Rebranding The Rapture

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.”- Albert Einstein

We are still here and the world did not end. The apocalyptic predictions of Evangelical preacher Harold Camping that the world would end on May 21, 2011 have proved false. The day has come and gone with no bang and no whimper but plenty of social media buzz. I have to admit that when I heard of Camping’s claim, I was skeptical. I made no special precautions, no altered plans, no final gestures. I simply treated May 21, 2011 as any other day. I told my wife and kids that I loved them. I took moments in my day to feel this love to stand rapt in awe.

As the author of the book titled rapt in awe, inspired by the Einstein quote above, I have been pondering the branding that the word Rapture now holds in popular association. I have experienced a sense of rapture in transcending doomsday fears and the tannin taste of long steeped skepticism. To me, rapture infers the beauty and joy that is alive in each moment lingering between breaths inspiring visions of better days to come. I have written a book about how the sum total of human consciousness weighs in on our evolving reality and used the root of rapture (rapt) in the title.

I believe that blissful days await rather than doomsday.  Apocalyptic visions simply reinforce antiquated ideas of power gods dominating the universe rather than a living breathing being evolving into greater orders of complexity and coherence. Very simply, I believe that The Rapture is every moment of every day being in love with the life that we have and rejoicing in the simple wonders between breaths. I would like to hereby Rebrand The Rapture.

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worldbliss and a happy planet

In the days following the UNFCCC Climate talks in Cancun I have been looking for something to celebrate after being somewhat underwhelmed with the incremental outcome. The urgency of climate action resides in my awareness daily. I make active choices to reduce my green house gas emissions and ecological footprint like so many other passionately concerned folks. Yet there is always more that I can do. So I am complicit in how our nation states continue to defer bold and binding action to circumvent the pending impacts of climate change. With a little bit of window dressing and political posturing, we have business as usual.

I have long thought that the short term interests of elected representatives, governed by election cycles and a populous that is modestly engaged at best, does not function well for long term concerns. It comes down to the current state of the economy, which is based on quarterly growth rates. In the developed world we gauge our happiness by our ability to consume tonnes of stuff we don’t really need, thinking that it will lead to a sense of meaning and fulfillment. Meanwhile we self medicate or get a legitimate prescription to numb the lingering emptiness.

Thankfully, I am radically happy. I have meaningful relationships and manage  to balance consistent challenges and learn new skills, the magic formula for flow states of awareness according to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This is truly an extension of privilege since I am able to access basic needs for myself and my family in a country with abundant resources and opportunities. I have a strong sense of belonging in a loving family and dynamic community that I love. I also have the privilege of consciously moderating my consumption and lifestyle to reduce my footprint. There is still room to improve, which is a wonderful challenge to carry in my awareness from moment to moment.

It is with great joy that I discovered the Happy Planet Index, an economic model that factors both the planet and your quality of life to create a more accurate metric for wellbeing that pure growth and the accumulation of more plastic crap. According to the online survey that I conducted, my footprint still requires 1.49 planets, which is about .49 more than I live on. Room to improve.

Less privileged regions of the planet will be impacted more abruptly by climate change, and thus have been requesting a $100 billion annual fund to support adaptation initiatives. Developed nations are built on lifestyles that require 3-4 planets to sustain, which is more than a little daunting considering that we only have one to live on.

So after Cancun, where there was some progress but no inspirational breakthroughs from the politicos that we entrust to look out for our future interests, I am happy to have found the Happy Planet Index and measure my complicity. The choices that are required by each us to manage the complexities of climate change are difficult ones to make. I am still living a lifestyle that exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet that I inhabit. I have work to do and I will do so happily, with a relentless vision for worldbliss.

Africa, Inequities, and Casualties of Climate Change

Living in Africa changed me such that the mention of the word always catches my attention.  In following the UN climate talks in Cancun on Twitter, a post from my friend Jane Boles (@janesfin) stood out, “Amazed at how underrepresented Africa is at #COP16.” (referring to civil society representation from Africa).  I fear that the inequities between the developed and so-called underdeveloped nations that inhibited any binding agreement at COP15 in Copenhagen have not progressed. Climate change is the hubris of industrial economic development.

