Episode #10 healing ourselves & the world: a dynamic conversation with Della Duncan
Podcaster, economist, and spiritual activist, Della Duncan is deeply integrated in the movement for human and planetary change.
In this deep-diving conversation, we explore what it is to ‘InterBe’ such that we can take our place fully in the web of consciousness. Drawing deeply on her own experience, Della explores the ceremonies that we can undertake to help us shift our consciousness to reach a place where we can open our eyes and see ourselves in the mirror of the world.
As someone who has trained directly and intensively with Joanna Macy, Della teaches widely the Work that Reconnects and seeks to apply the sense of turning towards the world in every moment of life.
We discuss the ways that reframing the economy can be a bridge between those seeking systemic social change and those engaged in spiritual activism, look at the ‘Upstream’ metaphor and how finding the source of malaise is as important as rescuing those who are being damaged by our current system.
Within the framework of the Three Pillars of the Great Turning: Holding Actions; Systemic Change; and Shifting Consciousness, through the dynamics of systemic change and the leverage points of change, Della lays out the ways we can move towards equity, sustainability and a life well lived.
The music that book-ends the podcasts is created by Caro C and is called ‘Sense Ability’ – you can find it here.
For my first guest in the series, I am delighted to be able to welcome Della Duncan.
I got to know Della when she was teaching on the Master’s in Sustainable Economics down at Schumacher College, which is also where I started listening to her groundbreaking upstream podcast. We’ll talk a little bit about that in our podcast that follows. But the take home message is if you haven’t already listened to it, put it on your list. Now, along with the Master’s in Sustainable Economics, Della’s a graduate of UC Davis with a bachelor’s in international relations and sociology. She has a certificate in authentic leadership and she’s completed Joanna Macy’s work that reconnects intensive program. And we’ll talk more about that in the podcast, too.
These days, she describes herself as a renegade economist and dedicates herself to adjust transition to a more sustainable and equitable world.
So before we head more deeply into you and who you are and what you’re doing, I just would like to ask what is most alive for you in this moment?
What’s most alive to me right now is this conversation about whether humans are inherently self interested or inherently altruistic or whether we have the capacity for both. And how do we activate the goodness or kindness or altruism inherent in each of us? And so what’s most alive for me is how do I continually activate that goodness, that good nature, that altruism, and also how do I continue to create systems and opportunities for people to enable that part of themselves as well?
How did you get to a point where your primary question is so articulate and so deep? Because for most people, that’s not their primary question. And I know that it is for you and I think it has been as long as I’ve known you. So can we have a little bit of background of how you came to be a person for whom that is the thing that is most alive at the moment?
I guess I would say an ecological, spiritual journey from a place of self-interest. I came because I was having a lot of anxiety and wanting to feel better within my own body.
And then that led me to a therapist who recommended mindfulness meditation and again, for a self-interested perspective. Fortunately, the second mindfulness retreat that I went on totally shattered that idea that mindfulness or a spiritual practice was for my own self enlightenment or self kind of feeling better within my my own ego, my own body.
And it was Joanna Macy who is the teacher of that second retreat. And it was a retreat on spiritual ecology and The Work that Reconnects and it profoundly shocked me into a different path, a path of seeing myself as something far greater than my individual being, seeing myself as part of a more ecological self, a living whole, and deeply interconnected with life, with all of life, with other beings. And so that really changed my perspective of what is the self and also what is the point of my spiritual practice and spiritual ecology in general.
Can we unpack a little bit more about how a person who turns up as a retreat wanting basically to heal the pain inside – as most of us do– how you came away from it, what, three, five, seven days later with a totally different view on the world? Can we go a little bit more deeply into that?
So Joanna Macy, who’s in her 80s at this point, lives in Berkeley, California, would identify herself as an eco justice, Buddhist philosopher and activist. And I remember when I interviewed her, I introduced her, and I think I left out activist and she corrected me immediately So she really defines herself as someone who is into activism.
And the retreat which shows this kind of journey well, was a mindfulness retreat for women. And that’s what drew me to it, was just being on a seven day retreat, meditating. I had done one before, a five day retreat, meditating in silence. And this one was similar. But then Joanna Macy was the teacher and I had no idea who she was. So what was different was immediately I came to realize a lot of what we’re looking at was not our individual pain, but our our feeling of hopelessness or despair or grief for anger for what’s happening in the rest of the world. So it was this sense of that our our pain is not individual, but that it is collective and of our sensing into what’s happening in the rest of the world. And then what do we do with that pain?
