Inner Transition

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Inner Transition is an approach pioneered within the Transition movement that emphasises the need for inner work to accompany efforts to achieve outer change in the physical world.

What is Inner Transition?

According to the Transition Network website:[1]

The success of the Transition movement may well rest on whether we can create a culture that truly supports a balance between inner and outer change. Inner Transition is about connection – with ourselves, others and the natural world.

Inner Transition is about creating a healthy culture at all levels of scale – our own personal culture, our group culture and the culture within communities, movements, the world and ecosystems more generally.

At a personal level...

Inner Transition is an exploration of the processes and phenomena going on within ourselves that shape how we do Transition. The nature of our relationship with our inner life determines how able we are to make the practical lifestyle, relational and cultural changes needed for Transition – as well as bringing precious depth, texture and meaning into our everyday lives.

Inner Transition supports us to choose healthier more resilient, connected and caring ways of being and acting in the world. By liberating us from our habitual and addictive tendencies, our identity politics and cultural conditioning, Inner Transition supports us to experience our inseparability and inter-dependence in the world – and therefore to make choices based on the needs of ourselves, others and the natural world. Through this we become more and more able to bring our head, hands and heart into alignment – making the practical changes needed for Transition to feel so much more easeful.

At a group level...

Inner Transition helps us become aware of the roles we play in groups and what is needed for healthy collaborative groups. It supports us to understand what it really means to collaborate so that we can transform our groups to become optimally effective, creative, innovative, nourished and transformative.

While at movement level...

Inner Transition reminds us that a Whole Systems approach includes our inner life and our inter-dependence with nature. This systemic approach highlights how the success of the Transition movement – and the human species – seems contingent on us cultivating what Sophy Banks, Inner Transiton pioneer, calls Healthy Human Culture and what Looby MacNamara and Jon Young have called Cultural Emergence – where abundance, gratitude, care and connection are part of our everyday culture and which supports to us to understand how the process of change happens and to feel happier with less.

In the following video, Inner Transition founder Sophy Banks discusses the concept.

The Need for Inner Transition

According to the Transition Network website:[2]

When we consider the scale of the challenges we as humanity currently face, more and more of us are realising the imperative to include inner emotional and psychological dimensions in the work we are doing – both in terms of supporting the effectiveness of our work and in resourcing us to meet the feelings and sense of helplessness that often goes hand in hand with the reality of what is unfolding in our world today. If we accept that our inner and outer worlds are entwined, making an outer systemic change must also involve some kind of inner shift. If we accept that the outer world is influenced by our diverse and respective worldviews (yours’ and mine versus Donald’s for example) then it follows that we cannot create a truly different external world without getting to know and making changes within our inner landscape. Inner Transition draws on and connects with a diversity of models, areas of study and cultural traditions. Inner Transition is all about supporting each of us to embrace what is true for us in each moment – which means Inner Transition feels and looks different for everyone. And for some people Inner Transition feels problematic and can elicit strong feelings of frustration and/ or fear; these feelings are all welcome within the territory of Inner Transition.

Themes of Inner Transition

The Transition Network website identifies eleven key themes of Inner Transition:[3]

  • Wellbeing and human need
  • Burnout to Balance
  • Support
  • Celebration, appreciation, and gratitude
  • Healthy Groups
  • Finding Peace within conflict
  • Difference, diversity, power and inclusion
  • Understanding Change
  • Nature connection
  • Working with shadow and the unconscious
  • Spirituality and connections with faith groups

History of Inner Transition

The Transition Network website lists the following key dates in the history of Inner Transition:[4]

  • 2006: Hilary Prentice launched a ‘psychology of change’ theme group within the newly-formed Transition Town Totnes initiative.
  • 2007: Hilary Prentice and Sophy Banks co-founded Transition Network’s Inner Transition strand, which Sophy Banks coordinated until 2015.
  • 2016 onwards: Sophy passed the Inner Transition torch to Claire Milne, who became Inner Transition International Coordinator in January 2016. Claire’s priority is coordinating and supporting the integration of Inner Transition into Transition initiatives around the world, as well as reaching out to communities, movements, organisations, projects, groups and individuals who are already on a strong inner journey and who are ripe for marrying this with more practical engagement in the world.

In the following video, made by Transition Network, Sophy Banks and Hilary Prentice discuss the history of Inner Transition.

Inner Transition impacts of the Transition movement

Respondents to the Transition 2020 survey reported some or meaningful or significant impact in the themes of 'Supporting emotional health and wellbeing' (50%) and 'Supporting shifts in attitudes and mindsets' (63%).

