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How Sustainable is Transition, Really?

I’ve been thinking a lot in the past months about the question of sustainability in the long and short term – not of our society, or the planet but of people and groups within the Transition movement itself. I was at the Transition Camp in October, where a great mix of people had gathered - some involved in Transition, others interested or part of similar projects, and a group of protesters from the anti-fracking camp at Balcombe. I was struck by a speaker exhorting us to lend our support to the anti-fracking campaign, to recognise its importance and urgency.

Balcombe villagers protest against frackingI could feel the familiar response in me – the desire to get involved, to put time, energy, money to support the people fighting that fight. And later, as I was reflecting on what to say in my own talk, I found myself stepping back and thinking about the wider picture.

One of the main roles I feel I’ve had has been to really explore and question the culture that we create in Transition – both in Transition Network and in the wider movement. Something which comes up again and again is the tension between the desire to go fast, get stuff done, respond, take action – and the need to slow down, to take time over what we do, to look after ourselves and our well being, and to build strong, trusting relationships.

Listening to the woman speak about Balcombe at Transition Camp I found myself reflecting on how the wider situation has changed since Transition started back in 2006 – the increasing sense of desperation, of crazy short term decisions that create destruction for the profit of a few, the sense of those with power and money using it to ensure their own continued privilege at the expense of the majority. It feels to me like an intensification of the worst aspects of the system of industrial growth. So how to be with that?

Earth RiseI started to imagine what it might look like if we were 20 years into the future, looking back at this time, seeing people involved in movements like Transition acting with great skill and wisdom? What might we see if there was a film of the millions of local heroes and heroines, doing what was needed to build a positive future for humanity?

The first thing that I saw looking from this perspective is the scale of the change process we are living through. One of the great gifts of the Work that Reconnects from Joanna Macy is the big sense of perspective it puts us in touch with. I remembered that what is happening isn’t a campaign against a particular government or industry but the change in direction of the human culture that has dominated the planet for centuries, even millennia. Joanna calls it the time of the Great Turning, and I find it helpful to remind myself to think of it in those terms – a huge and unprecedented historical undertaking.

When I imagine what the story might look like, the images include people who really focused on building trusting relationships with those nearby. In movements like Transition I see us taking time out from the doing to really get to know each other, to share deep concerns about our own lives, family and community and future generations. Sharing how we feel about what is happening is one of the fastest ways to create connection and trust. And both the relationships, and the knowledge of how to build trust and connection cannot be destroyed by changes in legislation, or severe weather events. It’s a kind of resilience that is needed and endures through all situations.

“A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”
Maya Angelou

Another quality I imagine is the ability to fully take part in the work of Transition, or the Great Turning, without attachment to outcomes. That is, the motivation for doing stuff isn’t that we succeed, but that it’s the right thing, or even the only thing, to do. If bad weather knocks out the crops, or planning departments stop obviously needed projects, it’s still worth putting our time and energy into the things that take us towards a positive, inclusive, low resource use future. The specific image I had was of people protesting, sometimes winning, but sometimes losing – and instead of feeling a sense of failure, feeling betrayed by those who didn’t show up, simply melting away, knowing their action has affected the system, and reappearing still energised, still motivated, still with compassion and connection to each other, the future, the beauty and aliveness of our world, to take part in the next action, the next project.

In Transition Network we’ve had a long enquiry into creating balance between the qualities of Doing and Being. I would say that we started with an imbalance towards Doing – going fast, getting stuff done, meetings with long agendas and little or no time to reflect, to build our relationships, to really celebrate together.

8 shield of the art of mentoringI’ve been learning about tools from human cultures that ensure balance – cultural technologies like the Eight Shields from the Art of Mentoring – where any whole is looked at from eight perspectives that mirror the natural cycle of conception, birth, growth, the fullness of action, completion, celebration, turning inward, reconnecting with the past, grieving, coming to stillness, and from this place of emptiness, dreaming the next thing to the point of conception. This post goes out as we in the north approach the winter solstice – traditionally a time of slowing down, contemplation, letting go, inviting dreams and new possibilities. What would it be like if our organisations followed this rhythm? In Transition Network several of us have been ill recently – and I wonder how much that’s because we’ve gone on being busy while our bodies need rest and time to adjust to the shifting seasons, to fully digest all that we created and were part of over the summer.
In Transition Network we include “Balance” as a strategic objective, recognising that without it as an explicit objective in our strategy the need for “Being” will continually be pushed aside by the urgency of our times, and the ingrained habit that most of us have to prioritise deadlines and outputs. We alternate “being” meetings with “doing” meetings in the staff calendar – and use being meetings to reflect together, to work on our group culture, to develop things like communications skills, to think about how we might want to work with conflict, and just to share what it’s like to be living and working in this place and time. Many staff have said working at Transition Network is completely unlike any other organisation because of including the whole person including body and heart as well as head.

I know that many Transition groups have been doing interesting and effective things to strengthen their relational resilience – in Transition groups as well as in communities. If you have interesting stories and haven’t shared them through the Projects database please do so!! And it feels good to acknowledge always that health comes from a balance between both – doing and being, flowing naturally together or from one to another.

If it feels helpful you might want to take some time to reflect on your own sustainability – for you personally, for your group, and not just for the next week or months, but longer term. What would you need to still be feeling energised, resourced and a sense of enjoyment from whatever you’re doing in a year, 5 years, 10 years time? What would help your group to still be thriving and something others want to be part of? It might include really giving time to thinking about welcoming and supporting new members.

And please don’t make this another thing to add to a huge list of things to get done.. What can you do less of?

In Transition Network we’ll be reflecting on the year that is coming to an end in our next staff Being meeting in December. For those in the north, I wish you time for deep reflection during these months of darkness. And if you’re in the south I hope you’re enjoying the fullness of summer!


Sophy Banks is one of the key contributors of the Transition Network, mainly in the field of Inner Transition and Transition Training


Michael Baker's picture

How sustainable is transition really

When I read this I felt Sophy had written it from me. I'm seeing the stages of human lives through the eyes of an 80 year old.

it doesn't make sense where we are all heading as a dominant species if we are going to end up destroying ourselves. Unlike ants and bees who appear to have an active collective survival gene, we humans appear to have a dorment gene which we have not collectively had the ability to switch on. We are trying to but have not got the right chemistry as yet to switch it on.

The encouraging factor is that a growing awareness should reach a healthy point at which the juice will flow and we will switch on en masse.

it has become evident to me that from Classical Greek times through to industrial development, to behaviourists, psychologists, Darwinianism, religious leadership and of course political leadership, have built on one another but somehow we have not discovered our goal.

with this wonderful arena all around us and beneath and above, we have acquired the key ingredients to raise above all the animal part of our development so far and reach forward to understating and acting out our Real Purpose.

Diana Korchien's picture

Strengthened by reading this

Some of our initiative steering group members have been brought down by depression, but none are really able to admit to it. There should be no shame or sense of personal inadequacy attached to feeling defeated or short-circuited by too much high-voltage but somehow ineffective activity, and your piece gives everyone permission to acknowledge the complexities of being alive at this pinnacle moment in planetary time. It seems that we, as a species, have built enormous skyscrapers of 'achievement' on a shifting bed of sand. How hard it is to admit that inner meaning has flown, departed from all of our long-revered structures! How truly painful. Deep within we feel a deep sense of mourning at all times, mitigated only by looking forward into, and working towards a vaguely shimmering future.