Perceiving wholes

Shiva temple, India c.Finnian Wrigley 2014

Futurist Ziauddin Sadar believes we are living in ‘post-normal times’, a transitional age, in-between old paradigms that have guided and formed us and something new. We have been told by many, that seeing and unpacking the chronic and wicked problems of the global world must start with a change in our consciousness – the consciousness that created the very mire we are trapped in.

A first step is to develop a critical and reflective stance. Cultivating mindfulness enables each of us to stand back from our enmeshment in the entrancing daily soap-opera dramas. This more expansive ‘seeing’ can release us from narrow historical limitations of what is possible and real.

World tarot card (Noble & Vogel 1981), “dancing the magical union of the individual psyche with the cosmos” von Franz 1980

A systems master, the shaman can inspire us, learning to dance with the energy and the possibilities available in a quantum universe.

Think of the emergence of fluid and co-creative organisational models where entrepreneurs (Uber, Air B&B) and activists (Occupy, 2017 Women’s Marches) are able to perceive and then ride network energy in a collaborative, emergent fashion.

Ancient wisdom traditions developed practices to transform vital planetary energy (Qing) into the subtler life force (Qi). As Yoda counsels Luke at the close of the first Star Wars film, the shaman must commit to practice the internal skills to make him/her capable of drawing upon and holding the power of the cosmos. With this channelled strength, the shaman resists institutional domination and finds fluid, innovative ways to subvert those who enforce, control and destroy. Yes really.

This self-disciplined, solo journey is available to all of us in this abundant and accessible globe. It  can provide us with strength and certainty of purpose. Self-knowledge can be cultivated in the practices and rituals of many human spiritual traditions including Indigenous shaman from North and South America, Australia, Indian and Tibetan tantrics, Hindu, Taoist and Buddhist yoga / meditation masters, and Christian mystics.

Not just the ancients appreciate the power of these disciplines. An abundance of 21st century practitioners are finding the language and frames to make these liberating internal states accessible in our lives and work. The Australian Aboriginal practice of Dadirri or deep listening to release trauma. Parker J. Palmer draws upon Quaker practice in the Centre for Courage and Renewal. Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers explore the state of no-concept, where ‘grace’ or ‘oneness’ can be experienced in Presence, and in Theory U, Scharmer describes how presence can be developed to access the ‘field of the future’.

Meg Wheatley and the Berkana Institute explore wise warriorship following the Shambala path, by developing presence, discernment and expanding our perception. The Art of Hosting uses circle, dialogue, embodied and creative activity to engage large groups holistically around topics such as organisational futures visioning. A flaneur experiences the world in a meditative manner strolling through the streets.

Embracing the shaman is unlikely to provide us with safe or comforting ‘solutions’ in these interesting times. However developing our perceptive sensing, strengthening our minds and expanding our conscious awareness may enable us to bring forth aspects of the shaman archetype. Looking at the global stage in Brexit and Trump we see an unpredictability that mirrors our weather. Ordinary people finding the courage to speak up about injustice willing to become a whistleblower, lobbyist or activist, long accepted alliances are being broken and new alliances formed to contribute to environmental and social wellbeing.

These disruptions are shifting our collective consciousness and thus society.  From this place we experience the joy of following our energy and finding the flow, all the time dissolving separation and disempowering dualities.

References mentioned

Noble, V. 1983, Motherpeace : A way to the Goddess through Myth, Art and Tarot, Harper & Row, San Francisco.

Sadar, Z. 2010, ‘Welcome to postnormal times’, Futures, 42, Elsevier.

Scharmer, O. 2007, Theory U : leading from the Future as it Emerges, Society for Organizational Learning, Massachusetts.

Senge P. et al. 2004, Presence : An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organisations, and Society, Random House, New York.

Wild, strong and free

“The shaman taken metaphysically as the opposition to king and priest, remains the ultimate symbol of authentic dissent, representing the utopian and transcendental aspects of the child, the lunatic, the androgynous, and the artist.  In this sense, he remains the least socialized articulation of the values of freedom, creativity, multiple realities and an open future.”    Ashish Nandy

Indian dancer c.Finnian Wrigley 2014

The another aspect of the shaman is that which is wild, primitive and unknowable. The ecstatic trance dancer, drumming and spinning into out of body shamanic journeys. A margin dweller, whose independent vision is challenging to the conformity of the modern world and available as a liberation and integration of mind, body and spirit.

