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




Being born in a particular locale is not the same as being native to it. The latter requires that we are in harmony with that place - that we have shifted our beliefs, actions, and ways of being in the world into ones based on love and celebration of, and participation in, its natural community. When a locale begins to speak to us and through us, and we through it, an invisibility and oneness emerges which resonates through both us and our surroundings we have shaped. That resonance is a measure of success in connecting with the energetics of place, and a goal important to keep before us.

Until we have become native, the surroundings we shape around us will always feel awkward and rightfully "out of place."



Ensuring the health of all Creation requires major reduction in our resource consumption. Our built environment consumes two-thirds of all energy in our society - for heating and lighting of buildings, transportation caused by our land use patterns, and the embodied energy in our buildings and infrastructure.

Improvements in efficiency of energy and resource use - on the order of 80-90% reduction from current levels - has already been demonstrated in test houses, offices, factories, and land use patterns in a wide range of climates.
1 Environmental Building News suggests a dozen actions which can help reach for those savings:

1. Save Operating Energy - Design and build energy-efficient buildings

2. Recycle Buildings - Utilize existing buildings and infrastructure instead of developing new areas.

3. Create Community - Design communities to reduce dependence on the automobile and to foster a sense of community.

4. Reduce Material Use - Optimize design to make use of smaller spaces and utilize materials efficiently.

5. Protect and Enhance the Site - Preserve or restore local ecosystems and biodiversity.

6. Select Low-Impact Materials - Specify low-environmental impact, resource-efficient materials.

7. Maximize Longevity - Design for durability and adaptability.

8. Save Water - Design buildings and landscapes that are water-efficient.

9. Make the Building Healthy - Provide a safe and comfortable indoor environment.

10. Minimize Construction and Demolition Waste - Return, reuse, and recycle job-site waste and practice environmentalism in your business.

11. Green Up Your Business - Minimize the environmental impact of your own business practices, and spread the word.2

Maybe we could add, "Avoid the need for building."

Getting it right on the material level is an essential corequisite to operation on deeper levels. Ecological building, natural building materials, simpler and smaller buildings, using wisdom rather than technology all are helping bring into being building patterns and practices that can be used in ways to move our hearts.



With more than half of Earth's net photosynthesis now put to human use, the physical pressures on the rest of Creation are immense. The pressures from our non-recognition of the spirit and consciousness in all life is even greater. One of the biggest changes we need make is learning to say "No!" to ourselves - to set limits on our appetites and actions, and to leave enough for the rest of Nature to seek its own goals, live its own lives, have its own relationships free from our pressures.

Years ago, the sacred cows of India seemed an odd and peculiar practice. But there is a deep wisdom of restraint within it - one that needs expression on a far larger scale.

Enoughness is a good word to learn. [sacred cow]



It is exciting to watch what happens as new sets of beliefs coalesce, as a community becomes aware of itself as grounded in those beliefs, and as it develops the self-confidence to affirm those beliefs clearly and strongly.

Before that point is reached, actions taken are exploratory, limited by what can be achieved within the framework of prior beliefs. In energetics of place, practitioners concerned themselves with applying traditional actions from feng shui, geomancy, or other traditions.

But once a certain point of clarity of belief and understanding is reached, the whole arena of dialog shifts into action rooted in the new beliefs and clear acknowledgment of root underlying issues that conflict with those beliefs. Two examples from energetics of place:

Only a couple of years ago, people would propose changes affecting energetics of a home, rearranging furniture with no acknowledgment of the role TV plays in energetics of a room. But now people are willing to say,

"The truth is, the TV must go."

TV is an electronic drug tuning us in to disasters and wars we can do nothing about. We sit before it hour after hour, as it cultivates personal feelings of inadequacy, endlessly destroys self-esteem, and lets our physical bodies atrophy. Ads make us feel we aren't okay - that we need more material possessions. Programs show us how much wealthier, more beautiful, and clever "everyone else" is. Professional music, sports, or dance lets us see how well it can be done and how lousy we are in comparison.

TV damages our auras, and undermines family, community, and individual self-respect. It destroys the physical, mental and spiritual health of all family members. No actions we can take have any significance beside the presence of this damaging force. No health can be achieved within its presence.

Similar changes are occurring in dealing with the energetics of work environments. Practitioners can now be heard to say what would have been unthinkable only a couple of years ago.

"I'm sorry, we could make some subtle adjustments in the furniture arrangement of this office, which would slightly improve the energetics. But that improvement would be insignificant beside the wrongness of the basic pattern of work involved."

It is large scale organization which brings large office environments into existence. Such environments almost invariably consists of secondary, paper-shuffling work, unfulfilling jobs, and organizational structures and business goals which are destructive to individual and community well-being. Neither individual or institutional health can be achieved within those patterns. The wrongness of these patterns is so basic that no true success of any kind can be achieved through them.

The energetic universe we are emerging into is one of wholeness. From within it, we can see clearly the destructive nature of patterns and beliefs we once embraced. With that vision, we can let go of them and restore health and wholeness to our lives.



Transformations occurring in our culture involve fundamental and unprecedented change in what/who we are, in what our dreams can become, and what we strive to achieve as a community of life.

Acknowledgment of the energetic nature of our universe; embracing values of sustainability rather than growth; deeper connection with other physical life and life not incarnate on the physical plane; global interconnection of human life and society....these are all elements of that transformation.

Teilhard de Chardin, James Lovelock, Lynn Margulis, and many others have pointed to this as emergence of planetary consciousness - a single integrated awareness embracing all Creation on the planet.

We can project many of the changes that this may evoke. Enough "psycho-mass" to establish a "planetary mind." (Less may be needed once we learn how.) Restoration and enhancement of the health of all Creation and its interactive ecosystems. An operative link between the physical and other realms of existence. Help to all life to fulfill its unique potentials and combinations. Reduction in the "noise" and negative energy generated by our cultural and material-intensive human culture. Acknowledgment and honoring of all Creation. Deeper wisdom. The integration of human society into unique bioregional ecological "cells." From our perspective.......deeper sciences, richer and more moving arts, better bio-technology, communal experience, meaningful and rewarding lives, and a superior world to live in.

