year, in less than a fortnight (June 11-14) I will be in Montréal at the Next Edge Festival. It will be great to renew acquaintances with the event organizer (and Next Edge co-founder) Seb Paquet and half a dozen like-minded old friends who are offering sessions at the festival, and to finally meet face-to-face with some of the remarkable thinkers in the (invitation-only) Next Edge: Dealing With Collapse Facebook group whose thoughts and insights I appreciate so much — Sam Rose, Liz McLellan, Flemming Funch and Ben Roberts, among others. My session is titled 7 Generations From Now: A Collective Improv, and the write-up is:

Welcome, friend! Sit with me in this circle around the campfire, in these early days of the 23rd century CE. (You are your own great-great-great-great-great grandchild.) The two-century Long Emergency has finally wound down. There are only about 150 million humans left now, they tell us, and much of our planet is too hot to be inhabitable. The weather’s still wild but at least we managed to get all the nukes decommissioned. We live a much simpler, relocalized, neo-tribal life now, with the only real technology scavenged for essential medical and shelter purposes. But life is good, here on the banks of this ancient Canadian river. So, tell me, friend, how are you doing and what brings you joy these days?

The idea is simply to host and facilitate a conversation, with participants seated in a circle, imagining ourselves as our descendants seven generations hence, after civilization’s collapse. That’s it. Just a conversation. No “save-the-world” presentations, workshops or collaborations. My dear friend Nancy White has agreed to do a graphic recording on the “cave wall” of the session, in paint and chalk, and I’m trying to find some Montréalais who can do some spiffy post-civ face painting for us, so this conversation will have some artistic flair. It’s to be a playshop, not a workshop.

My sense is that the festival, like the lion’s share of the Next Edge Facebook group it draws from, will be full of earnest people urgently pushing new tools, technologies, practices, hackathons, collective consciousness-raising projects and potential ongoing collaborations to make the future better. For the same reason I almost never participate in the main Next Edge Facebook group, the idea of being asked to engage some of these people and explain why I think their ideas are interesting but ultimately aren’t going to survive civilization’s collapse, fills me with apprehension and triggers my “I’m going to be disappointing people” switch. My joyful pessimism is generally seen by many energetic and optimistic people as just pessimism, defeatism, or curmudgeonliness. Although I respect their zeal, I would prefer to spend my time in Montréal with people who understand the futility of world-changing, just being together with them.

I’m hoping that my session will attract principally those people prepared to do just that, and that the people who think their idea is an essential one I have been overlooking, will give it a pass. If that means no one shows up, that would be preferable to me to having to deal with a large circle of people imagining their world-saving visions two centuries hence, and hijacking the opportunity for us to just sit together, in contemplative gratitude, beyond hope, just imagining what a low-tech, low-complexity relocalized post-civilization society might be like — so that instead of dreading the future and grieving what we have precipitated, we can quietly celebrate the end of this ghastly but well-intentioned civilization and the emergence of thousands of diverse, sustainable, joyful human societies living connected with the rest of life on Earth in a way that today we can scarcely imagine.

I suspect my anxieties are overwrought, and that this event will be joyful and gentle and inspiring, and create some lasting new connections. The collection of intentions of attendees that one participant has assembled is encouraging. I’m trying to keep my expectations modest, despite the extraordinary effort the organizing team has put into this epic project, and mostly hover in the corridors of the Centre Vanier connecting, as Gonzo puts it, with “old friends I’ve just met”.

I’ll let you know how it goes. If you’re in Montréal, or can make it then, I’d be pleased to meet up. Already conspiring on a magazine article on group process with Jon Husband.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 3 Comments

The Power of Pattern Languages

I was recently interviewed about Pattern Languages, and specifically about Group Works, the pattern language of  collaborative, deliberative and participative processes that I was involved with (I’m a member of the coordinating team that produced the card deck based on the pattern language).

The interview has been picked up by Shareable. Here’s a teaser and a link to the whole article, titled The Power of Pattern Languages:

(Photo by Gene Stull)

Paxus Calta: Why are most meetings, conferences and other deliberative processes so bad?

