The ancient Greeks had the slogan ‘Know Thy Self’ above the doorways of some of their most sacred temples. Why?
In my previous article on The Essence of Regenerative Leadership, I explore how cultivating a more intimate relationship with one’s own sense of self is vital for the shift in human consciousness we now need for enabling regenerative futures.
In this article, we delve into aspects of the inner journey towards wholeness, and explore its importance for these epochal times.
First, let’s explore how this journey towards wholeness relates to leadership. In doing so I shall draw upon the work of leadership specialists like Parker J Palmer and Otto Scharmer as well as insights from further afield. Second, we shall explore the hidden depths of this inner journey, drawing upon the psychological work of Carl Jung and also Alchemy, an ancient science of the soul.
So, first, ‘Leadership’ – a word that conjures up grandeur and ego, and yet is really about humility and soul.
Just as it can be argued that every human being is made for communal life, so leadership can be anyone’s vocation in varying degrees, as in community everyone leads and follows in myriad ways.
The origin of the word ‘leadership’ finds its root in the old European word ‘leith’ which means to cross the threshold, to die and be reborn, to let go of old ways of being-and-doing in order to embrace the new.
This speaks to the inner journey involved in true leadership – to go inward and gain perspective on our own individual (and collective) constrictions, habits, foibles, limitations, strengths, weaknesses, gifts and fears.
Just as the yin-yang symbol conveys the light and dark aspects of life, so must our journey towards wholeness embrace light and dark or else it is not whole.
There are some useful tips and tools amid contemporary thinking on positive psychology and the power of positive thinking. Such tips and tools can help equip the leader to deal with the challenges of the day, and even get-things-done more effectively and efficiently. And yet the journey inward is an intense journey of inner shadow and light, beyond the realms of positive thinking. Positive thinking, if overly focused upon, may encourage a habit of polarising thoughts and situations as good and bad. Yet as we journey inward, we can sense into all aspects of the yin-yang wisdom of life.
As regenerative leaders, we are creating conditions for life to flourish within-side ourselves, so we are authentic in our walking-the-talk (with the failures, mistakes and falls this humbly invites). We are also helping enable the conditions for life to flourish in others, as we hold-space for others to feel safe enough to embark on their own journey towards wholeness. And we are enabling these life conditions across teams, organisations and social systems, so these collective systems nudge towards allowing more authenticity, diversity and inclusiveness – spiritually, materially, socially, ecologically.
As leaders, we also need to be acutely aware of our own presence and the effect it has on others. It is natural for humans to project light and shadow. Noticing our own projections is a powerful way of gaining perspective on our own presence and blind-spots.
Leaders can tend towards extroversion, by bolstering a light-filled projection outward, and then suppressing an ever-expanding shadow within, that then seeps out in other ways. We might, for instance, offer wise-counsel or give advice regularly throughout the day, or hold-space for others to work through their problems. Then, after a while, perhaps on a day when we are tired and triggered, we begin to resent why people can’t just think for themselves and stop whinging. As a result we might become more direct in our feedback – which depending on how it’s delivered may be just what the situation calls for, or it may be out of sych with the situation. We may learn to notice the trigger within us, and inwardly explore what this trigger is revealing: our own inner light and shadow tensions, our own inner soul and ego evolutions. We might begin to notice ebbs and flows, tensions and energies within our own sense of self. This is the journey inward, the journey beyond compartmentalisation of outward-extroversion, positive-thinking, inner frustration, anxiety or insecurity. The journey towards wholeness is one of integrating our own fragmentation, of becoming more attentive to everything that is going on within us, regardless of whether we judge it good or bad, light or dark.
As a leader, understanding the shadow within us, and how we project on to others, is of great importance. This shadow affects not just our perception of others and then our judgements and opinions of them, which may cloud our listening, feedback and acceptance. It also directly affects others efficiency and effectiveness due to our power as a leader to influence others, either constructively – opening them up to explore, question, learn, grow into their own selfhood while unlocking their innate brilliance – or destructively – closing them down, limiting them, creating defensiveness and fear in them that deflates their creativity and locks-up their brilliance. This is where our own journey towards wholeness gets magnified through our leadership, as it is all too easy in positions of influence to transfer our own stuff, rather than transform it. Transferring spreads pollution, transformation brings regeneration.
