The Leadership Imperative of Dynamic Peace

By Lisa Capa

This blog post concerns my journey to Dynamic Peace and what I see as the organization’s leadership imperative. I begin this narrative journey with an experience. I then reflect on this experience by moving back and forth between personal reflection and external sources (e.g., academic research, other blog posts), a weaving of my inner and outer worlds informed by personal and professional experience.

Big Life

The experience that you are about to read is something I share with trepidation. After almost 15 years of sharing this experience with a select few, I feel that it is time to be more public about it. Because, in the story of my life, I realize how influential this experience has been in my leadership development work and in my work in and support of the Dynamic Peace organization.

It was May 2004, late morning just before 11am. It was a day like any other. I was in my doctor’s office waiting for my annual physical. I was sitting on one of those kind-of-but-not-so-comfortable reception sofas. The sofa was facing west but I had my body turned to the south towards the windows about four feet away. On my lap I had a copy of a recent Time magazine. I was looking out the window at the cloudy sky contemplating the significant personal and professional life experiences that had led me to my current situation. I didn’t so much think about the experiences as allow my attention to deploy, like a sunbeam coming out from the clouds, in order to sense the energy of the past events. When I got to present events, I became curious about how my life related to others. An experience of expansion and motion moved through my physical body, even though I was sitting still. All of a sudden, against the cloudy sky, there appeared a sphere so large I could only see half of it; within it were a multitude of smaller spheres. The larger sphere was slowly expanding and contracting. Each little sphere had a density in the middle that resembled a nucleus. The little spheres were slowly expanding, contracting, and vibrating, each of them at slightly different rates. The little spheres were pressing up against each other, and a few of them appeared shriveled up like dried pieces of fruit. “What is this?” I thought. A voice in my head said, “Big Life.” With a feeling of awe and with tears running down my cheeks, I stared at “Big Life”, until the receptionist said, “Ms. Capa, we are ready for you.” I don’t know how long I had been looking at Big Life, but I quickly dried my eyes, put the Time magazine on the table next to the sofa, got up, and slowly walked to the examination room. Feeling happy and filled with awe, I responded to the nurse’s and doctor’s questions as they conducted my annual exam, but I didn’t let on what I had just experienced because I wasn’t yet sure what to say about it. On my way home from the appointment, I began to contemplate my life in relationship to others. Again, Big Life appeared in front of me—a pulsing sphere encompassing smaller spheres superimposed between me and the front of my car. As I drove, tears ran down my cheeks and a feeling of awe stayed with me as Big Life accompanied me for part of the ride. When I got home, I was exhausted and I slept for a solid two hours.

Since I was young, I have witnessed somewhat similar non-ordinary phenomena. But this experience was different in that it represented a big turning point that, even to this day, continues to influence my life. For me what has been useful is not to have my attention caught by the experience (to make a story about it, to wonder why it happened to me, etc.), but to remain open to what I can learn from it.

Prior to my Big Life experience, I had worked 15 years in the computer and information technology industry. I found the business world to be primarily about helping an organization make as much money as it could and helping me to acquire financial satisfaction. While financial stability is important, my single focus of making money resulted in burning out at a certain point. I then became a visual artist to feed a part of myself that solely a financial focus could not satisfy. After three years of doing art, I found myself wanting to reenter the business world. I still had a passion for business—I was familiar with the language of business and felt relatively confident in my project management skills. How was I to reenter the business world in a way that fed me more holistically? It was at this existential crossroads that I had the Big Life experience.

After that day in May 2004, I could evoke what felt like the presence of Big Life, but I no longer had access to the visual of the spheres. Nevertheless, the presence of Big Life in my life led me into the world of Sustainable Business.

Sustainable Business

Western business practices traditionally focus on investing money to provide a product or service to a customer for the purposes of financial profit.[1] [2] This certainly was my experience of the business world I had worked in for 15 years. But forward-thinking academics and business people, working together at an international level, were making significant strides in developing an alternative way of “doing” business.[3] [4] [5] [6]

Among them was Western business practitioner Paul Hawken, who challenged more businesses to conduct commerce and production in a way that is sustainable and restorative to the human and natural environment.[7] Inspired by Hawken’s manifesto, others maintained that, over most of the 20th century, driven by a single focus on maximizing short-term financial profit, traditional Western business have misused and overused natural resources; negatively impacted the environment; and ignored, denied, or downplayed the negative social impact of their actions. [8] [9] [10]

Sustainable business represents an alternative to traditional business’s “single bottom line” of financial profit. This form of business values a “triple bottom line” [11] which considers social and environmental justice as well as financial profitability. This reimagined bottom line is also referred as “people, planet and profit.”

