Personal PhD Reflections by Dr Anneloes Smitsman

Through this article, I would like to share my personal reflections about the last 5 years of my PhD research. On 18 December 2019, I received my Degree of Doctor after defending my Dissertation Into the Heart of Systems Change. The text below is adapted from chapter 13 of my PhD dissertation.

Image: Receiving of the Degree of Doctor at Maastricht University, the Netherlands

The Journey of going Into the Heart of Systems Change

Now that all the research questions, methods and results have been shared and explored from multiple dimensions, angles and viewpoints, I can speak freely and frankly. 

Going into the heart to where our systems change, has been a process of opening, letting go, tuning in, letting go again, listening, applying, intuiting, responding, initiating, observing, surrendering, receiving, integrating, and being. My own capacity to learn, change, transform, develop, grow, and evolve has been at the core of this research process. Each question I asked brought forth more questions. 

The desire for this research did not start in 2014, it began in 1998 when I first embarked on the journey of PhD research at the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University (ANU). My inquiry then was focussed on how people’s perception of time influenced our governance models, and what we could learn from the Indigenous Cosmology of time for developing future-fit ecological governance and institutions. 

The questions were so large that I felt like I was drowning in that many traditions of knowledge. I had proposed an integral approach, showing how the various schools of knowledge and understanding can meet each other at the centre of the wheel of time. When I started in 1998, it was a journey into the heart of time. In those days the kind of integral approach I proposed was seen as too unconventional. 

The biggest challenge then was not how to bring all those fields of knowledge together, but how to bring academics together into the same meeting room when each said I should be carrying out this research in their department, and not the other. I suppose my experiential approach of asking all the professors to close their eyes for 5 minutes to explore the relativity of time, was too far of a stretch for some, as it evoked their personal experience to approach an academic topic. I have always been a rebel at heart, and just could not discuss those questions with my supervisors and advisors if they were not even open to explore their own bias towards time, and how this would influence everything they may be reading. There was no time for such explorations, was the message I received loud and clear. 

Image: Sacred Aboriginal Initiation Site, Kata Tjuta, Australia

After two years, in 2000, the Dreamtime called me. I stopped the PhD and made time to meditate and reflect for five hours a day and started to listen deeply to what the Land was sharing with me. I travelled to many of the sacred sites in Australia and would spend many of my mornings in the forest with the kangaroos, the rocks, and the trees, and walking in respectful distance of the snakes with whom I was also sharing the path. I opened my heart to the Australian Aboriginal wisdom teachings and their Cosmology and learned from the songlines, the Ancestral Beings, the Creation Laws, Kanyini, Custodianship, and the art of patience and the practice of Dadirri for breathing with the Land as She is breathing us. It was a challenging choice, many people around me did not understand why I would be giving up such a prestigious PhD scholarship, even more so knowing it had not been awarded in that department for 10 years. 

All I could say to the questioners was; I know it may not make any sense, and later we will know if it was sensical. For now, please, just trust me. I am not throwing my life away, I am discovering where it came from and how our human journey began long ago. That journey of deep inner transformation lasted for seven years after which I worked on how to integrate and apply all I had learned and experienced to support our children to remember their living relationship with Mother Earth, and discover their own humanity in the way the Rainbow Serpent, the Swan and the Lizard had shown me.  Soon after that journey completed a new one began, this time through my own motherhood. 

Image: Womb Birthing by Tamara Phillips

Another journey of going into the heart of systems change began, now through the change and metamorphosis of my own body. I studied and explored every subtle change of my body and consciousness through the process of pregnancy, by noticing what happened to my inner world, body, and consciousness states as my baby entered me and his life, more and more. 

I remember the day after conception. I knew I was pregnant as I had noticed some very subtle changes in my consciousness and felt this incredible presence of pure potential that is not yet differentiated. Just a consciousness with no form, no this or that; a point of singularity that contained already all the possibilities of its own becoming. I thought to myself, wow, if only we could remember that this is how our journey began as our bodies formed and our life became possible. How that would change our human story and inform our human being

Through that journey and the blessing to experience it twice with both my children, I learned how it feels when the future enters you and the importance of allowing it to emerge by not framing, catching, and trapping it into what we want it to become. I made space in my dreams for the dreams of my child. I shared not only my body with my children but also my inner world and made space for their energy and consciousness in mine. My dream landscape changed during the period they were in my womb. I would see and hear things that were not part of my inner memory system. I was very conscious of the fact that by allowing my children to enter this world through my body and life, I was a possibility space for Life to start a new journey of itself as this new being. We were each other’s possibility space. 

