Power of Place

A long-held fascination with the intentional creation of space (for particular purposes) is coming to the forefront for me right now in an interesting way.

Whatever the purpose for creating intentional space – whether it be to make a home, create the right atmosphere for a party, a setting for collective transformation, a temple or circle in which to do sacred work, or the intentional creation of “community” in the sense of offering people somewhere they can feel they “belong” – there are a number of elements that will go into building the architecture or structure for each. Some of the structural elements will be fundamental to creating any powerful environment, while others will be uniquely focused on individual intentions for that particular use

I’m currently engaged in a project on the Power of Place with three remarkable women – Sheryl Erickson, Karen Speerstra, and Ria Baaek. The project began as an inquiry into geographical places on the earth where people have felt a specific spiritual power associated with the landscape. There were some beautiful results from this inquiry (including a video by FireHawk Hulin on one such place in the Santa Cruz mountains), but the scope of the project soon grew to extend beyond geography and into a search for the raw components of "power in place"; the elements from which all "sacred space" is built.

We started by reading Christopher Alexander’s The Luminous Ground, where he talks about the “life” in everything and how to invite the elements of life to come forward when working with space. Now we're exploring how Alexander's work links to what Peter Block is talking about in his recent book, Community: The Structure of Belonging

I’m bringing in the World Café principle of creating "hospitable” space, Pele Rouge's work in creating beauty for the Thought Leader Gatherings, Ashley Cooper's work with Easily Amazed, the work of David Sibbet and Michelle Paradis in Second Life, and the things I’ve learned in my own work with design, particularly online design, over the last twelve years.

So far we've been envisioning the project as two parts of a whole. The first part is a Primer on the key "Principles" or elements of creating sacred space as translated through a feminine lens to include "Practices" to ground these principles.

The second part is an experiment with the creation of "sacred place" online. We're documenting our process in a collective blog, which will be published along with an open invitation to participate in the inhabiting and co-evolution of whatever it is we come up with.

I hope some of you will want to play.

(This project is being done in collaboration with the Collective Wisdom Initiative and supported by a small grant from The Fetzer Institute)


  1. Amy – thank you so much for this joy and inspiration. I have been thinking a lot lately about the whole notion of ecological self and how to nourish the feeling of connectedness and aliveness that comes from sensing ourselves embedded in natural systems. Your work has provided a whole new set of answers and inquiries. By the way do you know Edward Tufte and his work on beautiful evidence – you might enjoy having a peek:
    Yours, Caffyn (from the Engaged Art Network)

  2. “faithfully lit the Hanukkah candles each night for the ritual 8 nights even though my mother isn’t Jewish and I don’t know the music or words for the proper prayers.”

    Wow, my mother is Jewish and I didn’t light the candles!

    I recently discovered aromatherapy and might start using aromatherapy candles as they have health benefits.

  3. Hi Amy, thanks for bringing up the topic of mindful and conscientious conferencing. I think it’s high time for conference goers and organizers to consider the waste that professional and social events can generate. Thanks, also, for using the Zwaggle recycling room–such a movement is on the right track, and we at Zwaggle look forward to continuing those kinds of practices whenever we participate in gatherings and events in the future. Until next time…

  4. I love this movie.. very few moments you can relate to movie dialogue and perfect sense in your own life’s context. this movie had those moments and made perfect sense.

  5. Hi Amy…

    For the past seven years I have blogging about my home place on Bowen Island, and many years ago helped start a place blogging community. We put together a wiki of our posts at a site called Ecotone, and someone even wrote a thesis about our work.

    Also Peggy Holman was working with place bloggers not too long ago so there is another connection.

    I’m a big time place guy, having worked for a couple of years with the Orton Foundation at their PlaceMatters conferences for community planners. It’s a big field, and I like how you guys are approaching it.

    Happy to play…

  6. Have you read The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton? It deals with how the physical structures we create affect the way we feel. It’s not exactly an academic book or anything, more a long essay on the subject. It’s very good!

  7. lovely film and i it one of the memorable dialogue form the movie.i can relate my life with it and that young boy.

  8. Just watched American Beauty again and throughout the film was thinking, Yes – this is what film should be – a profound and thoughtful treatise on life and death and the meaning we assign to both – this is the true successor to the work of Updike and Cheever.

  9. Yes Amy! I fully agree with you over American Beauty, the whole purpose of the film and what we might bring from it, what we might see in it, what we might take away. I found something quite similar in Perfect Sense – one other film that has touched me in such a profound way. The entire film is to support that one moment at the very end where, after stripping away everything else, beyond all the details and minutia, beyond time itself, we find the one most important, purest statement of our very existence here. Nothing else matters and nothing else can exist in that moment. We find love.

  10. is this the picture that inspired him to give such a masterpiece dialogue.. I read an interview of Allan Ball he said, one day he too encooutered a plastic bag, and was stunned by it…. WoW!!

  11. Thanks for the wonderful post.
    When I first saw American Beauty in the theater, I stayed for the next showing to watch it again. Seeing the inexpressible articulated so profoundly rocked my world.
    Now, fourteen years later, I have a wife and daughters of my own. I forsook a successful career and the pursuit of more “stuff” to become a yoga teacher.
    I watched the film again last night. I keep melting into tears of joy/love/bursting heartache.
    The film reassured me that I am on the right path.
    My question is: Did it put me on this path so long ago?

  12. I love your question, JJ…

    Sometimes I wonder if there is any one thing that “puts us on the path” of our life’s learning, our soul’s yearning… perhaps it’s just that we come in with an opening, a sensitivity, that is triggered in response to beauty, or love, or pain (or whatever is a trigger for us) and sends us off, again and again, in the direction we need to go for the next part of our journey.

    Thanks so much for your lovely note.

  13. Prior to watching American Beauty, I was of the impression that this “almost-impossible-to-bear” heart-swell and tremendous flow of gratitude was an experience shared by few. However, I really had no idea because I never attempted to verify these experiences with anyone. I thought that such feelings were inexpressible – they’re just too great and run too deep. It’s amazing how simply Ball portrayed this.
    I’d love to know the proportion of people that can relate to these feelings. I suspect if you have experienced something remotely similar, you’ll be left speechless (as I was).

  14. Thank you for writing, Matthew. I think you can see by the comments here (which are merely a tiny tip of the iceberg) that there are a great many of us who share these feelings, however poorly or well we express them.

    Ball used amazing skill and delicacy and tenderness to achieve what really great art can do – express the inexpressible. To me this is a deeply human capacity that art – both making it and appreciating it – serves, but there are other doorways into the ineffable… religion, spirituality, love, awe, nature. My heart is swelling as I write.

    Thanks again, Matthew, for writing.

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