David Sibbet | Global Learning
61
archive,category,category-global-learning,category-61,ajax_fade,page_not_loaded,,qode-title-hidden,qode_grid_1300,footer_responsive_adv,hide_top_bar_on_mobile_header,qode-child-theme-ver-1.0.0,qode-theme-ver-10.0,wpb-js-composer js-comp-ver-4.12,vc_responsive

My heart teaukrainewomanrs open every night watching the news about Ukraine. I’m working at feeling it—listening to the people, to their leader, to their mothers, to the reporters. We send support, but the feelings seem critical. War severs connections. I don’t want to disconnect.

My doorway to feeling Ukraine links to the time when I was lost my beloved Susan to cancer after 46 years. The world I knew fell apart. So, no surprise the other night that I took some time to read journals from that time and began peeling the scab of understanding off my memories. So much more was felt than I wanted to feel. There was an incredible vastness and pain during that time, but I also found that within that cracking open came a vision. That vision is back calling me.

What emerged was a long piece of writing. This feeling business is not easy. But I share it anyway, and hope you can hold it as a story crucible for your own grieving, and a mirror of what we all may be going through. (The  story is condensed from my journal in July of 2011.)
—————————————————————————————————————–
CANCER RECURS
“Susan and I are in the slip stream of cancer.” I wrote on July 4, 2011. “We went to the Kaiser ER the evening after she nearly fainted coming down the stairs from the CPITS (California Poets in the Schools) offices where she worked and coughed up a dime-sized clot of blood. The x-rays and CT scans that evening showed 7-8 ‘lesions’ in her lungs, two in the left, and six or in the right. The ER doctor’s face said volumes when she brought back the images. She brought us a poem. IMG_0135.JPG

In a few days we were able to see Dr. Morton Stein, a pulmonary doctor at Kaiser. He ordered a biopsy. Afterward, I had a complete meltdown. I drummed the circle in our backyard and was racked with sobs and grief. All my experience with Joan Browning, our Grove designer who died of ovarian cancer at age 50 and with Connie Eskridge, my best friends Rob’s wife who died of liver cancer at a young age all came up. I knew this would be a long, hard road no matter what result, and that the chances of Susan’s surviving such a large recurrence were probably slim.

The biopsy took a couple of hours and presented us with a moment of panic in recovery when pains and lightness of breath sent us scrambling. The nurses responded with morphine. The crisis passed. The x-rays showed no catastrophic side effects (like a collapsed lung). Now the wait.

I had work in Portland and asked friend Carolyn to come over and stay with Susan, which she did. Susan texted on Thursday saying it was indeed a recurrence of the endometrial cancer from two years ago. That Friday we got all the pathology reports from Kaiser and found out the name was metastatic uterine / endometrial adenocarcinoma.

The following week I was scheduled to go on a vision quest at Mount Shasta with Chayim Barton, a Jungian therapist I’d been vision questing and counselling with for many years. These quests were sacred times for me. But I called Chayim that Friday and told him I wouldn’t be going.

Instead, I worked steadily on developing a network of resources and information surrounding this condition. Susan’s gynecologist was not available, nor was Kaiser’s cancer specialist who had worked with us before. But Rob knew of a very experienced oncologist, Dr. Laurence Heifetz, who now worked at the Tahoe Forest Cancer Center near Rob’s home in Truckee. Dr. Heifetz had retired from Cedar-Sinai in Los Angeles but Rob, serving on the local hospital board, helped bring him up to Truckee. Dr. Heifetz agreed to meet with us, so we arranged a trip to Truckee with all our data. Susan and I spent the weekend getting rocks and working on the back yard, our favorite place to commune together.

POSTPONED VISION QUEST
We drove up to the Tahoe Forest Cancer Center on Tuesday July 19th. “Larry” was terrific with us. I brought the x-rays and CT scans on a disc, and all the biopsy slides plus the pathology reports. Since they showed a 90% receptivity to estrogen and progesterone, Larry said that suggested hormone therapy initially, with that much receptivity. “I don’t believe in home runs,” he said, “but steady singles.” He was also clear that there are no cures for this kind of cancer, and that the best we can hope for is to slow it down and learn to live a chronic disease.

That evening we got a call from a Kaiser medical oncologist we’d been trying to reach, Dr. Alfredo Lopez. He took a different tact. He said this condition will surely require chemotherapy initially, to reduce the “tumor burden,” and that hormone therapy wouldn’t do that. So now we had two different opinions and the intensity of this ambiguous journey increased.

I was surprised that Susan was as good spirited as she was in all this. We took the call from Dr. Lopez at the Ritz Highland Court above North Star in the mountains north of Lake Tahoe, a treat we gave ourselves at Rob’s recommendation. It turned into a most tender and amazing time of cracking open. It seems my psyche knew I was headed for a vision quest and provided.

After swimming and steaming in the spa, Susan and I met up with Rob. He had taken the time to come over and have dinner with us and of course share stories. He’d lived the cancer journey with Connie. After eating Rob told us a story of asking Connie toward the end of her life when she had decided to stop chemo what she most wanted to do. She said “I want to go to Taos.” So Rob took her, and at a special church there gathered some healing dirt and brought it back to a special altar, where it has been since.

