Episode #18 Explorations of Being: A conversation with Nathalie Nahai
What do we do with this time of lockdown? How can we use it in ways that will lead us to a more flourishing world, without guilt-tripping ourselves or adding pressure to an already-pressured time?
Nathalie Nahai is host of the outstanding podcast, The Hive. Her humanity, her deep, broad grasp of psychology, particularly the psychology of online influences and the ethics around them, informs all of her work.
In this conversation, we explore together what lockdown means, and how we might grasp this moment in ways that will leave all of us better when it’s over, but that won’t leave us guilt-tripped or (even more) exhausted.
We explore what it means to be human. How to transcend the moment and the psychology of pleasure versus happiness.
Manda: [00:00:12.46] Today, I’m in conversation with Natalie Nahai, host of The Hive podcast, which is one of my absolute must listens each week. In the rest of her life, Nathalie’s an international speaker and author of the bestselling book Webs of Influence: The Psychology of Online Persuasion. Her work explores the intersection between persuasive technology, ethics and the psychology of online behavior, and she numbers Google amongst her clients.
Nathalie and I originally recorded an interview way back in early March when the world was a different place. It was supposed to be going out in early April when I was supposed to be teaching in Devon and Ireland. And then the world changed and that conversation kind of passed its sell by date. It was fun and we might broadcast it sometime, but it didn’t feel right for now.
Even so, though, we found so much common ground and we’re both very much exploring the potential, the hazards, the strains, the stresses, the transformations of the present moment. And so what we’ve done is to record a two way conversation — more than an interview, a dialogue revolving around these points. This was recorded down the line and Nathalie’s end does have some buzz on it for which we apologize. Caro has done her sound engineering best to ameliorate it, but it’s not perfect. So with that apology in mind, people of the podcast, please welcome Nathalie Nahai.
So this is go ahead on both of our podcasts. We’re recording on 17th of April, which is midway through week four of lockdown in Britain. How long is it lockdown in Spain for you, Nathalie?
Nathalie: [00:02:48.02] We’re just one week ahead, I think. So end of week 5.
Manda: [00:02:52.31] And you been told you’ve got another X amount of time or is it just it’s going on till it finishes?
Nathalie: [00:03:00.14] It’s fairly ambiguous at the moment. I think at the moment people are talking about mid-May being when schools may or may not reopen. And that’s a baseline or proxy for everything else opening up. Some shops have gone back to work, but now everything for the time being is still pretty uncertain in terms of lockdown. And when it will end.
Manda: [00:03:19.49] And how does it feel for you?
Nathalie: [00:03:24.68] Mixed. On the one hand, I have layers of response, on the one hand I feel like I’ve settled into this. It does help that it’s sunny here. Most of the time. So I can look out of the window and have that at least. People here are also very supportive of one another. So every evening at eight o’clock, since the first day of lockdown, people come to the balconies and clap.
And on the weekends, on Fridays and Sundays, there’s lots of music that’s put on by one of our local neighbors. And people join in from the very young to the very old. So it feels connected. But I was talking about this with some of the guests on The Hive podcast. There does seem to be waves of response internally. So, for instance, initially I was by eager to get The Hive podcast new season going and help people and be all proactive. And in the last two weeks, I’ve been thinking ‘Where’s my motivation dipped and what happens out of this?
So it’s mixed, but I feel like I’m adjusting to the fluctuations as they come. How is it for you at the moment? How does it feel actually?
Manda: [00:04:36.73] I think very similar. I had this bizarre idea that it was going to feel like downtime, partly because right at the beginning I had the schedule from hell where I supposed to be teaching it Schumacher for three days, then home for a day, then teaching a Foundation Course for three days, then home for three days, and then off to Ireland to teach. And I was so not looking forward to this. Each of the individual bits I would have loved, but the actual crashing of them altogether… I was going to be very, very tired by the end of it. And then locked happened and I had to stay home. And I deliberately didn’t take those things off my calendar. So that Calendly could not book in mentoring calls or anything over the top of them. And I thought, right, I’m just going to go full Daniel – Daniel Thorson is, my God – the guy who does Emerge…
I’m just going to do 10 hours of meditation a day for a few days and – no, no, because we’re on a smallholding and when we’re here there are animals to sort and and stuff happens. AndI think the most I’ve had is three hours one day which is not quite what I had in mind!
Manda: [00:05:48.46] And then like you: what can we do? Because I live on the borders between England and Wales. We have 13 acres that we manage. And I live on a hill. I can go and walk for hours and meet nobody. And it’s such a privilege. And I’m very aware that there are people in the 10th floor of of a tower block with five kids and two bedrooms and an abusive partner for whom this must be actual living – if not fatal – hell.
And yet being consumed with guilt isn’t necessarily the most constructive of the options that I could bring. And so what can I do with this? And I don’t know about you, but I found my emails have increased by orders of magnitude and and the really interesting Zoom calls and webinars that I could be on. I’ve done more Zoom calls in the last three weeks than than the sum total of the rest of my life. And it’s not that I wasn’t Zooming, it’s just that every evening there’s at least one. And most of them are saying this is the biggest opportunity we have ever had to change the trajectory of our civilization. How do we do this? And so I exist in this bubble that goes, ‘OK, guys, we have to make the world different.’ And then we had a webinar with Accidental Gods last night. And most of the people there were saying they’re surrounded by people who are desperate to get back to normal.