After 15 years of primarily focusing on financial profit for an organization and financial security for myself, I liked the idea of considering people, planet and profit when it came to conducting business activities. It contributed to a more holistic perspective that was evolving for me since leaving the business world the first time and especially since the Big Life experience. In Fall of 2004, I returned to school and entered an MBA in Sustainable Business program. A year after getting the MBA, I returned to my graduate school and started teaching a Leadership and Personal Development (LPD) course.

Now after teaching LPD, getting a PhD in Transformative Leadership, coaching leaders, and  being mentored myself (I also consider Big Life as part of me being mentored), one of the most important lessons that I have to share about leadership are recognizing that we humans, and other beings, are in a state of inherent union, and how each of us can positively contribute, in a subtle and powerful way, to the world and to this union.

Leadership and Systems Thinking

There is no standardized definition of “leadership” or uniform way to attain and express the concept[12]. The evidence of several centuries of traditional business leadership seems to make clear that, driven by a single focus on maximizing financial profit, the defining characteristics of leadership in traditional Western business can be summed up as domination and superiority.[13] This is certainly how I had experienced most leadership in my 15 years in the computer and information technology industry.

Here is why I think that I experienced leadership this way: The mechanistic worldview of Cartesian-Newtonian science, the basis of the early scientific method which drove Western civilization into the Industrial (and, later, the Information) Revolution perceives the world as a machine in which physical phenomena are explainable through the understanding of their constituent parts, like the individual parts of a machine. Among other things, this mechanistic scientific worldview formed the basis for “scientific management,” a way of managing work processes and human behavior within an organization in order to achieve financial efficiency which was developed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.[14]

In the business world I stepped into after my undergraduate studies, many times I felt like I was a cog on a wheel. I was taught how to go around and around to make the “machine” run more efficiently, not really understanding the impact to a broader base of people outside of the business (other than shareholders and customers) and to the natural environment. Some of the companies I worked for ran their businesses this way in order to establish dominance and superiority within their industry. That feeling of dominance and superiority ran down the hierarchy, impacting many, if not all, people like me, the cogs on the wheel.

Also branching from the mathematical work of Isaac Newton, an opposing theoretical model to the mechanistic scientific worldview emerged in 1890. This worldview by Henri Poincaré was called dynamical systems theory.[15] This body of work has led to systems thinking which is a perspective shared today by many people involved in sustainable business. Systems thinking stands in contrast to this mechanistic, “scientific” approach of viewing phenomena, people, and processes as discrete components of a mechanical whole in an attempt to better understand and control them. The perspective of systems thinking emphasizes systems as integrated wholes and not just individual parts. In a departure from the compartmentalized view of scientific management, a system came to be seen as set of elements that form a whole which serves a purpose; for example, a watch, a human, a team of people, a wetland.[16] Those systems which include living organisms are referred to as living systems.

Systems thinking and the goal of sustainable business appear to be intertwined. In a holistic view of business which looks beyond the primary focus of financial profit, the goal of sustainable business is not just to operate with financial efficiency but to conduct itself in a way that does not jeopardize the basic needs of present and future generations by unnecessarily sacrificing environmental and social resources.[17] To do this, one needs to see the interrelationship between how one conducts business, its impact on stakeholders (which includes, but is not limited to, shareholders, customers, present and future generations, the natural environment, and communities of people) and how stakeholders in turn impact the business. Systems thinking as applied to organizations sees “interrelationships rather than linear cause-effect chains”[18] which define mechanistic, “scientific management.” A system thinker views humans as interconnected and interdependent with other humans, organizations as interconnected and interdependent with other organizations, and everything as interconnected and interdependent with the natural environment.[19] To promote sustainability in business, a leader must acquire a systems thinking perspective[20]–a way of looking at something in “the context of a larger whole.”[21]

Big Life and Systems Thinking

Prior to Big Life, my world began opening up to systems thinking through engaging in creation of visual art. To really feel the unfolding of a work of art on canvas or other medium, I had to let go of perceiving the world through a mechanistic-scientific perspective, otherwise the art I created looked contrived. I had to open up and allow my environment and larger forces around me to influence and move through me—living systems around me influencing the living system that was me. When this would happen, the art I created looked different—there was something otherworldly about it. My Big Life experience, no doubt helped by my time as an artist, was a stronger wake up call to the interconnected and interdependent nature of our existence.

