Activists and the field beyond “us” and “them”

Activists and the field beyond “us” and “them”

​How can we work better together on a survivable future? What supports climate activism, and climate activists, in being more effective?

Here are some observations using Regenerative Culture (Regen Culture) as a lens. (Regen Culture is Extinction Rebellion’s (XR’s) branch that supports activists.) The​ observations are filtered through a lot of exploration of small groups and what seems to work, some limited exposure to local groups here in Canada, and reading between the lines on the text communication channels, locally and internationally. ​Some conversations with friends here and in Europe played a role too. I’ll point to what I take to be difficulties and make an observation about a possible direction. I’m open to correction.

The challenge facing social changemakers is enormous. But the challenges in Regen are a snapshot of a pattern showing up wherever people raise their heads above the cubicles and, like astonished prairie dogs, marvel at the complexity of what we’re facing.

Many Regen Culture people in Extinction Rebellion (XR for short) ​are frustrated with their connection to XR. Some or perhaps many don’t feel they’re being listened to or that their gifts and unique contributions are being received. Some are confused about the censure of XR co-founder Roger Hallam or what it means; some are adamantly in favor of the Green New Deal and others don’t think it’s XRs business; some have specific requirements about how hierarchy, patriarchy, privilege and decolonization should be handled; others don’t feel they should be touched at all. And others fear speaking up about these difficulties lest they be disliked. And who’s in charge here anyway? Reading between the lines on Mattermost, and with some personal contact, I’m guessing that this concern is widespread across the global community and not just where I am in Canada. ​

It’s important to say I don’t think it’s a personal failure of the individuals within the groups that things are this way. It’s not that individuals are doing it wrong. Each person is coming in wanting to make the biggest contribution they can.

And there’s a very good reason for the confusion nonetheless.

Regenerative culture in its deep structure is a child of the existing culture and has adopted that culture’s core assumptions. Though the content of XR is different, the core assumptions have migrated like a parasite from the mainstream culture without us seeing or imagining it.

In the prejudgment I’m talking about, the prejudice is the one in favor of “us” and “them” thinking that’s deep in human culture. This is hard to ​get experientially because much of it is not even cognitive. “Us and them” thinking is woven into our sexual, ethnic, religious and national identities. We define “us” in terms of “them.” We’re not like “them”, we’re “us”. This is our identity we’re talking about so it’s firmly held and hard to see​. So for example, we become emotionally charged against those who we think are doing it wrong. The wrongdoers might be the obvious candidates like government or the polluters but we also feel pressured to “other” our own members and we fear lest they do the same to us.

Another way to ask that question is, is there something beyond “us and them” and can we find it? I think the answer is that yes, there is something, but it’s difficult to discover because of how deep the split is. ​”Us and them” thinking is deep-rooted. All previous cultures, presumably going back to the earliest warring tribes were based on it too. Identifying and even thinking of getting past “us and them” is a very new idea. To actually do it experientially is a new capacity of self, one we grow into slowly.

​”Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi

Here’s how this tendency to “us and them” thinking shows up in the groups we may think it wouldn’t.

To belong to the culture or the group there’s a strong but invisible pressure to conform to the others, in thought, behavior and deed, and this pressure increases the more the others and the group are important to us. This pressure is constant. Generally speaking, we humans feel tremendous pressure to conform so can we belong and not feel the pain of not belonging. We’re anxious to prove that we are part of “us” and not one of “them”.

Being part of Extinction Rebellion or DA does not give us any kind of a pass from this tendency. The pressure to belong is at the level of system, not content.

We think of ourselves as free-thinking individuals. To an extent that’s true but we humans are highly social beings. Tribes did not produce free-thinkers first but social cooperators; free thinking comes later. We survived from infancy by bonding with our caregivers and conforming to their wishes, in order to be safe in the world. Our identity is tied up with theirs.

As adults it’s still true that our identity comes from our secure bonding to the people who are important to us. We know instinctively what words and actions connect us more deeply to others, strengthens our bond with them. And we know instinctively what threatens our belonging in the tribe and what would get us into trouble. We know what lowers our status or even risk our expulsion if we say or do it.

It’s not that we lack courage to think outside of the allowed tribal culture; it’s that we seldom see the possibility. The imperative to do what it takes to belong is so much the norm, that we can go our whole lives without noticing that we’re shaping ourselves to fit in. We literally don’t think of it. This is as true for rugged individualists as it is for the seeming timid. We literally don’t think of it until we do.

