We are in a crisis beyond imaging. Many have chosen to ignore it. That is one way. Denial and continuing on as if nothing is wrong or even resisting seeing anything wrong in the first place, is one way. This kind of pretense is temporary as it doesn’t stop the collapse from coming, though people will be surprised by it when it becomes impossible to deny. These people will be victims.
Others recognize that collapse is coming, and they are fighting – tooth and nail – to prevent it. These people have picked strategic points, places of leverage where a change could make a difference and they are pushing and fighting to shift that lever. That is the second way. These people are marching, lobbying, writing, and organizing to shift those levers that they see can make a difference. They are warriors.
The truth is that nothing has worked. We are toast. Or at least our way of life is toast, so the next questions is, what are we going to do about the end of the world as we know it?
Real change is not someone else’s job. Real change starts with us – you & me, becoming different. Some of that difference is easy to see, but most of the iceberg is underwater and invisible, and that’s what must change. Change this deep is a non-linear process.
What do I mean by that? Here’s an example: You can stop buying cars, and not buy either gasoline or electric, in an effort to do less damage. That is a linear approach to change. An action is being taken that has a direct impact on the problem and it is clear to see. It is preventing harm, but it is not building a new way. What if instead of wheels we used air, so streets were not needed? Maybe that would begin to bring forth a new world.
Non-linear change is change that opens new doors to places we have never been and that we can’t see or predict. Just as being nice to BIPOC folks is a linear change. Dropping any feelings of superiority is a deeper, non-linear change. That shift from helping them to working with them is exactly the shift we need to make as we deal with collapse. We need to move from living on the Earth to living with the Earth. This is the Third Way. We need to shift from the illusion of power over. Even the illusion of helping is often a power over approach, especially when we are the ones with the answer. To achieve success, we need to leave any intention of creating change, and move to discovering the joy in partnership as we co-create together with the Earth. This is not something we can know before hand; it is something that will come into being through relationship. The move from being for, to one of being with is profound. It is a non-linear change. It shifts our energy from resistance to nurturing. WE change as we make change, this is the Third Way. These people are makers, creating a new world as they live.
None of us act independently, we act together, we need others to be effective. We listen, we take into account the wisdom and needs of others, and we act accordingly. This is slow change at the beginning, as we learn to know one another. It is predicated on a commitment to relationship – to LIFE – not just the human side of the relationship. It is not human centric – even when humans are involved. It is LIFE centric in every act, no matter who is involved. It requires trust in all the participants – not blind faith. We need to trust the Earth as well as each other. We need to learn to trust ourselves, as well. This is the Third Way.
Trust is not easy to come by. It is not only given but created. Trust requires the courage to ask hard questions, hear the answers, and acting accordingly, in ways that nurture the relationship. It is not about winning or losing. Trust is about understanding and knowing, knowledge gain through experience by experiment. Knowledge gained through curiosity and inquiry, learned by asking difficult questions, withholding judgement, and having patience. Nature is the only thing that is truly trustworthy. Every action is designed to support and nurture life. If we want to live, there is no better teacher.
In building a mutually nurturing relationship, all parties must thrive – not all at the same time nor in the same way. Judgement changes to discernment as the question of right or wrong changes to life enhancing – or not. Owning the challenges of being able to see clearly require being willing to ask, and ask again, to gain that clarity. Relationship is all about asking/listening – it is all about dialogue. Right relationship works to ensure that all parties in the relationship thrive.
How do we learn to listen to each other? How do we listen to the Earth? What is being asked of us? What are we being called to do? In any relationship each party has needs, each party has gifts. The Earth has needs, the Earth has gifts. We have needs and we have gifts. What is the Earth asking of us?
Our Earth, what we see all around us, is an expression of LIFE. LIFE loves life! Life is fierce in its commitment to continuing. Earth has been experimenting with how to do that for over 3,900 million years. She’s practiced a lot. Brian Swimm, Thomas Berry, Connie Barlow, Michael Dowd as have so many saints, have been sharing their awe of her wisdom and skill. Fritjof Capra, Andreas Weber, and Robin Wall Kimmerer, among others, have been doing the same. The indigenous voice has only told that story. We are just beginning to listen. We are the youngest species; other life forms have way more experience at it than us. Other life forms keep their agreement with life, the Prime Directive – all actions are to create the conditions that support more life, we do not.
I call this listening, gaining Planetary Consciousness. Planetary Consciousness means that the goal of LIFE to thrive, becomes ours. Planetary Consciousness means that we become partners with LIFE, playing the same game by the same rules, becoming giddy as we see LIFE burst out all around us. We have been seeking the answers to Earth’s problems by asking each other. We have refused to ask her, and we have refused to listen – even when she’s yelled at us – as she’s doing now. She is the expert on LIFE – as are so many other life forms on this planet. Life forms that have been here and practicing at living far longer than we have. We are Johnny come lately’s, yet we only listen to our own voice, and we even do that, poorly.
Earth’s values are designed for resilience (an intent of Earth’s). Ours have been focused on protection (lack of trust), or on winning (success). Ours are focused on human needs and desires, choosing domination because we don’t trust. Choosing success, defined as bigger and better, over right relationship as we take what we want, using future resources now, and denying their use to other life forms on the planet. In Africa the laying down of roads is destroying migratory patterns and killing wildlife. Our needs appear to be greater than theirs, yet with their death – we die.
