The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said that reality arises through a series of moments which feel into the past moment as they feel for(ward) the next moment. For Whitehead, the action in-between was nothing at all like the tight wire between the physicists’ cause and effect. Rather, Whitehead thought of this feeling-process—which he called “prehension” – as incredibly sensitive, provocative, and loving; and he construed it as the long, long moment of possibility, freedom and choice, in the timeless space of becoming, before the actual occasion is concretized into being. If you situated yourself imaginatively inside Whitehead’s process reality, you would experience yourself as a living center of transformational process. Without a sense of separate self, nevertheless you would feel the act of cause-creating-effect-creating cause… and in the a-temporal pulsations between cause and effect (actual and potential) you would discover vast promise and freedom. The more you prehended your neighbors and relations, the more extensive you would become, until you felt the in-becoming of one body through the simultaneous presence of many bodies. The more stabilized your prehension, over the long slow moment of feeling, the more expansive you would become, until you realized the in-becoming of one novel moment through the simultaneous presencing of many moments.
– Bonnitta Roy, Post-dialectical Excerpts, 2013
Conceptual knowing alone is too thin
You might remember that Women Moving the Edge was born out of frustration with the limited conceptual and conversational approach in the original Moving the Edge gathering. Tina said: “There is something I don’t know here; like a language that is not developed yet. The tools that I have and have been introduced to are like having only an egg to attack an elephant. It makes sense to come together and explore this together with women. In a gathering like Women Moving the Edge it could be interesting to inquire how we can deal with this; breaking down all ideas of how this should be done and breaking down these concepts of the personal and impersonal. Dancing and drawing and maybe other ways? Can we look into that as a collective? Maybe what I’m saying is that the form we use – (conceptual) conversation – is really limiting in itself.”
Exclusively conceptual knowing – repeating information that we acquired before this moment – is too thin for our practice of Collective Presencing. You might wonder: too thin for what exactly? The answer has to do with our relationship with Life Itself. In this new practice we are looking to experience life happening fully in the act of knowing itself. This only happens in “phenomenological experiences where certain aspects of the perspectival world drop away.” (Bonnitta Roy, Post-metaphysical Views)
Just as in large-group conversations using formats like World Café and Open Space Technology, where we convene and design so that ‘the whole system’ is in the room and every voice can be heard, it dawned on me early on in our project that this kind of ‘prehension’ – the whole system of how we know, through many different faculties – needs to be present too!
This quickly led us to the notion of ‘Wholeness of Knowing’. A knowing that includes all senses, all modalities and all the ways in which we know. In the beginning I framed it as a difference between feminine knowing and masculine knowing, but even that is too small a space. Actually, it is a total integration of all possible kinds of knowing. It is like ‘getting something’ you never understood before while drawing some colours and lines on a piece of paper; or intuiting what you need to do next while walking in nature or taking a shower. The knowing is in the totality of your being, not just in your head. It is as if your cells, your brain, your emotions, your body, your being all understand something – all at once, all in one piece, with a certainty that doesn’t waver.
Excerpt from my blog:
My shaky moment was this morning, when Judy tried to go into some design of the first day and my body told me that we were ‘not there yet’. I get a lot of clues from my body about being on track or not, about something that might be missing. Mostly it’s attuned to whether we have addressed the real issue or not (yet). Sharing all of this with her, it became clear that this ‘wholeness of knowing’ is exactly one of the core elements of what we have to bring into the world.
In the words of Arnold Mindell: in the emergent you need all channels; you need the phenomenological. Since the inception of Women Moving the Edge, we were aware that conceptual knowing alone was too small to capture our experience and help us reach for the next. Over the years we used everything we had and everything that was available: dancing, singing, walking in nature, silence, slowing down, free drawing, listening to music, pictures, systemic constellations, collective hot tub in the snow in the dark – all aspects of our human embodiment. In these embodied practices, another knowing becomes available that we badly need to see more clearly: an all-at-once knowing.
Philosopher Christian de Quincey wrote a whole book – Radical Knowing – to emphasise and clarify that mental knowing alone is too thin to understand the world and to know what to do in the world. He states: “Here is the dilemma: On the one hand, we have lost touch with the deep foundation of reason in the feelings of the body, and the network of feelings in nature. On the other hand, we have not made full use of the gift of reason we already have. This second problem is rooted in the first. But both must be worked on together. Our problem, then is not really too much, but not enough, reason – not enough of the right kind: clear reason rooted in the feelings of the body and open to transcendental shafts of wisdom.”(p.35) He goes on to explain the difference between truth and wisdom: “By wisdom I mean an often ineffable knowing born of direct experience, a kind of intuitive pragmatism that works to the extent that it takes account of the whole. It is inclusive and integrative, and invariably involves empathy and compassion.”
Dave Snowden, expert on Knowledge Management, begins some of his keynote speeches with a quote from Polanyi (from the book Knowing and Being): “While tacit knowledge can be possessed by itself, explicit knowledge must rely on being tacitly understood and applied. Hence all knowledge is either tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge. A wholly explicit knowledge is unthinkable.”
Bonnitta Roy mentions – as the kind of scientific work that actually matters: the integration in the mystic scientist – the four movements in scientific discovery, as described by philosopher Roy Bhaskar: “It can look trans-personal or mystic or even neurologic or psychiatric – Wilber calls them ‘state changes’ – but what we mean is that certain fixed or perspectival ways of knowing fall away and the knowing (with its articulation) is phenomenological, in the moment.” Myself, I have always held the intuitive and experiential knowing that the more I conceptually and consciously know, the more surface I have to apply my intuition and sensing to; which then makes for this mystic scientist.
Wholeness of Knowing implies taking the time and making the effort to become conscious and articulate our inner sensing into language that can be understood by others. People with a strong intuition or good subtle sensing capacities sometimes miss out on any solid expression in language. “I just know” or “That’s how it feels to me” is not sufficient when we aim for collective insight and generativity. The point is that it is possible, provided we pause long enough, to allow the inner knowing and subtle sensing to encounter our conscious brain and let the latter find words, stories, movements and metaphors to express the former to others.
The language and knowledge of the consciousness blessed with a nondual imperience/experience obtains two unique qualities: ‘distinction without separation or differentiation’ and ‘knowledge through identity or knowing by being’.
– Yasuhiko Genku Kimura (FB April 18 2013)
In most of the gatherings that we convened, we started, after some good framing, with music and dancing, and/or with expressive pictures that spoke in a special way. These modalities help to relax the body and the habitual mind and invite everyone into the felt sense (the concept introduced by Eugene Gendlin). The felt sense becomes like a portal into a more embodied wholeness; it includes and goes beyond the perspectival and conceptual thinking. What is longing to emerge is a new kind of insighting that hasn’t existed before, a knowing that can’t be grasped or hijacked by the mind alone. So the mind has to surrender to something more, something bigger… into a network of knowing on the spot.
Sometimes there is a tendency to link sourcing with going to a deep, still and serious place, but the energy can also have movement, lightness and a lot of sparkling. The knowing through drawing, dancing, nature, constellations is beyond the language of a normal conversation. It has a non-verbal quality and brings along the subtle knowing in different ways.
Quote from participant:
Clarity of inner knowing leads to magic and our next step is how to do that together. Some elements:
There was something in the body;
There was wounding, fear and vulnerability;
There was clear asking;
There was moving to ground and to Earth itself;
The Earth is calling each soul to voice its inner knowing;
Then there is a spark and something is ignited.
In the inner stillness the trees, the rocks etc. can speak to us.
Practices of Embodiment
Quote from participant:
I experienced it – the movement and the dance – I was invited in and I made a conscious decision to go with it. The barriers seemed to disappear. I think, if I engage, the mind is moved to the background and I become more present.
Excerpts from my blog:
Judy and I both felt that this was enough words. We invited Eve-Marie to guide us in an experiment with drawing, using many colours. That was basically it: use colours and let them take over, drop your mind and your judgments, just go with the colours and the movement they evoke. “It is just paper.” “What would a four year old do now?” These were some of the questions that seduced us to a no-mind or less-mind space, the space of creativity. I loved to come to this point where it was just the fun of letting my hand move with the colours. Being present with the colours. Good stuff to come to an open mind!
