The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said that reality arises through a series of moments which feel into the past moment as they feel for(ward) the next moment. For Whitehead, the action in-between was nothing at all like the tight wire between the physicists’ cause and effect. Rather, Whitehead thought of this feeling-process—which he called “prehension” – as incredibly sensitive, provocative, and loving; and he construed it as the long, long moment of possibility, freedom and choice, in the timeless space of becoming, before the actual occasion is concretized into being. If you situated yourself imaginatively inside Whitehead’s process reality, you would experience yourself as a living center of transformational process. Without a sense of separate self, nevertheless you would feel the act of cause-creating-effect-creating cause… and in the a-temporal pulsations between cause and effect (actual and potential) you would discover vast promise and freedom. The more you prehended your neighbors and relations, the more extensive you would become, until you felt the in-becoming of one body through the simultaneous presence of many bodies. The more stabilized your prehension, over the long slow moment of feeling, the more expansive you would become, until you realized the in-becoming of one novel moment through the simultaneous presencing of many moments.
– Bonnitta Roy, Post-dialectical Excerpts, 2013
Conceptual knowing alone is too thin
You might remember that Women Moving the Edge was born out of frustration with the limited conceptual and conversational approach in the original Moving the Edge gathering. Tina said: “There is something I don’t know here; like a language that is not developed yet. The tools that I have and have been introduced to are like having only an egg to attack an elephant. It makes sense to come together and explore this together with women. In a gathering like Women Moving the Edge it could be interesting to inquire how we can deal with this; breaking down all ideas of how this should be done and breaking down these concepts of the personal and impersonal. Dancing and drawing and maybe other ways? Can we look into that as a collective? Maybe what I’m saying is that the form we use – (conceptual) conversation – is really limiting in itself.”
Exclusively conceptual knowing – repeating information that we acquired before this moment – is too thin for our practice of Collective Presencing. You might wonder: too thin for what exactly? The answer has to do with our relationship with Life Itself. In this new practice we are looking to experience life happening fully in the act of knowing itself. This only happens in “phenomenological experiences where certain aspects of the perspectival world drop away.” (Bonnitta Roy, Post-metaphysical Views)
Just as in large-group conversations using formats like World Café and Open Space Technology, where we convene and design so that ‘the whole system’ is in the room and every voice can be heard, it dawned on me early on in our project that this kind of ‘prehension’ – the whole system of how we know, through many different faculties – needs to be present too!
This quickly led us to the notion of ‘Wholeness of Knowing’. A knowing that includes all senses, all modalities and all the ways in which we know. In the beginning I framed it as a difference between feminine knowing and masculine knowing, but even that is too small a space. Actually, it is a total integration of all possible kinds of knowing. It is like ‘getting something’ you never understood before while drawing some colours and lines on a piece of paper; or intuiting what you need to do next while walking in nature or taking a shower. The knowing is in the totality of your being, not just in your head. It is as if your cells, your brain, your emotions, your body, your being all understand something – all at once, all in one piece, with a certainty that doesn’t waver.
Excerpt from my blog:
My shaky moment was this morning, when Judy tried to go into some design of the first day and my body told me that we were ‘not there yet’. I get a lot of clues from my body about being on track or not, about something that might be missing. Mostly it’s attuned to whether we have addressed the real issue or not (yet). Sharing all of this with her, it became clear that this ‘wholeness of knowing’ is exactly one of the core elements of what we have to bring into the world.
In the words of Arnold Mindell: in the emergent you need all channels; you need the phenomenological. Since the inception of Women Moving the Edge, we were aware that conceptual knowing alone was too small to capture our experience and help us reach for the next. Over the years we used everything we had and everything that was available: dancing, singing, walking in nature, silence, slowing down, free drawing, listening to music, pictures, systemic constellations, collective hot tub in the snow in the dark – all aspects of our human embodiment. In these embodied practices, another knowing becomes available that we badly need to see more clearly: an all-at-once knowing.
Philosopher Christian de Quincey wrote a whole book – Radical Knowing – to emphasise and clarify that mental knowing alone is too thin to understand the world and to know what to do in the world. He states: “Here is the dilemma: On the one hand, we have lost touch with the deep foundation of reason in the feelings of the body, and the network of feelings in nature. On the other hand, we have not made full use of the gift of reason we already have. This second problem is rooted in the first. But both must be worked on together. Our problem, then is not really too much, but not enough, reason – not enough of the right kind: clear reason rooted in the feelings of the body and open to transcendental shafts of wisdom.”(p.35) He goes on to explain the difference between truth and wisdom: “By wisdom I mean an often ineffable knowing born of direct experience, a kind of intuitive pragmatism that works to the extent that it takes account of the whole. It is inclusive and integrative, and invariably involves empathy and compassion.”
