The great dancer and choreographer Martha Graham described the creative process as a mixture of terror and joy. The terror is the fear of not being able to render the thing imagined in the world of time and space. Living with the discrepancy between the vision or ideal and the manifest reality is an integral part of the creative life. The manifested thing or event is never is perfect as the vision that inspired it.
People who tend to be perfectionists are often terrified to the point of procrastination and paralysis by the prospect of failing to achieve the ideal. They are too impatient and self-critical, becoming frustrated and discouraged if they don’t get it right on the first try. People in touch with their creativity accept imperfection, keep their fear in check, and forge ahead—striving always for their best work, yet realizing they will never quite hit the target. So much for the terror!
The joy is in the creative process itself—in the self-abandonment in creative engagement, where the soul takes flight and soars beyond the realm of time and space.
While doing some research on Joseph Campbell today, I stumbled across a paper I had previously saved that talks about The Hermeneutic Loop as the foundation for The Hero’s Journey. The reason I’m bringing it up is because there’s a diagram within the paper (shown below) that reminded me of something I’ve been wanting to talk about for sometime and how it relates to the paradox of visualizing our inner selves.
For most people, this is how they visualize vertical psychological growth. It’s a spiralling upwards at an ever greater breadth. For the longest time though, this has always intuitively felt wrong to me because the inner journey within ourselves has a paradox to it. The space that is created within us emerges from our very deepest core which is our edge.
Pemba Chödrön describes this similar to climbing a mountain to the center of the earth.
In the process of discovering bodhichitta, the journey goes down, not up. It’s as if the mountain pointed toward the center of the earth instead of reaching into the sky.
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart
I believe Joseph Campbell touches upon this as well when he talks about mandalas and how they’re used to figure out your own cosmic order within yourself.
In working out a mandala for yourself, you draw a circle and then think if the different impulse systems and value systems in your life. Then you compose them and try to find out where your center is. Making a mandala is a discipline for pulling all of those scattered aspects of your life together, for finding a center and ordering yourself to it. You try to coordinate your circle with the universal circle.
Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
For myself, this is similar to how I’ve spoken about understanding yourself like a constellation or solar system, with a core sun and planets orbiting it. In other ways, it’s similar to how I’ve described it like being within a tornado, whereby at times you’re spinning around chaotically, not making sense of things. But then you have moments where you’re in the center eye of the tornado and everything around you that encompasses your life is calm and makes perfect sense…in that moment.
So unlike ancient maps where the outer edges would say “Here be dragons” to warn travellers of the unknowns dangers there because it’s unexplored, maps of our inner selves have “Here be dragons” at their very center core because that’s where the unexplored and unknown lies within us. In effect, our fears are our dragons standing in the way of exploring and discovering the depth and breadth of our very selves as a whole.
The pain, their loss… it’s all I have left of them. You think the grief will make you smaller inside, like your heart will collapse in on itself, but it doesn’t. I feel spaces opening up inside of me like a building with rooms I’ve never explored.
What’s interesting about this all is that as you journey through your life, your center will change and shift. Early on your life, you will think you’ve found the center of your life that stabilizes and grounds you. But then something comes along, shakes your world, and you’ll realize that center was just an aspect of your life, not the center of it. Then you’ll find another center, thinking the same thing, and then it will shift again.
After repeating this heroic process of rediscovering the center of your Self at least a few times by “shedding the skin” of your old self, you will eventually come to your true center, the essence of who you truly are. For myself, what I’m finding interesting is that the center of my life at the start has become the same center again as I progress into the latter stages of my life but in a completely different and larger context than I could have possibly ever imagined.
It reminds me of Paulo Coelho’s book The Alchemist, whereby the heroic journey ends where one began but the journey itself has given us the recognition and awareness to see the treasure that has been lying dormant within us the entire time.
I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately and something dawned on my recently that was effectively in front of me for the past decade or more but I was so close to it that I couldn’t see it and make sense of it as a whole. Only by slowing down and stepping back recently, did I finally see the entirety of what was right in front of me.
