In the map of the Circle of Presence, the vertical axis relates to a process of inner alignment or unfolding authenticity, during which we learn to become present, freeing ourselves from layer upon layer of conditioning and mainstream ways of behaving and thinking. This process of becoming present and opening ever more to the subtle layers of reality is a never-ending journey with no final destination.
Once we are able to be present – at least most of the time – in the areas set out in the first part of this book, we continue to move towards ever more subtle awareness, particularly in those areas of life that we previously assumed to be pretty much static and fixed. I have found it fascinating to discover just how much fixation and rigidity we can release around how we know what we know and what we are able to know. From our shared experience we can confirm that it is possible to reach an immediate, embodied knowing as a collective; not as pieces of a puzzle that come together to show the full picture, but in a way that generates new knowing – a picture that never existed before.
Seen from another perspective, we can say we are able to close ever more of the gaps that seem to exist in our mainstream (Western) way of thinking and acting: gaps between body, mind and soul; between me and us; between us and them; between nature and humanity; between now, the past and the future. It is still a stretch for me to really, deeply understand and accept that time and space are really in us, rather than us walking through (linear or spacial) time and space. What I experience of natural rhythm and right timing are in any case pointing me in that direction. Who would have thought I could think differently about time? It seemed like such a ‘real thing’!
This capacity to notice ever more subtle layers in our experience brings us ever closer to the core process of knowing inside ourselves. Knowing does not just happen in our heads, but starts deep inside us, in unconscious realms of the brain, heart and body, moving through layers of affect and emotion, to finally result in knowing something (the act of cognition). The more we have cleansed our inner layers of personal and collective conditioning, the closer we get to a clear and immediate knowing that is aligned both within and without.
The process of subtle inner alignment: unfolding generative capacity
The concept of generative capacity is quite new to me. Nevertheless, in the ongoing process of living life more consciously, it seems to me that there is something beyond learning to become authentic, in the sense of shedding our conditioned thinking, feeling and doing. Life and consciousness don’t stop there. The purpose of life is not to be authentic and present, but to be – truly – alive! To participate, to be ‘in the soup’. The subtle inner alignment described here is a movement to close all the gaps, to be seamlessly co-existent with the flow of life. This alignment builds on the presence and mindfulness described in the first part of this book, and moves it deeper and wider into the core of being alive as a human being – as humanity – on Earth. Being fully alive has a generative quality: the embodiment of the ongoing ability to arise afresh as life in every moment, instead of just repeating what went before. Creating is more than remembering, it is not adding a fresh coat of metaphorical paint. It points to a vibrant quality of absolute, naked awareness: in awe at the simple facts of life and in love with what comes next in its unfolding.
The dictionary defines ‘generative’ as: relating to the ability to create or reproduce. Generative in the sense of ‘the ability to create’ means to bring into existence, as God created the universe. We, too, create our reality moment by moment, and we either repeat what went before or we are able to add something new to it.
Parents would not say they had generated a child, nor would they say they had created one. Rather, they made love and, consciously or not, had the potential to welcome a child into this world. What if we were to look at life and manifestation in this way? What if we deeply understood that, if we want the next thing we create to be alive and vibrant, adding to the thrivability of all, it will come into existence through our being in love with what is possible, however big or small. It is being in love all around, all the way up and all the way down: in love with ourselves, with whatever this particular group or gathering is about, with ‘the problem we are tackling’, with this place and space we are in, with this moment in time and everything that is arising in it… How different it would be than staring blindly at so many of the current complex problems present in the world!
Four movements in unfolding generative capacity
Just as we discerned and described four layers in the process of unfolding authenticity (Circle of Presence), we will now seek to identify similar distinctions in the process of unfolding generative capacity (Circle of Creation). These distinctions are important because they allow us to discern the fine gradations in these new capacities, so we can check if we have acquired them all, if we have forgotten or overlooked one. It goes without saying that there are no steps, no squares, no levels, no boxes in the reality of the soup we are in; we merely make these distinctions to enhance our awareness of it all.
