Living as an ecosystem
Just as the individual is a process and a becoming – and not at all a fixed entity – so, of course, is any team or group also a continuously evolving and unfolding process. In our search to capture the essence of this particular piece of the puzzle we call Collective Presencing, we came up with the concept of ‘Living as an Ecosystem’. Opening to and practicing the We-in-Now is quite different than what we classically refer to as ‘group dynamics’, as here we transcend all ingrained patterns in any of the individuals making up the group. This is an embodiment of the new paradigm where everything is interwoven and interpenetrating back and forth, while being together with others in the wider world.
Collective Presencing as a whole can be seen as a practice for teams, groups or communities holding an intention to evolve. The We-In-Now is about learning to be, speak and act as a human ecosystem. Observing what is in We-In-Now means noticing that a collective energy has brought us together, is inviting us to become conscious of its purpose and to live out its potential. Accepting what is in We-In-Now means accepting this collective soul journey, which requires us to embrace growing intensity at all levels – ‘not-knowing-yet’ being a crucial and difficult piece of it. The next step, Honouring what is in We-in-Now, means embracing and integrating collective pain, often concealed in personal stories. It invites us to hold cultural pain and deep cultural differences, realising that these will not disappear. Ever. The culminating step is Living what is in We-in-Now, a full embodiment of living – in speaking, knowing and acting – as an ecosystem.
Quote from participant:
We were wondering about: What is the transformative dynamic? What made us come to this point?
Many elements were named…
start from silence…
walk the talk…
contain the pain and destructive forces…
emptying for the whole world…
start from diversity…
trust the system…
listening to life itself…
But the real answer was to me:
A community that has the willingness and the practice to tune into the notes of grace.
In the current mainstream paradigm, the coexistence of the individual and the collective is seen as a polarity, or at least as a tension. We-in-Now, as we have described it in its many facets so far, transcends this polarity and frames the tension differently. A collective inevitably consists of individuals, and we come to see our personal boundaries not as barriers that separate us as distinct beings, but as the interface where we can constantly connect with others and with our surroundings.
In the paradigm of collective presence and collective authenticity, the personal actually borders on the impersonal. Uniqueness and diversity are seen as features of the complexity that is life. Judy, my co-initiator of Women Moving the Edge, started researching the link between the personal and the impersonal before our project took form. Her findings led her to state that “the personal is important as the starting point, as it is the doorway to the impersonal.”
Religion and spirituality in their different forms have mainly offered us a view that shows us the individual on one side and the impersonal (however you want to name it) on the other side, with nothing in between – unless, perhaps some priests to act as intermediaries. Here, we state that the group, the collective, the team can be seen as an intermediate step from the individual to the impersonal and that, on this level, we can learn to integrate the qualities of our uniqueness with the qualities and principles of life. Bonnitta Roy sees the planetary level as a meso-level between the individual and the cosmos. In contrast, I think we need first to practice in smaller groups!
Some people find the concept of the impersonal somewhat cold – as if all the life and juice have been extracted. What I am pointing to here, though, is to living your uniqueness fully in the visceral realisation that life, the whole, this group, can reach its potential only if you participate with your full life force. Judy expresses this in her blog: “My experience is that evolution is freeing itself in and through me. As personality becomes the servant to soul, to planetary and cosmic impulse and intention, the impersonal becomes the outward manifestation of the personal. Convergence into oneness – as evolution, seeking ground in this realm – finds its freedom and unique balance in and through me.” (Blog Judy 110612) Otto Scharmer, interviewed by her, said it in these words: “The capital ‘S’ Self in a very intimate way, is kind of connected with the Collective Self, and actually it serves as the gateway, or it kind of is the vehicle for the Collective Self to come to being.”
In this reciprocal dance between the individual and the collective, the individual provides the gift of vulnerability and authenticity, which opens a gateway for the collective to step through. Any holding back, or fear of being vulnerable, holds back the whole collective. It can feel like a sudden turn-around, realising that in being vulnerable (and sometimes needing to be strongly invited or nudged into that vulnerability), something new bursts through and feels very vibrant and alive!
Quotes from participants:
The juice for me is in the collective where we’re all very present. Inter- independence! It is about the individual being really present (independent) and present to the interrelationship, the wholeness of the collective.
This is very much how I identify myself these days as I see myself as a constant interweaving of different conversations. They all are kind of related, they build on each other, they weave concepts and ideas closer together or weave a new colour in. The cloth that is woven is never finished, keeps on changing and becomes wider, bigger and deeper. And this doesn’t only happen for myself, it also happens in the collective I’m most related to. Mostly women, I notice now.
