Something about August reminds us of those unseen tipping points that mark the change of seasons in the year, in our lives, in our organizations and ultimately cultures. The fruits of summer need shorter days and colder nights to ripen. All are harbingers of harvests but likewise endings soon enough to come. So it was timely that Vanessa Reid opened up a conversation to the 30 or so DwD participants in the Lambert Room on Wednesday, August 12 around the perpetual mystery and wisdom of transitions.
Such conversations take courage. Everything about our culture is designed to downplay two obvious, but annoying details. First, we all change through our lives and experiences. With the passage of years we can do less or fewer of some things and more of others. These slow but inexorable alterations do not usually comply with expectations. If that weren’t annoying enough, the many parts of the world around us move along on their own cycles and rhythms. Vanessa gave us a framework for that, a systems approach called panarchy.
Panarchy is a philosophical and methodological approach with a history some of you will recognize. In human terms we feel the perpetual tension between stability and disturbance in every aspect of life. This personal aspect was Vanessa’s focus at the DwD session. Relating her own experiences as a daughter, an agent for social change and institutional steward Vanessa illustrated how she came to appreciate panarchy from the inside out. As the invitation explains she has been immersed in creating (and sometimes extinguishing we discovered) broadly aligned cultures. All this she accomplished while immersing herself in some very extended, old yet highly contended global cultures from India to Jerusalem to Greece.
The evening was designed to be interactive. Conversing as individuals in a circle, sometimes in twos or threes, participants pondered aloud their own cycles of growth, transformation and death or disappearance in their lives. Throughout the session process shifts between expression and reflection were felt and consolidated. Living in our hard driving high-energy compulsorily optimistic culture, we feel a powerful resistance to accepting personal or social decline’s inevitable consequences as we, along with our personal cocoons, are overtaken by the power of change from without as well as within.
Some of these ideas did indeed sink in during our three hours together. Closing thoughts from the circle reminded the whole group of the ambivalences that big changes intermingled with tenacious continuances visit on everyone. Vanessa is a living model for acceptance of panarchy’s swirling curves as it describes its sideways figure eight of infinity. Perpetuity is of course not always a consolation when we must give up something or a person dear and meaningful to us. Consciousness does not always let matters go gently into that good night. Moving on is nonetheless active and dynamic. Awareness of the call to close is step one.