In a meeting of activists who don’t know each other well, no one know if she really belongs or not. Each person may have many different contradictory voices inside herself. For example, imagine a new person, a young woman say, who is just out of school and concerned about the future and whether she wants to bring children into the world. She likely will have a story on whether she belongs based on her age, skin color, income, religion, sexuality, trauma background or any other thing. But most of these voices are private, not public. She may have deep seated beliefs about what others in the group need to do to believe in order to be OK in her opinion and so is wondering when she can share her ideas or whether she’ll fall into disrepute if she ​does. Are men in the group fully welcome or should they stand down because of privilege? And how much and for how long? Is patriarchy the problem or something else? Should there be equality of outcome or equality of opportunity? What should be done in the present generation about decolonization from the past?

And of course it’s not just this young lady ​fresh out of school. Everybody else in the group is wondering about which parts of their experience are welcome too. The only safe thing to say is very superficial stuff about the activist group itself and why we’re meeting together.

The proclaimed reason for the group (in XR these are the three demands) are only a small part of what interests these others.

There are a many holes to trip over as our horse gallops forward in search of a new regenerative culture.

When all this remains hidden, the group can accomplish little because part of everyone’s energy is tied up with staying safe for the reasons mentioned above. Risks are hard and a paradigm or phase shift is impossible to even imagine. The unsafe tribe becomes skittish, afraid of ambush from the enemy. It’s preoccupied with keeping the dissident voices out.

​A way forward?

The amazing thing is that this entire dynamic continues only because it’s hidden.

There’s a simple way forward once this dynamic is allowed to be seen, once it’s on the table in front of us. We don’t have to solve the problems we thought we had. It’s more like we have to listen to each other.

I repeat that ​the challenge we have isn’t anybody’s fault. The groups we have now are a natural outgrowth of the culture that we inherited. ​There underlying structure is of a conscious “us” we welcome, and an unconscious “them” we try and keep out. Activist culture​ everywhere borrows this dynamic from mainstream culture and we can’t help but be caught up in it.

The traditional way to solve a problem is to ask for a better analysis because that’s the way it keeps everyone safe: Just study it more! But analysis, as Peter Block, one of my mentors said, is interesting but not transformative. ​It’s not enough

There’s no way around the need for us to risk listening to each other just as we are, to let those hidden voices be heard. It’s certainly more fun than the alternatives.

Listening to each other’s lived experience includes listening to the dissident voices in each other with respect, listening without trying to change or convince them. We don’t need to see the world the same.

But how could this be accomplished?

With the most simple human technology. For example, imagine being in a group of three people, within a larger group that has many other groups of three, with each person speaking to these questions.

What are you paying lip service to that you no longer believe?

In what way are you contributing to the problem in the system you complain about?

How is the regen culture experience like your psychological or emotional or spiritual life?

What gifts for the whole do you keep in exile?

What are you experiencing now?

And many other similar questions. See how these allow others into our world rather than keeping them out? Somewhere along the process of listening to each other and saying what’s true for us, we may see, may experience that we’re in this together. This takes earnestness and sincerity because all this listening and speaking can be faked, something to get out of the way. But it’s a step toward experiencing there’s no “them”, no other to project on. We’re just humans listening to each other – rather than blindly striving for competitive advantage which is the rule in the “us and them” world. At a certain part of stumbling along​, regeneration may find us, all by itself. I don’t want to whitewash the difficulties but ​it’s important to remember what’s possible.

Regeneration is ready already, ​even when we’re not.

If an experience beyond the “us and them” does enter the group, many people notice. ​This distinct experience, often called collective intelligence, is a liberation from the strict limits of ego thinking, like taking off a tight shoe and wiggling toes.

We’re not less of an individual, in fact we’re more of one yet somehow we have access to the intelligence and wisdom of the others too. We have an exponential increase in smarts, not just an arithmetic addition of one plus one.

I ​believe we’re at the very beginning of something important here. We’re learning to break through the ​shackles of the past to see something that’s glimmering ahead in the darkness.

 It’s a sense of possibility, even Presence, that perhaps has been searching for us all along.

Some feedback on online calls

Some feedback on online calls

I spoke to a few of you who’ve been on live Zoom calls and learned more about what’s working and where we might go.

Here’s some of ​what I took away (special thanks to Betty, Laure, Andrea, Lynn):

You like it when we break out into small groups, to do “Presencing practice” or something else involving open-ended questions. You like to be able to meet one on one with others journeying in a similar way. We will definitely continue with this.

