There is a theory called the adjacent possible. I am so drawn to this idea. I have carried around a tiny door handle in my purse to remind me of this adjacent possible for nearly two years. It is important to believe in I think because, in my life at least, a lot of good things have almost happened. As I write it I can almost hear you cry ‘well that’s a defeatist thing to say’. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t.

I have a school friend who tells me that you only need one thing to change in your life to change everything. I have found this to be true, a new job or new home, or new partnership impacts on every aspect of your life. You can apply to 100’s of jobs but you only need one to come through for you.

And the good things that almost happen, well sometimes people are responsible for that, them and their narrow choices that constrict your life. And sometimes the good things that could have happened don’t, because of structural inequality. My same friend insightfully points out that if you start a family then all of a sudden your job choices are reduced to part-time, set days, close to nursery, and as such tend to be non-managerial and less well paid. She is very pragmatic about this. The pool of potentiality has shrunk. There is a season to be lived out here with less choices in the work arena because of one choice in the family arena. Others do not have a choice about why they have a shrunken pool of possibility and watch lots of good things almost happen because of racism or homophobia, or discrimination against disability. Name your prejudice. The impact of the coronavirus may have shrunk your pool of possibility and had other devastating direct or indirect impact upon your life.

We have found ourselves as a collective society in the school of unlearning (to borrow a phrase from Charlie Mackesy). Where the certainties have become uncertain and the known has become unknown.

And things will never be as they were before.

There is a wrenching to this kind of experience which we feel both within ourselves and without of ourselves. It reminds me of the words of Cynthia Occelli, “For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

We did not ask for this, we do not tend to welcome disruption. It has come to us wholly uninvited and we have been deeply disrupted as individuals and groups and a whole humanity. Because of this there is a deep need for a belief and hope in the adjacent possible, that realms of possibility are not far away but adjacent – right here, to the left field. It is likely to be something that draws you towards itself, rather than something you are driven towards. Perhaps this is a shift that is taking place, about which inner movements of our hearts we listen to. The adjacent possible makes me think of what John O Donohue calls ‘The Secret Elsewhere’ where silently, deeply, tenderly, other possible paths are being sketched out. It may be we are collectively being asked to consider adjacent possible ways of being. So as you sift through what good things of life are in your sphere of possibility and you listen to the wind of your soul, you will find, either because of you, or because of circumstance, or because of others, that it is not that, not that, not that, not that….But This.

This, whatever ‘this’ is for you, manoeuvres  you out of one realm and into the adjacent possible. Into what may have been barely in your peripheral vision.

May it be yours.

May it be good.

2 thoughts on “The adjacent possible

  1. Thanks Kate, again! I have a sense of being drawn not driven into new possibilities. And the process ‘not that, not that, not that…but this’ is very hopeful. Thank you for verbalising such a gentle and almost imperceptible process.


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