Our inner soul-gifts and virtues (for instance: patience and equanimity) are conveyed through our relations with others. I may know that I have a general tendency, for instance, to be impatient. This does not mean I simply practice to bite my tongue and force an artificial pent-up type of patience into my relations with self and other. Yes, certain coping-mechanisms may be useful in certain situations, and yet these coping mechanisms merely maintain the status quo, rather than invoke transformation. Instead, my ability to notice when the impatience starts off within-side of me, and sense it, give it my conscious awareness, rather than suppress it. Then I can allow its power over me to ease through my awareness, and therefore reduce down my urge to overly project outward on to the other. This is more than positive thinking. This is inner shadow-work, depth psychology and self-transformation.
As Annie Dillard knew,
‘In the depths are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. But if you ride these monsters down, if you drop with them farther over the world’s rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the rest, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here.’
The gift of this realisation of reality is within us. We are each born with this gift. Often it can be buried deep under trauma, hurt, fear, stress and busyness.
It is a learning journey to become more intimate with ourselves, it takes time, practice, careful attention and discipline. For instance, a daily practice of noticing our thoughts as we wake-up, and practicing some mindfulness or bodymind energy-work to provide access to the substrate Anne Dillard refers to, followed by moments of reflection and journaling throughout the day to notice triggers, tensions and learning, and then the space before sleep to notice our thoughts, reflect on the day, and once again practice some mindfulness or bodymind energy-work to go deeper within, over the world’s rim. This requires practice and discipline to find out what works best so each day informs the journey towards wholeness.
‘Good leadership comes from people who have penetrated their own inner darkness and arrived at the place where we are at one with one another, people who lead the rest of us to a place of ‘hidden wholeness’ because they have been there and know the way.’ – Parker J Palmer
In exploring this ‘hidden wholeness’ within us as leaders, Parker J Palmer speaks to 5 shadow-casting monsters we encounter on this inner journey.
Insecurity – the first shadow-casting monster is insecurity about identity and worth. Leaders who have an extroversive tendency may find this insecurity hard to see, yet it is there. Sometimes extroversion has been constructed as a result of self-doubt and the insecure feeling sensitive types feel when ‘performing’ in any social setting. This creates shadow and inauthenticity if left unchecked. Soon we become overly-hooked on, or even dependent upon, this external persona or role we have projected, as it gives us a sense of self-worth. Yet it is projection, not wholeness. So let us look inward, and become intimate with our own inner insecurities and nagging self-doubt, and see beneath veneers and masks we have constructed with skill and effort. The reality is, if we are projecting our own insecurity through our role as ‘leader’ we might create settings that deprive people of their identities as a way of defending our own insecurity. We might close-down another or overly-defend a point, or not open-heartedly listen to the other, or too eagerly assert our view, because of our own inner instability and grasping. It remains up to us to find our centre, to ground and feel rooted in our own inner-soil, the ground-of-our-being. Often the dynamics we find in organisations today are riddled with ripples and repercussions from insecurity. To help overcome this shadow within, we first need to become conscious of it, and notice how it shows itself in us – this requires self-authenticity, humility and courage. Second, as we become more intimate with ourselves as we journey towards wholeness, we start to appreciate that identity does not depend on the role we play or the power it gives us over others. This speaks directly to power dynamics, and the inner realisation that the ego needs power and control yet the soul (our deeper truer nature) does not, as it is able to sense the abundance, reciprocity, cyclic seasonality and synchronicity of how life really works. Hence, the threshold crossing of letting go of old constructs, old ways of engaging, and opening into a deeper self-agency where ego serves soul.
