Graphic: Daniel Christian Wahl

SEVA: Regeneration in Service to Life

A conversation between Anil Sachdev and Daniel Wahl

Daniel Christian Wahl
Age of Awareness
Published in
8 min readMay 11, 2020


Last Thursday (May 7th, 2020) I was invited to contribute to a webinar series organised by the ‘School of Inspired Leadership’ (SOIL) in India. Anil Sachdev — the Founder & Chairman of the SOIL Institute of Management — and I had a fascinating conversation. Triggered by the questions Anil asked me, we quickly moved up-stream from many of today’s pressing problems towards the potential of working on manifesting life’s capacity to “create conditions conducive to life” in individuals and communities in service to bioregional and planetary regeneration.

We explored, how the ‘pendulum swing’ of the popular ‘paradigm shift’ framing and the related call to move “from ego to eco” is in itself part of the pattern that frames our options in ‘either-or’ and ‘from-to’ dualisms. There is a third way that recognises how we can reconcile activating and restraining forces through integrating them at a higher level (in service to a larger context): the healthy expression of self (ego) in service to world (eco) without seeing the two as separate, but as dynamic expressions of life as a planetary (or cosmic) process.

If we simply ‘move from ego to eco’ we are in danger of denying the importance of self-care. Only by also caring for self can we effectively and over the long-term care for our human community and the community of life. The healthy way to integrate the dynamic polarity of ‘being for oneself’ and ‘being as part of a larger whole’ is to unleash the potential created by this polarity in service to life.

Most ancient wisdom cultures and indigenous guidance from around the world holds that important decisions should always consider three questions: How does it serve the individual? How does it serve the community? and How does it serve life?

The healthy way to integrate the dynamic polarity of ‘being for oneself’ and ‘being as participation in a larger whole’ is to unleash the potential created by this polarity in service to life. (thanks to Isha Black for the original diagram that expanded the ego to eco framing to the thrid image of Seva)

The ancient Sanscrit word ‘Seva’ (सेवा) is most commonly translated as ‘service’ in the sense of ‘being in service to a larger whole’ and ‘giving more than one takes’. It is strongly resonant with the aim to nurture “co-evolving mutuality” (Haggard & Mang) which describes succintly what working regeneratively aims to nurture.

It is in our enlightened self-interest to work regeneratively in service to all life as a constantly transforming and evolving planetary process that enables the emergence of health and wellbeing at local, regional and global scales. To do so we have to develop and maintain the capacity of individuals and communities to manifest their unique potential, to respond to change, and to participate appropriately in nested complexity.

The day after the webinar conversation with Anil, I received a thank you email from Shriram Parameswaran, a leadership consultant who had listened to the recording. He shared the following notes of the conversation [I made some minor additions and adjustments in square brackets]:

“The following points are my own personal takeaways and interpretations from this session. Any mistakes or errors that may have crept into this write-up are purely of my own making and not attributable to the two webinar participants.

  1. A conscious choice to work on our own species first, thereby indirectly working on other beings on this planet as well. 5:27
  2. Realisation that as a scuba diving instructor — “a hedonistic lifestyle” — contributed to more tourism he felt complicit in creating more damage to what he was actually trying to protect!! A realisation that there is a choice of living life as being a part of the “solution-pathway” rather than as a contributor to a growing problem! 7:05
  3. Planetary health intimately linked to our health and our future. 7:22
  4. William McDonough’s Cradle to Cradle® philosophy: “Design is the first signal of human intention.” 9:17
  5. It is in our enlightened self-interest to save our ecosystem, to work for our communities , to heal the planet. 10:52
  6. All life lives in this polarity: Being for itself…..and also Being part of a larger whole. 12:25
  7. We have never been separate from Nature, we are not Masters of Nature. 13:09
  8. Being for Oneself v/s Being for the Whole, the notion of Seva. Serving self by serving the whole 13:55
  9. Each regenerative culture would be very different & unique in each bio-region. 14:37
  10. In order to sustain the effort of being of service to the whole, you have to ensure that you are in the right condition to do so. 15:50
  11. Co-evolving Mutuality 16:45
  12. Present situation is turning up the contrast on how brittle and non-resilient our “globalised” systems are. 21:08
  13. A realization that “like the healthcare workers in Italy being forced to make a tragic choice of “who would live and who would die” as part of the Covid crisis, [in many parts of the world such tragic choices have had to be made daily and for decades due to persistent lack of clean water or food, etc].” 23:25
  14. “Re-Regionalisation of Production and Consumption”. Food-Security, Water-security, Educational- security, Basic Housing are all pathways to diversifying and creating vibrant local and bio-regional economies 25:45
  15. Apart from the emergency responses that are needed at this time, it is imperative to look at how do we undo the damage that we have done and restore eco-systems 27:44
  16. Is Business failing Society? Do we need to re-write metrics to support local regenerative economies? [… what truly matters is about qualitative relationships between people, and between people, place and planet, … these qualitative relationships are what sustains life and they are often not captured by our quantitative metrics] 29:45
  17. Today it is not a Free Market, but a hyper-regulated market that de-incentivises local regional businesses. 33:09
  18. The ecological crisis, social crisis and deepening economic crisis: all of these have one common source and that is the crisis of perception or in other words crisis of consciousness. (The Turning Point: Science, Society, and the Rising Culture is a 1982 book by Fritjof Capra, in which the author examines perceived scientific and economic crises through the perspective of systems theory. Capra outlines and traces the history of science and economics, highlighting flaws in the Cartesian, Newtonian, and reductionist paradigms which have come to light in the context of contemporary empirical understanding of the physical sciences. He writes that these paradigms are now inadequate to guide human behavior and policy with regard to modern technology and ecology, then argues that society needs to develop the concepts and insights of holism and systems theory to solve its complex problems.)
  19. The cartesian split, this erroneous belief that we are separate from Nature, is at the heart of us believing that we can just take and take and take…without giving back. 36:14
  20. The only way to be fed by the whole is to give more than you take 36:28
  21. If you want people to think differently, don’t tell them what to think. Give them the tool, the use of which will make them think differently. (“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” Richard Buckminster Fuller). 40:15 Reference to SDG Flashcards, highlighting Social Economic, Ecological and Worlview perpectives of each SDG. [More about the SDG Flashcards]
  22. The madness and white-water around me, does overwhelm at times, but the practice of stillness and mindfulness is a powerful way to deal with that. 41:48
  23. Maybe a true wisdom culture would pass questions from one generation to the next, as a compass that can guide us into a better future, rather than answers and solutions? 44:27
  24. The Planet will save itself. It is about saving humanity. “We cannot save the planet, but we can save places” (Bill Reed). Focus on the bio-regional context and connect it with global solidarity. 46:30
  25. Avoid falling into a trap of a pendulum swing towards self-reliance, ignoring the global architecture of collaboration and solidarity that we need. Pay attention to local, regional and global at the same time. 50:00
  26. Many well-meaning business leaders are dancing with this paradox that you cannot create a regenerative sustainable business in a degenerative unsustainable economic system & playing field. [More about whether regenerative businesses are actually possible in a degenerative economic playing field.]51:11
  27. Beyond just B Corporations, the concept of B Cities and B System (like Sistema B in South America, (Interview with Pedro Tarak in the Harvard Business Review) [are beginning to work on different ways of relating and cooperative networks that might offer functional alternatives if the current trends leads] to a breakdown of the present economic system. 51:24
  28. More on Daniel Wahl, with his 450 odd articles and 20 years of explorations on this subject : 56:54

