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Exploring the Root Problem and Journeying Beyond Separation

April 14, 2019

It has for many years of my life that I have felt, deeply in my heart, that underpinning our plethora of problems – whether it be rising mental illness through to rampant consumerism, or rising climate change through to the widespread destruction of life on Earth – is a root source; a root problem that spawns the downstream effects of consumerism, individualism, rationalism, capitalism, anthropocentrism, and the like.  It is a disease of the psyche – one might say a crisis of spirit. It is due to a profound mental dislocation of self-identity from environment. With the risk of trying to define something fluid, complex and inter-relational, which is itself part of the problem, it is commonly described as fragmentation or disconnection: disconnection within ourselves (our deeper sense of selfhood), disconnection from each other (the relational Nature of our communality), and disconnection from Nature, Life and Universe.

This disconnection manifests in our inner and outer worlds in varying ways. In our outer world it manifests in the stories we tell ourselves about how we think the world works and our sense of place and purpose within it.  Our mythologies, cosmologies and worldviews influence our socio-economic narrative, which in turn influences the way we behave in business, politics and beyond.

In our inner world, this disconnection manifests in how we attend to each evolving moment in our midst, and the perceptual filters and constrictions we habituate and acculturate. These habituations and acculturations are influenced by, and also influence, the outer narrative or worldview we tell ourselves about how the world works. As the philosopher Richard Tarnas so eloquently notes:

‘Our world view is not simply the way we look at the world. It reaches inward to constitute our innermost being, and outward to constitute the world. It mirrors but also reinforces and even forges the structures, armorings, and possibilities of our interior life. It deeply configures our psychic and somatic experience, the patterns of our sensing, knowing, and interacting with the world. No less potently, our world view – our beliefs and theories, our maps, our metaphors, our myths, our interpretive assumptions – constellates our outer reality, shaping and working the world’s malleable potentials in a thousand ways of subtly reciprocal interaction. World views create worlds.’ 

It seems that we are individually and collectively participating in an inner-outer worldview which – according to the scientific evidence now available to us – is actually undermining our own well-being and the very fabric of life on Earth. Something is deeply flawed.  This disconnection is wreaking havoc.

The time to address this flawed way of attending and flawed worldview appears to be upon us. We are living through an epochal moment in our human history, what UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moo refers to as Great Transition where, he says, ‘the decisions we make will have a deeper and more lasting impact than perhaps any other set of decisions in recent decades’. This is a time of simultaneous breakdown/breakthrough, a supreme moment within which we must act consciously and coherently to avoid catastrophe.

The contemporary philosopher Joseph Milne notes that, ‘there is a tendency in our age to rush to change the manifest effects of wrong actions without seriously considering the root causes.’ This tendency is built-in to the dis-connected mind-set which creates the problems in the first place. We filter our perception of life through a polarizing reductive filter that separates ‘things’ into siloes, objects and others. We then seek fixes to the problems created by this logic, by applying the same mechanistic perspective that created the problems in the first place. And so we fail to reach beyond the symptoms, often unwittingly exacerbating the very situation we are trying to solve.

And so, let’s explore the underlying root cause, so that we can attend to it, and move beyond with a quite different level of consciousness from that which created our problems in the first place.

The Journey of Separation and Return

We might see the age-old shamanic journey or hero’s quest of departure-separation-return as an arc playing out over the last five thousand years or so in the West, into this moment of arcing back into ‘return’.

The ‘separation’ phase followed our ‘departure’ from participation mystique (animist worldview of indigenous communal life, inter-relational self-other-world) into the equalitarian communities of Neolithic Europe and the Patriarchal conquests that over-turned this equalitarianism.

Then Pre-Socratic Hellenistic philosophy and cosmology blended with Hebraic monotheism and then developed into Aristotelian Scholastic logic. This gave rise to an increasing sense of separation of self-other-world being woven into the song-lines of the Western worldview.

This sense of separateness peaked with the Enlightenment and its Cartesian, Newtonian and Darwinian perspectives portraying evolution and Universe as devoid of intrinsic animism. Purpose and consciousness were drained out of Nature. Human consciousness came to be viewed as individualistic, an epiphenomenon of the brain (with an exceptional direct connection into a transcendent God which has been removed from the immanence of Nature).

The human psyche became differentiated and accentuated from the matrix of Nature and Universe to such an extent that it was almost entirely cut-off, sealed into an individualistic sense of self, which drained the vibrancy of our relationality.

