I haven’t written about death since the coronavirus descended upon us. Yet death is relevant in several ways right now. Not just that death is the possible outcome for a few of the people who contract COVID-19. Not just that death hovers closer in our awareness than ever before. But also because death is part of transformation. Think back to the caterpillar—it must completely disintegrate in order to provide the necessary material for a butterfly to come to life.
In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard two interviews which reminded me that death is an integral part of transformation. Sarah Kerr is a death doula whose work speaks to me. In this podcast, she’s in converstion with author and coach Michael Bungay Stanier. On his podcast, We Will Get Through This, he asks the very best in the world how to stay resilient. Facing death is part of that.
Listen here.Click button “Listen on Apple Podcasts” and scroll down to #29.
Zach Bush is a medical doctor with a unique combination of interests, including topics such as the role of soil and water ecosystems in human genomics, immunity, and gut/brain health. He is also a hospice doctor. His passion, as stated on his website, is “applying the rigor of science, strength of humanity, and the intelligence of nature to transform health and our world.” This video is the last few minutes of a longer interview about what we are doing to the environment.But that’s not what it’s about…
Dr. Bush’s description of the Intensive Care Unit reminds me of the question of ventilators and COVID-19. As it happens, also in the past 24 hours, I sent my sons a message—an addition to my personal directive—letting them know that I do not want to be put on a ventilator. I did a lot of reading about it, and my reasons are summarized in this New York Times article by a medical doctor and this article from ABC News, also written by a doctor describing a better alternative. If you have not yet thought about this and made your wishes known, now is the time.
We are going to transform, one way or another. Are you going to go kicking and screaming, whimpering and complaining, or with grace and ease? And, I wonder, what would grace and ease look like?
As I described last week, a butterfly forms from a caterpillar because the caterpillar contains imaginal discs that are the blueprint for the new form. I also indicated that there are forward-thinking citizens who have developed models and projects that are the imaginal discs for society as we move forward from the intense disruption we’ve experienced.
Today I’m introducing one of those imaginal discs, but first let me summarize why we need to imagine a better way.
The topic is our economic system…
If you don’t need this background information, scroll directly to the video. It’s not to be missed.
An economic system is the method used by society to organize the production and distribution of goods and services for its citizens. In Medieval Europe it was feudalism, a system in which each feudal domain was self-sufficient. It was a barter economy, in which lords owned the land and serfs (peasants) worked in exchange for a place to live and a bit of land to grow their own food. The lord got everything he needed from his serfs—labour, agricultural products, and finished goods such as yarn, cloth and clothing. Wealth was mainly land and agriculture, with money only used for paying taxes to the king.
By the 15th century, feudalism was on its way out as a result of several sociopolitical factors. With the rise of towns, cities and then nations, a merchant class evolved and money became the medium of exchange in the daily life of citizens. In this way, feudalism was gradually replaced by a system of mercantilism. Cottage industries arose to provide the goods needed. And before long, the Industrial Revolution was under way. Large factories were built in the cities and people moved from rural areas to work in them. The system was then based on wage labour rather than obligation, as had been the case in feudalism.
In the latter half of the 18th century, a Scottish professor of moral philosophy became interested in the workings of the mercantile system. According to Investopedia, Adam Smith “noticed that mercantilism was not a force of development and change, but a regressive system that was creating trade imbalances between nations and keeping them from advancing.”
In 1776, Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, proposing an alternate economic system. It was based on the idea of free enterprise, in which the marketplace itself was left to determine the price of goods through the action of supply and demand, without interference from authorities. He also introduced the concept of the invisible hand, suggesting that individuals, all working in their own best interests, would collectively do what was best for society. Therefore, he believed, the market did not require regulation or interference.