Dave Snowden, expert on Knowledge Management, begins some of his keynote speeches with a quote from Polanyi (from the book Knowing and Being): “While tacit knowledge can be possessed by itself, explicit knowledge must rely on being tacitly understood and applied. Hence all knowledge is either tacit or rooted in tacit knowledge. A wholly explicit knowledge is unthinkable.”
Bonnitta Roy mentions – as the kind of scientific work that actually matters: the integration in the mystic scientist – the four movements in scientific discovery, as described by philosopher Roy Bhaskar: “It can look trans-personal or mystic or even neurologic or psychiatric – Wilber calls them ‘state changes’ – but what we mean is that certain fixed or perspectival ways of knowing fall away and the knowing (with its articulation) is phenomenological, in the moment.” Myself, I have always held the intuitive and experiential knowing that the more I conceptually and consciously know, the more surface I have to apply my intuition and sensing to; which then makes for this mystic scientist.
Wholeness of Knowing implies taking the time and making the effort to become conscious and articulate our inner sensing into language that can be understood by others. People with a strong intuition or good subtle sensing capacities sometimes miss out on any solid expression in language. “I just know” or “That’s how it feels to me” is not sufficient when we aim for collective insight and generativity. The point is that it is possible, provided we pause long enough, to allow the inner knowing and subtle sensing to encounter our conscious brain and let the latter find words, stories, movements and metaphors to express the former to others.
The language and knowledge of the consciousness blessed with a nondual imperience/experience obtains two unique qualities: ‘distinction without separation or differentiation’ and ‘knowledge through identity or knowing by being’.
– Yasuhiko Genku Kimura (FB April 18 2013)
In most of the gatherings that we convened, we started, after some good framing, with music and dancing, and/or with expressive pictures that spoke in a special way. These modalities help to relax the body and the habitual mind and invite everyone into the felt sense (the concept introduced by Eugene Gendlin). The felt sense becomes like a portal into a more embodied wholeness; it includes and goes beyond the perspectival and conceptual thinking. What is longing to emerge is a new kind of insighting that hasn’t existed before, a knowing that can’t be grasped or hijacked by the mind alone. So the mind has to surrender to something more, something bigger… into a network of knowing on the spot.
Sometimes there is a tendency to link sourcing with going to a deep, still and serious place, but the energy can also have movement, lightness and a lot of sparkling. The knowing through drawing, dancing, nature, constellations is beyond the language of a normal conversation. It has a non-verbal quality and brings along the subtle knowing in different ways.
Quote from participant:
Clarity of inner knowing leads to magic and our next step is how to do that together. Some elements:
There was something in the body;
There was wounding, fear and vulnerability;
There was clear asking;
There was moving to ground and to Earth itself;
The Earth is calling each soul to voice its inner knowing;
Then there is a spark and something is ignited.
In the inner stillness the trees, the rocks etc. can speak to us.
Practices of Embodiment
Quote from participant:
I experienced it – the movement and the dance – I was invited in and I made a conscious decision to go with it. The barriers seemed to disappear. I think, if I engage, the mind is moved to the background and I become more present.
Excerpts from my blog:
Judy and I both felt that this was enough words. We invited Eve-Marie to guide us in an experiment with drawing, using many colours. That was basically it: use colours and let them take over, drop your mind and your judgments, just go with the colours and the movement they evoke. “It is just paper.” “What would a four year old do now?” These were some of the questions that seduced us to a no-mind or less-mind space, the space of creativity. I loved to come to this point where it was just the fun of letting my hand move with the colours. Being present with the colours. Good stuff to come to an open mind!
Judy asked Karen to guide us in a body exercise that invited us to sense our bodies, look for an impulse, give it a way to express in the body and then come to rest again; cycle after cycle…
Any practice of embodiment is a movement away from a knowing restricted to mere thinking and conceptual language. In our habitual, conventional use of language we tend to speak from what we already know. Using modalities such as movement, nature and drawing invites a more direct way of knowing – a different kind of language. Most (Western/indo-European) languages create a distance between the experience and what we actually say. The practice of sourcing helps us learn to articulate insights from a place where we don’t already know.