Dave Pollard: Seven years ago, a group of professional facilitators convened to answer that question and see if they could come up with a better way. They ended up producing Group Works: A Pattern Language for Bringing Life to Meetings and Other Gatherings, a 100-card deck of exemplary group practices that has since been used by thousands of people in over two dozen countries.

Paxus: What is a pattern language, and why do you think pattern languages are important?

Dave: Organizations used to use so-called “best practices” to improve the way things are done, but their use has waned recently because leaders realized that the context in which any such practice is useful is usually pretty narrow.

A more current approach to improving processes is to collect and mine large numbers of stories about what works well in a particular discipline or area of professional practice or other activity, and then look for the patterns in those stories – things that seem to work well across a wide spectrum of different contexts and at many different scales. A cohesive set of such patterns that can be used together to improve processes is called a pattern language. The term was coined by Christopher Alexander and his colleagues who developed the first such language in the field of architecture.

To give you an idea of what a pattern is, in collaborative and deliberative work we discovered a key recurring pattern in many stories of successful meetings is Holding the Space – creating a safe space in which all participants are enabled and encouraged to offer their knowledge, ideas, perspectives and insights to the whole group. Each field has its own patterns; in activism, for example, one recurring pattern is Reframing: changing the way people talk about an issue from the way your opponents speak about it to the way your supporters speak about it.

We’ve learned that understanding and evoking patterns of exemplary process leads to better outcomes than other approaches in many disciplines, and we’ve been blown away at the diverse and powerful ways our Group Works pattern language has been used, including some ways we never imagined…

Read the whole article on Shareable

Thanks to Cat Johnson for publishing this interview

Posted in Working Smarter | Comments Off on The Power of Pattern Languages

Links of the Quarter: May 28, 2015

Cathedral City CA

subdivision in Cathedral City CA, built (as you can see) in the desert; photo by Damon Winter in the NYT

So, here’s the thing:

  1. All “growth” in the economy, for at least the past half century, has come from producing and consuming more (mostly oil-based) energy, in total and per capita. All of it. Without finding and burning more and more hydrocarbons at an ever-faster rate all over the globe, there would be no “growth”. The belief that growth comes from “innovation” is simply wrong.
  2. The industrial economy is absolutely dependent upon “growth”. All investment markets are based on the presumption that profits will grow at a rate much faster than inflation. No growth, no incentive for investment. Without the presumption of perpetual growth, stock markets would collapse, and with them housing markets, currencies and the rest of the economy. That’s why this economy is so insane.
  3. Since the 1980s, it has become all-important for governments to perpetuate the myth that there is and will continue to be “growth”, and that the population as a whole benefits from it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Actual inflation rates, using un-manipulated data, have been hovering near 10% for years, not near-zero as reported. Actual unemployment rates are near 25% even in the most prosperous countries. Actual GDP “growth”, adjusted for real inflation, has therefore been negative for decades. On a per-capita basis, very negative. Highly positive for the 1% mind you, but very negative for everyone else. By loaning ever-increasing amounts of money to people at artificially depressed rates (rather than the double-digit rates called for by real inflation), the average taxpayer has the illusion of becoming more wealthy, since assets are rising (though debts are rising faster). Net worth in real terms for all but the super-rich has been and continues to be in free-fall, and for most is now less than zero.
  4. There is no longer any pretence by any government or large organization that the staggering debts they have accumulated will ever be repaid. As debts become due, they are simply rolled over to new debt issues with large new borrowings added on. And the banks create new debt every time they print more money or loan or invest. This can only continue with the assumption of perpetual and accelerating growth, and the assumption that interest rates can be kept far below real inflation rates through the complicity of banks, governments, corporations, media and regulators, indefinitely. Both assumptions are preposterous.
  5. So the global economy now teeters on the edge, supported by two massive lies: That the economy is actually growing and can continue to do so forever, despite the finiteness and growing extraction cost of the oil upon which it absolutely and utterly depends; and that the mind-boggling and accelerating levels of debt that have been racked up are sustainable indefinitely — that people (mostly unwitting taxpayers) will continue to loan and invest money in a globally bankrupt economy in the expectation that future generations will somehow come up with some miracle to enable its repayment and some other miracle to enable growth to continue forever. As soon as those holding these debts lose faith that these miracles will inevitably occur, the economy is toast. Stocks, investments, houses and currencies will plummet to near-zero levels, oil-fueled production will grind to a halt, assets will be liquidated to repay debts, trade will evaporate, and the longest and deepest depression in human history will begin. For most it has already begun.

