The Three Harmonies in the Planetary Era
Orienting oneself around the planetary era is a journey. To support this is The Three Harmonies. It is the distillation of my 40+ years of living into the question of how to accelerate the transition to a sustainable future.
Embody the harmony within, with others and with nature …
This expression of intention lies at the heart of each of visions for a planetary era. Given its central role, I’d like to unpack the meanings in its various parts.
The Oxford Dictionary defines embody as “be an expression of or give a tangible or visible form to (an idea, quality, or feeling).” For me, an important aspect of this is that to embody something, you need to make it practical, to sort out all the details that are required to put it into practice – and then make it a habit. It’s a much higher bar than envision. This also means that once something is embodied, it has a stronger potential to be a sustainable pattern.
I also see embody here as applying beyond the personal level. Not only can I embody. Groups can embody. Organizations can embody. Institutions can embody. Cultures can embody. Humanity can embody. The scope of embodiment is vast because it’s essentially about putting something into practice.
Various definitions of harmony speak of parts combined into a pleasing and consistent whole – so it’s fundamentally a quality of a system. As in music, the assumption is that the parts will be different. It is the character of the relationship among the parts that makes for harmony (or not). This needs to include all the parts and all of the relationships to be meaningful. Ideas like the economic concept of externalities have no place in our whole-system approach to harmony.
In music, harmony is dynamic, changing in time and including periods of tension, even dissonance. So too in this more general usage, we expect embodying the three harmonies to be dynamic and rich. We also expect there to be tensions that are held in a robust resilience and allowed to lead to deeper understandings.
The physical universe displays two great principles: differentiation and connection. The variety of galaxies, stars and other celestial objects is immense and yet they are all in connection with each other at least through their common physics, through gravitational effects on each other (the subject of my PhD thesis) and through the radiation they exchange with each other.
Here on Earth, the diversity of lifeforms is staggering yet these too are all connected and interdependent through the web of life.
The concept of harmony celebrates and welcomes the synergy of differentiation and connection or, in more human terms, creativity and love.
Our inner world is diverse, complex, even in some sense vast and not automatically harmonious. We may think first of our inner emotional world but I see this as a bigger territory including the physical body and our minds as well as our emotions. For those who see things this way, it also includes a spiritual dimension. Indeed, we may not yet comprehend all of the levels and dimensions that are part of the territory within.
This is the part of the world most intimate to us – although sometimes seemingly most obscure. It is nevertheless the part over which we potentially have the most influence.
The past few decades have seen valuable advances in neuroscience, trauma healing, wellness care, etc.. These provide fresh insights and also throw new light on ancient indigenous and Empire Era spiritual practices, allowing us to pull common threads out of the cultural specifics of each tradition. Combining ancient wisdom with contemporary understandings provides a rich and growing toolbox of practices for working on the harmony within.
“Others” is intended to cover all of our relationships with other humans – from personal relationships to our relationship with all of humanity. It’s a huge territory in which we have varying degrees of influence, although likely more potential influence than we generally realize.
Important for most of us are our close one-to-one relationships and our membership in human-scale groups, such as families and workgroups, where we have direct connections to the others in the group.
Here too, the past few decades have seen valuable advances in a wide variety of fields – from couples therapy to organizational teamwork to conflict resolution and beyond. Combined with the relevant part of the harmony-within toolbox, these provide a rich and growing toolbox of practices for working on the harmony with others.
“Nature” is intended to cover everything beyond the human – life forms, processes like climate, the physical earth and beyond to the solar system, the galaxy and the universe. In the past 70 years or so the human influence over the earth-based part of nature has grown to a life-threatening scale. Our challenge is to learn how to use that new level of influence in partnership and harmony with nature
As with the previous two territories, the past few decades have seen valuable advances in a great many aspects of sustainable/regenerative practices, from decarbonizing the economy to generative agriculture. The many proven approaches in Project Drawdown are a good illustration of the way that, technically, the knowledge we need to live more harmoniously with nature is already available. We just need to get on with doing it.
… for yourself, in groups and in the culture
The goal of embodying the three harmonies can be applied at many different scales. I’d like to focus on three levels but with the understanding that these are best understood as markers along a continuum.
- Yourself is the level where it’s just up to you. You don’t need to coordinate with anyone else in order to act.
- Groups is the level of multiple people consciously collaborating with each other. It could be as small as two people or larger but I’m thinking particularly of human-scale groups where each person has a direct connection to each other person in the group – each is “known” in the group. It’s a scale where you can have direct influence, come to shared agreements and often see results.
- Cultures are groups with shared patterns of ideas, behaviors and artifacts but not necessarily direct interpersonal connection. ‘Culture’ can be applied at many different scales, from a small sub-culture up to humanity as a whole. The key distinction is that a culture evolves primarily in a self-organizing way through the choices of many players. Our role is generally to plant seeds – to innovate, implement, educate – but not to expect to see quick results.
The Three Harmonies are also at the heart of Bright Future Now and the Bright Future Network, the pair of programs we’ve been developing over the past four years. Together, these programs are proving to be a powerful fast-track to the lived experience of a surprisingly wonderful emerging culture – a culture that transcends the limitations and heals the crises of the modern world – a culture that, in its essence, we can start living now.
That’s a bold claim. Let’s talk about it. I hope to see you on the 30th.
Trained as an astrophysicist, Dr. Robert Gilman decided in the mid-70s that “the stars could wait, but the planet couldn’t.” He turned his attention to the study of global sustainability, futures research, and strategies for positive cultural change. His on-the-ground sustainability efforts have included developing the Context Institute, co-founding the Global Ecovillage Network, Citizen Diplomacy with the former USSR, serving as City Councilman in Langley, Washington, and working nationally with the American Institute of Architects on issues regarding sustainability and the built environment. He is currently immersed in the worldwide Bright Future Network and the Bright Future Now course.