To Live Fierce with Reality:

The following blog was first published on the Centre for Courage and Renewal Site in early 2015-they are personal reflections on the influence of Parker J Palmer’s work on my own life and career in leadership development.

I Want to Live Fierce with Reality and Lead Who I Am

by Nick Ross

My work with leaders takes me all over the world and puts me in the company of men and women with tremendous responsibilities in the world of business. I work with major corporations at very senior levels, providing educational programmes; workshops and retreats, around themes of self-development.

At first blush it’s a stark contrast to my ‘first career’, which involved working with addictions, homelessness, social disadvantage and the UK prison system.  I say ‘at first blush’ because as the years have gone by I’ve come to notice how much of life is a deeply shared experience. I meet as much addiction and as much confusion in a corporate meeting as I ever did in a homeless shelter. The suffering is acute wherever soul and self are divided.

There are thousands of books written about leadership every year; it’s not news to say that leadership is big business. There are so many definitions that try to speak to what leadership actually is, but it’s difficult to define since it’s clearly not one thing. Leadership shifts with the identity and integrity of the leader. A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer, when I first read it, gave me some clues around the subject that felt honest, true and real to me and are now foundational to my work.

My work is not about helping leaders develop new techniques or clever methods to be more productive, get results or become more efficient or effective. Maybe that will happen as a byproduct of our time together, but it’s not the root of the work. For the people I work with, the greatest concerns are in the tension they feel day to day between the life within and the life around them.

In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, many of the people I work with feel anxious, vulnerable and overwhelmed. Overwhelm in fact is probably the biggest private concern that executives share, along with fear and the behaviours that they adopt to try to keep things together.

When I travelled to San Francisco for my first retreat I was looking for a programme and methodology that I could apply in my work. But when I immersed myself into the depths of the work itself, I realized that the work is really about me. As the soul speaks so things start to change.

I asked myself: how does this apply to the way I actually live my life, the sense of integrity or division I actually feel? what does it mean to ‘let me life speak’, to allow my vulnerability to open me, even break me towards the one gift I really have to offer which is my self-hood, my wholeness? These are the questions I am still sitting with and living into today.

I remember reading a quote somewhere by Florida Scott Maxwell: “You need only claim the events of your life to make them yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, you are fierce with reality.”

What I have come to know is that I want to live fierce with reality—that this is my birthright. And such an undertaking requires, as T.S. Eliot put it, “nothing less than everything.” It helps me as a facilitator, as a son, as a friend, but it’s most essential because it gives me ground to stand on as I am.

There is a tremendous difference between using the work (any work) for the benefit of others, and actually embracing the work itself, owning it. A poem that speaks to me deeply around this is called “The little ways that encourage good fortune” by William Stafford.

Wisdom is having things right in your life
and knowing why.
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed:
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you have things right in your life
but do not know why,
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune.

The saddest are those not right in their lives
who are acting to make things right for others:
they act only from the self–
and that self will never be right:
no luck, no help, no wisdom.

I am starting to appreciate what Stafford was saying. Wisdom is having things right in your life and knowing why. Not nice in your life, not happy or good even, but right.

What does doing courage work mean for me? Most of all it has involved coming to terms with aspects of my own life I have not been able to own for a very long time. I have begun to find the courage to embrace my longstanding struggle with depression and the additional suffering caused by decades of self-medicating to keep the pain out and the show on the road.

I see now what I could not see before and that is perhaps the greatest gift of all in circle of trust. I feel vulnerable to my truth in a new way, but strangely, that vulnerability has not crossed a line into shame, which had been a long familiar companion to me in my life; familiar, stifling and distressing.

Today, more and more, I find that I lead who I am, I teach who I am, I befriend and coach and am the son and father and partner as who I am. I am learning the art of digesting. Digestion, I am discovering, takes time; it cannot be rushed or bullied by anyone’s agenda—even my own ego’s. It is more than integration and it requires silence and stillness, solitude and friendship.

I notice through my own direct experience that when I feel and allow the current of my life to move through me, when I let self and world meet in a spirit of love, discovery and exploration, that I feel a freedom I have rarely known, that I feel true, honest and real. I am aware at times of a feelinga feeling of faith really, a trustingthat the greatest gift I can offer in any moment is my Self-hood, and this is the pearl of great price.

To paraphrase a poem by James Autry, my life is becoming my work: We do what we know we must do, we nurture the threads of our lives and respect the lives of those we meet and work with as the most important act of leadership—we do all this…and business takes care of itself.

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Life after Success: The Challenge of Executive Education at Mid-life

Life after Success:  The Challenge of Executive Education at Mid-life

 ‘I learned this at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unimagined in common hours’  Thoreau (Walden)

The issue of legacy (including questions of continuing vocation, self- development towards maturity and preparation for retirement) raise profoundly interesting questions for late career Executive Development and for the wider role of organisations in developing people who may be able to continue to contribute to organisational goals in broad terms and in meaningful ways beyond the ordinary life span of their time ‘in the firm’.

Currently it is fair to say that organisations provide an environment that is attractive to a certain level of human development. Traditional educational opportunities within business typically expand people primarily towards levels of greater effectiveness in achieving core organisational ends:  the primary goal of organisational education is thus to develop individuals to become more capable of driving and delivering core business goals.

One very interesting challenge within the current learning and development model arises with regard to the unmet needs of the extensive cohort of highly developed late career senior executives whose roles, values and ambitions often begin to shift away from those of the broader organisation as deeper questions about life, values and meaning begin to alter.

Eventually most organisational business frameworks will prove too small to contain the aspirations of those senior executives whose goals have shifted towards questions of shared meaning , vocation and legacy rather than the next promotion, increasing profitability and the achievement of personal economic security-all of which represent legitimate and important though ultimately limited goals in early stage career development.

As experienced individuals grow towards greater stages of mental complexity and as pressing and often challenging life questions start to emerge a necessary tension begins to arise between the individual and the organisation.

The re-evaluation of personal goals is natural in the second half of life and will arise as a felt movement towards, what depth psychologists defines as, the personal individuation project, essentially the re-claiming by a person of the personal authority for their lives in post-conventional terms. Late career very often coincides with the individual’s entry into mid-life, a process that is psychological and spiritual in nature and is dictated less by the Greek concept of Chronos (worldly time) and more by the principle of time as Kairos (time that is opportune). It is a period of transition that is usually both enriching and extremely challenging and one that really encourages the individual in becoming psychologically and spiritually mature.

As stated, such urges or callings towards the reclamation of personal authority are concomitant with the psycho-spiritual process of individuation or maturation and also by the stage changes referred to in business literature and research as self- authoring or self-transforming. Typically, this profound calling to change will be accompanied by certain emotional or behavioural indicators typical of mid-life. The role of the organisation in addressing this period of life and career is largely unstated and unclear, but there may well be considerable value in organisations directly supporting individuals to re-assess or re-frame their experiences and then articulate a new vision that could extend the functional and creative relationship between individual and organisation for the greatest benefit and for the longer term.

This raises questions about the appropriate current and future role of organisations in supporting or directing an individual’s personal growth, learning and development as a ‘human good’ and in the relationship the organisation has or should have in meeting the needs and tensions between  a members professional and personal life. Globalisation has brought rapid change to the operating contexts in which many senior executives work today. As levels of complexity, volatility and uncertainty escalate, so demands grow on the leaders own capacity for self-regulation, self-awareness and greater perceptual acuity. This has seen some development in the way that L&D is regarded within organisations, a recognition that executives need more development opportunities to better manage in transformational times. That said, in most cases still,  primary organisational goals, its culture and the world view that underpins its activities and define its measures of success represent a natural constraint and limitation to the emphasis placed on supporting the personal growth of its members. Personal development is seen largely as an individual concern and separate from business objectives. In most cases personal development is not a core educational objective beyond developing effectiveness for task delivery and outside this scope is not necessarily encouraged nor is it seen necessarily as a good per se.

Currently, in many cases tensions over continued shared values, meaning and purpose as well as diminishing opportunities lead to fractured relationships between senior executives and the organisation. In some-perhaps many cases- the really good people leave and this represents a double loss:

  • Highly talented, creative individuals who leave the workplace often after a long career and ill-equipped for the tremendous psychological re-adjustment required for successful integration of their private individuation project alongside the trauma of retirement and
  • The loss to the organisational talent pool of an extraordinary resource that could yet have offered real contributions in the form of legacy projects potentially nested within an expanded organisational business framework.

Re-imagining the relationship between the organisation, those late career executives that are seeking to leave a legacy and the wider social and environmental   context in which the organisation exists in fact offers a tremendous opportunity for companies and individuals to make a really positive contribution and difference to the long term future of the communities in which they work whilst addressing wider social and environmental concerns. At best it provides an opportunity for an organisation wide re-imagining of the relationship to the triple bottom line of people, planet and profit.

Recycling the extraordinarily talent embodied by senior executives with diverse, transferable skills and a high degree of maturity towards new opportunities represents an excellent expression of higher order values within any organisation providing opportunity for individuals with a sense of vocation, drive and a service orientation to use and share their talents in a spirit of legacy within meaningful, financially responsible projects, either individually or  sponsored by the organisation itself.

The counter-intuitive assumption here is that it is actually entirely appropriate and natural for an individual to outgrow the firm’s primary operational and learning frameworks as their own mental complexity and maturity develops and  important questions pertaining to meaning emerge in the second half of life.

