the Quaker Activists: Keepers of Society’s “Imaginal Cells”
Complex Global Crises Set the Stage for Quaker Pathways Forward
By, Pamela Boyce Simms
Friends it’s time to shed the vestiges of outworn caterpillar thinking. Our planet faces an existential crisis. Climate change, resource depletion, and income disparity are now hastened by an unhinged political landscape, and we are racing toward the edge of a cliff!
Throughout history Quakers have repeatedly held and activated the equivalent of transformational “imaginal cells” which have triggered metamorphoses in American social norms and behavior.
When a caterpillar becomes a butterfly it releases enzymes in the chrysalis which digest most of its original body. What remains of the caterpillar in the resulting genetic nutrient soup are some memory neurons and “imaginal cells.” These cells which are carried forward into the emerging creature’s next developmental phase, are simultaneously bearers of archival DNA, and transformational.
Imaginal cells were always present within the caterpillar. They incubate up until the moment when metamorphosis into a butterfly begins. Various types of imaginal cells use the nutrient soup to form different parts of the butterfly’s body. Although the butterfly is made from the same basic material as the caterpillar, it is organized so differently that the emergent creature is unrecognizable.
Now is the time for the keepers of society’s imaginal cells to act. With deepening of self-awareness and contemplative practice as the drivers of activism, Friends and Quaker organizations can again position themselves to catalyze 21st century social evolution!
Friends are herein invited to combine, a) Quaker contemplative practice and, b) self-awareness informed by a scientific worldview, to take on complex societal challenges from a place of clarity and freedom.
“Contemplative” here refers to settling into silence and deliberately quieting the mind by stilling discursive thought. “Practice” refers to an individual or group’s invoking the repeated, direct, experiential connection with the universal, undifferentiated energy field while in a contemplative state. Frequent or ongoing contact with the field of inner light is the essence of Quaker DNA as it manifested in the lives of early Friends.
21st Century Quaker Activism Revival
The 21st century will likely witness hundreds of millions of people caught up in cascading systemic collapse and transformation. Global society has crossed a threshold. We’ve entered the time of the Great Transition ─ a time when we hospice outworn ways of living that no longer serve us and the Earth, and give birth to an emergent, more compassionate and resilient future. Friends have the capacity to tap into archival memory and Quaker DNA to guide people through the narrow straights of accelerated climate change disruptions and economic upheaval.
At this pivotal moment Quaker activists can choose to systematically hone the inner vision which will enable them to: a) view this time of global crisis as an opportunity for planetary catharsis, and, b) to cultivate their personal self-mastery in service to others amidst crisis. Quakers can learn how to enhance their capacity to consistently work from the still, eye of the storm as they help others navigate the impending turmoil.
How much of our untapped potential will we each access and awaken at this critical point in history? What we do with that inherent template is up to each one of us. All paths must be honored. Yet the opportunity that presents itself in the 21st century is unprecedented.
With ongoing deepening of self-knowledge, strengthened by scientific understanding of what can optimally happen when Friends settle into silence, Quakers can maximize the opportunity to co-create with Spirit. Equipped with the means for practice-deepening self-mastery, Friends and Quaker organizations can better implement their leadings for greater social impact. Once caterpillar thinking is transformed the emergent butterfly can take flight.
We all possess an inherent, latent possibility for self-transformation. The psyche is teleological.4] It has the innate, mission-driven intention of growing, knowing more, and deepening self-awareness over the course of a lifetime. When we increase our capacity to distance ourselves from our thoughts while in silence we can be more effective. When we diligently work on transforming ourselves, we also activate transformational cells in society as a collective.
─The work that we do on ourselves is the work we do on the world.” -George Leonard
The practice of refining self-awareness involves:
- Thinking holistically: Using systems thinking to focus on how parts are interconnected, self-organize, and interact to create a dynamically emergent whole.
- Seeing clearly: Translating neuro and cognitive behavioral science into practical application in order to understand how our brains and minds shape our perception, thoughts, emotions and behavior.
- Working smart– Practicing the art of authentic relationship cultivation, and resilient, collaborative culture-building in, and beyond the world of monthly and yearly meetings.
Quaker Activators of Imaginal Cells Draw on Archival Memory
Quakers have been at the epicenter of every major American cultural transformation. The disproportionately powerful impact of this relatively small group of social reformers has in large part been a function of their living into the truth of their testimony.
Historically Friends sensed that with guardianship and activation of society’s imaginal cells came the responsibility to act from a place of authentic integrity. Therefore at each historical turning point key subset of Quakers first reawakened the corporate body, shook off the seductive sleep of the prevailing cultural norms surrounding them, and put themselves through the paces of internal transformation.
Each time Friends catalyzed a cultural shift, ─ whether around abolition, women’s suffrage, Civil Rights, or peace activism, they imitated the caterpillar ─i.e. a process known as biomimicry.