What is undeniable, is you can’t trust if you are not trustworthy. The indigenous have never understood us – we say one thing and do another, we deny ourselves and blame others, we don’t take responsibility for our own actions. We waste. We know we are fakes, and we cover it up instead of admitting it and changing our ways, so how can we be trusted? We also know this about ourselves, so we don’t trust our own selves. Honesty and self-forgiveness are a big part of the path forward.
Everything on this planet is an expression of LIFE. Everything. We acknowledge that when we say, “We are one,” or when we say “God dwells within us a us.” We mean it when we say, “Each of us is a speck of the Divine.” We know the truth! If everything is sacred, because everything has a spark of the Divine, why don’t we treat everything as scared? How can we pollute? Self-deception is one of our biggest challenges. The collusion we all participate in that we are good people, doing our best, allows us to deceive ourselves and perpetuate that illusion, this is another massive challenge we face, preventing us from making the changes we need to make.
The gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands will not get us out of this. The answers are here, the Earth is waiting with open arms, if we will just come home. Our resistance to Earth has made us long for home. We believe in the illusion that ‘home’ is out there, somewhere. But HOME is here, right under out feet. Be curious, be courageous, and ask stupid questions, mull things over and become skilled in self-reflection. Earth Values offer insights into the patterns of LIFE. Patterns we can begin to discern, patterns we can nurture and replicate. Patterns we can emulate and curate.
What do I mean by Earth Values? They are not wild and crazy, but they are immutable – they cannot be broken. We are where we are because we broke them. Our sense of safety is a thing we call stability. Nature calls stability death. In the real-world everything changes – all of the time. Instead of designing for similarity and stability we need to design for resilience and diversity, two Earth Values. Instead of NO change, we need to embrace dynamic stability where there are ranges to boundaries, instead of barriers, another Earth Value.
Take the Prime Directive (an Earth Value), all actions create the conditions that support life. That provides a path that anyone and everyone can walk. How do YOU create conditions for life? What around you is thriving? Your family? Your garden? Your worms, bees and butterflys? Your soil? All of these are in your control. YOU can make a difference in each one of these. Can you get over being concerned about your image and stop making things ‘look good’ and make them actually thrive instead? Can you shift from feeling powerless and useless to noticing the difference you can make?
As we shift into managing the integrity of the process of right relationship (an Earth Value), new opportunities will open that we have been too blind to see. We will begin to realize our own gifts and honor our needs as we recognize the gifts of others and honor their needs. This is the future. We will live in gratitude by recognizing that abundance is not about having it all, or having more, it is in having enough. The Earth knows, listen.
I’ve been struck by how often we choose control when we don’t trust. When things seem like they are getting unfamiliar, or surprising, then the usual strategy is to bring up or create a ‘rule’ that banns that behavior. We really don’t trust each other. We substitute rules and obedience for trust.
Why is that?
I think it goes deeper than the stories about strangers. I don’t think it is just about strangers. I don’t we think we really trust other people – period. Why?
I’ve been doing values work for over 20 years. I’ve discovered a couple of insights that I think bear on this question. First our values are scrambled, we put importance on values that are superficial and ignore action on values we claim are important. Deeper still, we see anything we like as a ‘value’ and yet have no real foundational perspective to give direction and coherence to our values. We seem to think that everyone can ‘create’ their own values and that no one else has any right to say anything about that. Really?
Many folks also think that values are so individual that there is nothing that unites us or holds us together. That, I think, speaks to our basic distrust. AND, I think that is not true. The sickness that we all are fighting and that has put our beautiful planet at risk is the illusion of separation. In the past few decades, we have been saying to each other, “we are all one” but the actual experience of that has eluded us. There is a sense of the truthfulness of that statement, but not the emotional experience of it.
There is also some confusion about being all one and being treated the same and being treated equally – is there a difference and how do you know which is which? Something seems to be missing from the equalization. At the same time, our culture has lost any sense of respect. Nothing really matters, nothing is really important. If something is more important than another, than isn’t that artificial and elitist?
We are body, mind, spirit and emotions. Our Greek heritage separated our mind from our body, in search of spirit, leaving emotions as barriers to a free search for the glorious. As water is ice and steam, so life is body, thought, feelings, and connection/spirit. It is not one or the other, but a joyous celebration is every aspect of life’s expression.
To understand the Earth as a living, whole, being, to see her expression alive in every other self that exists here, is to become a living part of the majestic whole, that is EARTH. It is to become connected to the whole, to become reseated IN the life around us. The biology that has open up our eyes, my eyes, to the actuality that every self, every life form is actively choosing what makes its own life better, that that is the ONLY decision that life can make, that that is THE decision that can be trusted, has given me deep peace. We CAN trust life to choose life!!!
And that is why we don’t trust each other. At some time, when we choose to be separate, different, special, we also choose to dismiss the need to choose life. We now deny life, dismiss the need to nurture, and enjoy engaging in taking life from others (human and non-human). The belief in that illusion has made us distrust, and rightly so. If we are not actively looking to nurture the life around us, then what are we doing?
