this is a portrait, a poem, a provocation...
Most of all, it's a (hopefully) practical guide to finding more clarity in a time of profound uncertainty.
Amidst the collapse, we remain optimistic about humanity's future on the planet and encouraged in remembering that the tools we'll need to navigate these uncertain times are already alive inside us, ready to be cultivated.
If you sense that a more life-affirming way of being in the world is possible // If you're looking for optimism in the face in cynicism // If you're looking for support in trusting yourself on the way to trusting Life // If you're looking for a way to create new, vitalizing communities and cultures, we offer the ideas and practices in Feeling Forward.
And us? We're a lot like you, probably: curious, concerned and deeply in love with this world. We're designers and storytellers who recognize the culture-shaping power of our crafts, and our sacred responsibility to use them wisely. We're here to share the signal we're finding, to elevate the most important perspectives of our time, to gather the others (like you), and to help nudge the Transition on its way.
This is our first Transmission.
- ( æ )
Feeling Forward is organized in three Acts and a Practice.
Think of it like an interactive documentary, combining a series of short films with expanded interactive elements to bring the ideas to life.
At the end of each Act is a COVID Update from Bonnie and a Journal entry from our team, connecting the ideas to our current moment and our own developmental journeys.
Feeling Forward is a work of slow media. It is intentionally working against the trend of our shortening attention spans. The Transmission as a whole takes between twenty minutes and an hour to navigate. We encourage you to treat the experience itself as a practice.
We hope it serves you in feeling your way forward.
Bonnitta is an organizational futurist, meta-modern philosopher and horse whisperer...
Her work is deeply embodied and grounded and over the last several years she's shown us how to trust the intelligence of life again.
She teaches a masters course in consciousness studies and transpersonal psychology at The Graduate Institute. She is the author of the popular Medium publication Our Future at Work and is currently writing a book on transformative education sponsored by Perspectiva.
COVID is showing us that it is not just our institutions and markets that are fragile, it is also our collective ability to discern what's true. When things fall apart it can equally likely be our minds as it is our supply chains.
That said, our minds, our relationships, and our connections to the ecology have a tremendous capacity to heal themselves. We can trust the intuitive, heartfelt sense that what is most meaningful is also the most resilient.
San Francisco, CA
It's summer 2014. You're standing in the brick-walled basement of the Archbishop's Mansion, a 25-room mansion in San Francisco built by the Vatican just before the city shook and burned in 1906. But today, the Pope wouldn't recognize it. The entire space has been outfitted as an innovation speakeasy, a futuristic creative hideaway just steps from the Painted Ladies.
We call it Factory. If innovation was a sport, this would be our stadium. The players here are renegade hackers and designers, digital natives early to our post-capitalist future. Our "sponsors" are product teams from throughout the Fortune 100, each growing increasingly terrified of being disrupted by the next Airbnb or Uber. They work with us to disrupt themselves, before another group of kids like us does.
But to us, the work is a practice. We're honing our skills in rapid prototyping, product development and business model innovation. Each new client opens an intimate window into a corner office of the incumbent system we're quietly working to replace.
We work in "Immersions": intensive design sprints choreographed to bring interdisciplinary teams from idea to execution in 48 sleepless hours. We have a few axioms: Reduce the time to try. Doing is the best kind of thinking. Experience is the medium. In two days, five teams of six creatives will present hundreds of ideas to dozens of customers. Each customer's enthusiasm or apathy nudges a concept's evolutionary arc, feeling forward toward maximum signal. We increase design fidelity as we validate our value propositions. By the time we crack the wine on night Two, we've moved collectively through swift stages of enthusiasm, despair and catharsis. Our inklings have become things, realistic prototypes that could pass for finished products.
Or, so the story goes. In reality (and retrospect), "Immersion" slowly became more "innovation theater" than true innovation. Our corporate stakeholders were generally more invested in appearing innovative than in earnest disruption, as the latter would likely reveal their impending irrelevance. We slowly realized the existing system, composed of self-protective companies, composed of self-protective employees, was structurally incapable of replacing itself. Corporations, as abstract agents of endless growth, have no mechanism for self-transcendence.
Through the comparative intimacy of this "innovators" perspective, I gradually realized that our culture's trajectory was self-terminating, and its existing institutions were intrinsically compromised. And while playing jazz on the Titanic was a good living (while it lasted), there are only so many humans with both the means and the awareness to nurture an alternative fate. And we're going to need us all. So we each have a choice: How long do we continue feeding a dying system? When do we make the leap to the world to come? And how do we learn to navigate the void between?