This is why, considering the alternative “first collapse” scenarios of energy/resource exhaustion and runaway climate change, my bet is still on economic collapse as the first domino in the series that will herald the end of our civilization. I would be surprised if it is more than 20 years before this first domino falls. Extreme weather events and climate change will then just add another level of immiseration to an already desperate situation, as it will take out human-built infrastructure and essential resources (food, water, forests, and the means to keep temperatures within human livable limits) far faster than any human effort could hope to recover from, even with a healthy economy. Then we will see a Great Migration of humans, similar to what occurred during the last Ice Age, except instead of a few million people in motion, it will be a few billion.

It is both too early and too late to do much about this at the community level (all bets are off about what political and social systems will survive even early stages of collapse, and where), but a personal program of self-learning, self-healing, appreciation and self-liberation is always and especially timely when we cannot know what we will have to face. The work, as always, begins within.

My friend Bodhi Paul Chefurka writes:

Now That I Know…
I will live the rest of my time here as mindfully and lovingly as I can.
I will never stop learning – about the world, about other people and about myself.
I will strive to be compassionate to all beings – especially to those people who are still asleep.
I will treat all hardships as opportunities.
I will cause as little harm as I can manage.
I will have compassion for myself over any harm I inflict because I cannot avoid it.
I will express gratitude for the incredible good fortune I have experienced simply by being conscious and self-aware at this moment in history.
I will discard all blame, anger, guilt and shame – these emotions are obstacles to growth.
I will forgive us all for being the flawed miracles that we are.



LOTM schumacher college poster

poster for a course by Schumacher College

This Is The Way the World Ends: Oxford researchers list the 12 most likely “first dominos” to fall as our civilization falls. They have economic collapse at #8. Close but no cigar. The rest of the list is interesting, with most of the crises on the list actually being consequences of the “3 Es”: economic, energy or ecological collapse. On the other hand, Jordan Greenhall has the order about right. So does Tom Lewis in his renewed alarm over peak oil. Thanks to the NTHELove group for the Oxford link, Jon Husband and others for the link to Jordan’s post, and Tim Bennett for the Tom Lewis link.

Long Past the Point of No Return: Ex-Grist reporter David Roberts, back from hiatus, explains why it’s now impossible to limit average global warming to 2C. Or 4C for that matter. And why climate scientists won’t admit that, in public.

Extinct: Dmitry Orlov weighs in on the probabilities of NTHE (near-term human extinction), and lays out several likely scenarios for civilization’s collapse (but not humanity’s extinction). He also seems to think a Great Migration is in the cards.

Debate: Collapse vs Transition: David Holmgren, Nicole Foss and some less cogent debaters square off in an essential but ultimately unsatisfying debate on whether and/or how to prepare for civilization’s collapse. Thanks to Kari McGregor at SHIFT for the link.

Change They Don’t Believe In: James Kunstler explains why political change is not in the air in the US despite the increasingly desperate situation there:

The American thinking classes are lost in raptures of techno-wishfulness. They can imagine the glory of watching Fast and Furious 7 on a phone in a self-driving electric car, but they can’t imagine rebuilt local economies where citizens get to play both an economic and social role in their communities. They can trumpet the bionic engineering of artificial hamburger meat, but not careful, small-scale farming in which many hands can find work and meaning.

As Night Closes In: John Michael Greer writes about the late William Catton, author of Overshoot and one of the first to warn about industrial civilization’s unsustainability. “When I spoke to him in 2011, he was perfectly aware that his life’s work had done essentially nothing to turn industrial society aside from its rush toward the abyss.”

