The Springhouse mission is to practice and share Sourced Design to create a culture that takes care of life. We have shared this design globally with over 100 participants from ten countries around the world. These stories are from those practicing Sourced Design who share about the unique impact of the design in their lives, communities, and places.
The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Designing Around the World
I arrived in Boston, and after a week in western Massachusetts with a dear friend, I took the + 600 mile journey to Floyd to attend the sacred dance retreat hosted by Springhouse. Absolutely exhausted, hot and with a stress headache I entered into a space vital, alive, rejuvenating, welcoming and free and my headache and tiredness no longer had power to affect my mood. I danced so free in the container of love and possibility that was created. Thank you Springhouse! And thank you again. The metaphor I use to describe what you do and the magic you create comes from agriculture. I want to compare industrialized agriculture and permaculture and relate this to the typical public school system (industrialized agriculture) and Springhouse (Permaculture).
Industrial agriculture breaks up the life-giving networks within an ecosystem and reduces it to a monoculture that is dependent on expensive and damaging external inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. The life and vitality within the system is broken and the elements (water, sun, wind and earth) are changed from life giving forces into destructive ones. The public schooling system parallels this in some ways and I’m sure you can identify some of the similarities, such as children being trained to become cogs in the capitalist system that they become heavily dependent on.
Life-giving agricultural systems, such as permaculture, are very different. They are about rebuilding the networks within an ecosystem, enabling the incredible richness of resources to be generously shared amongst the different beings making up the system. Each individual within the system is able to carry out their function and be an intact, healthy being. The sun, rain, wind and earth are able to do their incredibly generous work of adding life to life to life. The agricultural system is transformed back into an intact, whole interdependent system that isn’t reliant on external inputs, such as fertilizers and pesticides to be productive.
Springhouse reminds me of such life-giving agricultural systems. Each practice of the school focuses on creating intact, healthy individuals, able to be free and productive in who they are, while being responsible for the well-being of the whole. A vibrant, healthy community is created where there’s a beautiful and generous, unrestricted flow of emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical resources between people. Resources of each individual become useful to and part of the whole. So much life becomes possible in such a space. And this is what I want to align my dreams with and become part of this community of health, generosity and life, “cup spilling over” and positively impacting those around them.
And Jenny being Jenny was so open to welcoming me into the community and exploring possibilities of how our dreams can become shared ones. And now, very excitingly, Jarrah Callister (a student at Springhouse) is coming to South Africa in 2 weeks time to be the first international participant at the Earth Wisdom School, based at Wild Fox Hill in the beautiful village of Hogsback, South Africa (www.wildfoxhill.co.za). Jarrah will get to experience incredible natural beauty with a South African flavor, be immersed in our diverse cultures and meet extraordinary people, gain new earth wisdom skills and help establish the future curriculum, inspired by the culture of learning at Spring House. We can’t wait! And the hope is that his visit will create a bridge where many more students from Spring House will be able to participate in a one month programme at the Earth Wisdom School.
Initially I thought that I could ‘discover’ compelling global narratives that would enable living into that desired future, a future many call regenerative. When I reached the end of that search and had not found the compelling narrative I found myself back within my body, sensing the next best step, taking that moment of freedom to decide, and then reflecting.
At first that was very hard. I was used to creating a communicable narrative with a small group of people and then rolling that out to hundreds or thousands of others, usually to support a defined project with a timeline and a budget. It was very difficult to give up that ‘certainty’ within a dominant social narrative and trust that by taking the next best step based on my perceptions in the moment the appropriate future would emerge.
Seven years into that experiment of sensing the next best step I cannot imagine another way of being. Which is why I believe that vitality centered development, the core of Sourced Design, is so critical for each of us in our time. As we imagine new ways of living, in harmony with ourselves, others, and nature we first need to be in touch with our authentic selves. And focusing on vitality – what brings us alive, what is alluring – is the best measure of our authenticity. Sometimes I cannot explain why I am sensing allurement or vitality but I don’t need to be able to explain it to trust it.
Being in that state of alignment and agency, I am able to engage in authentic dialogue with others, in place, over time which I believe will encourage the emergence of regenerative culture. At the very least, such dialogue allows a generative field to emerge which enables us to imagine creative new approaches to living regeneratively.