I need solace. Today I need to feel the arms of the planet around me, I need to know I’m OK, everything is OK. Everything is not OK, we now know that, but I need to reconnect to nature to tell me, “We can do this!”
Where I live, there is no untended nature. Yes, I can get in my car and drive, but that seems to defeat the purpose. This is the first place I’ve lived where I can’t just walk out and find solace. It pains me. It pains me a great deal.
We love that phrase – undeveloped land. It gives us permission to….develop. It also denies the value of life living life. I need to walk thought, to sit in, places where life is just living life. I need to feel the joy those plants, insects, nematodes, feel in just being alive – that invigorates me.
I think that is what is missing in my life – the enjoyment of others loving being alive. My friends are overwhelmed with the changes they are dealing with. Many of us have just lost a friend to add to the load. As other lives are expiring, even if you aren’t consciously aware, I believe we feel that loss. Everything that dies needlessly, because of a lack of care, or a denial of or refusal to recognize the importance of that life, hurts.
When life loves life there is a joy that radiates out into the world, a juice we all drink from, that seems to be waning. I am thirsty, I need to drink from the cup of life! The ennui I feel, the lack of interest, is really about that. I can tackle anything. I can get fired up – IF I feel connected to life.
I miss fireflies, big black and gold spiders, butterflies. I miss the blue spruce my neighbor cut down because he feared her roots would interfere with his pipes. I miss the huge elm that was cut down because…? The spirits in those trees didn’t understand either. Surely there is another way?
It seems to me that the strange and violent weather we are experiencing is Mother Nature’s anger at the disrespect we have been expressing for life. Her intent is to keep a rich, vibrant and robust complexity of life on this planet – to glory in the abundance and creativity of life’s expression. And here we are cheerfully eliminating any life that is ‘inconvenient’ to us, or that we think interferes with the few plants and animals we favor. I think she’s had enough.
Like any good parent, however, I think she will forgive us and maybe even settle down, if we mend our ways. I want to live near untamed life. Life I can have a relationship with. Life I can talk to and engage with. I am thrilled when I see other kin living their lives. It is SO neat to watch birds caring for their young. To see alligators putting their young into their mouths to take them to the river after they have hatched – who knew? There is love everywhere! I miss it.
I have a great deal of respect for nature, and I have a great deal of respect for humankind as well, but those forms of respect are different. Nature has practiced making sure life thrives for over 3 BILLION years – she has a track history of making that work. Humankind has a recent history of thinking that being clever is more important than being life affirming, an addiction we are in the middle of, right now.
Given that everything we have depended upon seems to be under threat, disorganized, and falling apart, including our weather, it appears to me that actions that are life enhancing might be more important, than even our collective ego. If staying alive, if staying healthy, if thriving, is more important than being clever and even more important than ‘getting my way,’ where should I look for support and inspiration?
I’ve spent decades trying to understand nature, trying to learn how she’s ‘done it.‘ Many others have looked into this as well and I’m eternally grateful to them; Janine Benyus (Biomimicry), Thomas Berry (The Great Work, among others), Brian Swimm ( The Universe is a Green Dragon, among others ), Wendell Berry (Poet), Andreas Weber (Biology of Wonder, among others) Fritjof Capra (Hidden Connections, among others), James Lovelock (Gaia, among others) and so many more. We continue to learn. It turns out that deep learning is hard because we have stood outside of nature and that distorted our understanding and even the questions we asked, let alone the answers we received.
I’ve taken a values-based approach. I learned from Jane Jacobs (Systems of Survival) that values form systems. Bringing my learning about living systems from Capra into play, that was revolutionary. Earth’s values are also a system. All living systems behave the same and have the same attributes – this was critical to my newly awakened understanding of value systems and how they operate. If all of this interests you, please take my course, “Values for the Coming Crisis” where I go into these ideas in more depth.
A start to understanding Earth’s Value System, is understanding the intent(s) she has for life. Her first intent is the foundation , the key, the whole point – she intends for life to continue to thrive! Now you may say, duh, to that, but really think about it. She doesn’t want it to thrive, she doesn’t hope that it thrives, she INTENDS it will thrive. Everything she does is to that end, and more importantly all of the parts of which she is comprised intend that life thrives too, or almost all of the parts. The only part that is also a part of her that does not always adhere to that principle, is humanity.
Humanity, under the cover of free will often does things that limit the ability of life to thrive – pollution comes to mind. WE soil our own nest. WE poison the atmosphere; WE poison the oceans and foul them with plastic. WE kill our soil – a living system in its own right, by our manufacturing style of farming. WE do not consider, nor seem to care, if our actions make it impossible for others to also live.
The second intent is connected to the first, as are all the rest. These are components of a living systems after all. The second intent is continuity – making sure that life, once formed, continues. She has clear ways of being and doing that make sure things flow and move forward. She knows how to make the very best out of what currently exists. Earth is a closed system, except for power, which comes from the sun. What we have is what we got. Everything living system on the planet understands that and lives in ways that support that. Every living system, except one, us. WE burn, pile up, and create inedible stuff all the time. WE act as if there is no tomorrow, as if there is an unending stream of materials for us to use forever – and there isn’t.
