Pattern #66


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Well-Utlized Life Energy Card - Version 1


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Well-Utilized Life Energy

People’s passion and caring—purposes, visions, values, needs, interests, concerns, compassion—and the energetic patterns of all Life—are resources for self-organized effectiveness. But these things can also generate dissonance. So seek to nurture, call forth, liberate, and support intrinsic life energy in ways that help realize broad longterm benefits.

Related: 1 All Concerns Addressed, 6 Caring into Quality, 32 Integrity and Authenticity, 52 Rich Feedback Dynamics, 54 Self-Organization, 59 Synergy Between Part and Whole, 67 Wholesome Life Learning

Going deeper …

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

The first step of this is recognizing all the things that go into what I call life energy. In the human world we see things like purpose, vision, values, needs, interests, concerns, and compassion. One of the things that all these phenomena have in common is they are sources of energy, of motivation, of action. What causes somebody to behave in a particular way? Well, what’s their purpose, what are they trying to do, what’s their vision, what are they striving for? What are the values underlying their behavior? What do they think is good as opposed to bad? Values motivate people as they try to move towards the good and away from the bad. Needs, too, intrinsically drive them, as do interests which are like needs, but on more surface level.

In an interesting way “concerns” embrace all of these. When people have a concern they look at what’s going on or being proposed and say, “Whoa! Wait a minute!“ Now that “wait a minute!” comes from a sense that what’s going on is not congruent with their purpose, their vision, their values, their needs or interests. There is a very important way in which concerns is an entryway into all those things. (Note that “concerns” is the focus of one of the other patterns in this pattern language – All Concerns Addressed.

Compassion involves your feelings for others, your willingness to step into somebody else’s world and what they’re doing, striving for, wanting, and whatever kind of suffering they are going through which you want to help them out off.

Passion and caring involve a drive. They can refer to any kind of strong interest that has energy in it.

These phenomena are also more broadly characteristic of all life in different ways. You can find them in an organism – an animal or plant – perhaps a more basic, less explicit level than you find in humans.  But there’s definitely a sense in which plants and animals have purpose: they are clearly striving for certain things, at the very least survival. They have a sense of what’s good and bad and what they need and all that. Anybody who has a pet or a garden can sense there are earlier developmental or evolutionary harmonics of these drives that exist in every living system, every living entity. Even a forest or an ocean has some early versions of some of these things in it.

Caring is closely related to compassion but it can also be caring what happens to our community and wanting to be engaged in making that better.

These are all energy, all sources of energy. The more alive you are, the more of those things are moving through your daily awareness and motivations. That’s why I call it life energy. It’s not a woo-woo concept. It is very, very close to our lived everyday experience.  These things can be seen acting in people, and you can actually address them in very specific ways that release them or squelch them.

So we can and should sense into the life of other organisms and the life of whole ecosystems. To the extent you can tap into this and work with these things you become part of an activity that is generating its own energy, generating its own guidance. To the extent that you fight these, you have to put a lot of energy into the system to move it in the ways you want rather the ways it wants. So if you can join it, it is a source of tremendous resources and energy. To the extent you are fighting it, to the extent you are trying to go where it doesn’t want to go, you’ll have some dissonance or resistance on your hands. You have a kid who doesn’t want to be in the classroom if you are trying to teach them something they don’t want to learn. You are fighting against certain species that are attacking your crops instead of setting up your farms and gardens in a way that gives them something else to eat other than your crops, or having something that makes it more difficult for them to get into your garden or farm or you have other species involved that they don’t get along with. There are species of flowers you can plant with your tomatoes that keep the insects away that will attack your tomatoes, etc.

There are ways to work with the dynamics of life. Somebody’s upset with you, so listen to their story. The upset can often be dissolved by a well-listened-to story. That’s working with where their energy and attention are focused. Handling it well can give you and them energy to do the things that you want to do in liaison with other people and other life forms. This is an area to put significant attention into.

So wise democracy seeks to nurture these dynamics – not to suppress them but to nurture them. What are people passionate about? Let’s work with that, to liberate where their life energy is trapped. Let’s support the intrinsic life energy which is already present in the people and life forms and systems that are around us. Let’s support it in ways that help realize broad long-term benefits – which are, after all, what we’re after.

