New stories of home

Earth in space 1

When astronauts sent back images of Earth from outer space, for the first time we were able to see our home from the outside. Picture it now: a blue sphere suspended amidst an infinite ink-black backdrop, swirling with oceans, clouds, forests and deserts.

Home is where the heart is, and each time I see this image, I feel warmth and love.

Recently at a conference I attended, hosted by the New Economy Network Australia, the keynote speaker deftly unpacked the madness of our current economic system: designed to grow perpetually on a finite planet, extractive and linear in its function rather than cyclical like nature, generating toxic waste into our oceans, rivers and land, widening the chasm between the haves and have-nots, re-framing us as consumers and not citizens, and drawing down a massive debt on future thrivability for all species, ourselves included. Then on the screen, up flashed an image of our beautiful home amidst the stars. He paused for a beat, and said, ‘If you look at Earth from space, you can’t see the economy!’

How have we ended up with this problem, in which our systems for living are at odds with the truth of our existence, namely that we are all of the Earth, we have only this home, and we are all in it together? If we love our Earth, why don’t we live as if we do?

Underlying the systemic challenges we face in these turbulent and unsustainable times are deeper cultural issues. Culture can be experienced as the differences we see between regions when we travel, or the norms of behaviour and etiquette of any group. Yet under their surface, cultures are underpinned by a set of stories, world-views, beliefs and values that answer fundamental questions about who we are, how we got here, where we’re going, and how this world works. From these shared narratives arise our ways of living together.

Whilst there are 7.5 billion unique world-views, there are common patterns and dominant narratives that have lead to our complicity in current systems. For example, in one way or another, we all play a part in the story of perpetual growth that underlies our economy. We also have stories of how we relate with our Earth home. Whilst we might love nature, the dominant narratives that have emerged since our hunter-gatherer days see us as separate from Mother Earth. And the modern story of ‘me’ threatens to supersede the story of ‘we’, as we are conditioned to pursue self-interest ahead of what is good for the whole.

Fortunately, our stories, and thus our systems for livingare created by us, and so we have the opportunity to change them in order to find ways of living more harmoniously with Earth. But changing stories isn’t as simple as closing the book we have been reading from and opening a new one. Our own world-views are deeply embodied, entangled with our own identities, the habit patterns of our minds, and our somatic knowing and being. Our collective stories are reinforced and perpetuated through the outer world constructs of our societies: our businesses, politics, economics and media, as well as the social norms of our conversations and daily interactions. We are bombarded with messages to consume, for example, and then we delight in each other’s new consumptive purchases.

This is where the work of cultivating inner consciousness becomes so relevant. As we pursue the path of contemplative practice and awaken to our true selves as well as to the world around us, we can become more aware of our own subtly-held stories. As our awareness becomes more fine-grained, we begin to observe the impermanence of our thoughts, and the recurring habit patterns of our mind and emotions. We can notice where we hold on tightly to existing world-views as if they are solid objects. We can feel more acutely the anger or resistance coursing through our bodies when our world-views are triggered. Meditation, time with nature or other forms of regular contemplation become valuable practice for transforming our own narratives.

The Great Prajna Paramita Heart Sutra in the Zen tradition says that ‘Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form’. This non-dual wisdom reveals the dependent co-arising between our thinking and world-views, and the outer world we live in. It invites us to practice suspending our attachment to the way things should be, and to hold more lightly the stories we see as truth as we also begin to see the world around us anew.

As we do so we become more able to participate in transforming shared cultural narratives through our conversations, modelling and behaviour, and through actions and projects we might pursue toward more life-giving systems.

For some, contemplative practice is new, and it can be difficult to know where to start. For others, they are clear that meditation is not for them. Yet there are many forms of contemplative practice that suit different preferences and can provide the kinds of benefits outlined above. The Tree of Contemplative Practices is a simple visual map of different forms of practice: ones that are more active, more creative or relational, some that feel more compelling or interesting than others.

Contemplative practice has an important part to play in bringing forth new stories about how to live in this world in harmony with all of life, so that together, through our inner lives and our systems for living, we can love and regenerate this blue Earth, our one and only home.

