When we are living and leading in complexity, we often experience the effects of complexity. We experience the unseen hand of governing dynamics. But, our narrow view focuses our attention on the effects themselves and how they threaten or create opportunities for us. Our narrow view actually precludes seeing the workings of the system itself.
We might notice, for example, that someone completely misinterprets what we said. Or that some well-intended action that has worked a hundred times over our history backfires. Or that, over and over, we find ourselves in a kind of dynamic that has a gravitational pull: we can’t see the pull, but notice that we keep re-creating the same situation over and over ourselves. These are cues that there is something invisible, under the surface. The hand of the unseen is shaping what we experience.
A place that this happens for me is in my efforts to care for others. I learned this early in life: it was good to be thoughtful and considerate of others. It was ugly to be selfish, boastful or to put my needs above those of others. I wanted to be good, I didn’t want to be ugly. So I learned to present myself as thoughtful and considerate, and to overtly subsume my needs to those of others. (Good reason to be a coach, right?)
At the same time, I would often indirectly and unconsciously pursue my own needs, of which I was ashamed. I would find myself startled that I felt resentful, others felt patronized, or my needs weren’t being acknowledged. Sometimes, I didn’t even know what they were! (Coaching is actually deeply satisfying, for both healthy reasons and for others I must be mindful of!)
This, of course, creates complex system dynamics. These patterns of thought and behavior are embodied within me, in my Soma. I express them as the Identity I have worked so hard to produce and maintain (which is sometimes painfully incongruent with what I actually want!) And, the way I show up (thoughtful, sensitive, indirect, and sometimes needy) affects the Contexts of my marriage, client relationships, professional collaborations, and relationships with friends and kids.
I find myself pulled into certain roles: configurations in my relationships that occur over and over. And, I can be blind to how this happens. In the language of adult development, when this happens I am “subject to” the underlying dynamics of the system in which I am living.
One of the key means through which we help our clients, and ourselves, to live and lead more authentically is to learn to see the underlying dynamics that shape us. These underlying dynamics are both with us (in the body) and outside of us (in the ecology of requests and relationships that shapes our external context.) Making these dynamics explicit (or “object”) is the first crucial step towards resourcing ourselves differently, and negotiating with the pulls of these dynamics so that new options become available.
We can introduce daylight between us and these underlying forces. We can make visible the unseen hand that, left unquestioned, shapes our behavior and limits our possibilities.
Here are just a few ways to do this:
- “Seeing the system” using polarity mapping, elements of complex systems, or other distinctions that make the functioning of the system visible. These perspectives create a balcony view, and allow us to detach from the dynamics and understand why things might be so.
- Somatic work that brings us into the present. Then, we can actively and directly experience our own internal system as it interacts with the system around us. We self-regulate and cultivate more resourceful inner states that produce resilience and choice.
- Systemic constellation work is a powerful approach for “dimensionalizing” a system so that we can gain perspective and negotiate with it in new ways.
- De-coupling our inner state from the conditions around us. We can easily take on the stresses of the system around us. Differentiating our inner condition from what’s going on around us is key to cultivating resilience. Sure, what’s going on around us influences our experience, but it does not determine our experience. This is liberation.
All of these approaches enable realization. Realization is the present moment felt clarity of how reality is actually working (which often stands in painful contrast to how we think it is or should be working!)
Facing reality as it is creates immediacy, and releases energy that is then available for the hard work of being human.
Welcome to complexity.