Awareness Raising and Inner Sustainability
by Lynn Serafinn, MAED, CPCC
Coach, author Lynn Serafinn dicusses the inner work needed before Transition Town groups embark on awarness raising, to ensure personal and societal resilience. For more information on Transition Beford go to http://transitionbedford.wordpress.com, or visit the Transition Network at http://www.transitionnetwork.org
It’s a paradox. Effective “awareness raising” is in many ways “awareness grounding”.
What I mean by that is that we tend to think that “raising” awareness in people is a matter of telling them facts and details so they may understand the urgency of an issue as crucial as climate change and peak oil. But it is my observation that when people become over-saturated with sensory and mental data, far from this raising their consciousness, they actually go numb. It’s called “overwhelm”. I used to be that way earlier in life (and I get back there occasionally when I don’t take care of myself). When the issues of life became too much for me to bear, I became numb, disconnected and resigned. This is a spiritual tragedy for any individual. But when an entire culture becomes numb, it is not only a tragedy, it is a recipe for societal self-destruction.
My good friend Karen Maycey, who came from Manchester to speak at the Bedford Wellness Circle on Monday, went through this process of overwhelm when she was first diagnosed with stage-2 breast cancer last year. Karen has always been a very active “go-getter” in her work as a coach and workshop leader, and prior to that as an international tour guide. She had always been on the constant run all over the planet. But shortly after she was first diagnosed, and via a very intense group healing session in which I participated, she intuitively came up with a motto for herself, which was, “When we slow down, there we are.” And what she found when she did that, were all the answers to what was needed to restore balance and make herself well. At that point in time, she opted to refuse modern treatment of chemotherapy and radiation, and embarked on a highly demanding regime of natural therapies. This required immense commitment from her, but the truth is, when she slowed down long enough to listen to her body, she realised that it was what she needed to do to restore balance to the entire system.
Similarly, my colleague Shane Hughes from the Bedford Transition Initiating Group told me, “Permaculture is supposed to be 90% observation. I’m currently going through a process of observing insects in a field and it’s amazing how much more I see the longer you observe. It’s as if in the first instance my senses are almost numb and need tuning and then go through several step changes in my level of perception and sensitivity to what is actually there.” We can only truly understand a system when we slow down and come to understand what is actually present within it and how it is moving. And when we see the underlying way that the world is operating, we come to understand more deeply what it needs. What we invariably find is that these needs are not met simply by addressing external issues, but must satisfy the spirit and essence of the greater system, whether it is an individual person, a society, or a planet.
From my experience, as a college teacher, a coach and a person who has lived over half a century on the planet, taking initiatives without the “inner transition” never sticks. We teachers used to have to set so-called “SMART” targets for students. The end result was that while they might indeed complete their work (but frequently not), the learning and the life-change was negligible. The reason for this is that these not-so-smart targets only ever addressed “issues” (i.e., getting the coursework done, etc) and never got beneath the surface to dreams, motivations and all the things that are sustainable. Similarly, our Transition Bedford initiative (and the greater Transition Town movement) is not only going to involve looking at the “issues”, but it absolutely will require each of us getting very deep into the hearts and minds of the people of our town, and then creating a plan that addresses what we find, so we can sustain the inner energy of the people.
When I coach, people come to me with “issues” too; what I find invariably is that the issue is simply a symptom of an imbalance between body, mind and heart, which in turn creates a detachment from essence/source. People will continue to pillage the earth and exploit each other until that inner balance is restored and they begin to feel reconnected. Therefore, it is very important first and foremost that everyone who takes on a role within a Transition Town initiating group is given the opportunity to processes their anger, fear, doubts, frustration and overwhelm, within a collaborative and aligned support network, and then moves towards the connection, compassion and trust that is needed to carry out this incredibly profound “turning” in our history. From this place, we become a much more powerful entity, as we become no only connected to ourselves and to each other, but also to the energy of the space (i.e., the town, the rest of humanity, the Earth, Existence) itself.
From a personal perspective, this is where I see my greatest contribution can come into the Transition movement. I personally take it upon myself to work with others towards cultivating that inner transition—the “Great Turning” of human spirit. I trust that capable people, such as Shane and others in my initiating group and other groups throughout the world, will learn and carry out all the necessary work for the “outer transition”, such as the fundamental reskilling of food production, teaching permaculture, creating energy alternatives, and so many other wonderful things, which will actualise the intentions we set.
