Finding Agency in the Face of Crisis – perspectives, inspirations, reflections, emergence

Published by Aubyn Howard on

We are just under a week away from our psychosynthesis coaching symposium, titled ‘Finding Agency in the Face of Crisis’ – Thursday 7 March in London at the NCVO (tickets still available here).

What do we mean by crisis in this context?  For me this refers to the existential crisis facing humanity today – however we might frame this, whether as ecological or climate crisis or an all-encompassing meta-crisis of multiple interconnected dimensions and levels.

As we engage with this theme within a psychospiritual context, I want to signpost a few pieces and sources that may inform our dialogue and take us towards a more liminal, emergent and transcendent space from which to find agency.

The first, from the book Holding the Hope (2023), is Hetty Einzig’s Chapter entitled Radical hope: a dimension of the rooted soul.  This passage beautifully evokes the interconnected nature of individual and collective consciousness …

In psychosynthesis, the most prominent model of transpersonal* psychology in the West, the core assumption is that, while the human being has a personality (multiple, changeable, complex), it is a soul (essential, enduring and oriented towards good). Conceptualised for a secular society as our Higher Self, this is situated in the model of the psyche on the borders of the individual and the collective: part of me and also part of ‘out there’; part of the sea of life. We live as part of the world, as a cell of the whole, and the health of the world is dependent on our individual awareness, choices and right action. The transpersonal psyche emphasises porosity, fluidity, multiple levels of awareness and a continuity of past, present and future – a flow of time.

Holding the Hope (p. 120). PCCS Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

* I might use the term psychospiritual

I came across this next piece when preparing a masterclass on Leading in a VUCA World, one of many papers on the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) nature of the inner and outer systemic environment in which we all swim. A fuller piece on the individual and collective psychological implications of the VUCA world will follow in the near future, but for now I will share a passage by Professor Chris Mowles from a post on Medium, where he argues that most attempts to offer leaders recipes for dealing with a VUCA world are stuck in an old management paradigm of prediction, planning and control, in which leaders seek to act on conditions of VUCA rather than recognising that we are acting within them.  He surfaces unconscious assumptions, biases and categorical errors in the treatment of the VUCA topic and challenges the view that managers can ever choose whether to address any given situation as complex, just complicated or simple. These biases include behavioural, objectifying, individualistic and partial perspectives, which may create the semblance of control but only reinforce the underlying problems of an outmoded paradigm.

…in terms of the complexity of nature I find myself siding with Karen Barad, the theoretical physicist, on this one. In her book Meeting the Universe Half Way she rejects the notion that quantum physics is only applicable when investigating the minute, atomic particles, but not at grander scale, in astronomy, for example. She argues that mathematically quantum physics is applicable at all degrees of scale irrespective of whether we can measure the quantum effects. Equally I argue, nature, including social life which is part of nature, is always complex. Complicated and simple ways of describing phenomena may be helpful, they may even be necessary, but they will always be insufficient.

This leads me neatly into offering a summary of Ian McGilchrist’s distinction between the left and right brain hemispheres, which loosely correspond to what we might describe as the concrete mind and abstract minds in psychosynthesis:

Left hemisphere

To step outside the flow of experience in a special way: to re-present the world in a form that is less truthful, but apparently clearer, and therefore cast in a form which is more useful for manipulation of the world and one another. This world is explicit, abstracted, compartmentalised, fragmented, static. Th(is) left hemisphere pays attention to the virtual world it has created which is.. ultimately disconnected from the Other, making it powerful, but ultimately only able to operate on, and to know, itself.

Right hemisphere

To allow things to be present to us in all their embodied particularity, with all their changeability and impermanence, and their interconnectedness, as part of a whole which is forever in flux. Th(is) right hemisphere pays attention to the Other, whatever it is that exists apart from ourselves, with which it sees itself in profound relation. It is deeply attracted to and given life by the relationship, the betweenness that exists with this other.

McGilchist, Iain (2021) The Matter with Things, Perspectiva Press, London. Kindle version.

This in turn leads me to sharing a recent YouTube conversation between John Vervaeke, Iain McGilchrist and Daniel Schmachtenberger on the Psychological Drivers of the Meta-crisis. Not everyone will be want to sit through this three hour video, but I highly recommend listening to Daniel Schmachtenberger (if only in short bursts!), for example speaking here In Search for The Third Attractor about the nature of the meta-crisis, the tragedy of the commons and why apparently sensible solutions to some problems can actually make other risks and the overall crisis worse.  

The final connection I want to offer is more directly related to coaching and brings us back to the practical, moral and systemic challenges of working in this space and with the topic of climate change.  I had a fascinating conversation with George Warren earlier this week, who has hosted an Association for Coaching podcast series on Coaching in the Climate Crisis, including this one with Hetty Einzig, and continues to host his own excellent The Edge of Coaching podcast (maybe start with this one here). He has drawn together some very interesting guests, including many thought leaders in the coaching world, for both of these podcasts and I will delve into more episodes over the coming weeks.

That’s enough tasters for now! I will return to the topic again after the symposium, maybe weaving together some of these different perspectives with whatever emerges from the symposium into a new synthesis.

I hope one or more of the connections here are interesting to you and will help prepare us for coming together at the Symposium next week.  Hope to see you there!

Best wishes, Aubyn

Aubyn Howard

Aubyn Howard

Aubyn has 30 years’ experience as an organisational consultant, facilitator, educator and coach, supporting transformational change and leadership development with leaders.