Educational opportunities that allow individuals to address the psychological changes common to the second adventure of life; to re-frame their experience, to understand, to integrate, to imagine future opportunities within new contexts and to prepare for life after a successful first career are an entirely appropriate offer –one might argue responsibility-within any organisation. The individual power and potential that can pour out of a person in touch with vocation was captured by CG Jung;

Vocation is an irrational factor that destines one to emancipate oneself from the herd and from well-worn paths. True personality is always a vocation and puts its trust in it as if in divinity despite its being, as an ordinary person would say, only a personal feeling. But vocation acts like a law of divinity from which there is no escape. The fact that many who go their own way end in ruin means nothing to one who has vocation. Each of us must obey his own law as if it were a daimon or tutelary spirit whispering to him of new and wonderful paths. Anyone with vocation hears the voice of the inner person. Such a person is called.

One wonders about the potential reciprocity and benefit that might be available in the relationship between a liberally minded organisation, a person called and a community in need.

Practically speaking, at the level of the individual, thoughtful late career executive education will take into account the typical psycho-spiritual work appropriate for the second half of life. As has been stated, the second half of life really presses one to become more psychologically and spiritually developed. There is an assumption here, that the tendency of the human being is to move towards a sense of wholeness that orientates itself to two key areas of understanding: the integration of one’s own autobiographical story into a wider narrative without the story itself becoming sovereign and the cultivation of a meaningful relationship with mystery, a real sense that we are not the source of all our knowledge; At a certain point Individuals feel the need to take responsibility for their lives in their own unique way. Questions relating to an ethical foundation for life, to meaning, to values and to vocation will be typical of this period as will the relationship with those aspects of experience that seem to confound the rational ego, variously referred to as relationship with the ‘radical other’ or the divine-in short, the development of what Carl Jung would describe as a mature spirituality.

From an organisational standpoint, A mature invitation to the individual will seek to enhance that person’s on-going contribution to the firm by providing a robust psychological framework for further practice and opportunities to develop purposeful projects within or outside the organisation for the wider ‘common good’ . Ideally, though not inevitably, projects (perhaps in the form of Foundations) would be one’s that the firm itself sponsors, bringing to bear its surplus talent, time, wealth and resource for the common good.  Such a reciprocal arrangement could provide a win in three clear ways by:

  • Providing organisations with an opportunity to capitalise on their best human capital; allowing the organisation to continue to work in partnership with its best executive talent who might find authentic reasons to remain with the organisation as part time, split time or retiree contributors-working as mutually supportive resources for projects that can thrive outside the framework of the day to day business of the firm.
  • Supporting local communities through the development of meaning and vocation based legacy projects tied to wider social, ecological and environmental needs thereby addressing questions of social responsibility in meaningful ways.
  • By enabling individual executives to purposefully and safely address the challenges typical to the psychological processes related to the individuation project and the longer term process of retirement.
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Interpersonal Leadership for the 21st Century

Epoch of Transformation: An Interpersonal Leadership Model for the 21st Century

Nick Ross


”There is nothing in the world that does not have its decisive moment, and the masterpiece of good conduct is to see and seize this moment.” Cardinal de Retz

“Psychology must be gained for it is not given and without psychological education we do not understand ourselves and we suffer”. James Hillman 1926-2011


Existing and emergent global challenges are placing ever greater demands on leadership today. In order to meet those challenges more effectively, there is a growing need for leaders to overcome the limitations of existing ways of thinking and operating. As the external world becomes more complex and uncertain, leaders must become more conscious of the nature of their own interior world, including the varieties of inner states, experiences and resources available to them to meet difficult and often ambiguous demands in more balanced and integrated ways. Tremendous contextual changes in fields including business, socio-economics, and politics raise fundamental questions about the actual purpose and practice of leadership today. There is an evolutionary impulse emerging today that invites a reappraisal of existing executive leadership models as well as an honest, creative dialogue between traditional and non-traditional disciplines. Evidence presented in the first paper seeks to develop this idea and suggests that different practices are available from a rich diversity of fields that could enhance leadership development.

Part 2 of this article will build on this theme in more detail and address the question of practical application. Drawing on personal experience and examples from his work with senior executives, the author will propose a series of practices designed to support both leaders and facilitators in cultivating a dynamic interpersonal leadership practice.



The central argument of this paper rests on the following assumption: that the ability to reconcile the tension between a leader’s external and inner worlds is fundamental to 21st century leadership development (Jironet xii). Put another way, the psychological health of the leader will be a key differentiator in coming years. The external world is characterised as being essentially uncertain, complex, and subject to constant change. These are also characteristics of the leader’s inner landscape. It is the capacity to find alignment, coherence, and a dynamic harmony within and between these inner and outer states that reflects the leader’s capacity for greater mental complexity. The ability to self-organise across an array of mental states towards high levels of effectiveness in the world is critical for today’s leader.

The assumption is that the range and nature of worldwide challenges is so great and so different from previous experience that leadership development needs to be fundamentally redefined and reorganised in ways that mark this time as one of authentic transition–an “epoch of transformation” as Thomas Kuhn described it (in Holloway, 111). Einstein was correct when he said that our current problems cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them. The model presented here offers a frame for further research and discussion towards a new model of executive leadership practice.


Interpersonal Leadership

Business as usual will not be sufficient in coming decades. Leadership capability will be a key differential in the future, and this will require a new and different emphasis on the leader’s capacity for development. I have used the term Interpersonal to describe this model. interpersonal leadership reflects an approach to leadership development that is new and different for two reasons.

Firstly, the term interpersonal recognises that each of us as individuals is made up of a multiplicity of selves or states. We show up to situations in different ways depending on the context. A woman who turns up to lead a board meeting is in a real sense, different from the same woman who tells a bedtime story to her child. According to Daniel Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, the key to wellbeing lies in our capacity for collaboration across interior states required to meet a broad diversity of contexts not always consistent with one another. For the purpose of this model I refer to each of the leadership functions proposed here as states, as Siegel defines them. In using the term wellbeing, I am referring specifically to the development of mental complexity, resonance, and flow. This model will present four states that could work collaboratively to support greater wellbeing in this context.

Secondly, the term interpersonal references the principle of collaboration between diverse disciplines across an array of fields, leading towards more integrated and complex levels of understanding among individuals, groups and organisations. Interpersonal leadership invites diversity of thought and experience. It seeks to find common and new ground between existing practices and other, non-traditional learning frameworks. Thus, interpersonal leadership has both outward and inward movement based on principles of diversity, cooperation, harmony, and integration.

 An Epoch of Transformation

Education always takes place within an existing framework or paradigm that defines the nature of self and reality and sets boundaries based on those assumptions around learning objectives and methodologies. In his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn reflects on the nature of paradigms. Kuhn notes that the history of science is marked as one of long periods of peaceful and stable research interspersed with brief, sudden ”epochs of transformation” (in Holloway 111). Each scientific revolution creates a new paradigm–a new worldview that forms an evolutionary description of reality. It is considered to be the truth. The paradigm remains for as long as it holds, and it is the persistence of unexplained anomalies that creates further crises. The vital point is that this process of change, adaptation, maintenance and collapse is not restricted to science but is common to all human knowledge (and life) in general. The implication of this is important–there is no final and absolute truth, but only a continuous unfolding evolutionary process with no end, always moving to overcome its own restrictions and limitations towards ever greater levels of complexity.

We can argue that executive development could and even should aim to model itself as an evolutionary process towards ever greater complexity and that it too is subject to periods of relative stability followed by epochs of transformation as old truths run up against persistent unexplained anomalies that force the hand of change.


A good deal has already been written about the nature and depth of the global crises we face in every field. These include energy resources, population growth, problems of obesity and starvation, food and water shortages, climate change, socio-political upheaval and profound economic uncertainty. These are highly complex times, challenging and difficult in ways and degrees that were inconceivable in earlier days of leadership development. The fundamental anomaly we face today lies with the struggle for leaders to meet these multiple and diverse problems effectively and with an eye to the long term. Important research highlights the problem.

Describing the tectonic shifts in the global marketplace and their implications within a leadership context, Cam Danielson notes the following:

Recent times have been dominated with technological innovations that connect people instantaneously around the world resulting in massive migrations of people (both digitally and physically) beyond their tribal or cultural boundaries. At the same time there have been major political changes such as the growth of the European Union; the breakup of the Soviet Union; the accelerated industrialization of China, India, and Brazil; and the emergence of radical Islam. The transformation of values in our age has been dramatic… A dynamic, global environment becoming more complex with less clarity of outcome creates the greatest degree of ambiguity and instability for collective endeavor of any kind.

The evidence suggests that leadership in the emergent world will need to be highly adaptable and creative, able to cope with extremes of complexity and ambiguity across cultural, political, economic and philosophical boundaries.

The 2009 IBM study, Capitalising on Complexity: Insights from the Global CEO, based on face-to-face conversations with more than 1,500 chief executive officers worldwide, anticipates a sea change in the priorities of CEOs. It draws upon four very important sets of conclusions in relation to complexity and creativity for emerging leadership:

  • Today’s complexity is only expected to deepen;
  • More than half of CEOs doubt their ability to manage this greater complexity;
  • Better performers manage complexity on behalf of their organizations, customers, and partners; and
  • Creativity will be the most important leadership quality in coming years (IBM).

The headline here is really important: leaders need to learn to meet global complexity with greater creativity. The Oxford Dictionary defines creativity as “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something.” The physicist David Bohm describes creativity as an act of discovery and originalityExisting leadership development does not do enough to encourage creativity, originality, discovery, or the use and exploration of the imagination.

Keith Eigel conducted a longitudinal study of 21 CEOs of major corporations having average gross revenues of $5 billion. Individual leaders were evaluated on their effectiveness in terms of their ability to challenge existing processes, inspire a shared vision, manage conflict, solve problems, delegate, empower and build relationships (Kegan and Lahey 21-24). One critical finding from a business perspective was a strong correlation between the level of mental complexity and effectiveness in meeting these leadership functions.