Adam Smith’s ideas for a free market opened the world to capitalism. “The term ‘capitalism’—originating from the Latin word ‘capitalis,’ which means ‘head of cattle’—was first used by French socialist Louis Blanc in 1850, to signify a system of exclusive ownership of industrial means of production by private individuals rather than shared ownership.”(Investopedia)
The world has changed a lot since 1776, and the workings of capitalism have been tweaked along the way. Search for types of capitalism and you’ll find a long list that includes free enterprise capitalism, industrial capitalism, digital capitalism, crony capitalism, democratic capitalism, finance capitalism, laissez-faire capitalism, state capitalism, corporate capitalism, entrepreneurial capitalism, welfare capitalism, turbo capitalism, responsible capitalism, advanced capitalism, and vulture capitalism. They vary in degree of market freedom, public ownership, and social policies.
However, all capitalist systems share certain common characteristics ncluding economic freedom, private ownership of property, voluntary participation, capital accumulation (profit motive) and competition. These and a few more are described here.
There are distinct theories within the field of traditional economics, Philosophical biases divide economists into two main camps—the Keynesians and the laissez-faire (free market) economists.
Keynesians believe that the best way to stimulate the economy is to increase government spending and cut taxes, putting more money in the hands of people and driving higher consumer spending. Advocates of the opposing theory, laissez-faire economics, believe that the economy works best when supply and demand operate in a free market without government intervention. For more, go to Why Can’t Economists Agree?
What’s wrong with this picture?
Despite all the tweaking, we have not yet evolved capitalism into a fully sustainable and equitable system. We managed. We coped. We hoped.
A few months ago, the economy ground to a halt during the pandemic and ensuing lockdown. For the first time, we could see clearly that our economic system—which evolved from the need to move away from feudalism—is not workable any more.
Emphasis on growth has led to rampant consumerism. Priorities, spending, and expectations are way out of balance. High levels of debt keep individuals beholden to their employers—not so different from the serfs of old, when you think about it.
The environment can no longer comfortably provide what we are demanding and absorb the waste we create. It could in the beginning—when our needs were modest, population was small, and technology had not yet arrived. But now, we have exceeded the limits by putting our focus on profit rather than balance.
Competition for profit has caused companies to push farther and farther out of their locale to obtain raw materials, workers who are cheap enough, and new people to buy the ever-increasing output. This has brought us to our current state of mega-corporations and globalization. We thought this was our strength. COVID-19 showed us the extreme vulnerability and lack of resilience that had crept up on us.
And many of us are now thinking, there has to be another way. The problem is, most of us don’t know what a better way would be, especially when we’re talking about something as all-encompassing and inscrutable as the economic system.
Meet Kate Raworth…
Oxford economist Kate Raworth has a vision, an imaginal disc ready to come into being as we move forward in the post-pandemic era. This is the first TEDtalk I’ve seen where the speaker got a standing ovation…
Here’s a one-minute recap of the doughnut model of economics…
Since the first iteration of the Doughnut was published as a discussion paper by Oxfam, it has had traction in very diverse places – from the UN General Assembly and the Global Green Growth Forum, to Occupy London. Why such interest?
I think it is because the doughnut is based on the powerful framework of planetary boundaries but adds to it the demands of social justice – and so brings social and environmental concerns together in one single image and approach.
It also sets a vision for an equitable and sustainable future, but is silent on the possible pathways for getting there, and so the doughnut acts as a convening space for debating alternative pathways forward.
Doughnut was first published in 2012, proposing a social foundation and ecological ceiling for the whole world. Ever since then people have asked: can we downscale the Doughnut so that we can apply it here – in our town, our country, our region? Over the past eight years there have been many innovative initiatives exploring different approaches to doing just that – including for the Lake Erhai catchment in China, for the nations of South Africa, Wales and the UK, and for a comparison of 150 countries.
Kate Raworth’s concluding thought: “As we all start thinking about how we will emerge from this crisis, let us seek to be holistic in how we reimagine and recreate the local-to-global futures of the places we live. I believe this newly downscaled Doughnut tool has a great deal to offer and I look forward to seeing it turned into transformative action, in Amsterdam and far beyond.”
