Living Deeply into – and from – the Emerging Future: Cooperating with Transformation
My current ‘mooc’ experience https://www.edx.org/course/u-lab-leading-emerging-future-mitx-15-671-1x is very much focused on transformation. Its title/theme – ‘leading from the emerging future’ – is almost by definition a transformative, transforming perspective. It seems to involve leaving mere change in the dust – via a totally transformed view of change, while ushering in a new future consciousness – a novel consciousness in relation to the future. It targets transformation, anticipating transforming outcomes across the board – self, society, business, organization.
I have been revisiting some of my earlier efforts to ‘get my head around’ transformation, especially vis-à-vis change. This was a particular issue for myself a few years ago, while experiencing being a graduate student again, in a Human Ecology program (then at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, Scotland). We were tasked to undertake some ‘action inquiry’ and I – hoping to further my education as an educator – focused, initially, on the question: How can transformation be facilitated intentionally, in a teacher and their teaching, and in their (own) – and their students’ (own) – wider worlds? In the course of my inquiry the question became: What can be learned through ‘living deeply’?[i]
The action inquiry at the time related to the domain of education, and advanced adult/professional education in particular, through an intent to serve those (in mid-life or mid-career especially) with a noticed appetite for specifically transformative learning. My perceived change-agency at the time revolved around personally embodying the necessary transformation and, potentially as part of a wider movement, paving the way for a societal embedding of such transformation-enabling later-life education. The driving vision at the time became ‘enabling an infinity of personal evolutions’.
That ‘Living Deeply’ action inquiry has stayed with me, notably because of my engagement of an inner inquiry into the nature of ‘transformative change-agency’, leading to some still interesting ‘unpacking’ efforts. Drawing on my integral worldview, individual change-agents were reframed as holons – being simultaneously a ‘whole’ and a ‘part’ of a larger whole. This entails that ‘agency’ is always in the context of ‘communion’, and the associated wider/deeper/longer frame of reference. Holons, in addition to the capacities for agency and communion, also have the capacities of self-transcendence and self-immanence[ii]. These extensions – well beyond ‘change-agent’ – seemed better aligned with the notion of transformation addressed in Living Deeply. I found myself gravitating away from an old, rather entrenched, ‘agent of change’ leaning, in favour of an increasingly intriguing ‘facilitating transformation’ stance.
Transformation also appeared to place ‘change’ in perspective. I speculated that:
“Change appears to be something short of transformation, making the notion of ‘transformative change-agency’, for example, somewhat problematic. Transformation encompasses ‘change’ to a new higher, wider, deeper ‘form’, but ‘change’ does not necessarily encompass transformation. Perhaps change is most at home within the status-quo, respecting the existing ‘form’, having a more exterior cast (such as observable behaviour) – in contrast to the more interior cast of transformation”.
I was sensing transformation as directly associated with consciousness – and with core values, world-views and perspectives. It also seemed to engage the spiritual dimension, quite naturally.
Agents of change or transformers of consciousness: what was it to be? Agents of change could be a shallower response, that may have its place en route to a more evolved positioning, such as pushing further into the realms of an ‘agent of transformation’. The analysis would then shift, to consider from what old form, to what new form. And the related consideration of how transformation can be achieved, in oneself, in others, and in society more generally.
Living Deeply (LD) was especially informative on these fronts, beginning with the transformation of one’s own consciousness. You can only directly participate in the transformation of your own consciousness, but in doing so you can then influence – be a contribution to – consciousness transformation on larger scales. William Torbert et al seemed to underline this critical self-transformation ‘end’ for action inquiry – as helping ‘individuals, teams, organizations and even larger institutions become more capable of self-transformation and thus more creative, more aware, more just and more sustainable’ (2004, 1; emphasis added).
What was learned then about transformation, that could be considered transforming? I was immediately inspired by the connection made in a statement in the LD Foreword: “By transforming our consciousness, we participate in the transformation of the world” (Thurman in Living Deeply (LD) vi). Here was an opening to a more participatory paradigm – a passion of mine, but in the context of a very personal project: “Transforming your own consciousness may be the most important thing you can do for yourself and the world” (LD 3). The ‘Who’ of transformation is simultaneously singular and plural; personal and planetary.