My problem is that I’m an explorer at heart and so I always want to be crossing the next horizon after I think I’ve explored an area enough. If you look at the trajectory and journey of my life, you can see this. Initially I was fascinated with The Future of Work but then over time I wanted to explore how Social Innovation and Social Creativity related to it. Then after that, I took the next leap to exploring Vertical Growth (aka psychological development) to see and understand the progressive arc of ongoing Social Creativity and Social Innovation (of which The Future of Work is just the next step).
So from my perspective, currently on Vertical Growth, I’m thinking how can I get people interested in it. Now I realize this is the completely wrong approach because it’s focused on where I’m at. Instead I need to help people where they are at. And interestingly enough, it’s really about helping someone like my younger self in 2001, who was out of a job and frustrated at the way work worked. In effect, I need to be the person now that my younger self wanted to meet back then, to help mentor them to make sense of what was happening to them and how to move forward.
Hilariously enough, all I really need to do is map out and package what I know in the progressive order I learnt it myself and share it with people in that same order because that’s how they’ll progress to being interested in the same things on their own journey. So right now, many people are losing their jobs and they’re just looking for a way to adapt to the times. That’s the practical need and starting point where I can meet people where they are at right now.
Again this is hilarious from my perspective and knowledge that I know now because it perfectly fits in with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. I’m the mentor I was looking for when I heroically had to “level up” back in 2001 to adapt to the times then. I wasn’t lucky enough to have someone to show me the way in person though, so I had to do my own questing and questioning to find my own way, gaining most of what I know from what I read.
As an introvert though, this worked out for me because I loved spending my time reading and exploring new things anyways. If I was an extrovert though, it would have been brutal though because to make sense of things I would have wanted to talk it out with people. Yet there was really nobody I knew who was seeing, experiencing, and making sense of the same things I was at the time. So I couldn’t really talk to anyone back then. But as an introvert, I could talk to myself, which is what really begins the transformation, as you begin to relate to yourself and identify with yourself in a completely different way.
While I was aware of Otto Scharmer and his book Theory U, I finally was able to watch his TED Talk from 2016 and within the latter half of it a couple of things he said really stood out for me, as they directly relate to what I’m struggling with at the moment.
Dialogue is the capacity of a system to see itself.
…what it takes is to cultivate the soil of the social field by transforming how we relate to each other, to the planet, and to ourselves, which basically is awakening a movement that’s already in the ware and making that movement aware of itself.
First off, I found it remarkable because it reminded me of a school motto mentioned in one of Margaret Wheatley’s books that was “Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Take care of this place.” These words perfectly embody how we can transform our relationship with ourselves, each other, and this planet.
This in turn really made me stop and reflect on my relationship with myself. A long time ago I said that my blog was first and foremost a means of having a intrapersonal relationship and dialogue with myself. On reflecting upon that, I’m not sure that’s as true as it once was. A lot of what I’m writing about now is primarily focused on trying to get others to listen to me so that they can change themselves to make the world better, when really it should be about listening to myself so that I can change myself and make my world-view better.
Stepping to my next thought, I asked myself “Am I even aware of what I know?” And answering honestly, I told myself a definitive “No!” Sure I’ve been speaking about The Future of Work, Social Innovation, and Creativity for a long while now on my blog here (and previously on Google+) but I’ve really only touched upon the edges of what I know, rather than encapsulating the core essence of it as a whole.
As I’ve also noted before though, the primary reason for this failure is because what I’m seeking and discovering seems to be within the liminal space in between the domains of knowledge I know, so it’s hard to articulate it. That’s fine. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that because exploring an unknown space can naturally be hard to articulate. But what’s clearly evident to me is that I’m not even articulating what I clearly know in these known domains of knowledge and there’s no excuse for that.
And if anything, the more clearly I can articulate this known domain knowledge that I do know, the clearer this unknown liminal knowledge will probably reveal itself. Why? Because as I’ve mentioned before, the creative process is seeing the patterns, seeing the relationships between the patterns, and then seeing the system as a whole.
So “seeing the patterns” is seeing the existing known domains which is fairly easy. Seeing the “relationships between the patterns” is starting to see these often unknown, invisible, liminal connections between them, thus networking them together in a deeper sense. Finally seeing the system as a whole is really seeing the patterns and their relationship to one another as a larger unified narrative that clearly helps you see and make sense of the reality of everything as a whole.
