The universe is not a place, it is a story; it is an unfolding creative event.
– Brian Swimme
I regard the essence of the notion of process as given by the statement: Not only is everything changing, but all is flux. That is to say, what is is the process of becoming itself, while all objects, events, entities, conditions, structures, etc., are forms that can be abstracted from this process.
– David Bohm, 1980
Back in 2005, Brian Swimme released a DVD set about the Powers of the Universe. In it he describes the basic universal powers he has discovered through his life’s work as a scientist and cosmologist. His teaching captivated me from beginning to end. These powers of the universe might surprise you: seamlessness; centration; allurement; emergence; homeostasis; cataclysm; synergy; transmutation; transformation; interrelatedness; radiance. These powers that inhabit and direct the vast universe are also at work and alive in us, whether we realise it or not. While our Western lifestyle might not feel very conducive to emergence, allurement, synergy, radiance, interrelatedness… still these qualities are within the grasp of each and every one of us, and available for deployment at any time.
In his talk about the power of emergence, Swimme tells us that the universe is not a place, it is a story. It is an ongoing creative event. I had to let that sink in. Deeply. If the universe really is a story, then everything in it is a story. In the first chapter I described being present as a process – the process of becoming present. I mentioned elsewhere how my teacher would repeat over and over: “We – are – a – process!” We are always becoming. Life is becoming. In recent years, a new branch of philosophy has emerged: process philosophy. It seeks to explain how every moment is always new, totally novel. Of course each moment is also built on previous moments, on our memories and what happened before, but there is always the possibility for novelty – in every moment!
If life is essentially an unfolding story, then there is no master plan – just a pattern of ever-expanding, ever-deepening, ever-intensifying interpenetration and interweaving, with all those universal powers at play. Ultimately, what we are exploring in these pages are the conditions that must be in place for us to intentionally deploy this capacity to live in the unfolding story of an ongoing creative event, collectively conscious. The universe is not a place, but an energetic pattern. Our lives and identities are not fixed, but unfolding. Our collapsing Western society is not a fixed thing: it, too, is an event that is evolving and becoming.
My spell checker still says generativity is not a word in the English dictionary. But Helen, my friend and linguist, says I can use it safely; it is by now part of our shared language. To me, it is the word that best captures the quality of this unfolding, creative event. In everything that we do, we can ask ourselves the question: does this enhance the life force? When we engage with one of these breakthrough questions, is this quality present in our conversation? Or is it heavy and (too) serious? What if all the collective action research we do from now on can tick the boxes on allurement, emergence, interrelatedness, synergy and the rest?
If we see life – and the projects we find important and the situations we interpret as serious problems – as a process with no master plan, then life becomes more an affair of tinkering. I didn’t know what the word ‘tinkering’ meant when I first read it in a blog post of Nancy White, who wrote about tinkering as a way of creating knowledge. Actually, she calls it ‘playing with knowledge’: “I love the idea of tinkering and find it central to the practice of stewarding technology for ourselves, our communities and networks. Imagine. Create. Reflect. Share. Adjust and go at it again. Experiment. Mash-up and recreate. Build upon the work of others. It is for me a deeply ingrained practice of learning, both by myself and with others, particularly in my communities of practice.”
Life as becoming, life as a process of tinkering, as ‘playing with life’, might present a grand paradox given the urgency with which we experience our problems and the many unmet needs of the world.
Love and Action – Love in Action
What is needed is care; a great deal of patience; and the laying aside of many preconceived opinions, wishful dreams, and the blind sway of demands. There is a need for a certain detachment toward oneself and the world, a gradually maturing equilibrium of all the inherent components and consciousness structures predisposed in ourselves, in order that we may prepare the basis for the leap into the new mutation.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, p.300
Quote from participant:
In Western society, there is no connection between Love and Action. It is not thought of in the same frame of mind. Love and action/manifestation are not connected with the infinity sign, until now. They are connected in the new paradigm. Often when talking about how to make things happen, the concrete is important, but we missed this awareness. What seems to be the force, the cohesiveness, is love that really motivates us to make something bigger than ourselves happen. This needs to come into awareness and full presence… acknowledge that love is in the middle.
Remember my original question, the first one I ever wrote down? What are the basic, universal, archetypal, human principles for living and working communities of the future? Not for the sake of community per se, but in order to create places where everyone and everything – including the Earth – can develop optimally, in order to bring about paradise on Earth? I think these two quotes, from Gebser and from Judy, give the answer. Short and powerful.
We have seen that we can invite the future in – or the potential – and be in a loving relationship with the unfolding of what is next. This is a state of relationship without judgement. Love is not understood here as ‘the good’, in contradiction with ‘the bad’. Rather, love is recognised as a fundamental impulse of life, a mysterious power. You might have noticed: we are back to the quintessential witnessing quality. It is a free flow of energy, with no resistance, no needing to know. Connecting that with action in the physical world is quite something.
When we are aligned – collectively conscious – we don’t attach. Neither in a positive nor in a negative way. It is not always easy. What arises from the new insight might challenge our habitual patterns. Still, when the action, the next minimal step becomes conscious to all those of us involved, we say: “We’ll do it anyway.” That is an expression of love in action.
In 3.2 I shared our view on how emergence – novel insights around a collective inquiry – can happen through the synergy of and ongoing movement between ‘holding space for potential to manifest’ and ‘staying in inquiry for inspiration to show up’. I see this as the process that can guide us to collective wisdom. Now that we have reached the chapters describing Circles of Creation, we move from collective wisdom to generative, collective action. One of my greatest lessons on this journey has been that emergence, related to action, is quite simple: it’s just a matter of getting up and doing it!
Radical amazement with the ordinary
I prefer Enchantment to Enlightenment. May we embrace the divine ordinary. Chopping wood and carrying water.
– John Davis, comment in blog post Magellan, June ’12
While the man of craft and technology surrendered the naturalness of man the domesticator, man today is also surrendering his laboriously acquired second nature, culture, by losing his own artistic skills and workmanship.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, p.306
It was in Greece, at Axladitsa, where I originally started my writing, that Vanessa Reid evoked radical amazement as an element in the practice she calls ‘conscious kitchen’ (knowing where your ingredients come from, who prepared the food, etc.). She pronounced her radical amazement at how the peas are aligned in the pod, how the carrot radiates out from the centre, how the herbs grow along the side of the trail. The experience of radical amazement, too, is related with the practice of witnessing. It’s the joy of recognising the wonder in each other, and in all that surrounds us. It’s radical amazement about the ordinary – just a carrot, just me, just you, just our own uniqueness that feels to us just normal. Just one action, one next, minimal step. Just a try-out, a prototype, and then a next one…
The ordinary is all around us and we hardly notice, and there are novel combinations and synergies that we might not see because they are so simple! When we are present in a shared inquiry – collectively conscious – then we can point out the simple and novel combinations to each other; we suddenly see the treasures. There is an elegant simplicity and beauty, both in the ordinary and on that other side of complexity.
This radical amazement – some might call it sacredness – is a perspective we can have on everything, from the most mundane and most routine chores to any kind of spiritual practice, and all the way to the most technological innovation. If I just list what I have read today and yesterday, the radical amazement for life and for the newly created links in how we live, and work together – it is downright fantastic!
The story of Women Moving the Edge cannot by any mainstream standard be called a success. There were no huge crowds, we didn’t earn a lot of money, hardly anyone on the globe knows about it. But while it might not have been successful, it has been oh, so rich, with such deep ripple effects in all of our lives. What we did was really, really simple: we sat in circle, shared an inquiry, practiced a lot of witnessing and a lot of listening. There were no fancy techniques; no PowerPoint presentations, no specific goals to achieve. Still we created magic, we were filled with awe, curiosity, excitement and brimming with new insights. Our adventure eventually led to this practice called Collective Presencing, which is now being shared out into the world, inspiring others to practice it throughout the process of prototyping and manifestation.
We just lived our lives; we followed our inner guidance, our soul’s calling into our collective calling. We engaged wholeheartedly, with our vulnerability, sensations, dreams, dancing, drawing and everything else that poured forth. Also our intellect, our understanding of what is at play in the big theatre of the world. So much hardship to contend with, so many changes coming our way; we learned how to be with what is and comfortable with the not-knowing-yet. We also learned how to be conscious of all the good things in life that we so easily take for granted. It was simple. And it felt awesome! It still does. Embodied deep living is when radical amazement is possible.
Quote from participant:
I am resonating with the beauty of the ordinary. It seems that everything in Nature is what it is and can be appreciated as beautiful in its simply being and when we can get our judgement out of the way, that leads to a place of stillness. An utterly calm and wonderful place to be. And in that place everything is just right and just is.
Quote from participant:
Let’s be joyful about what we did. We generated something! The wonder! Whoever could have thought we could do such a thing?! We did it!! It is not to brag, but isn’t this amazing?! Incredible. It’s nothing to do with making money – we are all willing to contribute in our own ways – with money, with attention, our voices, preparation, harvest… Trusting the beauty, trusting timing… that leads to co-creation. To move your own flow, and knowing that your own flow is an essential thread in the collective weaving. Denying this leads to our fragmented minds. – Ria
Joy, radiance and bliss
People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life; I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.
– Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
Since reading the Hacker Ethic, quite some years ago, I have known deep inside me that whatever is there to come or to build, joy and passion would need to be an integral part. Reading the story of how the operating system Linux came into being, and having lived with a son – then only 14 years old – who was full of passion about helping this community of programmers thrive, I knew it was a feature of the future that should not be denied.
I heard later, in many gatherings and trainings that I was part of, the need for more play. I wondered what people were actually searching or hoping for. It is not the play for its own sake, I guess, but this quality of lightness, instead of being so serious about the questions and intentions at hand.
People of my age (I’m over 60 now) have either had to behave, or work, or take responsibility – meaning that a lot of our patterns tend to make us somewhat over-serious. When I’m together with younger people, I notice they are more playful. I am reminded of my grand children (aged 0-10) who love to play and laugh the whole day long. Why don’t we do that? What have we lost in our current version of growing up?
I do think we need more playfulness. We know and deeply realise that not everything can or will be nice and easy, but with – collectively conscious – groundedness and presence, the experience can be lighter, easier and still leave space for laughter, dancing, joy, awe and allurement. Being with trauma, fully realising all the ugly stuff that is going on in the world – witnessing it in a shared space – leaves also space for wonder, bliss and the awesomeness of this thing we call life on Earth. If you are able to live with your heart wide open, knowing quite well that awful experiences can happen, being able to keep the joy in your life while mainstream society is in a process of collapse, this seems to me like a sign that you have given up your attachments to outcome. Most of your ego patterns are gone and you are able to live this life as the unfolding, creative event that it truly is.
