When one takes up an intimate science with life, everything is found to be a field of relationships, both nested and open – patterns that weave in love, wonder and joy, that course as rivers in a floating sea of becoming. All relations are constellations of other relations, greater and smaller, without diminution of the ties that bind or the spaces that allow. The heavens are a mirror to the myriad constellations operating below, the tiny ways that a single word, gesture, or touch makes differences that the universe hears. A stone among many is but a relation in a constellation of relations, that once were a mountain, a great pressure, a star. Nothing can be ordered without the other, all the way around the mulberry bush. The overall effect is not of parts aligned by their mere comings and goings, but of the growth of one body capable of enormous feeling.
– Bonnita Roy, Facebook, 28 May, 2013
Organic beings and environment, however, interweave.
– Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, What is Life?
Messy coherence is the essence of managing complexity.
– Dave Snowden
In the Circle of Presence we described the movement of outer alignment as a widening of balance. Our journey didn’t stop at that point, however, but kept on going, teaching us that restoring balance is too small a concept, because we saw it as concerning only humans. Here in the Circle of Creation, we are in a process of integrating ever more subtle aspects of outer alignment. In other words, a growing awareness of the constant interweaving and interpenetration going on all the time, a wider embrace than the growing awareness of complexity and interrelatedness referred to in the Circle of Presence. ‘Coherence’ captures this notion better than ‘balance’.
Recalling chapter 5, where we described the journey of transitioning from a more linear paradigm to a more organic one, we realise that this is not about a conceptual understanding of complexity. Rather, it is about consciously embodying and living complexity in all aspects of life, a practice which ultimately leads to a truly generative life. This is no longer about ‘being in relationship with‘, or even ‘being related’. It is an awareness of ‘constant becoming together’ – a constant interpenetration and interweaving that can scarcely be articulated in our subject-object pattern of language.
People engaging in a Circle of Presence learn to navigate in four domains at the same time: observing/witnesssing what is going on in the self, consciously participating in the process with others, observing what is going on in a group and stepping up as leader when necessary and appropriate. All these levels of conscious participation are needed. Building on these capacities, we now take them further in a Circle of Creation, the purpose of which is not (only) to become present in a range of situations but also, through collective inquiry, to actually live life and work in a radically different and novel manner. We are now building on our capacity to operate from a place of authentic collective wisdom in service of action that is unique, authentic and coherent with the world, including ever deeper levels of our selves and as well as time, space and more subtle aspects of life. Thomas Hübl names this evolutionary practice in a question: “Which is the ‘doing’ that we are all connected to?” It is indeed a practice to become a conscious collective or group that is aligned with time and space and with its own intention. Our field of attention is forever widening and expanding, holding multiple dimensions at once.
This process of widening coherence is similar to what happens in a Circle of Presence: the process of inner alignment (in the vertical axis on the map) blends with another alignment that extends from the selves into what is around us (horizontal axis). We move from feeling more in balance with the people in our group to an experience of being in wider coherence with the world around. In a Circle of Creation, too, we can distinguish a number of widening waves, from I-in-Now through We-in Now and We-in-Here to We-Now-Here-and-Potential. Again, these different domains are not areas with clear-cut boundaries, but we separate them out for the sake of clarity.
Focus on: my soul’s calling
Open to: subtle interweaving in my self
Following the maps, and building on the capacity named in the chapter on I and Myself, we naturally seem to come to a point where openings to a truly authentic self manifest in more and different forms than we could ever have imagined. There comes a moment when we can more clearly discern the leitmotif in our life and understand the deeper purpose behind many widely diverse experiences. These seem to converge and weave a life that is not driven by mainstream standards or models, but feeds on the sparks of our own inner creative powers. Often this manifests in what I call ‘patchwork professional lives’, where we engage in many different projects, probably in different partnerships, perhaps combining different professions. This might look chaotic to outsiders, but to us it makes total sense because we clearly see the underlying pattern.
In this process of coming to grips with our soul’s calling – the best name I have found for it – there is a danger that our egos will play their last tricks with us. Some of us play it too small (It is not possible that ‘I’ should do this!), others play it too big (I have a special mission in life and everyone should know about it.) Even when we have overcome this hurdle, we might still tend, when confronted with big social challenges, to project our frustrations onto ‘the system’ (the hierarchy in large organisations, the way parts of society are organised, the government…). The invitation here is to participate fully in life without letting anything from ‘outside’ hold us back from doing what is ours to do.
Doing this will often mean taking a bold leap that results in that interweaving of life, work and passion. In such an arena, the typical notion of work-life balance is obsolete. We live and enjoy a very emergent life, with many projects – paid and unpaid – that speak directly to and from the soul.
Focus on: the collective calling
Open to: subtle interweaving within the collective
By now – as if this journey were linear! – we will have recognised that there is no real separation between I and us: I need the collective to be able to live life fully, just as the group needs my unique contributions and capacities in order to realise its full potential. We recognise that we belong to groups of people who feel called to the same purpose or intention. Building on the awareness and consciousness of all present, an amazing flow can be reached in which each can shine in their own unique way.
This collective flow seems like a magic undercurrent buoying up meetings and gatherings in such a way that the spark of life is ignited in many participants – a sacred crucible that births the innovative insights and answers so needed in our complex and ever-changing environment. At the same time, we need to train our patience muscle and learn to hold a great deal of intensity before we reach this point of collective grace. In the practice of collective sourcing, when we are all aligned within ourselves, we can encompass with our collective attention a much vaster field than we could ever manage alone. The circle itself becomes a much larger conduit, with an exponentially amplified potential for sourcing and inspiration. This is possible on condition that we learn to see the group as an ecosystem of which we – and everyone else present – are an integral part.
Focus on: subtle place and time
Open to: subtle interweaving with context
Living in this constant awareness of the unfolding of life requires us to collect the diverse intelligences from everyone present. The practice of fusion involves a complex journey of unlearning, letting go of our complicatedness in order to find the simplicity of the elegant next step. When consciously living in an evolving dynamic system, we understand that we can only sense and know that one single next step. This allows us to live collectively and continuously in the present moment. If this minimal, elegant next step is informed by and through our collective insights, how much more present would we be to life, to ensure that the next step we take is a wise one?
In the language of Theory U, moving from the bottom of the U up its right side, bringing our novel ideas into the world of manifestation, our Western-trained minds are strongly conditioned to fall back onto our planning and project management skills. How can we stay in awareness, and even expand our attention to the context and the time we are in, without getting caught up by the urgency of mainstream action orientation?
Place and Time, too, are aspects of life with which we are intimately connected and we can learn to extend our attention into these dimensions of our reality. This is how we weave ourselves back into nature and the whole of Earth and life, rediscovering natural rhythms and understanding the powers of a particular place. Greater outer alignment gives us more sensors for the whole system, for right timing and right action, for a sense of what fits.
We-Now-Here and Potential
Focus on: full generativity
Open to: full intimacy with all of life
“What if we ground in a reality that is emerging, always moving and in multi-dimensional and multi-vibrational ways?” This question that came out of a WMtE gathering in the summer of 2011 captures quite well the essence of the last column in our map. If you observe a truly creative group process, life is indeed like a soup with many ingredients that flavour each other. It is a soup that holds a lot of potential, as it isn’t a finished soup that can no longer be changed. It is a soup that is always in becoming, as we are with it, with many surprises, synergies, synchronicities and creative twists. The future is in no way a linear extrapolation through the present from the past. Rather, it is potential coming into manifestation – through our shared attention and intention – in many new forms.
When we are steeped in this paradigm, as we embody it more and more, we start to love this potential, this not-yet-formed mystery, including the phases of not-knowing-yet and other intense moments, because it feels so alive! If all participants in a group own this capacity, then art, play, love and co-creation aren’t far away. We are grateful for the ordinary and in love with the potential. The synergy that shows up leads to a truly generative space where life’s potential manifest in forms, actions and insights never seen before.
Next: 9.1 We-Now-Here and Potential
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Interweaving with subtle place and time
Of all the steps and phases in this journey of Collective Presencing, the one described in this chapter might be the most difficult. People born in the West and subscribing to a mainstream Western worldview might well feel a connection with others, with spirit or with source. Few, though, will have preserved an intimate connection with the land they live on or the places they visit, and fewer still have a natural rhythm bound into their context and their own personal, natural flow of energy.
As I look around at the many forms of ‘We-space’ practice that are mushrooming up in different places around the globe, this capacity seems mostly neglected. Human-centred as we are, we are removed from our animal nature, our ancestors, that which is intimately linked with the land and the context we move in, just as we are cut off from that gracious pace we notice in so many animals as they move through the forest or on the plains. The rabbit right before my eyes in the neighbour’s neglected garden across the street doesn’t stress about things to do. She stops working on her nest as a lorry thunders past, to methodically resume her task afterwards at the same pace, doing one thing after another. Packs of wolves show a similar collective pace when hunting together for hours. They don’t seem to get angry at one another for not moving fast enough, or for moving too fast, or for doing the wrong thing. They lope along together, interweaving all their actions with whatever they encounter along the way. This is the quality I am pointing to here, but then adding in human awareness, consciousness and language.
