Go figure it was renamed. Deskan Ziibi, meaning Antler River, is the original name for the majestic Thames River that flows through Ontario. I recently had the opportunity to co-facilitate a session with my cohort (the fabulous Koral, Jennifer, Emily, and Claire) and the Deskan Ziibi Conservation Bond Project as a part of my ongoing studies with Regenesis through The Regenerative Practitioner course. The conservation project is an innovative and exciting application of a financial instrument to conservation efforts. Or so I thought…
From our cohort report:
The Deshkan Zibii Project consists of a collaboration of cross-sector partners testing an innovative tool to finance conservation work in the Carolinian zone of Ontario, Canada. As the pilot project was initially implemented, conservation organizations partnered with leaders from local First Nations communities to guide the restoration of 150 acres of land from its current use as residential, farmland and band-owned land to healthy prairieland. Corporate, community, and government outcome payers joined in relationship with an investment firm to secure financing of the project through a newly-established bond whose return on investment was contingent on increased levels of biodiversity. These stakeholders were also joined by the nearby Ivey Business School which created shared metrics for monitoring the progression of the restoration.
First and foremost, the DZ project is on the ancestral lands of the Anishinaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Attawandaron, and Wendat. It is currently home to the Chippewa and Oneida peoples, all of whom before settlement had healthy systems of governance, education, trade, language, and kinship. As the original stewards of this land they related to it in ways that ensured harmony and balanced its rich natural resources producing plenty of goods and foods necessary for long-term thrival.
At first it seemed that this project was largely about the bond mechanism that brought a conservation-minded investor together with municipalities, the private sector, and local landowners. And while the bond mechanism is a new concept that incentivizes outcomes aligned around the regeneration of biodiversity on the land, I was surprised working through the project to discover that the bond is not the main regenerative design element.
Regenerative development is always placed-based because experience shows that potential is grounded in place. Place, an experience and concept once far more influential in life, has a unique essence and story. It can be understood through many lens all of which form a holistic view of what makes a place unique. The land can be viewed from geophysical, hydrological, biological, settlement, economic, developmental, historical, and psychological lenses and its key patterns and flows discerned. Through this its regenerative potential can emerge, however, these lenses can only capture so much. They fail to capture the true essence of a place, the felt sense of what it is like to be or live on the land.
Uncovering the essence of the place, both quantitative and qualitatively, provides a key part of the understanding required to see the place as a complex living system that is evolving over time. By seeing today as a freeze frame in the timeline the project/place can be seen in the context of its influences through the past until present and discover what potential its future holds.
Like most in the North American continent this place has a history of Western settlement that conflicts with Indigenous stewardship. The 150-acres of land in question sits in the rich Carolinian zone of Canada, home to Canada’s highest biodiversity and 25% of its human population despite being only .25% of its total land mass. Great swaths of this land were previously forrest and rich hunting lands which have been converted into highly productive agricultural lands where most farms use modern industrial agriculture techniques like monocropping and heavy fertilizers which further destabilize the region.
The Thames River is instrumental to life in the region and can be seen as the main artery that runs from the city of London nearby (population 400k) all the way to the Lake Ontario. In many places it is the watershed that is a significant driver of the patterns of life and here is no exception. But one more example of water is life. With high levels of pesticide use and urbanization comes runoff which affects the quality of water and life. These effects contribute to some local’s well water being non-potable resulting in a multi-decade boil-only water advisory.
This interdisciplinary approach with both quantitative and qualitative data weaves together into a rich tapestry of this particular life shed, a process that can be done with all places.
A key part of regenerative thinking requires consideration of relationship specifically answering how is this project (place) in relation to larger wholes?
First, this requires an understanding of ‘wholes’. Holism is the view that systems can be conceived as wholes. It is juxtaposed with reductionist thinking which is the action of reducing wholes into individual parts. Reductionist thinking has dominated that last 200+ years of human history since the scientific revolution ushered in a period of previously unimaginable scientific, technological, and civilizational evolution. The scientific method, which requires variables be controlled and measured, has led generations of Western thinkers to compartmentalize both the man-made and natural worlds. The result is a presently dominant worldview of reductive techno-extraction where externalities are not accounted for. Instead the externalities are relegated to the commons, to the whole, the view of which is obfuscated by myopic economic outlooks and self-interested (and self-terminating) greed.
