Reflecting on the guiding questions we used in our little Flemish circle (How do we … out of deep respect and love? How can I respond out of love even if I don’t like what you said? How to show respect to others even when I am in a hurry?) I came to wonder: Why don’t we ask these questions every day and in every situation, instead of only when we are in a circle or a workshop? Even more importantly: Why don’t we live up to the answers that our hearts whisper silently all the time? Why is it more difficult to act on these answers about how to be present – especially when we work and live together – than to read about it or talk about it to our friends? There is a big difference. Everybody feels it. It is because we are involved, with our whole being. We cannot hide. We cannot be our so-called normal, conditioned self any longer. We have to change. The new paradigm in the world, the change in our organisations, more respect embodied in our relationships – all these demand the transformation of myself, of our selves. Nothing less will do.
This chapter describes how the four movements of observing, accepting, honoring and living what is apply to my relationship with myself. The next chapters will expand through the process of outer alignment, where we find a growing balance with the people and context around us. This process of alignment within – I and myself – will uncover the realms of subtle sensing and inner knowing inside your self. They have always been there, but haven’t been in the spotlight. This subtle art of inner alignment gradually gives access to more authenticity, until you are able to shift from your default, conditioned and habitual way of being towards acting in authenticity and flexibility, wherever you are. Authenticity here implies the mind and body integrated, being and knowing in synergy in all kinds of ways. Becoming your own instrument, fine-tuning it and learning to hold your own melody.
You might wonder why we go to all the effort of uncovering this inner realm. In today’s world, strong energetic, human containers (groups, teams, families, organisations) are needed to hold complexity, chaos and turmoil, to provide a sheltered space where individual members can share their stories and be vulnerable. For this to be possible, we need individuals who are strong containers in and by themselves. That means people who take full responsibility – in the sense of ‘response-ability’ – for their emotions, their body’s energy fields, their thoughts, the power of their own will; people who can contain themselves, who can witness all this at once, even when the emotional and energetic charge is very high. This is why this science and practice of inner alignment, of becoming present, is so crucial in these times. Through this practice we discover and hold our unique melody and keep singing harmoniously in the choir, even when a lot is happening all around.
Later we will see how individual, personal authenticity can evolve further, towards living your soul’s calling. It has become clear to me that the increasing complexity of life will not lead to some kind of oneness, some level or form that fits all. Rather, it invites us to express more of our unique ways of being, to become ‘an exemplar’ as Bonnie (Bonnitta Roy) would say. As we each learn to do this, grounded in our own voice, then the practice of choral improvisation becomes possible – learning to sense and ride the shifting patterns emerging from the middle.
Referring to his focusing process from the felt-sense, Gene Gendlin says: “This authenticity is defined not by its outcomes, but by its kind of process.” This applies here in the same way. The process of inner alignment, applied to my personal self, has no final destination. It is not about finding my authentic self at some point in time and then I am done, the journey is over. No, we will see that the unraveling of our mental conditioning goes on and on; the unfolding of our unique ways of expressing our self never ends. We will approach levels of ever more refined energy, and we will become sensitive to the life force coursing through us.
On the surface, it looks as if we know a lot about ‘I’, the ‘me’ that I present in the world every day. Never before in history have we heard this little word ‘I’ with such frequency. But who is this ‘I’, really? How much am I aware of what is really going on inside me? Is my attention as grounded in my subtle senses, my physical sensations and my feelings, as it is in my thoughts, ideas and beliefs? How often do I realise only after the fact what it was that I was actually feeling or sensing? These questions are linked with what Otto Scharmer calls the ‘blind spot of leadership’. Most disciplines of therapy, personal development, coaching and mentoring beckon us inwards with our attention, to witness the deeper layers of this entity we call ‘I’. And it is always a dis-cover-y. What we uncover in this process is the fullness of who we really are. We embrace and integrate the more subtle meanings that are hidden within us, and step by step we come to inhabit our unique self, shedding the conditioning that has been there since childhood or that we borrowed from society. What remains is a self that is transparent, vulnerable, radiant and full of energy: our authentic self.
As Yasuhiko Kimura stated online: “Authenticity is etymologically and existentially linked to authorship and authority. To be authentic entails being the author of your own life based on your own inner authority, free and independent of external authority in the matter of thinking, knowing, and acting. Self-integrity and self-honesty are built into authenticity.” I couldn’t put it any better.
