How Systems Thinking is Killing Your Creativity: An Organization is not a System!

(This article first appeared in Medium.com)

The new open participatory organization (OPO) paradigm entails a move from thinking in terms of systems that can be “known” or “designed” or “intervened upon” by a person or persons who occupy a privileged position outside that system, to thinking in terms of complex responsive processes of human interaction. Since the 1940’s there have been different ways in which we came to think about organizations as systems. The early systems thinkers relied on cybernetic theories of regulatory feedback loops that were encountered or that could be designed inside the system to produce predictable outcomes. Today, cybernetics is still useful in creating operational frameworks where regulatory points function as reminders: what to measure, when to anticipate errors, when to test, how and when to review our work. Cybernetics works well inside closed operational systems that are simple and where results are reproducible.

Culture eats strategy for breakfast

However, whenever we are dealing with humans, complexity arises in the many many local interactions that take place between them in their ordinary everyday activities of organizational life. There is no “outside position” from which an individual or leader can take account of “the whole” and impose interventions on it. This is the meaning of the popular phrase Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Every attempt to control the complex responses of people in participation, only escalates complexity through other measures — adaptive push-back, gaming the system, deviant behavior, leveraging power, ranking and politicking strategies, obfuscations of all sorts, and the like. Furthermore, there is no way to align culture since culture is constituted by streams of values that are continuously shifting in every individual while simultaneously being negotiated among them. When people come together they spontaneously begin to accommodate, assimilate or reconcile power relationships that result from asymmetrical values, needs and skills. During this process, the field of participation continuously shifts from configuration to configuration, creating ever-more complex formulations of what it is to be an I,we, me or us. The notion of searching for fitness in a complex adaptive landscape readily comes to mind.

What “fitness” represents in this process of human interaction, is a coherence that is established when what it is to be I -me is generalized from the myriad particular instantiations that are possible within the context of individuals, into a imagined “whole” or “unity” that is experienced as we-us. This requires that both the autonomy of each individual — the felt sense of the I,accommodates a socially shared aspect — a role that functions as a me; and that this “me” is simultaneously assimilated by every other individual until the moment of reconciliation when the felt-sense of we-ness emerges as a shared reality. This we-ness can be further reified through shared narratives among the many, or rhetorical devices from the few, peer pressure and social anxiety, politics of exclusion and inclusion, and xenophobia and ethnocentric tendencies — to eventually construct a strong sense of an us which is dialectically opposed to a them. This is the point where group coherence — the lively, adaptive, responsive, creative and complex mode of collective participation — collapses into its invariant and pathological form, cohesion, an outcome of unconscious tendencies to concretize the I-me-we forming processes into abstract and invariant formulations of bounded wholes, with insides and outsides, strong delineations of inclusion and exclusion. It is at this point that the collective loses its capacity to authentically participate, and instead falls into paranoia, stasis, and group think that are key indicators of group cohesion. It is only in this state, where people begin to act more like programs than as authentic agents in a field of participation, that the manager can adopt the posture of “acting on” the collective from a privileged position where the manager is free to act, whereas everyone else is subject to interventions from “outside.” Except in extreme cases where either physical or psychological force is employed, the manager’s posture is merely an illusion, only made possible by the collusion of the collective, who, for reasons of their own, act along with the manager in sustaining a fiction that offers some convenience for everyone.

It is this convenience of human collusion, that we commonly call “the system.”

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A Healthy Life and a Healthy Body

Studies reveal that women diagnosed with the same cancers as men live longer and that married men live longer than single men with the same cancers; smoke as much and have fewer cases of lung cancer than single men. It is not female hormones, or sleeping with them, that is protecting these men and women. It is their connections and relationships. Years ago, I was criticized for asking people what happened in the year or two before they became sick. I was told I was blaming people and creating guilt. Recent studies show that loneliness affects the genes which control our immune response. So, people who feel lonely are more likely to develop autoimmune diseases, viral illnesses and cancer. I may add that a sense of humor laughter improves survival statistics.

I bring this up because I want women to keep their power and not live a role related to doing things for other people. I’ll make this marriage works if it kills me can kill you. Being the good girl to please parents and spouses while internalizing all your feelings is self destructive. It turns on the cancer genes. I have seen an audience of southern women become hostile to my wife and me after our presentation. I couldn’t understand what we had done wrong. A friend said, “You didn’t do anything wrong. They are jealous of your relationship. Your wife can interrupt and correct you and shares the stage. They have gone from politeness to submissiveness.”

Please ladies let your heart guide you through life so what you do is out of love. Then you benefit from your activities as does the recipient of your love. When you can’t die until all the kids are married and out of the house what happens when they do all move out. I have watched a woman with nine kids die, twenty years after being diagnosed with cancer, when the kids all left home.

One woman did a drawing for me entitled will the real me please stand up. It shows a mommy and a professional and you don’t need to be a therapist to know which one makes her happy. So, do what makes you happy and keep your power. Don’t wait to develop cancer to obtain permission. If something is threatening your health eliminate it from your life be it a marriage, job or anything else. If it does not threaten your health then give love a chance to heal the relationship. You have a choice when your health is not at risk to change your life or your attitude. You can be born again free of your disease. Life is a labor pain related to your birthing your unique self.

For men the relationship is with their job and self image. Lose your job or be too sick to work and, "There's no point in living. I can't work anymore." That statement was made while his wife and children were sitting next to him in my office. I also know men who have committed suicide when told they can't work or participate in sports anymore due to their illness. Any doctor who told me I can't work would be made to write it on his prescription pad so I could post it on our fridge at home for my wife to see.