So it sometimes involves channeling the life energy, but sometimes just getting out of its way. But we’re not just saying, “Hey! Anything goes, whatever happens happens.” We can say that, and whatever wants to happen will happen, and while we and others and humanity might get trampled in the process, nature will find its way one way or another. But if we want to see broad long-term benefits that include us because they have been generated by conscious attention and action, we will need to bring the existing life energy into play and help it find ways to recognize itself and to realize its power. (Realize is a great word, it includes both recognizing something and making it real.)

So we want to help recognize where the broad long-term benefits are possible and we want to make them real. We want to have them come about over time. And the life energy that exists in the lifeforms, people and systems that we are involved with are fabulous resources for doing that. We can see where life energy is blocked and manipulated in destructive ways and we can free it up as part of creating the kind of world we want. This can involve directly liberating energy as well as designing conditions that liberate life energy.

We are in constant relationship with the life energy in us and in everything around us.  Calling forth all that life energy and using it well is what this pattern is about.

Video Introduction (24 min)

Examples and Resources

There are various approaches, formal approaches, for doing this:

Principled negotiation is an approach promoted by the people who wrote the book Getting to Yes. Thanks to them, many mediators now work to identify the legitimate interests of the parties involved in the negotiation or mediation. An interest is a source of life energy.  Instead of the competing parties using their life energies against each other to see who can win the battle, they clarify the legitimate interests of everyone involved – what each paty really deserves to get satisfied – and then they all work together to satisfy everyone’s legitimate interests. In the spirit of “let’s find a path together” they become collaborators meeting all their needs and satisfying all their interests.

Future Search is also about life energy. Its approach is “We who are in this conflict with each other now recognize that we’re part of the whole situation or community, so let’s clarify our common ground and find out what vision we can share. Then let’s identify which part of that vision each of us is willing and interested in helping to create. We can use our passion, our vision, and the things that we long for, to call forth energy to address our situation or heal our community together.”

Restorative Justice is similar. There is life energy in a person who commits a crime. It is often distorted by psychology and by social dynamics. Very often shame is a source of violence. So trying to understand what are the needs underlying the person’s behavior. But we also need to address the fact that they did damage somebody, they did hurt somebody, individuals or a community. And that damaging denied those people or that community the ability to satisfy their needs. So let’s figure out what kind of amends can be done that will help the community or the harmed individuals to satisfy their needs, and for the community to understand its role in setting up the systems that resulted in this crime happening in the first place. It can even involve the families of the various parties involved. The point is that there is a larger context to work with here, but again we’re working with the life energy, a life energy that has been frustrated or blocked or disrupted.  The life energy is there to heal and satisfy, and we’re trying to really face all that rather than just putting somebody in jail, in a box, trying to forget them while we stew on our different sides of those walls.

Nonviolent Communication looks at needs, deep universal needs: How can we satisfy your needs and my needs together? There are universal needs we can find ways to satisfy and resolve our conflict. Manfred Max-Neef, a Chilean economist, looks at needs and how to create a society that will really address the needs of everybody, and not just give people pseudo-satisfiers that make them hungry for more like a drug addict. So this is looking at the life energy that has been distorted by the consumer economy and getting down to the deeper life energies that underlies all that. The question becomes “How do we build a society and economy that actually serve our deepest longings?”

In community visioning, everybody or many people in a community get together and ask themselves, “What kind of community do we really want? Let’s figure out how to get it!”

Open Space Technology – In Open Space conferences you need to be passionate about the topic in order to participate. If people are not passionate, it doesn’t work because it’s a totally self-organized space and needs intrinsic energy to function. People connect up with other people who are interested in the same things. If everybody is generally interested in one topic – like climate change – it can sort of work. But if they are passionate, it really takes off.  There are, after all, thousands of different dimensions of climate change. You may be passionate about dealing with the agricultural dimensions, someone else may want to prepare communities for it, and so on. Well let’s gather around our passions and talk about them in subgroups. That’s another way of positively using all the diverse energy different people have about something.

World Café and powerful question – World Café people are masters at creating powerful questions. Questions take our interests and passions, and focus them into spaces of possibility. For example: What could this community also be? We are all interested in having a healthy community, and talking together about this kind of question brings forth new possibilities we never saw before. The question is a companion, a partner, a guide for the passion we already have. It is using the existing life energy really well.

Consensus Process and Dynamic Facilitation are particularly good at focusing on concerns. In Dynamic Facilitation, if somebody is upset, the facilitator says, “What’s your concern?” – and really wants to know. In a Consensus Process before a final decision is made, the facilitator will check, “Does anybody have any concerns?” Again, we use the power of concerns to deepen into our values, our needs, or our visions. So asking for people’s concerns brings them out in the open so that the group can apply their collective intelligence to address those concerns. That’s the particular power of Consensus Process and Dynamic Facilitation.