The third intent is resilience, the ability to adapt and continue on under stress. The ability to dance with changing times in a way that ensures life continues to thrive. Understanding the magic of how that happens is mind-blowing! WE – all living systems that are part of the living system that Mother Earth is, are SO exquisitely designed to do this – It. Is. Amazing! We all actually know how and even do it, but only one living system chooses to not listen, to disbelieve OR to believe impossibilities, and in so doing flies in the face of…nature – yup, us. She destroys to facilitate rebirth, we destroy to eliminate.
The fourth, and most fun intent, is evolution. Evolution is how she learns. Each living system continues to learn and in so doing, makes continual adjustments as it learns to finesse and improve its chances at life. If those adaptations are really successful, then it may choose to keep them and pass them on to its progeny. New life forms happen all the time and some stay and some don’t make it. Nature experiments in SO many ways, and some of them work! WE are the only living system that intentionally makes changes in other living systems. WE are the only living system that makes changes in our own system – without natures help or encouragement.
Each intent has four values that activate it. These intents and values constitute a living system of values by which Earth keeps it all together AND is able to grow in complexity – to thrive. All other living systems play their part. There is only one other living system that actively works to simplify the living systems of which it is a part, and that, of course, is us. We seek to simplify, to limit, to eliminate complexity and diversity, there-by weaking the fabric of nature. WE seek to reduce the number of species, the number of kinds of species, and in so doing we make the whole system much more vulnerable to collapse as we are eliminating a key aspect of resiliency.
So here you have four aspects of nature against which you can check your own actions in life, your decisions, the decisions of your local, state and even federal government. How do they stack up? Are the actions you support life enhancing, do they ensure life continues with ease, do they reinforce the adaptability of the life it impacts, and finally does it support an evolution into a more complex and resilient world? Are you engaged with your life through connection or are you acting on your life from outside, form a point of separation? Each of us is responsible for our own actions. Each of us can only control our own actions. If we all shifted so that we could say YES to supporting each of these intents, then we will get through all these shifts and changes, just fine. WE will become partners with the Earth, with Mother Nature. WE will have learned to listen to nature not in the ‘what should I do,’ conversation, but in the ‘how should I do it’, kind of conversation. And, that’s one that has been missing for centuries.
Gaia is a Living System. What is true about systems is that they are wholes, composed of parts. We are not used to seeing wholes, we see only parts. That is not only confusing, but it is at the root of our deep misunderstanding. The parts are intrinsic to the whole – they can’t be removed or replaced; all of the parts are needed! Do you understand how very profound those statements are? Every part of Gaia is needed.
Our bodies are the whole we are most familiar with. Every part is needed! It is true that we can lose limbs and still function, but life will be much harder and more difficult. If we lose toes, then balance is affected. If we lose fingers, then our dexterity becomes difficult. Nature does not tolerate waste of any kind. New research suggests that the appendix is designed to protect good bacteria in the gut. That way, when the gut is affected by a bout of diarrhea or other illness that cleans out the intestines, the good bacteria in the appendix can repopulate the digestive system and keep you healthy. Nothing is useless, we just aren’t always smart enough to understand why something is important. All parts of any whole are necessary but, not all the time.
Gaia is no different from our bodies. ALL of her ‘parts’ are necessary – every life form on this planet is a needed and necessary ‘part’ of the whole that Gaia is. Let me say this again. Every life form on Gaia is a necessary part of the whole, of life. The parts fit, only because they are different, and I’ll say more about that later – that fact, alone, is glorious! Like the appendix, no part is superfluous, no part is extraneous, no part is not needed – that includes humans. For life to continue, it is imperative to maintain the integrity of the whole.
Humans are very good at interrupting that integrity. We destroy forests with an incredible nonchalance. Denuding vast areas without a thought. We replant trees and call it good, but lots of trees do not a forest make. We pave over grass. We kill soil in SO many ways. Think about that – we kill the life beneath our feet, we don’t even know that it’s there. We create huge dead zones where polluted rives run into the sea as the algae, encouraged by run off nitrogen and phosphorous, remove all the oxygen in the water. We encase rivers in concrete, and even change their course, and dam their waters. We poison enormous stretches of land, killing all life forms we don’t want, and assume it doesn’t matter. Yes, nature can limp along without her fingers and toes, but there are always consequences.
Our latest blasphemy is to propose sucking up all life on the floor of the ocean to acquire nickel and cobalt for electric engines. Impossible Mining, a B Corp run by a woman, Renee Grogan, proposes to use robots to pick up the nodules laying on the ground instead of killing everything. See the wonderful article about this in Time, April 13, 2022. There are even trees that ‘bleed’ metal. Researchers have been studying a specialized group, known as hyperaccumulators, that have evolved to take up the normally toxic metals into their stems, leaves and even seeds. We need to slow down and see what our beautiful planet offers.
