Abundantly Clear: Manifesting a Better World

By Deborah McGlauflin, President, Insights in Action, Inc.

(January 17, 2013 — Draft for Comment)

The End of a Sad Story

Nonprofit organizations and social movements have long played the role of calling attention to problems and generating the intention to solve them.  They have had some striking successes that have earned them society’s respect and contributed to their global proliferation.  Nevertheless, most are small, have limited success, and struggle to survive.

To be sure, the environment is challenging –the global economy has contributed to a climate of fear and uncertainty, and there has been a blurring of the lines between the nonprofit, for-profit and public sectors. But by far the greatest obstacle has been the mindset that says, “The problem we are tackling is huge, and we are small and can only do so much.  Solutions are complex, tenuous, take a long time to get to scale, and require sacrificial commitments of time, energy and money.”  When this mindset is taken into nonprofit organizational planning, the result is all too often:

  • A timid and constrained vision (in an effort to be realistic)
  • A compartmentalized mission that only takes responsibility for part of the problem and carves out a piece of the action (in a well-intended effort to define a manageable niche and honest about the organization’s capacity)
  • A strategy that is modest and incremental (in anticipation of resource constraints)

 Not surprisingly, organizational plans rooted in this kind of scarcity thinking are not very inspiring and tend to garner underwhelming and hedging support from donors who are concerned about the problem but see little hope that the organization can get very far in solving it.  Experiencing nominal gifts, high lapse rates, and overreliance on a few sources, nonprofits in turn grumble about uncommitted donors, compassion fatigue, and the elusive goal of financial sustainability.

 Chronically underfunded, nonprofits all too often become pressurized and not very happy places to work.  Salaries are low, hours are long, and staff turnover is often high.

 In this way, scarcity thinking heaps suffering upon suffering.  On the global level, problems that cause great suffering and stress the planet persist and grow.  On the organizational level, nonprofits struggle and fall short of their goals.  On the individual level, nonprofit staff and donors experience burnout and become cynical.

 STOP!

It doesn’t have to be this way!

We do not have to continue to accept this sad story as if it were Truth.  It is just a story we created; we can exercise our free will to change it and leave this scarcity thinking behind.  It requires doing two things: 1) changing the way we look at the world’s problems and what it takes to eliminate them; and 2) shaking off scarcity thinking and waking up to abundance.

Changing the Way We Look at Problems

It’s time to recognize that the human race needs, and is ready for, a new way of perceiving and working with its most vexing problems.

The old paradigm can be described as follows:

  • Problems are like unwanted guests; some of those guests can be very frightening.
  • Problems are powerful and change-resistant.
  • Problems are external things to be attacked and solved.

The new paradigm is quite different:

  • Problems are levels of consciousness within ourselves which go away when they are outgrown.
  • Problems are evolutionary signposts that show us our hottest opportunities to evolve.  They are aids, even blessings.
  • Problems are reminders of how powerful we are.  We manifested them and we can manifest their solutions.

The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble.  The can never be solved but only outgrown. – Carl Jung

The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them. – Albert Einstein

In the new paradigm, the starting point is welcoming the problem and asking: What can this problem teach us?  How does it invite us and prompt us to change and grow so that we can leave it behind?

If we rush ahead and solve a problem without learning its lessons, we’re like a slalom skier who, while rushing headlong down the mountain, misses a gate.  The goal is not to rush to eliminate the problem, it is to find the wisdom in its dark shadows and bring it to light.  In fact, if we really understood problems and how they move us towards realizing our full human potential, we would run towards them, not away from them, and we would relish working deeply with them.

Once we understand the lesson at the heart of a problem, we can simply choose to live in alignment with the newfound wisdom.  It can be a surprisingly quick and easy shift, once we’ve achieved deep understanding.  We’ve seen this kind of sudden shift happen many times before – the end of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Vietnam War.  Longstanding and perplexing problems ended virtually overnight, to the amazement of all.

The point here for nonprofit organizations and people working in them is that calls to action and calls for compassion are not enough.  To outgrow the most challenging problems of our time, acting outwardly must go hand in hand with looking inwardly together.  This means that nonprofits have a different role to play in this new paradigm.  They must move beyond generating attention and intention around unwanted “enemy” problems and beyond their traditional role as problem-solvers.   They must become, in essence, lead-learners by expanding their focus to help more and more people come together to explore what can be learned and embodied from an openly embraced problem, so that humanity cannot just put a band-aid on the symptoms, but can grow entirely beyond the problem.

This requires bringing dark parts of our nature and our past into awareness with acceptance and forgiveness so that we can move together towards wholeness. It also involves dropping the old dualistic approach to problem-solving which involved identifying, stopping and punishing perpetrators and helping victims.  It involves an expanded awareness that says the darkness in the perpetrators is something in all of us that needs to be brought to light.  Similarly, goodness and the compassionate urge to help are also in all of us.

Words Matter

In the new paradigm, we might find it useful to stop using the word “problem,” because it has too much baggage and association with the old paradigm and because it is so familiar that it is used unthinkingly.  A better word might be “vestige.”  Vestige conveys that we’ve already taken the first step beyond the “problem,” by dint of the fact that many of us recognize it with discomfort.  It’s a part of our psyche that is already emerging from the shadow with the recognition that, while it may have once been functional, it is something we no longer need and are now ready to outgrow.  We can accept and forgive that we have been this way, while being clear that we no longer choose to be.