Fortunately indigenous ways of being/thinking combined with many philosophical and religious traditions provide a frame for understanding that these parts assemble to make a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts. In understanding wholes, complexity theory helps us begin to fathom the scope and depth of the maze of existing symbiotic (or antagonistic) relationships. The greater the connection the greater the health and resilience of the system.
For any project that a regenerative practitioner is working on, the question is not whether or not a complex system of interweaving relationships exists but how well do we understand the nestedness of existing wholes and relationships? By understanding how a project is nested within a Proximate Whole and a Greater Whole, a designer can begin to account for the flows and relationships, and most importantly, the needs of the wholes within which the project is nested. In this way the project becomes not just an end to itself but a system actualizer that considers larger systemic problems, builds a larger group of stakeholders (a guild), and creates more viable solutions that are likely to exist over time.
By designing for the larger environment in which a project is located, elements of entropy and natural change can be accounted for. Perhaps most importantly, by conceiving of and engaging with a larger group of stakeholders, designers seek to deliver greater levels of able-ness (meaning human capabilities) which creates self-sustaining projects and virtuous cycles that perpetuate across futures certain to change.
We considered many different combinations of nestedness for the DZ project. Here we were informed by our work understanding the story and essence of place which allowed us to play with the many lenses at each level of wholes. We saw the project nested within political/municipal entities, geological/hydrological boundaries, cultural/historical regions, etc… An important principle in regen design work is iteration, the process of continuous revolutions of consideration taking new insights/combinations into account.
Through our many iterations we finally perceived that the DZ project is nested within the Thames River (Proximate Whole) which is nested in the Carolinian Zone (Greater Whole). This perceptualization allowed us to then consider the challenges and needs of these much larger systems and see the project as a solution catalyst.
The existing group of stakeholders already agrees that biodiversity is one desired outcome of the project. By considering the relationships between this acreage and the larger wholes it became evident that land use and management was a key lever with the potential to both increase local biodiversity while addressing the regional challenges created by industrialized agriculture and urbanization.
It also became clear that while outside the proximity of the project itself the urban center of London with its large population holds the potential for greater connection with the land. Involving both the urban and agricultural stakeholders in the restoration project could unlock the potential for more widespread investment in the project, land, and its people. By bringing urbanites to the Deshkan Ziibi project to interact and feel the land, river, and people, relationships based on mutualism could begin to add layers of appreciation, interaction, and investment. These inflows could facilitate the long-term health of the project while providing needed getaways, wholesome natural experiences, and deeper meaning and connection with the region’s original/natural land-and-waterscape.
Through our work we concluded that while the bond mechanism had loose ways to measure success through increases in biodiversity over time, it has the potential to take into account the potential for increases in other forms of capital. This multi-capital approach is essential for understanding potential as it requires designers to move beyond our traditional accounting of financial capital, or in this case, natural capital (biodiversity), and also consider social, cultural, and political capital. The health of this region is explicitly tied to the health of its people, particularly the original occupants of these lands. Designing to increase the culture of stewardship and the social interactions surrounding the watershed and its access, use, and care will create greater vitality and aliveness for all involved. Solutions that only deliver increases in one or two forms of capital fail to conceive of their maximum impact.
Regenerative Design and Development is an iterative, inquiry-based, experiential dialogue as opposed to an academic case-study project-producing endeavor. It’s local, regional, and global considering necessitates meaningful, compassionate, and empathetic interactions across the broad spectrum of stakeholders. Dialectic, when two or more people gather in search of the truth (or essence), is one of the primary tools of inquiry. Throughout the project we had opportunities to connect with project and indiginous leaders to hear their immensely valuable perspectives. As we sought to understand we continued to be informed by these conversations and iterate our understanding.
As designers it is imperative to do the personal development work necessary to be an effective operator. Translation: cultivating in one’s self a high degree of awareness is essential for recognizing ego in the design process. There’s a myriad of internal technologies that can be practiced to yield the capability to check personal bias or ambition. This is of utmost importance because this work is not about what the designer wants or thinks is best. This is not about preconceptialization of what the ‘answer’ is or about validating any initial beliefs. The need to be personally right must not exist. Rather it is the commitment to a collective emergence of realized potential and an unlocking of collective (vs individual) will. An effective designer can navigate the realm of inquiry noticing what arises within them and using the sensing faculties to employ what is useful to draw out deeper discovery from interactions and dialogue. And so it went for us as we interacted with stakeholders and our understanding evolved.
