There are different processes of change in nature. Some are more gradual and progressive, with small step changes, and others involve radical reformulations or transformations into quite different states or functional arrangements. The dynamic and system implications are very different, and as with much of nature, there tends to be an oscillation between progressive or gradual change and radical or transformative alterations.
When the system driving forces become especially intense, or feedback adjustment measures become overloaded or dysfunctional, then the system may be driven towards a breakdown, which then allows a radically different system to establish.
Are we, in our living systems, in a time of such strong forces and expansionary processes towards a transformative disjunction and alteration? What then are the processes of transformative change.
TRANSFORMATION — OF BODY, MIND & SPIRIT
Let’s start with the Universe.
The universe exists because there is change, a movement and exchange between entities that are different. Difference drives changes, which generates further differences (in a fractal expansion).
Difference ⇔ Change
Difference involves polarity or distinction, with exchanges between polar opposites. These oppositions, though, become increasingly intertwined as exchange systems develop.
Polarity ⇔ Exchange Systems
Life is a creative development of differences and generator of change. Life comes from connection and exchange developing difference and diversity.
Connection & Exchange ⇔ Life ⇔ Evolving diversity
This dynamic becomes increasingly complexified as connections are made and exchange becomes more and more systemised, with multiple relationships at varying levels, and diverse feedback loops.
The systems dynamics of life are hugely complex, but there are basic trends and distinctions that we can recognise and work with.
Always appreciating the limitless complexity and connectedness of the universe, we can make use of polar distinctions. Our view of the world is necessarily very partial, and the understandings we come to necessarily very limited. We are but a small (and very dependent) organism in larger ecosystems that are themselves small organisms of even larger systems.
Accepting these limitations, let us consider a polarity within the very processes of the system dynamics of life.
Throughout nature there are processes of change that are small-scale, gradual and progressive. There are trends and cumulative changes, albeit with sudden steps and jumps, and in different directions. Throughout nature there are other processes of change which are messy, disrupting and transformative. There are shifts that are rapid and irreversible and give rise to very different systemic arrangements, albeit set within a limiting and confining context.
These progressive or transformative change takes place at all levels, and the transformations at one level are the small steps in the progressive change of the larger containing system.
The metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly, or of worker to soldier ants, involves a very messy and disturbing process of transformation. A forest fire that burns down all the large trees and destroys all the existing undergrowth provides a clearing for different life and for a very different ecology to flourish. The butterfly may then lay eggs that hatch into a caterpillar growth machine, and the forest may slowly recover and grow back again through a complex but progressive succession. Grasslands can be grazed slowly and progressively by spread out grazing animals that uses up the available feed, or trampled and manured by tightly packed herd animals that feed the soil life and allow another cycle of grass growth.
These processes of change work together, within defined but open exchange systems that are contained within larger systems. Both processes can be regenerative or degenerative, as part of the cycles of growth and maturity, building up and decay, birth and death, expansion and contraction. They all take place within the interwoven diverging and converging spirals of life, where death and loss of one part is feed and growth for another.
Progressive ⇔ Transformative Divergence ⇔ Convergence
Evolution implies imbalanced systems, with a creative drive and developmental pressures. A healthy ecosystem would then involve more generative growth than maturation and stabilisation, with a long-term building up of biomass and complexity. The unbalanced meta-stability of a living system may then have a golden proportion of generative to stabilising forces (of around 61 to 39%), and depend on a net inflow of energy or nutrition.
Over the longer term, this involves catastrophic collapses and extreme losses, as a creative destruction.
Human societies change in accord with the same dynamics, and experience more gradual and progressive changes (of betterment or detriment), and sudden transformative alterations and cultural shifts. What type of change takes place depends on the existing conditions, the driving influences of change, and the openness or ability to change. Whether we are looking at progressive or transformative changes also depends on the scale or sphere of action we are considering. There are times of large-scale transformation that push down into many smaller scales of disruption and pressure for sudden changes.