Planetary consciousness, Gaia-mind, or whatever label we want to use represents a new and unprecedented level of organization and relationship. Out of this it seems we should expect a change in kind, not just a change of degree in capabilities - intelligence, compassion, knowledge, wisdom, awareness, or goals.

This change in kind of our nature is significant, that it is staring us in the face, and needs to be perceived to be achieved. But what is it?

It definitely is more than just a cleaner, happier human culture, or healthier ecological communities, or a wiser and more capable tending to the health of planetary systems. Those are all internal maintenance issues from this new viewpoint. It must involve something fundamentally different, not just bigger and better (even if a lot better).

Individual life forms on our planet all operate in what is to them an external environment - the other organisms that surround their individual entities and communities; the greater "super-organisms" that envelope them; the seas, the air, the land, or the interfaces among these individual realms.

A planetary entity's external operative environment is stellar, not planetary in nature. Its context is solar systems, galaxies, energy fluxes on unimaginable scales - not just more surface area to occupy. Its environment undoubtedly encompasses levels of experience and existence of which we are unaware. We can conceive of peopling stellar systems, developing their "consciousness", evolving new nebulatic entities, but not yet the dimensions of existence and awareness that they might engender. Larger entities of consciousness means more than just a bunch of wise old twinkles floating around in space contemplating their galactic navels.

What could be the nature and value of the new capabilities we are emerging into? Can closer ties between potentials in the spirit world and their manifestation in a material world bring something quite new into existence? What could our new dreams, goals, and arenas of action become? Perhaps this is a part of our malaise - the lack of a coalesced new self-awareness of what we really have become and are, and what new dreams and challenges are worthy of our new nature?

In CO-CREATIVE SCIENCE, Machaelle Small Wright suggests that one outcome is the conscious working together of human and nature consciousness as a team, creating a dynamic state of balance within the new things that we manifest.

Perhaps, as Greg Bear muses in BLOOD MUSIC, too much density of consciousness changes space-time. Perhaps, as he suggests, the universe has no fixed underpinnings:

"When a good hypothesis comes along, one that explains the prior events, the underpinnings shape themselves to accommodate and a powerful theory is born. Bad hypotheses, that don't fit what happens on our level, are rejected by the universe. Good ones, powerful ones, are incorporated. And the universe doesn't stay the same forever. A theory that works can determine reality for only so long, and then the universe must ring a few changes."3,

What changes is Gaia-mind ringing?




There are major gaps in our mind and body tools we use to apprehend and understand our universe. Our sensory organs and cultural patterns condition what we see. An Inuit looking at snow sees temperature and weather conditions in the size and color of snow crystals. Looking at the same snow, we may just see "cold".

A scientific or engineering approach tends to separate out and look at just one issue at a time. An ecological viewpoint recognizes the interrelation of things, and tries to look at the world as whole as possible. A spiritual viewpoint seeks deeper levels of wisdom, not just knowledge. A chi-based viewpoint adds the need to consider more than just the directly observable material conditions of our world.

Bucky Fuller used to talk about sunsets in his lectures:

"Most of us are used to seeing the sun set", he would say, "but few of us visualize what is really happening. The sun really isn't setting on anything, is it? What is really happening is that the horizon is rising!"

Seeing the horizon rising shifts the relative movement from the sun to the earth in our minds, and keeps that framework in our thoughts. Taking another step back, even the horizon isn't rising, we're just rotating back away from the sun's side of the earth so the horizon comes between our position and that of the sun. Pretty soon we begin to carry in our minds a picture of ourselves at a 45 o angle on a spinning ball in space, circling a star in orbit around the center of a galaxy spinning around a....

Consider another Fullerism, "Winds suck, not blow". We've all felt a strong wind snatch a hat off our heads and blow it away. But is that hat blown off our heads or sucked off? Here again Fuller has tuned in to a deeper perception. Air is a fluid. A "push" in any fluid ends up swirling off in all directions as vortices, and can't sustain a concerted direction. What we feel with the wind blowing on us is the pressure of air trying to get past us to the low-pressure area of wind suction on our other side. (Some of the "wind" we experience may also be one of those localized vortices bumping into us.) Such expanded perspectives as these have major implications for water and aircraft design, but also for more wholistic knowing of our universe..

Look up for a moment at the clouds floating along all together, and remember how gossamer they are when we actually pass through one in an airplane or as fog. The only way they can float along intact and as a cohort is if a whole river of air, containing all of them, is being pulled along, bringing them within it! Seeing that winds suck, not blow, ends up giving us the means to "see" the invisible rivers of air that move constantly overhead. Merely by softening the focus of our eyes, we can follow the overall and differential movement of all the clouds in the sky and see the various flows of air that contain them.


This process of backing off and gaining a more comprehensive perspective on a situation is uniquely important to us today. Our single-process "engineering" mindset has resulted in our becoming stuck in all sorts of irreconcilable positions - from abortion to growth, law and order, or endangered species. Expanded perspectives get us out of looking at things as "right or wrong", of seeing only mutually exclusive opposites. The sun is still setting, the horizon also is rising, and yes, we are rotating into the earth's shadow. Together, expanded perspectives give us a fuller, multi-faceted understanding of the situation. The problems we face today are intractable only because conventional "science-based" techniques applicable to "physical" problems are the wrong tools to resolve such problems.

These kinds of problems are solvable. They require a process of surmounting or transcending the apparently mutually exclusive viewpoints that have arisen from each of our faceted fields of experience. That process of transcendence usually involves expanding our experience to include some overarching third element. Broadening our perspective allows us to see opposites as complementary dualities - essential polarizations of unity (as in the Chinese yin/yang) - which are encompassed and catalyzed into an essential whole.

