Sensing the Interplay of Soul and Place

Sensing the Interplay of Soul and Place:

(in Michael Jones’, The Soul of Place, 2014)

Ian Wight PhD FCIP : April 2018   Ian.Wight@UManitoba.CA

While the whole book is a rich offering, Michael Jones’ The Soul of Place’ offers up some real nuggets in the Glossary – where one can find some of the essence of the work, some deep distillations of key themes. They might be particularly inspiring for those interested in exploring Soul and Place – one of the sub-themes for the upcoming national conference of the Canadian Institute of Planners, in Winnipeg in July 2018. For openers, here’s Jones addressing ‘Soul’ (p 260 of the Glossary):

Soul “Where spirit seeks unity, peace and harmony that shapes our personality, the soul is found in the undergrowth, in our vulnerability and the depths of experience. Soul shapes our character. The soul is the mystery and the inexplicable in human life. It connects our day-to-day experience with a sense of depth, of destiny and productive ambiguity. The soul is the opaque light, the roots, the soil and the undergrowth.

We also associate the work of the soul with life’s possibilities including what we imagine when we create time for reflection, for dreaming, imagining and fantasizing. This is often when the soul assumes its other role as the disrupter pushing us to let go of old forms and conventional ways of seeing in order to think and imagine life anew.

To engage the soul is to also be in empathic resonance with the world. That is, to recognize that to know another is also to be known by the other – an act of mutual reciprocity – which draws out our own vulnerability and directs it toward the care and concern for the well-being of the soul of the world”.

Soul is contrasted with spirit, helping us appreciate the ‘shaping’ force of both – soul is what ‘shapes our character’. It turns up in our undergrowth, and in our vulnerability, and in our depths of experience. It is our primal place, rippling with potency, connecting us – mysteriously – to our destiny, and productive ambiguity. It routes us (roots us) to possibilities, valuing imagination and reflection, and fantasizing. Soul can assume the role of disrupter, nudging us to let go of undue convention, to invite new thinking and imagining. It also connects us with the world, in mutual reciprocity, tapping our own vulnerability in service of ‘the well-being of the soul of the world’. And all this is set in the context of place – the soul of place. Here’s Jones on ‘the purpose of place’ (p. 264-265):

The Purpose of Place “As we enter the world of leadership, being place-based is how we keep the dream of childhood alive, and with this dream, the source of our own creative power and well-being. Being place-based also respects the appetite many have to engage our world through something more than the anonymous transactional relationships that make up much of our public lives. When we feel connected to a place our relationships are more meaningful and significant and we tend to the places in our world in a more caring way.

Experiencing the soul of a place also reminds us that we are ‘creatures of belonging’. As such, places help us feel more rooted, more at home and more connected to something larger than ourselves. Raising the consciousness of place also increases our awareness of the extent to which we are shaped by our surroundings including nature, culture and community as much as we shape them. That is, we learn to appreciate how each evokes something from the other and that we are essentially sentient beings whose moods and emotions are deeply influenced by the subtle forces of tonality and atmosphere that move around and about us.

So, the purpose of place is to inspire a new guiding narrative, one rooted in a shift in our world view from seeing our environment as a backdrop primarily constructed out of impersonal bits and pieces of things, a legacy from the industrial age, to a world that is alive, complex, artful and intelligent – a world of place”.

Jones is writing here in the context of leadership, and the importance of that being ‘place-based’, in a very discerning, intentional, conscious way. This should resonate for planning professionals, seeking to plan with place-making in mind – attentive to the people in/of the place, especially when they themselves might not be ‘of’ the place in question; their planning can still be ‘place-based’, with the people in question. Place becomes a creative power source, a context for pursuing well-being, for engaging beyond ‘anonymous transactional relationships’. Space-regulation and space-allocation can be reframed, and put ‘in place’. More meaning; more relating; more caring.

There is a (secular) spiritual dimension to be embraced, as ‘creatures of belonging’; experiencing the soul of a place helps us feel ‘more connected to something larger than ourselves’, and more conscious of how we are shaped by our surroundings – nature, culture, community – as much as we shape them. Place reminds us we are essentially sentient beings, attuning to ‘the subtle forces of tonality and atmosphere’, that we might otherwise dismiss if we were fixated on space. It ushers in a new operative worldview – a world of place that is ‘alive, complex, artful and intelligent’. The purpose of our planning shifts commensurately, into cooperating with what Jones calls ‘emergence’ (p.270-271).

