I never met this man, but he seems to know a lot about subtle sensing, and how we are part of nature, and how we can be as nature. Enjoy listening to him!
Experience does not occur in the clothing of verbal phrases. It involves clashes of emotion, and unspoken revelation of the nature of things. Revelation is the primary characterisation of the process of knowing…. Revelation is the enlargement of clarity. It is not a deduction…
– Alfred N. Whitehead, The Aims of Education and Other Essays
In our little Flemish women’s circle, we spent much time on the level of the emotions, peeling away the layers of the onion to reach an open mind, open heart and open will. Over time we noticed that, as we became better at clearing the interpersonal field between us and keeping it open for longer periods, other domains became accessible. Our initial intention had been to look into the relationship between women, femininity and spirituality. Through experience and with much trial and error, this intention opened into a growing awareness of interrelatedness and complexity.
Inspired by the prospect of building and sustaining a container to hold the fire of difficult conversations, as described by William Isaacs in his book Dialogue, we started experimenting with a collective contemplation exercise. At the time, we called it ‘collective meditation’, but really it was more of a contemplation, because we would place a question or a topic as the focus of our attention and listen for new insights. In the awareness of our shared, energetic container we would use our subtle sensing to catch fragments of answers, information or insights that might emerge. In the beginning this sometimes felt threatening to our identities, as ‘weird’ ideas or images would come up. But it was very exciting and it awoke in me a resolve to dive deeper and understand better exactly what was going on.
We learned, step by step, to rely more on the information coming from the subtle levels and integrate it with our more habitual ways of knowing. To begin with, we didn’t always share the information we each received personally, for fear of being thought stupid or weird, only to find out later that it truly was a missing piece of the whole.
This collective contemplation started somewhat like a meditation, in silence. Unlike typical group meditation, though, we were all fully aware of being together in a shared silence with a shared purpose. In the silence we held our mutual connection and interrelatedness in our awareness, together with the question we had put in the middle. At first, the silence served to bring us into the present moment, as in regular meditation. In that silence, there seemed to be “only energy and no words”. But we discovered that we could speak from that connected, deeper subtle space. It felt as if the words were spoken ‘through us’, without any prior processing by the mind, arising instead straight from, in and as the experience. As in Whitehead’s quote: the speaking was a revelation, it offered a clarity of insight that was not yet present in our memory banks.
We are so habituated to using language and speech to exchange in conceptual space that we hardly ever speak from direct experience – except in those rare instances when we hurt ourselves and say ‘ouch!’ as an expression of pain, or when our delight in a favorite dish brings forth an ‘mmmm!’ We noticed that there was something to discover when speaking was directly linked with insights arising from inner knowing. It is an expression emanating directly from a subtle gut feeling instead of sharing thoughts and concepts; words seem to issue through the mouth from a deep source, not from the mind. Sound can have a healing quality, and what I am pointing to here is speech, communication still imbued with that kind of quality, whilst using words to articulate new insights.
Language has become a separate human realm and/or a map of reality and there is a destructive and manipulative potential to it – words can deny, words can control. Most of all, the essence of the experience and the inherent relationships in it are lost. Labels and concepts blind us, distorting our perception of reality and the way we interact with it. We sacrifice immediacy, intimacy and vulnerability. Speaking ‘about it’ removes us from the experience itself. Speaking ‘words that come through’ is more energetic and vibrational; it leaves us with a primary experience rather than taking us off into the realms of abstract cognition and intellect.
The sharing of personal stories also has that quality of immediacy and intimacy. We all feel touched when sharing is genuine and open. The story and its related feelings can be understood by the heart without needing to be processed through concepts and labels. Such direct communication holds a healing quality – for the speaker through the sharing and for the receiver through listening and witnessing. As we continue in this immediate sharing, it becomes possible for our words to come from ever deeper layers, for us to say things we never imagined before, as this way of being together opens up our experience into new realms of being.
We came to call this experience of immediate shared insight ‘sourcing’ – as if speaking from source, from that place of infinite potential that is always present but that we tend to forget in our habitual way of living and thinking. We invite participants in the circle to speak to and from the middle so as to increase the likelihood of speaking from that subtle place, rather than sharing concepts or addressing what someone said before. One feature of sourcing is that it is free from conceptualisation. Words spring directly from experiential awareness in the moment. Follow one’s own words as they appear and refraining from attributing any kind of meaning to them allows us to go further and deeper on this path of discovery.
Sourcing can only happen when one is in both inner and outer alignment at the same time (Bonnitta Roy calls this internal congruence and inter-subjective coherence). Sourcing is sensing into the subtle realms; it is about perceiving subtle, energetic levels of reality where the boundaries of the normal fall away. We are able to sense and distinguish what will come next, just as we can lick a finger and hold it up in the air to feel where the breeze is coming from. The here-and-now moment is always entangled with its inherent potential, with what can become manifest next. This is not the same as ‘knowing’ the future, as it is not yet formed. But there seems to be a field of possibility or potential, and we are able to sense into it.
It is not easy to source instead of thinking, in the sense of juggling with preformed thoughts, memories and concepts – an activity which is so deeply ingrained in our minds and habits. We tend to think first, then speak, or simply repeat something we have said before. In the practice of sourcing, we are invited to speak directly from the (subtle) experience, instructing the mind to notice the experience without processing it in conceptual space. So we work with our present phenomenological experience –what is happening Now – and stay as close to it as we possibly can, whilst observing it and articulating it to the best of our ability.
This can feel awkward, like going against the grain, but – as in every aspect of life – practice helps! Over time I have noticed that my capacity to easily and accurately discern whether something feels ‘right’ or ‘aligned’ has grown. It can be about very small, even mundane things. But suddenly I ‘know’ it, with a certainty that encompasses my heart, my body and my mind. These are not solutions that come through a thought process. They have the quality of revelation, without being in any way out of the ordinary: it is just that I now know what to do, when or whether to write that email, what to reply, what to decide. In the past, I would have needed much more time and contemplation to reach that space of inner and outer alignment.
So, yes, practice helps. We can develop this inner knowing, this sense of coherence and knowing-all-at-once that is an embodied experience. We can practice sensing the potential that is surfacing into manifestation. The first few times I experienced such insights, I remember finding it so strange that I felt some trepidation about sharing them, judging them weird and new-agey. Since then, it has becoming a familiar habit that is an integral part of how I relate with the world and with life in general.
Quote from participant:
I’ve been in a great space the last week. Next to no internal dialogue – quiet, at rest, an in-body experience. Really being cocooned, safe in my body, life, work, cosmos, and belonging. Finding this week I just have to show up, being empty and listen. Then something speaks through me and I can shut up again. It’s an intense experience and hasn’t faded away at all. – Helen
The Experience of Sourcing
Here follows a description of the different phases we have identified that can help in learning how to shift our habit from thinking through the head to sourcing though our whole being.
Crossing the threshold
For the habitual ways of being of the default Western mind, it can feel quite scary to start to rely on sourcing in many different areas of life – even though the intention is not to replace cognitive knowing, because that is included. It can often feel like being on the edge of a deep precipice – we might pitch into the void! And yet many of us feel a compulsion, a strong pull to go there. Something seems to be calling us, and when we follow the call, it feels good!
