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]

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Ian Wight

A Canadian Scot. Ex-professor, now senior scholar. In re-firement. Passionate about (planning as) placemaking, as well-being (by design). Advocate of transformative professional learning, as professional-self design. Attentive to the making/s of professionals via praxis, ethos and poiesis.

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