We are in-formation

By Sonja Blignaut

"Ask a cloud: What is your date of birth? Before you were born, where were you?

If you ask the cloud, "How old are you? Can you give me your date of birth?" you can listen deeply and you may hear a reply. You can imagine the cloud being born. Before being born it was the water on the ocean's surface. Or it was in the river and then it became vapor. It was also the sun because the sun makes the vapor. The wind is there too, helping the water to become a cloud. The cloud does not come from nothing; there has been only a change in form. It is not a birth of something out of nothing.

Sooner or later, the cloud will change into rain or snow or ice. If you look deeply into the rain, you can see the cloud. The cloud is not lost; it is transformed into rain, and the rain is transformed into grass and the grass into cows and then to milk and then into the ice cream you eat. Today if you eat an ice cream, give yourself time to look at the ice cream and say: Hello, cloud!
I recognize you."

― Thích Nhất Hạnh, No Death, No Fear

We are caught in a paradigm of "thingness". We are used to thinking about ourselves, our families, our teams, and our companies as "beings", or things. Change is something that "happens to the thing". A person leaves the team, another joins, we may change the name or task of the team ... but the "thingness" of the team remains. But is this really so?

Very few things in life are fixed:

The share price is in-formation. Strategies are in-formation. The same team can never meet twice. The same client can't walk into your store twice. The people returning to the office now in 2022 are not the same people they were in 2020.

In their essay, A manifesto for a processual philosophy of biology, Daniel Nicholson and John Dupré write: "What we identify as things are no more than transient patterns of stability in surrounding flux, temporary eddies in the continuous flow of process." So a more accurate description for us, and the social groups we belong to is that we are flows, always in-formation. Like the clouds in the quote above, we, our families, our teams, our companies are flowing through time ... more becoming than being.

Every ending is a beginning, and every beginning an ending. We never start from a clean slate, there are “leftovers” or histories of previous experiences and relationships.  Human beings are complex, we all have a past, we are all part of unfolding stories.  That is our beauty and opportunity, but also our challenge.  We can only truly have empathy and connect with others if we understand that we are all in-formation, and often also in trans-formation.

  • This week, see if you can become aware of the ever-changing nature of your life. How everything around you is flowing through time. How does this impact how you see your life, your work and your relationships?

This post is dedicated to Thích Nhất Hạnh. Still in-formation.

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