Competition – the second shadow-casting monster is the conditioned belief we have had stuffed in us through mainstream education that nature is inherently selfish and competitive, and you have to dominate or be dominated in life to get anywhere. This belief that life is a competitive battleground is rooted in a worldview of separateness, that we are nothing but separate ego-selves struggling for survival in a dog-eat-dog world. We either win or lose. With this perspective life becomes a vast combat zone. War-mentality is everywhere – it has infiltrated the climate change movement with ‘the war on carbon’, its prevalent through the COVID pandemic with the ‘war on the virus’, its rampant in politics, in business, in our approach to health, and our approach to education. Competition has become so pervasive because we have made it so. In nature competition is actually far outweighed by collaboration in its influence on evolution. As we journey inward, one of the gifts we receive is the deepening realisation that life is flowing with inter-relationality at all levels seeking harmony more than competition. This inner knowing helps us ease off from a narrow-minded war-mentality that sees only winners and losers. We can relax a little and grow into sensing and responding within this participatory experience of life where everything informs everything else.
Functional atheism – the third shadow-casting monster comes out of the hard-won experience that to get things done I need to put my head-down and take responsibility otherwise nothing gets done. If it’s going to get done well, then I will have to do it through stress and toil. Again this belief has been encoded in us from early on in our lives. Yet, once again, as we journey inward, another gift is revealed to us – sometimes we need to get out of the way and allow things to happen with more flow and less stress. We learn we do not need to carry the heavy load and can share more, trust more, empower others, and see different richer outcomes unfold far beyond our original perceptions. In the leadership research of action logics this relates to the shift from conventional expert-achiever level of leadership into post-conventional individualist-strategist leadership where we learn to open up and trust not just those around us but also the complex systemic dynamics and hidden ordering forces at play within teams and organisations. We begin to be able to flow as nature flows, realising there is a hidden wholeness seeking to reveal itself if only we trust in life, let go a little and ease into it.
Fear – the fourth shadow-casting monster is a biggy, fear. Fear is rife in society today. It has a corrosive effect on us. Underpinning many of our fears is the larger fear of chaos, that if things are left to their own devices, we will be subsumed into chaos. This fear drives us to form certainties and controls over our lives so that we save ourselves from chaos and make something of ourselves. We feel a need to orchestrate, control and order the messiness of things through analysis and prediction. We need systematic methods, procedures, models, methodologies, rules, laws, otherwise it will be chaos. All of this creates an ethos of imprisonment rather than empowerment, and so we undermine our brilliance and serve up a shallow version of life, all because we fear what lies deep within us. Once again, the gift of insight we receive during the inner journey is that chaos is not to be feared. Chaos is here all the time in life, it is what underpins all creativity. It’s like trying to surf while fearing the ocean. It is the ocean that creates the waves that allow us to flow. Life itself emerges out of the dark-chaos-void. There is no need to fear the void, in fact, as we open into it we become more creative, more in-tune, more alive. This is part of the threshold crossing of letting go, connecting into source, so as to invite in the new. This opening into the nothingness-beyond-everything is essential to regenerative leadership, and is what allows us to ease off the incessant fear, and create the conditions conducive for life. To actually live into this, rather than espouse it, is to be regenerative, which means letting-go of fear and control and trusting in life. These threshold crossings of letting-go happen all the while, as we can’t wash ourselves of fear and control we can only notice the fear within us and then let-go into the tension the fear creates, and see what happens. Our fear of failure or chaos does not actually materialise, instead we evolve as we go over the rim into the depths.
