I was reflecting back on Deborah Frieze’s TED Talk about how change occurs like living systems, using her and Margaret Wheatley’s Two Loops Model from Berkana, as a way of describing how this occurs and how different people can fulfill different roles in the change process based upon where they are at and what aligns with them the most.
In thinking about this though and relating it to my last post, what I realized is that there isn’t one inflection point of change occurring but multiple ones because every individual is evolving and growing at different stages of development. So it’s not just understanding what role you fulfill but at what “stage” of change are you at within your life.
Having said that though, there’s a specific quote by Deborah below that really hits home for me because it embodies what I feel has been going on for almost a decade with many change practitioners and consultants who do seem to be at the right stage of change but just can’t seem to make the leap to the next stage.
…if they get connected to one another, sharing information and learning, then their separate efforts can suddenly emerge as a powerful system capable of disrupting the old order and giving birth to something new.
I’ve been saying for the longest time, that I see all of these notable people talking about the same thing but from their own disciplinary perspectives and languages. And while everyone of these people are most definitely sharing information, what I feel is missing is a collective sense of learning because, for that to occur, it requires everyone to start speaking a similar language of meaning which is most definitely not happening yet.
But what if that’s not needed at first? What if all that’s need at first is to just show a map of how all of these different people are working on the same thing from their own disciplinary perspective. Would a bigger picture of such help connect these people and make them realize they are not alone, as there are others out there working on the same thing in different ways?
And would that connection then help them to come together and decide upon a shared language and vision which in turn helps them to become the “powerful system” they’ve always wanted to be to disrupt the “old order.” It would probably require people to let go of their egos, so as to allow for a greater collective identity to emerge and take the center stage, rather than any one person.
When superficially bored, “We are held in limbo by a situation that restricts us from doing what we want to be doing, while simultaneously being left empty insofar as the situation does not satisfy us.” Think of being stuck in a useless work meeting or trapped inside on a rainy day.
When repeatedly exposed to superficial boredom, we can reach profound boredom, defined as “a deep state of indifference towards oneself and to the world” leading to “an existential discomfort in which people struggle with their sense of self.”
But social media couldn’t hold off subjects’ profound boredom forever. “I felt empty, an emptiness that was difficult to escape from,” one of the interviewees, Richard, told the authors. “The longer I was bored, the worse I felt about myself. Like, who am I and what do I want to do with my life?”
But when Richard and many of the other subjects became profoundly bored, they cited their listlessness as an impetus for reinvention.
As awful as the COVID lockdowns were, they provided “ideal” conditions for profound boredom, the authors said, which ultimately pushed many to discover new passions. The much discussed Great Resignation, in which employees are now leaving their unsatisfying jobs in far greater proportions than has been seen over the past two decades, could very well have been galvanized by profound boredom during the pandemic.
Addiction comes from the Latin dicere, related to the root of the word dictator. It’s like having an internal dictator usurping our agency.
Furthermore, an addiction is like a useful set of armour that helps us through the world, but eventually it gets too heavy and cumbersome until we’re finally ready to start shedding it. Addictions offer a temporary illusion of protection from suffering that then becomes a cause of suffering. Specifically, addictions offer protection from the present moment. We’re fighting just being. We get a little bored or aggravated or sad, and we reach for a drink to soften the hard edges or start to scroll through social media to distract ourselves – anything to take us away from being right here right now. But if we can sit with the present and tolerate our discomfort with it, then what we might consider negative emotional states can be opportunities: boredom can become creativity, aggravation turns to innovation, and sadness can bring us to the awareness of the precious beauty in the world.
Our conventional growth and development involving learning to wear psychological masks and armour to fit into society. Post-conventional development involves learning to let go of these facades and thus stand out from society but in the process learn to fit into and just be ourselves.
Instead it develops the capacity of awareness of the moments of quiet that already exist between our thoughts. They’re there already; they just need to be noticed. These moments of nothing are vital. It helped me to understand like to a piece of music has rests that provides moments of quiet that are indispensable to the music, or similar to how a painting has areas of restraint, areas with nothing happening that are necessary for us to better see what is happening. Without the moments of nothing, music, art, and our minds are just chaos. We meditate to find that nothing. Once we can find these gaps between our thoughts, we can work to sustain them a little longer each time. It’s not about stopping our thoughts or fighting to get them to settle down, but just noticing those slivers of peace between them.