And so we did a practice, I remember, called The Bowl of Tears, where we each went into a center of a circle with this bowl with water in it and cried into the bowl.And they were there were they were for our tears. The bowl was for our tears, for the more than human world and for all of the web of life. So it was it was just this radical expanding notion of self.
We also did a practice of walking in the garden blindfolded or with our eyes closed, led by a partner. And then every once in a while, our partner would say, “Open your eyes and look in the mirror.” And we were looking at a branch or the sky or a leaf. And there was just this sense of the ecological self, just an expansion of who we are. And it’s already in Buddhism in many ways, this kind of transience of all things and the interconnectedness of beings. But this was much more vivid feel felt experience of that reality.
I remember when you were teaching us that Schumacher we did that blindfold in pairs. I was in the garden is one of the very first things that we did. And it was it was profoundly moving, and also an extraordinary way of connecting with our partners. So there was the connection with ecological self and the connection with each other as humans within that wider landscape.
And so I’m wondering how, having never having heard of Joanna Macy – not having read Active Hope or any of her other work – you then went on to work with her Work that Reconnects Intensive Program?
You bring that round the world now, and you must have seen dozens, if not hundreds of other people go through much the same process as you did in that first week. You must have led them through it. And I’m wondering, if it’s universal? Is it that if all of us are able to cry into the bowl or even offered the opportunity to cry into the bowl, that we come to understand our connection? Is it intrinsic to everybody?
I do think it is intrinsic to everybody. That’s the way that I’ve made sense of it. The most clear kind of example is from actually Liberation Psychology. This was what helped me realize this.
This is a tradition of therapy, of psychology really, founded in Latin and South America. And it’s this idea that one could go to a therapist or a psychologist, psychiatrist for help. And there are moments where we have individual pain, such as the death of a loved one or a change in our job, or a breakup, that kind of thing, where there are moments of personal distress. These are these are things that causes pain that is pretty individual.
The idea behind Liberation Psychology and also Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects in general, is that so much of our pain, so much of our anger or sadness or grief or despair, is actually more systemic. It’s actually felt because of our of our ecological, political, social crises or challenges of our time. So it it’s a different way of seeing our pain. And when we do that, then we realize that we are interconnected. There’s an insight of our reality that comes from that recognition of our pain being more collective. Then immediately connects us and helps us with systems thinking and helps us feel more a sense of an Ecological Self. And we’re embedded in this web of life.
Having done that in the depths that you have, if you go out and stand by the ocean or stand by a tree or sun by rock, do you have a sense of meeting another consciousness?
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it’s that practice initially of ‘open your eyes and look in the mirror’ that started it.
But then it was also learning through more Spiritual Ecology traditions and practices such as the idea of InterBeing from Buddhism. The sense that we Inter-Are and there’s very real scientific ways that you can look at this, such as if I stood with a tree, just the sense of breathing that the tree would do and I would do and that interconnectedness, but also the fact that I eat food and so that brings me into communion with other beings – or then I go to the bathroom, or all of that.
But there’s so much to InterBeing that actually exists when we feel into it. So absolutely, when I would meet a rock or the ocean or a tree, I completely have a different sense of a relationship with that other being. You’re right. I see them as another being. And not only that, but I see it as as an interconnectedness.
And what is your role in that Web of Life do you think? If every thing is conscious and we take our place within it, do you have any sense of what the role of humanity is in general or what your role is specifically?
So I see it as an image and either there’s a triangle and the human is at the top of the pyramid and then all the other beings are below him or her, right?
But then in the other example, the Eco example, where a human is born in a circle with many other beings. And there’s kind of a equality and harmony embedded in that image. And that really sticks out to me to answer your question about humanity’s role is that we are humble members in this universe.
We are in communion with other beings who are not dominant over or separated from. And so, yeah, we have we have purpose and we have contribution, as does the wind, say, o the ocean, as does the trees. So it’s where we’re all part of a community. We’re communing.
And then for me, specifically, I really operate in this realm of the Shift in Consciousness that is one of Joanna Macy’s Three Pillars of the Great Turning. So I am definitely someone who, through my own experience of recognizing other paradigms, other worldviews and feeling them, trying them on and then starting to see from them, that has now become my contribution in creating invitations, whether that’s through coaching or consulting, or through workshop facilitation – or a podcast – it is inviting other ways of seeing that allow for more interconnectedness and a more thriving people and planet.