To take the notion of ecosystem as the main identification means I drop more and more any attachment to form; or maybe better to say: any attachment to stable form. What I am seeking for these days is dynamic balance. There is nothing linear in that, but it is an always moving in many directions and levels.
Our minds, used to separation and distinctions, have difficulty grasping that there is a kind of unity – or similarity – of content and process at different levels, and a kind of fusing of the individual and the collective. Nevertheless, we have to work with our own experience and awareness, the building blocks of our own knowledge – we cannot do otherwise. This is why it is important to have diversity in the circle. What if the experience of We-in-Now is a deep integration of our animal nature – this natural, basic and intuitive stance of always feeling connected, always ready for relationship, that doesn’t think and act as separate beings – as we experience with our cats, dogs, horses and other animals?
As in previous chapters, this one ends with an overview of this part of the map. This is another occasion to remember that going through this process is rather messy and chaotic – it does not flow neatly from box to box as it appears in the matrix!
Observing what is in We-In-Now
Learning to become present in your self is a journey in itself. Learning to become present as a collective is an altogether different proposition. Your body awareness must reach out to another level, where your individual sensing is working on behalf of the group. At the personal level, you can have body awareness, subtle sensing and inner knowing just for yourself. At the group level, our initial experience might be that of wanting the “we-all-feel-so-good-together” experience or, on the contrary, we might hate that kind of group feeling or find it irritating. The next level in, though, is a sense of subtle discernment: where is this group going? Is it moving in the direction of the shared inquiry? How can I use my body-sense to further and support the emerging insights? For this to happen, your senses need to be attuned to clarity, truth, love, support… this is beyond any steps in individual emotional development.
Observing what is in We-in-Now, we notice that this delicate, energetic collective field is much more than the sum of the present participants. Each person shows up with her or his own authenticity, as fully as possible, and gets to see and experience how (s)he is woven into the collective purpose. On the surface it might be clear what has brought us together – a question or an invitation – but what might be beneath that, the collective potential, the collective form of a soul’s calling? We can start to be aware of it only when we engage with each other in this collective endeavour. We soon find that we live in kinship with each other – and with our surroundings. By placing our attention on what may seem at first to be very intangible, we begin to develop our own connection to that collective potential. This realisation will lead to truly coherent creation. Slowly but surely, the song of the collective will appear through all the diversity present.
Accepting what is in We-In-Now
As we move through the collective journey we each hold the circle and the circle holds each of us. We witness and are witnessed. We each open and reveal what we often keep inside – a gift for each, a gift from each. But it might take some time to see the collective potential through all of this; to get a sense of how the diversity will reveal something novel for all present. The not-knowing-yet can take more time than our habitual habits can tolerate, and they will try to kick in. In me, in you. Can we accept this? Accepting what is in We-in-Now? Can we trust the process and each contribution? Can we link with radical patience, trusting that the innovative and emergent will show itself in right timing? Radical patience and radical trust in process and people is a radical act, but a very basic and simple one: just accept what is, right here, right now (including all the ways you don’t, yet).
Honouring what is in We-in-Now
Just as the individual, in her journey of becoming more aware and present, will hit layers or spots of personal pain, so too, in this deeper collective practice, we will hit different forms of collective – or cultural – pain. These unconscious memories can be revealed in the sharing of participants’ stories, and can also pop up through unconscious layers of physical memories. We are not used to recognising these stories and experiences as expressions of collective trauma, and we certainly don’t have a framework for putting them into context.
Quotes from participants:
What happened was that I was already feeling sick coming onto the call, felt OK during the call and then afterwards I had to go and lie down. I really was sick. I found out later on that others had the same symptoms, but at the time it felt like heaven and earth were moving through me – a journey of descent to purge. I could feel in my body the longing to purge, but not quite enough letting go, or something. I was barely conscious. It was quite a violent experience in the physical. I knew at the time there was no way to reflect or analyse – I just had to be present, and then a deep sleep afterwards. ……. It’s taken most of a week for my body to return to a healthy balance again. ……… It felt like something I personally am holding, and it felt like something much larger. Something in the field, yet I’m holding it also personally.
It was also touching me on a very deep level. All the times that I had invited the other women to speak from the place within and to drop from the head, and the already known – the memory – I had asked them from my need to be with me. Be with me in this quest of remembering to be in reciprocal relation with all of matter: the trees, the rocks, the ocean, the flowers and much more. There is magic in relating with ‘life within matter’; magic that we will need in order to heal the wounds of our world and to solve the many intertwined problems on the Earth. But the memories of the witch hunts and the collapse of Atlantis reside also on this level of knowing within, and I am very, very afraid to use this power in a way that might be not life-affirming but manipulative. I need all the others to go there with me, and sense together with me: Is the knowing from within pure or somehow distorted?
