Leading from a platform of reverence

I am helping to design an interesting gathering in June of next year that will be part of a bigger initiative to shift the values conversation around sustainability.  It’s interesting for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which is the conscious invitation of indigenous peoples, social entreprenuers and leaders who are firmly connected to the biggest and most influential systems in our world.  We’re seeing what we can do together.

The initiative is called Beyond Sustainability: Cultivating a community of leadership from a platform of reverence.  After an intense and creative weekend of designing, here are some of the propositions that we cracked, and some of the architecture needed for shifting values.  These propositions are offered as principles for this community od leaders.  They are in development, and this is version 1.0.  Please let me know what you think:

7 basic propositions for shifting values

  1. We must operate as a community. The era of the lone wolf is over. There are no single heroes who will bail us out of the situation we have created for ourselves. Together we must act in community, bringing the values of our ancient understanding of the village to play on a modern global stage and never forgetting that as human beings we are built to work together and not in separation of one another.
  2. We must operate from a platform of reverence. Collectively, many of us who have been responsible and influential in the systems that shape our world have done so divorced from the consciousness that our ancestors held for the deep connections we have for the natural world. Reverence has been a capacity of human life that has kept us accountable to each other and to our environments for hundreds of thousands of years. Many of us have shed that reverence and have dulled our sense to the awe that is inspired by a deep connection to the earth, to each other and to ourselves. Reverence is our operating system, and connection is our practice.
  3. We need to embrace the practice of crossing boundaries. The answers to our questions lie outside ourselves, in the wisdom of community and collective intelligence In order to access this wisdom and offer ourselves fully, we are prepared to cross boundaries, to travel to unfamiliar places and be there as learners and contributors to an emerging sense of direction. The boundaries that exist between peoples, cultures and lands are artificial and constructed and they have unnecessarily divided us and deprived us of inspiration, wisdom and co-creation.
  4. We have time only to act and learn. We don’t have time to create a long term plan, develop consensus and choose only one path forward. The hubris of this approach makes any plan subject to the political machinations of the interests embedded in dying systems. Those machinations took the last great global attempt at Kyoto and scuttled it and now we are out of time. The time for planning is over, and the time for a myriad of experiments and activities is upon us. Indeed, the future is already beginning to speak through the millions of activities, social entrepreneurs, community organizers, cultural practitioners, business leaders and teachers who are not waiting for the sanction of the whole, but who are instead addressing the challenges head on and devoting their lives to saving humanity from it’s own stubborn refusal to change. And they are also showing the way forward by sharing what they learn in novel and accessible ways.
  5. Our way forward is a conversation about values AND tactics. Exploring values without tactics is wishful thinking and employing tactics without values is reckless. We need to employ the tactics of hope from a platform of reverence, supported by a community of influential leaders who are connected to the systems that need to change.
  6. Social entrepreneurs and traditional peoples are the sources of the world views and practices we need for the world. There are people in the world whose lives are devoted to practices of accessing the sacred source of reverence, crossing boundaries, collaborating with others, seeing themselves in relation to the natural world, and sharing and giving away what they know and have acquired. These fundamental practices represent both the foundation of many traditional indigenous communities and represent new ways of doing business, governance, education and social development. We have tools that will allow us to be in deep connection with one another face to face and across oceans, and these tools amplify and make possible the practices that stem from a platform of reverence Social entrepreneurs and indigenous peoples are sources of powerful and generative world views, guides on the path, and leaders to the future of a shift in the values that underlie global systems of domination, exploitation, disconnection, violence and greed.
  7. As a community we seek to become a system of influence. Only by seeing and experiencing our connections to the global web of human endeavour can we truly appreciate our resourcefulness to this call. All of those involved in Beyond Sustainability are deeply embedded in powerful systems and many have channels and connections to the underlying architecture of power in its many forms. Now is the time to put those resources to work, to help hospice the old systems so that they may die gracefully, to midwife the new and to steward the nascent so that we can accelerate the emergence of a set of values that restores right relationship to the the earth and to each other.

The architecture of reverence

Reverence – a profound awe and respect – is the word we are using for the fundamental set of values that we embody. The platform of reverence is based on three fields: reverence for the earth, reverence for the other and reverence for oneself. Cultivating this reverence is the key to growing a set of values based on deep belonging, deep listening and deep presencing. It is a set of values that connects us fundamentally to the source of life and community that lies trampled by humankind’s unrestrained race to modernity. It is a set of values that is generative and is our biggest asset in helping to create and nurture the systems that will restore balance to human life on earth.