Each time Quaker conscience and societal norms were out of sync, division and strife arose within the Society of Friends. At the outset of each successive movement Quakers sought clarity from spirit and listened deeply in stillness. They opened themselves up in contemplation to the field of universal wisdom which offered insight and comprehensive perspective on the prevailing social reality of their times. Over time there was a slow, gradual, yet inexorable shift in consciousness.
Through discernment processes Quakers clarified and worked through their own complicity with the old ways. They examined themselves and took each other to task as they dissolved outworn thinking and behavior patterns. (In the cases of abolition and women’s suffrage it took almost one hundred years of travail, but Friends stayed the course.) Then, having determined what it would take to align their own lives with this shifted perspective, they stepped away from mainstream norms.
As pioneering social change agents, Quakers are historically their own best example. At pivotal historical points when American culture approached “evolve-or-implode” moments, Friends needed only look to the early Quakers for inspiration. The earliest Friends were one with their practice. They lived, breathed, ate, and slept, their practice, surrendering their entire consciousness being and world to their spiritual path.
Their lives in the outer world were a continuation of their inner world of contemplative practice even when that meant persecution. This depth of devotion to practice and service enabled theirs, and successive generations of Friends to midwife radically new cultural frames of reference. This was especially true whenever a tipping point of Friends perceived an erosion of core Quaker beliefs by worldly thinking. Quaker slavery abolitionism illustrates how the incremental dissolution of an outworn thought matrix progressed and gave rise to revolutionized thinking and behavioral norms.
Quaker Abolitionism: Evolution of Thought and Norms
In the 1730s when the anti-slavery spark flickered among Quakers, 20% of Philadelphia Quakers owned slaves and many Friends were involved in the slave trade. Caterpillar
thinking was deeply entrenched. Friends’ slave ownership is one of the more aberrant examples of how at various periods of history significant percentages of the Quaker corporate body succumbed to the seduction of the larger culture and slipped away from the moorings of testimony and practice.
Moving through a metamorphosis in consciousness required enduring a profound internal struggle. Meetings were divided, and responses to the idea of abolition were varied. Each meeting reacted in accordance with its own socioeconomic circumstances. “Quakers were both of their times and at odds with it.”
At one end of the spectrum substantial numbers of Quakers had quite literally bought into the prevailing normalization of ownership of other human beings. It was easier for many Quakers to oppose slavery intellectually than to forego the personal convenience it afforded them. Heavily invested in the institution of slavery, slave owning Friends rationalized their behavior by claiming that they treated their slaves well.
At the other end of the spectrum were radical abolitionists like Benjamin Lay who theatrically “let his life preach.” Lay refused to eat or wear anything produced by slave labor and famously punctuated a fiery anti-slavery speech by piercing a bible containing a bladder of simulated blood which spattered his audience.
Holding the middle ground between extremes, abolitionist reformers, such as John Woolman, David Ferris and Anthony Benezet worked tirelessly within Quaker circles to shift consciousness, meeting by meeting. They stood their ground and stated their case with humility and integrity.
A continuum of rationales for abolition surfaced from 1730 when 70% of Chester County PA slave owners were Quaker and 20% of Philadelphia Quakers owned slaves, to the 1770s when 7% remained slave owners. Some Friends sought solely to ensure that masters allowed their slaves to attend first day meeting; they asserted that the masters had no right to deny slaves this access. Others’ primary concern was to purify the Religious Society of Friends of a social ill which reflected poorly on Quakers. Still others focused on Friends not being associated with the violence inherent in the institution of slavery.
Granted, all of this reasoning was self-referential and no Quaker abolitionist thought that Africans merited the same social status as Quakers or any other settler of European descent. The goal was not justice for Blacks but the idea that slavery and slaves polluted the Society of Friends. However, the action of witnessing to the light in Africans was an evolutionary leap forward in thinking at the time. It was such a departure from the norm that it put Quakers in the vanguard of colonial thought-culture.
Activating Imaginal Cells: Women’s Suffrage, Civil Rights, & Peace Movements
Time and time again at various historical junctures Friends woke up and recognized how society had eroded the Quaker witness to equality (spiritual, not social). Awakened, Quakers
were led and emboldened to free themselves of beliefs and behaviors that were out of alignment with their core principles. They emerged from protracted periods of self-reflection and in due time, took the larger society with them into next-phase thinking.
As their Spirit-led thinking evolved, Friends served as way-showers who moved the social order, and eventually the legal system, forward. Their activism sprang from a reworked frame of reference that was: in greater alignment with spirit, true to the pith of Quakerism, and revolutionary for society.
Seventy-two years after the abolition of slavery, Quaker-led organizing, lobbying, and civil disobedience led to the passage of the 19th Amendment to the US Congress, which recognized women’s right to vote.