E. F. Schumacher, in A GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED, quotes Thomas Aquinas on this, saying that societies need both justice and mercy:

"Justice without mercy," he quotes Aquinas, "is cruelty; mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution." Justice is a denial of mercy, and mercy is the denial of justice. Only a higher order, wisdom, can transcend and reconcile these opposites."4

Similarly, Schumacher says, every society needs both stability and change, tradition and innovation, public interest and private interest, planning and laissez-faire, order and freedom, growth and decay. Every society's health depends on the simultaneous pursuit of apparently mutually opposed activities or aims. The tension between these pairs of opposites which permeate everything we do is a vital aspect of life, yet one that requires a transcendence - where higher forces such as love, compassion, understanding, and empathy become available as regular and reliable resources to create a dynamic unity out of the opposed forces.

Even good design needs sometimes to have the tension and expression of the opposites - and sometimes their encompassing into wholeness.


Schumacher also observed that there are four different fields of experience which create our awareness of our world:

* Awareness of what is happening in our own inner world

* Awareness of what is happening in the inner world of others, or of other life

* Knowing how we appear to others

* How others appear to us

Importantly, each of these fields of knowledge is accessed through different means. We can directly access our invisible inner world and how the rest of the world appears to us. Yet what we see can be very different from what others see. We frequently perceive and judge ourselves by our intentions, while others see and judge us more by our actions. There is often no way we can directly compare our experience of love, pain, anger to that of others. And what we pay attention to in the appearance of the world around us varies radically depending on our values, sensitivities, and inner knowledge.

The other two fields of knowing we cannot access directly at all. They constitute social knowledge. They involve putting ourselves in others' shoes, and the difficult communication of inner knowledge through symbols which again need to be experienced internally by others. They are resistant to any attempts at quantification and prediction, as they involve living, changing natures, and predictability belongs only to the fixed nature of less complex levels of being.

As we move from the material world of minerals, physics and chemistry to the plant, animal, and human world, there is an intensification of life, consciousness and self-awareness. Quickly, the dynamic nature of those aspects of life overshadow the fixed, predictable, and quantifiable aspects that are amenable to the "scientific" tools we have used. Direct reaction gives way to stimulus, motive, and will. As that complexity increases, interactive experiential dialog, and probing into the levels of existence where these things arise and interact, become essential to our awareness and action.

These are all tools of the mind. To experience the world whole requires a unity of knowing - the integration and balance of these four fields of knowledge gained through appropriate processes. That unity is destroyed if one or more fields are uncultivated, or examined with instruments or methods applicable only to other fields. The method used must correspond to the field studied. Our "logical" sciences only apply to the fourth field - observing the appearances of how the world looks to us. Self-knowledge, essential both for knowing our inner world and for translating communications of other's inner worlds, must be balanced by the often different knowledge of how we appear to others. Social knowledge, vital for indirectly accessible knowledge, requires self-knowledge as a basis.


All this, still, is words. All this, still, is the churning of a singular language system in our conscious minds, and but a fragment of reality accessible to us. English is a language of nouns, of labels or names for "things". It is not a language of verbs, not a language of the sacred, not a language of relationships or images.

Names are curious animals. On one level, they have a power - power gained from drawing a distinction. There is a power also, in giving voice to something - in our hearts, or spoken aloud - which names can enable. There they can act as links or ties, giving us ability to call upon something. On another level, names are only a secondary reality, never able to encompass more than a fragment of the uniqueness of even the "things" named. Unfortunately, we often confuse names with the reality behind them.

Names foster an illusion of awareness, creating a power-over, an apparent knowing of something - when all that is known is a label far removed from that thing's reality, and farther yet removed from the webs of which it is part. They can become prisons for our comprehension rather than tools with which we can unfold a consciousness of Creation. It is important, always, to focus on what lies behind and beneath a name, what it arises from and is connected to, and not just to knowing the name itself. There are much deeper levels of knowing, levels far removed from names, at once more intimate and more powerful in acting from fullness of knowing.

It takes a special retraining, but one possible today, to let both literacy and its more ancient and vital antecedent of direct knowing occupy and coexist in our psyches. That deeper and wordless connection with the primary reality of things, relationships, and patterns, is available to us when we are able to put our active minds aside. When we let ourselves become an open conduit through which those patterns, relationships, and realities can emerge into our conscious world, we apprehend a far different universe. There are even places between the worlds, available through trance, which are places of becoming - places where the seeds of future events, future relationships and future realities are shaped and given form. Words cannot be used there, but we can, in that place, join in the dance of shaping those realities.


There are, then, many tools which can help us experience more fully, more truly, and more deeply the world of which we are a part. Learning to speak from the heart, and to give others the safety allowing them to do the same, guides our mind tools and keeps them within the realm of our own and shared truths. Kinesthetic awareness (listening to our dynamic whole-body perception), storytelling, meditation, yoga, body work, trance channeling, and ritual are but a few of the tools which can help us reach more completely into the wholeness of our world and bring convergence into our experience of it.

Seeing the world whole is trying to experience as much as we can of the many kinds of invisibility that surround and permeate us. A subtle mud line on trees may tell us of occasional flash floods. Consistent asymmetrical patterns of tree branches may speak of frequent high winds absent on the fine sunny day we visit a place. Vague feelings of discomfort with a place may be tracked down to subtle signals we're picking up on unconsciously. Even if we don't track them down, we need to learn to pay attention to such intuitive responses. As Aristotle once said, "The least knowledge of important things is more valuable than certain knowledge of unimportant things."

We can expand the modes of perception we have to connect with our world. We can learn to use ones appropriate to the particular conditions we are examining. Doing so, we perceive more of the interactive patterns and rhythms and events which underlie and generate our world. This, in part, is how an energetics analysis of a location differs from a traditional engineering or architectural analysis.

In a nutshell, we must use every means we can find, use them carefully, and assume we are still half-blind. Only then can we achieve the best out of our relation to our surroundings or any situation we face.



In a culture not used to looking at things whole, it is easy to think about an issue in isolation and come to conclusions that are not appropriate when looked at from the perspective of the whole.

