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My Camino Way: Article # 12

When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighbouring communities.  - The Dalai Lama



The landscape of humankind is, sadly, occupied with stories of conquests, domination, slavery and a great deal of suffering, not only of other humans but of animals.


It has been (and still is) a matter of great pride, to capture a city or a country, and to turn that forced ownership into something noble.

We place symbols on the cityscape to remind ourselves and our enemies of how powerful and great we are, with little thought to the pain these conquests have caused others, or why we continue to choose this path of strife and unhappiness.


Some of the most valued symbols of victory are national treasures found in our city centers – buildings, statues, monuments and other possessions, many of which carry with them the story of war, as with the Winged Lion of Venice (see Article 10). They denote accomplishments in the arts, sciences and other fields, as well as in the military.  Thus transformed, the ugly side of history gets recast until it is so unrecognizable it is an ideal by which to live.

So too was the way of the plaza. It started with an ideal about living together in harmony.

“When a new city was founded, the first and most essential element was the multi-functional agora, forum, or market square. This was where discussion and dialogue took place, where issues were debated, where citizens exchanged opinions, where rich and poor rubbed shoulders, and where the young became socialized. This was a place for commerce, religion, culture, governance and social life. All the streets and buildings were laid out around the square to form a tight, complex mix of uses that supported the primary function of the city – democratic dialogue."  – from The International Making Cities Liveable Council  

As with all forms of idealism, though, the vision of the plaza has broken away from its master plan, defied attempts to impose symmetry on it and morphed into its own creations, changing form to mirror the energy, beliefs and values of the city and age that gave it birth.

The Spanish brought the European style of the plaza to North America, but, as The International Making Cities Liveable Council states, “...almost all Spanish plazas underwent [a]transformation in the 19th century [where the concept of the square merged with that of the park]”.  Thus, it went from being a multi-functional democratic space that excluded no one, into “a genteel garden designed for relaxation and entertainment” – spaces created for the middle and upper classes, designed to exclude the poor.

Lincoln Park, Chicago, 1907

Since then, the gap between the rich and poor has continued to widen as developers fight for commercial space.

As one member of New York City’s committee on urban planning said at a recent meeting about a high-rise that was slated to go up in his neighborhood: “This project will block out the sun completely. The sun kills the microbes and feeds my plants. My plants need the sun. I need the sun.”

Who could argue with that? You’d think no one, but the developers always do - and they almost always win the argument.


But a movement has been growing in communities all over North America and in other parts of the world – including the “Liveable Cities” projects and Projects on Public Spaces – that is fighting back and insisting on putting people above commerce.

The opening of Barcelona’s first of a series of superilles or “super blocks” in September of this year is part of this movement and a sign that people in power are caring more about the common good than about business. It’s a remarkable move that has drawn international attention (and criticism, mostly from motorists and retailers worried they’ll lose money).

Photo Credit: El Born, Barcelona, Daniel Etter, New York Times, September 2016

Congestion and pollution in big cities hurt children and adults in ways we can’t fully measure, with everything from accidents to asthma, not to mention the stress it puts on the minds and bodies of the public. When a city is clogged up, the collective chi is also blocked. It becomes harder to tap into our spiritual center, thus harder to connect with each other in meaningful ways. This is especially true in North America, which has less experience developing community spaces that really work.

Even Time Square has its moments and does what squares are meant to do. Just last year, a section of the Square officially became a “pedestrian plaza,” after a trial run and despite complaints by businesses. The yearly Mind-Over-Madness mass yoga event that happens on the summer solstice and attracts more than 10,000 people is another one of those moments.

These are signs of the revolution going on in America in response to the dark energy at work, and it is something to be optimistic about.  

Often, though, such efforts are annual or sporadic events.

What we want is balance, internally and externally, and more spaces to gather in daily, so that the city square becomes a real “living” room for all its inhabitants, EVERY DAY  – not somewhere to go when we get bored or as a place of respite that we escape to, once in a while, to get away from the craziness of life in the fast lane.

This balance, relatively speaking, is something Europeans have cultivated for centuries. It is the real distinction between Time Square and the typical European plaza that serves as the cities’ living rooms. But, as Winnie Hu writes in a New York Times article, "What New York Can Learn From Barcelona's 'Super Blocks' " architects and other city planners of New York are working on implementing similar changes in that city."


We are at a stage in our spiritual evolution where we are being called upon by the universe to live more consciously - and to bring that consciousness out into our living spaces.

When we do create these spiritual-based living spaces, which will take a great deal more than just urban planning to achieve, they will be the true "center of the universe." 