Judy asked Karen to guide us in a body exercise that invited us to sense our bodies, look for an impulse, give it a way to express in the body and then come to rest again; cycle after cycle…
Any practice of embodiment is a movement away from a knowing restricted to mere thinking and conceptual language. In our habitual, conventional use of language we tend to speak from what we already know. Using modalities such as movement, nature and drawing invites a more direct way of knowing – a different kind of language. Most (Western/indo-European) languages create a distance between the experience and what we actually say. The practice of sourcing helps us learn to articulate insights from a place where we don’t already know.
Any practice of embodiment will develop our capacity to function like a tuning fork, sensing the energy in our own being and in the subtle present context. We invite the body’s wisdom into our wholeness of knowing. Like a finely tuned instrument, we can sense the timing of when to speak in a meeting and when to be silent. This is an exquisite level of sensitivity, of the sensual elegance of the embodied experience that we are only just beginning to cultivate.
What each of us individually knows and senses is very unique. Even how we articulate or bring our inner knowing forward will be unparalleled. While this might be obvious by now, nevertheless it has some implications, which are worth making explicit. Only I can know – checking into my whole being – when my knowing is fully authentic. This is my unique gift and contribution to the collective, and it applies to all of those present. This provides an excellent motivation for getting quite rigorous about stripping away habitual patterns. If I cave in too easily and allow others’ forms of knowing to take priority over mine, my task is to listen deeply and speak or share when I sense the need to. If I tend to speak more than others, now might be the time to learn more about the right timing of my contribution to the whole. It’s an invitation to allow my way of knowing to be as fully present as that of others – not less, not more. Others don’t occupy the same space. There’s no competition. No right or wrong, just more perspectives, eventually leading to collective insight. This kind of articulating, and the knowing that happens in the expression, brings more harmony than we normally expect from a conversation.
The synergy of different types of knowing
Process work shows the roundness of our universe. It shows that if we have the courage to follow unintentional signals to their edges, we do not fall out, but discover new worlds.
– Amy and Arny Mindell, Riding the Horse Backwards.
I have already mentioned that I used to see the world in terms of feminine and masculine characteristics. My trainer in constellation work, Johannes Schmidt, once called the feminine the ‘night consciousness’, related to the moon, darkness and all other such attributes. He says that when you look at somebody with day consciousness you see whom you encounter. With night consciousness, you approach them with your back, not with your eyes open. At the point when he explained this, it came as quite a revelation to me. Often I would clearly sense that I needed to attend a training or seminar, but without any clarity about what I wanted to learn. I would enroll and attend because I knew inside that I needed to be there. In a way, I showed up with my eyes closed. I participated in order to learn something, but didn’t know beforehand what I wanted or needed to learn. Johannes’ explanation gave me an early understanding of this Wholeness of Knowing, as a combination of different ways of knowing.
The real synergy between these and other kinds of knowing is of yet another nature. Firstly, there needs to be a balance in these paradoxical polarities: the intuition and sensing need a clear awareness to be able to speak their knowing. The conceptual understanding needs a clear embodiment to be able to ground the knowing in the here and now. Secondly, beyond this balance we aim for a deep synergy and a mutual enhancement of the two.
Is what I am doing leading me to feeling more alive? Does it hold my interest and curiosity? Does it express beauty in a unique and original way? Does it lead me to feeling more nourished and engaged? Does it capture or express the moment in a way that feels right and true? And does it connect me in some way to a larger sense of the whole? Such questions are answered more fully at the sensory level than the intellectual.
– Michael Jones
Quotes from participants:
There’s some kind of cellular, bodily aliveness, different levels of vibration in me – then that’s the layer or the experience of learning and integrating, even interpenetrating – it’s very subtle, and yet can be huge, almost explosive – that’s my experience of how this comes in, ever more into deeper and deeper parts of me. As this is alive in any of us, some level of vibration is there, attracting to it others who are seeking that, resonating with that.
It’s as if my whole body is a channel, not from my cognition; it feels like my whole body is engaged in it, an energy conduit of my trunk is open and clean, stuff is able to come through. It is an interesting sensation. There’s not that kind of mind or head engagement that I feel in a stimulating conversation. It’s a kind of calm presence and knowing.
It seems to me that the experience of the Wholeness of Knowing is forever expanding, as it has become more full and organic during each gathering. It’s quite incredible really. Each participant becomes a tuning fork and together we’re sensing into the field, creating novel insights or artifacts that weren’t there before. It’s a finely tuned way of knowing that we, as humanity, are just beginning to develop. When we come together in this way, I know that the possibilities are unlimited.
This kind of collective dialogue or inquiry does not move in a straight line, but meanders out in many, many directions. It seems that, in and through the conversation, we are creating a space – maybe a sphere or a container – of possible contributions to new insights and next steps. While some people talk of a ‘higher’ consciousness in this regard, we are seeking not a higher vibration but a more wide-ranging one – expanding in all kinds of directions and dimensions. Qualities related to this wider range include the beauty that is present, the resonance with both a wider context and a deeper experience, the listening to and response from the land and nature around us.
Helen wrote what I think is the bigger framing of what we have named the Wholeness of Knowing: “What keeps the universe expanding from each point in it is the search for knowing. The outcome of this search is not ‘more knowledge’ but ‘more relationship’ – greater embrace and interpenetration between the parts of the whole. …… It is not knowledge that is sacred, but the deliberate embrace of not-knowing, the opening up to the thirst for intimacy with more of God’s creation; surrendering up every part to not knowing and setting out on the eternal adventure of exploration, encounter and discovery of the manifold forms of being.”
Systemic Constellations as embodied collective knowing
Systemic constellation work, as it has grown out of family constellations, is a methodology that uses not only language, but also space, embodiment and relationship. Representatives of the elements of an issue or question report their bodily feelings and their inner senses. That is the phenomenological information that the facilitator has to work with. The representatives are like antennae receiving information from the ‘system’ or ‘field’. “We are embodied receptors”, my trainer would say. In general, representatives know nothing or next to nothing about the question or issue at hand, leaving them empty and available to receive this representational information.
The skills you need as a constellator – the facilitator of a systemic constellation – are the same ones that enhance our journey of becoming present: the capacity to defocus; bring your awareness away from the problem or issue as narrated by the client; listen with heart to all phenomena, including what is missing; be at ease with not knowing how things will unfold; maintain inner silence to let something come to light; show vulnerability in ultimate service to the system; perceive the phenomena as they are (without judging). The more I, as facilitator, am able to create an empty field within myself in this way, the more I am able to see, hear, perceive the information coming from the overall field, the relevant system for this issue at this moment.
In family constellations, the overall purpose is to disentangle different elements of the family system in order to restore the healthy flow of life and love, which will ultimately bring some relaxation or healing. Constellation work doesn’t bring instant solutions, but aims to unblock stuck energies and free the way for life, growth and evolution to happen. It reveals and releases the hidden and blocked dynamics in the system so that more energy and resources are available for innovation, co-creation and sustainability. If you are looking into the hidden dynamics of organisations, the focus can be similar in getting things untangled, but this way of working can also be used in very different contexts, like exploring how the market will respond to a new product, or how different product names resonate with customers.
Constellation work is always about seeing the bigger whole, through time and space; seeing what has been excluded from the system, including the history, the ancestors and any element that is not given its rightful place. What I find most interesting is how we can take a next step, using constellation work to support the novel to come forward, to help emergence come into manifestation, to generate more insights and actions that have life-affirming effects.
Constellations show us that it is possible to tap into information that is valuable to the issue holder, in other words, someone who cares about his or her issue. What if someone – or several people – care about the next step for the good of a certain culture, piece of land, or even humanity as a whole? What if we try to tap into the information related to ‘the more beautiful future our hearts know is possible’ (Charles Eisenstein)? What if we could set up representatives for struggling parties/nations, or planet-wide systems like the global economy, and learn how to relax and heal the system at that scale? I think it can be done, provided the issue holder(s) has a genuine motivation and the facilitator can embrace an awareness that transcends paradox.
Constellation work is essentially a systemic methodology, and it shows us again and again that every person, and every element, every energy, even every concept, exists only in and through its connections – all kinds of connections, in time and in space.
