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To BE a Pilgrim:  Exploring the emergence of regenerative cultures in the 21st Century

March 5, 2018

We are living in a moment of Kairos, a supreme moment, where edifices of stability and security are crumbing to reveal both death and rebirth, breakdown and breakthrough.

How we sense into life, and its {r}evolutionary potential determines how we access the creativity, intelligence and flow-dynamics innate within ourselves, our systems and our world.

Daniel Wahl, in his book Designing Regenerative Cultures, explores how we can let-go of the need for control, stability and certainty, as we open up to complexity, so as to create conditions conducive for communal life to flourish.

Here I write a review of Daniel’s book Designing Regenerative Cultures (2016) Triarchy Press.

I shall start this review by saying what a joy it is to review a book that speaks to my soul.  Why do I do what I do? Why did I give up a lucrative and successful career in corporate-world and quest upon a path less-travelled?   Because, to quote Daniel:

‘I firmly believe that the multiple crises we are facing are symptoms of our pathological habit of understanding and experiencing ourselves as separate from nature, from each other and from the community of life.’

So let’s begin!  Let’s explore root causes rather than downstream effects. Let’s sense into our current malaise of degenerative cultures and see beyond them into how life really is.

First off, Daniel makes it clear from the get-go that the very way in which we tend to approach problems needs to be shape-shifted.  We are not standing outside a system trying to change it.  We are always nested within systems, participating within them, co-creative agents, swimming in a sea of underlying dynamics that we would do well to understand before seeking solutions.

‘We are integral participants and expressions of life.’ – Daniel Wahl

This re-connection (or re-membering) of our sense of place and purpose within life is primary to our ability to apply a different level of consciousness to our solutions than created the problems in the first place.

Upmost, this is finding ‘right relationship’ with ourselves, with each other, with life In-so-doing we better sense into the system-dynamics at play within life (divergence, convergence, emergence, co-creativity, self-organisation, self-integration, inter-relationality).

‘The world-as-we-know-it emerges out of the way we relate to each other and the wider natural process…Becoming conscious of our interbeing with the world reminds us of our communion with all life as a reflection of our larger being.  As conscious relational beings, love for life is our natural state.’ – Daniel Wahl

Daniel conveys what I feel is a very important point, and one that is often overlooked.  Our natural humanity is that of ‘interbeing’  ( a term coined by Thich Nhat Hanh and then popularised by Charles Eisenstein and others).

And yet we are going through a journey of separation – individually, culturally, and anthropologically.  Through this journey of separation there is danger. WE create a heightened sense of ‘separate self’ whereupon we forget that we are actually immersed in this interbeing.

This is the age-old shamanic journey of departure-separation-return which is a vital part of our individual and collective maturation and individuation, where we pass through the eye of the needle, and go through a psychological re-birth into a conscious self-reflexive understanding of our inter-being. This is a very natural journey. It is unfolding culturally and is also a personal undertaking, a journey into maturity, into self-responsibility and collective service, and into what author and eco-psychologist Bill Plotkin calls true adulthood.

‘every human being has a unique and mystical relationship to the wild world, and the conscious discovery and cultivation of that relationship is at the core of true adulthood…True adulthood is rooted in transpersonal experience…that is embodied in soul-infused work and mature responsibilities.’ – Bill Plotkin

Does our current culture and socio-economic order encourage this advance into true adulthood?  How often do we come across business leaders, politicians and heads of institutions embodying soul-infused work?

Are we encouraged to live the questions of the soul?

There are some healthy signs in our culture:  ‘purpose’ is on the rise, along with ‘well-being’, ‘consciousness’, ‘mindfulness’, ‘sustainable business’ and ‘authentic leadership’. There is an increasing up-take in the search of self beyond separateness into soulful interbeing.

The very situations we have created collectively and personally become the very learning environments that provoke our maturation, if we so choose to see with soul-eyes.

‘Deep listening can help us catch sight of the soul: listening to our inner voice, listening to our community, listening to wild nature, listening for wholeness.’ – Daniel Wahl

And this art of listening, comes with a shift in cognition, or rather a step upstream into what the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead called ‘prehension’ a form of receptive introception – a listening-in, a side-ways glance, an integrated sensate spaciousness, an imaginal opening – before we seize on a reaction, response, answer, conclusion or judgement. We start to live our questions more curiously and patiently.  We make space within ourselves, our conversations and our communion with life.  This space allows the elan vital of life to flow more readily through our listening, sensing and responding.  Our listening is regenerative, as it provides the receptivity for bringing forth life.

‘Meditation techniques like Non Violent Communication invite the conflicting parties to return to what they observe, how it makes them feel, [to pause, reflect, and contemplate our] core beliefs and assumptions…Being able to question our own assumptions and paying attention to how we think and interpret situations is a crucial skill for anybody in a leadership position, and anybody wanting to co-create a regenerative culture.’ – Daniel Wahl

This is where I find the work of David Bohm so useful in his approach to dialogue, and the indigenous Way of Council which has been around for millennia – the simple yet radically profound act of speaking and listening from the heart. I have hosted Way of Council for people from all walks of life and backgrounds, and have found that no matter the background or baggage we bring, we can all sense the transformative power of speaking and listening from the heart.