I wrote early in early 2009 that I wanted life to be more intense! In my dairy I find:
Things can be serious, but don’t need to be heavy. Serious things can be light, from stillness. The heaviness is not of life itself; it is what we attach to it.
and humans co-create.
That’s to enjoy, and challenging.
Is there heaviness in the bud opening?
in the rain pouring down?
Is not lightness that goes with life?
Many times, in my original Belgian women’s circle, when we would sit in a shared silence I would come to this specific experience that I used to name ‘joyful sacredness’. A deep, inner joy that feels sacred. Helen described it as: joy is a reward for coherence and alignment. When we pay attention to alignment inside and out, we are in flow, it is blissful. If we indeed live in the practice of constantly moving toward greater alignment and coherence, with a greater and ever expanding holier/wholer whole, in ever greater holons, bringing more bits into the batter, then that full participation seems to bring forth some of the powers Brian Swimme discovered: synergy, interrelatedness, emergence and radiance!
In chapter 6 we mentioned: What if following your passion-bliss-joy were the way to live, and creating the new world would be a by-product? Can we imagine all doing that at the same time, in alignment with each other? Life is happening anyway, whether we participate fully consciously or not.
According to Brian Swimme the powers of the universe are not separate powers, but work together in an ultimate and larger radiance, which is beyond description. He says “part of our intention is to be in mutually enhancing relationship.” If more of us stepped into our vulnerability and our unique power, following our soul’s calling in service of a collective calling, would we not be a good example of radiance in the human realm? Vulnerability – as a core element in love-making – seems to be key. It is a gift to ourselves and to the others in the circle. In vulnerability we open up more, something pours through the cracks of a no-longer-needed identity, and a wider space opens up – to embrace more (of others) and radiate more (to others). Radiance bursts forth from the vulnerable core. Surrendering to the wonder of it all, overcome by the delight of each fresh encounter, radiance is born.
Can we hold that much joy? The vastness, the intensity? This level of aliveness is at once exciting and humbling. Those of us who are used to numbing our senses tend to jump out of the intensity. Others of us seek peak experiences but then miss the sense of wholeness, alignment and mutuality. I have already stressed the importance of learning to hold a lot of intensity (link). It is an embodied practice, to hold the intensity of collective trauma, of not-knowing-yet, and also of this exciting aliveness! While we can speak of different forms of intensity, the capacity to stay centred through the intensity is the same.
True radiance doesn’t care what it looks like. That’s how I understand the last of Angeles Arrien’s four principles: be present; show up; speak your truth, and don’t attach to the outcome. It seems difficult for our Western minds to understand that the point in taking action is not to manifest or to create, but to be radiant with life! More and more. The integration of being and doing/living seems like the next stage of species growth, opening up whole new vistas. Radiance seems to be the by-product of a radical generosity, both with our many ways of knowing and with our surrendering to receive the knowing that surrounds and interpenetrates us. We are beginning to understand that to live in bliss is within our reach. We can do evolutionary work in a celebratory way! Do we really need to buy into the idea that it first needs to get worse? What if it is not about getting out of the mess, but getting into radiance, joy, pleasure, flow?
Quote from participant:
That for me is really participating in the radiance – this abandon to the joie de vie, the élan vital, the magnificent burgeoning life force that we’ve shut down to in our civilisation, but it’s STILL THERE! – Helen
Source: Wondering what is becoming possible?
Spirit: Curious for the new insights and answers
Life: Embracing more aliveness.
Quotes from participants:
What comes up for me is the word ‘magnificence’ – health, vitality, coherence are all great words & concepts & things to have, but it’s WAY bigger than health & vitality, it’s this magnificence! How wonderful it all is! And maybe that’s the intention – to join in all that, instead of manifesting something. – Ria
As I listen to all of this, I am aware of how attached I am, fond of my feet of clay; and aware of my appetite, my thirsting for a simple life. How paradoxically that, for me, so strongly reflects or embodies the magnificence. … Somehow the striving for more, for better, for further, is ceasing now; just in order to sink into the magnificence of what is, exactly as it is. We speak a lot about presencing the future, calling in the future. But what would we be calling the future into if not into the already always unspeakably abundant and magnificent present that so often we just don’t see, here in plain sight. Maybe part of participation in the radiance is to hold that steady state – in a way that nourishes the soul, and not getting caught up in turmoil – personal, and in the world over all. – Helen
Awe can blow apart any sense that we know what is going on. The question is, are we looking for the comfort of probing what we already believe or are we looking to experience life as it is beyond our preconceptions. One thing life keeps showing to me is that it is not what I think it is, that my mental frameworks are temporary life rafts that are swept away by the currents of existence.
– Anthony Lawlor, Facebook, summer ‘13
Quote from participant:
The point of the interpenetration is almost to increase the intensity.It is to increase the interrelatedness of all the dimensions in their different aspects – it increases the complexity and it increases the consciousness that is capable of experiencing the magnificence. It is all a huge symphony of joy! On all imaginable levels. Learning to share that with other beings… to open up our consciousness so that others can partake in our senses, but we can then also partake in their vistas, which we normally can’t with our sensory systems. So, it is very much about the interplay and sharing of information. It seems to be about experiencing in many different ways, an ever increasing whole. It is all very ecstatic.
Collective lovemaking with potential
It is surely no coincidence that the German word for ‘creative’ is schöpferisch, from schöpfen, ‘to draw up water’, for the creative person ‘draws up’ from the wellsprings of life, from the life-soul, bringing to the light of day and the thinking realm of consciousness what has been forgotten as well as what has not yet been realized. The creative person externalizes what has been recalled; recollection becomes memory.
– Jean Gebser p 319; italics from the book
This might be a strange title, yet it comes closest to describing what a Circle of Creation is actually about. As mentioned before, my original focus was on the future instead of on potential, and I asked myself: “Collective lovemaking with the future, what would it look like? All elements of lovemaking, wild, deep, soft, everything!?” Actually it is a very good metaphor as it brings up all the lovely feelings of lovemaking, now applied to thinking and sensing the future/potential, of what is to come. By now, we have experienced it: the joy of being in collective flow, like in a collective improvisation, which interweaves ever more aspects of the cosmos. Not just one small group of musicians, but all co-creating together. In exactly that way which is always juicy, always edgy!
It is crucial to be aware of the liminal space, between what is and what is possible. I notice it all the time in the train or underground, people are inside their own bubble, not aware of any connection with anyone else. They withdraw into themselves. Love is when I am aware that there is relationship, when energy is going back and forth. If we put love between us and the potential… us and the wild, us and the deep.. the soft, everything? The collective sourcing, the sharing of the pain and trauma, playing music without asking the group for permission, reading a poem for the first time, it all leads us to realise: to be alive is to be on the edge, together!
For practitioners of Collective Presencing this sensing into the potential has become a habit, a normal state of being. Always – collectively conscious – sensing into what is trying to form, what possible connections might lead to a next minimal step? It is so joyful and expectant, as if constantly on the outlook for what will happen next time your lover is around. The sense of joyful expectation. The sense of Santa Claus bringing gifts that are a full surprise, but just right.
As practitioners, we constantly tune our ears to notice the story coming into disclosure. Having been with practitioners in online circles, reaching across continents, we are sure we can now do this across the planet. The potential for this way of gathering together has been amplified and magnified. We can connect across many so-called boundaries; they are permeable, there can be flow, in simplicity and with a lot of subtlety.
Manifestation – birthing – creation – generativity?
I struggled long with what to call this quality of circle, until I finally settled on Circle of Creation. I was wondering, do we really manifest something? The root of the word manifest comes from the Latin ‘manus’, meaning ‘hand’. Essentially, what is manifest is what can be held with the hand, something solid, tangible and visibly stable. To me, there was too much of the implicit assumption of linear causality in that verb: first there is nothing, then we do something and then it is manifested.
Another version was: are we birthing the new? The mother is not birthing, but giving birth to the child. Did the couple create the child? Did we create this new collective practice? Do I create my garden, when it is full of the mystery of how the plants grow from the seeds? How the perennials come back every year and still grow the same kind of flowers?
Do you remember the dessert cart phenomenon, from the first Moving the Edge gathering? Nobody proposed it, nobody agreed, but one person stood up and the rest followed: the break happened. Nobody manifested this coffee break; nobody created it – or maybe we all did it? Including the waiter who had brought the cart into the conference room. I think our language is just too poor to express this quality of collectively-being-in-the-doing. Most of our language names the linear causality, the manifestation, the things. We long for words and concepts that speak of the complex intricacy, the interweaving, the interpenetration, the ever-widening coherence, the unfolding capacity of ever more generativity amongst us.
Quotes from participants:
Something else that I have noticed from going back through my journal – when you go back over the notes (and our harvest of notes is high quality), with hindsight you can see the prophetic quality. The whole business of holding space for the emergence of the future potential… and is sensing the future not causing it? Is that true? To what extent is holding space for the emerging potential making it more likely to happen; rather than something else?
Maybe holding the space and sensing into what is held has the power to manifest? – Judy
The Bushmen say: “forever there is a dream dreaming us”.
Next: 9.7 Opening to We-now-here and potential
If you are looking for a pdf of this article, just send me a message!
In those moments when awareness succeeds in being at one with feeling, sense, movement and thought, the carriage will speed along on the right road. Then man can make discoveries, invent, create, innovate and ‘know’. He grasps that his small world and the great world around are but one and that in this unity he is no longer alone.
– Moshe Feldenkreis
Articulating the subtle
The occurrence of the present being transformed by the future occurs in the creation of new language. You do not create the new language. The new language (of the future) creates you in the present from the future and the inconceivable transforms into the conceivable in the process of your transubstantiation (the future transubstantiating the present).
– Yasuhiko Kimura – Facebook 29 november 2012
I have already talked about ‘sourcing’, and ‘collective sourcing’ as collective embodied revelation. It takes some courage to learn to voice our subtle sensing, because we have to overcome our conditioned assumption that this is not ‘real’ or ‘true’ or ‘useful’ information. At the present juncture, though, I wish to give some attention to a next step that follows on from the subtle sensing: the precision of language and making (subtle) distinctions. Perhaps because of our discomfort, we tend to use sloppy language, as if trying to hide what we really want to express. But as in the concept of Felt Sense and the practice of Focusing described by Eugene Gendlin, we do have the capacity to be extremely precise in both what we sense and how we articulate it. Becoming more explicit, and perhaps using words in uncommon combinations or inventing new expressions, improves the quality of our communication and the collective wisdom of the whole – just as we have done in writing this book and articulating the finer differences in this collective and subtle landscape.