Emergence “Creating places where life can thrive will serve as one of the great animating stories for our future. To imagine places in the future that are vibrant, alive and nature-based we will need language to describe them. It will be a language, for example, that sees place in the context of organic networks rather than formal structures. We will look for signs of agility, adaptivity, flexibility, permeability, emergence, openness and diversity. 

Our ways of knowing our world will shift from concepts and plans to pathways and pilgrimages and, with this, our ways of navigating will become more subtle and tactile, our boundaries more porous and open to influence and our awareness of the quality of the places and spaces in our environment more discerning… in which we will focus more on informal gatherings and the movements of emergent, spontaneous collective action rather than formal strategies. 

 As our capacities and pace for learning quickens, our sense of place will become more refined and deeply felt. We will be more aware of the human cost of the loss of place on our own collective and systemic capacities for growth and integration as well as our psychic sense of safety, protection and well-being”.

The context is thriving, rather than mere surviving, or subsisting. The container is also different when place is privileged, shifting from formal structures to organic networks. And the operative epistemology shifts ‘from concepts and plans to pathways and pilgrimages’, the navigating becomes ‘more subtle and tactile’. More discernment is on offer, including more of a focus on ‘informal gatherings and the movements of emergent, spontaneous collective action rather than formal strategies’. This is pointing to a sea-change for planning, a whole new future that is emerged, by activating new place-sensibilities and accessing soul-sensitivity – a much more refined and deeply felt sense of place.

Planners may also need to revisit the planning they profess, with more explicit attention to the ‘making’ aspect of place, and to their own ‘makings’. Jones points to the potential of a reframing around ‘craft’ (p. 272): planning as a craft; planners as craft-persons; planning as more of an art than a science; planners as artisans, as artists of possibility.

Craft “Craft opens a path to bodily knowing and the body, more than the intellect, takes in the fullness of whatever place we are in. Finding one’s craft opens up a powerful relationship with place and with a larger unknown. This may be because, through our craft, we see place as the home that nourishes our gifts so that they may be enacted in the service of a larger goal. Through the arc of time there have been two paths: Homo sapiens, man the thinker and Homo faber, man the maker. With Homo sapiens we establish our competence in the world. With Homo faber we establish our craft. Both are important but too often we have allowed our competence to dominate and our craft suffers from neglect. When our craft suffers, our connection to the soul of place suffers as well. Each is closely interconnected with the other. 

The resurgence of craft leads to work that is more holistic and integrative. We can practice our craft in any field. To be ‘hands on’ simply involves doing our best and seeing our craft as our ‘art form’ in whatever field we choose. The resurgence of craft involves getting at the root of things through using local materials and local wisdom drawn from the place itself. This resurgence is leading to an attitude to work that is wholehearted and integrates the mind with the heart and the hand”.

Here we see the soul at work in the body, and the valuing of bodily knowing to better take in ‘the fullness of whatever place we are in’. Finding our craft is as important as finding our place; a coming home to ourselves, to better negotiate a larger unknown, and to better serve a larger goal. Getting in touch with our homo faber self, as much as our homo sapien self. Raising craft on a par with competence. Embodying a craft we are likely to be naturally ‘more holistic and integrative’; being hands-on, with craft as our ‘art form’ – wholeheartedly integrating ‘the mind with the heart and the hand’, from a soul perspective, between two poles: place as sanctuary and crucible (265).

Sanctuary (and Crucible) “Place is a sanctuary where we feel most at home and most naturally ourselves… Place can be a physical location, time in nature, a form of craft, a calling, an idea, a meeting or a community. It is a feeling and a possibility; it offers a sense of welcome, of invitation and inclusivity. As sanctuary, place is where we go for solace and rest. Without rest there can be no regeneration. Place may also serve as a crucible for transformation and change. Many can share stories of how a place offered a crucible moment that was life-changing. In this context, places can be complex and multi-faceted. As a sanctuary, if there is too much security, there is no growth. As a crucible, if there is too much change, there is no rest. It is in the middle of these two poles that the soul learns”.