Rather than something ‘out there’ to be got or had, I was somewhat taken aback by the representation of transformation as ‘an ongoing natural process that’s available to you right now. It’s something you can cooperate with in ways large and small, every day of your life’ (LD 6 emphasis added). The cooperation context was/is very intriguing – a conditioner of the facilitation I had been entertaining: intentionally facilitating transformation requires actively cooperating with transformation, on the level of abiding consciousness. If personal transformation is a cooperative venture, might collective (consciousness) transformation be a collaboration? The ‘What’ of transformation is realized through cooperation with your always/already consciousness.
Shifting one’s ‘worldview’ is central in all this: ‘who you are now, and what you have now, contains all you need for a richer, fuller, and more joy-filled life’ (LD 19). Is your worldview large enough? How can it be enlarged? According to Frances Vaughan: ‘It requires inner work and an appreciation for how that connects to being in the world, and the outer work of action and service’ (LD 20). How best to pursue such integrating, and ‘integrated-ness’? Seeking new vistas – the ever-more-elegantly-all-encompassing configuration – has always held a particular attraction for myself, but I recall being jolted with the realization that this needed to be succeeded with a subtle revision: seeing with new eyes.
Paraphrasing Marcel Proust, Rachel Naomi Remen observes that ‘the voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new vistas, but in having new eyes. The familiar is seen in a completely new way. Nothing changes, yet everything changes’ (LD 20). All the while ‘consciousness is constant – the transformation is in the individual (from the limited self to the whole self… from being limited and small to being whole)… the wholeness (consciousness) never actually goes away’ (Nityananda, in LD 21).
Transformation is about opening to new possibilities (recognizing that your current view is only partial) and seeing with new eyes (LD 22). Might this be the route to enabling an infinity of personal evolutions? New eyes… new ‘I’s… the eye of spirit… from I to We… from I-dentity to We-dentity. The ‘How’ of transformation lies in shifting one’s view, one’s worldview, to inside more than outside… to seeing with new eyes… to entertaining the transpersonal.
As an educator I was struck by the parallels between the notion of education as a drawing out (of what is already within) and of transformation as something that happens naturally, ‘as false selves are shed and buried elements of yourself are retrieved and integrated’ (LD 21). Who you are ‘authentically’ doesn’t change.
In terms of educational strategy: ‘Like the gardener, rather than making transformation happen, we create the ideal conditions for natural transformation to flourish’ (LD 67). Other appealing metaphors included: catalyst and crucible; soul fertilizers; labyrinth guide; and ‘coming home to yourself and your own true nature’ (LD 175). Sensibilities worthy of cultivation included: self-reflexivity, equanimity, creativity, curiosity and compassion. I wondered: What ‘mix’ of soul fertilizer might best serve adult professionals in transformation shift-mode? The ‘Where’ of transformation could be as close as your metaphorical garden.
The ‘integration’ experienced/sampled in this particular action inquiry consisted of ‘living deeply’. Sounds simple; too simple perhaps? Except that ‘living deeply may require nothing less than a complete transformation of the way you view the world and your place in it’ (LD 1). It involves ‘an engagement with life, in all its various complexities. It is a moment-by-moment process … being present for all that life offers isn’t always easy’ (63). Transformation often asks for something to die so that something new can be born (30). It is about becoming… ‘becoming more open, loving, balanced, authentic, kind and generous’ (201). A letting-go – to let come. An emerging future disposition. Cooperating with transformation.
Merry, Peter, 2008 Evolutionary Leadership: Integral Leadership for an Increasingly Complex World. Integral Publishers
Schlitz, Marilyn Mandala, Cassandra Vieten and Tina Amorok 2007 Living Deeply: The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life. New Harbinger Publications/IONS
Torbert, William and Associates 2004 Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership. Berrett-Koehler: San Francisco
[i] ‘Living deeply’ refers both to the title of the book that was the main focus of the inquiry (see Schlitz et al, 2007), and to the underlying practice attempted in the course of the inquiry. The book includes some end-of-chapter exercises in ‘experiencing transformation’, and is accompanied by a DVD of nine guided/experiential ‘transformative practices from the world’s wisdom traditions’.
[ii] Based on Ken Wilber’s work on integral theory, Peter Merry (2008, 124) elaborates on the capacities of holons (everything is both a whole in its own right and part of something bigger) as follows:
‘Agency’, the capacity to clarify identity, wholeness and boundaries, and express this in the world;
‘Communion’, the capacity to connect to whatever is outside those boundaries;
‘Self-transcendence’, the capacity to go beyond one’s current stage on the evolutionary path;
‘Self-immanence’, the capacity to hold all one’s parts and past together in the present, healing and integrating past patterns.