John Hegel has described in multiple blog posts that tacit knowledge, which is often the knowledge formed by and in new experiences, is best accessed through long-term, trust-based relationships. It is exactly this tacit knowledge that we need to be very specific about: taking time to name, to language, to find the right words and concepts.
Wherever this communicative engagement is actualised, it is manifest in a poetic order – an order of poetic revelation – that unfolds alongside the causal order. This poetic order, or order of meaning, exceeds the causal order but in no way contradicts it.
– Freya Matthews
Quote from participant:
I love this process because we bring night consciousness into the daylight, it is just so valuable to have words and language for many different things. I love to be in this kind of generative conversations, where this deeper layer actually gets to the surface, or we push or pull it to the level of awareness.
For some, the articulation of a deep sensing is a real challenge, as Judy said: “the words are almost not there – I can’t quite grab them”. In particular, giving language to the inner sense in a way that can be received and taken in by other people might be a big hurdle. Still, it is both necessary and important to get into the detail of the articulation and tease out the subtleties until the sensing is clear for others (and yourself, too) because what becomes known through us when we take the care to articulate carefully is part of the life force. It is actually an interweaving of the individual and the life force; of the subtle sensing with the precision of the mind to find the right form of expression.
In this way, a group using Collective Presencing as its core methodology could become a new version of what we now know as ‘think tanks’. This could help leadership on different levels and in different domains of society to sense into what is going on and what is the next step to take. Collective Presencing is a practice for accessing what is in the spaces between the elements, and what is emerging between and through them. Because it is whole-bodied, it accesses more and deeper than conventional thinking groups. If we want fully integrated, alive, embodied organisations, this is a practice to make it work.
Questions have been raised: When is it appropriate to have this level of collective sensing? When and in what conditions is it useful? What does it really look like when applied in a business context? How to scale up from a little ‘sensing team’? There are big hidden assumptions beneath these questions, as if business is the biggest context and scaling up is the best way to move forward. I would turn it around and ask: how can business fit into the wider picture of taking care of the earth and all living beings? As I learned from Walk out, walk on, in complexity, it is not scaling up that will do the trick, but rather scaling across,
If we allow ourselves to dream, we can imagine presencing teams being hired to help people and organisations with all manner of wicked situations and problems. As outsiders, their role would be not to do the sensing themselves but to invite participants into these practices, step-by-step. The different practices are powerful in themselves and by using them, participants will themselves learn to make the fine distinctions first named and articulated by the team.
Quote from participant:
It is happening in this call, for me I am taking very practical things out of it. Noticing this is the context in which I want my thinking and being to be in, as we take the organization to the next level. Almost too good. Feels kind of dreamy. Wow! That I could act in the world from this container is like a huge release; something about not doing it all yourself; because I put my deepest level of trust in our collective. It feels energising and I could act with a different level of clarity and confidence in my intention. It is not about giving over or being a puppet, but really resting in this level of intention and holding. And I love the dance we are in – how we are applying it, challenges on the ground, kind of action learning.
Continuous collective inquiry
Continuous collective inquiry, in groups of different sizes, is a crucial capacity and practice for dealing with the complexities and turbulence we are confronted with these days. It is an essential tool and element of being resilient for groups of people; being able to sense into what might be a next step that is coherent both inside and out. Long-term planning needs to be replaced by collective sensing into the possibilities right now, combined with constantly keeping an eye on the feedback coming from the bigger system (or life) we are dealing with. I remember vividly the question Christopher Cooke raised in a gathering of Spiral Dynamics practitioners: How capable is humanity of dealing with intense, rapid change? Looking at it in that way, at that moment the future looked bleak to me. Right now I feel more confident, thanks to the practices that we have discovered and practiced.
Dave Snowden, in his Cynefin framework (briefly touched upon in 8.4), makes helpful distinctions between simple, complicated, complex, chaotic (and unordered) situations. Planning can work in simple and complicated situations, when there are simple and ordered straightforward relationships between cause and effect, but in complexity we first need to probe– try out a few things – because the linear causality doesn’t exist. Once we have done that, then we can sense the impact of our action on the system and figure out how to respond with a next step. Our deep sensing capacities in the collective inquiry can be very helpful in figuring out what to try out first and also in the sensing phase, as it integrates more dimensions of knowing.
Just as no one knew they needed an iPhone or tablet before these devices appeared on the market, continuous collective inquiry is not something that people feel they need and think to ask for. Nevertheless, when people start engaging with it in their work and life, they find it resonates deeply. We didn’t ‘invent’ Collective Presencing starting from a need or problem; rather, we encountered it from the angle of potential, from a shared collective felt sense of what might be possible. Constantly being in sensing, inquiring and reflecting mode is a way to stay connected to the unceasing unfolding of life.
Quote from participant:
I see that sensing into the subtle, sensing each word as it comes, I begin to feel the timeless space of fullness and resonance vibrating in me, in these very delicate slowed down moments. I am challenged and yet called to trust that my experience is one beyond this time and space dimension, or at least a taste of it. We, as humans, are learning to move into the multi-dimensional; beyond, and yet just beside, the space/time home we now know as life here on Earth.
In these circles we open a space for this future potential. We have an embodied experience outside of time and space (place), and yet we are all very present here. It is holding this contradiction that opens the new frontier – to collaborate and participate with the subtle – to reach new clarity in right timing and right place to generate the new.
Groping in the dark
Excerpt from my blog:
And suddenly I saw how conversations and gatherings are conceived, live and die. Like human beings, coming up from a wide and infinite sea of possibilities; live for some time and then retreat back. By our willingness to listen to the next question, we call the next gathering and conversations into being.
Quotes from participants’ conversation:
To me it’s always amazing, this sensing into what is the next question – like we want to look beyond the edge, but we’re not there yet… It’s really like – groping in the dark… I like it! Because I feel something will emerge. – Ria
The groping in the dark reminds me about the night consciousness we talked about last time. It’s exciting to think about the potential. – Judy
In Nowhere– an inspiring and unique collective of organisations and businesses in the UK – they believe that great questions (they call them Breakthrough Questions) allow us to venture into the unknown where true innovation happens. They have the power to unlock the creative potential of people, teams and businesses. Working with such questions is essential if we wish to shape a sustainable future. According to Nowhere, these questions have three specific qualities:
- you alone don’t know the answer
- it keeps you awake at night; it genuinely holds your interest
- if you did know the answer it would change everything
In part 7.1 on Collective Calling, I described the process we used to find the guiding question for the next gathering. As you might remember, the process is by no means linear. Starting the conversations with a check-in, through the dialogue that follows we sense deeper into the unmanifest potential that can come through the gathering in a few months. This is what we try to listen to and glean information from, in order to language the calling question.
Quote by participant:
If we were asked to hold hands and lean over the edge and to bring back the question that is just beyond our sensing … what would it be? – Helen
The process of articulating this next question is like a swirling around. Each person present has to speak what is coming through, without knowing if it is meaningful or not; only in the end we can see if it was a fruitful contribution. It is a lot about holding the not-knowing-yet, but when you get the hang of it, and can stay present and grounded, it becomes a process of amazement and joy. We are collectively sensing in the deep dark waters and suddenly we come up with a coherent articulation that has resonance. The awe and joy tell us we are in real generative space!
It can be hard work to stay long enough in the not-knowing-yet until the resonant articulation presents itself. And yet only once this stage is reached can the question serve in the gathering, team or project. And then, at some point the energy disperses. This specific inquiry comes to its end, the cycle is completed. We would all go our own ways, taking the experience and the unfolded meaning with us. Some of the meaning would ripple out, seeding other conversations, but this gathering was over. At other times, the question is still alive after a meeting, but mostly we have gained some new insights – consciously or not – and a new cycle can start. I understand this also as a non-attachment to form, making it easier to release this form, this event, thereby making space and opening up possibility for a subsequent weaving of threads of potential.
So far in my experience with teams looking for something new – be it in business, government or elsewhere – I have not encountered much appetite or skill for finding a real, resonant question to work with. People don’t seem to see the value of the question as a means of seeking for new solutions, let alone envisioning setting aside time to sit in circle to find such a question, which feels like groping in the dark! Still, as Nowhere has made clear: for real innovation to be possible we have to ask these breakthrough questions. Otherwise we stay mired in the same frame of thinking; and no new insights can emerge.
Leadership and continuous collective action research
But continuous collective inquiry is not enough! The inquiry needs to become action research, where we are not just inquiring through inspiring and generative dialogue, but also starting to act in the world, together, and then taking the responses to these actions back into our inquiry. Just as we need to keep all our senses open to gather novel insights in the dialogue phase, so too must we have a clue about what kind of prototypes make the most sense and how we can understand the feedback from life.
The action research approach ensures that the collective insights arising from the inquiry are made into actionable steps – doing something very physical in the 3-dimensional world. The group can then sense into the impact of their action on the system under consideration, reflect together on what this actually means and sense into what steps to take next. This cycle iterates over and over again.
A study by Barrett Brown shows that the higher the complexity of worldview or meaning making system of the designer or change agent in sustainability initiatives, the more successful a change initiative will be. He looks at the later stages in the action logic system (Cook-Greuter, Loevinger, Torbert): from Strategists, to Alchemists to Ironists. Comparing role, service and design approach between the different stages, his findings are quite revealing. Briefly, the role of the leader is seen first as ‘to catalyze’, then ‘to create conditions’, then ‘to hold and wonder’. The perspective on service evolves from being of service ‘to’ others (personal meaning), to service ‘on behalf of’ (trans-personal meaning), to ‘serve as spirit itself’ (unitive meaning). The principal design approach morphs from ‘operating on systems’, to ‘dialoguing with systems’ to ‘designing as the system’.
It is this latter (ironist) stage – where we collectively ‘hold and wonder’, where we ‘serve as spirit itself’ and where we ‘design as the system’ – that I have tried to describe in the different elements of the Circle of Creation. By being in and from and as the new paradigm ourselves, and acting differently in this way, combined with the rigour of research, we will be able to have some impact in large-scale complex change programs. Not in a linear and planned way, but something quite radically different.
We know from Chaos Theory that the initial conditions of a complex system are critical to what will emerge from it. This is why we take such great care of all the conditions described so far. The rigour of research, the constant collective reflection and learning are just an extension of this care.
According to Alain Gauthier, who has been looking at collective leadership for many years, the word ‘lead’ originates from the Indo-European root ‘leith’, which means to ‘go forth’, to ‘cross the threshold’, or even to ‘die’. He asks: What threshold must be crossed before something new can emerge? What if leadership, in ‘crossing the threshold’, meant:
- facing the unknown with openness and trust
- sensing what is emerging by being present to what is
- participating creatively in a wider field of knowing and doing, giving voice to an evolutionary impulse
- taking self and others to where we have never been before?