Fast forward to the mid-20th century and Quakers were again stepping forward to champion the rights of African Americans and oppose the barbarism of the Vietnam War:
“A small, dissenting denomination, the Quakers were out of the American mainstream. More so than any religious group in the mid-twentieth century, they pushed aggressively for racial equality – and for a small group, they were ubiquitous. Their zeal made them the most visible white dominated group in the civil rights movement besides Communists.” (Hunter Wallace in, American North, Negroes, Race Relations, 1993)
Mid-demonstration, author and activist Todd Gitlin reminisces about Quaker engagement in the peace movement in, The People Make the Peace:
“This was just one of the hundreds—perhaps even thousands of antiwar demonstrations in which Friends participated during the course of the war (ca. 1955 to 1975). Along withmany others, Friends provided leadership and nonviolence training for large demonstrations, such as the rally that brought 600,000 protesters to Washington in November 1969. “
The Evolutionary Imperative
The dial has turned again. The Quaker precedent of hospicing old outworn paradigms and birthing the new is well established. The time has come again for Friends to stand in the epicenter of social transformation, –to once again model an evolutionary response to society’s multi-tiered, existential challenges.
However, effectively engaging with the degree of uncertainty and ever-increasing complexity of the crises society faces today calls for nothing short of an evolutionary leap in Quaker consciousness. This is especially true in the domain of Quaker legacy organizations intended to be vehicles for social transformation.
Today income disparity is egregious and spiraling out of control. Americans are increasingly subject to the pathology of a self-serving, morally bankrupt oligarchic class with no self-imposed limits. The 45th American President’s “cabinet has more than $9.5 billion in combined wealth –greater than that of the 43 million least wealthy American households combined — over one-third of the 126 million households total in the U.S.” (Tom Kertscher, Politifact Wisconsin, 12, 30, 2016)
Quakerism initially arose from a comparable period of intense turmoil, complication, and uncertainty during the English Civil War (1642-1651). The birth of The Religious Society of [Quaker] Friends was an emergent response to the tyranny of illegitimate hierarchy. Contemplative spiritual practice has consistently fueled bold Quaker challenges to, and separation out from, the prevailing “business-as-usual” status quo.
As things currently stand, individuals are overwhelmed by the complexity of life-management problems. Overspecialization deprives us of core life skills which means that we’re unable to holistically and autonomously take care of our own basic needs. Most of us are completely dependent upon an oligarchic corporate infrastructure for our survival. We are fed, clothed and housed by corporations focused on profit rather than our needs.
A tight circle of corporations curate the information to which the public has access and ensure that the entertainment industry perpetually distracts our attention from their extractive industries which are degrading the Earth. If corporate delivery systems were to shut down due to a climate disruption or any other reason, cities in the United States would have an average of three days of resources available for the sustenance of the population.
Meanwhile, organizations are scrambling to adapt rigid hierarchical structures to rapidly shifting circumstances and anticipated, yet unpredictable disruptions. Lumbering governments lurch from crisis to crisis. Simultaneously, accelerating climate change and worsening resource depletion form the backdrop for this drama.
We are witnessing firsthand, the crumbling of old organizing principles that no longer meet society’s needs and the emergence of innovative systems. Friends are called to raise Quaker voices and bring the power of Quakerism to bear on this 21st century emergence. To do this both Quakers and the larger society need tools that deepen discernment and open a window on a wider swath of reality for more people, in actionable ways.
Broadened perspective is essential if we are to navigate climate disruption, extreme wealth disparity, widespread poverty, biodiversity loss, and manage food and water resources in a carbon-constrained future. Yet, we’ve been bequeathed a worldview that reflexively focuses our attention on separation and division, narrowing our field of vision, and consequently our efficacy. The challenges we face in the 21st century require a more unified framework for understanding the world and our place in it.
Awakening Cells within Friends & Quaker Organizations
How prepared to walk the walk are 21st century Friends’ organizations, yearly and monthly meetings, and Friends’ “witness concerns” committees?
I first contemplated this on two occasions when considering how to: a) effectively convey a message from my Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW) Working Group to all yearly meetings, and, b) convene brainstorming sessions among members of an affinity group throughout the country, across Quaker organizations, and within yearly meetings. Upon investigation I encountered atomization, extreme disconnection, and Friends’ frustration around prevailing inertia or not seeing a clear way forward.
During the course of further investigation I witnessed firsthand, a face-off between two national Quaker organizations over whether or not to promote a far-reaching global climate initiative. The issue was the depth of each organization’s understanding of corporate externalities; ─the long term negative effect that the initiative’s implementation would have on vulnerable people. Would Quakers agree to what was politically expedient and made sense superficially at the expense of a long-range damaging impact on marginalized people? This incident offered a rich microcosm of wisdom about just how splintered the Quaker organizational universe has become.
One Quaker organization was constrained in its decision-making process by the political trade-offs and alliances it needed to maintain in the milieu where it functions. This organization, with several paid staff members, is viewed as senior due to the number of years it has been in existence. The other organization, populated by seasoned veterans in international business who donate their time, wasn’t laboring under political constraints. Yet it didn’t enjoy enough seniority-privilege in the hierarchy of the Friends’ organizational constellation to hold sway.