Megadrought Coming: A NASA/Cornell/Columbia research study shows the intensity and longevity of the current drought in most of the plains and the west of North America. If you live there, you should seriously think about moving. Thanks to Sam Rose for the link. And check out these amazing photos of the folly of urbanization of areas that must import their water.

Ships Going Nowhere: The Baltic Dry Index, showing relative demand for the use of ocean-going cargo vessels, is at its lowest level ever, despite the plunging price of oil. What recession? Thanks to Seb Paquet for the link.



LOTM Cherry Blossom Herons Bowen med DSC-0379

photo by a Bowen Nature Club member of a heron’s nest, taken last month

The Importance of Tribal Parenting: What differentiates undamaged indigenous cultures from modern industrial civilization culture comes down to one essential thing: how adults parent their children. If we could relearn their way of parenting, we might be much more resilient and much better prepared for crises and collapse, and so would our children. Thanks to Dark Mountain for the link.

The Virtue of Slacking Off: Working too hard creates a “scarcity mindset” that renders us insensitive, over-reactive and dysfunctional, say the authors of a new book, Scarcity. The answer is to add slack to your routine, as hard and counterintuitive as that may be. Thanks to Tree for the link.

Timothy Was Right: The New Yorker explains how psychedelics are returning to respectability as a treatment for many emotional diseases, including Civilization Disease.

Sharing Economy Corner: A pizza place lets you give pizza slices to the homeless.



LOTM New Yorker complexity

New Yorker cartoon by Jacob Samuel

The Great Natural Supplements Scam: Think you’re using gingko, echinacea, St. John’s wort, saw palmetto, valerian, ginseng, or other herbal supplements to improve your nutritional health? Most likely you’re getting none of these, just cheap fillers, some of them possibly dangerous. Welcome to the world of unregulated “free” markets.

The Police Shooting You Didn’t Hear About: The Fairfax VA police murder of John Geer happened before the current spate and increased awareness of the endemic fear, contempt and violence of our militarized police. It’s the scariest of all.

The Free Speech Crisis: Why self-censorship is more dangerous to democracy and freedoms than imposed censorship.

America’s Subversive War on Arab Peoples and Putin’s Russia: It’s all about money, oil and power, reveals Julian Assange. It has nothing to do with democracy or civil rights. If you don’t believe Julian, you might find Dexter Filkins and Sy Hersh more credible. And the growing xenophobia in Europe isn’t helping matters. Thanks to Sam Rose for the links.

The Decline of Vancouver: Despite its superficial affluence, Vancouver, the city my island is technically a suburb of, is in the late stages of decline. It produces less and less, other than monster homes and extravagant condos. Young people are leaving in droves. Only millionaires can afford to live there. Whole streets of homes are empty, as the city becomes one of the world’s Hedge Cities, where the world’s ultra-rich, many of them criminals, park their money in real estate, convinced that even collapse will be better in Vancouver.

Canada, Where Doctor-Assisted Suicide Is Neither Legal Nor Illegal: “In its unanimous ruling in February, the Supreme Court gave Parliament a year to introduce a new law that heeds the right of consenting adults with a ‘grievous and irremediable’ illness to seek physician aid to end their lives.” The ultra-conservative Harper government has no intention of doing so, of course. In the meantime, everything is in limbo, especially the lives of those terminally or excruciatingly ill. The only hope is that we’ll dump this ghastly government in this fall’s elections, and elect one with compassion. We might even get proportional representation, if we’re smart.

US No Longer a Democracy: Princeton confirms it. Of course, you already knew that.



LOTM Ohmmmm via michel dumais

cartoon by Mandor via Michel Dumais

To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This: Fascinating and astonishingly viral meme picked up by the NYT suggests shared intimacy will almost always lead to love. Of course, the meme has already been satirized by the NYT crosstown friends at The New Yorker. Thanks to Tree for the original link.

Waves: Great video, great little vibe by Mr Probz, transcends genres.

Why You’re Still Single (Based On Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type): Absolutely hilarious, and a little bit scary. Thanks to Alexis Pankerson at NTHELove for the link.

The Fire Knife Dance: A highlight for any visitor to Hawaii.

