David Sibbet | Transformational Leadership
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“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.

We humans are cooking ourselves. It was 108 degrees Fahrenheit in Paris and Germany in early August—the first temperatures over 100 degrees F. in the UK, ever—July was the hottest month globally in recorded history. If the equatorial countries become unlivable people will head north. They already are. If the ice melts whole economies in the north will rupture. A new cold war is already shaping up over the Arctic. Our government is in denial. It’s a mess. Can we survive?

PERSONAL CONTEXT

I’ve been absorbing news and reacting to all the climate developments for a while now, working to stay awake and not numbing out. This blog is a reflection of that journey starting with the dark thoughts and then what I’m doing about it. It’s a longer piece, writing to evoke the actual feelings I’m having.

THE MATRIX

I, like a large number of other people, have been hooked up to a matrix of disinformation and catastrophe news that feels like the intellectual parallel to junk food. I’m matriximageinferring, from my own reaction, that this is become a kind of mass social paralysis. It actually is a Matrix, like in the classic and scarily prophetic trilogy by the Wachowski brothers. In that movie a machine society figured out that humans were the greatest source of energy available and created a hypnotically seductive virtual world to conceal that fact that embryos and fully grown humans were hooked up like batteries in vast arrays of incubator-like cells.

Today we aren’t living in incubators with physical hookups to the back our necks, but we we are plugged into a matrix of screen imagery whose sole purpose is to keep us looking so that companies can mine our data—feeding us climate catastrophies and mass shootings is its sauce. As anyone who reads now knows, the news, ads, and suggestion feeds are carefully managed by algorithms and AI scrapings of all your data to know what keeps you looking. It turns out that extreme, disrupting news works predictablty well. So does disgusting, unbelievable conjurings of possibility in the form of conspiracy theories, racist attacks, and reports that will shatter any sense you have of being safe and having a good day. (If you don’t get this watch The Great Hack, a documentary about Cambridge Analytica).

THE MIASMA

In his recent book, FALL: Or Dodge in Hell, Neil Stevenson calls this mashup of disinformation and social media the “miasma,” which means stink. It’s a near future where anything that has any kind of attention gets amplified, distorted, and misreported in a tornado of excitement and media frenzy. The weathy employ AI filters and read assistants to stand in between. We’re almost there.

My perception that this really does stink became belief when I read that Jeff Zucker, the head of CNN at the time Trump was elected, was the person who made his name at NBC with the gross out show, Fear Factor, and went on to hire Trump in the Apprentice. CNN’s coverage of Trump during the campaign was 1/3 more than any other network. Is it a surprise that CNN’s business model turned a corner and they have been making money hand over fist since—by attacking, making fun of, and pretending to be doing reporting? I like Colbert, but he’s part of it. MSNBC is part of it. FOX news is way into being a part of it. It’s rope-a-dope by people who intimately understand professional wrestling, AND by the tech companies who are creating the infrastructures that allow social media to support our Presidency and what is turning out to be a global reality TV show.

All this is probably not news. But for me, knowing this is troubling because I can’t pretend that I can go on not doing anything about it. I’ve spent my adult life helping the tech companies get better at what they do. I’ve relied on and use their tools. I rely on and use their networks. I am IN the Matrix. And if you don’t run into trouble, it’s a wonderful illusion. The daily “upset” works like caffeine. Jack in. Jack up. Then, as many do, jack knife. Right into the health system that also prospers from all the side effects. I don’t want that. So I’m turning in other direction.

STAYING CONNECTED TO MY OWN HISTORY

Many times this means doing down in the San Francisco, the city I lived in since 1969 before moving to Petaluma. I live there now because I fell in love with and married Gisela, after my Susan died of cancer in 2013. Seredepitously I was born in Petaluma, but was only there for four years before moving to the East side of the Sierras in Bishop.

01FrontSusan and I were married for 46 years. We had two kids together and raised another and reconnected with yet another, for a total of seven grandchildren I care about. We lived most of those years in San Francisco in flats, the kind of dwellings that crust the city hills, allowing two or three families or groups to occupy the whole “flat” level they are on. They are different than apartments where other units can be on the same floor. It had a real community feeling most of the time. It still does, and gets stronger when I visit.