Observing what is – Open Mind
Focus on: here and now
Open to: full life experience
In the Circle of Presence (see map 4.7) you were invited to observe the subtle and inner dimensions of your self, of each other, of the group. I touched briefly on the possibility of sourcing, sharing and expressing subtle inner knowing. Now, in the Circle of Creation, I invite you to expand your observation wider and deeper into the subtle dimensions of life at large, which turns out to be much bigger than ‘the world’ we think we inhabit. It seems to hold much deeper meaning than anything we were taught in school and family. Life seems to be more… alive! Much more alive than anything our Western culture recognises as true, as worth pursuing or as bringing happiness.
If we open our minds, hearts and bodies beyond our inner emotional landscape, we discover ‘the river below the river’: a thread that seems to weave through our lives, nudging and drawing us in directions where our true gifts will be fully available to others and all around. Similarly, groups of diverse and seemingly random people often seem to be called together to act upon a potential that they had not consciously realised was attracting them. Our conditioning might judge or question who is part of the conversation, but we learn to trust that a rich diversity of participation makes for a rich outcome!
If we continue to pay attention to subtle signals, we notice that we can be more or less in tune with nature and our surroundings, and even with time. We might not always understand the synchronicities we see happening, but at the very least these open us up to the realisation that the gap between us and nature is non-existent, and that the boundaries we have placed between ourselves and life are much more porous than we imagined.
Accepting what is – Open Heart
Focus on: widening
Open to: trusting subtle experience
When our minds open for more interweaving and interpenetration (although these words don’t do full justice to the essence of the experience) we can accept more of what is, including all these more or less subtle signals that life bestows on us if we are open enough to notice them. ‘Accepting’ here means trusting these subtle experiences, accepting them in our hearts, mind and bodies. Trusting that this person will contribute something essential, or is here for a reason that I might not be aware of; trusting that what comes to me from my soul’s calling is exactly what I need to speak or do in this collaboration; trusting that synchronicities are valuable signs. This kind of acceptance is sometimes also called ‘radical trust’, because what we trust goes beyond concepts and ideas that we know from the past, to embrace a trust that there is a deeper potential in everyone, in everything and in the process of unfolding. Accepting what is in life means actively relating with these subtle layers, inviting these dimensions to the party of daily life.
Honouring what is – Open Heart
Focus on: deepening
Open to: moving beyond
Honouring what is in this vast subtle realm calls us to open our hearts for the fullness of life itself – including all its horror, ugliness and potential. We do not turn away from what is difficult or hurtful, but witness it all with an open heart. This can indeed be painful at times, but we can bear it because we trust there is more to life than what our eyes can see at this moment, and because we can hold the pain in the collective and not just on our own.
Honouring what is means living life to the fullest in the understanding that life is in us, and in everything around us. It means transcending the boundaries of big systems (like the financial and economic system), cultures, nations and the like –boundaries that have no existence in reality, existing only to the extent we believe in them. In the reality of life itself, national boundaries are – in essence – nothing more than lines on a map. Seeing the unreality of so many aspects of our world does not mean that we do not see and acknowledge the pain held in cultural groups, gender groups and other minorities. These stories of war, suffering and pain can and need to be witnessed if we are to be able to meet as human beings and create participatory insights together.
Honouring the interweaving with the subtle context also means closing the gap with nature and whatever is there to notice in subtle place and time. We honour what is by living a natural rhythm, acknowledging that there is a right timing for everything, and refraining from trying to push or pull reality into an action plan or a strategic timeline. Borrowing one of the principles of self-organisation as it is expressed in Open Space Technology: whatever is happening is the only thing that could have! It is the feedback loop of life in action and we are well advised to take this information into our awareness and let it guide us into more of life.
This noticing and reflecting, constantly learning about what it means to be alive and creating more organisations, businesses, networks that are alive, brings us into a constant and closer relationship with the essence of life. When we live like this, we no longer repeat the patterns instilled in us by our parents or our culture – unless we want to – but we are in an ongoing action research inquiry into what it means to be (more) alive.
