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  • Writer's pictureHannah E Greenwood

Creating The Future

Sunrise by Quang Nguyen Vinh

‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In the space is our power to choose. In our response lies our growth and freedom.’

Victor Frankl

I’m writing in London on the Summer Solstice, the first day of Summer in the western hemisphere. It has been a long hard winter with yes, Nature blossoming beautifully from early April and a very precious light in the dark wood, but we’ve jumped Spring all the same.

In a Perspectives Post in the early stages of Lockdown, I wrote: 'I started this Post on 16th March, its theme being crisis into creativity and all the innovative ideas people were coming up with to keep their world together: the Italians singing defiantly on their balconies; the ingenious tactics found to keep teams connected and working productively from home; the cool forms of greeting in place of our handshake or hug. It felt different, even a little exciting and I felt ready. I’m a change agent, coaching change agent leaders. This is my realm.

And then my world turned upside down and I was forced to stop. I was hit physically and emotionally and found myself, in solitary isolation, in a very dark wood. It has taken time but four weeks on I am healthy again and feeling a rekindling of my energy and strength. I have been in many dark woods in my life and they are never the same because I am not the same person after each experience. By their nature they are transformational. There is something fundamental, however, about each one and I have learned to recognise and trust this each time. The process is ruthless: a stripping bare of the ego, a letting go of wilful control and a… sometimes brutal… opening of our hearts and minds.’ Crisis into creativity: through the dark wood

And so it proved this time. The world turned upside down for all of us and it will never return to what it was. Much will return in some form, of course, but what will not return for a long time, if ever, is the illusory belief that life can be ordered, planned and controlled.

As Lockdown eased in England, I met up with a close friend in Sloane Square for a picnic supper. In glorious sunshine we sat and chatted for hours. It was the first time I had done so with a real human...i.e. not through a screen… for 8 weeks and it was pure delight from start to finish. Every moment savoured. There is nothing like deprivation to embrace the fullness of life! I am a tactile, social human animal and before lockdown, like many in the big Metropolises, I had built a very rich social life both personally and professionally. It brought in my emotional and psychological well-being, my happiness, and also my livelihood. Then the rug was pulled from under me and it was brutal: illness, solitary isolation and work cancellations with no government protection.

But, as with previous dark woods, I didn’t stay down for long. I’ve learned that to stay stuck on the tennis base line is the worst thing to do. It leaves us vulnerable and powerless. We have to find the courage to run to the net, shifting our energy and bringing in choices. So I shook myself awake and, like my clients who have been working relentlessly to save their people and businesses, I focussed on what needed to be done.

It helped enormously that I am habituated to transformational change and it has been many years since I have planned far ahead. The essence of Cascãd and my clients’ worlds is the ability to respond flexibly and courageously to a fast-changing environment and I have to be and live that authentically, whatever life throws at me, learning how to stabilise fast. What I also find, is that each experience teaches me how to hone/fine-tune this, why I have to consistently find the courage to go out and embrace my life.

In the February Perspectives Post True Mastery I quoted: Neo: “What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?” Morpheus: “No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.” The Matrix

In my arrogance, I had hoped that all my hard work would mean I could really dodge any bullet thrown at me. How ironic that within four weeks many bullets were shot at me! But, and with beautiful synchronicity, days before those bullets started firing, I was sent this Victor Frankl quote: ‘Between stimulus and response there is a space. In the space is our power to choose. In our response lies our growth and freedom.’

In the following months, I was tested over and over again until I viscerally got it: we cannot stop the bullets from firing, but we can create a pause in how we choose to react. This is what we can control. We can focus on what is going to bring us inner strength and equilibrium in that ‘space between’, i.e. what will stabilise us. And from this springboard we can stretch that pause and think… helicopter vision/big picture thinking… to consider which is the best way forwards. It is these two qualities of inner stability and the ability to think creatively out of a seeming impasse, that inspires great trust and loyalty and is the true meaning of freedom and power.

So where are we now? What we know is that wherever we are in the world, we are in a strange in-between place. The old, albeit illusory, certainties that we could plan our way out of anything, that we had the control to stop illness, death, financial insecurity, etc. have gone. We can choose to stay huddled and cocooned in fear, telling our children never to leave home, in spirit if not in body, so they grow up fearful of life and unable to respond to all that life brings. This is what happened in the 1950’s after WWII but look at the radical exuberance of the 1960’s!

It’s understandable that after we experience great fear, we huddle back into the nest. But this is the odd thing about staying in our comfort zone. When we are in it, we have a confidence, surrounded by our ‘family’ but it is an elusive confidence and one that is ultimately corrosive. We feel safe and secure in all that is familiar, but conversely, we feel increasingly anxious stepping outside those parameters, and we become infantile, clinging ever more dependently to the status quo and fearful of all that is new and different. It is why there are so many mental health concerns about people, including children, who are stuck in a lockdown mindset. My questions to them are: What are you really afraid of? And what other issues about your life might you be hiding from?

In times of profound and disruptive upheaval, we are given the opportunity for healthy change, including the invitation to change our consciousness and subsequent behaviour. We have experienced that the old order has failed by not protecting us and keeping us safe and we learn that certainty and tight control will not serve us to navigate safely through to higher ground. Through this process, we are forced to question all our beliefs, even our values. What we thought was absolute truth may no longer be so. It means we need to discover our own values based on our experiences, not ones we’ve inherited from our family and culture.

Already we are seeing an opening and questioning of hitherto hidden brutality: domestic violence exposed during lockdown, open discussions about mental health and then the horrific death of George Floyd that provoked a collaborative response from all communities. This, and the publicity given to the Juneteenth demonstrations yesterday in the U.S., has raised an awareness which will not disappear.

So, on this Solstice weekend, wherever you are, how about giving yourself time to pause and ask yourself: What kind of person do I want to be? Do I want to be that person living in fear, anger and self-preservation at any cost or am I willing to open my heart and mind and live a life of kindness, beauty and truth? Fleur East in her ‘We All Bleed’ captures this choice beautifully:

Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood


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