From my notebook:
If I release myself
into the Earth system,
then my mind releases itself into it also.
Not the witness,
but the mind.
Then I can be in wonder with everything that is.
Then what comes up is not ‘mine’, but is Life itself.
– April 2009, Greece
Quotes from participant:
I struggle with how much of me, the ego self, should be present. And yet I know it is to be the self, beyond ego, who engages. Somehow I am not free yet, not free enough to be there without ego attachment to the outcome. And letting go, moving beyond the edge, the leap into the unknown brings so much uncertainty, so much fear; it is beyond any trust I can find within me. … Something in me knows this holds unlimited potential and yet I cannot seem to make the leap.
And yet I know that beyond the ego self is the Self, the one who has no fear, no past or future, no need for anything, except to be in fullness, in now, and to emerge. No need for comfort as there is no fear.
In this space of shared experiment and practice, there is only one rule or principle to follow: everything that is shared is ‘the right thing’. I put this in inverted commas here, as there can be no right or wrong in these matters, just the act of trying and seeing where it leads. Unavoidably, your ego-as-habitual-pattern will hit the wall of doubt and uncertainty: Am I going to say the wrong thing? Will it sound stupid? Will others think I’m weird? At those moments, it is good to remember the rule: everything you share is OK and good enough to try.
At the same time, stay as aware as you can of where you are speaking from: am I downloading the same old thing? Is there some subtle judgement? Am I speaking ‘about’ something? Am I sharing a personal story? Am I sensing a potential, trying to name a new pattern? If we feel the pull to speak more from source, to articulate the potential we are perceiving, it doesn’t matter what we are sharing because we have to keep on trying. Some agreements and shared practices can help us to reach this next level: the use of a talking piece, the principle that everything that is shared is OK… and just keep on practicing.
Quote from participant:
After once touching into speaking from the middle, I would forever want to return there, to that incredible and liberating power of knowing. To that little worn groove in consciousness, that is now a bit more familiar. The possibilities are so vast. The opportunity to shift consciousness even in a small way is so attractive energetically. It is as if consciousness is calling, magnetising me and us to answer, to listen, to sense into, to be present, to co-sense, and to co-presence. Once knowing this experience it becomes a capacity that must be utilised, that must be put into service.
Surrender and trust
Many times women describe the feeling of the sourcing experience as being like giving birth. There is something that needs to be expressed, birthed or manifested, although there is no point of reference to steer by and the outcome cannot be anticipated beforehand. Some describe it as “something from somewhere else came through me”. It is an active surrendering to the intangible: trusting the impulse to speak, trusting that the words will come, trusting the colour to pick, trusting the image to follow… trusting something that is not first formed in your conscious conceptual mind, because you know through your subtle awareness that something wants to be expressed. I imagine that this is what every artist has to learn; this is what life is asking from all of us.
Surrendering to these subtle impulses calls for us to commit to courage and honesty; the courage to give up control and let go of the known path, and the honesty to give form and expression to the impulse sensed from within. This is in no way a conscious choice made beforehand about what to say or do. Rather, it is an experience of inner compulsion; an impulse from life itself, not from any habitual pattern. It is not uncommon to feel yourself quaking, to feel resistance and yet know you are going to do it any way. The experience holds the paradox of being aware of some particular consequences of your choice whilst at the same time feeling you have no choice. There is a strong invitation not to hold back, because life is asking me to do just this. Nothing more and nothing less. If I am true to my deepest self, this is something I cannot not do. It is a deep commitment to the whole of life. This is living in the energy of the archetypal Fool of the tarot deck: it looks as if stepping forward will lead to death, and yet not stepping forward will lead just as surely to another form of death. It is all or nothing. You can’t do it just a little bit, just as you can’t be a little bit pregnant…
In the experience of our circles, I would often invite women to continue speaking after they had put down the talking piece. My subtle sensing told me that they had stopped talking when the ideas in their mind were exhausted, but before the real sourcing had begun. They thought everything had been said and wanted to stop their contribution right at the moment when I sensed the sourcing could start. They were so close! In reality, they had come to the end of what was already formed in their minds before they started sharing, and then stopped. I would silently hand them back the talking piece and they would sit with it for a while, then begin to articulate stories and impressions from a deeper place of as-yet-unformed insight.
There is a clearly perceptible difference between the urge coming from our ego-as-habitual-patterns and the impulse coming from source. We all recognise the moments when stuff just wants to fly out of the mouth. This is habitual ego material with an emotional charge behind it, and this charge is often difficult to stop and reflect upon. By contrast, articulating from an impulse arising from the alignment of body, feeling and mind, is quite different. This impulse too can have a certain energetic force to it, but it comes from the subtle realms and, because there is an inner silence present at the same time, we can easily choose not to share it, thereby maintaining our flexibility. Of course, when the tendency of our ego-as-habit is to hold back, the very expression of this subtle urge is in itself a novel behaviour. The simple practice of noticing what is going on in our bodies – emotions, feelings, subtle sensing – is extremely valuable here: stay in the body, keep sensing and speak when moved, but otherwise keep quiet.
Quote from participants:
One learning for me was: for the first time I trusted myself. I trusted that my ability to discern or decide to speak or to ask was OK. The little mind game was there for a split second, but then I could go on. It was a big awakening to trust my inner knowing.
What is calling me is a relatively new appreciation of the unseen forces that are ours to discover and work with. Until the past few years my training and life had made me almost wholly dismissive of anything that wasn’t available for analysis. My left-brain is well developed, and I am enthusiastic about linking its abilities to the intuitive and spiritual sides of myself. Moving the edge means taking a leap beyond the conventional wisdom. It means going beyond my own sense of limitation; though I want to remain humble in my assessments. It means stepping off of solid ground and trusting that I will land in a safe place.
For sourcing to happen through you, you need to stay tuned to your body, to be open to all your senses, the subtle ones included. More specifically you need to be open to receive: some kind of impression, an elusive knowing, a certainty, a weak signal, whatever might come through. You need to reach a point where you trust your senses as much as you trust your thinking. I repeat: as much as your thinking! Your subtle sensing is crucial, because this is how you discern whether or not you are aligned, both within and without.
This is why sourcing feels so different than coming from a more ‘normal’ conceptual space of ideas, thoughts and suggestions – all from memory, from what has happened before. I cannot describe it better than one of the participants of the Women Moving the Edge gathering of spring 2009: “I have a strong felt sense of when I am on the edge. I have a somatic experience of where the awareness comes from. In these moments I experience myself as fully contributing, fully of service and the small self disappears or when present shows up in such stark contrast to the moment, that it hardly makes sense. I feel vibrations and much energy flowing through me, but completely and utterly grounded. My deepest desire is to grow into this being a truly embodied state, where I spend much more of my time.” (Cari)
One great benefit of alignment – alongside the fact that no internal dialogue is ongoing, the mind is quiet and the body at rest – is that it is an in-body experience. You feel safe in your body, in your life, in your work, in the cosmos; you have an overall feeling of belonging to life itself. All you have to do is to show up, be centred and present and listen, within and without. Should something want to express itself through you, then you follow that impulse and give it some form. It’s a subtle yet intense inner experience that becomes more recognisable with practice. When we are aligned and balanced, and focus our intention on a certain question or issue, we can picture ourselves as an empty channel or tube. This channel seems to act as an attractor for relevant information to come in.