“I want you to have it,” Rob said, and gave the small vial to Susan. This gesture went right into our hearts. Something deep in our field shifted.

We went on to share stories about Rob’s being the adventure grandfather with Dacian, his grandson, out at the Buttes, an expanse of land north of Truckee around the core of old volcano—flat on top, rugged and scalable on the sides. At the heart of his story was his sadness at not being able to share this with Connie. Susan shared about leading our grandson Reid on an adventure walk along a small creek across from their home in Portland, and then working with him to map it out. I remember, for some reason, recounted an experience at a Summer Solstice gathering where I talked to Archangel Michael on an imaginary journey to the stars. It was a very special evening and got even more special as Susan and I fell into each other’s arms later.

THE NORTH STAR DREAM 
A powerful dream woke me at 4:30. It was dark, warm, a summer night. The dream was a transmission of twelve principles of leadership that if lived, could help people hold the challenges of our times. I dreamed of a gathering of leaders who were holding these principles and opening to having purpose pour forth through their integrity and discipline, creating a renewing well of insight and hopefulness. The principles, I realized as I woke, were reflective of the main directions of Arthur M. Young’s Rosetta stone, a system I’d been studying and using for years. In the dream, they merged with the medicine wheel, which I had also been studying with Firehawk Hulin, reflecting the Origin Teachings of the Delicate Lodge. Clear as a bell they were being held by these leaders. Clear as a bell these archetypes pointed to a deeper unity under separateness.

I could not go back to sleep. I rose and recorded the dream in detail, using my color pencils in the dark. Here is the journal page from that night.

NorthStarVision7-20-11a

Four actions gave rise to four qualities which, upon reflection, fostered four perspectives. Held fully, they could transform awareness, as they shifted it. It was immediately clear that these roles could be learned, and practiced, and that ensembles of citizens and leaders and “holders” could create circles like the one in my dream, and that the holding power of them could be strong enough to endure the full butterfly effect—when struggling imaginal cells finally gain enough strength to grow wings in the middle of the molecular soup that was once a caterpillar.

I stayed awake, just letting the dream energy stay with me. as I wrote. I then had a vision of Connie, Rob’s deceased wife, carrying a fetus heavenward. (She was a former nun, hospice worker, and intuitive). I became that fetus and traveled to the Pleiades with it. It spoke to me and said it represented the spiritual child in both Susan and I that needed nurturance right now. That my job is to tend that birthing, that this crises was truly a new beginning.

FEEDING THE DEMON
I came back to my bed and in the early morning felt led to do a “feeding the demons” meditation regarding the tumors. I learned this process from Lama Tsultrim Allione, a Buddhist bringing forward the work of the 15th century Tibetan abbess Machig Labdrom. Demons, for Labdrom, were any physical, mental, or spiritual states that stand in the way of enlightenment. These represent locked energy that will move if they are accepted and loved, rather than met with fighting and fear. Labdrom trained women to work with plagues this way. I learned about Allione’s process on an earlier vision quest at Joshua Tree National Park from fellow quester Vivian Wright and practicing all the drive home. I subsequently got Allione’s book, Feeling Your Demons and practiced myself.

Lying in bed with Susan asleep beside me, I began by holding an image of the tumors in my mind and asked them to appear in form I could relate to. They appeared in my mind’s eye as the fetus I’d imagined earlier!
• I asked the fetus, “What do you want?”
• It said “LOVE.”
• I asked, “What do you need?”
• It said “PROTECTION.”
• I then asked, “What would you feel like if you got what you need?”
• It said “RELEASE.”
These answers felt very powerful.

I then, following Allione’s process, meditated on feeding this little white being the love and protection it needed along with honey nectar. To generate this feeling, I imagined the love I feel for my granddaughters and poured it out. Allione’s experience is that the image will, after some period, transform into something else. Simply feed it honey nectar and love and wait.

I stayed at this for many minutes. Slowly the image shifted. The fetus began to crack open on the top of its head like an egg. A baby condor emerged!

I remember my heart beating wildly at this point. I accepted the image and let it become full in my imagination.
• I asked tentatively, “What can you do for me?”
• “I can eat death and transform it into life,” it said.
• “What is gift do you have for me?” I then asked.
• “I can bridge between the worlds for you.”
• “How can I call your energy?” I asked finally.
• “Think of your studio and what you have symbolized there already!”

Condor and the SaintI remembered instantly that at the center of my desk altar I had placed a condor icon my brother brought back for me from Peru. Then at the very opposite of my doorway was another miniature condor sitting on the head of a rock Buddha that Lightening Dove painted. A final realization was seeing, in my inner eye, the huge phoenix kite with condor sized wings that flew over the meeting area in the studio!

It was now 6:00. I was in a reverie. Susan could sense this. We didn’t talk much but went out walking in the early dawn. We found and sat in a field of flowering mule ears—green velvet with yellow flowers reaching for the morning sun. I shared my vision with her. We simply sat and cried for a long time.”
————————————————————————

FOLLOWING THE BREAK CRUMBS OF CONSCIOUSNESS
I’m back in 2022 rocked by the feelings surging through me as I remember this time. Reflecting on Ukraine feels like seeing the x-rays on that visit to ER. I know there is worse to come. It will change everything.