Engaging Soul and Story: Telling Our Story to Our Future

Engaging Soul and Story: Telling Our Story to Our Future

 Ian Wight PhD FCIP : April 2018


 ‘Soul’ is the theme of the upcoming national conference of the Canadian Institute of Planners, in Winnipeg in July 2018. One of the conference sub-themes is ‘Soul and Story’. I’ve been contemplating what ‘soul-story’ I might want to tell, from my work-life experience of ‘professing planning’. When might my soul have been particularly at work, in my work? In what respects might my planning have been ‘soul-work’? (following on from my earlier reflection on ‘joining soul and role’).

We all have stories we like to tell, about something… possibly even about one’s self on occasion. What story might we tell about our ‘professional-self’, its growth and development; how we have evolved, and how we might still be evolving? For planners especially, there is also the angle that our professional role can be read as ‘telling stories to the future’ (as Doug Aberley related so well in his contribution to the Millennium issue of Plan Canada). For this is when we might expect to hear our soul speaking to us, for us, in a way that might well quiet our ego in some respects – letting our larger Self out of the closet a little, highlighting our ‘prof-essence’, tapping into our ‘be-coming’.

If we are attracted to story-telling, might we also be curious about what kind of story we’d like to reach for. Such stories can perhaps be too easily told, in effect, as our ego speaking for us. Our ego is often ‘on deck’ in our professing (especially when other professionals, from other professions, are in the mix); this can produce a particular narrative – an ego-story. By contrast, we might want to feel more into the story that our soul is telling us – our soul-story. I encountered this distinction in a ‘circle-of-trust’ retreat, based on Parker Palmer’s work.

A reflection exercise at the retreat involved us identifying ‘story-lines’ that might get pieced together into our own ‘soul-story’. As I retrospectively surveyed my life-time in planning, I found that I naturally gravitated to comparatively ‘charged’ personal professional experiences, that particularly registered as ‘inner landmarks’ that could not but be part of my story – that had ‘stayed’ with me, that got ‘built-in’ to what I came to profess. I came to see them as occasions when I was striving to better ‘join soul and role’ – albeit unconsciously or inadvertently at the time. They became my very own ‘articles of faith’, some ‘soul-story-lines’.

With the benefit of hindsight I can see more clearly now that these involved ‘soul-stirring’ sensations – still very much with me – that had me engaging in some ‘soul-tapping’ moments. These were occasions when I gained some clarity about some key inner/inside-goings-on – that seemed to be getting ‘outed’, without any particular ‘trying’ or ‘efforting’ on my part. Here’s some of the soul-story ‘lines’ that surfaced during my reflections in the circle-of-trust, that became de facto ‘articles of faith’, manifested in my professing over the years:

Life over Land; People over Uses: What is planning really about? Some early ‘question-wrestling’ around: Is planning about land and how it is used, or about people and how they live, work and play? (from my first professional planning practice experience, around the mid-to-late 1970s, in the Peace Country of Alberta). I continue to have an antipathy to ‘just’ land-use planning.

The Complexity Beyond Problem-Solving: Some early wondering around: Am I too accepting of planning as essentially ‘problem-solving’, or could I really be ‘up’ for a more complexity-embracing conception? Such as ‘paradox-embracing’, or ‘contradiction-accommodating’ – and perhaps some acknowledging of the irreconcilability of certain ‘permanent contradictions’ (between territory and function, or town and country, for example)? (This was my soul processing some of my doctoral studies, around the early to mid 1980s).

The Provisionality of All Knowledge: An enduring attraction to ‘All is but a woven web of guesses’ (Xenophanes) – encountered when writing my doctoral dissertation (around 1985) – and still with me in my email signature block. Bequeathing an inquiry disposition, from the depths of my soul. A chronic curiosity now expressed as a propensity for ‘wondering, pondering and beyonding’.