In my exchange with fellow teachers, educators and Springhouse staff, I discovered that there were many ways to build beloved community in BEADS schools, ways that ensure every person feels important and appreciated regardless of the diversities. Elements like games (name six game), songs, story-telling, poems and drama have played key roles in giving each student and teacher a voice. As teachers, we have also practiced the value of active and responsive listening as well as empathy in the process. We have made a pleasant discovery that people won’t listen and take you seriously till you show them how much you care. It is worth mentioning is that we have enjoyed peace and harmony in our schools despite the overwhelming unrest in schools around us.
I am so happy that the Education Design Lab did not only make an impact in me as an individual, but also in my students and colleagues. As a father, my discoveries in the Education Design Lab gave me deep insights in how to cultivate creativity in my seven year old daughter – by creating an atmosphere that reminds her that her ideas matter and it is okay to make mistakes. I am grateful to be a part of the Education Design Lab.
Keeping that in mind, my Capstone project, as part of the Sourced Design Lab, revolves around having a deeper understanding of this Vulnerability, its nature, form and presence. The project focuses on observing the intersections of the different Vitality centered principles of Cultivating personhood, loving and serving others, respecting the wisdom of the earth and building beloved community, while taking care of vulnerability drives the process or acts as the primary guide to explore the other processes. Through the study, I aim to understand the implications of vulnerability in an individual’s life and to develop an understanding of how to caress and look after this vulnerability. Having outlined this, in simpler words, it is a study of myself, embracing the woman I have become, respecting myself, implementing the knowledge I have acquired about myself in my life, allowing the earth to shape me and my peers to adapt to me, to feel comfortable in my body and to, just, be present in my own life. In essence to be authentic, embrace it and implement it everyday.
Primarily, I believe that authenticity emerges when one starts to explore the process of cultivating personhood. I personally, have been working on, cultivating personhood which is an important process to find the authentic self and embrace this authenticity. In this context, I would like to define authenticity to be the true and real self, keeping aside the gross or physical body, the subtle body, the ego, the mind, the intellect and just being the self for who or what it really is. However, to practice this in everyday life one must allow themselves to be vulnerable. In my opinion, this is how vulnerability takes the primary position to drive other principles. Once this becomes an ongoing process, the authentic self starts to derive wisdom from the earth and through building beloved community allows authentic, unconditional love for others.
In conclusion, I find that Vulnerability is just the first step towards consistent authenticity. One that cannot be envisioned, heard, described but only felt, when realisation is deepened, when one is awakened about the true self and when one is exposed to truths that sometimes may be harsh realities. Lastly, it is vulnerability that guides the direction of how one can be at peace, not only with the self but also with the reality of the world for what it is and people around them for who they are. It is through the process of embracing vulnerability that one can deepen their exploration to cultivate personhood, derive wisdom from the earth, love and serve others authentically and lastly, build a beloved community to strengthen and support those working through this process, hand in hand.
I’ve practice in 21-day structures to change habits,
I’ve practiced dance routines for competitions,
I’ve even practiced reciting and memorizing a poem.
I continue to practice listening, authentic communicating, and showing up on time.
I have yet to practice the essence of practicing together until now. Until my participation in the Source Design Practice Group hosted by Springhouse. While many practices (as those mentioned above) provide spaces where others gather to practice together, it has been a rare experience (maybe never, as far as my conscious knowing goes) for me to practice being in a practice together, as I now come to know it. A practice that entails vulnerability and expansion through the experience to another level all together.
Two months ago, I joined a group of 13 individuals dispersed across the globe to practice bringing Source Design Principles into my life. And from the beginning it was evident to me that this group would be a support of my ups and downs along the journey. With safe holding and courageous mending, I would find my place amongst others who were facing similar experiences in their unique shades.
What I did not expect was a new practice all together — the practice of practicing together. This experience has been exclusively embedded in peer-mentorship — a building block of Source Design for cultivating regenerative culture, where personhood is at its core.
To date my impression of peer mentorship was blurred by a disdain and limited image. A bilateral exchange around encountered experiences, faced challenges and reiteration of practices amongst the peers distinctive lives. Included would be a subliminal feeling that one peer would be an object of lesser experience and in need of expertise and/or knowledge of the other. These roles ideally interchanging through the course of time.
