Monday, August 22, 2011

Laura Calderon de la Barca -- Towards the Ordinary and the Overlooked

A Forward to the Book "Pilgrimages of the Gift" by Christopher Kinman

Book available at:

I met Chris – a story teller of gifts of the Alive, and a weaver of life-honouring relationships. I met him, as he might say: once upon a rhizome. He welcomed me to his world within an open heart, a place for the exploration of all things human and alive. This welcoming began in 2007 at a small gathering, a conference he organized in Vancouver, focusing on the future of the helping professions.

I made my way to this event through unexpected connections that arose between us. I heard about the event through Harlene Anderson (Houston, Texas). I had personally witnessed Harlene’s capacity to discover ways of being with others that welcomed inspiration, authenticity and openness. I suspected I might find some of this same inspiration at the gathering Chris was organizing. I was not disappointed. At the time, I was waiting for the examiners of my PhD thesis to submit their report. The rather unusual theme of the thesis, a therapeutic session for a pretty complex client, Mexico, my country of origin, won me a place in the meeting. Chris contacted me and we arranged for my attendance. So it was that during those beautiful sunny days in November, overlooking the breath-taking, snow-capped mountains and Vancouver skyline from the Vancouver Rowing Club’s Trophy Room, I heard him speak -- inspired by Gregory Bateson and his understanding of the Creatura -- about the world of the Alive.

The ideas he spoke of that day, and that he shares with us in this book are not bare abstractions. They come in flesh and blood as we experience the moments of the Alive inexorably associated with them. I have been moved not only by these ideas and their possibilities, but by the actual connections that were brought to life in conversations first with Chris and then with his book.

It is in this sense that Chris seems to me a story-teller. The things he talks about have names, have occurred in specific contexts, in particular times. These things can only be grasped through their embodiment in the material world. And yet, there is something in the way they are animate that inspires reverence, and that seems somehow to paradoxically transcend time precisely by being grounded in it -- from the rushed atmospheric dynamics that create sounds of wind in the trees to the time-worn crustacean shells that create a beach.

As can be seen throughout the book, Chris sees, with Christopher Alexander, ‘the Alive’ as connected to both nature and creative actions: we are part of the creative creatura, us humans; but we don’t own creation. As we become present to our relatedness to the rest of creation, a certain intensity comes to life, ‘a thickening of feeling’, as Chris would say, through which the Alive enters, opens up, opening us up. And through this we can find ourselves in ‘joint creations in cooperation with the moments of a living world’.

As I follow the book, it becomes clear to me that these creations occupy us as music occupies notes. Each of us is, in this game of creation, a note; singular and beautiful, but insufficient to make music, as Chris wisely points out (p. 89). The music of creation is only available if we surrender to something larger than our individual selves. And in the book, Chris beautifully demonstrates how to be a part of this music: by truly being with others; that is, by offering ourselves as witnesses to the becomings of the world, allowing ourselves to respond to them and making our response known.

In that sense, Chris’ story-telling of the Alive doesn’t just happen through narrative. Story-telling often requires a conclusion, a point to be made, a lesson, an evaluation. Chris’ stories are not like that. As the abundance he writes about, he has little interest in judgment. His stories do not offer to take you anywhere better, or to go and change anything. And it is precisely in letting go of that attempt that they move you, they change you. For these stories are sharings, a bringing-back of moments when he was present to something Alive, something that touched him and made him Alive. His words take us with him, to become witnesses of the Alive in the becomings of the world, to be found in the most apparently random locations: in a little boy’s combusting squiggle, in economies riding on the wing of a gull, in the visual beauty of a swarm of gnats, in the fragile companionship of a generous rabbit, or in the ephemeral touch of a child’s hand, his own child. And, regarding this touch, in the awareness of the possibility of the absence of this touch’s, its barest grazing unleashes in him ‘that roar which lies on the other side of silence’, as George Elliot would say, moving him, and myself with him, to tears as I become aware of the Alive in me, as I, childless, feel the loss nevertheless... or maybe because of it.

The Alive is not made present in Chris’s words alone, it also comes forth in his images. The knack he has for catching life unaware is evident in his pictures, in the gentleness apparent in the lick of the puma, the purple beauty of a partially crushed oyster, slowly becoming a beach, or the easy companionship of Pessoa’s friends in the café in Lisbon. He has tenderly intimated with the Alive, offering it his openness and sensitivity, and finding in return that it reveals itself to him in the overlooked and the ordinary. Sharing his findings with us, Chris offers us in passing a glimpse of what we might find if we cross our own doorway to the other side of silence. Enjoy the roar.

Laura Calderón de la Barca

Vancouver, BC; Mexico City

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