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Co-Creating Magnificence with the more-than-human – sensing Evolutionary Purpose

December 1, 2018

What a fascinating yet challenging time to be alive!

We are in the midst of a metamorphosis; profound shifts are affecting the way we work, how and why we do things and the purpose and meaning we bring to our organisations, systems and wider civilisation.

It’s what the ancient Greeks referred to as Kairos, a supreme moment in our human history, which if not adequately acted upon, may pass us by.

So how do we adequately act upon this monumentous moment in our human history?

By shifting our consciousness no less.  And what do I mean by that to ‘shift our consciousness’?

I mean a shift in perception, in prehension, in our relationality with reality.  And we can break down this relationality with reality into three interweaving component parts – self/other/world.

Our relationship with our own selves – our self-awareness, our ability to see our own habituations, constrictions, acculturations and blind spots, and our way beyond them through a process of individuation.

Our relationship with others – our ability to allow this deep sociality and empathy we have as human beings, or to get caught up in heightened ego-accentuation, projection, control, fear and polarisation.

Our relationship with the world – our ability to sense into this deep interrelating, participatory magnificence of life, or to narrow-down through anthropocentric and materialistic lenses.

Its this relationality, this attentiveness, that is at the heart of our challenges today. Yet, so often while trying to find solutions to our ever deepening and widening social, economic and environmental problems, we apply the very same level of consciousness that created the problems in the first place to our well-intended solutions.

We simply don’t have time for this anymore.  This is our hour of reckoning, and we need to get radical, and deal with the root cause, which is this flawed way of attending, a flawed worldview.  It’s a neurosis of the mind, a pathology of our psychology, a psycho-somatic dis-ease of epic proportions which is undermining our relationship with ourselves – where we are unable to become who we truly are as human beings; undermining our relationship with others – where we get caught up in a society of hyper-competition, consumerism and individualism; undermining our relationship with the world – where we end up un-weaving the very fabric of life upon which we depend, burning the book of life before we’ve read it.

In a talk I gave at The Amba Hotel in London for The Lucis Trust’s World Goodwill Conference, 10th I cover an exploration of our journey thus far, what brought us here to this precipice, this threshold in our human history. Then, I explore how we go through this membrane and up-stretch into a deeper way of relating beyond.

See here, the video of the 30mins talk.

This article is based on the talk so you can read it as well as watch it (or instead of watching it).

What Brought Us Here – The Journey So Far

We might use the age-old shamanic journey of departure-separation-return as a powerful way of looking at our journey so far – after all, it is core to many of the wisdom traditions and mythologies the world over.

Around 100,000 years ago we humans came out of Africa, and colonised various habitable places around the globe. In central Asia and Europe from 100,000 to around 10,000 years ago, it seems from the fragments of anthropological and archaeological evidence we can puzzle together, that far from living brutish lives, we lived quite peacefully in equalitarian communities, with a close communisis of self-other-world.  Males and females were valued equally, there is not much evidence of wide-spread aggression or of much stratification in communal life, and there seems to be plenty of time for art, dance, and convivial communal life. Both Sky God and Earth Goddess are worshipped. This worldview has been referred to as participation mystique – a close bond with others and nature.

Around 10,000 years ago something changed.  There was change in climate and a change in psyche.

It begins what the anthropologist Steve Taylor refers to as the ‘ego explosion’. Our sense of self starts to warp from an interwoven self-other-world dynamic, warping in to self-as-separate-from other and world.

There is evidence of a significant change in our ways of living.  Rising patriarchy, the prioritisation of Sky God over Earth Goddess, a drawing away from others and nature, through increasing stratification in society, rising urbanisation, widespread militarisation, the use of tools and technologies to exploit humans, animals and plants. All this is part of our journey of evolution which includes the widespread take-up of currency, the written word and the Agricultural Revolution, with all the advancements that brings us.  This is a departure from Participation Mystique and our Journey of Separation then goes through levels of incremental change throughout the centuries that follow:  Hellenistic Greece, the Roman Empire, Medieval Europe and the Renaissance, through which there are still vestiges of a deep connection with nature, and an understanding of nature as sacred and imbued with a wild wisdom.

Then, around 500 years ago, there is another change. Again, a change in climate (with the mini-Ice Age) and a change in psyche occurs.  Our sense of self goes through further accentuation, and the self-other-world dynamic is warped to such a degree that we begin to believe we are actually separate from each other and the world.  This heightened sense of separation brings with it constructive and destructive effects – two sides of the same coin.