The plot twist, however, comes here with the specific story of my peer-mentorship with Paul.
Our peer-mentorship created no distinctive elevation of our knowledge and experiences — we drew the knowing from the very moment in questions. And what is now a regular practice, we come into a dedicated space to practice together being at the height of our own experiences.
Without a descriptive framework and assignment, we created the space for this practice, beginning with laying out the perimeters of what we wanted in the practicing relationship and so what would it need to entail to make that happen.
In place over time: For us that meant coming together via a weekly call beyond the practice group timeframe. Instead defining a timeframe that felt good to us, with room to shift and modify, as we did 2 months in and extended our calls to “…for as long as we feel the conversation is being nourishing and felicitous.”
A spiritual practice: Each conversation became a spiritual practice, with an open space between us to flow in with what is present. In many (if not all) cases, bringing forth topics of depth, importance and closely linked to matters of our place in the world as beings, as contributors to the shaping of our environment, of our relationships and the grief of our own relation with ourselves.
Aligned community: we built alignment amongst us and practiced an understanding that I am in practice in this relation : I do not need to know the answers nor am I expected to
My peer mentor is also in practice, it does not mean he will know. It does not mean he will not know or understand my experience of practice and could (not) provide valuable insights and new perspective through attentive questions.
Questions are more important than answers, drawing on deeper and deeper layers of our ourselves and our practice of being in and with ourselves.
Critical judgment does not have a place in the relationship. However, thoughtful reflections are invited.
The way we have been and are continuing to show up is a whole new practice in itself. It asks us to practice in our sharing space, being in practice with each other. Many of the conversations and thoughts shared are for the first time, that give experience to go out and practice further and ripple out to other relations. Most significantly and radically to the traditional spaces of practice, I’ve seen the space bring forth our most unseen and undernourished parts of yourself. As a result, the practice space is where we get to practice together letting these parts of ourselves be seen, witnessed and practiced in their expanding fullness.
The practice to show up in the personhood, to practice showing up in the practice together is continual. And I am grateful for being able to do it with another and be encouraged to be in practice with others.
With my focus and attention adjusted, I got connected to Jenny Finn and Springhouse, and I got an amazing birthday gift: join the Fall 2022, Sourced Design Lab and Practice Group. In those, I’ve been connected to people who are also seeking to increase their own, and their community, vitality levels. I’ve learned how to cultivate vulnerability, and how it is important to stay true to myself and others, how to make commitments and think about them to strengthen my practices.
I’ve learned that there are some practices already systematized that can help me and anyone else who wants to go on this journey, we need to think, decide, and do the practices we want to do that take care of life, an aligned community, a place to practice it over time and trusted mentorship. With the space provided by Springhouse, I could explore all these and now see myself as part of this beautiful community. One of my commitments was to write about what I was feeling and thinking, what a fantastic opportunity this practice group has given me!
The cycle begins by choosing to commit. Before I choose to commit to something I need to spend some time contemplating and exploring what it is I want to commit to and why. I do my best to fight the urge to come to a conclusion right away and try to stay in a neutral mindset. Then if I can, I allow as much time as possible to just let ideas and solutions come up naturally. Usually this process takes me at least a couple of days if not weeks or more if necessary. During this time I ask myself questions like “What am I really wanting to get out of this?” or “What emotions are coming up for me around this?” and I spend time digging into why I am having a certain feeling or not about it. I’ll often spend time in nature or use some creative activity to help me explore what’s coming up for me. Somehow through this process, what is true will continue to come up again and again, and that is what allows me to get clear about a commitment. If I do choose to commit to something, I do my best to show up fully so it’s important that I take the time needed to make the choice.
Next comes the act of practicing. Most everything we do can be broken down into smaller components or activities that we do again and again in order to get better at them or just because they are necessary. These activities work towards a larger goal or are in support of something we believe in. Sometimes I see a goal or a place that I want to be and I want to skip the practice part and get right to the outcome or benefit. Nothing has taught me more that this is genuinely not possible than playing an instrument. There is no way to pretend that you can play an instrument and the only way to achieve mastery of an instrument is disciplined practice over a long period of time.