Why our leadership is ill-equipped

Ill-equipped Leadership

Over a coffee with a friend the other day, we asked whether leaders in business, politics and in our communities are equipped to deal with the scale of disruption and breakdown occurring at all levels in our systems for living. Afterwards, she sent me a report called, ‘Thinking the Unthinkable’;

It establishes a strong case that leaders are ill-equipped to respond to, let alone proactively influence, the growing complexity and acceleration of systemic level challenges.

It has caused me to think more deeply about the idea of cultivating capacity for leadership of systemic change. Here’s where I’ve got to.

Firstly, leadership of systemic level change is a process, just like so much of the discussion about leadership. We are focused often on the means more than the ends; on power, behaviour, systems and strategy.

Instead we should be asking ‘what is our leadership leading toward?’.

I’ve heard so often that leaders should have a vision. However, rarely do we question what the nature of that vision is. Most visions, and certainly the ones of 99% of business and political leaders are contained within existing worldviews, within the existing and dominant paradigms and central stories.

But if we look at any of the significant leaders through history, they offered to lead people to a vision outside the pervading story. Mandela lead towards a new story of forgiveness, reconciliation, of blacks and whites living in harmony. Mother Theresa showed through her example a story of compassion and selfless service. JFK inspired through a story of active and engaged citizenship (‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’). And the good news is, we don’t need to be a world famous leader to do this. Leading toward a new narrative can be done from wherever we stand.

The inability of leaders to adequately deal with the chaos and disruption of our times is at least in part because they are still seeking to lead within the bounds of out-dated stories.

The story of perpetual growth and progress that underpins our economics is flawed. We live on a finite planet and the extractive economy of consumption and waste is undermining the future inhabitability of the planet for humans.

The story of ‘dog-eat-dog’ competition and survival of the fittest is also out of date, as biospheric and sociological scientists show us that life exists primarily through relationships of co-operation, symbiosis and synergy. The research shows that humans are not the winners ‘at the top’ but part of a complex web of interacting systems.

Yet when I pick up the Wall Street Journal, or the Australian Financial Review, papers read by the leaders of business and politics, I find only news of leaders acting within the existing paradigms of growth and competition.

My thinking cycled back to systemic change. This capability, the means, is needed because it is time for leaders who are willing to lead toward a new story; from a narrative of growth in our economics to one of regeneration, from a story of competition to one of relationship and collaboration with each other, our Earth, and the systems that sustain life.

So for me, the insight is about recognising that these failures of leadership, and the inability for leaders to be effective in these complex times, is because they are either focussed only on the process – the means – of leadership, or their vision is still contained within the context of the old story that is no longer valid.

The means to facilitate systemic change, build eco-systems, collaborate through ‘power with’ rather than ‘power over’ become potent when we are equipped with a compelling end, a new story, narrative and world-view to lead people toward.

And that kind of leadership can be taken up from wherever we stand, not just from those vested with power in our current institutions which are mostly built in service of the old stories. The people equipped to lead in these troubling times are those willing to believe, share, and lead toward a new story.

In Tidal Flow


Flinders Island rises daringly from the wind swept navy blue waters of Bass Straight. I had gone there to participate in a vision quest. In the six days I spent camping al  one, I saw just one person pass by the remote stretch of beach over which my campsite looked. My small tent cowered behind a shallow sand dune, adjacent to a small river estuary that flowed out to the ocean.

The air was sparkling; purified by the clean Southern Ocean skies, and the palette of land and sea radiated brightly. Inland, looming over my site were the huge sloping cliff faces of Mount Strezlecki; its twin domed peak rolled off to a surrounding escarpment of lush forest. Looking out, a huge aqua bay curved toward a distant headland. On the horizon, three distant rocks peered above the ocean, part of an archipelago of such islands, as if created by Hercules flinging giant rocks from the top of the mountain behind in an ancient game of skipping stones.

Following two days of training and preparation, the first four days at my camping site I had spent slowing down, immersing hour by hour more fully into the present moment, and into this beautiful place.

As my thinking mind settled, I came ‘to my senses’ and began discerning more subtle levels of movement, sound, sights and smells around me.

Whilst on Day One I noticed the rapid fall from day to night, now I was observing the many layers of coloured gradation from late afternoon through to dusk.