This implies that this work can impact and change not only the inner image of the issue holder but also other people involved in the system. This is still very difficult for our minds to grasp, since they are so used to physical cause-and-effect logic that they can’t really deal with the new paradigm where everything is already related with everything else in an ongoing process.
Constellation work is activating a representation of the issue at hand, as a complement to talking ‘about it’. The enactment of an issue brings real-time energy into the room in a way that an intellectual conversation cannot. In our various gatherings, the proposal to use constellation work would always come from one of the participants, towards the end of our time together. Curiously enough, it never occurred to me, as a constellator, to suggest it! All participants would become active players-representatives in the constellation by choosing an element that had shown itself in the conversations the days before. Representing this element and getting clear(er) on the relation with the other elements always added tremendously useful information and insight to our shared inquiry. Always, all participants would be deeply moved and receive breakthrough insights. The debrief afterwards would last a long time, as ever more information and insights continued to emerge. It is the bigger system, with its interweaving and interpenetration, that is understood more clearly in the minds, hearts and bodies of those present at the constellation. Even years later, some scenes and learnings from constellations we have done are shared and continue to have meaning in many other contexts.
Next: 8.3 What if it is easy?
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Chapter 8. Subtle Simplicity: We-in-Here
8.1 Dying in Atlantis
The question “What is Life?” is a linguistic trap. To answer according to the rules of grammar, we must apply a noun, a thing. But life on Earth is more like a verb. It repairs, maintains, re-creates, and outdoes itself.
– Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, What is Life?
Did I ever tell the story of remembering the last seconds of being alive in Atlantis? I was doing a daily exercise during a 9-day workshop when I found myself catapulted into the last seconds of my life in Atlantis, looking back over what I had done in that life… and it was terrible! Being in this workshop, this memory came up totally unexpectedly. We were invited to do a daily exercise for 30 minutes to sense into anything we encountered: a chair, an insect, the road, the house, whatever… Over the days, I had felt an increasing resistance to doing this particular exercise – a resistance I didn’t understand. Finally, this hugely intense memory released itself in deep, deep crying. In those moments, back in Atlantis, I had the visceral realisation that the whole world was literally collapsing due to human actions, and I had had a part in creating it! I had used my subtle sensing and intuitive powers in deep synergy and co-creation with my male partner, for the sake of ‘power over’, for the sake of feeling god-like. The pain of this dawning realisation in those last seconds of life was quite excruciating. A central element was that, as a woman, I had been holding back part of my inner knowing, a part of what I knew that life should encompass – maybe a love for life itself? In this Atlantean society, we had become very skillful at harnessing subtle energies to co-create what we desired; many couples were trained in that competence. In those final seconds I realised that Atlantis was crumbling because of our misuse of the human creative power. And as I saw this I vowed to myself that I would never again go into the subtle energies and their link with creation – this co-creation between matter and energy – hence my resistance to the daily workshop exercise.
In telling this story, I make no claims for the truth or literal reality of past life experiences, but I do know that this experience was very, very real to me! It was a deep and sudden knowing, wherever it came from. I suspect that I am not the only one to have been traumatised in our creative power and vowed never to use it again. Now, though, it seems to me that we are being asked to become collectively conscious of this, to re-member our relation to the power of creation, while at the same time taking great care that no trace of our habitual patterns (of power) remains. No trying, no pushing, no pulling, just the noticing, the witnessing, the presence – and realising that there is creation power in these acts, particularly in our relationship with the Earth. In my view, as humanity we are reaching that potential in this current era.
Introduction to Chapter 8. Subtle Simplicity
As long as you think that nature is ‘out there’, then you have the basic separation that allows you to see the environment as ‘other’ and people as distinct from that, and that separation of ‘self’ from ‘nature’ is really what white man brought to civilization. That is the disease, the deep, deep wound that will be healed one way or the other in the decades to come.
– Paul Hawken
On the map of the Circle of Creation we are entering the third column, the We-in-Here, ‘Here’ being understood as both place and time. Not place and time as we register these on the surface level – rather, we focus here on the subtle dimensions of place and time. At the same time, place becomes the whole globe, and time becomes an entry point to the grand scale of evolution. In the same way that the individual is a unique entry point into the collective space, this place, this time, right here and now, is a unique entry point to all of Earth and to unfolding evolution itself.
In the wider evolutionary time frame, recently some humans have been on a journey of individuation which has now reached the extreme of separation and fragmentation. We see this especially as a strong disconnection with place – with nature itself, both locally and globally – and with time, specifically what I have come to call ‘natural rhythm’. How can we as human beings identified with our mental and conceptual capacities, fall back onto the surface of the planet, back into our actual, real, natural context? Exactly here and now? This reconnection has a relevance quite different from most of the stories of civilisation we have been telling ourselves.
For some, consciousness is seen as non-local in space and time; somewhere outside our bodies, outside our minds, outside the planet we inhabit. But embodied consciousness – awareness, mindfulness, presence, whatever you want to call it – asks us to ground that consciousness in our bodies, in the physical time and place where we are right now. There is immense creative power in this, especially as we hold the intention to do it together in this collective practice.
How we define ‘in-here’ is critical. It relates to subtle place and time, to interweaving with the subtle context that we find ourselves in. But it is crucial to understand that we include here more than just the human community. The ‘here’, this planet where we live as humanity, is shared with living beings beyond number. Planet Earth, too, is nested in something larger, and larger, and larger. So, we share this ‘in-here’ with myriads of creatures, from the impossibly small to the vast expanses of the universe. They all have some energetic presence. More still, it includes the non-material dimensions, the intelligences that we don’t see, the subtle realms, which we are beginning to co-create with. Of course it is complex, on all manner of levels.
In this complex context, allowing insights and novel actions to emerge from this space of We-in-here, we learned that planning comes down to collectively seeing and understanding the next minimal elegant step.
It seemed to us that our project was flourishing: 4 gatherings in 2009 and a next one planned in January of 2010. We really felt we were on to something! We started talking about Women Moving the Edge as a separate being, just as we had talked about the CircleBeing. I have already mentioned that trying to ‘define’ something is just a habit of our minds trained to see reality as a collection of separate elements. Soon enough we stopped thinking in terms of so-called beings, while nevertheless retaining the notion that we can share an awareness of potential and resonate with a collective calling, either in a circle of colleagues or in and for a project itself.
Through the diversity of participants in the different gatherings, we learned a lot about the practice and the power of witnessing. “Meeting people where they are and moving the edge while we can.” These gatherings didn’t always go the same way, didn’t always achieve the depth we liked so much – or were attached to? I started to see the whole project as a little stream, meandering its own path. Every gathering was like a flat environment where the stream could overflow beyond its previous boundaries, and afterwards the water trickled back between the banks of the main river. Through these floods the stream was fed by the diversity of women present, in a continuous widening and constant reflection. Without this, there was a real danger that the few of us who were present most of the time and wanted to be in that generative space would circle back on ourselves and get trapped and rigid in our practice.
We began talking about having regular calls, or coming together regularly locally… but none of those ideas materialised. This was probably because such activities were not part of the action research project; it was more about a longing or a need for continued contact and interaction felt by some.
As good Art of Hosting practitioners, we sensed it was time to start harvesting the learning from our previous period. We started a series of ‘book calls’, wondering how our practice of collective presencing could be used to manifest the book now before you. We came in for another learning that we couldn’t ‘make it happen’ and had to listen for right timing. As ever, we could take only the next, minimal, elegant step, and yet the calls were absolutely precious as we were articulating and languaging our deeper understanding of what this whole practice was about. Much of what was spoken then is part of what you are reading here!
Through all these experiences, we started to see that our practice was not just about collective sourcing – important as that is – but also about right timing and right relationship with place. That is when we started to use the term Collective Presencing, for both the book and its related website.
At this juncture, the universe stepped in, in the guise of Kosmos Journal, inviting us to write about our experiences and findings for publication in the Journal. The seeds for this had been laid a few years previously in a conversation between Judy, Ria, Nancy Roof (editor-in-chief of Kosmos) and Helen, who had already written some other articles for the journal. A first article appeared in the Spring-summer 2012 issue.