Constructively, we gain self-aggrandisement which gives us self-empowerment and self-agency, and a sense of self-responsibility that comes with a freeing up from the superstitious and often overly-burdensome religious practices of the Medieval Age. And we develop a more narrowed-down rational-reductive way of attending to life. This way of attending overly prioritises the bits and bytes and de-emphasises the inter-relational context of life. We objectify the world around us, and it is this focusing-in rational-reductive tendency that underpins the scientific reductive method with all the great advancements this brings us. It fuels the Scientific Revolution and the Industrial Revolution and also our present Digital Age, with all the advances in medicine, transportation, telecommunications and social media.

The other side of the coin, is the destructive effect it has on our psyche. This heightened sense of separation comes with deep psychic atrophy.  A sense of insecurity sets in.

As Ted Hughes, the poet laureate notes, the story of mind exiled from nature is the story of Western man.  And much of our ‘outward’ searching for better and more, the rather artificial pursuit of happiness, is fuelled by this deep insecurity, this loss of connection. Deep psychic atrophy sets in and it leads to increasing fear, anxiety, egotism, individualism, consumerism.  This is at the heart of our problems today.

We have an epidemic of epic proportions.

We may not always see it, so inured we have become in our current malaise, that we may not fully realise the prevalence of this insanity.  A massive rise in mental illness, stress, nervous breakdowns, depression, obesity, anorexia and suicide.

A dear friend of mine was a secondary school teacher in London, and called me one day, explaining that he had had a nervous breakdown. He went to see the doctor, and the doctor looked him in the eyes and asked if he was aware that this was now an epidemic, that it’s not just teachers struggling to cope, its doctors and nurses too. He said that one doctor a week is committing suicide in the UK, its one a day in America. And it’s not just teachers, nurses and doctors – it’s across the board. On the train today, coming into London to give this talk, I sat next to lady living in Holland, and quite unprompted she shared with me the massive mental health problem they have there.   It’s insane.

Yet there is good news.

This narrowing-down reductive lazer-eyed razor gaze has the ability of piercing its own illusion of separation. It’s as if reality is always here, regardless of how we attend, we can still glimpse it.  And so with our increasingly sophisticated instruments and experiments, we are sensing into an all-pervasive field, we are sensing the weave and weft of this world, the innate inter-relationality of this reality once again.

At the macro-scale in astrophysics, at the micro-scale in quantum physics, at the meso-level in morphogenesis, emergence and embodied cognition, we are revealing an all-pervasive field. It’s a return back-in, a move out of the Age of Separation into Participation, a shift in our relationality with reality.  So what does this look like for our change in psyche?

Let’s turn to adult developmental psychology.  I would like to refer to the profoundly insightful and influential work of Clare Graves and his extensive adult psychology research in the 70s in North America.  As early as the 70s and 80s he saw evidence of a new level of consciousness coming through. This Tier 2 consciousness which senses the systemic and holistic nature of life, is a massive change from the Tier One consciousness that it up-stretches from.

(Source: D. Beck, C. Cowen Spiral Dynamics)

Each of these levels from animism to end of Tier 1 and the threshold of Tier 2 come with mini-ego-stage developments, oscillations of ‘me’ to ‘we’ to ‘me’ to ‘we’, individual to collective to individual to collective, each time we learn more about ourselves and our relationality with reality.  Then, in Graves’ words, there is a monumentus leap in consciousness from Tier 1 to Tier 2. He went as far as to say it was a different kind of human being, as our neurological structures change and the way we engage with life is quite different, our orientation has changed – we are part of life, rather than singularly at odds with it.

‘Man, at the threshold of the seventh level [Tier 2] is at the threshold of being human [whereupon there is] recognition of the magnificence of existence and the desire to see that it shall continue to be.’ – Clare Graves, originator of Spiral Dynamics

Our consciousness opens up to the magnificence of existence – where we open up to a deeper sense of place and purpose in the world, we gain our ‘desire to see it (evolution) continue to be’. It is this opening up to the relationality of reality that opens us up – open heart/mind/will – in a way that we sense the awesomeness of life which changes our orientation, we realise how life is, and in-so-doing seek to serve life, not to merely exploit it for our own human betterment.

‘This is the true joy of life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a might one, the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.’  George Bernard Shaw, writer

We open up to our evolutionary purpose as human beings.  We become human – nothing more, nothing less.

I would now like to turn to the insightful yet little known work of Owen Barfield, the Oxford philosopher in the 50s who explored this shift in consciousness and had findings very similar to Clare Graves, and yet as far as I know the two were not aware of each others’ work.  I refer to Owen Barfield’s work extensively in my book The Illusion of Separation as it is profound and well ahead of its time.

He saw a three phase journey of original participation to alpha-beta thinking to final participation.

Original participation is the animism of Participation Mystique.

Then we go on this ‘journey of separation’ which Barfield saw as starting with Aristotelian logic drawing away from Platonic thought, and really culminating in the Scientific Revolution with the dominance of rational-reductive method and the prioritisation of mathematical abstract logic over the empirical and relational.