Second, we might similarly benefit from a new word to describe the subset of individuals and organizations that adopt this new mindset and way of working with vestiges.  This word should be a touchstone that evokes the new paradigm and helps shape and signal the differences in what they do, how they are organized, how they are sustained, and how they measure success.

For example, a word like “evokers” might be used to convey that these individuals and organizations are not independent agents acting upon vestiges, but instead work in highly related ways to draw out the wisdom in all of us that will make it possible for us to together outgrow vestiges.  Or, they might be called “manifesters” to convey a sense of the untapped power we have to co-create our reality.  “Evokers” is used throughout the remainder of this document, but merely as a placeholder until a better term is found.

Waking Up to Abundance

In the new paradigm, evokers not only reveal and focus intention on vestiges, but they also find new ways to work together in thriving organizations and networks, in order to be able to better do so.  The key to truly thriving, either individually or as an organization, is to recognize and grow beyond a very prevalent and profoundly debilitating vestige — the vestige of the trance of scarcity.  Victoria Castle defines the trance of scarcity as “the unexamined predisposition that lack, struggle, and separation are our defining reality.    She further says, “To the extent that we’re caught up in deciding who will get their needs met and who won’t, we’re still operating inside the Trance.”

What if our global Story of scarcity (along with the poverty and miserable living conditions that exist in so many parts of the world) is not the result of world events and circumstances, but the source of those events and circumstances?  How might the world situation shift if we rewrote the Story? – Victoria Castle, The Trance of Scarcity

Examining this predisposition requires that an individual or organization take a close look at its organizational Stories (deeply inculcated messages) and its organizational Soma (how it embodies those messages).  This is the first step in moving into a differently aligned way of individual or institutional being characterized by the ease and fulfillment that comes from present awareness and recognition of our fundamental interdependence.  Waking up to abundance is, at its heart, a radically redefining act, through which evokers become ambassadors of abundance.

The same steps that Castle suggests that individuals use to shake themselves free of the trance of scarcity and embody the cycle of abundance can be adapted and used by nonprofit and donor organizations in ways that thoroughly transform how they approach planning and development.

Supports for Manifesting a Better World

Right now, the human race bathes itself in messages that keep us tilting ineffectually at problems and in messages that convince us we are all competing in a world of limited resources with inevitable winners and losers.  Moreover, we’ve cleverly created many tools to help ourselves “succeed” and get ahead of others in the world by becoming better problem solvers and better competitors.

A very different set of messages and tools needs to be created to build a new conceptual and behavioral framework for 1) shifting awareness about vestiges, and 2) waking up to abundance. For example, messages and tools might be developed around the following:

  • The three dimensions of shifting awareness about vestiges:
    • Understanding what underlies the vestige’s continuity and sustains it – developing a much more complex and nuanced picture of the many causes and conditions with the aim of cultivating a much deeper appreciation of the interdependencies involved and mapping them.  This is the antidote to simplistic thinking, unquestioned assumptions, close-mindedness, and intolerance of ambiguity.
    • Deeply considering how victims, perpetrators and observers mutually reinforce the vestige (wittingly or unwittingly) until the illusion of separation dissolves and dualistic thinking about actor/acted upon is replaced with a new appreciation of one-ness. This is the antidote to anger, blaming, pity, being judgmental, and feeling superior.
    •  Arriving at certainty about how the vestige is impermanent and subject to change and cultivating genuine openness to change.  This is the antidote to resignation, cynicism, hopelessness, and despair.
  • Envisioning a better world through “beyond movements” — detailed visions of what humanity’s having outgrown a vestige would look and feel like.  These visions of outgrowths could be developed using online knowledge management and social movement building tools.  The first and most fundamental beyond movement would involve moving  beyond the planetary myth of scarcity thinking in the three ways laid out by Victoria Castle:
    • By exposing the reality of scarcity for the hoax it is, so that we can break free of its hold on us, which keeps us from living at peace with ourselves and with each other.
    • By learning how, by upgrading our Stories and fully embodying them, we can create the reality we want.
    • By consciously adopting proven practices so that we can sustain our experience of living in a state of abundance – a “we-oriented” state of openness, fullness, flow and connectedness.

Individuals and organizations that know how to embody abundance and shift awareness about vestiges could then help shape other beyond movements – e.g. beyond poverty, beyond hunger, beyond overpopulation, beyond war, beyond environmental destruction, etc.

  • Empowerment of embodiment pioneers (“embodineers”) who manifest the beyond movement visions in real-world examples of outgrowths that can be observed, learned from, replicated and improved upon.
  • Spreading and celebrating the outgrowths, both online and offline, in music, visual and performing art, literature, TEDTalks, etc.
  • Recognizing and appreciating the most successful and inspiring embodineers with prestigious awards (on a par with the Nobel prizes), in order to spur greater human aspiration and give visibility to transformational achievements.

Conclusion

Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  What is yearned and reached for here, albeit very notionally and incompletely, is action around an alternative way of being, based on the recognition that we humans, as a species, have a choice.  The underlying notion is that taking responsibility for our world starts with taking responsibility for the evolution of our own consciousness at both the individual and collective levels.  Happily, it is abundantly clear that human consciousness has reached a new threshold of awareness about the fundamental truth of our exquisite interdependence and about our inherent ability to rise above our darkest fears, worst excesses, and self-imposed separateness.  Every moment presents us with fresh new opportunities to cross this threshold and collectively manifest a better reality.

Anyone who would like to join me and others in refining this notion and thinking about possible next steps is invited to send comments, suggestions, and better ideas to Deborah McGlauflin (dmcglauflin@earthlink.net  or Tel: +1 410-919-8556.

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