And so I realize how much that’s the reality for the other 99 percent. And so there’s a bit of me in the back of my bus that’s just curled up in a fetal position in a corner screaming at the possibility that we might go back to business as usual. Yes. Yes.
[00:07:45.31] Because this feels like such an opportunity. One of the early Zoom calls Molly Scott Cato was there, who was a Green MEP for the Southwest. And she’s also an economist. And she said that in her green economic circles, they had likened what we needed to do in terms of taking the fossil fuel led extractionist consumerist economy and changing it to what we needed was like taking a Boeing 747 at its full height across the Atlantic and turning it into a helicopter in midair. Which is going to fall out of the sky. You can’t do that. And she said, but the 747 has landed. It’s changed everything. All of the things that that people like XR have said ‘This may need to happen’ and everybody else was saying, ‘Well, it just can’t’. Have happened. Know the economy has effectively stopped.
Nathalie: [00:08:49.07] But I have so many mixed feelings about this. On the one hand my my overarching feeling is that we get this window of time to actually choose something consciously different because everything is on pause. Well, most of most things are on pause. Obviously, there are certain things that are in overdrive, like hospitals and food production and a couple of other industries, but there is so much that is on pause that it actually gives us the time and a space if we want to lean into it, to do the hard thinking and ask how do we rebuild out of this? What do things look like?
But it’s hard because I think on the other side we need to ask whether this is what it takes for humanity to change course? And of course, if you look at the biggest changes in history, when people who have been a vocal minority have had to stand up for higher ethical values being embodied in civic life, whether that’s the suffragettes, whether that’s black Asian minorities standing up for their rights… all of these watershed moments have seen millions of people suffer and die in order for these things to to come to pass.
And so I think on the one hand I find the suffering very difficult to countenance. And yet in the same breath, while all of the suffering is happening, it would be churlish and it would be a shirking of responsibility to not make the most of the opportunities if we are lucky enough to be in a position where we have those opportunities. But I do definitely worry about the wider impact. I can have these conversations with people. I have some savings. I don’t have to worry about my mortgage defaulting right now. But if I did have to worry, I wouldn’t have the bandwidth. I’m not anywhere near being enlightened enough to be able to sit with the world falling about my ears and thinkI’m going to be fine.
Manda: [00:10:51.89] Exactly. It seems to me that those of us with the privilege have a duty to at least explore the possibilities of this moment. Because it’s not as if people’s lives have become absolutely untenable as a result of the Corona Virus. A lot of people’s lives were absolutely untenable anyway. And we were heading for the the climate and ecological cliff edge from which there is no stepping back. You know, the thing about this is that it’s probably not a permanent lockdown. It’s been severe, it’s been the actual definition of acute, which is that it’s a sudden onset rather than chronic, which is long term. But the system wasn’t working.
And it’s interesting that you said food production is ramping up because I read an article in Wired this morning, which is one of my go to sources now for what’s actually happening, as opposed to what the BBC is telling me is happening. And they’re saying that in Britain, dairy farmers are basically being paid to not produce. Because 50 percent of their production used to go to restaurants and hotels and cafes and which are not requiring it anymore. And you can’t just tell a cow to stop milking. People are drying off their cows. But once you’ve dried off your cow, then you have to get her back in calf and then you have to wait until the calf arrives. You can’t just turn it off and turn it on again. And in Britain, we have the self-inflicted chaos of Brexit. And we’ve just had to fly in planeloads of East European workers to begin to sort out having some food, because, strangely enough, all those jobs that they were’taking’ nobody else wanted to do.
Nathalie: [00:12:54.31] It holds up a mirror, doesn’t it?
Manda: [00:12:56.26] Oh, it really does. And so I’m really working hard locally on local resilience networks. I was already talking about local resilience networks as being essential. For me, there was a triad of the need to sequester carbon in the land. The need to massively reverse the destruction of the biosphere that agriculture is creating. And the need to create local food resilience that works. Back in November I was saying that when the supermarkets have empty shelves, we’re going to wish we’d been planting. And people just looked at me like it’s weird. And now, they get it..
Manda: [00:13:35.53] Because, Africa’s having actual plagues of actual locusts. And India has Modi and they’ve just not harvested and they’re not planting. So that’s two major continents that look like they’re going to have no food by the back end of the year. So I’m interested that Spain is looking for tasting food because I think is going to be quite crucial.
Nathalie: [00:14:02.9] I wonder about this because we’re in Catalonia where I live, there’s a lot of food production that gets exported to other countries. And the UK imports a lot of food, not just from us. But here I have noticed on social media channels that so many of my friends are now talking about learning how to make bread for the first time. And planting seeds. I’ve done this with a pepper ahead. There was a pepper head that sprouted and I shoved it in a pot, covered it and now I’ve got two little seedlings going on.
