Living Systems, Jung’s Archetypes, and the Fullness of What’s Needed to Cultivate Regenerative Community
I recently participated in a nourishing 3½-day gathering of people dedicated to regenerative, life-aligned ways of living. Presentations and conversations swirled through topics like intentional communities, new land ownership models, evolution in consciousness, arts-based neighborhood activism, and more. At a few points, however, a quiet, courageous voice was raised to note that patterns of patriarchy and domination are still occasionally present, even within this well-intentioned, peace-loving movement. Mine was one of those voices raised. And it took a dedicated conversation — and the marriage of two frameworks — to tease out when and how those patterns appear, why it matters and what might be a fruitful way forward.
Importantly, what we discovered is a sometimes subtle but always limiting tendency and pattern that is common across many of the most heralded approaches to social and organizational change. Our sense was that addressing it may be key to effecting positive and lasting change — and, indeed, to surviving the most challenging problems we face as a species.
For context, I’ll share the most public example of what drew me into this inquiry at the gathering:
Two of the most enthusiastically-received presentations were highly analytical, rapid-fire rundowns of the historical and intrinsic problems in an unruly society. The presentations had a heavy focus on flaws that, according to the presenters, we’ve always had as a species. For example, futurist Daniel Schmachtenberger described in great detail how humanity’s path has been one of rivalry, competition and murder, and this characteristic way of operating is leading us inexorably to collective self-termination, with technology speeding us ever faster to that outcome. The solutions offered in response seemed to be predicated on an intellect-driven engineering/design mindset, with the need for rapid scaling and personal discipline. In particular, Schmachtenberger advocated a shift from rivalrous to “anti-rivalrous” social structures.
Though it is clear that we are on a self-created path toward catastrophe, what seems to be missing from this analysis of humanity’s track record is the historical existence — amid all the rivalry and murder — of collaboration and co-creation. Of love and care. Of beauty and potential. The story being told seemed to be the view from the patriarchy, as if that were the only real and valid narrative all of humanity has ever lived. But we have not been a species only of warriors. And focusing exclusively on that aspect of humanity’s journey risks overlooking other foundational capacities that we can — and must — draw on as we move forward.
I also couldn’t help feeling that there was something ironic — and even potentially counterproductive — in rejecting a dominating, patriarchal, technology-fueled culture, but presenting this assessment and related solutions in what, to me, was a dominating, analytical, technological manner. It felt like a warrior’s answer to the challenges created by warrior mentality.
A handful of us gathered to untangle our shared but vague sense that patriarchal patterns of domination persisted within the community. And perhaps predictably, we started with the need to balance the masculine and feminine. But that seemed to trip us up. We craved terminology that was both more neutral — less tied to actual genders — and more descriptive. We were also unsatisfied with the zero-sum compromise of balance; we wanted to integrate the best of what everyone had to offer.
Moving from Problem-Solving to Potential
The first breakthrough in our thinking was inspired by a framework Bill Reed of Regenesis had shared, called The Law of Three. Instead of approaching a situation as a problem to be solved through compromise between two opposing forces, The Law of Three is an invitation to seek the highest potential present in a situation by harmonizing those forces. Only in seeking the potential inherent in “what is” can we move effectively beyond compromise to discover new possibilities of “what could be.”
The Law of Three
Moving Beyond Gender to Archetypes
The second breakthrough came when — in place of the terms “masculine and feminine” — we played with the language of archetypes that I had offered in my own keynote presentation. My starting point had been the list of four fertile conditions present in all thriving living systems (including organizations and communities):
(1) diverse, divergent parts,
(2) consistent yet responsive patterns of relationship,
(3) convergent, emergent wholeness,
(4) self-integrating, self-organizing life.
From there, I pointed to how these mapped on to Jung’s classic archetypes, describing, in a way, how we experience those four living-systems conditions together in our collective human endeavors.
The first archetype is the Warrior. It is the push for distinct, individual expression — for bringing forth our unique gifts, talents and inner truth. Decisive and action-oriented, it is the source of our fierceness, conviction and loyalty. It represents rationality and discipline and is the realm of skill and technology.
The second archetype is the Weaver (also called the Magician). As the energy of relationship, pattern and process, this is where we find an advisor’s ability to interpret complex situations, making them appear simple. We see the Weaver in skilful meeting facilitation or in one who connects ideas and people in the interest of insight, learning and innovation. It is present in the design of new organizing structures. And it is the realm of rites of passage and other meaningful patterns of life.
