Exploring the Ecosystem of Self

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In this episode, we will explore systems thinking with Michael Lindfield, a deep systems thinker with over 50 years of international experience supporting individuals and organizations in unleashing the creativity of the human spirit to meet the urgent needs of our times and the compelling call for a more just and joyful future that works for all.

Michael is now the President at Meditation Mount in Ojai, California, and he brings all of his learning and wisdom to our conversation. We will explore many big concepts, including the idea of the ecosystem of self. Don’t just listen to this episode; be it.


    Exploring the Ecosystem of Self

    Rob Brodnick: Welcome to the Positive Turbulence Podcast. I’m Rob Brodnick.

    Karyn Zuidinga: And I’m Kayn Zuidinga. Today we’re bringing you a story about a man whose life reads like a blueprint of boundless curiosity and profound transformation. Michael Linfield learned early on that the traditional paths weren’t for him. He dropped out of high school, but that was just the beginning of a lifelong journey through learning and self discovery.

    From the organic farms of Sweden to the innovative educational approaches at the Findhorn community in Scotland, where he spent 14 years as a gardener and director of education, Michael always has followed the beat of a different drummer.

    Rob Brodnick: His story didn’t stop at Findhorn. Michael moved on to become a Senior Organizational Development Consultant with Boeing, where he worked from 1989 to 2005, helping to steer the corporate giant through transformative times. He’s been at the forefront of seminars about transforming self and society from the inside out, and about cooperating with the subtle realms of Gaia.

    Now as the President at Meditation Mountain, Ojai, California, Michael brings a rich tapestry of experiences to our discussion today.

    Karyn Zuidinga: We’ll delve into the ecosystem of self and explore how interconnected we all are, not just with each other, but with every part of our environment. So, as we unfold the layers of Michael’s story and the broader implications of systems thinking, remember, don’t just listen, tune in with your whole self.

    Rob Brodnick: The Positive Turbulence podcast is brought to you by AMI, an innovation learning community that is celebrating 40 years of supporting innovation and creativity for organizations and individuals. Learn more at aminnovation. org.

    Also, we’d like to thank Mac Avenue Music Group as a contributing sponsor. To hear our theme song, Late Night Sunrise, and other great music, visit mackavenue. com.

    Karyn Zuidinga: Welcome and thank you for joining us, Michael. I’m so glad that you could be here and before we carry on help me understand, get a little bit of the background. .

    Michael Lindfield: I grew up in England and went to school in the 50s and 60s. I went to an all boys school and it was not my favorite sort of environment. I actually left school and the whole educational system two weeks after my 16th birthday. I just walked out and that was it.

    I’ve on this. learning quest ever since and it’s taken me to some amazing places. I lived in Scandinavia for a while. I traveled around the world. I lived at Findhorn in the community in Scotland for 14 years and, I’ve done a lot of different things. My systems background comes from organic farming.

    then I worked at the Boeing company for 16 years as a senior OD consultant and executive coach, dealing with large systems change.

    I’ve worked with Harrison Owen on open space and things like that. I’ve been around a lot of different people and influences, and then I’ve always followed a spiritual path. I was brought into contact in the 70s with an Italian professor called Dr. Roberto Acegioli, who’s the founder of a spiritual psychology called psychosynthesis. He was my mentor. I’ve done a lot of mentoring. It’s like old fashioned apprenticeships.

    Karyn Zuidinga: You were both mentored and mentoring.

    Michael Lindfield: Yeah, exactly.

     I chose the path that I was called to take and it’s led me to some, into some amazing experiences and I’ve always wanted to understand how things evolve.

     I guess I’ve just been on this journey.

    It’s an educational journey. It’s a journey of service, journey of whatever it is. I follow my inner promptings and sometimes they’re accurate. Other times I have to recalibrate. 

    Rob Brodnick: It seems ironic that you leave school at 16 to become a lifelong learner. 

    Michael Lindfield: I’ve consulted to. education systems, to health systems, I had to get over that,

    Karyn Zuidinga: talk to me about this idea of following the inner promptings. I think a lot of people in our community do that in, in one way, shape, or form. And I was, in fact, just thinking about that this morning, about how sometimes it’s great, Oh, yeah, I landed. And other times it’s not so great.

    What are the signals that tell you it’s not so great, you need to get off that path? 

    Michael Lindfield: Sometimes the not so great is what one of my mentors called the unpleasant good.

    Sometimes you’re given situations that are unpleasant, but in the end, there’s going to be gold out of this. It’s when you start bumping into things and there’s a sense inside, ah, this, I’m not in integrity. My system is not in integrity.

    I’m pushing, I’m trying to contort it and change it to something that it isn’t, rather than going with the flow.

    Karyn Zuidinga: And how do you apply that? That to leadership now? So you’re in integrity. We are talking about being in integrity and knowing that, okay, I’m on the right path or not on the right path, and there’s a feeling about it. And then what I was wondering about is how does that apply to leadership now? So as a leader, you may feel in integrity, but now you’ve got all these people with you.

    Michael Lindfield: Then, maybe we have to redefine what leadership is. And I’ve worked a lot on leadership because I’ve been part of the corporate world. I’ve been an executive coach. I understand the function of leadership inside of traditional systems. Production systems corporate world. And there’s always somebody in charge, a boss, in charge. And then we’ve had other presentations of what a leader could be we’ve got green leaf servant leadership, that, that wonderful notion of the leader is there to, to serve the system, to serve the greater whole. And then the notion of the leader is really a conductor of an orchestra. And therefore, the role of the conductor is to make sure that everybody is playing together, everybody is tuned correctly, everybody comes in at the right time, and they’re on the same page musically.

    They’re playing from the same score. It depends on the skill level and the virtuosity of the players, and then the conductor can meld all of this into something beautiful.

    Rob Brodnick: The only person not making music with an instrument, sometimes seen as the leader, which is an interesting, just visually came to mind.

    Michael Lindfield: Thank you, Rob, because what I’d like to do is take it one step further in response to Karyn’s question about leadership. I would like to propose that instead of the conductor of an orchestra, the leader is a conductor of the electrical charge of purpose. a spiritual energy called purpose that lives and gives meaning to the whole system.