Fortunately, our story tellers have kept this transformative, magical and wise archetype alive for us. Albeit safely contained on screen, or in text.

Mystical guides inform the fictional questers, and fill our imaginations with hope and the courage to say ‘no’. These characters can inspire us to open ourselves to the unknown, to trust the forces of good in the universe and to see new possibilities for themselves in the darkest of times.

But there are more direct ways to develop the shamanic way of being. Writers Ashis Nandy, Marcus Bussey and Sandra Waddock, have called upon the shaman archetype as one might have called a specialist midwife to a difficult birth. The presence, observational skill and patience of the midwife, combined with her ability to work with and trust in natural processes speaks to the feminine quality inherent in the shaman archetype.

Acknowledging and valuing our feminine, androgynous, outsider and lunacy begins the process of reclaiming the negated and backgrounded parts of our whole. Once owned and integrated we can experience and access its power, know its dimensions, play with new possibilities of being in our bodies and lives – not vicariously on a screen or in a book. So after being ostracised for centuries, the shaman’s qualities can support and guide us to gracefully ride the waves of contradiction, chaos and complexity coming towards us in the 21st century.

References mentioned

Bussey, M. 2009, Six Shamanic Concepts: Charting the between in Futures work, Foresight, 11(2), Emerald.

Nandy, A. 2004, Bonfire of Creeds : The Essential Ashis Nandy, Oxford University Press, India.

Waddock, S. 2015, Reflections: Intellectual Shamans, Sensemaking, and Memes in Large System Change, Journal of Change Management,15 (4), Routledge.

21st century shaman

I am playing with the archetype of the shaman as a helpful turn towards perceiving wholeness of person and society. This is part of an exploration of ways of integrating and experiencing oneself an integral being, so relevant in the context of the Anthropocene, where western enlightenment values no longer serve as a philosophical guide to humanity’s well-being on Earth.

Indeed, the challenge of the Anthropocene urgently calls us to dissolve the false divisions and hierarchies created by Cartesian binaries and existing within each of us. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) contributed profoundly to our understanding of perception. He believed that we know ourselves only to the extent that we know the world, because we become aware of ourselves only within the world, and aware of the world only within ourselves so that “every object, well contemplated, opens up a new organ of perception within us.”  This is hard because we have been trained to see things in isolation and as objects.

This post, Wild, Strong and Free and Perceiving Wholes will focus upon our internal strength and readiness for action in the world. The shaman is in service of their community, their primary concern is to attend to that which needs healing. As a researcher and active citizen for change, I am exploring the qualities of the shaman to inform and enrich my work.

Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell encouraged us to explore archetypes, dreams and mystical practices, to enlarge and renew human consciousness so foundational to our collective well-being.  These processes are freeing and energising, and a path toward self-realization and individuation which is a primary goal in the journey toward full human expression and happiness.

Magician tarot card (Noble & Vogel 1981), mediating between inner & outer worlds, using fire to heal and transform.

Be prepared – the shaman is ‘woo-woo’. If a traditional shaman turned up in one of our ordered and tidy suburbs, they would most likely be ignored, shunned and/or incarcerated. We have been well trained to like, and feel comfortable with the ordered, unblemished and new, that we allocate large resources to tame, contain and control environments and animals that are savage or untamed.

We shame and fear those who are perceived as mad, or without the recognisable habits and demeanour of the civilized. These assumptions are foundational to our contemporary worldview.

The 300-year-old Newtonian paradigm underpinning western society has provided us with robust intellectual frameworks, with which we have developed extensive knowledge bases in science, economics, engineering, health and medicine. But we now know that this way of knowing does not fully explain, or illuminate our understanding of the complex whole of this planet. Nor are we as logical and informed as we like to believe.

New perspectives have emerged through 20th century revolutions in biology and quantum physics, mathematics and computer science. These understandings have disrupted the certainty of the Newtonian paradigm and like the Deleuzian rhizome popping up ‘randomly’, ideas of linearity and the comfort of clear beginnings and endings now dissolve.

Our material certainties about space and time are also disturbed. As my integrative optometrist says, in a quantum world “anything seen or unseen is based on infinite possibility, (and) consciousness is the ground of all being” (Christian 2016). We begin to understand that the whole is more than, and in fact can never be perceived as the sum of its parts.