What follows is the description of the four movements – observing, accepting, honoring and living what is – that we described in general in chapter 1.4, now applied to the process of becoming more present with and aligned within myself. In this process of inner alignment of I and Myself, we focus our attention on our inner being, our inner landscape and we prepare ourselves to open up to embrace and integrate all that we discover inside.
1. Observing what is – in myself: Opening to the full experience of my inner being
Being open to the full experience of myself and observing and acknowledging what is, must include the physical level of my being; because that is – as a matter of fact – the ground of my self. I focus my attention on my internal experience: the physical sensations in different parts of my body, the feelings and emotions that arise with differing degrees of intensity, and the subtle sensations (that we described before) that are also there. Most Westerners are not used to giving attention to their bodies and the wealth of information that the body provides. I have had many clients over the years who would answer “nothing”, when asked what was going on inside, in their bodies. To acknowledge the body is to notice its signals, and to take this bodily information seriously: using the information derived from seeing, feeling, hearing and intuiting as equally valid and complementary to the information provided by our thinking.
The physical body is, on the one hand, a storehouse of old memories and, on the other hand, a very good receptor of subtle signals from the fields around us – and of course much more. Therefore, we must first become good inner listeners, inner observers, to be able to discern what is old and comes from memory, and what is truly in relation with the here and now. The importance of body awareness for the grounding of wisdom cannot be overstated; it is in and through the body that we can check our level of being present.
The aim of the first part of this book is to arrive at collective wisdom. As in any team sport, the training and awareness of the body is not the ultimate purpose, but is in service of the team playing as a whole. In the end, it is in my body, as a container, that I can hold the energies of feeling, thinking, chaos, wisdom and so on. Only in this way can I really contribute to the collective wisdom of a group. If you want to expand your awareness in this field, it is both good and necessary to have a body-awareness training or practice – such as aikido or other martial arts, tai chi, yoga, dancing, any kind of meditation, walking or other practices that use the body as the point of entry.
2. Accepting what is – in myself: expanding my self-image and integrating my subtle inner experience
We can summarise the movement of accepting what is on the personal level as the witnessing and suspending of our habitual ‘this is me’ and accepting that there is more to it. Most of our actions – and thinking – are literally re-actions: repeating the same thoughts and actions. Otto Scharmer calls it ‘downloading’. Downloading happens not only in thinking, but equally in feeling, speaking and action. It applies, too, to our self-image. This doesn’t change easily. We hold onto a consistent self-image; we believe that we stay the same and we use this self-identity as something to rely on. The first step is to recognise that this is what we are doing: downloading, repeating old patterns. Only then we can open up to something new.
Accepting what is in myself means focusing our attention on widening our view on and of our selves, realising that we are more than the habitual form that we identify with. If I sit with my self for a while, and expand my observations inwards, I will notice that there are also other, more subtle signs in myself that don’t really fit with my habitual way of looking at myself. Maybe I got a hunch that something was going on with my friend, but I greeted her in my usual way, without really paying attention. Maybe I was more deeply hurt than I had first realised and shared with my partner. Maybe I intuited that there was something strange going on in that organisation, which could have informed me better from the outset if only I had paid attention. Maybe a clear vision came to me in a team meeting, but I didn’t dare to voice it.
Accepting what is in myself means taking all these subtle signals as just as valid – at least worth checking out and taking into account – as my normal, default ways of seeing my self. We then come to a point where we widen our idea about ourselves, first to admit, and later to integrate our unique way of sensing the subtle into the definition of who and how we are. We open our hearts for more of ourselves and in the same movement we have more acceptance of the unique contribution of every human being, and even beyond.
3. Honouring what is – in myself: Deepening my self image and connecting with my inner gifts
Honouring what is in myself means not just accepting (“OK, it’s true that I noticed that”), but also owning these so-called deeper sensing parts of myself, these deeper layers that I have mostly been hiding away. It’s about achieving full congruence – or at least intending to – between what I share with others, my self image and my deepest experiences.