    Therefore, the leader has to be connected and has to be a lead, an electrical lead that connects purpose with and is earthed and grounded. So it makes sure that the system is part of a greater system, because one of the things I’ve discovered is that we’re talking about a nested universe of lives, lives within lives, systems within systems and this has been a very deep experience I’ve had, so I want to go back to that in a minute, but the whole thing of a leader being in charge with why the system exists.

    It’s deep. It’s deep purpose. That is an electrical charge. Therefore, rather than the leader being in charge, the leader is charged with this power. It isn’t a power over something. It’s the power of the system itself to fulfill its destiny. Therefore, what the leader has to do is to help the system discharge its responsibilities. So when we think of a boss, you say I’m in charge and they charge around. I’m talking about, I’m talking about a leader really. At that deep inner level, being in touch as a connective tissue, as an electrical lead, allowing purpose to flow into the system, to infuse it, and then for the system to respond and deliver on that. So I go back to my gardening and farming experiences. I was always fascinated by the seed, because the seed is this promise. And will never be fulfilled until it’s planted in the ground, in the soil. I believe that each system and each human being has inside of them a seed of destiny. A seed, a promise. 

    And I go back to David Bohm the physicist. He talks about the enfolded universe. The enfolded universe for me is this potential and promise that’s packed into a particle of infinity, which is the seed. That then has to be placed in the temporal field, the field of time and space. And the task of the system is to help it to grow.

    So really, you could say, our task as individuals and as a community is to unfold the enfolded. And so for me, that’s what it’s all about. Unfold the enfolded. So you have to get in touch with what is it that lives inside the seed. And that you do by deep listening, by coming into resonance with your purpose.

    And then you’re prompted. The promptings, Karyn, are the signals from the purpose that say, here’s a way you can unfold. So that’s how I view it. And so when I go into a system, whether it’s a healthcare system or a manufacturing system, I look at, what’s the charge? What are they being charged to do? What’s the capacity to respond to that charge?

    What’s the, and Rob, you talked about this last time we met, the readiness assessment. Yeah. How capable is the system of responding to that which it’s being asked to deliver on? When I work with systems, it’s helping them to do two things. One, get in touch with that which it’s being asked of them.

    And the other is to develop their capacity to respond. So the responsibility is the ability to respond to purpose and the ability to work together in response to that purpose. And I go back to the living system. There’s one living system that is often neglected. People forget about it. I call it the Ecosystem of Self.

    It’s all those lives that live inside of me. I am a system. You are a system. I am the steward of this living system. And if I don’t take care of myself, how can I show up as a healthy part of a greater system? So I go back to the whole notion of lives within lives. And one of the things that, that I came across studying Greek philosophy said that everything is contained within everything.

    And I went, whoa, that’s, what does that mean?

    I, actually, I have to go back because my first experience of systems was actually, let me see, it was just over 75 years ago when I was about. Just 14 months old. here’s the story that has impressed itself upon me ever since. My mother and I were in the apartment, and she was baking in the kitchen, and she wanted to keep an eye on me, so she brought a playpen in, and, so I was able to stand up, and so I was standing up, holding onto the playpen watching her in the kitchen bake.

    And there was this tin on the counter that caught my… eye, it was a sort of reddish orange tin, and on the tin was this sort of creamy oval color. In the center of the oval was a picture of the baking powder tin. And on the picture of the baking powder tin was another picture of a baking powder tin. For an instance, I got this flash of this nested universe. It registered so deeply, something flashed in a moment. It was only later that I was able to unpack it and understood what it was about. But that was the first imprinting of we’re part of something greater. We are part of a system of lives. 

    So systems work is what it’s all about. You can’t get away from systems work because we’re part of a system of lives. The systems is just the coherence of life in all its component parts and how it organizes itself. Life, I believe when I worked with nature and work with organic farming you see how amazing nature is at self-organizing, but when you get humans involved with free will and ignorance, You don’t get the natural self-organizing system arise out of human endeavors.

     One of the things I work with, and this came out of the work I did with Harrison Owen and OpenSpace. There are actually certain requirements for self-organizing. I wrote this little piece that said, Gaia or the planet Earth is a self organizing living system. And when everything is in right relationship and right resonance with everything else, we have a healthy thriving planet. on the research and working with groups over the past 50 years, I have observed three key requirements for self organizing systems whenever humans are involved. So that’s the caveat. Whenever humans are involved. And here they are. 

    Number one, there is an agreed upon higher common purpose that inspires and lifts all. It’s that magnetic core.. 

    Number two, there is a willingness to work together and include and utilize the rich diversity of gifts that each person and group brings. So this is the diversity, not divisiveness, with our uniqueness. But there’s a willingness to work together and a recognition that we each bring gifts. 

    Number three, which is a really important one that often gets overlooked, that a certain degree of self mastery And personal maturity, both emotional and mental stability, has been achieved so that the individual elements are magnetically responsive to the purposeful note of the whole system by being eco centered, which is impersonal, and not ego centered, or personally invested. 

    Why I put that is because when you have human units inside of a system who are only thinking of self, we cannot be responsive to the call of the whole. So there is a shift. And one of the things I, I talked about was in the last few years is this tipping point in the system so that it stops being self centered.

    Because we talk about ecosystems, but you can have a system that is itself a self centered system. It’s a closed system. It’s only there to take care of itself. So it takes care of all the things inside of it, but it doesn’t realize it’s part of something greater. So here’s what I wrote about the tipping point.

    My question to myself was what would make a real difference and help turn things around and bring health to our systems? Firmly believe there’s a tipping point that occurs when the locus of living shifts from investing energy solely in the survival of the separated self and we make the needed reinvestment of the life energy in serving and supporting the common good, the greater good.

    Without this shift from egocentric to ecocentric living, we will continue to function as self centered units competing with each other for resources and fail to realize that our Earth is an interdependent and sentient system of lives, a multidimensional and benevolent ecosystem of which we are vital and integral aspects.

