Updated: Nov 12
If we want to imagine a new world, we must first understand our own worlds.
If we want large-scale system transformation, we must first see the systems that exist within each of us.
If we want to find the wisdom needed for a collective waking up, we can start by discovering the messages in our own distress.
Our distress acts like an alarm system - signaling to us when things in our lives, our professions, our organizations, or relationships need our attention - and need to shift.
When we continue to stay disconnected with our own inner alarm system, it's much easier for us to be manipulated, to choose relationships, careers, projects, organizations, pathways forward that do not align with us. Our inner voice is silenced. Pathologizing distress is just another way of silencing voices that do not support the status quo.
When we choose boldly to understand the messages and meanings that our distress is trying to tell us, we can get new insights, deepen our relationships, and have a level of self understanding that powerfully guides our small and large personal and professional life choices.
The evolution of self in relation to our context
It is our nature to become whole, both as individuals and as a society.
Our bodies and social systems seek balance. When we are in balance, we can access a myriad of our innate qualities in order to become contribute to a creative and organic collective.
We can think of human life as a plant. When we are all born, we have unique aspects to us — to each and every one of us — contained in the seeds of ourselves. We all possess individual instinctual ways of being, unique parts of our whole beings.
What is watered or supported by our family and culture, grows. These parts of our unique person develop. We become conscious of these aspects of ourselves, and often they represent our sense of identity.
On the other hand, what lacks nutrients or what we’ve learned is shameful, embarrassing, or unacceptable in society, is suppressed.
Breaking down as integration
These denied aspects of ourselves do not leave us entirely — they influence us subconsciously. These suppressed energies are trying to become integrated. We are trying to become whole — as individuals, as a collective, as a society. But how can we develop something that has been shoved under? How can we develop something that we are unaware that we have denied?
Suppressed energies and aspects try to show themselves in many ways. Just because they are shoved under doesn’t mean that they disappear. They communicate to us through our external environment.
They show up in our relationships — we are often strongly attracted to, or extremely critical of, people who possess these denied aspects of ourselves. When we learn to become aware of ourselves in relation to others, we can use our relationships as subtle signals to integrate the suppressed energies.
They show up in external conflict and internal tension — in our own judgments of other people and in our own self criticisms.
These suppressed energies, when we are unaware of them or continue to ignore the more subtle signals, become destructive. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to continue to push down aspects of our unique nature.
We store internal tension in our bodies and it manifests as physical illness. We store this tension in our minds, not sharing these aspects of ourselves with others, and it manifests as psychological distress. We break down.
This tension, illnesses, distress — our breakdowns — act as even stronger wake up calls. These experiences carry signals, showing us the way to become more balanced and whole, to become more fully ourselves.
If we want to find the answers to wickedly complex societal problems, we start by looking at our own breakdowns.
Our breakdowns are challenging creative disruption. They shake up our foundation, pull us out of our default way of operating, sometimes violently and painfully so, in an attempt to reset. Our breakdowns dismantle old ways of being in order to discover what was missing all along.
Our breakdowns are extremely strong signals for individual and collective shifts.
Our individual distresses act as an alarm system, clueing us not only into a deeper level of self awareness, but signaling broader structural and systemic problems whose complexity surfaces in our full, whole experience. By sharing our personal stories we begin to resonate with the themes that run beyond polarity and reductionist thinking and that we can collectively use to develop new ideas, insights, and solutions to broader challenges.
If we can explore and discover the underlying wisdom in these experiences, we have the opportunity to change our lives, our relationships, and society for the better.
If we can recognize the signals, we can begin to wake up.
Waking up is about becoming aware of ourselves, our whole selves, without attaching to certain aspects or denying others. Waking up means playing the game of life full out, without taking this whole thing too seriously. Waking up means taking the risk to experience the full range of life — of connection and heartache, failure and triumph, and sharing these together.
Waking up is about sensing what is disconnected in our broader world and through diving into the wisdom within the complexity of our individual experience come up with more rich insights to solve our most pressing collective challenges.