Blog > Cormac Russell

Thisness: Coming to Our Senses (Part 1 of 3)

Curator's Note: If citizen-led community building is an element of a reimagined democracy, as we have suggested elsewhere, then we need pathways and practices for amplifying and accelerating that element. In the blog below, our friend and colleague Cormac Russell touches on some of these practices in a light and life-giving way.  

Try describing something you see in the place where you live without using a metaphor. Right now, I see a tree outside my window, with brown, red and green flecks on its bark. It’s leaves are being moved by a gentle breeze and shadows are casting across it at different points, changing very rapidly. Now I see the reflection of sunlight on one of the leaves of the tree, which has a dew drop that is yellow in one spot because of its refraction of the sun. On the limb of the branch above the one with the yellow-hued dew drop, I see a brown squirrel, moving swiftly downwards towards the base of the tree. Now it’s on the ground. The ground on which it’s moving is…..

Wow, it’s really hard not to fall into a metaphor…

This exercise reveals my back garden to me in a way that reminds me of the truth of the poet David Wagoner words, in his poem Lost:

  Practices that call our attention to the "thisness" of life are incredibly valuable at a personal and also at a collective level.
   

‘Wherever you are is here,
And you must treat it
As a powerful stranger.’

Some would describe the practice I’ve just engaged in as meditation, or its more secular description: mindfulness. Others might simply say it's being present to what is there. I don’t think it matters what we call the practice. Personally I like the idea that across many different traditions we are consistently reminded that abundance is revealed through radical appreciation of what is. I’m also personally very aware of how easy it is in the hustle and bustle of daily life to go for days without having such an experience. How easy it is to miss the "thisness" or "isness" of life.

Practices that call our attention to the "thisness" of life are incredibly valuable at a personal and also at a collective level. Such practices call us back to our senses and then outwards to the places we move through, and that move through us. They are therefore foundational to creating a culture of community.

Knowing this person, this tree, this animal, this laneway, this story, this field…is not the act of labeling it, nor rushing to find a metaphor to capture it. It's the act of being "sensable" in its presence and only using metaphors when the metaphor makes the experience even more sensational.

One of the ways we become senseless to the "thisness" of life is to label it: the stranger, the foreigner, the enemy etc. Judging destroys community; curious appreciative description enhances it. The other way to dislocate and dismember ourselves is by primarily focusing on that which is not there, and therefore not local or within the reach of our senses.

Choosing to start with a focus on that which is external, and beyond our own senses and our influence is to inadvertently render that which is proximate and in plain sight, invisible.

Read: Thisness: Coming to Our Senses (Part 2 of 3)

Blogger Profile

Cormac Russell's picture
Cormac
Russell

Cormac Russell is Managing Director of Nurture Development, Director of ABCD Europe and a faculty member of the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) Institute at Northwestern University, Chicago. He has trained communities, agencies, NGOs and governments in ABCD and other strengths-based approaches in Kenya, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, South Africa, the UK, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia.

Latest Blog

Jane Jacobs' (an American-Canadian journalist, author, and activist who significantly influenced urban studies) advice to communities is to stop being subservient to those with grand visions and “Do what’s right for now and the future will turn out as well as it can.”

The Welfare State is an important extension of our human community’s capacity to care; not a replacement for it. Communities produce care (full-stop) and the systems or service world should simply be the support to that care where required, a resource to carers and not the source of care.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing a lot of professional practitioners wrestle with the dilemmas that Asset-Based Community Development presents - serving while walking backwards being chief among them.

Society is often spoken of as if it has only two important dimensions; namely, individuals on the one hand and formal institutions on the other. What this map of civic space leaves out is everything in between: families, neighbours and friends, clubs, local business, faith communities and associations.

Part 3 of a series on ABCD 'frustrations' requiring fresh thought

John McKnight has a passion for jazz. Once a year he becomes a roadie for one week and travels on a bus with an aging “old time” jazz band. He once told me if he hadn’t gone down the road he went, a life as a jazz musician would have been a dream come true. Not at all surprisingly, one of his favourite metaphors for leaderless groups is a jazz jam session.

Part 2 of a series on ABCD 'frustrations' requiring fresh thought

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) starts with what’s strong not what’s wrong, but should we be expected to always look on the bright side of life? This week’s offer to Room 101 is "overt positivity" in the face of structural inequality; when misguided ABCD practice ignores the underlying issues of power and oppression in communities.

Part 1 of a series on ABCD 'frustrations' requiring fresh thought

Asset mapping was never intended to be about data gathering by institutions but about relationship building between neighbours. It feels like there is a move away from this neighbourly connection, muddying the waters for thoughtful citizens hoping to grow and develop their own asset maps.