David Sibbet | Leadership
57
archive,category,category-leadership,category-57,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

 

ri-mistsIs it the pandemic or something more that is leading me to write my first blog of the new year about what ecologists and scientists call “the sixth extinction?” It is definitely not my rational mind, or my practical mind. In fact, it is my dreamer mind. My dream was so powerful this morning that I awoke feeling called in a way that is still strong. I’m writing about it because I have come to honor these kinds of transpersonal insights when they come and support them by giving them expression in word and image. (This photo by my colleague Alan Briskin seems appropriate).

My Dream

In my 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 a number of them, and before my own introduction, we took a break to eat. People came with buckets of chicken and come creole cooking. When we returned, the conference staff had arranged some chairs in an outside area for our group. Before long we were back in a full group and introductions continued.

It was my turn. I found myself saying the following. “I am a professional facilitator and am currently focused on our 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 and adapt.”

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 in a way that felt like a breakdown.”

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

I remember in the dream that the group applauded! I turned to a young man sitting beside me and said, “this is the first time I’ve ever introduced myself this way!” I was feeling both startled and strangely alive and excited. And then I woke up.

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.

There were some other faint signals that I’d been getting that felt connected to the dream.

Searching for Signals

At a GLEN Community Winter Solstice Gathering call before our reflective week started, Karen Wilhelm Buckley, a dear 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). But more relevant were some other  journal entries that turned out to be connected to my dream.

2004 was the year I turned 60. I had planned several “rites of passage” for myself, beginning with a week visiting all the vision quest sites I’d experienced on the East side of the Sierras. I was deeply questioning what it means to be an elder, and to begin that journey had called a council of friends I’d know for more than 20 years to answer that question by reflecting on the elders in their life that had made a difference. I didn’t have answers but was charged. Later in the summer I carried the question into a new vision quest on Mt. Shasta with my teacher, Chayim Barton, and a small group. There I had one of the most significant visions of my life up to that point. I had journaled extensively there.

For a while 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 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. Here is a picture of what I created.

thebeast2004

I 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. Most importantly, I kept trying to imagine what could stand up to it—represented by the little wand with a feather. I ended up writing some of my core values on the wand and concluding I needed to stay tuned to the light. But I hardly felt resolved about this.

Working for RE-AMP

Later that year in December, it was this vision led me to accept the facilitation of 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, and at the end of several hours, turned to the RE-AMP steering committee and said – “Remember, this is a mindless beast.” I can still feel the goosebumps. Oh my. Here I was standing in front of it again.re-ampsystemsmap

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 all of us believe 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 (See RE-AMP.org). Reflecting back, I realized it was my boldest experience of taking action on a “dream” without knowing the outcome.

While it probably seems obvious why I thought this experience was connected to my dream I was fascinated that I had started my current reflective “vacation” with this retrospective, by accident. It was not “planned.” What guided that impulse?

I remembered 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,” which I think is already being born but hardly dominant. 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.  “We will live into this new way of thinking and relating, or we won’t,” I can remember saying in various workshops.

Reading The Sun

And then I remember that two weeks ago 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 know this to be “factually” arguable and have been reading about this for years. But her 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. Since the pandemic is no longer an abstraction, but a loss I deeply feel, I think it ignited the same feeling about the extinction. I ordered the 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.

Could There Be a Sustainability Source Code?

In writing up this blog, I was working at a computer over which I have posted printouts of my latest work with conceptual modeling, looking at sustainable organizations through the lenses of Arthur M. Young’s Theory of Process. It’s work that began in the 1990s with a full formulation of a new model with the help of my French colleague Meryem LeSaget. Other projects have taken precedence. I’ve written some white papers, conducted a few workshops, and continued to think about it, and hope to work on it more this year. I think that outlining our choices for sustainable organization could serve as a kind of source-code for process and organization designers.

But after this morning’s dream I realized that this “source code” idea might be the scaffolding for a direct engagement with the sixth extinction “problem.” The same feeling of impossibility washed over me that I felt on Mt. Shasta.

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 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 will accelerate the extinction as a result, and for sure ensure that anger and mistrust accompany the change.