On a personal level, I had manifested my "ideal" reality: a gorgeous mid-century treehouse of a design studio, perched above the trailhead to Muir Woods on the iliac crest of Mt. Tamalpais, stimulating innovation work that brought me to a new country every few weeks, and a beautiful creative / romantic partnership in joyous harmony. Somehow, without "trying", the life vision I'd long held had become real, a waking dream.
What my life vision hadn't predicted was how miserable it would feel once the dream was real. "There's more to life than getting everything you ever wanted," a voice warned me. When the Buddha reminds us that all of life is "dukkha," or "dissatisfaction," this is the sunny side of it: getting exactly what you want means the death of that desire, and the wanting is so often more pleasurable than the having. All that's left is to watch and wait for it to change, to decay, to pass away.
From the hollow buffet of ego-gratification, I began to realize that our only real hope is to give our lives beyond our small selves, to humbly seek out elders and allies, and to surrender to our part in the Whole.
When I got the call that Factory was going into hibernation, and its original home needed a new steward, I felt the path open. The scale of the project, physically and financially, would dwarf whatever arrogance kept me comfortable in my small world. It would require a team, a community, a guild. It was terrifying, but with fear as a compass toward deeper growth, I said yes.
We rebranded as "Taohaus," after a question our innovation sensei Tom Chi asked me once at the Bauhaus-Archiv in Berlin. The Bauhaus was a radically interdisciplinary and socially revolutionary design school that had birthed Modernism in the 1920s until the Nazis shut it down. They crafted functional, minimalist, "pure" forms, with social consciousness and material efficiency that have since permeated our material culture. In his distinctly iconoclastic way, Tom reflected... "All of this is beautiful, but when you follow all of this mechanical reduction through to its conclusion, we're left with the all-glass Apple cube on Central Park. Its effect is deadening, isolating, disconnecting. What might Nature's Bauhaus look like?" The question lodged itself in my heart.
What grew from the seeds fertilized in Factory's ashes was an experiment, a hypothesis, a portal to a possible future.
From the gravity of place, a small crew of stewards began to gather, creative practitioners with visions of a vital, regenerative society. We conceived of it as a kind of 21st-century Guildhall, a creative sanctuary in the Great Turning, where the sparks of new cultures could be tended, and where creative community could develop together in wisdom, skill and devotion to a thriving planet.
We wanted to move beyond extractive, domination capitalism to a system grown from trust and generosity. We wanted to learn, to listen, to create together, to continuously deepen in wisdom and skill with an intergenerational community of practice. Spaces like Taohaus would function as physical hubs for decentralized teams, a hybrid culture maximizing both sovereignty and coherence.
Taohaus became a commons for a co-creative and co-developmental community of practice, a Guild. We called it ( æthos ), for the synthesis of goodness and beauty we aspire toward. After seeing the astonishing ingenuity of the creative class appropriated by ad agencies and tech companies, and truly important initiatives ignored because of their amateur creative expression, we sensed a synthesis was a prerequisite for the thriving culture we knew was possible.
We're not out of the labyrinth yet, but collaborative pieces like the one you're reading are helping to give form to an ideal living vividly in our hearts. We cherish Bonnie as a teacher because she's helped to give language and perspective to something each of us has felt intuitively, but couldn't piece together alone.
Thank you for joining us on this journey, for your curiosity and care. We've only just begun, and we need you with us.
COVID is showing us that it is not just our institutions and markets that are fragile, it is also our collective ability to discern what's true. When things fall apart it can equally likely be our minds as it is our supply chains.
That said, our minds, our relationships, and our connections to the ecology have a tremendous capacity to heal themselves. We can trust the intuitive, heartfelt sense that where there is the most meaning is also the most resilient.
In fourth grade my elementary school held a competition to choose a new mascot. Students could submit designs and the administration would choose one. At the time we were called the Lincoln Lions; I made a submission for us to become the Lizards. (Why Lizards? They're cooler than mammals.) Another kid, the nephew of our principal, made a submission as well and won. His mascot? The Lion. His submission was that we keep the same damn mascot. I was heart broken, not because the administration didn't pick my mascot, but because I couldn't understand why they would go through the process of holding the competition, then chose stagnancy over something new. It was my first experience of boring, bureaucratic, nepotistic evil. As funny as this is, it marked the beginning of a profound disappointment with schooling, most of which was deeply alienating and confusing. Eventually I would understand that my disaffection with schooling was not an isolated experience, but a common effect of our educational institutions.