Living what is – Open Will
Focus on: sharing and expressing
Open to: living a generative life
Here too, there is one more layer, one movement deeper that brings us to living what is in this world that is now so much vaster and more subtle than we had ever conceived, and we are now so much more intimate with it all. In other words, we have landed in the realm of Open Will, where I enjoy an emergent and utterly unique life, that somehow seems to have always already been there for me to uncover. And yet, if I do not live it to the fullest, it does not exist in reality and will forever remain only a possibility that was never lived and manifested.
In the collective, where every person and all the rest of life participates, we arrive at novel insights and we act on them – here and now – interweaving with the subtle context, the subtle place and time, allowing the next, minimal elegant step to take form. We are now fully in awe of what is, both with the ordinary stuff of life and with whatever potential is ready to move through the veil into manifestation. This is what it means to be in love with life!
Quote from participant:
Yesterday out of desperation with the bad weather, I went to the gym. I was on the elliptical; it is like running in midair. I was going at a good pace, reaching optimal heart rate, etc. After about a half hour I moved into a state of an incredible sense of embodying alignment. I felt as if every part of me, every cell of this body that I inhabit as a human, every cell of my being, was in alignment, in perfect synchronisation. I noticed this, I was in the flow. I really began to look at what was going on. As I continued to move, I closed my eyes to sense more deeply. It was as if my human form, emotions, mind, soul, every part of me was aligned with all that is, the Earth, and the vast cosmic space-time we inhabit. I realised that as I closed my eyes, I can go to that deep place. This is the potential we hold, to be totally aligned, and yet always evolving. We hold that potential of being all that is. – Judy
But what all stories talk about, stories always begin with some sort of seeming calamity, and a need to gather spirit amongst people. But spirit isn’t the same thing as soul. It’s slightly different. What will be interesting over the next decade or so as this movement grows and others, is to see what happens when the spirit moves from the fiery speech that gets people working, into the deeper, slower, more reflective business of soul. But it is out of that, it is out of the combination of soul and spirit you’ll get a true mythos, you’ll get something that will just hit people on the deepest level.
– Martin Shaw interview
It is both a step-by-step process and a leap, this journey that starts with discovering ourselves – freeing ourselves from all kinds of habits and beliefs in the process of becoming authentic in our actions – and continues until we reach the point where we are following our life’s calling to the fullest. At that point, all aspects of life become fully integrated into a single canvas, where there will tend to be far fewer boundaries demarcating the boundary between professional and private life. Learning to be authentic with ever less downloading (I and Myself) leads, almost inevitably, to a deeper sense of both my uniqueness and my ordinariness, because in the end these two are the same.
We can have the highest degree of authentic self-esteem just by being completely ordinary and average. Then we say to ourselves as to our beloved: That you are, is enough. What you are is a gift. How you are is a delight. Who you are is a ‘a mystery’.
– Yasuhiko Genku Kimura, via Facebook ’12
To describe this way of living, I like to use the notion of soul’s calling because it points to an energy that is uniquely personal that also links us with some greater force that goes beyond our daily life and our normal (Western) understanding. Introducing the concept of soul might be a spiritual or religious bridge too far for some, but I find no other concept that speaks so well to the capacity, potential and depth of experience. Some people call it ‘life’s calling’, which to me is the same. Conversations, even in business settings, shift to quite a different level when the question is raised whether the company’s soul is dead or alive; or when employees admit that their souls are dying in the system they are in. In those moments, we are beyond speaking about profits or low morale: we are tending to the heart of the matter.
Your soul’s calling might have been shining through from childhood or it may show up only later in life, but at some point you feel the pull of a calling that is so deep and compelling that you just have to pay attention. As you align your choices with that calling, other pieces of your life fall into place. It can feel like a vibrational shift, an alignment where every part of who you are, the very essence of your being, comes into a sense of wholeness – wholeness in the sense not of unity, but of a unique coherence, with many colours, forms and unique combinations.
The soul can be seen as a huge potential that is present in you for the simple purpose of being expressed and unfolded over the span of your life. If you look back on your life so far and notice what connects all your experiences, you might get a sense of what this potential is about. Every acorn has the potential to become an oak tree. How the tree actually grows – in what kinds of weather and soil – also depends on environmental factors, of course. We all hold unmanifest potential that gains more form and expression over time; the better you listen within, the clearer it becomes. The movement of inner alignment, starting with integrating more of your subtle senses, does not end with sharing and expressing your unique gifts here or there in a given context. Rather, your authenticity continues to deepen until your entire being and every moment and arena of your life feel like one coherent whole.
