Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Holonic Shift Will Not Be Televised - But You Can Glimpse it on YouTube

I woke up to the sound of sirens getting closer, confused, wondering where I was and if they were coming for us.  After a moment of tense listening, the fire engines passed. I realized, as I raised up my groggy head from the thermarest and the cold air of the tent helped clear my head, that I didn’t have any reason to be afraid of sirens.  There have been times, in times past, that there were pre-emptive raids and snatches off of the street.  There have been other actions that were like that, where they came in the middle of the night and rammed the door and came in with weapons drawn.

But those are other days, actions of the past. 

Whatever is sweeping the country right now is different.  There have been no preemptive raids, no tear gas canisters stinging the air with their metallic flashing, no horses with hooves pounding down the road.  Certainly there have been some bad moments.  Overall, though, with the freshness of the crowds and the slightly mystified reactions of the press and US populace, the powers that be seem stunned into inaction.  People have criticized #OccupyWallStreet for not having a clearly defined message, but that may be because the intensity and reach of their message is incomprehensible to many people, even those who in the past thought they were in the know:

We do not want your dirty capitalism, your backroom deals that have stripped us of our homes and jobs, your power-over based purely on a financial system that is essentially a house of cards stacked in favor of those who have always had the power and the money anyway.  We have woken up from the slumber of the American Dream that you used to keep us complacent for so long.  This was an experiment, this thing called Liberal Capitalism, and it has proven a failure for 99% of us – the many to your few.

The entire country seems to be waking up to sirens and full of confusion, just as I did today from my post red-eye nap, hearing the wail getting closer and closer and then just as suddenly seemingly disappearing into nothingness.  And as the threatening keening of those sirens dissipates, in the silence that follows we are finding ourselves with the opportunity and responsibility to ask, “What do we truly desire, and what do we believe in?  What do we stand for?  What is the biggest dream collectively we can envision that will serve the people and the planet, and how can we get there?”

Well, when you’re asking questions like that, it only stands to reason the answers may seem obtuse at first. 

These are the kinds of questions and answers that wind their way down the foggy and mysterious path of the Third Way, or as we witches sometimes call it, the Good Road.  It may not be easy to navigate, but it is the only way to get where we need to go.  We’ve used up the luxury of time available for greed, oil, and wars.  We find ourselves suddenly dedicated to figuring out how to navigate the Third Way because we’re realizing that the other two lead off to certain destruction for humans and planet. 

As my mentor Joanna Macy says, is time for a new level of human consciousness on this planet: the holonic shift.  To Joanna, who for many years studied Living Systems Theory and ecospirituality, the time is ripe for the next evolution of consciousness.  

Consciousness as we know it was born when little particles bonded together to living cells, which then bonded together to become simple organisms, followed by more complex organisms with organs bonded into body systems.  Now, it’s time for us as separate organisms to develop a consciousness where we as individuals can bond together to be able to respond rapidly and effectively to the crisises on our doorstep, which is different than succumbing to mob mentality or fascism.  Like every species and every ecosystem, either we will evolve or we will be lost to the sands of time.  But we have a special opportunity, as well, because we can actively co-create our world and our destiny in this process of evolution.  We just need to be present enough, and brave enough, to do it.  

“It would seem that such a holonic shift is necessary for our survival,” she says in her essay, The Holonic Shift and How to Take Part in It.  “Since Earth's carrying capacity is limited, and since the ecosystems supporting us are threatened with collapse, we must learn to think together in an integrated, synergistic fashion, rather than in fragmented and competitive ways.”

As I’m sitting here in an unfamiliar and yet sweet home in Takoma Park, which is lush and green and swathed in brick and stained glass and quirky 5-way intersections, I feel like I’m on the edge of a precipice into something equally unfamiliar that I’ve been waiting for my whole life.  And that’s okay, because I feel like I at least have a road map.  It's a twelve-step process, and as I think about it, I realize that we've already mastered some of the steps...

The Holonic Shift and How Occupy Wall Street Fits In
By Joanna Macy & Riyana Sweetwater

1. Attune to a common intention. Intention is not a goal or plan you can formulate with precision. It is an open-ended aim: May we meet common needs and collaborate in new ways.

