Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Mandala (the Lotus Flower) - Dr. Richard Ewing, and regional development - a Three part blog

This will be a three part blog because of its length - Part 1.

I started working actively on regional development in 1996, while working at Texas Parks and Wildlife on the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. Then in 1997 I was the original author for the Texas Heritage Trail Program for the Texas Historical Commission, where I really formulated the model that I am still refining to this day. Since that time, in one form or fashion, this idea of regional coordination has been a core theme of my work.

However, it wasn't until 2007, working with Dr. Richard Ewing the Vice President for Research at Texas A&M University that I was given the insight to create a metaphorical image that depicted the nature, or natural system that showed the character of my philosophical/theoretical approach. Without actually seeing the image previously, I realized that our efforts for empowering communities and places, and developing technologies and educational endeavors, mimics the nature of all that exists. It is represented in one of the most ancient symbols. The image is the Mandala (C.G. Jung) or Lotus Flower, or a more modern metaphor would be the nuclear reaction.

It is not my point to cite the history of these symbols. It is to recognize one of Dr. Ewing's final contributions before he left this world, and to associate this diagram as a grounding for our work for revitalizing economies and our educational systems. I will then provide a synopsis of the historical evolution of this model in my work and where it fits into the efforts of Solomon
Source, to some of the projects that have been developing and are, apparently, going to be a central theme for our contributions to the world.

The importance of metaphor

Before I begin, I would like to make clear that my point is not to cite others ideas or writings about the importance of these ideas. I believe that often, especially in academia, other people's ideas are hig
hly over-rated. Always, whenever a scholar proposes a new or novel concept they are required to provide a citation to someone's elses work. This to me is really "bass-ackwards" to the whole point of research and discovery. Aren't we supposed to be coming up with novel concepts, new thoughts, tapping into tranformative ideas? Or if not new ideas, new combinations or applications of old ideas.

Anyway, as I have matured in my life experiences, I have come to appreciate the power of the metaphor. Additionally, if a metaphor can be visually depicted in a picture, diagram or flow chart, I am even more gratified. I am not sure where this motivation comes from, but you will find riddled throughout Solomon Source conceptual models and diagrams galore. In fact, on practically any project that we work on, a new set of pictures and diagrams will be created to help visualize the flow, movement or relationships of the various parts.

I guess, having a background in geography, I have also learned that "visualization" and our sight, is one of our most powerful sensory capabilities. This idea is captured in the famous quote "A picture paints a thousand words".
A metaphor on the other hand tells a story.

From the American Heritage Dictionary we lea
rn the definition of "metaphor" to have two primary meanings:

1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in "a sea of troubles" or "All the world's a stage" (Shakespeare).

2. One thing conceived as representing another; a symbol: "Hollywood has always been an irresistible, prefabricated metaphor for the crass, the materialistic, the shallow, and the craven" (Neal Gabler).

For this discussion I am most interested in the second definition - symbology. In fact, as I have contemplated the import of the Mandala, I have realized in its full potential it points to things like the nature of the Universe, or life, or cellular existence. Carl Jung, was obsessed with the symbol and spent years trying to discover its deeper meanings, although I haven't been as dedicated in my pursuits.

My purpose is to adapt the image to my efforts and to help others learn the value in the simple, but powerful utilization of imagery.
My introduction to the Mandala came through Dr. Ewing (although I do not think he was aware of the term, Mandala - we did not discuss it).

In November of 2007 we were working together to pursue a project to create an Institute in a middle-eastern country that is building a new university. He called together a team of some of the most esteemed mathematicians in the world to prepare a pre-proposal. As the process began, he did not create an outline, table, or cite a bunch of equations - he drew a picture of a flower (Lotus or Mandala).

I was a little baffled. Here was one of the most esteemed mathematicians and visionary computational scientists and administrators of one of the most powerful institutions in the world (Texas A&M University) drawing pictures of flowers. At this time, I was working very closely with Dr. Ewing and agreed to create a digital version of his picture he drew on the white board.
I guess, during the hours of creating several images for the pre-proposal, I began to contemplate the image and its impor
t. Why after a whole life dealing with vast projects, in countries throughout the globe, would he make this kind of an image? (By the way, Dr. Ewing has over 350 publications to his credit).

In my reflection, I believe he had a deeper need to share the fundamental character of the growth of organizations, endeavors and ideas. The need to focus on a "core" to esta
blish a critical mass of energy (or influence) and then have the vision for that energy to explode in its potential to touch many lives. In some respects, I see that this symbol is possibly one of his last most important contributions to the world. Dr. Ewing passed on December 5, 2007.

And, I might suspect, that I am the only person that saw the import of the message. I realized, in some form or fashion, that this metaphor has been t
he symbol for all of my life's works. From the first regional development proposal for the Texas Heritage Trail in 1997 to my current efforts, I have been possessed with the idea of 1) creating a center (or institute), 2) developing the products and services to a critical mass and, then 3) use the Internet as the delivery vehicle (this is a very succinct overview of a much more involved process).

This is a good spot to pause in this series
of three blogs - to the left find the current form that I am utilizing for our regional development efforts (from our Jamaica Reverence for Life University). The beauty of the Mandala is that it can be adapted to any project that one hopes to create.

I will be traveling in a couple of days, so it may take a bit of time to get the second post up. All the Best! - Andy

1 comment:

Unknown said...

"bass-ackwards" Well said! It is as if they dare not say anything least it be already said by established orthodoxy. Why cannot you trust in yourself? To have true knowledge you must experience it personally.
(I have always been irritated when reading books where the author is every other sentence citing a lengthy credit like "Such and such person, from such and such university in such and such study, under supervision of such and such group at such and such time, etc, etc etc. Jez man spare me. Put it at the end of the chapter in notes or appendix.)