Nathalie: [00:14:32.27] So a lot of my friends are having to rediscover on even the tiniest level what it means to be in direct contact with the source of life, the source of food. And so on a macro scale, it’s going to be extraordinary to see how things unfold in different countries and also at the smallest level. How are people re-engaging with what sustains us? My brother, for instance, has bought a bunch of fruit trees that he’s planted in his back garden.And so I wonder if there’s going to be a culture shift.
But of course, this has to happen swiftly enough for lasting change to happen. So for that to happen, I think this lockdown period, however long it is and the after effects and whatever we build now, also has to be of a long enough duration for new habits to form, for cultural norms to shift and create a new baseline that does form a more solid foundation for expectations of how we want to come out.
So I think if we think about things like the universal basic income, which has been bandied around for such a long time, and a lot of people said that in modern democracies, you have to vote for these things, and no one’s going to vote for it. And of course, now we’ve got democracies making overnight decisions on how to manage their citizens, including bailing out self-employed people, which took a little while. But it’s now happening. So all of these big changes that people said that it’s not it’s not gonna happen, it’s not possible. In the space of a month, it’s happened across the world.
But then it’s going to be really hard to roll that back. So when we do have some version of universal basic income and people realize that there are other ways of doing things, well, what else then becomes possible?
Manda: [00:16:16.06] Yes. There was a very interesting thread on Twitter this morning. A woman called Dr. Emma Kavanagh, who is a military and police psychologist. She says, ‘So another three weeks. Let’s talk about it, about where we are now. This bit. This is a different psychological phase. We’ve passed through the initial shock of finding ourselves in a global pandemic. We’ve built some kind of new normal, uncomfortable though it may be. The psychological struggle in this new phase is a different one.’.
And she goes on through that. And part of it is that in this phase, it’s common to feel exhausted and burnt out. ‘Remember, your brain is still working very hard to process all this. This is inherently tiring.’ But there’s the the understanding now that ‘We may feel disillusioned and hopeless like this will never end, that life will never go back to normal.’.
[00:17:07.6] And I’m seeing that I think in our in the political discourse such as it is where certainly in the U.K. and and obviously the U.S. – the countries where I understand the language – they started off in denial. ‘This is basically flu. We’re just going to ignore this and it’ll all go away.’ And then they went into shock of’ We better do something. What can we do?’ And their initial answers to what can we do grew out of their ideology and the emotional and mental constraints of their belief systems of where the world is at. And what I think we’re seeing now, is a beginning of the the grief stage of letting go of all of the imaginings and that allows space for new stuff to come in. B
Because as you say, they’re now realizing that they can’t just let self-employed people starve. It’s not a good look when people that you otherwise have been pushign to be entrepreneurs are now destitute. And they definitely don’t have it right, but I’m seeing more of an expansiveness of what is possible.
And I’ve been reading a lot of matter modern politics, which is kind of politics beyond tribalism and hoping that there’s enough bandwidth within the ruling class, enough wisdom with those in power, to begin to look at alternatives and not to have the cognitive dissonance of things that stand outside their ideology and therefore they can’t absorb it.
Because if we look at Universal Basic Income – UBI – I think is a really interesting idea. But my problem with it is, How do you define universal? What do you consider basic and what do you do about the rents? Rents on the total scale. Rents defined as people who acquire money by not doing any work.
[00:19:05.28] Because if we give everybody a thousand pounds a month and the rents go up by nine hundred pounds a month, we have just discovered the fastest and most efficient way of shovelling public money into private hands that has ever yet been invented. And I would venture to suggest (in my endeavor to not be tribal) that there are people for whom that would be a great thing. And we need not to do that.
But then how do you control rents in a way that doesn’t become totalitarian? And I don’t know. So this is one of the reasons why during my economics exploration, I moved from thinking UBI was great, to thinking what we needed was Universal Basic Services, because if everybody has access to housing, food, water, power, broadband, travel, then you can’t take those away.
Then it’s a question of how do you provide those in ways that are that are equitable and flourishing. And I know there are models around the world – there’s the Mondragon model, and the Preston model and places where this is being looked at. And we need to look at the whole concept of what money is. We have some solar panels. We put them in after the government had ended all of its feed in tariffs because they don’t like giving you stuff for producing power. But there’s a thing called Solar Coin where you get something that’s effectively Bitcoin for producing power.
[00:20:42.56] And I have yet to look into whether you can actually spend this on anything that you might want to spend it on, but imagine if the government decided to insulate every home and put solar panels on every roof and then pay people according to the amount of power that was produced.
Money is an idea. This is what I find so fascinating about the magic money tree that they’ve just , discovered. Particularly now. You don’t even have to print it. You just types some numbers into a computer and it’s there. And the banks have been doing this for for several decades now. They’ve been making money out of nothing and selling it to us at a profit. And then paying themselves bonuses based on how well they did that. And it’s a huge scame and maybe now they’d like to make some of this money out of nothing and give it to ordinary people. What would happen?
Nathalie: [00:21:39.53] I do wonder how this whole economy will change because, you know, you start thinking about how people spend and what we spend on.And of course, I mean, I was reading yesterday that Bezos is making absolute killings out of all the amount that people are buying online through Amazon.
But on the flip side, a lot of us are realizing how much we spend on other things. I’m realizing for the first time how much I spend just on food for two people for a week.And now I can spend a bit more on that because I’m not spending on other things.And so there is this sense of understanding where where the money goes and what’s actually valuable.