I also heard this: We each have a specific sensitivity and gift and it’s important for us to have this witnessed. This unique gift doesn’t belong only to people on our calls. Everyone has their own. But many people are primarily immersed in the consensus reality and so are less attuned to what’s uniquely true for them. When this is the case they’re less able to speak up about their specific sensitivity because not speaking up about it is the consensus reality. Most people in the mainstream are not deeply aware that we’re in a profound social shift or that that social shift is also an equally important personal shift for them. By engaging this shift with peers we help each other better navigate the landscape.

The personal journey is likely to be unprecedented for us in its depth and challenge. It’s deeper and more challenging than we expected. Childhood or adult challenges may be, and perhaps probably are, up for re-examination. People in this exploration space have more than likely experienced significant bumps that have partly moved them out of consensus reality already. They’re attracted to the group because a part of them realizes that the mainstream reality wasn’t answering their questions. The group doesn’t have answers either but we have a resonant “field” in which the answers show up if  the field of exploration is well nourished.

I’ll repeat that challenge and edge are inevitably part of the mix as we move past consensus reality into what’s emerging. Individuals in the group may see or understand things that their usual daily contacts don’t see or don’t resonate strongly with. For these reasons, it’s great to connect with others who are like us. These people tend to become natural allies or colleagues. The more we’re able to be transparent about what’s alive for us, the more others recognize us as their natural colleagues. Some group members will naturally want to make alliances with us, perhaps to do projects together when the time is right, or just as friends.  The new relationships between individuals and between the individual and the group zone itself can be life-changing.

Being ” transparent about what’s alive for us” can be as simple as sharing what  we’re curious about, what’s emerging. As we show up with each other more transparently in the group, there’s some transference to how we are showing up out there in the world. We help each other show up more genuinely.

And for a far-out thought, just for a moment. A conscious group is akin to a multi-limbed organism that is slowly becoming conscious of itself and its capabilities. The “I”s in the group also are aware that, without being diminished, they’re also a “We.” The more the group organism is conscious​, the more it’s able to move on its own, to find its own direction, to learn more about its nature. I truly believe we’ve barely scratched the surface of what is possible.

​Groups I host are part of an ecosystem of many conscious organismswaking up together to what’s possible together.

​​New times for regular calls

Every second Sunday at 1pm Eastern, 10 Pacific, 7pm CET.  No more calls on Thursday for now as it’s not a good time for many.  The next group will be December 29th, January 12th and 26th, etc. Subscribers will receive the link by email.

All are welcome. If ​you can ​”resonate” with the above, you’ll fit right in. There will be a less challenging  ​option of the Presencing practice available, for those who are new to it. Hope to see you!

Your saving grace

Where do we start with all we’re facing? This post points in a surprising direction.

The gap between the mainstream mind and the mind that sees the challenge we’re facing is a wide one. The gap between the two is huge, and the temptation is to approach it, if we can approach it at all, with trepidation. We wish the gap were smaller.

In fact most of us want to minimize the knowledge and tuck it away where we can control or manage it. This can go on for a long time.

Very good people feel this. Highly evolved, sensitive, skillful people, feel this. We’re so not alone if we feel this too.

We think we are though. We feel our particular unique symptomology of craziness, self-doubt, uncertainty, desperation, blame, fear and desolation are pathological. We fear that we’re more screwed up than others and that “they” understand and are handling it so much better.

Uh, no. We’re dealing with an unprecedented social situation here. It’s so all-encompassing and new that no one (almost literally no one) knows how to be with it. We’re learning together.

The “saving grace” is in knowing that, in naming and getting clear on the . . . bigness of this.

When we see and make room for how big it is, we start to see that we’re not crazy, not filled with self-doubt, not uncertain, not needing to blame, not afraid and desolate. We’re not making it up!

But when we pretend all is well or wellish, as “business as usual” would have us believe it is, we deny the part of us that knows better. Maintaining the difference between what we know and what we pretend makes us feel crazy, whatever crazy is to you.

When we can admit how big the problem is, especially with others, we’re not at odds with ourselves. We are where we are. This helps a lot.

Our situation is filled with unknowns. But it can be faced with courage, equanimity and grace. Trying to deny, control, manage, though puts us in the position of trying to deny reality.

