The Perfect Storm
The world is on edge. I’m on edge. I can’t tell if we are on the edge of destruction or on the edge of creating a new reality of a more loving world that works for all. I feel strongly that this is the time, as never before, the time for Edgewalkers to step forward to make a difference. This article describes three major crises facing us at this moment and offers guidance for Edgewalkers in using the five Edgewalker Qualities and the five Edgewalker Skills so that we can integrate our practical and spiritual approaches to transformation. I hope it will be of help, and I’d love to hear from you about how you are using this qualities and skills in your transformational work.
Humanity is experiencing a perfect storm of three global crises at once, all of which are embedded in the even greater global climate crisis. First there is the crisis of a global pandemic, creating life and death choices. Second there is the racial crisis of oppression and brutality to people who look different from those who are in power. Third, there is the crisis of leadership through fear and domination. Each of these crises appears to set us back on humanity’s evolutionary path. Things seem to get darker and darker. As one crisis builds on the next, we find ourselves facing a perfect storm of challenges.
How will we respond? Will we rise to the occasion? Will conscious change agents find ways to facilitate transformation? Will individuals make the personal sacrifices and lifestyle changes needed to make a difference? Will nationalist, autocratic white male leaders reach their limitations and make way for enlightened leaders who serve the greater good? Only time will tell.
I am an optimist at heart. I used to be a starry-eyed optimist, but events these past four years have turned me into a “cynical optimist,” if there is such a thing. I used to look only for the evidence that things were transforming. My philosophy was “what you pay attention to will grow.” Now I look more critically at how things actually are, and I seek evidence that helps me to understand whether the trends are headed towards increasing destruction or increasing creation. I focus on discerning what is mine to do in these strange and chaotic times.
I want to share with you how I am thinking about each of the three global crises we are facing at this time, and the role Edgewalkers need to play in creating transformation.
The Pandemic Crisis
First let’s look at the coronavirus. There is something different about Covid-19 and about being in a pandemic in the age of the internet. In the U.S., those of us interested in sensing the future could see it coming, based on the news that was coming out of China and then Europe. This kind of information wasn’t available in the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, but it is available now. We stood in shock as leaders in some countries responded with denial. “It’s just a little flu,” they said. They ignored the facts and the science. People have died and are continuing to die needlessly because of lack of preparedness and ineffective governmental policies. And it seems as if these leaders don’t even care.
But some of these systemic problems have been in place since before the current leaders like Trump, Johnson and Bolsanaro ever came to power. The breakdown of the health care system is also a breakdown of capitalism. The breakdown of trust in governmental institutions is a breakdown of democracy.
Health care has been operating on a for-profit manufacturing model of “lean and mean” for several years, and despite expert epidemiologist’s warnings of another pandemic, hospitals and other parts of the health system were not prepared. The capitalist system has moved away from investing in the future to draining off profits for shareholders and politicians in the short-term. Health care leaders have lost the vision of their core purpose of healing and well-being. Many other systems besides health care – for example education, infrastructure, and the environment – are suffering from this lack of investment in the future. You can’t cost-cut yourself to greatness. The differential between the lowest paid employees and the top leaders has never been greater. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
But for the first time, with Covid-19, we are literally “all in this together.” The virus knows no boundaries. Collectively, there has never been a time when a majority of the people in the world stopped all outward activity and went into self-isolation. It’s as if humanity slowed down to take a collective deep breath and this has allowed us to see what’s broken in our lives and our world. There is an openness to new possibilities. John Lennon sang, “Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.” The virus doesn’t care about what country you come from or what religion you are. But it does care whether you can afford to self-isolate or if you have to go to work at the grocery store or the meat-packing plant in order to feed your family. The pandemic has not only become a health issue, it has become a social justice issue as well.
The Racism Crisis
Racism, oppression and brutality towards others who are “different” are not new phenomena. They are designed for a few at the top to accumulate and hold onto power and privilege. These tactics are as old as human history and they come from our tribal fear of “the other.” More recently in human history, the dangerous idea of a “master race” arose out of the Nazi period in Germany and has influenced the current white supremacy movement in many parts of the world and especially in the United States. White supremacy is the belief that white people are genetically superior to those of other races, especially brown and black people, and they should therefore dominate society. The irony is that scientists who have studied the genetics of race have found no evidence that “race” even exists as a biologic or genetic concept. Race is only a social construct. As a kid I read somewhere that “there will be peace on Earth when all the world is tea-colored.” Until that time, we should remember what Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
In the last few years, white supremacy has shifted from a fringe movement to the mainstream, supported by racist leaders and political parties, and amplified by echo-chamber media platforms. Steven Pinker, a Harvard professor, documented the steady decline of human-against-human violence over millennia, centuries and decades. But in the past four years, those trends have reversed with increases in hate crimes, domestic violence, sexual violence and police brutality.
