Living Design Process

Report on two-day introduction to Living Design Process – Castlemaine, July 2018

The first ever two day intro to living design process finished yesterday. It was big and I can’t imagine I’ll ever forget it.

The venue was the sunroom in the beautiful heritage home we live in which is in Castlemaine, Victoria, next to this truly magnificent oak tree.

The workshop was jointly facilitated my myself and my dear friend and adaptive leadership mentor Simon Nette. Here’s a photo of us doing some planning a week prior.

There were seven other participants – Ugo, Will, Sally, Lisa, Tanika, Ash and Harry.

After arrivals and cups of tea etc we all wandered out to encounter the great tree, which for all I know is the third or fourth largest oak in Victoria. It is an English oak, about 110 years in age, and its canopy is something like 33 metres in diameter.

The winter morning sun was streaming in underneath and through the canopy, cutting streaks of light through the leaves, tufts of grass and jonquils underneath. Though the air was perfectly still there was a gentle continuous rain of leaves as the grand being let go of last seasons solar panels. I had intended to say some words of welcome and do some exercises to mark the beginning of the workshop, but the oak tree was saying all that needed to be said. I invited everyone to circumnavigate her mighty truck and head back inside over the crunchy frost-white grass into the warmth of our living room

We did our opening exercises, comprising three motions and accompanying sounds I learned from another dear friend and mentor – Mike O’Donnell from New Zealand. The first is about letting go of any lingering stuff from the recent past that might other wise get in the way. The second is about arriving here and now to this space and these people, here together. The third is about fluttering off into the workshop together.

I then led a guided meditation:

Now please close your eyes and feel the potential for this workshop to be something real. Something fresh. Something that leaves you feeling alive, and present, and vibrant. To use some of your own words, something that leaves you feeling grounded, connected, empowered, motivated and called to action.

Our intention for this this workshop is that it be a deep, accessible, and gentle invitation into the space of living process. In invitation that is educative in its authentic sense of a drawing out of knowings and doings and beings that are already inside you.

Keeping your eyes closed, I’d like us to commence a little journey together. Though we are right at the start I invite you to trust that we are all here with pure intention and that you can feel safe in this room, with these people, with Simon and I acting as some kind of guides or stewards.

Connect with your breath. The tidal inflow and outflow of your breath. Let you bring bring any of your presence and attention that might be up in your head down, down, down. Down your spinal cord. Down into your body.

Be present to your body. Listen to it. Listen to it deeply. It right now is trying to tell you so many things. Some voices will be much louder than others, like a bright street lamp blocking out the stars. Like a shout of pain blocking out a million yearning whispers. Be open and present to all of it.

Now start honing in on the loudest voice. The strongest sensation. More specifically, start honing in on the largest voice in your body at this moment. It might be a tense muscle in the back of your neck. It might be a strange feeling of heaviness, maybe even anxiety in the base of your stomach. It might be a tightness or even a sharp pulsing pain in the skin tissue around your eyes. The beginnings of a camp in your right foot.

Be with that tension for a moment. Listen to it.

Now kind of zoom out again and be present to that tension of that sensation or sensations within the feeling of your body as a whole.


Now, keeping your eyes closed, I want to use your body as a frame of reference for sharing some ideas with you.

Your body is a whole. It has wholeness. You are a whole. You have wholeness.

If something has wholeness it also has partness. It has parts. You, and your body, have parts.

The parts of your body include your neck, your skin, your eyes, your feet, your beating heart, your breathing lungs.

I’d like to introduce a distinction between different kinds of parts. For some parts are authentic parts. An authentic part is a part that belongs. Other parts are inauthentic parts. They do not belong.

Your neck, your skin, your eyes, your feet, your beating heart, your breathing lungs. These are all authentic parts. They belong and they belong together. Now another name for an authentic part is an organ. These things are organs within your body.

And what is an organ, why it is a harmoniously functioning part of a greater whole. An organ is something that serves and that is served by the whole it is part of.

An interesting thing about an organ, about an authentic part, is that is speaks not only for itself. It speaks also of the whole it is part of. To put it another way, the whole presences itself through the parts. It tells something of the story of the whole. Your heart carries information about you as a whole. A surgeon can probably tell from your heart much about the rest of you. A dentist can learn much about your life from looking at your teeth. A chinese doctor can access a universe of information about you as a whole by engaging with the pulse in your hand, the temperature and maybe even the subtle fragrance of your skin. The wholeness reveals itself through the parts, through the organs. The organs are like portals through which your wholeness shines.

Now some parts are inauthentic. They do not belong. They do not serve the whole. They are not organs. Moving now from your body to yourself as a whole, I’m sure it will not be news to inform you that there are parts within you that are inauthentic. Meaning they are not really parts at all. They are just things in the way. It is possible that all of us here have within us behaviours and beliefs that are inauthentic. That do not serve us. That limit us. That we would be much better off to liberate them, to set free.

