JUN 01

Finding Quiet

selfArchive Blog 22/18
Finding Quiet

It’s uncommon to experience the complete absence of sound in the contemporary world but we can still make an intention to spend quiet time alone. We can walk away from distraction, find a private place and sit quietly for long enough to sense the subtle realm that surrounds us.

Most people don’t do this.
But many do.

there is nothing to say.
I put aside my discomfort

and welcome
And the world unfolds. 

selfArchive Blog 22/18 | Awakening | Transformation | Words

© 2018 Arlene Cotter selfArchive
© Arlene Cotter Finding Quiet
MAY 01

Living Consciously

selfArchive Blog 18/18  
Living Consciously

All lives are precious. This suggestion makes some people indignant. But to judge one life as more valuable than another is an unsettling idea for many of us.

I thought a great deal about this when I survived my own encounter with death, and continued to live. My experience was not so uncommon. Every day, human beings die from violent trauma and ordinary things like the flu or falling down the stairs.

The Canadian Cancer Society celebrates Daffodil Month each April in an gesture to honour people with cancer and those whose lives have been impacted as survivors, family and friends, researchers and healthcare professionals. April is over but I’m celebrating May by recognizing the individuals among us who have overcome the odds and continue to live—regardless of what they’ve faced. I’ve known many such people, and have lost many others. I’ve also come to respect life more than I have in the past. I now realize that we all have an opportunity to wake up and live our lives consciously

My new book project honours our every small intention to live an awakened life. It shares what experience has taught me: Every life is valuable and deserves to be honoured. This is our birthright. 

If we’re conscious,
our lives can transcend
the privation of
our own self-interest.

On 10 May 2018, please celebrate The Courage to Come Back Awards 

Over the past 19 years, Coast Mental Health has celebrated 114 British Columbians who have shown courage in the face of extraordinary adversity to emerge stronger and with a deep compassion to help others. Each year, at the Courage To Come Back Awards, we share their stories of triumph with the goal of helping others facing adversity regain the belief that, with courage, reclaiming their lives is possible.

Source: The Courage to Come Back website

selfArchive Blog 18/18 | Awakening | Transformation | Words

© 2018 Arlene Cotter selfArchive
© Arlene Cotter About Daffodils and Living Consciously
APR 01


selfArchive Blog 13/18

Thirty years ago I was captivated with Rollo May’s book The Courage to Create. Later I found confirmation of my experiences in the work of Edward de Bono, David Bohm and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Creativity has shaped my life through the exploration of ideas and potentials.

As a designer, I’ve been confounded many times when breathlessly elegant solutions were dismissed as simplistic in favour of flashy trifles of meaningless complication. Far from solving anything, providing clarity or offering good design, these empty concepts added nothing of beauty to the world. One might argue that visual illiteracy was to blame. I would suggest that an absence of clear thinking was an equal partner.

In stark contrast to visual and mental clutter—but only if they make it through the gatekeepers—sit apparently simple solutions that are assimilated immediately. Things like elegant programming code, poetry, mathematical equations and minimalist design. Here ideas are rigorously distilled until the underlying complexity is essentially hidden; subsumed by an overarching solution. Such clarity shines with intelligence for those who recognize its form. But not everyone does. It can be easily overlooked because it’s so obvious, it’s transparent.

selfArchive 719 | Creativity | Simplicity | Words

© 2018 Arlene Cotter and selfArchive | distillation
MAR 01

On Life and Living

selfArchive Blog 09/18
On Life and Living

Several years ago I had an opportunity to stay with the internationally renowned psychiatrist and thanatologist Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (1926 – 2004). Dr. Kübler-Ross was a pioneer of hospice in the USA, a courageous advocate for both adults and children suffering from cancer and AIDS, and author of the ground-breaking book On Death and Dying (The Five Stages of Grief) along with over 20 other books.

By the time I met her, Elisabeth’s health was in decline. She had already survived at least eight strokes and was living well beyond what she and everyone else had expected. Having previously confronted the spectre of my own death, I was presumptuous enough to think that I could help her to die well. Instead, confronted each day with her formidable intelligence and devastating wit, I became her student. Fortunately for both of us, Elisabeth didn’t pass away during my stay but she did show me what living a fierce and fully engaged life can look like, even as death draws near.