The kinds of questions that can speak to your soul’s calling are:
What is genuinely you?
What makes you feel really alive?
What is deeply exciting and satisfying to you?
What is it that you cannot not do?
What’s the possibility you came here to create?
What is it that I can uniquely do that the world of tomorrow needs?
– Peter Hawkins
Ask not what you should do, but ask what the world wants to do through you.
– Eckhard Tolle on Wisdom 2.0 conference 2013
When speaking of soul, Bonnitta Roy uses the term ‘soul print‘, which really captures the essence. While ‘soul’ seems more like something with substance, ‘a thing’ (this might be my Catholic upbringing!), ‘soul print’ suggests a potential, a kind of rough design or fuzzy template. Soul print refers to the uniqueness with which each of us is born, springing from a deep inner foundation. Even twins have different soul prints, as we see different individuals unfolding throughout life. Our soul print is our unique link to source, to the origin of life, to the most fundamental immanent aspect of reality; a source that transcends the personal and individual. Our soul print can also be seen as an impulse from the causal realm.
I see many young people searching for their unique characteristic, the one feature that lets them shine, radiate and be uniquely who they are. It might take a substantial portion of your life before you finally begin to grasp what it is about – at least that’s how it has been for me. In hindsight I have been able to discover the red thread that was woven through the many phases of my life and that led to the point in time where I could take the leap to following my soul, instead of complying to ideas and concepts – from parents, from school, from mainstream culture – about what life should look like. This work requires some deep inner listening to reveal your unique contribution in amongst all this cultural, gender, family and other conditioning. And as I said before (I and You), your unique gift is related to your deepest trauma. In this lifelong journey to become your calling, you will be pushed and pulled in the direction of what that trauma is about. That is where you will find your unique treasure. With every layer of conditioning you peel away and shed, you are able to see more subtle layers of life and reality, your self included. You have now become intimate with your soul print.
The soul print hails from the world of the eternal, beyond or near the frontier between life and death. It is related with the origin whence all life springs. Scharmer’s concept of Open Will can be understood as living from soul – your own unique expression of life itself. It is no longer your small individual will, linked with ego-as-habit, that is guiding your life. Instead you surrender to something greater – ‘God’s will’, my (Catholic) mother would have called it. But God’s will is to be understood not as conforming to the rules of the church, but as a higher will that brings your personal life uniquely into service to the whole of life.
The soul indicates an extension of being, one that vibrates beyond time and space.
– Marko Pogacnik, Gaia’s Quatum Leap, p61
The Dutch language has a great word, still full of meaning, that translates in English as ‘obvious’ or ‘self-evident’; vanzelfsprekend translates literally as ‘from-self-speaking’. When searching for your soul’s calling, it is well to be reminded that what you seek is not some heroic feature, but something that is so obvious, so ‘speaking-from-self’, that you might not have noticed it at first. You might think that everybody has that particular capacity, and assume that everybody can do this thing that you can do. That is not the case at all. Your soul print has a unique expression, a passion that is yours alone to bring to manifestation in the world. We westerners are so conditioned to the notion of hard work that discovering our soul’s calling feels like a gift of freedom to do just what we like from now on… Yes, that is how life is supposed to be! Living your soul’s calling generates more energy and excitement, although many tasks along the way might be new and challenging. I could never have imagined that doing action research in the field of collective consciousness and then writing about it was something I was supposed to do! I like it, I love it, and it is sometimes hard work and needs a great deal of perseverance. There are days when I wonder: What work am I willing to suffer for today? Still it calls me – a calling from life that I cannot deny if I am to be true to myself; it is life’s creativity that is nudging me to open myself for this expression and this creation.