Relationships, like marriage, or with family or your doctor, are a struggle according to my wife and an ordeal according to Joseph Campbell. They are both talking about creating a relationship so that 1+1=3.A relationship is not about what each individual wants but about a third entity, the relationship they create. So be sure your spouse, partner, family and doctor are willing to create a relationship you can all live with and each take 60% responsibility for. Relationships give our lives meaning and help us to heal. An Australian study revealed that after a heart attack if you went home to a house with a dog 12 months later 5% of the people had died. No dog in the house 26% had died in the year after the heart attack. Even plants and gold fish prolong life in nursing homes and even in concentration camps the will to live and connect with others had an amazing effect on survival.

A sure sign of future successful relationships is that the persons involved are criticized by the people they work with, the people they work for and their family. These are people who are willing to learn, accept criticism and apologize rather than make excuses or blame others. The tourists are then trained by the natives who understand the experience they are living with that the other party has never been exposed to.

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The Secret for Living Disease and Stress Free

In today’s society, it is normal for older citizens to shows signs of multiple chronic diseases and a lower standard of living due to health problems as their life progresses. In America, statistics say that most of us will develop hypertension, diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease, cancer, depression, anxiety and chronic pain by mid-life age.

Despite the expected denigration of health that comes with getting older, I am 84 years old and I am constantly amazing my peers and doctors that I am not looking or feeling my age yet. That is correct – I have been fortunate enough to stand among the few who are not a statistic of poor health and stress.

Everyone always asks ‘What is my secret?’ My secret is simple – I live in the practice of stress reduction and stress management. Stress management has helped me to have a life where I can have pain control without pain medication, no diseases that need medications, no side effects from prescribed drugs, decreased anxiety and freedom from depression, great sleep every night, spiritual purpose/development, and, of course, increased happiness/contentment.

Over the past 45 years, I and my colleagues have used only 5 techniques to bring about major reduction of diseases, chronic pain, anxiety and depression for myself and over 30,500 other people with a success rate of over 85%.

Cranial Electrical Stimulation – Cranial Electrical Stimulation is best done with the CES unit developed by Saul Liss. It was originally used for pain but I discovered it is far better for depression, anxiety and insomnia. It normalizes serotonin and raises beta endorphin.

Transcutaneous Acupuncture, PEMF – According to Ronald Klatz, D.O., President of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, “DHEA is undeniably one of the most crucial predictive factors in diagnosing aging-related diseases.” Indeed, DHEA levels are significant indicators of accelerated aging, atherosclerosis, cancer and reduced immune competence. For the past 20 years, I have used the same method to assist in rejuvenating the body’s ability to naturally increase its own DHEA levels: Using the acupuncture technique called Stimulation of the Ring of Fire, using magnesium lotion daily, and a vitamin regimen that includes Vitamin C, MSM, Molybeneum and Beta 1,3 Glucan.

This combination, working in correlation with your body’s own progesterone levels, will raises DHEA an average of 250% from baseline and has not been seen to raise DHEA above the normal range.

Sapphire enhanced AdrenoScalar™ therapy. Sapphire enhanced AdrenoScalar therapy appears to be the greatest single stress reducer: It has been shown to: reduce adrenomedullin over 50%, reduces inflammation up to 80%, reduces free radicals 40-50% within 3 hours and increase delta brain activity instantly, for immediate relaxation and stress reduction.

Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy. Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEFT) initially required electrical stimulation at 52 to 78 GHz at one billionth of a watt for 20 minutes. However, an alternative method was developed which uses a specific blend of essential oils and only takes 30 seconds, but has the same results. There are 5 neural circuits which PEFT specifically optimizes. These are the DDEA, Progesterone, Aldosterone, Calcitonin and Crystals circuits.

Using only this method, we have shown 3.5% regeneration of telomeres, the tips of DNA crucial for health and longevity, instead of the usual 1% shrinkage that occurs with aging, even among those with good health habits.

The Shealy-Sorin Chakra Sweep PEMF is by far the best single treatment for diabetic neuropathy, as well as improving circulation and local pain relief

Biogenics Retraining. Biogenics is the self-regulation technique I developed for relaxation and stress management to reduce anxiety and depression. It includes mental exercises to optimize relaxation, sensory feedback for control of sensations and pain, emotional balancing and attunement with the soul. Here some of the techniques I have used for over 45 years to reduce stress and prevent disease in my body:

Be Here Now – stay in present time

Belief in self – bio-feedback “proves” to the individual that the mind influences body, and as such, what you believe will greatly influence your health and stress levels.

Relaxation – over a dozen techniques, mostly involving respiration

Talk to the body & mind – Speak health specifically to your organs.

Progressive Relaxation – This is done by tensing and relaxing, and has been shown by Edmund Jacobson to help 80% of patients with chronic diseases.

Love it – learn to love, not dislike, your body.

Collect and release – An American Indian tool as preparation for meditation.

Circulate electrical energy – Learn to integrate the concepts of regulating the piezoelectric aspects of the body.

Expand your electromagnetic field – Learn to release past trauma that is trapped in your body. Balance emotions – Emotions that are out of control create more stress and less awareness, practicing emotional balancing exercises is the key.

Spiritual attunement – Strive for true meditation, attunement with the divine.

So, in answer to the question, “What is my secret?” This is my answer – I have spent over half of my life practicing ancient methods of natural and holistic healing, while working to reduce my stress levels by living in mindfulness and acceptance and wholeness. That is my secret, and now it is yours too.

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What is Sound Healing?