Could we talk a little bit more about Joanna Macy and her Three Pillars of the Great Turning? Because I think it’s an extraordinarily useful map for people who are interested in this area.
So Joanna Macy has written many, many books. Two of them that I would recommend, though, for folks listening are Active Hope, which is more of a regular description of some of her ideas and thinking and and ways to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. That’s actually the subtitle for the book.
And then the other one is Coming Back to Life. And that’s the facilitator guide, because The Work That Reconnects is an embodied practice. It’s a journey that folks can go on and it’s Open Source through this book called Coming Back to Life. And so this idea of the Three Pillars or three areas of the Great Turning can be found in both of those books and also on her website. And it really is this sense of that to understand the three pillars, you have to understand what the great turning is first.
So the great turning comes from this idea that there are three ways that we can see what’s happening in the world right now. It’s not whether one is right or wrong it’s almost like three pairs of glasses that we could put on, or three views from which we could see the world.
The first is this idea of ‘business as usual’. This says that there is nothing alarming, that the economy ebbs and flows, the climate warms and cools, that technology will save us. It’s really this sense we would get from an “Open! Business as Usual” kind of sign that we might see. The second view is the view of the Great Unraveling. And this is the idea that everything is going to hell, it’s that our political systems are unraveling; social and ecological systems are unraveling. It’s a very dire view, quite likely to fall into. It comes from David Korten, a systems theorist, who says systems don’t just fall over and die, they unravel.
Joanna Macy’s idea is The Great Turning. This is that we can see the great unraveling we can be with it. We can sense it. It’s not a denying of unraveling that is happening, but it’s about turning towards life despite all odds. And it’s about continually showing up for life and choosing life in every moment of every day, both as individuals and systemically, collectively. So within The Great Turning, within this view, we can see right now we are in the time of the great turning.
And it’s not a blind optimism like everything’s gonna work out. It’s an Active Hope, which is what her the other book comes from. So it’s practice. And Joanna Macy talks about there being three areas or Three Pillars of the Great Turning. They are equal. One is not more important than any other. They’re all of equal importance. And I have to point out, as an economist, they may not connect with what we do for paid work. We can have a role or a contribution that is not monetized. And we can also be in multiple areas, that’s important to know.
So the three areas are: Holding Actions; Systems, Designing and then Shift in Consciousness. Those are the three areas.
The Holding Actions are actions or efforts to stop harm and suffering from happening. So to stop further harm and suffering from happening or to alleviate harm and suffering that has happened to stop harm and suffering from happening. Probably most obviously folks think about activism, such as if somebody, you know, went up in a tree and tried to get the tree from not being cut down, for example, or the water protectors at Standing Rock.
So it’s that stopping harm and suffering from happening. But it’s also the the whistleblowers who are calling out certain egregious things. It’s also journalists, folks who are writing and documenting certain egregious harm and suffering that’s happening, trying to prevent it. But it’s also the healing of harm and suffering that has happened. This is our our healers, our medicine folks, our modalities such as dance and yoga and therapy and all of that healing of trauma and difficulty that happens. Also, folks who are social workers or people who work with homeless folks or domestic violence shelters and sexual assault. All of that. So that’s the actions to stop harm and suffering from happening or to heal and address harm and suffering that has happened.
The second area is the area of the Systems Designing. Sometimes it’s called Gaian Structures or Gaian Designing. And it’s this idea of designing ways of life and systems that are ecological, that are in harmony with the planet, with our ecological system.
I think we ought to let those who don’t know that this comes from James Lovelock’s concept to the earth as a living system. And he called it Gaia. So the idea comes from comes from that. Sorry. Go on with that.
Yes. So this would be, you know, most obviously like Ecological Design Thinking. So designing in alignment with ecology. And it can be physical products, of course, but it also can be more social systems, how we organize our political systems, participatory democracy, participatory budgeting, for example.
So the redesign of our economies would be part of this?
Exactly. Circular economy for example. It’s also our designing our ways of dealing with complex things like education. So it’s the designers among us. And it’s not necessarily new. It’s not people who are inventors or brand new ideas. They also can draw from very ancient and beautiful ways of organizing our social and ecological systems: drawing on indigenous wisdom, for example, or things like permaculture or, other ways of farming and agriculture that’s related as well. So that’s kind of the systems designing or Gaian structures designing area.
