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1: The Practice of Alignment Series - An Introduction

Overview: A introduction to the Practice of Alignment Series and mental model awareness.

For too many, COVID-19 has disrupted life or even taken life in unexpected suddenness. For the rest of us, it has disrupted our lives in less direct, yet often significant ways. Our social, occupational, agricultural and economic systems have all experienced new heights of uncertainty. For individuals and communities, the life structures, routines and connections we’ve grown accustomed to have shifted into very different and uncertain forms. For many this has created new levels of anxiety, distrust and feelings of vulnerability.


New questions have arisen about what lies ahead both for our return to whatever ‘new normal’ arises and for the inevitable future challenges we face across our environment and climate. Some acknowledge that while we are engrossed in the immediacy of the coronavirus fall-out, this disruptive experience is just a glimpse into what lies ahead.

How we respond to these disruptive and destabilising challenges, will fall into both individual and collective frames. How can we support our own individual capacity to adapt and be more resourceful? What skills and approaches do we need as we sense and respond to the challenges ahead? We may automatically think of resource needs and practical skills, but what will we consider of our internal and interpersonal needs and skills that have been the building blocks on which humanity has developed and thrived?

In the many 2020 discussions I’ve been a part of regarding our way forward, the primal question sitting beneath it all seems to be centred around how well aligned we are with ourselves, with each other and with the planet we live on. This includes not just acknowledging how we are being, but uncovering the assumptions and mental models we use to see and engage with the world we live in, at varying levels of consciousness. How we see the world and make distinctions in it comes from what we have observed, learned and experienced in life as we developed into the persons we are today. Some of these mental models are individual; many of them are shared and culturally driven. They can shift over time, and may become accepted widely as reality, defining our existence and often our fate. How can we be more conscious of the mental models we have and more selective of the ones we adopt when they may exist within our subconscious?

As a primary example, Renee Descartes, a scientist and mathematician of theistic leanings in the 1600’s, is credited with defining what was developing into a ‘mechanistic’ and ‘reductionistic’ mental model that ultimately reshaped how we understand reality and relationships with ourselves and the planet. His mental model is so prevalent and recognized, it is often described as "Cartesian". This was the Scientific Revolution that started with the star-gazer Copernicus and carried on through gravity defining Newton. Along the way Sir Francis Bacon, just prior to Descartes, helped to establish the scientific method, which has helped us innovate and make sense of the world. This was furthered by advances in technology during the late 1800’s, including the microscope, allowing us to dissect matter further into cells and cellular functions.


This mental model shifted what had previously been a more holistic, if but theistic, frame of life, Earth and the universe as a deeply connected reality, into a more distinction-oriented perspective, separating mind and matter. As technology aided us in ‘seeing’ and doing (e.g. extracting, moving and constructing), matter, in our conditioned framing, became a collection of parts working together like a machine, whether it was plant, animal, water or mineral. Our relationship with ourselves, others and the Earth changed with this new ‘understanding’. Our bodies became a collection of functional parts and the earth a collection of resources to be used. Entire disciplines of even well-intended study were framed within this broad mental model, “environmental resource management” and “resource economics” are two that were part of my own upbringing.

All this to say that we now find ourselves facing the limited understandings of ‘thought’ by some of the great philosophers and scientists we pay homage to. While their contributions helped forward the examination and understanding of what things are made of and to some degree how those things work, they missed out on much of the why they work as they do that is determined not by the pieces but by the relationships themselves. It is these interconnections, the spaces in between the pieces that we see, that are now becoming recognised as critically important.


While we look to these broader systemic issues, seeing the ‘other’, it is important to recognize that we each are part of those systems that we have jointly helped to create and perpetuate with our own mental models. In my thinking, it appears impossible that what needs to change will change without mindful awareness of, and spiritual harmony that starts within, ourselves and between ourselves and others. Only then can we expect to have an understanding of and alignment with the relationships in the larger systems in which we exist.

Over billions of years, complex life and the physical systems on which life depends have together evolved on Earth. We have ignored this complexity and interdependency in pursuit of material items, power and profit, increasingly destroying the systems on which we depend for our own existence. In short, the planet does not belong to us, we belong to the planet, and we now risk our own extinction as a species as well as millions of other species.


It is within these understandings and within these relationships that we might consider the questions: “Why do we actually exist in this multi-dimensional complex system of systems?” and "What beneficial role can we play moving forward?". How might we go about answering this in a meaningful, constructive and collective way?


Human beings, as the most intelligent animal on the planet, are physical beings of habit and emotion. As throughout our evolution, we learn best through doing and action, experiencing emotions and embedding those learnings. Our increased awareness and alignment, in my mind, is about doing the awareness and alignment and being conscious and emotionally connected to them. In the end, it is the conscious and intentional 'doing' of those practices that help support the state of 'being'.


To that end, I am proposing a 16-part blog series, highlighting daily practice offerings for greater intra- and inter-being awareness and alignment. While many speak of the conceptual and philosophical frames of our existence in the systems in which we exist and how transformation is necessary to our survival at this juncture in our collective existence, true transformation must start within each of us. Having a conscious awareness of ourselves, across our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions, and whether they are in a place of relative alignment, helps us to live and function as integrated, conscious human beings with others and with the natural environment around us.


Please comment and contribute any thoughts you have as this blog series develops.


References:

Capra, F., Luisi, P.L., (2014) The Systems View of Life, Cambridge Press.


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