By Nick Jankel

Professional Keynote Speaker, Transformational Leadership Theorist & Practitioner, Exec & TV Coach, Author, Co-Creator of Bio-Transformation®

The Relational Causes Of Our Modern Multi-Crises

I work all day, every day, with senior leaders who deal with gnarly concrete realities: political, military, corporate, systemic, climate. Some of our work at Switch On is in leadership development (focused on ‘soft skills’);  some of it is working on strategic innovations to deliver ‘hard’, concrete, and scalable breakthroughs that solve gnarly human problems; some of it is working on full-scale whole systems change to resolve the various crises that are emerging as advanced modernity runs out of steam. Our sister company is a sustainability practice helping large industrial-driven orgs make the shift to net-positive operating and business models: gritty and gnarly work if ever there was such.

I deeply understand the call for leaders to pay attention to, and try to solve, the concrete and intense issues that they face: the lived reality of babies being born in shelters in Kyiv; extreme weather killing people and animals all over the globe; employees struggling with inflation, loss of dignity, mental health issues, and disengagement; organizations declining because they are being disrupted by emerging technologies and more creative and nimble competitors; and thousands of people still dying in Covid wards each day.

But, after over 25 years consulting—in tandem with my own developmental work as a leader and deep theorizing about transformation—I have come to see that most of the big issues we worry about are actually the symptoms of deeper ruptures, traumas, and disconnections in what we call, in our transformation methodology Bio-Transformation®—‘Relational Fields’. The multi-crises we face are as much about failures in our relational intelligence and reciprocity as they are about the need for technical and technological solutions.

In our relational intelligence and collaboration programs, we help leaders and changemakers build ’embodied wisdom’—see below—in various, distinct, and vital Relational Fields. Disruptions, disorder(s), and disorganization in more ‘central’ Relational Fields tend to show up in different forms in more expansive Relational Fields.

Whilst we have to attend to the urgent issues we face with concrete and courageous interventions—whether in Ukraine or in Decarbonization—if we want to make lasting change happen, we have to also make time to resolve the schisms in our Relational Fields. This means transforming the frustrations, distrust, disappointments, and pain we hold onto in our relationships with ourselves, our caregivers, with each other, and with nature… that result in ecological and social devastation.

Relational Ruptures Cause Social, Systemic & Ecological Crises

We believe that it is actually disruptions, disorder(s), and disorganization in our intrapersonal and interpersonal Relational Fields that are the underlying cause so many of the problems that our rational, strategizing, and operational minds try to solve for with so much hard work, analysis, and intellectual ingenuity.

This means that it is unprocessed and unresolved pain from our early and current relationships that drives us to alleviate our discomfort and inconveniences with consumer capitalism; to extract oil and wealth and accumulate it; and idolize meritocracy and laissez-faire economics over equity.

In other words, the entire modern project—industrial, technical, scalable, abstracted, progressive,, in both its brilliance and discontents—can be seen, through one lens, as the replacement of relational connectivity and intersubjective health with convenient and comforting rational products that attempt to fill the holes in our wholeness.

[There is a companion piece to this article that looks at the Ukraine war as a failure of relational intelligence. It also seeks crucial insights by exploring the different ways the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine are attempting to solve their problems as leaders.]

As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people (and planet). Thus, to avoid a category error, it is only through transforming these Relational Fields over the long term that we can make a lasting, positive, difference to the world; and so fully resolve major crises rather than reduce their pain a little; or reschedule them for a later date. We have to stand up against aggressors with strong boundaries yes; whilst we seek to relieve the fear and rage that is at the source of all unwarranted aggression.

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Here are some of the ‘shadow‘ aspects—a term from Jungian psychology that denotes disowned and repressed pain, patterns, and potentiality in our unconscious—that arise within ruptured Relational Fields. If left unsurfaced, unexpressed, disowned, and un-wholed, they show up as the deepest causes of the societal, systemic, and institutional problems of modernity:

Relational Intelligence In Sensemaking & Systemic Change

The corollary of this is that is only through transforming the ruptures in our relationships with ourselves, and in our organizations and systems—over the long term—that we can make a lasting, positive, difference to the world; and so fully resolve major crises and seize massive opportunities for exponential leaps in human flourishing.