Anil Sachdev’s summary of his take-aways and learnings: 57:07

a) We are all interconnected

b) Our spirit invokes us to serve the well-being of all

c) There is an urgent need for us to get together and have a deep and meaningful conversation so that we can truly take responsibility.

d) We cannot ignore all the contradictions that are around us, we have to live with the paradoxes.

e) What is most important is to do the work that each one of us is supposed to do. We get guided by what is in our best interest. And in serving others, we will find ourselves. — Anil Sachdev

Anil Sachdev is the Founder & Chairman of the SOIL Institute of Management. He has been instrumental in the creation of Eicher Consultancy Services, Grow Talent Company and SOIL. He also serves on the Global Board of Shizenkan University in Japan, Academic Council of CEDEP in Fontainebleau, World Compassion Council in Seattle, Advisory Board of Schneider Electric and the Managing Trustee of Chinmaya Mission in Delhi.

Daniel Christian Wahl was originally trained as a biologist, and holds degrees in Biology (BSc. Hons., Univ. of Edinburgh), Holistic Science (MSc.,Schumacher College) and Natural Design (PhD., Univ. of Dundee). He was the director of Findhorn College between 2007 and 2010, is a member of the International Futures Forum and H3Uni, an advocation partner of r3.0, and on the advisory councils of Ecosystems Restoration Camps, Commonland, the Ojai Foundation, Future Planet Europe, the Centre for the Future and the Overview Institute of Australia, as well as, a Findhorn Foundation Fellow. Daniel lives on Majorca where he helped to set up SMART UIB and works locally and internationally as a consultant, educator and activist. Among his clients have been Ecover, Forum for the Future, Camper, Balears.t, Save the Med, Lush, UNITAR, UK Foresight, Cloudburst Foundation and many universities and N.G.O.s. He is on the academic working group of the Global Ecovillage Network and has been linked to GEN for almost 20 years. Daniel has worked closely with Gaia Education sine 2007 and contributed to the development of their Design for Sustainability online course and co-authored the current versions of all four dimensions of the curriculum. He also wrote the content and developed the concept of Gaia Education’s SDGs Flashcards which with the support of UNESCO are now translated into 7 languages. Daniel teaches regularly on the the MA in Ecological Design Thinking at Schumacher College. Daniel’s 2016 book ‘Designing Regenerative Cultures’ has quickly gained international acclaim, his Blog on Medium is followed by over 20k people and his social media advocacy has a combined audience of over 450k people around the world.”

Here is the full recording:

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Daniel Christian Wahl — Catalyzing transformative innovation in the face of converging crises, advising on regenerative whole systems design, regenerative leadership, and education for regenerative development and bioregional regeneration.

Author of the internationally acclaimed book Designing Regenerative Cultures

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Daniel Christian Wahl
Age of Awareness

Catalysing transformative innovation, cultural co-creation, whole systems design, and bioregional regeneration. Author of Designing Regenerative Cultures


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