Living in large and complex societies, of civilisation, remains a real challenge for humanity. The shift to a settled urban living and fixed area agriculture has taken place, many times, since the global warming around 15 to 10 thousand years ago that gave rise to the present inter-glacial period. The agriculture brought land tilling and clearance of forests, with the domestication of many different plants and animals. Much larger areas of trees and forests were cut down for the cooking of food and smelting of metals. Inappropriate and unsustainable management practices have, over this long period of time, caused widespread deforestation and soil degradation.
Urban living brought specialisation, professionals and privilege. Resources, food, tools, knowledge and decision-making were all accumulated, stored and secured, rather than being openly available and shared out. The first profession was a warrior class (of men) to defend the land and protect the privileged. The second were (women) prostitutes who traded sexual favours for access to protected and hence purchasable goods and services.
Settled urban living & Agriculture ⇔ Civilisation ⇔ Specialisation & Privilege
The gaining and losing of land and resources, of power and privilege, and the rise and fall of civilisations, has followed a very punctuated dynamic. Civilisations have continually collapsed because the maintenance of privilege for a few has caused the over-exploitation of both their people and their place, and the over-extending of management and organisational abilities. Progressive gains have turned to sudden loss. Revolutions have rotated the power and the privileges, while invasions and war have altered power relationships and ownership or rights of access to resources and services.
Progressive growth and transformative transitions have involved much degradation and destruction. The amount of violence and abuse, and the irresponsibility of management and governance suggests an imbalance on the side of violence and degeneration instead of regeneration and creative productivity. Decadence and selfish hoarding has been increasing with the expansion of human civilisation and technological advance, rather than healthy living and sharing. Empires have grown in size and in their centralisation of power and wealth.
Creativity & Productivity ⇔ Civilisation ⇔ Violence & Destruction
TIME OF TRANSFORMATION
The pressures for transformative change, of a deep cleansing and clearing of the slate, have been increasing for a long time. However, the recent globalisation of human societies through global colonisation and empire building has involved very intense exponential growth, taking off from past foundations of trade, agriculture and urban-industrial living. The very rapid increase in population and material consumption, that has been possible because of the very abundant and cheap energy obtained from a manic extraction of fossil deposits (of old life), is giving rise to extreme pressures on and from the rest of the natural world. This consumption, and the mis-use of science and technology, is causing global environmental destruction, climate responses and the collapse or implosion of ecosystems.
The concentration of power and the extremes of wealth and poverty, at local, regional and global levels, is causing social destruction and destroying basic human trust and the acceptance of conventions and authority that is essential for large complex societies.
In these circumstances, there can be no continuation, and no gradual unwinding or back-tracking. The processes that can deal with our present human and environmental condition have to be transformative, with transformations at all levels — personal, community, state and global.
This means an essentially unpredictable future. The transformative processes will provide opportunities for change and renewal, by clearing away the existing and leaving an open field for innovation and adaptive responses. That openness, and the creativity it allows, means there is a wide range of possibilities, and the actual outcomes will depend on the myriad of responses and choices of all the players — human, biological, ecological and physical. At different levels, and in different places, climes and ecosystems, there will be different outcomes, as the varying responses play out in different ways.
Transformations are messy, and what humanity as a whole has done to the Earth will make the near future a very bumpy journey, of dislocation and distress, as well as uncertainty. What we can do now is to form the seeds of another way of living. As far as we practically can, to live the way we would like all people to live, given the seeds have to be kept safe and can not really flourish until the present conditions and their constraints have been wiped away.
Excessive Growth ⇔ Transformation ⇔ Messy Processes & Unpredictable Outcomes
The basis of human life, as of all life, is connections that feed and support us. We are creatures of our environment, embedded in it and an outcome of it. We are no more, but no less, than a functioning organism within a larger ecosystem, sustained by that larger system, and sustaining the ecosystem that we are. These systems are material and energetic, with retained memories and responsive abilities. They have a materiality, an intelligence and a spirituality.