My recommendation: Find safe, respectful, welcoming places to be with others who are not “in denial” of the scope of the issues we’re facing. Tell the truth and contribute to their well-being as they do to yours. Eventually we want safe groups like this in our neighbourhoods or blocks where we live. But we can do a lot of it online with people of good will anywhere.

See the next drop-in group – Hello Climate Change – under Groups above. Be sure you’re subscribed to hear of frequent group opportunities. Subscribe at the top right.

Inside activist culture

Inside activist culture

​Inside Activist culture

I received a phone call this morning from a friend in Germany who’s active in Extinction Rebellion. She was concerned about the ​activist culture there, how it favors action over reflection, a masculine doing over a feminine being, how it has little tolerance for the hidden or secret voices of members which were paved over with a tendency to group think. 

​People often ​come into activist groups​, exploring, and ​don’t find the welcome or the home they want. ​There are voices in them that feel unheard or unwelcome, not reflected back. They can’t quite find themselves here. ​

This isn’t about Extinction Rebellion, but about activist culture in general. Activist culture tends to unconsciously ​conform to the values and structures of the larger culture, even as it tries to confront ​them. It’s ​similar to the larger culture in the pressure for conformity, the lack of space for listening. When we sense this ​pressure (and humans, being the supremely social creatures we are are tremendously good at sensing it) we immediately know it’s risky to show up and speak up just as we are. ​We know what the group norm is and we conform lest we become unpopular quickly. This emotional riskiness and lack of safety is much like the wider culture which also favors a more superficial conformity.

The more we can counter this in ourselves and in the activist culture, the stronger we’ll all be.

So here are some thoughts on what ​something better might look like, ​​sparked as my ​thinking usually is, by another conversation. ​

Hidden beneath the conformity are fearlessness and vulnerability

​What does the conformity and suppression of individual voice cover up? ​One way to say it is our ability to experience both fearlessness and vulnerability. 

​Fearlessness is distinct from bravado or martyrdom. It doesn’t suppress other parts of ourselves and diminish or belittle them, as if we’d be stronger that way. Fearlessness is based on a free choice, consciously chosen. In fearlessness, every part of us is lined up behind the action and we actually feel grounded and ready. We recognize our friends who are there with us too!  Fearlessness isn’t really possible as a solitary act because ​to the extent it’s a solitary act we’ve no one to be fearless for.

Vulnerability is distinct from collapse or weakness. It means knowing the risk and showing up anyway with an open heart. Vulnerability also opens us to the trauma that’s part of the human experience, what we’d like to pretend wasn’t there. Trauma is in the larger human body and every family’s history is touched by it. ​Welcoming our experience sooner or later means opening to trauma and even the fear of death. Like fearlessness, ​vulnerability is also social. ​We can’t be vulnerable without others to be vulnerable to. Another thing that vulnerability means is daring to go at our own ​speed and to respect and take care of our own needs. It’s a form of self-care, including for parts of us we may have been denying our whole lives.

Neither vulnerability in the sense I mean it, or fearlessness, are possible without intentional places to practice and improve in. That’s because the social norm is to not welcome them.​ It’s not socially safe to risk either vulnerability or fearlessness.  

​Hidden beneath the conformity: tension between the individual and collective 

A​lso hidden beneath the pressure to conform is an ongoing but almost always invisible tension between the individual and the collective. The more he or she speaks with an original voice – the less she conforms – the more she risks being excluded. But the more she conforms to the group and suppresses individual doubts or concerns in order to belong, ​the more she disempowers herself and the less truth she has to contribute. (​Read more about this in The Singular Place of Dual Blessing​. Dual Blessing is the place where we make room for both sides of the paradox.)

​We can ​explore this personally and practically in​ small groups that name these issues and welcome others​. ​

My secret wish​ is that everyone ​have an opportunity to ​do the work that can’t be done alone​, both for themselves and for the ​sake of the work. ​Otherwise we’ll ​”unintentionally” ​propagate the unconscious biases of the larger culture-  and feel frustrated doing it. ​​

​We need ​the messy, emerging-in-the-moment voices we have, just as ​they are to get the ​transformation work done. ​Need it ​both for the work and for ourselves. 

​Check under  Groups, above, for practice opportunities! 

Change is a shift in consciousness

Change is a shift in consciousness

​My friend John Heney has referred to our normal experience of the world as an “isolating personal performance.”​ This seems to me a telling phrase, one I can certainly relate to ​from personal experience.