Our time together with the whole Deshkan Ziibi team was another example of regenerative design in action. In a more corporate, traditional, or formal setting, it would be common to show up in front of the DZ team as a group of consultants and present findings and understandings. A presentation (one-way communication) with maybe some Q&A at the end is the antithesis of what regenerative design brings about. It is a way of being, thinking, and doing. With that in mind, we designed an interaction meant to give the experience of being a regenerative designer. Our goal was to create the opportunity for team members to be exposed to design thinking, to wrestle with some of the frameworks, and stretch their current imaging of what the project’s role and function is.
This article scratches the surface of what was considered, explored, and discussed. As designers and consultants our primary role is to assist project teams in the evolution of their thinking. Using a multitude of frameworks and technologies sourced from a variety of disciplines, lineages, and practices, we support the discovery of a project’s true and greatest potential.
I almost died twice this year. It happened in a fraction of a second. That I’m alive is a testament to the deep wisdom inherent in the body. Here’s what happened…
In January I was north of Puerto Vallarta at a beautiful beach resort for a Shamanic retreat. Each day we studied and learned, ate merrily as a group, and enjoyed free time exploring the beach. One night after dinner the group decided to go up to the yoga room on top of the hill to dance ecstatically to some tunes. After breaking it down on the dance floor the jungle heat got the best of some of us and we went out to the balcony which stands roughly 20 feet above the poured concrete path below.
Feeling flush and tired from a day of learning, I was sitting on the top railing of the balcony, a 4-inch diameter piece of wood which seemed sturdy enough. With my feet dangling and my full body weight on the railing all of the sudden the railing began to fall. Time moved into slow motion. I felt the sensation of falling. The body began to drop backwards. Instantly my butt pushed off the railing propelling it backwards and me forwards into a squat. I stood up and looked calmly at the group of alarmed people around me absent any adrenaline or realization of what could have just happened. It was only when I looked over the balcony and saw the distance to the ground that I fully realized how serious a fall backwards could have been.
Fast forward to late October to when my father and I are driving south from our cabin in the northern woods of Michigan. We’re on a two-lane road surrounded by incredible fall color and I was feeling leisurely. Then I get a hit, “pay attention.” I sit up and refocus on the road as traffic is moving about 60 miles per hour. Less than 30 seconds later an oncoming car veers over the center line into our lane and I quickly swerve to avoid a head on collision.
During the railing incident I believe the body saved my life. There was no cognition in pushing off the banister and simply standing up. It was a completely instinctive reaction that happened in a fraction of a second. Conscious thought would have been too slow for that moment. In a similar way the body knew something was coming on that two lane road. I don’t know from where I received the message. Yet the body instantly perked up in perfect timing.
After each incident I spent the next minutes and hours in gratitude to the inherent wisdom of the body. Still to this day I affirm how appreciated and welcome this body’s natural instincts are in the future.
Perhaps this is the primal brain in action. Perhaps my guardian angels are looking out. Perhaps this body and I have an agreement about what this life has in store for us. Regardless of the mechanism of how these events unfolded I attribute them to a phenomena outside of my conscious awareness. I am grateful for my health and safety.
Just this past week I was riding my mountain bike very fast around a curve that I take frequently. Something distracted me for a fraction of a second, enough for me to realize that I had too much speed and was heading straight into a steel abutment that runs along the river. I quickly pulled the back brake, laid the bike down, and leapt off the bike as it careened into the steel cables. In the air I instinctively put my arms out to brace my fall and hit the concrete with enough force that I skid across the pavement on my hands.
In many situations hitting the pavement on your wrists like that would easily break the wrists. And somehow my wrists are not broken, the pads of my hands were barely scraped, and almost no blood was drawn. Now my hands are very sore and may take weeks to recover. Yet in that short window the body was flying in the air its instinctive processing placed the hands at such an angle as to transfer the impact through the soft tissue rather than the bones.
Heavenly periods shift from phase to phase regulating temperature and activity.
The word itself pays homage to its Greek ancestor periodos meaning orbit, recurrence, or course.
We’re currently back again in the West. I know this season.
I’ve been tracking her and Yin since the East during Spring when fresh renewal bloomed outward desire creating clarity and new life.