On the map of the Circle of Creation, We-in-Here is a movement into wider coherence than the We-in-Now. We are invited to let our awareness grow into more areas of interweaving and interpenetration. The Western mind, with its feeling of superiority in relation to all that is embodied, can have a hard time here, as it needs to relinquish this stance to become a true and equal partner with so many other kinds of knowing.
This outer alignment concerns the capacity to consciously resonate with the vibrational frequency of the planet. We know from space travel how important this frequency is if we humans – and probably other living creatures too – are to stay healthy and sane while travelling into space. We can train ourselves and each other to be more conscious of this resonance.
Observing what is in We-in-Here
This movement of outer alignment expands out to embrace the many levels and layers of the subtle context. We align with and feel part of an ever greater ecosystem – not just this group of people, but this specific group in its specific context at this specific moment. As this capacity grows in us, we notice ever more synchronicities, recognising how much of life is linked with other parts of life. Growing out of the consciousness of We-in-Now, we learn to see the collective wisdom expressed through the many voices in the circle and to appreciate how the very different stories shared there all connect with each other. In We-in-Here, we also cultivate our awareness of the ways in which we influence and are influenced by the place where we are. We also notice those moments when a good flow is absent: those times when we are collectively holding a wish, a hope or intention, only to notice that the timing is not (yet) right for it to manifest.
This is observing what is in We-in-Here: We experience the group as an ecosystem within its larger context, which is itself a larger ecosystem, interwoven with nature, places and timing. As a collective, we become ever more aware of the interweaving of all of life.
Accepting what is in We-in-Here
“What if collective sourcing is becoming an ecosystem that will teach us to be as the Earth?” This was a guiding question for one of our gatherings, with far-reaching implications for myself. If we collectively align with our personal source and our collective intention and the practice of collective sourcing, we learn how to be and act like an ecosystem, with each member of the group acting not as ‘just me’, but keeping their centre of gravity constantly grounded in the experiential awareness that ‘I am part of an ecosystem’. As it dawns on us that the ecosystem extends beyond the boundaries of the group we in are right now, we are challenged to integrate all kinds of learning and knowing that come from even wider and more subtle systems. This is the consequence of accepting that interweaving and interpenetration do not stop at the boundaries of our common humanity and our conceptual point of gravity. We learn to listen to all manner of insights coming from nature walks, dancing, poetry, movement, dreams. This is another of the ways in which we shift from engaging ‘with the world’ to engaging ‘with the Earth’.
Honouring what is in We-in-Here
As we have seen in the previous movement, we now step beyond accepting, to honouring. If we truly honour that we are alive in nature, that we are an integrally interwoven part of it – also collectively as this particular group – then we learn to sense when we are indeed aligned in this way, and when we are not. The benchmark resides in this one question: What if it is easy? If it is not easy, sure enough we will find some small nook, some hope, some motivation that is grounded not in inner and outer alignment, but in some left-over ego habit or fear.
Living what is in We-in-Here
In the intricate and mind-bogglingly complex interweaving of our passions, our souls, the timing, the place and beyond, it becomes obvious that long-term planning no longer does the job. Instead, we rely on setting an intention, as clearly as we can, and sensing collectively into what is the next, elegant minimal step. To live this step to its fullest, we need all knowledge, hunches and intuition to weave together into a fabric that shows the exact contours of what we need or can do now. We then act collectively on that next, minimal, elegant step.
Next: 8.7 Widening coherence as Process of subtle outer alignment
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The 9th iteration in the Netherlands closed a phase. Towards the end of the gathering, I presented the first articulation of the 2 maps (with quite some gaps still in the 2ndone), and the Spirit-Source model. We were uncertain as to the right balance between being explicit – offering the models and theory – and allowing everyone the process of their individual and collective experience. The feedback was sufficiently enthusiastic for us to to realise that both were needed.
In a way, then, we found ourselves moving up the right side of the U. Moving from exploration more into practicing, as well as diving deeper into further exploration. The edge – whatever that might be, I am not going to try to define it! – was always moving, becoming ever subtler. It remained just as hard to articulate what happened during our time together, but each time seemed more magical than the last.
Another novelty showed up around the 10thiteration: the gathering was called to a place by the place itself. The place, with its specific authenticity and history, showed up more like a partner in our process than just a space that was hosting us.
We realised that we were nearing the time to move from occasional gatherings to a phase of replicating and using the practice and the pattern elsewhere. Our practice was now sufficiently well-established to spread beyond the boundaries of our project. We had developed (stumbled upon, generated) a collective practice that could now be applied in different contexts and that we could teach to people. So off we went to the Global Presencing Forum! Our practice was even granted a place in the track of Inner Cultivation. Through the discipline of articulating the specific description required to reserve our spot in the conference, we discovered that we had been experimenting and learning about the inner and subtle dimensions of the U, together with its collective dimension. Our practice would stress that these inner, subtle and collective dimensions deserve and require the same weight and importance as the more out-in-the-world elements.
But another lesson loomed around the corner. In our enthusiasm – and yes, I was proud we had been invited – we were hoping that the Forum and the Presencing Institute would provide us with a springboard to wider vistas. Besides our little presentation, which led to some good connections, we were somewhat disappointed by the overall energy of the forum, especially the second day. For ourselves, we hadn’t really found the clean space in thinking quite big, and at the same time holding it with humility and non-attachment. Again, the timing wasn’t right so perhaps we were really preparing the ground for later seeds to germinate? Or were we supposed to stand on our own feet with no one giving us a platform?
Next: 8.6 Opening to We-in-Here
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Rushing into action, you fail.
Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion,
you ruin what was almost ripe.
Therefore the Master takes action
by letting things take their course.
He remains as calm at the end
as at the beginning.
He has nothing,
thus has nothing to lose.
What he desires is non-desire;
what he learns is to unlearn.
He simply reminds people
of who they have always been.
He cares about nothing but the Tao.
Thus he can care for all things.
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Living in this way, with the subtle and the so-called ‘real’ world at the same time, we come into a different kind of relationship with time. Time changes from being linear to being a dimension that shapes and orders creation in convoluted ways. It shifts from the default stance of following a straight line from idea to completion, to a meandering walk alongside a river, with many bends and turns, from the point of intention or question through to its unfolding as it reaches a point of form, expression or insight.
The next, minimal, elegant step
The next, minimal, elegant step is a concept I learned from Anne Dosher, elder of the World Café community and guide and holder of many more great projects. She would regularly end our collective conversations and inquiries with this question of what the next, elegant, minimal step could be. There is great wisdom implied here, not to mention a certain simplicity. It has particular value when we are challenged to find the ‘right’ action to take in the many complex and ever-changing situations in which any action unfolds.
Remember, we are describing here another part of the journey of collective creation (Circle of Creation). How do continuous collective inquiry, co-sensing and collective sourcing make things manifest in the world? How are we learning to stay in the generative space that will enable humanity to move towards a more coherent way of creating? Too often we have seen individuals and groups reach a novel insight – through sourcing, letting come – only to then step back into the old, ingrained habits of organising and project management. It is as if they think “Now we know the new goal or purpose and we are going to make it happen – even if it’s something innovative – in the way we have always done things around here!” In so doing they step out of collective sensing and sourcing.
To my mind, the question is: What is an emergent creation process? How does it happen? What are its features? How can we ensure that we stay in the generative space and don’t fall back into ‘business as usual’? Again, Freya Mathews articulates it beautifully: “Overall, what was most astonishing, to my mind, about this ‘colloquium’ was that it seemed to unfold via a logic of synchronicities.A set of initial conditions had been put in place to provide the framework or container for the event, but the event was, within that container, largely self-determining: what happened at one moment suggested what should happen at the next, and the structure of the entire event was highly recursive: each happening or offering fed back into, and inflected, everything else that was happening.” (The World Hidden Within the World)
In this complex world, when we want something creative and generative to happen, there is hardly any place for classic planning as we know it. Of course, certain aspects of life and work are simple and straightforward, and these need to be organised and tended in the best known way. In other parts of life, though, what will actually happen can be left to surprise, provided the intention is clear and the container is set. This means that another element of not-knowing-yet needs to be held with ease. Otto Scharmer once said it: “Sometimes all we know is which direction to face and where to put our foot down for the next step.” (Arawana Hayashi’s article in the Oxford Leadership Journal.)