We are a microcosm of the universe, and we share, in some degree, its materiality, intelligence and spirituality. We are connected by its energy fields and information exchanges, and our internal polarities interact and exchange with external polarities. We receive our sustenance from both earthly and cosmic forces, which interact with our own earthly and cosmic characteristics to sustain the wholeness of our being.
We obtain sustenance from our senses, which directly feeds our brains and enlivens us. The light around us, the warmth of the sun, the smells of the flowers and the forest floor, the sounds of the winds, the feel of things, this all involves energy exchanges and provides us with information about our surroundings and ourselves.
The food we eat is our most potent source of information about our world and the environment in which we live. It is our most direct and necessary connection with the world around us. We are what we eat, and our health depends on the health of the environment in which our food grows. To have the will to action be need nutrient dense food in our bellies.
Water is the facilitator of all the processes of life, and even of movement itself. Function and form reflect each other, and the patterns of water flows, with its interwoven diverging and converging spirals, are the patterns of physical and living processes. Water molecules take on shapes and form liquid structures, retaining forms from the influences on them and the functions they undertake. Water connects everything, and our connectedness comes most intimately from interactions and messages given by water. The water we take in connects the water of our body with the water in everything around us. It allows and facilitates all our relationships. To feel related we need high vitality water in our food and in what we drink.
Effective action requires an appropriate understanding, an emotional motivation and the will to act. An integrated response of head, heart and guts!
Head ⇔ Heart ⇔ Guts
Intelligence ⇔ Motivation ⇔ Will
Senses ⇔ Water ⇔ Food
But to be sound of body, mind and spirit, we must have good all-round nourishment. Healthy and invigorating surroundings, provided high vitality water and food; supportive and well-functioning communities and cooperative working relationships; and a sense of connection and identity, of belonging and purpose, with the social means for expressing it through ceremonies and celebrations. We are complex creatures, with personal physical and psychological needs, social or relationship needs, and spiritual needs of connection and purpose.
Without a fulsome nourishment of our body, mind and spirit, we are deficient in our abilities to act, feel or understand. We become disabled and disempowered in different ways, depending on the nourishment we lack.
The sudden global expansion of urban-agricultural-industrial civilisation in the last century or so has adversely impacted on all aspects of our nutrition. The mis-management of land, soils and forests, and an inappropriate use of tools and technology, has debased our food and water supplies, as it has destroyed ecosystems and physical resources. Very recently, we have made an even worse mess of marine life in the oceans. Everywhere, what we throw away as wastes is of minimal use because of the overloading of waterways, soils and ecosystems, and the contamination by synthetic and toxic chemicals.
Our senses are assaulted by unnatural smells and sounds, and we are mostly confined to artificial environments of concrete, steel and synthetic plastics, which are linear and square in form. The highly competitive and individualised ethos undermines community support and the acceptance of the common good. Money and the economy overrides everything else, instead of being the means for the material purposes of our group activities or social living. In this way, wealth and power is increasingly concentrated and abused.
Our sense of place and connection has been progressively weakened by cultural attitudes of dominance and possession, and through the social fragmentation of high mobility. The disconnection of urban-industrial living, and the violence of state regulation, enforcement procedures and military intimidation, has just about eliminated any spirit in many people. There are so many idols and hollow prophets to distract and confuse, and very little genuine nourishment of the spirit of people.
Domination ⇔ Money ⇔ Mal-nourishment & Ill-health
There is a disempowerment at all levels, from debased and adulterated food, sensual deprivation and entrapment in artificial environments, political corruption and outright greed by those exercising power and the rights of decision-making. There are multi-dimensional and systemic weaknesses that makes our present societies non-reformable. The loss of real economic, social and natural capital is too great and too deeply penetrating, and the internal decay increases through poorer and poorer nutrition.
Real nutrition comes from sharing, from exchanges of goods and goodness. It involves connection and an exchange of energies or information, of communication, to ensure the well-being of all the interconnected parts or organisms. It is basically about mutually beneficial caring and sharing.