A big part of maintaining the integrity of the whole is scale. We move too fast and there are too many of us, so we overshoot what the planet offers. The World Wildlife Fund says, “Humanity’s annual demand on the natural world has exceeded what the Earth can renew in a year since the 1970s. This “ecological overshoot” has continued to grow over the years, reaching a 50 per cent deficit in 2008. This means that it takes 1.5 years for the Earth to regenerate the renewable resources that people use, and absorb the CO2 waste they produce, in that same year.
How can this be possible when there is only one Earth? Just as it is possible to withdraw money from a bank account faster than to wait for the interest this money generates, renewable resources can be harvested faster than they can be re-grown. But just like overdrawing from a bank account, eventually the resource will be depleted.
At present, people are often able to shift their sourcing when this happens; however at current consumption rates, these sources will eventually run out of resources too – and some ecosystems will collapse even before the resource is completely gone.
The consequences of excess greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are also already being seen, like climate change and ocean acidification. These place additional stresses on biodiversity and ecosystems.”
The Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL) uses this graphic to clarify what both overshoot and undershoot mean and how they impact our life on this planet:
I find it fascinating that we are overusing Earth’s resources, and at the same time, under serving our human populations. Maybe our ‘human centric’ way of being is just greed?
The integrity that is invisible and that we ignore all the time, is the pace of cycles. Our planet offers an infinity variety of options, possibilities, and resources IF we use things up at the same rate they are created. WE overdraw our back account regularly, doing so is out of integrity!
WE are part of the whole. We are special only in the same way everything else is special. We are unique and therefore offer unique capabilities in service to life, but we must move from a human centric approach, drop our greed, and move to a life centric way of being. We need to become part of the whole again.
The bible got it all wrong. Go forth and multiply, was a misunderstanding of the Prime Directive. That misunderstanding has made a mess out of our world. It has justified all the harm we have done. More of us is NOT the way to ensure life. High birthrates simply add more stress to the planet. More is not better.
What happened? Nature is not so much concerned with each individual life form, she is concerned about the health of the whole, about how all the various parts fit in ways that ensure that the whole remains healthy and viable. Nature, our planet, wants to make sure that life continues, and she needs all the various parts of her (including us) to help make that happen. There’s the rub. We stopped cooperating. We stopped caring about the whole. We stopped paying attention to the impact of our actions on others. We stopped playing with life and began rationalizing ways that dampened it down. We became human centered, instead of life centered.
James Lovelock makes such a fantastic case for why our planet is special. The ability to regulate our atmosphere is unique among all of the terrestrial objects we know about. Here, only here, does life exist. Only here is there an agreement to keep life going and here everyone is involved, everyone except us. We stopped playing the game a long time ago.
When there were just a few of us, it didn’t matter so much, but now that there are almost 9 billion of us AND we have learned to take with such expertise, it matters a great deal. Yes, we are a wasteful species and our waste products are suffocating life and burying it in plastic, but we are also a prideful species, actively engaged in getting rid of anything we deem as un-useful – to us.
By not understanding the fierce interrelatedness of all living things, by not understanding the mutual support each offers to the processes that make life work on this planet, we have been actively dismantling that life giving structure. Now, Earth has a decision to make, she can die, or she can remove the creatures that are causing the problem. She’s maintained a fairly narrow, and quite pleasant, range of temperature for millions of years. This range has allowed many, many, different forms of life to thrive. Now, as she heats up, new life forms will be brought forth and many old life forms will disappear. We may be one of those.
Many of us have already lowered our body temperatures a degree in an attempt to manage the heat. Will that be enough? What about all the other life forms we know we depend upon, cattle, chickens, corn, wheat, water, soil? Will they adapt fast enough? The loss of ice, millions of years in the making, interrupts the flow of both air and water, flows that have kept some parts cool and some parts warm. This is a whole new ball game that will require a whole new range of adaptive techniques. Our normal pattern of resistance – will it be sufficient; will it be enough?
We have been a bit short-sighted, thinking only of humans and what we think is best for us. Instead of the Prime Directive – ensure that all life thrives, ensure that LIFE thrives, we have been focused on ensuring that human life thrives, and we are beginning to see that we do not live alone. We’ve had a good run resisting the planet, now is the time to shift gears and begin to use our knowledge and expertise to work with the planet. Can we, do it?
There’s nothing like the human ego. Our belief in our specialness has given us things we have dreamed of for centuries, but at an exceptional cost. How attached are we to our egos? How attached are we to our specialness? In every process of maturation, there comes a time when the needs and desires of the individual must be reorganized in ways that acknowledge and contribute to the greater whole. We have been able to avoid that for quite a while, but no longer.
We are hard-wired to connect and cooperate. It is those skills that have made us so successful. Can we bring them out, dust them off, and shift gears? Can we expand our capabilities to include the whole planet, not just our species? Can we use the joy of connection, the bliss of right action as motivators to shift our actions to supporting life? Can we reimagine soil as life giving and not just dirt? Can we learn to clean up after ourselves by focusing on zero waste? Can we follow the termites and build in air-conditioning that doesn’t use energy? It’s all there, it is only our egos that are standing in the way.
The Prime Directive is contained in the first two values of the Resilient Values Set;™ All actions create the conditions that support life, and focus on maintaining the integrity of the whole. Simple? It is simply a shift in focus from us to LIFE. We can do this!
