Imagination and systems: from linear thinking to seeing the big picture

A reverie composed on 08/01/23
Robin Wall Kimmerer quote imagine

From epigenetics to big-picture thinking

I was first introduced to a whole new perspective of looking at life when I discovered the field of epigenetics. As a person who studied in times when molecular biology and micro-exploration of contemporary fields of science was the ultimate studies goal for myself as well as my counterparts, I never imagined myself being passionate about anything else but exploring the blueprints of the smallest particle there is in order to understand how the wholes work. The drive to understand the tiniest particles to make sense of the bigger picture is the result of the particular era of the Anthropocene when industrialization informed us that ultimate progress is achievable if we focus on the mechanics of things. As we dove into the period of hyper-focusing on compartments of life, we also forgot to lift our heads every once in a while.

In our quest to compartmentalize and analyze, we forgot to look up and see the bigger picture, and what lies beyond it.

Epigenetics, the study of how environmental and behavioral factors can affect DNA, has gained popularity with the rise of the New Age movement and a desire to reverse and heal the effects of intergenerational trauma. Unlike contemporary genetics, epigenetics believes that even the things ingrained in our DNA can be affected and in some cases changed throughout life.

My little biology-loving student self was blown away by this discovery and the emerging field of science, and that alone prompted me to ask myself: »What other bigger pictures and possibilities am I not seeing?«

This vital question now seems like the reasonthe cours eof my life shifted significantly.

Instead of digging for marketing blueprints, I began wondering about human behavior and the need for marketing.

Further on, instead of improving (aka narrowing) my skills as a strategist, I began wondering how I can expand my horizons and make my strategies more informed.

And instead of focusing on healing my trauma alone, I became curious about my ancestry, the culture I grew up in, and the historical and environmental systems that shaped the environment that I used to blame for my wounds.

Rather than living full-time inside my rational mind, I opened up to embracing what's beyond it.

The somatics, the emotional, the subtleties, the liminal, and the imaginal aspects of being.

From Linear thinking to lateral thinking to systems thinking

Detoxing from a culture that values detail-thinking and reevaluating your own views on science that prioritizes deduction above all else is difficult. On one hand, many things in life don't make sense anymore. You realize that perhaps you haven't been able to find the solution to your medical challenges because there isn't a doctor who would be trained to look at you holistically. You realize that in the world of specialists, finding a generalist is a mission impossible. Perhaps you struggle to have good conversations because most people seem to be more interested in defending their narrowed-down stance than exploring other perspectives.

The more questions you dare to ask, the more answers you get, even if not precise or exact, or right.

But with more answers, you realize that there are even more questions that tie into a much bigger realm of reality.

By focusing on the details, we are likely to miss the beauty and complexity of the bigger picture and bigger questions, like ...

Why am I here?
What is life?

The more questions you ask, the more you are inclined to resort to the most compley mystery and system of all: nature

As I delved into the exploration of life after learning about a significant health confition of mine, I resorted to my roots and re-discovered my love for nature. I spent months exploring topics of rewilding, indigenous wisdom, earth-based spirituality, and finally: environment.

When we explore those topics, becoming interested in ecosystems comes naturally. We suddenly become aware of this vast web of life we're immersed in and the perpetuum mobile butterfly effect of every move that we or other members of our surroundings make.

A new way of thinking activates: systems thinking. That is a term that has at this point been used for about 100 years, a multidisciplinary field exploring the interconnectedness, and interactions of parts that form a complex whole, relationships, and patterns, a science of wholeness. It is also a refreshing and humbling realization that it is we who nurtured egocentrism into being, and that perhaps, we became blinded by it to the point that we now aren’t able to see the bigger picture.

From mechanics to softness: whole systems thinking, living systems thinking, and the subtle networks.

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Albert Einstein

The underrated power of big-picture thinking and imagination

Systems thinking is a wonderful subject that I keep exploring and learning about, but there is another aspect of it that I find myself particularly interested in. As we explore the mechanical networks of our social lives and environment and societies, I wonder about the systems behind our dreams, creativity, stories, emotions, ancestral links, and subtle energies.

I love the pattern of how even the most notorious mechanics-favoring scientists and thinkers gradually widen their perception and openness to the bigger picture, yet people seem to ignore that.
  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is still taught in a way that deems the ego-driven self-actualization need at its very top, although Maslow himself added another need above that: transcendence.
  • Stephen Hawking began his work to understand the black holes and the nature of the universe, however, his discoveries had significant implications for our understanding of the origins and ultimate fate of the cosmos.
  • Donelle Meadows, an important figure in the field of systems thinking, evolved from teaching rigid outlooks of systems promoting a very soft approach of “dancing with the systems” – an outlook that is even more qualitative, less mechanical, and open to interpretation. 