    So for me, the reason our system, the one we call society, is not healthy is because we don’t have all the parts working together for the common good. That’s like a high level takeaway for me.

    Rob Brodnick: And the maturity point, a colleague sent an article to me just this morning. I think it was in the New York Times and it said something like, hey, America grow up. And it was a commentary about the immaturity of the sort of common behavior, even of the day to day person to the leader to all of it.

    And it really resonates with me. So there’s something about that. Understanding the system itself with a certain kind of maturity to participate in the societal system and be able to do those things. So I don’t want to take us on a tangent about American leadership right now,

    Michael Lindfield: I could, let me respond to that because one of the, 

    Rob Brodnick: do 

    Michael Lindfield: one of the things I’ve noticed because I was, I grew up in England, I spent time in Scandinavia, I came to the States in my late 30s. So I’ve observed America and one of one of the strengths of America is this. If you go for it, you just do it.

    This whole notion of rugged individualism, then you read de Tocqueville and you realize we have to shift from rugged individualism to rugged collectivism at some point.

    Karyn Zuidinga: So what’s a leader to do? I’m all the way with you. I was reflecting on this idea of emotional maturity, my own journey towards that, still working on it, my own experiences in the working world. And let’s say you want to be that leader, that resonant, purpose driven, connected leader. But you’re in that organization that maybe it’s just not all the way there.

    How do you, I don’t know, pull the right lever? What do you do?

    Michael Lindfield: What I do is, first of all, I make sure that I as coherent as possible in my own life so that I can show up and be useful. of the things I’ve noticed is when you invite a system or a person to stretch and grow, you invite them to participate in an adventure of growth.

    And that usually means stretching to one and a half levels beyond where they’re currently at. If you ask them to stretch three levels, they’re going to fall into the gap and it’s going to be a misadventure. You have to gauge the gap for stretching. And that gap, if you like, is the creative gap.

    It creates the tension, just like a spark plug. There’s a creative tension. So you’ve got to find out what is the right or gap. And then you invite… That person to bridge that gap to I’m thinking of Kennedy when he said to the American people let’s put a person on the moon and bring them back safely by the end of the decade that was a wild announcement, but it got people thinking.

    Those people think, oh no, it’s not possible. Then other people said, hey, yeah, what would it take to do that? And that was a stretch, and it happened. And then we’ve all seen Apollo 13, we’ve seen the movie, we’ve read the reports. We know what happens, and we know what happens when people rely on their, the inner resources and their skills, you always can get out of these scrapes. But if you set yourself up with too much of a stretch goal, you’re setting yourself up for failure. So the role of the leader is to know how much to ask the the system to stretch. 

    I know when I worked for Boeing for 16 years, one of the things they did was to test how strong a wing was. Because when you are in an airplane, you look out the window and you see the wings flexing, for some people, oh my God, the wings are flexing. I say, thank God they are because they could snap. But what Boeing did was actually apply pressure and measure how much pressure it would take to snap a wing.

    And then you’ve got your tolerance level and then you fly within the tolerance. And then, so you’ve got to find out what is the tolerance for change in a system. 

    Karyn Zuidinga: Is that just trial and error? 

    Michael Lindfield: It’s trial and error, but I believe that once you understand the signals in a system, you get sixth sense about this.

    When I walk into a room, I assess the The maturity of a system by just how people are, they relate to each other, the level of happiness and joy or the level of despondency in a room will tell me a lot.

    So I read the field and there are many signals coming from the field. It’s like Chinese medicine. You read all the pulses. So as a systems consultant, I read the pulses.

    Rob Brodnick: Yeah. And there’s an intuition to it. There’s also, I think a rationalization of it. And we know with systems they change through catastrophe. They tend to be extremely resilient for quite a long time. All of a sudden, like it’s a different place. It’s a different time. And the system’s reformatted in some kind of way. For certain kinds of systems we can measure that. I love the example of the airplane wing, the failure point is when the system fully changes form with a snapped wing. And you know that you could see that’s the moment of catastrophe. But sometimes those things happen unexpectedly. Of a sudden we find ourselves even with the best intuition or measurement. I think there’s examples of that all around. I think that blending of the analytic the rational with the intuitive and perhaps even a deep spiritual sense about the purpose of the system, I love that. 

    Michael Lindfield: Thank you, because let me go back to the whole notion of the nested universe, because that for me is key in understanding there is a greater intelligence always at work. And it filters through this system of nested lives. I wrote an article a couple of months ago, and let me just quote from that.

    I said, each system of lives, both individual, organization, global, etc., lives and moves and has its being inside the greater system that enfolds it and provides a deeper dimension of meaning and belonging. Because here we got the two basic human needs of meaning and belonging. The same with the system.

    A system has to have a meaning, why it exists. The belonging is all the parts, knowing that they are part of this coherent field. So we could postulate that evolution of consciousness comes about through a process of learning by direct experience, resulting in a personal Aha moment, which gives birth to an inner child of wisdom and knowing.

    That’s why the system grows in its own understanding and wisdom by being self reflective and conscious of its own growth. That’s why if you have a leader just telling people what to do, you’ll get a lot of production units moving around efficiently. But you won’t get a living system. That’s the big difference that I’ve seen.

    And I, when I was at Boeing we were working with employee engagement and brought in Dick Axelrod, who wrote this book, Terms of Engagement. So I worked with him as the internal consultant. He was the external consultant and we worked with the engineering department, which was like 10, 000 seeing what would it take if we move from rules-based governance to principle-driven governance, which is whole thing about Terms of Engagement if you want to reference Dick’s book.

    But that was another experiment in seeing how a system can self organize. A lot of people saw it as it’s democracy. We’re giving the power to the people. But the power to the people isn’t so they can take over the system. It’s so they can participate in the system of which they are already a part. Once you get beyond, hey, I need some power. I need my voice to be heard and okay, so you’ve claimed your own sovereignty. How are you going to use your power to serve something greater than yourself? Which would therefore be the system in which you reside. We are now facing the whole thing of how do we come together to create a more perfect union if you like in the, in North America, politically, socially, how do create a more perfect union as a community of human beings?