In this essay, I want to take this experience of ​isolating performance and place it beside the experience of Presence or non-​performance and ​offer some ideas about ​moving from one to the other.​ Along the way this I’ll show ​the relevance of this to our moment, to climate change and ​adapting to a future we may ​not be able to “fix.” 

Warning: 1. Along the way there will be ​​bad cartoons. ​2. When I say that “we experience … [this or that],” I’m referring to the usual mindset, the everyday sleep the spiritual literature speaks to. ​That’s not all we are, of course. The everyday sleep IS the personal  performance.

​The purpose of the performance of an isolated self is to maintain or improve our ​right to belong well in the human community.​ ​The social norm is to want ​very much be on the good side of the status measurement​s that indicate worth: rich-poor, succeeding-failing, enough-not enough, blame-forgiveness, high-low, ​valuable-​not valuable​ ​. . .  ​​​Most of us, most of the time are involved with this. ​​

So when we experience stress and difficulty, which we inevitably do, ​the natural thing to do is to look to that solitary self to understand ​what went wrong. ​Most therapy and most healing modalities presuppose this solitary self. It’s been with us throughout evolutionary history; it’s what we know. Yet the solitary self​ has a limited understanding of what’s going on. It sleeps or it wouldn’t experience itself as solitary and separate ​the way it does.

​​In a crude characterization a caveman might raise his eyebrows at, ​the world of the solitary self looks like this:

​​The normal sleep of everyday life is one of continual judgement and evaluation, trying to find a good place relative to others. The wider context isn’t in awareness. 

Where​ is the wider context, you ask? Where is the deep love we ​know in all this? 

​It hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s all around. We’re inside it and we intuit it and ​sometimes experience it. But what’s in the foreground of normal awareness is our relationship to others, high and low. Compared to ​the immediacy of this normal perception, ​talk of love comes across as an abstraction, ​secondary. 

​The reality may be that we’re bathing in ​the greater reality, held by it continually. But ​we usually don’t see it. We’re spellbound by the drama of the world. There ​may indeed be a “divine comedy,” but usually we see something closer to the Jerry Springer show. 

If we manage to move past or forget about the judgemental and evaluative mind, what’s ​already there shows up.

A second cave man drawing might ​show it like this:

​We’re immersed in a greater whole, represented by the yellow​. ​We’re touching everything through it since the ​wholeness is undivided. High and low, big and small don’t matter much. 

​Underneath and around the dramas where we protect our fragile self-sense and try ​and get by, we’re connected to others and made of the same stuff as them.​

We’re each in ​exactly the same relationship to the whole as everybody else. This is the great leveler. The commonality ​sits underneath our seeming world of differences, the one in which the norm is to perform to prove our right to belong​. ​When ​we’re noticing this greater whole, others appear not​ as other but as expressions of the same thing we are. Status and judgement ​are not very relevant or interesting. ​Uniqueness is valued because it ​gives us scope for creative partnerships. 

​”What is greatest in human beings is what makes them  equal to everyone else. Everything else that deviates higher ​or lower from what is common to all human beings makes us less. If we know this we can develop a deep respect for every human being.

​(Bert Hellinger observed this, while/ after reading the Taoist source book, 

Tao te Ching.)

​The world of struggle for higher and lower ​status is ​easy to see when we look out at the entire world​. It’s less visible to us at the local level but the ​same dynamic applies there​.

If we’re able to move past it and see each other inside a larger whole, a different dynamic comes into view. The individual characteristics and experiences of others, represented below by the letters, are seen as values that each person in “the field’ has access to.

​When the individuality of each person is ​genuinely welcomed, then the qualities of each become available to the others in the field. This sense of ​collective intelligence can be very palpable​. It’s not a rare or difficult experience. 

We’re in a different relationship to the whole and everything changes. Rather than holding on to some truth, what is is emerging in the moment.

This wholeness has many names and none. “The Tao that can be named is not the eternal Tao.” Presence is a word for it that resonates with me but whatever we call it, the thing ​the word refers to is​n’t a word. It’s what is and a direct experience of what is. ​Presence isn’t inert and doing nothing. It’s full of energy. It is energy. ​​It’s effortlessly doing, wu wei, as some ancient Chinese called it.

To be an effective change agent, we’ll do well to be aligned with Presence, by whatever name. Otherwise we’ll project the game of opposites onto our enemies and​ their problems will become ours. Presence tends to integrate problems.

