I have been engaged in a significant structural change at Saybrook over the last few weeks that has caused me to reflect on how I move through change. In speaking with a colleague yesterday who resides outside of the organizational system that is Saybrook, I was able to gain some clarity that might be of use to others. I truly believe that we are in a time when change in our organizational systems and in our lives will be occurring more rapidly and we need to consider what can enable us to move through this change with some level of ease.
We live in a time when the forces of change are bearing down on our systems. The strongest force is economic as we continue to see countries, counties, cities, governments, businesses and families struggling to make ends meet. Among the many other forces are increased tensions around different value systems, increased diversity of culture, thought, language, and greater need for virtual communication. All of this adds to the complexity of the life we live at this time where there is great ambiguity and very few easy answers.
While we can chose to cluster in like-minded communities or isolate ourselves from the current reality, change will still force its way into our lives. Whether it is through losing a loved one, a job, a home, or our health, we can easily find ourselves in a new reality—one that is foreign and requires us to not only adapt, but possibly transform our way of being. How do we prepare for the unknown and often unwelcome change into which we may be thrown, kicking and screaming?
For a number of years, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has been sharing his perspective on “flow,” or a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities that include art, play, and work. His reflections are critically important now and are reviewed in a 2008 TED talk. What does it mean to be in a flow state? For me, I like to think of it as the ability to absorb the impact of a shock of change, like water hitting a rock, and quickly find a way to flow around and with it as the path I was taking is altered by the course of change. Csikszentmihalyi talks about the importance of finding moments of ecstasy, aspects of our lives that bring joy and meaning, and spaces where our existence “flows” without effort. Creating that space in our lives enables us to work with the difficulties we encounter with greater ease, clarity and grace.
How can we, individually, in our families and in our workplaces help create the capacity to flow through change? We might think about how we can simplify our lives and create more time for doing things we love, like activities that release tension and help us feel connected with something larger than ourselves. We might get more involved in our communities, creating a network of support around us and participate in supporting others. We can create workplaces where people can connect in meaningful ways, play with creative ideas, imagine new futures, and participate in generative dialogue. Creating space in all aspects of our lives is critical as the stressfulness of living and working with complexity is not going away. It will likely only increase. What we need is to build our capacity to lean into that complexity and flow with change.