In my new studio in Petaluma, I notice some things.

feeling-thinkingThe image of the North Star Vision I drew up in 2011 had found its way into Adobe Illustrator, then Photoshop, then several years of fine tuning the language, going back to references, and more hours redoing the subtle graphics, I noticed that this image has ended up on the center of my stand-up writing table, in the place of greatest intention.

I create sand tray altars as a practice of self-awareness. I am open to the idea that letting intentional placement of associated items can be a dollhouse size embodiment of a Feng Shui Bagua practice, in this case inspired by my North Star Vision.

Here I am, 11 years later, fully aware the world is flirting with nuclear war, and the people of Ukraine are being wantonly crushed. Why is this image at the center of my attention? It was placed there months ago.

I am also realized that I chose this picture to start my 198th journal on March 1, already rocked by what our European friends are communicating. I titled the journal FEELING AND THINKING, to support my practicing this in the coming. What might it look like if our current world leaders understood and held these principles, I wondered, and what it might look like if our Global Learning & Exchange Network took these principles seriously in practice? What will it look like if I live these principles?

Perhaps this time is that cracking open that will yield a REAL shift in consciousness. If only I have the courage to feel and hold those feelings in love. If only WE have the courage to feel and hold these demons in love.

So, I share the Leadership Circle image here in larger format in this spirit. While the Ukrainian crises is unconscionable, and more horrors are quite likely, my deepest hope is that our collective circumstantial liminality will create a social field so potent that within it visions of a sustainable future will arise.

Following is my writer’s “walk” around this circle, as a meditation on deep loss, insufferable pain, and the need for steady helmsmen in this uncertain time. I’m writing in a poetic way—compressing, layering metaphors, bringing in informal language. Read it knowing I was imagining speaking to current leaders and myself.

the-leadershp-circle3

WALKING THE LEADERSHIP CIRCLE

Face the Eastern rising sun and Awaken to Possibilities. What freedom and creativity will come if we drop “superiority,” the elevated visionary’s robe of distortion? Open to the magic of the spiritual child.

Awakening will lead to Opening to Present Conditions, to understanding that true presence is the doorway to the mystery. This isn’t an action, but a shift in my personal field, a shift in our larger social field. I step through the threshold.

This opening leads to making Deep Connections with what I already know and feel, and the emergence of unexpected insights and understandings. We are part of an alive organism that calls for relationship.

Knowing in this way leads me to face South and feel the challenge of standing in the heat of real experience and the power and danger of many people acting out of passion arising. The way forward is to have the courage to Transcend Differences, rising above interpretation, stories, biology, appearance, and forms in a bursting out of compassion, energy, and love.

The release helps me Re-member Intention and its importance in guiding action. Let intention find its expression in my physical body, where it moves, where it sits, where feels at harmony with purpose. Let intention resonate in the social body. This is about experiencing a coherent field.

In the process I become Aware of Assumptions. My intention pushes up under my clear headedness like roses in the spring and I feel my assumptions being challenged. Can deep purpose wake us up? What is most important now? Am I “othering” this crisis and only observing? Is my motivation material survival or gain? Am I willing to reach out and really touch the others?

As the sun sets in the West, Honoring Group & Personal Needs rises like a moon of collaboration across from the sun of individual expression. And so much of what this means hinges on what I mean by “needs.” Is it to tune into more subtle personal and social fields, keeping a window open for the divine? Is it for water, some blood, a gun, a grave?

Honoring lets me Experience Interrelationships. It’s the opposite of “othering.” It’s how whales work. It’s what trees do in the forest. It’s what people do with stories big enough to hold everyone. It is responding when I hear calls for help.

The force of my intention bumps into the rigidities, the chaos, the procrastinations, and I wait for the alignment and openings that I know will come. I hold Respect for Timing. “After learning the notes and chords, you must learn to play on time,” says my music teacher Randy Craig. “It is the key to playing with others.”

I now, the North, Walk the Talk. I have a body. I have organizations. I can contribute. I can witness and listen and respond. I know that universal truth will guide right action. I chant to myself “Connect the thinking and the acting. Connect the acting with the walking. Connect the talking to the walking.” This is what warriors understand. These are the leaders people follow.

While walking I keep Guarding Against Judgement. In action I will make mistakes, I’ll have an impact, I will disrupt. Can I watch the shadows as well as the light? Pride sneaks in. Elevation sneaks in. Blame creeps in. Can I remember that even the mightiest were born of women? Can I remember we call live with our inner child?

Seeing Both Whole & Parts is the circle’s gift to leadership. It is the way of the facilitator and the alchemist magician. “We need to take another trip around our circle and hear from all our directions again,” the magister says. It’s the Circle Way.

Face the East and waken to possibilities. “Walk” around the Leadership Circle yourself. Let me know what you find. You are invited to write your own way around by simply keeping the bold words and explaining what comes up for you otherwise in your very own way. I’ll post any I receive.