When looking for how to proceed in the complexity of a generative process,it is important not to lose sight of the container of the broader inquiry. The initial conditions and the framework that Freya Mathews speaks of are defined by the power of the collective intention. If the container or framework is not supported by an intention or clear purpose, then what happens can go in all directions; there is simply no glue to hold it together with a certain meaning. Being in a coherent pattern of intent, immersed in the collective inquiry that we hold dear, is a much easier way of aligning with the rest of Life. In this way, other creative forces around us can more easily join in the co-creation.
As humans raised in the West, well trained in planning and project management, we have no clear understanding of which parts of the task we actually do need to do, and which parts will take care of themselves, or be taken care of by life in general. If the collective, the group, the team is really present and aligned, even when we are trying to look into deep systemic questions, we will sense together the next elegant step. There always is one – even if it is to sit together in inquiry one more time. This calls for the capacity to embody and live from stillness, in the sense of being fully relaxed about the outcome. Sometimes it is called ‘going with the flow’, but there remains a danger that the flow might come from subtle ego-patterns that we are collectively blind to. To avoid this potential trap, it is important that we refrain from attaching to any step or specific outcome, whilst nevertheless holding firmly to the collective intention.
On other occasions, when all inner and outer energies are aligned, the next step might be to ‘act in an instant’. If this resonates with all, then just do it! If such action looks different, bigger, more outrageous than what you had in mind or have ever done before, then a little courage to follow your deeper knowing might work wonders!
Elegance and simplicity
It is becoming fashionable to refer to ‘the simplicity on the other side of complexity’. For me, the next, minimal, elegant step partakes of the quality this concept is pointing to. Elegance and simplicity seem to show up when we are in alignment within and between us. If it is not elegant, not simple, not easy in a certain way, then we can be sure that something, somewhere, is out of alignment.
We must watch out for a certain form of collective (over-)enthousiasm, when everything seems clear and easy and there is strong agreement on what needs to be done – and then afterwards nothing happens on the manifest level. The habitual habits of ego have crept in: we enjoy all having the same idea, we are the ones we have been waiting for, we feel we finally belong! What we have forgotten is to call in more diversity, and so we have taken our wishes and hopes for reality. This shows the difference between decisions taken from a collective ‘high’, and steps in a generative process towards a collective intention that grows from the silent space within, and which includes substantial diversity in the group. One might say that, in such cases, the awareness in the collective was not high enough and the sourcing did not go deep enough – neither had reached the level of overall alignment, right timing included.
We are not looking for simplicity for its own sake, but as a necessity if we are to achieve a way of living that is really life-affirming. Simplicity in this sense is not related to technology – we will need and can use a lot of innovation in that area! Rather, I am talking about simplicity in processes and relationships – the simplicity of self-organisation and emergence. Just enough design to let life happen, not too little and not too much. This brings me back to my gardening practice: observe what happens naturally and build on that. Gardening is simple when you work in synergy with nature. Nature takes care of the really complex processes, all we can do is provide the conditions in which these processes can thrive, so that the plants have enough resilience to respond to changing, and even extreme, circumstances.
It seems to me that much of the planning we do in linear time (chronos) really over-complicates things, creating a lot of stress for the people who need to implement it. In our own project, we had our own typical struggle, thinking that we would need a meta-team or core team of 5 or so. It turned out that this was not the case – since a team just didn’t form. Judy and I were the callers and we were the core team; it was that simple. The hosting teams would form around us, including local women who felt called to co-host with us. As strange as it might seem for Western-trained (management) minds, there is simplicity in trusting synchronicity, trusting the timing we experience (kairos), trusting the mystery of life. This is not a journey back to simplistic solutions, but onward to simplicity. No more structure and plans than necessary. Constant experimentation, prototyping and collective learning. Simple steps that combine the ordinary, the simple and the subtle in innovative ways.
In one of our gatherings, the story was told of a taxi driver from Afganistan, living in a large US city, who felt grief at the loss of his simple but good life. Aren’t many of us grieving for that quality of life? For the purity of simplicity, connected with local roots? It seemed to us that this is where well-being is found. There is a quality in simplicity that we can recognise as beauty. Simple beauty. Fully participating can be simple, clear and beautiful. Isn’t this what many people are looking for when they go on holiday: being with the land, simple seasonal food, going back to nature and the simpler life? Perhaps, when more parts of the current, unsustainable, over-intricate systems break down, there will be an opportunity for many to rediscover this simplicity. Could it be that this quality is even more needed in matters of great complexity?
Life tinkers all the time
Possibly the most basic and necessary feature of any living process is the fact that it goes gradually. The living structure emerges, slowly, step by step, and as the process goes forward step by step there is continuous feedback, which allows the process to guide the system towards greater wholeness, and coherence, and adaptation. This is obvious, of course. To a biologist or ecologist it is self-evident.
– Christopher Alexander, The Nature of Order, Book Two: The process of Creating Life, p. 230
In the perspective of the next elegant, minimal step, it is good to remember that nature – or any ecosystem or complex situation – never runs on planning. The first time I heard the expression ‘life tinkers all the time’, it rather shook my unconscious assumptions. Perhaps ‘tinkering’ has gotten a bad reputation, but life really does evolve though trying, adapting, exchanging – again and again. Consciously living in a complex, evolving system as a human being, you can only ever take one step, then evaluate and sense what is next, continuously looking for feedback, responding and evolving with the changing context. It is through this continuous process of experimentation that the novel happens. Dave Snowden puts it this way: when working in complex systems, we have to move from fail-safe design (where all is planned and nothing is left to chance) to an attitude where safe-fail experimentation that is welcomed and supported.
Don’t look at the steps in this process in a linear way – this is not how life happens. Sometimes you try something out and you don’t even know what you can learn from it, even if it is clearly a good (or a bad) outcome. Any system can be viewed as a ball of twine that has been tangled to become a snarl of knots and intertwined loops. You need to take a step back to unravel each knot and loop as it presents itself, but there is no system or pattern to guide you. You just have to try and see what you can learn as you go, noticing whether your action loosens the knots or not. This same strategy can serve to allow novel insights and projects to emerge into manifestation. There is no way we can plan the future, as it is created with all that is around. We can, however, learn to sense and trust the weak signals – provided that we are open and still enough to notice them – seeing the phenomena as signs, and going with them.
In this tinkering mode, an unexpected turn or unknown resource often just shows up right in front of you. The clue is not to overlook it, as we are so used to looking out for the steps that we already had in mind ourselves. Weave in these surprise treasures right away and more will become possible. We no longer need great plans, we just need to stay permanently connected to reality, as it is in the present moment, let decisions happen when they are ready, address new tensions one at a time, and dynamically steer our way into the future. Oh, and not fall into the trap of assuming that there will be an end point, a place and time where you will know it all, when everything has become clear and there is no more reason to search or co-create. That time will never come: life is an infinite game! (Finite and infinite Games)
Quote from my blog:
Collective body wisdom
From stillness and presence
Wait for the next impulse
We know exactly what to do!
I have already expressed our view that time is not a linear progression of successive seconds, minutes or years. Although we do experience an unfolding throughout our lives, sometimes called the ‘arrow of time’, nevertheless this is in no way either linear or predictable. There are always events – all manner of experiences – that inform the next one, but it is only after this next one has happened that we can somehow know which of the prior events contributed to it and how. In other words, it is not linearity but the complex dynamics of change that make it possible for elements of novelty to show up.
I first learned about the concept of ‘retrospect coherence’ from Dave Snowden. He links it with situations in the domain of complexity (which he differentiates from the obvious, complicated and chaotic domains – really worth studying! In a complex system, there is no such thing as simple, linear causality. Any event can trigger a host of different and often unexpected responses. Yes, there are always ‘some’ events with ‘some’ effects, but we don’t know where and when those effects will show up. It is only in retrospect, after the facts are known and the events have played out, that we can see what triggered what. Because the linear cause-effect chain is missing, all we can do is probe the system and do many safe-fail experiments. Of course, feedback loops then need to be built into the learning process to enable us to listen to what Life is telling us.
Amy Sample Ward (in Thrivability) distinguishes three forms of listening: listening to learn, listening to share, and listening to act. I’m not sure if I am using these here in the way she intended, but probing and sensing places our listening and sensing organs at the service of the inquiry into what is the next thing to do. What can we now do that is in alignment with what has been shown us in our inquiry so far? The simplicity of the next elegant step, informed by the collective sensing, is an appropriate way to navigate in complexity. In this regard, there is no point in ‘making’ decisions. Instead, we feel, sense, recognise the point of coherence for all involved. Even though we don’t know for sure what response our next step will elicit, we can learn to sense the coherence – or at least part of it – before we act. We can sense what action best fits the whole, which part of the potential is ready to manifest.