The latter was reduced to acquiescence in the short-run. However, honoring the ethical principle of not abandoning marginalized people of the global south, the junior organization subsequently brought in an outside institution that the “weighty” Quaker group respected. The outside organization is providing essentially the same research results that the senior group was previously unable to hear and unwilling to heed.
This incident revealed: a) siloed territorialism, b) disconnection so great that it abetted suffering for the most vulnerable in order to maintain a power position, c) longstanding underdevelopment of inter-organizational communications systems, d) underutilization of the inadequate communications channels that do exist, e) a non-egalitarian, hierarchical culture, and, f) lack of truly functional interpersonal or inter-organizational conflict resolution processes.
The Challenge to Our Perceptual Operating System
The depth and breadth of the division and complexity society faces has been laid bare by the 2016 Presidential election. Quakers would do well not to meet societal division with their own internal division.
Our world is less predictable than ever before, change is hyper-accelerated and discontinuity is the norm. At a pivotal time when Friends need to bring their most resourceful selves into the social change arena, Quaker organizations are by and large operating in siloed bubbles.
New societal patterns profoundly challenge the adaptive capacity of current Quaker legacy-organizations. Dedicated Friends who staff these organizations lament that they have slipped into a defacto hierarchy that perpetuates fragmentation, fails to sustain intentional communication, and impedes concerted action.
Deliberate decentralization of authority among connected, localized nodes is a beautiful thing. That however, is not the Quaker organizational vista before us. The prevalent disconnection among Friends’ organizations at multiple levels is counterproductive. It understandably reflects a longstanding, inherited momentum of linear, unidirectional thinking. We play our own lane in relative isolation. The difficulty is that this thinking inhibits enduring, cohesive, and authentic 21st century complex problem-solving, community and movement-building.
Sixteen years ago the Earlham School of Religion queried focus groups of Friends from meetings across the country. In the Earlham study, typical responses to the prompt, “Twenty years from now, given current trends and conditions, I see the Religious Society of Friends . . .” were:
“Even more fragmented, splintered, and divided than we already are.” – Asheboro, NC
“Scattered and unfocused with several visions.” – Chicago, IL
“Confused and contentious as it is today.” “Limping along, trying not to get anyone mad at them.” “Struggling, mired in power struggles.” – Gwynned, PA
“Continuing to decline and having little impact. “-High Point, NC
Split into many groups, many of which do not know about the others, or do not care if they do. Many focused inward and a few outward, being relatively effective locally without a sense of the whole. -Portland, OR
Now, as multi-tiered global crises crescendo, we are three years away from the, “twenty years hence” which Earlham asked Friends to envision. Does it not behoove Quakers to activate the “imaginal cells;” –to radically transform the thinking behind organizational operating systems which do not serve evolutionary leadings and responses? We can embrace the opportunity to transcend the expectations of interviewees in the Earlham study.
Friends can no longer abide this internal separation-dynamic if we aim to be impactful in these uncertain times. Quakerism can be a 21st century catalyst to the degree that Friends shake off the reductionist spell cast on Western society by Enlightenment thinkers who were prominent at the time of Quakerism’s inception, – most notably Descartes and Newton. We have been bequeathed a limited way of viewing reality.
The Gap between Knowing and Acting
Intellectually we’re aware of our common humanity and interconnectedness. We speak of unity with nature, each other, and the Earth. Yet in real-time we reflexively focus and often fixate on difference, separation, and stratification; –among ourselves, our organizations, and everywhere we look. Why is it so difficult to harmoniously sustain work together for the good of the whole over the long haul without schism? Why do the silos persist? How do we account for this gap between what we know, what say we believe in, and what we do?
We do understand the need for sustained cooperative collaboration. So, it’s interesting to note that at the suggestion of fuller understanding and living into quantum reality many Friends glaze over and bring up “string theory” as a metaphor for some unfathomable pursuit, the mere thought of which tires them out. The reasons for this are legion, profound, and if left unaddressed will thwart Quaker social action purposes.
Truly sustainable and transformative social change requires clearness and perception that is as free from cognitive distortion as is humanly possible. Outworn ways of thinking compounded by cognitive distortion yield a blurry organizational vision and blunt, short lived social impact. Quaker contemplative practice informed by a scientific understanding of the language, architecture, and function of the mind and brain is key to
reducing cognitive distortion and formulating a clear, unified vision.
Social change will only stick and have a wholly constructive effect if it proceeds from a deep, comprehensive, and lived understanding of: a) the world as it actually IS, b) ourselves, as part of a larger whole, and, c) the need for the operations of Friends’ organizations and networks entrusted with social transformation to be in alignment with the workings of the interconnected web.
