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The Architecture of All AbundanceSeven Foundations to Prosperity
By Lenedra J. Carroll
New World LibraryCopyright © 2003 Lenedra J. Carroll
All right reserved.
THE Last Frontier
He didn't like what she had done so the man leaned down into the face of the little girl and hollered in a very mean tone,
"Who on earth do you think you are?"
She felt a response to the tone and volume of his voice and the message of his body language and words. She felt fear and confusion; she also felt offended. Yet at the same time she thought, "This is a very important question. I will think about it when I am alone."
Who do you think you are?
She often asked herself versions of this question as she grew older. There were many answers. Depending.
The winds blew across the pristine glaciers and mountains, over the waters of Kachemak Bay on the Kenai Peninsula to the remote Alaskan village of Homer. The tides brought the salmon running up the rivers; the midnight sun glinted as red as the countless fireweed flowers that covered the Homer hills behind our house. High in the winter sky the curtain of Northern Lights seemed to crackle on frosty Arctic nights. The land and the latitude accessed in me a subtlety that matched the wild but sparelandscape. I experienced the courage and persistence of living things, the strength of the majestic peaks, the stability of the fertile bench of land bordering our bay, the rapid wax and wane of the short northern seasons, the reclusive energy of long winters, and the thrust of endless summer days. I knew the uncertainty and limitations of the life cycle, and the fragility of human beings in harsh environs. From the extraordinary energy of the land I learned the lessons of nature's silence and observed the power and wisdom of whole, natural systems.
It was the allure of a new frontier and the wide-open wilderness that drew my parents, Jay and Arva Carroll, to interior Alaska in 1941. They joined my father's adventurous brother, Ward, at his cabin on an island in the Piledriver River, near Fairbanks. My mother's Utah family was aghast, thinking them lost to the dangerous wilds where they could not be reached by car or even telephone. For these early pioneers, amenities were nearly non-existent. The population was sparse and the environment so harsh that good judgment, common sense, and creativity were vital for survival. Hard work, sustainability, the integrity of one's word, and full cooperation with surrounding people and the environment were also essential. These were the values of my childhood.
For my parents it was an exciting life, but not an easy one. The rest of the United States seemed very removed and was referred to as the "lower forty-eight" or "outside." Basic supplies were ordered quarterly, few luxuries were available; most people had a strong reliance on gardens and the local game and fish. Self-sufficiency was the necessity. Roads were primitive or nonexistent; communication systems were often unreliable with mail infrequent and telephones rare. Dwellings, too, were basic. I recall Mom telling me that my oldest brother once slipped out of her arms as she was trying to dry him from a bath. He became a mud ball as he rolled on the dirt floor of their tiny one-room log cabin with its sod roof.
Dad was a very resourceful and inventive man. In Wrangel, Alaska, he hunted and trapped and had a dogsled and team. He later managed the utility company in Seward, Alaska, where he designed and oversaw the building of a power station that became a model for others in the lower forty-eight states. At one point, he wanted a better alternative to the snowshoe so he created a snowmobile long before they became commercially available. He produced many inventions born of necessity. Some of my fondest memories are of him sharing his ideas and his inventive processes with me.
In the early fifties, Dad built an airplane and, with a neighbor, taught himself to fly it. I was eight when he moved us from Seward, the small Alaskan town of my early years, to the village of Homer, population: one thousand. He used his savings to purchase a small rural air service and gradually built it up to include six airplanes. Eventually he added a marine fuel dock at the boat harbor, as well as a service station in town. During summers I worked with him and his partner in their air service, answering the citizens band radio and phones or penciling figures into the ledger.
Dad flew locals and visitors to hunting and fishing areas, and delivered mail and supplies to people in the remote regions of south central Alaska. He was often the only person that these isolated pioneers saw in the course of a year and he would visit -- sharing a glass of their homemade dandelion wine or elderberry brandy and stories of close calls with a bear, or the moose that ate the garden. He might leave them with the part they needed to fix their tractor as well as the enjoyment of a little human contact.
I often flew with my father. Our peninsula had a breathtaking beauty. A massive and deep saltwater bay dominated the landscape. On one side of the bay, a long green bench of rich land held our settlement. Across the bay, glacier-filled mountains fell straight into the water. The land was undeveloped and a high degree of skill was required to set the small planes down on the uncertain terrain that passed for landing strips. I loved landing on water in the float planes, but it was also fun to land on beaches and glaciers or in a wilderness clearing.