I have come to understand Big Life as a microcosm of life. The small spheres represent sentient beings on earth; i.e., beings with a consciousness which includes humans and other living organisms. The larger sphere is also a form of sentience—I cannot say for sure what it is, but it appears to be gently holding and helping to “breathe” all sentient beings. The small spheres of Big Life were in motion—expanding, contracting and vibrating at different rates. From this motion, one got the sense of how alive, vital and dynamic each sphere was. (These qualities of aliveness, vitality, and dynamism I refer to as “vibrancy.”) A high level of vibrancy translates to happiness, satisfaction, joy, awareness, compassion, etc.; a lack of vibrancy can be experienced as sadness, fear, unhappiness, or other forms of suffering. The small, shriveled spheres lacked vibrancy. The more robust looking spheres had a higher level of vibrancy. Every sphere’s energy of the vibrancy, or lack thereof, reverberates throughout the larger sphere. This means that someone who is suffering on one side of the planet is affecting everyone on the planet, however subtle that impact may be.

Suffering takes on many forms—it can be feeling the loss of a loved one, feeling hunger and not being able to do anything about it, or being caught in the pain of cancer. In all forms of suffering there is a component of fear; e.g., fear of not being in control, fear of not having/being enough, fear of dying. Superiority, a leadership characteristic I identified earlier, can be expressed by someone who fears that they don’t matter or that they are not enough. Domination can be expressed by someone who fears not being in control or who has a fear of dying. Thus, superiority and domination can be seen as expressions of fear and, thus, forms of suffering.

The energy of all forms of suffering reverberates throughout the whole planet, touching everyone and everything. We register this energy consciously or unconsciously. While the energy of suffering can affect people in this way, so does the energy of vibrancy. Big Life taught me that we are all interconnected in this way. This ability to affect others throughout the planet is one of the things that Morin, a seminal thinker on complexity theories whose work continues to influence contemporary systems thinking, is referring to when he writes, “Nothing is really isolated in the universe. Everything is interrelated….What happens at any point on the Globe can have repercussions on every other point as well”[22]. We are in inherent union and one’s vibrancy, or lack of vibrancy, affects every living organism on the planet.

There are many activities one could engage in to contribute to the union, and these are important to consider. One of these, to me, stands above all others—the importance of raising your own vibrancy.

Leadership and Dynamic Peace

Recently I came across a quote by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, poet, author, and psychoanalyst, that made me think about Big Life and about the importance of a leader engaging in activities that raise their vibrancy:

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.[23]

Those whose energy is vibrant—souls who are “fully lit”—radiate this energy throughout the planet and it benefits those of us whose energy is not so vibrant—souls who are struggling. As a professor of LPD, my work was to teach leaders to be more aware and powerful business people by becoming more aware and empowered persons; i.e., to raise their energy of vibrancy. How was this done?

In LPD we taught tools and processes to help leaders step outside of their limiting ego and be more/respond more from this larger space of who they really are, thus allowing them to be more in touch with this part of themselves that is compassionate, peaceful, and grounded and centered—a vibrancy not available when they are coming from a place of suffering. This larger space of who one really is exists in the present moment, internally free from limiting mental models, and makes it much easier to listen to another person with different opinions, to ask powerful questions, and to be more in union with others. Creativity and innovation flows – ideas are more easily generated, possibilities open up, and connections are made. It’s like being hooked up to the positive energy of the universe, which that expanded-consciousness part of one’s self is.

One of my favorite leadership quotes is by Warren Bennis, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies: “Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult”[24]. Based on the work of Bennis and others involved in leadership studies, including my own work, I have come to discover leadership as a process in which one engages to fully express who one is in a manner that thoughtfully considers others (i.e., acknowledges our interconnectedness) and inspires actions in oneself and/or others towards common goals.