Quote from participant:
Ideas, like tiny tendrils of smoke, are fed into your awareness. You are learning to recognise them for what they are, to give them space and articulate them, act on them. This attracts more. You have now amplified your listening by joining circles of other listeners. The focus of your listening attracts threads of potential that resonate with your intent. It is important for you to understand that when you listen for ‘what wants to happen’, you can hear only the whispers or echos of your own deeper intent. – Helen
The alignment and coherence I am describing here relate to the three perennial virtues of Truth, Beauty and Goodness . Ever growing attunement – in all directions – brings us closer to truth or wisdom, creates more beauty and is experienced as good for all and everything. There is a sureness we feel in the body as we reach deeper into these virtues. We all recognise clarity, presence, beauty when we encounter them… they bring us to a place of inner stillness and awe. So, too, can we learn to recognise this energy when we are sharing it together. Somehow it is palpable and we know it.
As much as our ego-as-habitual-pattern might be afraid of sourcing, there is another part in us that will rejoice in the feeling of being on that edge, at least after some practice. Over time there is a greater sense of comfort in this new space. To be on the edge – the edge of not- yet-knowing how to proceed or what to say – is also to live in anticipation of what is going to emerge. It is exciting, creative, joyful – a vibrant feeling! To me, it reminds me of when I was a child, knowing that something pleasant was going to happen. It has not happened yet … but the surprise will show up at any moment! I guess this is the feeling of really being alive – and more even than that, it is being at home in life as it unfolds, ourselves included. The energy says “Lets do it!”, like children deciding to embark on an adventure beyond what is normally permitted by their parents, to end up with an experience that everyone enjoys.
Sourcing and similar concepts
At the beginning we live most of the time in the physical world. Then the subtle world becomes equally real. So does the unformed. In the end the unformed actually becomes our home.
– Thomas Hübl
Of course this capacity we call sourcing is not something we have invented. Other, similar concepts come pretty close to what we mean by it. I have tried to clarify the differences between sourcing and concepts like ‘intuition’, ‘felt sense’, ‘inspiration’, ‘imagination’ and ‘presencing’. They all say something about the capacity and process of reaching with your attention into the energetic, subtle levels of reality. In one way or another, they all imply that there are forms of knowing, insight or revelation that originate not from the conceptual mind but from somewhere else. All these forms of knowing can be part of sourcing, depending on the intention and other elements.
Intuition is a word more commonly used to express that we know something before it happens or without anyone having told us; we just know, without the proof of ‘objective’ reality. In a way, it is tapping into the subtle layers of reality, be it something as yet unmanifest or, perhaps, something that was previously unconscious. There is no strict distinction between these two, when we use the word intuition. Sometimes intuition might be sourcing, sometimes it is not. What is the same in both is a direct, immediate apprehension of something, through a multi-sensory awareness in combination with intellect. Sourcing is very much an action, a directing of the attention to what is coming into being; it is a verb, a process. It is not a capacity that you either have or you don’t; it can be trained and practiced.
Felt sense is a term coined by Eugene Gendlin. He explains: “A felt sense is not a mental experience but a physical one. Physical. A bodily awareness of a situation or person or event. An internal aura that encompasses everything you feel and know about the given subject at a given time – encompasses it and communicates it to you all at once rather than detail by detail. Think of it as a taste, if you like, or a great musical chord that makes you feel a powerful impact, a big round unclear feeling. A felt sense doesn’t come to you in the form of thoughts or words or other separate units, but as a single (though often puzzling and very complex) bodily feeling.”
He developed the process known as ‘Focusing’ to unravel the felt sense in people and get to its clear meaning. A description by David Rome: “When we first notice a felt sense, it does not have a specific ‘aboutness’ yet. It is non-conceptual. But as we use the Focusing process to be with and listen to the felt sense, it may come into clearer focus (hence the name Focusing) and it may ‘open’ in a way that gives us fresh understanding of our situation. At that point—which cannot be rushed—we can begin to try out concepts on it, begin to inquire what it might be ‘about.’ But the felt sense itself is always primary, not the conceptualisation, and the practice of Focusing involves repeatedly letting go of conceptual activity and returning to the body sense.”
If you want to learn more about the clues your body offers, getting acquainted with Focusing is highly recommended. It is guaranteed to enhance your subtle sensing capacity. Gendlin also developed a process called Thinking at the Edge, which builds on the felt sense and Focusing, with the aim of building a conceptual model out of your felt sense.
The difference between Focusing and sourcing is, in my definition, that sourcing is a felt sense about an unmanifest potential: it taps into layers of energy that have not yet come into physical manifestation. Like Focusing, it is a verb and an activity, but sourcing guides your attention to the unmanifest layers of reality, it is getting a felt sense of the future through the potential present in this moment. This is not about ‘any’ future – because many people have an intuition about what is going to happen, for example, to a relative, or that someone is going to call them on the phone. No, sourcing relates to possibilities that have not existed before, potentials that arise between the question that is central to the inquiry and the deepest source.
Sourcing is different to how channeling works for some people. While sourcing, you are very present to the here and now. If you are not aware of what you said, or if you channel information that has no bearing on you personally, then I would not call that sourcing. Sourcing is bringing your attention to the unmanifest that is calling to take form and then speaking and expressing from that place. It is building a conscious partnership with this potential and the future. It is not ‘channeling some information’ and then going back to your ‘normal’ life. Sourcing is a life-changing activity, because it will gradually lead you to live closer to your own potential and integrate more of this deeper knowing. In the terms of Otto Scharmer, sourcing is being in a generative conversation with life; in the terms of Jean Gebser, it is living more from Origin.
Quote from participant:
With sourcing I am putting words on… I’m trying to find words – and they are mine – that fit with what I am sensing. There is something that I’m sensing and then I fit words to it. The articulation of the words came first, my mind was following the words. … sourcing is something that comes through and I have to put the sentence together as it emerges and it feels like it won’t make any sense until it comes out of my mouth. Sourcing feels like it is being formed as it is coming through. I use the word channeling… as this felt like it was already there. In channeling I have a sense that something is speaking to me, instead of me sensing into it.
Sourcing might be very similar to inspiration, in the way artists understand it. The painter facing the white canvas or the writer confronting the blank page also have a felt sense of what they want to bring into manifestation – without yet knowing what it will look like. They link up with a future form, and need their ideas and concepts to get out of the way so that the artistic process can happen. Their trained artistic skills can then be put in service of the emerging form. The way we use sourcing here is to guide us to new wisdom and novel insights, to applications that will help us in the emerging world, that will help us to see the opportunities for the future instead fixating on all the problems and decay.
Sourcing embraces more than imagination. I know quite a few people who take the vision formed in their mind’s eye as real, and are unable to sense whether that vision is yet ready to surface into manifestation. They might get a sense of future possibilities, but they are too removed from the here-and-now to sense what is the first step to take towards it, leaving them frustrated with themselves and with others, because their vision is not taking form. Sourcing is connecting with the energetic field of something coming into manifestation. It is sensing ‘what wants to happen’, not what I or we dream of.