All these stories, these experiences, as subtle and real as they are, point clearly towards our interconnectedness, woven together over vast stretches of time and space. This is mostly invisible to our conditioned eyes, intangible to our dulled senses, but still there to notice, and it has a huge influence. It reveals a deeper sense of interdependence, flowing into an embodiment of our systemic nature that has always already been part of us, even if we didn’t realise.
The shared exploration in which we now participate takes on a larger perspective, and we see our own soul’s calling integrated in the collective one. To put it the other way round (as it is so difficult to describe as one continuous unfolding): the collective soul is penetrating us, working itself out through our full participation. We come together to continually inquire and sense into this larger multi-layered collective soul. Do we realise how evolution is moving through us as a collective? As humanity, we are beginning to build this more expansive capacity. We are taking our first steps, it seems; and yet trusting our inner, subtle and collective knowing.
Living what is in We-in-Now
Excerpt from blog:
I can hardly describe what happened in us and in between us. First it was named as a not-knowing, and later also as a not-talking… but then, what is it?
We seem to listen, to tune into, to sense…
the delicate, the subtle, the fine, the intangible…
It seems to be possible to access – in our bodies – the unformed, the unmanifest…
the sound of silence…
suddenly it was there: a connected silence; a tangible in-between space; a sacred space; a space full of possibilities; a generative space…
An essential practice and capacity of this living-as-an-ecosystem is Collective Sourcing – Collective Insighting as Bonnie calls it. It is a new human capacity that we are starting to practice in different groups around the globe. So far, the process has this kind of sequence: coming together around a common theme or question, experiencing and noticing the diversity of perspectives and experiences, hanging in there, moving through a chaotic phase where nothing seems to work, where nothing is appealing, somehow being able to move through that phase, and then things begin to shift and there is a different quality in the air. The not-knowing-yet and the ongoing attempts to be in a generative dialogue eventually lead to a point best imaged as a collective leap. It is difficult to convey how it feels: a higher vibration, gentle sparks, very alive, high energy…. Articulating what we are noticing when this shift in the quality of energy happens, when this collective attention comes together, can make it more conscious to all present and can further hone the shared attention.
This experience feels so alive that people are becoming addicted to being in that space of receptivity for the new. We all recognise internally when we’re in touch with it, even when it’s still too tender to be named. The vibration is raised and we have called it into being by the question and our constant attention, yet we haven’t ‘done’ it. This field of interconnectedness is always present; we need only to rest our attention there. It is likely that at this point in the process there comes a redefinition or an adaptation of the guiding question, because together we have reached a higher vista in the inquiry.
At the outset, we were tempted to label ‘it’ as a new entity – for a while, we called it the Circle Being – seeking, with our conditioned dualistic minds, to make it into another thing-like being. These days, I think that it is more like a shared consciousness of interweaving and interpenetration that gets established. Through that awareness, a new potential is within reach and it seeks to let itself know and be known – and this is possible only through us, the individuals in the group, with our bodies capable of feeling it. It is quite palpable, this quality of shared presence. It’s a change in atmosphere. Things slow down – time shifts. A quality of depersonalisation sets in, and we have left behind our habit of casual talking-for-the-sake-of-it. Now, we speak only when we are moved by the larger purpose, the collective Open Will, which needs a voice through us. One hallmark of this state is when, from the not-knowing-yet space, someone voices a proposal and the rest move authentically and easily with it. When the proposal does not come from this shared attention, no one follows and nothing happens.
Excerpt from blog:
Our closing was an expression of this ‘being tuned’. No one spoke about it, but at a certain moment everything was said, all the last practical questions got an answer, and we all ‘came down’ from the chairs to the meditation cushions. Silently we gave hands and somebody started humming Amazing Grace… everybody joined in… and we were right on time to go for lunch.
Sometimes we would describe this as: “We’ve dropped into the field.” But clearly, we didn’t drop into anything – not something that exists outside of us. Rather, we now embodied the realisation of our shared becoming. We become aware that we are invited into – and engaged and committed in and as the awareness of – this ecosystem, where boundaries don’t have the same meaning they used to. This is how I understand Thich Nhat Hanh’s concept of the Collective Buddha.
Otto: It strikes me that the quality of the collective field here can be described as a clearing in the woods. It has a vertical dimension and an openness. And it is held by a surrounding outer or horizontal boundary. It’s a holding space for the emergence of a new impulse.