Other economic visionaries…
She’s not the only one imagining a better way. You might also like to check the websites of…
Mark AnielskiAn Economy of Well-being: Common Sense Tools for Building Genuine Wealth and Happiness
David KortenChange the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth
Herman DalyFrom Uneconomic Growth to a Steady-State Economy
In school, I learned a simplistic version of how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly—it hangs from a branch, spins a cocoon, and then a butterfly comes out after a process called metamorphosis. I took this description at face value and didn’t think much more about it until I became interested in transformation.
It’s actually much more magical than I was told…
Inside the chrysalis is where the magic happens. The caterpillar disintegrates, except for a few key cells—the imaginal cells. They are the essence of the completely new form that is about to emerge. How a caterpillar totally rearranges itself into a butterfly is described in this passage from Scientific American.
First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out.
But the contents of the pupa are not entirely an amorphous mess.
…Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, genitals and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth. …One study even suggests that moths remember what they learned in later stages of their lives as caterpillars.
Don’t I have more important things to think about right now?
After all, our economy is being decimated by a pandemic of epic proportions, and long-standing injustices have come to a head, catalyzing violent societal upheaval.
From my viewpoint, metamorphosis is highly relevant at a time like this. Humanity is in the midst of transformation—experiencing disintegration of the systems that created the structure of who we thought we were.
We’re in the soup…
Beliefs we held dear, things we were sure were true, our unconscious biases—these are being challenged and, in the process, losing their power to hold our societal structure in place. At the moment, it all seems like an amorphous mess.
The good news is, our society is sprinkled with citizens who have been inspired to see a more beautiful world and develop their ideas into the beginnings of better systems that are waiting to grow out of this mess, to form something completely different. These are the imaginal discs of human society.
Butterfly or dead caterpillar?
By the way, most caterpillars successfully transform themselves into beautiful new creatures, but not all. Those that don’t…they become dead caterpillars.
We are at a choice point in our transformation. We can try to go back and seek comfort in what was familiar but not serving us well. The consequence will be similar to that of the unsuccessful caterpillars.
OR we can each do our part to help the imaginal cells flourish. This time in history is calling on us to become more conscious…
to become better humans by examining our behaviours and the unconsious beliefs that are driving them, and
to believe that constructive change is possible. The power of thought is stronger than most of us are willing to acknowledge because we don’t want to take responsibility for what we create. But whether or not we admit it, our thoughts give energy to what happens around us.
What do you want your thoughts to energize?
Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of what is in the chrysalis and ready to emerge.
The unrelenting upheaval around us has finally got to me. I am aching for something, anything, that is beautiful and hopeful. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one feeling this way.
Two images stay with me…
Two images have been with me since 1994 on my first trip outside North America. I landed in England, made my way south to the city of Exeter, and took a walk to orient myself.
Before long, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a plant growing where none should be able to, in a very small crack between the pavement and adjoining stone wall. And not only growing—it was flourishing—a 2-foot-high ball of beautiful pink flowers. It seemed almost magical. It makes me feel hopeful.
Further along the street, I saw this walkway.
It intrigued me because the angle at the end creates a sense of mystery. What is there? Unknown. Can’t know until you get there. And yet, it feels friendly, not ominous. It gives me a sense of possibility and hope.
This video isn’t about what you might initially think.
Unravel from Aeon Video on Vimeo.
The familiar blunts our perspective…
We get so used to how we live that it seems normal.
Seeing with fresh eyes…
We can interrupt this pattern by seeing our society through other eyes, as filmmaker Meghna Gupta gives us a chance to do in her video. When I taught consumer issues, students did a discovery exercise that elicited insightful observations about the consumer culture.This was the task:
Imagine you landed here from another planet. You know nothing about this civilization except that it is populated by beings that are called humans. You are able to be invisible and observe their daily life without disturbing it. Your home planet has sent you on this mission of discovery so you can report back about what kind of beings these humans are—what they do, how they spend their time, what seems to be most important to them, what personal characteristics are most evident.