Death – the fifth and final shadow-casting monster is the denial of death. Our society has shunned death, and many of us deeply fear it. And yet it is a vital part of life. Imagine life without death – there’d be gridlock. All things must die in due course. In some societies, death is celebrated much like birth is celebrated. Opening in to the cyclical seasonality of life is to open into an aspect of nature’s wisdom, that the death of autumn-winter brings the fertile conditions for new birth and growth in spring-summer. Much of today’s busy corporate cultures seek to celebrate endless spring-summer inventions, launches, growth-markets, new gadgets, yet negate the decline and renewal of autumn-winter. Hence the cultures and strategies become unsustainable, fragile and unfit for the future. The fear of death also manifests as the fear of failure, or doing something wrong. Yet, it is through failure that we learn and evolve. Death brings rebirth. Out of the failure comes new insight. This is the wisdom of life. Once again, the inner journey gifts us with this insight, and by experiencing our own inner ego-death and seeing how letting-go brings deeper insights and soul-knowing, we start to recognise the wisdom inherent in the cyclic seasonal flows of death-birth within life. These seasonal flows can form a healthy rhythm within our regenerative business, starting with us as leaders.
So now we’ve explored some of the leadership aspects of engaging on this inner journey, we shall enter into the second part of this article, which probes the depths of this inner journey itself.
A caveat here, much of this inner journey is beyond words, and is more the province of poet, psychologist and mystic. What follows here is inspired by the ‘godfather of psychotherapy’ Carl Jung, and also ancient wisdom traditions, in particular the European/Middle-Eastern tradition of Alchemy, as a way of deciphering this inner journey.
Let’s dive into the inner depths of our soul transformation.
As we enter into a more intimate relationship with our own selves, we start to become conscious of 3 lenses or filters through which we engage with reality. The first and most readily available lens is that of ego-consciousness or the rationalising mind, and the voice within our own head that is pretty much incessantly talking all the time. Gaining perspective on this voice in the head is an important part of this inner journey. Meditation, body-work like yoga or Tai Chi, contemplative or reflective practices like journaling or free-writing, are all useful tools to help us start to gain perspective on this voice-in-the-head, and gain some distance from it, or help ease its hold over us.
Then beneath this first lens of ego-consciousness is a second lens deeper within us. As we learn to notice the voice in our head and gain distance from it, rather like being on the balcony looking down onto the dance-floor of our own mental gyrations, we may also start to gain perspective on more of ourselves beyond the dance floor. Other parts of ourselves beyond the voice-in-the-head are there in us and often lie beneath and inform the thoughts and emotions on the dance floor. We may begin to sense into shadow projections, trauma, inner wounds, our inner child seeking to play and unlock its creativity, and also a spaciousness underpinning all this, which we might call the Self, true nature, soul, it does not matter what we call it, whatever label feels most right for us. Here we shall call it soul.
As we gain intimacy with our shadow aspects and inner recesses of our soul, we may also – through advanced meditation practice – start to sense a deeper underlying field of non-judgemental numinous depth, which is quite beyond words. This might be referred to as the realm of Spirit, Source, the Tao, that which cannot be named, the ineffable, the universe, field or void. Again, it does not matter what we wish to call it, whatever best resonates. This is the third lens, which is a deep and potent presence pervading all life in inner and outer ways, and if we so choose we can, with our attention and intention, learn to access it through our soul (the second lens). As we ripen our soul’s capacity to receive this spirit-wisdom, we may then start to comprehend and apply it to our path of life through our daily ego-awareness (the first lens). This is the gift we have as human beings, procreating with the creative life-force of the universe, becoming masterful within our own life-path while contributing to the magnificence of existence. Yet to do so requires a level of harmony and coherence within-side ourselves so that the three lenses resonate as best they can amid our everyday stresses and strains.
Noticing and gaining perspective on the ego-machinations of the voice in the head (the first lens) is a useful first step. The second step, on this journey towards wholeness, is sensing into our soul-scape, noticing its mysterious ways and understanding how the tensions within the soul unfold into our destinal path of becoming more of who we truly are. This is where Alchemy as a science of the soul can aid us (just as other ancient wisdom traditions can too).
What follows here will not be for everyone, as it has mystical connotations, and yet is grounded in empirically-based studies of the human psyche.
The soul can be described as having 2 aspects.
As we are now entering the realm of the soul, these 2 aspects can be given archetypal imagery.