Quote from participant:
The most intimate story for me of these last weeks is how I felt just more ordinary than before in a gathering; not the one who is good at hosting, or good at harvesting, or who is… bla bla bla – but just… me. As if I’ve fallen deeper into who I am, who I always was. And that’s not a contradiction, or some kind of paradox. The more ordinary I feel, the closer I come to my soul – I guess. – Ria
The obvious and ‘from-self-speaking’ translates into elegant simplicity, which is a property of life. It seems that life expresses itself infinitely, in countless ever more complex yet elegant forms; it takes shape in and through each one of us – and everything else that exists. This elegance and simplicity is intimately related with beauty and awe – not the beauty of high (conceptual) art but that found in the simple things, in the ordinary and the mundane.
Practicing full participation in life
To participate, means to enjoy movement and reciprocity within the generative ground of our universalized becoming and the foregrounding of our being. To participate means to act and to be acted upon, to affect and effect, to mediate both spatial and temporal extension in infinite directions and dimensions. To participate means to be ‘in the soup’; not somehow above, beneath, behind the action, through the veil of transcendence, assumption of objectivity or inference of subjectivity. To participate means to lose track of cause and effect, agent and object, knower and known, actor and script. To participate requires a pre-conceptual or post-dialectical orientation to reality as “a movement, a happening, a transformation… as events that are constantly transformed.” (Oliver, 1989) To participate means, as Whitehead would have it, to be in a relationship of feeling among a society of all other entities, human and nonhuman, biotic and a-biotic, within a nexus of shared history.
– Bonnitta Roy, Post-dialectical excerpts
We participate in life all the time, whether we are aware of it or not, because we are just that: alive. Even when we are more or less repeating the dynamics of the past, acting out our habits and unconscious shared assumptions, we are still participating in life – but this mode of participation is reduced to mere survival pretty much bereft of creativity. When I talk of ‘practicing full participation’, I’m pointing to the possibility of being fully aware that life is happening through me, us and all that is around us, all the time… life isn’t happening elsewhere than in and through us. We are all (part of) it. There is a very important distinction to make here: I am talking about participating in life itself, not participating in ‘the world’ – the conceptual realm with its financial systems, hierarchies, nation states and suchlike, that we have implicitly and unconsciously agreed to call ‘the world’. I am talking about being ‘in the soup’.
If we are to enjoy and be life and manifest its unfolding – what this Circle of Creation is about – we are each required to participate fully and contribute our best unique self wherever we are – everywhere we are: at work, at home, with friends, in the neighborhood, in gatherings, on holiday, meeting strangers on the street, online, with the flowers in the meadow, the trees in the forest, the ducks on the pond, the timing of events, the pain of war, the openness in a baby’s eyes… it is big and it is small, it is simple and extraordinary…
Peeling away our habits, shedding our downloading, brings us to more authenticity (I and Myself) and eventually leaves us rather empty. This emptiness is not a dearth of content, but an absence of the rigid patterns that guide life into known forms. This emptiness gives space for a wide, aware, energetic container in which more (forms) of life can be received consciously, where the boundaries between me and the rest of life melt away. In many ways we become intimate with more aspects of life. The personal and developmental work we have been doing serves not only our own individual life and happiness, but is also in service of the greater whole and of life itself. In this openness and emptiness, our unique calling can come to the surface and further unfold, as all the while we marvel at the complexity, the subtlety and the play of synchronicity – the extraordinary way life engages with us to lead us through our own development towards a space where we can fully participate in that living whole.
Full participation in this context means surrender. Surrender to the higher, to the deeper, to the innermost… whichever term suits you. It implies unswerving commitment to the truth that comes from living the reality of one’s ever-unfolding soul’s path, which is also the commitment to living awake, moment by moment, to the minutiae of daily life. It means living totally open, letting everything in, feeling, sensing, knowing and being transformed, breath by breath, by that which comes to our senses. As one friend said: minimal interference and maximum engagement – surrendering in full participation. When we live like this, there is nothing we need to keep up or hold on to. Participating fully, we experience change as a result of our participation in the unfolding of life, and life is different because we participate in it.