Many people are aware that everything in the universe, from quantum to galactic levels, is energy. We know that we are each comprised of 100 trillion atoms in the 53 trillion cells in our bodies. Our cells consist of atoms 999.999% of which are empty space. This is what makes up the seemingly solid world around us.
Quantum and neurosciences show us that various recurring patterns of vibrational frequencies of energy acting in harmony form what our senses perceive as matter. Matter is energy vibrating very slowly.
Why is this important? Because our thoughts and emotions which have frequency and vibration unequivocally effect the outer physical world around us.
The impact that our thoughts and feelings have on the world is not something we can turn on or off at will. The process is continuous. Our waking, conscious, thinking mind and most especially our subconscious mind are communicating with the energy field around us from moment to moment shaping physical reality with our thoughts and emotions
whether we are aware of it or not. Most of humanity, oblivious to the direct impact of unexamined personal and collective thought patterns on the world, lives unconsciously.
Today’s multilayered crises are a direct reflection of, a) the complex web of incessantly interacting patterns and interlocking energy systems, AND, b) humanity’s lack of understanding thereof. The damage wrought by this lack of understanding is pervasive ─effecting all dimensions of economic, political, educational, social and cultural discourse and behavior.
People and organizations that anchor their operations in such an unexamined, limited three dimensional view of reality are therefore living in a world of distorted perception. The impact of decisions, missions and strategies tethered exclusively to this narrow bandwidth will necessarily miss the mark.
Even with the best of intentions we cannot simply will the intellectual awareness of our inherent interdependence into new behavior. We have to take time to understand the true nature of mind, energy, vibration and frequency as best we can. We’ll need to look deeper within ourselves, grasp how we unconsciously frame reality, and practice working with the subconscious mind ─the true driver of what happens in our world, to eliminate distortion.
We’ll need to discern our place in the scheme of things, and then learn to deliberately co-create with the larger system. We can learn to maintain our balance with simultaneous awareness of both inner and outer and worlds, each impacting and informing the other. Friends’ ability to do this in the 21st century is tantamount to activating imaginal cells with clarity of vision.
“Reality is an illusion. Albeit, a persistent one.” ─Albert Einstein
How Did We Get Here? & ─The Great UNLEARNING─ Our Goal is Clearness.
Friends, let us see with fresh eyes. Human minds seek to make meaning and find purpose using whatever information is available. Global society is on an unsustainable course because the meaning we’ve made of the world has historically been erroneously based on the illusion of disconnection. Hope in these turbulent times lies in unlearning this habitual thinking which limits our vision and dulls our social impact.
An antiquated view of reality that no longer serves us remains our primary frame of reference! It is the prism through which most of us see the world. It is grounded in centuries old philosophy and science that hypothesized on the basis of what could be seen with the naked eye! Our attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and the choices we make all proceed from how and what we have been trained to see for generations, AND what we automatically filter out of conscious awareness.
Beginning with the ancient Greek notion of the dichotomy between human beings and the cosmos, Western civilization has been built on the flawed cognitive foundation of duality. Cartesian “Age of Enlightenment” logic and Newtonian theories further anchored the internalization of this narrow, distorted perception. Quakerism was born into that 17th century era when people began to think of nature as a giant machine that could be reduced to its controllable parts and engineered by humans. Specifically the theory described the Universe as a giant
mechanical clock — dead matter.
Most of us were imprinted with the “scientific method” as THE appropriate set of lenses through which to view the world. The view of nature as machinelike or inanimate matter is the foundation of the reductionist model of scientific research. Granted, viewing the world as an assemblage of parts that can be analyzed separately has yielded tremendous achievement.
Some things are in fact best understood by breaking them down and examining every minute component part. The isolation and analysis of every discreet element of nature’s building blocks is responsible for advances from the periodic table to nanotechnology. It produced microchips and has enabled scientists to edit genomes. This is not a case of either-or, but of both-and. However, we’ve been educated to prioritize and focus on the analysis of atomized parts to the exclusion of their interdependence with all other parts of the larger system.
Most of us are predisposed to immediately, reflexively, and unconsciously hone in on separate elements. This predisposition has been baked into our societal, economic, organizational, and personal conditioning for centuries. Many people like Nobel laureate Francis Crick, a discoverer of the DNA molecule structure, cannot (or will not, given identity-investment) see their way clear of this limited perspective. It has become an article of faith.
“You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” ─Francis Crick
However systems theory has long since revealed this view to be limited in scope, and offers an alternative, holistic understanding of life. It provides a new way of apprehending aspects of the world that reductionism has been unable to explain.
An integrated, systems approach does not replace reductionist thinking. It deepens, broadens, enhances and pulls back the curtain to unveil myriad self-organizing systems that comprise our world. Scientific method grounded in Cartesian linear logic, Newtonian physics, and hyper-narrow specialization is incapable of predicting the emergent behavior self-organized systems by studying each part in isolation.
