How can an organisation become more like a Mighty Oak than a machine?

tree and machine

Photo credit: izthistaken Flickr.com

How can you develop an organisation to become more like an alive, living being? I think you could start by exploring what it means to actually be a living being, alive and full of life, living in the world. So here is some food for thought for anyone wanting to walk in the steps of a Mighty Oak, rather than deaden themselves and the planet further by developing yet another re-presentation of a machine…

A living being has an invisible and indivisible ‘wholeness’, an integrity that is expressed through its parts. This wholeness is a living coherence that ‘holds together’ the essence of the particular life form, whilst manifesting recognizable, repeatable characteristics of form that hold true to its essence. However, the parts of each being are never the same. They develop in participation with its local environment, which allows room for differentiation, uniqueness and flexibility to emerge- i.e. such as the particularities of local sun/shade levels, nutrient levels, wind exposure that occur in relation to the plant’s location.

There is no hierarchy. The parts do not arrive before, or without, the wholeness, and neither does the wholeness emerge before, or without, the parts. The potential for Oak is already present in the Acorn and vice versa. The Oak tree would not come into being without the acorn, and the acorn would not come into being with the Oak tree, or the leaves, or the trunk, or any other part that emerges through the being’s temporal life processes. The parts emerge as necessary processes of the whole of the being, belonging together, naturally and organically, one out of the other – but NOT in a linear fashion.

 There is no strict definition of linearity, in time or space, within a living being. If you watch the whole growth of plant it does not just grow up – it grows out, in, up and down, it is also living and dying simultaneously. In time, a new bud forms and opens at the same time that an older leaf dies and wilts away. In space, the new growth of tiny leaves emerge directly out of old growth of the stem.

 There is also no trace of classical logic within a living being. In classical logic – on which we base most of our education, everyday thinking and organisational structures –  A=A and A ≠  Not A. However in the more holistic logic of a living being, or new ways of thinking and doing such as in Quantum Physics, A = Not A and A ≠ A. So, within the realm of a living being it is no contradiction for an Acorn to also equal the potential that we call Oak. An Acorn isn’t an Oak, but also isn’t Not an Oak, and neither is it actually an Acorn (we just all call it that for ease of communication). This doesn’t mean that living beings fall into a quagmire of uncertainty and ambiguity just because they follow a rather different type of logic than we are used to using. Quite the opposite – if I give you a carrot seed, and you plant it in conditions that are favorable to its growth, I’d say the odds are pretty high that you would grow a carrot.

 However, your carrot would not be the same as any other carrot that has ever existed in time and space, as the success of the healthy growth of your carrot is highly contextual. Its life depends on its ability to relate effectively and efficiently with the unique circumstances that our within its local environment. It’s no good for the carrot to know what the growing conditions are like for a different carrot, in a different climate 6000 miles away. It’s experiencing what it can touch, here and now, and develops its growth accordingly.

 All living beings require a constant inner transformation and evolution, as stasis in natural systems equals death. If a plant did not constantly keep transforming itself from the inside out, it would cease to exist. Imagine if a pea plant got to the stage of having leaves and stems and then decided to stop moving from the inside. It wouldn’t matter what its external expression of physical form and matter was, if internally it stop carrying water and sunlight and nutrients around to nourish its life systems it would die.

 Notably, there are no straight lines or impenetrable boundaries in living beings. Physical processes flow in between the parts, and elemental processes flow between the living being and its environment. Therefore there are no such concepts as complete isolation or absolute separation within living beings. There are distinctions of form and process, distinguishing for example a leaf from a stem, and a respiratory system from a cardio vascular system, but they are intrinsically relational with regards to the particular form or process of the whole being and its environment.

 A living being knows what it needs or wants from its local environment to maintain its life and its wholeness, and it develops an intrinsic ‘knowledge’ of how to get it. But rarely, if ever, will it leave behind anything that can not then be composted back down into the earth, ready be turned into new life by its offspring and/or other living beings. However, as an individual, it is flexible, and adaptable, and will modify its physical form to thrive within the local environment that it has found itself in – changing its physical, extrinsic nature, in order to remain the ‘same’ expression of its essential intrinsic nature.

 Living beings also have rhythm. A plant has periods of activity and rest, if you watch a speeded up time sequence film of a plant’s growth, you will see that it develops in external ‘bursts’ of activity. These bursts of development embody the qualities of contraction and expansion, just like a human breathing in and breathing out. The seasons themselves also follow intermittent periods of activity and rest. Seeds lie dormant for the winter and then spring to life in a burst of activity when the weather warms. A tree loses its leaves over winter and then outwardly ‘comes back to life’ in the spring.

 Living beings, such as plants, are not by nature hierarchical. There is no top-down management, and neither is it bottom-up. They embody a different dynamic which the biologist Brian Goodwin described as “maximum freedom to the parts, maximum coherence to the whole.” They have an invisible and indivisible essence that we can call wholeness, which is there essential nature and somehow emerges from within. This is an intrinsic coherence which is expressed through the parts, but can not be reduced to the sum of its parts.

 All non-human life also participates and develops in accordance with the local environment, and all waste products, with time, integrate back into the earth.

 So, the essence of living beings contains an intrinsic capacity for distinction, uniqueness and flexibility. There is no absolute linearity in their spatial or temporal life development, and their livingness does not express a classical logic – yet their coherence, inner transformation and metamorphosis keep them ‘whole’, and alive. A living being expresses itself through a series of diverse, complex relationships; nothing is isolated or separate, either within them, or without them, as they are always responding in relation to their environment. And lastly, for now, but not least – individual living beings have a rhythm to their growth and a development pattern that balances physical inactivity and activity –  in nature no one part is ever fixed on constant output and exponential growth, other than when it signals danger, such as the abnormal proliferated cell growth that is found in cancer.

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