This degree of participation has a distinct flavour of wholeness and energetic flow. Whenever we fall back into the fragmented, controlled, ‘mainstream’ way of being, we long to reconnect with ourselves and with life in its totality. It can bring grief and sadness when we find that we have drifted off while we weren’t paying attention, that we have failed to attend to the quality of our aliveness. This longing can be powerful, and will show up again and again if we deny it: “it wants the whole of us”. (Eugene Pustoshkin FB note) It doesn’t settle for less than being fully alive and listening to what we know “deep in the darkness, inside ourselves” (same author and note).
Having shed most of our conditioning, opening to more authenticity is being like an empty tube that is actively opening and receiving. It is like being a well-tuned instrument that can receive a note, although it is not the flute itself that makes the music, rather it is played by the winds of life. One of the 10 points offered by Otto Scharmer to keep in mind when practicing presencing is: “operate as an instrument, becoming the pure vessel with the ego set aside”. Being well-tuned means that the instrument is clean and balanced, its unique tone emanating from the individual blend of ideas, passions and history. Well-tuned also assumes an inner resonant vibration that enables us to come into resonance with the Earth and life itself, translated in the local context of our lives.
If I am coherent in mind, heart and will, if I am like that tube resonating with the subtle intelligences of the world, then isn’t it love that is coming through? Isn’t it love that is pouring out? Isn’t it life generating a new form through (co-)creation?
The deepening of the Authentic Self (I and Myself) that happens in the movement towards a Circle of Creation affects the totality of your life and work. The I-in-now – to borrow Scharmer’s concept – is extending in space and time, becoming a leitmotif in all that you do. ‘What you are doing’ might not seem straightforward to others, but the patchwork that is the life you have created is just right for you. You could not leave out a single strand, because then your life would be less whole. Your life, your work and your passion are now a coherent whole for your Self, and your Self, as it is in constant change, can be seen as a dynamic multiplicity. You are now living in emergent time, all the time; you are constantly living from or as your soul print ‘in the soup’ of life.
Quote from participant:
What struck me most forcibly: all I have to take care of is my connection with my authentic and deeper self! All I have to take care of is my openness; my feeling of being safe in this cosmos. All I have to do is be who I was born to be. And do what is given to me to do. Sometimes I have to step up and say: I can do this; other times other people ask me to do something. – Helen
The last tricks of ego
Too small or too big
Sooner or later we start to see what our soul’s calling is about. It is a good feeling because it is so close to who we are in essence, deep down inside. It feels so natural. But we have to remain vigilant to ensure that ego-as-habit doesn’t creep back in. This can go in one of two directions: either we have the idea that we are not big enough to undertake this task or project, or we fall into hubris, thinking we are so important with this unique contribution or insight. In my case, the trap came when I realised that the patterns that I had seen sprouting from our collective work were in reality a new way of looking of what was possible, that what was forming was actually a new human capacity. As I searched everywhere to read more about this without ever find the book or the article that would confirm my hunch, my frustration grew with those authors I expected to know more about this. When I finally realised that it was my job to write this book, it seemed like a huge tension between the gigantic task facing me and the small ego I held inside. My ego-as-habit said that I, a small Flemish girl, could not write a book that could contribute something on the level of famous, international authors. Over time, I had to realise that if the seed of the book is in me, then I am the only one who can write it. I had to accept and honour that this is what I am called to do. It is what it is, without big or small attachments to it. My anxiety comes from thinking that the task is too big… and then getting anxious about it. But as soon as I start doing ‘my thing’ – and not ‘the big task’ – then I’m fine. When we are internally aligned and coherent, we act naturally, by intuition, without falling into either of the two extremes I just described. If you are able to live in resonance with your soul’s calling, then you know where to go, why you need to be there, what to say, what to do.