Living as an ecosystem
Just as the individual is a process and a becoming – and not at all a fixed entity – so, of course, is any team or group also a continuously evolving and unfolding process. In our search to capture the essence of this particular piece of the puzzle we call Collective Presencing, we came up with the concept of ‘Living as an Ecosystem’. Opening to and practicing the We-in-Now is quite different than what we classically refer to as ‘group dynamics’, as here we transcend all ingrained patterns in any of the individuals making up the group. This is an embodiment of the new paradigm where everything is interwoven and interpenetrating back and forth, while being together with others in the wider world.
Collective Presencing as a whole can be seen as a practice for teams, groups or communities holding an intention to evolve. The We-In-Now is about learning to be, speak and act as a human ecosystem. Observing what is in We-In-Now means noticing that a collective energy has brought us together, is inviting us to become conscious of its purpose and to live out its potential. Accepting what is in We-In-Now means accepting this collective soul journey, which requires us to embrace growing intensity at all levels – ‘not-knowing-yet’ being a crucial and difficult piece of it. The next step, Honouring what is in We-in-Now, means embracing and integrating collective pain, often concealed in personal stories. It invites us to hold cultural pain and deep cultural differences, realising that these will not disappear. Ever. The culminating step is Living what is in We-in-Now, a full embodiment of living – in speaking, knowing and acting – as an ecosystem.
Quote from participant:
We were wondering about: What is the transformative dynamic? What made us come to this point?
Many elements were named…
start from silence…
walk the talk…
contain the pain and destructive forces…
emptying for the whole world…
start from diversity…
trust the system…
listening to life itself…
But the real answer was to me:
A community that has the willingness and the practice to tune into the notes of grace.
In the current mainstream paradigm, the coexistence of the individual and the collective is seen as a polarity, or at least as a tension. We-in-Now, as we have described it in its many facets so far, transcends this polarity and frames the tension differently. A collective inevitably consists of individuals, and we come to see our personal boundaries not as barriers that separate us as distinct beings, but as the interface where we can constantly connect with others and with our surroundings.
In the paradigm of collective presence and collective authenticity, the personal actually borders on the impersonal. Uniqueness and diversity are seen as features of the complexity that is life. Judy, my co-initiator of Women Moving the Edge, started researching the link between the personal and the impersonal before our project took form. Her findings led her to state that “the personal is important as the starting point, as it is the doorway to the impersonal.”
Religion and spirituality in their different forms have mainly offered us a view that shows us the individual on one side and the impersonal (however you want to name it) on the other side, with nothing in between – unless, perhaps some priests to act as intermediaries. Here, we state that the group, the collective, the team can be seen as an intermediate step from the individual to the impersonal and that, on this level, we can learn to integrate the qualities of our uniqueness with the qualities and principles of life. Bonnitta Roy sees the planetary level as a meso-level between the individual and the cosmos. In contrast, I think we need first to practice in smaller groups!
Some people find the concept of the impersonal somewhat cold – as if all the life and juice have been extracted. What I am pointing to here, though, is to living your uniqueness fully in the visceral realisation that life, the whole, this group, can reach its potential only if you participate with your full life force. Judy expresses this in her blog: “My experience is that evolution is freeing itself in and through me. As personality becomes the servant to soul, to planetary and cosmic impulse and intention, the impersonal becomes the outward manifestation of the personal. Convergence into oneness – as evolution, seeking ground in this realm – finds its freedom and unique balance in and through me.” (Blog Judy 110612) Otto Scharmer, interviewed by her, said it in these words: “The capital ‘S’ Self in a very intimate way, is kind of connected with the Collective Self, and actually it serves as the gateway, or it kind of is the vehicle for the Collective Self to come to being.”
In this reciprocal dance between the individual and the collective, the individual provides the gift of vulnerability and authenticity, which opens a gateway for the collective to step through. Any holding back, or fear of being vulnerable, holds back the whole collective. It can feel like a sudden turn-around, realising that in being vulnerable (and sometimes needing to be strongly invited or nudged into that vulnerability), something new bursts through and feels very vibrant and alive!
Quotes from participants:
The juice for me is in the collective where we’re all very present. Inter- independence! It is about the individual being really present (independent) and present to the interrelationship, the wholeness of the collective.
This is very much how I identify myself these days as I see myself as a constant interweaving of different conversations. They all are kind of related, they build on each other, they weave concepts and ideas closer together or weave a new colour in. The cloth that is woven is never finished, keeps on changing and becomes wider, bigger and deeper. And this doesn’t only happen for myself, it also happens in the collective I’m most related to. Mostly women, I notice now.
To take the notion of ecosystem as the main identification means I drop more and more any attachment to form; or maybe better to say: any attachment to stable form. What I am seeking for these days is dynamic balance. There is nothing linear in that, but it is an always moving in many directions and levels.
Our minds, used to separation and distinctions, have difficulty grasping that there is a kind of unity – or similarity – of content and process at different levels, and a kind of fusing of the individual and the collective. Nevertheless, we have to work with our own experience and awareness, the building blocks of our own knowledge – we cannot do otherwise. This is why it is important to have diversity in the circle. What if the experience of We-in-Now is a deep integration of our animal nature – this natural, basic and intuitive stance of always feeling connected, always ready for relationship, that doesn’t think and act as separate beings – as we experience with our cats, dogs, horses and other animals?
As in previous chapters, this one ends with an overview of this part of the map. This is another occasion to remember that going through this process is rather messy and chaotic – it does not flow neatly from box to box as it appears in the matrix!
Observing what is in We-In-Now
Learning to become present in your self is a journey in itself. Learning to become present as a collective is an altogether different proposition. Your body awareness must reach out to another level, where your individual sensing is working on behalf of the group. At the personal level, you can have body awareness, subtle sensing and inner knowing just for yourself. At the group level, our initial experience might be that of wanting the “we-all-feel-so-good-together” experience or, on the contrary, we might hate that kind of group feeling or find it irritating. The next level in, though, is a sense of subtle discernment: where is this group going? Is it moving in the direction of the shared inquiry? How can I use my body-sense to further and support the emerging insights? For this to happen, your senses need to be attuned to clarity, truth, love, support… this is beyond any steps in individual emotional development.
Observing what is in We-in-Now, we notice that this delicate, energetic collective field is much more than the sum of the present participants. Each person shows up with her or his own authenticity, as fully as possible, and gets to see and experience how (s)he is woven into the collective purpose. On the surface it might be clear what has brought us together – a question or an invitation – but what might be beneath that, the collective potential, the collective form of a soul’s calling? We can start to be aware of it only when we engage with each other in this collective endeavour. We soon find that we live in kinship with each other – and with our surroundings. By placing our attention on what may seem at first to be very intangible, we begin to develop our own connection to that collective potential. This realisation will lead to truly coherent creation. Slowly but surely, the song of the collective will appear through all the diversity present.
Accepting what is in We-In-Now
As we move through the collective journey we each hold the circle and the circle holds each of us. We witness and are witnessed. We each open and reveal what we often keep inside – a gift for each, a gift from each. But it might take some time to see the collective potential through all of this; to get a sense of how the diversity will reveal something novel for all present. The not-knowing-yet can take more time than our habitual habits can tolerate, and they will try to kick in. In me, in you. Can we accept this? Accepting what is in We-in-Now? Can we trust the process and each contribution? Can we link with radical patience, trusting that the innovative and emergent will show itself in right timing? Radical patience and radical trust in process and people is a radical act, but a very basic and simple one: just accept what is, right here, right now (including all the ways you don’t, yet).
Honouring what is in We-in-Now
Just as the individual, in her journey of becoming more aware and present, will hit layers or spots of personal pain, so too, in this deeper collective practice, we will hit different forms of collective – or cultural – pain. These unconscious memories can be revealed in the sharing of participants’ stories, and can also pop up through unconscious layers of physical memories. We are not used to recognising these stories and experiences as expressions of collective trauma, and we certainly don’t have a framework for putting them into context.
Quotes from participants:
What happened was that I was already feeling sick coming onto the call, felt OK during the call and then afterwards I had to go and lie down. I really was sick. I found out later on that others had the same symptoms, but at the time it felt like heaven and earth were moving through me – a journey of descent to purge. I could feel in my body the longing to purge, but not quite enough letting go, or something. I was barely conscious. It was quite a violent experience in the physical. I knew at the time there was no way to reflect or analyse – I just had to be present, and then a deep sleep afterwards. ……. It’s taken most of a week for my body to return to a healthy balance again. ……… It felt like something I personally am holding, and it felt like something much larger. Something in the field, yet I’m holding it also personally.