In the meantime, feel Ukraine, and be ready for visions to emerge.

 

ri-mists

Photo by Alan Briskin

“Earth’s creatures are on the brink of a sixth mass extinction, comparable to the one that wiped out the dinosaurs. That’s the conclusion of a new study (by paleobiologist Anthony Barnosky of the University of California, Berkeley), which calculates that three-quarters of today’s animal species could vanish within 300 years.” From Science Magazine: Ann Gibbons, 2011.

At the beginning of this year the sixth extinction came to me in a dream. I was at a gathering of about 15-20 colleagues in a conference center that included many other people. We were getting to know each other with introductions. After some swirling around eating and getting set up so we could talk it was my turn. I stood up and found myself saying “I am a professional facilitator and am currently focused on the sixth extinction. I want to help bring forward the new ways of thinking and behaving that will be required to survive it.” I remember feeling surprised in my dream at what I was saying, but continued. “You will get to know me as someone who both draws and listens, guiding people to visually design processes that allow them to change, adapt and think more ecologically.”

At this point a young man rose up and said, “I was at an institute recently where someone was doing that, and the charts zig-zagged all over the wall. It felt like a breakdown.”

“That is often what happens when people look closely at their own thinking and information,” I said. I should be flummoxed I thought, but I felt calm and grounded. “It is this breakdown that allows them to break through.”

The group applauded! I was surprised and my heart was racing. I sat and turned to a young man sitting beside me and said, “this is the first time I’ve ever introduced myself this way!” I remember I was feeling both startled and strangely alive and excited. And then I woke up. I knew I needed to pay attention to this dream.

It was 7:05 Sunday, the last day of a long holiday break that my partner and I described as our “digital vacation”—no Zoom, email or social media. Because of the pandemic, and a steadily worsening number of cases along with the news that a more viral version was already spreading in California, we cancelled a trip to a local hot spring where we hoped to have some renewal time, and instead stayed home. The renewal idea carried over and we treated our home as a retreat center.

There I had time to link this dream to some earlier faint signals.

Tracking Back Through Journals

At a GLEN Community Winter Solstice Gathering call before our holiday week started, Karen Wilhelm Buckley, a colleague, read a poem I’d written at a Summer Solstice gathering of colleagues in 2004. I had no memory of it. So, I went back to journal number #134 and there it was. (Journaling is one of my reflective practices). The poem was about the group and our process, but the journal had some other very important entries that were connected to my dream.

I realized that 2004 was the year I turned 60. This was a real milestone at the time, and I had planned several “rites of passages” for myself to mark the change. It began with a week with my first wife Susan (now deceased) to visit the half dozen vision quest sites I’d experienced on the East side of the Sierras (where I grew up).

Later in the summer I had then planned for and gone on a new vision quest on Mt. Shasta with my teacher, Chayim Barton, and a small group. I was rocked to see here I had written about one of the most significant visions of my life up to that point. I think now that it was the headwater of my dream.

Facing the Beast: Prior to the Shasta quest, I’d been being “worked” by an upset feeling about the dominance of “extractive” industries that pay no attention to biology, local communities, or the hidden costs of their work. “Why don’t you work on it here,” Chayim suggested as he counseled me before heading out on a three-day solo water fast. He invited me, in my solo time, to build a monument to this “beast” as I called it, reflect on it, and practice Tong-Lin (a Tibetan practice where you take in pain and breath out compassion), and then take the “beast” apart as a conclusion. I took this suggestion and on the second day of fasting created a monument. Here is my journal drawing with the associations labeled.thebeast2004I don’t need to describe my full process here but can easily remember how powerful it felt. Building it took many hours. So did disassembling it. It was easily 8 feet long. What deeply disturbed me was my grasping experientially the extent of the systemically embedded exploitation mindset. But more disturbing was trying to imagine what could stand up to it—represented by the little wand with a feather. After hours of circling and meditating and just sitting and writing about this experience, I ended up writing some of my core values on the wand—things like the golden rule, my Bodhicitta vow to serve the awakening of all sentient beings, and staying tuned to the light, and the source of vitality I find in embracing and respecting all life. But I hardly felt resolved about this.

Stepping up to RE-AMP

Later that year in December, I was asked to facilitate a new environmental organization called RE-AMP in the upper Midwest. The name stands for the Renewable Energy Alignment Mapping Project, initially a group of 25 environmental non-profits and 12 foundations, who, discouraged by results to date, wanted to work collaboratively to support the growth of renewable energy. They concluded that they had to work on four fronts in a systemic way.

  1. Reduce the impact of coal pollution from the 70 plants in the eight-state region
  2. Stop the construction of new coal plants (34 were in the pipeline)
  3. Increase energy conservation
  4. Increase renewable production.

The consultant who had helped create a causal-loop system diagram of why renewables were not taking off had concluded that these factors were all inter-related and needed to be dealt with in parallel. They needed a facilitator to help create the strategies of the four working groups.