The line is very fine between the inner knowing of what is yours to do and making it too big or too small. At one point in the process of the different Women Moving the Edge gatherings, we got international recognition for what we were doing. It would have been easy to be swept away by that. Being Flemish, and a gardener at heart, I realised that it was much more important to keep our feet on the ground and not to get inflated ideas about what we were doing or the insights we had gathered. Some people whose ego-as-habit is about taking up a lot of space, have to come to terms with the fact that their role in a collective endeavour will necessarily be limited. The point is to be aligned with your inner gift, speak it and share it, in a way that has no (emotional) charge. All too often, the help that is offered is ultimately more an opportunity for the giver to feel good about herself, and not about improving the lot of the receiver, who maybe does not even need what is being given. Often, our urges to save the world, our efforts of trying too hard to move the world forward, spring from an emotionally charged reaction. They do not express the joy and energy of building an irresistible bandwagon that the world wants to jump on. If we are aligned, we simply take the next step we sense needs to be taken. That step might be important, even huge and crucial, but still it is no big deal.
Quote from participant:
We are not saving the world, we are not being important. We do what is natural as participants in life. – Helen
To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you into something else is the greatest accomplishment.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
It should be apparent that there is a deep relation between the ego traps of engaging with the soul’s calling and the shadow and gift described in Chapter 2. At this point in the journey, as we move ever more into wholeness, jettisoning the more obvious layers of conditioning, we will unavoidably touch our deeper personal unconscious layers that are asking for recognition and integration, to free up the energy that is blocked there. We can encounter very deep unconscious patterns and emotions that come from a preverbal state, which are not always easy to grasp and integrate. Among other things, I have seen deep anxiety that life will not provide enough support, and paralysing fear about the intensity of living life to the fullest. Such states can all be easily linked back to early experiences in life, even birth and the time in the womb. The good news is that these early traumas, too, can be healed, just like any other conditioning, and will then reveal the deeper gifts of the person who suffered them. A personal practice including physical embodiment can work wonders in this regard, while professional help can sometimes be needed to shed light on what is really going on in our unconscious depths, to understand the steps towards healing and to put it in the right framework.
Projections onto ‘the system’
Many people on the path of personal development sooner or later encounter the dynamic of projection and the concept of shadow. There is a small community in Germany that has a rule that I like: “If something bothers you for more than 3 minutes, it is yours and you should look at it.” Strangely, for many people this principle doesn’t seem to count for emotions and judgments triggered by society, the financial system, the agro-industry and the like. A friend of mine was in a burn-out period and one of the limiting beliefs that kept her stuck was that she couldn’t do what she needed to do because ‘the system’ didn’t let her. The system in this case being the structure of a huge governmental bureaucracy that she is working in. Being a very respectful, heartfelt and conscious person she would now and then, most unexpectedly, point quite aggressively to the system at large. Of course, this organisation does all kind of things that are not sustainable, not respectful – or sometimes even harmful and toxic – to so many aspects of life; but do not let the system get in the way of your intimacy with life itself. Even if you work (and live) ‘in’ a system, the system is not ‘a thing’. Indeed, that system is part of you in some ways, and in the end it is about you and life, either ‘in’ the system or ‘out’ of it, as you choose and as you are called. Even huge bureaucracies came into being because they served a need and because this was the best way people could organise at that time. They might have gone too far in their ability to maintain – and control – widespread services to a lot of people, but they are human made and still prone to change.
In such circumstances, acknowledging what is – even when this is painful to see and affects a lot of people – can appear cold-hearted, but it is part of being able to stay in touch with your inner centre, your soul’s calling and life itself in the midst of chaos and huge change. My personal reference point in checking what I do is to ask myself: would the world be a better place if everyone lived as I do? I do believe that if more of us could stay centered in the face of the ‘bad stuff’ and the chaos in the world, and still pursue our soul’s calling, there would be more joy, fun, beauty and even shared meaning in the world. Some might be called to ignite action and protest – there is also a place of honour for them – but many protesters are fuelled by judgments and blaming ‘the others’ and remain unaware of their own power and potential that comes with being alive.
This is a tricky one – especially for scholars, academics and people who like to talk and invent models, theories and concepts. It took me a long time to identify the dynamic of the conceptual shadow – it was Bonnie Roy who finally articulated and explained it to me. As I have already said, in our journey to become more whole and embrace more of life, we will encounter pieces of our life that were not so nice and that left deep scars, resulting in strong unconscious habits that rule our way of being and acting in the world. Many people in the Western world have ‘chosen’ the habit of retreating into conceptual space – with some distance from the actual facts – to try to understand or grasp it all when emotions were too overwhelming and there was no support to deal with the situation. This habit, like all ego-habits, is so prevalent and ingrained in the Western world that it is hard for the ego-as-self to become aware of it – it is a resort for so many of us!
