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Non-Doing Across Domains | #2
The On Renewal Podcast, The Timeless Way, and A Pattern Language for Effortless Exercise
Good morning from New England! I’ve spent the last week traveling between Connecticut and Rhode Island to see friends and family. It’s striking how much more it feels like fall is emerging here than at home in North Carolina.
As a quick reminder, this is the Renewal Rundown a monthly newsletter where I share a few updates, ideas, and favorite sources of inspiration on applying self-renewal to ourselves and the world around us. I will continue to publish longer-form essays regularly. Let’s jump in!
🎙 The On Renewal Podcast
One of the highlights of the last month was launching a podcast and interviewing four people I deeply admire.
The theme of The On Renewal Podcast is how we create conditions to adapt within ourselves, our organizations, and the natural world around us. Change is constant. We must build the capacity to evolve and sustain without knowing what the future holds. We can’t do this alone. We need each other to learn from, expand our sense of possibility, and craft a shared vision worth striving for.
This podcast is a small way of supporting this. I plan to chat with a wide range of guests and cross-pollinate ideas across domains: identifying common themes, opening our eyes to new terrain, and accelerating our thinking.
We will explore timeless ideas, not current events. We will cover vast terrain, not a narrow niche. My hope is that these conversations will only become more relevant and valuable in the years ahead as the collection and connections between them grow.
Below is a quick introduction to each episode so you can see which spark your curiosity. I’ve also included a quote from each discussion on the theme of non-doing1 to highlight how the same concept is bubbling up in different people's lives.
Rob Hardy - From Rigidity to Fluidity
Rob joins us to talk about his work building joyful internet businesses and non-coercive marketing is really about inner transformation and reconnecting with our intuition.
Most of what I do now feels easy and flowing and intuitive. To contrast to how I used to show up in the world, putting a ton of a ton of pressure on myself, forcing myself to do these complex meticulous things like building funnels and building out my email, all the things that I thought I should do to build a business. It still blows my mind how easy and fun everything I'm doing now is. how little force is being applied. And how it seems to be working better than when I was then when I was doing all of the right things so to speak.
Jonny Miller - Cultivating Resilience and Rising out of Reactivity
Jonny take us on a sensory adventure to explore the nervous system and learn about how meditation, breathwork, and environment design can help us prevent burnout, cultivate resilience, and become less reactive.
This has been a journey that I've been on for the last 7 to 8 years and i still catch myself gripping in various ways, like overefforting, and pushing too hard. For me it's a process of remembering and forgetting. And, the moments when I'm in this effortless, ease, and flow it feels so amazing and i'm more creative and productive. I get further towards whatever my desires and goals than if i'm actually struggling and pushing.
Case Bradford - Discovering Intuitive Exercise
Case shares his journey ditching the gym for a nature-based approach and we explore how everyone call cultivate a more intuitive approach to physical movement, skill development, creativity, and other facets of our lives.
I have a lot of open flow. Part of it is because I enjoy it. I really believe it's important to incorporate what you enjoy into anything you want to do. It becomes an ascending spiral, a self-fulfilling engine that's I like doing this so I'm definitely go do it so i'm not going to force myself. So it's got it's own wind in it's sails"
Kristen Haaf - Growing Life-Giving Landscapes
Kristen highlights her experiences as a landscape architect and provides guidance on slowing down, cultivating a regenerative mindset, enhancing our sensory capacities, and embracing ecological thinking to get started gardening and more deeply connect to the natural world.
I'm pretty adamant that the very first step is non-doing and being able to just be. The more you can just be on your own land, the next steps can start to emerge out of that space as opposed to them being something you have to force. And letting something just emerge is actually a lot easier. it's more joyful. and it results in a better place to be in the long run
📖 Non-doing and The Timeless Way
Speaking of non-doing, I just finished The Timeless Way of Building2, by Christopher Alexander. Technically it’s a book about architecture but it’s really about so much more. It’s a philosophy on how to cultivate beauty and aliveness in the world around us. It’s about honoring the unique forces within a place and trusting our own intuitions on what feels good:
The TIMELESS WAY is "a process which brings order out of nothing but ourselves; it cannot be attained, but will happen of it's own accord, if we will only let it".