Lisette made the distinction clear: “In sourcing I use my whole body, including the first and second chakra – sensing how it feels there. With intuitive vision I look from the third eye (sixth chakra): clear seeing.” (Lisette meta 09092) We can see and we can dream in a way that is not related to insight; but the combination of seeing the bigger picture and connecting with this inner knowing is quite powerful. When we source, there is a deep, aligned knowing and words will find their way if we trust and allow it to happen. Most likely those words will ring true also for the others present. We are often surprised at what we have said and the reaction it causes in the group.
In relation to precensing, sourcing is what we do when we reach the bottom of the U in a more direct sense. We have dealt with the voices of judgment, fear and cynicism and we can reach with our awareness to the deepest point. Part of the contribution this book makes to the field of Theory U and similar approaches is to show how sourcing can happen simultaneously in many people, how we can go ‘through the eye of the needle’ at the bottom of the U as a collective, to get direct access to a wider field of possibilities. As distinct from the whole sequence described in the principles in the book Theory U, it is more like what Scharmer describes here as the third possibility: “The U process can be applied to practical situations in three different ways: as process, as a set of field principles, and by operating from the presence of source.” The latter he describes as “… as connecting to and operating from the presence of your deepest source, that is, from the bottom of the U. At this level, even the scaffolding of the principles falls away. The connection to this source level is articulated in the three root principles: intentional grounding, relational grounding and authentic grounding. I call them root principles because they relate to and support the other 21 remaining principles like the root system of a tree relates to the visible parts of a tree. They establish a foundation to evoke the presence of a social field – an intentional grounding that serves the whole; a relational grounding that connects to the collective body of the social field; and an authentic grounding that connect you to your essential self as a vehicle for the emerging future.” (Theory U, p436)
These three grounding principles are related to the Inner Alignment (authentic grounding) and Outer Alignment (relational grounding) explained in the previous chapters. The intentional grounding relates to the guiding question that is in service of the whole and where the sourcing is applied.
Some more inspiration…
In his ongoing inquiry into the foundations of reality, Bohm (1980, 1993, 1994, 2003) came to see what he called “unbroken wholeness” as the fundamental reality. He describes “thought as a system” in a way that shows it functioning by limiting, or measuring this unbroken wholeness, correlating with the epistemological field. Bohm used this frame to point to what he referred to as insight, or that which comes from outside or beyond the system of thought, in our framework the ontological dimension. The “event” of insight, coming from the ontological dimension, impacts the system of thought, or epistemological field, in a manner that fundamentally “re-hardwires” it, leading to greater coherence with reality.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View, p4.
Their way of seeing had to become whole for the wholeness that is ever-present to reveal itself in the normal and natural; for the place of grace, that ‘secret place’ is ‘where we have always been’, in the normal and the natural. We just need a new way of peering into the normal and the natural. We need a new kind of view… we are suggesting that the experience of wholeness arises through the view from wholeness.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View, p9.
Bohm (1980) says that: There is in this mechanical process no inherent reason why the thoughts that arise should be relevant or fitting to the actual situation that evokes them. The perception of whether or not any particular thoughts are relevant requires the operation of an energy that is not mechanical, an energy we shall call intelligence. This latter is able to perceive a new order or a new structure, that is not just a modification of what is already known or present in memory. For example, one may be working on a puzzling problem for a long time. Suddenly, in a flash of understanding, one may see the irrelevance of one’s whole way of thinking about the problem, along with a different approach in which all the elements fit in a new order and in a new structure. Clearly, such a flash is essentially an act of perception, rather than a process of thought, . . . though later it may be expressed in thought.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View p.51.
This “act of perception” is distinguished from the system of thought, indicating a kind of intelligent perception in which “the brain and nervous system respond directly to an order in the universal and unknown flux that cannot be reduced to anything that could be defined in terms of knowable structures”.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View, p53
“Primary knowing” arises by means of “interconnected wholes, rather than isolated contingent parts and by means of timeless, direct, presentation” rather than through stored “re-presentation.” “Such knowing is open rather than determinate, and a sense of unconditional value, rather than conditional usefulness, is an inherent part of the act of knowing itself,” said Rosch. Acting from such awareness is “spontaneous, rather than the result of decision making,” and it is “compassionate… since it is based on wholes larger than the self.”
As (Eleanor) Rosch told Otto (Scharmer), all these attributes–timeless, direct, spontaneous, open, unconditional value, and compassionate–go together as one thing. That one thing is what some in Tibetan Buddhism call “the natural state” and what Taoism calls “the Source.
– online source: http://a-spot-for-thought.blogspot.be/2009/09/analytic-knowing-v-primary-knowing.html
Gebser says “… contemplation is the mode of mystic perception, …”
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-present Origin. p24
Gendling speaks about ‘natural knowing’, about ‘natural understanding’:
“At first it brings one’s attention, not to new clarities, but rather to something muddy, a murky body-state — a felt sense. It may seem as if it were something private, merely an inner feeling-tone. But the subjective side is not private. When explication comes, it shows that a felt sense is all about the world.”
He talks about ‘dipping into’ a Felt Sense and then ‘explicate’ it. “Explicating changes I, and leads to renewed dipping and another change-step, and another, to more and more experience.”
“Our bodies imply every next bit of our further living. An action can explicate this implicit further living, and can carry it forward.”
– Gendlin, Crossing and Dipping. http://www.focusing.org/gendlin.html , p6-7.
George Leonard coined the term Focused Surrender while working on The Silent Pulse. He noted that every episode of grace or ‘perfect rhythm’ described in the book involved the unlikely marriage of trying and not trying, of zeroing-in and letting go. It appeared that both focused intentionality and the surrender of ego were necessary for experiencing existence at such a fundamental level and creating what often appeared miraculous….
There’s no question but that ego has great power, but it also has limitations. If we entertain the notion that the universe somehow already contains all information, all possibilities, and that each of us is a context of the universe from a particular point of view, then we might say that to create a sharply focused, vivid image of what we are seeking serves to ‘tune’ our being to that precise possibility. But that’s not enough. The striving, the ego still gets in the way. When we surrender, relinquishing the ego with its limitations, we open the way for grace, news from the universe, a direct connection with the divine…
– George Leonard, Michael Murphy, The Life We Are Given
I walk on the precarious edge
of the new and the old,
wanting to shed
the locks and lies of a mechanical world,
eager to dive into the smooth cool water of abundant life.
I am young,
I am a woman,
I live in a land where I can choose.
There are disco lights
and magnetic forces
pulling me into The Tunnel–
The Tunnel where everyone goes.
It vacuums up mall shoppers
executives and bartenders.
It promises clean sheets
and Mickey Mouse vacations,
automatic garage doors
and cell phone communications.
If you choose The Tunnel
you will never have to be cold
or hungry or alone.
There are pills to erase headaches
and drinks to drown heartaches.
There are movies to make you laugh
and cars to move you fast.
If you don’t like your face,
surgery will change its shape.
There is no need for God
The Tunnel will keep you safe.
But if you stop believing,
oh! If you stop believing…
The Tunnel will disintegrate
and leave you swimming in a septic tank.
My choice is clear.
I am stepping slowly
into the quiet open land beyond.
