Chapter 4: I and Potential: Collective Wisdom
This chapter started out called ‘I and Evolution’, then became ‘I and Future’; ‘Evolution’ and ‘future’ are such all-encompassing concepts, though, that they just aren’t specific enough to serve in concrete situations. However, as I gradually gained clarity about what we were really inquiring into and relating with, I came to see that we are expanding our awareness not from ‘here’ to ‘there’, in a straight line from the present to the future, but rather from what is already manifest to what is possible. That which is possible, the potential, is present right now. It might not be visible or tangible to our gross sensory organs, but it is nonetheless perceptible to our subtle sensing. If we, as a group or team, were able to integrate this subtle knowing with all the other means of knowing at our disposal, we would be astounded by the wisdom we collectively hold.
4.1 Development, evolution and participation
History has not reached a stagnant end, nor is it triumphantly marching towards the radiant future. It is being catapulted into an unknown adventure.
– Edgar Morin
Our world is getting bigger, complexity is increasing, chaos is spreading. Nowhere are quick, easy answers to be found, nor can we rely on the past. What is asked from us to deal with all this? Or is ‘dealing with’ the wrong verb here, implying that something bad or difficult is happening to us, imposed from outside? Perhaps it is more appropriate to speak of ‘engaging with’ or ‘participating in’. It seems that we humans are being gently – or not so gently – nudged, asked to grow: to embrace more, increase our collective capacity to navigate complexity, access deeper places of inner ground, grow our roots down deeper than we have done so far, embrace more of our environment, open up to emerging novelty, learn from nature and listen to the future… the possibilities are endless.
Are we learning from nature and from the future?
Or are we engaging with nature and with potential?
Or are we participating in nature and in potential?
Or are we participating as nature and as potential?
The subtle differences between these four sentences contain worlds of difference. As we move through the chapters of this book, we are leaving behind the separation and fragmentation that still dominate mainstream Western thinking and speaking. As this action research has unfolded, it has sunk in ever deeper that separation – between humans, between subject and object, between ideas, between human and non-human – is simply not how reality is. Of course, there is continual influence back and forth, but not in any linear, causal way. Which is not to say that what came before has nothing to do with what comes after. What is perceptible at the level of subtle energy does bear some relation to what becomes manifest (or not). The intention that we set has some influence on how things turn out. But it is only in retrospect that we can see which chain of events led to the outcome we got.
The two mayor parts at the heart of this book, Circle of Presence and Circle of Creation, depict an ever-expanding movement of integration and association, inside and outside, across two dimensions (on the map, not in reality!). We have seen how the vertical axis represents our inner alignment, where body, mind, spirit and soul move into ever greater resonance and alignment with one another. The horizontal axis spreads out around us in all directions, as we connect with others, our neighbors and our so-called enemies; where we are conscious of our environment and act accordingly; where we can feel connected with the moon and the stars; where we know that the health of our physical body depends on so many different bacteria. It is the line of interconnectedness, and it leads to balance and harmony with wider circles all around us.
But life cannot be grasped as two dimensions and little boxes depicting next steps, like in these maps. Life didn’t start as an ‘I’ and then moved outwards from there – quite the opposite, most likely. The I-identity takes time to establish itself, but then assumes dominance as the core or essence of what life is about. In reality, ‘I’ is just a node – albeit a unique one – in a whole ecology. My model and description only starts there with ‘I’ because I grew up in the West, not because it is the most real or has more importance or validity. The ‘I’ is just a starting point in this whole web called life.
I have always seen change within the framework of development. That might be the influence of my background as a psychologist, and later grounded in Wilhelm Reich’s basic theory of Character Structure, which was the backbone of the psychotherapy training I did in the 90’s. Later my theory of change integrated living systems theory, where systems are always seen as ‘complex adaptive systems’. I used to prefer the notion of ‘complex evolving systems’, as I had never seen a system return to a prior status quo after the so-called disruption had ended. There was a time when I was taken by the concept of ‘intentional’ or ‘conscious’ evolution, but I later learned that there is a danger in seeing evolution as a step-by-step linear journey. That would be tantamount to conflating evolution with our linear ideas of ‘progress’, with lower and higher, more and less evolved people, cultures, animals and so on. Now I have settled on ‘complex dynamic systems’, where the notion of a back-and-forth dynamic is more inherent.
There are no fixed points in people, nature, or systems – nowhere. There is always some form of unfolding, something that is different than before, for better or for worse, depending on our perspective. We have many names for it: development, evolution, transformation, change. There seems to be a never-ending vista of possibilities, a fathomless ocean of potential, wherever we look, all the way up and all the way down, and in all directions around us. How do we engage with this potential? Are we aware of it when we talk about development or evolution? What if engaging with this potential is what it means to participate in life? To participate as life?
In this connection, it is helpful to train our minds and bodies to perceive systems and systemic dynamics. Because we are ourselves complex systems, we are always part of complex dynamic systems – indeed we constantly live embedded in a multitude of them. Change in one part of the system will influence many levels and many other nodes at the same time. And yet I still see a danger in the way ‘systems thinking’ often shows up in the world, with its neat diagrams showing feedback loops back and forth, without fully appreciating that we, who are looking at it, are all also part of it, in it – that it truly matters how we participate in it, how we participate as it.
As I see things now (and who knows how I will see it by the time this book is published) we are not participating in something, as if we could step in and out of it like a swimming pool. Rather, we participate as nature, as life. Whether we believe we are participating fully or not, it is still life happening – life doesn’t really care. And yet there is always more potential that can be manifested, sooner or later – although maybe not now. Somehow it is about how we let life happen in and through us, instead of somehow blocking it. This is not a passive ‘let life take over’ attitude, but an active letting go of our habitual patterns in order to engage with and in the ongoing unfolding of our individual and collective potential.
Engaging as the future or as potential means we cannot plan our goals and push on until we have attained them. Engaging with what is possible means sensing what wants to be born, questing for what has the most life energy, sensing which seed is ready to sprout. We can cultivate this inner knowing of what is to unfold. It might be clear, then, that the future is not in some way already written and ‘decided’, just waiting for us to uncover it. To engage with the future is to understand that we are participating in it, embodying our part in its potential. The very act of bringing our attention to what is unfolding, listening deeply for the novelties that are revealing themselves, is a creative force that will influence what is coming into manifestation – but not in any linear way. We can then understand ourselves as co-creators in this synergy with all of what is in and around us.
Next: 4.2 Circle of Presence
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