Into the Storm

A poetic response to crisis: cocoons, chrysalises and the sublimation of anxiety.

Before we get carried away: I hope you are well. Stay home, be sensible, be kind and look out for each other. You are harming others by not being extra-cautious.*

* This does not mean hoarding, or preventing others from accessing resources. I hope to tease this out a bit further so that we can avoid a descent into individualism and stupidity—so that our global society might, somehow, collectively emerge from this whole thing… ‘better’.

Illo by dangerlam

Dearest fellow embodied mind; hello.

It is now Day 5 of staying at home with the dangerlam (with the one exception of a ‘socially distant’ walk along the river, and one cautious trip to a local supermarket).

I have a black mirror in my wizard tower that serves as an artifice for clairvoyance. You probably have one or two of these devices too—they are part-the-repetoire of modern magic. I carry one in my pocket, most days.

The ability to tap into the collective noösphere and synthesise emergent information into some sort of coherent narrative is quite a feat for our species. But I am coming to realise that not everyone is as well versed as a Wizard in ‘making sense’ amidst complexity (as I myself might sometimes pretend to be).

And, as such, we see things like:

  • premature narrative convergence (“it’s just the flu”);

  • specialness (“I haven’t got it; I’d know if I had it’);

  • denial (“it’s all getting blown out of proportion”);

  • downplaying (“it’s not as bad as other outbreaks, geez”); and

  • dismissal (“screw quarantine: I gotta live my life”).

So thus, as ever, I humbly offer my own sense of things (as it currently stands). For a better sense of things, read Patrick Hollingworth’s recent distillation.

As a caveat, I want to add a default note of caution to anything you read below. Rather than attempt to disclaim each and every single point I make, I shall trust you know:

  • we are operating in a space of complexity, ambiguity, paradox and doubt here;

  • we must stay in the tension of sense-making whilst in motion (we cannot wait to have all the information: precaution means acting now as if systems will fail); and

  • all propositions are tentative and subject to being updated situationally: the closer you can get to the source of information, the better (this is participatory distributed cognition).

I see this as a time wherein the world system we are part of could enter a kind of sublimation—a phase shift into a dramatically more effective system that can self-organise at higher levels of complexity.

But, if we fūçk it up, we may just regress to a lower order system. Ergo: this is not a time to be thinking about how to best ‘capitalise on the situation’ so that you might ‘win’ (at the expense of ‘others’). Nor is it a time to pine for a ‘return’ to ‘normalcy’ once this ‘blows over’. Instead, it may be a time to activate ‘Mythic Mode’.

Mythic Mode

When in Mythic Mode, we view life through the lens of an unfurling* narrative. Of stories and symbols and nebulous-yet-patterned meanings. Of noticing and weaving your own meaning-making into the richer unfurling tapestry of life. To cultivate a distinctly non-narrative approach to life (via the lens of narrative).

* This bit is important: we are not living into a pre-determined story or ‘fate’. But also: it’s not entirely random. Rather, our lives (and life) can be described as ‘autopoesis’ (self-organising). The interplay of immanent features that dance with randomness; and the meaning-making we do to thread patterned randomness together into coherent form.

Attention, appreciation and involvement.

This could be a time of becoming, for you.

The context has shifted—for all of us. Here, you can contemplate:

  • What kind of person do you want to be(come) in this unfurling story?

  • What type of person do you want to ‘un-become’ in this global pandemic?

  • What will you value and prioritise in these times?

  • What Role(s) will you play in navigating this crisis?

  • What vision for the future will you live into?

(Inspired by Yumi Sakugawa)
(Also: very much what the Ritual of Becoming is all about)

I worry that many people’s mythical reference points for these times are apocalyptic. Terrible scenarios where individualism and tribalism run rife; where any sense of community collapses. Let’s not have that.

This is a time of renewal. A means of remaking who we are and how we work.

You might have been a warlock this past decade or so, devoting your life energy to the corporate-patron egregore-god of whatever brand you serve; selling your soul just a little more each day, in exchange for bit of wealth and power. Maybe it’s time to reconsider this dark pact?

Or maybe you’ve been operating as a sleeper agent; working your way into a position of influence—now, perhaps, is your time to strike (for goodness, of course).

Or maybe the paradigmatic rug has been pulled from beneath you, and you find yourself facing a world of uncertainty. One would hope you could turn to your community of friends for support. And that you, in turn, would support the community you are a part of. And that, together, we all realise that the health of our communities and the health of our global society and planet are all inherently intwined. One would hope.

