Getting to Maybe: Stillness at the Edges

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Watch a tightrope walker just before she moves from the solid platform to her own chosen edge—the suspended, narrow rope high above the ring. She pauses. She often closes her eyes. She breathes deeply, and she becomes…still. Watch her closely and you’ll see that she continues to hold that stillness and, at the same time, becomes actively alert as she then steps forward to travel along the rope's edge, moving towards her destination. 

You are the kind of people who walk on the edges. Perhaps not all the time, but often enough that you know what that’s like. The edge of what you know, the edge of what you can imagine, the edge of brand new ways of doing things. The edge of what is now, and what could be. 

You hang out on the edges of communities, professions, organizations, fields, feeling neither fully inside nor fully outside—maybe going back and forth or occupying that space in between. You move to the edges because it allows you the most room to move and figure out what could come next on the path to change. The edge offers you a better view of systems—and the next horizon.

The edges call to you and you go there. Even though, they’re not easy, even though they have their own dangers. But what does it take to stay there and balance the risk with the promise of those spaces? We instinctively know that it’s going to require all that we can give. And in that case, we’re going to need to be as whole as we can be. If we’re going to centre our work on the edges, then we’re going to also have to be centred within ourselves. 

Maybe we need to prioritize being centred at the edges as one of the most important characteristics needed by system change leaders. 

To be centred, to feel centred, it’s clear that we need to take time to become still and access our wholeness, through our multiple ways of knowing and making meaning. We tap into wise messages about ourselves and our work in the world, through multiple paths: in creative ideas, of course, but also in communion with nature, through images that come in dreams, through our bodies in motion, and our senses alive. We are more fully whole when we explore our relationships with those we love, with those who make us wary, and with spirit, as we choose to know it. Walking the edges of change requires us to access all these diverse sources to enhance our ways of being, knowing, and doing. 

As you balance on the edges that call to you, what time and focus are you carving out for stillness and becoming centred? It’s essential for serious change makers—that’s why the encouragement of multiple ways of knowing and reflective practice is so foundational to the Getting to Maybe program. Now, research is beginning to shine a light on this area and more and more, from all sectors, you can find writing encouraging reflection and mindfulness for social impact. The next time you’re wondering if it really matters, take a look at one of these recent publications:

The inner path to becoming a systems entrepreneur (World Economic Forum)

Conscious Social Change: investing in mindfulness (Skoll)

The Overlooked inner life of the systems entrepreneur (Geneva Global)

You have goals to change systems through social innovation, so there’s every argument to be made that you must intentionally invest in “the parallel and mutually reinforcing tracks of action and reflection,” (Getting to Maybe, page 87). This very unique skillset and way of being is required precisely because of the unique environment you face (the edges) and the unique objectives you hold (changing systems).

And the first step to quieting your busy mind, purposefully reflecting, opening up to all your ways of knowing, and accessing your wholeness for powerful action on the edges, is to become still.  

“To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” -Lao Tzu

Do it. As often as you can. Take the time to become still, to become centred in all your wholeness, right there on the edges. 

And then step forward.