We are occupying everything, in cities and towns with a single voice calling for justice for our stolen homes and retirement funds and hopes.  As the Official Statement from Occupy Wall Street states, “As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.”

2. Welcome diversity. Self-organization of the whole requires differentiation of the parts. Each one's role in this unfolding journey is unique. 

It is exactly this diversity that the pundits use as fodder for their assertions that the new wave of protests are “disorganized” and “confused,” but that shows more about how stuck they are in old paradigms than about what is going in the streets and the city centers across the nation.  Dan Gainor, who writes for Fox News, claims, “The protest began with no stated goals, no public spokespeople and many of the most ridiculous attendees you could imagine – socialists, Code Pinkers, anarchists and more. (Anarchists are notoriously poor organizers.) Their slogans (they have many) include: ‘We are the 99 percent’ and ‘This is what democracy looks like.’

What folks like Gainor don’t realize is that yes, we have different ideas about how to create the world we want, and different priorities, but this diversity is our strength and not a weakness.  Many of us have born the brunt of greed of wealthy corporations, but in many different ways: some by the criminal destruction of the environment, others loosing their homes, still others fighting for their very lives as they demand safe accessibility to healthcare and healthy food.  Some of us have felt the brunt of the misdeeds of these transnational institutions here in the United States, and some of us have felt it in other nations around the world.  Some of us have been victimized for our skin color, our choices in who we love, our ages, our genders, our political affiliations, and more.  But our diversity is not the “reason we will never win,” as some conservative writers are claiming, hoping to dampen the collective spirit that is rising. 

3. Know that only the whole can repair itself. You cannot "fix" the world, but you can take part in its self-healing. Healing wounded relationships within you and between you is integral to the healing of our world.

Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Together protests have been criticized again and again for not putting out a specific list of issues of redress or agenda as their ancestors, the Students for a Democratic Society did (the Port Huron Statement), did forty years ago.  

What mainstream conventional political analysts, who seem to have a kind-of middle school crush on the movement-- simultaneous fascination mixed with constant, unremorseful bullying – miss again and again is that the fact that the Occupy actions are not claiming to have all the answers, or an instant fix, is part of their strength and one reason why they are succeeding and might continue to succeed where their worthy predecessors did not.  Combining the open-minded experimentalism that comes from the youth movement and the wisdom of experienced activists who spent years getting beat up and burned out before taking time off to study less ego-driven belief systems like yoga, Buddhism, earth-based spiritual paths, and deep ecology, these groups truly moving out of the American mindset that claims that the only way to get ahead is to use callous rationality to create systems of oppression and dominate those that don’t agree with your ideas.   

4. You are only a small part of a much larger process, like a nerve cell in a neural net. So learn trust. Trust means taking part and taking risks, when you cannot control, or even see, the outcome.

These Occupy actions are springing up across the country, like a web, bound by their common intentions and yet often not having any more connection with their counterparts than a twitter hashtag.  Folks from all walks of life are gathering in large actions, from unions to college students to out-of-work mothers and children.  They are not embroiled in constant debates over strategy or priorities – and again, this is part of their strength, because in moving slowly yet with trust they are able to move out of the false-beliefs that have been cultivated by the powers that be to keep us constantly separate and therefore constantly disempowered.  Of course the actual steps towards creating the new structures and systems do need to happen at some point, and it will mean difficult conversations and choices.  Yet, in spite of knowing that, we can stand up together now – because we know that together, with our many minds and hearts, we will come up with those answers.  Our collective wisdom is stronger and smarter than the cunning of the CEOs who are as ruthless in their attacks on one another as they are in their attacks upon the poor and working classes.

5. Open to flows of information from the larger system. Do not resist painful information about the condition of your world, but understand that the pain you feel for the world springs from interconnectedness, and your willingness to experience it unblocks feedback that is important to the well being of the whole.