DR. ZACCIAH BLACKBURN, Ph.D., director of The Center of Light Institute of Sound Healing and Shamanic Studies, located in Ascutney, VT, and faculty member at The Graduate Institute

Cultures the world over use sound to attune to, invoke and transform consciousness. It is a powerful tool as it is naturally vibrational and we are vibrational beings. Indeed, the most modern science shows us that all life is vibrational in nature. This is in line with age-old mystical thought of most cultures, which often allude to the vibrational nature of Creation.

The Hindus have a saying, “nada brahma,”or “all is sound” or “all of creation is sound.” They suggest that the primordial sound of manifest creation is the sound of “aum” or “om” … if we were to attune to the creative spirit, we would hear this sound. The Judeo-Christian culture might say “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). This also ties together the nature and power of sound with Creation. Other cultures have stories stating that the Creator had a thought, spoke the word of that thought, and Creation of that thought sprang forth from that word into manifestation. There are numerous theorems stipulating the melodic structures of the universe, from the spin of the planets around the sun to the sun around the galaxy to the spin of electrons in our body and the structure of our DNA. Our modern music is based upon these principals derived from Pythagoras and others.

Whatever our beliefs, we all know the power of the spoken word, music, chants and sung melodies, and how they can move us into states of rapture or despair. There is an inherent potency to the very nature of the sound itself and its emotional content, which can be amplified or enhanced by the spoken or sung verse. While so much music in Western culture has moved more into the secular arenas of entertainment, music in many cultures has historically held a deeply sacred space in the hearts and minds of their peoples. It has used as a catalyst to deeper insight, wisdom, transformation or growth.

Sound itself has an inherent transformative power. It is attuned to the creative matrix of the universe. By coupling sound or music with pure intention to attune to, invoke or transform our consciousness, we indeed have stepped into a powerful place. Sound healing is the intentional use of sound to create an environment that becomes a catalyst for healing in the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual aspects of our being.To become “healed,” simply means to become “whole.” While intent is not a necessary ingredient to affect change with the use of sound, pure or clear intention brings power to us. We cannot function without our intention. The more we are able to couple our actions with clear or pure intention, the greater our acts can manifest.

The intentional use of sound adds power to the conduit, whether it is through the use of an instrument or voice. By surrendering to the highest good, we ourselves become that conduit, or instrument, for peace, healing and change.

By coupling our highest and clearest integrity with our intention, we come into the greatest focus in the use of sound or any healing modality.

While sound can be generated from voice, instruments, recorded sounds or music, or tone generators, the more deeply and clearly we have coupled clear intentions for the highest good of the recipients in generating those sounds, the greater the outcome.

We can use conscious chanting for invocation or attunement, intuitive or “guided” music to come into deeper awareness. There are also the provocative sounds of crystal “singing” bowls, ancient Tibetan bowls or temple bells, the simple sounds of tuning forks, or formless “toning” (intuitive voicing) that all channel through our voice and body.No matter what techniques are used, sound is the current carrying the creative potency of unconditional love and grace from the subtle to physical dense realms.

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Calming Our Children & Teachers In CT

BY:  Dr. James Trifone, Academic Director for The Graduate Institute’s Master of Arts in Learning and Thinking Degree Program

Educators and parents alike are taking notice of the stress that surrounds our children on a daily basis. The stressors and demands of modern American society leaves students at a disadvantage that can only be remedied by a significant change in the way we structure and approach teaching and learning. However, while well intentioned the current nationally imposed reform efforts have led to increased levels of anxiety, frustration and stress amongst educators. Moreover, contending with students’ increasing levels of anxiety, depression and stress to succeed in a competitive world have led to unprecedented educator absenteeism and burnout. Not surprisingly, research studies have revealed that stressed teachers create stressed students.

If we, as adults, are living and dying stressed out, how have we not caught on that students are also impacted by environmental stress? Perhaps, one might wonder if teenagers and children experience more stress than adults, since they are not ‘in control’ of situations as adults would be. Youngsters are also in the process of maturing, trying to find their place and exploring the world, which, of course adds another layer of underlying stress. Add to that the expectations of tests, homework, pressure to succeed or just to pass a class. Moreover, students are stressed to get a scholarship or make a team, cope with family hardships, health problems, parent’s fighting or breaking up, navigating their own feelings and relationships, not to mention trying to fit in or standing out.

Therefore, how do we expect students to find success and exceed in academics if they are not being taught healthy coping mechanisms? Stuck in a society of stress, we forget what a danger constant stress can be to ourselves and our children. However, there are a few teachers here in Connecticut who are taking steps to change and reverse the cycle of stress for themselves and for their students. These teachers are making changes in their classrooms, so the next generation will not be forced to stay in the detrimental cycle of being stressed out and sick. Many Connecticut teachers and soon-to-be teachers are choosing to release tension by engaging in grounding strategies, meditation, mindfulness and yoga. These professionals are working to better their lives. Moreover, integrating such strategies into their classrooms educators are beginning to see their students transform out of the stress culture into people who are focused on creating self-awareness and balance.


Alisa Wright, teacher of wellness at Regional School District 6 in Morris, Warren, and Goshen elementary schools, felt that she had personally reached the point in her life where she wanted her attitude and self-awareness to be more focused, so she could create the environment that helped her thrive. When Ms. Wright was a student herself pursuing an Integrative Health and Healing Masters of Art degree at The Graduate Institute, in Bethany Connecticut, she was encouraged to explore Mindful Moments, as she calls them. Mindfulness is the practice of being and staying aware of objects, nature and the people around you. Repetitive actions and schedules take us away from being keenly aware of our surroundings, while mindfulness tries to connect with the normal everyday moments. These were moments of reflection on uniqueness, tapping into potential, and opening up to the realm of possibility that surrounds us.