Organizing Hope, Pursuing Dreams: An insight, around 2000, of ‘hopes and dreams’ as THE stuff of planning. This was informed by early efforts to apply then recently-discovered ‘integral theory’ to my professional planning practice. I’ve been ‘into integral’ ever since, and appreciating the related easier accessing of more subjective realms, such as soul and spirit.

Privileging Place Over Space: A deepening curiosity about the primalcy and potency of place, vis-à-vis space, and my formulation of ‘space-place transformation’ as a possible ‘macro-mission’ of sorts (in the built environment professions context) (from my teaching experiences, especially a course called Inquiry by Design, around the late 1990s). One of my regular ‘go-to’ books nowadays is The Soul of Place, by Michael Jones, and I am most alive these days when writing about place, placemaking and planning in the context of well-being.

Essencing My Professing: My ‘strap-line’ formulation – ‘Leadership as Service: For Good, In Love, With a Smile’ (also in my email signature block) based on my ‘Spiritual Activism’ elective course experience (Human Ecology Program, Strathclyde University, 2009). This is currently being developed in the context of U Lab work, seeking to apply Theory U, to develop the self-awareness of practicing professionals (presencing awareness, of one’s professing essence, one’s prof-essence).

Letting My Soul Speak: My mantra-making, at The Bield (near Perth, Scotland), during a ‘Quiet Day’ program in September 2010 (while on an academic leave): Doing well by my Self / Being well Together / For the wellbeing of All / In all Our well-becoming. Showing up as a whole being – body, mind, soul and spirit.

Professional-Self Design: My praxis-making and ethos-making work (Quiet Resolve; Agency in Communion) in my UM CP Professional Practice course, from around 2011 on. Integrating minding (thinking), hearting and souling.

Soul-Role Sensing: The recent/current emergence of a conviction about my professing of ‘planning as place-making as wellbeing by design’ – and of professional development as ‘professional-self design’ (with praxis, ethos and poiesis as the ‘makings’ of a professional).

What’s the story here? The reflection involved plumbing my deepest values and beliefs in my professing context, and a related ongoing effort to integrate them with my ‘theory and practice’ – all the time noticing their pivotal role in that ‘integrating’, in my praxis. Is it any wonder that – in my soul – I am now wondering about another deeper conception of the planning I seek to profess: planning as soul-work? Professing as the meshing of the personal, the professional and the spiritual – in one’s Self and, more specifically, in and through one’s soul. Planning as the place where I get to ‘join’ soul and role. Might any of this emerging story resonate – with others given to plumbing their soul in their work?

Joining Soul and Role: Planning as Soul-Work?

Joining Soul and Role: Planning as Soul-Work?

 Ian Wight PhD FCIP : April 2018


‘Soul’ is the theme of the upcoming national conference of the Canadian Institute of Planners, in Winnipeg in July 2018. I find this quite an exciting prospect. I’ve been inspired to think more about ‘planning as soul-work’, and am very curious as to how this theme will ‘go down’ with Canadian planners. I’m sure it has quite a few scratching their heads; soul-work may feel like a long ways from mind-work, the more common operating context for planners. It’s possibly my age (or should that be dotage?) – but this extension of our realm of practice is landing well with myself. It is challenging – but in a good way, for my growth and development. How might we better join ‘soul and role’ – one of the conference sub-themes?

Having ‘re-tired’ – in 2014 – I now find myself ‘re-firing’, noticing more clearly what ‘fires me up’ – that I might want to attend to, more intentionally, before I shuffle off this mortal coil. One theme that has been exercising me of late – warming me to the Winnipeg conference theme – is ‘joining soul and role’, largely inspired by the work of Parker J. Palmer. He references ‘the primacy of soul’; his sense of soul is as ‘the being in human being’ Palmer has helped me reflect on the importance of related ‘pairings’ – self and service, soul and role, spirit and purpose – that may together inform a practical, secular appreciation of the spiritual dimension in anyone who ‘professes’ these days, and who cares to give this dimension more than a second thought.