For a long time, we in the US have had a cultural blindness to the harms of the worlds, but as the markets have collapsed and the corporations and wealthy watched as our numbers of hungry and unemployed have risen and folks without access to medical care have died, we are waking up to the voices of our allies around the world whose journeys for liberation and equality are bound up with ours.   For a long time, we believed in the American Economic model and basked in the privilege and relative wealth that the ultra-wealthy allowed us, all the while avoiding thinking about what would happen if those people who so eagerly exploited the needs, rights, and lands of others became so powerful that they no longer felt the need to keep us moderately satiated or decided on a different strategy: that of crippling us so deeply that we were willing to take whatever scraps they wanted to toss down.  What they didn’t see coming is that this new strategy has backfired, and our eyes and hearts are open now.  We know that American businesses, when headed by greedy uncaring CEOs who are willing to profit at our expense, are not our true brothers and sisters (not to mention that those businesses are no longer truly American businesses, but international institutions who would rather plunge this country into some of the worst unemployment rates and the largest financial inequity we have ever known).  We are interconnected with the many people around the world who are fighting this same fight: London, Greece, Spain, Egypt are just a few.

6. Speak the truth of your experience of this world. If you have persistent responses to present conditions, assume that they are shared by others. Willing to drop old answers and old roles, give voice to the questions that arise in you.

(more from the "We Are the 99% Project here… )

I'm not claiming that we have mastered the holonic shift just yet -- but as I get ready to try to drift back to sleep, thinking about what tomorrow and the Occupy DC and Stop the Machine Actions may hold, I feel restful and filled with hope.  I want to commit to memory - if not in the exact words, at least the impressions that resonate so deeply in my heart -- the rest of the map that Joanna has laid out for us, which promises so much, if we're willing to go there.  I know that her words may be the best advice there could be in the days to come:

7. Believe no one who claims to have the final answer. Such claims are a sign of ignorance and limited self-interest.

8. Work increasingly in teams or joint projects serving common intentions. Build community through shared tasks and rituals.

9. Be generous with your strengths and skills, they are not your private property. They grow from being shared. They include both your knowing and your unknowing, and the gifts you accept from the ancestors and all beings.

10. Draw forth the strengths of others by your own acknowledgment of them. Never prejudge what a person can contribute, but be ready for surprise and fresh forms of synergy.

11. You do not need to see the results of your work. Your actions have unanticipated and far-reaching effects that are not likely to be visible to you in your lifetime.

12. Putting forth great effort, let there also be serenity in all your doing; for you are held within the web of life, within flows of energy and intelligence far exceeding your own.

In love and solidarity,



  1. Do you have a recommendation on where to get started with Macy's work? Her blog mentioned an Esalen course she did and a new book coming out.

  2. Heya Aaron,

    Her website is the best place to get her schedule, but beyond that, I highly recommend her older book, "Coming Back to Life." It's quite good and has many of the exercises that I use with folks in it. I also like her DVD, available on her website. I think she also might be teaching with Common Circle Education in Berkeley this summer.


  3. This is beautiful. Gratiude for the work you are doing, your writing, and your walk in the world!

  4. Wake up the whole country seems to be full of alarm and confusion, as I post today from my red eyes and nodded, hearing more and more close to the wail, and then disappear just as suddenly seems to be nothing.

    common circle education

  5. Am I really only the fourth person to make a comment on this page? This is an amazing piece of writing. I came across it through a friend's facebook page. I will share this with everyone that I can. It is a very important piece of writing. It inspired me to make public a poem I wrote several years ago, and I thought it is appropriate to make it public first here.

    This is the only poem of mine that seemed to be really inspired. After I wrote it, I sort of had the sense of automatic writing. It’s the only one that I haven’t changed. It was a first-take.

    Somewhere in the heart of the city
    Somewhere in the mind of man
    A light glows white

    I stumble through a moonless night
    Wade through murky memories
    And listen for the light
    That glows
    Somewhere under the skin of the Earth
    Beyond the fog of my mind
    At the heart of my heart
    A white light lives
    Waiting for me to stand still
    And see it
    Waiting for me to wake up
    And be it


    Riyana, I imagine you have heard about 'occupy planet Earth'. I don't know much about it, but I like the title. Here is the link in case you haven't heard of it https://www.facebook.com/pages/Occupy-Planet-Earth/199876286748587

  6. Thank you for the possibilities and the hope you share here, and for the inspiration you bring forth in others! May you be well... May you be happy...May you be at peace...

    Sending love...