    And then when we take it to the next step. How do we live in harmony with all lives? Count this planet as their home. That’s the next systems task that we have. 

    This one called to me deeply. And I’ve been working on the shift, the system shift from moving from I would say, being a human to being a Gaian. And so I put together a little meme, a few paragraphs, just to invite people to step into being a Gaian. I didn’t realize I was going to be reading stuff as much, but I’d like to read this. It Gaian. And I’m using James Lublock’s terminology of Gaia, which comes from the Greek of this, the living planet. So my question is, what is the difference between living as a human and living as a Gaian? As humans, we go about our lives looking at the world as an external reality, something existing outside of ourselves.

    Now we may be good and kind and do nice things, but it’s still, we are, not part of the whole thing. a Gaian. We think, feel, and act within a deeply sensed knowing that the whole Earth lives inside of us, and that we live inside the whole Earth. This is a systems thing. A Gaian is a conscious fractal of the multidimensional ecosystem that constitutes the living planet.

    And here’s the wrap up. A Gaian is a microcosm of Gaia. A sacred place of synthesis where life meets life and knows itself to be at one with all. And then the bottom line, the takeaway line, a human being lives on the earth while a Gaian lives as the earth. That’s the shift. When you stop living on the earth and start living as the earth.

    When you start living, periphery or on the outside of a system or on the surfaces of the system, and you realize that I am the system, I live in the system lives in me. That’s the shift. So I believe that when we’re talking about systems change, it really is this shift from identification with something greater, so that we can lift the system into its next dimension, which is to be a conscious part of a greater system.

    Just as we’re asking individuals to be good citizens, And to be conscious parts of society. if humans, the human species itself, was being asked to be a conscious part of something greater that already exists, and is waiting for this missing link to join it? The planet is waiting for the humans to, to wise up, to grow up, to shape up, whatever you want to call it, and to be part of the living system that is this planet.

    That’s where I’m coming from now. It’s beyond just environmental. I’m talking about deep ecology here. Deep ecology of self, the deep ecology of the planet, and how the two are one and the same. The fractal. This whole idea of a fractal. Everything is contained within everything. For me that is incredibly important.

    And so when I work with systems, I’m looking at how do you allow coherence at a deeper level to come about? How do you, how does the system give birth to a new level of understanding? By being self reflective, self reflection leads to self awareness leads to self regulation, recalibration, self correcting, whatever you want to call it. how improvement happens from the inside out, through education. And if you’re going to go back to education as educare, which is to lead out from within, to call out that which is inside, What we’re calling out is the potential, this enfolded promise that lives as a seed inside of each person, each system.

    And then the system becomes the field in which that can grow. When I work with systems I’m looking at the seed. I’m looking at the soil, and then I’m looking at what are the horticultural practices that need to be performed here from a business perspective, from just human to human society.

    So I’m looking at the components of what I would call soil gardening. So I go back to my first introduction to living systems with nature and realize that it’s fantastic because one of the things that I realized that we don’t do very well in, in our understanding of systems is to understand the role of death in systems.

    And so I go back to composting and at the end of a season, particularly with the annuals and the vegetables, once we’ve harvested things, once the flower has revealed its glory the form dies back. Now the seeds for the next season are produced, so life continues, the continuity of consciousness, the continuity of life.

    But the forms that, that, that deliver the, on the promise are temporal, and they go back into the compost. But the compost, for me, when you, because I worked a lot with compost, in the beginning, when you put a compost pile together, It’s very slimy, it’s very sticky, it’s very smelly, and then over time, as you turn it, aerate it, and add different herb extracts to it to create more of an organic process of breaking down, it shifts from this sour, sticky, smelly mess to something very sweet.

    I know when my compost pile is ready, when I put my hand inside the compost and instead of pulling out sticky fingers, I pull out something very soft and when I smell it, it is sweet. The whole process of death is how do you allow something go from sour to sweet? And the sweetness and the compost then is the old, having gone through the process of death, now becomes an enrichment.

    for that which is growing today. So it’s how do you compost the past to enrich the present? And then I go into the more the psychological things about how do you compost pain, the pain of the past, if you’re stuck, and how do you know when you’ve, you’re free of pain? And there’s a whole thing I could go into on that.

    It may not be relevant in this podcast, but it’s helping people understand the ecosystem of self and the psychology of how do you compost the past, not throw it away. How do you compost it? So you transform it like an alchemical process into something that is a deep nutrient. So that’s the other thing.

    And the other point about death is that we tend to be afraid of it. And when I was farming in the West of Sweden, outside the farmhouse was this amazing silver birch tree. And of course in the autumn, the leaves would turn gold and the wind would blow the leaves off and that was fantastic, that was natural.

    But if I, as the tree, were to identify with my leaves, And the letting go of my leaves was an act of death, of the loss of identity. I would hold onto those leaves and not let them go. I would be afraid to die. And I’ve never seen a birch tree or any other tree, a deciduous tree, getting into this frenzied state trying to hold onto its leaves because it doesn’t want to die.

    It lets go, and then what happens? It goes into the winter. And in the winter, it stands there in stark, bare, naked reality. But on the inside, life is pulsing away. Come the spring, new leaves come. So what I work with systems and with people, is understanding that life is, and it shows up through this procession of the seasons. This shows up spring, summer, autumn, winter. And I found that in the business life, in most business systems, they live in two seasons, spring and summer. You begin a project, you’re almost finished, and then somebody says, I’d like you to start another one. And what is not often acknowledged is Let’s harvest, let’s celebrate, let’s gather the seeds, let’s gather the wisdom.

    And by the way, and then let’s enter into a period of deep reflection. And in that deep reflection, we take the wisdom from the past cycle and we plant it in the soil so that next year’s crop will be even wiser, even more beautiful, even more benevolent, if you like. And so we miss out. on this natural procession.