Whilst on Day One I heard the nearby squawk of seagulls, now I was enjoying a fuller symphony, including the distant busyness of tiny birds feeding by the estuary and the background hum of dragonflies darting through dune grass.

Whilst on Day One I was aware of the tide being in or out, now I became more attuned to the changing effects of the tidal movement.

One of these effects was on the estuary itself. On this day I sat and watched the gradual outflow of water from the estuary toward to the ocean as the tide receded, and then settled at low water mark. A shallow pool remained near the mouth, just ankle deep.

I was acting spontaneously and without plan by now, and on impulse, was moved to lie down in this shallow pool to become part of the water flow as the reverse tide came in.

I lay down on my back and wiggled into the fine sand; it held me softly as the most comfortable of mattresses. The water was shallow, just touching my ankles, the base of my lower legs, the sides of my legs, lower back arch, torso, and the back of my head. It was fresh but not cold. The sun danced with small clouds, stepping out to shower me with warmth, and in behind to offer a cooler, more diffuse light. I closed my eyes and mouth and breathed through my nose.

I began to meditate on the soft caress of sand and water. After some time, I felt the water begin to flow slowly around me, as if satin sheets were being slowly drawn under me from my head toward my feet. The tide had begun to turn.

The line of water around my body very slowly began to rise, touching new skin cells with wet and cool. Laying very still, the water reached up past my earlobes and began filling my ear cavities. Being without rational thought but deeply present to these sensations, I don’t recall how long it took but I remember the anticipation of my ears filling completely with water. At the moment they did, background sounds became muffled, and the sounds of my in and out breaths became louder.

The flow gradually picked up pace, and for the first time I felt the ocean’s colder water touching me, replacing the estuary’s tepid bath. The water level climbed up toward my kneecaps, further up the side of my legs, my torso and temple, toward my eyes.

The water was deep enough now that my body’s buoyancy began lifting me gently upwards. The grip of the estuary floor on my back began to loosen and sand began peeling away as if slowly dissolving.

The ocean’s soft waves now generated subtle surges of new water flow over the sand bank, into the estuary, and along my body from head to toe.

My body lifted further, the sand continued dissolving and soon I was attached to the estuary floor by just a few shrinking touch points; the tips of shoulder blades, the base of buttocks, and heels. Arms waved blissfully in the current, floating near the surface.

My senses danced with the melody of water flow and temperature, the varying warmth and light of the sun and clouds, and the gentle caress of sand releasing beneath me.

My body pivoted slowly, my heels were the last to be let go, and I finally separated from the estuary floor. I floated slowly, gently upstream, like a piece of driftwood.

I gently opened my eyes. I was aware of just one thing; being one with all around me. This occurred not as a coherent thought but more as an altered state of consciousness.

I was one with nature. My collection of cells belonged here. So did the molecules of water, the river grass now caressing my back as I floated over it, the flock of birds that flew high over my head. I was no longer a fixed body bounded by time and space, and instead existed in a timeless fusion with all of life, as we all swirled around each other in a constant state of motion.

My body pushed up alongside a sandy bank on the other side of the river, and came to a rest. I noticed now that my skin had goose bumps and the lightest shiver ran through me. I lay a few minutes longer, beginning to catch glimpses of coherent thought and familiar emotions. I was in awe as I recognised the depth of connection I had just moved experienced.

Rolling on to my side on the bank and then right over onto elbows and knees, I began moving out of the embryonic womb of the water and back into gravity. My body felt heavy and my mind numb. I propped myself up enough to slump into sitting; right foot still in the water. The sun now blazed while the faintest wisp of air blew over me, mimicking the tidal flow. As I returned to a sense of my own place in the world, my lingering foot linked me to the world newly revealed.


Slippery soap

Most of us will have heard of having an Open Mind. It can be difficult to practice when a deeply held belief or value is challenged, however we recognise it as a useful way of being. Similarly, many will have heard of having an Open Heart. Our capacity to empathise and act with compassion and kindness will always serve us well. However, it is far less common in everyday speech to hear talk of having an Open Will.

What is it to have an Open Will? What might be the benefits and impact of being Open Willed? How do we do  Open Will?