In our Western culture, our subtle sensing has for the most part been in the shadow; it has not been allowed to be (fully) present. For this reason it still holds a certain gem-like quality: because it has had to hide in the dark and has not been permitted to be visible it is loaded with a heavy emotional charge, which conceals the beauty of its essence. We will be amazed! By opening up to this subtle shadow we find a precious gift: our individual way of sensing, our very own contribution to understanding more of what is going on, our unique gift to collaboration and co-creation.
As mentioned before, we all have a preference – or a natural priority – as to which faculty our subtle sensing manifests through most. For myself, I am very kinaesthetic, so I sense lots of things right in my body, as an ache, as a certain pressure, as a sense of constraint in certain areas of my face, as a quality of deep opening in my lower belly. I’m very physical, very much here-and-now, and I want to walk the talk right away. And sometimes I just know, with a sense of total alignment between my head, my body and my subtle senses. This knowing has a certain quality of ‘this is it’, without any trace of a doubt. But I hardly ever ‘see’ things, or ‘hear’ information. I feel it, or I know it. For others it is different. The point, in honouring what is, is to be grateful for your own way of accessing subtle information and not to try to do like others, or to compare your unique way with theirs. I have a friend who took some years to understand and accept that her ‘instant-knowing-just-like-that’ was no less valuable than the clear and detailed images that could be perceived and described by others.
4. Living what is – in myself: Sharing and expressing my unique gifts
After honouring my deeper self the only possible next step is living and expressing myself, as I am, subtle sensing included. I share my thoughts and emotions, I share the subtle clues I perceive, I share my wildest dreams and my deepest aspirations. Alongside sharing through language, I also show my unique form of creativity: my dance, my models, my poetry, my deep insights, my inner knowing, my sensing, my theory, my cooking, my disturbance, my flower arranging … I am no longer stuck in downloading, I am free from any compulsion to conform to a certain type of identity. I am aware of my gifts to the world, I can now show up as an authentic person.
Ode to a Cloud
Changing shape before your eyes,
Holding its shape so lightly,
Willing to die for love of the whole
Who is this ‘I’ who holds its shape so tightly,
Clinging to form as though it’s all I know.
Would we were like clouds
Willing to be known only for a moment
– by Wendy, participant in WmtE2, Nov.2007
The experience of inner alignment
Quotes: (from conference call, as preparation for the first WMtE gathering, 6 May 2009)
Judy: “When I am connected to my body then there is also a heart connection; and the mental is still there. Then I am being as a human in a more integrated place; a fine-tuned sensibility, a way to sense into, and being fully present. When I feel really aligned, all of that is there, including what I sense in my body; and often there is a vibration, which is very physical. Vibration, a kind of pulsing, that is the signal to me that I am there.”
Eugenie: “Sitting in silence. I feel exactly what you feel. Plus I feel a lot of heart energy. Energy flowing through my body. Also feet and hands, I feel the ground that I sit on. I also feel the energy in my body. I am very open in my heart, very clear in my mind, through all situations. Feeling alive, sexy without seducing, very aware of the power of giving birth, giving life, creating life through my body.”
The ultimate purpose of this chapter I and Myself is to reveal what else is possible if we open ourselves more deeply and widely – for ourselves. It is a journey of many thresholds and little and big jumps into territory that sometimes seems frightening, because we go beyond our Western belief of what is right or true or valuable. We integrate more of our subtle and animal nature by acknowledging that we do sense a lot that in daily life is neither shared nor talked about. Still it is there, we all have the capacity to do it; we are hard-wired for this, and yet the capacity has not been used, let alone trained and practiced. The outcome is that we dis-cover our true self, digging it free from under the conditioning. The reward is being and feeling more alive and present throughout our whole life.
The next chapter moves from becoming present to I and myself, to becoming present to I and relationships. We are widening the scope of the field in which we can learn to grow our awareness and our presence. We will again use the same four sub-movements (observing what is, accepting what is, honoring what is and living what is) and gradually build a whole map (part 4.7) that will reveal what all this can lead to: building capacity for collective wisdom. Not just collective intelligence, but authentic collective wisdom; more on the difference between these concepts later. (part 4.2)
In the hosting team of this Danish Moving the Edge gathering were a few women: one a dancer-performer by profession; Finn’s wife Tina, and myself. We tried to bring in more of the ‘body-stuff’ (dancing, drawing, walking etc.) in the preparation upfront. I wrote even a little article ‘Beyond Words: Body, Movement, Art, Nature’ as one of the perspectives on Collective Intelligence. But in the gathering we didn’t get any further than squeezing in some energizing dance after breaks and lunches. The circle was much more mental; with some resistance to the movement that was offered. But the longing was there and wouldn’t go away.
