the tao: mobiles, Legos and a big leaf

The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

The name that can be named is not the eternal Name.

The unnamable is the eternally real.

Naming is the origin of all particular things.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.

Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.

Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source.

This source is called darkness.

Darkness within darkness.

The gateway to all understanding.

                     -The Tao te Ching, Stephen Mitchell translator

polished driftwood mobile, one of four at our Unitarian Universalist church. perfect for attention restoration – crafted by Lew Pennock

Space begins with emptiness. Ouroboros. You know, the snake eating its own tail? A mythic symbol said to relate to our psyche’s process of self-reflexivity. Thank you for joining this journey with me: my time for self-reflexivity and verbal meandering. A type of self-nurturing that is long overdue.

I‘ve written about reflexivity in research:

“Reflexivity, as we understand it, is a patterned research approach that involves being engaged in the data while systematically alternating between the various interpretive layers in an aware and enquiring manner so as to realise on-going appreciation of the participants’ experiences, the placement of the phenomenon within larger sociological contexts and the researchers’ involvement (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2000).” – Harte, Leap, Fenwick, Homer and Foureur, 2014

Just an FYI, to keep the academic here ^^ – although I do believe what I wrote there, it does sound rather, dogmatic? Never mind.

In terms of my own thinking process and the movement of my understandings of designed spaces and people’s learning and experiences, I step aside and watch the unfolding of this understanding.

This morning Tui and I headed over to our occasional Unitarian Universalist church.  When our family is home, she and I like to go for some fellowship and singing. We are away many weekends and day trips, as we love to be out and about in the world, but when we are home, we try to go. She is inspired to learn about the worlds’ religions and even more motivated to spend time with other children and adults. I am certainly happy to spend some time reflecting, singing and creating open space in myself.  Being the always learning type of family, we leave Kiwi at home where he can take a run, as he did today, or home working on other days, and we alight to this beautiful building.  After gazing at neighbors faces, out the windows, at a the framed art and at the pastor’s beautiful stole, I found myself watching the mobiles.

These mobiles, I tell you, are a prime reason I make the effort to leave our own nest on these occasional Sundays. There are four of them, and they are crafted by a skilled hand – a man named Lew Pennock. The driftwood, being one of my own favorite natural artifacts, has been polished or stained in such a way as to create a soft deep glow. The room’s ceiling is topped by a large skylight, which floods the room with daylight. The mobiles remind me of the many benefits of positive distractors, in most any setting, especially healthcare, my current setting of research.  Letting the eyes rest gently on something fascinating is one important element in the practice of attention restoration.  Kaplan and Kaplan developed this theory in the 1980s and it has been a guiding one for my own research and interests since I learned of it in the mid-oughts. (2006/2007?).

The intriguing space – great example of ‘positive distractors’ that I think are essential especially in healthcare settings.

The rest of the day consisted of fading fast at Home depot, where some LED lightbulbs were purchased, among other household stuff. Both Tui and I tried our hardest to make it fun, but with the Super Bowl looming, no real nourishment in sight, it was a long afternoon. The first 2 quarters Kiwi and I watched the game (I’m from New England but live 4 hours south of Seattle – who to cheer for – part of the Tao, I reckon) while Tui watched the Doozers, PBS’s design/innovators kids animation. From there, she and I recommenced our Lego train station work. She asked for a train set for Christmas, so now a train oval track dominates her entire bedroom floor, but it was lacking a station. Here is a view

Tsui working to get the train properly situated on the tracks, with the train station at the foreground. She took care of the interior design, while I did the walls.
Tui working to get the train properly situated on the tracks, with the train station at the foreground. She took care of the interior design, while I did the walls.

Tui thought about the details – where to put the pool, where the toddlers should go, and who could sit on the reclining chair (“just old people”). I worked on the walls. and made sure there were plenty of windows and doors at both the ‘street’ and ‘platform’ sides. These Legos all came from ‘predetermined’ sets.   Many were the ‘friends’ series, or ‘creator’ series, but we jumble them all together now and, although she doesn’t show any interest yet in searching out specific pieces, she is opening up her imagination to creating spaces, places and meaning.

With her emotions a bit bumpy after her Grandad’s recent departure back to his own home – he was here since November – after another moment of upset, she moved herself into the space next to her bed. An IKEA leaf typically hovers over her bed, but she can move it at an angle to create a little quick green den for herself. She felt better almost instantly. The choice of how to create one’s own privacy is another design element I could expound on. And I will.

Self-created den.
Self-created den.

The Tao was the topic of this mornings service. It connected seamlessly with my other thinking and reading. My memory put me on a page of an otherwise blank journal I received as a high school graduation present, from a friend of my brothers – her quote put at random in the middle of the book said “My only way is to have no way”. I still like that and it still resonates.

Pam Laricchia, one of my digital unschooling mentors, is writing a 6-month long (or more or less), series on Joseph Campbell and the hero’s journey. Revealing what needs to be revealed at the moment the person is ready for it; looking for patterns and meaning, I put finger to keyboard here, warming up, inviting my muse, to plant the seeds of clear thinking and concise writing.

Happy Imbolc! Planting the seeds of intention as we are halfway between Solstice and Equinox. The darkest hour is when the light begins its return. There is no polar ‘opposites’ just polar ends of a spectrum, that all work in harmony. If the connections are not evident to you, I ask you to comment and I will work to write the connections more clearly in my next post. They are clear as the darkest night to me.

Until then, happy space, place and meaning making, my mates.


Alvesson, M., & Sköldberg, K. (2000). Reflexive methodology: New vistas for qualitative research. London, England: Sage.

Mitchell, S. (1988). Tao te ching. New York: Harper & Row.

Harte, J. D., Leap, N., Fenwick, J., Homer, C. S. E., & Foureur, M. (2014). Methodological insights from a study using video

ethnography to conduct interdisciplinary research in the study of birth unit design. International Journal of Multiple

          Research Approaches, 8(1), 36-48.

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