The Beyond Sustainability initiative is an invitation to explore and practice together in this cultivation of reverence, noticing what is born in doing so, and devoting ourselves to helping new ideas grow in fertile and creative ways.

Reverence for the earth – cultivating deep belonging

Human beings are prone to forgetting that we are of the earth, children of the universe, embodied and born out of the mingling of material and spirit, containers for the conscious work of the cosmos. When we forget what we know in our deepest indigenous selves, we grow too big. We engage in the suicidal pursuit of domination and exploitation of the land, air and sea, and we become inhumane in our treatment of others, creating and tolerating unimaginable suffering among all living things. This is no mere appeal to sentimental and romantic back-to-the-earth mindset. We are now acutely aware that the brutal dismemberment of human beings from the natural world has made possible our own destruction and the destruction of many other species.

Deep belonging is captured in the Ojibway word dineamaganik, “I belong to everything” or “All my relations.” It is reinforced in the Hawaiian story of the Kumulipo, in which the very pattern of the universe is imparted to the sources of the material world and the increasingly sacred story that western science tells of evolution and the interconnectedness of all things.

Our first practice therefore, is the cultivation of deep belonging, an intuitive and unshakable understanding of where we come from and who we really are, of how the land and the natural world holds us, and of the patterns of nature that flow within us when we open to them. From that place comes the source of new values and new practices.

Reverence for each other – cultivating deep listening

We rush to judgement, take things at their surface value, outsource meaning making to experts and rely on rumour and innuendo to form our opinions of one another. Human beings have a remarkable ability to refuse to see what is right before us, to hear deeply what is being deeply said, to hold each other in the highest respect and compassion. When we cut ourselves off and stuff our ears full of rationalizations, we become inoculated to the pleas of others to be heard and seen as human beings.

Deep listening makes possible aloha, the Hawaiian art of sharing breath, hishook ish tsawaak, the Nuu-Chah-Nulth awareness of interdependence, and k’e, the Navajo concept of being tied together in a weaving of relations.

Deep listening means being with others in a way that allows us to see ourselves in the other, that invites us to open to the wisdom that is held in the centre of every person, that contributes to an emergent experience of community. Traditional communities cultivate this deep listening through ceremony that makes the communities most precious wisdom available to all. We are prepared to listen in that way.

Reverence for oneself – cultivating deep presence

We cannot come to the work as spectators, bystanders or skeptical cynics. Cultivating the shift in values that we seek is work done by people who show up fully, authentically and devoted to the service of life. It is only out of deep presence that we can become teachers of one another or that we ask the questions and seek the help that we need to move our work forward in the world. Reverence for ourselves and for our preciousness is critical for being fearless and helpful in whatever way we can.

A commitment to the practice of presence means that we invite collaboration in this work from a place of deep intent, offering what we can, and asking for what we need, and not holding ourselves back out of fear or arrogance. We are a community of fully present learners AND leaders, comfortable with not knowing the way forward, but confident in our own abilities to discern and act powerfully from a place of deep and interconnected reverence.


  1. Go raibh mile maith agat! Chris thanks for sharing this, it is a post in which to frequently return. Moving from a place of reverence for the earth, others, and oneself must be a solid foundation for wise and compassionate action in the world.

    All the best to you and the others engaged in this innovative, important work.

    Oh, and it also reminded me of two different quotes, the first on belonging to the earth:

    I am of the ocean, the earth, the rocks, the trees, the wind and the stars.
    I am a unique expression of this common experience.
    I am energy.

    and the second:


    We hold the good earth in the hallows of our hands
    Or maybe it holds us.
    Or maybe they are clasped together,
    like a line of kindergartners waiting to cross the street
    In love, in safety, in care and concern for one another, in friendship, in joint adventure.

  2. Much gratitude for sharing this forward, Chris.

    A few summers ago I read this sweetly potent little book, Reverence, by Paul Woodruff. He comes draws from more “Western traditions,” though the intent and spirit is rooted in precisely what this community has named here.

    This is a bolstering space for me to visit today. And needed.

    Speaks to the core of what doesn’t ring clear in so many of the conversations I am in lately about “excellence.” Reverence is the practice, the being in and doing of, so much richer than a criteria….

  3. Yes! That puts the finger on it nicely…reverence is beyond excellence. A whole paradigm beyond.

    And Christie…thanks for the quotes.

  4. Thank you for sharing this. It deeply resonates in my spirit. You have articulated so well what has been running through my spirit for the past few years.