Peter Hawkins also points out that we need to develop effective leadership teams. He is talking not about typical, traditional heroic leaders, but about effective collective-leadership teams which are more than the sum of the individuals. He adds that we don’t know much about how to develop these! It stands to reason that these new types of teams need a new and crucial competency: a new research methodology or technology. The practice we have been describing in such detail here needs to intentionally evolve and we need to ground it in practical application.
Quote from participant:
The dynamic of action is about a question that is brewing and unfolding in the midst of life; the learning as a challenge to our own epistemology. The phenomenon of being in the learning process itself – for the sake of wholeness – for the sake of death or dying, or story, or the land, or how we constellate ourselves; be able to create in that phenomenon those things we have yet to language. We are observers and participants of the phenomenon, at the same time. – Mary
Share emergent practices and patterns
Quote from participant:
As Helen was talking I remember this trilogy about the steerswoman. Their role was to go into unknown territory and map the territory. She had to pack her backpack with food and a compass etc. There were steersmen, but they were rare. The gathering place of the steerswomen was the Archive; the sacred place of maps of the unknown. … The greater point of the myth is the quest for the greater knowledge, and to bring it back and share it with others who can’t go there. – Edveeje
Quote from participant:
What I love is that we are looking at the meta-patterns, about how to develop these practices that we haven’t quite looked at before. What happened last time, what could happen this time? We’re touching into things that we haven’t given voice to until now. I think it’s important and interesting that we are exploring and moving that edge. – Judy
The concept of emergent practices comes from the work of Dave Snowden. In his Cynefin model, he states that there is no such thing as best practice, or even good practice, in a complex environment. There is no way to do things in the ‘best’ way, because in a complex system too many variables can change quickly, unexpectedly and often. It is not even possible to have ‘good’ practices – these are only possible in complicated situations where experts can figure out a few alternative ways of doing things. Relating with the future or with potential falls squarely in the complex domain, and new practices and insights emerge along the way. The point is that only when we really grasp that we are part of the wider system, the ecosystem of planet earth, will we understand that publishing and spreading these practices and patterns is part of our job. It is not just for our own purpose, our own team or organisation that we are learning, it is for a much wider audience and ecosystem!
It is often the knowledge formed by new experiences that provides early insights into the changing world around us. As the ever-changing core team of Women Moving the Edge, we were fortunate to have installed the practice of directly transcribing our conference – collective note-taking. In this way, the tacit knowledge that we built over the years could be accessed through our long term, trust-based relationships and was articulated through the many conversations we had in the different hosting teams. Throughout our numerous phone calls and the different gatherings, we could constantly pull up threads from previous conversations, recognise patterns and connect dots that hadn’t been linked before.
If we can see all our own and each other’s work as experiments and probes into the wicked questions of our time, we can see the value of being able to learn from each other – finding some validation of the patterns we have noticed ourselves and seeing the wider meta-patterns popping up in different places. When we are busy with our own projects we tend to forget that we are all part of a bigger system in which all these try-outs have their place. We forget that any living system learns through the feedback it gets. Can we remember that writing about our own experiment – successful or not – is feeding the whole ecosystem? This is the only way the wider ecosystem can learn! When we do this collectively and consciously, we are building a new kind of competence in the area of shared meaning making.
With this book and its related website, time has come to share Collective Presencing with the wider world. I have taken all the material and patterned it in my unique way, feeding it back into the wider field. I imagine that by doing this the field is strengthened, deepened, broadened, becomes more substantial and more universal. Happily, I see this awareness of harvesting – sharing out the nuggets of our learning – growing in many more people: just take a look at what is shared on Medium these days!
I have learned something else too, by sharing some of the patterns that I saw early on – even before I could see the whole map. When I showed these maps, incomplete as they were, people got excited! I was surprised by the buzz in the room. This was another expression of the synergy: the capacity to articulate the patterns in combination with the holding and the silence. People seem to be hungry for explanations and teachings when integrated with experience.
Beyond all this, it is important to share our patterns and practices because this is how we are building the commons – the field of shared knowledge about what is possible in a process of shared inquiry – that is open for anyone to consult, use, re-work, build on, create with.
Theory and practice of change
Change happens in the transition from potential to actual, not from one actuality to another.
– Maria Pachalska & Michel Weber (Eds), Essays in honor of Jason W.Brown
It might be clear by now that the model-theory we used in the Women Moving the Edge gatherings was not about bringing change in from ‘outside’, but about providing enough of a container and a guiding question, so that life could then manifest as new insights and novel initiatives. Somehow, when working on projects or with organisations, the old linear idea of how change happens easily slips back in. As if we can ‘do’ something, as if we can make change happen. We can’t! We can only provide some holding and some guidance. If people don’t want to change, they won’t – certainly not because of us or our beautiful practices. We need to be very careful to keep this foundational theory of change constantly in our minds. Our focus is on how to let life unfold in life-affirming actions. What is it that this project wants next? Can we explore with our clients from a place that is deeper that where they habitually speak from?
In complex systems – all these systems we’re working with: individuals, organisations, business, large systems change – you never, ever know beforehand how an intervention will be taken in by the internal organisation of this being. We can only hope that if we intervene from our highest centredness, groundedness and awareness, and in alignment with life, that something life-affirming for the system will ensue. We believe that a collective awareness that is more aligned inside and out, aware of more interpenetration and interweaving, will source actions and manifestations that are also more aligned. What we currently see in the world is a fragmented consciousness that manifests incoherence in so many ways. Let’s at least try to create greater coherence.
It is also crystal clear that, given the level of awareness that large-system change work calls for – holding the space, facilitating the process, sensing the current need of the system-organisation, getting to know the individuals, the business, the industry – consultants and facilitators doing this work are on the edge of how much they can hold. When there are so many levels and dimensions to attend to, no one person can hold them all. Because of this complexity, we need teams who can hold all these elements together, who are themselves an example of how team alignment can be different, where we are not delivering a product but stepping into a process of co-creation with our clients.
The work we envision here is eco-systemic in nature. Such hosting teams – as Circles of Creation– are at the core of any ecosystem approach. Only this kind of format and methodology will be able to hold the space and the inquiry for what is next in this vast field. It is the power of the carefully crafted intention and the guiding question, mixed with the human contributions and connections, that make an ecosystem work. The rest we leave to life.
I also want to link back here, within this frame of theory of change, to the concept of conscious closure. Organisations and businesses, too, are ever-changing, complex evolving systems, while most people – founders in particular – seem to assume that they (should) exist for eternity. One of our participants, Cari, went through this process of conscious closure and noted: “There were ego attachments to my income, and my job, and yet it was remarkably easy to let go of (the organisation). If this is meant to die, it is meant to die. I am not attached to it being alive, but instead sensing what wanted to happen there. The loyalty for me was to something bigger than the organisation – not to the organisation but the soul, something larger.”
Next: 9.6 Life as love in action
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I haven’t yet told you the story of the big paintbrush. In one of our gatherings, Lisa had brought a giant paintbrush as a talking piece. It lay in the centre of our circle, together with stones, candles and other meaningful objects that participants had placed there. She had brought it along because it held a specific meaning to her, related with her artistry. Towards the end of that particular gathering we did a systemic constellation around the topic of money, wondering whether we could shift our view on it. I found facilitating that constellation quite difficult. Whatever I tried, whether moving representatives or having them speak to each other, nothing seemed to bring any real release or clarity. Judy recalled: “As I was representing the Sacred Feminine in the constellation, something was incomplete. In a sense, the Space Holding aspect was represented by someone else, but there was no wild piece. … At the very end, we all felt something was missing.”
Often in a systemic constellation when we don’t have a clue about how the elements in a system relate to each other, it is because there is an element missing. I learned in my constellation training to ask myself at every beginning: what is missing? In this case, since most people were already representing some element, I grabbed a chair, put it into the constellation and asked something like: What is missing here? What would bring energy? What would restore the world? At first, nothing happened. I waited. We all waited. Suddenly, Lisa grabbed the paintbrush and plopped herself in the chair in the most seductive pose I had ever seen her take! Collectively there was a “Yes!” The power of this sensual, seductive, alluring aspect burst into the middle. A different quality of aliveness was present after this episode. The turquoise paintbrush became a symbol to us for that specific energy.
Another story I have not yet told concerns a ritual with standing stones in England. For our 12thgathering we had a string of rendez-vous in time and space: getting to Rachel’s hill in the South Downs, being hosted at Hazelwood House in Devon, and then making a 3-hour day trip to Avebury (and back).Logistically it didn’t make a lot of sense, but it felt right nevertheless, so that’s what we did. This was actually the first time that we had had a sense before the gathering that we needed to do a ritual. Of course, you could say that the deep circle practice we use is a ritual in itself. But this time, we had to do something with the land, with the stones, and Avebury is full of big stones! Besides circle practice and deep dialogue, I don’t do rituals in my life, but now I had a deep sense that this work with the stones – whatever it turned out to be – needed to be done first. I could not give any more explanation or description of it beforehand. But I sensed that the next possibility – maybe doing this kind of work in groups with both genders – was coming closer.
The ritual we did ended up being in two parts. First at the two stones called ‘The Cove’ inside the stone circle in the village of Avebury, and then inside West Kennet Long Barrow a short distance from the village. After the first part I knew deep inside: now my book can reallybe finished. The ritual, and the wisdom and clarity we received, held learning and confirmations about being constantly aware of connections and the importance of collective holding. I saw the ritual as making an imprint for a new groove: for conscious collective entities that know how to create, connected with all dimensions in service of life.
Beyond the circle that had gathered at Hazelwood House were a few women who had intuitions similar to the ones we had been working with. We had been surprised before the gathering to learn that a number of them felt a strong connection with this gathering in the UK, while nevertheless feeling that they were not supposed to come in person. Rather, they felt called to do something similar in their own places – places as far apart as the Dolomites, Lebanon and southern Germany. It was no surprise then, that the next gathering built on this kind of magic and subtle energies, and we plunged into the multivalent world of sound.
As the process of the 13 gatherings unfolded over time, a continuous point of attention was the shift from fragmentation and separation to a stance and perspective involving holding more of the whole. This sometimes meant having to adapt our carefully articulated question for certain gatherings, because the assumption of separation had slipped in through the back door without our noticing until we took the time to look deeply enough.
