Nuggets From Jeremy Lent's Call
Posted by Pavi Mehta on May 20, 2019
An author and nonprofit founder, Jeremy Lent investigates how humans' search for meaning throughout history has led to its current crisis of sustainability. His book The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning (2017) draws on nearly 10 years of personal research and was called by The Guardian as "the most profound and far-reaching book I've ever read.” Focusing on questions such as, Is it our true nature to be selfish and competitive, or empathic and community minded?, Lent is on a mission to discover how we can consciously forge our own structures of meaning. Lent's own structures that had given life meaning shattered after the death of his wife and collapse of his company. "But along with the loss, I noticed a glimmer of possibility: here I was in midlife, with the ability to consciously redirect my future."
We'll post the transcript of the call soon, but till then, here are a few resources that were mentioned, and a few nuggets from the interview:
Books that have been particularly inspiring to Jeremy:
'Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants' by Robin Wall Kimmerer
'Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel' by Carl Safina
Aspirations as a child?
"I wanted to be a hippie." Jeremy came to America during Regan's America and met his first wife Molly who had been a hippie and traveled through South America learning from indigenous communities. She had two kids from an earlier marriage. "She wanted to go the opposite direction from her past, and give her children a secure future. I wanted to be with her, so agreed to temporarily go into the belly of the beast -- corporate America, to give the kids a good future and then leave that path. But things don't always go the way you plan." Soon after he launched a start-up, Jeremy's wife was taken ill and he left the business to be her primary caregiver. In a matter of years she passed away, and the company went out of business.
"As the result of the breakdown that followed I went through a process of fragmentation, and eventually went through an awakening experience to unconditional love which has formed a foundation for everything since then.
I wasn't going to take someone else's word on the path. I needed to figure out what was truly meaningful for me, and that's what led me to deep long years of experiential and spiritual investigation.
That's led to everything my life is about now. I know there is something called love that is so important. This is something I've been blessed to rediscover in the last 10 to 15 years. I want to put all of my living energy into sharing that with others in this world to transform it into a more flourishing place.
Deep Adaptation argues that our ecological predicament is heading towards collapse. You argued that the future is emergent, it is unknown. Can you share more?
We are on an unsustainable path. One of the three trajectories to our future is one of collapse. The second scenario very few talk about -- a techno split, where people in the global north split themselves off and genetically enhance themselves, essentially splitting humanity into two different species. The third scenario is a great transformation of society. As great as the Agricultural or Scientific revolution --a shift in foundational values.
We live in a non-linear unpredictable world. What we do know about history is that it takes these unexpected shifts. So the way we make sense of the world all becomes part of shaping the future.
Those of us who have the ability to choose what we do with our day have a moral imperative to do everything we can to change the system and support those who are suffering from the collapse right now.
It's not just climate breakdown -- that's a symptom of a deeper disease, ecological devastation that is the result of our separation from meaning, and the takeover by gigantic transnational corporations.
We need to move to Deep Transformation, and understand the underlying reason for this momentum towards collapse and do everything we can to change it.
On the difference between Eastern and Western worldviews
"I think ultimately it's all about the fundamental questions of separation vs connectedness. As I unpacked things and looked at where this western worldview came from you can see all the way back to hunter gatherer times the stages of separation that took place as humans and culture evolved and the west took its own path.
When we set up fences and moved towards being an Agrarian society that set up a separation between us and nature, but another separation happened with the Ancient Greeks who came up with a split cosmos -- dualistic thought has permeated all of western thought since that time.
When scientific thought first came up that was just a development of this dualistic approach--Reason as a way to understand the universe, and Nature is just a machine that humans are separate from. In this worldview humans are separate from each other, separate, selfish maximizers -- this came from a myth of separation.
But this not the traditional way of looking at humans in the world. Indigenous cultures are all about looking at connection. And what I found so interesting is that those connections are what make us human.
Reductionist scientific view point that says everything is meaningless. I felt that wasn't quite right. From my earliest psychedelic experience I knew that wasn't true. I'd been reading neo-Confucian thought, and I was reading these ideas at the same time I was reading modern systems thinkers and they were saying the same thing.
The Neo-Confucian thinkers conceived the whole world as chi and li.
Chi is energy and mass, all the stuff of the universe, and li is a word that basically means the principles of organization. It refers to the way in which the chi connects to form everything we know in the world.
The Neo-Conficians studied these connective principles. These patterns of organization are what form everything. And at the same time Complexity theory was talking about how the complex self-organizing way Nature is constructed is what forms our reality.
I was realizing here are these Neo-Confucians looking at reality in the same way and a light bulb went off. It was like a Rosetta Stone."
Meaning and the Manifest World
"The Neo-Confucian view didn't reject the manifest world. They saw embodied existence as part of meaning.
Meaning is embedded in our material reality so we don't have to transcend to discover it. We are connected in this intrinsic web of life and meaning."
On the Role of Heartbreak
"You can't engage in a full way without stepping into looking at the losses, the devastation. It's heartbreaking and you have to allow your heart to break. And when that happens you need community support, you need spiritual insight and the wisdom of impermanence.
I'm just a few steps away in any given moment from breaking into deep sobs. But you have to get into that place where you realize I'm not defending Nature - I am Nature defending itself. But you don't stay in that place -- you have to then shift and use your own inner skill to transform that into rage and engagement, and into a drive to actually do something about it.
Ultimately I worship life and that's what I devote myself to. I begin each day with a mantra of devotion and dedication to life. Ask yourself each day what am I doing that is for the greatest benefit of life.
On Fractals, Meditation and Movement Techniques
Self organized systems tend to repeat their patterns at different levels and layers. What that means is we can harmonize with some things, and even if we are feeling in disharmony at some layer we can go to a deeper layer and be in harmony with that. Internal work like meditation techniques and traditional embodied techniques like Qi gong and Tai chi help you get into internal harmonics.
Traditional insight meditation practices are fundamental to a way of getting a deeper sense of being with ourselves. Meditation is very much focused on the mind, it's the mind being with the body, and then one day I discovered qi gong and the first few minutes I felt like I was at home -- it's a place of being in embodied harmony that is very different from a mindfulness approach. I believe in these techniques you're able to communicate deeply with your inner cells.
And kindness is important. We always have the ability to approach ourselves with kindness. We can be gentle and soothing with our own beings and bring ourselves to a deeper layer.
For more gleanings from the call read this blog post by Deven Shah: Reflect...Smile and Give!