For many leaders in sustainable business, the temptation to “fix the planet” by simply providing a better widget is an alluring one. What Bennis and Estes are pointing to, what my experience in leadership has led to, and what my Big Life experience has taught me, is to expand the possibilities of the planet and all living souls by raising the level of vibrancy—thus expanding the possibilities—within oneself.

In a recent blog post by David Martin, he wrote, “In Dynamic Peace, we bring to consciousness the felt sense of the vibrant, nurturing interconnectedness of living process we are all in together. Each participant gains support in more fully receiving the contributions of others, as well as in more fully cultivating and contributing his or her gifts—resulting in a very alive, mutually supportive field of presence, a richly interweaving fabric of living Peace.” Both the small spheres and the encompassing larger sphere in the Big Life experience are a “nurturing interconnectedness of living process we are all in together.” And in this living process contributing and graciously receiving gifts from each other is a way to benefit from each other’s vibrancy. Examples of these gifts can be found in respectfully speaking from the personal authority of one’s experience and listening deeply to another person.

Big Life gave me a huge lesson on systems thinking. It showed me that humans all over the planet are in a state of inherent union. Each person’s vibrancy, or lack thereof, affects the union, which to me means that each person has the choice to contribute positively to the union by raising one’s own vibrancy. This is not a selfish act but an act “of immense bravery and greatest necessity” towards those struggling to raise their own level of vibrancy. These struggling souls “catch light” from those whose vibrancy is higher, which can help them to choose to release their struggles and participate in “contributing [their] gifts” to others. The more one raises one’s own vibrancy, the more the union we are in is experienced as a “very alive, mutually supportive field of presence, a richly interweaving fabric of living Peace.” An example of this in our self-organizing community are the Money of Love workshops by Orest Taraban and Terry Woodland, two individuals with backgrounds in the financial industry. As a result of their effort to raise their vibrancy through Dynamic Peace practices and other practices, and their consistent engagement in and support of our learning community, Orest and Terry have developed the gift of the Money of Love. I have no doubt that by sharing this work, it helps others to release their own struggles with money, thus leaving more room to cultivate their gifts.

To nurture one’s vibrancy, to abide in and to create from the supportive field of Dynamic Peace, this is the implication of Big Life and the leadership imperative of Dynamic Peace.

Stay tuned for my next blog post which explores the question “What do you mean by ‘the field of Dynamic Peace’?”


[1] Friedman, M. (1983). The social responsibility. In T. L. Beauchamp & N. E. Bowie (Eds.), Ethical theory and business (2nd ed., pp. 81–83). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall.

[2] Fulcher, J. (2004). Capitalism: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[3] World Commission on Environment and Development. (1987). Our common future (1st ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

[4] United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. (1992). RIO declaration on environment and development (No. A/CONF.151/26 (Vol. I)). Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/documents/ga/conf151/aconf15126-1annex1.htm

[5] United Nations General Assembly. (2000). United Nations millennium declaration. United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/millennium/declaration/ares552e.pdf

[6] United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability. (2012). Resilient people, resilient planet: A future worth choosing. New York, NY: United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/gsp/

[7] Hawken, P. (1994). The ecology of commerce revised edition: A declaration of sustainability (Reprinted). New York, NY: HarperCollins.

[8] Hart, S. L. (2005). Capitalism at the crossroads: The unlimited business opportunities in solving the world’s most difficult problems (1st ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.

[9] Hawken, P., Lovins, A., & Lovins, L. H. (2000). Natural capitalism: Creating the next industrial revolution (1st ed.). New York, NY: Back Bay Books.

[10] Korten, D. C. (2001). When corporations rule the world (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

[11] Elkington, J. (1998). Cannibals with forks: The triple bottom line of 21st century business. Gabriola Island, BC; Stony Creek, CT: New Society Publishers, p. xiii.

[12] Northouse, P. G. (2012). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

[13] Hart, S. L. (2005). Capitalism at the crossroads: The unlimited business opportunities in solving the world’s most difficult problems (1st ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall. Hawken, P., Lovins, A., & Lovins, L. H. (2000). Natural capitalism: Creating the next industrial revolution (1st ed.). New York, NY: Back Bay Books. Korten, D. C. (2010). Agenda for a new economy: From phantom wealth to real wealth (Second Edition). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

[14] Taylor, F. (1947). The principles of scientific management. New York: Harper and Row.