Having conversations with such people can be highly rewarding in the conceptual (meta-)space and great ideas and visions can be born. The problem arises when the ground is missing to actually apply the insights, embody them or make them happen. Unconsciously, these people have hit a block in themselves which they neither recognise nor understand, so they add more fuel to the mental fire rather than turning inward to connect with the pain in the sphere of relationship and intimacy, and learn to balance the conceptual with experiences of becoming, participating, connecting etc.
Here, too, the gift is in the trauma, and what is in the shadow asks to be integrated and not condemned. The capacity to think clearly, to make distinctions and use concepts and models is highly valuable and needs to be present alongside the more subtle ways of knowing – for everyone. It is difficult to integrate the subtle ways of knowing when this habit (of escaping into concepts) keeps moving you away from it. A real co-creation between these different ways of knowing is then not possible. A journey towards full embodiment is needed to capture the subtle shifts in inner energy and apprehend the felt sense; but it is just as important to be able to articulate these so they become available to others. It is the synergy between subtle sensing and cognitive capacity that will allow us to more fully participate in life, with body, mind and soul. Remember that the self is always in a process of becoming, always on the journey of arising to the surface. Any kind of shadow is just one element in this whole work of art.
Taking the leap
Courage is the ability to cultivate a relationship with the unknown; to create a form of friendship with what lies around the corner over the horizon — with those things that have not yet fully come into being.
– David Whyte
At this stage there isn’t much left to say: you either take the leap or you don’t. It’s that simple in the end. There might be a long journey before you actually jump, during which you ponder all manner of fears and anxieties about whether or not you will survive; or perhaps you think you should be working or living somewhere else while your soul’s calling is simply to stay put and apply all your wisdom right here were you are.
The leap always feels like leaving the safety of stable ground – at least the old familiar patterns are known, even if they are painful or destructive. It feels frightening to surrender to trust in life and to signs from a wider arena than the one that supposedly gave you security. How can there be grounding, balance and coherence while living on one’s edge in a lot of not–knowing-yet? You don’t know where your soul’s path will take you or what you will have to step up to. Perhaps you don’t know where money will come from in the coming month. Perhaps you can’t possibly imagine what kind of challenge lies ahead for your business. But one thing is sure: you will feel alive and vibrant, you will feel in the right place at the right time and you will enjoy life! Your neighbour might still be complaining, a family member might still suddenly die, and wars will most certainly continue – all this is still happening – but life in general takes on more the flavour of lovemaking… where we are always curious about what comes next, where we find great joy and satisfaction in small and simple movements and where there is awe in the minute details and beauty in the ordinary.
When you continue to integrate subtle sensing in your life and keep practicing acknowledging what is, you will reach a point where you are no longer able to stomach being out of alignment with your soul’s purpose and you will begin to live what is. Settling for anything less becomes toxic. Although you might find yourself living without financial security, I and others who have taken the plunge have found that when you are in alignment or resonance, things somehow fall into place and work out. We seem to be on the edge of a really different way of behaving and living, and so we have to learn to act in new ways. By daring to follow our life’s calling we are opening ourselves up as energetic vessels to a new form that is emerging.
In taking the leap, we say good bye to the identity we constructed to fit so nicely in that box we lived in before, to replace it with uniqueness and intimacy. Our lives become a patchwork that might not make much sense to others, but shows our unique colours, that we no longer seek to hide or gloss over. Instead of clinging to our different roles, identities or social personae, we can ground in our uniqueness and capacity to be intimate with all that is around us, living flexibly and creatively with what life and circumstances bring us.
Do everything with a mind that lets go.
Do not expect any praise or reward.
If you let go a little,
you will have a little peace.
If you let go a lot,
you will have a lot of peace.
If you let go completely,
you will know complete peace and freedom.
Your struggles with the world will have come to an end.
– Ajahn Chah