There are no roads, no maps, no guides.
There is no insurance coverage, no training school.
Edible vegetation is sparse.
Rain trickles down my back
as I fumble with reeds to make a hat.
Through the mist
I catch a thread of song
and rise to see a band of barefoot sisters
approach with open arms.
With nothing more than faith and grace,
our dance has just begun.
– Kirstin George
I have used the concept Circle of Presence several times already, so it is time to clarify exactly what I mean by it. A Circle of Presence is:
- any group or team (around 4 to 12 people)
- that comes together regularly over a longer period of time
- using circle practice as the core methodology
- for the purpose of becoming ever more present (in the four areas: myself, the others, the group and potential)
- in order to attain collective wisdom around a certain topic or question.
Scharmer writes (p.410-411) of this as one of the principles in the U-process: “create circles in which you hold one another in the highest future intention”.
In a Circle of Presence, the process is walked step by step, using circle practice to gradually build a strong container that can hold anger, joy and grief, but also reflection, new insights, analysis and a lot of cognitive understanding. This container is built of love and commitment, and that makes it is strong, vulnerable, flexible and resilient. This capacity of a Circle of Presence is not built all at once. It unfolds over time, through different layers and phases (see I and Us). We need practice to expand our capacity to embrace ever more in our awareness, and deepen our skill in opening ourselves to receiving ever more. These layers, phases and inner movements are all entwined, interconnected and interdependent.
In addition to the personal flexibility and grounding needed (I and Myself), we are called to develop new human capacities on the collective level: strong group fields that can hold and contain the powerful energies called for to deal with high levels of complexity, with chaos and sudden changes in the environment. The collective potential that a group can manifest is directly proportional to the amount of available, free energy that is not stuck in any kind of downloading. In groups with a lot of passion about their issue or purpose, there is generally more at stake for participants, so emotions can get very charged and situations get stuck easily. Therefore, groups with a compelling vision or great passion will do themselves a big favour by investing time in building strong, yet flexible and resilient containers that can hold the fire of emotions, which they can then use to forge new collective wisdom.
This so-called energetic container can be seen as the body/mind structure of a group, a concept I borrow from LaChapelle. Learning and practicing clearing and healing this body/mind/soul structure on a group level, so it can be available and open for its potential, is a whole new domain. When my body, mind and soul are aligned I feel joyful, wise and relaxed. We need the same thing for groups: a transparent, aligned group field that does not lose any energy in stuck patterns or habits, but that has all its attention and energy free for the emergence of its collective wisdom.
We are in sore need of more authentic collective wisdom – wisdom that springs from integrating body-based inner knowing with the cognitive capacity of our minds; a knowing that arises from the synergy of our shared capacity and potential. We all need a circle(s), because we are, by definition, as blind to our own unconscious parts as we are to our true gifts, and more importantly because we each hold a piece of the puzzle that only together will offer a deeper understanding and a way forward for our shared question or issue.
Collective intelligence and collective wisdom
I use the term collective wisdom intentionally, as I see it as different from collective intelligence. Even the true meaning of collective intelligence is not an intelligence that is additive, as in ‘two know more than one’. George Por speaks of ‘a connected intelligence’; an intelligence that combines and makes us more ‘co-intelligent’. Yet there is still something missing in this definition, when any kind of terrorist group can – and probably does – use this kind of collective intelligence.
I see wisdom as intelligence linked with love, or intelligence that is life-affirming, realising that we are embedded in a wider context – of other people, other cultures, other creatures – and acting from that awareness. Again, it is not a ‘one plus one makes two’ operation, but an emergent wisdom that arises when we put our individual gifts and knowing together in a vibrant mix. Then we become a group or team that is ‘co-wise’.
Wisdom in this regard is quite different from knowledge. I once heard Julio Olalla make a clear distinction between knowledge and wisdom, defining knowledge as knowing the answers, and wisdom as asking the questions. There is a lot of value in that definition, and later (part 7.1) I will have more to say on the topic of finding inspiring guiding questions.
Learning and healing
To some it might seem that any group process, which makes room for emotions and personal stories is a therapy group. This is not true. The purpose of a Circle of Presence is not healing in itself, but learning to become present on ever wider and deeper levels in order to be co-wise on the issue at hand. Any healing that happens is incidental. In a therapy group, the process is guided by a therapist, who is (hopefully) expert in such matters. In a Circle of Presence there need be no expert on emotional dynamics – although sometimes that can be helpful. It suffices to be a curious, empathic and respectful human being to make it work. The process builds and deepens mutual trust, respect and love over time – all in order to make available the wisdom related to the shared purpose, and not just for the sake of being together.
All steps, all movements along the way in this journey are needed for both healing and learning, simultaneously. Everyone will support and help, and receive in reciprocity. The learning happens as people travel together on the journey. Each one of the distinctive movements outlined so far has a part to play in clearing away what is separating us from what is: phenomena as they are, without any interpretation. We simply cannot move from our conditioned habits in a group to the experience of collective wisdom in one step. It takes learning, practice, commitment, compassion, and a lot of love. All our conditioned feeling, thinking, doing has separated us and divided us. It has veiled the interrelatedness and complexity. As LaChapelle states: “A considerable portion of any group’s energy is devoted to the remediation of these various veils.” If we want collective wisdom to emerge, each member needs to come to this ever deepening inner experience of wholeness or interconnectivity. Conceptual knowing alone will not be enough.
Being a Circle of Presence is at a far remove from sitting together and enjoying each other’s company – although that is important too. It is about growing, individually and collectively, in leadership capacity. It is about thinking and acting in quite diverse ways. It is about a collective inquiry into a topic that is of interest to all. Accordingly, every step in this process is crucial, every move is important. Becoming a group that shares deep mutual respect and love – whilst pursuing its purpose – is not easily accomplished, because we so quickly slip back into our habitual patterns.
Bill Torbert talks about ‘friendship as a developmental force’, building on the notion that friends mostly share similar values and related ways of thinking and reasoning. Participants in a Circle of Presence tend to see each other as friends after some time, because of the shared intention to become as present as possible, through and in the circle (practice), and because any sharing and reflection opens out onto human bonding, a level where we are all equal in being humans. The deep trust that evolves from there can be quite exceptional for some participants, hence the tendency to become friends.
This friendship is also more than being a bunch of ‘good old friends’. Participants in the kind of circles we are concerned with here also share a certain recognition and resonance, a deep trust in the unfolding of our future story. There is a shared inner knowing that we are in a time of deep transition on the planet and we all want to learn to be present in service of this. The resonance is about being on a learning journey and constantly reflecting on where our actions and thoughts originate. This makes for open minds and wide open hearts. Whenever I sense and see this resonance it reassures me and nurtures my soul. I suspect that when our souls come into deeper resonance, unexpected and wondrous things can happen.
Collective Presencing places much more emphasis on the yin side of individual and collective unfolding than is our habit. We focus more on the practical, holding and enabling energies: compassionate action born of love in every moment. And I do mean ‘in every moment’ – not only in meditation or for the duration of a workshop, but in every moment of our lives. Including work. Including when we do the dishes together, when we need to make an urgent appointment, when we are in a hurry or confronted with a conflict of interest. This energy is like the mother holding the child in the field of her love. She creates and maintains the conditions in which the child can grow. When that field is rather open and cleared, the child flourishes and the mother knows what to do. A Circle of Presence, over time and with commitment to its purpose, becomes this holding space, the container in which collective wisdom can be born and grow in service of the intention, purpose or inquiry that the group is gathered around.
