BUILDING WITH THE BREATH OF LIFE - Tom Bender - revised draft text 8 Jan.1999


[Avalanche Creek]
Our culture is embarked on a quiet, yet fundamental change. Acknowledgment of the existence and importance of chi, or life force energy, that has been the foundation of the arts, sciences, healing, and spiritual practices of virtually every other culture in history is beginning to occur in our own.

In November, 1997, the National Institutes of Health released a strong endorsement of the use of acupuncture, noting "very clear-cut evidence" of its successful action and that it is less invasive, and with fewer side effects than conventional treatments. For a major governmental player in the US medical establishment to make such an endorsement of a practice based on chi is remarkable - particularly with the panel noting "there is no evidence that confirms this theory". What is perhaps most remarkable is that in endorsing something denied by our conventional scientific concepts, they are challenging the adequacy of those very concepts! The chi underlying acupuncture is the same chi in the earth which is central to the Chinese art of feng-shui and the energetics of place traditions of other cultures.
[Acupuncture points]

Nature, the British equivalent of Scientific American, announced in their December, 1997 issue the successful experimental demonstration of "quantum teleportation" by researchers in Austria. Quantum teleportation shows that information even on the subatomic level can be transmitted instantly over stellar distances (without being limited by the speed of light). With this demonstration, the informational interconnectedness of all Creation is no longer in question. Related work is underway by IBM.

1997 also witnessed the publication of Dean Radin's THE CONSCIOUS UNIVERSE, a publication of previously classified military-funded experimentation on psychic phenomena and statistical analysis of experimentation done over the last century in that area.
1 Radin's work should erase any lingering doubts that there is more going on in our universe than meets the rational eye.

"Energy healing", "laying on of hands", and related practices of healing energy work with bodily chi has been effective enough in promoting healing in a variety of situations that it is now covered by many health insurance policies. Though rarely advertised, more and more doctors are taking advanced training in psychic skills for diagnosis and healing. The New York State public school system now has accredited teachers of psychic awareness. Millions of people in our own culture have also now experienced this chi energy - in martial arts, meditation, body work, acupuncture, or other contexts. It is no longer a theoretical philosophical concept of foreign spiritual traditions. Body work techniques have been developed which make work with chi something that can be easily attained by most people. Chi is no longer an esoteric practice requiring years of monastic training. Even the US Marines are now using Akido training based on chi! [Chakras]

Our sciences have been totally absorbed in the years since World War II in exploring the material consequences of breakthroughs achieved in a few branches of physics. As a consequence, they have neglected to focus their powerful tools on other areas which we unwittingly still relate to with "black box" concepts. Do we really understand something like magnetism? How does it transmit power through space and vacuum?

Or what about gravity? Look up at the Moon tonight. Its mass is immense. Simple mechanics tells us what incredible forces gravity applies to the Moon to keep that mass in orbit and from shooting off on a tangent into space. But how does it work? How are the moon and sun able through enormous distances to pull the entire oceans of our planet six feet into the air twice a day, and pull the Earth itself around in a circle? We give names - like gravity or magnetism - to blank spaces in our understanding, but then assume we therefore know more about them than we do.

Chi is part of these areas still unexplored by our current sciences. Unlike the moon hanging over our heads, it has until recently been an area we could brush aside and pretend didn't exist. But experience and success in its use are today forcing its recognition.

It may seem that chi is a simple and peripheral thing, but it has been central to the sophisticated philosophies of many cultures.
2 The power inherent in its acknowledgment is likely to be as foreign and initially inconceivable as the atom bomb was as the outcome of theoretical scratchings of Einstein. Fortunately, the power of chi is an integrative, rather than a destructive one; a power of giving life, rather than of taking it. Its acknowledgment will bring changes - in far different directions - as great as those achieved by our modern

* 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 different animal.

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

1 Dean Radin, THE CONSCIOUS UNIVERSE, ????, 1997. See also Judith Orloff's SECOND SIGHT, Warner Books, 1996 for a good introduction to dealing with psychic skills.

2 See Appendix A for a list of over sixty cultures that have used life-force energy.

3 W. David Kubiak, "Ki and the Arts of Sex, Healing and Corporate Body Building", KYOTO JOURNAL, Winter 1988 .