I struggle with the very concept of “development” as seen through the purely modernistic lens as relating to big houses, excessive consumption, and cars that act as extensions of personal identity. This type of so-called development is exactly what is driving the climate crisis. It is also the protection of these things by affluent nations that inhibits breakthroughs in the negotiations. We need to approach global issues from a more evolved and progressive lens of development, that of personal development.  I witnessed stark contrasts on the Mother Continent, each of our genomic home – a term I prefer to the Dark Continent,  the colonialist expression that still lingers over Africa.  Living and working in Africa demonstrated most to me the profound inequities that exist in the world. What became undeniably clear to me in Africa was that our individual happiness is scarcely dependent on the stuff we have but more to do with our relationship with both ourselves and with the world. This relationship is what delegates are negotiating in Cancun.

There is a persistent divide between what nation states see as an “us” and a “them”. This is a very ethno-centric view having its place in a limited context to support social bonds, yet when we do not transcend these views to a more world-centric lens, we limit ourselves to stagnant levels of personal development and orders of complexity. Climate change is a wake up call for us to transform beyond this modernist view of contemporary economic imperialism. Africa and much of the Global South will be the first casualties of climate change and a binding recognition of this through an adaptation fund is a crucial component to a climate change agreement.

I relate this collective hubris of the modernist mindset to a story from the second edition of rapt in awe that I released this week in conjunction with the start of COP16. The story is about my personal hubris leading to a transcendent experience some years ago in Africa.

Excerpt from rapt in awe

“I was soloing, that is climbing alone and without a rope, a long ice-climbing route on Mt. Kenya known as the Diamond Couloir. The allure of climbing alpine ice so near the equator appealed to my sense of irony. I was living in South Africa at the time and climbing a fair bit of rock, but it had been awhile since I had been on ice. So it took some time to get in the rhythmic groove of swinging ice axes and kicking crampons, the spikes affixed onto my boots, into the ice. The crux section was near the top of the climb known as the Chouinard-Covington Headwall and I had intended originally to take a more conservative 80° ice ramp instead of the direct vertical headwall line. My mind started to entertain thoughts of doing the more aesthetic headwall line as I came closer to it, and I decided to follow a hunch and take the more challenging line. The headway was historically the crux of the climb but the first ice pitch turned out to be poorly formed so I had started on the climb on some very funky ice formations that were far harder than what rose ahead. This infamous climb, much like the Hemingway-famed snows of Kilimanjaro, had been ravaged by the early warming trends of climate change meaning that the first section of ice did not touch down on the glacier at the base of the mountain. Thus in February 1996 I was nearly one of the first casualties of climate change – well, rather a near casualty of my own ambition (ie. ego) really. I was enjoying the rhythmic repetition of thunk-thunk-thunk of throwing the pick of my ice tools and the points of my crampons into the ice flow, feeling merged with the medium, suspend nearly 1,000 metres above the base of Mt. Kenya. It was a spectacular procession of moments merging in an ebb and flow of breath. I maintained this mechanical meditation, reaching higher and higher. And then, quite suddenly a metallic ping pierced the harmony of thunk, and my left crampon swung loose from the strap around my ankle, broken. My heart rate spiked and my breath fell from its meditative cadence to a shallow wheeze as I looked down at the swinging crampon and the long ramp of ice that foreshortened below into a terrifying terminus. It is safe to say that I uttered a few profanities before I moved on to my little mantra bringing me back to a sense of calm enough to secure a piece of protection and plan my strategy. The moments felt long between the breaking of the crampon and the knowledge that I was beyond the imminent possibilities of a long, long fall. My pray by play philosophy, my mantra chant, and meditative breath work all contributed toward a profound transcendent moment for me, then and there, and that I survived to embrace the ethereal lesson of that beaded string of moments, embedding it into all the moments that have followed.