I have been living with this enquiry for the past 3 – 4 years and whilst I have no definitive answers, I am present to the importance of the questions and have some rich experiences upon which to reflect.

I first came across the idea of Open Will when I studied with Otto Scharmer in November 2011 at Cape Cod, MA. He suggested that to address the deeply broken, systemic issues in our world we must learn to lead from the emerging future. To do this requires a U journey of Observing, Presencing and Activation whilst accessing new ways of seeing, being and acting. In order to Presence from the emerging future, we must Let Go to Let Come and this requires an Open Mind, an Open Heart and an Open Will.

Whilst excited at the prospect of doing all of this with others to change the world, I sense that the real work began at the personal level. I figured I would bring these ways of being into my daily meditation. For the next couple of years, I would spend a few minutes near the end of my sit endeavouring to open my mind, then to open my heart, and then to open my will.

Being the least familiar to me, practising Open Will was a bit like trying to pick up a wet bar of soap while wearing a blindfold. I wasn’t sure where to locate my personal will, but figured it was in my gut (or in the chinese Qi system, in the lower Tantien). I imagined the feeling of personal will, (which had always occurred to me as an energetic drive or desire to act and make something happen arising from this part of my body) and then imagining opening this out so that this energy was interfused with the will of the world around me.

As time went on and I picked up fragments from others about this idea of universal will. In his book ‘Source; the Inner Path of Knowledge Creation’ Joseph Jaworski describes Source as an underlying field of energy and creation containing all possibilities. A friend who trained as a Jewish Rabbi told me that for thousands of years his lineage described this as Divine Will. And recently while reading Dr Joe Dispenza’s ‘Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself’ I came to understand this as the Quantum Field.

So I was imagining opening my personal will to this energetic or perhaps spiritual field of possibility. At times, I became concerned. I wondered if living with Open Will meant to live as a fatalist, where I would surrender completely my own desires and intentions, and just let this Divine or Source Will do its thing.

My next stage of experimentation involved bold action, and began about 2 years in. I had a growing sense that I was being called to move on from my business of 18 years. I wanted to make a difference in addressing this wicked problems we face as humans, and it was time to lean more fully in to what I was going to to about that.

I remember the night I decided to finally let go of the business. I had a deep conviction that it was time to embody Open Will, to Let Go in order to Let Come. The next day, I began the actions of separating from my business.

This was the first of a series of letting go actions. I let go of important relationships in my life. I let go of my involvement in a volunteer based organisation I had been instrumental in founding. These weren’t the frenzied actions of someone deliberately wielding a sharp knife to their lives. Instead, as I continued to embody Open Will, these arose naturally as my awareness grew of blockages or things that were no longer serving me.

It is now 21 months since this period began, and almost 4 years since commencing my practice of Open Will. More recently, my letting go has taken more subtle, internal form. I have noticed a letting go of significant aspects of my identity. I am unlearning who I have been as I come to recognise habit patterns of my mind and body that in many cases I have carried with me for large chunks of my life. The clearer I become, and the less cluttered my life is, the more I am moving with Open Will into the unknown. Just recently, I recognised that I was pursuing this whole journey with an expectation of discovering a new found purpose, and a bold project to take up and take out to the world. I am now also letting go of that attachment.

As this letting go has occurred, there have been many unexpected gifts. Over many years I have had the pleasure and fortune of experiencing synchronous moments. Since reading the Celestine Prophecy, I have been aware of these not as coincidence but as what I now understand to be acts of Divine Will. Well, since beginning to enact Open Will, I have noted a clear moment of synchronicity, DAILY! Sometimes it is just a repeated reference to a book, idea or person from the day before, and at other times far more powerful chance encounters, such as bumping into people from the distant past shortly after remembering them or seeing their name. I take these to be sign posts from Source to continue in flow.

What else has come?

Without looking for it, two opportunities to contribute to bold endeavours to bring about systemic level transformation. A new marriage with my same wife. New ways of seeing, learning, thinking and being that are giving access to the interconnectedness of all things. An experiencing of love as the essence of Source. And a deep trust that Open Will is a doorway into understanding and transforming systems; those of our inner being, and those in the outer world.

