Thursday, October 5th, 2017
I cannot believe we’re coming up on almost a year since the presidential disaster, aka election. I’m still reeling, my friends and family are still reeling, the organizations and communities I work with are most definitely still reeling.
How do we move in and through these troubling waters? Read on to learn about the Torus, Bounded Ambiguity, and Possibilitarianism, a musing in two acts.
ACT 1: THE TORUS AND BOUNDED AMBIGUITY
I support the internal work of complex, often networked systems, in service to increasing their effectiveness and impact in the larger environment. This summer, I searched for an image that captures this dynamic, and I woke up thinking about water snakes.
Have you ever played with one of these things? They’re super silly and weirdly satisfying, with their outsides slipping through your hands and becoming their insides.
After a little research, I realized that what I was in search for is a torus. A torus draws into itself, inverting, so that its outer edge becomes its inner edge. Imagine a donut or bagel whose surface keeps on inverting. It is continuously inside-outing (and outside-inning). A looping back, flipping, churning.
The self in a toroidal universe can be both separate and connected with everything else.
— Arthur Young, Scientist and Philosopher
The torus is an excellent metaphor for the work I do with organizations and communities. When you are working within a torus, you can embrace the not knowing of where you are going, trusting that it will get you somewhere right. When we collectively engage in inner work, we change our external environment.
Working within a torus is…
Transformational and Stabilizing,
Internal and External,
Self-Reflexive and Fractal,
Methodical and Chaotic, and
Bounded and Ambiguous
This is so different from the larger social/political/economic/cultural context we currently find ourselves in. I think of that as unbounded ambiguity, and it’s very hard to manage one’s self, one’s social network, and one’s work when trying to make sense of all the racist, violent, ugly nonsense that is occurring all around us.
What’s the key?
Find the piece you can bite, chew, and swallow.
Find the zone of play where you can allow for some bounded ambiguity, growth, and development.
Find the torus.
ACT 2: POSSIBILITARIANISM, A VIVID EXAMPLE OF A LIVING, BREATHING TORUS
This summer, I re-juiced at Bread and Puppet Theater , a theater activist group that has been staging shows with social justice themes since its founding by Peter Schumann in 1963. Back when I was an undergrad studying theater directing, I interned with Bread and Puppet, dancing on stilts, stage managing shows, sewing burlap costumes, and peeling and chopping an unfathomable number of garlic cloves for the aioli that went with the hardy rye bread baked by Peter and given out at the end of every show.
Since then, I have traveled back to Bread and Puppet’s farm in Glover, Vermont many different summers, a personal pilgrimage to pay homage to and reconnect with my formative model of how to mix beauty and generosity and social justice. Like any organization, they’re not perfect, but they were my crucible when I was 19. When I visited over Labor Day weekend I learned from Peter that puppeteers now spend more time consciously processing together how they want to work. Peter laughed and said he doesn’t truck with that stuff too much but could see the great value in it and that his company is happier.
Bread and Puppet’s work has become even more compelling in the last few years. One of their posters declares: “This is the end of Our Domestic Insurrection Circus & the beginning of the Possibilitarian Take-Over of Society. We herewith dispose of the incompetent ruling class by underthrowing it from the toes up.” This year’s Circus ended with inviting everyone to walk through a cardboard door, a puppeteer instructing: “When you pass through this door on your way to a piece of bread and aioli, you acquire citizenship in the brand new Possibilitarian state.”
As I watched people line up, walk through the door, and receive a bit of bread and aioli, I realized this was a living torus in action. A portal. One point to go through and emerge out from, changed. The transformation of bread and aioli. A torus. Possibilitarianism.
In this season as the days grow darker, I wish for you bounded ambiguity in service of positive transformational change. May the torus be with you!