Friday, March 19, 2010

Crude drawings

"In the first half of our life, we build and inflate our ego, and in the second half we dismantle it and build a bridge between our healthy ego and our Self. The first half of life is about power, because that is what it takes to develop our ego. . . The second half of life is about meaning, because that is the focus it takes to go beyond ego. In the great synthesis, power and meaning are united in the interest of service to the world." - David Richo, Shadow Dance

This past December, I spent a wonderful day at the Rubin Museum in NYC taking in their exhibit of Carl Jung's Red Book. As the curators intended, I was struck by the similarities between Jung's brave explorations of his unconscious mind and the Himalayan mandalas on the floors above showing battles between positive and negative energies and the integration of cognitive, emotional, and embodied intelligence. Perusing the exhibit, I felt both elated and sad, as it was clear Jung did not pioneer a new view of human nature, but rather recreate wisdom that had been lost and rediscovered countless times. The quiet, cocoon-like space of the Rubin enhanced this sense of timelessness, of an endless now.

That night, I went to see the musical Next to Normal, and although my night at the theater was obviously colored by my afternoon at the museum, the play surprised me by telling a remarkably similar story. Next to Normal concerns a contemporary family of four whose matriarch is battling mental illness. Critics have conspired to not give away too much about the show, so I didn't expect the deep empathy the play's creators would show for all the characters. In Next to Normal, each member of the family takes on -- as in a mandala -- specific positive and negative energies, elements of chaos and order. Because all the artists behind the production grasped the concept so completely, the story is relatable and moving, even for those who don't have direct experience with its subject matter. Within this very specific story, there is a cosmic story; within every self, a family of voices negotiating for power; and also within a self, the world.

I created the above diagram last year, and have been using it in some of my business strategy engagements. Like many of my frameworks, it's a crude distillation—meant to provoke effective conversation, not express a blinding new insight. (In workshops, I ask clients to identify where they are on this map, and where they would like to pull energy from.) But it's only been recently that I've noticed that this story of the fight between power and meaning is one I've been seeing everywhere and that it looks similar at every level of scale. At a macro level, as in the diagram, we talk about existing vs. emerging systems; within an organization, sustaining vs. breakthrough innovation; within an individual, the directive "cursor" of the ego versus the endless, untapped resources of the Self.

All the zones across these two triangles are interesting, but lately I've been increasingly interested in building, in the synthesis of emergent possibilities and existing structures—and the platforms, new social entities, and inner skills required to connect the two. 

Keats asked: "Call the world if you please 'the vale of Soul-making.' Then you will find out the use of the world." If we have the courage to build a new world, who will we in turn become?

First image reprinted from The Red Book by C. G. Jung (c) Foundation of the Works of C. G. Jung. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. Second image created by Mark Gibson and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic License.

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