How many plastic iPhone cases are you going to buy in lockdown? You’re not. And it’s something that which concerns me and excites me in almost equal measure. On the one hand, I think it will be nice if things are semi to normal with fewer flights in the sky but I can still get round and do the work I was doing before. On the other hand, I think, well, what might it look like if money were no longer the driving force?
[00:22:45.87] Because actually it may be that we turn the page several steps away that’s beyond our ability to imagine right now, but if we turn enough pages and we land on a chapter in which money is not the thing that governs exchange and of value. And what what could that look like? What might that be in its place?
I don’t know if we have a model yet for that, but I love the idea of your local resilience networks. What does it mean if we start to actually provide value in a way that everyone values. So there’s an exchange? If you can provide food and an exchange, someone else is providing you with energy, then we have a bartering system that’s more direct.
Is it possible to go back but also bring it up to date and technologically in an evolved way that means that we’re not just regressing. What are your thoughts? Are you thinking about potential ways that this could look? Because I know it’s at the moment very imaginal.
Manda: [00:23:34.56] Yes. So the first and the most important of these is that we can’t know how it looks until we know how it feels. So what I am really doing with my meditations at the moment – and I recorded a meditation and put it out on on the Accidental Gods resources page for absolute free distribution to anyone who wants it – is to really work on if we got everything right from this moment forward? Without defining what ‘right’ looks like – how would it feel? How would my heart space feel? How would my body feel? And what I’m finding is an extraordinary sense of release and relief of tensions that I didn’t know I was holding. A Sense of safety. A sense of courage, of being able to just be me.
And I am finding my authentic self, which sounds like one of these memes flipping around on Facebook. But but what does that actually feel like? It’s so liberating. And so I’m really trying quite hard to bring together a group of film/television people: directors, producers, writers. (And if anybody listening comes to join, let me know!) Because I think we could get lost down the rabbit hole of ‘How could this be done economically?
And there are lots of people looking at this. I’m on the call later tonight with the New Economics Foundation looking at this. But, we need to know how it feels. And then I think we need a sense of a narrative of how that feeling could play out.
And we haven’t yet. For all of our recent evolutionary history, we have narratives of disaster. We know how Mad Max feels. We know her 28 days Later feels. We know how The Handmaid’s Tale feels. And what they look like. I am not aware of anything as big as those that really looks at how could it be if we got it right.
And 10 years ago when I said that to people, I was met with wide eyes and people thinking it was going to be Utopian. Which isn’t how I see it. I still think that Monsanto will will dig its heels in and endeavor to do everything that they possibly can just to make huge amounts of money by destroying the entire ecosphere.
[00:25:57.84] So I don’t think it’ll be Utopian But I think if we don’t really pour extraordinary amounts of our focus and bandwidth into feeling our way forward and then creating a creative narrative of how that feeling plays out. Then we can begin to build the economic models that get us there. Otherwise, we’re just iterating more of what we already have.
Manda: [00:26:29.3] Kate Raworth is one of my absolute heroes, she wrote Doughnut Economics, which is one of those economic books that everybody should read. And her premise is that at present, we have a system where the economy must grow, whether people on the planet flourish or not. And what we need to get to is a system where people and the planet flourish, whether or not the economy grows. In my naivete, I thought that this was a basic fundamental tenet of human life. And then I said it to our local Conservative MP as a basis for a potential evening event. And he said, It was political so we couldn’t do it.
This was last November though. I’m planning the email to him now suggesting we have the conversation again? Because I think it’s really essential. But I do think we need to get the feeling first. How does that sit with you as an idea?
Nathalie: [00:27:39.27] I really like it. I think also, especially when you look at the ways in which we make our decisions, the primary motivation is usually an emotional one. So if we have a sense of what that feels like first, then it becomes much easier for us to recognize options and opportunities, however small they might be, that align with that feeling.
And I think the other thing is when you think about the ways in which we create things – everything that sits around in the room with you or with the person listening – that’s come out of someone’s imagination. There has to be a starting point, a creative point. And I think it’s much easier to create when you have a longing to do so, which generally doesn’t come out of fear. Although I know that great innovation also comes out of need. But I think if we can pair need with this forward driving, this desire towards something, then maybe that’s the most empowering and creative way to approach the problem. I really like the idea of that.
Manda: [00:28:41.43] You have a very strong creative network where you are given the podcasts that you’ve been doing. And I’m thinking that if we could bring together a creative network where we’re co-creating that, or each of us exploring that feeling and then sharing it, something quite amazing could arise out of that.
Nathalie: [00:29:01.14] I agree. Especially one of the things, we talk about having a narrative is that gives us a window into what a different world could be like. I think there are different ways that we are able to access that. So for instance, when I was very young, I read a book by Star Hawk called The Fifth Sacred Thing, and she recently produced The City of Refuge, which goes into the future and is exactly about this: when life is broken down, everything’s under a Surveillance State and the question is, what do you do? How do you rebuild? And it touches on a lot of these themes. So, I find it really interesting to hear stories played out in that way. Or, if we think about Star Trek, which I grew up with, we can consider what might it look like to have different factions collaborate for a common goal?.