    We miss out on the celebration of the end of life, which is the garnering and harvesting of all our wisdom, and then the death on the outer of the form. But on the inside, in winter, if you were to really look inside the deep, dark, damp earth, the seed that’s waiting there It contains this incredible, intense light, the promise of the next year.

    Rob Brodnick: It’s regenerative, and without that, you burn the system up. If it, you go from spring to summer to spring to summer you’re gonna use it all up.

    Michael Lindfield: Okay now that we’re on it, see, I wrote another little meme I got carried away with this one, Rob. I said, in the continuous pageant of life, through the cyclical procession of the seasons, The Angel of Endings always precedes the Spirit of Regeneration. Appearance, Disappearance and Reappearance. This is the generative nature of emergence of life. 

    If we don’t go through the season, it doesn’t mean in a business, you have to spend three months reflecting. It means that inside a project, you have to go through all four seasons. The project could be three years, three months, three weeks. It doesn’t matter. 

    Inside my own life, I go through different phases. And I’ve just conducted, or I’m in the middle of conducting, a year long series of workshops here on Seasons of the Soul. are the opportunities and what are the gifts of each of the seasons? That doesn’t mean the different seasons based on your age, but it means that each of us go through different cycles. We’re in a different cycle. 

    At the moment, I’m in a harvesting, dying period in order to… Be reborn and rather than being afraid of that. I welcome that knowing that I’m not going to die new forms of expression of The truth of who I am will come about and that’s the belief I have in systems don’t die They can be stymied they you can suffocate them. 

    One of the things that was the one of the strongest experiences I had because I Was a runner for many years and I used to go out and do my morning run I used to run through The local woods and then developers came and they built a huge development there and they decided that some of these trails in the woods were dangerous for the people they could trip over the roots.

    So they put tarmac down they put blacktop through and put a path, and then two years later as I was running through I saw these little bumps in the path. And then one day, one of these bumps had broken open and a fiddlehead fern had pushed its way through. And I actually stopped and went, yes! Because what it says is that you cannot stop life. There’s no way you can cover it up and block it. You can temporarily, but not over time. Now the beauty of what this fern did, it pushed its way… through this blacktop, through this couple of inches of tarmac, and it broke it. But if I were to take a fern and hit the path on the outside, I would get a mushed up piece of vegetation in my hand.

    So the secret is, allow the power of life, the soft strength, to work from the inside out. And that’s what you do with the system. You call on the power in the system to renew itself. Now, this is a new avenue. This is a new avenue of exploration in systems work. There are not many people working with this particular understanding.

    But everybody that’s been involved in farming and nature and understands living systems, know how life regenerates. one of the very interesting experiences I had was taking a group of students through an old growth forest in the central highlands of Scotland. It’s the remains of the old Caledonian forest that used to stretch across Scotland, Scandinavia, Siberia, and there’s a remnant left.

    And so we were walking inside this forest and one of the students said, God, this is a real mess here, isn’t it? And I said, what do you mean? Look, you’ve got all these things lying around. It’s very tangled. There’s stuff dead here and there’s stuff. And I said, have you never been into a natural system before?

    You never seen an old growth forest? I said, what you have grown up with. is a tree farm where everything is planted at the same time, same species, and they’re planted certain distances apart, and then it’s cut, it’s harvested. A tree farm is a monoculture. It is not ecological system. So please delight that you have death here, that you’ve got nurse logs lying on the forest floor, giving life to new shoots.

    This is what it’s about. Welcome, death, as a bringer of new life. But it was amazing because you realize many people have grown up where they don’t understand the function, the cyclical function of death and rebirth of the unending life. And so that was a real eye opener when I realized a lot of people believe that forests are tree farms.

    Oh, yeah, I went to the forest yesterday. No, you visited a tree farm. 

    Rob Brodnick: I’m wondering, Michael I’m listening to some of these ideas and it’s coming into my mind that our system is producing maladies that, you know that people are believing in and so much of living systems and the metaphors to other types of things to me seems natural and intuitive,

    Michael Lindfield: Yep.

    Rob Brodnick: but yet, and I’m going to use a couple of examples.

    There are major efforts at play that push the concept of duality and that, we are not part of things we are separate from, take most of the major religions, which indoctrinate the next generation with beliefs that, oh, don’t worry about the earth, trash it because you’re going to a better place when you die.

    You don’t need to understand or care and just burn it down. Burn it down. Or if you were to stop a hundred random people on your travels and ask them about leadership, they would probably say it’s power that one person has, and they get it over another person, and therefore they’re able to direct them.

    Through positioned or collection of knowledge or whatever the sources are. I could just get down the line, these maladies that exist within our system that are actually tearing the system apart. I don’t know if that sparks any ideas or you want to comment on that, but I couldn’t stop thinking about this stuff.

    Michael Lindfield: Absolutely, because I believe that we are diseased at the moment. So I go back to the part and the whole. Whenever a part is purely self-centered and seeks to aggrandize itself, to steal from its neighbors, to make itself bigger and better, you get a cell that starts to grow disproportionately to the life of the system.

    It’s called cancer. So anytime we have separatist thinking, and we see ourselves as separate, and my task is to make Michael a bigger, better person than anyone else, I have just set in motion a malady, as you say. Now we have to move from malady to the melody of the soul of the system. Malady to melody, how do we do that one?

    It’s that shift again, from not being self-centered to being here to support each other. I honestly believe that when the parts, the individual component parts of a system support the whole system itself, because it then becomes healthy, takes care of its constituent parts. It’s duh.

    We don’t have to steal. You receive by giving. This is not just a biblical reference, but when you give to the system, you receive from the system. Give and you shall receive, or that’s a system statement in the Bible, if you like. So I go back to this whole thing of any time that the parts have Thoughts about being separate and better and bigger, whether that’s a nation state, whether that’s a political party, a religion, a human being.

    It in the end, causes cancer in the system, which means one cell grows and takes over the whole, and therefore it destroys the ecosystem. The health of an ecosystem is based on the free circulation of energy throughout all the parts of the system. of the life force, whether you call that chi, life force, purpose, love, whatever you call it.