As Ms. Wright reached the point where the practice of mindfulness was creating profound differences in her own life, she felt drawn to implement mindfulness techniques in her classroom, so her students could experience this ‘shift in feeling and thinking,’ too.

Ms. Wright started promoting mindfulness through the use of a community garden at her school. Students get to engage with nature and learn patience and focus and reflection as they work and reflect in the garden. She has seen that when the students are being taught how “to make observations on a holistic level allows them to explore details overlooked in the past, and they more fully understand the importance of becoming part of the garden experience. Students notice the beauty of nature and their relationship to it.”


Randy Colin teaches at Oxford High School in Oxford Connecticut, and is a current student enrolled in the Integrative Health and Healing Master of Art's Degree Program at The Graduate Institute. She stated that she was experiencing personal changes since she began to regularly practice the stress management techniques that she was introduced to by faculty. Randy has been implementing a lifestyle of striving for a ‘healthy balance’ in and out of the classroom.

Stress, in small doses, is good for our minds, since it spurs us into learning and adapting. However, ongoing stress over situations beyond our control can cause our minds and bodies to become unbalanced. Balanced living is achieved by knowing when and how to diffuse stress.

Keeping this in mind, Ms. Colin asks herself to be aware of what is triggering her own stress and why a certain reaction or fear is being expressed while she is in a ‘stressful’ situation. Being able to identify the source of stress allows one to redirect their reaction to a healthier method of dealing with the stressors. Students are taking note of the changes in Ms. Colin and are beginning to respond to her redirection methods. She has started using stress diffusing in her classroom, she tries to remind students to consider the cause of the stress and they talk about. If the stress is caused by something that isn’t so important, she helps them learn to release the stress. She is focusing her attention on calming their breathing and redirecting the frustration in a healthier manner. Knowing that redirecting can decrease discipline problems, she is focusing on teaching her students to identify stressors and to find healthier coping methods other than the ones they had previously developed. Stress diffusion is going to help students in the long term. These soft skills of coping and diffusing are necessary for functioning in society, but are rarely taught. Randy knows that her students will grow to be healthy, focused adults, because she is teaching them how to diffuse stress while they are still teenagers.


Yes, you heard that right. There is a teacher here in Connecticut who is able to get your 5-16-year-old children to sit down and do yoga with her. It isn’t as hard as it sounds, and it helps them relax from their constant energy, focus on thinking and being mindful of their surroundings, and guides them to de-stress as they learn to release negative thoughts and energy.

Melissa Constantini, an educator with a Master of Arts Degree in Learning and Thinking from The Graduate Institute, has started meditation camps for students in Connecticut. During the camp, she guides students on utilizing focusing methods, anybody can benefit from learning how to keep their mind relaxed and focused on the task at hand, but children especially struggle with focus, since they usually are more focused on outward exploration rather than calming their minds.

Each day of the camp, the students practice seated meditation, then they all join in yoga before they begin the activities of the day. During creative time, she guides them in creating calming crafts, such as rain sticks or mandala circle journaling, to focus their minds on creativity. In doing this, students learn to use meditation to bring out passions, change and creating in the artistic areas.


As noted above, Ms. Wright has begun to see what she is terming a restorative impact on the day for students who are practicing mindfulness. She has found that if her students are practicing mindfulness and reflection before she begins teaching them for the day, the classroom settles down with a focused energy which has a restorative impact on the rest of their day. This is allowing students to have a deepened understanding of the interconnectedness of self, others, and the world.

However, this change isn’t just happening in her classroom, the entire district has taken notice of the changes and many teachers have implemented her Mindful Moments. These teachers who have come on board with the idea are also finding similar results. Ms. Wright believes that helping students learn mindfulness and stress defusing techniques will have a “ripple effect of good” on the student’s lives.

Another teacher, Kahseim Outlaw had presented to his school faculty on the benefits of mindfulness, meditation and yoga, and later was able to start up an after-school yoga class for the faculty and students at his school. With each class, Kahseim taught yoga concepts and techniques. The basics of yoga lie in connecting mind and body and brings with it the ability to look deeper into actions and thoughts to find one’s purpose and path. While these are foundations of yoga practice, understanding these concepts is what takes a 1-hour yoga class and causes its impact to spread throughout one’s week and life.

In the beginning of the semester, the attendees were mostly faculty with a few scattered appearances by students. However, by week 5, there were more students attending than there were faculty members in the class. By the end of the 16-week semester, Kahseim was the only faculty present, all other attendees were students. Students were choosing to stay after-school to practice, discuss and explore meditation and yoga. Students who saw that staying for yoga for an hour would have a better effect on their lives than other activities they could be engaged in. Even during finals week, students wanted to stay for yoga, because they were seeing the difference a weekly 1-hour yoga class was having on their mindset, choices and academics.

According to Terri Bhatt, educator and co-founder of the Calm-trepreneur Program, high school students diagnosed with anxiety and depression often find themselves struggling with daily routines and classroom interactions.  For some, school attendance can become a challenge.  Recognizing that school absence reinforces anxiety rather than diminishes it, an Interim Instruction room fills the gap.  "Avoidance of pain or discomfort is a natural human response, but when avoidance of school and daily responsibilities starts to become a habit, we step in,” she shared.   The Interim Room, known as the “Zen Den” by students, is a dedicated classroom space that offers low-level, non-fluorescent lighting, comfortable seating and creative work zones, providing a low-sensory, low-stimulation environment for students.  Here, teens struggling with anxiety and depression learn breathing, grounding and mindfulness strategies, while also finding a supportive space in which to keep up with school work they might otherwise be missing.  “The results have been quite impressive,” Bhatt says.  "We are keeping students in school and on track.  More importantly, we’re giving them the tools they need to calmly re-focus their energy and manage their day."