The challenge we all face is that the part of us that is brilliant at analysis, intellectual thought, making ambitious goals happen, achieving big wins, claiming space, piercing to the truth, Getting Stuff Done, relishing the freedom of individuality, valuing independence… finds it very hard to tend to our relationships, be humble and vulnerable, and be open to interdependence.

This is, I believe, the single deepest cause—among many—of our multi-crises: complex and intertwined, crises in: climate change, education, inequality, in-work poverty, identity and culture wars, usefulness of nation-states, growth models, business models, industrial illnesses, addiction, anxiety/depression and more.

Metamodernism, along with ideas and movements like regenerative design, Game B, sense-making, and whole systems change, have emerged over the last decade or more in response to the multi-crises we face; crises that show up in our mounting individual problems—spiralling costs, disease, stressors etc.—as much as they do in systemic issues like those above.

However, having engaged with each of these ideas and moves, I believe they will all remain extensions of the relationship denying modern project unless embodied, heartfelt, caring relationality is at their core. I’ll explore this as I go.

‘Soft Skills’: Modernity Diminished The Relational

Perhaps to avoid cognitive dissonance, our rational, protective, and controlling minds will often dismiss our caring, vulnerable hearts by calling caring/relational intelligence ‘soft skills’; and caring mothers ‘housewives’. Our rational economic system does not count as productive (in GDP figures) the back-breaking and heart-breaking labor of caring for disabled and dying people. Our rational education system provides hours of maths and English lessons each week but, if kids are lucky, one class of personal and emotional skills.

The unpaid care sector is the largest sector of the economy. This work consists of taking care of children and sick family members, facilitating life for elderly people or family members with a disability, managing the home (shopping, cleaning, cooking, washing clothes etc.) and providing long-term unpaid support to the community of friends, neighbours, (ex-)colleagues and other acquaintances. CIDSE

Let me remind us all: There ain’t nothing soft about compassion, courage, caring, forgiveness, being vulnerable rather than powerful, collaborative rather than controlling, giving up comforts to be generous, giving up prestige and profit to be purposeful, and ultimately coming to terms with death. Developing these qualities is, without doubt, the hardest work of life.

The rational mind that values achievement, abstraction, and analysis has long-triumphed over the relational heart—rather than dancing with it, weaving with it, in an interdependent and life-affirming flow of difference and unity. I labored under this illusion for a long time, and it lead me to breakdown and burnout.

The part of us that likes to win, to make a concrete impact, to figure it all out, to be seen as brilliant and clever, to post that ironic or sardonic witticism on social, keeps co-opting relational wisdom and practices—including ideas purpose, rewilding, mindfulness, empathy—to serve its (honorable but often misguided) aims of productivity, profit, and power.

The technocratic-industrial complex actively seeks to dispel the purpose and love we need to lead transformation with ‘dispassionate’ evidence and disenchanted ‘proofs’; which also accelerates an alienating form of consumer capitalism yet further. Often this mindset downgrades consciousness as illusory; and privileges matter as the only thing that is ‘really real’, something I go deep into in my book Spiritual Atheist: A Quest To Unite Science And Wisdom Into A Radical New Life Philosophy to Thrive In The Digital Age.

Caring for others—rather than just coercing them into doing what we want—means endless emotional and practical labor: cooking (3 meals each night in our house); endless cycles of shopping, stocking, cleaning, recycling; constant sensemaking with and for our dependents; every day, spending the time and energy to get into the hearts and minds of colleagues we take care of and inventing new ways to reach them and move them; scheduling and having management chats, with enough time for listening; managing boundaries with compassion not angst; correcting people after connecting with them, which is inefficient but effective; and taking care to repair after a rupture when it feels like it is the very, very last thing we want to do.