    I want to claim that it has already happened – that there has been a dramatic shift in the world – and what you have shared is how we must move in this new world.

    Those of us who have eyes to see this need to help make it visible to our friends who can not yet see it.

    Obama’s election was a “product” of this shift – not the cause of the shift. I know that I must do my part to keep this new world thinking alive and growing.

    thank you.

  5. Thank you for sharing this Chris. The concept of reverence is indeed powerful. Reverence for the earth, others and self – what a much more meaningful approach to the triple bottom line!

    I am very attracted to setting principles for our work too. I really like the positive statements of principles 4-7. I personally would like to remove the “need to” and “must” from 1-3 and see them stated in the affirmative and present tense – as if they were already true.

  6. Hi Chris,
    I echo Stephen’s comments both about the power of reverence and the beauty of these principles.

    I also have a few suggestions to consider…

    * I also feel that the first statements would resonate more with me if they were positive affirmations of what we already are and what we want to create in the world.

    * It seems appropriate given your core message to use language that embodies living systems rather than words like operate which seem to represent the old mechanistic world order we are moving away from.

    *For 3, i would add that the answers lie “within”and outside ourselves, that the complexity that we are facing can only be understand by our collective intelligence which includes each one of us.

    * I feel that we need to transcend boundaries rather than just cross them. As you wrote, they are false constructs that we created. Crossing them still means to me that they are intact.

    * Overall, i would put more energy and focus on what we want to create and bring forward in the world and less about the old ways we are trying to overcome.

    In abundance,

    PS. It would be great to meet some time Chris. I am living back in Vancouver now after being over in Israel. I was doing some AOH hosting over in the West Bank with Toke, Maria, Sarah, Tova, Danny, etc. We almost met one summer when Danny and i were in town visiting. (hktworosz@yahoo.com)

  7. Chris
    This is very interesting and not like anything else I have seen on the subject. I quite like the framing and I am encouraged by the kind of energy that seems to exist around this initiative.
    As a planner by training, I had to think long and hard about the fourth item: We have time only to act and learn. On the one hand I get very excited about the suggestion that we should stop our attempt at long-term planning and should just get on with a myriad of actions, some of which will likely be brilliant, other ones that we will probably drop. It’s very grassroots, and like most grassroots initiatives also hints at a distrust for planning (usually a government function) – which I also understand and appreciate. On another hand, I sort of wonder about what this up-swell of action will look like in the absence of a ‘plan’ of some sort, particularly when it comes time to scale-up from the grassroots to societal actions. The minute we need to allocate societal resources (like, tax dollars for example) it seems irresponsible to do it haphazardly, without a sense of where we’re going and what is needed to get us there.
    So… that one is very thought provoking. Maybe in the course of this initiative the group will come up with another way of seeing the task of planning. Maybe there will be multiple little plans, or plans that can be created in a day on the spot and changed in a day on the spot (as opposed to the current planning processes that usually take years.) I feel like this will be very important for my outlook on life and for my work. If there is anyway to be of assistance please let me know.
    And GOOD LUCK with it!

  8. Aftab…you make a great point, and as usual I find myself gettin pulled from an either/or into a both/and. I do think that that is a step on the way to a new way of acting and stewarding resources…wonder what that will be.

  9. Chris,

    I am in… this is so beautiful!

    i wanted to share something i wrote 7 years ago it seems generative…

    “How many more reports do we need to read of true human potential being realized only through a deeper knowing of spirit on a personal level? The human condition is one of mediocrity, over consumption, deep sadness and disconnection; disconnection from self and others. The resurrection of a community of deep relationship in the workplace and in relationship to the ecosystem and external community is pivotal in these times. The greatest risk management strategy at this time is to begin the deep and rich investment into personal spiritual connection and the building of community.

    This is where one begins to unleash innovation, inspiration, heart and a culture whose socioeconomic strata are woven with the soul of it all. How you multiply this feeling within your inner self, your relationships, your organization and business is the lever for community values to emerge in the strengthening and energizing of the human potential. It is not our minds that are aching…. it is the soul of the person, the humanity of work. Without this imbedded like the piercing paucity of particles of golden awareness throughout everything said and done – I fear we will only be replicating not innovating. Teach me first to be my brother’s keeper and open my heart. For then, no matter what you guide me to I will only see with the eyes of my brothers hungry soul staring from within me, belly distended, the spark of hope lying in my arms too weak to open his eyes…. I birthed this soul now I cradle him into death – because I know not how to feed him”

    Please, let me know how i might be of service and help!

    with much love


  10. Perfectly expressed…