Our flat in the Richmond District is a half block from Golden Gate park and next to the Argonne Community Garden, where I was President for 7-8 years after Susan got me involved back in 1978. Our back yard, sand like all the other homes built out on the west side of San Francisco, which used to be considered beach front, supports a half dozen well composted flower beds, hand bricked by myself over the years. We used to have a lawn in a circle in the middle of a Medicine Wheel, in honor of the people who lived in this country before the Europeans. Miwoks and the Ohlone didn’t have wheels like this exactly, but the plains people did, and so did the Aztecs before the Spaniards. Teachings have flowed down and I happen to find their respect for the natural world and the many facets of human life inspiring. Mowing the lawn in the middle of the wheel also kept me connected with the hours I spent mowing the lawns around the church in Bishop, CA, where my father was a minister. The mowing was always conjunct with important church socials, Sunday services, and other ceremonies. I guess the young part of me trying to make sense of things got that doing a good job on the grass was a sacred act.drum-and-medicine-wheel

But then the long drought in California in the early 2000s convinced me it was more sacred to stop watering grass, and the circle devolved back to sand. But I put in a little fire circle in the middle and a mandala of bricks. It was still a sacred circle.

Farther back in the yard is another circle between a plum tree we planted and a moon shaped raised bed made of Sierra rock we hauled back on several trips. It is host to the rhodidendron and a Mexican orange bush, and a ring of flowers when Susan was alive and planting. This brick circle was made of old bricks from earlier tenants at this place, who were reputedly architects. When we managed to buy the place in 2001 it became a place to have lunch under the plum, and the then flourishing cianothis tree, a native lilac that blooms blue several times a year and is considered a weed tree in some parts of northern California. But it was at the tip of moon garden, the East direction on the wheel, and was the center of the garden. It represented indigenous California to me.

GARDENING AS A HEALING RESPONSE

Susan’s four-year cancer journey and passing away were devastating, and transformative. Now that Susan is not here in the flesh, she is alive for me in this garden and the flats, which I keep ahold of and now rent. And my connection with subtle realms is much more alive. My old studio is now a small city apartment for writing, creating, and remembering. The garden’s drip system still works, fortunately. But ivy and switch grass take over steadily. A huge limb of the plumb came down last year. The cianothis has also fallen prey to strong winds. Only one, slightly rotting core remains. It’s decline and decay mirrors my larger sense of what is happening. But I can do something directly about the garden.

I began clearing and weeding a couple of weeks ago, and this recent visit wanted to finish up. I packed all the trimmings I’d left in the circle to dry last time into a green bin. I trimmed and weeded a bit from the front beds. And I was determined to take the brick circles back to their bricky selves. They now were covered with little six inch high weeds coming out of the spaces between, like course dog hairs all over the circle. The only way to weed was to get on my knees with my knee protectors, and pick medicine-wheelthem out one by one. I knew from my years of gardening I was in a for an hour or so of this, so I relaxed and began letting them talk to me. I sometimes get real messages this way

That is where it began to hit me, that the way out of the miasma and matrix of our times is to simply stop, and beginning paying attention step-by-step to moving in a direction that has a future. As I slowed, I opened up.

TALKING TO THE WEEDS

I wondered if the weeds felt me pulling them up. I wondered if some people in authority think of certain kinds of people as weeds that need pulling up. What right did I have to even think of people as being like weeds? But weeds are alive, and they propagate. The only reason they are called weeds is because I’ve decided that this or that kind of plant isn’t wanted. Isn’t wanted is the definition of a weed.

Hmmm. But my weeding is actually an act of worship in a way. I’m creating sacred space. I’m embodying my love of Susan and our family. I’m creating this as an open space, free of the distraction of weeds.

And it is in open space, with lots of spaciousness and being fully present that new life comes in. I reflected on how cracked open I’ve been by Susan’s dying, and how into the cracks came new love and new intention, and new courage, and a lot less concern for many of the previous things that annoyed me. I reflected on how having a cleaned-up wheel in the back yard brings more potency and energy to my drumming the circle and praying to my ancestors and teachers. It gives me more courage for my community work.

Maybe the weeds I need to pay attention to are the weedy thoughts and feelings that are growing in response to the miasma! Oh my. Now I didn’t want to have that thought. How can I weed myself?

STEP-BY-STEP

Step-by-step I thought again, just like pulling these little suckers. What would those steps be I wondered? And then the steps I want to take came through.