Live, so you do not have to look back and say: “God, how I have wasted my life.”
—Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross from Death: The Final Stage of Growth, 1975

This week I revisited some personal work I had prepared and presented to Elisabeth. Recognizing the level of social intimacy involved in caring for a physically compromised individual—especially one with both fame and notoriety—I had written two small booklets for Elisabeth with the intention of fostering rapport and engendering trust between strangers.

Book I
Elisabeth : On Life and Living assumed the form of a social contract and served as an introduction.

Book II
Elisabeth : On Taking and Giving was a social note, debriefing, farewell and thank you.

As I re-examined the booklets, I considered whether they had any value outside my personal experience. That’s when some memories began to resurface.

How did I come to find myself living in Elisabeth’s Arizona adobe as her companion? Contrary to whatever convincing words I told myself, I was there because I thought that I just might be the one person who could finally bring Elisabeth to peace. It was no secret that this world expert on dying was having difficulty. Candid about her frustration and anger over her compromised physical state, she wasn’t the first person who’s had to depend almost entirely on people less knowledgeable than herself. (That alone had to be a master class in patience.)

As a follower of her work, I was disturbed by some of the articles I’d read that year. Despite having devoted much of her career to speaking for the voiceless and ceaselessly advocating for death with dignity, Elisabeth was again being attacked in the media, this time because she was not dying as it was felt she should. The presumption of the writers was galling. Instead of recognizing her courage in speaking truth, they were framing Elisabeth’s candour as weakness. 

Reflecting upon my experience of meeting Elisabeth, staying and leaving, I wrote a third and final booklet for my series:

Book III
Arlene : On Listening and Healing was a personal reconciliation of the lessons I learned from Elisabeth about dying and living.

I understand why people were drawn to Elisabeth. Her personality was magnetic. Even at the most intimate stage of her life, a time when common decency would dictate that strangers should extend her and her family privacy, people wanted to talk to her, interview her, know her, see her and claim some piece of her. They seemed to want to be in the aura of her legendary brilliance and fame. Of course, I was no different—except that I cloaked my own needs in the guise of service. Where others had failed, I would bring peace. My conceit was folly for all manner of reasons but primarily because at the core, Elisabeth, like many of us—like me—was navigating the healing realms of acceptance, forgiveness and love. Frankly, Elisabeth didn’t need me; I needed her. She was showing me the fierce grace of healing though I couldn’t quite see it at the time. 

It was only years later, back in Vancouver, that I understood more about this thing called healing when (after years of degenerative illness) my close friend died. This was because something remained between us that was not healed prior to his death. After he died, I would sometimes ask for his forgiveness or for my own, until one day when the concept of bestowing forgiveness fell away entirely. What remained in its place . . . was love.

I think modern medicine has become like a prophet offering a life free of pain. It is nonsense. The only thing I know that truly heals people is unconditional love.
—Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Learn more about Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and the foundation that continues her legacy at ekrfoundation.org

Time brings change. While this scene no longer exists, here’s a glimpse of what the gate to Elisabeth’s Arizona property looked like back then.
a   The sign that simply said “Elisabeth”
b   The Swiss Flag
c   The Tepee
d   The Totem Pole
Three Booklets for EKR from Arlene Cotter

© 2018 Photograph of Arlene by Christopher T. Hall
© 2018 selfArchive | Arlene Cotter Three Booklets for EKR
FEB 01

Direct Experience

selfArchive Blog 05/18
Direct Experience 

Not vicarious.
Not simulated.
Not virtual.
Not someone else’s experience,
but your own.

Today is a day like any other. I think I’ve seen a blue whale but, oh . . . wait . . . I haven’t. I think I’ve passed discarded oxygen cartridges on my final ascent of Mount Everest but, oh . . . wait . . . I haven’t. I could go on in a similar vein. And I know exactly how such impressions occur.

Whatever I’ve read or heard or watched in my lifetime, I’ve filled in the gaps with my reason and imagination. Like most people, I have a facility to weave sensory tapestries that connect narratives and create experiences I’ve never had. Except that I have had them . . . in some way. I’ve been touched by them, emotionally and psychologically. I just didn’t experience them viscerally for myself. But who cares. It’s all experience, right? We can’t be everywhere and do everything.

This is true, of course. But maybe it’s beside the point and there’s a bigger thought here. What about direct personal experience with things like creativity, intimacy, pain and reverence? Empathy is a valuable human capacity but the idea of it is not the same as empathy drawn from personal experience. And then there’s courage, and the development of character.

The opportunity to experience life—however quotidian—is the gift of being alive. This primary emotional imprinting transcends any hollow simulacra. And it roots our experience in context. Otherwise, what exactly are we doing?