These 2 aspects of the soul are symbolised as the serpent and the bird. Or to be more specific, the snake and the white dove, or the dragon and the eagle.
One of the powerful insights Alchemy affords us is that it understands how each aspect of the soul has both masculine-feminine qualities. (One might prefer to say yang-yin qualities, as these masculine-feminine qualities do not relate to gender or sexual orientation.)
The serpent is outwardly masculine (yang) yet inwardly feminine (yin); whereas the bird is outwardly feminine and inwardly masculine, as we shall explore. The tension of these opposites are both within the serpent and also within the bird, and also between how the serpent and bird interact. This interplay of tensions provides for the rich concocting forces we need for soul-transformation to alchemise.
The serpent is that aspect of the soul which attunes with a power or force or divinity concealed within physical nature and in the instinctual forces of the psyche within us. It is engaged with when we engage in practices that encourage an embodied, experiential, phenomenological, sensory engagement. For instance, when we are swimming in the sea, or when we dance in a nightclub, or engage in sexual intercourse, we are engaging these instinctual physical forces in a vivid way that we can feel. These instinctual forces are also influencing us in less all-consuming yet still potent and powerful ways throughout everyday life. They are activated through all sorts of interactions, whether it be an email-thread, a social media post, a lively meeting, or a zoom call, for instance.
If we take movement and dance to exemplify this inner instinctual dynamic, we can see how we can be conscious of or unconscious of these forces at play within us.
We may not be consciously attuning with these instinctual forces when we are dancing in a night-club after a few drinks, for instance, and yet we can become conscious of these forces either when engaging in dance-therapy, through movement applied to leadership such as https://www.moveleadership.com/ or a structured practice such as social presencing https://www.presencing.org/aboutus/spt/about , or through a movement-based bodywork practice like Tai Chi or Yoga, for instance. Then we consciously feel the flow of energy within the body, rather than be subsumed by it.
In this way, we can allow for our inner-sensing to notice, purify and release blockages of energy-trauma (what Yogic philosophy calls Samskara) from within us. This inner release and purification process is an important part of the journey towards wholeness. The releasing of blocked energy within us (and also within our collective systems, such as our organisations, as they too hold trauma) allows for greater flow, and better alignment with the energy of life. This is a process of learning to go inward, notice tensions and deepen into the centre of our selves. When attending to an organisational system, it requires the systemic-awareness to sense hidden ordering forces at play within an organisational culture.
This requires patience, non-judgement and the courage to attend to inner pain and stuckness so as to become more open to life – more vulnerable yet more whole.
It is easy (and enjoyable) to enfold conscious movement and breathing practices into our everyday rhythm. For instance, we may wish to undertake some body movements between zoom calls, to enliven our inner energy and help rebalance any inner tensions, or go for a walk or jog inbetween meetings. There is nothing wrong with doing such, in fact there is a lot right with taking this time-out between meetings as scientific studies show that it greatly enhances our performance. Yet the thrust of this article is not simply about increasing our output, it’s about enriching the quality of flow we bring into each and every meeting. It’s our quality of consciousness that allows for deeper authenticity and trust to spawn generative discussions with others, and enable richer more regenerative cultures to flourish from the inside-out. This is good for us, it’s good for our relationships, it’s good for team performance, it’s good for business, it’s good for the brand. It’s a no-brainer.
Let’s go back to the serpent and the inner-tensions it symbolises, as there is much in this for today’s stresses and strains.
Within this serpent instinctual aspect, is a pull of opposing forces that creates tension. This tension can either pull us into blind reactivity at the instinctual level, or create the crucible for us to move through the tension. To use the neurobiologist Candice Pert’s expression, the ‘bodymind’ (our entire body is pervaded by mind at brain, heart, gut and somatic levels) becomes our vessel, our cauldron for the tension to create a mixing that causes alchemy to occur within us. This alchemy is in the form of self-transformation, as we open up our bodymind to the flow of energy, and open up our perceptual horizon to a deeper realisation of reality. We sense more of ourselves, and we sense more of life as it really is. We become more alive. Rather than the instinctual forces subsuming us, they enliven and emancipate us. Hence this psychic-tension within us can reveal a deeper sense of purpose, and with it a soul-transformation unfolds.