Everything is an intimately responsive dance of energy, and everything is connected. Living systems are fractally embedded, that is, nested one within the other ─atoms within cells, cells within organs, organs within organ systems in the body, individuals in families, communities, countries, continents, the Earth, the solar system, galaxy and universe. Systems are interacting continually at multiple levels and cannot be fully understood in isolation. We are part of a web of relationships.
Systems, ─political, social, economic, human bodies, communities, and ecosystems are understood through the prism of integration that recognizes how all of the parts relate to each other and the whole. In fact, the relationship between things is often more important than the things themselves. Biological phenomena in particular can’t be predicted with precision. So instead of static laws, a systems approach refers to underlying organizing principles of nature.
“Everything flows and nothing abides; everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.”─ Heraclitus of Ephesus
“You cannot look twice at the same river; for fresh waters are ever flowing in.”
“We look and do not look at the same rivers; we are, and we are not.” ─ Heraclitus of Ephesus
A systems worldview makes meaning from the world in a way that is accurately grounded in the reality of connection. Understanding the universe as a vast web of meaning of which we all are a part, signals a fundamental shift in values that could usher in the Great Transition to a compassionate, collaborative culture. Compassion is a key word. Compassion ─love, is an integrative force that counterbalances fragmentation and produces system health, and balance.
To further that recognition Physicist Fritjof Capra, systems thought leaders and emerging-culture designers have applied this understanding in a multidisciplinary way to health, economics, human relationships, and environmental sustainability. The common thread woven through these fields is that: a) all living systems are intrinsically interdependent, and, b) humans are an integral part of the natural world.
The acceptance, especially as climate change dials up, that we one with nature, and in the final analysis cannot control or dominate it compels us to work in harmony with the complex systems that surround us.
However, these scientific insights have not been shared with most people. Education has not kept pace. So linear thinking remains a collective default position and comfort zone. The power of collective thought to sustain a matrix enables a critical mass of people to continue devoting thought and energy to upholding an illusion. The momentum of the outworn perceptual framework directs the stream of our attention into the confines of a thin band of perception.
This is the bandwidth in which hierarchical dominance, power and control dynamics, competition, hyper-individualism, siloed, compartmentalized approaches to stand-alone projects, and lack of communication prevail in organizations and isolate individuals. As long as we remain stuck in this bandwidth, we miss the rest of a vast, rich, infinite field.
Further, compounding the narrowed field of vision, our brains, specifically the amygdala in the brain stem, 16] collude to ensure that we don’t pay attention to anything that doesn’t correspond to our pre-existing internal navigation system. In other words, we automatically look for “internal coherence,” or resonance between new, incoming information with what we think we already know. We filter out and ignore information that may be accurate and helpful, but which doesn’t fit our existing mental map. In essence, we ignore interrelatedness in favor of the separation illusion sustained by repetition.
Finally, it is in the direct financial interest of western economies to amplify and perpetuate the separation and stratification myth among people. Sowing seeds of division is the hallmark of exploitation, and exploitation of workers and the Earth is the bedrock of American corporate capitalism.
The myth of separation has enabled unfettered capitalism and consumerist culture to turn everything from human beings to the natural environment into commodities for exploitation. So, financial barons continually reinforce this frame of reference in service to the bottom line. The hidden assumption is that we are separate from nature and that economic interests are apart from, and superior to the environment. The illusion that we aren’t connected to the Earth has been the rationale used to rapaciously exploit nature until her systems collapse. This set of assumptions generates the alienation and loneliness we feel in the office and residential cubicles that separate us from other people and our extended family of all living things.
“Parts logic” underlies the way we’ve internalized the self-referential hyper-individuality that enshrines itself as the “American way.” Marketers, the media, and educators have fused the identity image of rugged, loner individualism, to the point of selfishness and greed, to the ideals of freedom and liberty. Not only is this thinking inaccurate in navigating a world of highly complex interrelated systems, but it’s dangerous. Parts thinking has so degraded nature, viewed as “other” in the quest to dominate it, that the resulting unstable imbalances are now lethal. The separation delusion has helped bring us to the brink of global crisis.
What’s a Friend to Do? – Pathways Forward
How might Friends and Quaker organizations free themselves from an outmoded, and now dangerous societal worldview, and activate society’s imaginal cells?
Understand and unravel limiting stories and paradigms that we’ve internalized. We can start by accepting that the old system no longer serves us well in these tumultuous times. Our current mental constructs keep us from seeing the systemic whole, which once understood, makes root causes of problems visible to us. Together we can unlearn, deconstruct, and dismantle false mental models which diffuse the vision and impact of Quaker organizations and networks. This requires ongoing dedication to doing individual internal work with the support of community, while sharing our process with others.
We can resist the temptation to look at, and work on local, national, and global problems in isolation. We can withstand the siren song of the old paradigm, calling us to reflexively try and find, “the right part to fix.” We can cease trying to strategically tinker with our organizations or reshuffle their elements expecting a result beyond mediocracy. We can recognize that they will inevitably fall back into the old patterns if the framing organizing principles have not changed.