At the meeting where the consultant, Scott Spann, handed off the project to me, he presented his system analysis in a series of complex slides, moving from a 175 factor causal loop diagram he had vetted with many experts, to a 16 factor overview diagram (Shown here) to his conclusion there were four leverage points.

re-ampsystemsmap

At the end of his presentation, he turned to the RE-AMP steering committee and, and speaking very deliberately, said – “Just remember, this is a MINDLESS BEAST.”

I can still feel the goosebumps. Oh my. Here I was standing in front of it again. The small stream of intention started on my vision quest was suddenly here, embodied, and real!

I and my company, The Grove Consultants International, spent four years working with RE-AMP with the agreed-on goal of cleaning up global warming pollutants in the eight-state region by 80% by 2050. The goal was not considered practical. But everyone involved believed anything less wouldn’t matter.

  • RE-AMP did stop the coal plants.
  • It didn’t get far on cleaning up old coal.
  • It did stimulate energy conservation in the region.
  • It encountered roadblocks regarding developing wind energy.

And it expanded to more than 150 participating organizations and over two dozen foundations “thinking systemically and acting collaboratively.” It is one of the most successful environmental collaboratives in the country and still it is not enough. The full story is for another time. Reflecting back, I realized it was my strongest experience so far of being moved by a vision without knowing the outcome. Would my sixth extinction dream might have this same arc of enactment. It feels HUGE! But then so does is this new “beast.”

A Calling?

I wondered why had my reflective “vacation” over the holidays had started with this retrospective. By accident? It was not “planned.” What guided that impulse? What was my psyche through my dream trying to tell me about what I should be doing with my work?

I remembered as I reflected that for several years now when asked about my core motivation—my life purpose— I’ve found myself saying that it is to “help midwife the coming ecological paradigm.” I perceive that we are in a shift that historians will eventually compare to the Copernican revolution—moving from engineering oriented/materialistic thinking to a more biologic, open systems approach, which will include but transcend the old paradigm, as new ones do. I also suspect that the shift will take years or centuries, as all such shifts have taken historically, and while already emerging in many places is hardly dominant.  “We will live into this new way of thinking and relating, or we won’t,” I can remember saying in various workshops. To evoke a birthing metaphor, I feel that these last few years, with global warming directly impacting my home state of California in the form of volatile weather and fierce firestorms, that the baby of this new paradigm is crowning. It needs help.

And then I remembered that two weeks later I was clobbered by an interview article in the Sun Magazine with Eileen Crist about her new book, The Abundant Earth: Toward an Ecological Civilization. She is an associate professor at Virginia Tech in the Department of Science, Technology and Society and has written extensively about biodiversity and the mass extinctions taking place. I have been reading about this for years. But Crist’s reflections on how much more serious the extinction process is than the pandemic got through this time. “It takes 5-10 million years to recover the same levels of biodiversity” she wrote.

I know that reading information doesn’t really change me. But having a full, integrated systemic embodiment of the understanding at a feeling does (like the vision quest experience) and I was having that feeling reading this interview. I suspect it is because the pandemic is no longer an abstraction. I feel the losses deeply. Perhaps it ignited the same feeling about the extinction. I ordered Crist’s book, and for several days was talking about how big an impact this article had. I didn’t think at the time think that it was a breadcrumb of what I’m to do in 2021 going forward.

I now ask myself, “What kind of scaffolding in writing and image could possibly help us all face this ‘problem’ of the sixth extinction?” I put “problem” in quotes to signify that the real problem isn’t the biological problem of a die-off of 50% of the world’s species in this century, as hard as that will be to cope with. The “problem” is that the vast majority of people on this planet, at least in the Western world, don’t have the perceptual or thinking tools, or motivation to even imagine a different way of living that is actually ecologically sustainable. This lack could accelerate the extinction as a result, and for sure ensure that anger and mistrust will accompany the change. Crist argues that what we don’t have this time is time. It’s happening now.

I’m not sure yet what I can do personally. Will I be part of the acceleration?

Taking a Stand

I notice as I write that I keep thinking about Gretta Thunberg, the young Swedish girl who has ignited a youth revolution in response to the climate crisis. Did she know what she was doing? I don’t think so. She simply had the courage to speak her feelings and do so in a public forum, and open to a movement, a collaboration that would far transcend her.

If she can, why can’t I? Why can’t we? I don’t believe that knowing how to respond to the sixth extinction is required to stand up to it, and in it, with full awareness and readiness to ask fundamental questions and learn what we need to learn to change, any more than I knew what standing in front of the beast on Mt. Shasta would mean. I do know that context matters, and as complexity theorists have discovered, a small change in the context of a dynamic system can affect huge change.

So, I begin my new year sharing this dream. We are in a time of enormous turbulence. Will we be ones who stand up? Can we actually feel this happening with as much depth as we are feeling the losses from the pandemic?

I hope my sharing strikes a responsive chord. I intend to explore these ideas further through our Global Learning & Exchange Network. You are invited to join our inquiry there if you like. I and many committed colleagues will be there.

glen-logo-final-websafe

 

 

This is a piece about COVID, the Elections and Poetry. Let’s start with the poem.