Tina and I connected soon after the gathering wondering how a Women Moving the Edge would look like. In the first call she said: “My deep pain after Moving the Edge is related to not using my full potential. It is related to holding back because of fear. I’m just acknowledging it as fear, and not irritation or… the pain after Moving the Edge was like breaking in two. It has to do with – maybe – opening this whole question about women’s liberation.” We decided almost right away to invite Judy in, and due to circumstances Tina fell out of the loop over summer.
The women’s liberation Tina mentioned here is not the same as the one we know from feminism, started in the sixties; but a liberation, and equal value, of the physical, emotional, subtle knowing with the mental knowing. It is the combination of all these ways of knowing that we would come to name the Wholeness of Knowing. In the two preparation days before the first Women Moving the Edge gathering, Judy first mentioned the concept and the importance of Wholeness of Knowing, including the body and all the energy in and around it. Later this concept would become crucial in our collective practice and would expand it even more.
Since this book is inviting you to explore the possibilities of Collective Presencing, it is easy to understand that first of all we need to strengthen our individual capacity to be present. For our purposes here, subtle sensing and embodiment lay the foundations on which we will build further capacities which I will describe throughout the rest of the book. What is important to understand at this stage is that the practice in daily life is not so much a state of being present. Rather, we are really talking about an ongoing process that becomes refined over time and is, seemingly, never ending.
Being present as becoming present
The process of understanding what this book is really about began long before I ever had the faintest notion of writing it. It started in my small Flemish women’s circle, called the FiveStar, a training ground for what would eventually lead to the project Women Moving the Edge. We were rather unconscious of the deeper purpose of our joint journey, but we had some guiding questions like: How do we do… (take your pick), so that it is done out of deep respect and love? How can I respond out of love even when I don’t like what you said? How to show respect to others even when I am in a hurry? These questions could be applied to hundreds of different situations, and through collective searching and reflecting we found many answers. We also became wiser and more compassionate.
Reflecting on it later, I came to see that we learned an enormous amount about the process of becoming present. Here, I want to draw your attention to the process side of becoming present. In daily life the point is not so much about being present, but about how to become present (again) once we have lapsed back into our default mode of reacting. In other words, how do we widen our perception and become present to more of what is going on in life? For now, we will start with the common, every-day understanding of being present: being present to your own thoughts, emotions, sensations and becoming mindful of these. Later, we will expand this process to an ever-widening scope, to include becoming present to relationships, then to groups, then to unmanifested potential. This is about becoming present to life in its totally, not in theory but right down to the bottom of real, messy, daily life.
I have noticed in my own experience that becoming present is not something you learn in an instant, nor is it a skill like riding a bike or swimming – once learned you can do it forever. Rather, it is an ongoing process of alignment that seems to go on and on, spreading out in all directions! First of all, this process shifts my understanding of myself as a thing, a ‘something’ with clearly defined boundaries, something that really is separate. Instead, I begin to see and experience myself as a process, an ongoing flow of experiences, in an ongoing exchange with whoever and whatever is around me. Well do I remember my Systemic Constellations teacher, Johannes Schmidt, repeating like a mantra in his workshops: “I am a process!” (and not a thing). This notion resonated with me and over time it wormed its way deep into my inner being. There is a lot of confusion about this ‘I’. Although we experience it as consistent throughout the long concatenation of moments that make up our lives, what seems to endure and stay the same is not a thing, nor does it have clear boundaries. Rather, it is a coherence found throughout the throng of our experiences, like a red thread that has great meaning to our selves.
I trust that by now it is clear that being present equates not with sitting still on a cushion – although the practice of meditation can be very helpful in learning to become more present – but with a capacity to be flexible amidst all that arises, including the capacity to sense the impulse or the movement of what comes next… Alignment with ‘what is’ gives us a power of action, of movement, which is different than ‘power over’ or control. Think of the Aikido master who uses the energy of his assailant to propel him away in the next move.