While learning to do anything it’s important to start with the basics and fundamentals. Without a strong foundation, you won’t be able to build upon it. There is no shortcut to anything that has depth or sustainability and if you don’t build a strong foundation in the beginning, you will eventually have to go back and rebuild it again if you want it to last.
Once I have made a clear commitment and I am actively practicing what’s necessary to reach my goals, then comes my need to surrender. In the last few years especially, I’ve learned that I am not in control of the outcomes and when I have a strong attachment to the outcome, there’s usually something else going on for me that I need to explore.
Surrendering is an act of trust. To trust that showing up for my personal commitments and practices is enough and what I need (not always what I want) will become clear if I’m paying attention. Surrendering to the outcomes allows me to have presence and awareness for what is truly happening. When I see the truth, I am able to make clear observations that can help me evaluate how things are working and if I need to realign or redirect where I’m headed. This is how the cycle starts over again.
My commitments seem to always lead the way to the next commitment. I have come to find that I am somewhere in this cycle all of the time, usually with many different things at once. I have learned and continue to deepen my understanding that there really is no final destination but only a beautiful journey that makes each one of us uniquely who we are. As long as I am living, I believe this is how it will be and this brings me comfort. There’s no perfect final ending, performance or outcome, only a continued cycle that is alive and vibrant, exciting and unpredictable. I am grateful to understand this in the way that I do now. I believe it allows me to live a more vital and holistic life.
The most impactful piece of the experience was having time to understand and reflect on the five vitality-centered principles – as an individual, in a pair, and collectively as a group. As I became familiar with these principles, I began to gradually embed them in my life and work. I considered how they did or didn’t show up in my relationships with friends and family. I even wound up integrating them into my dissertation framework, and they became a lens through which I viewed my study as a whole.
Participating in the Lab has been a pivotal experience for me, and the five vitality-centered principles will forevermore inform the way I think about my personal life and education policy.
In my endeavor to arrive at a holistic vision for education that aligns with a higher will for freedom, harmony, beauty, truth, and goodness, I have visited different schools around the world, read the works for great thinkers and creators from past and present, as well as served organizations that facilitate this higher will. And yet it has struck me that few schools work with such an articulate and unique vision that in turn is supported by such down-to-earth practices which are in fact profound.
The word “calling” comes to mind because Springhouse’s visionary leader and the staff are clearly being called to carry the great task of nourishing the budding flower that is the community of friends and family who are linked directly and indirectly to where the school is situated in Floyd, Virginia. This calling, in my observation, has something to do with the discovery of one’s soul, because only the soul can hear such a calling. If we manage to cultivate our connection to our essence while remaining rooted in mother earth and intimately connected to the daily human affairs, one can better hear the whispers of Life that is gently guiding us toward Something greater than our self. In attuning to this inner voice that is both within and without, intentionality sets the table for Life to work through us.
The principles I have been been studying with my friends at Springhouse have helped to guide me as I give myself over to my calling of pioneering a new form of education that is centered around the question of “who am I?”. Seeing this question as being a deeply spiritual one, I believe it is an invitation for us to peer into the profound truth of who we are and why we are here. My lifelong exploration with this question began more than twenty years ago, and it has since led me to experiences that have shown me there is so much more than meets the eye, both about who we are and about the meaning and purpose of life itself. Since 2017, I have been called to create a school that would provide the conditions, context, and experiences within which people will be supported to explore their calling and vision for their lives while cultivating a profound connection with the Source of Life. The opportunity to be involved with Springhouse as a participant of their programs and to be able to connect to the people there have, and continues, to nourish my own calling, soul, and intentionality.
About H.D. Lee: Visionary and creator of Nomadic School, H.D. Lee is a father, educator, writer, speaker, and a seeker. Based in Belgium, H.D. Lee is creating a new kind of education that awakens and deepens the connection within to who we are.
My thesis is about the vulnerability and vitality I witness every time I (virtually) step into the Springhouse classroom. I was curious about how Springhouse encouraged vulnerability and why. What, I wondered, does vulnerability have to do with education? I understood from my own experience as a student – and later as a university teacher – that a certain amount of vulnerability is implied. When I interviewed Jenny Finn for my paper, I said that I could see how learning, by its very nature, involves being vulnerable. If I ask a student what to make of The Great Gatsby, for instance, and they risk offering what they think, they’re vulnerable. But that, I said, is an intellectual vulnerability.