Are we doing anything hard, unpleasant or meaningful, or just bombarding our senses with thrills and avoiding emotional engagement?

More directly:
Are we deepening what it means to be fully human, or are we losing a core connection with ourselves . . . our self?

selfArchive 719 | Awareness | Awakening | Illustration | Words

© 2018 Arlene Cotter and selfArchive | Direct Experience 2
JAN 01

Re:Considerations for 2018

selfArchive Blog 01/18  
Re:Considerations for 2018

We live in relationship with all living and non-living things. The global conversation about being human includes: ethics, science, health, philosophy, spirituality, the celebration of human potential, and a growing sense of personal accountability for our economic, environmental and social impacts. It is from these diverse influences that many of us struggle to build an integral foundation for waking up. We’re unconscious when we ignore the vanishing forests and the weekly extinction of species, or when we deny the correlation between our daily lifestyle choices, dead whales, and the bare mountainsides that were glaciers only a generation ago.

My leather sectional,
once my pride, has become
an embarrassment.
I sit less comfortably on it
now that I know better.

If you’re interested in animal-free biofabricated leather substitutes, you might be interested in this New Jersey startup called Modern Meadow. Here’s what they say about themselves on their company website: We believe in a future where animal products are animal-free. There are those who wish the world was different, and those who work to change it every day. At Modern Meadow we are working tirelessly to see this new future materialize; one where humans make the material and the animals roam free.

We each have an opportunity in 2018 to re-consider our impacts.

selfArchive 718 | Awareness | Illustration | Words

© 2018 Arlene Cotter | selfArchive Re:Considerations

Tiny Trees

selfArchive Blog 51/17
Tiny Trees

I searched patiently for stray needles and sprigs beneath the long rows of cut evergreens waiting to become Christmas trees. Then I stopped to twist and break my tiny finds. Some had no scent. Others released fragrant bursts, reawakening my senses and a lifetime of forest memories—fresh air, pine, spruce, fir, cedar and snowy silence.

When you walk among trees, consider Tree Canada. It’s the leading national tree planting charity in Canada.

selfArchive 717 | Awareness

© 2017 Arlene Cotter selfArchive
© 2017 Arlene Cotter photograph

War and Peace

selfArchive Blog 44/17
War and Peace

November is an opportunity to reflect upon the impact of war and peace in our lives.

A project about War.
Moving A Wall

A reminder about Peace.
Living Peace

Information about Remembrance Day Ceremonies
City of Vancouver
UBC Remembrance Day Ceremony

© 2017 Arlene Cotter selfArchive
© 2013 – 2017 Arlene Cotter Transformative Spaces
Ceremony photograph by Don Erhardt | UBC © 2017

© 2017 Poppy illustration by Ping Ki Chan

Cancer Support

selfArchive Blog 39/17  
Supporting People With Cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it’s a valuable reminder for us to honour healing in all its forms. Please take some time this month to encourage someone you know who has been, or is now on the cancer journey—with whatever type of cancer. We can all be a part of the healing journey.



© 2017 Icon illustrations of Arlene by Ping Ki Chan

What It’s Like to Be Diagnosed

Whether we’re a family member, friend, colleague or caregiver, we all know someone who has recently been diagnosed with cancer. Our first impulse might be to reach out and help but the truth is, most of us don’t know what to do. This book can help. From This Moment On: A Guide for Those Recently Diagnosed With Cancer helps us understand what it feels like to face a cancer diagnosis. Once we learn more, we’re better prepared to offer our support from the shadows or step forward in a major way. Take your first step on a journey that will transform you and every person it touches. Cancer is life-changing experience for everyone and this is a reminder to help create the finest opportunity for healing—from this moment on.

One Canadian Cancer Statistic

Nearly 1 in 2 Canadians (49% of men and 45% of women) is expected to develop cancer during their lifetime.*

*Based on 2017 statistics

Links to Learn More About Cancer 

The Canadian Cancer Society
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
BC Cancer Agency

selfArchive 745 | Awareness | Healing

© 2017 Arlene Cotter selfArchive
© 2013 – 2017 Arlene Cotter Transformative Spaces

Read more: http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-101/cancer-statistics-at-a-glance/?region=on#ixzz4ssmAYvRQ
Canadian Cancer Society’s Advisory Committee on Cancer Statistics. (2017). Canadian Cancer Statistics 2017. Toronto, ON: Canadian Cancer Society.
Read more: http://www.cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-101/cancer-statistics-at-a-glance/?region=on#ixzz4ssmJ2ijQ
Statistics Canada. (2012, July 25). Table 102-0561 – Leading Causes of Death, Total Population, by Age Group and Sex, Canada, Annual. Ottawa: Statistics Canada. CANSIM database.

