Living and working with Nature – steps towards super-coherent living systems
There is an old saying, ‘May you live in interesting times’.
When someone said this to you it was viewed as both a blessing and a curse, because to live in interesting times means to face both danger and opportunity, to simultaneously embrace both breakdown and breakthrough, which is exactly what these transformative times demand of us.
The UN Secretary General refers to these times as the Great Transition; Joanna Macy, Thomas Berry and others have referred to it as the Great Turning.
‘Throughout the ages, people have said that the world is in the midst of big change.
But the level and degree of global change that we face today is far more profound than at any other period in my adult life. I call this period the Great Transition… I believe we face a unique opportunity.
Because the changes we face are so profound – the decisions we make will have a deeper and more lasting impact than perhaps any other set of decisions in recent decades. We have no time to lose.’ – UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon
My own contribution to this Great Turning is to shed some light on our relationship with Nature, to help illuminate the way we live and work with Nature.
I see this as primary to the challenges we face today, because whether it be climate change, neo-liberal economics, rampant social inequality or rising stress in the workplace, these are symptoms of a deeper underlying root cause – our sense of place and purpose in this world, the way we relate with life.
I have chosen to focus on how we can live and work with Nature by exploring what it means for our organisations to be thriving living systems in these times of transformation not least because if we only look at our ways of living outside of work then we run the risk of making it a hobby or ‘nice-to-have’. I feel it’s important to bring this way of working with Nature right into the heart of our corporate mind-set, so we allow ourselves and the living systems of our organisations to really come alive and thrive.
Hence, from 2009 onwards I have been running workshops and inquiries into what business inspired by and in harmony with Nature means. All the time this inquiry is deepening as I engage with great minds at the fore-front of this exploration. This summer, for instance, I was invited to a private gathering of scientists and pioneering explorers in the diverse fields of quantum physics, psychology, neurobiology, wellbeing, consciousness, organisational develop and leadership. And in a moment I would like to share with you some of these pioneering findings on how we can help our organisations thrive as living systems in these transformative times through what is referred to as ‘super-coherence’.
First, I would like to share with you a bit about my personal story – why I am involved in this work.
Having spent the last 20 years in business, previously as a management consultant and more recently as Global Director of a multinational with over 50,000 people worldwide, I have spent my fair share of time hanging out in airport lounges and non-descript hotel rooms overlooking neon lit car parks not sure whether I was waking up in Mumbai, Amsterdam or Paris, often facing on average around two or three hundred emails a day along with webinars, conference-calls, and endless meetings in rooms with limited natural light. In the process, I have spent a lot of time feeling dis-connected. Yet, there has always been a deep feeling within me, which from an early age I promised to myself I would never let-go off.
From as early as I can recall, I have always been deeply in love with Nature, with Life.
At one level this deep love is a feeling of enchantment with the awe-inspiring beauty and mind-boggling experience of this life: the every changing sun-rises and sun-sets, the evolving moment in our midst, the blade of grass or leaf on the tree well beyond anything our human ingenuity could come up with.
Yet, at another level, this feeling of love is a deeper feeling within me, which is hard to describe – a feeling of deep belongingness, of connectedness. When I allow myself to go into this feeling deep inside of me, and allow this feeling of belongingness to come into my conscious awareness, I sense a subtle shift in how I attend to life. I notice my problems and worries seem different, they gain perspective, I seem more able to empathise with the wider context, and I notice a shift in my sense of self as I begin to feel more open, inter-related and in love with life as it is in that moment.
David Bohm and other famous quantum scientists refer to a ground-of-all-being permeating through all of life that our daily consciousness may sometimes become aware of. This is the same notion the social ecologist Gregory Bateson refers to when explaining that our individual minds’ are nested within a wider and deeper Mind of Nature.
‘The individual mind is immanent but not only in the body. It is immanent also in the pathways and messages outside of the body; and there is a larger Mind of which the individual mind is only a sub-system.’ Gregory Bateson, social ecologist
As I connect with this feeling within me, my beingness opens up to this Mind of Nature, and the way I attend to the world shifts. I experience first-hand what leadership specialist Otto Scharmer refers to as a shift from ‘absencing’ (a heightened ‘ego-self’ which is desensitised from the world around it, acting in a focused yet defensive, reactive, change-adverse, self-assertive way) to ‘presencing’ (a more permeated ‘ego-self’ which is more soulful and inter-relational – aka ‘ecological-self’ – acting in a more open, empathetic, responsive, exploratory, participatory way).