The process of inner alignment: unfolding authenticity
Just as we discover that this ‘I’ is not a thing, so we learn that being present is not a state that, once reached, is forever attained. It is an ongoing process, a movement into ever greater balance and coherence, deeper and wider, inner and outer. Over time, we noticed that we can distinguish a process of inner alignment and a process of outer alignment. In this chapter we focus on the inner alignment – we will turn our attention to outer alignment later on. We see this competence of inner alignment as an unfolding process that leads to ever more authenticity. Authenticity is defined here as your unique way of acting and relating with your self and the world around you, without any residue of emotionally-charged preference or attachment. Authenticity can also be defined as the unique quality of a particular relationship, or the unique flavor of a group or team.
The ongoing process of deepening our authenticity in an embodied way also opens our selves up to the capacity of sourcing: receiving information from an inner well of knowing. When practiced with other people, equally present and authentic, it enhances our capacity for collective wisdom and generative action. More on all this later as the story unfolds.
My whole journey in reflecting about the experiences in our little women’s circle started with my enthusiastic discovery of the U-process. (At that time, neither of the books by Otto Scharmer, Presencing and Theory U, had yet been written). Failing to fit our experiences into his model got me to thinking more deeply and, step by step, I started developing my own framework. I am well aware that I have not reinvented the wheel; many of these steps, layers or movements are part of existing practices in the field of personal development, group dynamics, etc. The novelty of my approach lies in using this sequence of movements in ever widening spheres of life, building up a coherent framework that can be used to deal with the challenges of our time and the generation and creation of the new.
This process of inner alignment – part of the overall process of becoming present – is about finding the resonance between all the faculties of our self: thinking, experiencing, noticing, feeling and subtle sensing. Using the words of Scharmer, it is “an opening of our mind, our heart and our will”. In the practice of Collective Presencing, we give extra attention to the finer, subtler and more internal experiences, which are very much denied or overlooked in our mainstream society. To get to a deeper inner alignment, to become ever more present, we also need to be open to the subtle signals in our lives. These don’t normally thump on your door, unless you have already repressed a barrage of weaker signals and life presents you some kind of wall for you to smash into. The alignment of these layers in our self is an ongoing invitation to eliminate our inflexibilities as we discover them; doing so makes us more unique and uniquely creative.
Four movements in unfolding authenticity
If we look more closely at this process of inner alignment – becoming ever more present to the inner dimension of our experiences – we are able to articulate different steps, levels, layers or movements. In the messiness and complexity of life’s unfolding, though, they don’t come in nice, clear steps, one after the other. These steps can be distinguished from each other as we reflect on the process, but they are not separate in our daily actions and lives. On occasions, they might happen all at once, while at other times it seems to take ages to integrate one more.
What follows is a description of four levels, or movements in this process of inner alignment that I have found to be present in our daily experiences. You will meet these levels again throughout the book, applied to different contexts and scopes; the narrative will lead to two maps offering an overview of it all. Applied to different areas of life, these four layers always describe a process of deepening authenticity that reveals itself in a process unfolding over time.
The four movements are: observing, accepting, honoring and living ‘what is’. Each calls forth into presence a deeper layer of respect, awareness and love, both for your self and in relationship with others and the wider context. Greater inner alignment always manifests as more authenticity and much greater flexibility of action and thought, greater response-ability. Inner alignment re-establishes relationship and embrace on the inside — either between the different, disowned parts of your self, between your inner self and the inner selves of others, between the different participants in a group or with the inner dimension of the future and the possibilities it holds.
All four movements of unfolding consist of two sub-movements, both of which are needed in this process. One can best be summarized as focusing our attention; for the other it is essential that we open ourselves more. We will see that the combination of these two movements, focusing and opening, can better describe the fullness of the experience than either one on its own.
Observing what is – Open Mind
Focus on: here and now
Open to: full experience
The process of becoming present starts with observing or witnessing what is actually happening. This means observing without any judgment of what we are noticing. It means suspending any kind of judgment; a non-engagement, where we take some emotional distance from what is happening. This is the core of the now widely known mindfulness practices: to experience but not to judge, just observe and witness. No good or bad, just noticing what is.
