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A fundamentally relational worldview as the basis for cultivating regenerative relationships between people, places, and planet.

This article is the result of a 1-hour virtual talk between our author Julia and Daniel Christian Wahl. After starting with a short general assessment of our most pressing societal issues in the following lines, Daniel speaks about how examining these from a relational perspective can provide new insights and help us move towards cultivating a more regenerative human presence on earth.

Where we are standing right now    

What is the situation where we find ourselves in at the moment? Maybe we can fundamentally start from the point of saying: Things are clearly disintegrating around us. Cascading ecosystems collapse, failed states, and the global economy is hanging by a thin thread. All of this is part of a degenerative system we have built in the past and which, up to now, has pushed us to this point. Since the 1960s, we have consistently overstepped planetary boundaries and started to consume more than the bioproductivity of the living planet is able to regenerate every year. So we started to eat into the capital of our planet, rather than live off the interest, to give it an accurate economic analogy. 

All our lifetime, we have been sawing on the branch we have been sitting on – and we have tried to ignore it. We have known about climate change, we have known about impeding resource depletion and scarcity, both in terms of energy, water, and food coming at us for many years, but we chose to keep partying on the Titanic. So now we are faced with two possible scenarios: 

Do we want to keep pretending that we only need a new carpet on the Titanic, change the lights, or maybe consider powering the ship with a different renewable energy source? Do we want to continue engaging in processes of abstract problem solving and “solutioneering” that we see in the different COP1 processes, where we spend huge amounts of money and fly 50,000 people to Sharm-El-Sheikh to waste energy and human intelligence on coming up with one-size-fits-all solutions, which are then forcefully implemented in places where they don’t fit?

Or do we choose to acknowledge the amount of horror, collapse and calamity that we actually have coming towards us and look for real transformative actions? In this scenario, we need to ask ourselves: How can humanity operate locally and regionally while maintaining global solidarity and collaboration to build resilient infrastructures? How can we support each other in preparing for future crises while healing our communities and places by recognizing their commonalities as well as their unique qualities?

A fundamentally relational worldview as basis for change

As a human collective, we have lost terra firma. It has happened before, for example during the times of Reformation2 in Europe. At that time René Descartes3 tried to approach the present changes with the cogito ergo sum, the first distinction of I think (about the world out there), therefore I am. This first distinction led to an understanding that the world can be divided into different qualities, the measurable ones and the non-measurable ones, and it was said, “science isn’t bothered with the non-measurable ones”. 

But it is exactly the qualitative, relational data that is essential. This understanding is coming back now, for example, with Nora Bateson’s4 work on warm data5, the so-called trans-contextual data, we actually need to pay attention to. It means the quality with which we bring forth this world together. We don’t need any more hard data points that AI (Artificial Intelligence) crunches for us and then tells us how to live appropriately. That’s just the perpetuation of the Cartesian split6 and the separation of humanity from nature. 

Carl Gustav Jung, inspired by different wisdom traditions, said that the thinking mind is powerful and useful, and that it is one of our ways of knowing – but intuiting, sensing and feeling are the other three. The very fact that we have got three ways of knowing qualitatively and one way of knowing analytically should make us pause for a moment. In many cases, the data tells one: “I know what the prediction is”, but it doesn’t feel right. So what is being asked for at this point of time is intuiting, sensing, and feeling what needs to be done. It is a gentle invitation to return to our innate capacity to go beyond being purely rational and analytical thinking, which is a massive opportunity, but requires a fundamental shift in being and not just in doing. 

Remembering the regenerative power of life

As humans, we are regenerative by nature, with a heritage of being caretakers and emergent from place. Indigenous cultures worldwide view themselves as custodians, not owners, of their environment. Our ancestors’ ability to tend to ecosystems as gardeners and caretakers has resulted in our existence today. They sensed qualitative changes in ecosystem health and intervened to make them more abundant.

It is in our nature to be regenerative and deeply connected to the places we inhabit – the Native American prayer “to all my relations” embodies this idea. However, agriculture and city-building led to power structures built on domination, where nature became an “other” to be controlled instead of respected, admired, or even regarded as sacred. It is a paradox, of course: In opposition to our regenerative nature, the global system and processes we created are structurally dysfunctional – including neoclassical economics with its growth imperative and exploitation of the global South by the North. We are far from addressing the 500 years of trauma it caused and still causes, but to survive, humanity must remember and deal with past injustices and continuities.

The way to go further, fully be ourselves and share the gift that we came to share, is in service to the larger context we are in – whether it is our community or the Community of Life, the ecosystem, or the planet. All of it is fundamentally interconnected and nested  and we need to find the higher ground that we all are actually relational expressions of life.

We cannot make peace with each other, if we don’t make peace with the larger family that brought us forth, which is life. Many wisdom traditions of the world have been trying to communicate this to us and we arrogantly ignored them. We are now going through a species level rite-of-passage to come home to the family of life and understand our role in bringing forth the world. If we, as human beings, understood ourselves as part of the Community of Life, we could see that everything we do, every word, every thought, every action does change the world. How we live matters and the only way to change the world is to live differently.

Coming home to place 

To follow this thought further, we need to understand the link between planetary health and human health. However, the way to create planetary health is not by coming up with planetary solutions, but by people in place healing their places by regional work. What I propose is a planetary aware, cosmopolitan bioregionalism, which understands that all global problems like climate change, inequality, ecosystem collapse, as well as dangerously brittle and dysfunctional economic systems show up in every place. They are real for everyone, and at the same time, they can only be solved in the specific, by the people in place, where they show up. 

We are usually taught to go into the abstract and then create and implement replicable and generic solutions. But by going into the specific and seeing the diversity of opinions and perspectives as literal expressions of life’s own diversity, we can approach these problems differently.

This could start with understanding that health is a community responsibility, that democracy means participatory engagement and commitment, and then figuring out with each other – for each community, for each place, for each region – what that might look like. We have the science to prove that the simple act of having a community garden – by sticking your hand in some compost every now and then and the simple act of being in relationship with soil, plants and other living beings – microbiologically and psychologically improves your own health. So health is not something that is trapped in what we perceive as individual bodies. Health is a dynamic process that links it all  together: each individual cell, organ, person, family, community, ecosystem and the whole biosphere.

So in order to tap into the regenerative power of life with our own actions, we can use  three questions, which I’ve found in my conversations with indigenous elders from different parts of the world. To take any significant decision, we need at least three good answers to all three of them:

  1. Does it serve myself? 
  2. Does it serve my community?
  3. Does it serve life?

To become mature members in the Community of Life we need to understand that it’s all about all my relations. Yes, there are many views of this “whole” that we are part of,  but we don’t need to argue to be part of a larger context that has brought us forth. Let us be fascinated by how different the larger being that we are part of can express itself in another person. When you meet somebody very different from you, maybe you can even understand that their ignorance or even violence is a cry for help that has been created by not understanding how deeply related we actually all are.

  1. United Nations Climate Change Conference
  2. 16th century 
  3. French philosopher and scientist (1596-1650)
  4. International researcher, writer, filmmaker and educator
  5. Information about the interrelationships that connect elements of a complex system (more info: Warm data lab)
  6. Separation between mind and body (consciousness of the mind – intelligence of the brain)

Daniel Christian Wahl is a trained biologist and holds degrees in Holistic Science (M.A. from Schumacher College) and Natural Design (PhD from the University of Dundee) and currently works as a consultant and educator in regenerative development, whole systems design and transformative innovation.  

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