When I go into this feeling of love inside myself, I can witness this subtle change – I can sense myself becoming more in harmony with life, becoming more connected and coherent as I begin to live and work with Nature. I sense myself shifting from dis-ease to wellbeing.
At this summer’s summit, world-leading scientists were exploring just this. Living systems theorists say that for ourselves and our organisations to thrive in these transformative times, we need to develop what is called ‘super-coherence’. This consists of intrinsic coherence and extrinsic coherence. It sounds complicated; it’s actually quite simple.
Intrinsic coherence is my ability as a living system to develop coherence inside myself. Scientists can now detect that we have a series of bio-rhythms emanating throughout our ‘bodymind’ – our gut, heart and brain all inter-relate, as do our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous networks, and our chemical, hormonal and sensorial networks. We can cultivate coherence within our bodymind through simple exercises. And this inner coherence affects the way we relate with the world – our extrinsic coherence. We begin to relate with others in more life-affirming, compassion and wise ways.
Intrinsic coherence within the organisation as a living system is attained when there is a resonant sense of purpose, by this I mean a strong over-arching sense of purpose that resonates with the individuals’ sense of purpose.
Organisationally, we need diversity of thinking, people to be empowered to respond to change, and for local teams to operate in self-organising ways so that the organisation can adapt quickly and appropriately. This divergence needs to be balanced with convergence through a resonant sense of purpose.
When the diversity of individuals’ sense of purpose resonates with the organisational purpose extraordinary things happen – this inner coherence informs the way people relate with each other and how they relate externally with different stakeholders, and the organisation comes alive and can thrive amid unceasing transformation. We develop extrinsic coherence and our relationships seek to be life-affirming and we seek to create value for ourselves and our stakeholders, including society and the environment.
It’s as simple as that. Though it is not necessarily easy to cultivate and maintain this coherence amid today’s consumeristic individualistic hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it norms.
There is a self-centred reason for cultivating this coherence though. Scientific experiments show us that when we develop coherence inside ourselves we undergo physiological and psychological changes.
Due to the busyness and stress we experience, for much of our daily lives our brain wave patterns within the frontal lobes of our neo-cortex are quite jagged and erratic. But with some simple exercises we can allow these brain waves to start forming more coherent sine-wave patterns, and with that, our left and right brain hemispheres’ start to integrate more readily, our corpus callosum is more active and more of our brain regions interact, along with the frequencies of our brain waves changing. The more we go into this coherence (by embracing simple practices) the more our bodymind starts to naturally cohere.
Soon, the brain waves start to embed themselves on the deeper more powerful waves of the heart – this is called heart entrainment, which allows for greater coherence throughout our bio-rhythms. And when this happens, profound changes happen both physiologically and psychologically: stem cell reproduction increases; tissue repair rates improve; our senses liven; we are more aware, alert and spontaneous yet also more relaxed and open; our ability to empathise with different perspectives increases as does our compassion for others; we become more receptive and responsive rather than reactive and defensive; our ability to deal with fast-moving change and transformation increases as does our ability to form generative reciprocating relations that help others open up and deal more effectively with change. Also, the protein structure in our brain cells, the water conductivity within our cells and the connectivity of our neural synapses all improve, along with our hormones changing as we shift a state of dis-ease to one of wellbeing.
In-so-doing, we allow more of our natural ways of know (what Carl Jung referred to as our intuitive, rational, emotional and somatic ways of knowing, and what Danah Zohar refers to as our IQ/EQ/SQ) to integrate into our awareness. The way we perceive the world and our sense of place and purpose within it shifts, and as a result the way we relate with others changes.
Sociologists are now finding that when a threshold of around 10% of people in an organisation or community have the self-awareness to sense when they are ‘absencing’ or ‘presencing’ and are able to regularly cohere (as it is a challenge to consistently maintain this coherence throughout our daily busyness – yet the self-awareness of noticing when we are or are not is in itself an important step) interesting things happen. This threshold, when coupled with the organisation having a life-affirming resonant sense of purpose, causes a tipping point to be reached and the organisation metamorphoses in such a way that it can start to let go of hierarchical power-based structures of control and allow more and self-organising and empowering approaches to form, which allows the organisation to thrive as a living system in times of increasing volatility. In short, the ability for our organisations to transform into vibrant flourishing purposeful living systems is greatly enhanced as we develop this threshold of coherence.
Hence, our ability to live and work with Nature is of primary importance to the challenges we face today at both personal and organisational levels. After all, it is this opening up to Nature within and all around us that allows us to become more human within our flourishing future-fit firms.
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