A full nutrition allows power to be exercised for care and to enhance well-being, with a fair sharing of sustenance. At the same time, this full nutrition ensures that care and support is respectful and empowering. Then love and power, feelings and actions, guided by intelligence, will work together for the good of all. Generative living and well-directed change requires a dynamic interplay of intelligent understanding, emotional engagement and the will power for effective action. Love and power guided by compassion.
Love ⇔ Compassion ⇔ Power
Engagement ⇔ Understanding ⇔ Action
While there is much talk about transformation and the need to take action given the extraordinary extremes and imbalances that exist in the world, the processes of transformation do not seem to be well understood. They are not simply a reversal and unwinding of the damage we have done, and the inequities that have been created. It is not a matter of changing tax rates and banking regulations; using renewable sources of energy and resources; re-directing funds from weapons to humanitarian assistance; and adding on ‘clean technologies‘ to ever more and larger homes, buildings and infrastructure.
There is an essential first step, of saying ‘NO!’ to our present way of life, saying enough and turning away. Then with an open mind and heart, turning towards a very different way of living, which we can imagine, but have not yet lived. It is not about life as we live it now, or as we have lived, but as we might live, given the imagination, vision and will to do so. It requires a leap of faith, and the courage to try out alternatives, and accept the failure and loss that goes with this experimentation.
Openness ⇔ Transformation ⇔ Enough
Transformative action is about living in the unknown. Starting from where you are, but going in a different direction. Going against the powerful currents of normality and convention, and the practical and legal constraints imposed on unconventional alternatives. It is taking the opportunities for changes that counter prevailing trends and forces, and make the continuation of the present economic and political systems more difficult. It is to stand for, not stand against, to disregard and not confront, to leave behind not attack.
Say: Yes, we can ⇔ Levers of Change ⇔ Say: No, we wont
It is not protest or revolt to change the people in power, but to change the very nature of power relationships. It is a revolution of growing your own food with others in a healthy environment, instead of buying industrialised energy packets from supermarkets. It is a revolution of sharing, and pooling your savings with your family, friends and neighbours to borrow from each other, and not using the inter-mediation of banks with their monetary creation, interest charges and leveraged trading.
It is to seek a real nourishment of body, mind and soul, through mutually beneficial relationships and reciprocity. It is to be sensitive to everything around us, being observant and responsive, and taking responsibility, while respecting differences. Building partnerships and alliances for effective action, and co-creating healthy and resilient communities, waterways and landscapes.
Our society is like a river rising in flood, sucking in and sweeping everything before it. But in river floods, the larger and faster the flood flow, and the more turbulent it becomes, the more and larger the eddies that shed off, and flow away into backwaters. All over the world, people are forming backwaters of a different movement and opposite spin. It is these grassroots responses and actions that are the seeds of a different future, the imaginal cells of a wholly different human society underpinned by a radically changed understanding of the world we live in.
A deep and regenerative transformation requires a fundamental change in world-view, a cultural evolution. This can only come from the challenges and necessities of wrenching dislocations and shocking losses. Renewal requires a feed-stock from destructive breakdown and its ‘waste’ products.
Opportunity ⇔ Cultural Evolution ⇔ Loss
Like a return of the glacial ice ages, which may come from a sharp increase in global temperatures and rainfall, a sudden and catastrophic collapse of a globalised civilisation provides the opportunity for a profound cultural transformation, and a fundamentally different paradigm for our relationships, with each other and all the other species that inhabit planet Earth.
Humans are especially challenged by power and sexual relations. There is a flexibility and malleability that allows very different expressions and extremes of behaviour. It allows a wide creative scope, which can be expressed very destructively, as well as in a very constructive and responsible way. How we reach agreement and work together, while respecting and celebrating differences and diversity, and how we engage in decision-making and share power, will be critical to the development of healthy and sustainable ways of living. This will be at the heart of regenerative transformation and its paradigm shift.
Care & Respect ⇔ Generative Living ⇔ Fair Sharing
The field, though, is open to all comers. The broken pot will be re-moulded by those who stand up and act on the opportunities. The outcomes are not determined, they will be created.