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Bill Sharpe:
patterning hope

Bill is a futures thinker who had a career as a research manager in the computer industry before he and his colleagues came up with the Three Horizons framework (one of the most useful models to consider how to move from an ailing system to an emerging one). He lives in Wales where the glacial valleys and cragged tops are his laboratory for exploring how we connect our inner and outer knowledge for the benefit of humanity and our planet. We make a truth in how we live a life, he says. He shows us how to pattern hope through the simple means of awakening our awareness to the qualities of being and of being together in life.

Made by Jo Barratt with Gemma Mortensen, Iris Andrews and Lily Piachaud.

Music is made for New Constellations by Art School Girlfriend.


So you’ve just been with me on my morning walk from the house, up to that little crag called Carnfoy on the edge of Carningli, just a few hundred feet above the house. And Carnfoy is one of the many prehistoric settlements on Carningli, there are still the ruins of the Rampart walls around it. And where I’m sitting now, I call it ‘the lookout’ because it’s so obviously the place where the lookout would have sat, to keep guard with a view around, down to the country around. And I noticed this morning bringing this little recorder to bring you with me, particularly how the quality of sound changes as one moves up. I don’t know all the birds, but I know some of them, the chaffinch, the Skylark, the chiffchaff and the Meadow Pipit and the Stonechat. And I was just thinking oh, and this morning we haven’t had the cuckoo, but then just as I got here, we had the cuckoo as well, so I was glad to be able to share that with you. The place I’m sitting here is one I like to just be when I want to look out and sometimes come up here with my coffee. It’s a place where there’s a sense of opening. 

This morning, I’m giving an online webinar to a futures network. So I’ve got a little time just to settle and gather my own thoughts. It’s always I imagine how a musician might feel before walking on stage that you need to gather into yourself. I always like seeing the way the face of a performer when they’re completely in the moment of the music is quite different from then the moment of release when it’s finished and they, their face fills out with the joy, the pleasure, the, whatever, the coming back into, into themselves overall. And my metaphor that I often use for the future’s work is the skiing metaphor of getting to love uncertainty, like getting to love gravity. So for me, there’s always that sense of a moment when you push off and get into the flow of whatever is turning up. And I just had an email this morning from someone who’s just read the last chapter of my Three Horizons book, which is on the patterning of hope and asking me, in what way, I might have thought more about that in the light of the COVID crisis we’re going through right now. The first impact on me was a surprising one, the very imminence of what might be disaster in the first days, the sense that one never knew whether one might just fall ill. And that sense of, of imminence was much more real than any other meditations on the end of one’s life. But in a way that created a lightness because like many people, I hold in mind many threats of activities, people to follow up on ambitions, things that might come off if I put enough work into them. All this stuff. And yet when you know that those things are all fragile and feel it in yourself, then you just come back to the day. You come back to then hope that sense, that hope informs the moment. Hope invites, invites attention to the moment in the day in the way that one is patterning it. And whether one is living it with that same intensity of giving the best in a performance that reveals something of life to, to everyone around. One of my favorite quotes is from a classical pianist being asked about preparing for performance at Carnegie hall. And he said, the only way to cope is to know that you cannot cope, that you prepare and practice and prepare and practice, but then when the moment comes and you step out, you just have to let that moment be what that moment really is where it is. For me this has just really intensified my understanding of what it is I mean, by the patterning of hope.

Some people find it easy to journal. Some people find it easy just to start writing and let the thoughts emerge in that way. But I’ve never found that that’s something I can do. I don’t know how to express the thing that is not yet ready to be expressed. So my natural way is to do what I’m doing now, is to either sit at my desk or as I’ve come now just to walk and keep the ideas in mind, keep the things circulating, bring them up, think about them and just let them, let them circulate until they’ve found a shape. So sort of getting to know a question, holding some question and putting it at the back of the mind, and then waiting for something to come back and be given as a, as a way of looking at it.  

So yesterday on our walk, we were walking over to the Gwaun Valley. The Gwaun Valley is a deep subglacial melt Valley and has an even deeper sort of peace about it. And on the way I was meditating on how the Buddhist way of thinking talks about nothing comes from nothing, everything arises in dependency on causes and conditions, recognising that things are dependent, but not determined, allows us to open our minds up to all of the things that can determine the present moment, and how we can bring ourselves into a deeper and deeper relationship with all that is going on and our capacity for action within it. So, Newton’s laws of motion – really useful stuff, but it led to the idea of the past, determining the future is sort of forces unfolding into the future from the past. Whereas it’s just as legitimate, really, to think about potential acting from the future, drawing things out, revealing their latent possibilities.  

I’m much engaged with bringing the inner and the outer truths into alignment. One of my colleagues, David Adams has practiced in one of the North American Indigenous practices – First people practices – and developed what he calls the wisdom wheel. And there are eight perspectives that can be awakened sitting in a circle. Each one, giving a unique perspective on some issue that is held in common, some need for the tribe, for the community to explore a question and find its own way forward. And each of them – disruptive genius, peacemaker, steward, strategist – awakens a particular way of using our awareness in the world. But as McGilchrist said, “the world arises in response to the way we pay attention to it”. So attention is a moral act. David and I found a strong resonance with another way of doing much the same thing, which is a more conceptual language and understanding the patterns in the world and what makes a living pattern. What is it that makes a living pattern, an expression of life and regenerating other life that each expression of life enriches, all the others.  