This way of acting really is very far removed from what we are used to. Such action springs not from personal will (a determined act) but from the collective practice of continually aligning intent. This is one reason why the inquiry and questions are so important. That next simple step, that act-in-a-moment, swiftly and surely, flows from the collective practice of aligning intent and being present to all the subtle signals we are picking up from the world where we operate. We read the signs of the full context while being aligned with our collective intention. Our guiding questions are really calling us to sense into the fabric of life and the ethos of our times, now and now and now. This is the practice from which our next act stems. We are not thinking up a model or hypothesis and then testing it – that comes from a different paradigm. This is a constant ‘sense-act-sense-act’ sequence, firmly plugged into the data coming back at us, a tight feedback loop of reality, with strong psychic roots deeply embedded in the collective alignment of intent.
There is timing in everything. Timing in strategy cannot be mastered without a great deal of practice.
Timing is important in dancing and pipe and string music, for they are in rhythm only if timing is good. Timing and rhythm are involved in all arts. In all skills and abilities there is timing.
There is also timing in the Void.
– Miyamoto Musashi, A book of 5 Rings, 1645
Only where time emerges as pure present and is no longer divided into its three phases of past, present and future, is it concrete.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-present Origin, p.26.
It is time to compose—in all the meanings of the word, including to compose with, that is to compromise, to care, to move slowly, with caution and precaution. That’s quite a new set of skills to learn: imagine that, innovating as never before but with precaution!
– Bruno Latour, An Attempt at a “Compositionist Manifesto”, 2010.
Over the years, I have given a lot of thought to the notion of right timing. Perhaps my use of ‘right’ here is somewhat confusing – as if there is such a thing as wrong and right timing. That is not what I am seeking to convey. Perhaps it would be preferable to call it ‘now-timing’: the sense that we act in a moment of flow and coherence, from an inner knowing that ‘this’ needs to happen ‘now’ if we are to cohere with life-affirming action.
Sometimes when people share their visions, ideas or plans for the future, I have an inner sense and feeling in my body that inform me whether those things will come through any time soon. These people are passionate about their beautiful vision, but the link, the grounding into their context is missing, and so the vision has no connection with the time and space where they actually find themselves. Training in sensing and sourcing can give us a sense of right timing, which we can develop as a specific sensing organ.
Of course ‘right timing’ is linked with ‘natural rhythm’. Some years ago I used to say: “We no longer have time to do it quickly.” meaning: we don’t have time to experiment with quick fixes that might have negative long-term consequences. We better use our time to sense deeply and do the one thing that is aligned and connected, inside and outside, even if it looks like a very small step.
Right timing does not necessarily fit with my personal goals, or even our collective ones. It is an alignment of our collective intention with all around us. This is not something you can plan for in advance. You can see it in the moment or recognise it looking back. Especially when interacting in a context with younger, more ‘rocket-fuelled’ people, or in business contexts in general, the rush to action is so ingrained that there is no time to sense whether the timing is really now. One of our participants named it “picking the fruits too early”. We get so immersed in doing that we forget that it is the permeating tissue that makes it all alive, among and between us. Again, this links with not-knowing-yet: the not-knowing-yet of timing.
Excerpt from my blog:
Finding the right timing in Avebury was a bit more challenging for me. I was in a stressful place, because some part of me had added the label ‘important’ to the ritual that was going to unfold. Importance relates to ego, and that gave me the unwanted stress. Then the point came that it dawned on me: we were waiting for the right timing. I just mentioned that to my neighbour at the table, and sure enough there was G. who showed up! We got acquainted and then the rest of the circle joined and we could walk to the places we were supposed to be. Rich learning again that there is no point in pushing and pulling! Sometimes you just need to wait until the right timing is there and you are balanced and aligned with your self, the group and the environment.
From habit, we will relax for a short while and then move into action, because we can’t stand the tension! When we are in discomfort, we tend to want to grab back control. The not-knowing-yet of timing has to do with trusting something will happen even if we don’t make it happen. It is like wanting the baby to be born before it is ready – something that naturally-inclined women and parents don’t want. So the not-knowing-yet of timing is coming into relationship with life as we would with the unborn life growing inside us. Because, in everyday life and business as usual, we tend to be quite unconscious during the process of letting things come into being, we miss the real gift and learning to be found in gaining an embodied intelligence of what it feels like to be alive at that pace.
We realised early on, in a systemic constellation, that the somewhat negative element named as Holding Back was, in essence, Sensing the Right Timing, with real value and truth at its core. Sometimes what is seen as ‘just waiting’ or ‘inhibiting responses’ is really holding space for more new insights to surface and for innovation to manifest. Holding space and place for emergence is an active holding, far removed from passive waiting. We don’t leave the apples hanging until they rot! It is about learning systematically to access and inhabit the dimension of time we known as kairos, and to deliberately step out of the habitual, sometimes brutalising regime of chronosthat is our current familiar mode.
Joseph Jaworski speaks in this regard of ‘a cubic centimeter of chance’. Others call it a ‘window of time’. These are the moments where we just act, following an inner sense of right time, right place and right action. The fruit is ripe, in this very moment. It takes deep sensing and great trust to wait for these moments. Many of us, in the pre-manifest phase, get anxious or frustrated at not getting there and fall into the trap of making something happen. In such instances, we are not trusting that we, and our intention, are aligned with the universe and that we will be supported in ways our minds cannot predict. Alternatively, when something happens, we might jump on it without pausing to sense again, and more deeply into its relevance, so blundering past our quiet knowing that this is not yet it. This is all about learning to trust the process. Often it is about taking enough time in earlier phases, so that later things happen quickly and easily.
The most important practice at this stage is listening. Listening not only to your inner voice but also to what other people around you really tell you. Once you sense the invitation to your calling – once a “messenger“ shows up with an invitation to something you can’t not do – respond with “yes“ first and only later figure out how to do it (follow your feeling first, then bring in your rational mind).
– Otto Scharmer, u.lab MOOC, Febr. 2015 – Daily practice toolkit
It seems apposite to end this section with some inspiring words from Sri Aurobindo:
Time is the remaining aid needed for the effectivity of the process. Time presents itself to human effort as an enemy or a friend, as a resistance, a medium or an instrument. But always it is really the instrument of the soul.
Time is a field of circumstances and forces meeting and working out a resultant progression whose course it measures. To the ego it is a tyrant or a resistance, to the Divine an instrument. Therefore, while our effort is personal, Time appears as a resistance, for it presents to us all the obstruction of the forces that conflict with our own. When the divine working and the personal are combined in our consciousness, it appears as a medium and a condition. When the two become one, it appears as a servant and instrument.
The ideal attitude of the seeker towards Time is to have an endless patience as if he had all eternity for his fulfillment and yet to develop the energy that shall realise now and with an ever-increasing mastery and pressure of rapidity till it reaches the miraculous instantaneousness of the supreme divine Transformation.
– Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, p62-63.
Next: 8.5 Standing on our own feet – WMtE part 8
If you are looking for a pdf of this section, just send me a message!
One cannot merely follow the timetable we have set for our influence on the world, we must also honour and respect the infinitely more complex timetable the world has set for itself. That timetable is the sum of the thousands of independent timetables of an infinite number of natural, historical and human actions.
– Vaclav Havel
“As Way Opens” is a reference to the old Quaker saying that we should “proceed as way opens” after patient, prayerful waiting for Spirit to move in the world, and open or reveal the way forward.”
– from As Way Opens Birthing Services web site.
What if it is easy?
I would love to live
Like a river flows
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding
– John O’Donohue
This title, this question, is bound to be misunderstood. It is a real challenge for the Western-trained mind! The question does not imply that we should always seek the easiest way, with the least effort and no perseverance. Rather, it says that if things don’t flow easily, then something, somewhere, is not aligned, not in coherence, not in the creative flow. What if it were possible to live always in the ease of an unfolding, natural way?
In our journey of ever widening coherence, we have reached the point of articulating the We-in-here, which can be described as a subtle interweaving with the context we find our selves in. Over time and through different experiences, the notion of ‘connecting’ has expanded substantially for me. Connecting doesn’t only occur with other people. In-here includes the place where we are, and the planet, nature, animals, the stars and the more subtle realms: whatever we are able to sense and relate with. My concept of ‘connecting’ has also had to expand from a linear back-and-forth between an entity here and an entity over there, to an understanding of interweaving and interpenetrating. Both expansions on the concept make the picture more whole and afford us a more embodied understanding of the widening coherence that is possible for all of us.
Widening our awareness in this way, to include the more-than-human world while being in a well-connected circle of humans, seems to make it easier to connect more deeply, to intensify that experience and awareness. The skills of subtle sensing and our growing awareness of complexity and interrelatedness serve here in sensing phenomena like natural rhythm and alignment with the whole of the context we find ourselves in, including the Earth, the invisible and the intangible.
