Pattern #72

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Regenerativity

Credit:  Graph: Martin Rausch / Paris 2050: Vincent Callebaut

Life involves ongoing movement towards new forms of wholeness, vitality and functionality. Illness, degradation and dysfunction call forth energies for healing, transformation and emergence. So nurture resilience and become conscious participants in regenerative dynamics that transform depletion, damage and dysfunction into renewal, discovery, and life-enhancing development.

  • What is important for us to understand about regenerative dynamics – personal, social, ecological, economic, and so on – and how they apply to our situation?
  • How can we be more resilient – or help our community or support systems be more resilient?
  • To what extent will the solutions we’re proposing help the systems we’re working with to heal and transform themselves in healthy ways?
  • How can we set things up so that it is easy for healthy responses to show up and be effective whenever our scene goes off the rails?
  • What kind of conflict resolution and justice systems would make it possible for things to be more life-enhancing after the upset or crime than they were before?

Going Deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

The more I thought about this since creating the heart, the more I found it useful to make a distinction – a three-part distinction that makes a lot of sense to me. Various people do two, three, four or six part distinctions along these lines, but I particularly like the starkness of distinguishing extractive, sustainable and regenerative dynamics.

For EXTRACTIVE dynamics basically the motto is: “Get what I can for me and mine.” There is a “take” energy – we accumulate, waste, pollute, socialize costs while privatizing benefits. Life is a commodity and an unlimited resource for profit and consumption. We are separate from each other, we are separate from nature, we are fundamentally separate entities. Those are the assumptions and dynamics going on with the extractive worldview.

Then there are SUSTAINABLE dynamics and the sustainability worldview. It’s funny, it’s like the Hippocratic Oath physicians are supposed to follow: Do No Harm. This seems to be at the heart of sustainability. We have done so much extractive engagement with nature and each other that it’s no longer sustainable. The harms are too great. So we say: Stop! Do no harm, respect nature’s limits and cycles. The living world is viewed as an environment that we live in and we need to be responsible for, which is full of limited resources that we should use sparingly. The assumption is, instead of being separate: We are dependent, we are linked. Nature and humanity need to be cared for in order to enable them to serve us. The idea here is that we can engage with nature in ways that allow future generations to meet their needs. We meet our needs, they meet their needs.

Human welfare is central in all this, but we are more conscious about how we go about it. We’re recycling, we’re internalizing outcomes, closing feedback loops that have been left open by the extractive perspective. We are stewarding and being prudent – simple living, localization; we are trying to minimize our ecological footprint, our carbon footprint, all our impacts. We are still including profit – which highlights a distinction between weak and strong sustainability.

Weak sustainability promotes sustainable development with the ideal being the way Western people live, the way Western economies operate. We want to do that with more concern for the environment and for people. That’s weak sustainability.

Strong sustainability is: We need to transform our economics, our technical systems, our politics… transform everything into lower impact ways that have already existed for hundreds of thousands of years. But still there is the idea that life is dependent on “the environment”. We’re still framing it as “the environment”. This is where we get our ability to live. The environment is limited, so we can’t abuse it.

The third approach centers on REGENERATIVE dynamics. This is a more radical shift then I realized earlier in my engagement with this worldview. It is sort of like a command (or invitation!) to “Join nature’s resilient community of aliveness!” Here we view life as a vibrant community of relatedness, of co-creative partnerships and mutual support that is worthy of at least respect, caring, commitment, engagement – and, more deeply, of love, of communication, co-creativity, celebration… We are family. We are all co-creators of each other’s worlds. This is the “all my relations” indigenous perspective: Nature is alive – even rocks and mountains are alive. They deserve respect and engagement.

There’s a level of communication here that is available should we wish to tap into it. Communication with trees – to say nothing of communication with each other, partnership with each other, the sense of brotherhood and sisterhood we have with each other… We are family. There’s this sense that what we’re basically doing is co-creating aliveness, restoring, healing, replenishing, renewing, revitalizing, all of that. All this involves live engagement, where we sense our relation to all of life and we are actively relating to things. Things aren’t commodities. And people are not just citizens, consumers, producers, whatever… These are all real unique lives. We are to appreciate them, respect them, help them and their human and natural communities be alive, resilient and adaptable.

Celebrate the life and enhance the dynamics there, the ability for emergent things to show up. Fit things together, synergize them, ecologize them, weave them into living wholes that you are part of. There’s a co-evolution, a sense that we are all working towards the benefit of all living things, accessing aliveness in and for all things.

There is a participatory partnership, a co-creative fundamental assumption underlying this, with a sense of community. Daniel Christian Wahl – who is one of the leading current voices on this perspective – observes that “the community of life that creates conditions conducive to life”. We need to rejoin that community. Ecologists understand that all the elements of ecosystems are in a very real sense working together to create the conditions for them to all flourish. We can have a role in that if we choose to.

It is not just “lifecycle”; it is cycles of aliveness. This applies most fundamentally to our relations with nature, but perhaps most immediately to our relations with each other and to the communities that we are part of. What is it like to come from a participatory place of relatedness, of respect, of appreciation, and perhaps most basically co-creation? We are all co-creating what happens next. We are all co-creating the conditions that we all live in. We are co-creating each other in really fundamental ways.

So this is a mindset and a worldview. It’s a life practice, something to grow into, individually, in groups and in communities. It’s also a design practice. People who design agricultural systems, people who design houses and communities, how do you do it in the spirit of participation, co-creation and respect. And there are technologies that are extractive and there are technologies that are sustainable – and there are technologies that are regenerative, that bring more life into whatever the situation is. That’s where this is coming from.

It’s actually very big, very broad, and it helps us to perceive, be with and respond to what’s going on with extractive dynamics. We see a lot of that all around us, grounded in its fundamental idea of unlimited growth, of profit, of using nature and other people as resources. That whole consciousness is very different from the sustainability approach, which respects people’s and nature’s limits and avoids doing harm. And beyond that is regenerativity and resilience and participating in Life’s vast aliveness, and playing our role in regenerating more life over and over again and enhancing the aliveness of the systems and people and life forms that we are engaged with.

Video Introduction (11 min)

Examples and Resources

“Life creates conditions conducive to life.” – Janine Benyus