Natural Foods Merchandiser

Joan Borysenko on the courage to change

When psychoneuroimmunologist and integrative medicine pioneer Joan Borysenko attended Harvard Medical School, her dissertation subject was the transformation process by which tadpoles become frogs. Later, she studied how caterpillars transform into butterflies, their bodies liquefied within the cocoon until all that remains are “imaginal cells,” which reorganize the remaining DNA into something completely new.

The lesson, she said to a full house on Friday morning, is that our own metamorphosis, on the personal and cultural level, requires chaos and breakdown before a higher order can be established. “Right now, we’re in the economic breakdown before breakthrough, in the intermediate state between ‘no longer’ and ‘not yet,’” Borysenko said. But for those who approach uncertain times with the right attitude—and especially for the cultural creatives and spiritual eclectics who make up the core of the natural products industry—times of uncertainty can lead to new opportunities.
“We have an opportunity to advance a new vision for a just and sustainable planet,” Borysenko said. But to succeed, we need to have enough resilience to navigate the waters of change without being swamped by stress and depression.

There are three secrets of resilience, Borysenko said. The first is what she called “optimistic realism,” an unblinking acceptance of the current reality that allows one to optimize future possibilities. The second is a deep belief that life is meaningful, and the final secret is what she called bricolage, an ability to think outside the box and improvise successful solutions.

What does all this have to do with success in the natural products industry? Plenty, according to Borysenko. Understanding these secrets of resilience allows retailers and manufacturers to see what parts of their business are working, what needs to change and how to envision new solutions. “Without a vision for the future you cannot orient yourself,” she said. “Imagine the world in 2030—what’s the most positive vision of this planet that you can have?”

To make our vision of a sustainable world come true, we must overcome our own negative assumptions and practice learned optimism. “Then, stressful events will challenge us to change and grow,” Borysenko said, “but they won’t overwhelm us.”

Mitchell Clute
Contributing writer
Natural Foods Merchandiser

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