What if it is easy? points to a simplicity that results from a deeper alignment and wider coherence. It is not a simplicity in cause-and-effect. We don’t fall into the trap of making things simplistic – we know full well that we are dealing with highly complex matters. The coherence we are pointing to is not what we normally understand as ‘perfection’ or ‘perfect harmony’. The Dutch Centre for Human Emergence http://www.humanemergence.nl/ once described it as ‘effortless simplicity’ – one of the characteristics they identified in their action research on Turquoise practice (as part of the Spiral Dynamics framework). What, indeed, if a non-linear, emergent life flows easily? What, indeed, if a non-linear, emergent shift is easy?
What if it is easy? builds on trusting the whole systemyou are in.In one of our gatherings, we closed with the inquiry and the challenge of learning how to be in this generative flow even when dealing – collectively – with practical day-to-day tasks. This is where the real trust in each other, in a natural rhythm and in the collective alignment comes in. Do we dare to flow? Do we trust the interweaving when it comes to practical things like doing dishes, preparing meals and cleaning rooms – and beyond to actions in the outside world? Here, I am evoking the practice of reconnecting to the patterns of Life, and of speaking, acting, moving from that connection, rather than relying (solely) on organisational structures and planning. It comes down to inviting embodied awareness of coherence and generativity into our daily and professional lives and contexts. This is how we envision moving and dealing with our complex issues collectively: not by pushing, pulling or rushing, but by seeing what unfolds naturally when we collectively tend to a clear intention. A wise lesson you also find in the I Ching: “act only when you can move gently and innocently, and all will be well”.
From Native American and other indigenous cultures, we know that the concept of ‘relationship’ means connectedness with everything on every level. One of the highest compliments you can give in this culture is: “he takes care of his relations”. This refers to connectedness to all of life: to people, rocks, clouds, wind, water, Earth. The purpose of your life, then, is to be a positive influence on your relationships. The prevalent Western ‘me’-orientation is absent and the habitual ego-self becomes almost invisible. What comes into focus instead is the effect of that self on everything that it is connected with – people, plants, a space, a breeze, a flower; the effect of my intention and my actions on everything around me is what is most important. Relinquishing our human-centric perspective brings us into an equal and co-creative relationship with other intelligences active in our planetary sphere. Most likely, it will take a long time before we can truly understand their nature, or indeed our own evolutionary role in Gaia’s unfolding. Nevertheless, we humans are all indigenous to this Earth. This embodied understanding is crucial for our capacity in We-in-Here.
Some people are born with unique capacities to sense and communicate with these other-than-human intelligences that seemingly operate from other dimensions. Indigenous cultures have always seen this as natural. Only the Western-influenced world has denied their existence or seen this capacity as freakish. I believe everyone is born with this capacity, and we can exercise it like any other kind of intelligence. However, it seems that each person is unique in the how and what of their capacity to receive information from the subtle. No two people manifest exactly the same knowing. When we leave aside all competition about what is ‘right’ or what is ‘true’ and move toward collaboration and co-creation, this awareness is crucial.
What if it is easy? closes the gaps between the individual and the collective, humanity and nature, tangible and intangible, chronos time and kairos time –because, quite simply, there are no real gaps. Our default thinking here in the West makes us believe that the gaps are real, although on closer inspection they don’t seem to be there. It really can be easy! If it is not easy, then something is out of kilter in our alignment, in the coherence and in the process of generativity, either with the people, or the purpose, or the timing or the place…
Quote from participant:
As you were speaking about the creative tension, I was also nodding to myself about how I feel and experience that in my own life. How I am holding a lot of that kind of tension as well. When it is unconscious, there can be a lot of unpleasant acting out, general dysfunction. When holding consciously, then the whole question of right timing comes into play, knowing when is the moment of release. – Helen
It will be implicit from our subsequent discussion that this incarnation will differ in kind and essence since it must manifest itself not ‘in time’ but in time freedom, and will be transparent.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-present Origin, p297
Time freedom is being freed from time and thus free for the spiritual.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-present Origin, p299
Some time ago somebody asked me “Busy?” – instead of the classic, meaningless greeting: “How are you?” – in a tone of voice implying that busy is good, and the ideal state for all of us. I answered: “No, I’m not busy.” He stood bewildered, didn’t know how to respond, or how to take my comment… No, I’m not busy. I don’t like to be stressed, so my schedule is not fully booked. Nevertheless I am doing meaningful things all the time and I am engaged in many, many projects and conversations. I enjoy what I do and over time things just fit snugly in my schedule and flow well.
The pace that Western society lives at these days is profoundly unnatural. People seem to be living in a ‘trance’ – running on and on and on in perpetual motion. Many people see this as normal, but it is not! I call it a collectively shared illusion that life has to be run at (very) high speed. There is something fundamentally unnatural about the pace at which we race around in today’s world. Our relationship with time and with the importance of everything we (think we need to) do is quite out of sync with reality.
Why do we conform to this mainstream rhythm, even when we don’t like it? What if, instead, we were to hold this question in our focus: How can we weave ourselves back into nature? How can we live with natural rhythms and cycles, slowing down with the winter, perking back up with the spring? It is all the doing that seems important, and leaps to the eye, vision-centred as we are. Though the moments in life that touch us deeply and have the greatest value – like a beautiful sunset, a moment of deep friendship, a sudden insight – arise more from a quality of being than (only) doing. The whole point about ‘being’ is that it is invisible if you don’t look for it.
Speaking to friends and family, trying to explain how to live in a different relation with time, is really countercultural – they mostly don’t get what you are pointing to. Globally, though, we are beginning to see a countermovement manifesting in the form of slow food, slow money, etc. The slowing down is there to rebalance us and help us to rediscover our own natural rhythms. The crux of slowing down is not to always act slowly. It is about being present and going with a natural rhythm. It is being in sync with our own individual energy level, but also being in alignment with the context (human and non-human) we are in.
A natural rhythm might not be slow at all – remember the ‘act in an instant’ that relates with the bottom of the U (see Scharmer’s Theory U). But ‘headless-chicken syndrome’ is widespread: no time to stop and sense, people are in permanent crisis mode, no time for reflection, always heading for the next thing in life. In this regard, we need to fine-tune our capacity to distinguish between what feels alive, easily flowing and connected to the source, and what feels (over-)enthused, addicted to intensity and always rushing. It’s important to stay centred in sensing what wants to happen, and to distinguish this from the Western habit of always being on the move.
We-in-here translates as a disciplined practice to first take the time needed to sense, to access our inner knowing and to carefully discern what is right action in this moment. It comes more quickly and easily with practice, but you cannot dispense with sensing at every step. If we look around at the world in this light, we can all see what happens when we don’t do that. Sure enough, things can go quickly if they are aligned, but subtle discrepancies can be important so we need this capacity for discernment to prevent us from falling into this (Western) blind spot. ‘Act in an instant’ is not so much about speed as about a deeper inner knowing that this is the right thing to do right now.
Excerpt from my blog:
It amazed me throughout the whole day how easily things would flow, how naturally we made transitions from one way of being together to another. Like M. and I walking down this road, and at a certain moment, not talking about it, not checking watches, not agreeing about it, we just turned and walked back. This is a quality of alignment that is really dear to my heart. As someone said later, Kairos and Chronos come together.
As we slow down, we learn to live in both Kairos and Chronos at once. We release ourselves from planned time and allow ourselves to inhabit a more unstructured time-space, never letting go of our intention. As we hold this awareness in us, this specific kind of knowing and consciousness becomes embodied in us and we can stay present in the ‘fast-forward’ world in a more conscious and grounded way.
Natural rhythm, together with intention, then replaces what we currently know as planning, which too often happens only on paper in organisational multi-year plans or to-do lists at home, only to be overwritten by what actually happens in the natural unfolding of life. It strikes me that so many people – myself included – have a wrong idea about how much time it takes to get things ‘done’. It seems that we are all bad at this, as if we take our wishes for reality, not counting the time it takes to bring ideas into manifestation.
Quote from participant:
I just so want, would love for the masculine to take a holiday and not make plans for a while. Not try to solve the issues for a while. It feels like a crazy, outrageous thing to ask. – Lisette
Tending to a natural rhythm also implies letting systems die that no longer support life. This seems almost inconceivable in our traditional organisations and institutions. They exist and we expect them to endure for all eternity. I spoke before about conscious closure as an important part of the natural cycles of life, including death and birth – a natural rhythm. Living in alignment with a natural rhythm means that the old can die without regret, making room for whatever comes next to emerge and fall into place. Conscious closure gives space for a new way of being and understanding to take a form that we don’t yet know.
As my notion of connection has changed over time, so too has my idea of time. Time is no longer a series of linear blocks that follow on from each other, from history into the present and out into the future. Time for me now is more an experience of all-and-everything-moving-into-the-next-experience, the next moment of the unfolding future.
The biggest challenge I notice in We-in here is combining the practice of trusting the natural rhythm withbeing in a group. Living in a natural rhythm might be known to some, but we really have no clue – or experience – of how to be and do that in a group! What will happen in a group if we all speak, move and act naturally? Fear of chaos easily kicks in. Still, if we look at nature – where no planning happens – we see coherence and beauty all around. So the question here is: how to be in mutual relationship with all of life, the other members of the group, even including our neighbours!? How can we have a collective experience of being natural, wild beings, in deeper relationship with the land and natural rhythms?