And now the wind has dropped. It’s a warm mid summer day, a very peaceful feeling up here. The challenge is how to share things that you don’t yet have the words for. I read in somewhere knowing as a response to not knowing. So what I’m mostly thinking about is, ways that seem to evoke some natural response that we all have and then strengthen it. The best analogy I’ve found in the last few days is qualities as we find them in qualities of music, any of us can respond to music. And if we want to learn to sing or play an instrument, then we have to become aware of pitch and rhythm and pulse and phrasing and harmony. And each one of these and others is as a distinct quality, a quality of the thing. And of course it’s a quality that we’ve become aware of in ourselves, but also serves to connect us with others.  And the more deeply we inhabit and get to know that quality in ourselves, the more freedoms we have to make music with others. 

I’ve been living now for several months with the idea of a regenerative compass that would name a few qualities for each point of the compass that would help people cultivate that same awareness and fluency in the way that then habit their lives and allow them the same capacity to come together fluently, bringing out of the whole more than the sum of the parts. And I’ve got the four points, four main Cardinal points of the compass, at least in my mind. And I’ve written them up in the new edition of the Three Horizons book, but it seems to need the full power of the other, the other four points to make up the eight, to really get to the heart of what we might mean by living regeneratively.

So the North-South axis is what we all share, like the shared axis of the world. And the South is the source of abundance at every level, physical, living, conscious. And all life being a configuration of abundance. We have the way that any living thing brings forth a world. So qualities, or for somebody, qualities of colour, qualities of music, qualities of a democracy are brought into being by someone’s participation in the world. A living things’ participation. East-West axis – on the East is the variety of life, the uniqueness of every particular embodied living life. It gives unique meaning to those qualities and can carry them forward in creative ways. And in the West, whatever pattern we’re talking about of interest, whether it’s a choir, an orchestra, a society, an organisation in which those qualities are being lived, the pattern by which the individual lives are being held together.  The North-East is the creative potential that each life sees living on the age of any quality, the chance through its own life, to sing a new song, see a new possibility for shared life or whatever it is. And the North-West is the way that’s expressed in a shared purpose and intent. And then the North is the pole, the orientation to the larger purpose that gives everything its meaning. And if we started at the North pole, then we would start with our intuition of meaning and work down to what that calls from us to reveal new possibilities in life, both through living our own life and living it together.

I’m sitting here on this lookout. And as I look around, I can see the ramparts, not so clearly as in the early spring, because the bracken has come up and covers a lot of them. It’s quite easy to imagine oneself sitting here 1500 years ago, waking up here in the morning, coming out of the hut, seeing the other people around, being in a pattern of life whose qualities were very different from our own. We inherit them. We’ve carried forward step-by-step each day, something, another stone was added to a wall or a new idea was tried out. And here we are with all our new forms of abundance and also having not paid attention to the cycles and the return of the larger patterns of which we need to be part. Everyone knows, everyone who thinks the slightest bit about it can see that we’ve alienated ourselves from the larger patterns of which we’re part and we’re all dependent on each other, but we’ve not found the simple ways to wake up in the morning and orient ourselves to these regenerative qualities.  

Why we as a species should be uniquely problematic, why we should find it so difficult is a mystery. But it seems clear to me that only, only simple means of awakening, this awareness will work. Just like you can take the youngest child and start to clap a rhythm, sing their song, enjoy the rhythm, the cadence of a poem, I think we need to find those simple little ways to awaken those basic qualities of being, and being together, bringing abundance into new forms of life, seeing that all from the perspective of higher meaning, we’ve just got to make them that simple.

Conceptual language of the outer landscape, I suppose that’s where, the rocks all around me, they just are where they are. Stretching in front of me is one of the rampart walls that’s just a pile of stones now. I suppose it would have been built up hundreds of years ago and then the cragg itself and just jagged boulders that stick out of the ground.  

There’s no doubt the landscape is, is just there, but also shaped by the lives that have lived it. As I walked out this morning I brought back to mind, came back to mind an experience from when we first moved here. And I was just finding my way around the paths over this little mountain. And as I walked over one day down into the deep glacial valley on the other side, I just felt as if someone was just about to come towards me, carrying a, a faggot of sticks to make a fire dressed in the skins that people wore when they lived here. But it was as if my feet, because they were on a path that had been trodden hundreds of years before this was the path you would have taken if this was the way you wanted to go, it was just a quality of the landscape and that quality evoked the lives that have been lived in and around here for all those hundreds or thousands of years. So that’s what I keep mulling over is just the way that we make a truth and make a truth the way we live a life in and amongst the rocks. 

I spend a lot of time trying to use my mind, I’m very conscious of its limitations.  It can never do quite as much as I would like it to do so there can be a sense of not achieving enough, not solving a problem but you can’t fail to live a life. And perhaps there’s a letting go of the attempt to know that life that makes it possible to live it more fully. I don’t know. So, back to my desk.