College represented the freedom to study what I wanted. Yet, there I found even the deepest subjects - philosophy and physics - discouragingly shallow and cold. Where was the authentic grappling with the nature of reality? Where the insight into the challenges of living? The attitude of the professors and the subjects we studied were "academic" in the worst way: dry, dead. Surprisingly, it was religion, specifically contemplative traditions, where I found the most life. These traditions have long histories of communities studying and creating educational pathways to address what is most important: the universal causes of human suffering and personal, practical approaches to addressing them. Only religious traditions offered images of maturity and wisdom, and paths to emulate them.
Inspired, I spent a lot of time studying and practicing the contemplative traditions, meditating multiple hours each day for years and completing several long retreats, including a six month solitary retreat in the high deserts of Nevada. The first time I meditated, I described the experience as "real magic." As I see it now, this magic is our capacity to open and let our spontaneous intuitions - rooted in direct perception, informed by rational analysis - guide our lives. Soon after, I began teaching, mentoring, and coaching in contexts ranging from jails to C-suites. The experience set me on course to try to transform culture by integrating wisdom education, updated for the 21st century, into mainstream institutions.
One expression of this impulse was to bring depth psychology into corporations on the premise that doing so would lead to more ethical business decisions. To this end, I cofounded a startup that built an app to scale transformative, role-play based peer coaching. It turned out that the practices and technology were effective, but that the intimacy and transparency they provoked were too confronting even for executives in progressive Silicon Valley. I was once again sick and frustrated with the de-humanizing tendencies and immaturity of bureaucratic institutions. The experience revealed that a culture of trust is a prerequisite for people to be vulnerable enough to grow their maturity together. (In hindsight, this is obvious.)
My own desire to be in community with others simultaneously committed to cultivating wisdom and creative skill led me to my ( æthos ) collaborators. By the time I met them several years later, I had taken a couple more stabs at integrating contemplative practice and real-world skill development, including a summer-long residential intensive on Bonnie's farm in Connecticut. I had met Bonnie a few years earlier at a conference after reading her early philosophical writing. It was (and is) some of the most difficult material I've encountered, but for some reason I experienced it as a breath of fresh air in my heart. That experience - fresh, opening - continues to be my experience of the essence of her work.
To better understand what we were trying to do, ( æthos ) put together a four-day workshop facilitated by Bonnie for San Francisco housing entrepreneurs, community organizers, and others pioneering new models of collaboration. It was called On Guildcraft. Again, a major insight was that successful "education" is really about the creation of a culture that supports listening to our deepest intuitions and feeling forward to bring something original and intimate into the world. Perceptual sensitivity, vulnerability, honesty, ethical commitment, creative capacity, and collective effectiveness all grow out from there.
Over the years as I continued to work on the bleeding edges of education design I came to realize that the opportunities I longed for most had bigger implications for society than I originally thought. We are in the midst of an education crisis. From kindergarten through post-graduate levels, educational institutions are mostly failing students in both of their two essential functions: helping people mature and preparing them for service to their communities. Our current educational infrastructures are deeply insufficient to meeting our coming social and ecological challenges. They are entering a period of profound dissolution and reinvention. The future of education hinges on enabling people to authentically navigate several intersections:
These pairs are not opposites or poles on spectra, and the fact that we currently experience them this way is part of the problem. There is no doubt that the creation of diverse, authentic worlds that successfully exemplify all of these characteristics is the critical point of the future of culture and civilization in this moment. The ( æthos ) crew is working to create one such world.
We are stepping out onto a journey. We don't know what we'll discover, but we're aiming to create a culture that helps everyone come more alive. Feeling forward is the core capacity that everyone will need to find their way in these difficult and unprecedented waters.
COVID has created a gap in our normal routines. It's like a little death. Yet, in that it's easier to become aware of the freshness of the moment.
We're all having different reactions: fear, boredom, overwhelm, relief, excitement, gratitude, anger, grief. All of those are about the past. Our real opportunity is to pay attention to the novelty, the unknown, and find what kind of future starts bubbling up, usually quietly, always in its own time, from inside of us.
We will be born again, but first we will pass through the death. Pay attention, keep feeling forward.
For years, I was convinced I was just a filmmaker.
At least the world kept telling me I was.
Over the last decade, I produced a couple hundred short docs for social enterprises on the front lines of birthing a better world. Solution trailers of sorts; we called them "micro-documentaries."