Another person’s difference is another way to experience how the wholeness is expressing. ​The possibilities for collaboration are literally infinite. Every person can combine with every other in any way. Basically, ​everything comes clear in Presence.

​By ​definition the direct experience of this “beyond the opposites” noticing is neither hard not easy because ​. . . it’s beyond the opposites. The opposites are inside it. It’s a spontaneous manifestation like happiness or laughter and it’s not further away than them or more foreign than them.

​But like them it can’t be ​”accomplished” directly or by intention. 

Presencing Practice, because of its simplicity, helps bypass some of the ways we get in the way and ​subscribers are welcome to join in a practice session. ​(Click on Groups above.)

Facebook and Twitter miss the good stuff

Please indulge a little rant . . .

” Facebook is not enough for me. I want to know you and to know your struggle, your story as it shows up. I want the vulnerability of your presence. I want to be with you NOW. I don’t even care about your opinions. If your idea costs you nothing then it’s worth nothing to me. This is the time to prepare. We have work to do beyond liking and disliking. I don’t want to belong to the tribe of righteous anointed, hidden away from the unwashed. If we have trouble, I want to look you in your face up close and see in your eyes if you’re looking back and I’d like to receive your gaze. I don’t want to be alone in a simmering war. Let’s meet. I claim the authority of the messed up but willing warrior. I show up fully for that because that’s what I have to give.

Social media and hearing from people outside of real time isn’t enough for me. I find it stressful keeping up with it. I want to know you and to know your struggle. I want your story in real time. I want the vulnerability and realness of your presence so I can find my own. I want to be with you NOW. I don’t care much about disembodied opinions. If your idea costs you little to say or share, then my full attention doesn’t go there. This is the time to prepare. We have work to do beyond the liking and disliking that’s built into our lifestyle, that’s part of the architecture of FB, at least the way I use it and understand it. Liking and disliking is about all you can do with ideas and opinions that float around in a hard to get hold of, slightly disembodied way like so many ocean jellyfish. Beyond liking and disliking is the place of acceptance where what we share is most important and taken just as it is. That’s where I belong. I don’t want to belong to the tribe of likeable righteous anointed, hidden away from the bad people. I’d love to be able to look you in your face up close and see in your eyes if you’re looking back and I’d like to receive your gaze.

Glad I got that off my chest! Thank you! 🙂

Or in plainer English . . . we need something direct but the world, and of course not just social media, swathes us in indirectness at every turn.

Another name for this ongoing tide of misdirection and distraction is denial.

And yet, and yet . . . plenty of us are waking up to see that the ubiquitous denial system we live with isn’t worth the effort we put into it. We’re having what Gail Bradbrook of Extinction Rebellion called a f*ck it moment – when we realize that giving our lives to keeping the existing system going may not be the best option, when we see that the rules have changed and we can choose for ourselves – maybe take care of the people instead. Wherever we are on the change spectrum, and it’s OK to not know where that is, our inner world is being profoundly challenged because climate change poses an existential threat. We can’t help but be affected by it.

And it’s exactly that inner experience that we and others need to hear and witness if we’re to do better. Detached language misses it, misses it all.

The opposite of that is direct connection. In person is awesome but it’s often difficult to find people close by who can and want to fess up to this. So online is often the better choice.

Here too we’re just at the very very beginning of realizing what’s possible.

A deeper welcome and a higher belonging

A deeper welcome and a higher belonging

Many of us find it difficult to accept and trust what we’re seeing, feeling, sensing around climate change and the other the big issues of our time. We lack solid self-support systems and can’t easily trust ourselves. We feel vulnerable and at the mercy of large world forces. We may be concerned about climate change and it keeps us up at night. Or we’re drawn into partisan conflicts that are unsettling.

We feel that if we step outside the circle of peer expectation there’ll be no one there for us. We’ll be hung out to dry. We fear we’ll be alone with all our bridges burned. The traditional supports with steady jobs and religion based in the community are no longer there to support us.

We lack a solid self-support system. By a solid self-support system I mean the inner and outer supports that tell us that, at least for now, we’re in a friendly world where we’re welcome just as we are.

Support doesn’t mean co-dependence, that someone else will do it for us. I mean self-care that includes trusted others, on our wavelength as part of our lives. I feel a hunger for this in people I speak with. I feel it myself. Doesn’t everyone have a deep need to be welcomed and acknowledged, seen for what they’re bringing?

