This is a container for the cultivation of a “soul’s calling”.
I’ve called it self-directed masters as a pithy way of naming a sovereign space, a carrier bag, for the open current of ideas and phenomena that intrigue, implicate, scandalize and transform me. As a designer, I’m seeking to create spaces for collective emergence and fluid becoming. In order to do so, I believe that we have to find ways to hospice with tenderness what needs to collapse and die, so that it may compost into potential for new ways of being-in-the-world.
The Dragons We Design With are the animated Imaginal and Mysterious – they are the ghosts and thick traumas of our ancestors, the playful spirits of rivers and cats, the diaphanous potentials of our visions, the divinities of our dreams. These magical creatures and monsters lurk in the shadows of the dark forest, made thicker and more dangerous when we keep our eyes on the map, and shine a flashlight on the territory. The dragons represent the mysteries and complexities that are irreducible in each of us, in our relationships with others, and the cosmos.
Rather than avoiding dragons, I believe that we can have a joyful, sensual, and sacred relationship with Mystery. We can embrace wonder and awe in how the Unknown makes our minds pause, our hearts race, and our bodies tremble. Perhaps this is a vibe, a strange attractor, we can all tune into. This might be how we flow and dance with potentialities that are greater than what we can possibly imagine.
But wait, what do you actually mean?
Okay, to share even pointier context:
My name is Cheryl, and I have been wearing the skin of a systemic designer and researcher for the past five years, working on transitioning vital social systems that provide food, care and shelter to people towards greater equity and ecological sustainability. So far, I’ve been most inspired by design methodologies and heuristics like Awareness-based Systems Change and Transition Design, in order to co-design and constellate the interventions needed at everyday, systemic, worldview and mythic scales towards collective change.
It was difficult, however, not to feel like the work of designing “better futures” was excruciatingly slow; momentary wins would be rapidly outpaced and diminished by the forces of entrenched systems: reinforcing mindsets of scarcity, mastery and control, winner-takes-all dynamics, and an stubborn resistance to and fear of uncertainty. Exhaustion and burn-out, cynicism and hopelessness suffused the work. However, I began to observe that the most poignant moments of change – that changed the tone of what was possible – were in intimate, often nature-based settings, where “stakeholders” put aside the scripts, roles and “no, buts” to become human participants in a greater Life force. These moments of expansion – of deep interconnectedness with something larger than the self or the organizational body – would be both painful and liberating, often bringing hardened leaders to tears. These were intimate moments where membranes designed to protect and defend one’s “field of control” became more fluid and porous, and there was an allowance to let in and touch something different, to be contaminated by the possible.
In March 2020, the pandemic provided the necessary rupture of the status quo, disrupting the patterns and scripts of known. We were collectively ushered, on a global scale, into the painful space of the liminal. We began to feel, in our collective bodies, systems and stories, what it means to truly not know. Our systems cracked through to the deepest foundations, and we slowed down enough to notice that something is shifting at the fluid level of the primordial and the mythic, at the cosmological and ontological foundations of how we live and know.
So this Self-Directed Masters began in October 2020 as an inquiry of the soul: into what happens when a designer chooses to shed her skins and discover herself a Mystery. It is the auto-ethnography of a design researcher and anthropologist, a participatory action research project into the transitions and mutations of embodied consciousness at the fractal scales of the individual, the collective and the cosmic. It blends metaphysical poetics with praxis – a living, sympoietic investigation into more ethical and generous ways being-of-in-the-world, co-created in relationship with friends, peers, ancestors, cats, trees, rocks, dragons, dreams and shadows.
Perhaps I am just telling a beautiful story here – but I sense that cultivating and sourcing from the Mystery of the Soul allows us to swim into deeper potentialities, to enable the collective emergence and unfolding of plural possibilities, visions, and ways of being-in-the-world that feel unimaginable to us now. Stories are containers for us to make home and meaning in a groundless ground of post-truth and emptiness. As these stories resonate and endure, they sediment into lived ontologies, behaviours and materialities that design us back into ever-changing eddies and spirals of living and dying together.
So let’s design with mystery, shall we?