What would you report back if you were that visitor from outer space?
P.S. Just before I posted this, I heard a radio report about a website where you can “Book personalized video shoutouts from your favorite people.” What does it say about us that we are willing to pay up to $500 to do this?
I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. Many of us are experiencing fatigue from the extreme degree of adjustment and adaptation that has been required of us as we learn to shop differently, work in unfamiliar conditions or not at all, and socialize in new, less satisfying, ways.
Last week I shared some soothing techniques from ACEP, the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology. Today I have something from the HeartMath Institute.
The video below describes a quick way to reset your system when you’re reaching the limit of your ability to cope. It can be done anywhere, several times a day. Although they refer specifically to health care workers, this simple action can help all of us deal with the daily grind of this on-going pandemic.
The HeartMath Institute has been researching resilience for thirty years. They define it as the capacity to prepare for, recover from, and adapt in the face of challenge, adversity, or stress. The results of their efforts are especially timely at this moment in history.
They did a whole series of videos for healthcare workers. Here are several that apply to all of us, including the children we care for…
This is a difficult time, the kind that can cause us to store trauma in our bodies as we try to cope—with new demands, with the loss of our sense of autonomy, with the anxiety of not knowing what’s coming next…
Trauma is the response of our nervous system to an overwhelming situation. It is not the event, it’s how we deal with it.
Trauma lives on…if we let it.
What we don’t process at the time it occurs will live with us in our energy field, where it interferes with our ability to function well as life goes on.
The problem is, we aren’t given the tools.
What we need is on-the-spot, do-it-yourself ways of dispersing the energy of trauma before it becomes solidified in our energy field. There are several methods of energy work. I’ve used a number of them to good effect in recent years.
There are some simple things you can do on your own—an important factor in these days of physical distancing. The short video below demonstrates one of these methods. You might think it looks too simple. But try it. I was surprised at the amount of tension it melted away in me—tension I didn’t know I was holding. And I’m glad it’s gone so it can’t solidify somewhere and come back to haunt me later!
You’ll notice it is kids who are demonstrating. This video appeared in a recent blogpost by ACEP, the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology. The subject was Help Your Kids Calm Down Faster. If you are responsible for children during this time, I think you’ll find it worthwhile. Especially noteworthy is the preventive tip I have quoted here. It applies to all of us.
Pro Tip: Instead of waiting until your child is totally overwhelmed, integrate this technique with your kids throughout the day. This will help them stay calmer all day long and hopefully avoid some major blow-ups.
After doing these simple activities, people typically feel more calm, centred, balanced, grounded, relaxed, and better able to focus. Simple energy techniques are a good way to keep ourselves on an even keel in stressful times. Give it a try and see what you think.
I have long been interested in the big picture of life and its events. I often ask myself: What is the point? Why am I doing this? What exactly is going on here?
While teaching a college course about issues in consumer economics, I couldn’t confine my curriculum to simply talking about the technicalities of money management and buymanship. It seemed obvious to me that how we think is the driver of the choices we make, and that conscious choices serve us better than mindless ones. So that became my underlying theme as I discussed the practicalities of navigating the consumer culture.
I wrote a book called Conscious Spending, Conscious Life, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I see this pandemic—an event which is affecting everyone on the planet—as part of our human journey of consciousness.
And I’ve been doing energy work for years, learning various methods for clearing my energetic clutter as the practices of energy medicine and psychology have evolved. So dealing with the unseen is familiar to me.
In the blink of an eye…
Here’s what I know to be true in the realm of energy:
Things can happen in the blink of an eye.Witness the world-wide spread of a new coronavirus, COVID-19.
There is an air of mystery.A virus is frustratingly intangible to our usual senses.
We are being invited…
This crisis is inviting us to transform—our selves, and therefore our world. We have been propelled into a situation we can’t back out of. The only way out is to navigate through. And that navigation depends on engaging our consciousness in ways we wouldn’t have if we’d continued on our old familiar paths.