Wanting or needing change – wherever that might be – always starts with acknowledging what is; which is, at the same time, acknowledging what is not. This action of observing and acknowledging is a big and deep movement of focused, but open attention. In our Western world, we are mostly very far from being in touch with what is. Most often our attention is absorbed in our thinking: the storage place of our ideas, our prejudices, our memories, our beliefs, our hopes, knowledge received from other sources, etc. Simply put, our default attention mode in the Western world resides in the mental space, oblivious to how many emotional and subtle perceptions are behind, underneath, below or next to what is going on in our minds. Our attention is rarely with the totality of what we are actually experiencing, right here and now.
The core purpose of mindfulness training is to coming to grips with the fact that we can guide and direct our attention. It doesn’t need to be stuck in mental thoughts or in emotional upset; we can decide to place it elsewhere and not attach to what seems so intriguing – and true! People who practice meditation learn to master much of it, although some use it to dissociate from the body and so don’t embody it (enough) in their day-to-day life. They sometimes lack the skill of witnessing the bodily side of the here and now.
We can learn to extend observing what is from myself to the other(s) and their internal, subtle reality; further out to their manifest or subtle contribution to the group’s purpose and even beyond as we will see later. It is, all in all, an opening to the full experience on all levels of experience.
Accepting what is – Open Heart
Focus on: widening
Open to: trusting subtle experience
Next comes the inner movement of accepting what is, really embracing what is, right here, before our eyes or inside us. Accepting what is is one small movement beyond observing and acknowledging. It is a widening of our identity, because accepting means integrating something we had left outside us before. It is an action of embracing more of who we are, widening our range of what we define as reality or what is possible. Accepting is a movement in the heart that follows once our minds have been opened and judgment has been suspended; although it can also be the other way round. The widening of our metaphorical boxes can go on and on. As far as I can tell from my own experience, there seems to be no end to it. Real acceptance is an opening of the heart space — an aspect of what we call love.
Accepting what is is being open to becoming more flexible in what we are able to and allow ourselves perceive. It takes account of the subtler layers of our experience. Sometimes we have to dig a little deeper in ourselves to be able to notice these layers, or need to come to a stand-still for a while. Oftentimes it is a movement of embracing what had previously been filtered out as meaningless or unimportant.
Accepting what is, is a movement of the heart. It is (re-)connecting with the true wholeness of our self, others, groups and the whole world in which we live and function. This re-connection is intrinsically healing, because it brings us back into connection with more of who we are. We move beyond the fragmentation and remove the blockages preventing life from really happening. Accepting what is, we start to feel more of the web of interconnectedness, and to experience more deeply our intimate implication in a greater whole that holds us.
Honouring what is – Open Heart
Focus on: deepening
Open to: moving beyond
Honoring what is calls us to drop even deeper into the movement of our hearts. It goes further than accepting — not only do we accept, but we open up to respect what is. We understand in our hearts and minds what our experience means for the fullness (and mystery) of life and honour it in this way. If there is real acceptance in our hearts – of myself, of the other, of the group as a whole, of life in its fullness – then we are ready to honour it fully. Honouring what is, is a deep integration of our physical, mental and emotional layers. You could see it as a deepening of the accepting movement; not just in our minds, but also into the fullness of our hearts and our being. Honouring what is asks for an engagement or commitment: to show oneself fully, to learn to let the other be fully him or herself. It is an embodiment of the acceptance, which shows through in our deeds.
Honouring what is requires us to engage more deeply in communication than is our usual habit. This deepening is a devotion to connecting with these deeper, more vulnerable layers of myself, and extending out to connect with the deeper layers of the other(s) and of the greater whole in which we work and/or live together. This devotion, this honouring, this bowing to what is brings us to a constantly unfolding authenticity in how we are relating.
If I acknowledge and accept that what I feel and think is only ‘my’ truth or ‘a’ perspective, and that what the other person thinks or feels is ‘his or her’ truth or just ‘another’ perspective on reality, and if I can accept both as really and equally valid in the face of the overall reality, then we are challenged to suspend our default frames of feeling, thinking, and willing. Our hearts are asked to expand and embrace more than before. If we can do that, we have more freedom at our disposal and something greater seems to be possible; we come closer to some collective sense or shared meaning.
