The game of predict and control is coming to an end.
The river of time flows only one way, from the past into the future. The future is much harder to perceive than the past. Yet, our yearning to gain a better sense of our future runs deep. I just received an email from an organization that I am loosely associated with, inviting me to participate in a meeting to “shape our future”. Two months ago, I attended the Washington state nonprofit organization conference titled “designing of our future”. The enterprises of investment and insurance are built around our desire to control our future, and their tendrils reach far, wide and deep into the very foundations our lives.
I was once a researcher scientist at a pharmaceutical company, churning through tens of millions of data points daily with sophisticated algorithms to search for biomarkers, biological signals that predict which chemicals will turn into the next blockbuster drugs. The research department I worked for was the very reason the spokesperson of the company used to justify the exorbitant cost of drugs to the public. The logic goes like this – we the company are invested in certain ways to shape our future. To get there takes a high price. Therefore, you the patients (or consumers) need to help us pay for it.
These modern future-engaging practices were mostly created with a consciousness rooted in the orange paradigm of merit and competition. Measurable profit is the ultimate goal these practices were designed to optimize. When there is a competition, there are winners and losers. When more and more people are tired of losing all the time and ready to walk out, the game is about to be over. As marvelously successful as these practices are within the orange paradigm, they were not designed to engage with a future beyond the paradigm from which they were created. To see beyond the current paradigm requires a brand new seeing experience and drastic shift of consciousness, much like seeing into the deep unknown of the sky with a radio-wave telescope is very different from seeing with an optical one.
The lens through which we are accustomed to see into the future is our known, ego-based self. Along with it, we plan, strategize, and brainstorm. Yet, to see deeper and more clearly into our future, we need to activate another “seeing” device: our unknown, mystery-based self. This part of ourselves speaks to us through intuition, kinesthetic awareness, body sensation, or spontaneous thoughts and actions. It speaks in the language of image, story and metaphor. It may surge into our consciousness in those rare moments when the grip of our ego is loosened, such as powerful release of emotions or ecstatic experiences. We actually often employ both lenses simultaneously. However, we seldom give our unknown, mystery self free rein outside the boundary set by our linear, logical mind. We no longer remember what is like to see into the future independent of our linear logical mind. For most of us embedded in the ruts of modern life, our unknown mystery self either feels chaotic and frightening, or only belongs to the realm of spiritual pursuits. How do we weave this aspect into our work places?
What can we learn from the ancient future-engaging practices?
Ancient civilizations around the world also have built infrastructures and practices, from pyramids and stellae to astrology and divination, to engage with their futures. Shamans and psychics went through arduous, life-long training to loosen the grip on their ego, entering the mysteries to receive information for the future of their tribe.
Just as in our modern future-engaging practices, these ancient practices also reached very high achievement within the social paradigm from which they were created. They also ran into huge pitfalls. The information coming from the future could be erratic, chaotic, or even downright terrifying to our linear, rational selves, especially when our rational minds were still in their formative stage and our ability to shape our environment was still young. Moreover, just like in modern times, it was very easy for those who mastered these practices to abuse the power and exploit those who did not.
The truth is, the known, ego self with its powerfully brilliant, linear, rational mind has been in war with its counterpart, the boundlessly imaginative, wild and mysterious part of ourselves, for millennia. Each one of us carries a deep well of the grief and burden as the result of this war, as well as the bountiful hope and potential to mend their relationship.
A call for partnership from the future
Eight years ago, I left my pharmaceutical job. My soul was suffocated by the rigid hierarchies and my spirit was desiccated by a work environment devoid of authentic and intimate relationships. However, I did not give up my fascination with the problem of how to engage with the future. My desire to create a practice aligned with the evolutionary trajectory of my soul has taken me on a wild adventure and a deep dive into my native cultural heritage.
I immersed myself in the study of Chinese medicine, an energy-based medical model, as well as the ancient divination method I-Ching, also known as the Book of Change. I was determined to re-establish the relationship between the rational and the mysterious aspects of self. I applied skills polished through my science career towards studying the ancient divination practice in a long-term, first-person experiment. I decided not to accept any practices or concepts that my rational mind could not test for itself or link with my own direct experience. I started to build my own conceptual framework to understand how the energetic patterns from the field of collective consciousness translate themselves into information spontaneously arising in individual consciousness.
In 2012 a series of powerfully synchronistic events and visions led me to meet Joe Shirley, a fearless explorer with a gentle appearance but an indomitable will to follow the calling of his soul. We became life and work partners. After three years of 24-7 immersion in learning how to collaborate, we co-founded Resonance Path Institute, dedicated to the research, teaching and practices of innovative methods for societal, organizational and personal change. Through our partnership, my years of experiments have crystallized into a practice we call field tuning. It became one of the primary practices for us to engage with the future of our institution as well as the personal growth and integration for ourselves, our board members and allies.
What does courtship with our future look like?
Our primary guiding principle for engaging with the future is to set up conditions in which our ego self and our mystery self can relate with each other in a mutually-generative ritual of giving and receiving, much like a respectful and playful courtship.