In their book Immunity to Change, Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey note the natural tendency of leaders to develop mental complexity over time as a response to meeting greater challenges. They identify three clear stages of development in the leadership mind that they call the socialised, self-authoring and self-transforming. In commenting on the diminishing number of individual leaders meeting the higher developmental stages they comment:

there is a gap between what business expects and the current capacity to meet that expectation. Data drawn from research suggests that there is a significant gap between what is expected of people’s minds and what their minds are actually capable of. In two large meta-analyses of studies with several hundred participants a majority of respondents were not at the level of self-authoring (58%). Only about 50% of the ‘very promising’ middle managers were self-authoring and only 4/21 of the CEOs were beyond the self-authoring stage. Note that those who are, do better than those who are not (28).

To put it bluntly, the evidence suggests that our current leadership capability is not adequate to meet the global challenges that are now emerging. Too few people are actively engaged in a developmental learning process that has an authentically transformational trajectory. Meeting the leadership demands of the 21st century will require some extraordinary efforts from ordinary people. Many of the developmental frameworks for leadership behaviour prevalent in the last decades of the 20th century are incomplete and cannot offer a meaningful response to the increasing complexity outlined above.

Developing capacity means raising awareness by bringing into conscious practice what has previously been obscured or unavailable to the individual on multiple levels. Evolved leadership means aligned practice that maximises and leverages access to and development through the broadest possible range of perspectives.

 The Self-Transforming Mind

As has been noted, Kegan and Lahey identify three key stages in their study of leadership development that describe an evolutionary trajectory of mental complexity: the socialized mind, the self-authoring mind and the self-transforming mind (Kegan and Lahey 17-20).

The socialized mind describes a sense of self in relation to the expectations of others. At this stage the self is shaped by the definitions and expectations of its personal environment. The self coheres by its alignment with and loyalty to that with which it identifies and expresses itself, primarily in it’s relationships with people, with schools of thought, or both.

At the level of the self-authoring mind, the sense of self is defined by one’s sense of purpose and an internal orientation that is primarily self-reflective in nature. One is able to step back enough from the social environment to generate an internal seat of judgement or personal authority that evaluates and makes choices about external expectations.

At the level of the self-transforming mind, the sense of self goes beyond the limitations of the personality to the essence behind individual purpose, essentially to a transpersonal orientation. The self-transforming mind is able to transcend conventional thinking and act in authentically transformational ways. From this perspective the leader can step back from and reflect on the limits of their own ideology or personal authority, see that any one system of self-organisation is partial or incomplete, be friendlier towards contradiction and opposites, and seek to hold onto multiple systems rather than projecting all but one on to the others.

Kegan’s and Lahey’s research suggests that greater mental complexity correlates with effectiveness and an enhanced capacity to cope with ambiguity and uncertainty in genuinely creative ways. According to Kegan and Lahey, developing creativity and the self-transforming mind requires that we transcend the limits of our current thinking and deepen our understanding of ourselves and our purpose. Herein lies the case for the development of transcendent and transformational states.


In considering a new model for leadership it is important to acknowledge paradigms that either form or could form our understanding of reality – the ”truth” as Kuhn puts it. Four frameworks are relevant: the rational dualistic, the contemplative sciences, the living systems, and the transpersonal.

Evidence from these disciplines presents a compelling case for an expanded practice of leadership development. The rational dualistic paradigm forms the basis of virtually all existing executive leadership education. Future developments must investigate wider concepts. Included in this assumption is a view that cultivation of mind and the transpersonal aspect of the self are essential to individual growth and development. Leadership therefore is understood to entail a journey towards psychological maturity across a broad range of intelligences. This type of leadership requires inwardness for 21st century leaders. Learning frameworks that create opportunities for deep self-reflection to cultivate mind and build mental capacity will be of central importance to the next generation of executive leaders. Technical excellence and expertise within one knowledge system will not be enough.


The Rational Dualistic Paradigm

As a framework, the rational dualistic paradigm has been instrumental to stage development in the Western mind. Axioms of this paradigm include the absolute value of reason, the application of rationality in the resolution of problems, as well as the establishment of objectivism, reductionism and positivism as fundamental systems for understanding and defining reality. The rational dualistic frame is defined by the dominance of scientific method and the development of the concept of the thinking self–the Cartesian cogito–as the valid mediating system for human experience. At the heart of this worldview lies the principle of separation.

From a psychological perspective this worldview has promoted and inflated the position of the personal self or ego. Focus on the individual ego has led to the development of concepts such as self-determination, personal freedom, self-awareness, individual uniqueness, and the whole concept of self as understood in many forms of psychology and psychiatry (Miller 1). Whilst important, the supremacy of this paradigm as the basis for all business practice over the last 300 years has come with consequences to our wider sense of self, including our sense of meaning, connection, and place in the world both individually and collectively.

Richard Tarnas suggests that the negative consequence of the revolutions in science and philosophy was disenchantment with the cosmos:

In a disenchanted cosmos, nothing is sacred. The soul of the world has been extinguished; ancient trees and forests can then be seen as nothing but potential lumber; mountains nothing but mineral deposits; seashores and deserts are oil reserves; lakes and rivers engineering tools. Animals are perceived as harvestable commodities, indigenous tribes are obstructing relics of an outmoded past, children’s minds as marketing target (56).

The issue today is not the relative value of this model but the assumption of its absolute value, dominance and rightness in determining our sense of reality, and our choices at the exclusion of other knowledge systems. The negative consequence of a one-sided approach to business and thereby leadership development is that leadership education has become trapped in a perpetual hall of mirrors and cannot evolve beyond its own assumptions. The rational mind is not reflective. Neither does it question its own logic. In fact, what it does rather well is defend itself against any other logic that might challenge it. Its unfailing certainty is its greatest weakness. Failure to recognise the ways in which the system perpetuates itself without courageous reflection in the face of new information means that a leader cannot be equipped to effectively meet emerging challenges. One wonders at what cost?


Living and Complex Adaptive Systems

The futurist Willis Harman described the Western industrial paradigm as “the science of separateness.” He described the emerging disciplines of quantum physics, evolutionary biology, living and complex adaptive systems theory, neuroscience and consciousness studies as the science of wholeness.

According to Harman and other commentators, in the paradigm of wholeness the world is experienced as a living, dynamic, evolving and participatory system. Underlying assumptions from this perspective include an understanding that the universe is fundamentally intelligent, creative, and experimental in nature, organising itself into patterns that are increasingly complex and that support more diversity and greater sustainability. It is assumed within this framework that people are inherently intelligent, creative, adaptive, self-organising, and meaning seeking beings. Principles of interconnection, unpredictability and the relative nature of time are important here.

Evolutionary biologist Elisabet Sahtouris suggests that we need a more complete model of the universe if we are to meet emerging challenges effectively. This is important in our reflection on an executive education in transition. According to Sahtouris education needs to give a central place to direct subjective experience as informing our understanding of reality. It needs to consider consciousness as axiomatic to a holistic understanding of the universe and to explore the idea of continuous self-creation (autopoesis) as a core definition for life. This is the process by which all galaxies, stars, planets, organisms, cells, molecules (including the trillions in our own bodies) atoms, and subatomic particles emerge and co-exist (Sahtouris and Lovelock, Earthdance).


The Contemplative Sciences

The contemplative sciences describe a body of practices specifically designed to support the cultivation of the mind. Daniel Siegel proposes that the mind itself is not the brain or an epiphenomenon of the brain. This is a common belief of the dualistic paradigm, but there is a third position that emerges directly out of the interaction between the brain and our relationships. Mind is what emerges in the tension between the external environment and our internal environment, and it is constantly evolving in the face of new experience. Cultivation and understanding of mind and the development of attention becomes fundamental to leadership intelligence.

According to B. Alan Wallace (Choosing Reality)the focus of contemplative science (including Buddhist, Yogic, and Taoist practice) is towards the nature of the mind itself, specifically ”the nature and problems of human existence and the untapped resources of human consciousness. Practices, developed in cultures over thousands of years are designed to deliberately cultivate the practitioner’s perceptions beyond those of the conceptual mind, sensory experience, and language to perceive the mind itself directly in ways that both include and transcend ordinary consciousness. Within this framework, disciplining the mind – ”calming the waters as Wallace describes it – and transcending the limitations of the ego are considered essential practices. Practitioners use an array of meditative and physical methods to explore the nature of mind, balance the body, and cultivate core qualities, including equanimity, compassion, joy, and loving-kindness.

Meditation has attracted a great deal of interest from researchers in recent decades. Evidence from numerous studies (Austin xvi; Segal, Williams, and Teasdale 311-232) demonstrates there is a strong correlation between meditative practices and coherent alpha, theta, and gamma brain states. These states are associated with mental well-being, mental agility, enhanced mental performance, access to flexible attention, self-regulation of the sympathetic nervous system, and an array of positive functions. These states of mind include improved mood, crisis management, resilience to stress, recovery from destructive emotional states, and the cultivation of holistic and creative psychological coping mechanisms.

 The Transpersonal: A Jungian Perspective

The final framework included here is connected to the field of transpersonal psychology defined as “the study of experiences, beliefs and practices that suggest that the sense of self can extend beyond our personal or individual reality. Important contributors to this field of enquiry include William James, Abraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof, and Ken Wilber.

As a founder in the field, C. G. Jung developed the idea of the Überpersonliche (transpersonal self) in his distinction between the personal and collective unconscious. Jung identified the personal and transpersonal selves as different mediating functions in the process towards psychological maturity or individuation. Each perspective offers a different way of collecting and interpreting the available data in the journey of maturation.

The process of individuation begins when the relationship between the personality/ego, the authentic inner world, and the outer world–which form the vertical axis of this model–become irreconcilably conflicted and can no longer effectively meet the demands of life. In this process the ego proves inadequate to meet the psychological struggle experienced by the individual. According to Jung, the path towards maturation entails a renegotiation that must take place at the level of both the personality and the larger (transpersonal) self, between the conscious and the unconscious aspects of the psyche. Anything less will not suffice. Human maturity demands a relationship with the transpersonal. If we assume that deep personal psychologos will be fundamental to future leadership, this must be taken seriously.