The serpent is wisdom immanent within nature, it is of this world, not transcendent beyond the world. The transcendent or universal aspect of the soul is symbolised by the bird.
Earthly-immanence and heavenly-transcendence is referred to as ‘di-polar’ –a horizontal (earthly) pole and vertical (heavenly) pole creating a cross-of-life. Often when we are walking through a graveyard, we may see a cross set in a circle, above gravestone. This is symbolic of the circle of the soul and its di-polar aspect. It is also representing how our soul lives on after our body dies.
The horizontal dimension of the cross-of-life, is the realm of nature and its hidden ordering forces innate within this life-force field where the serpent tensions lure us into being overcome by instinct and create blind reactivity in us, or trigger awakening in us to go through the tension and evolve into a deeper revealing of reality.
The vertical dimension of the cross-of-life, is the realm of spirit and its hidden ordering forces innate within this universal-force field that the soul integrates with to gain insight upward into light.
Let’s further explore the serpent aspect as its powerful lure is something we shall encounter on our inner journey, and is sometimes overlooked in some spiritual disciplines that seek to negate or control the urges and instincts of life by focusing more solely on the upward journey to light (the bird).
The serpent is the way into the spirit innate within nature; it’s the way into the third lens (spirit) from the second lens (soul). As Jesus noted, ‘Raise a stone and thou shalt find me, cleave the wood and I am there.’
Nature provides spiritual illumination, what the alchemists called lumen naturae a ‘light of nature’ that is indwelling in us and in nature, which is embodied through our instincts and somatic bodily intelligence, which can then inform our emotional and intuitive faculties.
Learning to quieten the voice in our head, and then learning to come out of our heads and into our bodies more – through practices like yoga, Tai Chi, heart-breathing or body scanning – helps activate this latent soul-potential we have within us. The serpent is aroused. There are certain yogic postures and movements that have been devised to specifically arouse the serpent within.
In the book Regenerative Leadership, we speak of Activating our Super-Nature, which explains this process of integrating different ways of knowing within-side our own bodymind, the somatic, emotional, intuitive and rational aspects of our psyche, within the alchemic vessel of our own selves. This allows us to open up into the light of nature within and all around us. This is the immanence found in life itself.
This serpent relates to the libidinal forces of psychotherapy and the kundalini forces of mystical tantric transformation practices, where energy is aroused in the base of the spine and awakens the major chakra centres up the spine reaching the crown at the top of the head. The serpent contains both masculine-feminine qualities. It has a masculine outer-form (cold-blooded reptile) and feminine inner-form (embodied, sensuous, moist and flowing). In alchemy this relates to the elements of earth-water. We learn to ride the serpent-dragon by noticing the tensions within us and rather than blindly allowing our instinctual urges to get the better of us, we allow our consciousness to shine through the darkness of our inner depths. The grit of the tension transmutes to reveal a pearl of wisdom whereupon we see more of ourselves; we become more whole. This is one aspect of the soul – the earthly aspect, which contains an every-playing tension or dance of masculine-feminine within us.
The other aspect of the soul – the heavenly aspect – relates to the vertical pole of the cross-of-life, or the transcendent aspect of reality, symbolised by the bird, which is feminine in outer form (the warm-blooded bird) but masculine in its inner form (clarity of reason, direct illumination). In alchemy this relates to the elements of air-fire. This is the universal field of energy beyond this space-time world yet entering into this world all the time.
Through meditative and contemplative practices we can allow our bodymind vessel to cohere and attune with this universal energy and allow an awakening of our soul-faculties of insight, intuition, synchronicity and flow. We gain super-sensory faculties that are a natural part of being human.