One of Ms. Bhatt ​'s most important realizations has been that stress and anxiety can be contagious and self-reinforcing: “If teachers are stressed, their students probably are too.” Reports of anxiety in the teaching profession have reached an all-time high, with research pointing to teachers as having stress levels comparable to that of nurses and police officers.   ​As a response to this need, the Calmtrepreneur Program (www.calmtrepreneur.com) was developed ​to ​provide a comprehensive approach to tackling ongoing stress among teachers and other professionals.  With a focus on personal development and strategies for maintaining calm, the program aims to give participants the tools they need to self-manage and restore balance ​ - which translates to a healthier classroom environment for everyone.

In closing, it should be said that with so much chaos and stress surrounding us, it is great to know that the future generation is being taught different, BETTER coping mechanism for handling the hard moments in life. Maybe our children will be able to do more than cope, maybe they will be able to rise above stress and live in mindful awareness in every moment of their life.

But to get there, to give them the chance to have a different lifestyle for them to know a less stressful existence, educators and parents need to make a mindset change.  Schools of today and tomorrow need to embrace a new culture of learning and thinking, whereby classrooms become mindscapes for engaging and drawing upon the inherent creative and intellectual capacities of all learners. It is now necessary to deconstruct the current educational framework and dialogue on reconstructing ones that better address the challenges of learning and thinking in the 21st century.

Learn more about our programs @  learn.edu

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We Need a New Story [about the starting point for education]

Reading my friend and colleague Jim Trifone's wonderful post yesterday, I was reminded of a video I did in 2013 for one of my classes with the same general title as his article but examining a different aspect of the ways in which our collective Story needs to evolve. I hope you enjoy it even though it's a tad long (sign of the times - I've been advised that asking people to listen to something that's 13 minutes long is now unheard of. Ah well, I've never been terribly fond of advice on matters of self-expression 🙂

This is one small slice of a very large conversation but, inquiries like the one in this video are at the core of the M.A. in Leadership program at TGI - more to the point, taking action from these kinds of inquiries, from a re-framed relationship with "Reality" are at the core of the MAOL experience. We'll be releasing several new videos over the rest of this year that present other inquires - I hope you find them of value.


A.M. Bhatt is Academic Director of the M.A. in Leadership program at TGI and founder of the Center for Leadership Studies and U of Next.

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What the World Needs Now Is A New Story Based On An Integral Ecology James D. Trifone Ph.D.

I recently attended week-long conference at the Ghost Ranch in Albquiú, New Mexico. The conference was entitled "Earth Honoring Faith: Journey of the Universe” and featured a cadre of eminent religious and scientific scholars. Two of the presenters Mary Evelyn Tucker and her husband John Grim are visiting faculty with The Graduate Institute. Tucker is a senior lecturer and religious scholar in Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, as well as the Divinity School and the Department of Religious Studies. Grim is a Yale University professor with expertise in Native American religions, as well as co-founder and co-director with Tucker of Yale’s Forum on Religion and Ecology.

The conference focused on developing a new worldview that embraces the wisdom from both science and religion to better understand how to re-connect humanity within rather than outside of Nature. The conference theme stemmed from the inspirational book and Emmy award-winning documentary Journey of the Universe [JOTU] co-written by cosmologist Brian Swimme along with Mary Evelyn Tucker. In addition Tucker and her husband were executive producers of JOTU.

The film weaves together the insights gleaned from modern science with the enduring wisdom from the world’s religions to view Cosmic and Earth evolution as a profound process of creativity, connection and interdependence. The film instills a deep sense of belonging and participation that invites us to embrace a more meaningful understanding of our place and role in the story of the universe. JOTU tells a story situating humanity as one of millions of interdependent species borne within the womb of the Cosmos. All matter can be traced to the prodigious energies used to forge every known element either within the fusion furnaces of stars during their “lives” or when they have reached the end of their billion-year lifespan culminating with a billowing fireworks-like display of kaleidoscopic plumes of gas and dust in the wake of a supernova explosion. Therefore, as Carl Sagan iterated decades ago, we are all “star stuff” and, as such, kindred spirits with all of creation.

Religious leaders, environmental and social activists, as well as educators attended the conference whose overall design was to (1) emphasize that we are one human family connected to each other and all there is and; (2) engender a discussion of constructively responding to the ecological, political, social, economic and educational crises we currently face as a global family. One of the notions discussed was the relationship between opposing processes that give rise to form and structure of our planet. What this brought to mind was the dialectic between extinction and the opposing process of emergence or re-birth. There have been five mass extinctions of life on Earth over the course of the past 3.6 billion years, all of which can be attributed to natural processes. However, in the aftermath of each mass extinction, like the Phoenix arising from the ashes, life not only persisted but also flourished in abundance and diversity.