It was also touching me on a very deep level. All the times that I had invited the other women to speak from the place within and to drop from the head, and the already known – the memory – I had asked them from my need to be with me. Be with me in this quest of remembering to be in reciprocal relation with all of matter: the trees, the rocks, the ocean, the flowers and much more. There is magic in relating with ‘life within matter’; magic that we will need in order to heal the wounds of our world and to solve the many intertwined problems on the Earth. But the memories of the witch hunts and the collapse of Atlantis reside also on this level of knowing within, and I am very, very afraid to use this power in a way that might be not life-affirming but manipulative. I need all the others to go there with me, and sense together with me: Is the knowing from within pure or somehow distorted?
All these stories, these experiences, as subtle and real as they are, point clearly towards our interconnectedness, woven together over vast stretches of time and space. This is mostly invisible to our conditioned eyes, intangible to our dulled senses, but still there to notice, and it has a huge influence. It reveals a deeper sense of interdependence, flowing into an embodiment of our systemic nature that has always already been part of us, even if we didn’t realise.
The shared exploration in which we now participate takes on a larger perspective, and we see our own soul’s calling integrated in the collective one. To put it the other way round (as it is so difficult to describe as one continuous unfolding): the collective soul is penetrating us, working itself out through our full participation. We come together to continually inquire and sense into this larger multi-layered collective soul. Do we realise how evolution is moving through us as a collective? As humanity, we are beginning to build this more expansive capacity. We are taking our first steps, it seems; and yet trusting our inner, subtle and collective knowing.
Living what is in We-in-Now
Excerpt from blog:
I can hardly describe what happened in us and in between us. First it was named as a not-knowing, and later also as a not-talking… but then, what is it?
We seem to listen, to tune into, to sense…
the delicate, the subtle, the fine, the intangible…
It seems to be possible to access – in our bodies – the unformed, the unmanifest…
the sound of silence…
suddenly it was there: a connected silence; a tangible in-between space; a sacred space; a space full of possibilities; a generative space…
An essential practice and capacity of this living-as-an-ecosystem is Collective Sourcing – Collective Insighting as Bonnie calls it. It is a new human capacity that we are starting to practice in different groups around the globe. So far, the process has this kind of sequence: coming together around a common theme or question, experiencing and noticing the diversity of perspectives and experiences, hanging in there, moving through a chaotic phase where nothing seems to work, where nothing is appealing, somehow being able to move through that phase, and then things begin to shift and there is a different quality in the air. The not-knowing-yet and the ongoing attempts to be in a generative dialogue eventually lead to a point best imaged as a collective leap. It is difficult to convey how it feels: a higher vibration, gentle sparks, very alive, high energy…. Articulating what we are noticing when this shift in the quality of energy happens, when this collective attention comes together, can make it more conscious to all present and can further hone the shared attention.
This experience feels so alive that people are becoming addicted to being in that space of receptivity for the new. We all recognise internally when we’re in touch with it, even when it’s still too tender to be named. The vibration is raised and we have called it into being by the question and our constant attention, yet we haven’t ‘done’ it. This field of interconnectedness is always present; we need only to rest our attention there. It is likely that at this point in the process there comes a redefinition or an adaptation of the guiding question, because together we have reached a higher vista in the inquiry.
At the outset, we were tempted to label ‘it’ as a new entity – for a while, we called it the Circle Being – seeking, with our conditioned dualistic minds, to make it into another thing-like being. These days, I think that it is more like a shared consciousness of interweaving and interpenetration that gets established. Through that awareness, a new potential is within reach and it seeks to let itself know and be known – and this is possible only through us, the individuals in the group, with our bodies capable of feeling it. It is quite palpable, this quality of shared presence. It’s a change in atmosphere. Things slow down – time shifts. A quality of depersonalisation sets in, and we have left behind our habit of casual talking-for-the-sake-of-it. Now, we speak only when we are moved by the larger purpose, the collective Open Will, which needs a voice through us. One hallmark of this state is when, from the not-knowing-yet space, someone voices a proposal and the rest move authentically and easily with it. When the proposal does not come from this shared attention, no one follows and nothing happens.
Excerpt from blog:
Our closing was an expression of this ‘being tuned’. No one spoke about it, but at a certain moment everything was said, all the last practical questions got an answer, and we all ‘came down’ from the chairs to the meditation cushions. Silently we gave hands and somebody started humming Amazing Grace… everybody joined in… and we were right on time to go for lunch.
Sometimes we would describe this as: “We’ve dropped into the field.” But clearly, we didn’t drop into anything – not something that exists outside of us. Rather, we now embodied the realisation of our shared becoming. We become aware that we are invited into – and engaged and committed in and as the awareness of – this ecosystem, where boundaries don’t have the same meaning they used to. This is how I understand Thich Nhat Hanh’s concept of the Collective Buddha.
Otto: It strikes me that the quality of the collective field here can be described as a clearing in the woods. It has a vertical dimension and an openness. And it is held by a surrounding outer or horizontal boundary. It’s a holding space for the emergence of a new impulse.
Circle of Seven: When you talk about following an impulse, it feels related to what you said about an incubator, a place where there’s an intention to develop capacities to pay attention to life’s intent. Being true to that intent within the boundary of this dedicated time together defines what the Circle of Seven does. We use our own storylines, situations, and connections in service to that emergence. We’re not here for ourselves. I trust that what comes in the flow as ‘my’ challenge or seemingly personal situation has meaning beyond me. Though it is personal, it is respectfully placed in the clearing because we trust it also relates in some way to broader factors that need clarification or realignment.
– Circle of Seven, interview by Otto Scharmer
This collective awareness is aligned with a collective soul level that seems to have a will of its own. Perhaps a more practical description would be that we are ever more in tune with the collective potential we have committed ourselves to. Sometimes it felt like it was not us deciding what we were going to do; the deeper potential was asking us to listen in more attentively to what wanted to manifest in the world through us. It most definitely was not always what we had in mind beforehand! This is what we call Living what is in We-in-Now. It is the constant focus of our listening and deeper sensing that attracts threads of potential that resonate with the original intent of our shared inquiry.
To help us understand this link between the personal and the collective, we often use the metaphor of the mycelium, the vast network of underground cells that permeate the soil to take charge of fungal decomposition. The mushrooms we see above ground are but the fruit or the flower of the mycelium. If the ‘I’ is the mushroom and the ‘We’ is the mycelium, who, then, am I when I drop my separate identity as my place of basic grounding? It might feel frightening at first to drop one’s identity, but it feels so alive that it is quite easy to transcend this subtle fear.
Don’t forget that we are in a process, in a movement, in a becoming. So far, I have never been in a group that has been able to reach this shared awareness and then sustain it for hours on end. Perhaps that is not what is needed. I don’t know (yet). Most of the time we experience a back and forth from ordinary awareness to this space of collective presence. Sometimes it is enough for one person to speak from the place of habitual patterns and the whole energy can dissipate. But the continued intuitive sensing will allow us to move into the collective presencing space again. We can ask questions that lead us deeper into the not-knowing-yet, we can listen for pop-out points that bring us to an edge of clarity and novelty.
We definitely need our gentleness here, the friendship we talked about earlier. It is sometimes quite tempting to get annoyed or frustrated when someone makes a remark with sparks of judgment in it. But we can (learn to) stay in awareness, in gentleness towards one another and let these hiccups pass. Life goes on and there are other times and spaces when the click will happen; all in right context and right timing.
We have been attentively watching what happens when our will is opened collectively. Once we were three participants in this process, and we were able to write a report collectively. All of us were used to writing on our own, directly from source and we engaged with this subtle knowing together to make this possible. In the book, Inside Out. Stories and Methods for Generating Collective Will to Create the Future We Want, Tracy Huston talks about the ‘collective interior’, pointing to this shared consciousness space. We believe astonishing magic is possible from there: bringing forward that which is waiting to be born and take its rightful place.