The cutting down of ancient forests, for example, has led to the response that it is wrong to use old-growth timber in construction, and then to the conclusion that it is wrong to use any timber in construction. The timber industry now urges builders to use "wood-chip I-beams" instead of 2x12s.

Living in a part of the world where great forests grow, it is clear that using wood is not inherently wrong. What is most deeply wrong is letting our population and our appetites exceed what the forests can comfortably support. And most of the wood we use in construction is not old growth timber.

The forests say also it is important that we do use wood. Japan is a culture which has existed for thousands of years building wonderful wood structures without overtaxing the forests the way we do. Moreover, that wood was used in amazingly effective ways to show the incredible power and beauty of the trees. [zen verandah][zen door]

What is wrong in not using wood is that it puts wood out of our awareness. It is important, rather, that we use it powerfully enough that we keep it in our awareness, deeply feel the beauty and magic of ancient trees, and act to ensure that we continue to have them. Not using wood, ignoring it, is akin to the harshest punishment used in many cultures - shunning. If a person is shunned, the community behaves as if that person does not exist. Even their family ignores them, no one speaks to them, no one ever lets their eyes meet, no one will do business with them. Shunned individuals quickly leave, go crazy, or die. This is not what should happen to our forests.

Choosing to honor and coexist wisely with our forests leads to reexamining our timber management practices. If we let trees grow for 240 years (much closer to old growth) rather than 60 years, it turns out that we would have twice the timber (and better quality), nine times the economic value of timber, and 30 to 40 times the total economic value of the forests. Proposals to use "wood-chip I-beams" are merely a desperation act of companies that have cut down their forests for quick income, and are forced to resort to any practice that might bring in revenue quickly - however imprudent in the long run.

It is important, as in this example, to follow the threads outward from any issue we are concerned with into the rest of the world to which it is connected. Those threads inevitably bring the insight and understanding that is crucial to wise action.




Particularly when we are examining an existing building, it is easy to slip into accepting what already is. "This" is a bathroom, "that" is a living room, "over there" is the front door. There are two important tools which can help us more fully visualize the possibilities of a place. They are x-ray vision, and erasing the labels.

X-ray vision, for those of us who don't fly around in blue tights and a cape, can be achieved by a less esoteric skill called "peeking around the corner". What that does is to start us thinking about what is on the other side of a wall. Then we can start to ask what connections can be made possible by removing the wall, or cutting a door or window in it.

A small, old house we purchased a number of years ago was built quite close to a busy street on the north side. On the back side, however, it had a large yard, opening into a beautiful undeveloped city park with a creek running through it. You couldn't tell this from inside the house, however. There were almost no windows, and no doors on the back side! Peeking around the corners, or using x-ray vision, we figured out where decks could be built or where doors and windows could be cut into the walls.

So a deck was on the back, windows and french doors added to every room on that side of the house, and fir trees planted along the street in front. This totally reversed the orientation of the house, and opened it to sunshine, beautiful views, and connection to private outdoor spaces. [Salem Vista bedrooom]

So, we need to constantly ask ourselves, "What is behind that ceiling? Trusses, an attic, what roof configuration? Could the ceiling be removed to make the room higher? Could skylights be added to the roof to bring in light?"

What is behind the wall you are looking at? Could it be taken out totally or be replaced by a beam, combining two spaces? Or could a new door give access from this space rather than that one? Get on your x-ray goggles, peak around the end of the wall, or go outside and figure where each room is. Do the same thing for upstairs and downstairs. What supports what? Where do walls fall? Chimneys? Stairs? Could the stairs be moved to a different location, rearranging the whole circulation?

The second tool becomes pretty obvious now. All it involves is stopping labeling the rooms we are looking at. Instead of "bedroom", say to yourself " a room about 12'x14' on the second floor, with south and east exposure, these windows, and that connection to circulation. Once the labels are off, we can quickly see how to do magic, like moving the entrance door to a different room, allowing a former south-facing entry porch to become a private verandah.

Learning these skills just help us see clearly what is really there, and what changes can improve the livability and the energetics of a house. A delightful bedroom might be made out of a former breakfast nook with casement windows on three sides open to sunlight streaming through plantings outside. Asking yourself, with the labels removed, where you want to sleep, eat, and play, can bring forth some wonderful changes.


Maintaining and caring for places needs to walk the narrow edge between love and obsession; between involvement and freedom. Like raising children, we can keep too tight a rein on the use of a place, ensuring it isn't scratched, damaged, or gotten dirty. But that can stifle all the life out of a place and what it houses. A clean and shining place can convey love and caring. Or it can convey compulsive, emotionally empty drudgery.

What kind of maintenance is necessary to respect the resources, work, and love put into a making of a place? What kind is necessary to allow the freedom needed in a particular activity? What kind of design and use of materials ensures caring, yet ensures also that the normal scratches, bumps, and scrapes of life can be absorbed without destroying the coherence of the place?

Care needs to be able to be given freely, not demanded - to be given out of thankfulness, not need. It needs to be offered as a gift to ensure that greater gifts become available to others.




Feng-shui master Professor Thomas Lin Yun teaches his students a wide variety of feng-shui techniques and tools. Yet he counsels his students that those tools are not really important, compared to their own spiritual training and development.

The situations we face are always unique, and rules from the past and from another culture can at best be only suggestions and guides to nudge our own intuition. And that intuition gains power as we learn to listen to and trust our connection to the world outside our skins. Cleansing ourselves of past issues, clearing our own energy, opening our chakras, acquiring meditation and trance tools, learning how to invoke sacred space, and discovering how to direct and channel energy all are means of connecting more deeply with our surroundings as well as furthering our own spiritual development.

Most simply put, we cannot create anything different from what we are. As long as our root values are tied to greed, growth, and taking from others, the buildings, gardens, and communities we create will reflect only those same values. Our design work changes, grows, and deepens only as we do. Design starts with the designer.



Design of our surroundings from an energetic perspective can draw upon considerably broader and deeper process tools than the intellectual analysis/synthesis process of conventional design.