Which requires knowing THE QUALITY we are seeking. “There is a central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a wilderness. This quality is objective and precise, but it cannot be named."
This search for ALIVENESS extends across our lives: "The search we make for this quality, in our own lives, is the central search of any person, and the crux of any individual person's story. It is the search for those moments and situations when we are most alive"
We thrive when we are free of INNER CONTRADICTIONS: "most men are not fully true to their own inner natures or fully 'real'... When you meet a person who is true to himself, you feel at once that he is 'more real' than other people are".
Here’s a thread I shared that goes into more depth on my favorite ideas and some questions the book left me with. It was fun to see it take off and introduce these ideas to a ton of new people.
🏃♀️ A Pattern-Language for Effortless Exercise
As I read The Timeless Way of Building, one question kept nagging at me:
Could I create a Pattern-Language that would point people towards more intuitive exercise?
Just like Alexander describes how many people have lost the ability to design their own homes and surroundings, many people have lost the ability to embrace exercise from within. Instead, they look to experts and articles to tell them how to move their own body.
The tension is that it’s not as simple as just telling people to do whatever they want or feel. Alexander describes the challenge like this:
“this has gone so far that most people shrink in fear, from the task of designing their surroundings. They are afraid that they will make foolish mistakes, afraid that people will laugh at them, afraid that they will do something "in bad taste". And the fear is justified. Once people withdraw from the normal everyday experience of building, and lose their pattern languages, they are literally no long able to make good decisions about their surroundings, because they no longer know what really matters and what doesn’t"
Once our natural capacities have been eroded we need to rediscover them by reconnecting to our own intuition. Michael Ashcroft shared another great way of thinking about this in the “Faulty Sensory Appreciation” principal (from the teachings of a different Alexander (FM):
Another essential piece that Christopher Alexander constantly articulates is that good versus bad is an objective matter. While it’s unique to the circumstances and should be judged by our feelings as much as our intellect, it’s not purely subjective. There are some patterns that are alive and others that are dead. There are characteristics that make some things self-renewing and others decaying:
"The fact that the difference between a good building and a bad building, between a good town and a bad town, is an objective matter. It is the difference between health and sickness, wholeness and dividedness, self-maintenance and self-destruction”
Extending to exercise, it’s as simple as this: some approaches work and others do not. Some patterns make your physical activity and body come alive, and others make them feel lifeless..
Therefore, A Pattern Language for Effortless Exercise would take us through a process to rediscover our intuitive ability to embrace physical activity that makes us feel fully alive. Once we’ve relearned this, we can release any effort. It can become effortless.
"first learn a discipline which teaches us the true relationship between ourselves and our surroundings...then, once this discipline has done its work... be ready to give up the discipline, and act as nature does."
I’m just starting to explore what this looks. It’s daunting. The scale of what’s involved scares me. This is a 10-year journey, not a 6-month project. Yet, something is calling me to embrace this adventure. Who am I to say no?
I’ll write more about it as it unfolds. For now, here are a few final ideas about A Pattern Language from Alexander that I’m reflecting on to get started:
Each pattern is a three-part rule, which expresses a relation between a certain context, a problem, and a solution
Patterns can exist at all scales and have to be created in a way that can be shared
A pattern only works, fully, when it deals with all the forces that are actually present in a situation
Each pattern then, depends both on the smaller patterns it contains, and on the large patterns within which it is contained
Each pattern sits at the center of a network of connections which connect it to certain other patters that help complete it
And it is the network of these connections between patterns which creates the language
I’d love to hear from you if you have thoughts on the podcast, The Timeless Way, or creating a pattern language for effortless exercise. All replies come right to my inbox.
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For a great entry point to non-doing, I recommend this translation by Stephen Mitchell of the Tao Te Ching.
All of Christopher Alexander’s books are expensive (~$50) and can be difficult to find. If you’re patient, you can often find used copies on thrift books and most local libraries have a few copies. Personally, it’s a book I plan to frequently return to so the high cost is well worth it.