Caroline Myss is a five-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally renowned speaker in the fields of human consciousness, spirituality and mysticism, health, energy medicine, and the science of medical intuition. All of these areas come together in her big-picture view of what this pandemic is calling forth in us, individually and collectively. She says: “We’re going to evolve out of this. It’s a journey of consciousness—together we have the chance to create a better world.”
Key thoughts from Caroline Myss…
This experience that we are sharing has the elements of the larger context of mystical transformation.
First, the nature of a sacred journey is that we never get to decide when it’s going to start, how it’s going to start, or what will be asked of us. We never get to make that decision – it simply ignites.
The second thing is we never get to choose the components – they just arise out of the setting of our lives.
Third, transformation accompanies some kind of trauma. There is something that has to be changed.
We have to now go into deep reflection and ask:
What is it within myself that I need to transform?
What is the person I need to be as I go forward for the rest my life?
Is there a part of me that instead of being a hoarder, could I be more generous?
Instead of being impatient, can I be a better listener?
Instead of wanting to be first, can I embrace being second?
What is it in you that needs transformation? Because there’s something in all of us that needs transformation. Otherwise we wouldn’t need to be here now.
Aching to get back to normal after six weeks of carefully following some pretty restrictive rules.
Do we really want to go back? I wonder if it makes any sense to return to doing the very things that created systems so fragile they failed us at the time we needed them most?
This new coronavirus has shone a spotlight on the flaws and weaknesses of the systems we’ve created over the years—health care, aged care, business, economics, education. We have become painfully aware of their flaws in both structure and underlying philosophy.
What would be a better way?
Is there a better way? And how will we get there? There is no doubt we need a major revisioning to create systems that are resilient, humane, and sustainable—which is not true of how we’ve been living.
Fortunately, we live in a non-linear universe, and there are people who have been working on how we could design systems to be more resilient, humane, and sustainable.
In the mid-1990s, I spent time at Schumacher College in the UK. I was intrigued when I learned about the implications of living n a quantum reality. The discoveries of quantum physics in the twentieth century blew open the scientific world—suggesting previously unimagined possibilities. The idea that a system could be flipped from one “basin of attraction” to another caught my attention. Apparently, this happens when the system is operating at its edge, which is where chaos occurs. In such a state, even a small perturbation (disruption) can provoke the system into a whole new way of operating (another basin of attraction).
Such descriptions of energy are abstract and often confounding to our literal, linear ways of thinking. Yet I find it comforting to know there is more to life than meets the eye—making a lot possible that I’d never think of.
Peter Merry is one of the people who does think about how things could be done differently. He is a Fellow of the Center for Human Ecology in the UK where he did his MSc with a thesis on the future of work and economics. His thesis was recently published as a book under the title Why Work?: Economics and Work for People and Planet. The description reads, in part:
Why Work? shows us how we can change our policies, take action directly in our communities to carve out the space for us to reclaim our humanity, and engage in activities that reward our deeper needs, our communities and our planet as a whole.
It is the nature of non-linear change moments, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, that we can’t predict what the future is going to be that emerges from it. According to Peter Merry, the key is to notice what is breaking down (systems, structures, ways of thinking, ways of doing things) and help them let go gracefully—while, at the same time, putting in place the conditions that will accelerate the new solutions that are emerging. In the process, we will see two responses: Regression to fear-based, contracted reactions, and break-through to more integrated wholistic responses.
In the interview which follows, he elaborates with examples from healthcare, business, and education. I found this discussion rich, practical and hopeful.
Peter Merry spoke about a new initiative, Humanity Rising, which he described as an on-line experience bringing together speakers with alternative plans for creating a future we will feel proud of. It will highlight both new ways of thinking and concrete solutions that have been worked on under the radar for the past twenty years or so. To find out more, go to http://humanityrising.solutions. The on-line event begins May 22, 2020.