Weaving ourselves back into nature and (co)evolution
I remember quite well the moment when I realised the enormous difference between identifying as ‘a citizen of the world’ on the one hand, and as ‘an inhabitant of the Earth’ on the other. Since recognising this difference, I notice more and more how few people actually see the Earth at all – they live only in ‘the world’. Often there is confusion, and people use the two words interchangeably as if they mean the same thing. How strongly the man-made structures, systems and organisations of this world we work and live in are embedded in our notion of reality! How difficult is it to feel part of nature instead of (or as well as) feeling part of the world? We are so used to living in a world built on concepts and ideas that have been translated into stuff and structures. But ‘this world’ has become separated from the Earth and the fullness of Life.
There is – or there need to be – no contradiction between the two. It is about living in the interface nourished by both, being in between. ‘Connecting with the Earth’ can have unfortunate New-Age connotations, but I mean this in a very real way. We do not live in an exclusively man-made world. We are fundamentally part of the living Earth, which remains the world’s wider context. The Earth is our progenitor! As Alan Watts said: “The Earth peoples, (like an apple tree apples)” It is because the Earth is alive that humans have come forth. Are we aware of this scientific fact? Really?? Most citizens of the West behave like typical white tourists in Kenya: just visiting. It feels as if a huge part of humanity has become tourists in our own home, without ever really connecting to this living, life-giving planet.
The rise of humanity was no random evolutionary accident. Of all species on Earth, only we humans have developed the consciousness that makes it possible to dissociate from our natural surroundings, to experience ourselves as differentiated and separated. It is this sense of separateness that has brought us to the brink of catastrophe. This moment in time is dawning like a critical rite of passage that humanity needs to traverse. What lies beyond is an awakening to the realisation that humanity is not separate from Earth. Nobody is. Ever.
Sarah Whatmore, professor of environment and public policy at Oxford University calls it “more-than-humanism”. Man is not the measure of all things. In our journey of growing awareness of interweaving and interpenetrating, after connecting the lost bits within ourselves and connecting more deeply with each other, the next step is to return to a reciprocal relationship with the Earth, to “allow myself to grow into the soil.”In one of our gatherings,it dawned on us that our guiding question held the new insight into this: the need of the Earth is not only a problem, it is an invitation to become fully ourselves. It is sometimes called ‘a relational turn’, having an intimate relationship with the natural environment as with one another.
… the integration of nature-environment-indigenous cultures with the ‘new age’ or ‘green’ phenomenon is not merely a descent to ‘pre-’ forms of consciousness, but it is a return to ancestral roots, in order for the new consciousness to evolve. It is truly something deeper that is evolving through us – through phenomena like ‘the re-enchantement of the world’ (to use Bhaskar’s term) or as Eisenstein says ‘we are falling in love again, with nature’ – these are not ‘regressions’, but the important prior steps to the new.
– Bonnitta Roy (online, link no longer exists)
Maybe ‘weaving ourselves back into nature’ is still too small a notion. Perhaps the wider context is that we are weaving ourselves back into co-evolution. I felt very humble when I truly realised how we, as human beings, co-evolved with all that is around us, visible and invisible. We are so used to thinking of ourselves as at the top of the food chain, immutably and forever. But humanity is an inherent part of evolution and we co-evolve with the Earth, just as a certain butterfly has evolved over time to feed from a specific flower. In this regard, we humans are quite small and equally at the mercy of these greater forces.
It is this deeper and wider awareness that ultimately ties us humans back into nature and the Earth as a whole. It is a relatedness – interweaving and interpenetrating – that goes way beyond the concept of sustainability. A notion that comes closer is ‘thrivability’ – when and where all that exists can thrive. True partnership with Earth or with nature is nothing other than using our free human will to choose consciously for this overall balance, instead of going with the prevailing paradigm of separation and fragmentation. We do have the free will to choose ever more balance, in and on all levels of existence. When we weave ourselves back into nature, into Earth, into Life, we are the conscious part of that ecosystem, and onlythat. Being the conscious element in the whole in no way implies that we are the most important! Step by step, we arrive at a lived experience of the oneness of humanity-as-a-whole with Earth-as-a-whole.
Bonnitta Roy redefines sustainability and thrivability as integrating our animal nature back into our daily lives. She calls this one of the major human shadows: we are unaware of just how much we have inherited from our animal ancestors. We consider to be exclusively human – and therefore intrinsically superior – many of the features that are actually found in the animal realm: altruism, the experience of bonding, taking care of each other, the ability to play, and many more. When we allow our actions to be grounded in the wisdom of co-evolution, they will be regenerative in nature, nothing else is needed. Remembering the Earth as our true context and connecting back to her offers a next level of wholeness.
One capacity which have we inherited from our animal ancestors is an effortless connection with all of nature. For many of us this capacity is buried beneath layers of cultural conditioning, but it is still there. We are all indigenous in some way. Embedded in our DNA is the knowledge of how to live in resonance with the land, the animals, the stars and the wind. Some call reconnecting with this capacity ‘re-wilding’. David Abram (author of The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal) makes the point that we have lost that wild side and we need to reclaim it. This goes far deeper and wider than just noticing and respecting nature, beyond just coming into relationship with a place. He points to an embodiment of this wildness, this core quality of freedom and spontaneity, that relates to the archetypal, the instinctual and the natural. We are mostly blind to how domesticated we are and how deeply ingrained our social conditioning is. The wild harks back to the wonder of our childhood, the joy of walking barefoot, the release of getting totally drenched by the rain, the awe of looking over a cliff, the aesthetic arrest of a majestic sunset.
In everyday society, being wild – behaving in ways, which depart from the cultural norm – holds many negative connotations. Often, though, if we are not blinkered by our cultural lenses and shackled by our social conditioning, ‘doing something wild’ is a very ‘common sense’ thing to do. We needto reconsider and reevaluate this notion of wildness. Being wild does not mean being crazy or out of control, although our conditioning tells us to fear ‘it’. Isn’t thatcrazy? Being fearful of nature… of our own true nature?! How do we dissolve the barriers in our own minds that keep us feeling apart, separate from a direct and transformative relationship with wild nature? It is our own wildness that breaks through all of that.
Quote from my blog:
We dived deeper, trying to understand what is ‘being wild and natural’– as is part of our guiding question.
… untamed, but with a structure…
… listening, tuning in to oneself…
… intangible, but present…
… beyond articulation…
… so alive, but like a whisper…
Listening to the land
But the old, aboriginal idea of how are we to live – and when I say aboriginal I don’t mean Australia, I mean wider than that – is actually the dreaming of a human being, the logos, the intelligence of a human being, can only go so far. Then there comes a point when you actually need to get dreamt by the land itself. Now that sounds rather esoteric, but actually it’s been a common policy in tribal groups all over the world for thousands and thousands of years.
– Martin Shaw in an interview
From my Greek friends – both named Maria – I learned that the Greek language recognises an element of the soul called Kaimos. “Unfortunately”, they say, “English seems to have no equivalent to describe it. It is a longing of the soul to be reunited with our land and sea.” I recognise this from my own experience. When I was without a home of my own for several months, I noticed a deep longing for a piece of land I could have a relationship with over a longer time – even if I only rented it. I am a gardener – ‘by nature’ or the result of 200 years of professional gardeners in my ancestry – and during those months I became very aware of my longing for a simple life on the land.
I have already spoken of the reciprocal relationship between humanity and the Earth, between people and the places where they live. The question of which came first is not applicable. People and place, humanity and Earth, have evolved together and will continue to do so. In reality, there is no separation outside our rational mind that sees two different ‘things’. What is core, inescapable, is the relationship. There is a constant mutual influencing of people with their families, communities and culture, and of people with the places where they live and work, just as the landscape influences the people and their culture. The Western idea of separateness is an illusion. Listening to the land is a practice that can be learned and honed over time. It is one example of how we can weave ourselves back into nature.
How does one set about coming into relationship with a piece of land, with this place?First of all, it means tending it, respecting it, giving it attention and care. When I visit other people’s homes, my first impulse is to step out into the garden, to look around and see the place – witness the life that is there. Giving are can be expressed by doing a myriad of small things: tending the plants, removing the pieces of glass and plastic you find around the place, bringing some flowers into the house, sowing some new vegetables, planting a new tree or shrub, walk around in the region. Tending to the details and the beauty is essential. I have done many such simple things in every place and garden where I have lived. Such gestures give me a grounding place to start my journey of living there. There is profound value in this simplicity. At the very least, you feel grounded.
