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Taking a Complex Systems View of the Current State of the World (For Therapists)
(editor's note: This was originally published on Facebook on March 14, 2020 in specialized groups for bodymindspirit therapists as the coronovirus pandemic was accelerating in the United States and globally)
Hello everyone in the group,
I hope you all are doing well and keeping safe and finding some peace in the midst of it all. So, if you're interested, the world's events at the moment are a good example of complexity at work if you're interested in reviewing some of the stuff we talked about in the CST Working with Chronic Depletion class.
Using the terms of complexity (as a fun reminder):
The global system is currently in the midst of a "large event" as it goes through a “tipping point” into a massive “phase shift”. Dominating the phase shift are "positive feedback loops" causing "cascading failures" in the old phase of the system.
You might remember that positive feedback loops mean that “more means more”. In other words, the more of the stimulating loop the more things change. The run on toilet paper is an example of one such positive feedback loop in that the more people buy toilet paper, the more desperate others become which causes more toilet paper buying. Until the global system begins to find a new stable state, such positive feedback loops will predominate. The 24 hour period of March 12-13 was an intense period of pervasive and out of control positive feedback loops. Just watching the posts of the Upledger Alumni system reflect that shift and I imagine that many of us felt that energetically and emotionally as well. Since that time, we have seen moments of stabilization followed by more moments of cascading failures creating further positive feedback loops, resulting in further losses in the stock market, empty grocery stores, and worry spreading as infectiously as the the virus itself. The very need for social isolation is de-resourcing humanity from one of its strongest resiliencies.
As any complex system begins to finding a new stable phase, we should start seeing the appearance of some negative feedback loops building stability. You might remember that negative feedback loops mean “more means less” In other words, more of the stimulative loop means the more things remain the same. Negative feedback loops are stabilizing factors in a complex system. I would argue that we are beginning to see the very first appearances of some stabilizing negative feedback loops in the world. At the local level, we are seeing individuals starting to bring messages of support and togetherness in trying times. These would be small, but significant "emergent" stabilizing factors. As I scan across facebook groups this morning, I see more and more people offering messages of support and community, from osteopathic groups, to massage groups, to other social groups. On a larger level, we are seeing a greater unification around identifying and naming the global problem. Although things like declaring a state of "emergency" might be considered a "top down" order, the global emergence of this occurring would be an example of "bottom up" emergence and also a likely stabilizing factor in the complex global system.
So, what are some lessons from complexity science that we can begin using to help the world in this situation, particularly in our roles as bodymindspirit practitioners?
An actor in a complex system controls nothing, but influences everything"
-Scott Page, Ph.D
So, what I hope we all take away with that is that with our small actions and thoughts and behaviors, we are influencing (and have the potential to influence) the global system. We are part of emergence globally. Lessons from complexity science to help stabilize an out of control phase shift:
- Encourage diversity. Diversity helps a complex system discover novel solutions, reduce feedback loops of exploitation, and encourage feedback loops of exploration. Diversity in this context can look like turning towards humanity and its experience and learning and listening and championing diverse thoughts, reactions, and responses to the situation.
- Build connections and synergies between different ideas and disciplines. For us, that can look like not isolating to a CST point of view, but building connections and finding overlaps with all the healing traditions. Also, sever connections, responses, or links which limit innovation or responsiveness. Responses in the media which over simplify or over explain our situation would be good to sever connections to. Embrace the complexity. Look for the global interdependencies.
- Be careful on how you set incentives and evaluate success. The novel solutions are likely to be unexpected. If we are focused on only one type of metric or one solution, we will be likely maintaining destructive feedback loops. Be wary of singular solutions to complex situations.
- Don’t get caught up in little gains. Yes, keep your hands clean and keep a safe distance to avoid transmitting germs, but don’t let that isolate you from contacting the rest of the world and a struggling humanity.
Suggestions (in addition to the above):
- Act to find stillness and peace and equanimity within yourself. Meditation, contact with nature, reframing this break as a time to grow within will also help us be beacons of calm within the larger system.
- Join in on collective gatherings virtually and bond with each other to support and create future oriented solutions
- Find ways to turn towards your clients and be ongoing support.
- Find ways to turn towards humanity and our fellow people.
- Watch the flows and relationships around us rather than the people. We can continue to participate in nature, even from a germ safe distance.
Please let me know what you think about the above in the comments below. I’d be happy to set up an online conversation for us to explore these themes in our virtual study groups and forthcoming lectures. I know that some of those lessons above might seem a bit abstract and I’d love to explore collectively how we can take those lessons into our roles as therapists who are working to help the world heal. Such a conversation would also give us a chance to look at how to take these lessons into our personal lives as well as help bring a greater sense of calm within us to then take outside of us.
-Eric Moya Cst-d