An Evolutionary Interpersonal Model of Leadership

The model that I introduce here proposes a leadership practice that consists of four core states: the transactional, the self-reflective, the transcendent, and the transformational.

Leadership development within this framework is an evolutionary process. Periods of stability within and between states are followed by periods of transition and development in a creative process towards greater complexity. Joseph Chilton Pearce describes evolution as, “the transcendent aspect of creation rising to go beyonditself” (xx). In this case it is a developmental journey of capacity building across four core states over time with no final destination. It is an inherently creative process of emergence, adaptation, maintenance, and collapse; it is a dance between the inner and outer world towards higher orders of expression. Within the framework it is assumed that the leader’s centre of gravity shifts across and between states with time, experience, and responsibility, as well as in relation to context. What is essential here, and is a mark of mature practice, is the leader’s ability to navigate across the four states, accessing and exiting each at will as context requires.

The four states, as a totality, are accessed through two discrete but complementary and cooperative aspects of the psyche–the personal and the transpersonal self. It is assumed that both aspects of self are necessary to support the individual leader to successfully navigate the tensions experienced between their internal world and their external environment. It is further assumed that the continuous reconciliation of this tension is strongly correlated to effectiveness in the world, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Interpersonal Model of Leadership. Source: Nick Ross, 2011.

The flow denotes a dynamic movement among the four core leadership states.


Terms of Reference

External environment (EE): This is the objective phenomenal world. The external environment reflects what is going on out there in the world. It may include our external relationships of all kinds with people, objects, situations, challenges, opportunities, daily work pressures, difficult staff, and the myriad other events an individual will meet every day. From a leadership perspective this paper argues that the external environment is increasingly defined by the triple pressures of accelerating change, greater complexity, and rising uncertainty.

Internal environment (IE): This refers to awareness of the various aspects of self and self states, access to the whole spectrum of body sensations, and information processing systems. These include visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, smell, taste, touch, feelings, emotions, thoughts, cognitive processes and phenomena, conscious and unconscious mental activity, habits of mind, the sense of time, and the experience of consciousness and awareness. The inner environment also reflects our emotional, cognitive, interpersonal and intrapersonal capacities for self-reflection, self-organisation, and impulse towards integration and coherence.

Personal self: “The individual person, from his or her own perspective” (Oxford English Dictionary). To you, self is you. To a different person, self is that person. The self is one’s consciousness of one’s own being or identity. The personal self has a number of aspects. From a Jungian perspective these include the ego, persona animus (female) and anima (male).

The ego closely reflects what is represented in this model and can be defined as a protective organising system of thoughts, feelings, and emotions that define our personal universe through the fear of losing our physical and psychological identity. The personal self experiences itself as subject, discrete and separate from other things that are experienced as objects depending on the quality of relationship between transactional and self-reflective capacities.

Transpersonal self: “Denoting or relating to states or areas of consciousness beyond the limits of personal identity” (Oxford English Dictionary)The transpersonal self experiences states of consciousness beyond the normal range of sleeping, dreaming and waking. It is concerned with higher, or ultimate, potential and purpose, access to intelligence and information beyond the ego or personal self, including the collective unconscious, experiences of transcendence, peak experience, and the spiritual realms.

Introducing the Model

Mature executive leadership development is reflected here by the capacity to navigate across the four well-developed core leadership states. Each quadrant represents a means of being present to the world in a particular way (Figure 1). According to Siegel every living system has an inherent impulse towards a healthy, dynamic relationship between different states or aspects of self. As human beings we are hard-wired to connect–both to different aspects of ourselves and to others through these states. Integration is reflected in the system’s capacity for flexibility, adaptability, coherence, energy, and stability. This is a useful definition of psychological wellbeing and a powerful working definition for the qualities of the self-transforming mind.

Siegel does not mean that we should become homogenous individuals. Far from it. We are vivid, living, heterogeneous beings with multiple selves that interact with one another in diverse and creative ways. Our health is determined by the flow of energy and information between the states, by the interpersonal relationship between our own various inner aspects, and our intrapersonal relationship within each aspect, as well as the internal coherence of each individual state in relation to its overarching goals and intentions. State integration, the coherent communication and relationship within and between the four quadrants in the model, is central. In a healthy leader, different states cooperate and communicate effectively towards mutually beneficial outcomes.

For Siegel, dis-ease is experienced as lack of integration between states. This emerges in behaviours that are either too rigid or chaotic, demonstrating a failure of communication and a lack of attunement within the system. The work of integration, which brings alignment and a sense of flow, will require leaders to access and develop a range of personal capacities and be prepared to address imbalances. This single commitment would represent a significant shift in conscious leadership behaviour.

Each leadership capacity invites response to a central question or meditation:

Q1 What can I achieve?
Q2 Who am I?
Q3 What am I?
Q4 How can I serve?

Executive development within this framework can be understood as the capacity to respond to each question in increasingly nuanced, integrated, and aligned ways. This is state integration according to Siegel. Evolution means alignment between states and towards ever higher purposes, whilst development refers to the conscious and intentional capacity to access and exit from the different states as context demands.


Primary Functions of the Four States

Q1: Transactional State:

The transactional state emerges out of the relationship between the personal self and the external environment. It represents the primary focus of almost all leadership thinking, practice, and education; and it provides the foundation for most organisational life and working relationships. Transactional leadership is defined as “setting clear objectives and goals for followers as well as the use of punishment and rewards in order to encourage compliance with those goals” (citation?).

The transactional state negotiates the external environment through the personal ego. It represents leadership development within a framework of esteem, status, ambition, drive, the will to achieve and succeed, and the desire to demonstrate and prove ability. Extrinsic goals are centrally important; career decisions made solely within the transactional state are aimed at enhancing personal position or status in terms of image, money, and popularity.

The transactional state is conventional. Experience is mediated primarily through the senses and intellect; thinking is linear, causal and literal. Its logic supports the truth of separation, creating a discrete identity separate from the world that is experienced as out there, but to which it is always relating in order to measure its sense of self-worth and value.

The transactional state is central to key capabilities including negotiation, competitive planning, day-to-day transactions with multiple stakeholders, short term goal setting and execution, the capacity to set and deliver targets, and an array of other skills considered essential to good business. Technical development and competency building (expertise development through instructional learning) have their root here and create a strong and necessary platform for future development and responsibility. Whilst essential for holistic practice, indiscriminate overemphasis on the transactional state as the modus operandi of business is fundamentally limiting in developmental terms.

Q 2: Self-Reflective State

This relationship within Q2 is between the personal self and the internal environment. The focus of attention is to influence and mature the correspondence between inner experience and the outside world, making this relationship more fluid, honest and conscious through a range of practices. Considerably less attention is paid to the self-reflective state within leadership development than is currently given to the transactional state. The reflective state represents an ego-activated approach to reflection, and its focus is on the continuing development of the personality/individual life in a context of greater success and effectiveness in the workplace. Its developmental focus is based on the integration of past experience (where have I been?) and future opportunities (where am I going?).

Self-reflection as a practice, including work on the individual shadow aspects of the personality, is essential to the process of psychological maturity. Self-reflection changes the experience of subject-object, allowing an individual to hold more as object the feelings and emotions, thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that they were once entirely subject to and therefore unconscious of. This shift brings choice.

Self-reflection can be enhanced through autobiographical work that offers a change of perspective and creates the foundation for genuine self-authorship. Useful work in this state can include processes such as life mapping and analysis of the tendencies of the ego, including the shadow aspect.

Life mapping is a process that I use frequently with leaders. Life maps create a sense of personal narrative and provide deep insights into the ways in which past experience can shape current choice making and future planning. As leaders, it is essential to know both what you are working on and also what is working on you. Self-reflective work is the work of personal integration. The process starts with understanding one’s current story, then moves into stories in transition, followed by shaping future stories.

Reflective processes allow individuals to nurture a healthy subjective relationship with their inner world in a way that can challenge existing operating assumptions and success strategies. Central to this capacity is the development of emotional intelligence, including qualities such as empathy, openness, objectivity, and emotional self-control. Emotional development is an essential precursor to more integrated leadership practice, and it has its roots in our capacity for self-reflection.

Autobiographical work represents a burden for leaders. Honest self-exploration can be extremely challenging. For these reasons, exploration of this capacity is at best inconsistent within current executive education as evidenced by the significant numbers of senior executives who fail to demonstrate authentic self-authoring qualities.

Q3: Transcendent State

The dominant relationship here is between the inner environment and the transpersonal self. The transcendent state represents our capacity to “go beyond normal or physical human experience and to exist apart from and not subject to the limitations of the material universe” (Oxford English Dictionary).

The transcendent capacity supports the development of an array of abilities that allow an individual to experience the world beyond the confines of their personality, to develop insights, and to access knowledge and information that are correlated with heightened and expanded states of consciousness. Opportunities to deliberately cultivate this capacity are rare within traditional executive leadership, and it is here that significant opportunities for development exist.

Access to different states of consciousness beyond the normal range of sleeping, dreaming, and waking are strongly implicated in the development of the capacity for critical existential thinking, meaning-making, symbolic and metaphoric thinking, the establishment of hierarchies of personal values, psychological well-being, greater interiority, extended states of flow, peak experience, access to intuitive thinking, synchronicity and other aspects of inner guidance, development of the imaginative capacity, personal vitality, the capacity to maintain high energy states, loss of self-consciousness, and high levels of creativity. It is not difficult to create a value proposition for the development of these qualities in executive leadership practice.