Now here’s the big catch though. I said that seeing these patterns is “easy”. It is. I see them everywhere now (ie keywords in things I read), like signposts guiding my way and reinforcing that what I’m seeing is very real. But the problem is that I myself am not making my own self aware of this by externalizing them objectively from my mind in some way, so that I can then start actually managing them and working with them at more complex levels, as Robert Kegan mentions one has to do to psychologically mature.
So effectively, by not clearly externalizing what I know of my known domain knowledge, I’m directly standing in the way of my own self in taking the next leap into the unknown because I basically don’t have a map of my known knowledge. So how can I navigate between the known and unknown when my very known territory is actually an unknown space to me as well. It’s like a surveyor who is supposed to map a terrain but decides to only do it in their head and then wonders why they can only recall separate perspectives of it rather than the terrain as a whole.
It’s funny because you can look at this like you’re building a bridge or even a building. If you don’t build the foundational cornerstones in the present, you have no way of supporting the rest of what you’re creatively trying to build within the empty space between them all in the future. All said and done, this is something I need to seriously focus on resolving this year, in some form or another, because it’s probably the main reason why I feel like I’m not achieving substantial momentum within my work and my life as a whole.
It’s because I’m not visually and objectively seeing my own progression which helps me to creatively navigate from where I’m clearly at now and where I clearly need to take the next step.
At the end of another great period of collective effort called The Crusades, the social institutions and cultural forces that had coordinated and contained individual energies collapsed. Whole armies disintegrated into their component individuals and sub-groupings. Knights who had ridden forth under the banner of this leader or that rode back on their own. They were the “free lances” who made the late medieval world such a dangerous yet dynamic place.
It’s no accident that today we’re surrounded once again by free lances. The old rules are gone, and the old rules aren’t clear. Security—so far as there is any—is largely something that we must build for ourselves. Identities are confused and changing. We know that ultimately we are on our own, and so we are ready to learn a new way of doing and being. We know that our organizations were designed to serve the needs of another world, so we busy redesigning them.
But we also need a social order that provides for our new needs and doesn’t try to impose archaic obligations on us. We need new laws. We need new leaders. We need a new social principle, an alternative to both selfishness and selflessness. We need a new sense of the common good to justify the sacrifices we’ll need to make to help those who find the new world the most difficult. To create these things, we must begin by remembering that we are all in this together.
Our society, as a whole, is largely unable to cope with change, let alone embrace it.Because of this, we are undergoing a crisis of epic proportions, that is only just beginning to effect us but will only get worse.
Change is causing massive mental health issues within our population who do not have the mental resilience training or experience to deal with change on this level of magnitude.
Change is causing massive shifts in the way we work as well and most people do not have the necessary skills to be able to effectively understand this new world of work, let alone function within it, because it again requires one to not just survive in a rapidly changing environment but thrive within it.
Change is causing massive problems within our world (often referred to as “wicked problems”) because they are seemly impossible problems to solve since they can’t be solved by just learning new knowledge but actually require us to transform our relationship with our existing knowledge, changing the way we actually perceive our selves and our world as a whole.
While people are rushing around trying to tackle each of these problems arising from change separately, it’s evidently apparent to me that the most effective way to tackle all of these problems at once is by helping people to psychologically develop themselves so that they can level up not only their thinking but also transform the way they see themselves and their world as well.
This is essentially necessary as apathy is becoming more widespread due to people’s inability to see their own potential capacity to help with these problems because they see them as overwhelming impossible to overcome from their relative perspective. But that’s only because their current perception of their world and their very self is limiting their ability to see their own potential. Yet when one is able to level themselves up, suddenly their relationship to change, and the ambiguity that arises from it, changes as well, empowering them in the process.
She found that, unlike people at conventional action-logics who tend to try to avoid ambiguity, all of her postconventional sample saw creative potential in ambiguity. But within this broad similarity, she found four distinctive responses to ambiguity: the Individualist endured it; the Strategists tolerated it; the Alchemists surrendered to it; and the Ironist generated it. More generally, Nicolaides found that the Individualist and the Strategists worked with ambiguity on particular occasions for particular ends; whereas, in a figure/ground shift, the Alchemists and the Ironist experienced ambiguity as the creative, ongoing element of all experience.