As early as the 50s he saw evidence of the beginnings of a ‘return journey’ back into a Participatory Worldview, which he saw as a deepening of our introspection, a deepening into ‘prehension’ – what Alfred North Whitehead explored in his Process Philosophy –  and an opening into the Imaginal Realm – to use the Sufi Scholar’s Henri Corbin’s phrase – where we gain a step-change in our receptivity to sense into the synchronistic inter-relational nature of reality.

This receptivity then informs our responsiveness, our way of relating in the world, and our sense of place and purpose as a more coherent, connected, purposeful human being.

This return ‘back-in-to-Nature’ is not at all easy in today’s society as it goes against habituations and acculturations ingrained in us at deep and partly unconscious levels.  And it is fundamentally different from a return back-to Shamanism/ancient Animism.  It’s a return into a participatory self-other-world dynamic that ‘transcends yet includes’ a heightened sense of self, and all the me-we oscillations of ego-stage-development we have been through during this journey of separation since our Animist past.

I see it as a metamorphosis no less.  It’s a fundamental shape-shift into something as different as the butterfly is from the caterpillar, yet both are inherent within the evolutionary cycle of life.

Let’s use the metamorphosis of the caterpillar to the butterfly as a powerful metaphor for what we are going through here:

In the early stages of the caterpillar’s metamorphosis, it undergoes a breakdown phase, the structures of old begin to dissolve. And in the midst of this breakdown phase, imaginal cells – which are always present in the caterpillar, and always present in our human systems, in ourselves and our social systems – these imaginal cells begin to start forming imaginal groupings.  Yet, the caterpillar, still inured in the logic of yesterday, see these groupings as a threat to the status quo and so fits them with vital energy, antibodies and such like.  But these imaginal cells persist, we persist, in the way we bring in this new consciousness, and our prototyping of the future. And soon a tipping point is reached, a threshold is crossed in the consciousness of the caterpillar and in the consciousness of our human systems – some sociological studies show this can happen with as little as 10% of the people in a system deeply resonating in a new way, a shift can happen in the overall system.  When the shift happens, the caterpillar no longer sees the groups as a threat, but sees them for what they really are, prototyping the future, and with that vital energy is used to help them rather than hinder them, and quite quickly the metamorphosis unfolds.  This is what we are in the midst of.

Yet, the crucial stage here is the chrysalis.  We need to create a psychologically safe container for ourselves, our organisations, social systems and communities, to go through this breakdown/breakthrough phase. Whether it be a dark night of the soul, 40 days and 40 nights, three nights in a cave, a vision quest, or a winter of reflection into a new spring dawn… how often in today’s hurry-up-and-get-on-with-it culture do we give ourselves this safe space for breakdown/breakthrough?

This is a real problem.  We get stuck in the caterpillar phase. Breakdown starts occurring in the Caterpillar, but we prevent ourselves from going into the Chrysalis. We stifle our own evolutionary potential.

And so we find this… the Matrix, we have become so inured in the system, we fight to protect it.

We may like to think that the blame lies with powerful elite forces at play in the world trying to keep us inured in the status quo, and while this may have some truth, let’s be honest with ourselves – we are the ones who create the resistance.  We are the consumers, employees, employers, leaders and change agents of the day.  We are the ones addicted to busyness.  We make our choices, consciously or not. How we show-up, how I attend in each evolving moment, how I fill my moments with distractions or revelations, how I get caught-up in habituations and ego-accentuations. My ability to practice coherence and connection, to allow in this shift in consciousness amid the daily cacophony and insanity, this is the front-line of the metamorphosis, right here, right now in this menstruating moment.

So how… how do we help ourselves make this shift?

Let’s turn to the Godfather of psycho-analytics, Carl Jung, who spent decades researching in detail our psychology. He found that we have 4 natural ways of knowing: the intuitive, the rational, the emotional, the somatic.  Let’s explore each briefly here:

The intuitive way of knowing has often been related to the element fire, and also to SQ or quantum intelligence – its insight and intuition informs us and we bring this insight into our daily awareness, influencing our decisions.  Opening up to this intuitive intelligence requires us to reach beyond the grasping busy-mind of our daily awareness, to quieten, and still ourselves, so we can better cultivate this receptive discernment.

The emotional way of knowing has often been related to the element water, and also to EQ – the feelings always within us, ebbing and flowing, inform and enrich our daily awareness, influencing our decisions.  Opening up to this emotional intelligence requires us to not simply react to feelings but sense-inward, allowing our feelings to have space, so we can consciously respond to these feelings. It is a subtle yet important shift from reactivity to responsiveness, from blind emotional outburst to informed emotional intelligence.

