“Nobody is superior, nobody is inferior, but nobody is equal either. People are simply unique, incomparable. You are you, I am I. I have to contribute my potential to life; you have to contribute your potential to life. I have to discover my own being; you have to discover your own being.” – Osho
You are entirely unique. In the whole history of human kind there is no one like you. Even identical twins are absolutely idiosyncratic. One of one, unlike no other. All other living beings are also entirely unique. The same can be said for all livings systems such as ecosystems, communities, neighborhoods and organizations. In fact, each place on Earth is beautifully distinct from every other.
“Essence is the irreducible core of something, what makes it singularly itself.” – Carol Sanford
At the core of this uniqueness is essence. This essence is non-displaceable. Without this essence, any being ceases to be that particular being. Each of us possesses an essence, some may call it your soul, but essentially it is that which makes you, you. This essence is connected to a distinct reason for being, or calling; something you were born to contribute to this world. The world needs your unique gifts. Manifesting this essence connected to our calling is what makes us feel comfortable in our own skin no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
Living in Essence
Expressing our authentic self, our true essential nature, and connecting it with our raison d’etre makes us whole. We are born to do work that transcends our own personal self-interest, serving a higher good, a more noble purpose. This is what gives our lives meaning and settles our soul. It connects us in relationship to our fellow humans, to the plants and animals and other than human beings, to the energies and spirits that surround us. In our wholeness, we ultimately realize we are not separate from other beings, but are immersed in and part of a vast, complex, intricate web of living systems.
“All of our deepest desires are our soul’s way of calling us back to simply being all of who we are.” – Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Essence is not only coupled to our unique gifts for a particular purpose but also to how we each process those gifts in a way that is entirely unique. The way we go about fulfilling our role(s) in life is our essence expression. We are more than our physical components, we are life in motion, and life is a process. This informs not only what we do but also how we go about doing it. The specific role can shift in different groups depending on the situation and relationship dynamics, but the core way you process remains solely yours. We often suppress aspects of ourselves to fit in with the group, but diverse perspectives and processes are often required to find the solutions within complex relationships. Organizations and groups develop an essence in and of themselves by melding the essences of the participants into a singular entity, also with a distinctive purpose and way of processing.
Essence to Essence Resonance
Groups of individuals typically come together to address some sort of larger living system. This can be a particular issue they deeply care about or perhaps to meet a need they are uniquely qualified to fulfill. This bonding of organizational purpose and process then produces a particular effect or value as it manifests on the larger system they are seeking to transform or affect. In this way, our work as individuals is nested within groups, and groups are nested within the larger living systems they affect. For example, an organization focused on transforming the built environment is nested within their geographical region, but also nested within the greater architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry as a whole. This fundamental framework is called Three Lines of Work.
To do regenerative work, we need to be able to hold in our minds the relationships among at least three levels of systems. This is essential if we are to work in a way that is isomorphic with the complexity of living systems. Being able to define and understand those distinct and dynamic interdependent levels allows us to tap new sources of creativity.
– Regenesis Institute, The Regenerative Practitioner course
The usefulness this creativity brings is the value offered to the larger living systems we are nested within. So each of us and our organizations/groups contain an essence, and that essence is composed of the relationship between our core way of processing, the core purpose of this processing, and the core value this contributes. From this set of interrelated aspects, one can determine the vocation best suited to the individual or group. It is this vocation that allows for the expression of essence across each line of work. Every living being has a gift to share and a role to play toward being a contributory actor affecting evolving (or devolving) larger living systems. The pull we feel toward actually living a life in alignment with our true essential nature is our essence demanding to be embodied. It is “not to be better than but simply to be expressed”1.