Many historical or mythological accounts of design and construction of famous temples and sacred places describe them as "having been built in a single night". This presumably refers to their design, not construction - that once the heart-seed of a place was formed, the design coalesced in one night of trance or dreaming. Presumably the manifesting into physical form took somewhat longer!

In design work, like any work undertaken from an energetic perspective, the sensing, processing, synthesizing, and manifesting work involves every and all capabilities we have, not just our minds. It involves the rational, the subconscious, the deep memory in our tissues, the molecular communication of every cell in our bodies, the whole range of our psychic abilities, the aid and assistance of guides, helpers, ancestors, communal memory, and the interconnected capacities of all of life and Creation. Quite a committee to get together, but also a lot of free help!

This process often falls into several stages. First, the finding of boundaries, patterns and possibilities of budget, program, site, codes, climate, and ecology. Deeper in this, occurs a search for the real topology and relationships which can enable and evoke the most powerful expression of what is to be accommodated in a place. What is its heart spirit? What are the possibilities of expression in the site, culture and time? What alternative tools are available?

It is vital to look at each need and ask what different means can be used to accommodate it. Can it be taken care of through solely landscape means, or architectural, or interior design, or lighting, or institutional change, or by tweaking existing patterns? Having a toolbox of alternatives available enhances the ability to obtain good, sensitive, and powerfully coherent results. Even in this stage, trance work begins to come into play, in sensing more deeply the topological and cultural patterns, the site, and the possible tools for accommodating and expressing them.

The interactiveness of all these elements is so vital that it is difficult to design anything until all the relevant information is at hand. The process itself seems to refuse to start, keeping saying "I don't know XX or YY won't compute!"

The next stage is the crucial one - finding the heart-seed of the project - its spirit, its flavor, its smell, taste....its soul. Once that has taken form and permeated every cell of our bodies, it becomes an irrevocable touchstone which guides and aligns every element in the process of design, refinement, working drawings, and construction. To find it involves trance work. It involves moving into sacred space
5, opening our full and complete sensitivities to the spirit of the place where the project is to be, to its institutional heart-pattern, and to our own enhanced capabilities. It involves opening to assistance from all forces of Creation.

It involves moving our rational processes to the side and letting the more deeply connective processes we inherit and share with all Creation come into play. They are needed because only they can handle the complexity involved. Only they can bring into active dialog all the voices of all dimensions of Creation - past, present and future, materialized and immanent; from the most immediate and from the furthest dimensions of existence which touch or are affected by this action. Only these processes can evoke the true power of creation into our work.

Trance design involves letting ourselves become one with each and all of these elements to the greatest degree possible, and then allowing them to dance and interact, to play and merge and coalesce on the dream or "between the worlds" level into a coherent, resonant, and powerful entity. This is the "building that leapt into being in one night." It contains the seed of all right answers for all the rest of the work involved.

Sometimes this happens merely from feeling the site. At other times it involves an agonizingly slow, step-by-step feeling through the program and physical needs. Sometimes it comes - pop! - instantly in a dream in the middle of the night. Sometimes it requires concentrated and lengthy focusing on and working through alternatives until their characteristics sort out and suddenly one pattern goes - "click!" At times it may be an almost-visual image of a pattern of space and structure, materials and light. Other times it is more just a "taste", or smell of a particular timelessness and rightness. However it comes to you, hang on to it, focus on it and absorb it until you no longer need worry about losing it.

The third stage is using that heart-seed as a touchstone to evolve the specific design. Now using the exact site geometry, topography, vegetation, neighboring conditions, winds, natural light, and views, we can develop a preliminary topological (non-geometric) diagram of location, connection and barriers, relationships. Here unanticipated opportunities often reveal themselves. What about that left-over corner of the site? What can it become or contribute? How do these two sequences of entrance and proximity compare? What does each have to offer? Here we can introduce second order issues. "What can this give to the community?" "How can this contribute to the health of all Creation?" "How can this tie to our ancestors, to the past and to the future?"

After that, it may be useful to do a very rough sketch to scale, getting the right approximate magnitude of spaces, think about possible structural systems, materials, or daylighting. This lets us know what has to be thrown out or can be juggled to fit. At each step in this stage, at every question or pattern focused on, reach back to the touchstone. If it doesn't resonate, then I begin to ask, "What if the wall between these two things was more open or more closed? Could this be darker, lower, or more open to the outside? Should this feel more unshakably rooted in the earth, or should it hover lightly above it?"

Each time, the touchstone will give a feel of rightness when the appropriate answer is evolved, and I can move on to the next unresolved issue, or just float through the holographically emerging design until a sense of dissonance brings attention to something that isn't yet working quite right.

This process works during construction also. Inevitably we keep worrying about making the wrong decisions as every issue comes up. How wide should the deck be? Should this window be trimmed out this way or that? How should I construct this door? After a while, we finally learn the obvious. The answers do come back. Wow, this feels great! Yuck, this feels awful, guess I'd better tear it out and do it the other way. ....Or [no reaction] ....Guess this isn't a significant issue and it doesn't matter which way we do it.

It may take a while, but we finally realize that we aren't working alone. The building itself lets us know if things are right or wrong. And, all through this process, the more fully we can drop into various levels of "trance" as needed to bring our complete facilities to bear on an issue, the better it works. This is not a mysterious process - just focusing and paying attention.

From this point, the normal process of hard-lining, refining, developing working drawings and specifications goes on in a relatively normal fashion. Normal, that is, except we have deep inside us and humming warmly, that touchstone. It sits there quietly, guiding us more and more unerringly the more we trust it, to answers of power and rightness.



The role of ritual is a vitally important one in design, in sacred relationships, in shaping and using our surroundings, and in life itself. It is vital because it permits us to work on the subconscious as well as the conscious level, bringing together into harmony the various intentions that we hold on these different levels. As Denise Linn has so beautifully put it, "Where our intention goes, energy flows" - into our lives, our actions, and the places we inhabit.