The art of the future is the deep welcome. It’s the self-care that extends to the part of us that feels unwelcome and not wanted in the moment, that feels blamed for what’s not working. The opposite of welcome is shutting the door in our own or another’s face saying you’re not what I wanted. You’re not important. You’re not worth it. That’s the voice we  fear we’ll hear if we really show up.

What we really want is the deepest of welcomes. We want a welcome too for the part of us that wants to make the world a better place while we can, our dreams. What we usually do, settling for less, doesn’t work. Settling for less might take the form of resistance (saying yes but demonstrating no in our actions), or resignation (giving up and plodding through), or rebellion. I mean rebellion in the sense of being against something and not for; I don’t mean Extinction Rebellion which I see as pro-active activism.

 The deep welcome, our place in the world, is claimed, not given. But we can’t claim it sitting on a meditation cushion. It’s in relationship in the everyday world where we practice the art of deep welcome.

This deep welcome, this self-care is a primary political act. Activism is important, but to the extent it lacks the spiritual base it’s ineffective. The self’s real nature IS deep welcome anyway. It wants, we want, to take in the world and contribute. We want to live and be a part of it.

This deep welcome is something we open to gradually. At first it’s  an intellectual idea that we may like a little or a lot but still aren’t practiced in. We don’t know how. (I’m not speaking of meditation and personal practices that are important but not enough in my opinion, not the firehose that is available to us now.) Secondly it looks like welcome groups with respectful conversation, honest as we can stand – and a lot of listening. Third is Presencing Practice, a moment to moment welcoming of what’s coming up. Presencing Practice carries on into our daily lives.

The core understanding is the felt knowing that it really is safe to be ourselves, even that we don’t have to do anything but be ourselves and live our lives, and that we’re deeply welcomed and held as we do so.

Climate change as celebration of consciousness

Climate change as celebration of consciousness

Few of us talk about the inner side of climate change, surfacing the inner angst, sense of pressure or despair we may feel. But when we do we see it as a burden and a problem. It shows up as, “Oh my god, how am I going to be with this?” A hundred, a thousand questions arise: how will our families understand it, how real is the science, Green New Deal?, how does Climate Change fit in with Focusing or other practices, what are the implications for counseling, political considerations. The list is endless. We don’t know where to start. The point is we experience climate change as burden and we talk about it in those terms, a problem to be fixed. In short we wish it would go away.

I don’t deny the sense of burden at all. An underlying dynamic there is that the burden shouldn’t be there and that climate change shouldn’t be there. We frame it as a problem. We treat it much like our world generally treats death, as a consummation to be avoided at all costs. But as we know, many experience the spiritual acceptance, peace and love they’ve never experienced before as they approach their  deaths. And many who witness others in this process do too.

I’m not saying by this comparison that climate change means we’re all going to die. I truly don’t know that and am not invested in it. But it seems very sure that much of what we’re identified with isn’t going to survive. It seems clear that some parts of our identity based on our lifestyle are going to “die,” metaphorically speaking. (I like Jem Bendell’s formulation that collapse is inevitable, catastrophe probable, and extinction possible.) As a simple example, we’re quickly depleting  a limited resource base – but you know that.

Climate change as problem is rooted in the same mind that sees death, whether literal or figurative, a problem. It’s the problem of denial. But never before have we collectively faced the problem of denial, or of death. We’ve just quietly gone on our way out the door into the great  beyond, single file and one by one. But we’re not dead yet. We’re still here and we’re here in the same room.

So what is this that we’re confronting, here together. And there’s that confronting word, a problem again.

We’re in this together and we’re in this as individual consciousness.

But here’s the rub. Climate change is not an individual problem primarily. Actually, none of our problems are individual problems primarily. Treating climate change as an individual problem gets off on the wrong foot by missing the crucial context, that we’re in this together.

Desperately, intimately, we’re thrown together in this situation where what it means to be human and alive is right there in the middle of the room with us. The question we never asked is being asked now.

I’m reminded of Mary Oliver’s question, “What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?”. But here together the question becomes “What are we  going to do with our wild and precious life?”  What are we going to do with our wild and precious common life? Which is our consciousness, our one mind. “Consciousness” is in no way an abstraction. It’s a lived experience. We’ve always lived in consciousness but are usually distracted by the getting and losing that are the concerns of the usual day. (The word I like for it is Presence because it reflects the intimacy and relationship more clearly. I don’t use the word because people have no idea what it means.)