Living what is – Open Will
Focus on: sharing and expressing
Open to: living authenticity
The three former movements culminate naturally in living and celebrating what is. This means giving form and shape to the deeper inner alignment in our way of being and doing right here and now. It means sharing and expressing all layers of our experience: the physical, the mind, the emotions and the subtle experiences. One form of expression that we – in the western middle class – know very well, is speech. But talking, even when done respectfully and carefully, is just one aspect of life and cannot express all of it. Conversation alone does not constitute authentic living. Imagine being in an intimate partnership where our only form of engagement was talking…
The Open Will, as named by Otto Scharmer, points in the direction of ‘beyond our own, small will’. In the beginning it can feel like sharing and expressing beyond our comfort zone. Sharing what feels like the vulnerable stuff: the inner knowing, the little hunches that might or might not be valuable, that might be judged; offering my poem in a context that normally doesn’t invite this; bringing flowers to the office because I like them and they help me to be who I am. Fully participating with all we have and are is not our default way of behaving, and yet it is these different acts that truly show our unique ways of being. We have received these small (or great) gifts from nature, from birth; now it becomes a conscious choice to share and express them, bring them to the table where we sit. It is not through our own small will that we have created these unique gifts, rather, it is an act of surrender to recognise that life gave them to us and it is an act of choice to show and share them.
Wherever you look in the world: real communities eat together, they sing and they dance together, they share in rituals to mark important moments in life, they work together, they talk; in short, they create their own culture. Every group that wishes to come to its own authentic, collective wisdom will, gradually, create its own culture. In this living what is, where every individual participates fully through his or her own expression, what this group or community is about becomes visible to others, through what people do and don’t do.
We shape our self
to fit this world,
and by the world
are shaped again.
The visible and the invisible
in common cause
to produce the miraculous.
I am thinking of the way
the intangible air
passed at speed
round a shaped wing
holds our weight.
So may we, in this life
to those elements
we have yet to see
and look for the true
shape of our own self,
by forming it well
to the great
intangibles about us.
– David Whyte, The house of belonging
Synchronizing mind and body is not a concept or a random technique someone thought up for self-improvement. Rather, it is a basic principle of how to be a human being and how to use your sense perceptions, your mind and body together.
– Chogyam Trungpa, Shambala, the Sacred Path of the Warrior
Experience: body sensations, reflections and subtle sensing
Experiencing is a thick, bodily-felt flow of situational events; it never has just one form or ‘propositional content’ which might be compared to words.
– Eugene Gendlin, Authenticity after Postmodernism, 1995.
It was Julio Olalla who pointed out to me that, overall, in the West we lack distinctions for describing what is going on in our interior. Being trained as an emotional body-worker, I have spent many years in the ongoing practice of fine-tuning my inner senses, and many times I am perplexed at how little people feel or notice about what is going on inside them. Olalla posits that we need to challenge our deeply held assumptions: we are so attached to what we ‘know’ that we don’t want to give it up even when it doesn’t bring us the expected outcomes. When we expand our observation to include not only our thoughts and opinions but also our inner states and feelings, our whole perception of reality changes, resulting in different actions, feelings and interventions.
When we practice noticing our inner, subtle senses we eventually reach a point where we can experience everything that arises within us with equanimity and compassion — indeed, this becomes second nature. Held with compassion, the unknown parts of our self become less ugly, hostile or weird, and reveal their charms and hitherto unsuspected strengths. This in turn eventually enhances our capacity to sense what is happening in other people, and beyond.
Let me begin by sharing some of the assumptions that underpin my way of looking at things. Our lives are made up of our experiences. These include everything you can think of, everything that you have ever… well, experienced. Your experiences might be comparable to those of your sister or your colleague, but quite unlike those of someone of another gender or generation, let alone from another culture, climate or social class. In the manifest world, experiences can be narrowed down to what we experience through our senses, our physical sensations, since these can be shared, measured, recorded and replicated. This has always been the domain of our mainstream sciences.
But our daily experiences are by no means restricted to our bodily sensations. Alongside everything that can be measured and replicated, we also experience ideas and beliefs and, most of the time, a plethora of emotions and feelings too, whether conscious or not. This complex mesh of sensations, ideas, feelings and emotions is what I mean when I speak of experiences.