Jenny replied wisely, “We have different aspects of ourselves, but when I’m reading The Great Gatsby and somebody asks me what I think about a paragraph and I have no idea, I’m in my emotional self. I’m in an old narrative of ‘you’re not smart’ or ‘you don’t know what the teacher wants you to know.’” A light bulb went off inside me. Moments like this helped remind me that, as teachers, we are never just providing information to someone’s mind, we’re treating the whole child respectfully, and in the process changing their, ours, and ultimately, the world’s future.
For my Design Lab project, I’m going to continue to address this idea of vulnerability, finding new ways to tear down the walls between myself and the learner, following Paulo Freise’s guidance to frame the dialogic relationship between us as teacher-student and student-teacher. The secret teachers rarely tell you is that we are actually the ones learning every day; and that is joyful. I love teaching because it allows me to be a lifelong learner; to practice the greatest humanistic art there is; and to participate in what we’ve come to call The Great Conversation. I’m so grateful to Springhouse for the opportunity to do that with them.
I will be working with the principle Cultivate Personhood. I chose this principle because I am eager to explore and practice the reclaiming of relationship with our bodies within education, especially sexuality education or “sex ed”. As a sexuality educator I find myself talking with young people all the time about keeping their bodies healthy and safe, the importance of communicating emotional and bodily boundaries in relationships, or even discussing the ways in which trauma can manifest in the body…and yet where is the praxis that prepares young people for real life? I am immersing myself in the Education Design Lab to question and learn how to best support young people foster a deep connection and trust in their embodied experiences in the world.
When considering this principle, what is one way you practice this in your own life and one way you see it practiced in the world around you (family, community, school, church, etc.)?
Cultivate Personhood – To me this is about coming back to wholeness as a human whose worth and value isn’t derived from the capacity to work, to produce, to monetize…which is so often the narrative told to us by capitalism. I practice cultivating personhood when I dance for the sheer experience of being in my body and expressing myself. I also see it practiced during Covid times when my family gathers once a week to slow down and spend time together around a fire-pit outside.
Ask yourself why you want that thing.
Then, ask yourself why that’s why you want that thing.
Keep asking yourself “why” until the only response you have left is a single, honest, all-encompassing word.
What word did you land on?
If you were in a room of 100 people, I bet you’d find at least 10 others who landed on the exact same word you did.
Because at our core, we desire very few (but very important) things: Happiness, Peace, Contentment, Tranquility, Love, Belonging.
Is the list really that short?
More or less.
Some people even suggest it’s not a list at all; that our one and only desire is happiness.
It’s funny how uncomfortable that feels.
If happiness is our only desire, then why is it so darn hard to fulfill? With 3,000 years of documented human history, why isn’t there a universal, one-page “how to” guide that shows us how to get there?
I don’t have an answer, but I do have a story. And it is through story that I believe individuals and communities can get one step closer to fulfill their desire for happiness more quickly, more often, and hold onto it for longer periods of time.
At My Whit’s End
I was 25, recently engaged, and at my whit’s end.
Exasperated, I asked my partner, “when will things just feel normal again?” She responded with a question of her own that has never left me, “what if this is our normal?”
It was exactly what I needed to hear.
When stress and anxiety boil over, the irrational desire for perpetually calm seas rules the mind. And boy was it ruling mine.
Yet, in just six words, my partner shifted my entire context. What if this was our normal? How would I choose to thrive?
This question about thriving has guided my decision making in all aspects of my life for the past six years.
Whenever I feel stuck, I return to this question and the optimal decision becomes clear.
Sometimes it means making a drastic change like switching careers. Sometimes it means accepting an invitation I never anticipated. Sometimes it means doing nothing at all.
Each time, it requires a kind of internal listening I’m rather ill-practiced at. It’s a practice that requires mentorship and community—two things that have gone out of vogue. Two things that I have recently found and even more recently leaned into.
I started really leaning in when I signed up to participate in Springhouse’s Sourced Design Lab—a two-month, three-meeting introduction to five ancient principles that guide Springhouse in “putting connection to life, and care of it, at the center.”