The ability to tune into Presence with each other is natural to us, very like what it is to be human. But it’s usually unnoticed and is eagerly practiced even less. I find it highly useful to turn my attention into this common space, rather than pre-select working on my worry or private issue, though that’s there too. My private issue often opens up into the common space, releases and lets go. Symbolically it “dies” into the greater life. Then we become curious about whatever-you-call-it after that surrender. It’s not a word.  

It’s celebrating our moment-to-moment experience of consciousness or Presence. And it’s celebrating how each one of us is experiencing it differently, growing our collective learning, helping us rise to new understandings. All of this is a far cry from the lonely, though entirely understandable bewailing of our outcast fates.

(If you like, come join a simple exercise in group exploration this Sunday, July 14th. Details here.

What change will take – and what it might give

Societies and groups can be relatively open to change, or relatively closed. They’re not all equal in this crucial respect. Some are much more able to support evolutionary growth than  others. Societies with a rigid “ordained-by-god” structure can severely repress movements for growth, even over many centuries. Our own western democracies since the 18th century enlightenment have done a historically unprecedented job of being open to change and enjoy the success they do because of this openness. The changes that are coming though, due to climate change and related global effects, they’re largely closed off to, in denial of. They’re simply not equipped for it.

If we want to explore the future and truly pay attention to the science, including the possibility that  we may not make it, we’ll need a different context. And the mainstream won’t give it to us because it doesn’t have it. The current mainstream context is business as usual, an extractavist economy going on forever. The actual context of our moment, as I see it, is that business as usual is on a very short timeline. 

A future beyond denial won’t be given us. We’ll have to create and it for ourselves.

No small matter. I want to suggest some of the characteristics of the new context that we’ll need. It will need a lot of filling out by personal experience. In fact that personal experience and lived contribution is the essential characteristic, the realization that we’re in this together and can’t break through our own denial without others. Effectively, we become crucial parts of each other’s context. And that’s the first characteristic of the new is that it’s done relationally with others.

It also needs to be deeply open to unorthodoxy, to honest truths from participants.

It needs to be frequently reinforced and move toward being a default normal. If it isn’t the default normal, then the mainstream is the default normal, and the mainstream doesn’t understand what’s happening. You can’t visit a new context once a month or even once a week and have it take. Much like meditation, which is also a new context, it needs regular revisitation.

The new context needs to be economically sustained in a way that’s not completely derived from the mainstream economy. It will need to be sustained by the human values of the participants as they put their energy, including, likely, some of their money, behind what they want and value.

It should be replicable so that others can rapidly join in.

It needs to be open to people at many at different stages of awareness. Some people will simply realize that possible extinction  means waking up now; others  may be deeply experienced in Presence (a word for  the ever-present divine context).

The personal, by which I mean the emotional, spiritual, and financial, cost of the new context needs to be explicit so people know what they’re getting into. If the new context is one of transparency, then the it needs to be very transparent about itself. 

All these help support a new way of being with ourselves and with each other. There’s no limit to what that new way will give us. It’s “Presence,” all we ever wanted and it’s new every moment. The limitation is our commitment to the way things used to be.

I hope to have a group together that meets these criteria very soon. I’ll be holding a taster event July 6th or 7th, which you can read about here.

A simple exercise for being with climate change

Here’s a simple exercise that will give you some useful information about how you’re viewing and feeling about climate change, or deep adaptation. (Deep adaptation is the art of having a heartfelt and engaged response to the notion that climate change might very well not be “fixable,” but rather a reality that we’re learning to live with.) The exercise takes only five or ten minutes and is safe and revealing. Take a few moments and try it.

Choose an object in your room to represent climate change (or deep adaptation) and put it where you can stand over or beside it. Put another object down to represent yourself, a pair of shoes for example. Put the object that represents you the distance away from “climate change” that feels right to you and stand in that place and consider climate change. Notice how your body feels contemplating it, how you feel. Take a little time to allow yourself to land here. Jot a few thoughts down if you like.

Then take the position of climate change and consider “you,” where you just were. Notice how it feels from there, and jot it down if you like.

When you’re ready go back to the first position and feel how that is, considering climate change. Notice anything that’s new or that’s true, or that you might want to do.

And that’s it, your through!

I’ve created an online event to do this in a group, [changed to]Sunday July 14th. We’ll do the exercise individually, then share what happened in small groups. We’ll alternate between the small group and the larger group as we  consider what we’re hearing, how it is for us, and what we’re learning.

Please reply to this email and I’ll make sure you have all the details to attend the call.