These ‘pairings’ potentially merit more consideration as part of the ‘prof-essence’ that I sense to be at work deep within us – the ‘inner-goings-on’ (in-goes) that literally inspire our ‘out-comings’ (out-comes), our work in the world; the ‘essence’ that we might be able to distil from several decades of active ‘professing’ (I’m thinking especially of more ‘seasoned’ planners, such as the Fellows, or others ‘of a certain age’). Likely, this particular ‘prof-essence’ will initially feel very personal, but we might come to see it ultimately as quite universal; it completes us, as – in Parker Palmer’s terms – our being-ness, rounding out our otherwise preoccupation with more prosaic concerns (such as the linking/joining of our thinking and doing, or our knowledge and action, or our theory and practice).

Mapping such awareness might be a tall order, a too large ‘ask’, for many modern folks – especially in the heat of a full-on career. My own experience is that it comes a little more easily in one’s ‘re-tirement-cum-re-firement’. I wonder if there are other ‘fellow-travellers’ out there, who might have some useful wisdom to offer those colleagues who might be some years away from retiring – still actively professing, in practice. Might they be helped to a better joining of soul and role, sooner than later, through some encouragement to more consciously conjoin the spiritual and the professional? The Winnipeg conference on ‘Soul’ could be a great place to begin ‘showing up’, and to initiate such a dialogue. Our future as a meaningful profession could depend on it.

One way to start the ball rolling could be to move into story-telling mode. We all have stories we like to tell, about something – possibly even about oneself on occasion. What story might we tell about our professional self, its growth and development; how we have evolved, and are evolving? For planners especially, there is also the angle that our professional role can be read as ‘telling stories to the future’ (as Doug Aberley related so well in his contribution to the Millennium issue of Plan Canada). And this is when we might expect to hear our soul speaking to us, for us, in a way that might well quiet our ego in some respects – letting our larger Self out of the closet a little, highlighting our ‘prof-essence’.

I’ll take a crack at offering some scraps from my own soul-story-book in a future post. Meantime I’d welcome any comments/contributions, on the joining of soul and role Ian.Wight@UManitoba.CA

Navigating Soul: CIP 2018 Winnipeg

Navigating Soul: CIP 2018 Winnipeg

Ian Wight PhD FCIP : April 2018


Everyone and everything is caught up in the process of manifesting its soul. This struggle of the personality to become transparent to the soul is a struggle to become free from illusion, to grow in wisdom… It is an effort worthy of our patience, our support, our compassion, and our attention.

                               ~ Rachel Naomi Remen [My Grandfather’s Blessings]

‘Soul’ is the theme of the upcoming national conference of the Canadian Institute of Planners, in Winnipeg in July 2018. It’s a theme that is simple, deep, and profound – but not necessarily easy to navigate for modern professionals, who might be more at home in parts of their mind, or their body (especially their head). Having been privileged to have been in on some of the early program development discussions, I noticed a strong conviction around the one-word theme, including some indications of some reluctance around further elaboration or ‘tag-lining’. I think there was a sense that everyone – in their soul – would ‘know’ what ‘soul’ might mean for them.

And such a messaging strategy may have its merits, especially with the ultra-inclusivity indicated in the above observation by Rachel Naomi Remen: Everyone and everything is caught up in the process of manifesting its soul. There is no denying though that ‘it is a struggle…’ and highly personal. I recall wondering, however, if this strategy could mean that many particular meanings would emerge – some competing, some complementary – perhaps with the risk of a de facto default around ‘anything goes’, leading to the possibility of a messaging ‘mess’. It became a challenge to ‘navigate’ differing perspectives, that was quite ‘exercising’ – but with lots of learning in the process. Here’s some of my own sensing into the possibilities, as I tried to feel into making the most of the theme of ‘soul’. Consider them stirrings from my soul, that are still at work in me as the conference approaches; they indicate what I’ll be bringing, in spirit.

Some grounding early on was immediately provided by the planning context – an annual national conference intended to primarily serve professional planners – working planners, professing planning (within the institution of CIP). How might we therefore better connect ‘soul’ to planning, and to planners, professing planning? For example, might planning be positioned as ‘soul-work’, as the work of folks with a soul, valuing their soul, and seeking to manifest their soul in their work, in their professing of planning? In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll admit I had a strong disposition in favour of a particular tagline, alongside ‘Soul’, namely, Planning as Soul-Work?’ and I am still, personally, bringing this question to the conference – even though it has not made it onto the official conference billing.