Perhaps in the grand scheme of things the recent increase in violence is only a temporary blip in the evolution of humankind. Hopefully compassionate and wise leaders will emerge and will be the new normal. Most certainly, this undercurrent of hate and violence has given us a chance to look at our shadow side and the dark underbelly of unhealthy tribalism. We are becoming aware that the violence is not just coming from a few bad actors but that it is a part of system of entitlement and privilege whose roots go back to slavery and before.
The murder of George Floyd by a white policeman unleashed a collective rage against police brutality and systemic racism that has not been seen in quite this way in the past. Many American cities reported that the anti-racism protests were their largest ever. These protests by people who are tired of racism and authoritarianism were not only throughout the U.S. but also in cities around the world.
While there have been many protests over time against the terrible pattern of killing of unarmed black men and women by white policemen, something is different this time. The protestors are not just people of color. Diverse people have joined the protests in stunning numbers. Stephen Pinker says that even though the violence has increased during this administration, so has our collective outrage at the immorality of it.
The other thing that is different this time is the shared commitment to peaceful protest. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and others have shown that non-violent protests, even in the face of militant responses, can be effective at creating systemic change in the long run. Most of the protest organizers are in this for the long run. They have a vision of how they want things to change and they are being strategic about making it happen. Already several demonstrable changes are in place in police departments, and within local and national governments.
The Leadership Crisis
The Course in Miracles (like many other spiritual texts) states that at every moment, we have a choice between love and fear. Authoritarian leaders choose to rule by fear; their motivation is to hold on to and increase their sense of power. The motivation of democratic and spiritual leaders is to empower others to take on leadership and to increase the common good. These Edgewalker leaders choose to lead with love. There are no perfect leaders, and no leader leads perfectly all the time. We are all human. People make mistakes. Still, it’s not difficult to sense whether someone is leading through fear and intimidation or through love and compassion.
The current President of the United States leads through fear and intimidation. His response to the peaceful protests was to call in the military and to respond with violence and the desire to dominate. He praised other leaders who responded violently, and he insulted leaders who restrained from violence, as well as those who joined the protestors in solidarity. President Trump and other leaders like him in Russia, North Korea, the U.K. and Brazil, care more about their power and their wealth than the good of their country. They thrive on division and chaos, not on human well-being.
I recently heard Eric Klein describe the evolution of spiritual leadership in three stages: From “Me,” to “We,” to “All.” Too many of our current leaders are still in the “Me” stage as described above, with Trump as the poster child for this form of leadership. My Brazilian friends tell me that Bolsanaro is even worse. White supremacists and other special interest groups are in the “We” stage. So is the Black Lives Matter movement. The “We” stage can either be healthy (based on inclusion, love and non-violence) or unhealthy (based on hate, predjudice and violence).
Our most admired leaders like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa were in the “All” stage of spiritual maturity, caring for all of humanity. John F. Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” That was a call for selfless service for the greater good, and people lined up to answer that call. Spiritually mature leadership is not age-related. We have seen new “We” leadership emerge in unexpected places, particularly among young people; Greta Thunberg for climate action; Malala Yousafzai for the education of girls; and David Hogg and the survivors of the Parkland high school shooting for sensible gun control. Young, spiritually mature leaders, are stepping up right at this moment to support and organize the Black Lives Matter movement. That gives me hope for the future.
Today, any one of these three challenges – the pandemic crisis, the racism crisis, and the leadership crisis – requires more of us than we are used to providing. They are each a stretch for humanity. They are high level assignments in the spiritual graduate school that we have signed up for. As these individual crises come together in a perfect storm, our boat feels like it is being battered from every direction. We may not survive this. But our will to live is strong, and so is our will to evolve to higher levels of potential and consciousness. We are on the edge of something uncharted, and the Edgewalkers, pioneers, and bridge builders are being called to step forth. Each of these crises are in the context of the global climate crisis which has been pretty much ignored by the immediacy of the pandemic, racism and leadership crises, and perhaps the skills we develop and the networks we forge now will allow for the quantum leap in consciousness that we will need to come together to address climate change and build a resilient and flourishing world for all of humanity.
Now is the Time for Edgewalkers.