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were a time when alchemists like Newton became enamored with their own egos, and they brought the rest of us along on that journey. The tension between control and understanding was resolved as the intelligentsia, the scientific, doubled down on control. I can only speculate that the anger and frustration felt by those who resented the inability to control nature was released in their desire to pull her apart in their attempt to control by manipulating or disobeying the ‘limits’ they found there.
Most of human history has been conducted in relationship with nature. Meaning was found in understanding how to be a partner, we worked to find and then grow our food. Our religious life was focused around supplicating or placating nature, and that relationship gave us a place in the universe. When we left that universe, we entered the modern world of science and capitalism. A world where people were taught to hate life, even as they feared death.
Unaware of the moral imperative to ensure life continues, we maintained the corrupted version of ‘go forth and procreate’ as being sufficient, embracing instead, entropy, which has resulted in the obvious result of a destruction of life’s ability to sustain life – at least as we have known it. Morris Berman, in his book, The Reenchantment of the World, makes the case for a re-enchantment that puts the Earth back into her rightful place. He argues, as do the indigenous folks, that we can and must reseat ourselves back into right relationship with life, and that we can do that, even using science, through appreciation and gratitude.
Perhaps just getting in touch with the amazing creativity and cleverness of nature allows us to marvel at the world and then to marvel at us, how amazing WE are, and maybe we can discover our own ‘fit’ with the rest of life. The loneliness and angst we feel, the lack of satisfaction and meaning, can be regained as we stand in wonder at the beauty of it all. The beauty of dance and the pair's competition in ice-skating is not just at the graceful and technically skillful moves, but at the fact they are done together. Perhaps we can find purpose and meaning if we choose to dance with life, instead of resisting her at every step?
We have been so seduced by parts we have lost sight of the whole, of context, of culture, of the water we swim in. Our world-view has blinded us to the tone and hue created by that world-view, which colors everything thing we see, distorting our vision. Instead of life, we have substituted survival, instead of life we grasp for success. Neither of these offers satisfying and meaningful experiences, once past the initial rush, they are not sustaining, but they are seductive.
The reenchantment of the world is not a ‘going back’ but a reawakening to the miracle that life is. A recognition of the amazing sophistication and elegance of nature, as evidenced by sea slugs and dragon fish. It is a deep appreciation of the magic created by following her principles and dynamics and watching life thrive. Few things are more thrilling than watching the miracle of life happen, as any parent knows. If we hang on to that thrill, and turn our faces to life, who knows what wonders we might not only discover, but be an integral part of making happen?
For many of us, our values are the water we swim in. They are the mycelium that live between us and that carry the information we pay attention to. They signal us to notice this, or notice that, making the rest of the information we live in, invisible. Our penchant for parts means that all of our values are equally important and when the results we expect aren’t forth coming we blame ourselves, or others, not seeing the water we are swimming in.
The Earth is a living system – a whole, composed of parts. Our focus on the parts has blinded us to the patterns and processes that hold the parts together and that make everything work. It is not the parts that are the cause, they are in relationship to each other in certain ways, and it is that relationship that makes all the difference. Our values are the same. It is the relationship between them that create a whole worldview, and it is this that makes all the difference.
The seduction of culture is that when we look around for guidance and validation we see ‘everyone else’ doing the same thing, and even though it isn’t working for us, we double down because ‘that’s how it’s done.’ We believe what the mycelium are telling us. What we don’t understand is that we have choice and options. All we see is the culture we are in, one that is caught in survival or one that is caught in ‘success’ defined as stuff and status. The sliver of truth contained in each of these is corrupted by the fear of life and the self-hatred that generates, because we are life. Both of these belief systems put us at war with ourselves as we dismiss, shut down or ignore all of our internal signals that tell us we have it all wrong.
The reenchantment of the world begins when we stand in amazement at life and at ourselves, seeing us as the mystical and magical beings that we are. Then, maybe we will have the courage to lift each other up, instead of denying who we are. Maryanne Williams said we are afraid of our own brilliance. We develop machines to be better than we are instead of doing the work to be what they do. We have lost respect for ourselves because we have ceased to take our rightful place in the gift called life. We hide behind our need for life in our fear of death, and we hide our need to be seen in our drive for success. Both of those are placeholders for reality.
It feels good to be true to ourselves, to tell the truth, to address reality squarely, but our cultures will tell us otherwise. The angst we feel is reflected in our teenagers’ suicides, in our vast addictions to drugs, television, technology and social media. All methods designed to distract us from engaging in the real world, the world of soil and water, wind and rain, plants, and animals – and us. We justify our agony by repeating the whispers of our culture that we will die if we care, that we need others to approve of us so that we become real.
