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«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»

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7.3.2 Epistemology: Internalization and integration of multiple modes of knowing With respect to their epistemology—that is, their assumptions and ideas about how to gain valid knowledge of reality—it is noteworthy that several participants reported themselves as either having gone through, or as still immersed in, a process of actively deconstructing and reconstructing their worldviews in an attempt to make sense of reality and one’s experiences. Many participants reported having read numerous books about ‘the big life questions’ and explored such questions for years, in an attempt to combine their personal experiences, insights, and intuitions, with knowledge and insights of science, as well as of religion, philosophy, and spirituality. Thus, these individuals do not seem to unquestioningly depart from the worldview or framework of meaning that they inherited, but instead actively cultivated different ways of understanding life and the world. Moreover, in this explorative and reflexive process, participants often seemed to use both different sources and modes of knowing (e.g. science, personal experience, religious, philosophical, and spiritual traditions), as well as concepts or realities that are often considered to be mutually exclusive (e.g. as observed in some of the above mentioned quotations: spirit and matter, creation and evolution).

223 For nearly all participants, a basic scientific understanding of reality seemed to be an important part of their worldview. Almost all of them invoked scientific knowledge or concepts to illustrate their perspectives. Participants frequently used fairly sophisticated theoretical perspectives and frameworks including a psychological-developmental understanding (referring to concepts like “symbiosis,” “differentiation,” “integration”); a cosmological-evolutionary perspective; ideas from systems, complexity, and chaos theory (“non-linear processes,” “self-organizing systems,” “tipping points”); quantum physics and quantum theory; and theories of change, leadership, and learning (“adaptive capacities,” “U-theory” et cetera).77 Simultaneously, they all seemed to draw on sources other than scientific, in the form of philosophical, religious, and/or spiritual understandings and experiences that may provide guidance around questions about the meaning of life and the nature of reality. Many of them drew on the history of philosophy (referring to “the Enlightenment,” “Newtonian cosmology,” “Postmodernism” et cetera), as well as to a body of knowledge that could be described as New Age Religion, informed by both the Western esoteric tradition and Eastern religions and philosophy (see e.g. Hanegraaff, 1996). For example, several participants referred to concepts like “the divine spark” and “cosmic consciousness,” and sometimes to more esoteric notions such as “karma” and “reincarnation.” Lastly, participants reported drawing on their own subjective experiences—in nature, in relationships, in work, in life. Several participants articulated that through their inner growth practices—such as yoga, meditation, prayer, time in nature, reflecting on one’s psychological patterns, working through self-limiting convictions—new insights had come forth, including insights of a “non-rational,” “post-rational,” or “meta-rational” nature (see also B. C. Brown, 2012a; Giner & Tábara, 1999), that over time profoundly informed their worldviews. As one participant articulated the emergence of such


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Two basic patterns were thus observed. On the one hand, participants explained that they rely on their own subjective experiences and inner modes of

knowing for forging an understanding of reality. In the words of one participant:

We are gradually moving towards the getting to know ourselves as human beings […]. We need to learn to see our own potential and that we are 100% responsible for what happens in the world and in our own life. I think that that is the biggest transition, after thousands of years in which we have made ourselves dependent on leaders—religious leaders, economic leaders, et cetera.

Moreover, participants in this study often seemed to be making an active effort to triangulate and integrate their subjective experiences and ideas with both their scientific and their spiritual or philosophical understandings, thus relativizing, contextualizing, and complementing scientific authority and knowledge, rather than rejecting it. This seems to indicate an attempt at an integrative, rather than purely internalized, epistemology, as also other authors have argued (see e.g. Benedikter & Molz, 2011; B. Taylor, 2010; Weeda, 1996).

Several participants reflected on these changes in the context of larger societal changes, arguing for a more reflexive perspective on science, the necessity of a multiplicity of methods, and the complementarity of different fields and bodies of


[Societally] there is a greater appreciation for […] the complexity of reality. Rather than thinking that […] reality is a fixed, objective, separate entity that we can know like a spectator, I think there is a greater sense that reality is something that we are in the midst of—that we are shaping it as we are seeking to know it. And in the shaping of, how we act in turn shapes what we seek to know. Also there is a sense that reality is more adequately known by a multiplicity of methods of

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In science, philosophy, and spirituality I see a stream emerge of connectedness and congeniality. And that is not flaky New Age, but simply scientific, concrete, verifiable; it is the place where science and spirituality meet. […] I see the development of a more shared thinking emerge, in which different visions do not necessarily exclude each other, but rather complement each other. So things are coming together that for a long time seemed to be very different: for example East and West, spirituality and science. And those connections I just find so fascinating.

7.3.3 Axiology: Sustainability-work has a spiritual foundation and meaning What stands out in the data is the sense that most of the participants engage in their sustainability-work from a deep inner foundation and sense of spiritual meaning and significance. For many of them, their work expresses, in a profound way, who they are. Simultaneously, it is precisely through this work that they feel called to rise above themselves and become their greatest selves.