Whereas we seem to be able to learn intellectual tricks and habits that make analytical and operational work easier, as we develop strengths in relational intelligence, our people challenges can get less intense and destabilizing for sure: but the work of tending to others does not get much easier; and there are always more people, places, and systems that we can expand our attention to as we progressively reach further into the ‘outer’ Relational Fields.

Trauma & The Old World Order

As business psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic makes clear in his book Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?, emotionally-stunted people (mostly men) still rise up the leadership ladder. This is because many companies are still part of an old-world order that rewards rational intelligence—power, smarts, and confidence—over the creativity, wisdom, and connection in relational intelligence.

‘Toxic’ masculine values and habits are still dominant, whether in the ‘strong man’ culture of mainstream corporations and nations or in the ‘tech bro’ culture of Silicon Valley.

This has been compounded by the reality that trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), outdated moral and social conventions, and a failing education system all interrupt the progression of emotional intelligence, locking people in power in ever-decreasing circles of effectiveness. They may be productive and profitable, but their reliance on power over people in a hierarchy— rather than power to enable and enlighten people to be creative in a network—massively reduces their capacity for transformation.

Emotional Intelligence & Relational Rising

Most of our school, education, and management system is focused on developing rational intelligence, or smarts. However, no amount of smarts can help us care for, and so compassionately and empathically reimagine, broken and fragmented human systems. For this, we need to develop relational intelligence.

As I write in Now Lead the Change: Repurpose Your Career, Future-Proof Your Organization, and Regenerate Our Crisis-Hit World by Mastering Transformational Leadership,[R]esearch shows that whereas IQ—a proxy for rational intelligence or what we call Cognitive-Behavioral Complexity—is a good predictor for the overall pay grade one reaches in an organization (brown-, blue-, white-collar etc.), it is actually emotional intelligence that is a better predictor of the level reached once we achieve a leadership position.

In fact, the further up the organization we get, the more important emotional/interoceptive intelligence becomes. Over 50 years of research has shown that emotional intelligence is two hundred percent better at predicting leadership effectiveness than is IQ.

This means, if we are looking at how people of any kind develop into wise leaders through maturity and personal growth, we must account for both gains in rational intelligence as well as expansions in relational intelligence. This insight led us to propose that there are two perpendicular axes of human development, on just one.

Two Axes Of Human Development

Research psychologists Lawrence Kohlberg (the six stages of his Theory of Moral Development), Carol Gilligan (Ethics of Care theory), Abraham Maslow (the Hierarchy of Needs), Clare Graves (Spiral Dynamics), Michael Lamport Commons (the Model of Hierarchical Complexity), and Erik Erikson (eight stages of psychosocial development) have all suggested that we progress through various identifiable and archetypal developmental stages to achieve higher levels of thinking capacity. Philosophers like Sri Aurobindo and Ken Wilbur have also contributed markedly to emergent adult development theories.

Most stage theories focus on what we might see as a vertical axis of human development, the expansion of what we call “Cognitive-Behavioral Complexity”. Cognitive-Behavioral Complexity is the capacity we have to generate solutions to ever more complex problems in our head; and then implement those solutions in ever more complex systems with our hands.

Amoeba have very low levels of Cognitive Complexity. This fits their very simple environment: move towards food. Move away from danger. That’s about it.

Transformational leaders, like Nelson Mandela, have very high levels of Cognitive-Behavioral Complexity: they can understand how a national system of various tribes and ethnicities interacts with a global system of nations and worldviews; and how to intervene in the various systems to realize their transformational vision (from private conversations with specific individuals to speeches that are shared across global media).

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Possibly because most of the developmental stage thinkers were, and are, people working in a rationalist paradigm within academia, the focus of most of the developmental models have been how we think and act rather than how we feel and sense in our heart and hara.

We believe it is crucial to include in any developmental model the reality that we can, and must, consciously develop our emotional and interoceptive intelligence as we go through life. We want to become ever wiser, not just smarter. We call this wisdom “Interoceptive-Affective Complexity” or “embodied wisdom”. We think of this as the horizontal axis of conscious development.

Interoceptive- Affective Complexity is less showy than Cognitive-Behavioral Complexity. But perhaps it is more important. Embodied wisdom contains, yet expands profoundly upon, traditional notions of emotional intelligence.