The soul can ripen in its powers, so as to consciously receive spirit-wisdom from both earth (via the serpent aspect) and universe (via the bird aspect). This ripening happens through a play of inner tensions created through opposing forces within the psyche. Alchemy offers intricate processes, inspired by nature, such as separation-purification-reconstitution and divergence-convergence-emergence (which we apply to organisational development in the book Regenerative Leadership).
There is also a seasonal cyclic nature to our soul-transformation. Just as the growth of summer gives way to decline and death in winter, and winter provides reflection and renewal for spring into summer again, there are cyclic cycles of death-rebirth going on within our own psyche all the time. Noticing these seasonal phases is an important aspect of the inner journey whereupon we are experiencing biorhythmic waves of dying and birthing in order to become more of who we truly are.
The crucible of soul transformation is life itself, and the tensions that it unfolds all about and within us are life’s learning ground. The ego-consciousness of the first lens tries to avoid or collapse tensions to keep us safe, yet in-so-doing, undermines our soul-evolution. Hence, we need to cultivate a healthy relationship between the three lenses within us – first (ego) second (soul) and third (spirit).
This inner journey is not about seeking serenity or bliss-states that are attained during quiet solitude and meditation, or vivid highs, extreme sports and epiphanies. It is about living into the inner turbulence of continual tensions triggered by ordinary daily reactivity, desire, passion and fear, into extraordinary super-nature insights that reach into hidden recesses within our psyche. This is exploring the hidden wholeness within and all around us. It may help to study nature, yet not merely in a reductive-scientific biologically-classified kind of way, but also in an open-hearted, intuitive, phenomenological kind of way. It’s what Goethe referred to as active-seeing where we sense into the essence of things beyond the labelling and human-imposed judgements, moral ethics and ego-projections. Let go of the voice in the head, open the heart, and see with the whole bodymind, and allow the serpent and bird to entwine through our full-bodied experience. This is what Otto Scharmer refers to as Open Mind, Open Heart, Open Will, and its well within our human capacity. The more we practice this, the more we can welcome it into our meeting conventions and daily business rhythms. This is what the future of business is truly about.
‘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.’ – John Naisbett
This is an opening up into life, by opening in to our inner nature and outer nature in a more embodied integrated way. This allows tensions within us to unfold in an unhurried pregnant way where emergence is appreciated (as uncomfortable as this undefined uncontrollable birthing-process is for the ego with its need for clear-cut answers, directions-of-travel and controlled outcomes). We enter an inner space of not-knowing, of surrendering, and as tensions churn up inside us, it can become quite unsettling, even maddening at times, and the temptation to react with the ego or get subsumed by the instinct is always there.
There is danger as we dive inwardly on this journey. The earthly serpent injects venom that may either paralyse or awaken. Every trigger is a crucible for paralysis or awakening. It all depends on how we alchemise, cook and purify. Life, all the time is offering the ingredients to awaken. Sometimes the more we dive inward the more we feel the vortex of the ego holding-on for dear life. The voice in the head gets louder and more frenetic as we drop over the world’s rim. The urges of the instinct can blind us, lull us into the lure of our own inner fantasies, power-plays, fears and feelings. We need to be of the ‘flesh’ yet not consumed by ‘flesh’. This is walking the razor’s-edge.
It is a developmental process where we move towards reconciling the bird’s super-sensory insight with the serpents somatic-energy, as our consciousness expands and the deeper meaning of life emerges with us, reaching beyond flesh-fantasy and ego-projection/narcissism/victim-mentality, cutting through old patterns as dawn-breaks, we see with new eyes.
This is a threshold crossing, and is a letting go and reaching beyond much of what today’s consumeristic digitally-distracted society subsumes us with.
Learning to discern when we are alchemising an inner struggle into transformation, or when we are being subsumed into deeper darkness of terrestrial sleep is the art of the hero’s journey or pilgrim’s path.
The serpent of the dark moist recesses of earth-water is destined to rise from the reptilian state into the dreams of its celestial origins, an ascent to the supernal regions of the psyche where it alchemises with universal energy.