In 1995, Daniel Goleman’s work on Emotional Intelligence highlighted the importance of emotions and emotional intelligence (EQ) for leadership development and organisational learning. Goleman found that how we cultivate awareness of our own and other’s feelings and consciously respond to these feelings in appropriate ways helps our leadership potential.   Studies show that EQ out-performs IQ as a predictor of job success and performance capability.

Then in 1997, the neuroscientist Candace Pert’s ground-breaking work Molecules of Emotion provided more insight into the integration of body-mind sensations, feelings and thoughts, in what Pert referred to as the ‘psychosomatic network’ – an integrated system of psyche and soma. The psyche comprises the nonmaterial aspects such as mind, emotion and soul, and the soma comprises the material aspects such as the cells, organs and tissues.

This brings us on to another of Carl Jung’s ways of know: somatic intelligence. Our somatic and sensorial way of knowing has often been related to the element earth, and also to PQ.  This is the sensations we have in our body, for instance, gut pangs, or tickle in the throat, hairs on the back of the neck, or chest perturbations. Our soma (as Pert scientifically explored) is full of psychosomatic sensations that inform our psyche. As we allow ourselves to quieten and sense into the somatic intelligence within us, we enrich our conscious awareness and invite in more intelligence into our daily awareness, so as to be better at sensing and responding to changes within and all around us.

And finally, Jung’s fourth way of knowing, is the rational analytic intelligence – which has been related to the element air, and also to IQ.  This tends to be the dominant intelligence we call upon  in today’s busyness. Our head-logic, the analytic mechanisations it creates, is what dominates today’s meetings, conversations and decisions. It is but one intelligence within our human repertoire, yet when it dominates too much, it can suppress our other ways of knowing.

(Source: Hutchins & Storm)

When we allow these 4 ways of knowing – intuitive (fire), rational (air), emotional (water), somatic (earth) – to cohere within us, we allow these 4 elements of nature to integrate in their rightful way within is. As we integrate these 4 elements of nature, we open ourselves us to the 5th element, the Akasha, or what the brilliant British scientist David Bohm referred to as the ‘ground of all being’ – a generative field that permeates space, it is within and all around us all the time, if we so choose to tap into it.

We tap into the generative field of life – what the ancient Chinese called the Way of Nature – and we participate in life-affirming regenerative ways of being-and-doing.

This is our super-nature, it is well within our natural capacity, and all it requires is for us to integrate our natural human repertoire within us.

This is the important basis for awakening our humanity, and for dealing with the root cause of our plethora of crises (whether it be climate change through to rampant social inequality – and what lies at root is a flawed way of attending to life, which can only be rectified at source – within ourselves, by awakening our true nature).

While this shift into our true nature is in some regards quite simple – it requires no credit card, no PhD or complex scientific undertaking – it is not necessarily easy in today’s world of dis-ease and distraction.

To make this shift, we need to cross a threshold and let-go of old ways of attending and open-up, connect to source and integrate these elements.

Our body is an alchemic vessel where we can integrate these 4 elements of nature within us and tap into the 5th element, the Akasha, the ground-of-all-being that is here in this very room, always available to us. And when we tap into this, we open up to the magnificence of life, and re-orientate our sense of place and purpose in the world.  The more we do this, the more we find it easier to connect into this ground-of-being, and we shift our relationality with reality. We bring in Tier 2 consciousness, and we co-create magnificence with life. We become who we truly are as human beings.

We sense our Evolutionary Purpose.

The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.’ Joseph Campbell, mythologist

And so to summarise, we are in the midst of a metamorphosis, profound shifts are affecting the way we work, how and why we do things, and the purpose and meaning we bring to our organisations, our systems and our wider civilisation. The more conscious we become in allowing this shift in attentiveness, through our sense of presence and connection, in terms of how we are showing-up in each evolving moment, the more we contribute to this metamorphosis, as we open up to the magnificence of existence.

I shall finish on a quote from the well respected business futurist, John Naisbett, who says that the greatest breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology, they will occur because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.  Now I love that, to be involved in an expanding concept of what it means to be human, to help us Homo sapiens live up to our name as wise-beings in a deeply wise, sentient and interconnected world.  This is sensing into our Evolutionary Purpose, while co-creating magnificence with life, no less.

‘It spreads a map at our feet and dares us to look’ Mac Macartney, Founder of Embercombe

‘An amazing tour de force’ Robert Sardello, Founder of Centre of Spiritual Psychology

‘Wonderful…it will open your heart and mind’ Stephan Harding, Professor, Schumacher College

‘Powerful…it asks the most important question of all’ Tim Smit KBE, Founder of The Eden Project

To explore ‘the new paradigm’ further, join the Face Book community here and for Giles Hutchins’ personal website

For short video on Giles Hutchins’ Illusion of Separation, and free-podcast:

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