We can begin the reenchantment by noticing how the world works and be amazed by it. We can reawaken respect as we notice the incredible effort everything makes to fit, and we can regain our self-respect as we strive to do the same and then witness the benefits of doing so. The book, Darwin’s Finches by David Lack shows so clearly how each individual is willing to change itself in order to find its own niche and so fit into the world with the least resistance. We do this too, but we are now working to ‘fit’ into a life hating world and so are bringing about our own demise.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We simply have to turn our faces into life. As we begin to seek the thrill of bringing forth life, we will create the path we have to walk. We will begin to actually SEE and experience the interbeing Thich Nhat Hanh talks about. Fit is not easy, but it is a wonderful driver for learning, creativity and reverence. Appreciating the skill and caring that goes into making ‘fit’ happen opens up a brand-new appreciation for life. As we see and acknowledge our own skill and creativity in creating our own fit we will also gain a new appreciation for ourselves and our own creative abilities. The world is waiting to welcome us back – we just have to say yes.
I am SO over the flaccid discussion about the 'intelligence' of animals. David Bohm wrote about the implicate order where he postulated that as the structure becomes more complex it becomes capable of new capacities possible because of the more complex structure. This is sort of a duh, particularly when you think of the brain, which was what he was talking about. That said, we now know that octopuses have 'brains' in each tentacle and that some life forms can 'think' without a brain. Consciousness as it is expressed in nature is capable of WAY more than we know, even now.
We have the human centric audacity to assume that if a life form is not concerned with mathematics and financial interest calculations, that it doesn't think. The cleverness of other life forms is always situated about survival, and more to the point, about how to 'fit' into their environment so that life is both safe and as easy as possible. Surly, you can relate to that.
Life is all about relationship. Most of us Westerners have missed the boat here as we believe that everything is about 'being the best we can be' when it really is about who we know. It's about the interdependencies we create that actually determine whether we live and how well. You may have seen this in your Linkedin stream, and I'm indebted to Ruchira Somaweera • 2nd Principal Environmental Scientist at Stantec | Adjunct Research Fellow at UWA | National Geographic Explorer for sharing this most amazing tidbit about Southern Dumpling Squid: CUTENESS. These cuties are Southern Dumpling Squids (Euprymna tasmanica), a type of bobtail squid, which are closely related to cuttlefish. They only grow to ~5 cm long and are mostly found over sandy areas in shallow coastal waters, during the night time. They will burrow themselves into the seafloor during the day and special mucus cells on their skin acts like glue to hold the sand in place. Fascinatingly, they have special acid cells on the skin that allow the sand coat to disconnect all at once when needed. Even more fascinatingly, they have a light organ on their mantle cavity (“body”) filled with symbiotic bioluminescent bacteria species Aliivibrio fischeri. The bacteria are fed a sugar and amino acid solution by the squid and in return hide the squid's silhouette when viewed from below by matching the amount of light hitting the top of the mantle (counter-illumination)! How amazing is nature!
How amazing indeed!! Now, THINK about this for a minute. Here we have a contract between a squid and bacteria. Brain size anyone? The bacteria measure the light at the surface and then match it. How long do you think it took to: know that was what was required, develop the capacity to both measure and match? Spontaneous? Casual? Come on - this takes practice, lots, and lots of practice.
We believe that we can design something that will solve long-standing problems as a sort of one off event. In the real world, ecologies take time, lots of time. Each member must divine how they can contribute and then figure out how to make that happen. Each member has to recognize what works and what doesn't and be willing to shift and change for the greater good. We, on the other hand, think we can do it ourselves. You can see where that has gotten us!
WE are an interdependent web of interconnected beings that functions through reciprocity and right relationship to form a more perfect union. That is what WE are, both as individuals and as community. Wake up! Love us, love us all, love all of us, and work to see what your unique contribution is and develop that!
The Integrity of the Whole
Ah, what a strange value, don’t you think? When the earth functions with this framework, it is the long view, the grandness of being, that springs to mind. Yet I’d like to suggest that since we are little wholes inside bigger wholes, that creating that resonance, that alignment, and coherence, is our key contribution to the integrity of the whole.
As little wholes, each of our actions brings into being more and stronger resonance or not. If we choose dissonance then the ripples are small and almost unnoticed, they go flailing out disturbing the resonant whole and dissipate. If we choose harmony, then those tiny ripples spread out and join the others, and we ride a gentle wave, almost unnoticed. Each of our actions seem so tiny, so unimportant, so unnoticed.
In my studies of ethics, these insignificant actions don’t ever seem to rise. Most discussions of ethics want to speak to the bigger actions, the ones we see and the ones that create very big ripples, yet life, LIFE is composed of many, many smaller ripples, the ones that we do every day and most often don’t even see.
For me, the ethical life is composed of context. It is context that informs us of the larger whole. It is context that can be misleading, and it is context that offers the mirror to see if our tiny ripples support LIFE or flies in the face it, dampening that possibility. The example I’ll use is the teaching of distrust. We have whole industries dedicated to this, take marketing, for example.
“Let the buyer beware” suggests that only fools believe what they are told. If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t. This is the institutionalizing of the corruption of innocence. It’s a way to ‘protect’ from and ’teach’ about the ugly facts of disappointment and misunderstandings we rationalize, but without developing the skills of discernment.
We teach distrust by not keeping our word, by making promises we don’t keep, by rewarding impossible promises and punishing truth tellers – politics is the fertile ground for this practice. We teach distrust when we laugh at humor that showcases the ‘fool’ being shown the results of her misplaced trust as the chair is being pulled out from under her.