Campus Colour Consultation


selfArchive Blog 34/17
Campus Colour Consultation 

Consultation 2016/2017  
Update UBC Okanagan Campus Design Guidelines for Colour

University of British Columbia
Campus + Community Planning (Vancouver Campus)
Campus Planning and Development (Okanagan Campus)

Communication Challenge
The scheduled update to the existing UBC Okanagan Campus Design Guidelines by the Vancouver and Kelowna planning units provided an opportunity to review the colour guidelines and address strategies that would increase visual integration on Campus for ongoing development projects. 

The objective was to work with the UBC team and an advisory panel to develop colour guidelines that would contribute to the positive transformation of the UBC Okanagan Campus by furthering the university’s aspirational goals.

The following Campus Plan Vision Statement, developed in consultation with the UBC Okanagan community, guides the physical evolution of the University’s Okanagan Campus over the next 20 years. The University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Campus aspires to be a centre for learning and innovation that produces global citizens through transformative personal growth and collaboration. Its people, places, and activities are linked by a shared commitment to fostering community, and supporting social and ecological well-being. Deeply connected to the landscape, the campus is an accessible, intimate, and welcoming environment—a catalyst for positive change.

—Excerpted from the 2015 UBC Okanagan Campus Plan


Developed with the UBC team through a series of development phases, the UBC Okanagan Colour Guidelines provide an overarching strategy to deliver visual cohesion across a unified yet contextual UBC Okanagan Campus experience. The foundation of the guidelines is an integrated UBCO Colour System that informs colour recommendations for the selection of building materials, landscape, and surface infrastructure related to all development projects on the Campus.

UBCO Colour System
Developed over a series of four development phases during 2016/17 (including a colour workshop and several presentations), the colour system provides a conceptual and practical framework for future applications.

Written Guidelines for Colour
The Colour section of the Guidelines was expanded to activate areas within the Architecture and Public Realm sections.

The Colour System Quick Reference provides a tight, comprehensive, stand-alone core reference resource for UBC staff and design professionals. It facilitates presentation briefings with design contractors (architects, landscape architects and allied professionals; including interior designers, environmental designers and communication designers), and provides a simple, accessible framework/tool for discussions about colour.

Research and Development
Colour Workshop
Written Guidelines

Quick Reference Guide

selfArchive 745 | Recent Project | Guidelines

© 2017 Arlene Cotter selfArchive
© 2013 – 2017 Arlene Cotter Transformative Spaces

Transformative Spaces


selfArchive Blog 12/17  
Transformative Spaces

Transformative spaces are places free of bias, censorship and distortion. This concept visualizes a form of open space that promotes dialogue. In order to identify these open spaces, we need delineation. Either they are open spaces or they are closed spaces. If the objective is an open space for dialogue without bias, then boundaries represent a form of censorship that is unacceptable. One solution is to recontextualize the perimeters as transformers. Using this framework, people and ideas transmute into receptors as they cross the membrane into the neutralized transformational space. When the exchange is finished, people exit and are free to resume their original form . . . or not.

This concept envisions a safe opportunity for the exchange of ideas. In order to create lasting change, a conscious willingness to suspend judgement is required. This is how genuine exchange and conscious transformation happens.

selfArchive 745 | Awareness | Diagram

© 2018 Arlene Cotter selfArchive
© 2013 – 2018 Arlene Cotter Transformative Spaces

Creative Fear


selfArchive Blog 11/17
Creative Fear 

To live is to create. Human Beings cannot stop creating. As dynamic organisms we are constantly changing in response to the infinite potentials that surround us. In moments when we glimpse the interconnectivity of all things, our expanded perception can just as easily inspire us as overwhelm us because if we accept the responsibility that we are all co-creators, we will be asked to face both our capacities and our fears. When we’re attentive—and brave—we can live more of ourselves by meeting these moments with conscious intentionCreative Fear locates a moment of potential. Confronted by fear, a diver stands frozen even as the waters rise around her. Either she will make a conscious intention to swim, or fall unconscious. 

selfArchive 705 | Illustration

© 2018 Arlene Cotter selfArchive
© 2013 – 2018 Arlene Cotter Creative Fear Series