Finding calm amidst the frenzy of fear, I managed to climb through by removing the broken crampon and moving onto the rock adjacent to the ice. To get to the rock though I had to pull off some intense moves over vertical verglas – clear ice over rock – only a centimeter thick. This two meter section of verglas with both ice tools and just one crampon was the hardest climbing that I have ever pulled off. I just breathed deeply and let my little mantra tumbled through the echoing chamber of my mind. Climbing is a powerfully direct way to access flow and this was absolutely necessary for me in this instant. I could not conceptualize my way through and some transcendent state took over my awareness. In ice climbing the very literal act of loosely placing the pick of the ice axe on either rock or an ice pocket is called hooking. Survival drives took over my consciousness and made my body hook delicately across the two meters of verglas to get to a much more manageable rock outcropping. A friend had explained how he had felt the hand of God lift him on a similarly desperate climb a few years before, to which I shamefully mocked him due to my personal aversion to the word God. Karma caught up with me for being an asshole. I prefer other metaphors from divergent cosmological paths to describe the bizarre in my life. I surrendered myself to the situation and some transcendent process enabled me to claw my way to safety. I was able to climb the remaining rock next to the ice headwall, on top of which I tied the broken crampon onto my boot to walk up the glacier to the Gate of Mists.

This incident proved a definitive moment for me and became a catalyst for transformation toward more complex orders of consciousness. The most salient insight from that instant was that although we may not always see the way through with our conscious awareness, which is the same as the perennial challenge in each moment, but by surrendering ourselves to the broader cosmic consciousness we can transcend a perceived peril. So I stay afloat on the raft of optimism as the climate crisis gains momentum, the global economic system shows symptoms of collapse, and people bring harm to other people despite to the undeniable fact that we are one humanity.”

I was nearly a casualty of my own hubris back then, and I believe that together we can both recognize and transcend the collective hubris of industrial economic development that climate change and declining global markets represent.  This merely asks us to see beyond the appearance of some localized “us” and “them”, and see that these issues being negotiated in Cancun and beyond are about “all of us”.  The delegates from developed nations cling to the momentary satisfaction of GDP indicators to measure success, much like so many people in the developed world gauge their personal worth by the car they drive more than the genuine happiness they feel.

The release of rapt in awe and COP16

Today is the first day of the COP16 climate talks in Cancun. It has by no means the media buzz or expectations of last year’s event in Copenhagen, and there seems to be only a faint glimmer of hope for the talks. I sat with Jane Boles yesterday, a friend and colleague that worked with me at One Sky a couple of years ago. Jane is speaking on a panel regarding her work with REDD carbon sequestration initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo for the Vancouver based company ERA. Talking to Jane gives me hope. I saw a twitter post from 350.org founder Bill McKibben yesterday from Cancun, “In Mexico for the climate talks, with tons of fired-up youth at the COY. Let’s put these guys in charge.” In less than 140 characters it dawned on me that the hope for climate action truly lies with youth. Youth have fresh ideas, and do not carry that constrictive limitations of resigned status quo thinking.

I also follow Don Tapscott on twitter, author of Wikinomics and the newly released Macrowikinomics with Anthony D. Williams. Tapscott is tweeting from the World Economic Forum in Dubai and is advocating for the type of economic reform that is required to make climate action binding and responsive. Don Tapscott is a youthful Baby Boomer brokering change, as well as a strong advocate for the insights of youth about a rather archaic economic engine. Tapscott is an articulate spokesperson of collaboration and innovation, and what he talks about lies at the core of transformative solutions. This also gives me hope.

Despite the apparent lack of political will for a strong binding agreement for climate action in Cancun, the global economy is deeply in need of renewal and invigoration. I see the issues of global economics and climate action as integrally tied. Both provide complex challenges that touch every living being on this planet.

Ever since reading Our Common Future, the Bruntland Report of Sustainable Development in 1988, I have pretty much thought that we are all doomed to some sort of ecological collapse. Ten years later, after a near death experience, my mindset was totally transformed. My consciousness was expanded by that cataclysmic incident and I see the current climate crisis as a collective catalyst for global transformation. Big words, and big ideas, all of which I have included in the second edition of rapt in awe, a book based on this idea of collective transformation.