Practices that support the cultivation of the transcendent state include the arts, contemplative practice, and a deep engagement with nature–the wonder, awe, and beauty of the participation mystique.

The arts offer rich opportunities to access transcendent states. Art, narrative, drama, myth, and movement cannot be made, met, or understood by the left brain processes that anchor us to our ego centres. The arts speak directly to our right hemisphere; they transport us beyond ourselves in language that is metaphoric and symbolic. As McGilchrist points out, the right hemisphere “yields a world of individual, changing, evolving, interconnected, implicit, incarnate living beings in the context of a lived world” (TED Lecture). These are qualities of a creative mind at work in a living universe. From this place interconnection, change and evolution are life. Art is curious, exploratory and playful. It is a principal way in which we make sense of our lives and find meaning in the world in non-literal ways using symbol and metaphor.

At Olivier Mythodrama, we use the works of William Shakespeare to provide a powerful narrative backdrop to our practice with executives. We have found that these mythic stories provide a rich context and framework for learning that enable us to draw on universal, timeless themes of leadership in memorable ways. Participants are able to identify and work on difficult personal and organisational challenges by accessing an array of non-ordinary frameworks that are inherently creative and that can yield extraordinary insights into future practice.

In terms of intention, the transcendent state has an intrinsic orientation (as distinct from the extrinsic orientation of the transactional state), defined as autonomy (self-government), mastery (excellence), and purpose (service and legacy) (Huppert, Baylis, and Kaverne).

 Q4: Transformational State

The transformational state represents the relationship between the transpersonal self and the external environment. Transformational is defined here as “making a difference” (citation?) and in its mature state this will have global implications. The transformational state is the seedbed of evolutionary thinking and represents our creative capability to transcend previous limitations and embrace new possibilities; to take “what is new and different from what has been inferred by previous knowledge” (Bohm, 6)to build new and more complex systems with a long term vision. Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi represent examples of action in the transformational state.

Transformational action arises out of meta-cognitive processes that include the ability to discern and explore different aspects of our lives as well as life in general beyond appearances. It enables us to recognize and act out of the transcendent aspects of life and gives the ability to perceive one’s own life and life in general from a viewpoint independent of numerous attachments (King)These perspectives give this state a quality of freedom of movement and expression alongside considerable energy and resolution.

Within the transformational state there is significant alignment between pathmeaning recognition of the specific realization that wants to be expressed through the individual as a calling or vocation in this life–and the daily practice necessary to achieve it. This is the vocational state, and it is what gives the transformational state real power; it is the soul’s voice that speaks from this place. Networking and a diversity of relationships are important in cultivating this state; and the impulse to wholeness, both personal and planetary has its roots here.

Integration work in the transformational state can be facilitated greatly by practices that develop clarity of mind. Practices that still the mind and engage the body include mindfulness-based meditation, contemplation, yoga, and some martial arts–particularly Aikido and Tai Chi. Mindfulness meditation is becoming increasingly popular, and it is something that I teach with ever greater frequency to executives as an essential practice for self-development.

At the School of Inspired Leadership in Guragon, India, the faculty have produced a wellness programme for students using a range of yoga, breathing, and meditation techniques. These techniques are designed to balance mind, body and spirit. Within this practice students are taught the benefits of engaging fully in the business world from a calm, rooted, and healthy inner centre. Speaking as someone who follows the wellness programme, I can affirm the value added to daily living is in terms of the clarity, alertness, and presence that the practice affords.

Meditation is linked to numerous positive physical and psychological outcomes. Meditation gives access to the mysticism of life in a very practical way. The word mystical is derived from the Greek root muein, which means to keep silent. Meditation allows us to meet the world in silence on its own terms, without any judgement. An interesting paradox about the transformational state is that whilst it is a place of action, it is also a state of deep listening and liminality. Holding liminal space and being present to the world between states of knowing is a core aspect of the transformational state. Silence supports the cultivation of the listening capacity. Silent reflection brings us to the mystery of life, giving us the space to reflect on the nature of existence in very meaningful ways.


As emergent demands meet the limits of current leadership thinking and practice, we find ourselves at an epoch of transformation in leadership education. Existing educational opportunities are largely transactional in nature. They are based on unexamined, outdated paradigms and operating assumptions, and are, therefore, insufficient to meet the challenges we face. By definition they cannot support leaders to go beyond traditional high performance transactional practices. Overdependence on one inner state always leads to incoherence and imbalance in Siegel’s model of psychological health. Wellbeing is the result of resonance and integration between diverse states. This is what is missing in current practice. Put simply, we need to become more: more aware and more conscious of the totality of whom and what we are. The model highlights both the limitations of current thinking and the direction of travel that might provide a route towards a leadership practice that will be fit for the 21st century. It is an evolutionary process of development and represents the creative impulse to overcome limitations that drives the transcendent nature of evolution.

Pearce (85) states that the ability to transcend limitations is a two-fold process: the first is to generate movement, and the second is to create that which lies beyond and manifests through that movement. The primary purpose of this paper is to create movement and then to highlight some of the ways in which we might create what lies beyond–the ways in which leadership capacity could be developed towards a more self-transforming trajectory. This could effectively narrow the gap between what businesses expect of the leadership mind and what the leadership mind is currently capable of.

Many questions remain regarding the ways in which appropriate development might take place. There is much work ahead if current assumptions about learning are to be challenged and overcome. Where a transactional bias exists, any discussion about reflective and transpersonal learning will be problematic, even conceptually, since it orientates to an entirely different and apparently counterintuitive operating logic. To the transactional mind, transcendent and transformational operating logics seem unconvincing at best, irrelevant at worst. A closed system always mediates itself to keep its own identity. Transpersonal education is always challenging to conventional systems of knowing favoured by the contemporary Western mind, but that is not a good enough reason not to act.

Sufficient examples of good practice exist in both consciousness development and the psychological work of personal development and integration that could provide a template for future practice. There is, of course, no one way to build a practice that addresses the development needs of all four states. There are multiple ways to build a practice around this model, and I list here a range of things that can be considered to leverage the model. It is not an exhaustive list, but I would suggest that it provides areas for further research.

Spiritual Intelligence

David King’s thesis ”Rethinking Claims of Spiritual Intelligence: A Definition, Model, And Measure” (56-117), presents a powerful case for Spiritual Intelligence (SI) as an emerging field with tremendous potential within executive leadership. King rigorously reviews existing data to present a compelling model for SI alongside tools for assessment and measurement of capability within this intelligence.

According to King, SI can be defined as” a set of mental capacities” that contribute to the awareness, integration, and adaptive application of the nonmaterial and transcendent aspects of one’s existence. King proposes four core components that comprise spiritual intelligence: critical existential thinking, personal meaning production, transcendental awareness whilst in the normal waking state, and conscious state expansion.

The concept of spiritual intelligence is important because it describes a range of mental capabilities and adaptive practices that authentically define it as a legitimate intelligence. The assumption is that it can be developed within an educational setting using a variety of methodologies. As such, SI becomes a focus for the intentional learning derived from new and ongoing practices rather than the description of an array of discrete extraordinary phenomenological behaviours or belief systems with limited application to leadership. King proposes that the development of the four core components of spiritual intelligence supports the cultivation of a range of personal, interpersonal, and global qualities that are of considerable interest.

The Role of Creativity in Leadership

Creativity is at the heart of the evolutionary impulse. The 2009 IBM study, “Capitalising on Complexity: Insights from the Global CEO,” cited at the start of this paper, concludes that creativity will be the most important leadership capability in coming years. Returning to Bohm, he states that creativity is founded on the sensitive perception of what is new and different from what is inferred by previous knowledge” (6). This is the evolutionary impulse to move beyond existing limitations.

In Bohm’s eyes, creativity would reflect a call to a different kind of understanding, including the deeper purpose of leadership. Bohm suggests that creativity has a childlike quality or playfulnessthat it can be nurtured and developed but that it gets easily lost in the confusion of our daily fears, desires, aims, securities, pleasures, and pains. The creative leader will be deeply interested in discovery and originality but also able to tolerate confusion and to self-organize around difficult feelings, distractions, and conflicting interests.

Creativity emerges when the conditions support it, and Bohm provides us with a rich template outlining both the kind of things we might expect to find in a creative executive programme and what we might seek to avoid. He argues that it is the natural condition of the mind to be creative and that it is both unnatural and unhealthy for the mind to think mechanistically. He suggests that mechanical thinking is precisely what leads the mind into confusion, dissatisfaction, and a variety of psychological problems.

Creativity is destroyed and mediocrity ensured by three things: fear of making mistakes (and the perpetuation of ego structures through the pursuit of perfection), mechanistic perceptions (dry learning and learning by repetition), and utilitarian thinking (unconsidered conventionalism).

For Bohm, as with Siegel, state of mind greatly influences the capacity to learn new things. Abilities derive from the practices designed to foster discovering and originality; the cultivation of a perception that is attentive, alert, aware, and sensitive; an understanding of universal principles including harmony, structure, totality, and unity; and a willingness at all times to challenge or overturn old structures and orienting systems in the face of new facts. This is the core of creative practice. This is surely an excellent description of the self-transforming mind.

Leadership and the Brain

A great deal has been written about the relationship between the brain hemispheres in processing and understanding data from the external world, developing a coherent sense of self, and supporting the formation of our understanding of the world. Whilst there is not space to discuss this in detail here, we can summarise that the Western rational dualistic paradigm that underpins most executive education is primarily an expression of left-brain hemisphere processes. This has been given pre-eminence in forming and articulating our understanding of reality. Right-brain processes, commonly described as holistic, individual, empathic, implicit, interconnected, and intuitive in nature, have tended to be less developed, and this has become a problematic bias. Iain McGilchrist quotes Einstein in a recent presentation on the brain:The intuitive mind is a sacred gift. The rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift” (TED Lecture).