Regenerating Our Essence
Understanding essence or essence thinking is at the core of regenerative practice. On a personal level, understanding your unique essence allows you to simply be yourself. Just imagine a world where everyone is free to express and manifest the core of who they are, even within groups of people. This requires that those groups value a multitude and diversity of perspectives over uniformity, even perspectives that are contrary to our own. It is within this sort of dynamic tension that original creativity can emerge. It is that tension that creates the reconciling energy needed to produce emergent ideas and designs. Suspending the need to know and embracing the “not knowing” opens our mind to new potential just waiting to materialize. Inherent within that potential is the capacity to manifest at greater orders of affectiveness in a field with a wide diversity of not only perspectives, but also a diversity of interrelationships and interactions. In other words, within a wide variety of processes of exchange like life herself2.
Understanding the essence of a group or organization also allows ki3 to express who they are so they can determine their essential role or vocation within the larger systems they are seeking to serve. This empowers the group to seek an essence-to-essence resonance with other entities with related mindsets to develop the capacity of all to make a contribution to systems actualization4. If you love your work, you probably have an essence-to-essence resonance tied to the living systems that entity serves.
Discovering the Essence of a Place
As mentioned in the beginning, each place on the Earth has a unique essence as well. One way of deeply engaging with a place is to put forth the effort to discover the essence of that place or the Story of PlaceTM5. 7group supported a fledgling group called regener8 to engage in a Story of Place for Harrisburg, PA6. The fundamental premise behind Story of Place is that each place on the planet has its own unique essence, embedded in the geomorphology and ecology of that place. Projects, programs and human development that align with this essence will be successful long term. Revealing the essence of a place enables us to work with the forces of nature, seen and unseen, rather than against ki. After engaging in research and interviewing many residents of the region, certain patterns began to emerge. These patterns reveal the essence of this place and are expressed in the triad below.
When Harrisburg is working well, divides are crossed that serve to enrich the community, enabling opportunities for residents. These patterns suggest that Harrisburg’s vocation is Making Connections. This is true through its history as a transportation hub for settlers heading west and south (and later north during the Great Migration), connections between existing and arriving communities as new layers are added to the social fabric, and through the art of making policies between state lawmakers from differing political parties and across the urban/rural divide. Remaining true to this core vocation will be key to efforts to maintain the vibrancy of the city and its region.
– An Evolving Story of Place: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
The Inherent Nature of Living Systems
Essence is fundamental to understanding any living being or system, yet we spend precious little time discerning the crux of the matter. Instead, we tend to focus on the material; the things instead of the interrelationships between things; the problems within a community (or ourselves, or a group) instead of ki’s ethos; the physical properties and not the spirit; the actions and not the being. Essence is discovered by consistently seeking the potential embedded within individuals, groups and larger living systems. Since potential does not yet exist, it cannot be determined with our typical sensory organs. “Seeing” potential requires imagination, intuition and the knowing that comes with feeling something is right deep within our bones while continuing to question that knowing to reveal even higher orders of potential. Being conscious of the quiddity of living beings enables us to attract a deeper richness, a more ordered and therefore, simpler systemic complexity.
At your core, how do you process everything? What is the core purpose of that way of processing? Why does that purpose offer value? Have you discerned your true essential nature?
1 Tyson Yunkaporta, author of Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.
2 Joel Glanzberg, author of A Pattern Mind.
3 Robin Wall Kimmerer, Nature Needs a New Pronoun: To Stop the Age of Extinction, Let’s Start by Ditching “It
4 Carol Sanford, Regeneration: What is it and how does it work?
5 Regenesis Institute, https://regenesisgroup.com/services/story-of-place
6 An Evolving Story of Place: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
This article continues an eight part series aimed at exploring how regenerative practices can be used to build our capacity to engage with larger living systems. In particular, we’ll examine how built environment projects can serve as powerful and effective instruments for doing so. These practices are grounded in the Seven First Principles of Regeneration. These principles emerged through the work of Carol Sanford, a wise and insightful elder, and through our work with Carol, Bill Reed, Joel Glanzberg and others over the past decade. Inspired by this continuing work, we will unpack these seven principles through the context of our experiences co-creating habitation. The principles include:
Working with Wholes