Cognitive Complexity: Smarts & Actions

Writing a book, building an app, developing a theory, fighting a battle… are all challenging. We call them ‘Technical Problems’. Technical Problems require high levels of expertise and experience to solve. We call this the domain of development of ‘Cognitive-Behavioral Complexity’, which we usually shorten to Cognitive Complexity.

‘Cognitive Complexity’ helps us engage in, and solve, ever-more challenging problems with sound reason, intellect, and coherence. It helps us intervene in systems in useful and effective ways that are grounded in evidence and data. It helps us make sense of chaos and change when others are confused.

Cognitive Complexity helps us distance ourselves from messy human emotions so we can think clearly, critically, and objectively. It is great for solving Technical Problems. But this kind of consciousness struggles profoundly to solve tougher challenges, like how to transform a national or interpersonal conflict, disrupt a market for good, future-proof an august institution, or resolve a climate crisis.

We call these kinds of issues Transformational Challenges. They require us to transform as leaders, organizations, and societies to resolve them. Cognitive Complexity is necessary but not sufficient for resolving them. To rise up to embrace and metabolize Transformational Challenges, we also need to influence, and transform, hearts and mind; our own as much as others.

For this, we must develop in another domain of human development, which we call Embodied Wisdom.

Wisdom, Embodied In Our Everyday Relationships

Embodied wisdom ensures our ideas and actions are grounded in caring, connection, and inter-subjective resonance. It enables us to prioritize the complex relationships that all social, political, economic, ecological, or business problems, in some way, start and end with.

Embodied wisdom helps us have a stable sense of self which helps us avoid inner collapse under pressure; and helps us turn strong emotions and intense subjective experiences that arise in relationships into ‘objects’ within our ‘consciousness that we can observe, work with, and heal.

Embodied Wisdom empowers us to discern where, and with whom, pain and conflicts lie. It ensures we can penetrate to hidden insights in our communities and customers that unlock transformation, innovation, and imagination in our systems. It empowers us to temper our smarts, and tamp down our reactivity, so we can solve complex problems with compassion and creativity as much as control and protection.

Embodied wisdom is the only quality that can constrain and tenderize our human genius for Cognitive Complexity—which often disconnects us from one another in its abstracting and achieving genius.

The capacity to be smart, rational, and powerful, is brilliant, yes. But, untethered to healthy and reciprocal relationships, it tends to cause endless damage to real communities and ecosystems. We can see this in Ukraine. We can see this in the endless talk about the climate crisis, which the IPCC made clear this month, is still getting worse and requires radical action (AKA transformation).

To transform our self/org/world for good, Cognitive Complexity must be sourced in Embodied Wisdom, which can only arise when we learn how to take care of each other and the planet we rely on for all life.

Care is a species activity that includes everything that we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, ourselves, our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life sustaining web. Joan Tronto

What is perhaps most interesting to our linear modern minds—which often see development as a hierarchical unfolding towards greater heights (albeit generative not dominative hierarchies—is that relational expansion, the development of wisdom, is more like a circle than a line.

In other words, our relational intelligence and embodied wisdom is rhythmical, seasonal, cyclical; and when we reach the deepest inner layers within us we find we are at the furthest outer layers of the cosmos.

“Thresholds” of Development For Transformational Leaders

As theorists like Ken Wilbur and Robert Kegan make clear, if we skip a stage of development—by not understanding it or embodying it fully (and perhaps instead rejecting or repressing it, or being addicted to dysfunctions in the stage before)—we don’t develop fluidly and appropriately. The resulting fixations (addictions and allergies) limit our capacity to be transformational leaders.

But this is not the only blocker to truly expansive consciousness and capability. Experience has taught us that there is a threshold between very smart, systemic thinking and genuine transformative and regenerative thinking. No matter how smart, systemic, and societally successful we are, we can only evolve to our most transformational potential as leaders and citizens through developing embodied wisdom.