‘Now here is my secret, it is a very simple secret, it is only with the heart that one sees rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.’ – Antonie de Saint Expurery

Daniel also explores how our understanding of ‘interbeing’ is being enriched by findings in the fields of consciousness, neurobiology, quantum physics and developmental psychology.  He notes,

‘The ‘living systems view’ of life is not an objectification of nature and biology as separate from the interior (individual and collective) experience of consciousness, but understands life and consciousness as fundamentally interwined manifestations of one and the same process…We are only beginning to understand the co-dependent arising of life and consciousness as a fundamentally participatory process of entering into relationship and taking perspective.’ – Daniel Wahl

Interbeing is a way of experiencing life that we are only beginning to make sense of through our up-to-date scientific explorations. Fundamentally, interbeing is a shift in consciousness that enables us to see ourselves are participating as interdependent ‘beings’ within a world of being.

This shift in consciousness requires us to see beyond the separateness of species struggling for survival in a dog-eat-dog world, into connectedness where we open our senses more deeply to how life is, we see beyond the illusion of separate ‘beings’ struggling for survival through dog-eat-dog competition, and start to sense the innate inter-relationality of life, the reciprocity, emergence and flow, as well as the tendency for competitive struggle.  Hence, this interbeing is also a ‘new story’ a scientifically rooted mythology that deepens our sense of place and purpose in the world as participants engaging through receptive-responsive-reciprocity, if we so choose.  We are not competing but co-arising.  Rather than natural selection, we find natural inclusion (as the brilliant scientist Alan Rayner puts forth in his scientific philosophy of ‘natural inclusion’).

We are ‘being’ alive through and in relationships, as Daniel notes, living within an underlying unity, never separate from it.

Daniel then explores this way-of-being and the social dynamics needed for forming regenerative cultures.  He draws upon the adaptive cycle from the Resilience Alliance, the work of which I am a fan of.  This ‘panarchy’ adaptive cycle is a powerful model for how living systems inter-relate and continuously interweave with cycles of breakdown-breakthrough, creative and destructive and yet not degenerative.  The summer growth needs the winter breakdown of autumnal leaves for the nutritious soil to support spring shoots. Night needs day, the out-breath is never separate from or competing with the in-breath, neither is better or worse, merely part of the innate rhythm of life evolving and revolving.

‘Transformative resilience has to be built from the bottom up and panarchy makes us understand that this requires both top-down and bottom-up collaboration and mutual support….Transformative resilience at a global scale emerges from the scale-linking collaboration and interconnection of regional and local subsystems…Efforts to nurture transformative resilience can learn from the scale-linking patterns of nature’s life support systems.’  – Daniel Wahl

Daniel also explores the importance of foresight and anticipation. Good foresight is when we integrate our four ways of knowing (intuitive, rational, emotional sensorial) as we sense into the present moment in a holistic way in order to sense the emerging future, the system dynamics, the ebbs and flows, the potential future states and the early formations of new strange attractors.

‘Design for resilient and regenerative cultures is about facilitating positive emergence, co-creating collaborative networks of relationships that nurture the conditions in which we (life) can meet uncertainty with creativity, adaptive capacity and a readiness to transform in response to change and disruption…Diversity is the bedrock of resilience and systemic health. In designing for resilience and systemic health we facilitate symbiotic relationships between diverse agents’ – Daniel Wahl

This brings us back round to attentive listening-in to the system through the self.  It reminds me of the importance of Otto Scharmer’s leadership work on tapping into source when sense into our emerging future.

‘One effect of the narrative of separation is to make individuals believe they do not have the power and influence to change the system, but the narrative of interbeing reminds us that every change at the individual level and every conversation does in fact change the system as we are not separate from it… If we truly live into the fact we are life, that we are nature, and as such are bound by kinship and interdependence to the community of life that human and planetary healthy depend upon, we will come to regard the creation of a globally regenerative civilisation expressed in exquisite locally adapted diversity as the creative challenge of our times.’ – Daniel Wahl

Daniel explores eco-loteracy as an ability to understand the organisation of natural systems and the processes that enable healthly and sustainable functioning of living systems, whether human systems or not.  This essentially means being able to embrace continuous learning, feedback and transformation. Many of our current structures stifle continuous learning, feedback and transformation,.

For Wahl, deep listening lies at the heart of creating regenerative cultures: listening deeply to ourselves, to our relations, to the wisdom of Nature.  Wahl refers to the power of indigenous wisdom in helping us cultivate this depth of listening..

Daniel also explores many of today’s nature inspired approaches to process and economic design, such as biomimicry, circular economics, cradle-to-cradle and the regenerative economy.

He asks the questions, ‘how can today’s businesses act in today’s conditions while at the same time engaging in their own transformation and the transformation of the economic environment they are operating in?  What would a truly regenerative business look like?