Somewhere along the line, it became a job-job. Sure, the films were artful & aspirational, but the work was the path to my livelihood, and it was all too easy to get caught satisfying client expectations rather than listening deeply to my own inner curiosity. It was as if as I became more skillful in expressing other people’s essence, I grew increasingly alienated from my own.
Then, in 2017, the life I had known was dismantled. After 6 years of partnership, my fiancé and I decided to separate.
It was a profoundly humbling & disorienting chapter. Whatever degree of self-satisfaction and comfort I had anchored through the predictability of client work & loving partnership fell away - and I was left in free-fall.
In the void, when I would listen deeply, I heard musical whispers. And they terrified me.
My music was a sacred secret I had kept buried for many years. As a trained classical pianist and frequent instigator of raucous sound circles during community gatherings, somehow music remained more primary, closer to my essence, to my artistic voice, than my work as a filmmaker. And yet, in my mind, it was entirely impractical to pursue.
This is the funny thing about life's rhythms; it often doesn’t feel tenable to respond to our inner calling until all other strategies have failed, and we meet collapse. This rings as all too expressive of our collective moment: minds jacked into an extractive matrix, a hungry ghost that can never be truly satisfied while the inner garden of our heart's calling lays fallow.
As it often does, it took my own personal crisis to soften the resistance that stood between me and my artistry.
And so, for my 33rd birthday, I invited 60 of my closest friends to a celebration - and to the first musical performance of my adult life, except I didn’t have any music to share yet. I guess this was my strategy to ensure follow through; in retrospect it seems a bit crazy.
But there is power in that first, uncertain step into the void. As Goethe shared:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too."
As I began to nurture the dormant artist within, I was beginning to experience an uncanny sense of synchronicity & support. During a gathering of friends in Berlin, I met an incredible multi-instrumentalist and producer named Captures and felt the immediate urge that we should collaborate. And so, as my birthday approached, I invited him to be my sensei for the three weeks before the show.
After a decade as a meditation practitioner & yogi, I had grown to appreciate kirtan - a shared, participatory practice of devotional chanting. In a time of tremendous fragmentation & discord, I was drawn to its healing & grounding qualities, and the potency of participatory, reverent singing to generate coherence. Music as prayer. I had an uncanny sense that my music would emerge from this same well; and that the portal most suited to birth me as an artist would be some sort of temple.
And so, riding the cosmic winds, we made a 24-hour road trip to a friend's remote tea temple in the deserts of Santa Fe, New Mexico - and set up our "groove-ship," a term that Kyle and I had begun using for the intersection of friendship & deep groove that seemed to be propelling our journey together.
There, amidst 2 feet of snow, the music arose within and around us. We sampled the icicles, the sound of thawing snow; the crackle of the fire. This became our our musical palette. We would drift from morning meditation & tea sits to sketching anthemic hooks on the loop station. Needless to say, the 2 weeks of music making were pure magic. It was the initiation into my artistry that I had longed for.
This is, perhaps, the most encouraging truth I have uncovered during this challenging time; the the sacred hum & musicality of life is but a breath away, hidden in plain site. You only have to slow down enough to listen.
Returning to San Francisco to perform, something unexpected happened. A group of 10 friends descended on Taohaus, the creative sanctuary that my dear friend Carson was stewarding, and, over three days, we experienced a sort of collective intelligence & flow in the weaving of our gifts that I had always longed for. It was as if responding with sincerity to the call of my own untapped potential gave permission for others to do so as well. Our friend Claire, an Ayurvedic chef, was inspired to build a multi-course "tapas" meal for the evening; Carson was encouraged to explore a long-held vision of lyrical video projection to accompany the performance; Seth, Mikyö and Zach dialed in space and immersive experience design; Sara built a massive, participatory altar with twigs & flowers in front of the stage.
In many ways, that evening set the metapattern for what would later become ( æthos ) - our creative guild.
The evening was intimate & deep - and the music was well-received. But, ultimately, the music wasn't the highlight; instead, it was the terrain that had opened within my own being in the process. As I had begun to feel forward, to attend to that which felt truly life-giving within me, it began to dawn within my awareness that this terrain was, in fact, the realm of what systems thinkers like Jordan Greenhall & Charles Eisenstein call Game B - the more beautiful world that our hearts know is possible.
