Practices for Living Time: Amulets for the Anthropocene
10.14.2016, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Last weekend we had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop in San Francisco entitled Amulets for the Anthropocene: Practices for Living in and as Change, thanks to an invitation from Professor Stephen Zavestoski at University of San Francisco.  His ambitious, interdisciplinary Davies Seminar entitled Making Sense of the Anthropocene invites students to work at the “intersection of art, activism and academics to find the places where new stories are emerging about who we are, how we might go about living the Anthropocene, and what this means for our future.” The course features a series of guest presenters.

For our “presentation,” we offered an interactive workshop that was staged outdoors in Golden Gate Park.  It began with a demonstration tea ceremony at Park’s Japanese Tea Garden, the oldest public Japanese garden in the United States. The garden layout is inspired by Shinto beliefs (spirits manifested in nature) and Buddhist landscape design. Both are the result of cultural practices that hinge on “slow,” close observation and aesthetic contemplation.

garden_gateentrance gate to the Japanese Tea Garden, Golden Gate Park

We designed the workshop out of a sense that there is an urgent need for practices that invite humans to pay close attention to the changes that are the Anthropocene, hold the thought of the reality of this new epoch, and build psychological and emotional capacities to meet and respond creatively to the unstable conditions we will continuously encounter in these new times.

For us, close observation assists in fostering a deeper awareness of what we face as a species and capacities to invent new ways to live the Anthropocene in our daily lives. The act of cultivating psychological, physical and spiritual capacities for co-existing with big and fast change in the Anthropocene are as vital as any infrastructural, scientific, and preparatory/adaptive actions. They generate new sensations and meanings—potentials that open the future to new actions and arrangements—even as the future seems to be closing down.

We see the Japanese garden and tea ceremony as offering cultural practices shaped by awareness of and appreciation for change itself and refined over hundreds, sometimes thousands of years.  They also offer contexts for slowing down and experiencing today’s changing material conditions.

For example, the several centuries-old Japanese tea ceremony is a highly intentional gathering of people who become present to each other for a brief time by sharing hospitality and attuning to seasonal and contextual changes. The ceremony emphasizes the relational effects of intentional gesture and carefully prescribed physical conduct. In the context of our workshop, we offered points of entry for engagement:

  • How a traditional practice such as creating tea sweets to celebrate the nuances of the four “natural” seasons might assist us in attuning to the unprecedented, strange, volatile weather systems of climate change,
  • how performative gestures of hospitality and humility enacted during a tea ceremony might inform and inspire social conduct in times of over-population and limited resources,
  • how a traditional garden’s arrangements of rocks and water might acknowledge their powers as non-human forces, even as the garden functions as an urban park punctuated continuously by smells, sights and sounds of the Anthropocene.

ceremony_tableOmotesenke demonstration table for the tea ceremony

In preparation we sent guests a practice specifically created for the workshop entitled:  Practice for Living Time in and as the Anthropocene.

The practice was created to assist participants in generating ideas, images and objects that could then inform their creation of an Amulet for the Anthropocene.


Before going into the Japanese Garden for the tea ceremony, we invited participants to make a deliberate intention to invent a practice they would activate for themselves over the next hour and a half. They would enact the practice as a way of taking them out of their habitual ways of experiencing, and assisting them in more deliberately sensing changes unfolding around them.

Guests were invited to explore how they might closely observe material conditions (geologic/anthropogenic) assembling around and through them. Such as, sensing how the green, matcha tea is a material that has been exquisitely produced by its producers’ attunements to seasonal changes.  And how our drinking of this imported tea in San Francisco includes entanglements with material realities of global capital, distribution, and consumption. And, also, that all objects around us are entangled with material realities that extend into the times of the deep geologic past as well as the far future.

After a brief introduction we moved into the Japanese Garden. San Francisco’s fleet week events thundered overhead and rendered a potent juxtaposition and sharpened awareness of the active space above us while the Omotesenke tea ceremony demonstration unfolded for guests.




Omamori, a kind of Japanese amulet, is a small ubiquitous pouch found in Japan.  People often purchase them at shrines and temples, attach them to backpacks or purses, and “live with” them for the span of one year. They are believed to offer protection and good luck during this time, a kind of “safe passage” for a certain event or context. After a year they are typically replaced and renewed.

Common omamori include amulets for successful passing of exams, traffic safety, safe childbirth, good health, finding a mate, safe travel.

Following the tea ceremony, and after 30 minutes of taking up the Practice for Living Time in and as the Anthropocene on their own in the Park, workshop participants created amulets for the Anthropocene.


Amulets were made with the intention of “holding the thought” of the Anthropocene’s reality for one year. We asked, how might the creation of this amulet provide relief, wonder and wayfinding for everyday life in the Anthropocene? How might an amulet assist in holding the thought of some material reality or being that was in the midst of undergoing a planetary phase shift? We invited participants to consider setting a reminder on their smart phone for a year from the day, to see how the intentions they expressed through their omamori had unfolded.

The resulting amulets spanned a variety of content and intentions.

We wish for safe passage over the next year for all the amulets created — and offer sincere thanks to Stephen and all workshop participants.

amy_afforestwork-in-progress by Amy Balkin

jasonamulet by Jason Groves

matthewamulet by Matthew Cruz

aaronamulet by Aaron Czerny

amyamulet by Amy Balkin

jeffreyamulet by Jeffrey Blumenthal

ameliaamulet by Amelia Letvin

cameronamulet by Cameron Hughes

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