The desire to jump directly into action towards this outer transition is likely to be our natural tendency. As our inner transition evolves, and our eyes begin to open, we begin to notice more and more things in the world around us. And as we are all creative by nature, it is our human response that we feel the urge to act. For instance, these days, because I am more aware, I have been noticing more and more food-bearing trees and plants here in Bedford. I even enjoyed plucking and eating some juicy wild yellow plums along Goldington Road last Saturday. Then, the other day I noticed that there are probably at least 30 fruit-bearing cherry trees on Howbury St. There is also a massive apple tree and pear tree, both in the car park of a business (and unlikely to be harvested or of use to the owners). So of course my mind went into creation mode and I thought, “How about piloting the abundance project (harvesting and distributing) local fruit) with a ‘Howbury St Abundance Project?” But then, of course, I admittedly don’t even know if the cherries are actually edible. This requires someone more knowledgeable than myself. Harvesting also requires someone knowledgeable, some tools and a group of people to do it. Distribution would require coordination, and publicity would need to be designed and executed.
All of these are the “doing” things. These are the actions needed to carry out such a project, even on a small scale. But before we take any action, we need to create the “message” and intention to address the question of ”Why bother?” that people will surely ask. They will inevitably ask, “Why bother harvesting trees on Howbury St? Why should I care? How can this make a difference? How can this save the planet? Isn’t it like trying to empty the ocean one teaspoon at a time?”
And here again is how “numbness” happens with people. When the mission seems so overwhelming that they cannot envision it, people will simply give up. It is important to remember that this shutting down, or “numbness”, is actually one of our natural, emotional reactions to fear. It happens when our brains get flooded with too much info, and we begin to feel small and thus overwhelmed. It actually happens to us at a physical, mechanistic level; the amygdale at the base of our brain reacts by shutting down and tuning out when the sense of overwhelm triggers too much fear for it to handle.
If we start this Transition Town movement on the foundation of our own sense of fear and urgency, the likely result is that we will overwhelm others and they will become (or continue to be) numb. But even more importantly, if we fuel our own energy with a sense of fear and urgency, we will also flood our minds and bodies with stress and frustration, and we will burn out and give up. Just as fossil fuel is a non-sustainable energy source because it is non-replenishable, fear and anger are also not sources of sustainable emotional energy. They may be very useful in short-term crises, but when something requires sustained action and attention, they impair our inner sustainability and resilience.
It is, therefore, important for us to access different sources of energy for our own inner resilience. We need to tap into a sustainable supply of emotional energy. The most vibrant source of sustainable emotional energy is our ability to envision and hold the “bigger picture.” What is the bigger picture? The bigger picture cannot be focussed on what we are trying to avoid; it must be solely focussed on what we wish to create. One of my mentors, Patrick Ryan, is a race car driver and he says that when a driver goes into a spin, if he thinks, “I mustn’t hit the wall,” his attention automatically goes towards the wall and he is more likely to hit it because that is where his eyes are focussed. Instead, race car drives are trained to look at the centre of the field, so when they find themselves in a crisis, their natural instinct will be to drive directly to safety.
In much the same way, in starting our Transition Town initiative, we must set our eyes upon one thing and one thing only. Rather than putting our eyes on what we wish to avoid, we must clearly see the world in which we want to live, and that in which we want our great-great-grandchildren to live. We must dream bigger and more beautifully than we ever have before. During this process, we must not ask ourselves “How will we get there?” or say things like, “That seems impossible.” We must simply say, “This is our dream.” Once we are filled with the dream, we will have enough sustainable inner energy to address the “how to’s” and begin to create a practical plan of action. If we move into action without the dream and the inner connection to it, we will simply be focussing on the nightmare. And if we are focussing on the nightmare, the public will sense it, and they will collectively respond to it with anger, fear, resistance, overwhelm, numbness and apathy.
As we move towards this transition, it will be our job to hold that dream, that “bigger picture” and inspire the public, so the vision of this future becomes so powerful that grabs people by the heartstrings. It will then become such an irresistible force that they will simply insist they are a part of that dream. It will be our role to reach the positive emotions and natural creativity of people so that they are literally ringing us off the hook to get involved. If we make the dream so visible in our own eyes that others cannot help but see it themselves, they will become eager and active participants in the action to move towards it.
So to start the process of “awareness raising,” we must first start with ourselves. We already know the issues. But issues are not “awareness.” Become aware of our own sources of inner resilience and groundedness. Create the dream together. Be visible. Make the dream visible to others. Stay resilient. Learn how to recover when you are out of balance and return to being grounded. Then, take hold of the dream again. Claim it. Just keep being visible. Every time you are visible, holding the dream, someone else will want to step into it. Have no doubt that we will eventually, whether within our lifetime or not, reach a tipping point where the dream becomes the status quo.
And this is how we will transform the world.
Lynn Serafinn, MAED, CPCC
Transformation Coach at Create-a-Life
Founder of the Global Wellness Circle
Chair, Transition Bedford Initiating Group
Author of The Garden of the Soul: lessons from four flowers that unearth the Self
Lynn delivers bespoke workshops for Transition Town groups. See her offerings on the “School of Everything” website, or contact her directly at lynn [at] lynnserafinn [dot] com