As part of our Blog Series, Living the New Story at the Turning of the Year, Mattie Porte interviews Daniel Christian Wahl
What are the key lessons of this past year: socially, politically, ecologically and spiritually?
Socially, I realised how inadequate communication via technology is compared to being in the embodied presence of another human being or co-creating in community. At the same time I have been very grateful that such technologies exist. I also understood another dimension of the rift that runs through society. Too often broadly aligned people, who want to be of service to their community and to life, argue over nuances before celebrating their shared values and meaning. We need to create new patterns to move forward together in ways that celebrate our diversity as a source of insight and creativity whilst stimulating the transformation so urgently needed.
Politically, I have more deeply understood that democracy is not a right to receive passively and take for granted, but it is a commitment to co-create and build capacity and processes that enable participation. I also see more clearly the critical importance of subsidiarity as a way to structure governance as well as education and life-long learning as a way to enable wise decision-making which embraces uncertainty and draws from multiple perspectives and ways of knowing.
Ecologically, I have continued to celebrate and support the ongoing transition to regenerative agricultural practices, soil building and ecosystems restoration. Recently we have taken on custodianship of a plot of land. I can already feel my roots growing deeper as I have come into the community of the trees, shrubs, grasses, insects, fungi, worms and microbes of that unique place and its potential. Committing to place in this way has been a ‘coming home’ which I deeply welcome as a catalyst for personal and planetary transformation.
Spiritually, I have lived through insightful lessons during the hard lockdown here in Spain — basically a 51-day house arrest. I had a painful embodied experience of feeling cut off from the forests of the Tramuntana mountains and the crystalline blue of the Mediterranean in the Bay of Palma. By being physically separated from these life-nourishing wild places as expressions of my larger self, I have learned how deep and nourishing my communion with more-than-human-nature has been all my life. I did not know how much I had taken for granted! I was also given the opportunity to practice the ability to more deeply see nature everywhere. I have learned anew the ancient practice of ‘counting your blessings’.
Where do you see humanity on its evolutionary trajectory and how can we find meaning as we continue to face a convergence of multiple crises?
We have let the degenerative narrative — the ‘old story’ — go on for too long. It shaped Western culture and through colonisation and neoliberal economic globalisation was imposed on many parts of the world. This has created a widespread but false separation between nature and culture along with the belief that humanity had some kind of dominion over the rest of the community of life, rather than the responsibility of expressing our potential as nurturers, custodians and healers of the ecosystems we inhabit: This ancient story is still carried by indigenous cultures from around the globe and now we are all invited to find meaning in the braided journeys of reinhabitation, regeneration and reindigenisation.
Confused by the story of separation, many people have tried to seek certainty, control and prediction, rather than embracing uncertainty and humbly accepting the limits of what can be known. Technology has become an unconscious religion in as much as the search for healing, meaning and eternal life, which previously motivated people to choose a religious or spiritual path, is now driving research in advanced robotics, AI and the pharmaceutical industry; or making billionaires spend their money on trying to live on Mars rather than helping to heal the Earth and her people. Promises of ‘eternal life’ have never been about not dying, but rather about death and the collapse of patterns that no longer serve being part of how life creates plenty of life.
We are undergoing a species level right of passage and it is time to come home into the community of life, not to exert ‘power-over’, but to enable ‘power-with’. We can co-create a world of shared abundance rather than competitive scarcity, but to do so it is time to become mature members of the community of life. We need to redesign the human presence and impact on Earth from being exploitative and degenerative to being regenerative and healing. What’s more, we need to do this within the lifetimes of those alive today.
What is the new story calling forth at this time?
We can no longer continue to meet human needs for only a small proportion of humanity and in ways that are rapidly decreasing the health and diversity of the planetary system from which we emerge and on which we depend. The Industrial Growth Society is out of sync with the scale-linking patterns that maintain the health of ecosystems and the biosphere.
We need to reinhabit the Earth as living expressions of the ecosystems in which we live, and we do so by aligning with life’s essential pattern of creating conditions conducive to life. As expressions of, and participants in, the community of life we are capable of healing our communities and the places we inhabit. We can not save the world, we can only save places. The regeneration of planetary health can only happen ecosystem by ecosystem or bioregion by bioregion.
At the scale of a bioregion or watershed regenerative circular economies, ecosystem restoration, diverse opportunities for employment and enterprise, and deep cultural connection and expression of place become possible. We have been bioregional species for most of our evolutionary history.
Bioregional reinhabitation and ecological and social regeneration, as well as economic localisation, go hand-in-hand. The word ‘reinhabitation’ describes a coming home. On the one hand, it refers to a coming home to the geographical and biophysical terrain we inhabit with its ecological uniqueness and bioproductive capacity. On the other hand, it is about deepening familiarity with a unique terrain of consciousness, of local culture, history and custom and of storylines that weave humanity into the fabric of place as mature members of the wider community of life.