And then, once we grasp these moments of nothingness, we can begin to appreciate that we aren’t our thoughts. The self isn’t just a collection of ideas that come to us wrapped up in a brain in a stable body. We exist in the moments between our thoughts as well. And when we start to look at who we are, if it’s not our thoughts, then we’re nothing, but in the best possible way. We can be without having to be something. I can never remember this for long, though. I set up reminders because I’ve found nothing more useful to distance myself from ideas or arguments or expectations than mere observation of the inner world as distinct from identity.
To take it just a little further, this craving we all share comes from adhering to the illusion of having a separate self. We meditate to find that we don’t exist as a distinct entity. This is great because then we don’t have to worry about doing all the things!! We’re all part of a bigger ocean.
Without “emptying our cup” and holding space for ourselves, nothing new came come into being, emerging from that space deep within us.
“The New World is often found within the in-between moments of the Old World.”
We are not the character, the identity, we construct and are playing but are the limitless player behind the character.
We’re not comfortable with emptiness, so we try to fill it, grasping at fixing problems or finding that one solution to solve our issues instead of coming to terms with our true nature. People worry that finding the emptiness within will be like falling through space, but it’s more like floating in warm water or opening the door to an empty house that is rife with possibilities. Our dissatisfaction with ordinary life provokes us to seek a permanent euphoria, but everything is constantly changing anyway, so who really benefits from elevating the importance of particulars?
My intuition is telling me that there is something profoundly important about this statement that relates to a previous post of mine talking about using knowledge (via concept maps) to create a sense of “solid ground to stand on.” It’s almost like it’s telling me that I’m going in the wrong direction by striving to use knowledge to seek certainty.
Wait a minute. Or is it that I’m using knowledge as a crutch in this way? I am addictive in saving every article and paper the I read in PDF form, highlighting and annotating the parts of them that I find important. I think I do this because I believe that they can validate what I’m experiencing, seeing, and perceiving that others seem perceptually blind to. So it’s almost like I don’t trust myself and accept myself, the being that I becoming.
But to fully accept and trust myself, I need to let go and “float in the warm water” of possibilities, without trying to contain and codify myself within a “collection of ideas” that solidly define an identity that I can stand upon (thus defining me as one thing but also limiting me in the process of my becoming something more). I think this is one of my greatest fears and frustrations, my inability to articulate my identity in a conventional way that people will understand, because the scope of what I’m working on seems so massive and encompassing, as if to include all of life itself.
It’s funny. I remember decades back talking about my frustration with categorizing the content on my website because I felt like I couldn’t contain it within one area or discipline but rather it needed to straddled multiple borders. It sounds like I’m experiencing the same thing in terms of categorizing my identity.
What’s poignant about this all though, particularly the quote about “floating in warm water,” is that I already realize what I’m talking about here. It is the continuum of creativity.
In effect, so much of life is initially seen as crossing rivers as obstacles by creating bridges across them. What I’m slowly learning from vertical development though is that the “river” isn’t something to avoid but something to eventually immerse oneself within, as it is the creative source of life itself. Thus life is about learning to master creativity by experiencing it in greater forms.
Yet as been proven time and again, knowing something and truly understanding the wisdom of it on an experiential level is two completely different things. That’s because immersing yourself in a new realm of being can be just as fearful as immersing yourself fully into water for the first time when you were young. Once the initial shock and disorientation wears off though, it becomes quite exhilarating and wondrous in its nature.
But new cultural chapters don’t tend to arrive smoothly. Predictably, there will be a necessary time of transition where the loss of familiar truths causes disruption. The theory describes how we would expect this to be particularly the case with today’s needed changes. Transition between modern-age realties and cultural maturity’s more systemic perspectives requires a letting go of culture’s past role as mythic parent—and with this, the surrender of absolutist, ideological beliefs of all sorts. We should expect the resulting need to more directly confront life’s uncertainties and complexities and to take a new kind of human responsibility to be particularly disruptive.
While the awareness for change usually begins with grief, pain, and suffering, real change can only come from the acceptance of letting go and stepping forward into a larger, meaningful world of our own making.
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.