Humans have built beautiful works of art at our city centers to express lofty ideals, flex our muscles as great conquerors and show our superiority over other nations. This is how we have understood the meaning of progress. We’ve seen the plaza shape-shift into rectangles, triangles, circles and all of these combined. We have played around with geometrical designs as if somehow by shaping the landscape we can also shape the minds of the people that live on it.

The spaces we occupy certainly affect our mental state. But ultimately it is our collective minds that create those spaces. And what we do in those spaces is dependent on how spiritually evolved we are as individuals.

If we don’t insist on engaging in the conversation, if we don’t work on transforming our inner selves, the spaces we live in will become what the one per cent decides it will be:  a “... tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment,” as writer James Howard Kunstler refers to the landscape “where most Americans live and work.”



In its most ideal form, the city plaza is a microcosm of the world in its most evolved spiritual self, a mirror of how human beings can co-exist peacefully.

But for this we do not need ornate churches or stately buildings, however beauteous they are - and certainly not ones that have been built in a culture of violence and hate. 

When a seedier Times Square underwent a transformation in the 1990s it wasn't for the common good, to build a stronger more unified community. It was polished for the one percent and for the lords of commerce to rule over. Low income people who lived nearby had to move because the rents had skyrocketed. New York isn't unique in this, of course. It happens all the time, all over the world, with few exception. It is part of the human condition, as we go through a transformation to awaken to a higher consciousness. As I've written about in a previous blog, we are still holding on to beliefs that no longer serve us as a race (if they ever did serve us, that is).


Earlier societies show examples of how we’ve attempted to achieve the ideals of building democratic communities (with the symbolic town square at the center). And each evolution reveals a growth in spiritual awareness as well as repetitions of old mistakes.

Just as we see spiritual development on the rise in society, we also see our societal structures evolving in a more spiritual way ("green" spaces and so forth). Too often though it is done with a mind to the bottom line  - because it is considered good business rather than the right thing to do morally and spiritually.

While building and renewing physical spaces is important, we also need to focus on building the spiritual values that were originally attached to these spaces. We need to work on our spiritual selves – and that goes for our economic and political leaders ten-fold. 

We need the one per cent to help lead the way in this transformation of our communities, where all business has a triple bottom line rooted in a solid spiritual base. 

In this sense, the old plaza has a new role, which develops on tried-and-true ancient beliefs and customs but with a more conscious purpose: to serve as a spiritual learning ground.

Hemingway in the Piazza San Marco, 1954; Ernest Hemingway Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston


We can appreciate the beautiful buildings that already exist in our public spaces not as symbols of victory over the enemy but as manifestations of the divine spirit and the great gifts we have been given to create something higher, that is born out of that divine energy and infused with the spirit of love rather than hate. 

In this way we can begin to change the language of the landscape in our minds as well.



The evolved 21st century city plaza (and other “liveable city” spaces) is a place where we can grow more aware of ourselves as spiritual beings.

By letting go of old wounds and thinking patterns that no longer serve us, through meditation and other daily spiritual practices, we begin to grow our consciousness, and in doing so our power to create more peace communities grows as well, so that the one supports the other - like the sprouting of new leaves on a tree well tended.


The spiritually evolved city plaza is much more than a well-designed common living room or green space. That means little if these spaces are peopled by a public that only chooses to become involved in humankind for self-profit.

The evolved 21st century plaza is a “grand organizational design,” a sacred open room where we can come together under one sky and weave a different story for the future: one that understands well the history of war and chooses instead to create a story of peace.




The lion’s paw rests upon a page of the bible, opened. The words are in Latin:

Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus.

“May Peace Be With You, Mark, My Evangelist."

The words were intended for a saint, but the message might be for all of us, not just as a message of hope for peace, but an urging to actually “be” peace itself – the kind that grows from deep introspection, and that refuses to turn art into a mouthpiece for the power-hungry, or saints and lions into symbols of wealth and champions of war.

It is a peace that comes from developing a trust in one’s higher power and an understanding of the deeper story behind the winged lion – and knowing that it is time to put the false stories to rest and get to know each others’ true stories.

The lion does not belong to anyone. He is not ours for the taking.  

But his story is a gift to all who are willing to listen.

Mark the Evangelist, Codex Aureus of Lorsch, Carolingian manuscript; Vatican Library, Rome.

Stay tuned for more El Camino stories. Meanwhile, feel free to contact me if you’re considering El Camino as a relationship sabbatical or simply for your own spiritual growth. There’s plenty of information on El Camino and many ways to walk it. So, if anything has resonated with you while reading this, it may be a special sign, divinely arranged just for you.  

Buen Camino, Pilgrim


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