    When the system is blocked, circulation stops. When circulation stops and stagnancy sets in, a stagnant body invites those entities that are there to break down the form. It invites in death. But if you invite it in prematurely, Then you’re killing the system by your actions. 

    I, I remember when I was about eight or nine, walking out into the woods, and coming across a dead fox. And the dead, the fox had probably been dead a day or two. But inside of it, it already started to be eaten, and there were all these maggots inside of it. And I went, where did they come from? Who invited the maggots? I realized that everything is contained within everything.

    So when life disappears from the form called the fox, nature says, ah, we need to recycle this. We’re going to call upon the recyclers. the maggots, all the other things that help break things down. But if we trigger that death process prematurely by our actions that mimic that through our selfishness, we are going to kill our system.

    We’re going to kill ourselves. We’re going to poison ourselves. The thing about duality. Until you understand that these are the two poles of one whole, a bird with two wings. You can’t have a one winged bird. It doesn’t fly very well. 

     The other thing that I learned from Dr. Asagioli in psychosynthesis is that the two poles, if you like, are the two points on the baseline of a triangle. And, what you have to understand is that at the apex of the triangle is a point of convergence. It’s also the point from which the pendulum hangs and describes the arc between the two poles.

    So when I think of a duality, I have to look at what is that duality describing in time and space. It hangs from a unified point at a higher level, 

    Rob Brodnick: There’s a fulcrum somewhere. Yeah.

    Michael Lindfield: the fulcrum. is that which binds us together. And I’m thinking of Teilhard of Chardin saying that everything that ascends converges. So it’s when we bring ourselves back into a higher understanding of who we are and why we are, differences becomes the richness.

    It does not become The divisiveness. So diversity, richness, not diversity, divisiveness. At the moment, because it’s a self-centered world, we have divisiveness. And divisiveness is a disease which will kill the body. Now the question is… Can we bring ourselves back to health in time before we die as a society?

    However, at the same time, you see these new shoots of new possibilities, communities of people around the world seeking to live in, if you like, in more harmony with each other as a system. So there’s the hope. So when I think of systems, I have to think of hope filled possibilities. So a system is a possibility.

    It allows life to show up. So is it a healthy system or is it a system that’s breaking down? And at the moment we have a choice. Do we add to the breaking down of the old system or do we create an environment where these new possibilities, these new seeds, can germinate, can flourish, can grow. 

    And that’s why I found myself at the Fendhorn community in Scotland back in the early 70s. I was there for 14 years. It was an experiment to see what, if people come together in the spirit of unity. How can we live together? How do you grow corn together? What does it actually look like on the ground? Rather than just platitudes.

    Rob Brodnick: it makes me think about the role of positive turbulence and, most people see turbulence as a destructive force, but the whole idea is that you create complexity and all sorts of white water in your world, but yet the outcomes are ones of health and positivity and and so I don’t know if you want to comment, it’s the name of our podcast, but what do you think positive turbulence is and how can we use it? .

    Michael Lindfield: I love it. I love it. A couple of images came immediately to mind. One is that positive turbulence, like agitation, it goes back to stagnant water. If it’s stagnant water, it’s dead. There’s no life in it. So we always have to agitate things. Now are we agitating it from a provocative place which is not with good intentions?

    Or are we agitating it to stir things up so things can be called to a new order? I go back to chaos. in the compost, when the forms of nature break down they represent chaos. The order has ceased to exist as it was. And these random elements are then in free fall. They’re there.

    There’s natural chaos. How do you bring order out of chaos? I go back to this image of Sounding a note in a sand tray and every time you sound a different note, different patterns form. How you call the random elements of chaos together to a higher order is you resound the note of purpose. It’s a magnetic call to these iron filings of the elements to come together and be choreographed into a new configuration.

    So dependent on the quality, the purity of intent and your understanding of purpose, we can call to order. a system out of chaos, because that’s how things work. I do believe, though, there are two forms of chaos currently existing on the planet. One is the natural chaos, because there are forms of how we’ve been living, our economic system, and other systems that really don’t serve the whole. I’m not talking in political terms. I’m talking when you step back and say, does this system nourish all of its parts? No. Okay. Therefore, it’s not an optimal system. Therefore, we’ve got to replace it with something that is optimal. Therefore, it’s going to break down. There’s the natural breaking down of old structures, which is what we see all around us.

    And then I believe there is what I would call unnatural chaos. This is the nefarious and intentional dismantling of things that still serve by those forces that want to control power, the parts that want to be the whole themselves. this is where we get the power in the hands of the few. Once again, I’m not talking conspiracy theories.

    I’m not talking politics. I’m talking systems. I’m talking living systems. When I see a living system where some of the parts want to take over the whole thing and dictate it, how it is and being charged and being controlled, you don’t have a system where there is the freedom to respond to life. You’re in a dictatorship.

    Or you’re in materialism and you’re addicted to matter. And the people that don’t want evolution to take place, please continue to buy and shop. That was the classic thing after 9 11. Go out and shop, that’s how you can help. I’m going, really? I thought it would be a change of attitude and compassion  

    Rob Brodnick: So many people gravitate to that as a form of leadership. And in fact, they think that’s what it really is. how can we shift that?

    Michael Lindfield: If I don’t understand that inside of me there is a sovereign power, And I don’t claim my own power, not the power over someone else, but the power to be who I am. If I am powerless, I’m going to look to somebody who’s going to promise protection and I sacrifice my freedom over security. If you’re willing to sacrifice freedom for security, you deserve neither. 

    Karyn Zuidinga: Ouch. Yeah, no I’ve been listening so deeply. And really engaging with it and really feeling the how this feels, right? So we’re talking about deep change, deep self examination, deep connection. These things are not easy. They’re really hard. And I’m wondering, can you point to an example of a leader that at least is on that path? Because sometimes it’s easier for people to go I don’t know. It’s too hard. But then, oh, but look at that one. That one did it. Or that one is on the way. And, there’s a model or something I can more easily grab on to.

