Years ago, I had the opportunity to learn from famed adult development expert Dr. Robert Kegan, from Harvard. He spent many years listening to thousands of conversations and charting out what the levels of consciousness are in adults, picking up where child developmental psychologist Piaget left off.
One take-away from that weekend workshop was when Kegan said he thinks we as a species are being pulled to evolve to a higher state of consciousness because of the deterioration of the planet. He said new ways of thinking will be required and that perhaps it’s a survival impulse in humans to be growing into these higher states.
Although I did that workshop in 2006, his remarks stayed with me all this time. So it was with interest that I read an article recently by Otto Scharmer, senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Management and co-founder of the Presencing Institute. The article was entitled: “Ten Lessons from Covid for Stepping into the Decade of Transformation.”
Scharmer starts off by explaining how in 1989 he was co-leading an international student group in a program called Peace Studies Around the World that took place in East and West Berlin. It was months before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and in discussions with some of the leaders of the civil rights and opposition movements in East Berlin, he noticed that even the people who were on the front lines of forces that eventually would bring down the Berlin Wall, had no idea at the time what a far-reaching impact their actions were about to have.
I remember hearing an Irish peace-activist priest speaking once about the peace that eventually broke out in Ireland. He too was on the front lines and did not realize at the time that all the little actions that he and the myriad of others who nudged peace along were doing, were all part of the tipping point.
Scharmer says he’s seen such “tectonic shifts” several times and thinks that before they happen, almost no one actually believes that such profound changes and shifts will occur. Malcolm Gladwell also documents tipping point phenomena in his book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
Scharmer believes we are presently in a somewhat comparable moment and movement to the time of the falling of the Berlin Wall. It’s a movement, he says, that isn’t just about changing social structures but also about shifting and growing human consciousness.
That recalls for me the remark Kegan made about the inherent impulse for our species to evolve consciousness. Could we, in fact, be being driven to a species-wide evolution – perhaps akin to the way birds fly in a mumuration?
We may all have this impulse going on deep inside to evolve our consciousness.
Scharmer asks: Is this the moment when we should articulate the future we want to create with much more radical clarity?
He then outlines a series of lessons that can be learned from Covid as applied to our consciousness. I will summarize 5 of those ideas for you here, in my own language. As I understand it, these 5 point the way for what we can, and are called to, cultivate inside ourselves, to move us towards our collective desires:
- Feel – Scharmer talks about the dangers of not feeling or de-sensitizing ourselves. What I see in my mediation and difficult conversation practices, is a whole host of us wanting to avoid difficult conversations. We want to avoid the uncomfortable feelings. Yet, it is the very embracing of feelings of discomfort and tension that can help us stay with, and empathize with, each other. It’s time to privilege feelings along with empathy and embracing our individual and collective vulnerability.
- Connect – We are in an age of interconnectivity, which Covid in particular has propelled us into. We can all see that when the virus is a pain in one place, it is in a pain for all. Our call is to keep connected.
- Create – The way we listen and pay attention to our conversations impacts their outcome. That is certainly what I have seen as a mediator and someone who helps others have transformative conversations. Scharmer says it’s the same thing with societal institutions in that the way we pay attention to them can reimagine and reshape outmoded ways of thinking, patterns and institutions.
- Attend – Like so many others, Scharmer says attention matters because energy follows attention. Wherever you put your attention, that’s where the energy will go. He believes that when we “bend the beam of collective attention back onto our own process and when we begin to see ourselves through the eyes of others, and the eyes of the whole, then we begin to unfreeze the hardened state of social reality into a more fluid state that allows us to reimagine and reshape reality as needed.”
- Integrate – Scharmer points out how there have been more and more collective blind spots and shadow work emerging – in the recognition of the horrible things we do to each other. He believes there is great healing in facing those shadows and allowing the light of day to do its transformative work.
To read the full article yourself and the other 5 points he speaks about, check it out here.
“Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world.” – Barack Obama