Scientists now concur that we have reached the end of the Cenozoic geological period, during which time the Earth witnessed the adaptive radiation of thousands of mammalian species including our own only a few hundred thousand years ago. A study, recently published in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, confirms what many scientists have believed for some time.- “…The resulting biological annihilation obviously will have serious ecological, economic and social consequences. Humanity will eventually pay a very high price for the decimation of the only assemblage of life that we know of in the universe.” We are now immersed in a new epoch characterized by “biological annihilation” of wildlife that the Earth has not experienced since the last mass extinction millions of years ago. However, unlike mass extinctions of past eons, this new one is due to overpopulation and overconsumption, as well as the intervention in natural processes of a single species-Homo sapiens. Therefore scientists have confirmed Earth has now entered into what is now called the Anthropocene epoch [the prefix “Anthro” refers to human]. The Anthropocene is so named because the planet’s landscape, air and water systems are being transfigured and negatively impacted while its plant and animal inhabitants decimated due to the human predilection to survive at the expense of everything else.

Nonetheless, as the geological record has revealed, the Earth is resilient and has survived past mass extinctions and therefore will survive and thrive with or without us. Thus, there is hope in recognizing the creative, renewing and fecund nature of our planet wherein the emergence of new species will continue to evolve and replace extinct species for ages to come. However, if we want to continue journeying with Mother Earth we need to recognize that this emergence-extinction dialectic is neither pendulum-like nor cyclical. Rather this dialectic depicts the spiraling and evolving of "time and place" creating new contexts. We need to acknowledge that we live in a living and evolving Universe. It is a difference between viewing it as a dead and static state of "being" and recognizing it as a living and dynamic state of "becoming". Henceforth, rather than viewing ourselves as human "beings" it appears more accurate to perceive ourselves as human "becomings" who have reached a critical juncture, or what Malcolm Gladwell refers to as a “tipping point” in our evolution. Whether our species continues the journey depends on whether or not we choose to consciously make changes in how we view ourselves and interact with the landscape, air, water and myriad species that Mother Nature has spun on her loom into one grand tapestry that we perceive as the “web of life”.

The time has come to reinterpret the 18th century Enlightenment values of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness through the lens of inter-connectedness or what Vietnamese and Buddhist poet, Thich Nhat Hanh, refers to as “inter-being” [i.e. to interdependently exist with others]. What the world needs today is to experience "wonder" within the sacred natural world we call home. Wonder or awe literally takes ones breath away. In awe’s wake one’s breath is restored through the process of inspiration, whose etymological roots can be traced to the word "spirit". Therefore, being awe-struck leaves us transformed and able to see things anew that as a consequence, leaves us re-spirited and thus, enlightened to perceive what before had only been overlooked or unseen. What the world needs now is a new story filled with wonder along with the wisdom that emerges when taking time to observe and appreciate the natural beauty and elegance in the form and structure of our environs. Humans need to finally recognize and acknowledge that we are entangled in an interdependent “web of life”. Moreover, it behooves us to begin behaving like a “family” member rather than a stranger to our global inhabitants, as well as resolve to fully participate as trusted guardians rather than plunderers of our planet and Her resources.

The new crises created during the human age of modernity require now, more than ever, a New Story of interdependence and spirituality that spawns new forms of social, spiritual and environmental activism based on: (1) embracing ecological integrity; (2) fostering social, economic and restorative justice and democracy; (3) non-violence and Peace; (4) valuing, respecting and honoring the spiritual connection between humans and the Earth; (5) integrating science and ethics; (6) viewing the universe as a “living”, creative and evolving system; (7) activating human energy for ecological and social change; (8) acknowledging humans as "trustees" rather than stewards of the earth; (9) embracing a broadened ethics among humans and non-humans; and (10) espousing an integral ecology whose values include: (1) reverence for the earth community; (2) respect for humans and all species; (3) restraint in use of natural resources; (4) retribution of technology and aid; and (5) responsibility for the future of life and restoration of ecosystems.

The Earth Charter [http://earthcharter.org/discover/the-earth-charter/] began as a United Nations initiative, but was carried forward and completed by a global civil society initiative in the last decade of the 20th century. The Charter provides an ethical framework requisite to creating a “just, sustainable and peaceful global society for the 21st century” and, as such, can serve as a primer on writing a New Story.

The Preamble of the Earth Charter begins with a profound and sobering notion:

“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.”

Pope Francis proposes in his recent Encyclical that we embrace an integral ecology as a new paradigm of justice; an ecology “which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings”. The inherent wisdom in this papal document is thus aligned with those that espoused by others, most notably His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Therefore, the religious and scientific communities are united in their appeal to usher in a new accord that promotes embracing an integral ecology founded on interconnectedness and interdependence of our global community.

In order to connect the message inherent in JOTU with both the Earth Charter and the Encyclical we, as a global society, need to adopt a new set of global-centric values that speak to the entire Earth community. JOTU's message is that we are all "star stuff" and therefore, interrelated and interdependent. Moreover, we are ALL on the same journey as One with the Universe. It is a shift in mindset from focusing on the needs, desires and wants of the "self" to those of "Self". Getting there will require being open to dialogue and therefore listening to each other and co-evolving new values that support the Earth Charter's guiding principles for nature, human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace.

Towards that end, the mission and vision statements of The Graduate Institute that underlie its degree and certificate programs are not only aligned with the tenets of the Earth Charter, integral ecology and the wisdom lying at the heart of the Encyclical, but also offer its students portals through which they can accept our challenge to assume the role of change agents thereby becoming ambassadors of a New Story. The Graduate Institute stands as a paragon of hope for a new and healthier global future.

“The Graduate Institute’s mission is to create learning communities in which graduate study enriches the spirit, promotes philosophic discovery, provides opportunities for interpersonal and organizational change and encourages the intellect through the exploration of contemporary ideas and ideologies... to promote personal transcendence and professional growth.…It is the spiritual, emotional and intellectual evolution of the species that gives rise to a promise of greatness and hope. …The Institute's programs, with their unique perspectives on intellectual, emotional, cultural and spiritual forces, exist to serve humanity as a continuum from which to find itself… provides the "distant sightedness" that focuses the body politic in its effort towards Cultural Revolution.”