Several participants use terms like “my calling” or “my mission” and they speak of the profound sense of purpose as well as fulfillment and joy that they experience from dedicating themselves to this task—a task that generally seems to be oriented towards “being of service,” working for a “higher cause” or “purpose,” “contributing to society,” “contributing to the evolution of consciousness,” and/or “contributing to the struggle for life.” Participants recurrently give the impression that, for them, doing work that contributes to others and society, is simultaneously work that makes them feel good. For them, an ethically good life is thus also an aesthetically (or qualitatively) good life. In the words of one participant: “The good life for me is striving for the good. Using your energy in a very focused way for something that is truly worth the effort.

That makes me very happy.” This perspective thereby overcomes the dichotomy between ‘doing good’ and ‘having fun,’ in which doing good tends to be associated with self-sacrifice and is understood as the opposite of enjoying 226 oneself. That is not to say, according to these participants, that this work of fulfilling one’s mission is necessarily easy. According to this participant, finding one’s calling is very satisfying, yet it also demands an inner growth process on

the part of the individual:

I just know that this is what makes us deeply happy. But it is also hard and often painful, because there is a lot of garbage in between that you need to work through to get there; that is the path. This garbage is what I call ‘the armor.’ On so many different terrains people have started to believe: we are not good enough, we can’t do it, it’s too big for us, who are we to change the world. So there are many limiting convictions.

As also several other participants articulated, their sustainability-work goes together with a process of personal development and inner growth, which comes to expression in, as well is being catalyzed by, their work. In some cases, their sustainability-work becomes almost a sacred practice (see also B. C.

Brown, 2012a, who comes to a similar observation), which in chapter six I refer

to as ‘service through self-actualization’:

I believe I was born into this world with a specific message, a specific task. […] And I feel that when things are spontaneously flowing, and I feel good with myself and in my body, then I am working on this special task. That’s how it feels, then things just start to emerge on my path, and I tend to get more energy from the things that I am doing than that they cost me.

It personally makes me happy to be able to contribute something positive. […] And partially it is also personal development; that goes hand in hand. I don’t want to live only for something outside of myself, so it is also motivated by a strong inner drive.

The image of “a path” is frequently evoked, communicating the sense that life is a journey, “a never-ending learning process,” which creates numerous opportunities for inner growth and personal development. It is also clear from 227 the data that for most participants the border between their professional and private life is not absolute. On the contrary, their personal experiences and ideas are an important source and motivation, directly feeding into their sustainability work. Moreover, according to some participants, it is precisely this divide between private and professional ethics that needs to be overcome in order to

solve our sustainability-issues:

I think one of the main causes of the environmental crisis is the divide between personal ethics and professional ethics. I know for example a professor in animal ecology, who said: “Professionally I think animals don’t have feelings, but when I am at my home with my dog I experience that very different.” That creates a disconnect between what people think at home, and what they create at their work—a disconnect between one’s inner nature and one’s external work.

The split in our selves, between ratio and feeling, or doing and being, is one that needs attention. I see in that a necessity for healing and wholeness. For example, that in the weekend, or when you are on holiday with your kids, you are a different person than at your work.

[…] When we become more whole in this, and thus are the same human beings in our work as we are at home, I think many environmental issues would be solved. […] I think it is easier to pollute from that split, and take everything for ourselves.

7.3.4 Societal vision: An emerging ‘sustainable social imaginary’ As logically follows from the evolutionary, spiritual-unitive ontology as sketched in 3.1, most participants tended to view our planetary issues as an invitation for consciousness growth and inner development in the larger public and culture as a whole. This understanding seems to be the foundation for a generally positive approach towards sustainability-issues. Most participants expressed a degree of optimism about the planetary challenges humanity is facing, even though they simultaneously showed deep concern and care. Many of them explained to see this time as an extraordinary difficult time in human history, conveying the sense that we are living in a historic moment: A time of quickening consciousness 228 transformation and great societal transitions, immense potential and enormous tragedy. This passage difficile, as one participant phrased it, tends to be perceived as a challenge, demanding that humanity rise to the occasion, develop beyond its present limitations, and even be “forced to a higher state of consciousness”—a possibility that several participants expressed excitement and curiosity about. It is perhaps important to emphasize that none of the participants seemed to be unaware of, or skeptical about, the severity of our planetary issues, nor seemed to be downplaying the suffering and devastation they are engendering. Their optimism and trust did not seem to be based on a lack of gravitas, understanding, or commitment, but rather on a deeper trust in the larger evolutionary process, as well as in the capacity and potential of human beings (also see earlier work on "the eco-integralist" by Esbjörn-Hargens & Zimmerman, 2009, pp. 233-236).

According to some participants, it is especially in such a context of necessity that the human potential and creativity might be activated and the constraints towards actualizing it overcome. In the words of one participant, “there is nothing like a mortal crisis to produce a moral transformation:” [I’m not] optimistic about the ability of corporations and governments to turn around quickly enough. Many individuals in smaller groups of people are making the turn, but they are small groups in the face of all of it. […] We need such enormous changes to take place; it is doubtful whether that will happen early enough to stop at least some significant destabilizations of the global ecology. My guess is that there will be significant challenges that will force a shift. Very often human beings rise to the occasion under crisis. Near-death experiences in an individual’s life often are very transformative. There’s nothing like a mortal crisis to produce a moral transformation, a shift of values.

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