Or music, for instance. I find that for me, at least, beyond the visual arts, if you can sing a piece of music that names what’s happening in the situation in which we all find ourselves, and takes you through the stages of denial and grief and loss, and takes you to a point where it can emerge you into a different space, then it can create that sense of hope and of the sun rising again after a difficult night, even if it rises on a totally different landscape.
I think that kind of emotional journey through something can be extremely powerful. It can give people enough space to have enough hope to envision something different.
Manda: [00:30:33.94] And music and song go in at such a deep limbic level, it’s a way of another way of bypassing our whole ‘Yes but…’ Senses. I was talking to Rob Hopkins, whose his book is called, ‘From What Is to What If?’ And he plays a game with people. He’s done it with quite big companies. And then also with small local resilience groups where somebody puts out an idea and you’re allowed to answer th early ‘What if…? with another What If or a Yes and. What if people on the planet were able to flourish? So… what if everything were pink? And then it just opens people up.
What if there were no cars in the street?. Yeah. Yes. And we could all parties every other day! (Not in lockdown!) And I think that if we go back to you and I and people like us who have the enormous privilege of this time being not only bearable, but probably quite fertile. And if we can use that fertility to create the space for something different to emerge. I think it would be a wonderful thing.
Nathalie: [00:31:58.43] So I’m wondering if we think on that for a bit. One of the things I really admire and also wish I could have more of that you do, is that you engage very heartily in these practices, that you enact your values. And you’re very actively involved in creating dialogue and space and activity for people to engage more deeply themselves with the things that you’re talking about. And as I listened to you and I listened to the Accidental Gods podcast and I go through the fantastic resources on your platform, I find myself, on the one hand, aspiring to do more of that. And on the other hand, my lived reality is that my program for my podcast has crashed again and that’s another four hours down the chute. And I’m supposed to be getting enlightened! And how am I supposed to do this from my tiny flat? And on the one hand, it’s actually very funny. But on the other, I’m just thinking, this isn’t the best use of my time. Which in itself is all noise as well. How do you pass all of that? And for people who are listening who are also frazzled and split in all these directions and this lockdown was supposed to give some free time and it absolutely hasn’t…
What would you suggest? How do you find ways to to help people manage with this?
Manda: [00:33:21.77] I am totally aware that I have a massive privilege because I always worked from home. So up to a point, my self-organising, was already there. But I did get an email this morning from one of my wonderful, wonderful dreaming students who was also an Accidental Gods student who’s got one child aged five and one aged two. And they’re all at home. And how do you even you managed to have time to pee? Never mind anything else.
One of the things that is really working for me and that I’m trying to pass on is that it doesn’t take any extra time to be fully present in every moment. But it is a skill and it’s a learned skill that only comes with practice. And so even if you can only commit to being fully present every time you wash your hands, which we are all doing quite a lot at the moment, that’s a start.
There is an extraordinary luxury in being able sit down and actually meditate for a full hour. And we know neurologically and neuro-physiologically that doing so changes neuronal structures. But the Heart Math people have also done work which suggests that if you do only three minutes of their heart coherence work in any form – which is essentially to sit, slow your breathing down, bring your attention to your heart space, breathe directly into your heart space and intentionally feel a positive affect. Their key ones are gratitude, care, compassion, appreciation. But anything will work. If you feel hope. If you can feel something that you can evoke in your heart space, then three minutes of that will produce measurable physiological change. And then the next time it will be easier.
Because it’s not as if that’s actually an easy thing to do. It took me years to be able to actually evoke a sense of gratitude that felt real and wasn’t just an idea. But once that happens for little split second, then the next split second is a little bit longer. We have created for ourselves lives of extraordinary distraction. If Something crashes then that’s half my day gone trying to fix a bit of technology. Or the dog gets sick…. Learning to slow down would be one of the great lessons of this. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m still hoping.
But being fully present is possible. I can be fully present while I’m cooking. Faith will smile when she hears this because I very rarely cook. But I can be fully present doing the washing up. I can be fully present walking the dog. I can be fully present talking to you now.And it feels different to the slight fuzz where my attention is in four different places and one of them is in the past and one of them is in the future. And one of them is looking at my little dopamine hits.
[00:36:21.22] I’ve been been really looking a lot recently at the difference between dopamine and serotonin pathways. Because a lot of the online stuff is triggering dopamine. And these are inherently linear pathways that wear out quite fast. The more dopamine we have, the more we need to get the same effect. And eventually those neurons just give up. And they give us a short lived hit of what Robert Lustig calls ‘pleasure’. Serotonin is big branching pathways throughout our brains that don’t wear out: they don’t down-regulate. And we don’t keep trying to get more stuff to feed them. They are more what he calls ‘happiness/contentment’ pathways. And so I’m really looking at how we can create more contentment and thereby need less pleasure because the dopamine pathways are addictive.
For me, a lot of the grasping at Facebook or Twitter or whatever is feeding those little dopamine pathways. And it takes my attention. I can feel it as a drag. If I can feed more of the serotonin pathways, feed more of the contentment, then it can last a lifetime. T thing about the dopamine, is it short and then you need another hit. Whereas if people have experienced that moment of total connectivity, the memory of that lasts forever and the ability to reach back for that and re kindle it is there for the rest of our lives, whatever else we’re doing.