Our small group found these to be more useful ways of expressing what we had been calling the masculine and feminine: Warrior as the universal energy of drive and diversity; Weaver as the complementary force that contains and connects.
We also noticed that, without a clear and powerful invitation into wholeness and higher purpose, we are left with “balance” and “compromise” between those two forces. We struggle to get to full generativity, to creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts and to discovering our latent collective potential, as Bill Reed might say.
This brought us to the third archetype, the Sovereign (sometimes called the King), representing wholeness, order, coherence, shared vision and purpose. This is not about any one person being the sovereign. It is about the urge to gather around a compelling cause — to be part of an unfolding heroic narrative. This archetype calls for invitation, rather than persuasion or coercion, and for discernment — “we are this, together, and not that.” It inspires a culture of generosity and recognition of gifts, a vital component of generativity. In these ways, Sovereign energy is associated with healing through making whole, as well as with creativity, fertility and leaving a lasting legacy. If you find yourself asking how your organization is walking its talk or imagining a bold vision of what is possible, you are expressing Sovereign energy.
And though a Sovereign shared purpose may enable the emergence of potential, will is needed to manifest that potential. We might think of this will as the urge and call of life — what Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran calls, “life’s longing for itself.” After all, it is the animating spark of aliveness that enables a system to integrate parts into relationship and resultant wholeness. Only something that is alive can heal itself, innovate, adapt and sustain itself. In these ways, we can acknowledge that life is the driving force behind regenerativity (or what I would call “thrivability).
The fourth and final archetype, then, is the Enchanter (sometimes called the Lover), bringing in the animating and self-integrating spark of life through the energy of renewal, festival and transformative celebration. The root of the word “enchanter” means to sing into being. This energy is accessed through beauty, art, music, nature, play, movement and inspiration — the dominion of the Muses. Embodying the realm of emotion and sensuality, the presence of this energy makes us feel fully alive and filled with passion. In these ways, the Enchanter connects us to the transcendent.
The Law of Regenerativity
With this, we reimagined the Law of Three diagram as something that might be called The Law of Regenerativity. Warrior and Weaver energy are brought together in shared service to a Sovereign purpose, enabling the realization of emergent potential. This process is enlivened and made regenerative by the will and Enchantment of life itself.
This set of patterns helped us recognize the need to be very thoughtful about where we direct our attention. For example, is the point of our efforts to be anti-rivalrous? If that is our goal, then our focus will be on the Weaving. And truly, this is important work. But isn’t the larger goal to enable life to thrive in our own unique, collective way, with the understanding that this will require us to design generative structures and systems of (anti-rivalrous) interaction, along with other requirements? Focusing on “preventing rivalry” as our goal risks quashing the diversity of individual expression that is also needed for life to thrive. It doesn’t raise our sights to why we might come together and what potential we might manifest. And it likely blocks us from the inspiration and celebration that a focus on thriving can bring.
This same caution might be offered for methods like blockchain technology, Lean, Holacracy, and “Teal paradigm” structures and systems (Warrior-driven approaches to Weaving, if ever there were any). Each is useful, but incomplete in important ways.
We also noticed that Warrior and Weaver archetypes are both instrumental, lending themselves to easy validity. But to get to harmonization and integration — and to full regenerativity and thriving — we also need the other two archetypes. And though Sovereign and Enchanter archetypes have less direct connection to the action, they tend to bring transformative, rather than instrumental, impact.
Regenerativity in Action
Fortunately, our 3½-day gathering featured a beautiful example of all four elements being brought together in over 700 projects, with powerful and lasting impact. Mark Lakeman of The City Repair Project in Portland, Oregon, did his own version of the rapid-fire intellectual overview of the history of humanity. He explained how — with its origins in ancient Greece’s warring, colonizing campaigns — the now-ubiquitous urban grid structure is intended to isolate, homogenize and control. “Don’t leave without understanding that we live in a coercive landscape,” Lakeman implored. Within this structure, public space has become dead, unable to accommodate connection, conversation and co-creation.