There are worldview assumptions and beliefs that we hold and that shape how we manifest our life energy in the world, sometimes very dysfunctionally. So there are practices that help us individually and collectively attend to the beliefs that we use to shape our lives. We look and ask, “Does this belief serve us? Does it really fit in with what’s going on? Is it a realistic belief?” Such questions can help us separate ourselves from our beliefs so that, if we wish, we can shift them.

Bohm Dialogue David Bohm, a quantum physicist – and Krishnamurti, a spiritual teacher, created a form of dialogue that is particularly focused on observing our assumptions. Our assumptions tend to be transparent, we tend to look right through them because we assume them, of course! Because members of a group have different assumptions, we can use our differences to highlight each other’s assumptions, and become more aware of them, and thereby become more consciously choiceful about them.  And Byron Katie is one of the famous psychologists and New Age self-help people who have systems to help people attend to their personal beliefs and transform them.

Having a shared purpose. “Teal organizations” are basically flat organizations with little if any management – a structure operated by self-managed teams. One thing that makes such an organization coherent and functional is that all the teams and staff have a shared purpose that is very real to the participants. This is not something that came down from the CEO saying, “This is the purpose of our company.” It is something that means something to everybody in the organization. So everything that they do is a manifestation of that shared purpose, and since they all share the same purpose there’s a level of coherence that emerges naturally from their diverse behaviors within that shared purpose.

Student guided education – If the kids are interested in what you are teaching them, or if you teach them what they’re interested in – if they are the guides for what you’re teaching more than some assigned curriculum – you can tap into their energy. You don’t have to push so hard, you have less discipline problems. Kids are present with what they’re interested in. There are stories of kids who were like eight or nine years old who hardly knew how to read and they discovered that there was something they really wanted to do that they couldn’t do unless they learned how to read and within a couple weeks they became quite proficient at reading because they needed to learn it in order to do the things they wanted to do. So there’s tremendous power and energy there waiting.

Quality of Life Indicators – Quality of life of course covers what we want in our lives.  It includes a sense of what gives us energy, what makes us want to dedicate our life to this or that, and what we expect as a goodness, as a value. These things are built into community measurements, which are particularly energizing to the extent they arise out of the community. Different communities might have different quality-of-life indicators or statistics. So to the extent we have those statistics to tell us how we are doing collectively, we can shift our behaviors to align to our own collective life energy standards (the indicators) and shape how we apply our life energy to improve our quality of life. There is a feedback loop there.

Permaculture is famous. You are trying to design an ecosystem that you are part of. So it’s very conscious, but it’s not cookie-cutter, it’s not managerial so much as relational. In a sense a permaculturist asks “So what do you ecosystems and organisms need in order to function in a fully alive way that will yield things that I can use? Your well-being is my well-being, and I’m gonna put my life energy into serving your life energy individually and collectively so that you can serve my life energy.” Again it is a whole feedback loop of increasing life energy.

PR, advertising and marketing – We need to look at the fact that PR, advertising and marketing are working with life energy. The fact you can sell a car with a beautiful woman standing next to it means that relational, sexual and sensual needs that people have can be met by having the car. Of course that’s probably only 2-5% true. In some societies or situations it may be 20-30% true. But it’s definitely not a 100% true. Sexuality is separate from the car. But the PR/advertising/marketing people study how to make those associations. Many are grounded in science:  they have studied how to track our responses to certain images, messages, situations, activities, etc. They put electrodes on somebody’s head and expose them to these things. They can put them in different groups and watch how they respond to each other’s comments. All this is intended to help the PR people present the public with images, messages and situations that will get them to do what the advertisers want them to do. That’s the dark side of this pattern, that you can use other people’s life energy – particular their unconscious responses – to manipulate them, to do things that are not necessarily good for them. You get them to drink soda pop, smoke cigarettes, drive cars, or start wars – in other words, you can get them to do things that are potentially destructive.

You can also use PR, advertising and marketing to create healthy coherent activities for individuals and communities. To the extent the community or a microcosm of the community can generate messages, images and activities that will help their community be more healthy and sustainable, that’s a positive use of this. Although right now that’s not the primary use of PR in our society, we should understand that what it’s doing – whatever it’s doing – is working with life energy. So being aware of that dynamic is important. Because we want to actually utilize life energy well.