I’m not sure I have the tools either. Will I be part of the acceleration? Crist argues we don’t have time this time.

Inspired by Gretta

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? I hope it strikes a responsive chord. I intend to explore it further through our Global Learning & Exchange Network (GLEN). You are invited to join our inquiry there if you like. I and many committed colleagues will be there.

 

“We’ve been expecting the s____t to hit the fan,” said one of the participants on the third Zoom call of the day on Sunday. “Well It has.”  But another said, “It’s our collective chance to actually transform.” “I’m worried about my father, alone,” said another. “The Germans are worried about the US falling apart over this,” another said, after talking to a sister in Germany. “The air is clear over Wuhan for the first time,” said another.pandemicart

It is clear to me that very little is really clear yet, except that all of us are now in the beginning stages of our response to the COVID-19 world-wide pandemic. It is spreading itself on top of a fragmented geo-political landscape, spiking distrust in leadership, wealth, and the news itself, all combining to create a VERY high level of uncertainty. So, what should we do? What can I do? Is the “doing” impulse itself the right response?

My Inquiry

I am watching my own conscious mind working to make sense of all this, weaving stories about where it came from, what it means, where it will go, what it will do to our consulting company, The Grove, and what it means for our Global Learning & Exchange Network, a brand new non-profit dedicated to facing problems like this in a collaborative way. I devour the new. I feel vertigo looking at the stock market. Something deep inside me know it will never be the same.

I share this writing to bear witness to myself, coping. I’m resisting the urge to write — “Here are the Seven Things You Can Do.” That seems too easy, too comforting to the rational mind—like watching Netflix. I think it’s too early and maybe even dangerous to dismiss the complexity of what is happening.

My Context

I came back to this “new reality” after a nine-day silent meditation retreat that is the culmination of a two-and-a-half-year Timeless Wisdom Training with Thomas Hübl, an Austrian mystic who is attracting therapists, counsellors, facilitators, consultants and other who do trauma work. We ware learning traditional mystical practices. Hübl is convinced that a perspective which includes a capacity for working with spiritual, energetic, and emotional realities can integrate with modern understandings of neuropsychology, quantum physics, and technology in facing big problems. At the core of his teaching is a belief that before we can help others successfully, we must make friends with our own personal being and its special intelligence, trauma fields, and blindness. We are invited to see the doorway to these understandings as learning to listen to our bodies and emotions first, before helping others. That is why I’m starting with myself here.

Hübl’s approach is a practice known as “presencing” or “mindfulness” and involves meditating and learning to truly listen to what our intelligent nervous systems are telling us. For nine days the 130 of us in the training experienced walking meditation, sitting meditation, light meditation, silent meals, solo walks in nature, and some of our own practices interleaved in hour long sessions. Each day involved at least 8 hours of quiet meditation. “It is in the stillness that there is enough space for something new to come in,” says Hübl.

My spouse and partner Gisela Wendling and I attended together, and while not relating at all during the retreat, did plan a buffer of a few days to integrate afterward, tuning slowly into the news and each other. A LOT is going on personally for both of us. We are very glad we did.

As we returned news from the outside world broke like a tidal wave of information and confusion. European travel bans. A tanking stock market. Panic buying at the grocery stores. A President who cannot manage his own impulses. Pockets of COVID-19 outbreaks around the country. Italy closing down. Iran cavitating. Every day are new developments.

Of course, our own business is already being directly hit with cancelled workshops, cancelled or postponed meetings, hours to renegotiating already booked air travel, etc. etc. etc. Shouldn’t I be panicking? Shouldn’t you? I’m not panicking but I am deeply disturbed.

My Early Response

Part of our work in the retreat was to not only witness our own emotional body, but to open to sensing the groups field for its level of coherence, and the large social field. Can we listen into our collective fragmentation? Can we be open to understanding what flows down from our ancestors? Can we begin healing by connecting with and having our real feelings, and connecting with and being open to the feelings in the collective?