Know that the template already exists for a new compassionate, collaborative culture at all levels, and it is emerging into conscious awareness. We need look no farther than nature to find examples ─observe natural living systems and the seamless way that they work if left undisturbed. The emergent culture is compatible with ancient wisdom traditions that we’ve forgotten AND new scientific awareness. It is self-organizing, regenerative, and self-regulating. It manifests as webs and networks that interact dynamically with each other.
Understand Transitions: We are in a period of transition. A complex system such as our global society and the nations within it can remain resilient at a relatively stable homeostasis for a long time. However systems can become so unstable that they experience a dramatic shift that transforms them into something very different. Such a shift might lead to either disintegration or evolution. These shifts are called transitions. Our global system is poised at the threshold of such a transition. We have choices to make about the direction in which our system moves.
Examine & Undo Complicity with the Old System: Quakers repeatedly put themselves through the rigorous paces of self-examination as they looked out over the early vistas of the abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights and peace movements. We’d be wise to similarly reflect upon how we are complicit with dysfunctional systems, and course correct. What does it mean to us to live an authentic purposeful life of integrity at this crossroads in planetary history? How close do our lives as we are living them in the present come to the benchmark we’ve set? How conscious are we of each choice we make?
How we use our time in the 21st century is not just a matter of legacy, but determines whether we survive, thrive ─or not. Let’s be mindful that human beings are systems within larger systems. Systems achieve balance in response to feedback which indicates when there needs to be shift in direction. We abdicate our power when we are not introspective, don’t listen to feedback, or identify and shed limiting, harmful behaviors. The definition of suffering is trying to hang on to anything which isn’t permanent for the sake of familiarity. We reclaim our power by looking within, self-correcting and making each of our choices mindfully.
Live Into Full Potential: Friends who commune with the undifferentiated field, the energetic web of interdependence, via contemplative practice can resist the temptation to push this awareness to the back of their minds. Such experience need not be viewed as a rarified abstraction or occasional overwhelming mystical reverie. Rather it is the pith of the experience, which if shared, will enable the world to more easily navigate the Great Transition. Awakened Friends no longer have the luxury of choosing not to cultivate this connection.
Deeper understanding is NOT indulgence in abstraction. Global society stands on the brink of an existential crisis and clarity about the systems which constitute our world is pivotal. The time has come to give ourselves permission to learn more about how the universe works, and how our minds work in consonance with it ─so as to consciously co-create reality. A story comes to mind that illustrates the willingness to throw open the window of understanding and admit an expansive, integrated understanding of reality into one’s worldview.
Smirking at the grad student who was new to a fellowship in nuclear physics, the smug poet laureate slated to speak at the presidential inauguration said, “Tell me something. How do you live with such an unimaginative view of the world? How is life without the resonance of beauty even worth the effort?’
Said the physics scholar, “Let me tell you a little something about beauty sir. You seem to think that I can’t appreciate beauty because I study the intricacies of its components. It was Richard Feynman, a personal hero of mine, who said that he could appreciate the beauty of a flower more than say….ah you… He said that he could see more than the average man sees. He could imagine its cells. He could appreciate how the flower had evolved to make itself more attractive to insects. Which means that insects see color! Maybe insects share our aesthetic sense! Recognizing the majesty of the quantum world only adds to the wonder-filled, magical beauty of life. It does not subtract. So to answer your question, I don’t just live in a beautiful world. I understand it.” The poet was dumbstruck. The following day the poet laureate rose from his seat at the inauguration and delivered the following poem:
Sitting high above the Potomac,
In the long shadows of the spilt blood of the founding fathers and founding mothers,
I can see more than the average man sees.
I imagine the cells, the nucleus of things.
I see colors that evolved to speak to the smallest of eyes.
Sacrifices that meet in this cataclysm of longing for what can and what can’t,
Overcoming what cannot,
In the majesty of the quantum world,
In the beauty of building blocks, in the tiniest of elements,
I glimpse the privilege of being.
This alertness does not subtract. It adds.
It is not our inheritance merely to abide in this beautiful world.
It is our inheritance to understand it.
Demystify & Normalize Profound Aspects of Quaker Contemplative Practice : Awareness of the energetic nature of the universe and our unity with it is still buried deep in the unconscious of most human beings. Quaker contemplative practice can open the door to this level of experiential understanding. Deeply contemplative Quakers are privy to a more expansive apprehension of the interdependence of reality than most.
The experiential connection to the field of universal wisdom is accessible, not once or twice in a lifetime; not occasionally, but regularly when consciously cultivated with openness, gratitude, and self-compassion. It is time to cease shying away from inquiry that society has deliberately conditioned us to think is too confusing, headache-inducing, abstract, or not apparently relevant. This understanding IS practical and relevant NOW Friends.