The Circle of Presence is about building a collective container – and everything it takes to get there, both individually and together – so that Authentic Collective Wisdom can emerge around a shared topic; a collective wisdom that will be totally unique to this particular group. Related to the work of Scharmer, this can be seen as the inner dimension of the left side of the U-curve. Later on we will look at the steps and elements of the inner dimension entailed in becoming a Circle of Creation, which is more related to the movement up the right side the U-curve, transitioning into manifestation. In a way, I am seeking here to articulate the inner, subtle and then collective dimensions encountered when moving through the U process.
Chapter 4: I and Potential: Collective Wisdom
This chapter started out called ‘I and Evolution’, then became ‘I and Future’; ‘Evolution’ and ‘future’ are such all-encompassing concepts, though, that they just aren’t specific enough to serve in concrete situations. However, as I gradually gained clarity about what we were really inquiring into and relating with, I came to see that we are expanding our awareness not from ‘here’ to ‘there’, in a straight line from the present to the future, but rather from what is already manifest to what is possible. That which is possible, the potential, is present right now. It might not be visible or tangible to our gross sensory organs, but it is nonetheless perceptible to our subtle sensing. If we, as a group or team, were able to integrate this subtle knowing with all the other means of knowing at our disposal, we would be astounded by the wisdom we collectively hold.
4.1 Development, evolution and participation
History has not reached a stagnant end, nor is it triumphantly marching towards the radiant future. It is being catapulted into an unknown adventure.
– Edgar Morin
Our world is getting bigger, complexity is increasing, chaos is spreading. Nowhere are quick, easy answers to be found, nor can we rely on the past. What is asked from us to deal with all this? Or is ‘dealing with’ the wrong verb here, implying that something bad or difficult is happening to us, imposed from outside? Perhaps it is more appropriate to speak of ‘engaging with’ or ‘participating in’. It seems that we humans are being gently – or not so gently – nudged, asked to grow: to embrace more, increase our collective capacity to navigate complexity, access deeper places of inner ground, grow our roots down deeper than we have done so far, embrace more of our environment, open up to emerging novelty, learn from nature and listen to the future… the possibilities are endless.
Are we learning from nature and from the future?
Or are we engaging with nature and with potential?
Or are we participating in nature and in potential?
Or are we participating as nature and as potential?
The subtle differences between these four sentences contain worlds of difference. As we move through the chapters of this book, we are leaving behind the separation and fragmentation that still dominate mainstream Western thinking and speaking. As this action research has unfolded, it has sunk in ever deeper that separation – between humans, between subject and object, between ideas, between human and non-human – is simply not how reality is. Of course, there is continual influence back and forth, but not in any linear, causal way. Which is not to say that what came before has nothing to do with what comes after. What is perceptible at the level of subtle energy does bear some relation to what becomes manifest (or not). The intention that we set has some influence on how things turn out. But it is only in retrospect that we can see which chain of events led to the outcome we got.
The two mayor parts at the heart of this book, Circle of Presence and Circle of Creation, depict an ever-expanding movement of integration and association, inside and outside, across two dimensions (on the map, not in reality!). We have seen how the vertical axis represents our inner alignment, where body, mind, spirit and soul move into ever greater resonance and alignment with one another. The horizontal axis spreads out around us in all directions, as we connect with others, our neighbors and our so-called enemies; where we are conscious of our environment and act accordingly; where we can feel connected with the moon and the stars; where we know that the health of our physical body depends on so many different bacteria. It is the line of interconnectedness, and it leads to balance and harmony with wider circles all around us.
But life cannot be grasped as two dimensions and little boxes depicting next steps, like in these maps. Life didn’t start as an ‘I’ and then moved outwards from there – quite the opposite, most likely. The I-identity takes time to establish itself, but then assumes dominance as the core or essence of what life is about. In reality, ‘I’ is just a node – albeit a unique one – in a whole ecology. My model and description only starts there with ‘I’ because I grew up in the West, not because it is the most real or has more importance or validity. The ‘I’ is just a starting point in this whole web called life.
I have always seen change within the framework of development. That might be the influence of my background as a psychologist, and later grounded in Wilhelm Reich’s basic theory of Character Structure, which was the backbone of the psychotherapy training I did in the 90’s. Later my theory of change integrated living systems theory, where systems are always seen as ‘complex adaptive systems’. I used to prefer the notion of ‘complex evolving systems’, as I had never seen a system return to a prior status quo after the so-called disruption had ended. There was a time when I was taken by the concept of ‘intentional’ or ‘conscious’ evolution, but I later learned that there is a danger in seeing evolution as a step-by-step linear journey. That would be tantamount to conflating evolution with our linear ideas of ‘progress’, with lower and higher, more and less evolved people, cultures, animals and so on. Now I have settled on ‘complex dynamic systems’, where the notion of a back-and-forth dynamic is more inherent.
There are no fixed points in people, nature, or systems – nowhere. There is always some form of unfolding, something that is different than before, for better or for worse, depending on our perspective. We have many names for it: development, evolution, transformation, change. There seems to be a never-ending vista of possibilities, a fathomless ocean of potential, wherever we look, all the way up and all the way down, and in all directions around us. How do we engage with this potential? Are we aware of it when we talk about development or evolution? What if engaging with this potential is what it means to participate in life? To participate as life?
In this connection, it is helpful to train our minds and bodies to perceive systems and systemic dynamics. Because we are ourselves complex systems, we are always part of complex dynamic systems – indeed we constantly live embedded in a multitude of them. Change in one part of the system will influence many levels and many other nodes at the same time. And yet I still see a danger in the way ‘systems thinking’ often shows up in the world, with its neat diagrams showing feedback loops back and forth, without fully appreciating that we, who are looking at it, are all also part of it, in it – that it truly matters how we participate in it, how we participate as it.
As I see things now (and who knows how I will see it by the time this book is published) we are not participating in something, as if we could step in and out of it like a swimming pool. Rather, we participate as nature, as life. Whether we believe we are participating fully or not, it is still life happening – life doesn’t really care. And yet there is always more potential that can be manifested, sooner or later – although maybe not now. Somehow it is about how we let life happen in and through us, instead of somehow blocking it. This is not a passive ‘let life take over’ attitude, but an active letting go of our habitual patterns in order to engage with and in the ongoing unfolding of our individual and collective potential.
Engaging as the future or as potential means we cannot plan our goals and push on until we have attained them. Engaging with what is possible means sensing what wants to be born, questing for what has the most life energy, sensing which seed is ready to sprout. We can cultivate this inner knowing of what is to unfold. It might be clear, then, that the future is not in some way already written and ‘decided’, just waiting for us to uncover it. To engage with the future is to understand that we are participating in it, embodying our part in its potential. The very act of bringing our attention to what is unfolding, listening deeply for the novelties that are revealing themselves, is a creative force that will influence what is coming into manifestation – but not in any linear way. We can then understand ourselves as co-creators in this synergy with all of what is in and around us.