Leadership practices that seek to align, synchronise, and give equal weight to both the brain hemispheres and that can explore the wider implications of integrated functioning between the different aspects of the brain (brainstem, limbic, cortex, and prefrontal cortex) offer considerable opportunities for research and development. Evidence from fields such as neuroscience and interpersonal neurobiology strongly suggest that self-reflective and transpersonal practices, including meditation and autobiographical work, have profound effects on key areas of the brain as well as on the way the brain organises and develops. Mind is not the brain, but it influences the brain directly through the conscious flow of energy and information. Mind has a profound impact on important regulatory areas of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex and the temporal regions with significant benefits to mental well-being and the development of coherent internal states, suggesting that mind-based practices could become central to future education programmes. Old limiting patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving can be overcome whilst more integrated ways of being present to the world can be developed at any age. Practices that develop SI also demonstrate very meaningful brain responses with positive outcomes across an array of positive health metrics (King 134 – 156).

Alternative Cosmologies

As has been noted, a period of transition is an invitation to examine the fundamental paradigms that are used to describe reality in order to address persistent anomalies and so that more complex organising systems can emerge.

The Native Science Movement (Cajete Chaps. 1 and 2) has sought to find a language to bridge the subjective experiences of Native peoples with modern science within an eco-philosophical framework. The collaboration, headed by the Native American Academy offers profound insights into the nature of reality and finds striking similarities between the concepts of the world as held by native people for millennia and the findings of quantum science and other disciplines. Logic systems concur in part and then expand beyond the axiomatic references of the traditional Western paradigm. The native paradigm is based on an extraordinarily rich array of sources including observation, experiment, meaning and understanding, objectivity, unity, causality, models, instrumentation, appropriate technology, spirit, interpretation, explanation, authority, place, initiation, cosmology, representations, human experience, ceremony, eldership, life energy, dreams and visions and the concept of pathways.

From the native perspective individuals are active universal agents participating in a living and mutually dependent world. The idea of mutuality and participation within a living and animate world is central here and could add significant value to existing rational dualistic systems. Practice is upheld by elders and leaders who are developed deliberately to have a profound understanding of and responsibility to the maintenance of balance and harmony in the world. In this logic, each person is a separate agent, but action is not driven unduly by individual motives. The position of the ego is renegotiated to a more balanced place alongside other systems of knowing. The Native Science Movement proposes a living practice that coheres in every aspect of life and that manifests as an agenda for a sustainable future. It is path and practice in genuine alignment and as such offers a rich template for further research.


We find ourselves at a threshold in terms of executive leadership education; a time of transition in which old systems are no longer adequate to meet emerging demands. Research tells us that there is a significant gap between the challenges we face and the current capacity for leaders to meet those challenges in new and creative ways. Without the conscious cultivation of greater mental complexity through the integration of core leadership states and with development opportunities focused primarily on the transactional and self-reflective functions, consistent transformational practice will continue to be haphazard and largely consigned to chance. It is important to recognize that the reflective, transcendent, and transformational states must be accessed and nurtured through an operating logic different from the rational dualistic frame. Different frames exist that can both support and go beyond the limits of the current curriculum with its anchor in transactional development.

The reality of our global situation requires that we think both urgently and differently about the way in which executive education is conceived, what its future focus should be, and what paradigms and frameworks it should be modelled on. This is the nature of evolution. We are being invited to go beyond our existing limits. The gateway into transformational thinking and action can emerge through the integration of the transactional and self-reflective functions, with the transcendent and transformational mediated through both the personal and transpersonal aspects of self. This process can support leaders towards the cultivation of states of greater internal coherence, of expanded awareness and towards capacities for thinking and action that exceed normal, conventional limits–defined here as interpersonal leadership. It is this step that can make transformational leadership development an authentic possibility. As educators and leaders it is something that urgently requires our attention today.


Austin, James H. Selfless Insight. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009.

Bohm, David. On Creativity. New York: Routledge Press, 1998.

Cajete, Gregory and Leroy Little Bear. Native Science: Natural laws of Interdependence. Santa Fe, NM: Clear Light Publishers, 2000.

Danielson, C. Leadership for the 21st Century. 2011.

Harman, Willis. “Reconciling Science and Metaphysics: the Union Whose Time Has Come.”

Holloway, Richard. Doubts and Loves. Cannongate, 2002.

Huppert , Felicia, Nick Baylis, and Barry Kaverne. The Science of Well Being. Oxford University Press, 2005.

IBM. Capitalising on Complexity: Insights from the global CEO. Published study. 2009.

Jironet, Karin Female Leadership. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Kegan, Robert and Lisa Laskow Lahey. Immunity to Change. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009.

King, David. “Rethinking Claims of Spiritual Intelligence: A Definition, Model, and Measure. Trent University, 2008.

McGilchrist, Iain. “The Divided Brain.” TED lecture ,October 2011.

Miller, Jeffrey. Introduction to the Transcendent Function-Development of the Ego in Western Consciousness. New York: Suny Press, 2004.

Pearce, Joseph Chilton. Strange Loops and Gestures of Creation. Benson, NC: Goldenstone Press, 2010

“Personal Self.” Oxford English Dictionary.

Sahtouris, Elisabet and James E. Lovelock. Earthdance: Living systems in Evolution. Lincoln, NE: iUniversity Press, 2000.

Segal, Zindel V., J. Mark G. Williams, and John D. Teasdale. Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy for Depression. New York: Guildford Press 2002.

Siegel, Daniel J. Mindsight. Bantam Books, 2011.

Tarnas, Richard. The Great Copernican Revolution and the Crisis of the Modern World View. The New Renaissance Ed. David Lorimer and Oliver Robinson. Floris Books 2010.

Wallace, B. Alan. Choosing Reality. Boston: New Science Library, 1989.


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Flowers out of Eden: The chapel at Nappa Scar


It is in the silent and receptive moments  that the soul of man is sometimes visited by an awareness of what holds the world together

Joseph Pieper

High above the Harr Gill Road at Nappa Scar in the Yorkshire Dales is a chapel dedicated to Joseph, Mary, Peter and Paul and built in memory of  Charlotte Brown (1956-1998) It is a solitary place of prayer. The chapel stands in silence, gathered into, witnessed and surrounded by a silent woodland. The chapel is simple and very small, there is room enough for two people standing or kneeling or sitting on its beautifully tiled floor. There is a small bench outside the chapel which rests in the land at the end of a wandering path, and I sit awhile and take in the view as the dale stretches out cradling the crookedness of the River Ure. Crookedness is a theme I will return to sometime again.

The chapel was designed, built, blessed and consecrated by many hands. Stones dressed with a sedum and timber roof are pierced with great nails fired out of the Passion itself, or so it seemed to me. Inside there is a simple cross of light welcome the outside in; it tells me that this is sacred ground, marked off, solemn, holy. It is a place to kneel, to meditate, to contemplate, to receive and to pray.

The sense of reception and receptivity reminded me of an essay by the German philosopher Joseph Pieper on the principle of Leisure. Pieper wrote the essay at the end of the second world war, an apparently unpropitious time for such an effort. He did so to address a profound question in the face of the tremendous activity that was taking place in the re- building of Germany and it sought to address a profound existential question:

What are we building for?

The idea of Leisure has its roots with the Greek and Roman civilizations and the word, Scola which means leisure gives us the root of our word school. School, education, leisure. Pieper is questioning the very roots of our attitude to these things. Whatever we build comes out of our understanding of what building means, for what purpose do we build?Peiper asks us to think here about how we come to our knowledge, how we determine the ‘rightness’ of our purposeful efforts. In the face of our cultural preoccupation with activity, the via activa, leisure is radically counter-intuitive because it speaks about our capacity to receive. For Pieper, receptivity is at the very heart of proper education and it reflects our capacity to listen as Hereclitus would have it,  to ‘the essence of things’, it is a form of silence that allows us to perceive more fully the reality of the world. Pieper felt that this was a capacity sorely needed in the post war world and there is little doubt that it remains true today.

Thomas Aquinas described the two faculties that give us the experience of leisure as Ratio and Intellectus. Ratio represents the fully human capacity for discursive thought, the hard work and study required for learning that is familiar to us all. Ratio speaks to the qualities of intellectual comprehension associated with our Cartesian framework for knowing the world. Intellectus on the other hand is described as simple apprehension (simplex intuitus), giving us;

‘the simple vision of the truth that comes like a landscape to the eye-effortless’

By his reckoning we need both to embrace the real work of education. Out of this balance of our capacities comes the experience of leisure which is rightly understood as giving us a mature mental and spiritual attitude to the world

With this in mind I entered the chapel.Tucked inside the door was a dog eared copy of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4.25-5.2). This was the gift that I received on entering the chapel through its tight old wooden door; I read it slowly.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body.  

The letter offers instructive guidance for community living, calling for mutual respect-calling for awareness of our essential unity. Any community is bounded by the guidance it is willing to receive and adhere to, the guidance in this case offers us touchstones, a way across the thorny ground of our relationships with one another, that allow us to apprehend each other as same and other, as mystery, as worthy of respect for simply being alive. At the heart of this guidance, it seemed to me was a quiet confidence in the human capacity for love and with it a profound sense of peace. I knelt awhile. Silence was everywhere. Silence, is our first language said Samuel Beckett. Its a thing the poets understand in the way the mystic does.

Stepping outside and taking in the view of the Dales I was connected to some lines from Edwin Muir’s poem ‘The Days’

And now we see in the sun

The mountains standing clear in the third day

(whence they shall always stay)

And thence a river run

Threading clear cord of water all to all.