Over the last year, especially with the coronavirus turning our world upside down, I’ve noticed family members buying into conspiracy theories more and more. Yesterday, having had enough of it, I tried to call them out on it. Afterwards, feeling somewhat smug with myself, I thought that would make them think twice about “sharing this crap again with me”.
Later that evening though, I was drawn to understanding why people are drawn to conspiracy theories in the first place and after reading a variety of articles, what I found rocked my world and made me have a much deeper sense of empathy for them. It turns out that people are drawn to conspiracy theories because they help them address their basic psychological needs of control, understanding, and belonging, thus helping them to create a coping mechanism that actually protects their mental health.
Why this is mind blowing to me is because this directly relates with my life’s work which is about “levelling up” to creatively adapt to the times we’re living within. What I’m talking about here is our psychological development and increasing our level of consciousness which directly correlates with our ability to go beyond just our lower level needs and begin to address our higher level ones. When we are able to achieve this, we’re more and more able to let go of our fears and thrive within a “wilderness” of change that previously seemed scary and uncertain to us but with a broader perspective can hold newer possibilities and potentials for us.
So what my family members are going through right now is similar to what I experienced two decades ago when my world was shattered by the Dot-com Bubble bursting, leaving me unemployed and angry at the world for what it had did to me as a victim of it. In their case though, their experience is amplified even more so because their basic ability to feel safe and connected with others physically (especially if you’re extroverted) has been ripped away which is why they’re effectively grasping at anything to try to make sense of it and give them back a sense of control in their lives. In this case, feeling like they are at least controlling the narrative by communicating how they are being victimized by “outside forces intent on doing harm to them”.
While I find this all amazingly remarkable and gives me another reason to try to package everything I’m learning and sharing it with others in a simpler way that can actually make sense to them from their perspective and level of consciousness, what still perplexes me about this all is why haven’t there been any external signs of extreme psychological duress from them prior to this? I mean my one sister did indicates stresses before but nothing that seemed extreme from the way she was describing them. In comparison, I’m quite vivid in describing the experiences of stress on my own journey, as they can feel like you’re “being torn apart from the inside” (because your identity is metaphorically “dying and being born again” in a larger sense, often referred to as creative destruction).
Is this just another way our culture and society puts expectations on us to just carry through and persevere, keeping a stiff upper lip and not complaining about the stresses we’re going through? If so, it’s a bullshit expectation. People need to express what their going through and be able to share their experiences, describing the feelings they’re going through, so that they can work and “walk through” these experiences, making sense of them in a positive way. If they just bury them, it doesn’t help. It just makes things much worse in the long run, as years of progressing and regressing, back and forth, have proven in my own life because I rarely had someone to talk to who could actually relate and help me understand the experiences I was going through in my own life.
In fact, if you look at the patterns and why people are attracted to conspiracy theories, my life follows a very similar path that rides the razors edge of this. For example, if I tell someone I just met that “they don’t see reality but instead a mental map of it”, they’re going to think I’m crazy because their perceived reality, based upon their beliefs, is going to seem very real to them. That’s because people don’t start realizing most of what they consider their reality is actually a social construct until they evolve to a high enough level of consciousness to realize it. Science is even proving this now via neuroscience, explaining that we don’t see reality directly.
And that I can show someone a bunch of facts to prove this makes no difference to the person. The individual themselves needs to be psychologically ready and primed before they can actually make that developmental leap and make sense of what this means in their own life and how it transforms it as a whole, especially their identity. And reflecting upon this, if you look at Robert Kegan’s perspective on this, as the individual evolves from a Socialized Mind to a Self-Authoring Mind, they are effectively crafting their own narrative for their life which is exactly what a conspiracy theorist is trying to do to overcome the challenges in their life. But in their case with conspiracies, their narrative is a negative one of victimhood and outward blame at others for “enslaving” them, instead of a positive narrative of empowerment, independent growth, and autonomy.
We are often so focused on trying to meet our basic survival, belonging, and self-esteem needs to try to fit into society, that we rarely get the opportunity in our lives to go beyond them and explore our higher level needs of autonomy and creativity to truly figure out how we want to stand out in our lives in a unique way.