And then the last area is the area that I mentioned that I’m most connected with myself, which is the area of the Shift in Consciousness. So these are the folks who are inspiring shifts in consciousness, whether it’s being an artist, you know, like I’m imagining a Banksy mural – just one mural can get someone to think differently about something. Also, musicians, of course, poets, filmmakers, spiritual teachers. So Thich Nhat Hanh, for example, and Joanna Macy, and other writers and podcasters. And I would also add loving parents who are raising the next generations to be more kind and compassionate, altruistic. So those are the Three Pillars of the Great Turning. The three areas that our work may be within and they’re not antagonistic and you can be in multiple of them and and also weave them together beautifully.
So do you see this third pillar, this Shift in Consciousness, is about shifting ourselves to new levels of consciousness that we don’t know yet?This may be because Accidental Gods is all about the conscious evolution of humanity, but I’m hearing that you see it as opening the door to consciousness that we already know about – making it more accessible. Is that right? Because I would have thought of that as systemic change.
So just one important note to point out is, too, I see to be a part of The Great Turning in any of the areas that somebody will have gone through a Shift in Consciousness, such as what would happen with me going to Joanna Macy’s first retreat. So the individual journey is already in a realm of shifting consciousness to be an Ecological Design thinker or even to be an activist. There will have been some shift in consciousness that happens so that folks do act differently because business as usual is so much our default in the end.
You have to shift out of that. Okay.
Everyone undergoes a shift in consciousness in the realm of The Great Turning to then see themselves as part of it. But these three areas of The Great Turning are more asking ‘What are you? What are your efforts? What area is your contribution in?’
So it assumes everyone’s been on that shift in consciousness. But this is what do you do? So if you’re a writer, you’d be in the realm of shift in consciousness. But even if you were a designer of new systems or system – agriculture or whatever – you will have gone through a shift in consciousness. But you’re in the realm of systems designing.
But I will to answer your other question about what sort of shifts in consciousness and from what to what. And all of that, where I really get the most understanding around this point is through Donella Meadow’s Leverage points – places to intervene in a system. She just speaks about systems change and these kind of acupuncture or leverage points as ways to intervene in a system. And she ranks them. It’s it’s an amazing essay.
I’ve done a podcast on complexity and systems change. By the time everyone listens to this podcast, they will have had the opportunity to listen to me talking about Donella Meadows. But please go on, because you’ll do better than I did.
I’m happy to hear that. And I guess my my only point with this is that she notes the second highest way to intervene in a system is by changing a paradigm or changing the world view. So creating that shift in consciousness.
But the higher one, even higher than that, the highest one is to transcend all paradigms – know ing that even the new paradigm that you’re trying on is still yet another paradigm. And so to not get fixed or attached to that.
To answer your question, I think as someone in the Shift in Consciousness realm. I am drawing from invitations to shift consciousness with the ones I already know about. So I will lead the practice of folks seeing a mirror in nature. Or enhance a sense of ecological self. That’s one that I’ve experienced myself. I can articulate that and I can invite in others to join me in it.
But also understanding this transcending paradigm concept. I don’t want to fixate on that and proselytize and think that is the best. We need to stay open, to not-knowing and teach humility and that there are, of course, other paradigms and worldviews that I am not even aware of.
So I’m only doing Shift in Consciousness with what is within my realm. But I’m staying open to the idea of even higher leverage point transcending paradigms.
Joanna Macy obviously has been and presumably still is one of your most important teachers. Is the anytone else other than her would you go to for insight or maybe you go to the rocks and the trees?
Well, Joanna Macy actually called me recently and asked me if we could meet to talk about economics because she has actually has been doing more thinking around economics and we’ve had great conversations.
Sometimes there has felt like some discord or tension between folks in the social justice realm of activism and those in environmental justice. And she and I both spoke about how how economics feels like a bridge because it’s about exploitation, at least in its most unhealthy form when economics can be an exploitation of both people and the planet. Clearly, we can also have systems that are supporting of thriving of both people on the planet. So I think we’re going to try to have a conversation with her around that. I would absolutely still say that she’s a wonderful teacher and I’m very grateful to be in connection with her.