If we do not develop significantly on the horizontal axis of embodied wisdom, we get stuck on the vertical axis at the level of systemic thinking: we can analyze and understand the dynamics of complex biological, physical, and social system, but we cannot effectively intervene to shift and shape them because that relies on bringing other people with us, with all their messy, fragmented, and chaotic Relational Fields.

On the other hand, no matter how wise and compassionate we are, if we don’t have the cognitive capacity to understand complex (meta)modern systems— and master our capacity to generate concrete impact through analysis, sensemaking, discerning frames, business acumen, and consistent civic action—we get stuck on the horizontal axis.

If we can stuck at this threshold, we can feel and sense relationships, and experience intense non-ordinary states of consciousness, but we cannot truly care for complex systems because we don’t understand them.

Therefore, we cannot enter what some call ‘second tier’ or third tier’ stages of development—what some call “teal/turquoise/coral” stages of human development—until we have ‘caught up’ on either axis. At a certain point, a lack of capacity in one axis acts as a break to our development in the other.

Like a video game where you can only access a hidden area by painstakingly leveling up—developing skills and tactics as you go—we cannot access the most transformational and regenerative stages of development without leveling up both our cognitive-action and somatic-emotional ninjutsu.

Becoming Higher Tier Humans

Therefore, we cannot become truly transformational if we don’t develop our felt senses and emotional layers to: feel stable and rooted no matter how much chaos and crisis there is; to attend to problems with unalloyed compassion for those suffering in a system; to feel and act with genuine interdependence, no matter how inconvenient this is; have the empathic connection to come up with innovation-forging insights and ideas that can alleviate the suffering of people in a system; access our full palette of responses to intense challenges, rather react with predictable, persistent, and pernicious protective patterns (mo mater how clever and attractive they appear); and have the inner resources to be able expand our circle of love, care, and presence to move beyond our own needs.

Without embodied wisdom, we get stuck in solving abstract systemic problems rather than holding space, contributing to, and stewarding regenerative solutions to profound meta/meaning crises; ideas that are “seeking to emerge” from us in co-creative dialogue with people and planet.

Likewise, we cannot concretely care for people, planet, and cosmos—rather than just meditating on them and “sending love” to people in pain—without understanding, and then changing, the flows of capital, labor, regulations, and resources within today’s complex, adaptive socio-economic systems.

Otherwise, we get stuck in solving individualized issues of wellbeing and mental health rather than inspiring and supporting action that resolves systemic racism, societal repression, interminable conflict, ecological devastation, and economic servitude.

Without breaking through the thresholds of either axis, we remain locked in into very modern solutions to our shared problems. We will be stuck in angry activism, traumatized trolling, and spiritual bypassing, entrepreneurial hustle, dreams of technological saviours, and technocratic tinkering as our societies implode under the sheer weight of our shared inequality, ill-health, industrialization, and identity crises.

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Forever Stuck In Abstracting, Extrating Modernity

All of this is to say that  I consider much contemporary activism and intellectualism to be still stuck in modernity (perhaps ‘post-postmodernism’) because they are consumed by ideas, talk, analysis, debate, protest, progress, saving the world, being brilliant, being smart, being witty, and winning the argument.

Even metamodernism, that in some variants speaks to the relational wisdom in Indigenous Knowledge, transpersonal psychologies, and animist connections to nature, shows up like a mature post-modernity, that is less scathing and more hopeful; ironic but also optimistic; relativistic but also truth-seeking; constructive as well as deconstructive. Anything that privileges theory over practice, words over senses, mind over body, remains, to my bodymind, some variant of modernity.

Many of the proponents of “what comes next” memes are themselves stuck in the quintessentially Western/modern archetype of the individual rational thinker—sharing their intellectual wares in the Greek agora, complete with coined terms (yes, I love this delicious and optimistic irony)—rather than part of a pulsing, interdependent, rhizome that actually seeks to shift state in a phase transition.

This is not a criticism or judgment. It’s taken me about 30 years of committed personal development to fully embrace relationality, particularly in my work as an individual ‘thought leader’, solo ‘keynote speaker’, and unique ‘theorist’. This required me to repair seemingly endless frayed and flayed relational fields.

