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The Regeneration Handbook: Excerpt

May 13, 2024

The Regeneration HandbookEd. note: This piece is an excerpt from The Regeneration Handbook, written by Don Hall, published by New Society Press, and reposted here with permission. 

Evolutionary Change

These two words came to me more than a decade ago as a way to refer to an approach to life and activism that is uncommon but not unknown. Despite many attempts over the intervening years, I still haven’t found a more succinct way to express this. From my perspective, the change we need to see in our world at this time is evolutionary in at least three ways.

  1. We’ve arrived at an evolutionary “bifurcation point” as a species: The ecological destruction modern civilization has spread to nearly every part of our planet is patently unsustainable. If everyone alive today consumed like the average American, we would need 5.1 Earths to support us, and global warming is now expected to cross the 1.5°C threshold within the next five years, potentially triggering dangerous tipping points. Clearly, we can’t continue this way much longer. Whether we have 5 years or 50 years, we need to start making big changes now. Humanity has come to an existential fork in the road where we must either evolve or suffer the consequences.
  2. The level of change currently needed can be thought of as an “evolutionary leap”: The status quo is no longer an option, and piecemeal reforms won’t cut it. We need change on the scale of our fishy ancestors crawling up onto land for the first time or plants developing photosynthesis to harvest the energy of the sun. We need to find a new way to live in harmony with the Earth that works for at least eight billion people. This will require a massive overhaul of all of the systems we currently depend on as well as a reassessment of some of our most closely held values and beliefs. Ultimately, we’ll need to become different people, not just consume different stuff.
  3. The approach I believe will be most effective is evolutionary in nature: While we might dream of a sudden mass awakening or abrupt revolution that will instantly solve all our problems and set everything right, neither is likely to happen. Although it’s crucial that we make change as quickly as possible, if we try to force it without creating the necessary conditions first, we won’t succeed and will probably end up provoking counterproductive backlash. By working with reality as it is rather than how we want it to be, we might actually progress faster.

Rather than attempting to overpower natural processes, we would be wise to learn from them. Nature has much to teach us: not only the external nature of plants, animals, and ecosystems but also the internal nature of our most authentic being. Humans are not, as is commonly thought, a species apart. We are nature, human nature. We lean towards the light. We’re blown by the wind. We’re subject to the same laws of gravity, electromagnetism, and karma as everything else. How a seed grows into a tree or a child develops into an adult stands in stark contrast to mechanistic conceptions of how life works. Evolutionary change is an organic process, more like a journey into the unknown than a formula we can rigidly follow. Over millennia, it’s been called by many different names in many different languages by priests and poets, scientists and evolutionaries. All point towards a common underlying reality: a perennial philosophy of change.

For nearly two and a half decades now, I’ve been a dedicated student of how change occurs, testing out many different theories in my own life and work. Based on these experiences, I can confidently say that evolutionary change isn’t just a nice idea. It’s an entirely different way of being in the world that has the power to change everything.

In these increasingly chaotic times, change is inevitable but evolution is not. We can choose to lean in and be transformed by it or sit around and wait for it to show up on our doorstep. If we decide to lean in, why not learn how to turn it to our advantage? If not us, who? If not now, when?

Don Hall

Don Hall is Executive Director of Transition US and the author of the forthcoming book The Regeneration Handbook: Transform Yourself to Transform Your World.