Today, in honour of COP16, and all the people carrying hope in the face of climate change, I am releasing the free e-book rapt in awe. Here is a slightly revised sample:

“Having worked for 20 years with adventure education programs, largely with Outward Bound, I have concocted countless complex challenges for groups to overcome. The educational model is based on designing such complex challenges to inspire truly transformation solutions. And it works. The default social adage that “it’s just human nature” to exhibit selfish self interest suggests that this would be like Survivor with someone being voted off the island, or things degrading to the Lord of the Flies.

Yet time and time again what I witnessed was the profound capacity of groups to harness collective intelligence and adaptive resilience to overcome complex challenges with style. This recurring experience fuels my optimism with respect to the complex challenges of both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Many of the socio-cultural assumptions that we project onto our reality, be it the technical orientation of modernity or the fatalism of traditionalism, are inhibiting the flow of self-organizing systems. The physical laws of the universe as well as the rules for collective intelligence operate with narrow parameters. Self-organization requires things to be just right, which makes our current reality all the more miraculous. The rising urgency surrounding climate change signals to me a series of truly complex challenges that require nothing less than global transformation.

At the heart of this book is this idea that our consciousness is tied to our reality. Never before has the whole of humanity faced an issue of collective shadow like climate change. Never before have we had the interpersonal connectivity to do something as vast and as vital for the planet we inhabit.”

Open as a way of being

In the afterglow of OpenGovWestBC I came away with absolutely no doubt that open is the way to be. Fascinating speakers and panels dialogued about how governments can be more open to their constituents. Open is the single most compelling way that we can improve our democracy. Open goes beyond information flows and data vaults – open involves how we interact with one anther.There was a strong sentiment in the room that aspects of our democracy in Canada – and indeed around the world – are broken. Being open is a conceptual shift that goes beyond information, data, and department silos. Open implies that we conduct ourselves with increased transparency both in our personal interactions with each other and in our digital dealings. Silos start with our own fears and social inhibitions and resonate out into our work and our lives.

The first keynote at OpenGovWestBC emulated this dual role of openness with public servant Nick Charney playfully jamming with Walter Schwabe the Chief Evolutionary Officer at fusedlogic. Charney elegantly framed the context of using his blog cpsrenewal.ca micro-blogging ie. twitter to get outside the confines of his cubicle, sharing the salient insight that to do this he has to complete with style the deliverables at the center of his desk to make space for social innovation from the side of the desk. Walter Schwabe infused the playful attitude demonstrated within his CEO-spin title that is so common in the IT world. When creativity is your commodity, fostering innovative ideas for the knowledge economy, an open and playful environment is essential to harvesting the Creative Capital in an organization. From the conversations that I had at OpenGovWestBC I see how much Creative Capital resides in our public servants and that increasingly open office environments, knowledge flows, and transparent feedback loops with citizens, the private sector, and non-profit agencies will transform our democratic process and subsequently our world.

My consulting work is centered on fostering this Creative Capital and ThoughtStream, the software platform I am stoked on, helps to foster this openness in work environments while maintaining the delicate dance between transparency and privacy. The essence of openness requires a liberating structure – think cubicle layout and organizational chart – that can support an inspired process – think water cooler conversations and open space to jam – to emerge.

Open evangelists are banging at the firewalls of an obsolete system of organization built on the mechanical modes of industrialism. This is the very thing that is broken and it resides at the very foundation of how the majority of people see the way the world is. This is the hierarchal corporate model to organize the herd to mass produce widgets. The problem is that we the people are not widgets and when we treat people like widgets they get closed. We cannot tap the creative capital of human innovation when people or systems are closed. This is why open is the gateway to more elegant structures that foster the genius of otherwise ordinary people to innovate.

The current system is built on debate where adversarial interests duke it out to bring other views their way. Open is built on the foundation of dialogue whereby citizens come together in conversation to innovate new orders of consciousness, abiding by self-organizing systems and collective intelligence. OpenGovWestBC has affirmed for me that open is the way to be.