The Whole Point of Every Relationship Is…: Make your guess before you click the link, then check out the 10 ways to make it happen. Thanks to Ryan Rathje for the link.

A Cup of Tea as a Metaphor for Consent: A funny and wise explanation of the meaning of consent.

Mother of Dragons: A hilarious explanation of the perils of modern parenthood by Heather Havrilesky.

When Birds Squawk, Others Species Listen: Bird language, it appears, is understood by just about every species except the supposedly sapient one.

The Girl Who Gets Gifts From Birds: If only we understood birds as well as they understand us. Thanks to Natalie Shell for the link.

Origins Of Mysterious Radio Wave Bursts Discovered: Some things are actually not all that mysterious, with a little common sense investigation. A must-read. Thanks to Seb Paquet for the link.

Toronto’s Terror Tunnel: For two months, Toronto police and citizens were baffled by the discovery of a hidden tunnel leading from woods to an entrance near the PanAm Games tennis facility. Terrorist plots were imagined, as were more silly explanations. Turns out it was built by a couple of guys on a lark, wanting to build themselves a “man-cave” as a sanctuary from the urban tumult above. Police dismantled the tunnel but did not press charges.

Spocking the $5 Bill: Finally — money is actually good for something. Honouring Leonard Nimoy. Or Bill Murray.

Blowing Smoke: A nicotine solution to global warming. From the Onion, of course. Thanks to Seb Paquet for the link.



LOTM Chris Kenny 12 twigs via seb

12 Twigs, an artwork by Chris Kenny (thanks to Seb Paquet for the link)

From a speech by Wendel Berry (thanks to Liz McLellan for the quote):

Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.

From Helen Macdonald in H is for Hawk:

I think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. And how they are disappearing – not just from the wild, but from people’s everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen. The rarer they get, the fewer meanings animals can have. Eventually rarity is all they are made of. The condor is an icon of extinction. There’s little else to it now but being the last of its kind. And in this lies the diminution of the world. How can you love something, how can you fight to protect it, if all it means is loss?

And on a related note, from the late Stephen J. Gould in Eight Little Piggies:

We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well — for we will not fight to save what we do not love.

From Jeppe Graugaard, in Transforming Sustainabilities

It appears to me that we have broken open our stories, our ways of telling and interpreting. As a movement in the social imaginary – rather than of people trying to ‘change the world’ – Dark Mountain has opened a door for wildness and untamed otherness to slip back into the lifeworld, offered a way of being which makes it possible to flourish even in the shadow of the enormity. It allows us to embrace and align with our wider relations without requiring us to blow up civilisation in a battle that can never be won.

By retreating to the mountains and reorienting our compass it has become possible to dispel the pull on attention which the enormity exercises on us, to decide to focus our awareness on the dark spots on our maps, on the absences wherefrom new things can grow. Journeying in this range shows that ‘civilisation’ is only one name among many for a pervasive logic which divides the world without anchoring complexity in the greater movement of which we all are part.

At the edge, hearing the faint voices beneath the clamour of engines, it is possible to perceive the soundscape of a world which does not need us to do anything but to listen and to live our questions now.

From Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac (thanks to Zack Lehtinen for the quote)

One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 2 Comments

Beyond Belief

My latest article, Beyond Belief, is up at SHIFT magazine as part of its ninth edition. Check out the whole magazine! And if you like what you read, or prefer to read hard copy, please get this issue as a digital download (beautiful magazine layout) or sign up for an annual subscription (6 issues).


I‘m not spiritual. Really.

People often ask me if, in my self-proclaimed state of joyful pessimism and contemplative gratitude, I’ve finally discovered spirituality.

I insist that I have not.

Just about everyone I know who self-identifies as “spiritual” also believes our civilization will somehow be ‘saved’ from collapse (by science or technology, or the market, or wise leadership, or human ingenuity, or by a god or gods, or by a massive human consciousness-raising). What good is a ‘spirit’, after all, if he/she/it can’t save you from perceived disaster?

No thank you, no salvation needed here…

Read the whole article at SHIFT.