  1. Stay “woke:” This is a Black term for staying conscious and caring about social issues, like the repression of people of color. I like it as a term for getting “woke” all around— to technology. media and it’s pricetag, and to global warming.
  2. Unplug: Literally unplug the Matrix. We did that a bit a couple of months ago and put our TV in the garage. We haven’t cancelled cable but are close. Watching movies isn’t the same as watching the “news.” It has already changed our energy. We read more. We talk more. We sit more. I garden more.
  3. Focus on what has heart and meaning: This means doing what feels right and what I actually have a relationship with, like weeding the backyard of the flats, like getting involved with Friends of the Petaluma River and California Poets in the Schools, like talking on GLEN Exchanges to our global colleagues.
  4. Build sustainable infrastructure: Something tells me that real relationships matter more than digital ones. Cells and Zoom and other devices can support these real relationships. Knowing neighbors is good. Knowing evacuation routes from wildfires is important. Knowing about water and food. Maybe having a garden that actually produces would be good. And practicing mindfulness to retrain my nervous system to stay responsive and not reactive.
  5. Listen for what is moving in a hopeful way: I believe that more people must be waking up to the Matrix and unplugging from it. Already there are people co-creating what will be the future. Their signals sometimes seem faint. Listen. The music is playing. Hum along. Look for the dialogue circles.
  6. Prepare for adaptability: a neighbor shared a new term recently—“prehabilitation.” It refers to getting ready for surgery before the surgery. In scenario planning we call it developing “preceptivity,” which is receptivity in advance of needing it. I’m writing this blog at a renewing Harbin Hot Spring, a beautiful retreat center near Calistoga, CA, wiped out by a wildfire in 2015. The community that built and supports this place was ready. They left. No-one died. No-one was trapped. And they are re-creating. It’s a new Harbin, but has a lot of the old feeling of being a real sanctuary.
  7. Share my truth: Instead of retelling stories from the Matrix, I am more resolved that ever about sharing my own experience and learning. The way I want to survive is by living fully, and to live in the actual here and now, and not some mirage. This is what I believe will inspire my grandchildren to do the same. It is what they will need to survive.

So I think about the heat and technology. Living out these steps is what I’m doing. Check into how reading this piece resonated with you inside. Did you sense the shift from the first part to the second? Could you feel real life coming back in. I did just writing this.

 

I sustain a keen interest in metaphors and plausible narratives about where we are headed as a society, and frankly, I am worried. I was rocked recently by a close reading of sociobiologist and futurist Rebecca Costa’s0-watchmansrattle 2012 best seller, The Watchman’s Rattle: A Radical New Theory of Collapse. (She has a new book, also a best seller, called On the Verge, which I haven’t read.) Costa has a long history in Silicon Valley and a polymath’s appetite for large-scale thinking. My reading, in the context of seeing our country spiraling into policy chaos, is that her 2012 message is even more relevant in 2018.

Her “new theory” is that civilizations collapse when complexity outstrips human’s cognitive ability to grasp what is going on. More interestingly, she identifies the symptoms that suggest collapse is beginning. I’m not wanting to believe we are collapsing, as I am much more interested in growth and development and what our field of process consulting and visual practice can do in response. Yet her argument is persuasive.

Let me summarize what she is talking about. Drawing from both evolutionary biology and new findings in neuroscience, Costa describes in detail how the Mayans, Romans, Germans and others expanded and collapsed. Collapse begins with gridlock—simply too many conflicting forces and events compounding—and continues with the substitution of belief for facts.

In most civilizations, Costa observes, there is a balance between untethered beliefs and scientifically or experientially validated knowledge. We use beliefs to deal with the ineffable and non-objective, and we have (at least for the last many hundreds of years) looked to science for help with being objective, particularly regarding the physical world. Yet when complexity begins to overwhelm people’s cognitive abilities, beliefs take over and attention to facts disappears.

For the Mayans facing severe drought, their engineering of cisterns and other water strategies gave way to human sacrifice. For the Germans after World War I, the complexity of their post-war fractured economy gave way to fascism and blame and World War II.  Sound familiar?Read more…

geodesic

For years I’ve had an open geodesic sphere hanging in my studio with two quotes hanging in the middle. One is by Buckminster Fuller, inventor of geodesics. To paraphrase, he says you can’t reform humans where they are (I think he said “man,” dating him). The best you can do, he continues, is to go into the outlaw area and make it so attractive that people eventually copy you.

On the opposite side of the card is this quote by W. Warren Wagar, historian: “The ultimate function of prophecy is not so much to foretell the future as to shape it.”

As Gisela Wendling and I sit midway through co-creating the fourth book in the Wiley Visual Leadership series, called Visual Consulting: Designing & Leading Change, I find these quotes even more relevant. I know that people like tools and want practical things to do in these kinds of books. But Gisela and I also care about a future that can reclaim other elements that seem to be neglected in our increasingly high tech, maximization-oriented society—such as feelings, deep listening, trusting one’s trained intuition, and having a spiritual practice that keeps us grounded in a time of growing chaos.

So we are writing about a future we hope to shape, one where the utility and excitement of visual facilitation can integrate with what practitioners are learning about the importance of dialogue, as well as with the practices emerging from a growing field of change consultants.

Read more…