My greatest joys were the endless hours spent experiencing nature. Over time I realized that nature is of immense value for its ability to express pure Being. For me, and later for my children, nature was not only a vital presence but also a great solace and influence. I had a favorite place under a stand of Sitka spruce trees near a beautiful creek where I sat for hours simply observing and being part of nature. I encountered there a pervasive peace, a purposefulness, and an order -- even in the chaos, destruction, and death observable in nature.
I also observed that there was not just one type of anything -- not one right kind of tree, no singular type of plant or animal, no sole body of water. I saw, instead, an endless variety of expressions of peace, beauty, and purposefulness and God. This affected my view of religion, for I became unable to imagine that there could be only one right version of God. Each religion seemed to be but one of many converging paths.
As a child I hungered for information about how things really are, the keys and secrets of life. I sensed that there was vital information that I lacked; I sensed that it was available. I imagined the impact of such information on people's lives: on our communities and work, our learning and our loving. My most fervent wish was to understand these things.
THE RABBIT AND THE CHICKEN
In fifth grade they call it "Health," but in sixth grade it's "Science." The last part of fifth grade the teacher says we're going to finish the year with a little science. I guess they're getting us ready for next year. I'm just glad we are getting away from making clay models of the digestive system, which seems like art class to me. I'm hoping that we can get to the hard stuff -- microscopes, dissecting things, embryos in jars, lab experiments and explosions.
The teacher, Mr. C., says science is all about noticing and noting things and careful notes are important. "Pioneering the frontiers of science," he said. Well, I'm good at noticing and pretty good at getting it down so I figure I might become a scientist; I'll see. I like the pioneering part anyway. So the first day of science I'm there with my notebook and high expectations. All in all, school just isn't that interesting, you have to really work at it to learn anything very gripping. But I have hope for science.
And I'm not disappointed either. Right off the bat I learn the most amazing thing. Mr. C. tells us about certain experiments. One involves a bunch of dogs that drool every time a bell rings, which is somewhat cool, though in my experience dogs drool a lot anyway.... He tells us about a couple more of these experiments with some rats, and well, okay, I can pretty much see what they were getting at. But then he wraps up the hour with the one that tops everything. He tells us about how some scientists took a baby rabbit away from its momma just as soon as possible. They put it in a nest with a hen because hens are known to accept the young of other animals. Which is interesting in itself. Well, the bunny grows up with the hen and learns a lot of chicken habits. It pecks its food. It roosts with the chickens every evening. It hops funny, sort of chickenlike.
What happens next is the best part. When it's grown, the scientists take the rabbit away from the hen and put it back with the other rabbits. Now, right here I'm getting pretty excited. I'm thinking this is really going to be great. The rabbit is all of a sudden going to understand that it's a rabbit, not a chicken, and it's going to be really happy about that. But no! The rabbit cowers in the corner of the hutch and won't have a thing to do with the other rabbits. It's so upset that it even quits eating and drinking. After a while they put it back with the chickens so it won't die. It perks right up and is very glad to be back home. Mr. C. explains that what the scientists learned here was that all animals, and people too, learn their behaviors when they are young. They are taught. He tells us about some studies that showed that humans need this too -- babies in orphanages and stuff like that. He says it's the way we all learn how to be. Somebody shows us, or tells us. Now this is truly amazing. It's by far the most amazing thing I've learned in school so far. It seems as important to me as knowing that the world isn't flat. I can't imagine why they haven't taught us about this sooner!
I'm bored quite a lot so I really appreciate a story that can capture the mind and hold it fast for a good period of time. This is the perfect story for thinking; there are tons of possibilities and questions to mull over. This story is like a secret treasure. At the bus stop I think about it while I wait. I think about it in class when Mr. C. gets stuck teaching the stuff you know you'll never need to think about again, like all those wars that were always going on hundreds of years ago. I think about it at home when nothing much is happening, which is most of the time. What if a person was raised by a hen? Would they like a chicken roost better than a bed? Do animals ever raise people? How do they learn to talk then? Mr. C. tells me it has happened a few times and the person usually couldn't ever adjust to living with people or even learn language. This seems very strange and leads me to a lot of thoughts that start to bother me. What if someone was raised in a box and wasn't taught the right stuff? What if someone taught them all the wrong stuff on purpose, or even accidentally? Would you know it was the wrong stuff? Would you ever figure it out?
