Creating Contexts of Meaning for Transformative Learning
by Anneloes Smitsman, PhD, Earthwise Center and Ralph Thurm & Bill Baue, r3.0
This is part 2 of a series of articles to promote the just released r3.0 Educational Transformation Blueprint, discussing the profound changes that are needed to educate ourselves and next generations on how to imagine and come to a regenerative & distributive economy. At the end of this series, r3.0 is inviting readers to a free 2-hour online workshop on January 26, 2022, 4–6pm CET. You can already register by sending an email to hello@r3–0.org, mentioning your full name, affiliation and country you will be joining from.
We live in times of growing paradoxes. While our planetary crisis is worsening and the possibility of major extinction events increasing, Wellbeing and Happiness Indicators are telling us that humanity has never done better. So what’s really going on?
The difference in perspectives boils down to context and what gets measured. People remember stories, not data or facts. Hence, the contexts we provide are incredibly important for the stories we tell, the decisions we make, and what we learn. Transformative learning requires transformative contexts, which is what we’ve explored in chapter 2 of the r3.0 Educational Transformation Blueprint that launched 7 September 2021. This Blueprint includes 7 Transformative Learning Perspectives for Regeneration and Thrivability, the first of which is “Learning as Context” and the focus of this article. To read a brief introduction of the Blueprint, click here.
Learning as Context
Learning as Context raises awareness about the root causes, necessity, evolutionary direction, and opportunities of our personal and collective transformation for regeneration and thrivability. By applying the Learning as Context perspectives in education, learning becomes more transformative and relevant, while inspiring hope that we can and must co-create a regenerative and thrivable world together. The Learning as Contextperspectives serve as essential conditions and attractors for transformative learning, and inspire our personal and societal development towards regeneration and thrivability.
We’ve explored “Learning as Context” through the following perspectives:
- The Anthropocene — Carrying capacities and threshold boundaries offer contexts for sustainability, regeneration, and thrivability.
- The Noosphere — Global consciousness and unity offer contexts for the new cosmologies and our evolutionary development.
- A New Renaissance — Rebirth and the emergence of new futures offer contexts for our transformations and future becoming.
Through the sections below, we’ll briefly introduce these three contexts.
1. The Anthropocene as Context
A growing body of research confirms that at the species level, humanity has effectively changed the planet’s geological era, which has shifted us out of the Holocene that began about 11,700 years ago. This new era that is humanly caused is called the Anthropocene.
When generalizing through words such as “humanity or species”, this is written from a meta-perspective and with respect for the myriad of indigenous cultures and other cultures who have consistently warned about the harmful impacts and destructive patterns of our dominant mechanistic cultures and economic growth models.
The story of the Anthropocene reveals how by exceeding major planetary threshold boundaries, we have ushered in a new geological era. If we apply the Anthropocene as a context principle for assessing the role of education, it can be argued that mainstream education has failed to prepare and mature humanity to live and grow within the carrying capacities of our planet.
The Anthropocene also highlights the urgency for transforming our educational systems as part of the required transformations of our economic and political systems, which continue to drive the goals for what, why, and how people are learning.
Harmful Growth and Developmental Disorders
The Anthropocene as context raises serious questions about our learning capacities for regeneration and thrivability, especially where this concerns the Western mechanistic models of growth and development. In fact, one could argue that this reveals serious developmental disorders (Thurm, 2021). Here are some of the key reasons for this bold statement:
- Our societies grow unsustainably — Our species continues to exceed and harm the critical carrying capacities of our planet by growing exponentially without breaks. We push development at the expense of vital sustainability thresholds (environmental ceilings and social foundations) and ecosystemic boundaries.
- Our development tends to inhibit healthy self-regulation, adaptation, and autonomy — By driving exponential quantitative growth at the cost of qualitative development, humanity has created artificial growth archetypes that are completely out of sync with our natural world. This generates addictive behaviours, divisions, polarization, and systemic entrapments.
- Our measures for success and progress are deceptive — As a species we broadcast deceptive self-images with poor self-reflection, and little responsibility for the harm we cause.
- We lack future wise leadership — We fail to take adequate actions for addressing and stopping our worsening sustainability crisis, despite knowing better and being well informed of all the implications.
