Nature’s adaptive cycle

Nature resets itself on an ongoing basis. This adaptive cycle is like a simple infinity loop that rests on its side. Imagine such a loop. The top left arc is exploring, learning, and discovery. From there it moves seamlessly to launching experiments that, if successful, allow it to continue to the top right arc of maturing and sustaining the experiments. This sustaining pattern eventually moves toward release and the bottom right curve of the infinity loop. The bottom right quadrant is filled with letting go of forms that no longer serve the purpose of the larger system. This letting go frees up energy and resources that can be used in the next cycle to discover the next set of forms and patterns that nature will experiment with. Our release quadrant moves to start again at the exploring and learning stage in the top left arch of the adaptive cycle.

Nature has been around on this planet for 3.8 billion years. Its adaptive cycles allow it to continually evolve the larger living system and meet all challenges and disruptions that come its way. We are also living systems and we can use nature’s ability and pattern of adaptation to help us as we go through disruptions.

Humanity’s adaptive cycle in a time of COVID-19

As around the world we learn to shelter in place, we are finding many challenges and opportunities to trigger our own adaptive cycles. Of course there is immense uncertainty around the coronavirus and its impact on our habits, our routines and our lives overall. We are living in a moment where there are  a million unknowns.  In other words, there is a lot of movement and change going on in our lives, much of it is unknown and most of it cannot be controlled.

One of my routines each year is to vacation on the North Shore of Lake Superior. I use this time to intentionally break out of my routines and create an interruption in my habits. It gives me a reset. I reflect on what’s working and what is not working in my life. The time helps me develop new ways of living and release or recommit to others – like healthier eating habits, exercise or creative endeavors.

I am experiencing something similar in this time of sheltering in place. Things that used to be part of daily life can’t happen now. It is giving me more open space in my calendar as things get postponed, canceled or put on hold. It allows me to consider activities that I used to be too busy to do. For example, I now have time to write my next book, to take a walk in the middle of the day or to just pause when I step outside my door and breathe in the fresh air. My mind, despite the worries of the unknowns, seems to be calmer and clearer. I am becoming more open to the possibilities and less open to the fear.

It can be helpful to use questions to help evaluate – and reset – our thinking and our habits. Try to ask yourself a few of these:

  1. What is the highest and best use of my time right now?
  2. Is this time helping me to consume less and learn what I need versus what I want?
  3. Can it help me see what is essential?
  4. Does it give me a different way to measure value that’s less about money and more about connections or simplicity?
  5. What creative activity can I engage in that will help me connect with life and the future?
  6. What should I be investing in now that will position me to thrive in this unknown future?
  7. What can I release in the way I am thinking, feeling, or acting that isn’t helping me adapt to this new reality?
  8. What are some new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that will support me now and in the future?
  9. What has been percolating inside me that I can now listen to and do something about?

Fear and worry always drain energy. These emotions can suck the life out of our days and may not actually help us going forward. I think being realistic about the challenge is important. We need to conserve resources to help with the unexpected and to plan for contingencies.  However, that doesn’t mean that our days have to be filled with fear and worry. I often wonder if endless worrying ever actually changes anything, and my conclusion is always that it does not.

Therefore, I am nurturing my creative side because it connects me to life within and outside of me. Creativity is life-giving and can be a powerful counterforce to emotions of fear and worry. This is a time for resetting our defaults. However, that can only happen if we choose to reflect and reset ourselves by letting go and adapting to the next phase of our evolution.