Ritual is indispensable because it allows us to work in sacred space, and thereby to connect with and draw upon the wisdom, energy, and power of the entities which live in dimensions of existence other than our familiar physical ones. It is vital because it allows us to connect with the spirits of the earth, air, fire, water, and energy; to our ancestors, and to other life. It is valuable because it allows us to clarify and focus the energy of a group and use that energy to achieve our shared purposes. It allows us to align our intentions with the deepest forces of life, and gain power and rightness in our actions from that.

A ritual may be held in celebration, but it is not the same as a party. A ritual may be performed repeatedly, but unlike a habit, it keeps its intention conscious. It may or may not be ceremonious, but is not ceremony. It is focusing our conscious intention, using it to create sacred space, invoking whatever can help us find a safe space to open ourselves to the creative forces of life. It is giving voice to our intentions and merging them with those of others; using that shared intention to draw energy into focus, intensity, and application to our deepest purposes.

Ritual is taking action on the energetic, communal, and spiritual planes.

Rituals need to be alive and born anew each time, coming from our hearts, or they have no power. Most rituals, however, have a number of common elements:

1. Preparation - becoming clear about our intentions, spiritual and physical preparation of our selves and our places - doing such things as cleaning, fasting, focusing, clearing out destructive patterns, and focusing on rightness.

2. Purification - Grounding, opening ourselves to energy flowing through our bodies, expanding our energy to flush and fill the place.

3. Opening - Establishing sacred space through calling directions, guardians, connecting hara energy.

4. Invocation - depending on the purpose of the ritual this may include invoking (calling upon higher powers for assistance, support, or inspiration), consecration (declaring or setting apart as sacred or to dedicate solemnly to a service or goal), dedication (setting apart for a deity or religious or special uses), or sanctification (setting apart for sacred use, making holy).

5. Preservation - taking actions to "set" the replacement of previous patterns with new ones, to remain clear about our intentions, and to keep our actions in line with those intentions.

6. Closing - Purposeful thanks and release of the spirits, guides, and guardians invoked.6

Ritual is tied with community. It may be a community of one person plus higher powers, or a large group of people and the spirit world that supports them. It produces energy, or draws it to us in this realm, and allows that energy to support the community.

Malidoma Somé gives a partial list of the characteristics of true community, a place of self-definition by any group of people meeting with the intention of connecting to the power within:

1. Unity of spirit - an indivisible sense of unity. The community needs the individual, and vice versa.

2. Trust - everyone is moved to trust everyone else by principle.

3. Openness - people are unreservedly open to each other. Individual problems become community problems.

4. Love and caring - what you have is for everyone. Sharing.

5. Respect for the elders - They are the pillars and collective memory of the community, holding the wisdom that keeps the community together, prescribing the rituals for various occasions, initiating the young, and monitoring the dynamics of the community.

6. Respect for Nature - It is the source of wisdom, the locus of initiation, the source of medicine and nourishment of the community.

7. Cult of the Ancestors - They do not die. They live in the spirits in the community and are reborn into trees, mountains, stones and rivers to guide and inspire the community and the children.7

A community needs ritual, because it knows the virtual impossibility of existing without the wisdom and aid of the spirits, the ancestors, and the harmonized energy of the group.8 For anything to happen in ritual, it must be dominated by humility, speaking from the heart, and open acknowledgment of what isn't as well as what is. Ritual must enable full acknowledgment, expression, and release of emotions, or it fails in its role of purification. A ritual also must raise energy if it is to be successful in nurturing the community involved, and if its intention is to be achieved with power.


Ritual connected with the construction of buildings takes many forms, with various degrees of involvement of builders, owners, and public depending on the culture and use of the building. In its highest form, ritual transforms the entire process of building into a spiritual practice.

Teiji Itoh discusses more than 22 separate ceremonies that have been observed in rebuilding the structures of the Ise Shrines in Japan every twenty years for the last 1400 years
9 . These were used to bring the workers and the work in harmony with the spirits of the earth, mountains, wood and various deities. They also demonstrate a Japanese process of making sacred space.

The first ceremony honors the deity of the mountain where the trees used for building the shrine grow, offering prayers for peace to the timber cut for the building. The second ceremony honors the deity of wood. It is performed by a child and a single Shinto priest. The child cuts a tree with an ax, wraps it in a white cloth, covers it with a straw mat, and puts in into a sacred warehouse until it is buried in the central part of the building site to house the spirit of the wood put into the shrine building.

Just before construction begins, a ceremony equivalent to laying a cornerstone occurs. A tree branch representing the earth deity is placed on an eight legged table. The building area is defined by bamboo poles and a straw rope. The earth deity is invited in to occupy the space. To purify the land, a burial of ceremonial objects also occurs. Peaceful construction is prayed for.

This ceremony is followed by another to honor the tools, skills, and work of processing the materials. Generally a ridge beam or the most beautiful and largest timber is used for the ceremony. In the four parts of the ceremony, the representative timber is sawn, marked, hewn with an adze, and planed. Construction starts just after this ceremony.

Following the pre-cutting of the building framework, a ceremony occurs at the erection of the first pillar, followed by the assembly of the members of the framing. The most important ceremony occurs with the raising of the ridge beam, symbolizing completion of the framework. A festival area is prepared on the roof or the ground. A master-carpenter inspects the measurements of all parts of the building. A post is set into the ground in front of the building and a rope stretched between it and the ridge beam, which an attendant pulls three times, symbolizing the setting-up of the framework. A bowstring is plucked, and mochi rice cakes and coins scattered before tables at the northeast and southwest corners. Gifts to the carpenters and a banquet complete the ceremony.

The date of the completion ceremony is set astrologically, and marks the occupancy of the new building. It is composed of separate ceremonies to purify the building, set the wood deity post into the ground, thank the deities for protection during construction, ornament the inside of the building and welcome the soul of the goddess to occupy the building.