It appears that education itself is part of the core issues of our human crisis (Sterling, 2021). Educational philosopher Zachary Stein even went as far as suggesting that education is the meta crisis, i.e. the crises behind the crises (Stein, 2019). Many educational systems are the offspring of mechanistic worldviews that sacrifice life and interdependence in the name of ‘progress.’ Harming the conditions for life to thrive. These mechanistic worldviews are the drivers of the Anthropocene and can be identified by:
- The belief that our universe is a mechanistic system composed of separate parts and particles that can each be manipulated, dissected, and engineered to best serve humanity’s growing needs.
- Political doctrines of world and cultural domination, through policies of rapid extractive economic expansion, empire-building, and systems of winners and losers.
Mechanistic worldviews developed centuries ago during times when human-caused planetary collapse and mass extinction events seemed unthinkable. The world looked green and lush, with abundant resources for all. A world ready to be conquered and divided into competing parts with artificial boundaries to form the nation-states for the industrial age. Ruled by people who believed it was their right and privilege to set the course for our common future.
Education served a specific purpose, namely to prepare people to serve the machinery of the nation-state and modernize our lives through material and scientific progress. The past was seen as an echo of restrictions that had to be overcome in order to progress, whereas the future represented the dreams of richness and influence for a growing group of people. Most people would not have realized how this trajectory would later run us over the cliff. Nor was there a general sensitivity about the unspeakable harm this trajectory was causing to the countries that were turned into colonies. Indigenous nations in particular were the ones who suffered the impacts most severely.
Going beyond sustainability
The Anthropocene is the ultimate consequence of our dualistic models of progress through unsustainable growth models and archetypes. When the Anthropocene becomes a context principle for learning we need to be careful not to overfocus on problems and issues. This is also where sustainability (with or without context) can become restrictive as a sole narrative and may actually hinder the necessary engagement for our personal and societal transformations (Smitsman, 2019). The following questions may support a deeper exploration for the Anthropocene as a learning context:
- What are some of the main drivers that led to the Anthropocene, and how do those drivers exist today in your life and community?
- What could we have done differently to avoid the Anthropocene? What did we fail to learn despite feedback and warnings?
- How can the contexts of thresholds and allocations become embedded in learning for regeneration and thrivability?
- How can the Anthropocene, rather than it being the hallmark of a destructive species, become the hallmark of a responsible and maturring species?
2. The Noosphere as Context
“This idea of interconnected consciousness is not new, although the means to observe it scientifically have only now become available. In the middle of the last century, Teilhard de Chardin wrote in his beautiful books, The Phenomenon of Man and The Future of Man, that he could only understand our existence and our nature as purposeful. He argued, poetically and passionately, but with scientific understanding, that we would become an integrated intelligence for the earth — like an atmosphere, but made of thought and feeling. He called this the Noosphere, a layer of knowing that would sheath the Earth. It makes sense, and even seems possible: we only need to decide to accept it as our future.” ~ Roger Nelson (2019, chapter 1)
The Noosphere is a philosophical concept that has been developed by several authors, including biogeochemist Vladimir Vernadsky, and philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Vernadsky used the concept of the noosphere as the next evolutionary step from geosphere to biosphere to noosphere, in which case “noo” refers to “mind or reason” from the Greek “νόος”.
Teilhard de Chardin used the concept of the Noosphere as a context for understanding the direction of our evolutionary development — from geosphere to biosphere to noosphere — but with a different vision and understanding of this “mindsphere” and the role of humanity. His perception of what humanity is learning to become relates to his vision of a kind of “Omega Point” as the birth point of a “global mind” that would finally become conscious of itself. He believed that we were evolving towards this “Omega” point further into the future. In his words, “The second stage is the super-evolution of man, individually and collectively, by use of the refined forms of energy scientifically harnessed and applied in the bosom of the Noosphere, thanks to the coordinated efforts of all men working reflectively and unanimously upon themselves.” (Teilhard de Chardin, 1959).