The increasingly narrowing-down objectifying lens through which we perceive the world, sees ‘self’ as separate from ‘other’ and ‘world’. Enter Neo-Darwinism which views the organism as separate from and in competition with its environment, and the process of evolution as one of selfish ascendency.

The ‘me-we’ relationality that ought to make Homo sapiens so special as communal social-loving beings is compartmentalised, objectified and rationalised into cause-and-effect individualistic self-agency.  This brings individual empowerment, mechanistic advancement, desacralised nature-as-utility to be plundered for human gain, and a heightened sense of self emancipated from the animistic inter-relational communisis of life. This aggrandizement of the ‘self’ has been a defining factor of the modern mind in the 19th and 20th Century, with all the advancements in modern medicine, transportation, technology, and mod-cons we all enjoy.

While this ‘separation’ phase of the arc has been accompanied by much advancement, it also has a shadow. Our sense of ‘self’ becomes dislocated from any deeper sense of place and purpose in the World. Psychic atrophy sets in, along with self-reflexive magnification, status anxiety, consumerism and egotism. We create all sorts of problems for ourselves: increasing sense of anxiety, rising mental illness and narcissistic tendencies. Our relationships struggle under the strain and the fabric of society is worn thin.

Likewise, this disconnection warps our worldview. Our socio-economic narrative is cut-adrift from any deeper sense of meaning other than to satisfy egotistic needs and desires. We become dis-eased, desperately pursuing happiness ‘out there’, no longer adequately relating to our deeper selfhood, nor able to sense the inter-dependency of life. We get caught up in our own illusions of separateness. Rampant social and ecological degradation amidst a contagion of consumerism becomes our present reality. Our worldview creates our world. We create what Einstein famously referred to as an optical delusion of consciousness.

And yet, it may be argued, this post-modern critical self-awareness and human autonomy prepares us for the ‘return home’, as long as we have the insight and courage to breakthrough the delusion created in our own minds by shifting our consciousness so that we can see our way back into the inter-relational ‘communisis’ of life. This is our journey home.

The ‘return’ arc of this journey from disconnection towards re-connection is the re-integration of this empowered ‘self’ along with the tools, technologies and developments we have gained from this ‘journey of separation’.  Yet, this return requires a remembering of the inter-relational Nature of reality.

This return is quite different from the participation mystique state of consciousness at ‘departure’, as we are ‘seeing with new eyes’. By example, Clare Graves, the originator of Spiral Dynamics, refers to Tier Two consciousness – Yellow (Teal), Turquoise, Coral – as having an echo of the early Beige and Purple animistic levels of consciousness, and yet being quite different. In fact, Graves went as far as to say that as we move into Tier Two consciousness (our ‘return’ back into inter-connectedness) we become a new human-being as our neurology is substantially different from Tier One – a substantial threshold in consciousness is crossed. We ‘return’ with a new level of consciousness, a deeper prehension (as Alfred North Whitehead put it), a deeper perception and cognitive engagement with reality. We embody and experience the self-other-world dynamic in a different and yet similar way: same, same but different, as the Thais might say!

As we return back into connectedness from separateness, we embody both a sense of differentiation and integration. This allows us to hold a deeper perspective of the vitality of diversity-within-unity transcending the polarities of either homogenised we-are-all-one (whether that be clannism, communism, or totalitarianism) or individualistic we-are-all-separate (whether that be individualism, racism or neo-liberalism).

From the journey of departing, separating and then returning, we gain perspective on the awesomeness of the diversity-within-unity, and move beyond ‘isms’. We become more fully conscious of the ‘pattern that connects’ inherent within Nature-Life-Universe. This embodied realisation expands not only our consciousness but also our human agency – we become more human, and sense more deeply into this more-than-human world of ours, and deepen our sense of place and purpose within it.  This shift in consciousness is at once a humbling yet courageous undertaking, as we let go of old ways of seeing ourselves and open up to the awesome responsibility of being a conscious participator in this continuous ocean of inter-being.

Crossing The Threshold

It would seem that as we cross the threshold from separateness back into the re-connectedness of diversity-within-unity, we are remembering something timeless (fresh and yet ancient) within our psyche, and an ‘ontological and epistemological threshold’ is crossed.

This threshold is a shift in our ways of being (ontology) and ways of knowing (epistemology), nothing less than a metamorphosis of our humanity.  This metamorphosis shape-shifts our cosmology and worldview, which in turn influences the dominant socio-economic narrative, which in turn influences our behaviour in our organizations, conversations and contemplations.