A defining characteristic of Edgewalkers is their deep commitment to living in alignment with their spiritual values while also making a difference in the world in practical and meaningful ways. Here are two examples.
- Monica Sharma, formerly of the United Nations, developed community leadership programs in Africa during the AIDs epidemic. She was firmly convinced that if any transformation was to take place in a measurable way to combat that disease, it had to be spiritually grounded. Her programs had incredible success in combating the disease.
- Fetzer Institute is an organization that integrates spirituality into all they do. Their mission is to help build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. They see spiritual principles and practices as essential to democracy, justice, and a new global movement toward a “shared and transformative story for humanity in the 21st century.” Their many spiritually-based projects make a measurable difference in the world and they have huge ripple effects on the lives and the systems that are touched.
A large number of global groups have formed in response to these crises and are looking at ways to replace our broken systems. On the energetic level, international groups are praying, chanting, meditating, visualizing and holding collective intention for a world at a higher level of consciousness. Heartmath and the Institute of Noetic Sciences are holding global coherence online events and even have a way to measure individual and global coherence. Many organizations and communities are coming together in practical ways to address the pandemic and its associated health care system break down. Other organizations are coming together to organize and fight for systemic change and racial justice. The people working in these areas are bringing grassroots leadership to fill the vacuum created by government leadership that is missing in action. Maybe, in a weird way, this leadership vacuum is a good thing. Maybe this is a part of our evolution.
We at Edgewalkers International believe that spirituality is essential to creating transformation. We define spirituality as a commitment to something greater than ourselves that guides and informs our actions. We support the development of leaders who are committed to social action and a shift in global consciousness. But when we talk about making a shift in global consciousness, we do not mean that everyone is called to make a global difference. Rather, we ascribe to Fritz Schumacher’s concept of “Think global, act local,” and Mother Teresa’s wisdom, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Collectively, our individual actions add up and can create powerful transformation.
Edgewalkers are those on the boundaries of a system, not the center. The center of any system is committed to stability and to holding onto the power it has. While stability is good when the external environment is not changing much, too much stability can lead to atrophy. The edges of a system are committed to building connections, not building power. Edgewalkers are boundary spanners and they reach outside of the organization for new ideas, new relationships, and new ways to prepare for an uncertain future. We need more Edgewalkers in the world.
The convergence of these three crises call for us to embrace and integrate Edgewalker qualities and Edgewalker skills as humanity hopes to navigate this perfect storm and to arrive on a peaceful shore in the near future. Let’s look at each of these and why they are so important right now. Edgewalker qualities support ways of being (inner work), and Edgewalker skills support action (outer work).
Edgewalker Qualities for Facing the Perfect Storm:
- SELF-AWARENESS: This quality is essential to anyone wanting to live his or her purpose in the world and to make a difference. Among other things, self-awareness consists of both emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence. Self-awareness is developed through practices such as journaling, meditation, contemplation, and being in nature. It is supported through therapy, spiritual direction and/or coaching. Spiritual retreats are also invaluable in deepening self-awareness. These practices help you to be centered, authentic and grounded in the midst of challenging times like the one we are in now. It’s important to take the time be aware of what you are thinking and feeling and needing. Otherwise you might be buffeted by the winds of other people’s needs and agendas. The practices that support self-awareness also support being centered and grounded, which are essential in the midst of chaos.
- PASSION: We believe that each of us is here for a reason, and that we each have a unique calling and purpose. The way we discover that sense of meaning and purpose is through self-awareness and by paying attention to what gives us energy and what drains our energy. High energy sources from a range of things, from what sparks joy to what creates outrage. The intensity of our responses to situations are clues to what we should be doing, even if we don’t yet know how. When we don’t know “how,” we trust that the Universe/Source will guide us into action if we take the first step towards something we are passionate about.
- INTEGRITY: This Edgewalker quality is about aligning our core values and our actions. What do we take a stand for? Is it health, well-being, and safety, as required by the pandemic? Is it social justice and respect and dignity for all, as required by the racism crisis? Is it a commitment to step forward into leadership even when we are scared and feeling unprepared as required by the leadership crisis? It takes self-awareness to realize what our core values are, and it takes passion and integrity to live them, even when it might cost us dearly.
- VISION: If Edgewalkers are going to help build a new, healthier, more just and inclusive world, it is essential that we use both our reason and our intuition to envision what’s possible. The clearer our vision is of the world post-Covid-19, and post-protests, the more we can work together to create that vision. Most spiritual traditions have practices that help us to clarify our vision, and we can also use our rational minds to assess the patterns and trends of what seems to want to emerge through us at this time in history. Vision is essential to transformation. If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.