    Michael Lindfield: It’s like what, name somebody who’s exhibiting their new leadership skills and qualities. I could do that and name a few. However, a lot of the leaders are invisible because they are the lead. They’re the connective tissue and the, and they are silently, quietly holding the thing together.

    There’s this story about this caravan, they’re traveling through Asia. And it’s this whole thing of the guide. Who’s, who’s the guide? Who’s in charge of the expedition? And it turns out in the end, this is the short version of the story. But the troop guide was one of the bearers, one of the porters, who was there, was present all the time, was made sure that everything was, he was holding the thing together.

    Not holding it in a controlling way, but holding it in a coherent way, so that the natural trajectory was free. of the person or the system could come about. And that’s what it is. It allows life to show up without dictating what life should look like. So many times you have dictators saying, dictating what it should look like, rather than saying, encouraging us to step up, rise to the occasion, allow the promise that’s inside of us to be born.

    So it goes back to Something I made a distinction about, how do I live a meditated life, rather than a premeditated life? A meditated life is in the moment being in touch with the deep purpose and meaning and belonging. But if it’s premeditated, then I’ve already got a formed picture of what it should look like, even though that may be useful, and that will come about.

    It may be blocking… Some of the unknown, what I don’t know, I don’t know. What the system is not aware of yet, but can give birth to when it creates some conditions. The soil is not the flower. The seed is not the flower. The flower is the flower that lives in the seed that can only be born when it is planted in the soil.

    Rob Brodnick: It’s emergence of a kind, isn’t it?

    Michael Lindfield: So we are, if you’d we are seeking to shift from this state of emergency to a state of emergence. That’s the moment. Our system is in a state of emergency. However, it’s not going to take much to infuse it with a certain awareness where it shifts to a state of emergence and expectancy. And expectancy is the hope filled knowing that new birth will take place.

    But if we don’t create the right conditions, it’s not going to happen as it says in the Bible. If you sow your seeds on rocky ground, it’s not going to grow. So the seed is the promise. The promise has to have the right conditions in which it can fulfill its destiny. So why you get successful people, successful companies, successful nations is that they understand their destiny. And they can create the right conditions for it to flower. It’s called the Golden Age, but the moment we’re in the age of lead And we’re basically suffering from lead poisoning in our system. 

    Rob Brodnick: It’s challenging to me. This has been, decades of my life of a challenge. On one hand, understanding systems and how they work and they’re connected and the principles is so natural and obvious, but yet it’s so hard to learn. And I’ve spent a lot of time with groups and individuals trying to communicate and share systems thinking and other things. Why is it so hard?

    Michael Lindfield: Because we’re trying to teach it, rather people it. That’s why I remember when I helped run a garden school at Findhorn. And we had people come for a year, and I remember somebody wrote in and said, I can only come for three months, what can I learn in three months?

    I wrote back, what you can learn in three months is three months in the garden at one season. If you want to know the whole thing, you’ve got to be here for a year. It’s not a conceptual, it’s not theoretical, it’s got to be in your bones, you’ve got to know what it feels like, you’ve got to be part of the experience.

    And one of the things we did we were propagating trees, and so we would transfer these little saplings into pots before they got planted out. And we realized that most people didn’t understand. How things grow really. for instance there was a group of students visiting our garden school and I pointed to this big sycamore and I said to them, how big is that sycamore?

    And then everyone was going and calculating. It’s about 40, 45 foot. And I said, no. I said yeah, it is. It’s about 45. I said, no, I said, I asked you how big it was, not how tall it was. I said, what, you’re not realizing there’s a whole root system underneath the surface, the invisible component of a system that you’re not aware of that gives it life. So you can’t teach that. People have to go, oh, wow. They have to understand, they have to work, they have to understand, planting a tree, you put the roots in the ground, and then you water it, and you do, you have to understand by experience, just like the seed, it grows from the inside out, just like educare, it’s growing from within out.

    So the only way you can teach is create the conditions where people have their own aha experience. When they had the a ha, it’s the birth of their own wisdom. They’re not adopting your clever steps. It’s not hey, I’ve got all these children, do you want to adopt one? No, I want to give birth to my own.

    And that’s what we’re helping each person do. Give birth to their own understanding of what they’re part of, rather than telling them. for me, it’s shifting out of teaching mode to inviting people to experience what is emerging in them, in us, in life. That’s the thing. It’s a hands on. It’s a, it’s participating in the system.

    The difference between a human and a Gaian. A human lives on the earth. A Gaian lives as the earth. So the member of a system has to live as the system. The educator has to live as the system, not teach about the system. I have a degree in systems. Yeah. Are you alive in one? Is one alive in you?

    Rob Brodnick: As a society, what’s the big task? What’s, what are we faced to do? How do we save ourselves from destroying our system and life with it?

    Michael Lindfield: The simple answer is loving kindness. Go back to a distillation of a Buddhist teaching that I use, which is think, say, and do only that which is kind, helpful, and true. But if, in response to your question, what I would say that collectively at the moment we find ourselves deep inside a major identity crisis, and we seem to be living in a world that is falling apart. And as I mentioned before, the falling apart is the falling away of the old before the new emerges. So I believe there are two tasks that we have to perform. The first one is relieving the pain and suffering induced by a collapsing society. There are many people still attached to the society, they’re going down with the ship. And therefore we have to relieve the pain and suffering. At the same time, we have to dream the dream and do whatever it takes to birth a bright new future together. We have to plant the seeds of the future. If we just take care of the wounded and are compassionate to the injured, we are relieving suffering, but we’re not bringing in and opening up the possibility of something new and better to emerge. We have to do two, and they’re very distinct, but they have to happen hand in hand. Relieving the suffering. Induced by the collapsing of our current forms and together sowing the seeds of something new together and creating the conditions that are healthier than the previous conditions so that this new crop will grow and flourish.

    That’s the shorthand version of my response to you.

    Rob Brodnick: Yeah, that’s an admirable task, dual task, for sure.

    Michael Lindfield: Yeah. And we have to do both. If you do one without the other, if you don’t relieve the suffering, you have to be compassionate. But compassion is understanding what it means to relieve suffering, and part of, if you go back to the Buddhist teaching, relieving suffering in the end is releasing all attachment to form, attachments to emotion, attachments to belief.