Next: 4.2 Circle of Presence
Download this section: Baeck 4.1 Development, evolution and participation 01/17
It is only wholesome when
in the mirror of the Human Soul
the whole community takes shape
and in the community
lives the strength of the individual soul.
– Rudolf Steiner, The motto of Social Ethic (1)
You will probably have recognised that we are now moving to a new location on the map of the Circle of Presence, into the widening field of complexity and interrelatedness. I have named this area of experience I and Us, as it is a logical expansion from I and Myself and I and You. It is important to realise, though, that it is only logical if we assume that ‘I’ is at the centre of things, which, of course, it is not – although it is a fairly common starting point in Western mainstream society, and consequently also how I started my journey of growing consciousness and awareness. This is the only reason why I start with ‘I’ and expand from there. Reality isn’t really like that, as we shall see as we journey further.
As we saw in our exploration of I and You, a lot is happening unconsciously between us, under the surface, in our relating. It suffices to multiply all that unconscious activity by the number of participants to get a feeling of what is at play in a group of people. In addition to leaving behind our judgments of and projections on each other, opening to the inner dimension of the collective also requires us to become conscious of the deeply ingrained, common assumptions and mental models we collectively hold. Because they dwell mostly implicitly in our shared field, they stay underground and are not talked about. These shared assumptions play a powerful role in shaping our common reality and are a core component in our feelings of belonging. Nevertheless, assumptions and mental models also act as invisible boundaries that limit our capacity to see and understand. If a group can take the step of becoming aware of its limitations, a new way of thinking, acting and creating will emerge.
In the domain of I and Us we will discover many dynamics at play in groups, circles and teams; even families can be examined through this lens. It goes without saying that we shall not be able to name all of these dynamics, but we will articulate some important aspects that allow circles to grow in their capacity to attain shared, collective wisdom. The capacity to hold space for each other and for the group as a whole, as explained in 3.1 is quite essential here, as is the reverse capacity: to be held by the group.
What is at play in I and Us is more than being good team players. There is a subtle group field that is neither about entity nor process, neither about me nor all of the others; neither about the group’s purpose nor the process of achieving it. It is neither particle nor wave. It is all of this: a subtle, structuring field beneath the visible reality, a complex mesh comprising all our potentials, a web of invisible strands that holds a collective potential that has never yet seen the light of day.
As in the previous domains, here too we will apply the four movements of inner alignment to the field of I and Us.
1. Noticing what is – in the group: notice the group’s field and discover common assumptions
Most of what I have described regarding the unfolding of an authentic self (I and Myself) and an authentic relationship (I and You) is well known in the sphere of training and circles concerned with personal growth. As we focus on I and Us we expand our attention to include what is happening in the group at large. This territory is known to most good trainers and facilitators, but often not consciously. As we develop towards collective, shared and rotating leadership and collective wisdom, we are all required to learn this skill and competence, not just so-called leaders.
Noticing what is in the group builds on the capacity to be present to myself and in relationship with the other(s), expanding now to perceive the wider group’s field. It might start with noticing when you feel some kind of disturbance or awkwardness in the overall field. At such moments, you could offer some questions in the circle as a way of checking whether your sensing is shared or on track, and to help all participants notice what is happening: What is going on between us? What is at play at a deeper level in the group now?
Noticing what is in the group is more than just sensing moments of disturbance. It is also crucial to become aware of shared assumptions and beliefs. These are invisible when we participate in a group where we feel we belong. To begin to observe them you need to step back and take some distance. This is really not easy, and very few people have been trained to do this. I first became aware of the power of shared assumptions through the work of Edgar Schein (2). When it was introduced to our little women’s group many years ago, it made a huge impression on me. Schein offers three levels at which to reflect on an organisation’s (or group’s) culture: the first level concerns observable ‘facts’, what can be measured and recognised by outsiders; the second level relates to values – the ones that insiders speak about; the third level concerns these assumptions, which are unconscious and implicit – not spoken of, but always about the essentials.
I can still feel the mental stretch it took me to take it in and really start thinking about which specific assumptions we might be implicitly sharing. It is always a good idea to invite outsiders to help you in this regard, but over time, with practice, you can get a sense of the limiting beliefs and how they are at play in the group. Particularly, when all members of the group feel that there is no flow and no balance in the conversation, it can be helpful to raise some questions that inquire into these shared beliefs. It is not easy to give good examples of such shared assumptions, because they are different in every group. Suffice it to think about a total stranger from a different culture visiting your group. What beliefs would he or she have to adhere to in order to belong? What if you could offer some questions that can open this field of shared assumptions so that all participants could examine them more easily?
2. Accepting what is – in the group: widen my view on the group’s field and see others’ full potential
Accepting what is in the group invites us to broaden our own personal perspective, as we now know that accepting what is is about opening the heart. Our own personal identities and intentions are now positioned in this larger field – as they have always been, but now we make the conscious effort to keep this relationship constantly in our awareness. This calls for a process of tuning in with the inner dimension of the collective we are part of. It is an inner movement of awareness – an inward, widening embrace, finding balance in a broader field of awareness. The group’s field is – of course – not visible. It exists in the subtle realms and can be perceived through our subtle senses. As we open our hearts and minds to this wider field we step more deeply into interconnectedness and complexity. This experience cannot be grasped by the mind only, we need another set of senses to find a point of balance in all this.
Now that I am aware of this group’s field, I can understand at a deeper level why it is so important that I bring in my full potential. Once we acknowledge and open ourselves to the group’s field, we get a sense of contributing our own unique gifts, our own unique form of leadership, in service of the collective wisdom. At the same time, as we sense into the collective field, we start to see the unique contributions others are making. If there is such a thing as a group’s field, then it follows that there can be no such thing as ‘wrong’ members or participants in that field. In addition to simply observing and acknowledging this fact, comes the inner movement of accepting everyone and seeing that each individual feeds a thread into the collective weave. Sometimes participants are not aware of what they bring to the group, and the others might need to articulate what they see a person’s contribution as being. Sometimes people, used to leadership positions, have to come to terms with the fact that their role is limited – one among many – and that each individual has a role to play in service of the whole.
From the experience of our women’s gatherings, I can state with confidence that that there are many more tasks, gifts, areas of work and attention than just the ‘normal’, traditional forms of leadership. Here I am thinking of the more ‘hidden’ forms of leadership: cleaning and tending the environment, bringing in beauty, providing nourishing food, initiating celebrations and rituals, organising trips, holding space and potential, send out reminders for the next gathering, making a harvest or artefact of what has happened before, and so on. All these contributions are needed, and all support the group’s outcome.
3. Honouring what is – in the group: hold space and be held by the group’s field
Part 3.1 unpacked the concept of holding space in some detail. In a nutshell, holding space is about being aware of a potential that is present in the group but that has not yet manifested. This unmanifest potential is in you, in the other participants and in the group as a whole.
Honouring what is in I and us builds on the acceptance that we all have unique gifts and more potential than we realise at first glance. If I truly honour that each person fully participates and contributes their unique gifts to the group’s field, my trust in the group as a whole deepens and I can fully relax. Now I can open to the group as the here-and-now community that takes care of me. I can trust and follow the ideas and suggestions of others in areas of life or work that are not where my strengths or preferences lie.