The shift in our ways of knowing (epistemology) is from our still prevalent ‘disconnected’ rational-analytic and mechanistic way of knowing that separates what it perceives, reducing inter-relational systems down into siloes, taxonomies and discrete managerial functions, which it then sets about mechanizing in a linear fashion to design and deploy mechanistic services and solutions. This rational-analytic tendency we have is a useful way of navigating that serves us as part of our wider human epistemology, but during or ‘journey of separation’ it has come to dominate our human repertoire to such an extent that our deeper ways of knowing are suppressed. The resultant skewed epistemology undermines our human potential.

Carl Jung referred to our wider repertoire of epistemology as our ‘four ways of knowing’: intuitive, rational, emotional and somatic/sensorial (Harding). Others have provided a slightly richer ‘epistemological bandwidth’ (for instance: imaginal, archetypal and symbolic can be differentiated within Jung’s intuitive-knowing) but Jung’s four ways of knowing suffice for our purposes here.

We shift our sense of self from separateness into a more integrated self-other-world holistic awareness through what Jung referred to as a process of ‘individuation’. As we individuate we find ourselves more readily drawing upon a more integrated knowingness – an integration of intuitive, rational, emotional and somatic – rather than a dominance of rational-analytic. This integrated knowingness draws upon the conscious/unconscious ‘Self’ – our deeper selfhood which permeates within the anima mundi, World Soul, collective unconscious of Nature and the wider Universe.

This process of individuation – which is essentially a psycho-spiritual journey of self-realisation – opens up our sense of self. We draw upon more of reality through these different ways of knowing. Our enriched and enlivened inner-knowing becomes more intimately inter-related with our outer senses, perturbations, relations and activities. The boundary of inner-outer becomes more fluid and permeable, as does our ego-self, psyche and soul. We are at once more our ‘Self’, more of who we truly are, while simultaneously more vulnerable, receptive and authentic with others and the world. This is humbling and requires patience, discipline and courage as ego-masks and hardened habituations begin to loosen around old wounds, self-defences and acculturations.

This ‘epistemological opening’ requires discernment as one can be over-whelmed or subsumed by this ‘thinning of the veil’ –  our sense of self can either be overwhelmed or over-inflated by this influx of psychic connection.

This discernment is a surrendering or letting-go of the desire to grasp at, define and analytically know what is now becoming available to our conscious mind through this extended epistemology. As well as a letting-go, it is an opening-up receptively and responsively to this deeper sense of reality.  There is a danger of being caught in self-delusion if we project this deeper experience through a superficial self-referential meaning, which only sees self as separate, rather than self as a relational participant within an ocean of inter-being. This is the challenge/opportunity of the ‘return’.

For example, we may experience a ‘synchronistic’ encounter, numinous moment, or epiphany. This is a felt-sense and also an intuitive-sense beyond the bounds of our normal perceptual horizon, which may then inflate the egotistic sense of self as special, or fuel a pleasure-seeking ‘self-high’, rather than a sensing-in to the deeper permeating emergence of ‘Self’ within an interconnected self-other-world matrix.

Hence, this ‘return’ requires an integrative interplay of multiple cognitive faculties – the intuitive and imaginal, the emotional and empirical, the sensorial and symbolic, the relational and rational, the conscious and unconscious – a more integrated and integral consciousness. Therefore, the discernment required is of a more comprehensive (or ‘higher’) level from that of our current dominant consciousness (Tier One) where our knowing is largely skewed towards the rational-analytic and the intuitive and imaginal often deprioritised or inadequately assimilated.

The higher level discernment required with this integral consciousness is a more disciplined body-mindfulness – a deeper quality of being more present to the evolving moments in our midst. It is a ‘receptive discernment’ rather than a rational-analytic discernment. This is why it is simultaneously a threshold in being (ontology) and knowing (epistemology).

We sense into life within the current of ‘now’. As we attend with a more comprehensive attentiveness – an imaginal, intuitive, somatic, empathic receptivity – a wiser responsiveness spawns. Our receptivity enables our responsiveness.

This quality of ‘beingness’ allows for our integral ‘knowingness’ and vice versa. It is a simultaneous beingness-and-knowingness that allows for a wiser receptive-responsiveness to unfold within us. The natural scientist and philosopher Alan Rayner explores this extensively in his pioneering work on Natural Inclusion.

This shift in our way of being-and-knowing is foundational to expanding human consciousness – our journey towards becoming wise-beings Homo sapiens.