In response, City Repair works to “bring back the village,” full of potential and vibrant, organic aliveness. Their focus is street intersections, where Weaving might naturally take place with a bit of thoughtful cultivation. The process he described involves a series of convivial, multigenerational neighborhood potlucks, in which people sense their shared story and identity. “Who are we? What do we care about right now? What kind of world do we want to live in together, starting right here in our neighborhood?” At some point, a sub-group takes on the task of sketching out how these sentiments might be expressed in a painting that spans the entire surface of a local intersection. The image is refined with feedback from the community, and then it is brought to life in a burst of collective creation and celebration. This Sovereign process is intentionally enlivened by the creative energy of the multi-family potluck, along with art, beauty and play. “When men are with their kids,” Lakeman explained, “they go back into villager mode and it’s easier to get to shared decisions.” Children are natural Enchanters.
Beyond whimsically decorated intersections, the impacts are personal as well as public. The community projects offer a fertile practice ground in which people learn that they can come together in collective, inspired action in service of something larger than themselves, even as they are personally nourished in the process. They learn to think systemically. They open up to being surprised. As Lakeman said, they learn “to speak together into a commons.”
At a larger level, it turns out that they also end up changing things like governance structures and systems. “People didn’t think they were going to change the political process. But that’s what happens when you mess with public space.”
Lessons to Carry Forward
And here is where we must caution the Warrior and the Weaver in us all: the lesson is not that every community must copy and paste the potluck-to-painted-intersection model, in a rapid pursuit of “scale.” This is not a call to become “anti-grid.” As Lakeman explained: “The point is not to create the things. It’s to create the conditions for the Life-Force.” The point is that we must each cultivate our own practice grounds for stewarding life, wherever we find it — and we find it everywhere.
What we can take away from the City Repair example is that certain conditions will be particularly fertile. Whether your practice ground is your organization or your neighborhood or a 3½-day gathering of well-intentioned people, it seems that the following conditions would support you well:
- A field of action — something to steward, something bounded and purposeful and larger than yourself.
- Rootedness in the mythic story and geography of place; like plants, we and our projects require the soil of a particular place.
- A community of fellow action-learners: (1) each of whom has a commitment to developing their own capacity to steward life, to listen for what is needed and to be of service; (2) with a shared commitment to being in healthy, open relationship and communication; (3) ideally, united by love of a place and its community, which opens the door to the creation of shared fields of action.
- A regular, repeated rhythm of ample blocks of time for reflection and renewal. We need not to accelerate but to expand our experience of time, so within it we can develop our ability to sense what is needed and to feel our own aliveness.
- Practices for hosting participatory, generative conversations.
- The necessary nourishment of nature, movement, creativity, beauty, music and play.
Within such fertile practice grounds, you will be well supported as you respond to stewardship’s “four callings,” engaging in any or all of these conversations, or variations of them that seem relevant and timely to you:
- What more could it mean at this moment in time for each of us, individually, to be able to bring the best of ourselves? To feel deeply at home in this place, in this work and in our own bodies? And what could support that?
- What more could it mean at this moment in time for our infrastructure and interactions to support not only information sharing, decision-making, effective action and trust but playfulness, learning and joy? For our patterns of belonging with colleagues, customers and community to be infused with a sense of dedication, earnestness, perhaps even sacredness? And what could support that?
- What more do we understand at this moment in time about the calling or purpose — the emergent, unifying story — that propels us into transformative action together, as citizens, employees, customers, community members? What new possibilities are now apparent for how we will craft and live into that story of wholeness and wonder? What are we called to express and create together, in service of life? What is the wisdom that is needed now?
- What would bring the most life to this situation? How can we be inspired, nourished, renewed and even surprised by nature, beauty, art, music, movement and celebration? How can we allow life to flow through us so that we can truly savor this experience of being alive?
For several decades now, there has been widespread awareness that humanity is perched at the edge of a cliff, one step away from a plummet into global catastrophe. The responses have been many. But here we are, still teetering ever more precariously at the edge. The sustainability and corporate social responsibility movements have been characterized by useful Warrior energy, appealing to each of us to do things differently. The social and organizational innovation movements have guided us in exploring new structures and methods for Weaving our actions together, inviting us to do different things. But none of these has fully invited us to see differently. None has invited us into a story of healing, wholeness and inspiration. What is still needed is the transformative presence of both Sovereign and Enchanter. What is needed is skilful integration of all four archetypes, in the intentional and collective practice of stewarding life. That seems to be the key to regenerative living.
[Some segments of this article first appeared in The Age of Thrivability: Vital Perspectives and Practices for a Better World.]