It also became clear that while we had done well in the dynamic of going deep, deep, deep into sourcing and sensing into the potential, we also needed to return to ‘the surface’. Our attention began to shift towards how to stay in the space of sourcing while taking the next step in the world without leaving behind the full quality of collective presencing? How to stay in the collective practice and quality of attention while moving to manifestation and action? What does applied Collective Presencing look like in practice? The journey of ascending the right side of the U has until now not fully included the multiplicity of presences that are the pre-requisite for collective emergence and generativity. Can we give the inner and subtle and collective dimensions the same weight and importance as the visible, the outer, the action? Somehow, we found, if there is no wild and magical energy in the mix somewhere, then we are missing the point!
Next: 9.5 Collective Presencing applied
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And because time as such is coming to an end and is being supplanted by time freedom, any temporal projection ‘forward’ is illusory and illusionary.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, p296
Calling in the potential by living it
Excerpt from my blog:
I feel a lot of juice in the collective silence that is waiting, expecting… when we are together in the not-knowing-yet. It feels like making love with the potential of the future. Just like in lovemaking you are totally open, ready to be surprised, and not exactly knowing how it will be this time. Being in love with this future potential, moment by moment, seems to me the best definition of being alive – and it is basically the core practice of our gatherings!
In most cases, learning to walk and run happens from the experience of falling forward with grace. In these times, this image helps me. I feel myself tumbling forward in the saying of yes. Falling forward in the availability of shifting consciousness, and how it changes the game. Learning to find my legs.
‘Calling in the potential’ is the best way I have found to enunciate the concept, and the embodiment, of this constant awareness of being in relation with potential, with source, with origin. This includes the ongoing awareness of the space between where we are now and the potential for innovative manifestations. We started out by naming it ‘calling in the future’, but this invited the temptation to see it as a linear extension of what is now, overlooking the complexity involved. Besides being aware of our relationship – our interrelatedness and interwovenness – with people, with places, with nature, subtle timing and so on, we have a sense and an awareness of the not-yet-manifest that is waiting to be born. We are putting love in the middle between ourselves and the next possibility, loving this space of in-betweenness, this bowlful of potential. It also means suspending both judgment and ego patterns when we are informed by source and a next step becomes clear. It is not that we are calling or inviting ‘it’ in, as if it is somewhere ‘out there’ and we call it to come ‘over here’. The potential is here, in us and all around us, always.
Fundamentally the future is present. … these are the right people, this is the right place, the right time, and the right process.
– Barrett Brown
The by-line of Women Moving the Edge was ‘to move the edge of consciousness’. That is no small purpose! It was clear from the outset, that if we wanted to move the edge, we need to invite the future in. We did this by organising the gatherings and fully immersing ourselves in a new way of being together. We were inviting people not to a nice get-together, but rather to step into a field, into a way of being and doing that holds the potential for the future. Somehow, we were seeking to create a disconnect from our starting point, by jumping into the future and then building a bridge back into the present. If we just move step by step from here and now, we are in danger of getting more of the same, more of what we already have and do and are. But if we take the time in the here-and-now to inhabit the space of our full potential – and what is embodied in the field – we can invite that potential right into the here-and-now, opening the field to all that is possible.
I know, from the countless therapy sessions I have conducted, that even though most presenting problems stem from situations a long time ago, healing happens in the present moment. How can we apply this insight to change and transformation relating to the future? If healing takes place in the now because we access the past and the present in some kind of field that is beyond time and space, might the same not be true for the manifestation of future events? This prospect invites the integration of the ‘time freedom’ Gebser refers to. I cannot claim to fully understand this, let alone embody it, but I sense that I am drawing ever closer.
Quote from participant:
We co-create a container that is then impregnated by our inquiry. And then we sit and wait the time it takes for everything to cook. Then we birth out patterns, or forms, into the world. – Helen
You might remember that I started writing this book in earnest in a beautiful place in Greece, called Axladitsa-Avatakia. It was described as “not a retreat centre, or another seminar centre, but a home where we live the future; a place of living wholeness, as an example for how we will need to live in the future”. Each year the women who stewarded this place organised an ‘Immersion’ gathering, inviting participants to live wholeness, to live the future now. Similar to the Women Moving the Edge, it created a focal point in space and time where people could gather around an inquiry and become, together, ‘a landing strip for the future’.
Inviting – invoking
When working with ritual and ceremony it is easy to fall into rather rigid attachment to specific forms of being together, of what needs to be said and done, when and where. I no longer remember where I picked up the distinction that can be made between ‘ceremony’ and ‘ritual’. Ceremony is when you live as nature does, in natural flow and reverence for life. Ritual is when you want to invoke the energy of ceremony with the intention of connecting with life.
The way circle is practiced in collective presencing – the quality of attention those present hold for each other, for the place and so much more – most resembles this quality of ritual. Our ultimate wish is to blend with life’s energy in all its dimensions, so that living the sacred becomes everyday practice. Thus, despite the attention, care and artistry we devote to it, we don’t want to make it into something special. We create the simplest possible form that can invite in the poetic response from the world. Letting go, having patience, setting aside our opinions and judgments – all these can be seen as part of the ritual that allows us to bring ourselves into closer alignment with life.
The process of finding and articulating the right question for the collective inquiry can be seen as the current form of the ancient practice of invocation at the beginning of rituals. In this process, those involved sense more deeply into the potential they have been drawn in by. Articulating this with precise wording allows the collective felt sense to be named. This is the intentional space into which a wider circle of participants will then be invited. It is a very specific field, a bounded enclosure resonant with our shared intention, into which we invite more of life. Exactly what this ‘life’ consists of can be named however you choose – whatever fits for you in this regard: a poetic response from the world, elemental beings, subtle energies, other realms, beyond the veil… anything goes, depending on your cosmology. In the collective here-and-now we invoke a seed of potential which we coax into the manifest realm through our aliveness, our being on the edge together.
The naming and the reaching out are the active part out of this process. But surrender is also required: letting go of any planning and control in order to be receptive for the information life offers regarding your invocation. This combination of agency and surrender invokes a quality of interpenetration between realms so that the universe can operate coherently across dimensions. I must confess to feeling some (socially conditioned) awkwardness as I write about this. I think it has to do with the false belief that we exist only in and on the material plane, even though we all can and do sense much more, both inside and outside ourselves: we exist also in the inner depths and the outer vastness.
Quote from participant:
The awakened human is like a multidimensional nodal point, anchored in the physical realm and receptive to contact from other realms, on condition of actively reaching out and inviting in. – Helen
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, in Alchemy of Light, speaks of co-creation with the forces of life, with the archetypes. This is another notion that points us to a much larger context of being and creativity in which we are constantly immersed. If, when we articulate our guiding question, we are in collective resonance with life, then life will respond. Nothing else is possible. So it is that, when we listen for ‘what wants to happen’, we hear nothing more nor less than the whispers or echoes of our own deeper intent. If we understood this more deeply, we could so much more easily and wisely manifest new systems and products that truly serve our well-being.
Non-material life, in whatever form we conceive of it, cannot not answer an invocation – or so the mystery schools teach us. The subtle realms are fascinated and attracted by the physical, and will always show up when invoked. It is therefore important that we invoke not mischief, but what is healthy and wholesome for the greater whole.
As an illustration, many years ago a group of us conducted a systemic constellation where we called this kind of energy the (Jedi) ‘Force’. We laughed when it presented itself in the exercise, but for me it held a huge lesson. After some cumbersome movements in the constellation around an issue on the scale of Europe, we ended the constellation and did a debrief. The man representing the Force said “You didn’t ask me for help! I could do anything!” “Such as what?” I wondered. He replied, “Like anything! Bringing you to the moon or anything!” And yet, it had simply not occurred to any of us to ask this force for help! As humans, we are so accustomed to seeing ourselves as the pinnacle of creation that we ignore the other energies present in the universe that also deal with creation. All we have to do is invite them in!
At this juncture, we can extrapolate from ‘being held by the group’s field’ (chapter 3 I and Us) to a larger scale: the group-in-here-and-now needs to learn, and gradually embody, the truth that it is held in and supported by an even wider field. We live at a time when we are invited to relinquish our sense of being isolated (and alienated) beings in a strictly material universe, in order to make room for the mystery of creation. Through our intention we can invoke that which is relevant to the transformation of now. We don’t have to make it happen. We don’t have to come up with the newness ourselves. We simply have to offer our own consciousness as a vessel, as a gateway into this space and this moment, for all that is swarming in the liminal space that we have assumed for so long to be empty.
Interweaving and interpenetration
In terms of the implicate order one may say that everything is enfolded into everything.
– David Bohm
Can we stay in the practice? Can we bridge the gaps between the habitual and the new ways? Can we navigate through life holding both a glimpse of the new and the frustration of falling back into old habits or failing to lead the others into the new? Practice is to be in that state that bridges human and cosmic worlds, big nature and minute nature. It is so much vaster than the human realm, vaster than the question of whether we will make it through the coming transition with our Internet, hot running water and soft towels intact. One of the core assumptions of Neuro-Linguistic Programming is that the solution space is larger than the problem space. In order to bridge the gap between the one thing and the other, we need to be in a space which contains and transcends both ends of the spectrum as a much smaller feature of the landscape in the larger space. This means that we can take our eyes off the ball, so to speak, realising that the challenges we face are less of a big deal than we tend to think. Instead, we can approach things in a natural, paradigm-bridging way that can shift the field without effort, because the practice is about connecting into a much vaster space.
Quote by participant:
Building on that – the dance, the shifting of focus from something minute and detailed to something huge, and then linking that with our individual stories, sometimes what we bring into the circle is a detail, something very small, and sometimes what we bring in is overarching, overwhelming, and the collective is then called to flow, to dance between, to stretch from the minute and tiny to the planetary… – Nina
It seems as if we are bridging the gaps: the gaps between the individual and the collective, between the subtle and the manifest, the tangible and the intangible, the ordinary and the divine. If we really take this to heart and understand that intention and attention are at the core of creating – that is like bridging the gap between mind and matter.
