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  • Writer's pictureSandy Burgham

Navigating a perplexing world

Once again thanks to those who got in touch after our last lockdown letter; we are warmed that these reflections are resonating with you. Also thanks to those who contributed to the Unprecedented X project – some interesting reflections happening on Instagram

As we head into the 5th week of lockdown, you may be noticing an increasing restlessness particularly after the announcement on Monday that we were throwing in one extra week of level 4 as a recommended precaution.

Even those who had assumed it might indeed extend may have felt slightly flatter after the announcement and certainly some, who had already finished the big jigsaw puzzle and perfected their bread-making skills, were thrown off balance because they had thought with some certainty that we would be moving to level 3.  

In the pre-Covid world we had convinced ourselves that there was a certainty to the world, we knew how it worked, but now Covid-19 has gone and ruined that. But what if it was never certain to begin with? What if we had just bought into the illusion of certainty for convenience and security?

Certainly, a global pandemic has had people almost obsessively following the news media in a way that hasn’t occurred since perhaps 9/11 or maybe even WWII. But the sheer weight of information is throwing up more confusion, as we don’t know what or who to believe.

You may have noticed increased polarities i.e.

For every article like this There is a counter article like this.

For every person who thinks Bill Gates is a saint, There is another who thinks he’s a sinner.

And then there is the observation that “we are all in this together” which sits in parallel to an observation that we have billionaires in bunkers at the same time as homelessness on the streets.

It’s no wonder that some people simply put their head in the sand. This sense that one is not mentally or emotionally equipped to deal with the complexities of the current outside world is what developmental psychologist Robert Kegan, whose adult development framework is fundamental to the Leadership Circle, calls being “in over our heads”. Thus, understanding how people relate to the societal demands at different points in human history, is helpful in framing up what might be going on:

Consider that in pre-modern times people tended to live around others who were similar (from the same tribe, ethnic group, religious order, socio-economic background etc) and because the leaders came from within these groups (e.g. religious leaders, doctors/healers) and looked the same as they did, people trusted their authority. This really suits adults in what Kegan called the third order of mind (relating to the Socialised or Reactive tendencies in the Leadership Circle) as in this stage not only is their identity defined by their group but their sense of meaning, their value systems and their knowledge base is all accessed from external sources.

This still goes on of course in our contemporary world but you will be aware that with increased mobility and communication, traditional small relatively homogenous groups have been transformed into larger more diverse groups. At the same time, big concepts like democracy and freedom have shifted the fundamental fabric of how we might consider society. The shift from pre-modern to our contemporary society means it is less clear to many just exactly who the group leaders are and also what to do if leaders disagree. This often leads to feelings of mistrust and disillusionment. It is no wonder we are seeing shifts such as a rise in fundamentalism and the emergence of “self-help” as a genre. Even leadership development has been a product of the modern world. While those in the Self-authored stage (relating to the Creative space in the Leadership circle) can navigate these times better because their identity is not tied to the group, the majority feel “in over our heads”.

However, as the level of complexity in our global communities reaches ever greater heights, it is becoming clearer that we are indeed all part of interconnecting systems whereby we are all tied to one another and to this planet in important ways. The pandemic is evidence of this. And who are the ones among us who can cope comfortably, let alone lead, in times of crises such as these? It will only be those small percentage of folks who are navigating towards or are in the fifth order of mind, the Self -Transformative stage (relating to the Integral space within the Leadership Circle). So, almost all of us are “in over our heads” which sheds new light on the idea that ‘we are all in this together’.

And so as we are sensing some sort of murky light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, remember that this light is also bringing the dark as people imagine the daily experience of the realities they must face when they emerge from lockdown in a few weeks. We are sensing that it will be a very different world to the one which was – an unfamiliar and disconcerting landscape for many – that will evolve in ways that are, as yet, difficult to predict.

So what kind of person continues to thrive in uncertainty?

  • A person who considers their “work” is not their paid work.

  • A person who is deeply curious about the experience of their inner world and its connection to the outer, so much so that they work to manage their inner state of mind in order to attain an emotional and mental resilience to whatever uncertainty comes their way (people are rarely stationed solely at a particular stage but have fluid energies distributed over a range of higher and lower stages as they respond to conflicting influences).

  • A person who is curious about the outer world around them. 

  • A person who, rather than being attached to specific ways of being and looking for evidence to support a fixed mindset, looks to continue growing and evolving. They see knowledge for the information that it is – as they are more interested in discovering that which is not yet revealed. With a sense of self untethered to any particular aspect of themselves including aspects of their history, the individual is free to allow themselves to focus on the flow of their lives.

A big ask? Well, perhaps something to ponder. And to help you there is one specific exercise we would love you to pay attention to – and around curiosity.

Remember the curiosity/anxiety dichotomy –  if feeling anxious, it may feel counterintuitive to actually be present to the anxiety as it is almost second nature to try and alleviate anxiety, with a substance or activity, or perhaps a conversation to unload it on to someone. However, growth will come from exploring it with a deep sense of curiosity. As you detach from anxiety, ask yourself: What is really going on here? What is my fear? How might it be connected to an old shadow belief? What process is best to support me right now?

To end, we share an excerpt from one of the better readings that has emerged over this time by author and activist Arundhati Roy who wrote in a recent article published in the Financial Times:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

We encourage you to shift from considering what you are going to do in the post-Covid world toward who you will choose to be.

Here when you need us.

Sandy, Jenny and all at Play CoLab

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