Well hey: it’s better than the alternative. Collectively, we can co-create a much better (unfurling) story. One that moves us closer toward relative utopia.

If we can make sense of things. And act accordingly.

Navigating the Noösphere

The past week has revealed the latency and patchiness of sense-making. It seems to me that Very Online folks (chiefly: researchers, developers, writers, journalists, artists) have been getting their heads around this wicked challenge faster than the rest of the world. What emerges on Twitter we see formalise in government a week or three later. Normally, this would be remarkably fast—but in our current context, it is way too slow. Particularly when you factor in how the message then needs to be disseminated to the public.

It’s understandable: we are all doing the best we can with the information and resources we’ve got. But some very clever folks see this patchy, poor and slow response as a symptomatic response to dud, stagnant and defunct models of ‘expertise’ and ‘leadership’. The following thread is worth expanding.

Ever wondered why software is still mostly slow and shïtty (even though it’s 2020)? The same reason why large organisations struggle in transformation: dud, stagnant modes of leadership. This isn’t new—the responsive org manifesto maps out most of these tensions leaders need to navigate. And it’s been around for what, almost a decade? But this default mode clearly doesn’t serve us anymore. Especially not for our hypercomplex globally connected post-industrial world. New sensibilities must be fostered.

If we can’t trust in our leaders, where do we turn to?

Well, it’s a both/and thing, and we’re all ‘leaders’ of course (all special and unique and so on)—but I would look to cultivate emergence. Here, we ask: what are the conditions where leadership, innovation, ingenuity and community can emerge?

An example from yesterday.

Our government institutions are in need of emergency maintenance. Faith needs to be restored in the organs of government—and these need to be funded by big companies and rich folks paying their fair share of tax.*

* Altruism is wonderful and cool and everything—but also: pay your taxes.

In the meantime, Twitter seems to provide the strongest signal-to-noise ratio. By far. But that’s possibly a personal thing—I have been rather intentional on that platform.

Meanwhile on LinkedIn so many folk are now positioning themselves as ‘remote work experts’. Speakers are dusting off their green screens, influencers are espousing new generic platitudes, everyone is like ‘yeah we get it you’re an introvert well done’ and most of us are thinking about wtf to do in this unfurling calamity. It’s an odd mania, of which I am no doubt a part of.

We can do better. We can use this time to work and connect and disseminate and coordinate at higher levels of complexity. Maybe.

Here’s a situational assessment of the meta-crisis as of four days ago. (I know I pepper these museletters with a lot of links: this one is worth reading). There’s a lot to feel anxious about here, of course.

And I re-iterate the point made by Nassim Taleb and many others: we have a chance of reducing the impact of these risks if we act now. But that’s not going to work if every one of us ‘rationally’ decides that the risks are far too small to warrant excessive precautionary measures. “Collective safety may require excessive individual risk avoidance, even if it conflicts with an individual’s own interests and beliefs. It may require an individual to worry about risks that are comparatively insignificant”.

What seems foolish today may well be wise tomorrow.

We’re not very good at comprehending exponential crises, which is why many of us are terrible at getting our heads around climate change. But this unfurling crisis we find ourselves in is but a smaller subset of the meta-crisis we face. This calls for us to bring our best to the fore, in whatever ways we can serve.

Time to sublimate

Don’t look back. No regrets; no regression.*

* So long as we act in ways that lift us all.

Think of this as a phase-shift.

At the least, it’s a wake up call to remind us how complacent we have become. But also: it might encourage more of us to begin the transition to Game B. To contemplate how we might create a Listening Society, and to think of how more enterprises can re-orient themselves in service to Spaceship Earth.

Into the Storm

A couple of years ago I wanted to write a book called Into the Storm. I was sensing into a worthy followup to How to Lead a Quest. The issue I saw was that people loved How to Lead a Quest and ‘Quest-Augmented Strategy’; they saw the pernicious patterns, too. The issue was thus not conceptual, but philosophical.

The response most leaders seemed to have to complexity, uncertainty, paradox and doubt was to shut it down. To do whatever can be done to fabricate and force-fit notions of simplicity and certainty; or to retreat to what is familiar and ‘safe’ (the defaults). To effectively batten down the hatches, and cling to the known. Instead, we must venture deeper—into the storm.

I didn’t write the book because I didn’t really feel qualified to; nor do I today. And yet still: it’s a disposition I would encourage more folks to adopt. A way of effectively sensing, way-making and being amidst complexity, ambiguity, paradox and doubt.