Key elements of the dualistic structure of western thought (Plumwood, 1993)           Culture / Nature                                                                                                                                     Reason – Culture – Human / Nature – Emotion  – Animality                                                     Male /Female                                                                                                                                             Civilized / Primitive                                                                                                                                                                                            Mind / Body                                                                                       Self – Subject / Other – Object

By identifying the dynamics of dualistic thinking, feminist and post-structural theorists revealed the societal cost of radical exclusion and separation inherent in these oppositions. Wholeness is all-inclusive, mind, body, soul and spirit have different orders of perception and understanding. This is beyond hierarchy and quantification. We are ready for the interdependence of networks and systems.

References & links

Converging global challenges

Bortoft, H. 2013, The Nature of Wholeness: Goethe’s Way of Science, Lindisfarne Press, Great Britain.

Christian, M. 2016, In Focus: Vision, Mind & Body, Balboa Press, Indiana.

Noble, V. 1983, Motherpeace : A way to the Goddess through Myth, Art and Tarot, Harper & Row, San Francisco.

Plumwood, V. 1993, Feminism and the Mastery of Nature, Routledge, London.

Why the Anthropocene?

Context: We are living with the increasing urgency to make a systemic shift in our globalised society so that we live/create within the ecosystem boundaries of our host – the Earth. We have been talking about this for over 20 years and the urgency is not dissolving. It is increasing and February’s heat wave in Eastern Australia is truly frightening.

Conceptualised at the turn of the 21st century, the Anthropocene epoch denotes the movement from the Holocene geological epoch which lasted 11,700 years, to a new phase in the Earth’s history where in the 20th century humans became the driving force in the planetary system. This thinking emerges from the new scientific discipline of Earth System Science.

Our impact is most obvious in the Earth’s climate system with the ‘greenhouse effect’ and consequent global warming. Also in the reduction of the planet’s bio-diversity through pollution, habitat destruction and over consumption resulting in increasing rates of extinction.


Exploration: I visualise the Anthropocene as a line we have crossed while striving for our wealth, health and happiness. We are now in new territory. Being the driving force on our planet’s health makes the daily choices I make suddenly much more impactful and within a very much bigger context than my personal bank balance.

The Anthropocene indicates its up to us! We are the ones who must make the qualitative shift required in the relationship between the human species and the Earth. Yet resistance, denial, anger, bargaining and depression prevails in our public discourse overriding acceptance and action. Many have asked/investigated/bemoaned; Why is it so hard for an intelligent, conscious species like humans to collectively respond to this challenge?

Maybe the paradox of the ordinary/revolutionary qualities pervading this reality is overwhelming. Because the paradigm shift required to reduce the human carbon footprint is profound and transformational. This process  of realisation is not helped by the abstract and technical language used in policy papers such as ‘adaptation’ and ‘mitigation’ – both of which feel removed from daily reality. Somehow these words don’t seem to include you and me.

Transformation by contrast invites our whole being, it is about changing our DNA, our habits, expectations, world views and finally (maybe even effortlessly), our economies. In this new phase in human history, we are challenged to move our society from being consumers and (possibly) sustainers, to actively and consciously becoming regenerators. This is an energetic and constructive place to act from. I believe this is as much about ‘how’ we engage with the world and each other, as ‘what’ we do.

Governance and the process of governing is an influential domain where decisions about resource (human and other) are made at all levels of society. My research is exploring what governance suited to the Anthropocene might look and feel like in innovative non-government organisations who have altered their processes and structures, providing us with new models, languages, pathways and bridges to collective action and creativity in our responses to the Anthropocene.

Post links:


6th Great Extinction

Photo: Great Pacific Garbage Patch       KAL’s cartoon, The Economist

Welcome to governance, systems & the shaman

Beginning my second year of research as a PhD candidate at La Trobe University, I share this blog as a response to friends and family who want to know more about this project, and because I want to share some of the mind-blowing philosophy, science and social theory I engage and grapple with. In particular the application of systems thinking to organisational systems, and the implications of the quantum universe on those organisations and its participants, Integral theory and the work of French Philosophers, Foucault, Deleuze and Latour.

A PhD certainly resides in an academic realm and yet for me this endeavour is ultimately about making a difference to our everyday practice. The working title for my thesis is, New Governance for the Anthropocene: Dynamic and Regenerative. 

I welcome your feedback – especially  about concepts that resonate and make a difference to your thinking/acting. You are welcome to share this with anyone who you think would enjoy it!

Photo: Zac Strbac 2015