Any practice of embodiment will develop our capacity to function like a tuning fork, sensing the energy in our own being and in the subtle present context. We invite the body’s wisdom into our wholeness of knowing. Like a finely tuned instrument, we can sense the timing of when to speak in a meeting and when to be silent. This is an exquisite level of sensitivity, of the sensual elegance of the embodied experience that we are only just beginning to cultivate.
What each of us individually knows and senses is very unique. Even how we articulate or bring our inner knowing forward will be unparalleled. While this might be obvious by now, nevertheless it has some implications, which are worth making explicit. Only I can know – checking into my whole being – when my knowing is fully authentic. This is my unique gift and contribution to the collective, and it applies to all of those present. This provides an excellent motivation for getting quite rigorous about stripping away habitual patterns. If I cave in too easily and allow others’ forms of knowing to take priority over mine, my task is to listen deeply and speak or share when I sense the need to. If I tend to speak more than others, now might be the time to learn more about the right timing of my contribution to the whole. It’s an invitation to allow my way of knowing to be as fully present as that of others – not less, not more. Others don’t occupy the same space. There’s no competition. No right or wrong, just more perspectives, eventually leading to collective insight. This kind of articulating, and the knowing that happens in the expression, brings more harmony than we normally expect from a conversation.
The synergy of different types of knowing
Process work shows the roundness of our universe. It shows that if we have the courage to follow unintentional signals to their edges, we do not fall out, but discover new worlds.
– Amy and Arny Mindell, Riding the Horse Backwards.
I have already mentioned that I used to see the world in terms of feminine and masculine characteristics. My trainer in constellation work, Johannes Schmidt, once called the feminine the ‘night consciousness’, related to the moon, darkness and all other such attributes. He says that when you look at somebody with day consciousness you see whom you encounter. With night consciousness, you approach them with your back, not with your eyes open. At the point when he explained this, it came as quite a revelation to me. Often I would clearly sense that I needed to attend a training or seminar, but without any clarity about what I wanted to learn. I would enroll and attend because I knew inside that I needed to be there. In a way, I showed up with my eyes closed. I participated in order to learn something, but didn’t know beforehand what I wanted or needed to learn. Johannes’ explanation gave me an early understanding of this Wholeness of Knowing, as a combination of different ways of knowing.
The real synergy between these and other kinds of knowing is of yet another nature. Firstly, there needs to be a balance in these paradoxical polarities: the intuition and sensing need a clear awareness to be able to speak their knowing. The conceptual understanding needs a clear embodiment to be able to ground the knowing in the here and now. Secondly, beyond this balance we aim for a deep synergy and a mutual enhancement of the two.
Is what I am doing leading me to feeling more alive? Does it hold my interest and curiosity? Does it express beauty in a unique and original way? Does it lead me to feeling more nourished and engaged? Does it capture or express the moment in a way that feels right and true? And does it connect me in some way to a larger sense of the whole? Such questions are answered more fully at the sensory level than the intellectual.
– Michael Jones
Quotes from participants:
There’s some kind of cellular, bodily aliveness, different levels of vibration in me – then that’s the layer or the experience of learning and integrating, even interpenetrating – it’s very subtle, and yet can be huge, almost explosive – that’s my experience of how this comes in, ever more into deeper and deeper parts of me. As this is alive in any of us, some level of vibration is there, attracting to it others who are seeking that, resonating with that.
It’s as if my whole body is a channel, not from my cognition; it feels like my whole body is engaged in it, an energy conduit of my trunk is open and clean, stuff is able to come through. It is an interesting sensation. There’s not that kind of mind or head engagement that I feel in a stimulating conversation. It’s a kind of calm presence and knowing.
It seems to me that the experience of the Wholeness of Knowing is forever expanding, as it has become more full and organic during each gathering. It’s quite incredible really. Each participant becomes a tuning fork and together we’re sensing into the field, creating novel insights or artifacts that weren’t there before. It’s a finely tuned way of knowing that we, as humanity, are just beginning to develop. When we come together in this way, I know that the possibilities are unlimited.
This kind of collective dialogue or inquiry does not move in a straight line, but meanders out in many, many directions. It seems that, in and through the conversation, we are creating a space – maybe a sphere or a container – of possible contributions to new insights and next steps. While some people talk of a ‘higher’ consciousness in this regard, we are seeking not a higher vibration but a more wide-ranging one – expanding in all kinds of directions and dimensions. Qualities related to this wider range include the beauty that is present, the resonance with both a wider context and a deeper experience, the listening to and response from the land and nature around us.