This distinction can be made within the fabric of any whole. The wholeness of a landscape, of a piece of music, of a wedding, of a workshop. This very workshop will have some organs, some authentic parts. Other parts will be less authentic. Same for a house, or a garden, or a farm.

During this workshop we’ll use different sounds to help differentiate authentic parts from authentic parts. This is the sound of an inauthentic part (imagine the sound of tapping an empty plastic container)

This is the sound of a sort of in-between part  (imagine the sound of flicking with your finger a glass) – not entirely inauthentic or authentic. Just kind of okay.

This is the sound of a fully authentic part, one that resonates fully with its context and truly belongs (imagine the fulness and length of the sound of flicking a fine lead crystal bowl).

Later we’ll share many examples of authentic and inauthentic parts in different contexts.

But for now I want to share an interesting twist on a word we usually take for granted. This word organ.

You see if you add the suffix ise to a noun it turns it into a verb that means to make into. If you add ize to harmony you get harmonise which means to make into a harmony. If you add ise to organ you get organise, which means to make into an organ.

If we take this a step further we can substitute ism for ise meaning that organise becomes organism, a noun of action literally meaning to ongoing process of making things into and maintaining them as organs.

This is what an organism is. Not a skin-bound body. Not an object but a process of creating and maintaining authentic parts.

This unfamiliar take on the organism carries within it an entirely new way of approaching design. A new way that is also so very old.

In this next part, which I hope will be an authentic one, I want to create a portal into this space for you. I want to outline a doorway so that I can later invite you to step through it with me, or to yell out and let me know you’re already in here too. For as we’ll see it is a misty, foggy space.  A space that has strangely become unfamiliar to us even though it is our birthright. A space easy to get lost in without a properly equipped and numbered expeditionary group.

I call this doorway, this portal the three questions. It is an early, provisional doorway. More of a narrow crack in the walls of conventional reality really. So let me outline it for you so that if you want, we can try and widen it together.

We next explored the three questions along with some very tentative, provisional attempts at answers. The first two questions are:

  • How do modern humans go about creating things – what are the general properties of these processes?
  • How does the rest of nature, and in particular any living organism, go about creating itself – what are the general properties of these processes?

Here are some answer-directions-explorations:


Leading to the third question which is:

  • How might go about taking our lead, as humans, from these later process properties?

I then shared this general framework that a group of collaborators including myself have been using to guide early experiments in living design process:

I then shared a couple of detailed examples of how this was been playing out, firstly in the gardens and park spaces of a 700 apartment development in Melbourne…

…and secondly in the ten-acre Mayberry Woodend project.

After that we heard from Simon on the distinction between thinking, or analysing, and getting, before heading out to Paradiso del Amore to spend an incredible few hours with Louisa Balaz-Brown.

A fork in the path. We followed life to the left…


Louisa’s incredible kitchen




The book nook


The chillout room (Photo)

The chillout room (Video)

The window seat corner

And such was day one.

Day Two

Simon kicked off day two by introducing the case-in-point methodology where the group itself is its own case study. He also set up the holding space and had the group set the ‘heat’ level, for the theme of the morning was practicing discerning between authentic and inauthentic when immersing in or reading people. Given we were going down the case-in-point path, this meant each other. The group chose 5, which is maximum heat. Which was exciting, given I knew from past experiences with Simon that when the group chooses 5, shit is about to get very real.

After a debrief where everyone shared what they ‘got’ from the time at Paradiso, we started an exercise where everyone shared something of their ‘why’ for a few minutes, then experienced hearing everyone else share what they got from that share while being like a fly on the wall (as in hearing people talking about you as if you weren’t there). They then rejoined the group and fed back anything that was fresh and useful for them. I won’t say any more except to say that this session will likely not be forgotten by any of us.

I then led a session on the more conversational, interactive dynamic of helping people I’m looking at working with to articulate what they really want. After modelling some of how I do this everyone had had a turn in small groups.

We then heading down to an empty patch of land next to the old Castlemaine hospital for a session on reading place. It was fun having everyone be in ‘getting’ mode and walk about letting the strongest pre-existing distinction they felt in the space emerge. Everyone agreed on a particular break of slope then I shared how for me the stronger distinction or crinkle was in the sort of perimeter halo or this thing strip of space about 5 metres thick that ran right around the boudnary.

We finished up in a circle on the grass in the setting sun. And. it. was. very. very.good. Thanks so much to the participants for being part of making history with the first ever two-dayer dipping into this good stuff! :-).


From left: Simon, Harry, Tanika, Ash, Louisa, Ugo, Sally, Will, Lisa


Louisa, me, Simon and the stairway to heaven


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