Self in System

Julian Norris

A social innovator’s awareness of their innermost selves is a critical variable in their capacity to effectively foster change within complex systems. There is much to be gained from practices that cultivate deep awareness, self-knowledge, personal growth and connection to the source of their most creative intelligence. Throughout Getting to Maybe: A Social Innovation REsidency, we use a variety of methods to help explore your own interior landscape:

Encounters with the Natural Environment

The natural environment can act as both a mirror and a window to learn about ourselves - our own sense of calling and purpose – as well as the complex adaptive systems that we seek to engage and the principles that describe change in such systems. Encounters with nature illustrate the deep connections between environmental and social systems, and can teach social innovators about key skills such as attending, following, pattern recognition and skillful system intervention. During the residency you will have a number of opportunities for such encounters; personal reflective time, immersion and observation activities, guided and self-directed hikes, mindful walks, nature-based artistic practices, and an 8-hour solo experience. 


Many cultures have developed practices designed to focus awareness and cultivate present-centeredness - whether hunters sharpening their senses, warriors preparing for combat or adepts seeking enlightenment. Any such technique that involves deliberate mental training and repeatedly experiencing the ‘deeper’ mind of clarity and wisdom that underlies our ‘everyday’ mind can be understood as a type of meditation or mindfulness practice. The value of a regular meditation or mindfulness practice is well described in the research literature; documented benefits include reduced stress and lower blood pressure, improved brain and immune system function, increased focus, concentration and creativity, less unhealthy self-criticism and an increase in the ability to respond to complex and difficult situations with a more objective and open-hearted perspective. 

Dreamwork and Deep Imagery

Dreams can provide an important window into unexamined or emergent aspects of our inner world. Dreams, along with other phenomena such as visions and material from the deep imagination, arise from a profoundly creative and unconditioned part of the self that could be said to “speak” to us through imagery and symbolism. Our goal is to open up the doorway between the “dreamworld” and the “dayworld” in such a way that our practical work in the world can be enriched by a living connection to the deepest and most potent source of our own creative intelligence.

Somatic Practices

Dance and movement, tools for self-exploration, can be understood as an invitation for us to surrender more deeply to our calling and to connect with the deep imagery and greater purpose that ‘wants’ to move us and be danced by us into the world. It is an opportunity to release our embodied selves into realms beyond the ordinary ego state and to discover what our own deeper wisdom/soul/intuition has to say through the body’s improvisation. The goal is to slip below the everyday ego’s usual way of being and into a more mysterious and generative space. The risk that we take in moving and dancing echoes the risks that innovators always take moving into new spaces and bringing their vision for change to life.