Since these two aspects of ourselves have been locked in age-old painful struggle and woeful vengeance towards each other, we need to unwind them slowly. In field tuning, we first set up a field consisting of several contrasting and complementing domains best capturing the tensions of the situation we are facing. Then we mask the identities of these domains and listen to the field with our unknown, mystery self as our rational mind is being blinded. We ask the field the speak to us in the language of body sensations, spontaneous thoughts and action, images and metaphors. Hence, we are sourcing a vision from the field of collective consciousness independent of our ego-based self. I call this vision the field vision. It is important to make this distinction as I often find that people who are actively involved in change work can often get stuck with visions sourced from the deeply gripped ego, without realizing it. I myself included!
Then we unmask the identity of the domains in the field. The rational mind is eager to translate the information from the source vision into actionable choices. These choices can range from drastic action to deliberate inaction, or even just a shift in awareness to pay attention to. However, it is important for one to notice how one occupies one’s state of being differently as a result of the information from the field vision. This way, we begin to build a new relationship between the two aspects of ourselves where they can communicate with and calibrate each other. By committing ourselves to actionable choices, we also build our muscles to become a potent agency for the field vision.
It is also important to free our action from the burden of the merit-and-competition mindset. It has been drilled into us that we are held accountable towards the measurable results and demonstrable achievements of our actions. Many of us harbor an ego deeply entrenched in the patterns of action we have developed. When left unchecked, this ego can lead us astray from our evolutionary purpose to the point of exhausting our resources or well-being. To act under the guidance of field vision means that one lets go of attachment to planned results (without abandoning results altogether!). Instead, we constantly check our actions to make sure it aligns with the field vision much like taking frequent bearings on a sailing trip. Therefore, I call these actions the guided actions.
With this iterative practice where field vision gives rise to the next waves of guided actions, and guided actions lead to next frame of field vision, one can begin to heal the deep divide between our ego self and our mystery self.
A personal story
One year ago, my work at Resonance Path Institute was primarily focused on running local groups called Resonance Circles. Towards the end of a year-long work, I had many ideas of how to plan for the next year’s iteration and I felt torn in many different directions. My usual mode of operation would be extensive strategizing that will force these different pulls into a cohesive plan. However, my gut-felt unease called me to set up a field tuning.
What came from the field was a surge of powerful energies from an unknown source. This energy felt like a wild, powerful horse running amok in the sky. Its potency and intensity dwarfed the signals I got for all other ideas that my known self had planned.
I realized (with much struggle) that I needed to suspend all my strategizing activities and remain open to new possibilities. I did not know what that energy represented but how it felt had stayed in my body. Several days later, Joe walked into my office and said nonchalantly, “Hey, I saw this online writing class that looks cool. Do you want to sign up?” At that point, I had never been interested in developing writing seriously. I attributed writing as Joe’s task. He is the native speaker and he has already written a book. I did not have much patience to sit down and write as I had always preferred working with my body. Yet, to my surprise, a gentle but definitive voice of “yes” arose in my body to Joe’s suggestion. I signed up just to see what would happen.
Two weeks into this class, it dawned on me what that powerful surge of energy was. That class was the perfect setting that awakened the dormant writer sleeping inside since I was teenager enamored by Chinese classic poetry. I got in touch with the part of me that wrote not just from intellect, but from a source giving rise to both the physical and the intellectual realms. Hence the image of that wild horse (a symbol of the physical realm) and the sky (a symbol for the intellect) made sense.
For the next ten months, I immersed myself in writing. Through the writing I generated, I have created a whole new circle of allies, collaborators and friends around the work of our institute. This image of the wild horse flying in the sky is an example of a field vision, as it completely fell outside the bounds of my rational mind and my existing sense of self (a non-writer) at the time and yet it catapulted me into the next stage of evolution for both myself and the institute.
As for the action of writing, I also fought hard with my deeply ingrained habit of working towards a definitive end result. Within ten months, I had tried five or six different attempts to “write a book”. In the end, I learnt not to orient myself towards a book, but to develop a fine tuned sensitivity to what wants to be conveyed through my writing from the field. When that happens, the writing I generated led to finer and more concrete field visions that constantly surprised me and yet gently guided me to commit for the next step in the work, or pay attention to the aspect of my life that needed nurturing.
I begin to see that it is time for our culture to engage with the planet’s future as well as our individual’s future in a brand new game. We stand at a crossroads. We may continue to treat our future as a passive, malleable medium onto which we shape, design and exercise our wills and desires. In doing so, we risk continuing to slide farther into conflict with a future that threatens to erase us from the planet along with the mass extinction our civilization is creating. Or we may choose to stop forcefully exerting our wills onto the future. Approaching the future gently, as a tender and caring lover, we may ask, “What can I do for you next?” Then we listen with an open heart and get ready to play.
What would you choose?
NOTE: This post is written in the perspective of the Teal community, a group of people passionate about supporting an emerging new paradigm of organizational structure based on integral philosophy in general and Frederic Laloux’s Reinventing Organizations in particular. Some of the terms in this article are drawn from that framework.