This can be symbolised by the tree with its roots and branches. The everyday embodiment of our values and cultural-beliefs is the root-system drawing nutrients from the earthly realm of the soul. The learning nutrients are the systemic ordering forces and constellations of power-plays, gossip, behaviours and such like that can be made more conscious, more authentic, more alive and embodied. Then there are the branches and leaves where the nutrients from the culture of the roots engage in alchemy through photosynthesis – value-exchanges, synergies and evolutionary purpose of the organisation are enlivened. Then the nutrients are taken back down into the cultural roots of the tree. It is a continuous exchange of roots and branches, of inner culture, outer strategy – emergent and evolutionary in nature. The self-management of Teal-Evolutionary business is served by both the roots of inner wholeness and the branches of outer strategy and purpose. As Frederic Laloux knew, it is both Evolutionary Purpose and the Journey towards Wholeness that allows the self-management practices of today’s future-fit agile organisations to come alive and truly thrive.
We might see how each day is a way into the inner journey towards wholeness. Each season, rhythm, tension, day and conversation can – and perhaps ought be – undertaken in a sacred manner. These tensions sure make for turbulence but do not need to be seen as struggle, but rather a continuous dance of opposing tensions – the tantric dance of loving life in all its fullness.
As spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle notes, ‘Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment.’ This gives us tremendous hope; hope that comes with Trust in Life. As we learn to let-go and trust in life, we see more clearly, we discern more readily, the crucibles and thresholds of our own learning journey towards wholeness. This is for free, no MBA or PhD required. We are all students of life.
This individual journey towards wholeness – what Jung called individuation – is actually relational and communal in its nature. The alchemic vessel is our own bodymind, our own inner excitations, insights and evolution. Yet, this inner self is a soul-seed planted in a rich milieu of relations, an ecology of life. As we become more intimate with the immanence within us, and more transparent with the transcendent all around us, we find ourselves realising our destinal path, and living more responsively to the communal life of the social systems we participate in. As our self-awareness deepens, so too does our systemic-awareness, and our ability to regeneratively serve our community. Our own inner evolution contributes to communal evolution. We sense into and live the Golden Rule of loving thy neighbour as thyself, through knowing thyself intimately.
We find true vocation upon understanding our own intricacies and then offering our inner gifts to serve life. This is the art of becoming a Regenerative Leader, the leader who learns to attune with the wisdom of nature while serving the evolution of consciousness itself. This is what it means to be truly human, to live up to our name as Homo sapiens (wise beings) in service of life on Earth.
As the playwright, social activist and former Prime Minister Vaclav Havel knew, Consciousness precedes Being. There is consciousness flowing through everything, through every act, and we can aid this consciousness through our own authenticity, in terms of how we show-up.
‘The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human modesty, and in human responsibility. Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better, and the catastrophe towards which this world is headed, whether it be ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilization, will be unavoidable.’ – Vaclav Havel
All too often we apply yesterday’s fragmented digitised ego-consciousness to our future scenarios of sustainable living and leading. This is not what regenerative leadership is about. Regenerative Leadership invites in a revolution, a root-and-branch transformation in our own selves as leaders, in our teams, organisations and wider social systems. This is an inner transformation that informs the outer change we need for all life on Earth to thrive.
These are pivotal times, an old way is dying and a new way is being born.
The old mythos (worldview-story) of separation, scarcity, competition, control and fear is still gasping for air, holding on for dear life. We must first notice this in our own selves, in our own triggers, tensions and projections, and allow these insights to inform our own transformation.
The old Logos (worldview-logic) of mechanistic-thinking, linear cause-and-effect, reductive logic is no longer serving us. It is no longer able to deal with the complex systemic challenges of the day. The Logic of Life that we find innate within nature, within the universe, is the new way. A living-systems way of leading – this is the logic of Regenerative Leadership. The time has come.
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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, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs 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). He provides coaching at individual and organisational levels for those seeking to transform their personal and/or work lives. He is also a keynote speaker on the future of business.