(image from a Deva Premal fan video, original source uncited)

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 5 Comments

this just being together


“Philosophers will say that humans can never be silent because the mind is made of words. Turning within, you will find only words and images that are parts of yourself. But if you turn outside yourself — to the birds and animals and the quickly changing places where they live — you may hear something beyond words.”  — John Gray: The Silence of Animals

what do we care about
that so desperately needs words?

“without intelligent, informed conversation,
there is no hope for us”, you say
and I appreciate your point

but what if we were simply silent
in each other’s company
(and not while reading books or watching screens,
and lost in language)?

what if we just sat together, wordlessly
contemplating the sun’s rise or the rain’s fall
without the need to comment on it?

what if we just walked together, wordlessly
listening, watching, sensing, feeling
the wind spring up and the thrush sing down,
without remark?

what if we kissed, caressed, tasted each other, mated
without talking, playfully, innocently, gently, unhurriedly
just let our bodies speak joyfully with each other,
teach each other the meaning of pleasure without words,
without the need for articulation, or reassurance?

what if we worked together, without speaking,
just doing stuff that seemed to want doing,
demonstrating precisely how to do it well, and easily,
learning, trying, showing, helping,
letting creation express itself through us?

what if we just contemplated each other, wordlessly,
smiling, admiring, attending, grooming,
looking in each other’s eyes, just present
without voice, and without thought?

what if we played together, wordlessly,
without a goal, or rules, or scores,
but just for fun, to laugh, to move, without constraint,
to dance, to do, as one, whatever we feel?
why is it we have workshops but no playshops?

what if we just held each other,
your back against my chest, or
your face buried in my shoulder,
showing “I love you” instead of saying it?

why do we have to talk, to ruin it with words
that are just labels, really meaning nothing
since we can’t hope to know
what the other is really thinking, feeling, sensing?

why can’t we just be, together, unabstracted by thoughts
and words of who we are and what we think and why?
why isn’t it enough, this just being together?

are we afraid we’ll realize the futility of words,
their uselessness, the foolishness
of our dependence on them for the illusion
of real connection?

what if we could approach the silence of animals?

I wonder if we need words
to fill the space of our relationships
because we have become so disconnected
each of us inside our head, that we have lost
the sense of communion, of being a part,
that needs no words to be expressed.

what madness has so obsessed
our sad, distracted minds
that we no longer know the comfort
of belonging to all-life-on-Earth?

the swallow and the spider and the wind
are telling us, showing us
how to just be, together.

hush the noise inside your head
and realize that there is nothing
but this
just being together.

image: cormorants on pam rocks, salish sea; photo by the author

Posted in Creative Works | 5 Comments

Poster: The New Political Map

The New Political Map 2015

Full-sized downloadable PDF version with hyperlinks here. I have added in the names of seven people I greatly admire (all, sadly, middle-aged or older white males) who have written articles or books that I think exemplify worldviews F through L. In the PDF version, clicking on the names will open links to these articles in your browser.

This is not to say that these people exemplify these worldviews; nor are they the authors of the ‘taglines’ I show in the poster for purposes of defining and differentiating the worldviews. Most of us have multiple and changing worldviews across swaths of this map, which is only sensible when new information is constantly surfacing. No one knows for sure what the future will hold, and we need to keep our options open and work together on initiatives where we share a common purpose.

Hope you find this useful.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 6 Comments

Poster: A Community-Based Resilience Framework

BLOG BIT Community Based Resilience Framework rev

Thanks to some suggestions from Transition Network co-founder Ben Brangwyn and others, I’ve revised and condensed the Community-Based Resilience Framework I published here a few months ago. The two main changes are the elimination of the accompanying explanation (my hope is that this can stand alone as a poster for Resilience groups to use), and reordering it into five “stages”, from the inner work of knowing ourselves better, to the collective work of building community and preparing communities for dramatic and permanent change.

I’ve also eliminated the rhetoric about the inevitability of civilization’s collapse, in the hope that will make this model more accessible to the whole spectrum of groups concerned about the grave crises we are facing.

You can download it full-size as a PDF poster here.

Hope you find it useful.

Posted in Preparing for Civilization's End | 2 Comments