    So it’s how to die gracefully, and how to be reborn gracefully. It goes back to the natural cycle, the self generating and regenerating life of a healthy system. When humans are involved, we have to stop getting in the way.

    Rob Brodnick: there’s a metaphor out there. I don’t know if I agree with it, but humans are the virus, the disease on the planet. I don’t want to I don’t want to unpack that 1 too much because I don’t know if I

    Michael Lindfield: we, I wouldn’t say that, I would say that the results of our thinking, because there’s a spiritual axiom that says energy follows thought, the results of our thinking have created the conditions. that have created viruses. For instance, I believe that every thought and every feeling has a corresponding astrochemical.

    It’s a chemical. So if I am bitter in the end, I may get gallstones. If I am happy and joyful and compassionate and loving, it somehow oxygenates my blood and I feel healthier. We do not understand the power of our thoughts. And so we have been, through our hatred, through anything that is dismissive of another person, we are polluting the atmosphere with unhealthy thoughts.

    And at some point, it’s going to reach a super saturated solution, and it’s going to precipitate a disease. And we are at the moment seeing the precipitance of our thinking show up as a disease society. That’s how I’m holding it. So from a systems point of view, the way that you have health in a system is for the free flow of chi around the system.

    Unblock the system. The blockage could be my sense of separation. The blockage could be my anger, my irritation, Whatever it takes to remove the blockages so that energy can flow and all of the system, all of its constituent parts can experience health and participate in something more glorious than just the aggrandizement of self.

    This is the blossoming of the promise of our human species. I go back to gardening metaphors. How do we encourage each person to bring the gifts of who they are? Because each person is a unique flower in the garden. The garden is not complete until every person has flowered in their own unique way. It’s not going to be a complete garden. At the moment, we are deciding what flowers Go in the garden and what flowers don’t

    Rob Brodnick: back to monoculture. That’s not a healthy. That’s not a healthy way to live.

    Michael Lindfield: I go back to natural living systems. When we forget that we’re a natural living systems, then we go back to a manufacturing process and see each other as units of production, effective or ineffective, and we punish and reward each other accordingly.

    Rob Brodnick: Yeah,

    Michael Lindfield: Go back to a healthy living system, you realize that At the heart of everything, there is some form of benevolence, and automatically, when we understand that, we are more compassionate, we are more loving, we are more kind.

    Remember, we’re humankind.

    Karyn Zuidinga: It’s been amazing, Michael. Thank you so much. We like to ask our guests where they go to get turbulence. Where do you look for positive turbulence, Michael? Where do you, where does it occur for you, maybe?

    Michael Lindfield: By opening myself up to the winds of change, not to become Too comfortable. It’s nice to be comfortable for a while, to rest, but the whole idea of being a biped on the planet is not to lie down all the time, it’s to keep moving. But there are times when you rest and then you get up again and keep moving.

    So it’s really making sure that movement is happening in my life. That movement could be examining what I currently believe to be true about myself and then saying, is it really true? And being willing to let go. I remember there was a time when the positive turbulence was, hey, I’m going to give away all my things because I’m not attached to matter anymore.

    I’m going to give away my things and I’m only going to keep the things that are essential. And then, I’m tired of being angry so I’m going to give up being angry. I’m going to work on my emotions. And then you get to the last part. Are you willing to let go of your beliefs? And I went but that’s…

    And then you realize that I believe my beliefs to be true, rather than my beliefs and my current partial understanding of what life is about. And I have this image, I had this image when I was a child in a dream, I must have been about four or five, of a pond, and across the pond were these stepping stones, and we move stepping stone to stepping stone through life. However, the trick is you’ve got to keep lifting your foot up from one stone, moving it through the air and putting it on the stone ahead of the one that you’re standing on with the other foot, which means sometimes letting go of what that stone represents. That stone could be a belief. Am I willing to let go of what up to now has given deep meaning for me in my life?

    Am I willing to let go? Do I dare? And I go back to some of the spiritual teachings where it says at some point you have to dare to leap a chasm. And by the way, it’s impossible to leap a chasm in two bounds, can only be done in one. The positive turbulence is putting myself in a place where I make sure I don’t get too comfortably numb to quote Pink Floyd.

    That’s one answer, Karyn. 

    Rob Brodnick: Wow. I’m so blown away. I feel so fortunate, Michael, to have, found you, connected with you.

    And geez. Yes. Namaste. What do we do now, Karyn? Are we done? this is so good. 

    Karyn Zuidinga: We, say, thank you so very much, Michael, for your wisdom, your insight, your leadership in this moment. I will reflect on this conversation for a very long time to come.

    Rob Brodnick: Yeah. I’m super charged up. I just feel really whoo, I have to go run in the forest for an hour.

    Karyn Zuidinga: A huge thank you to AMI, who have nurtured us in developing this podcast, is the source of so many So many of our guests, and of course the founder, Stan Gryskiewcz, is also the author of the original book, and dare I say, the Donella Meadows of Positive Turbulence. 

    Rob Brodnick: AMI is a pioneering non profit organization comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations and society. AMI identifies leading edge innovation, shares experiences, sponsors research, and recognizes innovation and creative processes. Find out more at aminnovation. org.

    And thank you to Mack Avenue Music Group, our contributing sponsor, for providing our podcast soundtrack, Late Night Sunrise. 

    Karyn Zuidinga: If you want to share a positive turbulence moment or otherwise comment on what you’re hearing, please drop us a line at podcast at positiveturbulence. com. We welcome your thoughts.

    Be sure to tune in next episode for an exploration of systemic design with Mieke van der Bril Brouwer, associate professor for design of social innovation and co founder of the systemic design lab at Delft University in the Netherlands. Here we’ll explore how systems thinking and design thinking can come together to influence systems change. 

     You can also head over to PositiveTurbulence. com to find out more about us, get a transcript of this episode, get links to find out more about our guests, or Positive Turbulence. Until next time, keep the turbulence positive!