While Daniel does not explicitly or specifically respond to these questions, he begins to unpack the way ahead when recognising the shift from vicious cycles to virtuous cycles, a shift in ‘being’ from fear to love, a shift in consciousness from separateness to interbeing.

This is a step change in how we see the world and our sense of place and purpose within it. And so to seek regenerative futures, we must first invite in leaders, shapers, catalysts, change agents and provocateurs in our organisations and social systems, who are on the cusp of crossing this threshold from separateness to interbeing.  This I believe is the task of our time, when it comes to future-fit leadership and organisational development, hence my personal focus in this area.

Alfred North Whitehead noted that life is ‘a creative advance into novelty’.

We – in our living and attending to life – are co-creating in this advance into novelty.

How exhilarating. How humbling.

How we ‘show up’, sense into, and respond has repercussive ripples throughout the web of life.

The quests we embark upon, the wake we make, the legacy we leave, affects the future and its emergence into novelty.  The past, present and future are intimately interwoven in this emergent novelty. What a fascinating learning experience life is, utterly awe-inspiring, and yet feet-on-the-ground humbling.

How we perceive comes with a response-ability.  Our responsiveness is reciprocating with our receptivity, our receptivity a way into novelty.

To ‘become’ (or rather be-come) this receptive-responsive dynamism is the essence of living and leading artfully.

Our experience of life is an ever-becoming, an emergent participation of continually questing, letting-go, opening-up, sensing into, attuning, co-creating, prototyping, playing with, learning, questioning, listening-in… each menstruating moment a meta-morphosis, each cell within us ever-engaged in meta-bolic participation with life, each organisation and social system an inter-relational and interdependent weave in the meta-myth of this universal tapestry.

The pilgrim’s way is a ‘be-coming’ of receptivity and responsiveness, of continual sensing-and-responding: questing while questioning. It is a humble yet masterful way of life.

To live our becoming in a more conscious, integrated and holistic way, is to become more fully human. It is a radical act of love, of vulnerable opening-up to what IS, and attuning ourselves to the deep wisdom of Nature/Tao.

This becoming is a radical act of seeing, seeing beyond separateness, beyond illusion and constriction, into the deeper scape of our resplendent inter-being.

It is here, in this sacred unfolding enfoldment of each evolving moment that we are regenerative.  We dance with life, and participate in its innate regenerative nature.

Leaders of every generation and region are being simultaneously beckoned and cajoled into a new way, a new mind-set, a new operating model, one that is essentially life-affirming rather than singularly at odds with the social and ecological grammar of life. Daniel Wahl expresses the timeliness of this challenge:

‘If we truly live into the fact that we are life, that we are nature, and as such are bound by kinship and interdependence to the community of life that human and planetary health depend upon, we will come to regard the creation of a globally regenerative civilization expressed in exquisite locally adapted diversity as the creative challenge of our times.’

This seems like a rather tall order when so many of us are struggling just to survive in these trying times. And yet, when we go into this challenge, we find that it is actually about nothing more, nor nothing less, than us waking up to, and taking responsibility for, what it really means to be human; to live up to our name as Homo sapiens – wise beings.  The true challenge of life, the true purpose of life is now being revealed right before us in the midst of this seismic epochal moment.

‘Regenerative’ is not something ‘out there’ it is in here, and from within it can in-form our outer forms, relations, constructs, social systems so that they tend towards harmony with life.

This is what Daniel skilfully explores in this book, the way ‘we might live our way rather than know our way into the future, how we might stop chasing the mirage of certainty and control in a complex and unpredictable world.’  He asks what is for me the most foundational of questions, ‘How can we create conditions conducive to life?’  An unassuming question that does not seek answers, rather it beckons us to become pilgrims in humbly and responsibly embracing the sacred novelty of our emerging future.

The Buddha notes:

‘In separateness lies the world’s great misery; in compassion lies the world’s true strength.’

The old Hindu greeting Namaste speaks volumes.  To greet someone with Namaste is to say,

‘I bow to the Divinity inherent in you. The Soul within me recognises, acknowledges, respects and appreciates the Soul within you for in reality we are one – we are both drops within the same ocean.’

This attitude of Namaste we can bring into every greeting, every encounter, and every conversation.  There need be no exception.  And yet this requires us to awaken, to shed our tight-skin of habituation; to unlearn our fearful, controlling, defensive and judgemental patterns of behaviour.  To shed this skin is to open up to the wild unknowable uncontrollable world beyond safety nets; to open to life through Love; to see with Soul-eyes and sense the inter-being of reality.

Namaste to Daniel for this wonderful book!  A book that applies a different level of consciousness in approaching today’s problems than created the problems in the first place. A book that asks questions and provides insights for prototyping our future.

Bless you Daniel Christian Wahl for this important contribution to the world.

Giles Hutchins  is a visionary thought leader, speaker and adviser on the future of leadership.  He advises organizations on their transformation to regenerative business, and is author of the books The Nature of Business , The Illusion of Separation  and Future Fit, watch a short 3 minute video about it here. Giles blogs at  is Chairman of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and co-founder of

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