Circle of Seven: When you talk about following an impulse, it feels related to what you said about an incubator, a place where there’s an intention to develop capacities to pay attention to life’s intent. Being true to that intent within the boundary of this dedicated time together defines what the Circle of Seven does. We use our own storylines, situations, and connections in service to that emergence. We’re not here for ourselves. I trust that what comes in the flow as ‘my’ challenge or seemingly personal situation has meaning beyond me. Though it is personal, it is respectfully placed in the clearing because we trust it also relates in some way to broader factors that need clarification or realignment.
– Circle of Seven, interview by Otto Scharmer
This collective awareness is aligned with a collective soul level that seems to have a will of its own. Perhaps a more practical description would be that we are ever more in tune with the collective potential we have committed ourselves to. Sometimes it felt like it was not us deciding what we were going to do; the deeper potential was asking us to listen in more attentively to what wanted to manifest in the world through us. It most definitely was not always what we had in mind beforehand! This is what we call Living what is in We-in-Now. It is the constant focus of our listening and deeper sensing that attracts threads of potential that resonate with the original intent of our shared inquiry.
To help us understand this link between the personal and the collective, we often use the metaphor of the mycelium, the vast network of underground cells that permeate the soil to take charge of fungal decomposition. The mushrooms we see above ground are but the fruit or the flower of the mycelium. If the ‘I’ is the mushroom and the ‘We’ is the mycelium, who, then, am I when I drop my separate identity as my place of basic grounding? It might feel frightening at first to drop one’s identity, but it feels so alive that it is quite easy to transcend this subtle fear.
Don’t forget that we are in a process, in a movement, in a becoming. So far, I have never been in a group that has been able to reach this shared awareness and then sustain it for hours on end. Perhaps that is not what is needed. I don’t know (yet). Most of the time we experience a back and forth from ordinary awareness to this space of collective presence. Sometimes it is enough for one person to speak from the place of habitual patterns and the whole energy can dissipate. But the continued intuitive sensing will allow us to move into the collective presencing space again. We can ask questions that lead us deeper into the not-knowing-yet, we can listen for pop-out points that bring us to an edge of clarity and novelty.
We definitely need our gentleness here, the friendship we talked about earlier. It is sometimes quite tempting to get annoyed or frustrated when someone makes a remark with sparks of judgment in it. But we can (learn to) stay in awareness, in gentleness towards one another and let these hiccups pass. Life goes on and there are other times and spaces when the click will happen; all in right context and right timing.
We have been attentively watching what happens when our will is opened collectively. Once we were three participants in this process, and we were able to write a report collectively. All of us were used to writing on our own, directly from source and we engaged with this subtle knowing together to make this possible. In the book, Inside Out. Stories and Methods for Generating Collective Will to Create the Future We Want, Tracy Huston talks about the ‘collective interior’, pointing to this shared consciousness space. We believe astonishing magic is possible from there: bringing forward that which is waiting to be born and take its rightful place.
Implications for the notion of Leadership
Excerpt from blog:
There is no separation between being and becoming;
it is living-as-the-system,
It is living-what-emerges,
no separation between leader and what is led.
There is no border,
What form can leadership take – does it need to take – once we learn to live as an ecosystem? What could ‘being a leader’ mean in the knowledge that you are an inseparable piece of the whole? Like tango dancing, when it is really creative, it is not a dance of a woman and a man, but it becomes ‘a being with four legs’. Who is leading? Who is led? Is there a difference between who is creating and what is created?
In the process of Collective Prensencing, the person shifts her base of identity from her personality to the whole group that is present, the context it resides in and the potential that it holds. Leadership is thus no longer related to personality, but becomes fluid and field-based, residing in each one present. Peter Merry wrote: “… we need to think of leadership as leadership in the Field – regardless of specific formal positions in the structures, etc. And we continually need to implicate ourselves. So there is a shift from “you” to “us”; a world where the One and the Many are transcended but included. ….. This will be in many different functions and levels in organisations and societies, woven together in an ecological holarchy where there is no judgment about the ‘level’, simply natural functional fit.”
So leadership becomes a collective function, taken up in a natural and organic way by each of those present, depending on what is sparked in each of us. In this space of collective awareness, who leads is continuously shifting from one to the other. There might be some who are holding more of the whole, or who are keeping an eye more on the inquiry and the intention, but ultimately we are all in it together. In this way we are able to hold much larger fields of inquiry and much greater spaces of potential and emergence. That is most likely what we are training for in such groups.
Quote from participant:
My experience of collective intelligence and what we can achieve collectively when everybody can contribute what they know/are, is that it’s exponentially greater than anything we can do in following a traditional leader. Makes me incredibly hopeful for our future, because once you’ve seen it, you just can’t deny it. And it’s pushing us into a very intense learning period as humanity.