 I love the idea that in looking out at the mountains we are somehow looking back in to our own creation myth, living and livid still, unmoving and unchanging, always as it will be and must be with ourselves, the newcomers, the younger brothers and sisters, latecomers into that ancient world which lies chronologically at a distance that is beyond immense both behind and before us and yet somehow is paradoxically absolutely present. Here is the sense of time stretching out and we and the world entangled beautifully in it-a feeling of symbiosis.

Muir talks too of a more terrible estrangement. In Adam’s Dream, Adam and Eve have stepped irredeemably across the threshold between Eden and the flooding in of temporality and striving; ‘this is time’ he declares part way through the dream.

They say he dreamt lying naked on the ground

The gates shut fast behind him as he lay

Fallen in Eve’s fallen arms, his terror drowned

In her engulfing terror. In the abyss

Whence there no further fall and comfort is..

Is this what Heidegger was getting at when he asked what the poet is for in destitute times? What are we to do when the gods have forsaken us and we turn towards the midnight of our own dark world night? Is this what Hopkins saw and knew and felt in his own desperate blackness- Adam’s own this not Adam’s own voice in the modern man belling forth-our ‘god-bereft’ inheritance;

   O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall

Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap

May who ne’er hung there. 

 Adam sees figures running, like men and women yet so far away he could not see their faces;

multiplying addition without meaning, joining only

Number to number in no mode or order

Weaving no pattern. For these creatures moved

Towards no fixed mark even when in growing bands

They clashed against each other and clashing fell

In mounds of bodies

 Here too shades of Dante, and of Eliot in his Unreal City,

Muir continues;

They had a form and sequence past their knowledge;

And that was why they ran so frenziedly

Thinking on these things I was struck by the way the tiny chapel holds itself in the face of these forces and we might ask ourselves why and how that can be. What is the chapel for?

The chapel matters because I think it is in such places that we are able to give space to that which we cannot hope to understand; to acknowledge the incomprehensibility of our situation, and our lives, not in desperation but ultimately perhaps with a sense of confidence which is the fruit of our incomprehension fully realized. The chapel is gathered into silence as an act of recognition. What matters most is not the word but the spirit. We cannot name or speak about what is beyond our ken, what is uncanny to us, because it lies beyond language, beyond words. Still we know that what is uncanny is essential to our lives and we are called to develop attitudes that give us access to the great oceans of our experience in ways that allow us to grow and mature.

In that silent world, that simple woodland and chapel at Nappa Scar, I could rest my mind intimately in place untroubled by time and come in so doing, to a richer sense of myself, the feeling for others and and my brief life. Here is a place for Pieper’s understanding of leisure, a place in which we might receive the world. We can wait here with patience, humility, obedience, in its sense of profound listening for what the world has to share with us. 

Times, places and spaces of silence are a gift to us, places of dwelling and in-dwelling, are necessary for the workings of that most holy thing we call the soul. It is only in the soul that we can find a foothold in the frenzied world and for this work we need places available to us that sustain our confidence and our faithfulness. The tiny chapel is important because of the very fact of its existence. It is quirky, singular, steadfast and free;  it stands up with an open door in the face of all that is abysmal psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, in ourselves and the world. it does so in silence and as such it imitates the workings of the soul intimately. A silent meal, a silent day, a silent place or space, marks it off, charges it with qualities of feeling not found elsewhere in the noisy world. We are free to put off thinking; we are free as Eliot would have it to kneel and to pray-in the silence we might add, where prayer has been valid.

Muir finds redemption in his poem One foot in Eden. It is in the world beyond Eden that Muir encounters and reconciles a remarkable paradox, that we must lose ourselves and our innocence in order to find ourselves in the more profound sense of our lives lived. In our exile from Eden, indeed only through this necessary loss and separation are we able to receive Muir’s  ‘strange blessings’ that fall from ‘beclouded skies’ that mark out the meanings of our days and lives.

It seems to me that Edwin Muir and St Paul bear the same messages to us on this matter; that our healing, our wholeness lies at the heart of the embrace we make with our own humanity, alone and in community.  The chapel at Nappa Scar sits in the landscape precisely as a marker for our most profound human experiences. It is a place that contains and reconciles the tremendous tensions that run through our days, our separateness and unity,  life and death, of home and our sometimes abysmal loneliness. Finally, we discover that we cannot find ourselves in any Eden, we need the colour and crookedness of our humanity, our own experience in the company of others to live a life fully as Muir points out;

What had Eden ever to say

of hope and faith and pity and love

What keeps us from being hopelessly lost in times of destitution, what kindles and renews our faithfulness with the world is this insight, that the workings of the soul, the great tidal movements of hope, faith, charity and love are profoundly human experiences born from living and engaging fully in the world. They are what make the experience of a lifetime so important. We must become quiet to really hear this but i think it is so. Holderlin saw this, he understood that mankind’s gift was our capacity to reach first and deeply into the abyss, an act of courage in the face of impossible odds. This was what was gifted to us by the gods even as they left. Mythologically this is what the stories tell us. We cannot, paradoxically be free in any Eden since we are not free to suffer. It is the fruits of the world and not paradise that give us the gifts of hope and faith and pity and love, as Muir points out these are;

Flowers in eden never known

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What are poets for in destitute times?

We live in troubled times, times that Martin Heidegger described as destitute. Though written in 1946, after the second world war and the final collapse of Germany, we cannot deny the relevance of the judgement today; in many respects we might easily argue that things have worsened steadily since that time, that things have continued to fall apart plunging us ever more deeply into the dark of the worlds night.

For Heidegger, destitution spoke to a terrible condition, the fact of our final abandonment by the gods. Wondering what kind of remedy if any there might be for this state of abandonment he posed the question: what are poets for in destitute times?  a question prompted by his reading of Holderlin’s elegy, Bread and Wine.

How to answer this question? That we live in wasteland times can hardly be denied. We have long since fallen out of Eden, desperation is everywhere in rat alley. If the poet has a role in this darkness it is in part to illuminate that very world in which we find ourselves, help us really feel the arhythmic dissonance of its madness as with TS Eliot in London where,

The rivers tent is broken, the last fingers of leaf

clutch and sink into the wet bank. the wind

crosses the brown land unheard, the nymphs are departed

or with Paul Celan in Aushwitz where;

he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling he

whistles his hounds to stay close

he whistles his jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground

he commands us play up for the dance

Rats in rat alley. A rattle of bones and a chuckle spread from ear to ear. The madness of war and hatred. Todesfuge by Paul Celan speaks directly to the place, the gift and the cost of the poets life. The first time I saw a photograph of that man leaning into and looking intensely at the camera, I knew, before I ever read a word of his work, that he couldn’t tolerate the world he had seen and that somewhere and sometime he had killed himself. I was right. Sometimes the burden is too much to bear. We go, as Holderlin says, only as far as each of us can. The poets language, its uneasiness in our psyche its power for estrangement is precisely what makes it so important for us.

Yet if the role of the poet is to bring us to a profound sense of the abyss that we stare into, if their work can strip us of our conventional thinking and the many ways we employ to keep oblivious to the immensity of the world that we inhabit, if it can makes us look at what we would deny, it seems that there are other important things that poets do as well.

Eliot’s Wasteland paints a picture of a world in which the gods have abandoned us and we are left alone and in desolation, thirsty and without water or hope of water.

For Holderlin it seems it is the special task of the poet to help us find our way back to the gods, the special task of the poet to reach into the abyss, into the deep darkness that surrounds us in an effort to find something precious; our lost ground, our sense of presence in what has become and is an alien world;

‘Poets are the mortals who, singing earnestly of the wine god, sense the trace of the fugitive gods, stay on the gods tracks and so trace for their kindred mortals the way towards turning…to be a poet in a destitute time means to attend, singing, to the trace of the fugitive gods. This is why the poet in the times of the worlds night utters the holy. This is why the worlds night is the holy night.’

Here the poet seems to move like a hunter but the light of the picture is given a holy or mystical feeling. The poet has  mimetic qualities allowing him to engage in a kind of mythic relationship with the gods, leaving home, entering the forest, tracing, tracking, entering the dreamtime, dancing for the gods, bringing them out, engaging  with them but not killing. Perhaps the poet might be something more like a soul hunter. Perhaps the poets work has to do with matters of the soul.

For Holderlin, the darkness itself has a holy quality which means that it is somehow enriched,not merely a black emptiness. The poet, aware of this numinous quality seems to be something that builds out on the idea of the soul hunter, something more like a pilgrim;

‘’ll say they’re like holy priests of the wine god

moving from land to land in the holy night’

There is a holy quality to the darkness which draws the poets exploration on to the extent that it is his lot to be drawn on in this lifetime. If the darkness is holy then can we say that it’s quality of destitution is wholly bad or rather that it is a necessary quality of the darkness? To cast the destitution out seems , on this reading, to be a mistake since it is to deny the destitution of our experience, to say; ‘that is not me’.  The poet from this place wonders; what is the purpose of a life? What is the purpose of destitution in the forming of a life? He recognizes the destitute in himself. Part of the poets work it seems, is to ask questions of the abysmal .

For Richard Kearney, Heidegger is inviting us to look at the poet in relationship to the wonder and mystery of language itself and the silence that surrounds language, the way language is brought up from the depths of the unconscious and how it is used in the world.

‘It is the the inhabitual language of poetry and dream which permits the uncanny or unhomely to come home to us’

From this reading we discover that our natural condition in the world is to be un-housed to be and know ourselves to be profoundly alien. The average awareness which flees from whatever is ‘uncanny’ is indulging in a world of ‘false familiarity’. I found this a challenging proposition when I first read it but am finding myself increasingly drawn to it.