Susanne Wenger's Orisha shrine buildings in the Yoruba area of Nigeria give a graphic sense of the interplay between ritual, trance connection with the spirit world, and the giving of form to the qualities of place needed in a culture.10 They also show how actions we take with our surroundings help raise the communal energy needed to sustain a culture.

All change points in our relationships with places are important and appropriate place for rituals. In addition, cyclic points of renewal of relationships are valuable to sustain, enhance, and maintain focus of relationships:

Founding, or commencing any relationship with place is an important point for ritual - for grounding, for clarifying intention, for celebrating and blessing a new beginning.

Groundbreaking, at the beginning of construction is the first active intervention, disturbance, and change of a place, and benefits from the blessing of the spirits affected and affirmation of the intention of the work. This has long been observed in our culture for public buildings.

The construction phase of a project has many opportunities, as Itoh suggests, for affirming relationships and thanksgiving for the gifts of materials, skills, work, accomplishments. Traditionally in almost every culture - from Scandinavia to Japan - is the topping out ceremony at the completion of the roof framing of a building, when the full construction of its support structure is completed and only enclosure and finish remain. Often a tree is decorated and hoisted to the ridge pole to honor and thank the trees whose lives have been given into the timber for the building.

Taking possession of a completed building or project represents another milestone and transformation of relationship. Here, from preparation for use to the commencement of the ongoing use and relationship with place itself. In Christian churches, this is called consecration. In secular buildings its simplest form is a ribbon cutting. The profane phase of building is done, and the sacred phase of use can begin.

Cleaning, Cleansing, and Healing are rituals that can be done and redone time and again as needed as we wish to cleanse bad energy from a former use from a place, clean up our own act or neglect in our use of the place, or when we wish to move to a higher level of interaction with the place.

Exorcising is a specific kind of ritual used to cleanse or clear a place from the presence of lingering spirits, or evil intention projected onto a place.

Sustaining rituals are opportunities to reaffirm and reclarify ourselves, our actions and relationships, and our connection with place.

Connecting rituals are often used when new people become involved, when significant changes in the nature and patterns of relationships occur.

Celebration or Blessing rituals are wonderful opportunities to raise the energy of a place, a community, and ourselves in response to some occurrence of importance to those relationships.

Concluding - Saying farewell, moving out, or demolition are important points to reflect and honor the relationship ending. Bringing good closure to a relationship with places is as valuable as in a relationship with people. Acknowledging and thanking for gifts received during the relationship, its value, and some sort of giving in return are often involved.

These rituals affirm us, affirm our beliefs, focus our energy, show respect for gifts that have been given, honor the place and what has been given into its making and alteration. All those actions raise and consolidate the energy of a group and help sustain it in its work.



There is great stress placed in systems such as feng-shui or European geomancy on finding building locations with good chi in the land. And there is great stress in many religious disciplines on actively working with the internal chi of an individual. Curiously, there seems to be less familiarity with traditions that focus on active direct work to sustain or enhance the chi of place.

The Wiccan tradition works with sacred space, raising group energy, and placing it where wanted. Energy healing practitioners can read the energy aura of a place similarly to one of a person or a tree. Ritual and community energy are strongly focused on by the Dagara and other African cultures, and that community energy acknowledged as vital for the well-being of the group. Shamans and priests in Mayan, Egyptian and other cultures work strongly with energy of place. Many traditions work with clearing energy of place and putting good energy into a place as a healing practice. The Chinese worked with placement of pagodas and temples, draining, diking, and altering of waterways, or planting trees to alter and improve the natural flows of chi in an area.

There is strong evidence from dowsing of English cathedrals that their energy over the centuries has been augmented and focused by the energy of pilgrims and worshipers.
11 The Black Tantric Sect of Chinese Buddhism stresses the importance of the interaction of energy of people and place. And there is speculation that in many Neolithic monuments such as New Grange in Ireland, quartz or granite containing large quartz crystals, were used in construction possibly as accumulators for energy-related purposes.12

Energy work with people occurs in many cultures through the personal actions of priests, magicians, or shamans skilled in working with subtle energies. We know that such practices existed in the "esoteric" sects of all major religions. Tantra in Hinduism and Buddhism, Kundalini Yoga and similar practices in Taoism, faith healing and Pentecostalism in Christianity all involved active work with energy in our bodies, often in connection with mantras (sound), yantras (geometric diagrams), or mudras (hand-gestures).

The Chinese had their own word for shaman - wu - which appears tied with esoteric practices in other spiritual traditions through dancing and the use of sound, which also had particular ritual significance in China. Women were prominent as practitioners. It appears that as Chinese society as a whole, and feng-shui in particular, moved into a more intellectual and symbolic direction, the practice of working directly with energy receded into the background. Other than an occasional tangential mention of manipulation of earth chi
13 , the practice of direct divination of chi through trance or actively directing energy and consciousness is rarely apparent in Chinese feng-shui.

The conscious creating and augmenting chi in a place and connecting it with sources of chi sustenance appears to be an important and undervalued aspect of working with the reciprocal energetics of place and people. Further exploration and development of it seems to be a fertile area of work.



Locating sites for buildings, cities, tombs or other uses relative to existing patterns of energy in the earth occurs in many cultures in addition to China. Most commonly such earth energy or chi is located through the use of dowsing, though adept practitioners may just use psychic attunement to evaluate it.

Dowsing with the use of forked sticks, pendulums, or other devices, is an age-old practice used for locating underground water or energy lines. Simply put, dowsing is "whole body" perceiving of subtle signals from our surroundings, often using a device to visually amplify our body's responses.
14 Dowsing may be carried out on-site, at a distance from maps, or merely by focusing attention on questions, depending on the problem and the skills of the dowser. Dowsers speak of such things as ley lines, energy leys, blind springs or energy domes, primary water, and yin energy flows.