When I first heard of ‘listening to the land’, I wasn’t sure exactly what it referred to. At that time, I wasn’t aware that I had been doing this all my life: really noticing this particular piece of land, this garden, this field. Sensing what it is calling for: this path should be here, so that it flows with the slope of the land; the resting place should be there, under the tree that will provide some shade in summer; at this spot, the soil is better for this type of plant; this spot is always in shade, so the ferns will thrive here. Evidently, the power of witnessing does not apply solely to encounters with other human beings. We can extend it to the places and nature around us.
As you start to practice this kind of witnessing, you learn to recognise the subtle field of a place. Some places have distinctly different energies than others. We can sense this in homes and public buildings, and it is the same kind of energy we can notice on different pieces of land. A good friend of mine, born and raised in Switzerland, needs rocks beneath her feet to feel really at home. People who have been to sacred places know that these hold a vibration that can be quite strong and tangible. Many of us will recognise this phenomenon from visiting churches or other age-old places of prayer.
Quote from participant:
From the constellation (around a conference about the state of the world), which for me turned into a constellation about the state of the Earth – this experience of being neutral with the Earth, just noticing – that was the nourishing factor for her (= Earth). That was reinvigorating her immune system. It became so quickly about us humans, and what we need to do and how we need to organise ourselves – how much is it ‘I want to do it’ and how much is it ‘something wants me to be with it’? – Lisette
At a gathering called Powers of Place, I was struck by something one participant said: “places are witnesses”. And indeed, so they are! They store the energy of what people do, both positive and negative, and hold that energy over time. We do leave an imprint on the land, whether intentionally or not. Later, if the imprint was life-enhancing, we can benefit from this stored memory. If, by contrast, the land has hosted painful historical events, we might need to relate with the pain and grief held there. In this awareness of interconnectivity between people and places, again, the qualities of deep listening and mindfulness are crucial. If places are witnesses, we better relate to them in a conscious and respectful way.
From the many stories told at that beautiful gathering, we realised, too, that places invite or call us. On the people side of the co-evolution, we can relate and co-create (or not) and thus leave an imprint (both manifest and energetic) with our actions. We are called to walk the land, to listen, hold and witness every feature of the place that draws us. When we ‘land’ in a place in this way, we enter into a conscious commitment between humans and Earth. Thus, our intention can ‘activate’ a place, which can then become a conscious partner in co-creating. The place is given a seat in the circle of life, and is indeed honored as the very seat of the circle. In this way, there is an interaction between containing and being contained. We are invited to be contained by the place – it holds us – but it wants us to reciprocate and contain it.If places are calling us, then people can listen, respond and co-create. Without place, without context, without story, without consciousness, without clearly-stated intent, there is nowhere for a creation to land.
For many, being in nature puts us in contact with the sacredness of life. Stepping into conscious relationship with any place – whether natural or manmade – also links us to this sacredness. This conscious relationship with the place where we live restores to us the experience of being rooted, at home, belonging – just like animals and all of wild life. This relationship is not just to this particular place but to the planet itself, the home of humanity and so many other beings, both incarnate and intangible. When we engage in this conscious relating, we can sense which life-affirming actions will heal and restore the place or enhance its inherent qualities. It will bring us to our next level of balance and resonance.
My relationship to the land where I live is mostly a solitary one, as I like to wander through the many details of what needs and wants doing in our garden. Yet this action research project was about the collective, as we were trying to understand this We-in-Here. Our penultimate Women Moving the Edge gathering challenged my limiting beliefs in this regard. We had previously used the metaphor of all being empty tubes: if we then connect with each other we have a bigger tube that can capture resonance and insight on a bigger scale. What, then, if we were to do this in connection with a place?
Quote from participant:
We can sit in a circle and source together; can we now come together and source with the Earth more explicitly? Life on Earth depends on us learning how to do this. If we don’t, life on Earth will not withstand what’s coming, with climate change, and with the systems being knocked out of sync, there are too many perfect storms waiting to manifest simultaneously. – Helen
Was I willing to step into a deeper understanding of how land and humans interpenetrate each other? Going beyond respecting the environment, to a lived awareness of the co-creation that needs to happen between the land, and the stones, and us as human beings? Could we infuse stones and land with new memories? New information? It sounded pretty far out to me. And yet it seemed like the natural next step to take, and so that is what we did.
We were called to visit the landscape in the south of England, most particularly the stone circle at Avebury. In years before, I had visited this little village inside the huge circle of massive stones, both on my own and with friends. Each time I visited, – out of the blue – I had started to cry. Surely that place held some energy that stirred some of my own inner strings; totally unconscious to my mental mind! Now we were visiting with a collective intention of – somehow – recoding the stones for the time we are living in. We had no plan, no map of where to go or what to do, just a strong intention, which had emerged from our collective sensing in preparation for the gathering. As we tried to decide where to go and ‘do our work’ after lunch, it was clear that there was no alignment between us. We could find no agreement or coherence at all. And so we each went our own way, about the little village and among the stones. I understood that we all had to sense more deeply, beyond any imprints from eons back in history. This was about here and now, and I had to clear my sensing organs from the imprints of earlier memories. At some point later on, we were finally able to come together and collectively place the building blocks of our collective co-creation with the local landscape. It was both impressive and intense!
We can only listen to the land effectively when we are willing to listen to all of ourselves. There might be times when we are unwilling to do this because it threatens our social persona. Of course, we will never know for sure if our ritual in Avebury really did move something in the desired direction of more balance and coherence. I do know that it shifted the awareness of all present in a fundamental way. On that day, the sense of interrelatedness with stones and landscape, with the memory of times forgotten, was etched permanently into each of our beings.
Quote from participant:
When I move out into nature – which I feel more and more I need to do now – when I just go out into my garden, or look out the window, I feel so held, and so part of the whole, and so belonging – but not (just) belonging to humanity, but belonging to nature. And I find that when I step out of that, and step back into ‘the world’, that’s when it’s possible for me to feel lonely, and/or alone, And that’s where it’s possible for me to feel alienated, or to imagine feeling alienated, and to imagine other people being alienated, or feeling alienated from others. But the moment that I shift my witnessing onto the natural realm, it’s like the boundaries fall away and I just become part of it. And I feel welcomed and belonging. That’s just an amazing discovery for me – to have become conscious of that. It’s made a big difference to me. – Rachel
A poetic response
Quote from participant:
I am haunted (in a mystical way) by our encounter with the Forest. As I think more about it, I realise that the stillness of the group held me in its consciousness and that was why I could maintain an empty mind state for so long. By myself in the garden or just on my deck, I’m less effective at holding emptiness.
Most important to me was the realisation that the altered state of consciousness of ‘forest’ is full and thick with communication, but in a different frequency and vibration. The art form of ‘tuning’ will one day be taught in schools. It is our nature and within our ability. Intention – stillness – focus – presence.
Did you notice also how the vibration of ‘forest’, being made up of many individual frequencies (like a musical chord as opposed to a single note) had a broad, full quality? – Les
In the meantime, an article by Freya Mathews reached my desk (The World Hidden Within the World). That’s where I got the concept of ‘interpenetration’. She evokes a poetic order, next to the causal one, which is about meaning – not in opposition to cause and effect, just next to it.What I read was stunningly aligned with our own recent experiences and the general direction we were moving in with Women Moving the Edge.
She starts by describing a 5-day gathering she had attended at a place of power in Australia. The Symposium, she says,“unfolded via a logic of synchronicities. A set of initial conditions had been put in place to provide the framework but the event was, within that container, largely self-determining: what happened at one moment suggested what should happen at the next, and the structure of the entire event was highly recursive: each happening or offering fed back into, and inflected, everything else that was happening. The upshot was that a complex and elaborate poetic invocation took shape organically in the course of the five days, and this seemed to elicit a complex and elaborate poetic response from the world.” … “This is possible if your cosmology is one that does not draw absolute distinctions between the internal and external aspects of things, accepting reality as “irreducibly psychophysical” in character– a forever changing and unfolding pattern of movement that is as much psychic as physical.”
Freya’s inquiry lead her to wonder whether “if one somehow managed to slip under the psychic skin of the world and ‘enter’ its subjectivity, one would experience the ‘outside’ as ‘inside’. If one stepped inside the world, in this sense, the trees and grass and rivers would no longer appear as external to oneself. They – along with oneself – would now be experienced as internal to the psyche of the world.”
She continues: “One has only to surrender one’s subject/object mind-set – where this encompasses all discursive thinking (discursive meaning ‘marked by analytical reasoning’) – and relinquish one’s discursive goals and ends, in order to be borne along on its fast current. When this occurs, a path begins to open up in the midst of the phenomena.”
And: “To experience the world from within is to experience it as a field of communicative meaning, meaning that draws us from one encounter to another.”