Excerpt from my blog:
As in lovemaking, a lot of what is going on between the two partners is not only physical, but includes many subtle movements and exchanges of energies. What we understand now more and more in our exchange here is that we can create our reality in a love-making with the subtle dimensions. You could even use the concepts of interpenetration, of embracing… at least we participate, from our three-dimensional space, in the other dimensions – and in return these more subtle dimensions influence us and this dimension of space and time. It becomes impossible to know where one dimension ends and another begins; again like in good lovemaking where you can’t remember who started which move or who initiated what. Most likely there are no clear boundaries between dimensions anyway, not even between people or things, as we all are formed by our exchange and living together with others and all that surrounds us. – Ria
Next: 9.4 Wild and magic – WMtE part 9
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The field of systemic constellations introduced the concept of ‘systemic conscience’ to the world. Systemic conscience is a systemic awareness of the system as a whole that will ‘use’ any member of the system – and most commonly the most vulnerable one (typically children, in the case of family systems) – to signal that someone or something that belongs to the system (the family, organisation, company, etc.) is not included in it. One way of understanding this is as the whole of a system’s field ‘using’ people to make something visible. We can extrapolate this notion of ‘systemic conscience’ to the field of the future, the field of potential. Otto Scharmer talks about “the future in need of us.” This can be seen as a similar dynamic – not, this time, to heal something from the past, as in typical systemic constellations, but rather, a field of potential that calls on different people to bring it into actuality. In this regard, participants in a Circle of Creation are in service of a greater, systemic purpose, as set out in 7.1, Collective Calling.
In one of my encounters with Bonnitta Roy, she came up with the – at that time – startling question: What are people for? This question landed home and stayed with me for quite some time. It arose from the awareness that so much of what we humans think is uniquely human is actually inherited from our animal anticedents. This being the case, what precisely do humans bring to the whole? What is the legacy of humanity that can bring all the rest of life forwards? There is much that humans can do, that (we assume) plants and animals cannot: we can self-reflect, manipulate abstract concepts, create something beyond ourselves, question something and be in not-knowing… But are these mostly conceptual capacities really our only unique contribution?
In recent years, the reality of a collapse of (Western) middle-class society – something that will fundamentally change our mainstream way of living – has been sinking in, a little more every day. In this context, the ability to hold an inner alignment, to stay present, centred and grounded in ourselves – instead of escaping into panic, powerlessness, distraction or denial – is crucial. We will be able to hold presence and awareness in the face of any kind of collapse only by being in circles (communities, teams, organisations, collectives), by staying in connection with each other. Without this shared and collective consciousness, we will tend to fall back into all kinds of regressive behaviours and be unable to achieve innovative insights and generative action. I think no one can imagine what the world and our daily life will look like in a few years from now. We will need each other for support, to rebuild the fabric of the collective and allow truly creative ideas come to fruition.
Not falling into old patterns is not the ultimate purpose here, however. It is simply a condition for doing the work. In the practice of Collective Presencing, it is the collective sourcing that brings in knowing and insights that we cannot access individually. Beyond the insights, aligning wider and deeper, we can collectively sense what potential is ready to manifest through us, because we add the awareness of here-and-now. This is what brings forth generative action. I sense that this is (part of) humanity’s evolutionary path: to learn to be in this collective practice that is – and leads – to generative action.
This seems to me to be one of the things that we, as humans, can add to life. In the meantime it can also allow the regeneration of much of what we have damaged and destroyed. I believe this is how humanity and life on the planet will move into the next phase of possibility. Collective practice, as it is emerging through the many experiments of We-spaces, teal organisations and ecosystem awareness, is essential for all the potential that wants to manifest. We are, collectively, in that birthing or pre-birthing process right now.
What seems unique to us as humans is the ability to design processes that invite co-creation and lead to life-affirming action. We see this in the building process that Christopher Alexander has been experimenting with, which leads to qualities like beauty and harmony. We recognise it, too, in any good permaculture practice, as it generates food while supporting more wildlife, building more resilience, and so on. The practices of the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter, too, are in essence about co-creation, both within the hosting teams and within the groups of participants. It is clear from these three examples that it is not about following rules, plans or formulae. It is an iterative experimental practice. They are all about co-creation with what is present, and at the same time the design process leads to novelty, beauty and adds more of life to what went before.
Fields and fields
As we have entered more and subtler sensing and awareness, the word ‘field’ shows up, as if by itself. Many people use this word, in different contexts, meaning different things. The best definition I have found is this: a field is a space in which an energy is held.
Like a physical field, we call something a field when we ‘see’ the boundaries around it. Otherwise we call it ‘nature’. So a field – in the energetic world – is to be seen not as a separate ‘thing’, but as a space of awareness in which an energy is held that we throw a loose boundary around so we can talk about it and sense into it. Just like individual people – whose boundaries, in the Western way of thinking, are quite fixed – fields have boundaries. But they are not forever immutable. As with individuals, the qualities and boundaries of fields will change due to many encounters with other energies, whether manifest or not.
Our Western-trained awareness has been one of fragmentation, of knowing facts and things with clear boundaries. The practice of Collective Presencing bends our awareness increasingly to what exists in between the facts, in between the people, in amongst all of life. This is why we speak of fields, but because there are many different fields – regions of awareness – to sense into and to talk about, some distinctions might be useful.
Rupert Sheldrake defines a field as ‘a region of influence’. Social, cultural fields are shaped by what has come before and expressed through strong habits/rituals – like the founding myths that give coherence to a collective cultural or organisational field.
When Otto Scharmer says “we need to learn from the future”, I understand this as meaning that we need to be in conscious relation with the field of potential, and sense what exactly out of this field is most likely to come to manifestation through us. Again, the field is not a thing, and neither is the potential! It can be seen as regions where our attention can go and notice something, but if we turn our attention away, there is just a big soup of energy – with us included!
Through our different gatherings, we came to see that there is a collective field, a collective potential or possibility, that we were all sensing before we gathered. Almost as if it ‘exists’ in itself, but again, it is not a thing! It is a possibility, a potential that we resonate with – where others do not. It is not we individuals coming together who then create ‘this field’ between us. The field, with its huge potential to manifest newness, was probably guiding us, inviting us, attracting us, seeking resonance with us, to come together in the first place. Again, it is not a question of which ‘caused’ the other. Resonances seem to happen, probably bubbling up out of life itself, traversing both manifest and unmanifest realms – and again, there is no boundary between the two! The field of potential is in need of us, embodied human beings, to make it visible, tangible, manifest. It is only through us that the potential can be embodied and can result in generative action that can actually change something fundamentally.
The field of unmanifest potential that we can collectively listen and sense into can be distinguished from the social and inter-subjective field that we hold among us (I and Us). Depending on where we put our attention, we can notice different sensations in each of these regions. We can see each individual in the circle as holding a pole of awareness, being in inner alignment. In between the poles – and in the awareness of it – the field of potential becomes tangible. It is a practice of multiple awareness to do this collectively, for collective purposes.
All these distinctions and attempted explanations still leave us with many more questions… This is life on the edge!
I’m interested in this field thinking. In groups we expand this thought process to contain you and your life as a full process, not just parts and bits. How can I think and feel you as a field? Not just as a personality but all of your life at once? Is there a possibility of this and how can we expand our thinking into this field thinking in a company or institution, a global process, a group, whatever.
– Thomas Hübl, in Beams and Struts
Quote from participant:
My sense is of being an instrument of the future unfolding, of playing my notes/chords to call in harmonic synchronization. Everything becomes less and less personal, slowly taking one step at a time. Moving into the impersonal, the fleetingly impermanent, the seemingly impermeable; and yet as each new horizon appears, I permeate, and am permeated, interpenetrated. As an embodied human presence born of and into an older system, the resonance of the new plays in me seeking the way along the frontiers of evolution. – Judy
Who is holding system-wide potentials?
In the third chapter we talked about what we understand as holding space, its main function being to hold the space open for the potential to manifest. In the global Art of Hosting network, we have noticed a pattern in working with complexity, that we articulate as follows: “It takes a field to hold a field.” In practice, this means that when seeking collective intelligence and collective wisdom through conversations with large groups, you need a (hosting) team that itself uses its collective wisdom. This cannot be done by a lone expert. But what about system-wide – and even world-wide – potential? Is anyone holding the space for potential at these scales, other than (or even) the powers that be (the 1%, the establishment)?
There are many individuals acting out on the world stage – just look at the massive outpouring of emotion before and after the Brexit and the Trump votes. We would do well to restore some kind of balance and collective grounded presence, both to sense into what actual inquiries and guiding questions are essential system-wide, and who are the groups and teams who will (can) hold the potential on these larger scales? What kind of group can keep the space open and not collapse into default thinking or emotional patterns – and then live up to the new insights and generative actions that come into view?
Quote by participant:
I would like to speak to the re-patterning of energy. It is really important to see the whole big context we are in now. It is a pattern interrupt; it is no longer for us to do business as usual. Part of what we need to be doing is holding the container in which the energetic pattern can reconfigure itself. Because there will be a certain amount of chaos and as we know from hosting – that is part of what holding is about, to keep a sense of containment, of calm, while all hell breaks loose. We don’t need to do anything in any particular way, but we have to hold the space in a more harmonious way so that re-patterning can happen. – Helen
Many of you, reading this book this far, have heard the story of the Imaginal Cells – the early butterfly cells in the pupa in its cocoon that need to find each other in order for the butterfly to take shape. If we extrapolate from this metaphor to global or system-wide scales, we can ask: What is this cocoon, and who is holding the cocoon while the imaginal cells find and organise themselves to become the butterfly?
Some of us have been living and working with the practice of Collective Presencing, and have manifested small projects in this way. It seems that we are now asked to do so on much larger scales. What skills and capacities are needed to do this? It is one thing to hold the acquisition and renovation of a house and land in this way, for example. It is something quite different to hold a generative space for a country, a region, a local educational system, let alone even wider, more global systems. So much more is at stake, so much more is active in the field, so many more emotions flare up, so much more collective trauma is unconsciously held. In a way, it seems that all of that (emotional) movement needs to be held in a much, much greater emptiness and deeper emotional steadiness – the way a mother embraces and contains an overactive child.
Quote from participant:
At this time there seems to be a huge movement of groups of people searching for mature ways of being together and taking responsible action together. I feel that is a true movement towards cultural maturity. Perhaps we are trying to transform the ‘happenings’ of the 60’s and 70’s and the congresses of later decades into the councils of the emerging future. – Marianne
Maybe it is too early to do this on such a scale. We do see it these days on the scale of organisations and businesses, as this example testifies. How Brian describes their way of working strongly relates to much of what is described in these pages. He states: “The decision to love is also a paradox because one is committing to the person as they really are and to their highest potential — unconditionally accepting and valuing what is while also serving what wants to be. In some traditions this is expressed as “I love you just the way you are, and we have a lot of work to do.” This is essential in developmental work: to start honestly where we are and simultaneously to work to see and unlock the potential that could be.” This is a perfect description of what I have called holding space!
Being able to hold space on such a wide and comprehensive scale is a huge invitation – and challenge – for the people willing to do this collectively. The capacity to hold steady and stay present includes the ability to witness pain and ugliness on very great time scales and across huge territories.
