Deep change is a change in perspective, identity, and strategy. Research on post traumatic growth teaches us about one form of deep change, and that is extreme disruption. When an extreme disruption occurs, the natural reaction is fight or flight, anger or withdrawal. The person becomes less functional. Pain keeps increasing until the proper adaptation is made. I sometimes refer to this as the deep change or slow death dilemma. It applies to individuals and to collectives.
When a deep change is finally made, there is often a new sense of purpose, vision and hope. The adaptation represents alternation in identity and is accompanied by many positive emotions.
The painful learning process that preceded deep change can take a long time. There are, however, exceptions. Some people have evolved and become masters of the process and they can do the seemingly impossible. I will share an extraordinary example, but first consider the process of personal development.
The growing science of spirituality calls our attention to consciousness and influence. As we engage in moral development, we go through stages including the transcendence of ego. We move from living in an “I” perspective to living in a “We” perspective.
As we make the change, we become aware of the “unbounded self.” We move from an external locus of control in which we are trying to meet external, cultural expectations to an internal locus of control in which we are trying to enact the conscience and contribute to the common good. In making the change, we move from being created by the culture that controls us, to creating the culture that controls us. The sense of enlightenment, or increased consciousness, leads to the feeling of being free, energized, and fully alive. This transcendence of the old self is sometimes called transcendental consciousness.
To transcend the ego does not mean that we have eliminated the ego. We still need to survive. Stress, hunger, fatigue, and many other influences can pull us back into the ego state. This is where a second, higher form of consciousness comes into play. It is sometimes called cosmic consciousness. It is the constant realization of the transcendent self (the unbounded self) in lived activity. It is the ability to face the disruptions of life and self-regulate, that is, to make deep change and move back into a functional or contributive state. Recently a friend shared an extraordinary illustration.
My friend is a very wise man. He is a former CEO. He is a Buddhist who has practiced meditation for decades. He told me of a life disruption and his response. To me his response seems impossible.
One night his son did not come home. At 8:10 AM he received a call from the police. At that moment his wife was in the shower. The police informed him that his son was dead. As he began to naturally respond to this terrible disruption, something unconventional happened.
He told me, “My body hungered for meditation.” In the personal chaos he stopped and meditated. He suspended judgement and allowed his consciousness to expand. When his wife came out of the shower, he had an internal locus of control and was able to take the “We” perspective. He told her what happened and then he spent his time caring for her needs.
This is an example of cosmic consciousness, he was able to realize the transcendent self, the unbounded self, the self of peace, purpose, hope and love in the midst of disrupted, lived activity. He was thus able to bring a high form of leadership to the relationship with his wife. It is the same kind of leadership that is needed in every organization.
I think the story is precious. It suggests that we can develop morally and spiritually. Doing so alters how we respond to life disruptions. The adjustment process does not need to be long and painful. The case invites us to learn from excellence rather than convention. It is not a theory, it is evidence from the real world. This evidence challenges our conventional assumptions, and invites us to grow, to become masters of deep change, to become leaders who bring flourishing to those around us.
- When have you experienced a great life disruption? Did you ever recover, if yes, what was the process like?
- As you ponder the case of the lost son, what does your conscience call you to do differently?
- What would it mean to become a master of deep change? How would it effect the people you care about?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?