With the growing resurgence of dowsing today, more communication and discussion with other fields of study as well as connection with work in bodily energetics is occurring. Repeated dowsing of specific sites by numbers of trained dowsers is beginning to develop consensus on what is experienced where. Better training techniques are being developed, and investigations of specific effects from different earth energy conditions are occurring

Techniques for enhancing, diverting, and altering flows of earth energies using sound, earth acupuncture, or psychic action are being developed. Cyclic changes in different kinds of energy flows over time is beginning to be understood, along with a deepening understanding of practices dating back to Neolithic times.

Dowsers such as Joey Korn have shown that we are able to alter and enhance the energetics of a place using solely our intention, and that we can call on Nature to create a unique energy environment that is configured to support us in our efforts, where ever we choose. He suggests a simple prayer for use to focus and affirm our intention:

"If it be Thy Will, may the Powers of Nature converge and work with any of the benevolent forces that are in accord with the Divine, to bring into balance any detrimental energies and to enhance and increase the beneficial energies in this entire house for all of the members of this household as to their needs, for all those who will visit, and for all of life, for now and into the future, for as long as is appropriate. Amen.16

Comparison with Chinese feng-shui work on various qualities of energy of place suggests that additional development work is possible in this area. And consideration of the Aboriginal access to primal wisdom through the energies of specific places discussed earlier suggests even farther reaches of possibility for development of work with Earth energies. As Johanna Lambert indicated in WISEWOMEN OF THE DREAMTIME:

"Aboriginal culture explains...this through its concept of "songlines," magnetic and vital force flows that emanate from the earth, crisscrossing the continent. Aborigines believe that they can project their psyche or inner consciousness along these songlines as a means of communicating songs, stories, and knowledge over great distances. It is said that songlines were once a sacred tradition that stretched across the entire earth, and, in this way, cultural knowledge was shared worldwide."17

Learning dowsing, with its simple tools as aids, can be an important avenue to gain personal confidence in the existence of communication between people and place and our bodies' ability to hear those voices. But the real opportunities appear to depend on developing inner attunement to our body's overall perceptive organs and a clearer sense of what can be searched for and attained.

38755 Reed Rd.
Nehalem OR 97131 USA
© 8 Jan. 1999

1 See Lovins and von Weizsäcker, FACTOR FOUR: Doubling Productivity, Halving Resource Use, Earthscan, 1997 and Lovins and Hawken's forthcoming NATURAL CAPITALISM, for the context of these improvements. My "Living Lightly", 1973; "Hidden Costs of Housing", 1984; "Amazon Married Student Housing", 1994; "Bamberton", 1993; and "Transforming Tourism", 1993 show potentials in several sectors, available at <>. In regards to buildings, see also the many progress reports of the Rocky Mountain Institute, 1739 Snowmass Creek Rd., Snowmass CO 81654; work of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, 8604 F.M. 969, Austin TX 78724; and John Todd's work with biological water purification at Center for the Restoration of Waters, One Locust Street, Falmouth MA 02540.


3 Greg Bear, BLOOD MUSIC, Ace Books, 1986.

4 E.F. Schumacher, A GUIDE FOR THE PERPLEXED, Harper & Row, 1977.

5 Starhawk's THE SPIRAL DANCE gives a good introduction to some elements of work in sacred space. Malidoma Some's OF WATER AND THE SPIRIT is an excellent resource on trance and the role of and connection with ancestors in a traditional African culture. Many spiritual traditions give specific training in trance and related work. It may be best to learn trace work with a person able to monitor your actual progress, give feedback, and act as a safety net.

6 See Denise Linn, SACRED SPACE, Ballantine Books, 1995; Starhawk, THE SPIRAL DANCE, Harper SF, 1979; and Malidoma Somé, RITUAL: POWER, HEALING, AND COMMUNITY, Swan, Raven & Co, 1993 for various discussions.

7 Malidoma Somé, RITUAL: POWER, HEALING, AND COMMUNITY, Swan, Raven & Co, 1993.

8 Malidoma Somé's THE HEALING WISDOM OF AFRICA, Tarcher/Putnam is an excellent exploration of ritual in traditional and mode rn culture. Starhawk & M. Macha NightMare's PAGAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING, HarperSF, 1997, gives a good introduction to rituals of grief.

9 Teiji Itoh, JAPANESE ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN, Vol. 2 - Architecture, draft, School of Architecture, University of Washington, 1965. See Kenzo Tange's ISE: Prototype of Japanese Architecture, MIT Press, 1965 for a visual sense of the product of this approach towards work as a spiritual practice. S. Azby Brown's THE GENIUS OF JAPANESE CARPENTRY, Kodansha International, 1989, gives an excellent sense of the depth of a temple carpenter's knowing of materials, process, and place in this way of working.

10 Ulli Beier, THE RETURN OF THE GODS, Cambridge University Press, 1975.

11 J. Havelock Fidler, LEY LINES: Their Nature and Properties, Turnstone Books, 1983, confirms my own experiences.

12 See progress reports on the Newgrange excavations in ANTIQUITY, 1964, 1968 and 1969 for location of the quartz layers.

13 Feuchtwang (p142) quotes De Groot reporting on a geomancer standing at a spot on a slope where there is great accumulation of chi, then rushing down towards a proposed new grave site. This may appear all theatrics, but if the geomancer had made a linkup between his or her own chi and the power spot, it was one dramatic way to make a link-up to the grave site. Many other, less sensational ways exist, and presumably would have been discussed if energy work was an acknowledged part of the feng-shui repertoire.

14 Eugene Gendlin's FOCUSING, Bantam, 1988, explains a step by step technique for gaining access to our body's awareness.

15 Sig Lonegren's SPIRITUAL DOWSING, Gothic Image, 1986 gives a good introductory overview to dowsing and learning the techniques. Walter Woods' LETTER TO ROBIN: A Mini-Course in Pendulum Dowsing, 1990-96, downloadable from <> gives an outstanding but simple process for self-training .

16 See Joey Korn, DOWSING: A PATH TO ENLIGHTENMENT, Kornucopia Press, 1998. 706-733-0204 .

17 Johanna Lambert, WISEWOMEN OF THE DREAMTIME, Inner Traditions International, 1993.