"The flipside of reductionism and specialization is that we run the danger of not paying enough attention to the fundamental interconnectedness and interrelatedness of all these fields."

Daniel Christian Wall, article Why Whole Systems Thinking? (2019)

Living systems thinking focuses on the potential that lies behind the structures of systems, and whenever we hear the word potential, creativity comes to mind as well.

Creativity. The ultimate force that seems to guide everything we do, yet scarcely give it credit. How sad, when everything – evolution, the biggest discoveries like penicillin, the most influential art, and the biggest blockbusters, forming a bond with another person … are all a result of the same creative force.

I wonder how imagination ties into all of this. What are its mechanisms, what is the body of its system, and how is it interlinked with all other aspects of our life? Can we use imagination to fuel our contemporary efforts and find solutions earlier? Can we reframe the heaviest of our thoughts by utilizing imagination? How are dreams formed and how do they affect our realities?

What come after living systems thinking or whole systems thinking? is imagination a system as well? Do we not categorize it as such just because we cannot grasp its complex design?

Questions for another time.

The healing powers of big-picture thinking and imagination

Systems thinking and imagination
I believe that there is no big-picture thinking without imagination. Before we understand the mechanics of something, we imagine the solutions. We form a hypothesis, and sometimes it is the imagination behind the hypothesis that is right, other times the creativity behind the actual result informs our understanding of things we perhaps did not imagine before.

Science is a constant play of creativity, expanding and narrowing its boundaries, a constant flow of divergence and convergence.

In a world where convergence is favored, divergent thinking is scarce, yet crucial. Luckily, more and more fields are becoming aware of that.

But what if we pushed the divergence beyond our rational minds and expanded the possibilities beyond what we already know and understand? What if, even if just for a second, we allowed ourselves the freedom to explore beyond the known? We’ll have to narrow down our exploration anyway, so why not take a step further?

Imagination-led practices and processes already seem to be gaining traction in some areas. Psychology is the leading one. Not only do some of the most influential figures in the field openly promote the power of imagination, but some also put so much emphasis on it that it became a crucial part of the discipline. Think Jung and his imaginal realm or the similar concept of Henry Corbin, mundus imaginalis. Think of the rise of art therapy for kids, hypnosis, guided visualization methods, mental imagery exercises, or “Fantastic Cards” that I mentioned in the article The Healing Powers Of Mythic Imagination.

Then there is design, an old love of mine. I will never forget the first time I set foot into a "design thinking" class and later on thinking what a waste of time it was when now I see it as the field that popularized the importance of creative problem-solving and even communicating complex concepts to a wider audience.

By using analogies, metaphors, and other imaginative devices, we can help make difficult or abstract ideas more accessible and understandable to everybody. Imagination is the common language of all people, and even the more-than-human world.

All of this shows us that oftentimes going beyond the constraints of reality allows us to tap into an ultimate source of possibilities and that many times that source provides invaluable solutions for our challenges within the physical realm.

So the next time you run into a challenge, I kindly invite you to ask yourself…

What is the bigger picture?
And what is the imaginal bigger picture?
What if?

Explore the possibilities (known and unknown) before you narrow down your adventure.

Don't miss the next Post!

Sign up to receive updates, new resources, and special offers.
No spam, no fluff, just magic.
Masha Mazi is a business consultant specializing in brand-building and brand storytelling. Her work is a unique mix of contemporary practices (marketing, strategy, user experience, service design, learning experience design, graphic design ...), regenerative leadership, and earth-based wisdom infused with mystery (human design, pathworking, spiritual ecology, archetypal work, mythmaking, ecosomatics, and deep psychology). 

Let's use the powers of imagination for your braind-building process!

Book a free 20-minute calibration call

Other Musings

Beyond Somatics: Eco-Somatics forms the elemental fabric to grow our capacity of weaving sustainable transformation

Beyond Somatics: Eco-Somatics forms the elemental fabric to grow our capacity of weaving sustainable transformation (ft. Jillian Hassard)

Eco-somatics is the fabric that forms our spirit and also a (re)membering of what we have unconsciously forgotten.

The Healing Powers Of Mythic Imagination

What happens when society becomes so enwrapped in logic that it forgets that the source of all scientific advancements and exceptional rational minds is, in fact, far more magical?

Reframing Invasiveness: The Evil Japanese Knotweed, Eco-Anxiety, and Ecofascism

Who are we to decide that certain species deserve more love and conservation efforts? And is nature preservation a result of eco-anxiety or ecofascism?
See all posts in the vault

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Masha Mazi started the personal project Story Alchemist to explore the intersection of spiritual ecology, soul searching, branding and business strategy, and rewilding. 
Ⓒ Story Alchemist, a project of Maša Mazi s. p.