Some examples of the impacts of Inner Transition from the Transition 2020 survey include:

Reseau Transition Hub in Belgium[5]: “[We’ve had] bigger impacts in inner transition through the creation of a network of support professionals”

Transition Town Bridport, UK: "The Shed" which (within Covid-19 rules) meets regularly to share/learn practical skills, make/restore/sell items, all with 'green' and transitional roots, and boost mental health along the way. Bridport Town Council has provided workshops, free of charge, and the group maintains them and the workbenches in return".

A trainer from the German Transition Hub: “As a transition trainer, I have reached many people and initiatives and was able to strengthen them in their further steps. For many years I led a heart & soul group, which was able to reach many different people in many different event formats.”

Göttingen im Wandel, Germany: "We recently held an event entitled "Building bridges to those who think differently". This brought opposing positions closer to one another and showed who you can listen to in your position and who cannot. And where your own position on the topic lies, maybe in the middle between the two extremes. See the reports in our blog"[6]

Inner transition is the route into active engagement in Transition for some. Many Transition 2020 survey respondents highlighted the need to reframe Inner Transition to make the language and approaches more accessible, and that cultural contexts made it difficult to communicate the relevance of these approaches: “We would have to find a new way to talk about it”.

Some acknowledged that the inner dimension can feel uncomfortable; “The approach needs more emphasis on practical engineering, and less on wellbeing, inner transition, and strange stuff that borders on mysticism.”  From the discussion groups, participants raised the importance of integrating Inner Transition into all activities, and not polarising between inner and outer dimensions of change. Whilst not named as ‘inner transition’, many people expressed despair or overwhelm at the difficulty of achieving the scale of change needed.

In the Transition 2020 survey, respondents to the question “What is the Transition movement really good at, that is needed widely or urgently now, and over the next few years?” mentioned the importance of expanding and disseminating the positive aspects of Inner Transition. This included practices for acknowledging and processing the emotional impacts of climate change; practices for healthy groups and the support needed for individuals and groups, such as coaching.

Inner transformation was also identified as an area of focus for Transition in the coming years. There were frequent references in the survey to the people skills needed to build and sustain effective groups, to “create and nurture support networks for activists, provide transition tools and accompany the teams of transition projects at the human level and internal transition”, and also the tools needed to navigate divisive subjects - both in local communities and wider society “Creating culture of peace, listening and dialogue to address polarization”. This was particularly highlighted in relationship to conflict management and transformation, nurturing collaborative culture that is non-bureaucratic and agile, and developing capacity to integrate decolonisation into Transition practices, and increase the diversity of people that the Transition movement engages with. For example: “continuing work to address some of the divisive discourse we see widespread across societies, by demonstrating through lived experience how communities can come together and work towards a positive agenda for our collective, sustainable future, is vital” (Transition Town Tooting, England).

Many respondents to the Transition Survey 2020 highlighted psychological and inner issues that operate as a block to wider engagement with climate change, and are challenges and tensions to realising the potential of the Transition movement. These include forms of denial, increasing polarization, fragmentation, loss of hope, arising fear in response to emergency narratives. These examples from the 2020 survey illustrate how the inner dimension is influencing engagement with the climate, ecological and social emergencies:

It's hard to call an end to a party, even when everyone can see that the food and drink are running out” (England)

Das man aus ANgst heraus handelt, weil es heißt wir "müssen, sonst ist es zu Spät". Angst ist kein guter Motivator. // That one acts out of fear, because it means "we have to, otherwise it is too late". Fear is not a good motivator” (Transition Kulmbach, Germany)

La polarisation des attitudes qui créé des angoisses qui restent inconscients et qui peuvent être dangéreux. On peut se trouver confrontés à des mini-Trump/Bolsonaro/Putin/Orban etc. à tous les niveaux de la société, avec la volonté d'appuyer sur le bouton nucléaire/mettre le feu aux forêts etc. pour essayer de dissiper leur angoisse de perdre les soi-disant avantages du monde d'avant. // The polarization of attitudes which creates anxieties which remain unconscious and which can be dangerous. We can find ourselves confronted with mini-Trump / Bolsonaro / Putin / Orban etc. at all levels of society, with the desire to press the nuclear button / set the forests on fire etc. to try to dispel their anguish of losing the so-called advantages of the world before. The collective unconscious anchored in old paradigms: competition, patriarchy, consumerism, speed, techno-scientism …” (Toulouse et Hub Sud-Ouest France)

“Overwhelm; too much for most people to handle, so they'll turn away until they have no choice but to face it” (Bowen in Transition, Canada).

Research on Inner Transition

Prentice, H., 2012. “Heart and soul”: Inner and outer in the Transition Movement, in: Rust, M.-J., Totten, N. (Eds.), Vital Signs: Psychological Responses to Ecological Crisis. Karnac, London, p. 175+. Power, C., 2016. The Integrity of Process: Is Inner Transition Sufficient? Journal of Social and Political Psychology 4, 347–363.