Dr. James Trifone is the Academic Director for The Graduate Institute’s Master of Arts in Learning and Thinking Degree Program in Bethany, CT. learn.edu

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Reflections on a Silent Meditation Retreat

I just returned from a seven-day silent meditation retreat, led by Rabbi David and Shoshana Cooper. The retreat, while conducted in a Jewish context, draws substantially Buddhist approaches to awakening and meditative practices. The retreat was bittersweet since this was to be the Coopers’ last, due to an illness that would no longer allow David to teach effectively. There were both tears and laughter – David has an extraordinary sense of humor – as a meditative container that held approximately 50 souls gathered to embark on this seven-day journey exploring the nature of consciousness. The Coopers were ably assisted by meditation teachers Rabbi Naomi Hyman, Beth Resnick-Folk, and musician and author Eliezer Sobel.

Participants left behind not only their cell phones, email, computers and tablets, but also refrained from reading, extensive writing and, of course, talking. The Coopers designed this protocol to allow the group to deepen into a profound inner quietness within which the mind can quiet down and be explored. For someone studying consciousness, doing field work means exploring one’s own consciousness, helped by others who are a little, or a lot, further along in their exploration.

The first few days of the retreat is that of settling in to the routine, allowing the meditations to quiet the mind, and noticing the profound silence of the group that is also filled with friendliness and kindness. Some silent retreats in other traditions can be austere – no smiling, no holding open doors for others, etc. At this retreat, smiling or acknowledging others is allowed (but not required). The practice is open-hearted with curiosity and a dose of humor. The teachers, who provided inspirational talks, were often very funny, approaching stand-up at times.

By the morning of the third day, thoughts entering my mind had slowed to a trickle. Instead of a steady stream, thoughts were bubbling up more discretely, one at a time. One thought that bubbled up was that this would be a good day to observe how mental distractions spontaneously arise in my mind. The teachers had mentioned that a silent retreat allows one to explore one’s own mind or consciousness, and I realized I could use this opportunity to get to know my mind’s operating system. The idea was that as each thought arose, I would create a category for that thought and develop an informal frequency distribution. I would be exploring the habits of my mind that have built up over a lifetime. As each new category arose, I would jot down a name for that category. After listing about 20 categories, no new categories arose. The top three categories – my most habitual thoughts – were (1) mental rehearsals, (2) reliving the past, and (3) to-do listing / planning thoughts.

This process is similar to a Buddhist process known as noting. As mentioned in the linked article, one of the most powerful aspects of noting is the disidentification with the mind. Most often we identify with our thoughts. The constant mental narration seems to originate with the part of one’s mind that one thinks of as “I”. These are my thoughts. I am thinking about this. I am thinking this over in order to decide what I should do. But through meditation and inner silence, one learns that thoughts are just the operation of the mind and identification with those thoughts recede. One is something deeper than the thoughts, or behind the thoughts. Thoughts arise in a field of consciousness, but is not consciousness itself. The process of noting thoughts naturally brings a separation of thoughts from consciousness itself. Instead of identifying with one’s thoughts, one identifies with one’s consciousness and notes that one is having thoughts. This subtle difference is essential for personal and or spiritual growth.

According to Piaget, children at the sensorimotor stage of development cannot sit still. They know the world and self-identify through their senses and impulsive movements. Piaget explains that when a child identifies with impulsive movement, the child cannot control those impulses. That is why a 2-year old child is all wiggly and in constant motion. As a child develops and no longer identifies with impulses, going from being impulsive to having impulsive movements, only then can the child sit still. This is akin to adults who identify with their thoughts. The adult identifies with the thoughts that are constantly jumping from one thought or feeling to another. The adult’s mind can’t “sit still.” The adult is at the mercy of the thinking and emotive mind. The mind cannot slow down. But through noting, thoughts are noticed, gently categorized, and disidentified with. This is not to say one stops having thoughts or that thoughts don’t continue to arise. They do. But now you have the thoughts, rather than the thoughts having you.

Charles Silverstein, PhD is the Academic Co-Director of the Master’s degree program in Consciousness Studies and Transpersonal Psychology at The Graduate Institute – a graduate school specializing in learner-centered, integrative and holistic education.

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A New Culture of Learning & Thinking for Success in the 21st Century

The curricular needs of today's millennial generation are no longer anything remotely resembling that of their parents, let alone grandparents. Rather, the schools of today and tomorrow need to embrace a new "culture of learning and thinking" whereby classrooms become mindscapes for engaging and drawing upon the inherent creative and intellectual capacities of all learners. The emergence of social media platforms, has transformed how we learn, live, work, shop, play and even meet others. Therefore in MALT, participants deconstruct the current educational framework and dialogue on reconstructing ones that better address the challenges of learning and thinking in the 21st century. These frameworks consists of a shift towards a more post-modern process and learner-based approach for education that provides constructivist learning opportunities for a diverse and unique population of learners.

The current education reform framework being promulgated by both business and political leaders to develop college and career readiness for today's students is based on what was once a valid, yet now antiquated, 18th century "factory" model for learning and thinking. Nonetheless, while the core philosophical beliefs that emerged from this era are still valid today, our understanding of how we need to think and learn has changed immensely since that time. Unfortunately, we have only recently come to realize that humanity has reached a point in its cultural evolution whereby progressing forward into an unknown future is no longer dependent upon amassing separate and isolated concepts derived from disciplinary thinking.Rather we now realize that survival in the 21st century and beyond is dependent upon understanding the importance of interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary thinking and the web of relationships between myriad social, political, economic and ecological processes linking together the entire global community.