Breathe deeply – and repeat

Soon to be released second edition of rapt in awe

I don’t believe in God in the traditional sense. Unless, of course, it suits my needs in the moment, calming my neurosis.  The whole idea of an almighty guy in the sky just doesn’t work for me, but sometimes I find it highly convenient to defer responsibility to some higher power. That said, as each day unfolds I find more evidence of some cosmic intelligence interacting with matter, minds, and memes. I don’t believe in science either unless, of course, it suits my momentary impulse to try to make an intelligent point. What I do believe in though, is the ability of people to use what works to bring about positive outcomes – the utility of adaptation. I believe in the nimble agility of consciousness to express it’s self through anyone and everyone so that better ideas can emerge and evolve and make the world a better place. Hence worldbliss. I breathe deeply – and repeat as a bridge between moments. I practice overcoming the cynical scientific self when it tells me that God is dead and we are all doomed, and let possibilities unfold around me holding hope for a more peaceful future.

Perhaps my adaptive tendency to embrace contradictions leads me see climate change as a profound opportunity. In the forthcoming second edition of rapt in awe my book about evolving consciousness and collective transformation, I have dedicated a chapter to this theme. Climate Change as a Collective Opportunity invites dialogue on the idea that this issue is ripe for some sort of unified global action. I believe that seeing the good within a rather bleak state of affairs will help usher in the positive. There will be a free copy of rapt in awe to download online as well as fancier print and e-book editions in the next couple of months.

My reflections on God and science have been catalyzed by a workshop that I just attended for of new software product and process called ThoughtStream. It is based on research on collective intelligence, popularized by the recent book The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, and I am excited to use this as a tool for community engagement for Climate Action. I am moderating an event for the Climate Action Secretariat in Terrace, BC on Thursday October 21, 2010 and am excited to see how collective intelligence can create adaptation strategies for the Skeena Region.

Diagram from rapt n awe

What I do believe in is the capacity of people to overcome the perceived barriers that divide them. Things like God, scientific data, political convictions, and other values and beliefs that can impede collaborative action. Thankfully, the heat is on us to sort things out.  Collective intelligence continues to demonstrate that we are smarter as a whole than we are as individuals. It is as though the science of consciousness is conspiring with God to support unity and transformation. I’m willing to believe if it helps. Breathe deeply and repeat.

Milestone days

Today is my daughter’s 5th birthday and, coincidently, her first day of kindergarten. A milestone day on two counts. Having just moved our family to the charming small town of Cumberland on Vancouver Island, it was natural for her to ride her bike to her first day of school. Mom went with her for an orientation day and I marked the milestone with an epic mountain bike ride over exquisite trails. I mostly just needed to clear my head after a big move and the echos of the infinite tangents my mind likes to follow. That I would go for a ride like this amidst the busy pressures of parenting and employment marks the milestone of what parenting has meant for me – an utter personal transformation. That my little girl, Indira Rain White,  is now five is hard to fathom really. Five years ago today my wife and I entered the labour process (I own my bystander role in child birth, but I was there) and our lives have changed forever. Coming from a rather self-indulgent life of rich growth experiences, I can truly say that nothing has been as transformative for me as the birth of little Indi Rain. Not the surreal entrails of a near death experience. Not dissolving myself through deep wilderness immersion. Not crisis nor opportunity, has touched my heart, mind, and soul like the birth of my first child. I believe that it has something to do with primal drives to propagate the species, and even more sophisticated motives like love and belonging. Parenting has brought all these things much more to the forefront for me. My role as a provider, protector, nourisher, coach, play mate, father, and friend makes each moment in life so much more meaningful. Today marks the five year anniversary of this personal awakening, as well as a day for pink cake, faerie dresses, and good friends.

Long into my mountain bike ride today, as the endorphins kicked in to bliss, it all washed over me. It does not get any better than this. That my 5 year old daughter, little Indi Rain, is a vessel of compassion, effervescent joy, and bountiful bliss is a mere reflection of the ever-present perfection that lies latent in us all. Happy birthday Indi Rain. Every moment I get to spend with you is full of fun, learning, and laughs. And I am thankful for this milestone day to reflect on my many reasons to rejoice.