New beginnings: The birth of Deep Adaptation Guidance

January 17, 2020 by Elzanne Roos & Matthew Painton

Interview with Matthew Painton, a Deep Adaptation Coach and one of the founders of the Deep Adaptation Guidance site.

Where did the idea of the Deep Adaptation Guidance website come from?

The idea formed during conversations with fellow admins on the Deep Adaptation Forum (Stina Deurell and Brennan Smith) around the ways in which Deep Adaptation needs to scale exponentially. I had recently had some very positive encounters with the Humanitarian Coaching Network (HCN) which was developed as a way for coaches to volunteer time to challenged staff working for humanitarian organisations which can’t afford to pay for coaching. It just became clear that we need to develop a similar hub which offers additional services (not just coaching), and a slightly different orientation. Our hub is specifically aimed at the public who are becoming collapse aware, and organisations working on the frontline of Climate Change.

Do you offer practical skills and guidance in survival ?

This hub is not for practical survival information but specialises in emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of coming to terms with the crisis and moving towards deep adaptation.

Why this particular focus of Deep Adaptation?

With an unprecedented situation like societal and environmental collapse we just don’t know how people will behave. There are so many variables, impacts and difficulties. One of the obvious risks is large groups of people fracturing and crumbling into paranoia, ‘us and them’ and conflict, especially since misinformation and manipulation are rife. We can avoid this if we can act together to increase ‘coherence and shared meaning’ in some way. And so this platform can become a hub for catching people in distress, giving them support, linking them to others, and allowing them a space to process their experience – so they don’t have to act out in other, negative ways. We wanted a diversity of practices because different people struggle with different aspects of becoming collapse aware.

So, the idea is that the site offers a variety of different guidance and facilitation approaches because people are struggling in different ways, and have very different dispositions and world views. For some it’s a grief issue where ‘venting’ or being heard might help, for others it’s a cognitive, sense-making issue, some feel anxiety in their body and need a body practitioner, others may be experiencing trauma and need a professional therapist.

Another aspect is the idea of innovation and collaboration. Guides and facilitators need to collaborate and innovate rapidly, because this phenomenon of climate anxiety is new, and global collapse is totally unprecedented in human experience. Most psychological and coaching practices haven’t yet evolved and adapted in this sphere, and the old professional boundaries no longer really apply. And, in another sense, we all become practitioners within our communities and so one of the main opportunities of our hub is the chance to collaborate and share our innovations of practices for anyone to make use of.

In what ways is coaching evolving?

Coaching has to evolve out of personal self-development and the (shallow) desire for greater individual success and happiness. The tools and techniques developed to achieve that are still useful and valid – but what good is success in a broken world? Adapting and even thriving in a crumbling world is a very different goal and is far less individualistic and far more collaborative. Where we used to explore how to ‘follow your joy’ now it’s about how to ‘listen to your grief’. We could even say that social and existential resilience is the new personal success! Coaching was built upon the deeply ingrained assumption that the future will be better than the past, that orientation is now reversed. But the coaching process can still help people rise to the challenge and unleash potential, which can still bring fulfilment, alignment, mission and purpose, but towards rather different ends.

Grief is fundamental to collapse awareness (I include anxiety, loss, anger under grief – it’s all managing the nervous system to accommodate overwhelmingly unwelcome global realities). Grief is the symptomatic response, the inner collapse that mirrors the awareness of outer collapse. So far, grief and how to process, soothe, manage and express it is getting the most attention which is quite right, but there all sorts of other developmental processes and responses  inherent to collapse and deep adaptation that we need to work out facilitation practices for very quickly, once we have a handle on grief.

I roughly characterise these other processes as Acceptance, Resistance, Transformation and Transcendence.  We see all four of these responses to collapse showing up in people, groups and projects in many different ways. They are all valid, but each has a shadow and its own set of difficulties and sticking points too, where coaching might help only if the guides themselves have ‘done the work’.

And then we need to work out how to integrate these processes with each other – it’s such a vast and urgent new existential and developmental territory and is unfolding at a transpersonal, species level with great urgency. It’s no wonder that people are suffering with vertigo, overwhelm and paralysis. No one can work all of this out and be an ‘expert’ in every area, which is why collaboration and group work is so essential.

Has there been support for the site from other organisations?

Yes, the HCN and Climate Psychology Alliance have been very supportive and members from both organisations have advised us in setting this up.

What are some of the developments still in the pipeline for the site?

At the moment it’s a database for people in need to learn about and identify which practices might help them, and to find specific practitioners and guides. It is also for guides to find each other. We tend to favour the word ‘guide’ (over facilitator or practitioner) because it is new territory, and we all have to do it – a guide is someone who has mapped out part of the existential terrain and can help others through that specific area of the landscape. No one can ‘know’ all of this territory, it’s far too vast and complex, so it is essential that we move out of old competitive economic models and professional niches and silos and learn to collaborate and open source our innovations and practise. It seems that collaboration, like grief, is foundational to deep adaptation and we all need to learn how to do that better as well.

The future stages are a volunteer scheme where practitioners can formally offer to volunteer time especially to those individuals and organisations on the frontline who can’t afford to pay for services. The forum will be a place for practitioners to get support, collaborate and evolve their practice.

We also plan to have ‘onboarding’ and alignment materials or even training, to ensure guides are in coherence with the core values of Deep Adaptation.

With the guides we are looking to implement a feedback system so that practitioners can build a reputation. The idea is that it should be a great experience for guides too – to minister to the very people they are most equipped to help.

Matthew Painton is a ‘constant adapter’ having a varied background in Philosophy, Agroforestry and community engagement. He has been coaching, and facilitating nature connection for eight years. For the last three years, since his own collapse awareness catapulted him into a deep inner journey, he has focused on developing a collapse-aware coaching methodology. He lives in Bulgaria, where within living memory a social breakdown and recovery has already happened. His particular fascination is with the ‘Gaian mind’, the processes of collaborative sense-making, coherence and integration which can emerge even through a background of misinformation, noise and biosphere disruption.


Tags: Theory

2 thoughts on “New beginnings: The birth of Deep Adaptation Guidance”

  1. Lovely to connect with you a few days ago Matthew, I love this concept of Gaian mind and wonder if you could refer me to any articles. I would seriously like to keep in contact with you, especially now you are back in the UK and would love to find a way to collaborate with you, using my personal experience as well as my skills as a Holistic Life coach. I totally love what you say “Coaching has to evolve out of personal self-development and the (shallow) desire for greater individual success and happiness. The tools and techniques developed to achieve that are still useful and valid – but what good is success in a broken world? Adapting and even thriving in a crumbling world is a very different goal and is far less individualistic and far more collaborative.” Couldn’t agree more

    • Emma, a great resource is — our friend Erik there writes some really lovely reflections now and then which you can find on the site, or sign up for to receive once a week in your inbox. There are also local community groups just now starting to form from among the readers of the site. Enjoy! Brennan


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