- PLAYFULNESS: Transformation work is hard and demanding work, whether it is personal transformation or organizational transformation, or helping to shift global consciousness. It is all too easy to get caught up in all that needs to be done and to forget to tap into our playful, spontaneous and creative human nature. But this is essential if our transformational work is to be sustainable. It’s important to have fun and to lighten up sometimes. Laughter actually lights up the whole brain and makes us more intelligent. When I used to teach management at the University of New Haven, I gave a lot of teamwork assignments to my students because they would need those skills in their careers. I could always tell which teams were going to turn in the best projects because they were the ones laughing all the time.
Edgewalker Skills for Facing the Perfect Storm:
- SENSING THE FUTURE: Rather than ask “What’s wrong and how can we fix it?” Edgewalkers ask “What wants to emerge here?” “What’s possible now that wasn’t possible before?” In disruptive times such as these, it no longer works to predict the future based on the past. Intuition, divination, synchronicities and other non-linear processes are far more useful in times of crisis than linear forecasting, trend analysis and mathematical modeling. Linear processes have their place, such as predicting the peak of Covid-19 cases in a region, but they can’t predict how the world might be different as a result of working from home or having more time for self-reflection while isolating. Or how will it be different now that there are worldwide protests against police brutality. The most powerful way to sense the future is to co-create it with each other and with divine guidance. As visionaries, we picture a world that works for all, a world where each person is supported in living their full potential, including their intuitive and spiritual potential.
- RISK-TAKING: While Edgewalkers are usually seen by others as risk-takers, they don’t see themselves that way, because they have a strong inner knowing when they are called to take certain actions. We aren’t talking about inappropriate risk-taking that can harm others, like going to a protest without wearing your mask, we are talking about the risk of letting go of ego and trusting that you will be guided by something higher. This could look like the risk of not going into work to do a job that could put you and others in danger, and instead staying home and going deep into self-reflection about what really matters in your life. It could possibly look like making a strong corporate statement against racism, the way Ben and Jerry’s did. What are you willing to risk and to let go of in order to make space for something more meaningful to emerge?
- MANIFESTING: Edgewalkers are practical mystics. We are soulful facilitators and change agents. We move from our visions, to our plans, to our shared actions for transformation. We attract others to our big ideas, and we help to build communities as we organize and inspire people. We know how to get things done. Because we have one foot in the mainstream (the source of the current power structure) and one foot in the margins of system (where innovation is born), we know who to contact, how the system works. And we know how to create what’s never been created before. We use spiritual skills such as intention, prayer and affirmations, and we use organizing skills such as communication, technology, networking, artificial intelligence, and political savvy to either shift or replace systems or situations that are broken.
- FOCUSING: Now, in the midst of these three crises colliding, we must stay centered and focused on what we are to do and who we are called to be. We are the quiet eye of the storm. It can be so easy to distract ourselves by spending too much time on the news or by entertaining ourselves with online games as a way of taking our minds off the chaos. But now is the time to remember our core values, our visions, and our strengths. This is the time to remember why we are here on the planet. Contemplative practices teach us how to be centered, grounded and focused, and we carry the fruits of these practices into individual conversations, Zoom meetings, and even protests. More than anything, remember to breathe.
- CONNECTING: Edgewalkers are natural connectors. Ironically, during self-isolation, Edgewalkers are reaching out to others more than ever. We tend to belong to several different communities and we find ways to link these communities in the way that Marilyn Ferguson described as the Aquarian Conspiracy. As these communities link up, movements begin. Those who are on the integration path of spirituality and meaningful action in the world have often felt alone and maybe even a little crazy in the past. But something has shifted in 2020, and we are more clearly seeing that we are not the only ones, that there are huge numbers of us and that the multiple movements are converging. We also see or sense that there is a collective consciousness or some kind of guidance from the Universe/Source that we are responding to. We are energized and inspired by these connections; they give us the courage to do what we came to do.
At Edgewalkers International, we are deeply aware that this is the most challenging time we have ever been through. We know that coming together in community strengthens all of us as we each do our individual work. And we also know that when communities link up with like-minded communities, you have a movement, and movements are powerful. We are each committed to doing our own inner work and our own outer work, and also to supporting you in your work. In the near future we will share some new ways of helping all of us to expand the edge of all of our possibilities including blogs, free Edgewalker Cafes online, and other ways to build and enhance our community as we support each other in making a difference.
In the words of Nelson Mandela: “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Now is the time for Edgewalkers!
Judi Neal, Ph.D.