For the last 15 years, I’ve believed the story that I am uniquely self-aware. In reality, my self-perception was only in comparison to others—not a very high bar in a culture where self-awareness is in low supply.
By engaging with the five Sourced Design Principles, I’ve had to revise my narrative and accept the truth that my self-awareness has never matured beyond its adolescence.
Importantly, I don’t view this realization in a negative light. It’s a simple acknowledgement of where I’m at—the first step toward experiencing meaningful growth.
In this acknowledgement, I’ve been challenged to explore internal spaces I’ve left in the dark and engage with new learning resources I never knew existed.
Best of all, I’ve been able to do all this exploring within a community of people who are on a similar journey—gathering insights from each other that accelerate our individual and collective uncovering.
The principles made me lean in; the community made me keep coming back.
I’ve participated in the Sourced Design Lab twice and am now part of a practice group that is diving even deeper. If you asked me if you should participate, I’d pull from my partner’s playbook: Are you able to consistently thrive no matter the chaos around and within you?
If you have even a hint of doubt, Sourced Design Lab is for you.
These plants have taught me a lot about what it means to live with life at the center, a lesson enlivened by my explorations of the Sourced Design principles over the past 8 months. This course and community has been a practice ground for relating to myself and my environment in places beyond my conditioning–places of courage, creativity, and commitment. It has been a moment-to-moment practice, rooted far more in questions than in answers, but toward a wholeness that is at the heart of our very nature. I felt it. This morning. Wading amongst the bluebells. What gifts will I share with the world?
Just as long as I have breath, I must answer, “Yes,” to life;
though with pain I made my way, still with hope I meet each day.
If they ask what I did well, tell them I said, “Yes,” to life.
(Words by Alicia Carpenter, 1930-2021
Music by Johann G. Ebeling, 1637-1676)
Alicia Carpenter wrote these lyrics when she was 51-years-old. At age 52, one year her senior, I long to feel in my bones such determination and gusto. While living as a professional nomad in Spain, Central and South America for all of my forties, I had some fabulous adventures that I wouldn’t trade for anything. They were a geographic cure for an underlying dissatisfaction with life, though, and often a running from rather than a running to. Menopause has arrested the running and the slowing down is refocusing my sights on what is going with me (vibe) and what I’m leaving behind for the next generation (material) when this body takes its last breath. Within the old paradigm of thinking with which I was raised, it doesn’t “make sense” to invest time, money and energy into a program that isn’t laying a clearly paved path of external security before me. Within the new paradigm of thinking, which I dare to call the true truth and claim as humanity’s lone hope, it only makes sense to invest in “Yes to Life!” Isn’t that what regenerative culture and vitality centered education do? I’m excited to collaborate with Springhouse as we set forth in the co-creation of divine dividends.
How, in that setting, where a parent must struggle to meet the most basic needs of their child, often living in roach and rat infested buildings, on blocks where violence is a feature of the landscape, can emotional and spiritual vulnerability be stewarded and allowed to flourish? Think of the degree of self-protectivity required simply to move forward each day! How is there space for dreaming, for reflection, for breath, for song?
My capstone project will follow my 2021 Lullaby Project, a program of the Weill Institute at Carnegie Hall. The program pairs parents in need with a professional songwriter to help them write a personal lullaby for their child. Writing a lullaby with a parent is intensely personal work. It also involves setting aside my own ego as a writer, so that the parent’s vision and voice come through. This will be my fifth year doing a Lullaby Project, but this is the first time at this Early Head Start location. From promotion to final celebration, I will be looking at each step of the process through the lens of “taking care of vulnerability.” I will examine what I instinctively do to nurture that vulnerable space between myself and the parent songwriter, asking what can be added, concretely, to further nourish the almost alchemical process of birthing a song.
For the first time, I will be working exclusively on Zoom or FaceTime. I have no idea what this will be like. I suspect that when I’m writing in person, I match my breathing to the parent as a way of being in rhythm with them. I am absolutely certain there are other in-the-body practices I do, unconsciously, which now must be replaced with new, as yet undiscovered practices. So a big piece of my capstone will be asking the question, “how do I take care of vulnerability in the virtual space?”