The question of how we bridge from a post-industrial, extractive culture that's leading us to the brink of collapse to a regenerative, life-giving future can, at times, be daunting & disorienting. We could struggle endlessly to fashion this better world outside of ourselves; to apprehend it and pin it on the crest of our collective despair. But what I'm learning is that this more beautiful world is more of a spirit - more of a felt ethos - than a tangible, finite grid. It is an open, participatory, spontaneous, generous field that's always available to us if we have the courage to tend it from within.
This vision of humanity's harmonization with a sacred, living world cannot come into being through the matrix of obligation & expectation within which so many of us feel trapped. It emerges instead from the spirit of the gift, with the abundance of care & sacred responsibility that flows from genuine inspiration. This is the basis for truly anti-fragile, resilient culture.
And so, in the moments of quietude, in the moments of uncertainty and despair, if you have the courage to listen, you may just hear the thrum of your own soul's music.
I encourage you - for all of our sakes: crank it up.
There's practices for many different things: improving a physical skill, increasing our knowledge, improving our ability to work in a team, etc.
The following practice from Bonnie increases our sensitivity to our embodied perception, specifically to the qualities of both the 'giving' and 'receiving' aspects of perception.
Training in subtle physical sensitivity is the root of intuition in general. Training in appreciating the giving and receiving increases our capacity to feel in relationship, and who or what we're in relationship with, all the time.
Networks of distributed agency among sovereign individuals who actually care for each other is the core of human evolutionary succes.
Bonnie's core statement about not just the future of companies, but the future of how any group of people can come together in both fluid and effective ways to accomplish shared goals.
The path to worlds we want to live in is straightforward: “form small groups, share feelings, then share money."
Human love is not only a source of great meaning and pleasure, it is the human expression of the universe’s beginningless attraction to increasing its own complexity.
We are entering a time of release and collapse, confusion and reorientation. Urban resilience infrastructures, post-apocalyptic imaginaries, and everyday practices from survival skills and physical fitness to experimentation with one’s soul are just some of the manifestations.
A look at the meta-crisis of our contemporary scene through the dual lenses of complexity science and the Yunkaporta's Indigenous Australian culture
The ecological disasters, political paralysis, and economic failures we now face originate in our tendency to privilege cognitive processes over our perceptual systems.
A contemporary eco-feminist perspective on how we might remember we're family with the more-than-human world.
Bacteria build cities. Plants signal danger to each other through scent. Humans serve a Gaian ecological function. “Gaia does not make mistakes.”
The heart of Bonnie’s insight, which others have come to and which indigenous peoples have known for tens of thousands of years, is that the universe, the Earth, and all the beings that inhabit her are deeply good, intelligent, and alive. We are all on a journey together of maturing and filling the universe with more and more life, beauty, and feeling, like a wild, cosmic garden.
What does this mean? It means our intrinsic desires are expressions of an unfathomably deep wisdom. We are all deeply trustable. This is what Feeling Forward is all about: the more sensitive we become to our authentic intuitions and intrinsic desires the more powerfully we participate in cultivating life all around us.
This raises the question that all religious traditions face: what about suffering? What about all the pain and confusion people have faced? What about all the pain people have caused me and I have caused them?
In response, and from the view of a living universe, we’re starting to ask ourselves other questions. Is it possible that pain and suffering, even “evil,” are growing pains along our millennia-long collective maturation? Can we hold them as somewhat to-be-expected, even necessary, learning processes through which we are integrating new ways of being? Can we hold this perspective and at the same time radically empower, without restraint, our compassionate motivations to enable everyone to express their fullest potentials and to heal the wounds we caused and received in the past?
The western worldview is based on a substance metaphysics, a habit of seeing the world as mostly static objects. This view is dying and being replaced by a process metaphysics, in which the world and ourselves are more like moving patterns of relationships. This is closer to indigenous ways of seeing and is one of the reasons (just one) why it is important that we listen more deeply to indigenous voices. The knowledge of how to live in right relationship with a living universe is infused in cultures that have cultivated that awareness for many thousands of years. By listening to them we can remember how to see and feel our world as alive, and relate to her as mother, lover, friend.
Indeed, for indigenous cultures, the wisest teacher is Nature herself. Yet nature is not just “out there,” she is also in us. From this view, saying that the world, and ourselves, are deeply trustable is NOT to say that we are perfect or that good things are guaranteed to happen. We are all learning, together. We participate in a maturation process much larger than ourselves. By feeling forward, we play our part in Nature’s universal feeling forward, learning and growing toward more and more life.