The Global Consciousness Project
Scientist Roger Nelson, after meeting with Teilhard de Chardin, built on this idea of the noosphere and developed an elaborate research project over 17 years at Princeton University. This project became the Global Consciousness Project (GCP) and served to investigate whether there is indeed such a thing as a Global Mind or Global Consciousness.
Nelson’s research provides fascinating evidence of a very high likelihood of this Global Consciousness that relates directly to humanity’s feelings and thoughts, and builds on the earlier suggestions of Carl Jung’s “collective unconscious”. Based on laboratory and field experience, Roger Nelson and his team built an experiment to gather evidence of mind-matter interactions on a global scale. They created a monitoring system that could register consciousness effects using random number generators in a network with nodes around the globe. Their research results indicate conclusively the presence of global consciousness, or a “Noosphere”, by showing how the random number generators become correlated during large events in which humanity has a shared experience.
A radical new understanding of human learning and development
This fascinating perspective of the Noosphere coupled with the evidence from the Global Consciousness Project (GCP) indicates how our human thoughts and feelings are part of, impacting, and impacted by a larger field of consciousness that fractals out within us as we fractal out within it. The whole notion that our mind is isolated to and originating solely from the human brain, and as if operating separate from our environment, cannot hold in view of this research and the consistent evidence of GCP.
The hypothesis is that when Global Consciousness becomes aware of itself within the human experience, we will reach a tipping point or Omega point that shifts our consciousness to higher or more integral orders of reality of greater coherence. This Omega point also promises to serve as a critical factor for developing the required collaboration and stewardship capacities for regeneration and thriving.
3. A New Renaissance as Context
The word “renaissance” comes from the Latin “renasci”, which means to be born again. From a Western historical perspective, the previous Renaissance period took place from the 14th to the 17th century. It was celebrated as a time of major change and innovation for Europe — a cultural, artistic, scientific, political, and economic rebirth that followed the many hardships of the Middle Ages. A time of ingenious discoveries across the whole spectrum of creative invention. This same Renaissance period also brought untold hardships for indigenous nations around the world while colonization and slavery spread, and nation-states developed their military regimes.
Acknowledging the shadow side of this earlier renaissance, we propose here to refer to our current period of major change and transformation as a “new renaissance” or a “regenerative renaissance”. Renaissance periods promise a wellspring of emergence, rebirth, new growth and new ways of being, and this also requires whole new forms and ways of learning, which require fundamental new perspectives of the nature of reality and the universe we form part of. The 7 Learning Perspectives of this Blueprint support us to explore this regenerative renaissance impulse, and become receptive towards the new futures that are seeking to emerge from the deeper shifts in our collective consciousness.
A fascinating third-way perspective opens up when combining all three contexts:
- The Anthropocene as a context for understanding sustainability, regeneration, and thrivability;
- The Noosphere as a context for understanding the direction of our evolutionary development, and;
- The Renaissance as a context for understanding our transformations as a process of rebirth and future becoming.
In other words, the Anthropocene acts as the necessity for transformational change, the Noosphere connects us to collective consciousness as the catalyst for transformation, and the New Renaissance connects us to our future potential as the attractor for transformation.
Renaissance as a context principle can help us to become aware of the emerging new futures in the midst of breakdown and collapse, which is a vital awareness for this time. When all people see is collapse and breakdown, with more and more news of emergencies, losses, and death, people can easily feel overwhelmed about life and spiral down into depression.
Renaissance as context can give hope in times of loss and despair by trusting in the resilience and creativity of life within us, to utilize the falling away of the old as the opportunity for the emergence of the new.
People around the world are actively building for a new and regenerative world and future, there is much activity under the surface that has not yet reached the mainstream media. Renaissance as context is a key perspective for transformative learning and helps us to develop our resilience and high creativity in times of chaos, death, and breakdown.Most importantly it helps us develop trust that life goes on, even though we may not yet know how.
Renaissance conversations focus on: emergence, renewal, rebirth, new possibilities, innovation, and future directionality. Such conversations are much needed for this time and also empower the ways of working with complexity and collapse without invoking tremendous fear for change and loss.
Learning for regeneration and thrivability prepares us to connect with the potentials of the Noosphere and utilizes the context of the Anthropocene as the necessity for transformational change. Combined, this can lead to profoundly new ways of being and doing. Our future, both as a species and as an evolving and awakening planet, literally depends on how we embrace this call of a new and regenerative renaissance.
