COVID-19 has been a shock, a deep disturbance for every human on Earth. In this new-found time, I have chosen to limit exposure to a handful of selected, trusted news sources, instead of letting the meteorite shower of media hit and crush my soul. I’d rather spend more time reading, learning about, and implementing ways to be a better source of support, balance, service, and joy to others, and stay purposeful and positive in these times of uncertainty.
I have teenage daughters, for whom this drastic change to their lives and social routines can be unsettling. I have elder parents far away, also probably scared and vulnerable. I am the CEO of Savory Institute, and despite our distributed and resilient governance structures and high level of autonomy of the team and network members, I feel the illusionary responsibility of caring for them, our partners, and our community.
I am blessed, in return, to be taken care of by so many, including my family, with their unconditional love; my teammates stepping up to the occasion; our partners and advisors, with their desire to commune more than ever before in idea-sharing, heartfelt conversations and zoom calls; our loyal, generous, and trusting donors big and small, betting on us and our contribution to the world even in these uncertain times.
One of the most powerful (to me) writings on the subject of COVID-19 I have read so far, came from writer and philosopher Charles Eisenstein, The Coronation. He has many profound observations and offerings to his readers in his sharp analysis and thought provoking prose.
I love ideation and change, so I sat with this one for most of the weekend, and started to ponder the disruption in my routines, and what I like about the new emerging aspects of my day to day during this crisis. I wonder: what are we doing now differently that we will want to bring into the future? More intentionally nurturing our relationships with our loved ones? More creatively and responsibly allocating resources in our homes and businesses? More purposefully using our precious time? More acutely understanding the power of touch in our lives? More intelligently discerning our food sourcing, eating, and cooking habits? More curiously embracing meditation and physical exercise? More readily appreciating sunshine and the outdoors? More deeply feeling empathy and compassion? What’s vividly clear to me is a greater awareness of our incredible power to design our daily lives and not being at the mercy of our unintentional, unconscious design. This is the power of a Holistic Context if we craft it thoughtfully and use it consistently to check our actions.
Charles also invites us to consider the impact of the currently imposed controls on our lives, and the possibility of them becoming the new norm, without our conscious permission. Are these measures which take away basic freedoms “in context” with how we want our lives to be? What if they become part of our daily lives just as heightened airport screening became the norm after 9/11? These are profound reflections that we can all spend time sitting with to find out within our souls what is true for us, and be ready to courageously act upon our deepest values when the time comes to redesign the future.
Charles helps us revisit our notions of death (a big one for me), and our current ultimate short-term target as a society “to stop death at all costs”, not to judge this target we are focused on, but to remind us to hold space for the longer-term need and more beautiful alternative of creating the underlying conditions for living and dying well, in community, in health, in love. Very holistic I would say.
This is a profound moment in the history of humanity, for what it is shaking and exposing, and for the opportunities it is gifting us all.
The Savory Institute team is a small group of individuals in community with a larger global network of humans to whom we serve and support, so they can best serve and support their local communities of farmers and ranchers, so those, in turn, can support all of us with clean food and fiber, water and air, wildlife and resilience. By each doing our part, we all contribute to the best of our ability, to the health of our mother Earth and to our own human existence.
COVID-19’s shattering impact on life and the economy has put us all, our thinking, our assumptions, our priorities, our strategies, our structures, our budgets to the test. It has shaken us and our communities in ways unpondered. Can we replan fast enough? Well enough? Addressing the short term and the long term simultaneously? In ways that are ecologically, financially and socially sound? Would some of us sacrifice the short term for others’ wellbeing, for the long term emergence of what we are here to facilitate or create. I’d venture to say yes.
There are multiple, hundreds, millions of ways to go about replanning your business in a time of crisis. You can dissolve it, you can expand it, you can shrink it and hunker down, you can sell it, you can recreate it and redesign it. Any decision will change the relationships in the community, our focus, our priorities, our daily engagement and actions. It will not go without pain and loss. But… what life-giving versions of it can emerge?
At Savory, we already did our first round of replanning. I learned from maybe Tony Robbins or Steve Kotler that mindful action nips fear and anxiety in the bud. I like that. So, the first action item was a short term (2020) replanning, holistic context-specific, and tied to the obvious potential for a “drought”.
Following the principles of early destocking in holistic planned grazing, when projected forage growth may be at risk, we assessed our probable case scenario and went at it. We looked at all the expenses, all the needed redesign of programs and services that either we could not implement in the current state of travel and in-person gathering restrictions, and those we could wait to implement until the rains start again. This was a first attempt to manage information and make holistic decisions around it. It did give us a reassuring sense of teamwork; caring, willing and courageous compromise; and committed support for each other, our network and the mission. It also decreased the anxiety of the unknown (not necessarily the reality or persistence of uncertainty), allowing us to refocus intentionally on a narrower, maybe problem-driven scenario, but still with the Holistic Context as the context for our decision making and design.
There is, however, a longer term undertaking we must all embark on — both Savory Institute and the Savory Global Network.
There are other ways of doing what we do, of course. The question is: are there better ways we see, together, in context, in light of our learning during COVID-19? Are there sacrifices that are worth making for the greater good? Are there opportunities that have emerged as a result of the introspection gifted to us by this quarantine?
This feels almost like an opportunity to contemplate starting from scratch. At Savory, we are familiar with these “planned disturbances”, as they are part of how we challenge ourselves and our work, and what we think we know, so we do not get too comfortable and stagnant. But this is bigger. This is the “disturbance after the disturbance”.
Can we go further? Like we do when we holistically design an ideal land plan, we can follow a similar exercise with our lives, and our businesses. What if we moved our vision way beyond our current fences and water points and our false and restricted understanding of our “carrying capacity”, our “life-supporting capacity”, our productivity, our health? What would it look like if abundance ensued and manifested in levels, expressions, and metrics unimaginable to us today? Where would that fence go? Or would there be a fence at all? Where would a water point go? Or would there be instead crystal clear creeks and rivers now flowing through our land? What outcome can we imagine that is so much better than we ever thought possible? And then, how would we organize, and plan, and design, and use our resources to manifest this more beautiful world?
All We Might Become
“Already we can feel the power of who we might become,” says Charles.
My friends, we are working on the business, in the business, on ourselves, on our assumptions, on your feedback, on the underlying conditions for the best to emerge from our work, at these different, challenging, and opportunity-laden times, because we feel the power of all we might become if we choose as a community to design and live holistically.
If you feel inclined and have the time to invest, read Charles’s reflections in his essay, The Coronation. Let it sink in and see what emerges. Be in touch with us and share your impressions, as valuable to us as Charles’.
Let’s see if a more open and regular communication cycle among members of our community can inspire and inform new and better strategies for all, more innovative and regenerative ways to do our work, to advance our common mission, and to move closer to “a world in which humans have learned to live in harmony with each other and the Earth.”*
*Savory Institute’s Vision