[00:38:08.83] And I’m so I’m thinking that if we can do more of that collectively, then we’ll be more stable. And that also feeds into the meditations of ‘How does it feel like if we get it right?’ Then, my heart spaces in in that place and doesn’t have hanging around it the sense of ‘yes, but…’ If I try and evoke gratitude, I can evoke gratitude, but I’m also aware that hovering around the outside of that like an envelope is the fear waiting to come back in: the fear of loss. The fear of lack. The fear of not feeling. The world is abundant. The fear of becoming a bag lady. The fear of the Tories winning power forever and turning us into the 10,000 year Reich of Steve Bannon’s greatest dreams.
All of those are sitting there. I have created those. But what happens if I let them all go? How do I feel if none of those obtains and we get it right? And the sense of all of those boundaries falling away has been huge, and really generative. I feel like a different person – in a good way, I’m very happy with the different person that arises out of this. So, for me, that’s a big one in terms of what are we doing with this time. It’s about being fully present and then being able to evoke that contentment. Does that answer the question that you asked?
Nathalie: [00:39:33.56] Yes. And also, it strikes me as you are giving this image – for those living, you can’t see the way that Manda was using her hands to describe the serotonin networks being an encompassing ecosystem web around the brain, but that struck me as I saw you doing that physically was that this is precisely the kind of ecosystem, collaborative system that we need to to create physically in whatever form we can, whether locally or globally, in order to create something new coming out of this.
The idea of infinite linear growth and burning through pathways – is dopaminergic, it’s a dopamine driven, consuming – always better, bigger, faster, stronger projection towards a devouring economy. But it’s a hunger that can never be filled. And it seems to me that this maps onto the insatiable hunger for that next hit.
Now, of course, when you strip all of that away and if I hold in my mind the times in my life when I have felt most whole, then for me, it’s in the company of either a beautiful landscape or a beloved other or friends. And very little of it ever has anything to do with a bigger house, a bigger car, fancy shoes, whatever it is.
And so, when we’re thinking about this dopaminergic vs. seratonin mapping of pleasure or contentment or hedonism vs. eudaimonia, when we think about these as dance partners – where do we want spend more of our time? And how do we use that to then design systems that are more aligned with one or the other? At the moment, I think we’re in the fast hits, rapid growth, devouring-without-being-satiated dopamine side of things.
Manda: [00:41:23.96] So the question then arises of how do we create these networks? The ones we could call the serotonin networks, the contentment networks. How do we create them within ourselves and then how do we create them on a wider scale? I don’t know the answer to that. Up to a point, that’s what Accidental Gods exists to try and do. But there have to be other ways also.
If we can do that. If we can then harness that to the felt-sense visioning of how the world could be different? Then it could actually be different. Which fills me with great hope when when otherwise I can look at the world and find great despair.
One of the concepts that’s been quite alive in my world for quite a while is that concept of critical mass of people and what is the critical mass . Extinction Rebellion had and idea of three and a half percent, but that was based on the suffragettes or ending slavery or ending apartheid or getting to gay marriage in various parts of the world.
[00:42:52.69] But each of these was increasing the franchise of the existing system. They weren’t changing the entire system, so I’m not sure that three and half percent works. And then I’ve been reading Hanzi Freinacht in The Listening Society and he’s been looking at layers of society and it seems that at what he calls the ‘Meta-modern level’, which is the level that we’re talking about now – beyond post-modern, that 1 percent of of the entire global population is currently within this. Or has the capacity to work at this level.
So I’m hitting internal questions of whether we need a specific number as a tipping point, in which case 1 percent of 7 billion is quite a lot of people. Or do we need a percentage of the population, in which case I think we’re probably not going to get it.
And so then the next question is, if there are so many different layers of framing of how the world is, how do we help people to rise up? Or is it just too patronizing to suggest that if you’re locked in to a fear-based hyper nationalist, white supremacist worldview that you are locked into because you are genuinely afraid that anybody who doesn’t fit that model is going to destroy your way of life – can we shift people from that to something more generative and communitarian? And do we have the right even to try?
And I don’t know the answer to that. These are these are things that I’m staring at quite hard and trying to decide if that’s just me exerting some kind of bizarre kind of meta-modern white privilege. Or whether by creating the networks and by helping people to find community and connectivity and that sense of contributing to a greater whole that is so obvious at the moment – does that break down what are essentially sociological structures that academics have created just to define people? And does it allow more fluidity? And does it allow people to to shift into new ways would be.
Nathalie: [00:45:16.76] That’s super interesting. One of the things that jumps out for me, is the question of whether we have the right to try to create a different system? And I think one of the things that I find helpful sometimes is flipping the framing on its head and (leaving tribalism aside for a bit), look at what the position is that sits at the polar opposite end?
What do they think? What was their position was their assumption? And I think that if we’re taking it from the perspective of, a fear based response that believs ‘If things change, I’m going to be annihilated.’ We can all share that at some level. We’ve had this fear at some point in our lives or at some rudimentary level, we can access that.