This starts me wondering what I am being taught. So I begin to pay attention. That's when I begin to get scared. At home, I don't know if anyone is teaching me anything. At least nothing really important about what it means to be a human being. How will I know the ways to be? How will I know how to have a good human life?
I hit on the idea that maybe it's what they're teaching at school, only I just wasn't noticing before. It must be, after all that's where I learned the story about the rabbit and the chicken! Luckily I know how to do a scientific study -- notice and take notes. So I go to school really excited. In my notebook I write HOW TO BE A HUMAN BEING at the top of a page. I'm determined to take really good notes on what they're teaching us about being human. After a few days I'm discouraged. Almost nothing. Lots about human problems in history, but no clear lessons really. No important tips or little wisdoms to guide me, a ten-year-old girl, to grow up right.
I worry about it a while then suddenly I figure it out. It's church! That's where they teach you the right stuff. It makes a lot of sense. I take my notebook to church, certain I will fill it soon. I notice a lot of rules: a lot of "right and wrong," "good and bad" information. More history. A few good ideas like "treat others the way you want to be treated" and so on. But mostly guilt and fear and rules, it seems to me. This isn't so much what I'm looking for. Nobody is talking about being human. About being. I'm shocked. Maybe it's a secret you only get to learn at a certain age. Maybe it's hidden information that you have to figure out. Maybe everyone has forgotten. I begin to look for people who have really interesting and happy lives. I start reading biographies and autobiographies in the school library. I read every one they have. I make lots of notes about living, pursuing this interest fiercely and, I imagine, scientifically. I'm on the watch for all the clues about a really great human life. What does it mean to be a human being, in the best sense? And how do you be one? The desire to know this becomes my mission.
* * *
The Nature of Our Being
In the fall of 1990, I flew in a small aircraft to the remote Alaskan volcano St. Augustine to spend a week alone on the island. During the flight, the pilot of the small plane nudged me and pointed to the water. He tipped the wing allowing me to look more directly below; I was amazed to see what appeared to be a giant jellyfish. I was familiar with this type of jellyfish, having seen them washed up on the beaches by the hundreds when I was a child -- opaque white center in the shape of a loose star, more transparent toward the outside, a white band defining their outer edge, eight to ten inches in diameter. But the one I looked down on seemed a hundred feet across! Loose white star becoming more translucent away from the center; ringed with white ... but huge. Huge. The pilot laughed at my reaction and hollered at me over the engine noise, "School!"
It was a group of jellyfish migrating together, but this was still amazing. How did they manage to appear from above to be one large jellyfish? Each seemed to know its place in the formation ... and their group movement was the same undulating movement of the individual jellyfish I saw when I was young.
As I watched I marveled at this group moving together. Does instinct prompt their formation? What awareness do they have of their direction, their movement and destination?
I couldn't help wondering if humans also move intuitively as a group toward a purpose only vaguely sensed, but visible from above.
The Dawn of the Soul
The incident of the jellyfish and the story about the rabbit and the chicken illustrate a passion and a quest that has remained key in my life, driving my actions and growth; re-forming my understandings. What does it mean to be a human being in the highest sense? What is the deepest nature of our being?
I began to be possessed by a gripping curiosity and longing to understand what happens when an individual heeds the urgings of the soul rather than having the soul subject to the ego. It seemed to me that tangible information regarding these things would profoundly impact all areas of our lives -- the workplace, our health, our families, and communities.
I have discovered that we are not left without access to this knowledge -- fulfillment of the promise of our soul's nature is possible. Indeed, it is what we are here for: to enter the realm of our greater potentiality. The answers are found in the individual and collective journey into our Being and in the stillness that leads us there.
* * *
I hear you as lapping waves upon the shore
with your lap lap lulling rhythm
bringing my sodden eyelids down
pulling me, heavy with your gravity,
down upon my knee bones
curling my spine
and pressing my weighted head to my chest
forcing my hands inward
to my bosom
until I too am lapping at the shore
growing with the fern and bud
and young green blade
singing from full golden breast
and feathered throat
Rising and falling on the surface
back curving up
my eyes have glimpsed your roaring depths
and my heart trumpets your full unending glory
Lenedra J Carroll
Excerpted from The Architecture of All Abundance by Lenedra J. Carroll Copyright © 2003 by Lenedra J. Carroll. Excerpted by permission.
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