I realize that my concern is arcing out through my circles of intimacy. Close-in I connect with Gisela, her daughter, my children and grandchildren. Then we are connecting with as a small firm, the Grove—in what may be the last face-to-face meeting in a while and then again frequently on Zoom and Slack. The three zoom calls I mentioned were larger circles and networks. And Gisela and I are calling the GLEN community to gather. A lot of these communications are sharing heart space—listening, empathizing—not problem solving yet.

But my mind is also going. It’s my traditional response to crisis. The Grove is reaching out to our clients to let them know we are ready to help with our extensive on-line experience. I’m accepting the prevailing story that— “flattening the curve of growth through social distancing” so health care facilities can prepare and keep up. I’m aware that much of our traditional client world is going to be working virtually for a few weeks and months. We are designing new offerings. (So are most of the consultants we know).

But some other new awareness is creeping in. I notice that paradoxically “distancing” in Italy has led to thousands singing to each other every noon and evening from their balconies! I’m noticing some people reporting unusually deep feelings on connection on Zoom even though everyone agrees virtual work isn’t nearly as engaging as face-to-face. But I know that audio is quite intimate. And I’m thinking a lot about the very interesting fact that everyone is vulnerable, no matter what age, creed, socio-economic status, or affiliation you have. Has there been an event like this that is so universal?  Even the political parties managed to put their media-managed professional wrestling matches aside to pass an emergency measures bill. Even our neighbors are having a zoom conference to see what we need from each other and are especially open as we wagoldenlight-earthlk the dog.

I can see how my attention is already moving to the hopeful even as I worry. “Can I work from home tomorrow?” my assistant asks. “I don’t want to use public transit.” “Of course,” I respond. What will it be like in three weeks?

We are all at the early blooming of this crisis. It won’t touch me, my mind says. I’m healthy my mind says. I know how to work virtually my business sense says.

Yet I feel the deep upset in my body, spreading like the dark clouds from Mordor in Lord of the Rings. Can I shake your hand? Are visitors leaving something on the doorknob? If I, a pretty trusting person not in a COVID-19 hot spot am feeling this way, what is happening elsewhere?

So, I don’t have seven answers. But I do feel myself being called to be as grounded, open, connecting, and ready to respond as I possibly can be. I’m calling my children. We’re organizing meetups on-line. We are ready to help with virtual meetings. And I’m asking for guidance and saying open to the light. I’m practicing holding all of our planet in the light.

inpersistence1Coming back to the United States from a month in Europe has my head spinning. Gisela and I were working in Germany, Austria, Italy and Poland, leading our Visual Consulting: Designing & Leading Change workshops with groups of consultants and managers interested in collaboration and change. They were all hyper aware of the confusions swirling in the U.S., and wondering about their own stability. Italy is closing its borders. Merkel in Germany is hanging onto a slender coalition. Young entrepreneurs in Poland know from experience that things can shift. And they were very excited about learning hopeful strategies for change.

 

WHAT’S NEXT?

“So, what is ours to do?” I ask myself, now back home. It’s clear the polarization and complexity of our current situations (not to mention the Supreme Court square-off) are pushing many into either a zealous supporter or resistance camp. Blaming abounds (see my previous post).

As I re-grounded myself—sweeping decks, going on walks, meditating, hosting brothers and visitors from Australia—it came to me. I’m not in “resistance.” I’m in PERSISTENCE.

 

Read more…

As summer heats up, I’m thinking ahead to the fall and Leading as Sacred Practice (LASP), the week-long conference that Gisela Wendling, Alan Briskin, Holger Scholz and I will be facilitating this October 23-27 (2017) at IONS’ Earthrise Retreat Center in Petaluma, California. Last year’s gathering in Germany was exceptional and some are coming back a second time, so I’m looking forward with anticipation. But it’s taken on some new meaning and urgency.stringofbeads

I began to feel strained several weeks ago supporting the launch of The Grove’s Global Learning & Exchange Network (GLEN) while simultaneously starting a year-long Leading Change Program in Minnesota for a cohort of 20 participants from several agencies in the Metropolitan Council. This last program ended with an inspiring “stringing-of-the-beads”; more on that later.

Read more…