Here is a recent quote by Jordan Hall, pointing to the relevance of Collective Presencing on a wider scale, right at this time when so much seems to be going the wrong way:
“By yourself, you can’t think non-linearly. This isn’t your fault. Individual human beings cannot think non-linearly. Only “collective intelligences” – those agents of “inter-subjective consciousness” – can. To put it more simply, we implement and do things as individuals. We innovate as tribes. And the world we live in today — the world of the 21st Century — is a world of continuous innovation. ….
The conflict of the 21st Century is about forming a Collective Intelligence that can outwit and out innovate all its competitors. The central challenge is to innovate a way of collaborating and cohering individuals that maximally deploys their individual perspectives, capabilities, understandings and insights with each other.”
Collective Presencing has the potential to become a practice for global governance. Holding space on this level is holding the meta-perspective of the species in the universe. What does a balanced governance look like in daily life, when it is in service of the greater whole?
World Soul – Anima Mundi
This inquiry leads us to the notion of ‘world soul’ – the English equivalent of the Latin ‘Anima Mundi’. Wikipedia says:
“The world soul (Greek: ψυχὴκόσμου, Latin: anima mundi) is, according to several systems of thought, an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet, which relates to our world in much the same way as the soul is connected to the human body. The idea originated with Plato, … He wrote: Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as: “the soul of the world; a power or spirit supposed to be diffused throughout the material universe, organising and giving form to the whole and to all its parts, and regularising the motions and alterations of the parts. Therefore we can say that it is akin in meaning to ‘cosmic order-generating (i.e. syntropic) energy’.”
The following memory might be an experience of the World Soul – or at least related with it… In the preparation day for the Women Moving the Edge gathering in Holland, I was sensing deep, deep energetic layers of reality. I understood that we were re-weaving the holes in the fabric of the collective connection. These holes were like tears at different places in the energetic fabric. They came into being because our lives, thoughts and actions have been so fundamentally fragmented for so long, without there being enough people holding strong enough intentions to keep this energetic fabric alive. I realised in that moment that we need many of these collectively-held intentions to be able to reweave and repair what has been torn for a long time.
What if the World Soul is the ‘field’ that is guiding us collectively? What if all humans – and all beings on the Earth – are there to bring the potential of the World Soul consciously into manifest form?
Excerpts from my blog:
Silence settled in, and we were all listening inwards to our next impulse, like in the exercise Karen had offered us the day before. The impulse that came up in my body was to bow. A very deep bow, so deep I ended up lying on the floor with my hands turned upwards in receiving position. I explained to the others that I wanted to bow deeply for the mystery that is the World Soul (that I had recently encountered in Return of the Feminine and the World Soul, by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee). Later on, Karen, our London guest, did just the same, but she didn’t use any words, which made it even more powerful as a statement.
I came to understand some more of what this World Soul means. Connecting in with it, this living substance of the Earth, is how right timing and right place can be sensed and discerned. …. Collectively we became more aware that there is nothing ‘to do’, nor even anything ‘to get’… it is all about surrendering and aligning to Life, whether we related to it as our individual Soul or the World Soul.
In a way, the very fact that we find ourselves more and more often in groups of people who sense they have something to do together – as we described in Collective Calling – could be seen as invitations from the World Soul, calling us – the humans – to rise up into full possibility. Again, let’s not fall into the trap of imagining us over here and the World Soul somewhere over there! We can indeed attune to the field of potential on such a large scale, and it can inform us and we can inform it. It is interweaving and interpenetration, from the individual all the way up to the Earth. The potential of the Earth, with humanity as an inherent part, cannot come alive without our doing our personal, individual parts and doing our very unique collective parts!
What if the need of the world – all our man-made constructions – is an invitation to all of us to become who we really are? To reach our highest collective human potential? To come, as humanity, into right relationship with the Earth?
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, Myth and transition interview
What seems to be important here is the fluidity of our witnessing capacity. We are invited to shift the boundaries of our attention and move from a tree to an ecosystem to a leaf, to a membrane, to the planet… As the boundary shifts, so does the subtle energy, so does our relationship, so does our inner experience of our own size and shape. It all shifts as we shift the boundaries of our attention. So it’s the elasticity and the fluidity that seem to become more important. It’s a kind of dance that brings us into a very active, dynamic, co-creative relationship with what we’re witnessing.
If we integrate here the piece of knowledge from quantum science called ‘Schrödinger’s cat’, whereby the act of observing and intention ‘collapses’ the probablility waves of the electron into behaving as either a wave or a particle in its actual manifestation, we could say in simple terms: the intention influences the potential, because when the probability collapses into one manifestation, the other probabilities vanish.
Maybe what we are in need of right now are many groups who can hold collective intentions and collective fields of potential, who can, together, hold the World Soul and its other possible manifestations. This could be an alternative, another Earth-wide, world-scale intention, to counterbalance the groups and individuals currently holding the neo-liberal intention on the economic and political scene. It seems to me that if we can hold it Earth-wide, including the man-made world, all of nature and the subtle realms, our intention could be stronger than theirs as we invite more forces and energies to co-create with humanity. We are then not manipulating, but holding strong collective intentions for the good of the whole. We are in conscious co-creation with the other intelligences in the cosmos that we assume also have the highest benevolent aspirations for what they can get their arms around.
What if collectively holding the space for the unmanifest potential of humanity is a new form of governance, the next form of ‘doing politics’? This points to the big difference between the government of (parts of) the world, and governance of the eco-system of the Earth. It is beyond ‘being citizens of the world’ – how we have been thinking of ourselves, which has so severely limited and reduced us. It is about being, collectively, ‘inhabitants of the Earth’ – a very grounded way of being. Doing politics has a lot to do with power and domination, while governance of the Earth has to do with nurturing and stewarding, very alive, very embodied, very close to the ground.
Have we ever done this before? No.
Is it a big challenge? Yes.
And still, nothing stops us from trying, iterating and learning!
Doing this consciously and intentionally will change our common understanding of what it means – could also mean – to be alive. It seems to me that the purpose of being alive as a human being is the creation of the possible. Being alive as humanity then means becoming active players in this ecosystem with and in and on the Earth. As Brian Swimme points out, this is the first time in history – in evolution – that the human species has become a geological force. It is quite impressive to realize that, and to use our power to create in a generative, instead of an extractive, way.
Next: 9.3 In love with life’s potential
If you are looking for a pdf of this article, just send me a message!
And here we should re-emphasize that our concern is not with the conquest of a future, at least not that ‘temporal’ future that is generally deemed to be the future. Rather it is a question of what is future in us, that is, what is present to the same degree that all past in us is present. ….. Our sole concern must be with making manifest the future which is immanent in ourselves.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever Present Origin, p296 (italics from the book)
This last chapter is a difficult one to write. First of all, the structure of the English language, where most sentences are structured with ‘a subject doing something to an object’, has evolved based on an assumption of linear cause and effect, and cannot therefore express the complex nature of life. Such a structure is not conducive to expressing a process of mutual becoming, of collectively reaching to source and bringing forth insights as concrete action. In this chapter my task is to describe a process that is more interpenetrative and interwoven than anything we have articulated so far. Moreover, pointing to what is possible when we have established such collective inner and outer alignment is not at all common, so very hard to imagine if you haven’t experienced it for yourself. You will notice me resorting to many valuable and poetic quotes from people painting more the full process.
For lack of a better term, I use the noun generativity and its adjective generative here. For me they capture the capacity or aspect of creating something novel that hasn’t existed before. Rainbow Hawk defines it as “a life-affirming response”, which is even better in my eyes, because ‘creating something novel’ still has a linear tinge to it. Similarly, ‘letting emergence happen’ presupposes a disconnect between me/us and what happens. Generativity is, to me, the full embodiment of the emergence movement that happens moment to moment, both inside and outside, all at once.
What does generativity look like? I have often tried to find images offering a visual representation of emergence or generativity, but searching for these terms on the internet returns only pictures showing transformations: typically from the caterpillar to the pupa to the butterfly. Beautiful as this is, and full of wonder, it is a process that has happened many times before along similar lines. That is not generative in the sense I have in mind here. A picture of different coloured whisps of smoke swirling together in all directions came the closest, but is still not adequate. Can we imagine stretching our identities, our collective being in the world, to resemble such swirling, fluid movements? What would that look like in our daily lives and work?
When I realised that evolution is not just about humans evolving, the insight hit me hard. Now I can say: of course the whole of life is evolving! All dimensions, all beings, no matter how solid or subtle, from rocks to angels and back. How much potential lies dormant in there? Have we even begun to envision that? And what if we truly understood and believed that the emergence of novel insights and actions were possible, and that evolution does not proceed in a straight line, but makes jumps and unexpected turns?
… the desired position is to rest in the Unmanifest and express in the Manifest, not alternately but simultaneously and by mutual implication.
– Beatrice Bruteau
It really seems a new cosmology, language and ways of expression are needed, which are totally beyond already existing conceptual and scientific frameworks. Even beyond the existing esoteric injunctions.
– Albert Klamt
In previous versions, this chapter was named We and Future. But over time I have come to a deeper and fuller appreciation of what Thomas Hübl said so beautifully: “The future is not what is happening tomorrow, but the future is a potential we can develop into and then tomorrow is different than today.”
Thomas noticed that some people, when talking about the future, would take it as a pretext to avoid engaging with life here and now. However, engaging with potential as we see it is actually an invitation to be so present that we literally – in this and every moment – participate fully in life, in all the dimensions and layers that we have described so far. When we do this, the real intensity of life shows up. In Gebser’s words, Origin comes through. Origin, meaning (Dutch: oorsprong; German: Ursprung) the ‘primordial leap’, literally the point where things can spring forth. Then the future becomes really interesting!
This full participation in life leads us unavoidably to reconfigure our Western sense of identity. Bonnie Roy wrote: “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.” (May 28, 2012 FB group?) What might it mean, what could it mean, to live as a collective and not just as an individual, “as rivers in a floating sea of becoming?” Or, as Mushin Schilling likes to say: “to live in a participatory multi-verse?”
How do we do that? ‘Doing’ not in the sense of ‘making something happen’, but in the embodiment of our daily actions. We have mentioned sourcing as one form of this embodiment. We have described collective sourcing, wholeness of knowing, right timing, the next minimal step and the powers of place… When we bring all these pieces of awareness together, all at once, what potential lies dormant there? To me it seems huge, especially if we were to engage with it in a collective, shared awareness!