In 2019, well before the pandemic set in, I wrote a poem dictated by a spider at our Summer Solstice Gathering, a gathering of peer consultants I have attended for more than 20 years now. It was the year of the Collective Consciousness of All Beings in the Mayan 20 Count, a framework we have been using to guide our imaginal journeys on these gatherings. We called a council of the animal beings to talk to us about the state of things. This imaginal work is a wonderful way to get new perspectives and break out of “normal.” Letting creatures “talk” to me is a wonderful journey.

This year, in the dark of the pandemic, Spider Medicine was published by California Poets in the Schools, an organization of which I am President. As I read it again, I had the feeling that it was speaking to me again about these times, with added complexity.

Here is the poem, published as what poets call a “broadside,” designed by fellow Board member Fernando Salinas.

spidermedicinepoem

Read it twice and let whatever arises arise.

Metaphoric Confusion

My post writing responses to Spider Medicine feels a bit like my responses to the news right now. Read one way, the spider is a dark force, waiting to trap unsuspecting insects. Could this be the dark web, the “attention economy” and its pernicious algorithms that feel more and more extremism through our social media feeds. Could this be the behind-the-scenes operators busy spinning new alliances and deals while we are all distracted by the reality TV show that seems to be our national, political narrative right now?

But the spider is also a beautiful creature and revered by many traditional people. The Cherokee believe spider brought language in the patterns of its web. “The spider woman is the wisdom keeper, the grandmother figure, the female figure,” writes Hopi artist Michael Kabotie. Some Southwest tribe believes spider brought weaving to the people.

So, holding this metaphor lightly, knowing that all metaphors both illuminate and obscure, I looked through the lens of a darker spider medicine.

Reading About the All-Seeing Eye

A long article in the New York Times Magazine on Palantir, the data analysis software company that went public in 2020, connected with the spider poem. The Cover image even looked like a spider web.palantir

If you don’t know much about Palantir it’s not surprising. Like spiders, it stays hidden, even moving from Silicon Valley to Denver to get out of the spotlight. But recently Palantir has been grabbing media attention in the news-sphere with many articles, posts and shows spiraling around the question— “is our democracy on the verge of becoming an authoritarian surveillance society?” When the Health and Human Services agency brought them in to help with COVID attention quickened. The wondering is on a spectrum of urgency that one one end is concern about voter manipulation and inaccurate balloting to on the other a daily flailing of American’s asleepness and precariousness by writers like economist and tireless Medium author, Umair Haque, who has lived through dictatorships and knows the pattern.

So, in this context, the article on Palantir seemed to be motivated by its author, Michael Steinberger, wondering if it is healthy to have a company like this knowing so much about us, and being able to integrate vast silos of information into coherent patterns. Their special interfaces can confidently present analysis “in the form of tables, graphics, timelines, heat maps, artificial-intelligence models, histograms, spider diagrams, and geospatial analysis.” I quickly noticed that the value was in visual translation—interpreting what the pile of data means. How can we connect addresses, phone numbers, zip codes, body weights, color, email address, height, occupation, purchases, party affiliation, relatives, club memberships, education, driving records, crime records to VISUALLY identify terrorists, criminals, COVID contacts, susceptible voters, to reflect what some of their clients use Palantir software for. “We want to save the West from terrorism” says founder Peter Thiel, arch Libertarian billionaire and Trump supporter.

But it is more complex than that, just like my reactions to my poem. Palantir’s executive officer is Alex Karp, a Stanford law school buddy of Thiel’s who studied with Habermas at the Frankfurt School in hopes of becoming a social psychologist. The Frankfurt’s school’s neo-Marist critiques of capitalism and instrumentalism couldn’t be more diametric one might think. But Karp’s intellectual complexity turns out to be great for managing the 2500 very intelligent and probably quirky software engineers. Under questioning they are on the record being very concerned about privacy. They don’t let Russia or China use their software. They are, like the benevolent spiders, bringing the new language of data analysis to the west to save us.

Seeing the Unseen

Moving beyond Palantir, the most resonant image in the poem for me was imagining spiders surviving on what the insects don’t see. And this unseeing part, disconnected from the spider metaphor, is what concerns me the most these days. And it seems to move into both dark and light directions.

We know that opportunists flourish when there is social chaos. We know that many are making money by attracting eyeballs to ever more catastrophic theories and lies. We know that pharma firms are at full throttle to be ones who profit from the suffering. It is their business model. We know Amazon and other on-line providers are expanding exponentially, and so is the plastic they use to ship their goods. Oil companies are already spinning new strategies as oil demand declines to compensate with plastics. And I wonder how many are using the pandemic to accelerated worker replacement with AI?

At the same time I believe there are many new networks growing that focus on catching people into communities of interdependence and resilience, with the spiders transforming into golden connectors in healthy, thriving communities. In fact, I’m one of those spinners working on our Global Learning & Exchange Network, working to lure people into inquiry and hope.

I realize now that I mostly care that we don’t become numb and asleep as challenge after challenge pummels us. I don’t believe the spiders of the world really care who flies into their webs, only that life comes. I just don’t want to have us flying into the wrong webs.

