Books Reviews

Book Review: Pathways to Possibility

Pathways to Possibility: Transforming Our Relationship with Ourselves, Each Other, and the World is written by Rosamund Stone Zander, who has “dedicated the last fifteen years” to understanding “human growth and expansion” (p.xiv). The book teaches its readers to distinguish between two broad approaches to life: the “downward spiral” and “radiating possibility” (p.xv).

Two ways of being
There are two broad approaches to life. “Each is a way of being” (p.xv). The assumption of the “downward spiral” is that life is about survival (p.xv). You are “faced with the fearful prospect that you might … lose” (p.xv). The assumption of “radiating possibility” is, on the other hand, that you “at any time” can adapt to “the magnificent flow of the way things are” (p.xv). The world will then “reflect the change in you, … showing you a path to where you want to go and what you want to do” (p.xv). The book has four parts which illuminates “new pathways for growth” (pp.xv–xvi). Here’s a short summary.

1. The All of You, in Stories
The first part of the book demonstrates how the “traumas of childhood provoke … rigid patterns of thought and behavior that persist into the future” (p.xvi). The stories in this part shows “how patterns develop” and how they can be changed “to reflect life as it is now and ourselves as we are now” (p.xvi). “Patterns of attachment that remain below consciousness tend to play out … into the future” (p.14).

We have “no tradition … of identifying patterns that affect us, or … that lead us where we have no intention of going” (p.17). “The patterns … are sourced from deeper structures … that are not under the control of the reasoning mind” (p.18). Our perception is “filtered through layers of perceptual twists and assumptions” (p.19). Our actions are “drawn forth by … [the] story we tell that we are convinced is real” (p.19). And our sense of “wholeness depends on our achieving some kind of coherent narrative of our lives” (p.21). Change happens in a “milieu of emotional contact” (p.21). Even “a conversation alone might be sufficient to cause a transformation” (p.41).

2. You on Behalf of Others
The second part turns “our attention outward” and enables “us to see through the … stories and patterns that hold other people back” (p.xvi). We learn to avoid “being advice givers (at best) and meddlers (at worst)” and to “connect with others on an energetic level … for realizing our collective dreams” (pp.xvi-xvii). It is “the quality of our being that is transformative” (p.81). “Transformation … can be instantaneous where people are engaged in a shared goal” (p99). Small actions “can birth big accomplishments” (p.111).

One of the lessons is that “if you open your eyes and heart and assume you can see what wants to happen,” you will “know when to act swiftly and when to bide your time, and it won’t be a personal thing” (p.123). Seek “to tune in and increase resonance” (p.135). Articulate what you “want to see happen, clearly, and without equivocation” (p.135). Speak to “the human being within who, assured of safety, is naturally cooperative” (p.135).

3. You in Partnership
The third part tells stories of “accomplishments by people who sought to move in tune with the way things are” (p.xvii). This allowed them “to enter into [an] energetic connection with life around them” (p.xvii). Everything is dynamically “making connections, reacting, and changing” (p.143). We are “part of a greater network, an ecosystem” (p.144). “There seems to be … a principle of self-organizing emerging systems” (p.144). “It appears that the wider we extend our frame, the more we understand how deeply patterned is the universe” (p.144).

There are “no closed systems in nature,” although it is so “convenient to deal with limited facts” (p.145). The “more we open our eyes to how things are working within and around us on different scales, the more likely we will get the chance to … dance with it all” (p.146). We can “enhance the possibility of a particular outcome by doing our best, but we can’t guarantee it because there are always other forces at work beyond our control” (p.150). “We can think of Nature as a process in flow, … integrating the new into rising levels of coherence” (p.152). We either “get in tune with her” or, if we don’t, we’re out (p.152).

Being out of touch “with nature’s processes is related to the carelessness with which we sever connections, even among ourselves” (p.169). As nature’s partner, “we are in an evolving process, … opening to new information, … searching and listening for evolving order” (p.171). It’s about “cooperating with rather than opposing the way things are” (p.179). If, for example, “the musicians and the audience are attuned on all levels, it is possible to feel integration happening in the moment that allows … a new step into unknown territory” (p.185). It’s a territory where ”the distinction between what it is that we want and what life wants fades and ultimately disappears” (p.189). ”We feel whole and in tune …” (p.189). We enter into the territory by ”committing to … exploration” (p.190). We simply ”engage without reservation, without knowing the outcome” (p.191).

4. A Pack of Games
The final section presents a series of “infinite games,” where there are “no winners or losers” (p.xvii). If we “engage fully,” we may “become occasional conduits for … attunement with life” (p.xvii). “The game with no goal and no limits, … has the power to get you back in step, to bring you back to your center” (p.208). This is an exploration “where you are no longer an individual making it on your own”, but “where you feel a compelling connectivity to everything around you” (p.212). It “brings you into a … state of presence where you can optimally interact with the world” (p.217).

“We resists in so many ways” (p.228). When we “let go” we are releasing the hold that our “emotions, assumptions, and opinions” have over us (p.229). When we release our resistance, we can notice “how things are joined in motion”, including us (p.233). There are “connections everywhere” (p.233). “Everything changes everything else” (p.235). Nature moves to “resolve states of dissonance into states of resonance” (p.235).

“Opportunities for getting in tune exist wherever we turn if we look for them” (p.241). Life is “a cooperative venture” (p.242). “It takes awareness, rhythm, coordination, and joie de vivre to live it fully” (p.242). There are “two vast interpenetrated arenas of human experience” (p.242). One is our “internal life,” and the other is “the world we relate to outside our skin” (p.242). “It’s a rhythm thing” (p.242). We are “cocreators and coevolvers with Nature” as long as “we stay aware of the rhythms,” and “make course corrections when we are off-track” (p.244).

It’s so easy to put all attention on the outside work, and leave out completely the inner work of personal development. Inner work is necessary to keep us in tune with ourselves and each other. Resonance is created when there is an attunement between the outside and the inside of us. And resonance amplifies the energy. Most organizations profess to believe in transparency, passion, and integrity, but lip service won’t do it. The book encourages us to examine outdated assumptions. It also reminds us of the possible paths going forward.

By Jan Höglund

I share my reading, book reviews, and learning in my blog.

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