Open Will is still a slippery game. However the blindfold is off, and when the wet bar of soap slips out of my hands, I am learning to let that go.

The story as it stands leaves open the question of how Open Will exists alongside the strong desire many people see to manifest tangible results and practical solutions NOW, to the many challenges we face as individuals and as a species. Occasionally, my rationale mind still grabs me by the the shirt and gives me a good shake. ‘You’re kidding yourself. Look at what there is to be done, and how little you are contributing to that. You are disappearing into a bottomless pit of introspection and navel gazing!’. Yes, that may be so. Time will tell. A clue I look for to confirm what might be so is how I am energised to act. I am less inclined to just swing in to action, to appease the rational mind’s craving for me to comply with our busy society. I am more inclined to continue being with Open Will, continuing to listen and sense the Divine, and continue learning to make this the Source of my being and activation.

I expect my story is nowhere near complete. However, I was moved to write this down as a marker, pointing to the possible benefits, the mystery and the challenges of learning to be with an Open Will.

If nature were an iPad

I saw a video of a 2 yr old given an iPad when they were first released. The child intuitively got it; a few swipes, a few clicks, and she was away.
Interacting with nature is equally intuitive. We can find our own way, without any training or preparation.

However, to achieve particular purposes on an iPad, it helps to know a good app.
Likewise, with nature, there are different ‘apps’ for different purposes.

The ‘Slow Down and Relax’ app is a good one on a weekend, in a lunch break or at a time when you’re feeling a little stressed or over-wound. This can be used in a few practical ways. One of my favourites is Laying on my back under a tree, or Sitting quietly on a park bench.

The ‘Getting present’ app is great to bring yourself out of stress and the stormy swirl of your mind, and in to a more resourceful, peaceful and grounded place. Nature provides plenty of opportunities here. This can be done by noticing with your senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) rather than noticing with your thoughts. Allow yourself to experience what is around you without using words or labels in your head.

The ‘Systems Thinking’ app is great to cultivate your leadership and decision making amidst complexity. Nature is the ultimate system, with lots of parts interacting, with cause and effect relationships, with immediate and delayed responses, with energy and matter constantly changing and in motion.
When you use the apps above, your capacity to notice how natural systems work will be expanded. The transfer of this skill to your workplace, or community, to better see the wider systems and have greater wisdom and insight about where and how to apply effort and intention will be simultaneously enhanced.

Developing a relationship with nature is fun, and intuitive. Simple and directed actions can help you fulfil a variety of purposes that can enrich your work, your health and your life.

Nature vs Wild nature

When I ask people to describe their relationship with nature, they often say things like “I don’t get out there nearly enough” or “one of my favourite places in the world is in the mountains”

They are talking about Wild Nature.
Wild Nature is Nature in its raw form. Untouched and untrammelled by humans, truly wild places have a unique energy about them. They are aesthetically beautiful, soft on the senses, & filled with a diversity of living things in their natural habitats.

However, nature exists beyond Wild Nature. Nature is everywhere.
It is in our cities, our homes, our offices. It’s just harder to notice nature than in its Wild state.

Here are a some ways of noticing it, wherever you are.
I invite you to take a moment to notice your next breath.
Aaah… The air you just breathed is part of nature. It is the same air that smells so alive in a forest, the same air that lashes your face on a windy day.
Now pay attention to the solid ground beneath your feet. Perhaps it is a concrete floor, made of crushed rocks, limestone and water. Perhaps it is a tiled floor, made of clay that has been baked. Perhaps wood, directly milled from trees. Carpet, unless expensively woven from wool from an animal, might be fabricated from oil, drilled out of a hole in the ground.
All these things are of the Earth, and so are linked back through a series of man-made steps to nature.

Nature, as contrasted to Wild Nature, might then be considered as

“The dynamic systems of life; the processes in constant motion between energy and matter that pervade our universe”

When I think about my relationship with nature, I imagine a more diverse array of locations, circumstances and actions, than just imagining being in Wild Nature. I have found this distinction useful. It helps me become more conscious of my ongoing relationship with nature; seeing how nature shows up in all of the actions and choices I make, not just when I go into Wild nature.

It strengthens my awareness that I am part of this awesome living system of life on Earth.

So then, what is your relationship with nature?