Yeah. Well, I’m in this a fellowship right now through the London School of Economics with this amazing group of folks from all over the world, and mostly the global south. And I’m really feeling like a student to all of them. I’m really learning a lot about decolonization of the mind and of my work and all of that. So I’d say that’s a that’s a really strong learning point that I’m in right now. And then I would also say, I’m learning from Marianne Williamson, I listened to a couple of talks by her and I’m deeply into her books, ‘Tears to Triumph’ and ‘Returned to Love’ right now.There’s something about her framing for relationships and love and also her perspective on many different religions that I’m just really enjoying learning about. And then I would also say that the other one that is really alive for me right now is Marie Kondo, and her book ‘The Art of Tidying Up’. Ahe’s the Japanese woman who helps folks go through their belongings and only have that which brings joy in their life.And she she is a Shinto practice originally, and it’s very spiritual and it’s very shamanic.I am so just blown away by the power of her, her teachings and the experience of practicing it. I would say she is a big teacher for me right now.
Can we go back to economics and your conversations about how you came to economics, because you’ve done a lot of work with victims of sexual violence. And then you kind of step sideways and came to England and did economics. And with what you said about your conversations with Joanna Macy, it’s feeling as if that work is shifting into the realm of shifting consciousness. So did you see it as a shift in consciousness even when you came to Schumacher to study Sustainable Economics?
In order to enter this question, I need to share about the ‘Upstream’ metaphor because it feels relevant.
As you mentioned, my first job out of college was as a rape crisis counselor. I worked with sexual assault survivors and their loved ones. It was it was very powerful work and really enjoyed it. And while I was there, I heard about the upstream metaphor which comes from social work and public health.
The idea is that you are standing at the bank of a river and you see someone float by who’s drowning. So you jump in to save them and pull them to shore. But you look up and then you see a more people float by the river drowning. So you jump in and pull them to shore and eventually you look up and there’s just all these people floating down the river, drowning. Someone has to go upstream to figure out why is everyone falling in in the first place.
And just to take a moment, if we were to go back to those three areas of the Great Turning, it is both important in the holding actions piece to pull people out of the river. It is important – that we have hotlines for sexual assault survivors and, you know, suicide crisis lines and soup kitchens giving food to homeless.
But we also need to go upstream and ask, why do we have homelessness? Why do we have sexual violence? Why do we have suicidality? So so I heard that metaphor in relation to sexual violence work. And it was why is it important not just to support survivors, but also go upstream and figure out why the sexual violence happened and how can we do prevention work. And this idea really touched me. I was struck by the work. It was really powerful, but I was even more struck by how little the work that we were doing as rape crisis counselors was valued in the economy. Because I live in the Silicon Valley Bay Area. I’m from San Francisco, but worked and lived around the Bay Area. And at the time it was it felt like we were struggling for funding consistently and we had to beg for money from the tech companies around us.
And I just felt this ridiculousness that the money that we were making and the funding that we were getting was so inequitable to the money that other places were getting. So I was wondering why this was. So I decided to go upstream and to figure this out. So that’s what led me on an upstream journey to study sustainable economics, because I really felt that I wanted to learn more about economics, to be able to understand all of that.
So that is what led me to Schumacher College and that upstream perspective, that going upstream to the root causes, that is the level of shift in consciousness, connecting it with the Three Pillars again. But I’m still on this journey. I’m still going upstream. But I’ve found that if we go upstream, a lot of these issues like homelessness, inequality, violence, come from this disconnection with ourselves, with each other and with the more than human world. And so therefore, the antidote is this paradigm shift or the Shift in Consciousness into a more ecological worldview, the sense of a more ecological and interconnected itself.
So we have to make that happen and then the world will be a different place. While you were Schumacher, you began the upstream podcast and now we understand why it’s called what it’s called. And it seems to me that it has taken you all around the world and you’ve been speaking to a lot of different people who are endeavouring to create a more equitable economy or a more equitable society. Has that given you hope that it’s possible?
I came to create the upstream podcast with my co-producer, Robert Raymond, as a way of sharing out what I was learning at Schumacher College because we were such a small class and I just wanted to share it out further.So that’s that’s why it was created. And through that, I’ve gotten to meet so many interesting folks from many different disciplines: from solidarity economics, feminist economics, gift economy, economics…there’s many different traditions to draw on. And then I get to also tell these stories, through the documentaries, stories of Mondragon or Greece, also of Iceland (we’re working on something now for that). So basically just telling these stories has helped me on my own learning journey because I get to ask questions and I get to read the books before I interview folks and I get to learn. So all of that. Yes. But hope – that’s a little tricky because I have got into like a block or a wall at this place where a lot of a lot of endeavours to change systems or to do good in the world still get stymied or stuck with with difficulties of greed or egoism or capitalism. That’s why I’m saying this question of who we are as humans is really alive for me right now. And and knowing that we have the capacity for both selfishness and ego behavior, but also of good. And yet that that struggle just continues to come up. No matter what.