One way of capturing this in a question could be: “How do we, as a collective entity, co-create with the subtle dimensions of life?” Fully understanding that we humans, too, have subtle dimensions that are not captured by our six physical senses. Again, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of separation, with ‘me’ or ‘us’ over here, and the subtle realms, just like any other entity, over there. Think: jointly becoming! We must be careful, too, not to deceive ourselves by seeing co-creation as a hidden act to save the world. Think: witnessing! Remember the message from the Earth: “the act of witnessing amplifies my resilience.” Could we ever truly integrate all of this into our mainstream concept of ‘this is me’, or even ‘this is us’? Getting my mind around this leads to some cracking inside me, some groaning… until a re-identification settles itself deeply into my core.
Quote from participant:
I am the world, and the world is in me; the principle of One connects both if I relinquish myself. Then there is space for the field and what comes through it.
If I am not (only) a body; then what is IT that is being expressed? The energetic is so fluid, quickly to move… this re-identification has implications for the field and for the development of the field.
The asking becomes paramount, it is going to bring a possibility… the cellular structure will be changed and influence others. If I ask to be present to who I really am, then it becomes contagious!
… is it possible that it is true: that we are capable of holding the whole universe? We are it, and it is US!
The fullness of awareness is not dependent on time or process. The experience of it brings it about. – Lesley
In this re-identification, the boundaries of the ‘I’ are less fixed. Similarly, the boundaries of the ‘we’ are less fixed, as are ideas of what is possible and what not. I have come to see myself more as a uniquely coloured node that travels in different webs of meaning, meeting other nodes, co-creating new possibilities. This node doesn’t have a lot of freedom. It cannot go anywhere it wants, because it is bound in these webs of culture, family, locality and more – and also by some exciting collective potentials that are resonating within! Can we then see the groups, the teams, the organisations we are part of as specific coloured webs of encounter, that meet other webs in a wider ecosystem, constantly co-creating novel manifestations in our world?
What else is possible?
To begin with, it takes time and effort to sit in a Circle of Creation, to try to reframe the big problems of our time into questions and intentions that point to the inherent potential and opportunities they carry. What makes this difficult is the way we are pressured into a really different view of what is happening and how it happens. As a budding therapist, I learned from my mentor that each crisis is an opportunity for change. Now, this seems to be the case at the greater scale of humanity and its relation to Earth and life as a whole. This reframing of the problems of our time is similar to the re-identification just mentioned. Our cognition-heavy worldview, with its addiction to linear thinking and mental concepts, needs to give way to another worldview which is not just more integral (in a conceptual sense), but where we – literally and in our very bodies – expand to integrate more and more…
This blend of reframing and re-identification is a constant invitation to stay in a very open mode of experimentation, or better put: a mode of collective becoming. There are no best practices here, or even good ones! Only emergent practices. We live and work constantly in a vast soup of a myriad elements: a space that is consciously and intentionally held, with a shared intention and continuous collective inquiry as we move into action; a constant iterative process wherein action comes into being as it happens. There is a constant returning to connection, to presence, to source, to natural rhythm, to the world around. It is ongoing emergence, continuous collective presencing. There is not even a movement back and forth (that would still be too linear) that we do and live in the physical plane. We sense, source, act, reflect, sense, source, act… We have long given up living in our heads only. We stay firmly embodied and aligned, inside and out, in service of a potential that we sense is there and needs us to make it manifest.
In our Western world there is a strong tendency to ‘look for solutions’. In the complexity of this participatory multi-verse where we live, however, there is only this constant cycle of experimentation: sensing and trying out – again and again and again! Rather than reinventing something, or doing ‘the scaling up’ thing, we now engage with emergent practices and prototypes brought forth from within our context. We go into relationship with – no, again too linear! Better: we fully participate in the experience of staying in inquiry, sensing from source, rediscovering and re-identifying each time, and thus increasing connections all around.
The philosophical question might be: How will the formless inform the new form? To be honest: I don’t know the (philosophical) answer. But I do know that I can sense – be aware of – (more) potential present in individuals, in groups, in organisations, in cultures, in regions and in countries. Potential that is as yet untapped. And I know that others can do (or learn) that too. Deep in my bones I know for sure that the combined skill and capacity of dedicated teams to do this will be crucial in evolving our society and its governance.
If we combine this sensing in a balanced and coherent way in our teams, novel insights and actions will emerge. This also happens in the ‘real’ world – we just have to remember the unimaginable that has already occurred, like the fall of the Berlin Wall! All of a sudden, huge shifts become possible. Collective Presencing, as a practice, can support more of these breakthroughs or paradigm shifts, small and not so small. The breaking down of our old mainstream systems has by now become obvious to many. We notice, too, that the new ways of working have not yet found their form. It is as if we are in no-man’s land. We do see some signs of the new, we start to notice patterns, as if the first mushrooms are burgeoning up from the underground mycelium. When will we be aware of the whole new ecosystem, and live and work in it naturally? What is just beyond what is?
Quote of participant:
I had an incredibly strong vision of a circle of women’s arms and hands accepting a new baby into the world. So this real circle of co-creation is like midwifing the new – like collective self-midwifery. We co-create a container that is then impregnated by our inquiry. And then we sit and wait the time it takes for everything to cook. Then we birth out patterns, or forms, into the world. – Helen
Is magic real?
I fully realise that I have entered ‘dangerous territory’ with this book – at least when people look at me and my writing here through the lens of the scientific materialist paradigm. From the sixties into the eighties, a new-age culture took many forms, and many people are still totally fascinated, even blinded by it. But during this period, an essential core has opened up in many people. What many have scornfully dismissed as weak-headed, fluffy, magical thinking is in fact a pre-sensing of new capacities activating in humans at this time.
Take this quote from Gebser and see it at work – collectively lived – in a group:
This is not in the sense that he or she can exercise, say, a new kind of magic power, a new mythical equipoising of polarising, or a new kind of mental superiority over persons, events, or processes. It is rather that his or her being present is in itself sufficient to effect new exfoliations and new crystallisations which could be nowhere manifest without his or her presence.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, p300.
One way of looking at this process is to see it as a psychological transition, for groups of humans. A transition from childhood to adulthood. A shift from a stance of individual and collective powerlessness to one of responsibility and full maturity. All the previous chapters of this book have pointed to what is real and what can be, so that we can understand that the human realm is the realm of choice. It is a matter of where we put our attention and awareness. Once you step into psychological maturity, you are free to decide how you wish to feel, and what you wish to believe. We wish to expand mental knowing into a wholeness of knowing which includes – and integrates – many different ways of knowing. What we experience as reality will flow from that – because we experience the world not as it is but as we are.
And indeed, many synchronicities are occurring. When we set a clear intention, life bends its ways to help that intention to manifest – although never in the ways that I and we have envisioned!
Quote by participant:
We have learned that there is a vibrant realm of invisible (to us) intelligence co-existing with us in this universe of ours, somehow interpenetrating our dimensions, that is just dying to be invited into our conversations, if we only think to ask and open up. As a result of opening up to co-habit with these invisible realms, I find myself now inhabiting the Kosmos in a totally different way, experiencing how truly alive everything is, and how real the seamless quantum ‘vacuum’ is – and how magic is real. All without drugs! – Helen
In one of our gatherings we started with ‘a coning’, a specific way of inviting different energies of the subtle dimension to join forces with us humans. Coning can appear like quite a rigid ritual. When I first learned about it through the books on the Perelandra Gardens, my greatest insight was that humans and subtle beings or energies each have their own role to play in the wholeness of life. Humans are the ones with the free will to decide: to choose and hold an intention. But most of us humans still hold the belief that ‘there is no alternative’ to the way we see the world now, as the neo-liberal mindset has conditioned us to accept. In the practice of Collective Presencing, while fully accepting what is, we choose to believe that far more is possible than what exists today, including where our human capacities are concerned. Equally, we accept that Origin continues to be present, that we can tap into it through sourcing and other such practices, and that in the process of collectively doing this some kind of magic can indeed happen! Referring to Clark’s third law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
Ultimately we don’t know how a true process of creation happens. How is it that carrots look like carrots everywhere in the world? How did life spring from no life? How does life enter in the conception of a baby? In the world of conings, folks mention the work of the devas and nature spirits, which I see as one way of ‘defining’ what makes creation happen – but it remains a mystery. The point I want to make is that you don’t need to believe in conings or devas to realise quite viscerally that we can be more or less aligned with these mysterious forces – whether we them Life, or Origin, or Generativity… I think all these labels are pointing to the same reality.
When we do manage to achieve a space of alignment – inner and outer, individual and collective – we are so much more coherent than most other human activity in the world as it is playing out these days. Provided we don’t allow ourselves to drop that coherence and revert to identifying with the human-made world only, this shifts our energy and, ultimately, our capacity to co-create. Over time, coherence and resonance with our shared intention are the benchmarks that we are collectively tracking, because that’s where something can come into being. So, instead of desperately trying to make things work, we go where the juice is, where the least effort is required!
Feedback from Life
Going where the juice is, checking whether it is easy (enough), while staying connected to our shared intention builds on the assumption that the world is a helpful place. To be precise: ‘the world’ – meaning the man-made world – might not always be ‘helpful’, if we view things through a short-term lens. In that case, we probably need to zoom the lens out substantially in all directions, and to allow ourselves to trust the universe, trust Life. Even in the face of so much wounding, anger, hatred and fear.
As I have repeatedly stated in previous chapters, we always start with what is. Looking the world in the eyes does indeed confront us with the damage done to both people and to the fullness of life on Earth. Engaging with potential doesn’t mean turning our heads away from what is in the ugly corners of the world. What is is always the starting point for any kind of change – otherwise we ground ourselves in a fantasy.
Every minimal, elegant step we take is a safe-fail experiment. This means that we need to constantly track what the impact is, where it resonates, what responses it elicits. As we practice, we are building a collective capacity to notice this kind of feedback from Life. Can we see that the different webs, made up of these different coloured nodes, are slightly changed by our small actions? Are we sensitive enough, together, to notice which kinds of behaviours and actions we want to amplify and which we would rather dampen? Are we receiving and registering the weak signals that point to bigger changes in the offing? Can we take in the feedback ‘as it is’, without conceptual maps or fantasies to bring it more into line with our implicit – and maybe unconscious – hopes?
If you have ever tried to untangle a snarled ball of yarn – something I love doing! – you are never really sure if the move you are making is actually helpful. And yet you need to keep going, trusting that you will make it in the end. This is the trust we need when dealing with complexity and unmanifest potential. There is no way we can plan things in advance, we just have to take one step at a time and see what happens. Again, watch out for any linearity creeping in through the back door. We are all part of that tangled skein, entangled in it but present together, using all our subtle senses to move in the direction where more of Life’s potential can manifest, moving in the creative dance to which Life – Origin – can respond.
Next: 9.2 The field of potential in need of us
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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
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