Humanity, as well as our planet, is going through a deep rebirth, mutation, and transformation, and not just death and collapse. In many ways, this is only the beginning. Learning for regeneration and thrivability also requires an understanding of imaginal states of consciousness and how the imaginal is not just imaginative.
“The imaginal is a future creative state of consciousness that extends beyond the “imaginative” and connects us with the transformative powers of the Universe in the way we think, perceive, and respond.” ~ Anneloes Smitsman and Jean Houston (2021, p.231)
Renaissance periods are imaginal periods of enhanced creativity and innovation, due to activated imaginal as well as imaginative states of consciousness. Imaginal learning can be facilitated through activities such as: visioning, art, music, intuitive movement, dreaming, storytelling, meditation, acting, as long as it helps people enter into a state of possibility from where they can more freely access their future potential beyond what is currently happening in their lives. Imaginal capacities include the capacities to dream, sense, envision, intuit, imagine, and inquire. Above all, imaginal capacities emerge from letting go of trying to force the path ahead, and by allowing our minds to shift out of the habitual and conditioned modes of thinking.
Children are naturally born with imaginal capacities. Yet, unfortunately, many children are taught that the imaginal belongs to the realm of fantasy, fiction, idealism, or virtual realities, and is not of direct practical use for developing their intellectual capacities. Our brightest thinkers, inventors, and philosophers used imaginal processes for developing their capacities and breakthrough ideas. For those working in educational transformation, we highly recommend including collective imaginal learning processes and practices as a key strategy for systemic transformation. We cannot build new systems from old states of consciousness.
If you are a facilitator of transformative learning, we highly recommend including imaginal processes to help students access new learning capacities. The imaginal states of consciousness are naturally more fluid and have higher states of coherencies compared to analytical states of consciousness. This makes it possible to access levels of complexity with greater amounts of information that would in an ordinary states overwhelm the person. In an imaginal state, we can experience complexity as the simultaneous co-arising nature of reality.
Even by spending a few minutes a day in an imaginal state of consciousness, you can significantly enhance your learning capacities and creative agency. Furthermore, imaginal states of consciousness, by being coherently open and flowing, can help reduce stress and transform rigid thinking patterns and behaviours. The creative nature of life is imaginal, and this is precisely what becomes activated during times of systemic breakdown and collapse.
From a renaissance or rebirth perspective, we could say that the imaginal is also what helps us transition from old to new states of consciousness. Imaginal learning helps us become aware of the transition moments in ourselves and in the systems we form part of.
Source: Extracts from chapter 2 of the r3.0 Educational Transformation Blueprint.
Teilhard de Chardin, P. (1959). The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers.
Nelson, R. (2019). Connected: The Emergence of Global Consciousness. ICRL Press. Kindle Edition.
Smitsman, A. & Houston, J. (2021). The Quest of Rose: The Cosmic Keys of Our Future Becoming. Book 1 of The Future Humans Trilogy. Independently published via Oxygen Publishing.
Smitsman, A., Baue, B., and Thurm, R. (2021). Blueprint 9. Educational Transformation –7 Transformative Learning Perspectives for Regeneration and Thrivability. r3.0.
Stein, Z. (2019). Education in a Time Between Worlds: Essays on the Future of Schools, Technology, and Society. Integral Publishing House.
Sterling, S. (2021). Educating for the Future We Want, Opening Essay for a GTI Forum. GTI Forum. Retrieved 3 May 2021 from https://bit.ly/3aXk0yI
Thurm, R. (2021). The Corona Chronicles — Envisioning a New Normal for Regeneration and Thriving. Publisher: Studio Kers, www.aheadahead.earth
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Citation: Smitsman, A., Baue, B., and Thurm, R. (2021). Blueprint 9. Educational Transformation –7 Transformative Learning Perspectives for Regeneration and Thrivability. r3.0
Note: this article first appeared on the Medium Channel of Anneloes Smitsman on October 13, 2021. It was very lightly adapted for reposting on r3.0’s Medium Channel.