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If we can recognize that change and uncertainty are basic principles, we can greet the future and the transformation we are undergoing with the understanding that we do not know enough to be pessimistic.

—Hazel Henderson 

In the transformation of the self is the transformation of the world. 

—J. Krishnamurti


How is it that we understand transformation?

Whether it happens on a personal, organizational or societal level, we have a challenging time recognizing and understanding transformation when it begins to arrive and can often only see what has happened from the perspective of hindsight.  

In the last edition of this newsletter, we explored the complexities of changing patterns, of understanding the approach to transformation. But what does transformation feel and look like when we are deep within it? On an individual, organizational and cultural scale, it can be confusing, stagnant, exciting and exhausting, sometimes in rapid succession, and characterized by uncertainty, experimentation and surprising outcomes. 

The writer and teacher Sharon Salzberg says that “Transformation comes from looking deeply within, to a state that exists before fear and isolation arise, the state in which we are inviolably whole just as we are.” This is true not only for our own individual sense of transformation, but in the process of healthy organizational and community development.

There are numerous situations that we can each recall where, at a time of change, there is contraction or chaos, rather than acknowledging such a change as vital to how we grow. Being able to hold that sense of chaos without surrendering or being overwhelmed by it is an essential step in the transformative process. 

On an individual level, we encounter expected and unexpected changes daily—from the weather to world news—many of which touch our lives, and many out of our control.  We need to understand the inherent uncertainties in our lives, while also taking clear steps toward making the transitions we desire.

In her book Working Identity, Herminia Ibarra talks about the concept of experiencing multiple selves: in looking at the possibilities for our lives as they develop as different roads, possibly leading to the same place and possibly divergent. While it is important to move toward our vision and live out our values, not holding fast to what we expect of ourselves can allow new, and possibly better, alternatives and ideas to enter our lives. 

The same is true for what we experience in our organizations and our communities. In some ways we are always in the midst of a transformation, always crossing some bridge in our work or life, a sense of history unfolding before us. Currently, we are in a critical time, referred to by teachers and activists David Korten and Joanna Macy as “the Great Turning”: a profound transformation that we are entering and are unsure about where it might lead.

I have always appreciated the sentiment that a friend shared years ago, which I have heard attributed to Lynne Twist, that we must hospice the old culture as we midwife that which is emerging.  I had the rare opportunity to help some dear friends with the birth of their son this summer, and as many of you who have experienced the miracle of birth can attest, it is an incredible experience, filled with the hallmarks of transformation—pain, joy, confusion, uncertainty—for all involved. The experience provided a new perspective on the care and attention needed to create healthy transformation in the world.

In a very real way, we have a rare opportunity to pay attention to what is being born every moment—in our own lives and in our culture—and to ask questions as to how to best experience and support positive change.

September 2007