Everything I learned through that journey prepared me for working with the process of emergence, becoming future creative, making space for our future to be born and attracting our future into being. Those narratives, as you may recall, have been woven through the many chapters of this dissertation. This is a feminine dimension to the academic process of knowledge creation I had not encountered before. If it was not for my co-promoter Prof dr. Alexander Laszlo, I may well have given up on attempting to combine once more my human explorations with the world of academia. He kept encouraging and supporting me, and made space for my feminine wisdom and intuitive perception in the narrative of the evolutionary sciences, and the evolutionary learning process. He also provided me with essential academic literature directions from the emerging field of the New Paradigm Sciences, for better understanding and communicating the kinds of concepts and topics that have been explored through this dissertation. 

In 2014 after meeting with Prof Pim Martens who explained to me that he welcomes an integral approach, I found the courage to take up the PhD process once more, and this time with him as my promoter. He opened the first door and gently anchored this work by giving suggestions and answering my questions along the way, which helped me to apply the research methodology of this PhD in a way that is indeed truly integral. I was delighted that such a research methodology was now accepted. I am deeply grateful to Pim Martens and Alexander Laszlo for the invaluable support they have given me, and most of all for their trust in me and my journey of going into the heart of systems change.

During the beginning years of this PhD process I often felt like giving up, and the conversations with my father during those periods were a lifesaver. As an experiential researcher in the fields of ecological psychology, he understood this part of the process so well. I often felt unsure how to bring it all together and felt there was so much more to explore to what I was sensing and observing through my hands-on work in the case-studies of this research. Although this has been one of the most challenging undertakings I have done in my life, I am so grateful that I persisted this time and found the right people to support me and this work. By asking those questions that formed part of this research I have learned so much. Had I not done this PhD research I would never have learned what I have now through the trainings I provided in the three case-studies. There are so many skills as well, which I have been able to develop by embarking on this PhD. 

The golden question remains, how can we apply this knowledge in our own lives and leave our beautiful planet in better care than when we first entered it? This is what it means to be a good relative, as my friend Chief Phil Lane Jr. would say. Are we sufficiently preparing our children and ourselves for what is ahead in their future? The deeper drivers for our behaviours are systemic, we are the living systems that become either a possibility space and attractor for a thrivability world, or else become its constrictor. 

The focus and title of this research is Into the Heart of Systems Change.  Not every change is a change that contributes to our further conscious evolution. We can also change in a direction that makes us less conscious, less actualised, and more destructive. The time ahead is full of challenges. There is much I don’t know, and even more I will never know. What I do know, however, and this has been my golden rule, is that by committing to Life and our future together, we will become the possibility space for our thrivability, even in, and perhaps especially during, times of irreversible collapse. 

I also know that we have been given something beautiful by our Universe and that is the desire to grow. This desire has become so misunderstood, misused and distorted. While going back to the foundations of this growth desire we can build a transition model for a thrivability civilization that works with this primordial force in a Life generative way. I am deeply grateful how that conversation is already starting with the people who, like me, were looking for this. It is truly an exciting time to be alive and I dedicate this work to that transition and the future generations.

I promised to complete this dissertation with a message to the future generations. This next section is for all our children and their children, and the children of all our relatives, human and non-human. 

For the Future Generations

You came in my dreams 12 years ago, the year was 2007. You helped me to experience your consciousness and showed me the incredible genius you bring forth through your future creative abilities and fresh new perspectives, from a new cycle of time with the wisdom of the Ancient Ones. You showed me that if we do not make space for you in our societal systems, including our educational, economic, and governance systems, that your gift to humanity will be lost. You showed me how your questions may not be noticed by those who think from a different bandwidth. You showed me what happened when the bridges would not form in time and that you did not come here to fit in; you came to fit us into the part of the puzzle we forgot through our incomplete growth model. 

You came to show us a far larger, more intelligent, loving, conscious Universe than the one we had conceived possible. I made you a promise 12 years ago that I would do whatever I can to help form those bridges in time. To make space within our systems for your unique perspectives, questions, growth impulses, creativity, and wisdom. I promised most of all to love you, to believe in you, to support you. This work is for you; to make the barriers visible that constraint your future possibility. To transform the systemic barriers that we have left and fed for way too long through our own unconsciousness. We forgot ourselves along the way to progress and modernisation. The place from where you came does not have those systemic barriers. You remember Life without those human-imposed constrictions. You remember Life as Thrivability. My commitment to you remains; to be us, and do what I can to welcome and support your possibility for us. Thank you. 

Source: Chapter 13 of "Into the Heart of Systems Change", PhD Dissertation by Anneloes Smitsman (Ph.D). 


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