In coming home to the biocultural uniqueness of a place, we can begin to explore together how we can reveal the maximum regenerative potential of each place and how we can support other people, everywhere, in doing the same. Bioregional regeneration offers a pathway to planetary health. Let us collaborate to enable people, everywhere, in their local bioregions to co-create diverse regenerative cultures with diverse bioregionally regenerative economies.
We need a cosmopolitan regenerative bioregionalism. In healing the Earth, bioregion by bioregion, through global solidarity and collaboration, we will heal our communities and heal humanity.
What are the ways of knowing and skills we need to cultivate to grow into our full potential during these uncertain and challenging times?
Our culture has overly favoured the cognitive intelligence of the analytical mind. The mind can and has been used for much good and yet, we have become too enthralled by the power of science and technology. Thinking is only one of four ways of knowing accessible to us. Sensing, feeling and intuiting are all aspects of our animate intelligence that allows us to access the sum total of life’s collective informational inheritance, as it is stored in the subtle qualitative relationships that maintain and promote systemic health. Since we are participants in, and expressions of, that nested complexity of life as a planetary process of interbeing, we have access to this systematically distributed animate intelligence through the direct knowing of our own bodies. To access life’s distributed animate intelligence we need to become expressions of, and healing participants in, place again.
Reinhabitation is an intimately personal process. As we come home to place and bioregion as both bio-geo-physical terrains and as ‘terrains of consciousness’ we do so also by reinhabiting our communities in new ways — nurturing social cohesion and valuing relationships to people in place more deeply. We are coming home to the community where we live as we collectively and individually take ‘reinhabitation’ to the personal level: coming home to our body as an expression of place.
Learning the skill of reinhabitation in all its dimensions from personal to planetary is an important skill we need to nourish if we want to unfold our individual and collective potential to serve and express our unique contribution to the health, resilience and ongoing evolutionary journey of life as a planetary process.
We need to nurture the capacity to express place in its fractality from self to world and from local to global. This needs to be grounded in an intimate relationship to our animal self, our tribe and the bioregion to which we belong. Yet this process must never be in isolation from the world, much rather it needs to be enabled by global solidarity and collaboration. Only if we support and enable people elsewhere to do the same will we see the emergence of diverse regenerative cultures as healing expressions of place everywhere.
How can we as individuals meet the moment, as we hospice the death of the old systems which no longer serve, whilst we simultaneously midwife the birth of the new, thereby contributing to the collective unfolding of the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible?
Your question highlights the important dual role of being at one and the same time hospice workers of a dying system that no longer serves and is degenerating human and planetary health, whilst at the same time becoming midwives of the diverse regenerative cultures that manifest humanity’s potential to act as a healing and regenerative expression of presence within the ecosystems we inhabit.
The awareness of this dual role invites us to be compassionate with the perpetrators out there, and within ourselves, who are still to varying degrees stuck in the degenerative patterns of the dying systems. Just has a hospice worker sitting in the death lodge with a dying person would no longer put emphasis on recounting to that person his or her past wrongdoing, but hold that human being in compassion so that letting go becomes possible, so are we individually invited to move from naming and shaming — othering — to compassionate witnessing of the dissolution process many people, institutions and outdated patterns are now in the middle of.
Similarly, the image of midwives is also very instructive. Rather than putting our attention on the planning, designing and shaping of wants to be born, our role is to carefully attend to life’s own process of birthing the new. Our role is that of enablers, carefully listening to how we may be of help in the flux of a process that is bigger than ourselves. To help effectively we need to hold lightly any preconceived notions of what wants to be born, and give our full attention to how we can be of service to life itself coming through and moving through us.
Personally, what 2020 has brought me is a new clarity and commitment to changing my way of being with myself, my family, and with the place, community and bioregion that nurtures me. As your question aptly frames, I have come to understand for myself that re-patterning the future through a new way of being in the present, is about “meeting the moment”. It is about the little day-to-day changes, not just in our doing, but in our being in relationship to people, place and planet.
My friend Bill Reed reminded me early in 2020 that “we cannot save the world, we can only save places.” Since ‘place is fractal’ all our efforts to midwife regenerative patterns of being in the places we reinhabit — as we relearn to become healing expressions of place — will also contribute to healing our bioregions and the planet.
My personal commitment is to becoming a lived expression of life’s way of creating conditions conducive to life through nested regenerative communities that connect the local to the regional and to the planetary. This journey is a path of reinhabitation, reindiginisation and regeneration. I am committed to letting this new and ancient story live through me and I invite you to do the same in service to yourself, your local community and to the wider community of life.
Dr Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalysing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.
Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures.
This reflection forms part of our ‘Living the New Story at the Turning of the Year’ Blog Series. We are deeply grateful to Daniel for sharing his wisdom and insights with our Findhorn New Story Community. Be sure to read our other contributions in the Series generously offered by respected proponents of a new story for humanity at this uncertain and changing time in our evolution.