Implications for the notion of Leadership
Excerpt from blog:
There is no separation between being and becoming;
it is living-as-the-system,
It is living-what-emerges,
no separation between leader and what is led.
There is no border,
What form can leadership take – does it need to take – once we learn to live as an ecosystem? What could ‘being a leader’ mean in the knowledge that you are an inseparable piece of the whole? Like tango dancing, when it is really creative, it is not a dance of a woman and a man, but it becomes ‘a being with four legs’. Who is leading? Who is led? Is there a difference between who is creating and what is created?
In the process of Collective Prensencing, the person shifts her base of identity from her personality to the whole group that is present, the context it resides in and the potential that it holds. Leadership is thus no longer related to personality, but becomes fluid and field-based, residing in each one present. Peter Merry wrote: “… we need to think of leadership as leadership in the Field – regardless of specific formal positions in the structures, etc. And we continually need to implicate ourselves. So there is a shift from “you” to “us”; a world where the One and the Many are transcended but included. ….. This will be in many different functions and levels in organisations and societies, woven together in an ecological holarchy where there is no judgment about the ‘level’, simply natural functional fit.”
So leadership becomes a collective function, taken up in a natural and organic way by each of those present, depending on what is sparked in each of us. In this space of collective awareness, who leads is continuously shifting from one to the other. There might be some who are holding more of the whole, or who are keeping an eye more on the inquiry and the intention, but ultimately we are all in it together. In this way we are able to hold much larger fields of inquiry and much greater spaces of potential and emergence. That is most likely what we are training for in such groups.
Quote from participant:
My experience of collective intelligence and what we can achieve collectively when everybody can contribute what they know/are, is that it’s exponentially greater than anything we can do in following a traditional leader. Makes me incredibly hopeful for our future, because once you’ve seen it, you just can’t deny it. And it’s pushing us into a very intense learning period as humanity.
The Real Work
It may be that when we no longer
know what to do
we have come to our real work.
When we no longer know
which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled
is not employed.
The impeded stream
is the one that sings.
– Wendell Berry, Collected Poems
It is easier to write about collective sourcing and generative dialogue than it is to actually sit in it – at least when starting the practice. … although this writing is a challenge of its own! A generative conversation is a strong provocation to our habitual minds to serve the process of wondering, not-knowing-yet, seeing what emerges in the moment. This willingness to be of service to the mystery is grounded in the assumption that the people participating here and now are the right people, have the power, knowledge, insights, wisdom and capacity to do this. It invites a thorough suspension of all previously known ways of having a conversation, accessing knowledge and so on. It calls for a quality of profound presence and intense curiosity both. It requires a real beginner’s mind, not excluding our collected knowledge to date but putting it in service of the new. Ultimately, we are in search of a clear, embodied, collective knowing. An inner knowing, related to nature and the cycles of life; a knowing that integrates all of who we are.
Brian Swimme, in his series The Powers of the Universe, gives many examples of the massive tensions at play during the creation of the universe, as this evolutionary process reached a point where it had never been before. Swimme describes how, at this point, the whole universe is just ‘hanging in there’ until some kind of resolution emerges. I find it so nourishing to hear him speak about these powers when I see where we are in the world at large. We need to build capacity to hang in there a little longer…
This means staying for long enough in the not-knowing-yet. The underlying prerequisite to be able do this is the capacity to keep the space of possibility open until collective clarity arises from the generative space. This ‘not-knowing-yet’ is not a mental not knowing – “I don’t know the answer, but somewhere in the world there are experts who can answer this question.” Such a response would apply in a complicated system, where as long as you (or the experts) analyse the data for long enough you will find a solution that works. The not-knowing-yet we are pointing to here is not even about collective intelligence or collective wisdom, where we will see the full picture of the puzzle by the end of the conversation. No. The not-knowing-yet in a generative space resides at a different level. It is a not-yet-known – by anyone, anywhere. The challenge is to strengthen our ability to sit – and to live – suspended in the void with no clue of what is next.
The not-yet-known is always a place we have not been to before. Even if we have been in generative dialogue a thousand times, it remains a place of novelty and real innovation. It remains a place of uncertainty, of full suspension where we have only vague clues about what might be next. Every time our edge of knowing – individually and/or collectively – moves further; what we didn’t know yesterday is known now and a new edge is already right there in front of us! This is not only about conceptual knowing; the edges we hold in our emotional habits and in how we relate with subtle ways of knowing seem even more daunting. In this phase of holding the process of not-knowing-yet, we are challenged to move the edges of these subtle and inner fields. The barriers asking to be transcended might be self-made or cultural. The difficulty lies in the fact that they are so ingrained in us that we don’t even notice that we hold on to them for dear life and for the sake of our very identity.
Holding not-knowing-yet, as a collective skill, asks for absolute commitment to the shared inquiry, otherwise unconscious reactions (Scharmer’s downloading, the habitual patterns I mentioned earlier) easily take over. Sticking to the circle practice can offer a structure to prevent this from happening. Many people find it quite scary to stay in this uncertainty. We, in the West, are strongly identified with our (mental, conceptual) knowing, so the impulse to retreat to the safe space of default behaviour and downloading (the knowing) can be REALLY huge! Not knowing can feel like entering a void or teetering on the edge of an annihilating precipice. Hanging in at this point means trusting that even if nothing (generative) seems to be happening – we don’t know how, when, where, what – the shared and continuous sensing and observing will guide us, because there is always more to discover from the subtle layers of reality if we hold fast to our intention. One sound piece of advice: start with observing your self first. Bonnitta Roy aptly calls this attitude and practice ‘staying in the search space.’ It is not a void, but an active engagement that seems to create a vortex that draws what is needed to itself.
In a Circle of Creation the boundaries of the open space are held, on the one hand, by the guiding question, the intention and purpose and, on the other hand, by the circle practice and the energetic container that has been built ahead of time by a hosting team. All these boundaries enclose an energetic space where the process of not-knowing-yet can be contained and can compost into new life. The shared engagement in the collective inquiry gives priority not to finding a solution or answer within a certain time frame but to reaching the generative space. This puts time in a different perspective and, most likely, calls for more time – at least in the beginning. As long as no collective clarity has arisen, we stay in this not-knowing-yet, questing ever deeper for the unmanifest potential that is in need of us. This might occasionally mean that decisions are not taken, even though the need for decisions might seem urgent. Nevertheless, we do not move unless it is from a collective and generative clarity. In this context, the ‘downloading’ attitude would be to quickly search for some kind of consensus or majority. Clearly, though, in this context we want to go beyond consensus, consent or known agreements. If we are willing to let the process of aligned knowing unfold, then sooner or later it will do so. Living in this unfolding, it becomes crystal clear that life is always changing, always evolving, always different, moment by moment. Of course it always and already was this way, but now we are participating in it consciously and intentionally.
Being collectively present, in the now, with our shared inquiry, is not only about finding novel answers or insights, or even manifestation or co-creation. More than this, it is about being in resonance with unfolding evolution, and being conscious of this. ‘Holding the space’ and ‘holding the not-knowing-yet’ are the names of the process forms that can maintain the creative tension until emergence shows up, in the shape of something radically novel; like the point when a universe with no living cells tips to a universe with living cells. Evolution on Earth spent millions of years in this tension before a few cells somehow emerged and gave life to nucleated cells. At the present juncture in evolution, the capacity to hold the space for this creative tension and the willingness to tolerate the process of not-knowing-yet needs to come from a collective. It seems we are practicing doing this with smaller collectives, which will most likely expand to larger ones later in the evolution of humanity.
It is obvious that this type of generative conversation or collective inquiry is quite different to “effectively communicating a defined message”, which is how Terry Patten defines ‘rhetorical speech’, distinguishing it from “speaking trans-rhetorically to investigate the unknown…” (p10), which points to this ‘not-yet-known’. Charles Savage describes it beautifully: “from the arrogance of knowing to the humility of discovery”. (in a personal exchange, autumn ’09)
Why is it so hard (for us, Westerners?) to be in not-knowing-yet? What appears is always new and surprising, isn’t that appealing enough? So many preconceived ideas and judgments reside within us that are ready to jump onto the podium and declare that they hold the truth! There is so much presumed knowing, without any conscious engagement with the actual situation and question at hand. There is so much identification with what we (conceptually) know. For most of us it is a struggle to keep coming to the situation afresh, with new eyes, fully present in the moment. How many times do we have to experience this cycle before we can trust it and move through it with grace and ease? In my own case, I know that I still have a way to go before I master this quality.
