One of the most problematic metaphors I have heard in changemaking and social innovation is that of ‘the core’ versus ‘the edge’. Changemakers can often be heard to speak of ‘the core’ representing all those aspects of the world which involve the existing system; features that have become so entrenched and enshrined to be unchallenged assumptions of daily existence.
In contrast, many changemakers see themselves as operating on ‘the edge’ – that zone which lies outside of the existing paradigm or system; pushing the boundaries of existence and what is possible. The edge is the space where newness flourishes, innovation bursts forth and discovery happens.
If the core is a place of boundaries and knowingness, the edge is the place of fuzziness and unknowingness. It is the contrast that is powerful, and yet it is the core that is often referred to negatively while the edge the alluring positive. All the while I cannot help but see a necessary yin-yang dynamic here, as if both are necessary and deeply entwined with each other.
In the beginning of heaven and earth
There were no words,
Words came out of the womb of matter
And whether a man dispassionately
Sees the core of life
Or passionately sees the surface
The core and the surface
Are essentially the same,
Words making them seem different
Only to express appearance.
If name be needed, wonder names them both:
From wonder to wonder
– Tao Te Ching (translation by Witter Bynner)
I came across this passage in a beautiful book by David Whyte called The Three Marriages. It got me thinking about this relationship between the core and the edge in a new way. Perhaps we could use the same metaphor of the core and the edge to describe that actual life of an individual changemaker, and not just the system in which she or he operates.
For the individual, there are aspects of ourselves that are found at the deepest core of our existence, while other parts of our lives are readily seen on the edge or surface. If the edge of our lives involves all those activities that we engage in on a day-to-day basis, and all those aspects that are constantly renewing themselves and changing, then what is the core?
I can’t help but think of the core as being that deepest and most sacred aspect of ourselves. For me I call this part of ourselves Soul, but language is not so important as the essence of what I am describing here. For me our Core is our true nature, our true self. As Soul we know intuitively all that is good for us, and where we want to grow into. It is not fixed or unchanging, but rather ever unfolding and growing. The edge moves fast, while the core unfolds steadily. Yet while the edge may seem like the zone of possibility, so too is the Core a place of limitless possibility.
So why is this important to consider?
The edge is the place where we live our outer lives. It is found in action and movement. And yet, the core itself can only be accessed through dreams, silence, contemplation and deep exploration. If we were to live only on the edge, we would be missing out on accessing a far deeper wisdom, knowingness and possibility.
I can’t help but wonder whether the pace of our outer worlds, and the seduction of innovation, newness and change is actually our Achilles Heel. By pursuing quick processes and fast results, we deny ourselves of the kind of unfoldment, change and growth that might come through a slower and more contemplative innovation or change process.
The things I am writing about here are neither original nor isolated. There are many people out there exploring rich spiritual and mindful lives. Indeed, many changemakers I know enjoy pursuing a mindful way of life. And just as all things echo back and forth between the macrocosm and the microcosm, I am beginning to wonder what mindful innovation might look like.
I wonder if there is a kind of long range innovation that comes through deep mindfulness, contemplation and silence. I wonder what processes this deepest part of ourselves might create in response to startup camps, fast prototyping and the ever-quickening-need-for-having-everything-now.