A Year Along the Ecotone

“… as a naturalist, my favorite places to be are along the ecotone. It’s where it’s most alive … usually … the edge of the forest and the meadow. It’s the edge of the ocean and the sand … where the rack line occurs. It’s that interface between peace and chaos. It’s that creative edge that I think we find most instructive. It’s also the most frightening. Because it’s completely uncertain and unpredictable and that’s again where I choose to live.”

Terry Tempest Williams


When I look back on this year on some distant future date, I will think of it – I will continue to feel it – as the year I walked along the ecotone. I have used other words as the year has progressed. I have talked about thresholds and liminality. This new word, ecotone, is the most recent to enter my vocabularyIt is a welcome addition to a growing list of words that mean, here but not still here and there but not quite there.

Very early in 2019 something clicked in me that it was time to make room in my life for what was next with only a faint understanding of what that meant. As I set this new expectation within myself and then expressed it for the first time, I found a sense of ease and comfort I did not realize had been missing, an assurance of moving in the right direction.

As my confidence grew, it became more obvious and much easier to declare new boundaries, to say no to this and only under these conditions to that. I was astonished to find that the world began to conspire to test the limits of my resolve. Two specific, long-time commitments I had intended to keep simply went away, unrelated circumstances removing them from the landscape of my experience.

This unnerved me a little. Was I responsible through the clarity of my intention for this broader re-ordering? It takes a lot of ego to even speculate about such a thing, but the timing was so eerily coordinated, the sense of freedom so enjoyable that I couldn’t help but wonder. And even if it was only circumstantial, it was just the kind of evidence I needed to move towards my new creative edge with additional resolve.

This year will come to a close before I understand what this threshold is asking of me. I imagine that I will be in conversation with it well into the coming year. In all likelihood it will be a much larger and longer conversation than that.

That thought does not frighten me because it allows me not to rush to understand. It allows me to more fully inhabit this place – call it ecotone, threshold, or liminal space – with a purposeful not-knowing.

The days will come and go. I will work and play, sing a little, give thanks, complain, love and work some more. In not-knowing I will live a life and in doing so I may just discover that the ecotone is not only a place to visit, but a place I might choose to live.


Edge_Effect

On the Frontier

American mythology has long included the archetype of the “self-made man.” And no place is associated with that archetype quite like the American west. Think of covered wagons and remote outposts, think of cowboys and ranchers, think of miners and the Gold Rush. Think of the John Wayne/Clint Eastwood ethos. Think of Henry Ford, Ray Kroc, Walt Disney and Steve Jobs. For that matter, just think of Silicon Valley.

Pioneers, adventurers, trailblazers. Vigorous, steadfast and resilient. They set out to conquer some part of a vast, undeveloped territory and make it their own. The “self-made man” goes on a hero’s journey: he sets out to fulfill a vision, is forced to overcome both internal and external obstacles to achieve it, finds resources within himself that he didn’t realize he had and ultimately, against all odds, achieves his dream.

And he does it alone.

Here in the present day American west, and in the broader American culture, we still live in the shadow of this romantic legacy. We obsess over our jobs, our homes, our stuff. We carve out a small space – an eighth of an acre in most cases – and make it our castle. We preserve at great lengths the old story of individualism, what I alone can do, what I most dream of doing, in order to get our piece, our slice of the dream.

And this becomes the operating system of our neighborhoods, our “NIMBY” communities and our corporations most of all.

So many of our most prominent, influential corporations, through their failed performance management and reward systems, a relentless focus on short-term results, through lip service to vision and values, leadership development, social responsibility and employee engagement, are no more than temples of self-congratulation and self-worship. They are, all too often, simply a construct for the very few to accumulate as much as they possible can while the very many do the hard work to make that possible.

All of this you already know. What I hope you also know is that there are small and powerful exceptions. The inspiration for this post, in fact, came from the comments of a team member I worked with earlier in the week. We were in the midst of a conversation in which we were exploring the intersection of individual, team and corporate values. An expatriate from Brazil, he shared how much he appreciated this kind of interaction with his teammates because so much of his American experience is marked by the sort of individual compartmentalization described above. With familiar Brazilian enthusiasm he described his desire to be more connected, to literally be closer to his colleagues, in a culture that seems to work so hard to avoid that kind of intimacy.

I believe that what he is asking for, what he is seeking is a new frontier. And it is there for us if we are willing to take the steps. This new frontier is marked by a more purposeful kind of interaction, one that preserves a focus on the individual but in the larger context of how she connects and contributes to the larger group of which she is a part. It is a frontier of deep and challenging conversations about why we are here, and what we are meant to achieve. It is a conversation that calls on us to recognize that our actions have an impact beyond ourselves and that we are responsible for those outcomes, good or bad.

It is a frontier that demands us to wake up to the truth that everything is connected, that how we honor the person in front of us is how we honor all things.

The “self-made man” is a myth for one simple reason: no one does it alone.


green grass field during daytime

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Thresholds

We are called to be larger than who we can imagine being in this moment.
{Sr. Joan Brown}


A threshold is a demarcation between the known and the unknown, an entry point to a new frontier.

It’s not an easy place at which to stand as it represents a break from our familiar or ordered understanding of things. One more step, and we are in the unfamiliar, a disordered version of our experience.

These threshold moments exist in each of our lives, some large and some small, some by our choosing and some purely by chance. Each one is an opportunity for development depending on our choice to step across that demarcation line or retreat from it.

And the reason it is so hard to take that next step, and why we so often retreat from that threshold, is that we feel utterly alone.

But we are not alone.

Quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. We are more connected than we realize, more connected than we allow ourselves to admit. Perhaps that’s because we’ve bought into the myth of “going it alone,” and perhaps because being connected makes us feel exposed and vulnerable. To be seen by another for who and what we are, especially as we stand at the threshold of our own becoming? I admit that is a scary thought.

And (and this is such an important “and”) it is precisely that vulnerability that leads to our connection and that connection is what leads us to our greatest strength: the ability to rely upon one another to see us not just as we are but as we may yet be. To hold an imaginative sense of one another’s larger self at the moment when we alone are least able to hold it is a gift both precious and powerful.

To stand at a threshold, then, is to stand in a place of complete connection, summoning courage from one another to cross over and into the frontier of our largest possible self.

I don’t know if the world can be saved but if it can be, this is how we will do it.


pathway between green trees brown steel gate during daytime

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Liminal Space

“The word liminal comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold – any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing.”
inaliminalspace.org


While liminality often comes with a sense of urgency toward the new, a rush forward to escape the anxiety and awkwardness of no man’s land, it doesn’t have to be that way.

The opportunity of a liminal space is to occupy it as expansively as you can. If you are no longer back there and not yet over there you are still somewhere, a place called here.

During a time of intense creation, when our work was still forming and it’s impact as yet unknown, a few of us once said, “Someday we’re going to look back on this as the good old days.”

We were prematurely nostalgic for our experience precisely because we were in the midst of becoming rather than arriving, of curiosity rather than completion.

As long as there is some mystery, the unknown retains its hold on us. In doing so, it fires our imagination with all sorts of possibilities. A liminal space is a “not knowing” space, a reminder that we are always becoming.

“…wherever you are is called Here, and you must treat it as a powerful stranger.”     – from Lost by David Whyte


ancient architecture asia bench

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