Staying in not-knowing-yet, holding the creative tension, requires the ability to hold ever more intensity in the body, without escaping into action – reaction or downloading – when things start heating up. This ability is first gained and then enhanced by any training or personal practice that includes conscious embodiment as part of the focus. This can be part of an individual daily practice, whatever that might be. The core of this capacity is concerned with holding the tension of uncertainty – in other words the tension of creation, of what is not yet – and gently sensing what is coming to the surface. In this case it is the tension of co-creating new insights, with each other, the surroundings and all levels of reality; collectively fully participating in life. Robert Fritz states in his book, The Path of Least Resistance: those who are able to hold the greatest creative tension (and not confuse it with personal emotional tension) are able to create the most. It is about being able to hold and maintain your centre in the midst of uncertainty and chaos. In the words of my friend and Aikido master Bob Wing: “It is OK to lose your ground, but to lose your centre is bad.” We’re being asked to hold the vitality and sense of urgency as we develop the capacity to sense into what wants to emerge.
Quote by participant:
The first night (of the gathering) I was in existential angst. No stated goals, outcomes, handouts, and the experience of the Void. What will we do for 3 days? It was a deep point of transformation for me. This is where life comes through. We don’t come up with the same old answers. And in this space new questions emerged. What hasn’t been, can show up. Magic, but uncomfortable magic. And so profound.
People who are familiar with (Western) Tantric practices understand the notion of holding the energy high and not releasing it too soon into any kind of acting out. Through practice you can learn to hold higher and higher levels of (sexual) energy without coming to a release. There is no end to what you can experience in this subtle journey of discovery, and the energy waves that move through your body are ever more subtle, but really exquisite. Holding intensity means holding the bubbling energy – this feeling of being totally alive – and you can always choose to go one more step further before surrendering to a final release. As one of our participants once asked: “Can I hold that much joy?”
I have already talked about the capacity to collectively hold collective pain, wounding and trauma. This is of course the other end of the spectrum to the sexual pleasure just mentioned, but it points to the same capacity: holding intensity. Thomas Hübl says: ‘being present is being more intensive in what we are doing’. Holding disturbance in a present and conscious way (part 7.3) also belongs to this capacity of holding intensity. Sometimes this phase of holding the not-knowing-yet can feel like a collective initiation; it begins by feeling frustrated, but later it is powerful. It is a ‘groan zone’, part of any participatory learning process. Helen described it as: “being in the unclarity, waiting for the sediment to settle, waiting for the waters to still.”
Holding intensity evokes many layers, which Bonnitta Roy has distinguished as follows (in an online forum of a course):
– holding the not-knowing, the creative tension
– holding the intensity of pain and emotions
– holding the vital, primordial energy of life
– holding the cosmological energy, which is huge
To hold them all, your body-mind needs to be open. This means that contracting patterns or habituated forms – on all the levels evoked above – have been ‘deleted’ or integrated/healed, allowing the energy to flow through mind and body without being captured or interpreted by the mind (our narratives and other ego stuff), opening for more of the life force.
Listening and searching
Otto Scharmer said (in an online talk about Education in Aarhus, Denmark) “A leader needs to be a black belt in observing and listening.” Listening is the foundation for all new forms of leadership; it is the foundation for all social innovation today.
The section on the Deeper Circle Practice describes how we learn to speak from inner stillness and how ever-more-truly-shared silence seems to enter the group naturally when we are aiming for generative dialogue. We come into a rhythm and pace of speaking and listening that is both waiting and searching. We suspend everything that no longer works and listen deep inside ourselves, into the collective container, into the context and into the unmanifest potential. We are not questing into known concepts and acquired knowledge (only), rather we are accessing and adding information that is beneath the surface, coming from the aquifer of intuition, stories, images, past experience and more. We are listening for salient points, for clarity and newness. Not-knowing-yet as part of a generative space is a state of openness and uncertainty, constantly sensing into the future and its potential so that at a certain point a clarity arises that is from an altogether different paradigm. It is an active, engaging and open waiting until the inner and the outer align in all participants.
These periods of silence are not experienced as an absence of words; they have a quality of freedom in them: the freedom of being present and being able to listen for the next impulse. It is being like an empty tube and listening to the intangible, the land and the wisdom to be uncovered. It is a restful quality, quite unlike the frantic behaviour that has become so commonplace in mainstream society. In the Theory U process, it is the phase of letting come, hearing the emerging impulse through our collective sharing. Dropping into this shared still point, we are creating a holding space for a very generative kind of work. Because it is so full of freedom, it carries all potential!
The practice of shared silence often brings collective awareness into being – the collective being conscious of itself, as a collective. This awakening can even happen unexpectedly in the unlikeliest teams, people and contexts. The quality of the one(s) hosting the conversation – their capacity to be silent, at peace and at rest – has an impact on the group, although we still don’t really understand how this works. Holding an inner alignment in silence might play a big role in birthing the new collective way of being and how we hold the emergent.
In the searching, we have noticed an aspect of curiosity – What is next? What will happen? – and, maybe more surprising, a longing. Curiosity might be the more cognitive aspect of this longing, which in itself has more of an emotional tone. Both express a specific kind of relationship with what is possible and not yet manifest.
Poem by participant:
At the heart of our relating I see that we need to be mindful and to listen deeply.
Listen… listen… listen…
it has come up over and over again.
Listening to the land
Listening for the wisdom
Listening for answers
Listen to the call
Hearing the invitation
Radical Patience and Radical Trust
Not-knowing-yet requires us to let go of our habitual patterns of creating solutions and outcomes. In this phase of not-knowing-yet, when nothing new seems to come up quickly enough, when the collective space stays silent, anxiety can easily creep in. When this happens, it is showing us that we are still holding on to some expectations. How uneasy we can feel when nothing seems to be happening! The strong need to know and to have some (quick) outcome kicks in, together with a compulsion to fill the void. When nothing seems to happen, it is hard to hang in there, to just stay with this not-knowing-yet.
These unconscious expectations are so subtle that we hardly notice them – until the point they are not met, when we get frustrated in one way or another and fall back into our habitual patterns of reactiveness. There is much to learn and become aware of at this stage. Our expectations and longing to know get in the way of what we are seeking on a deeper level: to participate directly in life and let something truly novel emerge. Part of clearing the space for the field to become generative is exactly the work of bringing those expectations into consciousness and releasing them. This is how I understand the Buddhist injunction to ‘abandon all hope of fruition.’
In order to achieve a truly generative collective space, we need to let go of all attachments, including our sense of urgency. In essence, urgency is a judgment, an emotion, not an objective fact. It can therefore be seen as an emotional attachment that people can be very invested in. A sense of urgency is a kind of fear. Confronted as we are with so many problems in the world, this is a difficult reality to grasp. What does it take to stay with “It is enough to sit together in not-knowing-yet”, without rushing into repeating known ways of working and so-called solutions?
All around we hear conversations about change and transformation, also about what needs to die. The current mainstream pattern for change is: first observe and see what is, then judge what is, and then try to change what is. What we are proposing here is fundamentally different: observe what is (including my own and our shared assumptions and habitual responses), and then accept it – quite different from judging and seeking to change what is. The practice of being in not-knowing-yet is also a practice of not judging, staying centered no matter what. The challenge is to be like an open tube, an instrument ready to receive a tone from a potential that is ready to manifest. All of a sudden we realise that ‘what is’ is not what we thought it was at all! The practice is to (simply) observe, accept, honour and live what is. Only then can we see, sense and know what becomes possible in a new way. There is a strong tendency to move too early into sensing the potential, skipping the current reality and trying to jump ahead through a gap, absenting our selves from all that is actually present in the here-and-now.
Giving up hope, attachments and expectations, really letting go is an act, which is not without impact. To take whatever happens as the only thing that could have (as one of the principles of Open Space Technology invites us) without attaching to it in any way – either positive or negative – bespeaks a radical trust in life. Just this: this is it. Trusting that life is meaningful and worthwhile, even if we don’t see it at first. Going with the flow, relaxed about outcome. This seems to be a good guide for life in general.