Quakers who touch the truth through practice can determine to bring it forward moment by moment into their daily lives and relationships. We could give ourselves permission to view this as a sacred pursuit of clearness. We could work to ensure that leadings don’t require translation through limiting, conditioned frames of reference, and minimize the cognitive distortion which blunts or thwarts their effective implementation.
Inform & Strengthen Quaker Contemplative Practice
Updated Skills-set Queries:
How do missing pieces of the “big picture” create obstacles for Quaker organizations and Friends trying to hone in on a clear, unified 21st century vision that enables effective engagement with complex challenges?
Do we REALLY know what we think we know as we consider our mission, our social action concerns, and the way(s) we organize our work to address them?
If not, what IS IT that causes people to miss elements of the big picture?
How can we sharpen skills needed to deepen Quaker contemplative practice, and ground our social action in a clearer, more accurate perception of emergent realities?
Individual and organizational clarity involves learning how to step back and observe our thoughts, emotions, and behavior patterns. This requires practice. We then take yet another step back and become aware of, and understand the origin of the constructs through which we are observing.
By slowing down and witnessing our thoughts we can determine how helpful and reality- based our constructs are – where they serve us, or are distorted. Personal internal work leads to community, organizational, and societal self-reflection and transformation.
Witnessing and constantly restructuring thought patterns that don’t serve us and the organizations that we populate, strips away the distortion which blocks our view of the world’s interconnectedness. This is key to the evolution of human consciousness and culture building. It is also essential to working with the level of complexity inherent in today’s multi-layered challenges, and the capacity of Quaker organizations to do impactful social transformation in the 21st century.
Neuroscience ─specifically neurobiology and neurolinguistics, contextual information from quantum physics, and cognitive behavioral science all provide accessible, user-friendly (and fun) tools for self-reflection, self-understanding, and cognitive restructuring, which give rise to clear-minded individual and collective action.
□ Self-reflection tools derived from neuro-linguistic and cognitive behavioral science:
Clear away much of the cognitive distortion which limits connection with the undifferentiated field, and obstructs or dilutes implementation of leadings from the field into action.
Are used to better understand:
□ The architecture and workings of the mind and brain,
□ Our personal selves in relation to Spirit, the light ─the undifferentiated field, etc., and,
□ The origin of beliefs, values, and behavior patterns.
Mitigate, clear or restructure:
□ Traumas, large and small which impair optimal functioning,
□ Outworn coping mechanisms which the psyche devises to deal with trauma but
which at some point no longer serve us and cause recurring problem behaviors.
□ Create the internal conditions conducive to the translation of Friends’ most profound moments of connection with the undifferentiated field into the living foundation of their lives, moment to moment ─even, and especially in times of crisis.
Build and Model Integrated, Collaborative Culture within Friends’ Organizations
80% of human behaviors mirror of the behaviors of peers. Quakers have historically modeled evolved behaviors that move society forward. In the past the strength of contemplative practice has been the determinant that facilitated Friends’ ability to accelerate the evolution of their own consciousness relative to the cultures around them. Friends were able to “separate out from,” and witness the fallacy of outworn prevalent societal thought constructs.
Varying degrees of “separating out” are contingent upon, a) the depth of Friends’ true understanding of contemplative practice, b) the willingness to undergo the often uncomfortable realignment of one’s life to implement leadings, and, in these current turbulent times, c) embracing tools to enhance practice so as to remove cognitive distortion and sustain connection to the field of universal wisdom.
Imagine the Quaker universe of hyper-local monthly meetings, residential and educational institutions, yearly meetings, national and international organizations imitating the seamless integration of natural living systems. Imagine their having the unified capacity to look out over regional, national, and international landscapes and identify “pressure points” where Friends could make strategic interventions and offer Quaker approaches to shift critical discourse.
Imagine Friends and a constellation of Friends’ organizations who deeply understand the threats now facing humanity standing shoulder to shoulder looking into the future with sober eyes and a Spirit-led optimism.
Quaker yearly meetings and legacy organizations are invited to step forward and model evolutionary culture building. Let us hone and apply the powerful “imaginal-cell-DNA” of
Quaker practice and embrace the opportunity to help guide the emergence of the new culture. It is to that end, that the Pathways Forward, Quaker Revival Initiative has been formulated in service to Friends’ monthly and yearly meetings, educational institutions, national, and international organizations and networks.
Pathways Forward Reference Base:
□ Complexity Research: looks at the interactions among many parts that give rise to novelty in living systems ─including human ecosystems. It includes the study of tipping points, feedback loops, rules of local interaction, emergence of systemic behaviors, and dynamic attractors.
□ Cognitive Science: brings together all that is known about human thought and behavior. It looks at the neural processing of language, how emotions shape reasoning, why the body and brain interact in profound and subtle ways that give rise to the making of meaning.
□ Cultural Evolution: applies evolutionary principles to the emergence of ﬁtness criteria for idea propagation. It looks at the spread of ideas and emergence of new cultural traits in social systems at interpersonal and institutional scales.