Summer soon arrived with Yang in the South with her fertile, beautiful, and sexual potential.
We’ve arrived again in the West, Fall marking the end of growth and Qi has stagnated with the mood as the temperature becomes sensitive.
Soon again we’ll return with Blood for the release in the North, her time for rest and the turn inward to hibernate as the temperature chills.
Many of us have grown disconnected from intimate knowledge of her ways.
Her truth and wisdom is hiding in plain sight. Ever present.
Beckoning a relationship. To plant. To grow. To harvest. To regenerate.
The change is constant. Ever becoming the next season.
Inviting this moment to be recognized. Appreciated.
Distinct beauty accompanies sometimes harsh conditions.
That either extreme exists offers rich experience.
This time will come and go. While it’s here let’s consider a question…
…how best can we know this period’s medicine?
Each period is different.
Each season has its magic and its mysteries.
Some can be penetrated. Some can’t.
She dances with the masculine.
His action not-so-subtly influenced by her temperature.
If he’s astute, he has learned her intricacies, ever humbled by her depths.
If he’s wise, he enthusiastically embraces each season for its gift.
After all, is it not She who sustains life?
He may not know it, but he longs deeply for the recognition she too desires.
For him to awaken from his stupor.
For him to demystify this complex living system.
For him to live in harmony according to her needs.
He knows she can be a real bitch, particularly when not treated right.
Seasons soon become more extreme.
Fanned by the flames of self-absorption and rising waters of disregard.
This may not end well.
She’ll keep going. Cycling with or without him.
He’ll wisen up. He has to. Lest he be destroyed in the fury of Kali.
No one wants that. Except maybe Kali. Maybe.
This wisdom must be cultivated. Together.
She tuned into herself and he to himself and each to each other.
She needs him to be powerful for himself.
To know his own cycle, a much faster revolution with greater potential for con- or de- struction.
To know his own ways, his gifts of clarity, action, direction, and force.
To know his own shadow, his anger, pride, greed, and fear.
She doesn’t need him, really.
And her invitation comes at great cost to him.
“Bring your self in your fullness. Or not at all”, she says.
She knows the damage he has and could cause.
She needs to be tended. Because she’s tender. Her balance is delicate.
Thrown off by the thrashing of boys-not-yet-men who know not what or how they do.
She’ll bloom again, even for him, if he has followed the Noble Path.
And in those moments his armor will be melted by her splendor and radiance.
He’ll lose himself in her wilderness, the wild man himself revealing his majesty.
He’ll bellow from his depths and she’ll echo these reverberations joyously embracing his appreciation.
She wants his presence.
“Put the phone down”, she doesn’t say as her fields fallow and her bloom blights.
She wants nothing more than for him to affix his attention to her.
The tragedy’s that the hole in his heart he’s been filling with the wrong things can easily be filled by a deeper relationship with her.
She’ll keep coming, ready to dance.
To be known and celebrated.
To bear her fruits.
Until she doesn’t.
Writer’s Note: This post will be tagged under the Masculine category because it’s required knowledge for men.
Knowledge of her cycle – of the planet, the seasons, the lunar procession, and of her estrogen cycle – is an essential well of wisdom required for all men who need to be in Right Relationship with the feminine.
The cycles are explicitly linked. The Medicine Wheel with its four cardinal directions maps perfectly with Chinese Medicine, the estrogen cycle, and the four seasons. Coincidence? It can be mapped in its vagaries yet only understood through experience. “She” is our mother, sister, partner, lover, and our planet. Knowing one will inform the other.
With her the planet, know the seasons well. Experience their profundity and unique medicine. Track the cycles of the moon. Understand the rhythm of how food grows. Tend her. Remember that our choices matter and that we can throw her out of balance. She’ll vastly outlast homo sapiens. Align our actions to bring harmony and longevity to her.
With her the woman, normalize the conversation around her cycle. Demystify her waves and don’t take them personally. Seek to understand. Each day is different. Each woman is different. Each woman can be different each cycle. Know your women. Honor her bleed. Remember that this phase will inexorably pass, and return. Learn the subtle signs, her body talks.
She’ll return our effort to know her intimately with great abundance. Know her anyway, despite this. And steadfastly continue deepening the relationship with self, the one who knows her. It is in the height of our eminence and the depth of our essence that we are becoming Kings calling forth our Queens.