From my blog:
I noticed how my labeling – ‘a blue heron!’ (including exclamation mark!) – removes me from this being; installs a distance between him/her and me. I tried to move closer, paying a lot of attention not to make too much noise while stepping on fallen branches and leaves. Still, I was in ‘separation mode’. Then I decided to ‘do’ nothing. I sat still for quiet some time, not ‘trying to take a picture’, but just me sitting here and the heron sitting over there.
I was very happy with this scientific and academic articulation. In accessing information from the subtle levels, I have often noticed that people tend to fall into hyperbolic, stilted or pseudo-mystical language. Me, I want a language – and also an engagement and relationship with this information – that is more matter-of-fact. Not too excited about “oh, I got a message!”, and not doubting it either, but simply taking it at face value as an expression of the experience of interpenetration. Just as we can go inside and forever fine-tune our minds, emotions, body sensations, inner sensing, the same seems true when applying our subtle sensing outward, into the inner dimensions of others, nature, the Earth or the universe. It probably relates with the wildness we mentioned before, the primal connection we inherited and which still lives on within us. A certain aptitude is needed, though: the ability to surrender our defenses and suspend a reductionist worldview that says “this is not possible”.
Over time we realised that there are many ways of experiencing and understanding the subtle worlds. There are those who communicate with nature spirits, others speak with angelic beings, or devas or the archetypes. Again, ‘communicating with’ is still too dualistic, with us over here and these energies over there. That’s not how I experience the interwovenness of all that exists. When you hit the level of resonance with any of these subtle energies, it touches you, it changes you. In no way is there a subject ‘in here’ and an object ‘over there’. Life interpenetrates all of it without any borders to speak of. In that resonance with life, with the life force – even when there is work to tend to and a lot to take care of – it can feel effortless.
Quote from participant:
I sense that the individual and collective journey down the U is a clearing, a refining, a purification, and letting go of the not-needed, including the small self, into the birthing of the presencing process so that, in the most expansive (deep and wide) level of continuous inquiry, we can reach a vibrational frequency where the other-than-human community are invoked into co-presence. They tentatively and attentively await this level of human integrity, of individual and collective authenticity, that can be the fertile co-creative birthing ground for the larger community of beings (human and other) to call in together the future potential. It seems that only once this level of finely-tuned and refined co-presencing in us is well cultivated and stable, do the other realms begin to play. We need to have bodies and be grounded in the manifest realm in order to do this work. – Helen
As I am not a poet, writing about this poetic response does not come easily to me. Below you will find a compilation of (snippets from) blog posts written during the 13th and last Women Moving the Edge gathering, which was centered around this question:
What if we could experience being natural, wild beings in a collective,
in deeper mutual relationship with natural rhythms and cycles of the Earth?
I recommend you read it slowly, as you would read poetry…
The bird knows we are in this together
On Saturday afternoon we had a most remarkable time. Already the morning had been so rich that I was flabbergasted with the rich content that had been shared.
We talked about language and words….
… hearing the birds respond to each other… so many languages going on that we don’t understand…
… and words are limiting… yesterday’s way… just a handle… easy to let the sacred slip away…
about the yearning, the longing not to be cut of from the natural rhythms,
about the courage to speak from source,
about being vulnerable and still trusting.
We dived deeper, trying to understand what is ‘being wild and natural’’ – as is part of our guiding question.
… untamed, but with a structure…
… listening, tuning in to one self…
… intangible, but present…
… beyond articulation…
… so alive, but like a whisper…
And what is ‘a collective’?
… a safe holding in order to be wild…
… to imagine the unimaginable, the undefined…
… where the future is born…
Being natural and wild in a collective, is giving space for each orbit.
(as the electrons, quarks etc. in a molecule)
But there was way more to unfold!
There had been a story shared about an encounter with a morning dove, with the realisation ‘the bird knows we are in this together’; another story of a deer leading the human to show its little ones; and a meeting with a fern in an experience of total unity.
Then pain came up of being misguided into the belief in fragmentation, the belief in a chasm, the betrayal of higher and lower…
We relate to the words, the concepts…
Instead of relating with the being itself, with respect. L. shared this with her tears and said: “I have to remake myself; my mind sees it, but my cells don’t know…”
The cells would know soon enough…
We took a long lunch pause to let this rich content sink in and let it digest a bit. We were mostly in silence and on our own. We reconvened on the screened-in porch. In the morning we had gathered in the living room, then the sun had called us out in front of the house after the break, but by noon it had already become too hot!
The porch is a bit long and narrow for a circle of seven chairs, we were sitting more in an oval, than a circle. Not much was spoken… long stretches of silence unfolded…
The morning had brought the realisation of the importance and simple act of “I see you”, which brought back the deep realisation from a constellation in a previous Women Moving the Edge gathering, where the representative of Earth has said: “The simple act of witnessing me, is amplifying my resilience.”
In the silence I was musing on all of this.
What if we remove fixed boundaries and witness the essence?
What if we replace identity with uniqueness?
Authenticity doesn’t seem to need a fixed boundary to be in a relationship or in resonance…
This was all going on in my thinking, but energetically, in my body, a shifting was going on, a recalibration in my cells and energy system to our new understanding. I had to lay down to let the energy doing its thing.
B. called for movement, felt a need to stretch her body, as if her body needed to expand. She invited all of us to do the same. The circle disappeared in silence and each of us was following the energy in her body as naturally as we could… some silent, some little noises made, some deeper breathing, some responding to sounds of birds and insects outside.
Again it was silent for a long time. Eventually, we ended up sitting and lying in a half circle, all facing outwards, in total connection, communion, resonance with nature around us, so present and close, with only the veil of the porch screen.
There were tree frogs telling a story,
then they were listening.
We were listening,
then listened to.
Witnessing going on in all directions.
I could sense ‘the collective’ of the forest becoming almost tangible – more present than the individual trees.
Because we were, as a collective, witnessing the whole?
It was magic.
It was amazing, fascinating and not anything I had experienced before. We were all in awe of what happened.
We came into rapport with nature,
as embodied human beings.
We reconnected with our indigenosity,
we wove ourselves back into nature,
the fragmentation undone,
the bridge re-established.
We became wild again.
The wild is what is
Because of the constellation lunch was late and we reconvened halfway the afternoon, back on the porch where we had this incredible interweaving with nature the day before. Judy invited us to check in, but we were silent again. Sitting in a half circle we were all facing outwards, with nature filling half of the circle.
Back to the overall question of our gathering: What if we could experience being natural, wild beings in a collective, in deeper mutual relationship with natural rhythms and cycles of the earth? Important insights came up.
The wild is what is.
Simple sentence, but with profound implications.
The wild is what is.
This tied me back to the importance of witnessing; the noticing, the seeing of what is present – including the being seen, and being witnessed. As someone summed it up: In resonance the wildness is present.
So wildness is not how we normally picture it: being wild like a wild lion in the bush, or being wild as drunken youngsters at a music festival. No, being wild is being indigenous, in mutual relationship with all aspects of what exists around us. It is being in resonance with all of life – the proverbial plastic bags included.
The wild life
This was our last morning together. The sun was still present, with the promise of more summer to come. We spoke to the question: What do we now know about being wild and natural beings? Here a list of insights mentioned in our collective:
- gift the time of listening to yourself
- deep listening – a kind of attunement – a kind of anchoring in – is becoming one with the whole
- every cell, every nerve can listen for the subtle cues to bring us into balance, into wholeness
- show up open and ready – and not exhausted – for this kind of listening, for collective presencing
- in listening to the middle, something more is possible, it is a totally natural way of accessing information and knowing. This capacity gets amplified in the collective and that has a lot of juice for me; and juice feels wild!
- unwinding from the stories of history in my body
- see and acknowledge also the pain, witness it, is necessary before the new can come in – harmony is not shutting pain and ugliness out
- witnessing is not hard to do!
- it is possible to act focused and aligned without a plan, on true course
- the wild and the natural is seeking us, wanting a mutual relationship; the dissonant will then fall aside
- ‘they’ – seen and unseen – were looking at us
- everyone is welcome to the circle, no matter how open or not.
- Thank you for showing up as who you are
- I see you – Eye see you.
- The gifts of the wild are: the field, the seeing, the being seen.
- Reclaiming the word ‘wild’, in a grounded sense – coming from a place of stillness and gratitude – it takes you on your path.
And there was more!
After the break we gathered again in our favored spot, the screened-in porch. More information wove itself together around the future and this piece of land that had hosted us so well and profoundly. The information was offered from messages received during the night, from books, from experiences a long, long time ago… and the tapestry woven was magic and very meaningful for the owner.
The last messages came through…
Something is excited that we are starting to get it.
There is a flow between us here and the trees there.
Seeing and being seen.
There is a shared flow and joy.
There is so much more. You don’t know how big this is!
Open and receive.
I have been in-formed.
It is not about self.
Being as mycelium.
The wild is emergent.
Next: 8.4 The next, elegant, minimal step
If you are looking for a pdf of this section, just send me a message!