So if you think a person who’s in that state is likely to want to fight to preserve their life and the lives of the people they love. And so it’s an understandable thing. So, from a tech angle, the current pandemic can provide fertile ground for expanding the surveillance state. The people who want that, who have a lot to gain from database gathering and setting up legislation at a time of emergency, they are absolutely not going to question whether they have a right. They’re going to make it their absolute imperative to be able to get as fast and as deep as quickly as possible.
So I think if we’re thinking about it in terms of rights, taking it back again to this position of asking what right I have to want to create or build towards a system in which we don’t have to fear for our lives as much, in which we can reduce overall suffering, in which we can encourage and help one another to thrive (and by that, I mean the entire interconnected web of life), I think we absolutely have the right to envision ways in which that might be possible.
[00:47:30.42] Because we’re all going to die. We’re living here with a certain amount of time. How do you want to spend that time? Basically, it comes down to that. Do you want to be at the point of our deathbed thinking that we just didn’t think we had the right to try and make the world a better place? We all have different visions of what that means. But if we can be of a mindset of reducing as much suffering as possible. I would definitely stick my flag in that!
Manda: [00:48:08.05] So maybe that’s maybe we’ll just go away and think about that for a month and then do another podcast.
Nathalie: [00:48:39.63] There was there was an interview that I heard once between an Orthodox Jew and a white supremacist who ended up having dinners together. It was this extraordinary interview. Because I’ve experienced terror in certain situations, one or two in particular, and I know that if you’re in a state of fear dipping towards terror, the only thing really that gets you out of it, is understanding the other person knows where you are. And at least if you can feel that the other person has hit some kind of rock bottom that you’re experiencing, you may have enough openness within you to be able to build something and get yourselves out.
Nathalie: [00:49:29.07] And so I think when we are experiencing abject fear, and we’re in a position where we’re trying to defend against new or different things, or change. Maybe the first thing is to say, ‘All right, we get that you’re an abject fear, I’ve experienced this, too. What is it that you care most about?’ And then orient the conversation about that. ‘What are other ways to protect what you care about, to build on what you care about?’ I think it comes down to this sort of deep, compassionate reframing.What do you think?
Manda: [00:50:05.78] Gosh, I was. heading down poly-vagal rabbit holes as you were speaking. But that’s a different, different podcast, possibly. And also one of the great models that I really enjoyed that we came across at Schumacher was Tom Crompton’s Common Cause Foundation Intrinsic/Extrinsic model. He’s looked at somethign he calls intrinsic and extrinsic framing and that we all have the capacity to be encouraged by both intrinsic senses of self-worth – and by extrinsic values judged by other people.
What he’s found is that the more that you speak to somebodies intrinsic values, so if we share a community cooperation, commitment… all of those things that allow us to feel more heart open – then as we talk to people about that, their senses of those also increased. And, at the same time, it’s on a seesaw. As one goes up, the other goes down. So the more that I think about community and how can I contribute to this, the less I’m worried by whether someone’s impressed by the size of my car. And the more I sit around talking to people whose whose value structure is framed around whether I am wearing the right watch or have the right car or take the right holidays, the more those increase within my sense of worth and my intrinsic senses dip.
So it gives us a way to connect to people that is part of our shared common heritage. And that’s one of the things that I’m finding really quite inspiring about some of the responses to the virus. In Britain there’s a ninety nine year old war veteran who committed to walk around his garden. And has a he’s raising millions of pounds for the NHS. And the part of me is really impressed. Another part is feeling that we shouldn’t need 99 year old guys on their Zimmer frames to be raising money for the NHS.
[00:52:14.31] But it definitely triggers empathy in people and it triggers the sense of community and that wanting to contribute. And so the more that we can do that, the more we can bring people together, the better. One of the things that has really struck me in the last couple of months is we have to get rid of the tribalism. Tribalism puts us into non conducive frames of mind and it it erects cognitive dissonance barriers. If I am deeply invested in my own tribal position and I speak as a very newly ex-Labour activist (I left the day Keir Starmer was elected), then it’s physiologically impossible for me to take on board things that I label on an amygdaloid level to be of the other tribe. And that happens at so much faster pace than my frontal cortex can cope with. The decision is made and there is no logical arguing past it.
So we have got to get people out of the tribalism in order to be able to create the kind of world we need that is beyond tribal structures. So, I’m looking at how can we how can we move beyond tribalism without that sounding like a tribal position? And I think the only way to do that is to is to really speak to people’s intrinsic value systems and finding the language that work.
Nathalie: [00:53:41.14] I think the other thing that’s really interesting, that’s a paradox in what we’re saying is naming how things are without falling into the trap of seeing things only in that way. So, for instance, something that I find really interesting that connects me with with that is the naming of the visible and less visible key workers who are keeping everything going. People who were previously overlooked.
On the one hand, it requires a naming of reality as it has stood and as it stands now. But it also invites us to value those people differently. And hopefully valuing one another differently, will then translate into the way in which we perceive people when we come out of this. And I think that’s the thing that I’m most attentive to, cautious about and also hopeful for the changes: that we are seeing now, the appreciation that’s shifted, the visibility of the work that people do, the valuing of that work – that’s something that hopefully will continue long enough for this shared humanity to be the thing that we focus on.