There is an incomprehensibility to life that estrangement speaks to. It seems to me to speak to the idea, in psychological terms, of the ‘other’ and our alien relationship with what is unfamiliar in ourselves. Embracing the existential anxiety of the truth of otherness is in fact freeing since it allows us to relinquish control in places where in truth we had none anyway. Further it allows us to embrace more of our own character and experience. We validate ourselves through our capacity to admit the uncanny; we really are as strange as the strange world in which we find ourselves. Paradoxically, what is alien then finds a home. It is part of the process of dis-illusioning that allows a real life to be led. The poets use of language facilitates this work specifically because of its inhabitual nature. The poet breaks spells.

For Kearney the poets work is with language, their special capacity to ‘divine’, to ‘sound out the places of suppressed experience’ -in the sense that Seamus Heaney meant it-the water diviner, tracing the flow of hidden meanings, reaching down for the word into and out of the earth, into and out of the numen, to weave something, to make something, an affecting presence perhaps or some symbol that itself can point towards what can hold us, can give us a glimpse without overwhelming us in the face of the gods bhairavic qualities.

The poet here is pilgrim and soul hunter but also symbol maker and beyond that a maker of things imbued with actual and real power which is the gift of real art to the world.

If we go a step further, the poet as a diviner becomes poet as shaman. The poet of the soul teeters between worlds and on the edge sometimes of a certain madness; call it divine madness. The poet understands the richness of the nature of man;

It is the nature of man as a physical and spiritual being that he be open to shattering emotion, susceptible to being carried away. The passiones animae cannot be silenced without leading to inhumanity, either the inhumanity of rigid rationality or of brutish sensuality-both of which have in common the qualities if being ‘unromantic’, ‘objective’,and ‘safe from emotion’. Real man is a being by nature given to shattering emotion.’

The poet walks a tightrope then between lands hidden and visible. Able to speak with the world, to be sensible, and yet given to shattering emotion. The poet teeters like a schoolboy on a gymnasts balancing beam between the conscious world and the great seas, oceans and hidden landscapes of the unconscious realms. He swims, it has been said, in the same waters that the psychotic drowns in. The poet is therefore an interpreter and a bearer of gifts, a psychological being and a spiritual being, having business with all the worlds available to the psyche but a special relationship with mankind

Seen this way, perhaps the poet is paradoxically both stranger, certainly to the modern world and yet also most native to the reality of the world as it offers itself to the enchanted eye. The poet is natural in a profound sense with a capacity to see in the darkness of the dark night and with a task to illuminate the world for others. Poet as pilgrim then, as guide and wanderer, soul hunter and shaman, moving between the worlds of the gods, between the landscape of silence and the business of mankind, gifting, troubadoring, , fooling about; a solitary mendicant;

Therefore he no more troubled the pool of silence.

But put on mask and cloak,

strung a guitar

And moved among the folk.

Dancing they cried

‘Ah how our sober islands

are gay again, since this blind, lyrical tramp

Invaded the fair!’

Under the last dead lamp

when all the dancers and masks had gone inside

his cold stare

returned to its true task, interrogation of silence

George Mackay Brown, who wrote this poem lived out much of his own life in the darkness of the worlds night, a psychological darkness lived out in a strange, remote and beautiful land that reflected him, nurtured him and to which he gave expression beautifully.

The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness and the deep marvelous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light. – 

Perhaps this is the word that Holderlin imagined as he stared into the abyss, the un-ground. What is the poet for? To enter into and risk a relationship with these deep tidal places, with inwardness and mystery, as Heaney put it; the ‘hankering after the underground side of things’

For the Irish Philosopher, John Moriarty, The poet is a healer, who, being healed themselves somehow, enables the healing of the cultural world through the enacting and enabling of ritual, myth and vision. The poets gift is the willingness and capacity to see and enact differently, to be a seer, through which the world becomes animate in a special way. Perhaps the idea of poet as healer can contain all of the other descriptions.

I would contend that this is a mystical rather than magical relationship. Where magical knowledge seeks to manipulate the known world,  mystical knowledge affects a transformation in a transcendent sense. The poet speaks of that which transcends, that part of us that always reaches out beyond the limits of what is strictly human. As such the poet is inspirational. For the poet, the world is always talking, but in a language that our common day consciousness cannot understand, for which our modern minds are not equipped. What was Moriarty getting at when he spoke of the poet as healer?

Certainly he feels that the perspective of the modern mind is not sufficient to the trouble we find ourselves in and herein lies the gift of the poet as mediator or translator. It is a dangerous and difficult role. The poet, in their aliveness to the world allows the world in more completely than the technical man will allow, is even consumed at times by the world on its own terms. The poet has business with the transcendent aspects of human experience which he perhaps cannot easily control but through which he is able to receive the world’s gifts and is able to share them for our benefit. The poet is able to be struck and then to hold their ground having depth.

Perhaps the issue  is not that the world is now uninhabited by the gods; i believe it is and that we have not been wholly abandoned. Rather the issue is that we have lost our way, we have lost our capacity to propitiate, to make holy, to sacrifice, to think mythologically and numinously as well as chronologically and literally. We have become afraid of the forests and we refuse the call in our hearts for the greatness  that lies behind us, we refuse to cross the lightly built bridges that would take us to the otherworld and the otherworldliness in ourselves, a journey that would be, in fact, a journey towards our own healing. Because we refuse, we suffer.It is not that the world is godless but that we have made it appear so.In banishing the gods, in declaring the death of god, we have lost our Adaman humility and tried to become as the gods themselves, Herculean, invincible. This indeed is a perilous and destitute condition.

Each of us has moments that touch the poets way of seeing, moments of awe, wonder, the sublime, but few of us can tolerate the implications of such illumination and we hurry back to our conservative lives. The poet cannot allow that retreat and good that it is so. This is why they matter so very much. This tolerance for the holiness the numinous is i think, what poets are for. One thinks of T.S Eliot in the Rose Garden at Burnt Norton;

‘and the pool was filled with water out of sunlight

And the lotos rose quietly, quietly

the surface glittered out of heart of light..’

Here The sudden illumination comes sure enough, he is  broken into, but the gift, the vitality cannot be held. Psychologically Eliot is not able for it, and the darkness returns, the pool dries, clud covers the sun and wracks him throughout the sequence of the four quartets until we arrive at Little Gidding where some redemption can be found.

Holderlin felt that our capacity to be present with the gods had been devastatingly ruptured and he and Eliot seem to be saying much the same thing in these words: Holderlin first,

A weak vessel cannot hold them forever, humans can

endure the fullness of the gods only at times

then Eliot,

‘Go go go ,said the bird

Human kind cannot bear very much reality.’

So what are poets for in destitute times? What can we conclude thus far? It seems to me firstly that Heidegger’s sense of the world as destitute is partially accurate but cannot be wholly So. I suspect that Heidegger’s destitution really speaks to a spiritual and psychological crisis that has become pervasive in the world. These are without doubt wasteland times and we suffer.

Culturally it is true that we have in a real sense, lost ourselves, lost the mythic, visionary, ritual sense of life and our place in an animate world. It seems that our current way of seeing the world, our ‘medusa mindset’, as Moriarty would have it, serves only to amplify our destitution and it can offer us no context for our current lives because it has been stripped of all that is numinous, all that cannot be accounted for, measured and weighed. We are blinded say the poets by our obsession with techne. In questioning his reading of destitution as only partially accurate, Heidegger might argue that this merely means that we have yet to reach the midnight of the darkness when all is truly lost. Things must yet get worse, the wheel must yet descend.  That may be so but i am not convinced.

Even in these times there are moments of private illumination that touch us and move us out of the ordinary, not gratuitously but deeply, powerfully and meaningfully. We do not understand them, they are incomprehensible but we can touch them poetically, it is something the poet can see and speak about, can give voice to.

Despite our confusion and apparent fascination with superficiality and appearance, matters of the soul are still things we want to find out about, indeed must address. We suffer when we do not consider and reflect on those things that seem somehow greater than us, that point beyond our smaller. selves and offer the possibility that we are not in fact the source of all our knowledge. The soul is resilient, timid, wild-perhaps it is the essence of us, perhaps it has things to say that might speak to our condition. The poet speaks to this too because it is the poet who has a singular knowledge and a capacity for attention, who has a sense of how to approach soul without scaring it away.

Whilst we live out our conscious lives, The great currents of the underworld run back and forth. There are lightly built bridges that lead to depths within ourselves and beyond ourselves that still hold, that are very real. Here too, in the trafficking between here and there, between the conscious and the unconscious landscapes of the world , between what we say is us and what is seemingly other, we find the poets, divining, feeling for the word, seeking truth, sharing it.

We know today, insofar as we admit the truth of our destitution, that it a destitution not of our intellect or our ingenuity. The destitution lies in our hearts and our souls and no technological expertise cannot save us in this regard ; this is the singular role and place of the poet and what poets are for in times like these.

We can think of the poet then, as many things; as pilgrims, soul hunters and healers they are somehow equipped for the world, able to it in an uncommon way which is what enables them to bring so much back for us. The idea of ability is important. Moriarty makes the point clearly; the poet heals, being healed himself. There is a psychological and spiritual depth to the poet that is largely missing in our culture and much needed now.  They are ‘able’ to reality as seekers, gatherers, receivers, listeners and enquirers of ‘truth’. They seek out and speak for truth through their capacities for receiving, listening, seeing, mimesis, invocation, journeying,silence, propitiation.

At its root,the poets place is to bear reality for us all in these dark times. that is what the poet is for and why we should listen. they bear reality in its  fullness because most of us cannot bear it. They move spiritually, mythologically and psychologically between the worlds, to work faithfully in a way that might keep us all connected to, present to, hopeful for a place in a living universe, not a desolate place of dead matter, but alive and animate. They negotiate our ground and our un-ground in the world we share together. To lose this voice would be a final descent and despair, a final alienation, a true destitution. Preserving it, lifting it up, speaking it out, despite the odds, is what poets are for.


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