BUILDING WITH THE
BREATH OF LIFE - Tom Bender - revised
draft text 8 Jan.1999
* What are the implications of a world where noone can lie - where our innermost thoughts and feelings are known to each other?
* What will it be like living in a world where we acknowledge that instant communication occurs - not only between people, but among all forms of life - stars, rocks, the cells in our bodies?
* What does it mean to our society to acknowledge that we continue to exist on an energy level after "death"?
* What are the implications of a world where we can call on the counsel of ancestors and other beings in the spiritual planes of life?
* What is a world where astrology can show what kinds of surroundings are good or bad for us at different times?
* What will our world be like when we concur that "magic" is practiced and can have powerful effect for good or ill?
* How does our culture change when we are all indelibly aware that the health of all Creation is essential to our well-being?
* How do we change when we recognize that our minds and hearts are an integral and powerful part of our interaction with the world on both sides of our skin, and that those parts of our existence are inseparable?
* What happens when we realize that sacredness is the central basis of meaningful lives and an enduring society?
These are a few glimpses of the world that comes into being when we acknowledge the central role of chi in our universe.
Chi is intimately connected with and inherent in
place and our associations with it. Every culture has emphasized and developed
certain aspects of place energy, while virtually ignoring others. The feng-shui
tradition of China provides a broad and relatively comprehensive philosophical
basis for energetics of place. It constitutes perhaps the most impressive
written record of approaches dealing with chi in our surroundings.
Feng shui's myriad traditions and practices also demonstrate various approaches to environmental modification for improving local chi patterns. It has made extensive use of astrological information in siting, and generated culturally-specific practices for aligning our buildings with the chi of a site. Yet there are major gaps in their approach and dimensions where other traditions have pushed the frontiers of understanding even further.
The mapping of energy flows and concentrations in the earth has been well developed in the European geomantic tradition, which also has located buildings relative to that energy in the earth. The Australian Aboriginal tradition has developed use of such energy lines in the earth even further, using them for long distance communication.
Relative to the built environment, the Japanese have developed the role of li or intention to great refinement and power. Chi (or ki in Japanese) is if anything more central to Japanese culture and design than to Chinese. The Japanese language, for example, has over 600 terms employing the ideogram for ki, compared to about 80 in Chinese, and the concept is central to all of their arts and sciences.3 [Ellora]
Contemporary work in our own culture by architects and designers working with chi has not reached the refinement of the Japanese or Chinese, but is developing a tradition specific to our own conditions and time. The Khmer culture in Cambodia can show us immensely powerful roles that our built environment can play in connecting us with energy from the spirit world. The Yoruba in Africa can show the emotional power that can be developed afresh in our building drawing directly upon intimate connection with that world.
African cultures - from the !Kung to the Yoruba and the Dagara, along with the Wiccan tradition in Europe and many other cultures, have worked powerfully with community raising of energy, and the roles it holds in cultural survival and health. The recent work of dowsers and energy workers such as Joey Korn, Sig Lonegren and others has shown that earth energies are not immutable. They move and change. We can ask the balancing of negative energies, the focusing and relocation of positive ones. We can call upon them, and they respond - it would appear almost consciously - to our requests for aligning with our lives and activities.
Energetics of place also involves information and communication. African cultures have worked strongly with personal interaction with energy of place to access ancestors and other beings in the realms of energy. Native American, Aboriginal, Celtic, Greek, and many other traditions work with direct communication with, and through, the individual elements of nature. The Australian Aboriginal tradition has developed to a high level use of the unique and specific connections to the spiritual realm from different natural sites. The Khmers, Maya, and Egyptians have demonstrated how buildings can enhance such connections.
The experience of other cultures with chi is important to us. Our culture does not stand alone in the world. Our traditions and needs both differ from and are connected with those of the Chinese, the Zulu, the Mayans. We are all exposed today to all the different traditions of millennia of different cultures' experience. Today is a time of both gathering in and of sharing of the wisdom of all ages. All have things to offer, all have limitations and omissions. It is important to see what any and all can offer to each other and to the whole of how we relate to our surroundings.
As we begin to understand, respect and honor the potential of other traditions, unwavering holding to a single particular tradition or practice can become a liability. The wisdom of experience shows what is culture-bound, what works for us and what doesn't. To ignore practices of other traditions which work better, and which can fit together with our own practices to create a more wholistic and inclusive approach to bringing us into harmony with the spirit of life would be imprudent. A different perspective can often give new insights. The more tools we have, the better the chance of ones that fit.
Chi or life force communication may be one of the important missing links in our reconnection with nature. Alienation arises from our blocking out the eternal sharing and connection with all life which occurs on that level. As Malidoma Somé has said, "Literacy may fill a place in our psyches intended for other purposes. " But techniques are available to us to set literacy aside when needed, and reestablish direct linkage on the level of chi.
These are only a few examples that stand out, for their special developments, from the almost universal use of chi in cultures worldwide. We will look in more detail at some of them in the next chapter. What is exciting is that these are living traditions which can be learned from, shared, melded, and forged into a living tradition for our own culture.
Design, in a chi-based world, is a very
We've learned that the energy bodies of our communities are damaged by place rape and abuse from greed-based activities such as overlogging, overfishing, extractive agriculture, energy and material mining just as our human energy bodies are damaged by rape and abuse. And we've found that healing of those energy bodies is both possible and essential in both cases if true healing is to occur.
We're learning how the chi of place and people interact; how our love or anger remain in a place to affect the next users; how gifts of honor and pilgrimage are bestowed on both a place and its subsequent visitors. We're learning how to generate and direct group energy to sustain the joy and health of our human communities and the natural communities within which they live. The potentialities for people working with earth energies are expanding in scope, depth, and concrete application. [Konorak mandala] [Khajuraho]
A chi-centered world changes how we design and use places. It first of all requires that we give consideration to the chi of a place. It means that the kinds of institutions and the kinds of personal needs we design for will be fundamentally different. It demands integrity of materials, design and uses. It stresses the importance of paying attention to our tummies - how we feel about a place, the psychology of place, the role of our minds and our fears and dreams. It requires we design relative to the needs and aspirations of all Creation, not just us. Our attitudes and values, what we want in a place, change dramatically.
With chi, our intention in approaching design is critical. An approach that just considers "job functions" delegates people to "back-room" jobs and "back-room" consideration by others, while an intention to provide rewarding work changes building configuration and the respect given to each person in their work.
The role of the sacred becomes central. Buildings with soul, gardens for our spirits, cities of passion become the goal rather than rentable square feet. Accommodating and enhancing ritual and its role in both the making and use of places becomes important, as does being a part of the local ecological community. Low-impact ecological design is taken for granted. Growth, greed, and consumption give way to the goals of sustainability and nurture.
In our current time of gathering in, it is vital to open ourselves to the varieties of wisdom of all traditions and glean from each what can be melded together to bear on our unique situations. Chi-energy, or the energetics of place, is a cluster of concepts and tools that can help us begin to find ways to walk in this new world.
Chi, and the connection and wholeness with which it imbues our lives, underlies the spirit of place. The means to access and nurture it show us the place of spirit in our lives and our surroundings.
38755 Reed Rd.
Nehalem OR 97131 USA
© 8 Jan. 1999