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  • Writer's picturejodieharburt

Embracing Complexity through Circle

Updated: Dec 19, 2019

And Becoming the Imaginal Cell

Simple discussions about how to move ahead in a conscious way are becoming impossible, complexity has raised its head and is forcing us to join the dots. We ignored it for centuries and now, we simply can't anymore, even if we try.

Mia, my six year-old, attends a private Forest School in rural Istanbul region. It's new, small and coincidentally very local (it opened after we moved here). I am assisting the school with a transition to Zero Waste and Conscious Living methods (this includes everything from getting rid of the ubiquitous single use cups and plates, introducing composting, hosting circle with teachers, parents and kids etc)

Recently I hosted a talk and circle with the teaching staff. In the coming weeks we will host similar educative and collective decision making process with parents. My approach is to assist the school with a policy that parents can back up and further at home.

The children will learn through the teachers and parents in parallel (through simply noticing and living the process). This is a childhood super skill that is dimmed in us adults after relentless provocation of our addictive tendencies and our entrenchment in our behavioural ruts. Part of the program also entails telling children age appropriate stories that highlight a conscious and connected way of being.

So how did it go?

The talk went fine. One teacher seemed quite reticent, maybe peeved that he had to stay late for stuff he already knew. The others were actively attentive. Some are already advancing on a zero waste journey such as by using my toothpaste recipe and they've switched to natural loofah rather than synthetic sponges for body and dishes.

I kept the talk brief but took time to mention two points.

1. I was asked in an interview 'when did I became an environmentalist?' My answer is this. I was born one, we all are. We are the environment and it is us. We are not just connected to nature, we are nature! When we know this, we become able to sense parts of our planet, whether it be fellow humans, animals or plants or place as being a part of us, the planet becomes our child or our sibling.

How would we react, I ask, if someone abused a child? How could we personally repetitively abuse a child? (In what is a short upbeat talk I don't dwell on the fact that we, as a species, are effectively psychopathic abusers and we all need radical healing!) Instead I suggest that we can stop the simple, everyday abuse against our planet when we see the planet as being a part of us and in need of protection just like a child. A teacher commented that we respond to children because they cry when they are hurt, which led to our agreement that our planet is indeed crying out in pain too so we can now finally respond to the emotional triggers prompted by our planet.

2. It is ok that we don't know what the future will look like or how to manifest the best possible outcome. There are no experts at this spaghetti junction in our history. The best way forward is the next right step for each one of us. All we can do is the best we can in the here and now.

We must activate our imaginal cells to consciously evolve towards being a better and more adapted version of ourselves. Just as the caterpillar eats everything up in that delightful children's story, we too are eating everything up. But there is a point where we, like the caterpillar, come to know that we can't eat anymore, and that may be the point of transition. Joanna Macy has called it the Great Turning and I had unknowingly called it the Great Transition However to manifest a butterfly’s perfectly adapted beauty and grace we must activate those imaginal cells. Re- imagining ourselves and our capabilities, despite the hype that we are such a destructive species, is the only way to navigate the knots of that spaghetti junction.

So, my talk is about how we can all step into action, behaviour and choices that are about becoming beautiful, falling in love with ourselves and life and are in alignment with nature, which may, if we are very lucky, also secure long-term survival of our species.


I am always aware of the sense of overwhelm that comes with the territory these days, but I strive to manage the complexity by bringing it down to awareness, embodiment and simple steps regarding what matters to the individual.

This is why I aim to integrate a circle at every gathering; to activate inclusive participation. With every circle I host I am noticing the levels of awareness and pain are more prominently exposed, I’m not sure if my increasing circle hosting experience is the cause of this, I feel it is because the awareness of our predicament is spreading like a fire that travels below the peaty surface, letting out stifling smoke and just waiting for that dry patch of moss to erupt into flames.

So, at our school meeting we formed a circle and with the help of the talking piece and the collective energy that the circle brings deeper feelings began to emerge.

The participatory nature of the circle helped us reveal some practical problems that we can address such as the lack of adequate infrastructure (at all scales - in the home, school and city) to facilitate and ensure continuity of Zero Waste practices, ethical consumerism and whole systems thinking.

The circle also revealed the currents that flow through the group of teachers. A couple openly shared their sense that we are all too late, that collapse and devastation are irrevocable. Others dwelled on their own inability to shrug off the peer and media pressure to keep consuming. (How can we set good examples to kids when we ourselves are unable to live by them?)

I suggested that this despair is part of a spiral (as Joanna Macy talks of) that flows on a journey of awareness, bringing shock, pain and grief and then takes us to a deeper understanding and perception, which in turn prompts new directions and actions to emerge.

I saw that active gratitude was a missing link in the way we look at the problems, the severity of which induce us towards scepticism, pessimism and the loss of hope; gratitude is hard to grasp unless we all do, yet gratitude is the core of every life and planetary health inducing practice.

As we circled and our sense of connect deepened the peeved teacher opened up, he engaged and put forward his sense that the very idea that we can establish what the problems are and do anything about it is egocentric and typical of our species (he didn't phrase it quite like that). His words were so well placed. I took a second to leave the room on an invisible time and space travel journey through colonialism, I identified my position as a non-native here, I embraced the words of Adebayo C. Akomolafe and I determined to go slow, as speeding up the process to solutions are exactly the colonial mindset trap that got us here. As I rejoined the room, I also stepped into my deep sense of being indigenous here. Maybe born elsewhere.... but very much present here now. Beautifully connected through the tendrils of mother earth that transcend time and are every place.

Our group conclusions were:

This group would benefit from time to hold space for the grief and to embrace our pain and each other. Recognizing that others in the group are on the same spiral journey creates a sense of solidarity and the group were grateful for the connection and time. I will be sure to focus future gatherings around acknowledging and practicing living with gratitude.

We also defined a real resistance to change within ourselves (certain participants feel deeply sucked into the consumer culture) Having named this state as being ‘addicted’ we overcame that hurdle and it is my intention to work with the group to delve deeper into the root causes of our addictions and to see whether we can support each other beyond that.

What Next?

So, from the simple upbeat gathering where I intended to chivvy some eco consciousness into the school we have moved on to planning further circle to address the collective need to grieve, and the psychology of dissatisfaction behind the destructive consumer addiction.

But most of all here and everywhere I see the deepest need to activate gratitude and connection in the hearts and minds of as many people as we can.

I can't say what goes on with an imaginal cell, however if there were just two factors that affect the outcome, I'd bet on them being gratitude and connection!

The teachers and I sense the need for a disruption and deconstruction of the norm, we are stepping into territory that we know we must visit yet we know not what it will bring. Many of us are resistant and reluctant, we are in shock and varying levels of grief, despair and confusion. But we know we can't stay here anymore. And the only way is forward. No matter how unknown it is.

With love and thanks to Helen Titchen Beeth and Steve Ryman who first introduced me to the Way of Circle

Photo: Lukas at Pexels

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Dec 19, 2019

Yes, we are in the same boat, soup, or circle, and it seems that many would like to move forward but in reality are only walking in circles, getting virtually nowhere. What may be needed are real solutions, which would give us a direction. I would like to offer you one. To leverage the power of all these world-wide protests which reflects universal discontent, by unilaterally making the same demand, a well-monitored referendum to restructure government from vertical to horizontal, which is virtually uncorruptible, putting the governing back into the hands of the people. I hope to have a video in a few weeks that clearly explains everything about it. Corrupt government needs to be finally confronted in my opinion.

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