“What kind of Green?” asked my attorney when I mentioned “Gnostic Green” as a name for a business. She would have been irritated by my wasting her time if it were not for the substantial fee she would receive. Nevertheless, there is nothing like an attorney’s pragmatism to bring one way down to earth; perhaps even below the earth. But it is this quality that I actually love about my attorney. I am by nature an idealist, always inspired by the potential of the existence we are in. Yet, we must both dream and be grounded to this earth at the same time, and I cherish those who bring balance to my life.
Gnostic Green? I would prefer for people to imagine what I mean, knowing full well that the meaning of anything that captivates us is a shared experience. Meaning is important insofar as we share in its creation and evolution. But what are we evolving towards?
Meet Joe Romeo, a second generation Italian American who could have easily just arrived from Italy. Joe is a master mason, whom I work with on all kinds of projects. We are a great pair as I always push for new, “green” ways of doing things, whereas he is firmly grounded in the way his father taught him. As a very animated Italian, we have no choice but to tussle over how to do something, but we do so with a laugh and a smile. Our best workdays are often the ones where we struggle for an answer.
In the photo we were working on a project at my house, building a basement using Durisol insulated concrete forms (ICF) for building the walls. These blocks are made from recycled wood, Portland cement, and Roxul rockwool insulation. As far as green goes, it is a pretty cool product. It offers good R-values, it is easy to use, and very durable. Using this product helps us to move one step closer to healing this planet.
The only problem is that Joe and I had never used this product before. Nor had Joe ever used insulated concrete footings, or constructed a fully insulated floating slab. So we came to a cross-roads: What did we need to learn, and, equally important, how were we going to learn? For us, it was not simply about learning new ways to build a basement, it was about building camaraderie. After all, we hope to do many novel projects in the years to come, and I want to work with my friends who enlighten me.
As we worked over the summer, four distinct patterns emerged as to what we knew. The first pattern was the honest realization that neither of us knew anything. As an adult, I found it tremendously graceful that two experienced men could be this honest. It was that completely cathartic submittal to a higher power that you are in a new realm, needing to learn new patterns, needing to come to love your mistakes.
Another pattern was my ability to contribute a wealth of knowledge born from years of study in sociology and sustainable development. However, the value of such “book smarts” in this case is not obvious. While I could claim an understanding of cutting edge building science, the real value I brought was to de-ossify the practice of life. Whether my approach was correct mattered little as most importantly my contribution was to challenge us all to question, to think, to grow. My contribution was to invite us not to be what we are, but rather to seek who we are to become.
Joe’s knowledge enters a realm where language starts to fail us as a tool to understand. I require that all of us teach each other their craft when working on small projects, and it was Joe’s turn to bring his masonry skills to us all. As we poured the footing, it immediately was clear Joe’s “working knowledge” developed over many years of intimately working the materials and living in his local environment. There was absolutely no instruction manual or machine that could replicate the quality of his work. There was no was no course or seminar that would deliver mastery. Joe’s knowledge was deeply embedded in his flesh and consciousness, and while he genuinely claimed I did a good job, I marveled at Joe’s most hidden lesson: Joe perfectly demonstrated why humans are needed, and why we need humans to develop.
The last pattern that emerged was the most hauntingly heartfelt. We got to the end of November and had to close the site for winter. In the twilight of a cold day, we finished storing materials, packing tools away, and, as the last ritualistic act, turned off the ever important radio blaring classic rock. But, before we said goodbye, my team asked for a very strange thing. Everyone wanted a group picture, as if we had just completed an epic journey. Everyone wanted something to remember our time together by.
At this point I realized that we had grown into good friends. Together we discovered a love for our work and a kind of love for each other. We discovered how our vast differences were our strength. Our work relationships had grown into a kind of brotherhood, and our always cordial friendships moved towards being a kind of family. Now we all go to each other’s house for dinner, and hang out when we can. We make life better for each other.
So here is my question: Were we on a path to discovering “gnostic green?” Being “green” has become at best a banal marketing statement. It is not challenging to be “green,” as ironically it often only requires buying more stuff. Let’s save for other blog posts how “ungreen” our consumptive practice is.
But gnosis is a wonderful and challenging topic to which I do not want to explain. Or, to be even more cryptic, I cannot convey what must be shown. This said, social scientists have written ad nauseum about the rationalization of human existence, and how that rationalization is imprisoning our conscious in an “iron cage.” Relevant to this discussion, gnosis and the “iron cage” are antithetical as the former seeks the power of the divine while the latter disempowers through conformity. The former empowers us to be oddly unique while the latter disempowers us to be strangely similar.
Were we in an “iron cage?” If we were not, what orthodoxy did we have to break in order to escape? And, if we did escape, what was our gift of pain? This blog is our blog, to share in our development and transcendence, so I want to leave these questions as questions. There is no gnosis in my attempting to give answers.
So let me end in the gnostic spirit of gratitude. First, thanks to Marcia, who always pushes me to write more clearly and poetically. She is a great sounding board by which I develop my thinking. But I am deeply grateful to those powers that have given me the opportunity to live the life I have. I am infinitely empowered when we generate the perfect chemistry of knowledge, earthliness, spirit, love, and motion, propelling us towards that which is divine.