I would suggest that ‘Soul’ is not a common association with, or within, planning; rational minds at work may more readily come to mind. On occasion, some hearts may make an impression in/on the work of planners – but the associated feelings and emotions may be consciously kept under wraps (the mind again being privileged). ‘Soul’ is more deeply sourced, and rarely surfaced, but its influence is probably instrumental, if not foundational, in the very best professing of the most meaningful planning. At its core, in essence, it could be argued that such planning does achieve soul-work status. For individual planners this may be conceived as their ‘hands’, ‘head’ and ‘heart, literally at work, together – with clear planning intent. Their ‘soul-work’ thus manifests as: Hands+Head+Heart@Work – another tag-line possibility that I sought to insert into the early discussions.

The ‘work’, or ‘Work’, in question was being perceived as a working together, that – with soul engaged – becomes also a form of ‘dancing together’ and a ‘grooving’ together, making a strong connection with the popular culture where the seeds of planning, and its fruits, are ultimately planted, and harvested. Such a view of ‘planning as soul-work’ takes on the characteristics of cool music, neat moves, and great art, in good company: Working Together/Dancing Together/Grooving Together. The ‘soul’ in ‘planning as soul-work’ is ultimately sourced in the persons planning, the persons professing planning. Whole persons – whole in body, mind, heart and soul. Planners ‘giving their all’ and ‘bringing their whole selves to their professing’: Body, Mind, Heart and Soul

Further unpacking of the notion of ‘planning as soul-work’ was tackled through identifying potential congenial sub-themes, that might constitute some inspiring positioning of planning going forward. These emerged initially as:

Soul and Place (Planning as) Great Place-making, Comprehensively

Soul and Role (Planning as) Integrating Self and Service, Reflectively

Soul and Story (Planning as) Telling Stories to the Future, Indigenously

Place, Role and Story were picked up in the programming as operative sub-themes, affording some structure and focus. It has been very encouraging to see these associated with ‘soul’, and featured in a national planning conference. Now the challenge is to do them justice. Here’s where I am coming from.

 Place: For planners, their place of work – for planning as soul-work – is place, more than space. It is about space-place transformation, with place-making in mind – and in heart and in soul. Great place-making, comprehensively, is the goal – embracing the gamut from physical to functional, to convivial and spiritual; all bases covered, leaving nothing out.

Role: The professing at the heart of professional planners defines their role in society, in service to society, professing their best – for the wellbeing of society. To best discharge their role, it needs to be well joined to their soul – through a well-reflected-upon sense of their fullest self, their Self. The professing becomes, essentially, an integration of Self and/in Service, in a practice which is effectively reflective-practice-in-action – aligning soul and role.

Story: The soul is special, precious territory – beyond easy analysis or description; it is more the province of story, communicating its mystery, enabling some discernment – but nothing too definitive. Where the future is concerned, planning as soul-work may be rendered as a form of telling stories to the future, a practice common among indigenous peoples, when contemplating several generations ahead. There is a soul at work in such stories, and in ultimate view.

So, this is how I have been navigating the theme of ‘Soul’; I hope it might help others work out their own course, their own trajectory, their own burning question. I have offered other thoughts elsewhere – on soul and story, soul and role, and soul and place. I am also hoping that folks will find some resonance in the words of Rachel Naomi Remen. Manifesting soul is ‘an effort worthy of our patience, our support, our compassion and our attention’.

Everyone and everything is caught up in the process of manifesting its soul. This struggle of the personality to become transparent to the soul is a struggle to become free from illusion, to grow in wisdom… It is an effort worthy of our patience, our support, our compassion, and our attention.

                                  ~ Rachel Naomi Remen [My Grandfather’s Blessings]

[When soul is in play – for professionals especially – a deeper dimension of one’s persona needs to be engaged. Merely reflective practice may have to be extended consciously into a form of contemplative practice – still mind, open heart, soul sensing. Some help may be necessary. One rich source for myself has been Michael Jones in his book, The Soul of Place. Some insights – with planners in mind – are conveyed, separately, in a more focused consideration of the ‘Soul and Place’ sub-theme] [Ian.Wight@UManitoba.CA]