We All Survive by Eating Living Things

In a call this morning I shared about writing this blog piece with some colleagues, and how I was struggling with the “both-and”ness of the spider image.  My friend Alan Briskin shared that he had been reading a book by Joseph Campbell recently, and that Campbell was looking at the deep patterns under the social fields that we all live in. (Alan is currently writing about social fields with colleague Mary Gelinas).  He said that what we forget is that humans survive by eating living things. It’s in our nature. And we survive by reproducing and spawning more. It’s in our nature to spin and grow. And it seems to be in our nature to “have” and to “own.” These deep patterns are in tension with the need to be reciprocal. This reflection prompted, Gisela Wendling, also on this call, to remind us that some say culture is what arises to mitigate these deep urges.

I hope that is so, and I hope that this week, our country celebrates a culture that for a time believed in democracy, liberty and justice for all, and a government FOR the people. It is this social field that can bring us the good side of spider medicine. It is the web of our shared values that can transforms a spiderweb image into ones of roots systems and links that bind us into a culture of mutuality and concern.

But watch out if you are asleep. It’s Halloween, and spider bites can be mean.

In politics a “pivot” is a turn in another direction. Lots of different turning is called “spinning.” When we stop spinning and begin to collectively listen and find common ground, it can birth a new story. And new stories can guide new decisions. And belief and energy in a new story is stirred by paying attention to what is actually happening, not from fitting what we see to our favorite filters, but from together saying “this is what is actually happening.” And then how long does it take for a new story to become a societally embraced turning? While my own mind hungers for some grounding and confidence, I know that now is the time for real questions. That is what this blog post will explore.

buttermilknewgrowth

New Stories Coming Up

The idea that real change might be possible is already pushing up like the flowers that are coming this spring. That raises the question: what is real change? I and every organization consultant I know is pivoting from face-to-face meetings to virtual work, and redesigning workshops to run on-line…in a matter of weeks. It’s remarkable how fast this has happened. But is that real change? We’ve been working virtually for a while. What I’m watching for are the tendrils and roots of a truly new story, one that has a hope of sustaining itself into my grandchildren’s adult years, that has the chance of restoring trust and co-creativity.  And I’m observing that the hopeful new is confusingly pushing up through a bramble of the old reasserting itself, and fast replicating species and memes filling the space for new growth. And I also learned that this kind of fast-growing material, like fireweed, helps a burn heal in an eco-system challenged by fire. Can the tender new survive in the rapid attempts to reopen the economy and restore some “normalcy?”

Some Inner Questions

I experience the tension of competing inner stories in my own responses to the Covid pandemic. One day I stopped trusting touching— out of the blue. It started in the first days when reporting on the outbreaks of illness in China and Italy dared to write the words “worldwide pandemic.” That day I used a paper hand towel to pump gas!  Then “shelter-at-home” arrived.  I stayed home.  I felt vulnerable. But I also began wondering. Am I experiencing the beginning of another kind of virus, a viral social meme—that “distancing” is essential for health? Before Covid-19 I would have said that touching is essential to good health.  And I find reassurance in this idea as I experience new levels of connectivity and reaching out that doesn’t require physical touching. But is this enough? Is this enough for people who need healing touch? Is digital touching enough for the elderly who are dying alone?

On another channel I wonder if a new story is forming that rationalizes getting stuff in a day from a company that is notorious about how it treats the human’s socketed into its matrix of efficiency and puts most of its stuff in plastic? Is this going to be the new story of shopping? Or is the new story about how the environment is actually healing a bit in this pause, and people are renewing their love of simple walks, and friendly hellos across the street to neighbors? Will we release a bit from defining ourselves by material gain?

How Can Society Pivot?

These kinds of questions leave me wondering a lot about what allows me, the groups I belong to, or the larger social body to truly pivot. How can this happen when disruption advantages the fast growing and recklessly propagating? What starts a hopeful new story? What holds it long enough to become a true turning point? When did the horrors of the plague transform into excitement about the wonders of science and medicine? How long did it take to accept that seeing the Earth revolving around the sun is more useful than calculating the sun going around the Earth? When in the depression did people turn to believing that people deserved a social safety net? Perhaps societies don’t pivot quickly but turn slowly.

I don’t have to know details to know that right now we don’t have a story that represents a real paradigm shift. And I don’t need to know the future to know that our answers to what it is may well have a direct impact at an extinction-level scale. So, I’m turning my attention to identifying where the meaningful conversations are occurring about this, and who is controlling the discourse. There will be a new story. I want to be part of helping mid-wife it.

Breaking Habits

Some of the work will be releasing from old, limiting stories. For instance, the current news from doctors about the COVID virus and how to treat it is uncovering huge limitations in our public stories about health. “Put people on ventilators if they can’t breathe,” was an early story of how to response. It sounded hopeful. But this response rested on several old ideas—seeing sickness response as a fight and needing weapons in the battle—focusing on reacting to the presenting illness rather than prevention and testing. And the stories became political. “The government isn’t organized to get us what we need.” And “The states aren’t doing enough.”  But much of the discourse stayed within the dominant story of western medicine.