To give a more concrete example, we went to Mondragon, which is the world’s largest cooperative ecosystem in Spain, in the Basque region of Spain. We were so excited to go to this place. But then when we got there, I just felt that they were they were struggling in ways that other places struggle – being an island in this global sea of capitalism. And so it was just seeing the impact on them and felt quite disillusioned. So when you ask about hope, I don’t know if I felt hopeful after that. It’s more that it’s helping me continually crystallize what are the questions that I’m carrying. So I guess that is a good thing.
OK, so this is a bit off the wall and it may not be possible to answer, but I listened to the Upstream podcast and you talk to so many people. They tend to be young. They tend to be very idealistic individuals who are, as you say, doing their best to struggle against the tide of predatory capitalism. You probably wouldn’t be quite as derogatory as I am of it – but have you come across anybody who is absolutely embedded in the capitalist system and has thrived in it and has made their millions or billions or squillions and who also wishes to change the system, or is it only those of us on the edges who are wanting to change it?
I would say I have a hard time pinpointing anyone who is not within capitalism. I would say that my understanding of what capitalism is has gotten more nuanced.And and now I find it more useful to break it apart into different pieces such as the growth mindset or private property ownership or the disconnection between being employer and employee.So there’s there’s many different ways. But I would say even in all those realms, I have found people who are both within that and questioning and critiquing it. Absolutely. And I would say I haven’t really found anybody who is within that realm who is completely happy in and sold on the idea.So, yes, I would say most folks understand that there’s something off or wrong or there’s there’s better that is possible.
So if we were to provide a a working model of the better, they might be more inclined to move towards it?
We just had a general election in this country. You’re heading towards a general election in the United States. And I don’t like the tribalism that happens. But if we accept that it does happen, and the political system is what it is, then we on the left struggle to enunciate a clear vision of how things could be different – one that doesn’t feel impossible.
On the doorsteps, when I got people to talk about something other than Brexit, if I got people to talk about something other than Brexit, the average person’s view of what we in the progressive side were suggesting was that it just couldn’t happen, whereas the other side is selling a completely different set of values. And I’m wondering whether this is simply an impossible conflict between one side, which is basically triggering everybody’s amygdalas, and the other side, which is trying to evoke compassion? The intrinsic values versus extrinsic, which I haven’t spoken about on the podcast yet. So I’m wondering if we were able to provide a model that sounded like a route to get there, could we do it?
This was always my thing; We need a new narrative and Rob Hopkins is really working towards that, but hasn’t quite arrived. If we could provide a story that had an obvious, yellow brick road to get to Narnia. And leaving aside the mixed metaphors,if it were a good story, would people be more inclined to try and travel it? That’s it’s probably not an answerable question, but you can give it a go.
I think absolutely. I think that the the invitation of the Great Turning to me is turn towards life in every moment of every day. If we all invited ourselves to see the Great Turning and to try it on in our lives, in everything we do in our intimate relationships and our relationship with food and intimate relationships, our homes and our work… everything – That would be the yellow brick road that you’re speaking about. And I really do think it is a moment to moment experience. It’s not a plan. I have known many folks who who work in mission driven organisations, non-profits, etc. who are still cruel to one another or feel alienated or disconnected. It still exists.
Della: [00:40:18.81] So that’s why it is a moment to moment experience as well as a systemic change. But I do think for me, because I’ve felt it helpful to pick apart capitalism into these pieces, I’ve also felt it it’s helpful to pick apart the ideal or the new vision or the new economy. Looking at landownership, or looking at money, to looking at the growth mindset, and looking at our mindset, our paradigm. And then once we pick them apart and examine them and we have the systems designers working in all areas, then we can put them back together and we’ll have something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. I don’t think we have a name for that yet.
So something emerges under the complexity of the system. Thank you. That’s what we’re suggesting with Accidental Gods, but we’re trying to do it with consciousness and you’re talking about doing it with the economy. It sounds really exciting.
So then we’re both talking about changing the economy with consciousness.
