This article by Christian Chensvold appeared on page 24 of the January 2019 edition of the Nob Hill Gazette.
UP FRONT: THE ESSAY
THIS YEAR OF GRACE
How Nob Hill’s great cathedral and a tech giant offer keys for transformation in 2019
BY CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD
Grace Cathedral stands atop Nob Hill so as to be that much closer to heaven. You’ve passed it many times, noting the grand Gothic edifice with awe, but you’ve probably never thought of it as a perfect symbol of yourself, from the deepest foundation to the highest sky-pointing spire. Maybe not the self you are now, but the one you could be in your loftiest dreams.
A wise doctor once noted that if there’s something wrong with society, then there’s something wrong with the individual. And if there’s something wrong with the individual, then there’s something wrong with me. Nearly everyone seems to be suffering from some mysterious malaise, riled up by the news served via the hemlock-cup of social media, perpetually anxious and unable to ascertain why, downing booze and pills to sleep, then running all day on caffeine and sugar. That this madness is occurring in the most advanced and comfortable civilization the world has ever known is quite perplexing. Then again, the ancients had gods and rituals; we have celebrities and shopping. Perform a Google News search for “spiritual enlightenment” and the silence is quieter than the sound of one hand clapping.
And so in the rosy dawn of a new year and its perennial resolutions for change, let us fret not over the chaos without, and instead build peace within, like a certain grand and Gothic edifice that stands as a sanctuary of the eternal amid the flux that surrounds it. We can start with our homes and wardrobes – since who doesn’t love starting the year off with a good housecleaning? – and one of San Francisco’s home-grown tech innovators.
Pinterest launched in 2010 and was quickly named one of Time magazine’s 50 best websites. You may have used it as an image library, but its real value is for creating what designers call mood boards. In my decades of study on matters of style, I’ve never come across a tool so capable of clarifying what my subconscious has been trying to manifest all these years. You can survey your home’s decor or peruse your closet and think there’s a method to the madness, but Pinterest allows you to define it clearly on one visually digestible board.
Let’s say you’ve got a closet (or two) overflowing with clothes but always feel you have nothing to wear. Close your eyes and ask yourself what you really love, what you’d take if you had to live the rest of your life from a single suitcase. Then create a Pinterest board and begin entering the search terms. Select simple images – fabrics, colors, style icons – that instantly resonate when they touch your eye. This draws out the true wishes of your unconscious, undistracted by that great temptress known as fashion, or that even more wayward-leading siren, the clearance rack. Search and add images, then assess the board and cut, and repeat until the unified vision emerges. This is what your soul wants to look like, and this understanding – whether innate or learned – is what every legendary style icon had.
Pinterest was the tool I needed at just the right time to stop spinning in style circles and recapture my inner fundamentals. My closet purged to the essentials, missing links filled, walls painted and decor refined, I found myself wondering if Pinterest could provide the same therapy for things like life’s calling and heart’s desire. It was intriguing and terrifying, as most of us avoid specifying what we really want, believing that if we do and don’t get it, the sense of failure will be inconsolable.
Halfway through this article I could avoid it no longer and created a life board. I put myself in a receptive frame of mind, took a meditative breath, and asked myself what the ideal life might look like. The result was a shock.
I thought a “life” board would be full of aspirational things (dream house, vintage sports car), along with situations difficult to attain (head of my own magazine, chorus of singing Von Trapp children at home). Instead, what emerged was more of a psychological blueprint expressed through archetypal mythology. There was the medieval knight I’d chosen to symbolize strength and chivalry; the beauty of nature via dark forests, still waters and the starry skies; an office filled with books of wisdom and a desk at which to work; the challenge of sports and the beauty of art; and a few cinematic depictions of my feminine ideal.
This exercise, enticing and daunting as it was (rather like a knight braving a dark forest in search of the feminine ideal) showed me that I’d learned more than I thought. It confirmed an ageless piece of wisdom: that which you seek is already within you. You just have to wake up to it.
Soaring within Grace Cathedral through the end of this month are 2,000 paper doves, symbols of spirits and peace. The acclaimed creation of artist Michael Pendry, Les Colombes/The Doves provides the perfect opportunity to pay the gothic sanctuary a fresh visit and see it in a new light. That is, as a symbol of your fully developed self. “The inner, unconscious model of the individual is like the plan for a cathedral,” wrote celebrated analyst Robert Johnson. The full grandeur of each person must be built, ever rising, from the unconscious to the conscious, from potential to actualization.
It took 36 years to build Grace Cathedral. Personal growth doesn’t happen all at once, any more than the erecting of a temple or growth of a tree. An oak may have begun as a mere acorn, but the divine plan was within it all along, and only when a cathedral is complete is the architect’s vision fully realized.
So refine your designs, strengthen the foundation, and reach for the sky, that twilight realm of your highest ideals, the space where the dove-spirits fly free. There’s nothing better you can do in 2019.