Looking more closely at what is really happening it appears that deaths on ventilators are reaching 68% or more. It’s quite possible these intrusive measures, compounded by isolation from family, and the confusion of being drugged collapse people’s immune systems even more than the virus does. Some colleagues communicated recently about that their Chinese doctor friends report that, on a widespread basis, the Chinese blended traditional practices like acupuncture and Chinese herbal remedies with other responses for Covid patients. This hasn’t been news but could be the tender shoot of a more open orientation to health and support for immune systems. As hospitals fire and furlough workers because their business model is dependent on “actions” rather than results and prevention, will the core story of what’s needed for health change?

I’m wondering now, beyond any specific thoughts about health care, whether any new, long-term habits will set in without a widely held story. I pretty sure they won’t, and that it won’t be easy. Old stories start collecting resources to rebuilt themselves right away. After all, it’s a lot of work to generate a truly hopeful, enduring new story. Let’s just jump back on this old successful habit!

Where Do We Truly Need Turns?

I’m reflecting on all this as a facilitator and consultant who plays a role in helping people generate new stories and deal with real change. What is my role as we emerge from the supposed “worst?”  What conversations do I need to be facilitating? Can I step up to inviting people to consider that in many ways, the global pandemic is a small catastrophe compared to global warming. (There will be no vaccination that will protect us from melting ice caps. If you live in the coastal lowlands subject to king tides sheltering in place would be nonsense). Can I step into figuring out how we can move forward paying attention to equally impactful but slower moving phenomenon, like the economic undermining of the middle class, the systemic health and economic impacts of racism, or the steady erosion of educational access and quality for young peopl

Don’t Attach to Prior Thinking

One morning I was listening to Carol Sanford and a series of daily half hour talks on “Transforming Uncertainty into Action.” She’s deeply immersed in thinking about living systems and regenerative organizations and was quite clear about how our habit of hearing and seeing new ideas through old lenses gets in our way. How do we not do that, I thought.? But then she said, “I like to use frameworks, but not ones that have answers, but ones that guide my attention.” Aha! This is the value of providing change models and theories that function like mental keyboards. This is my work. I felt hope springing up. These might support different kinds of systemically sensitive conversation.

So, what are the new structures that might work on a wider social level and provide scaffolding and language for a new story?

Carol went on. “Think fundamentally about what makes a system whole and complete—what is necessary for thriving?” Her example was democracy. This is a system that needs an educated electorate as a fundamental element to work. (No surprise that Benjamin Franklin focused on newspapers in the early days of the colonies.) Is democracy “whole and complete” when our leaders not only promulgate false information, but question science, learning, and focus on keeping people watching TV and twitter? Can democracy pivot from a deep attachment to materialism as a superordinate value? Are their frames for thinking that champion optimization of resources over maximization?

 A Bigger Pivot is Needed

As I and others are turning to digital meetings under the threat of coronavirus, new “rules” for creating connections and gatherings are emerging, and with equal vigor people are shoehorning the old patterns into the new medium. With everyone on-line, for a while at least, we might expect some remarkable invention. I’m hopeful about this. But I suspect it is WAY too early to know if this is truly a pivot, or just the platform for the conversations that will matter.

I find myself thinking that a much bigger pivot is needed. Our scientists have almost unanimously agreed that the laws of cause and effect are at work in regard to global warming and the irresponsible application of fossil fuels to every imaginal task. It’s a development that has literally fueled the rise of enormous big ag and steadily undermined localized farming. It has literally fueled big pharma, big plastic, big box stores, big shopping centers reached by car and a global economy fueled by ubiquitous air travel. These things have all created a kind of coherence and logic that most of us were going along with. Is this what we are trying to “turn on again?” But questioning all this means questioning some of our most beloved beliefs. What about Black Friday? What about Christmas? What about traveling wherever we want?

I agreed with Carol that for any of these forces to generate a turn, large numbers of people have to become educated about living systems. Will people be able to learn that diversity is one of the strongest counterforces to viral phenomena in nature. Will people come to appreciate that historically in society, local cultures, local agriculture, diverse and indigenous local practices all have long histories of persisting and sustaining themselves. But are any of these responses being considered? If the body is an integrated system, and the lungs and breath are central, what truly supports the lungs and breath? It goes well beyond oxygen. What about our relationships? What about the condition of our spirits? Are our leaders, or we consultants, sustaining a systemic point of view?

JesusinOliveWoodThe Story of the Resurrection

I began writing this blog on the day before Easter. We were all at home, socially distanced. I was on my virtual piano lesson in the morning with Randy Craig when Gisela came up and said. “I’m yearning for a new story, a hopeful story!” she said. “It’s Easter.” A bell rang for me.

What if this generation’s resurrection experience was the rise of truly hopeful new story? I thought about the seeds of it that my GLEN colleagues are generating. Embrace the possibility of collective wisdom, Alan Briskin writes. Collaboration and optimization echo the reciprocal patterns of nature and the way our nervous system functions, Mary Gelinas observes. What if the resurrection was an arising again of the story that Christ died for, the story of the power of compassion and forgiveness, as Gisela and I began hoping after visiting Jerusalem in January? And what if our new story included the transformative power of paying attention to what is actually going on, as Carol suggests—without preconception—and together asking, what needs to truly “turn” and be released to have our system be whole and complete?

 