Disturbance, dissonance, fatigue, failure or stress can quite naturally stimulate a closing down, fight-flight aggressiveness-defensiveness, which accentuates a sense of separate-self, and reduces the permeability of our inner-outer boundaries. Our ability for empathy, compassion and wisdom relates to our epistemological and ontological state. We pull ourselves back from across the threshold into the perceived safety of ‘self as separate’. To paraphrase Pink Floyd, we become comfortable yet numb.

As we learn and develop, we become more masterful at embracing disturbance and dissonance. Challenges may stimulate our learning and contribute to our individuating journey, rather than undermining our vulnerable unfolding into a deeper being-and-knowing. This is the essence of emotional and spiritual development – of being able to love thy neighbour and stranger as thy self.

The work of Jung, James and Hillman in the 20th Century, and the emergence of Depth Psychology helped set the scene for this epochal shift in understanding within Western psychology which is now being enriched further with advances in Ecological Psychology and Transpersonal Psychology.

The work of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Gadamer and other great 20th Century phenomenologists helped set the scene for this epochal shift in understanding within Western philosophy along with Whitehead, Teilhard de Chardin, Bergson, Barfield, Steiner and others.

Likewise, across all the disciplines in science, the scene has been set for this epochal shift through the pioneering work of so many brilliant minds ranging from Bohm to Prigogine and Bateson to Wheeler (simply too many to list).

Until now though, these emergent trends in psychology, philosophy, biology, sociology, etc. have not been adequately underpinned by a coherent cosmology that supports this more integral and participatory perspective. Only recently has a new coherent cosmology started to emerge amongst pioneering cosmologists – for instance, Jude Currivan, Ervin Laszlo, Bernard Haisch, Brian Swimme, Nassim Haramein and others.  This new cosmology, which portrays the Universe as deeply interconnected and participatory in nature, has the potential to form the new meta-narrative, the new scaffolding (or ‘relational framing’) upon which this journey into a holistic worldview can unfold.

Amongst other things, this new cosmology explains how consciousness pervades not just our human minds but all of life, and all of matter, time and space across the entire Universe. Consciousness, according to this new cosmology, pervades our entire space-time continuum; it is the plenum in-forming all mind-matter within our Universe. Compelling evidence is emerging of a unified reality pervaded by an informational field that informs all forms. Latest findings indicate this in-formational field manifests holographically. This proposes that our entire universe exists and evolves as a ‘cosmic hologram’ (see Dr Jude Currivan’s latest book by the same title).

The story we are still telling ourselves, teaching our children, and serving up to our leaders in our business schools today, of a push-pull Newtonian Neo-Darwinist world with randomly mutating separate organisms struggling selfishly in a battle for the survival of the fittest is no longer serving us (if it ever did).

The forefront of scientific understanding is now informing us of what the ancients have long pointed to: mind pervades matter and space. This shape-shifts our worldview and has the potential to change everything, not least the level of consciousness we bring to today’s challenges.


I believe we are living through an epochal moment in our human history where the very concept of what it means to be human is shape-shifting. In business, this worldview shift is characterised by the organization-as-machine metaphor giving way to the organization-as-living-system. This shift in worldview demands new approaches to leadership development. Enter the rise of leadership methodologies rooted in living systems thinking, such as regenerative leadership, bio-leadership, Teal Evolutionary and Theory U.

The well-respected business futurist John Naisbitt notes, ‘The greatest breakthroughs of the twenty-first century will not be because of technology, they will be because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human.’  I, for one, wish to consciously co-create life-affirming future possibilities through how I show-up, and through my leadership development work with leaders across a great variety of sectors. These times ask – demand – that we create the conditions conducive for ourselves and our organizations to become more conscious, more attuned, more human, as we open ourselves up to and re-connect with the magnificence of this more-than-human world and Universe.

This is why I have co-authored a book with sustainability specialist and Founder of Regenerators Laura Storm, a book dedicated to the next-stage of leadership consciousness for life-affirming business:  REGENERATIVE LEADERSHIP. This book will be out by June, so watch this space.

“The clarity, inspiration, synergy and wisdom of this book is breath-taking. It offers a rich delicious mixture of theory, case studies, invaluable tools and leading edge practices and insights. For leaders genuinely seeking to be effective, sustainable and successful while contributing to making the world, and their organizations far better places this is the must read book of 2019. I couldn’t put it down.”  Dr Lynne Sedgmore CBE, former Chief Executive  of 157 Group, Centre for Excellence in Leadership


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