Only by truly playing in a deeper, meaningful, developmental sense can we go beyond that which is known to us and explore the unknown of ourselves, discovering and releasing the untapped potential within us that’s dying to be lived.
All too often we pass on what is unfinished in ourselves to be lived out by our children.
The psychological work lies in coming to terms with the ghosts of our unlived lives. Not our grief for what we wanted and have missed for ourselves. Not a laying to rest of adolescent ambitions. The mystery of the psyche is that we are haunted not by what we want out of life, but by what life wants out of us.We can never lay these unlived potentials to rest. Relentlessly they seek to be lived out, regardless of how deeply we bury them. Working nine to five may be an essential adaptation for working in an urban culture, but just how well does it suit us to the instinctual energies patterned in the psyche? Learning to live out only what our parents could tolerate may have been an essential relationship to our families growing up, but just how well does it suit us to the yearnings still waiting to be played out deep within?
What backs up is our unlived life—the life energy that is unspent, the possibilities left unexplored. That’s what haunts us. In the shadow of our daylight preoccupations, the ghosts of our unlived life huddle, caged like prisoners rattling their chains. They strain and push and clamor to be released. Not only the ghosts of what could have been in our life, but the spirit of what may be. And it’s inconvenient; inconvenient to always be making room for the ghosts, always to be making room for more. You settle into a career, only to confront a restless urge for pottery. You settle into a predictable attitude about life and what it’s about, only to find yourself pushed from every side to think again. You arrange the psychological furniture in your personality the way you want it, but wake up in the morning to find the ghosts have rearranged it yet again. Always something more wants to emerge.
What we’re encountering with these “ghosts” are patterns of psychic energy—patterns that want to be lived out, enacted, brought into life. “Everything in the unconscious seeks outward manifestation, and the personality too desires to evolve out of its unconscious conditions and to experience itself as a whole.” These patterns yearn to be set in motion and fulfilled.
It is the yearning for development, for evolution. What emerges in play wants to go somewhere. Play becomes developmental work.
Below are some of the most notable quotes by Alvin Toffler, one of the world’s outstanding futurists and author of the books Futureshock in 1970 and the Third Wave in 1980.
What is apparent about these quotes is how relevant they are to our world today. We are undergoing increasingly rapid change and denying the reality of it only makes it hit us all the harder. Instead we need to learn to accept this reality which requires us to unlearn and untether ourselves from the foundations of our Old World, which are already breaking beneath our feet, and learn a new way of stabilizing ourselves within a much more fluid New World.
Only then will we be able to embrace this change, going more gently with the flow of it, rather than against it, thus allowing us to transition into this future less harshly than if we persist in ignoring the apparent reality of it.
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
Nobody knows the future with certainty. We can, however, identify ongoing patterns of change.
Change is the process by which the future invades our lives.
Change is not merely necessary to life – it is life.
A new civilization is emerging in our lives, and blind men everywhere are trying to suppress it.
The first rule of survival is clear: Nothing is more dangerous than yesterday’s success.
The responsibility for change…lies within us. We must begin with ourselves, teaching ourselves not to close our minds prematurely to the novel, the surprising, the seemingly radical.
Humanity faces a quantum leap forward. It faces the deepest social upheaval and creative restructuring of all time. Without clearly recognizing it, we are engaged in building a remarkable new civilization from the ground up. This is the meaning of the Third Wave.
Our moral responsibility is not to stop the future, but to shape it…to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma of transition.
Individuals need life structure. A life lacking in comprehensible structure is an aimless wreck. The absence of structure breeds breakdown. Structure provides the relatively fixed points of reference we need. That is why, for many people, a job is crucial psychologically, over and above the paycheck. By making clear demands on their time and energy, it provides an element of structure around which the rest of their lives can be organized. The absolute demands imposed on a parent by an infant, the responsibility to care for an invalid, the tight discipline demanded by membership in a church or, in some countries, a political party — all these may also impose a simple structure on life.
To survive, to avert what we have termed future shock, the individual must become infinitely more adaptable and capable than ever before. We must search out totally new ways to anchor ourselves, for all the old roots – religion, nation, community, family, or profession – are now shaking under the hurricane impact of the accelerative thrust.
The most important thing is to understand the general outlines of where we’re going.