To engage fully in the group, honouring what is in I and us also means being conscious of my own needs, big and small, voicing them and acting on them. This, too, is an act of leadership and a contribution to the whole. If you need to move your body to recenter yourself after a long conversation, just do it. Or propose it to the group as a collective exercise, because your need might be shared by others. But even if nobody else joins you, it is your responsibility to be present – not out of egotism, but in service of the group.
Honouring what is in I and us has an important receptive side to it: the ability to be held by the group. In my research, this aspect almost went unnoticed, first and foremost because I am myself a strong woman – at least that is what my personality believes! It failed to show up on my radar at first because my personal survival strategy is to ‘do it on my own’, to be strong and not to show my needs (remember the example I got from my mom). But then I began to recognise it in many, many others – and this is still ongoing. Because the gatherings of Women Moving the Edge attracted rather strong, developed women – after all, we invited participants to be on the edge! – many shared an implicit assumption that we need to be able to handle it all by ourselves. Our needs and emotions were to be kept out of the circle conversations. In this regard, we lost sight of the interrelatedness of the personal and the collective. As stated in one of our gatherings: “I need you all, and you all need my vulnerability too.”
In his interview with the Circle of Seven (3), Otto Scharmer articulates it very well: “Ken Wilber makes the distinction between I, we, and it. It strikes me that what you describe is yet another perspective: the second person plural, that is, unconditional witnessing by a collective. What I heard you describe is how unconditional witnessing by a collective works in terms of a nonjudgmental stance and in terms of the open heart. That places the attention toward what’s becoming – what’s coming into being. It’s the evolving self, not what’s already there.” Sharing our needs, expressing our vulnerability does not mean eliciting an avalanche of advice or calling for rescue. This act of sharing invites the embodied experience of being held by the group. Being witnessed in this way is enough in itself: I feel met as who I really am and I can move beyond any helplessness that might have been part of my story. The quality of attention offered in this witnessing teaches us to look at ourselves, too, without judgment. Even if we goofed, we need to feel no shame and can just take it as a learning experience. It is through the collective work in the circle that we are able to show up with ever less ego-as-habitual-pattern.
Although it might seem contradictory that we cannot experience the full holding of the group until we have learned to participate fully from our unique, authentic place (I and Myself), but that is not so. This kind of holding comes from a different level (‘trans’) than the holding that is needed by the baby or child (‘pre’). It is a deeper connection with mutual interdependence as the next stage in development, beyond dependence and independence. Sharing our needs, showing our vulnerability, trusting this group right here and right now, can feel like taking a risk – at least to our habitual survival patterns, by that part of us that was hurt so long ago. The Circle of Seven confirms: “There often has to be a risk in order for the collective to show up. The risk can be one person’s, two people’s, or all of ours, but there has to be some kind of risk or vulnerability for crossing the threshold that you’re talking about. I felt the whole space shift. Because you took a risk, it shifted the space for all of us. Maybe there are a lot of different thresholds.”
Honouring what is in the group’s field is more than trusting the members of your team; this is what the above quote points to. I well remember a situation in the very first Moving the Edge gathering. Most of us were searching for what to say and do in order to reach this Magic in the Middle. Faced with so much uncertainty, most participants fell back into downloading – their default way of thinking and acting. So we heard many different proposals of what we could or should do, but none gelled to the level of actual action. None engaged the whole group. After some hours of talking, somebody got up and went over to the trolley laden with tea, coffee and Danish pastries. Everybody got up and followed, without anybody having made the suggestion, or the group having reached consensus. The break just happened. The group’s field had taken care of all of us and we listened to the emergence that unfolded and of which we were part.
4. Living what is – in the group: full participation in the (subtle) group field
After some time in an ongoing circle, we begin to see clearly the special and unique flavour of this specific group. When everybody brings in his or her unique contribution, we get a splendid blend of qualities, a cornucopia of different ingredients that can lead to a totally new stew. In such groups, there is no boss, simply people who take on certain necessary roles. These are minimal and can rotate if the group so decides. Everybody participates fully, takes responsibility when needed or when his or her competencies, skills or gifts are called for.
On one occasion, our Flemish women’s group was together for a four-day retreat. We were learning to rely on what was unfolding instead of planning it all ahead by the hour. On our final morning, we all got up at different times and didn’t come together until almost noon. It turned out that all of us had actually wanted to start earlier, but none of us had spoken up. We had each seen the activities of the others and interpreted them incorrectly. We had all been waiting – our habitual response of being separated – instead of making our wishes and sensing clear. That was a big lesson!
If we are ever to behave as an authentic collective, each of us needs to learn to check our assumptions with the others and bring in all the available information – otherwise we are holding back, not recognising that what we, individually, have to offer might be crucial for the life of the group as a whole. Checking assumptions is often needed to restore trust and flow, when the connection and awareness of our interrelatedness has dropped out. This is a deeply systemic insight: if you hold back, the whole system is holding back. If you are not fully, consciously present, then the whole system cannot be fully, consciously present. We are all completely immersed, wanted, needed… Embodying this systemic view on life means that we are always invited to participate fully: sharing our unique gifts, contributing our subtle intelligence as well as our mental capacities.
In addition to speaking, there are a multitude of ways in which a group will express its unique character. This point is worth dwelling on: in Western society we are so used to ‘the talking culture’ that we no longer recognise that it is just that: ‘a culture’ – and therefore something we can create differently if we want to. The unique culture of a group expresses itself in many different ways: how things are done, where we meet, whether we break bread together, time spent on having fun or informal talk, and so on. The different kinds of expression can be examined very intentionally and just as intentionally changed to best fit this group or organisation. Then we see the birth of an Authentic Group – the living of what is.
The energetic awareness (the ‘holding’) of the group, its members and its intentions does not cease when we leave the face-to-face meetings. If the group has an intention to meet again, the holding continues. This holding means keeping the lines of connection present in your awareness. The Circle of Seven articulates it this way: “We sustain the intention and the energy of that person’s intention by the practice of holding during the time that we’re apart, after the circle breaks up. This is a practice of continuing to hold the field that I think we’re not fully aware of. It’s been developing since we began the circle.”
In my little women’s group we did a lot of rituals during which we connected all the levels of our being: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. We took the time to invent and create these rituals together and we all experienced them as extremely important. In retrospect, I can see our rituals honoured the different phases in the group’s process, although this was not planned as such. We were sensitive to how life unfolded in and as our circle, and we experimented with what we sensed was right to do at different times. This collective subtle sensing, honouring and living the life of the group is a crucial capacity for the times we are living in.
In the next chapter, we build further on this subtle sensing, but now in relation to the potential of what is present. In the movement of ever-growing awareness of complexity and interrelatedness, we will shift our focus to emergence, opening to surrender to what the subtle field of potential is showing us.
(2) Schein, Edgar H. Organizational Culture and Leadership. John Wiley and Sons, 2010.
(3)Scharmer, O., Cecil, B., Gillespie, G., The Presence of the Circle Being. Conversation with the Circle of Seven; Ashland, Or; September 15-16, 2003 (pdf)