But after millennia of failures caused by smart minds disconnected from full  hearts, it is time to fully grok—in how we show up every time we are ‘working’ not just in our words or performative acts that virtue signal collaborative intelligence—that rationality without relationality is insufficient to resolve the multi-crises that disembodied and alienated thinking has created.

Einstein had something insightful to say about such follies.

Linear Modernity To Rhizomatic MettaModernity

Which means, in a metaphor I have used before but am not fully sure works, that if we want to really take off from the runway of self-centered modernity—which post-modernity and post-post-modernity have failed to help us do—we must place at the core of all our embodied ways of being, from theorizing to practicing, the truth that we are an absolutely relational and rhizomatic species.

This is a dethronement of the modern Self on a par with the Copernican revolution, that robbed us of our hitherto central role as the center of (God’s) solar system. Yet, as all regenerative and developmental masters know, as we relinquish so we receive. For in the rhizome, we flourish when we find our way to be neither too dependent/codependent or too independent, but interdependent. I become as you become.

We are no longer trapped in Indra’s net. We are both one jewel (an individual self) and the entire net itself (social and ecological system).

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Analytical, rational, intellectual thinking may be neat—and I love the patterns we can find/create in theoretical work—but it is usually, and I sense biologically necessarily, disembodied, dislocated, and dissociated from the messy human hearts in tries to solve for. In other words, is only by sourcing our ideas and actions in alive and fluid ‘relational fields’—that need constant tending to, in all their ecstatic and agonizing glory—that we make can tangible transformation happen at any level.

Recalibrating Capitalism & Democracy with Relational Technologies

Thankfully, the importance and development of relational intelligence and Embodied Wisdom are growing across the world. Whether in the form of ‘psychological safety’ in the teamwork; mutual aid; the re-emergence of mutuals, friendly societies, and co-ops; conflict mediation; enactive approaches; collective intelligence; participatory democracy and citizens assemblies; restorative justice; limbic and empathic resonance; compassion projects and charters, ways to repair and strengthen Relational Fields are sprouting up all over.

Dialogue is key. When done slowly and with the utmost attention to our inner state, dialogue unblocks hearts as much as it unlocks minds. Dialogue in psychiatry, dialogue in couples therapy, dialogue in conflict transformation; dialogue as a collective communication tool all open up the promise of the relational regeneration of our world.

Dialogue allows our felt sense awareness and underlying mood—our interoceptive and emotional intelligence—to catch up with our busy mind; and then transform it. Nerves rewire. Stress responses are dampened. Amgydalas shrink. Shock is released. Trauma is healed. This is the true nature and genius of the dialogical experience. And everyone is invited.

Yet we must ensure that we don’t allow relational tools and techniques to be co-opted by capitalism and political domination. We must ensure we harness them to transform capitalism for good.

We must also never forget that Embodied Wisdom—as it shows up in caring and tenderness—is still mostly the preserve of mothers, grandmothers, a growing number of dads, many HR folk, and wise elders who are too busy caring for, tending to, and nurturing others to achieve world domination (or writing articles, doing TED talks, and gaining social media followers). They deserve our endless gratitude, better pay, and profound respect (shared emphatically, on a daily basis).

Repairing Ruptured Relational Fields

All of this is to say that, if we want to play our full part in co-creating what comes next, we need to pay as much attention to repairing our relational fields as we do formalizing and sharing our ideas. In fact, given how little time so many of us have spent on this repair, we probably need to spend a lot more time bringing wholeness into our part of the global rhizome than we do intellectualizing. How else can we recalibrate?

For a long time, I felt profound pain in my relationships, which debilitated my role as a leader and change agent. I still had all the smarts—I actually used my smarts to compensate for loss of connection, recognition, and attachment in my relationships—by I was losing transformative power. This was a breakdown/burnout style invitation to repair my relational fields, and so not live under the spell of fear and desperate survival.

As I healed my ruptured relationships, I became more whole. This wholeness rippled through all my relational fields—particularly those with people I lead and influence unlocking interdependence instead of co-dependence; compassion instead of coercion; and inspiration instead of aggression.