So that when we come out, it will be less about labels and will be more about people showing up as they are without all of his extra labeling. And with a background in psychology, I know that we label for a reason, we like to simplify, we like to make things easier for us to understand and to pass. But couldn’t we use a different a different way of doing that? So I think, the concept of what we value as a society is key.
And the fact that we’re not going to get out of this through individual action – we can’t get out of this individually. It has to be a collaborative effort. Either we sink together or we swim together. And that is becoming ever more apparent to me, fierce individualist is sometimes I think I might be.
And it’s really make me realize: one, the vulnerability of the individual, but two the power of the collective. And each lending our own individual skills and abilities to help one another. Beyond politics. Beyond all of that.
Manda: [00:55:52.04] And I’m aware that time is running on. This is so interesting, but I also think we have looped back to where we started. We’ve done spirals around the same point, which is that we are individuals. Each of us can only ever change ourselves. But if in changing ourselves, we can then change the collective dream of humanity. The future is unknowable, but also totally amazingly gorgeous. And that is worth working for.
You had a very good question that you were asking people but I can’t remember what it is.
Nathalie: [00:56:33.98] Final one is what question do you want people to dwell with at this moment?
Manda: [00:56:37.19] So if I were to answer that, my answer is how would it feel if we got it right from this moment? And really how would it feel in my heart space? Don’t think about it. This is not a thought game. This is a sit down and imagine if the world were absolutely as good as it could possibly be. How does it feel? How do I feel? I think I think if everybody did that for five minutes a day, the world would be a different place. What would your question be?
Nathalie: [00:57:06.96] I’m thinking about this in terms of a visual exercise. If you imagine yourself at the end of a long and rich life and you’re peacefully on your deathbed and you think back and think ‘I live the fullest life I could have done’…what would that person suggest to you right now in how you can live your life differently in this moment?
Manda: [00:57:35.56] And then tell us people! We have two podcasts. We have The Hive. We have Accidental Gods, and this is they go to both of them. So you can answer either of us. It would be really interesting if our joint listenership, the peoples of our podcasts, actually did this, and then and then fed back – we could we could begin to make this network actually work. That would be quite something. All right, I think we might be done. Thank you very, very much. Thank you.
So that’s it for this episode. Enormous thanks to Nathalie for the clarity and humanity of her thinking. It is such a pleasure to talk with someone of such depth. We’ll be back next week as ever, but this week I want to do something a little different because I really meant it when I said that the most important question we could ask ourselves now is, ‘What if we got it right? How would that feel?’ We genuinely can’t get anywhere unless we have a bodily felt-sense of how it might feel like when we arrive. We all want to fall in love because we project a lot of how it might feel like onto that moment. We want a job or we move to a new country because we project forward how we think we’re going to feel when we get there: a sense of joy or pride or achievement.
Or, in my case, when I really let myself feel forward to how it would be if we collectively got it right, there’s a sense of a kind of liberation that I didn’t know was possible. A sense of connectedness to the web of life that I’ve seen in visions or imagined, but never actually felt as a bodily felt-sense until recently when I started doing these meditations.
So what I want to do now is to invite you to feel that, too. Or your version of that. You could sit and do it now. Sit in a quiet place. Relax, feel yourself into your physical body. Feel your margins. Breathe into your heart space as if each breath we’re going in to your thorax. And slowly, very slowly, ask yourself the question, ‘How would I feel if the whole of humanity got everything right?’.
I don’t need to know how we get there. I don’t need to know what it looks like. I need to imagine how I would feel if everything were flourishing, if I were to fully flourish. If I were to be everything I could be. If the world were to be perfect. How would I feel?’
[01:00:27.86] Let whatever comes be what it is. Explore it, hold it in your attention lightly. And really let the feeling fill the whole of your body. How would I feel if people and the planet could flourish from this moment forward? Let each breath in, draw the feeling bigger so that it fills you more. And as you breathe out, connect to whatever lives around you: to the earth, to the sun, to the sky, to the trees, the rocks, the birds, the rivers, the rain, the people, the plants… whatever is part of the web of life around you.Send the feeling out with your out-breath. And when you’re done, come back slowly to the sense of here and now, without necessarily letting the feeling go.
[01:01:39.72] So, that is one option. But it works best, I think, if you can give it more time. So what we’re going to do for the first time is release as a podcast, a meditation that will do this for you, taking you deeper for longer into that question. Again, find somewhere quiet to do it. It’ll follow up this podcast. You don’t have to do it now, but it will be there to do between now and the next podcast next week. Do it as often as you can. Do it as often as feels good to you. Because the more of us do this, the more of us that can build that felt sense so that it lasts as something that we can come back to in the default moment through the day, the more chance we have of building a world where this feeling obtains for a long time on a regular basis. Where we put our attention is where we need to send our energy and we can do this if we have a template of the feeling when we get there.
So give it a go if you want even longer versions of this, they’re on the website, which is accidentalgods.life. Head to the Pandemics Resources page. And by the time you get this, we may also have set up a ‘What If’ blog page, and they’ll be there too.
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