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Can the Darkness of Crisis Reveal a New Dawn?

March 22, 2020

We live amid great upheaval.  The Pandemic of Covid-19 is creating upset worldwide and this will be felt for many months to come. Often it is the most vulnerable who are most greatly affected.  Yet a global crisis at every level and across all levels can be leveling.  We are all in this together. We are all experiencing a tremendous change to daily routine.  We are all connected in this crisis, paradoxically, while keeping our distance from each other.

The phrase ‘social-distancing’ has been used. I have also heard the term ‘physical distancing’ being used in some circles, in recognition that we can still be emotionally and psychologically connected while maintaining an appropriate physical distance.  We can reduce physical intimacy yet still be socially ‘in contact’ with each other.

Some people I have spoken with over the last few days have fed-back how they have actually felt more socially-connected with some people in their lives – parents, young children, spouses, neighbours – thanks to the virus-crisis.

I do not wish to overlook the immense stresses and strains this crisis is creating within us individually and as a society – for key workers, health systems, vulnerable people, entrepreneurs, employers and the self-employed (no one is spared).  And yet, I do wish to invite an opening-up to the possibility that this crisis can reveal an opportunity for us to learn, grow and connect more deeply. It can reveal shadows and strengths that aid our individual and collective development.

I suggest that if we come out of this crisis the same as we went in to it, we shall have missed the pearl of wisdom that this virus-crisis offers. However, if we come out of this crisis fundamentally different from whence we came, then the gift of this crisis reveals itself.

In short, I sense this crisis contains within it an initiation – a threshold crossing – for us as individuals, families, neighbourhoods, societies, and wider human-civilisation. And with the obvious respite it provides the ecological life-support systems of our heavily polluted and over-stressed planet. For instance, fish have been seen in the sea near Venice, the first for a long while, and NASA’s satellite pictures show pollution clouds over Italy and China have temporarily lifted.

This Covid-19 virus can teach us many things if we so choose.  After all, to sense into challenges and see learning and development is what life is all about.  I re-emphasise – I do not wish to overlook the immense stresses and strains this pandemic unleashes nor to ignore the pain and potential fatality it has for people.

What I do see and hear – amid my many conversations through phone, internet and physically-distance in-person conversations– is people sharing how they have never experienced anything like this before in their lifetime.  Many of us are noticing an oscillation of feelings, emotional reactions and physical responses amid this unique time.  We might one minute be feeling great anxiety, and the next feeling a sense of liberation as we see beyond the normality of groundhog-day style routines.  One minute we might feel a sense of separation and isolation, the next a sense of deep connection with self and others due to the ‘new norm’ of this crisis.  One person may find themselves losing their temper with someone not respecting an appropriate physical distance in a supermarket queue, for instance. Then, the next moment catching someone smile or wink, revealing a connectedness that we are all-in-this-together.

I invite us to pause amid this oscillation. To notice within the moment what we are feeling, what is arising within us.  Not to judge it. Not to assume a feeling of anxiety is wrong and a feeling of liberation is right, or vice versa. Just to pause and notice what is arising within.

How often do we give ourselves this gift of simply noticing and being with our own selves in such an intimate and non-judgemental way amid our everyday busyness?  The ‘must get-on!’ vibe of the usual groundhog-day routine can itself be put-on-pause if only for a split-second, so a deeper reality which we all participate within can reveal itself.

And then there is the oscillation of the need to survive, and look after ourselves amid crisis; while also feeling a need to be of service, to help others amid crisis.

This oscillation of survival and service is not new to us. In fact, I believe it is core to who we truly are as Homo sapiens (which means ‘wise beings’). I suggest that as human beings we can reveal wisdom by surfing this tension of survival-service, rather than collapsing the tension into one side (overly survival-orientated = selfishness, greed, individualism, egotism which leads to the undermining of society) or the other side (overly service-orientated = excessive altruism, self-crucifixion and martyrdom which comes at the expense of our own self-survival).

It reminds me of health-and-safety in-flight videos we all got bored of watching during the pre-pandemic days of flying planes. The videos advise us to put our own oxygen mask on first before turning our attention to those around us, as otherwise we cannot adequately help others.  And yet, when we grab for the proverbial oxygen-mask and hoard up food for the uncertain future, we take from others around us. I am reminded of key-workers who find empty shelves in supermarkets because others have got their first and hoarded, leaving nothing for those who are actually helping everyone. It is an interesting time, and we are each being tested, just as our collective systems are being tested.  I have hope and faith in humanity and our innate sense of community which I believe is more pervasive than that of competition.  Competition and self-survival we find throughout all levels of life, and yet the closer we sense into the Logic of Life the more the wisdom of collaboration, facilitation and contribution to the whole is revealed.

To emphasise why I feel that surfing this tension of survival-service is fundamental to what makes us human, I turn to Anne Baring and Jules Cashford who have spent decades painstakingly researching our human history through the lenses of anthropology, mythology, cosmology and archaeology.  They note:

‘Our ancestors had two fundamental kinds of vision: the myth of the goddess, which is the image of wholeness and eternality, and the myth of the hunter, which is the myth of survival. Both these myths are essential to human experience. When the myth of survival is contained within the myth of meaning, all life is experienced as sacred. But when the myth of survival gets split off from the myth of wholeness and eternality, we suffer the loss of soul and lose our sense of the sacred.’

I suggest that this crisis can act as a gift for us to learn about this tension in life of survival-service. Each of us, all of us, are now being put in a situation that might just help us collectively wake-up from the individualistic, fractured, consumerist society we have become inured in.

This virus-crisis brings tension and challenge. It can also reveal in us a new dawn, a new way of perceiving life within and all around us.

As this virus challenges the status-quo norms at all level, it can be a great humbling that challenges our hubris. It can be a great grounding that strengthens our connectedness.

While I oscillate between fear, anxiety, survival, service and love, the image that this virus most vividly creates inside of me is one of the journey towards wholeness. This journey is not neat-and-tidy, it’s a messy affair, with trip-wires and muddy threshold-crossings.

We can learn to live up to our name as Homo sapiens – wise beings – by allowing the grit to become the pearl of wisdom within our daily attentiveness.  To pause and notice our human feelings, oscillations, tensions, and give ourselves some compassion, so we may find the space for empathy with others while they inevitably oscillate with tensions.

Out of dis-ease we may find wholeness, out of separation we may find reconnection, out of pollution we may find regeneration.  This is the hope we carry as human beings.  Not some mere wishful-thinking, but a real capacity to manifest the future we know in our hearts can become reality.

Out of the darkness a new dawn is revealed. We open up to wholeness, each day, each hour, every moment. I am thankful to be alive amid this crisis.

Here is a quote, purported to be from a Hopi Elder. Laura Storm and I refer to it in our book Regenerative Leadership, as it is apt for our times of breakdown/breakthrough:

“You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour, now you must go back and tell the people that this is the Hour. And there are things to be considered…

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?

Know your garden.
It is time to speak your truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for your leader.

Then he clasped his hands together, smiled, and said, “This could be a good time! There is a river flowing now very fast.

It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word ’struggle’ from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

For more on how to live and lead amidst these times of breakdown/breakthrough, you may find the book Regenerative Leadership a useful practical guide and toolkit to read while working from home, see Regenerative Leadership for more information.

Best wishes to one and all during this time of crisis,

Love, Giles

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Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016) and Regenerative Leadership (2019). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK.  Previously held corporate roles – Head of Practice for KPMG, and Global Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries).


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