This was the true ground of my awakening. I ‘woke down’—discovering the genius within my body, understanding the depths of my trauma(s), experiencing the intensity of grieving, healing my endlessly frayed relationships—as well as woke up. This was intimacy grounding and illuminating non-duality.

For me, it was a least 15 years after my first access to the healing power of non-dual experience that it shifted from Field 1 (see above) and rippled out fully into the other four fields. Following Robert Moore, this was the generation of my “second womb” from my primary wound of relational trauma.

Unlocking Systemic Transformation

As we use relational tech to heal wounds and damages in our relational fields (see above for some pointers), we unleash stored up caring and creative energy. The energy that was once stored up in defending, being right, being positional, is released and we can use it to imagine and invent.

This is at the core of our work in Systemic Transformation—you can read more here in this (super-summarized and incomplete) Systemic Transformation: Building Out A Field Guide for Forging a Regenerative Future”. It’s a little out of date as our practice evolves rapidly with every learning from every engagement, but it has some useful principles.

Pernicious and persistent “protective patterns”, as we call them, are essential survival mechanisms that we mimic or invent to cope with fractured relational fields between us and our caregivers (themselves fragmented by past traumas). They are successful it defending us from what we don’t want; but they cannot bring us what we do want. They can protect us from being mocked, ignored, disrespected, bullied, impoverished, etc. But they cannot bring us intimacy, love/being loved, or purpose.

To bring about a world around us that our hearts yearn for, only relational intimacy, mutual aid, and collective care will work. No protective pattern, no matter how smart, powerful, or brilliant it makes us seem, can bring about a regenerative world.

Fractures in our own relational fields necessarily lead to fragmentation, alienation, and suffering in our systems. Our system is simply the crystallization of all the Relational Fields we have (whether agreed to or not).

Words, ideas, concepts are not sufficient to repair the ruptures and so reorient and regenerate our social systems that drive inequality, poverty, anxiety, conflict; and climate change. Only love, care, and healing can do this.

Coherence & Creative Breakthroughs In Collective Sensemaking & Change

Once we can allow our relational fields to settle, relax, and be unperturbed, remarkable things begin to happen. The life force within us all, that some call “divine eros” or “enlivenment“, begins to quicken. We call this embodied, sensual, seductive, and quintessentially co-creative energy jouissance: power that comes from relational joy.

We have borrowed this powerful word for enjoyment and pleasure from various theorists, most notably the feminist writer Hélène Cixous. We see it as the elemental force of the feminine principle: “explosion, diffusion, effervescence, abundance…takes pleasure (jouit) in being limitless.”

Jouissance can only be released when we stop being smart, right, and positional and instead crack open our hearts in vulnerability so we are interpenetrated by relational fields. This quickening allows life-affirming and regenerative insights and ideas to flow in the space between us, wholing whatever around us needs more healing; and expanding out through our voices and actions into the systems we touch. It is  secular Brotherhood and spiritual Buddhahood combined.

Once we open heart and mind within the various relational fields, we feel jouissance flood through our bodyminds. Collectively, the jouissance brings us into embodied concord or resonance with others (and nature); and the resonance or concord allows the flow of jouissance.

By dissolving away interpersonal power struggles between opposing protective patterns, it much easier to find consilience between different views, perspectives, and frames. This then allows us to find collective coherence with how the world is changing … which then opens up the possibility of shared breakthroughs and co-created paradigm-shifts.

Divine Eros always brings insights and ideas that are appropriate to the moment, shaping reality to bring more wholeness and happiness—and to reduce suffering in individuals and in communities. It may be a caring reach-out; it may be by relinquishing being right so conflict can dissolve; it may be through giving up comfort and conveniences to be sustainable; it may be by relinquishing our profitable business model to explore and purposeful one. It speaks not in the words of logic and reason but in dreams, visions for a better world, and imagination.