Helen wrote what I think is the bigger framing of what we have named the Wholeness of Knowing: “What keeps the universe expanding from each point in it is the search for knowing. The outcome of this search is not ‘more knowledge’ but ‘more relationship’ – greater embrace and interpenetration between the parts of the whole. …… It is not knowledge that is sacred, but the deliberate embrace of not-knowing, the opening up to the thirst for intimacy with more of God’s creation; surrendering up every part to not knowing and setting out on the eternal adventure of exploration, encounter and discovery of the manifold forms of being.”
Systemic Constellations as embodied collective knowing
Systemic constellation work, as it has grown out of family constellations, is a methodology that uses not only language, but also space, embodiment and relationship. Representatives of the elements of an issue or question report their bodily feelings and their inner senses. That is the phenomenological information that the facilitator has to work with. The representatives are like antennae receiving information from the ‘system’ or ‘field’. “We are embodied receptors”, my trainer would say. In general, representatives know nothing or next to nothing about the question or issue at hand, leaving them empty and available to receive this representational information.
The skills you need as a constellator – the facilitator of a systemic constellation – are the same ones that enhance our journey of becoming present: the capacity to defocus; bring your awareness away from the problem or issue as narrated by the client; listen with heart to all phenomena, including what is missing; be at ease with not knowing how things will unfold; maintain inner silence to let something come to light; show vulnerability in ultimate service to the system; perceive the phenomena as they are (without judging). The more I, as facilitator, am able to create an empty field within myself in this way, the more I am able to see, hear, perceive the information coming from the overall field, the relevant system for this issue at this moment.
In family constellations, the overall purpose is to disentangle different elements of the family system in order to restore the healthy flow of life and love, which will ultimately bring some relaxation or healing. Constellation work doesn’t bring instant solutions, but aims to unblock stuck energies and free the way for life, growth and evolution to happen. It reveals and releases the hidden and blocked dynamics in the system so that more energy and resources are available for innovation, co-creation and sustainability. If you are looking into the hidden dynamics of organisations, the focus can be similar in getting things untangled, but this way of working can also be used in very different contexts, like exploring how the market will respond to a new product, or how different product names resonate with customers.
Constellation work is always about seeing the bigger whole, through time and space; seeing what has been excluded from the system, including the history, the ancestors and any element that is not given its rightful place. What I find most interesting is how we can take a next step, using constellation work to support the novel to come forward, to help emergence come into manifestation, to generate more insights and actions that have life-affirming effects.
Constellations show us that it is possible to tap into information that is valuable to the issue holder, in other words, someone who cares about his or her issue. What if someone – or several people – care about the next step for the good of a certain culture, piece of land, or even humanity as a whole? What if we try to tap into the information related to ‘the more beautiful future our hearts know is possible’ (Charles Eisenstein)? What if we could set up representatives for struggling parties/nations, or planet-wide systems like the global economy, and learn how to relax and heal the system at that scale? I think it can be done, provided the issue holder(s) has a genuine motivation and the facilitator can embrace an awareness that transcends paradox.
Constellation work is essentially a systemic methodology, and it shows us again and again that every person, and every element, every energy, even every concept, exists only in and through its connections – all kinds of connections, in time and in space.
This implies that this work can impact and change not only the inner image of the issue holder but also other people involved in the system. This is still very difficult for our minds to grasp, since they are so used to physical cause-and-effect logic that they can’t really deal with the new paradigm where everything is already related with everything else in an ongoing process.
Constellation work is activating a representation of the issue at hand, as a complement to talking ‘about it’. The enactment of an issue brings real-time energy into the room in a way that an intellectual conversation cannot. In our various gatherings, the proposal to use constellation work would always come from one of the participants, towards the end of our time together. Curiously enough, it never occurred to me, as a constellator, to suggest it! All participants would become active players-representatives in the constellation by choosing an element that had shown itself in the conversations the days before. Representing this element and getting clear(er) on the relation with the other elements always added tremendously useful information and insight to our shared inquiry. Always, all participants would be deeply moved and receive breakthrough insights. The debrief afterwards would last a long time, as ever more information and insights continued to emerge. It is the bigger system, with its interweaving and interpenetration, that is understood more clearly in the minds, hearts and bodies of those present at the constellation. Even years later, some scenes and learnings from constellations we have done are shared and continue to have meaning in many other contexts.
Next: 8.3 What if it is easy?
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