Nature never lies. She always tells us what works, we have learned not to listen, and we have believed that we could ignore her, which we have done, ignoring Dynamic Stability, but that’s the subject for another time. We have gotten so good at believing our own cynicism that we don’t even notice what we are doing.
Harryette Mullen, in her poem, We Are Not Responsible, showcases this so very well when she says in her first two verses:
We are not responsible for your lost or stolen relatives.
We cannot guarantee your safety if you disobey our instructions.
We do not endorse the causes or claims of people begging for handouts.
We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone.
Your ticket does not guarantee that we will honor your reservations.
In order to facilitate our procedures, please limit your carrying on.
Before taking off, please extinguish all smoldering resentments.
Here she shows just how deeply we work to make sure people understand the ‘appropriate’ level of trust, so, we rationalize, we are not responsible….
Steven R. Covey, in his book The Speed of Trust, shows the damage and the ineffectiveness not trusting creates in the workplace. Our lives are built on trust – those lines on the highway – we trust other drivers to obey them, and so many other instances where trust makes things work, yet we want to defy it – to what end? Every time we teach distrust, we tear at the fabric of the whole – destroying its integrity.
We have been taught in the past few decades that people are NOT of good will. Our entire form of government is based on trusting that people are of good intent, that is why differences of opinion are so important. We need other eyes to see the whole – IF – the intent is to strengthen the whole to deepen the alignment with LIFE. Now we are being taught that there is only ONE way, but that is not how nature works. It is having many ways that gives nature her resilience, so that we can trust that she will keep her balance even if things change.
We are so inured to noticing how we teach distrust, we desperately need each other to begin to sharpen our discernment. We must hone that skill of seeing when trust is being destroyed and develop the social scaffolding to support each other in acting on that discernment. We do this much better and faster when we engage with others in a commitment to develop and build trust, than when we go it alone.
Begin to open your own eyes by actively noticing when our culture is teaching distrust. Find someone or someones who are willing to join you in this discovery, and then seek, together, to build countermeasures. This is such a crucial action to take at this time! This is a hero’s journey.
Leadership style fits the values – the foundational values that inform the world-view, of the leader. Leadership has evolved over time. New ways of moving people to do things have come into being as our confidence in living systems has grown. As a species we seem to be evolving, almost in spite of our selves.
The earliest leadership approach was framed by fear – fear of the other. The various values that inform this style are centered around loyalty. Loyalty was shorthand for acknowledging obedience to someone recognized as an authority. The assumption that ‘we’ need to be protected from ‘them’ justified many actions with the ‘other’ that would not be allowed with the ‘inside’ group. Secrecy, deception, vengeance are a few of the tolerated behaviors that this style of leadership allows. We have seen a very public demonstration of this on the American political stage just recently.
According to Jane Jacobs the second type of leadership came from the desire to trade with neighbors, people that may have recently been at war with us or might be in the future. How do you engender trust with such people? Here the core value is honesty, a value that is often at odds with loyalty. In such a fragile type of relationship it is imperative to get a voluntary agreement and to codify that in contracts. Innovation and a fierce commitment to competition are two other drivers in this second scenario. The focus on comfort and convenience have been at the heart of so much commerce that we have taken it for granted and not really paid attention to the impact. Now we are beginning to see that is one of the major drivers destroying our world and social entrepreneurship is striving to make a difference in other ways.
Given that we are watching so many of our foundational systems, medicine, education, law, etc. begin to collapse the visionary leader is starting to look for avenues that will build the world anew. To do that requires a dramatic shift in leadership. Leadership by autocratic command generates a more, faster, better approach to problem solving that does not yield the curious, creative approach that solves complex messy problems like those we are currently facing. Neither does the creative and innovation focused leadership that is seeking new products getting to the market faster. Leadership must now be much more strongly concerned with not only the what, but with the how. It is not paying attention to the how that has gotten us into trouble.
The regenerative leader must be concerned with the impact of business practices as well as sales. Design is key – modular to ensure ease of recycling, material resources – mimicking nature so that the earth is left better for her contribution using full cycles and no poisons or waste. These require way more curiosity and creativity than ever before. To mimic nature, you need to know nature, so biology becomes a new business skill. Here two key values from the Resilient Values Set™ become invaluable for setting the context for decision-making: Work to maintain the integrity of the whole, and all actions create the conditions that support LIFE. Regenerative leaders are LIFE centric, not profit centric.
LIFE centric leaders, care for their people, they care for their community, and they care for their planet. They use their understanding of living systems to manage and troubleshoot. They encourage experimentation to generate the innovation this new approach to business and life requires. Regenerative leaders love to see things around them thrive and they use that interior experience as a compass to tell themselves if they are proceeding in the right direction, or not. Using their heart to drive their head, they are curious, joyfull and exciting to around. The goal to thrive while doing good business makes work meaningful and exciting.
Be rightly suspicious when all you hear more, bigger, faster coming out of some ‘leaders’ mouth. Leaders now ask not what you can do for their company, but what can our company do for the planet?
Kathryn Alexander, MA
Regenerative approaches require a deep integration with nature. Collaboration requires different structures and ways of working together. If we want different results we have to do things differently!