On frost and sunflowers

Photo by Andre Koch on Unsplash

As the dog and I walked down the street early this morning, I heard the scraping of a car windshield, heralding this season’s first frost. I’m reminded that it’s the autumnal equinox today, and I brace myself for the coming shorter days with a sense of dread by pulling my sweater tighter around me.

I return home and sit down at my desk to look through coursework for a class I’m taking with MIT and the Presencing Institute called u.lab: Leading change from the emerging future. After nearly a decade in healthcare advocacy, my tools and models don’t seem robust enough for the changes we’re trying to make. Our healthcare system is struggling at the precise moment that our ecological system, our educational system, our political system and our financial system seem on the verge of collapse, and I can’t help but suspect that we need something more than small incremental change, root cause analyses and evaluations. I’m looking for inspiration and new ideas.

This is the first week of the class, and I’m still getting oriented. The course team offers a welcome:

“The disruptive social, environmental and cultural changes we face confront us with challenges of a new order of magnitude. These challenges hold the seeds for profound levels of breakthrough innovation while also holding the possibility of massive disruption and breakdown. Whether it’s one or the other depends on our capacity to rise to the occasion and to reframe problems into opportunities for system-wide innovation and renewal. We believe it’s possible to create profound societal renewal in our generation. It will take all of us. We’re glad you’ve joined for the journey.”

The u.lab team

After some readings and videos, I shift to the reflection questions and journaling. There are no small questions here. Their richness and depth makes me feel hopeful, like I’m in the right place:

Where do you experience a world that is ending and dying?

Where do you experience a world that is wanting to be born?

Photo by Mihail Ribkin on Unsplash

At mid-day, the dog and I head out again. This time I stand in front of a brick wall warmed by the sun. The anemones, the sunflowers, the verbena are all in full bloom and show no signs of quitting soon. As summer wanes, a source deep inside them tells them to pick up the pace, creating the seeds that will sprout next spring. The flowers are dying; they are also wanting to be born.

I have spent the past few months seeing the endings of things. Endings at work, endings of my children being kids, ending of phases. But there are things that have been waiting, wanting to be born. Today I see them, too.

Where do you experience a world that is ending and dying, and one that is wanting to be born?