[15] Abraham, R. (2011). The genesis of complexity. World Futures: The Journal of New Paradigm Research, 67(4-5), 380–394. doi:10.1080/02604027.2011.585915

[16] Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer. (D. Wright, Ed.). White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. Sahtouris, E. (2000). EarthDance: Living systems in evolution. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

[17] Doppelt, B. (2003). Leading change toward sustainability: A change-management guide for business, government and civil society. Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing, Chapter 3. Willard, B. (2012). The new sustainability advantage: Seven business case benefits of a triple bottom line (Tenth Anniversary Edition). Gabriola Island, Canada: New Society Publishers, Chapter Introduction.

[18] Senge, P. M. (1994). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday/Currency, page 73.

[19] Senge, P. M. (1994). The fifth discipline: The art & practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday/Currency, Chapter 5.

[20] Goleman, D. (2013). Focus: The hidden driver of excellence. New York, NY: HarperCollins. Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer. (D. Wright, Ed.). White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. Scharmer, O., & Kaufer, K. (2013). Leading from the emerging future from ego-system to eco-system economies. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. Senge, P. M., Smith, B., Kruschwitz, N., Laur, J., & Schley, S. (2010). The necessary revolution: How individuals and organizations are working together to create a sustainable world. New York: Broadway Books.

[21] Capra, F. (1997). The web of life: A new scientific understanding of living systems. New York: Anchor, pg. 30.

[22] Morin, E. (2008). On complexity. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, p. 84.

[23] http://www.awakin.org/read/view.php?tid=548

[24] Bennis, W. (2009). On becoming a leader (4th ed.). Philadelpha, PA: Basic Books, p. xxxvii.

Multimag Comments

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9 Comments

  1. Auky
    Reply February 05, 06:29 #1 Auky

    So many beautiful themes woven together here! Thank you for sharing of your bright soul, and sharing Big Life with all of us. I remember when you first experienced it and how deeply it impacted you then, I could feel your expansion.
    Cool to see it integrated into systems theory and Dynamic Peace.

    • Lisa Capa
      Reply February 05, 06:40 Lisa Capa Author

      Thank you, Auky, for your comment. We are all Big Life!

  2. Steven
    Reply February 05, 16:41 #2 Steven

    The planet has been waiting a long time for us to grow into this sense of the “unified (and unifying) field” that the visionaries of Dynamic Peace (among others) are holding. Thank you for your beautiful articulation of your own experience and how it relates to this larger unfolding of which you — and all of us awakening spirits — are the stewards. Truly inspiring.

    • Lisa Capa
      Reply February 05, 17:20 Lisa Capa Author

      Thank you, Steven. I’m currently working on a blog post on the field of Dynamic Peace. I’m inspired every time I have a gathering with the Dynamic Peace learning community. The people involved are so intentional in accessing/inviting in and nurturing the field. I’m inspired by what I’m finding as relevant literature by visionaries such as Larry Dossey, Ervin Laszlo, William Roll, the Iroquois people, and Rupert Sheldrake. “Fields” of support are available for anyone who mindfully connects with them.

  3. Pauline
    Reply February 07, 00:30 #3 Pauline

    A very rich expression of the paradigm shift that is wanting…and starting…to happen on our planet. Thank you for your leadership in this space, Lisa, and for sharing it with so many others through your vibrant motion.

    • Lisa Capa
      Reply February 07, 01:34 Lisa Capa Author

      You are welcome, Pauline! And thank you for your comment 🙂 The people in Dynamic Peace learning community are all leaders, and they inspire me, and each other, to keep stepping towards our shared vision.

  4. Mary
    Reply February 07, 22:54 #4 Mary

    I love the way you describe your personal Big Life experience and how it led to such a profound transformation of your worldview, your work life, your inner life, and every facet of your daily life. Thank you for beginning with this story, despite your trepidation, as it brings to life the shared vision of Dynamic Peace your learning community is creating.

    • Lisa Capa
      Reply February 08, 00:23 Lisa Capa Author

      Thank you, Mary, for your words. I think everyone experiences Big Life in some form or another. Probably people have different names for it. In any case, it is a life changing and inspiring experience.

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