Shaping Change by Leaping (Intentions Part 1)

It’s the New Year™!

Usually, I get very energized about new beginnings. I love the allure of a blank slate: the opportunity to leave behind old patterns and stride adventurously into the open horizon of possibility (behind me, there is slow-motion explosion burning up all my fears and traumas into a fiery inferno, ahead of me, a show-stopping sun-rise). I’ve often been guilty of what X has affectionately termed “resolution porn”: I take a lot of pleasure in abstractly designing all of the ways I will finally leave my limiting beliefs and habits behind – “this is the year that I will finally… [ insert: build my website / do a vipassana retreat / paint more / write more / / learn all my mom’s chinese recipes / move into my wilderness commune and learn how to forage and grow veg to survive] !”. 

I’m rarely attached to these gossamer goals though, because they usually speak more to potential rather than concrete ambition. From a young age, I’ve floated in the clouds of imagination  – ideas felt more alive than things and my grade school report cards included accusations of daydreaming out the window rather than paying attention in class. But these were important aspects of my intuitive non-attachment, which has been really useful for natural adaptation and resilience in periods of tumultuous change and transition. My capabilities shine brighter in fast-moving currents that require fluid sense-making and improvisation, rather than dedicated execution and patient implementation in systems change. I am good at letting go – of goals, of plans, of pe-conceived conceptions of identity –  in order to become what is spontaneously called of me in the present. The course of my life has flowed like water, and I surrender to how the Tao bends and moves me. 

However, where Surrender happens, there is also a Leap.

The Yin of Surrender and the Yang of Leaping are flip sides of the same coin. And Leaping requires the courage to act and create in the face of the Great Mystery. This is a tension I try to remember through the Toaist paradox of Wu-Wei, of effortless effort, or actionless action.

Yesterday, I attended a Stoa talk by Robert Fritz around “Structural Dynamics and the Creative Process”. The talk was relevant and it also made me feel uncomfortable – which is a great thing because discomfort sparks my curiosity. Contrary to the mainstream focus on the cultivation of the inner self, Robert said that one’s internal beliefs matter less when one wants to successfully create Art. Instead, you must have a clear idea of exactly what you want to create, and then leverage the structural tension between the outcome you desire and the current reality, in order to actually create and manifest.

The unromantic focus on individual goal-setting in creativity made me bristle, but I knew part of the reason why: I’m not very well-practiced at this knowing what I want and achieving it. 

But something he said also really resonated with me: The Path of Least Resistance means that energy will always move where it’s easiest to go. However, it is the underlying structure –  the river bed – that determines where the water will go, and we can change the riverbed. 

I can change the waterbed. This is a bold and empowering notion. 

When I went to Art School as a teenager, I practiced the dance of creative tension, which was equal parts punishing and rewarding. I was haunted by the pressure and pain of attempting to pull the aesthetic perfection of my ideas and dreams into concrete reality, and the harrowing sense of failure in the gap between the two. Art school was no easy romp: Studio days past midnight was the norm, and everything I created was subject to the ruthless Art School Crits, where artworks are presented to peers for constructive feedback. But it also armed me with a thick skin, and taught me about the discipline of craft, and the professionalism of being an artist (Peter Limberg from the Stoa, who has been writing a public journal every day, commented: “A professional shows up even when inspiration doesn’t strike.”)

Since that period in my life, I’ve kept the vulnerability of “Art” in the privacy and safety of my imagination. When I went to University, I snuggled cozily and safely back into theory land – I studied Philosophy and English Literature and wrote papers and essays that no one read except my TAs. Working as a Systemic Designer and researcher, I often work at abstracting levels of systemic analysis, policy and research at a distance from the actual and felt consequence of interventions. There were still periods and choices made out of creative bursts –  my Art Collective and doing my Masters Degree – but mostly, I relied on external structures and incentives for direction and validation. 

One of the strange consequences of not creating and non-attachment was I fell out of practice with knowing what I truly wanted. I began to lose touch with my inner voice, and it was increasingly difficult for me to know who I wanted to become, and the kinds of futures I wanted to be in service of designing and creating. 

Starting this Self-Directed Masters two months ago was a starting point in giving me permission to reconnect with this inner voice – my soul’s calling. My commitment to resourcing this space of my Self-Directed masters – with my presence, time, energy, and dedication to showing up, even when I’m not inspired – is how I choose to change the riverbed of where the water flows. 

However, I still disagree with Robert’s idea that you have to know exactly what you want in order to create it. That requires to see the artwork – the future – as an object to be manifested. I resonate more with Heidegger’s description of art making and poiesis:

“Art is the becoming and happening of Truth”.

Art discloses new worlds not yet known – it is the creative process of bringing forth truth into being. So for me, true creation is a transforming encounter, a dance between artwork and the artist. 

The journey I take with this Self-Directed Masters has no clear destination or end point. Perhaps it will end in March, or perhaps it will last a lifetime. I can imagine, perhaps, a constellation of artefacts, of Truths, that might emerge from this inquiry. But what I’m committed to is the vibe, not the output, and to follow the current of how it transforms and changes me. 

So here, I’ll redefine my new years intention as a vibe. I want to better tune into and follow what I vibe with. Because vibrations– the ones that I notice in my body – are closest to what feels like truth, and there are ones that make me want to leap and dance.

I remember adrienne maree brown’s description about “Shaping Change” in Emergent Strategy (one of my sacred texts). While we surrender ourselves to the never-ending process of change and the fact that nothing lasts, all will fall apart, and we will all return to dust – we can also choose to love, and to create, and to care in the face of the Great Mystery. This is the Leap that comes with Surrender. 

From courage and love, I commit to Shaping Change and Creating beautiful new worlds. Even if these new worlds are as gossamer and temporary as the waves that return to the ocean.

Earthseed wisdom, from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower:

Consider: Whether you’re a human being, an insect, a microbe, or a stone, this verse is true.

All that you touch
You Change.
All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

Is Change.


We will shape God And God will shape us