Recent findings from research studies conducted by neuroscientists, developmental psychologists and educational motivational theorists support pedagogies that foster the development of the whole child and with it both right, as well as left brain thinking. Reason together with emotion, as well as activities that demand a more balanced left and right hemisphere learning approach, have provided today's educator with a totally new perspective of how we think and learn. Therefore, teacher preparation courses and professional development for veteran educators, need to evolve to provide today's educators with the understanding and wherewithal to develop and integrate more right brain strengths, as well as co-creation of meaning in order to incorporate an experiential approach to thinking into their classroom teaching.

In his book, Most Likely to Succeed, Harvard educator, Tony Wagner, cites 7 survival skills necessary for career and college readiness for success in the 21st century, including: critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurship; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information and curiosity and imagination. Similarly, in his book, A Whole New Mind, best-selling Daniel Pink argues that affluence, technology and globalization have transformed our culture and with it, now require a shift from the left-brain (i.e. L-Directed) thinking characteristic of the Information age to that of including right-brain thinking (i.e. R-Directed) processes requisite for success in the emerging Conceptual Age of the 21st century. Rather than diminishing the importance of L-Directed thought processes, Pink argues for augmenting those by including R-Directed processes he refers to as "high concept" (e.g. ability to identify and use one's aesthetic sensibility to make insightful discoveries and use them in creating innovative and novel inventions), as well as "high touch" abilities (e.g. capacity to empathize with others, find personal meaning and purpose in one's work, and in so doing, flourish). In 5 Minds for the Future educational guru, Howard Gardner, conceives five different kinds of minds (i.e. Disciplined, Synthesizing, Creating, Respectful and Ethical) that today's educators need to consider in ensuring that today's youth are able to effectively succeed and flourish in the 21st century.In Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed, Gardner, also persuasively argues for rethinking today's educational praxis by integrating the age-old Platonic ideals within a context of the needs and constraints of living in 21st century society.

Collectively, these and other progressive educational thinkers are maintaining that if we don't provide opportunities for today's students to feel comfortable developing and drawing upon their empathetic, aesthetic, collaborative and ethical capacities, in addition to their reasoning, analytical, and communicative skills, then we are not only doing them a disservice, but also not preparing them for career and college success. The time has come for educational reformers to acknowledge that the skill set needed for college and career success today has changed since they were students in traditional classrooms. Therefore, what is needed today, more than ever, is a shift in the way we understand what today's youth need to be able to imagine, create and innovate fresh ways of living and working requisite to maintaining and sustaining prosperity and flourishing for all Americans.

Through dynamic and experiential weekend workshops MALT students come to understand that American schools' continued adherence to its anachronistic way of thinking and learning has not only ill-prepared today's youth for tomorrow's challenges but also promoted mediocrity by squelching creativity, innovative thinking, and nonconformity-three of the hallmark characteristics underlying our nation's rise to be a major global economic leader.

MALT : A New Culture of Learning& Thinking

The New Culture of Learning & Thinking… an emerging definition

In the new culture of learning and thinking, the learning process has morphed from the stable infrastructure of the twentieth century to an environment where technology is constantly creating and responding to change. This new type of learning is a cultural phenomenon that underlies a large number of people's experiences and affects them in myriad ways. It takes place without traditional textbooks, without credentialed instructors, and without classrooms, and it requires environments that are bounded, yet provides complete freedom of action within these boundaries. The new culture of learning requires a profound shift in how one thinks about graduate education. In fact, this new culture of learning is capable of augmenting nearly very facet of education and every stage of life.

The Master of Arts Degree in Learning & Thinking (M.A.L.T.) is predicated on establishing a New Culture of Learning & Thinking that develops the knowledge, skills, competencies, and imagination for a world in constant flux. Towards this end MALT nurtures the emergence of a collegial learning community dedicated to co-creating new meaning within a constructivist and transdisciplinary context. The program is intended for learners who seek opportunities for discovering the sources and processes of thinking, learning and creating meaning. As members of a learning community students participate in experiential and constructivist activities designed to provide insight into the nature of the ways of knowing and conceptual frameworks underlying how they perceive, think and act.The learning events provide students with first-hand opportunities to investigate how exemplars from the Arts, Sciences and Humanities think, learn and problem solve.

MALT Cultivates a New Culture of Learning & Thinking


  • Utilize a process approach to reveal how we learn, think and transform experience into meaning
  • Discover and develop thinking skills requisite to becoming more effective critical, analytical and creative thinkers
  • Familiarize themselves with the psychology of the creative process
  • Investigate nonverbal expressions of meaning through music, movement, intuition and intentionality
  • Explore how mindful listening, belief suspension, non-judgmental thinking, and reflective inquiry are useful in sharing deeper meaning
  • Investigate the nature of their personal aesthetic as a key to understanding the inner relationships of the spiritual, emotional, cognitive, contextual, physical, and communal realities that form self
  • Assess the validity of, and reconcile differences between, brain-based learning theories with social constructivist and other body-mind learning theories
  • Provide experiential learning opportunities requisite to encouraging students to embrace a meaningful approach to learning as a means to enable personal and professional growth
  • Create a venue in which learners are empowered to perceive themselves as change agents who can bring about social, cultural and personal change and
  • Explore and analyze real-world events, crises and phenomena within more holistic, and transdisciplinary conceptual frameworks that may offer insight into creating a more sustainable planetary ethic
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