We thank you for your patience. We’re catching the waves…
During morning meditation I experienced the depths of anger. I notice shame related to anger. Cultured, proper men are not angry. Anger is unbecoming. Anger is a “lower” instinct. Anger is aggressive. Impolite. Not productive.
I’ve never been one for much anger. Typically I’m a pretty easy going guy. And that’s not because I’m suppressing anger to be agreeable. It just rarely comes up.
Today I’m in touch with it. I’m angry about our ecological, political, social, and cultural realities. I’m angry at the lies and misdeeds perpetrated against one another. I’m angry at all of the injustice. I’m angry we know better but do it anyway. I’m angry that I can’t/won’t just take the easy road. I’m angry I’m single right now. I’m angry about the election and our polarization.
I’m aware of the self-judgement that arises when I express this anger.
I have learned that the best action when emotion arises is to go into it. It is through our emotions that we learn from them, are informed by them, and able to release them. Suppressing them invites emotion to show up in other forms like dis-ease, instability, or transference.
Into this anger I sense tremendous activating energy. It is itself a form of resistance to what is. Resistance requires energy and this energy can be harnessed and channeled.
Into this anger I feel the unbridled edge of ferocious masculine power ready to act, defend, or kill. I feel the steady fuel of sturdy, resolute determination. I feel invigorated through its acknowledgment.
Into this anger I see this part of human experience that’s been hiding under cultural programming and political correctness. Anger, like all emotions, is a great signal telling us something about ourselves.
Aristotle said that “Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” This is one definition of wisdom.
Wisdom is knowing and experiencing the full spectrum of emotional possibility. Courage beckons us to explore the cobweb corners. I often say the Serenity Prayer which goes “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Will this anger not change? I’ve been angry (and bewildered) about the structures of our society for as long as I can remember. Or can I change this anger? Can my journey into it yield a depth of understanding? Is mastery knowing anger so deeply that I know when, how, and to what degree is appropriate?
The answers to these questions cannot be answered from afar. I will not reveal them to myself playing nice on the sidelines.
So today I’m angry. I’m in touch with this unmasked reservoir. It feels carnal. Edgy. Aggressive. Potent. Useful. Full of potential and activating energy.
It is revealing a map. To what I care about, whom I love, and where my passions lie.
It’s inviting me, beguiling its exploration. It’s the subconscious throwing rocks at the window ready to deliver a message.
Associating with anger in the mind is images of armor, war, and conflict. Perhaps there is a stigma surrounding anger that I’m tapping into? Through history have we seen the outcomes of improperly expressed anger? Does the need for ‘anger management’ signal our mistrust of its worth or our ability to connect with it healthily?
I notice a tenderness. Yes, this anger could rip your fucking head off. But…it hints at vulnerability. In the direction of what is not accepted. Toward s attachments, desires, and wishes. And to the emotions of Fear. Hurt. Guilt. And Shame.
In this anger I feel my connection and compassion for my fellow beings. I feel my capacity to love. To care enough to take up arms and fight valiantly for that which is most important. To be alive enough to want something different, and better, for myself.
If I didn’t care, would I be angry? Does anger exist in proportion to care? If it does then is this anger a welcome sign of healthy connection with life, the world, and the beings in it? And if anger is really just a signal of what matters to me then does it have anything to do with the external world?
It seems there is a difference between being angry AT something and angry BECAUSE of something. Clarity abounds in this recognition. I am the source of my anger. The world is. It just is. It can be no other way. My anger arises within me and not because of something happening externally.
Which means I have more control of this anger than originally perceived. It means I can transform it. Direct it AT something. Anger becomes my expression outwards, rather than an effect occurring inwards. Despite this I’m aware that anger arises on its own with a message for me just like other emotions.
If I am the source of this anger then it behooves me to understand from what source is this anger arising? It could be healthy anger. Anger from its beneficial source of compassion, connection, care, and love. Or it could be destructive, self-sabotaging anger sourced from fear, rejection, and lack of trust. There is excavation to do.
I honor this anger. I know it’s important for me. As a man bringing forth healthy, mature masculinity. As a partner dancing with the feminine. As a citizen who cares. As a human being living in reciprocity with the beings around me.
I choose to express it. For it to be seen and to talk about its presence. To explore its energy. To uncover its deeper roots. To know it and thus myself and you better. To offer it to you, to us, in service of what it could actualize and benefit.