And because the economy is so fundamental to how we treat ourselves and each other and the more than human world then it’s fundamental to how we change. I had one last question: I’ve been reading quite a lot of Ken Wilbur’s work. Are you familiar with that at all?
Definitely. I use it in almost all of my my talks.
Good. OK. So, I get very stuck with Ken Wilbur, and because of the work that you’re doing at the LSE, I’d be really interested in your insight into this, because if I’ve understood him correctly, he’s talking about an ascending spiral where the mythical and the magical world views are lower down the spiral and they are more to me the shamanic indigenous worldviews.
And I end up in conversations with Faith a lot whereby we go around in a circles because as far as I see it, every indigenous culture, seems to live in context with the Earth. Certainly, every forage hunter society lives in context with the Earth, it just does. That’s the way they survive. They are also much more in context with themselves and each other. And yet we can’t go back to that. It’s not physiologically possible. We have to go forward. But what is it that we bring forward from our remembered past or that we relearned from whatever indigenous culture survive? (And God knows our culture seems to be doing its best to wipe them out?) How do we move towards what can Wilber calls Teal or the Third system or whatever it is that we call it? It might be useful if you gave a very brief overview of Ken Wilber’s thinking, because that might save me doing an entire podcast on it. Am I seeing a paradox that doesn’t really exist in his thinking? Because it just seems to me that it there’s quite a lot of colonialism in his thinking and it makes me very cross. But I think maybe I’m looking at it wrong. Have I articulated a question that you understand?
Yeah, absolutely. And so I’ll share what’s touched me from Ken Wilber’s work, which is actually a much more simple part of it. It is the ‘four quadrants’, which are just it’s a way of seeing systems change, just as the three pillars of the great turning are a way of seeing systems change. And in it he has one column, which is the I (me) – the individual, the personal. And then there’s another column, which is the ‘we the collective, together’. And then he has two quadrants or two rows, which are the internal and then the external. This was helpful for me. There is to think about our systems change and our efforts, such as the individual eye, which is the internal our own beliefs and our individual dreams, things like that. And then the next quadrant over is the external I, which is our behaviors, our own actions are and consumptive patterns, for example. And then the collective internal as paradigms our worldviews, our collective values. And then the last area is the external collective, which are our systems as a culture, our structures. So that’s what’s helpful for me from him is this kind of understanding a more holistic perspective of systems change and where we fit in that together.
Now, the spiral dynamics piece, I would say for me, it’s connected with the shift in consciousness, but that second level of the leverage points, meaning he offers a framework about looking at paradigms and offers different ways of seeing them and choices between them. And I think folks can read them and find different connections with them.
But I am personally a little hesitant to rank consciousness because to me it can get into othering and better -than thinking and proselytizing. So that’s why in my work, I frame it more as these are many different paradigms and we have choices to choose between them. But it is true that some are more supportive of life enabling and life support systems than others. So I would say if you read it, then find what it is that you resonate with and you connect with, and go with that.
But to your point, I think indigenous wisdom absolutely offers so many ways of thinking that we need, such as seven generations thinking, which is an idea from Native American traditions where, when you do an action or make a decision, you think about its effect on the seventh generation from now, a beautiful paradigm shift invitation. So, I think we we try them on and we work with them in today’s time and see what works? So I definitely hear you. Some people think we want to return to some time before capitalism or whatnot.
No, let’s work with where we are and what we have. Let’s turn towards life. Now, this the time of the Great Turning as it is now. And so, for me, we need to to try on those paradigms. And to be honest, I don’t know what shifts those will manifest as. But I do know that if we feel that they are what is supportive of the Great Turning, then absolutely, try them on, invite them. Just remember to stay transcendent of those paradigms and not attach to them.
I have one last question: If there was just one thing each of us could do now, today, what would that be? I think you’ve already just answered it, but let’s try anyway. For all of the people listening, if they want to turn towards life, what one thing that they could do now?
Listen is what comes up for me. Because I was just imagining for me, if I were to turn towards life in this moment, what would I do?
It would be to pause and to listen to what that would look like? I really do see this as a moment to moment practice, an ever-present practice. In my choice of what to eat, in my choice of what I do with my time and my choice of my communications and relationships, but also in my larger life – visions and dreams and contributions.
If I pause and I listen to what’s really being called for me to contribute in this moment, I think that’s where it starts – with listening. And I don’t mean just internally, it’s also external. If it helps to talk to the river or to go outside in the forest, then do it – wherever listening happens for you.
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