Radical trust in life means radical trust in the process of our shared inquiry; sooner or later some clarity will arise. This implicitly includes the notion of radical patience. Holacracy, a new governance practice, embeds in its process the principle of ‘not deciding until the last responsible moment’. This is so unlike the common practice in our institutions and organisations to set up structures, rules and regulations before anything has even happened. When you actually hold an intention with radical trust and patience – and this also means radically trusting the participants in the group – radically new insights can come through and life can happen in you, me and between us. It feels so alive! The personality, scared of the void, doesn’t know or trust that something will come up on the other side of this not-knowing, but at some point you take a leap and jump, trusting that ‘something’ is there from another level and of another quality all together.
Quote by participant:
I suppose ‘moving the edge’ (the practice of Collective Presencing) means to me becoming more comfortable with the unknown or the invisible, so that it becomes more of an interesting companion than a source of blocking terror.
Notice and allow emergence to happen
We had not made a decision. We had just stopped talking when we knew.
– Tom Atlee, Tao of Democracy.
We have already touched on emergence: “Emergence is the manifestation of something really new, the novel that never existed before. An example of emergence from science is what happens when hydrogen and oxygen atoms are combined; it makes water. The wetness of water is found in neither hydrogen nor oxygen, it emerges from the interaction of the two; it is an emergent property. The scientific concept of emergence is now finding its way into mainstream conversations, but is not always well understood. In the realm of collective intelligence and wisdom, we talk of emergence when connections have been made between different elements – like different insights from diverse participants – that lead to a totally new feature or insight. A potential that was not known or even possible before, has come into existence, and we notice an innovation in products and/or processes.”
Wikipedia’s definition of emergence mentions how complex systems arise out of the multiplicity of relatively simple interactions. Generative conversations, too, are complex systems, and so they hold the potential for the emergence of new dynamic patterns. However, the gestation period needs to be long enough – just like a drop of water hanging from a blade of grass, it needs to be full enough of its own weight to fall in its own time. Then we have arrived collectively in a fully connected space, like dropping together through the bottom of a wet paper bag to find ourselves floating in timeless space where really powerful thinking, feeling and sensing can happen. In these unfolding moments, the knowing that arises has a limpid clarity, a simplicity (not simplistic) and a rightness to it. It is a knowing that has an utter naturalness to it – as if this is something we have always known how to do. It is easy to miss it if you are looking and waiting for something spectacular; because oftentimes it is about seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary, or about connecting obvious facts and simple meanings to drop into a deeper shared understanding.
The precipice, the gap between what was known and the emergent: is it hard to cross? Or is it fun and exciting? There seems to be a delicate place where the multidimensional field of this circle transcends our two-dimensional language. We sense a potential, it often proves impossible to describe. Our language, with its labels, is very limiting in this regard. Nevertheless, it is simple enough if we are present to our inner felt sense, just as it feels, and we make the effort to language it; or follow the collective flow just as it presents itself right here in the moment.
I remember one instance in a gathering where we all came back from a break, each taking our place on a cushion or a chair, some starting to draw and doodle with the many art supplies that were lying around. I put on some music, as not all were present yet. More women started to draw… there was no need to turn the music off… we reveled in the shared silent space of music and drawing… and it came naturally to its own organic end. Life is here, it doesn’t need to be ‘done’ or planned. Another example from another gathering, right at the end: some wanted to leave straight away, while others wanted the freedom of not rushing back into their lives… we stayed undecided on the level of language and decisions taken, but the sun called us out and with no agreement or conversation about it we all ended up on the lawn in front of the house, talking in little groups of two, three or four. This is what I like about living in emergence, some things are spoken about and agreed upon, but there are still things that just happen, as if the collective does its own thing and we are just entrained into it.
When people who are able to pool open mind, heart, and will come together, you can reach a collective understanding and embodiment of a very specific and collective capacity: holding the space open long enough for emergence to happen. The whole point is that there is absolutely no way of knowing exactly what will emerge in terms of process, content or insights. The pattern of increasing complexity that is present, combined with ever more uniqueness in each participant, expresses as new properties present in the emergent.
For all the challenges that are present and imminent in the world, I believe that this is a very important competence. In a way, we are able ‘to leave our slippers at the door’ and take part in these collective inquiries so that these new properties can lead us to the new ways forward – the new that needs to resolve and regenerate what is no longer in balance.
Not picking the apples before they are ripe
When we operate from our old mindset, there will come a point in the process when some new clarity has shown itself, and we will assume that the sourcing is over and done with. We tend to forget that we are in an ongoing process of inquiry, discovery and continued sensing. Sometimes more waiting is needed, as we are still learning how to understand the messages and insights arising from the inner and subtle planes. We have seen many times that groups or teams reach a novel insight and understanding and revert back to their normal planning mode, infusing their novel insights with some unconscious management stuff, only to learn later that how they had translated the insights into action was “off” and that the new insights were quite different to how they had understood them in the first place. So, space needs to be held continuously open until full clarity arises and the inner alignment and outer balance have settled. Once this has happened, action can proceed smoothly and easily.
In addition to the metaphor of the drop of water falling from the blade of grass, we came across another one about apple trees: often the fruit is picked before it is ripe. That is painful and the fruit does not taste as good, it is not as nourishing. In this practice, we are being invited to allow our fruit to fall, not to offer it too soon or allow it to be picked too early. This goes counter to the relentless pace of our professional and, increasingly also our personal lives, the demands to produce without space for regeneration, rest or nourishment. We are under constant pressure to pluck our own underdeveloped apples and give them to the world too soon. This leaves each of us feeling depleted at a soul level, ever more frequently to the point of breakdown, burn out and illness.
Another useful metaphor is the soup that needs time to simmer and cook. Sitting in a collective silence and a shared not-knowing-yet, we are building a strong container – one that can hold whatever needs to cook. So much of what we do in the world is not wise because it’s not properly cooked (half-baked!). We have not left the diverse ingredients together for long enough to allow their flavours to mingle and stew, keeping the lid on it until it’s ready. The agentic bias of our mainstream world, the let’s-get-down-to-action-in-the-world, tends to open the oven door too soon, so that the soufflé flops. Because we feel we have to stick with the timetable we came up with before the start, we get a distressing amount of flopped soufflés going out into the world. What or where is the knowing of the moment when the apples are ripe for picking, that the stew is just right to eat, that the soufflé can hold its own form? Again, it’s in the collective listening and the shared sensing that clarity can come to light. Sometimes it shows up as a subtle ‘quickening’ that illumines with bright clarity what needs to happen next.
The edge is so alive!
With enough practice, you can come to a point where being in the creative tension of this not-knowing-yet becomes a desired state. With practice the anxiety can drop away to be replaced by a sense of comfort. There always comes a point – even for the members of the hosting team – where nobody knows what is going to happen and where what is happening is totally new and unexpected. These days I just love to be in that space, because the not-knowing-yet is so full of creativity and excitement; it feels so alive! It seems to me that this kind of edge is where life really happens; all the rest is just repeating what has already been. (More on this later.)
Quote from participant:
I am amazed when we can get to that edge – almost on to something – so much is right there, just beyond our grasp – that is really the generative space! It is very seductive! It has a lot of juice.
A clip, where you actually see and hear the interviewer, Anne Paré (for the We-Space Summit in 2018), engaged in an exchange on the difference between linearity- causality and encountering. How you can switch experiencing from ‘putting labels’ to ‘receive the experience’.
Any change starts with acknowledging where we are now. This is the case in individual change, but also when dealing with the wicked problems of our time. Witnessing the ugly and unintended consequences is crucial, also on the level of society. Not easy but a needed first step in any change process.
A bit longer video clip, going a bit deeper into the concept of Wholeness of Knowing, as an essential element in the practice of Circle of Creation – also the link with being at ease with Not-knowing-yet.
Part of an interview for the We-Space Summit, 2018.
Why does it feel we need courage to actually do what feels natural in the moment?
Snippit from an interview taken for the We-Space Summit, 2018.
Taken from an interview for the We-Space Summit, 2017, this is a clip explaining a bit why developing a framework – with a Circle of Presence and a Circle of Creation – makes sense for a lot of people.