A Regenerative Future Must Be Premised On Embodied Wisdom

If our smart Cognitive Complexity is sourced in, and aims to serve, Embodied Wisdom, then we take care of ourselves, each other, and the parts of the planet and society that we rely on for succor. With such wholing relational hearts, we generate limitless micro-moments of care, creativity, and compassion each day.

Then, during the minutes of our lives which scale up to shape our destinies and our systems—these relational gestures and bonds both quell any cravings we have comfort, convenience, power, and profit; and allow us to solve problems that really matter in effective, collaborative, and peaceful ways.

We will still be harsh and cold, and too right and too smart, much of the time. But, over many dialogues and circles, we will be able to embrace each other, more often, in heart-centered solidarity—with boundaried (safe) yet porous (sensitive) semi-permeable membranes between us—and so be able to weave new forms, recalibrate systems, and regenerate our crisis-hit world.

All my searching, yearning, and journeying has brought me to believe that we simply cannot get to a ‘metamodern’ or ‘regenerative’ system (or find our way to a Game B, C, or Z) if we do not place—at the absolute core of all our ideas, way of speaking, way of working, projects—relational care, open-hearted fellowship, and vulnerable and compassionate reciprocity. What we say and how we act become one. Walk and talk are reunified. As above, so below. As within, so without.

From rich and expressive Embodied Wisdom, enacted by discerning and piercing Cognitive Complexity, will be born the kind of education, economic, social, and organizational systems that nourish human wellbeing and limit our planetary footprints. The kind of lived and embodied interdependence that allows organisms and their ecologies to live in balance, even harmony, cannot be achieved by us if we abstract and alienate ourselves through reason, rationality, and intellects.

We need such an expanded way of thinking and being—forms of relational genius—to get out of the interminable cycles of modernity: intellectual enlightenment, progress, crisis, conflict, revolution, reaction, reform, polarization, revanchism, crisis, etc., etc., etc. We need such an expanded way of thinking and being to give up some of the comforts and conveniences of advanced capitalism in order to live within our planetary limits; and to reduce the inequalities that undermine our shared future.

What Comes Next In Human Development?

Many years of lived experience running frontline strategic innovation and systemic change projects has taught me that it is only by reweaving the world with each other through healthy and reciprocal relationships—which takes time, listening, and patience (when part of us wants to judge, get angry, go numb, withdraw, or act quickly to save the world)—that we can lead and land truly transformational change.

This is difficult, messy work, but it is what builds trust: the lubricant of all lasting change and transformation. Reports, spreadsheets, and plans that abstract real human beings into boxes may be neat… but they can only get us so far. This kind of abstraction and alienation is what Sartre said was true evil. It is the abstractive intelligence that the Nazis use to attempt to improve on modernity—industrialized killing, humans as mere numbers, human torture-trials—and landed themselves in the most extreme relational agony in history.

I believe that the expanded way of thinking and being we need is to sense-make, form-make, and decision-make in smart, scientific, and systemic ways guided by a sense of wholeness within us; and a sense of an interpenetrating mutuality with all life. This is a form of modernity that can finally go beyond reason, logic, productivity, commodification, and analysis—without losing the gains of science, democracy, justice, technology, and innovation—because it arises out of limitless compassion, love, kindness, and care: metta in Pali, the language of the historical Buddha.

Inviting The MettaModern

This then is Mettamodernity: the only stage of human and societal development that can break free of modernity endlessly criticizing and reforming itself. We do not just deconstruct and cancel, theorize and thrust; we actively and collaboratively build regenerative technologies,  enterprises, and systems that are sourced in life-affirming connection, compassion, patience, and reciprocity—no matter how inconvenient and uncomfortable these can be to our separate and lonely small selves.

In Mettamodernity, we willingly relinquish modernity’s comforts and conveniences—which are causing so much social and ecological devastation—because we offset the losses with deep care and connection. This can only happen by working each day to bring more wholeness to our relationships with ourselves and each other—and the planet we rely on for all life.

[If you want to rapidly upgrade your capacity to be transformational—and build your Embodied Wisdom as you go—consider purchasing our highly-accessible, self-paced, and on-demand course: The Essentials Of Transformational Leadership.]

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