My last museletter spoke of a time of crisis: where important and difficult decisions need to be made. Just this morning I was reading Consolations by the poet David Whyte. His chapter on ‘crisis’ talks of the dark night of the soul.

“… La noche oscura del ama. But perhaps, this dark night could be more accurately described as the meeting of two immense storm fronts, the squally vulnerable edge between what overwhelms human beings from the inside and what overpowers them from the outside.

The waveform that overwhelms a maturing human being from the inside is the inescapable nature of their own flaws and weaknesses; their self-deceptions and their attempts to create false names and stories to place themselves in the world; the felt need to control the narrative of the story around them with no regard to outside revelation. The immense wave on the outside is the invitation to give that self up, to be borne off by the wave and renamed, revealed and re-ordered by the powerful flow…”

Later, in preparation for this museletter, I came across this apt piece on the scary boundary between competence and incompetence (by Sonja Blignaut). It speaks of similar themes. And then—I must have been primed—I came across this video conversation between John Vervaeke and Jordan Hall as they attempt to sense-make in the midst of this unfurling crisis. Here’s an excerpt that is quite apt.

Hall: “...It’s like going through the looking glass because what you’re talking about is faith.”
Vervaeke: “A kind of faith, yes.”
Hall: “...We’ve talked about this several times. We’ve come to the same place many times... It’s not an irrational commitment to an ideology.”
Vervaeke: “It’s not a wilful assertion of a proposition, it’s a cultivated sense of having a participatory conformity with an ongoing transformative process in reality. It’s continuity of contact rather than closure into conclusion.”
Hall: “...the visualization that I have is of a buoy in the ocean... it’s weighted such that even as the water is choppy—”
Vervaeke: “Oh I was having similar sailing imagery! The person who can ride the edge of the storm effectively.”
Hall: “You don't want to get swamped, right? That’s the key and so having a series of capacities and abilities including the ability to just sort of surrender to what’s happening so that you’re not breaking as the system pushes on you but you’re actually able to just keep that. Always stay in continuity of contact... because you know that if you’re out of there, you’re in trouble and if you’re in there, you can at least recover. If the waves died down a little bit, you’re back into sailing.”

Then, I started to see storm-philosophies everywhere.

(This is a wonderful thread btw)

And so now, here we are. The storm hasn’t quite hit us on this continent (though the exponential is beginning to show). I have had all my live events cancelled, and am now doing exquisite experimentation with more intimate online events. I am also leaning a bit more into my role as a Wizard Advisor to poetic executives,* consultants, thinkers and artists with coin to spare. Folks who quest for meaningful progress in uncharted territory, so that we co-create a future less dark.

* I’m very lucky to have a small mix of executive clients willing to venture into the storm (with all live events, off-sites and gatherings cancelled, it’s my main modus right now).

But mainly I am cocooning myself.

A Cozy Cocoon

This whole thing can feel like a punch in the guts; particularly if you’re part of the creative class; the ‘triple-H’ precariat. I know several authors and artists that have worked so hard on books and productions for years: only to have to cancel any and all gatherings. This can be devastating.

If you’re in that situation—as Kim and I may well be—maybe now is a good time to prioritise wellbeing. The key here is not to shut down; nor to shut yourself off from society. Instead; indulge in domestic cozy. Call up your friends and colleagues and family and make sure they’re okay. Play games with friends (online), read those books you’ve been neglecting (Antifragile), cook wholesome meals, put on a record, dance on tik tok, water the plants and take off your pants.

Kim (the dangerlam) recently made this tee-shirt for anyone seeking Pantless Joy. I call it The PJ Tee. You can order yourself one and support her work, if you like.

Here’s to those of us cocooning. Look after yourself, and each other. Wellbeing matters. And, if you are ready for it, it may be a time to sublimate your self.

A Mythical Chrysalis

This could also be the right time and catalyst for a whole new chapter of life for you. A time to enter a chrysalis of your own making, and then—in time, and through much (guided) reflection, introspection and projection—emerge transformed. If so, the ‘Choose One Word’ Ritual of Becoming could be the perfect programme for you.

Thank you all. This was meant to be a short museletter. And I think I shall soon take a break from media; for a little while at least. I have opened comments for all folks for this one; not just for those in The Mythical Coterie of the Fox. Be curious for what might emerge, and kind to yourself and others as we navigate this storm together.