As humans, we also have the capacity to reflect on our experiences and to witness what is happening both inside and outside of us. This is the world of consciousness and awareness. It is our capacity to stand outside our experience and notice what is happening. This is mindfulness, witnessing; sometimes called a meta-capacity because it is like standing on the balcony and observing at a distance.
Not all our experiences are based on physical sensations, emotions or ideas, however. We have all had one or more experiences like this one… When I was almost eighteen, I went to enroll at the local university. I was best at, and most interested in, the sciences – maths, physics and chemistry. But out of the blue — I enrolled for psychology. I never uncovered any rationale or other cognitive explanation for this. Looking back over my life, after living more than half a century of it, it makes a lot of sense. At that moment, though, I experienced it, and was somehow aware of it, as ‘something’ – a subtle sensing – that was not conscious in my discursive mind. So where did it come from? Today, my answer would be that my soul was pointing me in a certain direction. Luckily, I was sensitive enough at the time to register it and act on it, although not at all consciously. This sensing, this subtle perception is not something you can measure, and therefore this inner knowing – to use another name for it – has not received much attention in our Western world. Psychology comes closest to it, indeed, but still…
Many people see this inner knowing or subtle perception as something that you either have or you don’t. My conviction, and my experience, is that you can learn it, we can teach it; everybody has it and does it. In fact, throughout history – even in the history of science – and in so many different cultures, this way of knowing has been essential to the human endeavour. When paying more attention to the subtle in our selves – and in others and in our surroundings as well – these perceptions seem to become more palpable, even more understandable. We begin to recognize that they are omnipresent. We become more able to speak about this dimension of ourselves and the world, and to articulate what we are noticing. Like any other practice, when we bring our intention and attention to bear on it, we become better at it.
It is of course in and through the body that we register and identify our physical sensations, and that we are in relationship with what is all around us. But thinking and reflecting, on the one hand, and subtle sensing on the other, also only become possible through the body – because this is where you become conscious of them. Nonetheless, neither is happening in the physical body in the same way as our physical senses can be tracked; rather, both are beyond, or perhaps implied or enfolded. Instead, our physical sensations are happening in the body, through our five senses.
These days, there is increasing recognition that thoughts, intentions and beliefs can be seen as forms of energy that have a certain influence on the plane of matter. I see inner knowing or subtle sensing in the same way. We cannot register them with our five senses, but still they ‘do’ something! There isn’t really that much difference between thoughts and subtle sensing in this regard, which makes it all the more curious that thoughts and ideas have been ascribed so much value over time, while subtle sensing has been seen as unreal and unreliable.
If you want to be able to deal with the greater complexity and uncertainty of life in today’s world in a relaxed way, and enjoy a more emergent quality in your life, then you need to develop this capacity to sense the subtle dimensions of yourself, others and the environment. This subtle way of knowing allows you to notice shifts in energy, in vitality, in life force – like weak signals pointing into the future – before ever anything becomes visible or manifest, if indeed anything ever does. It hints at where life wants to flow.
The capacity for subtle sensing is dependent on the ability to be present and mindful in your experiences. By ‘being present’ we mean being open to what is in the moment, which is a doorway to being open to what wants to happen in the future. Basically this means being the master of your attention: being able to guide it and let it rest where you want it to be. This capacity is not usually part of the mainstream school curriculum, and so it is barely present in our Western culture in general. It can however be cultivated through many different practices, whenever people conceive the intention to do so.
Collective Presencing, the new human capacity described in this book, implies a lot of awareness. Building up that capacity is a process of alignment, both inner and outer. It is about integrating into our awareness more of the unconscious and unrecognized elements of life, in our selves, in others and all around. If we are to become aware of these so-called blind spots (you can’t see what you can’t see!), it behooves us to develop our subtle intelligence. Many would name this area of knowing ‘intuition’. But that term is rather vague and too general, and so not adequate for our purpose here. We need more clarity in this domain of subtle intelligence, and so we must resist the temptation to simplify or generalize.
Scharmer, in his work on Presencing, says: “We need to learn from the future.” Collective Presencing builds on that, but in order to “learn from the future” we need to be able to distinguish between actually sensing something from the future and wishful thinking and/or emotional projection. We will see that quite some emotional intelligence is needed to be able to discern what is what.
My own premise is that if we notice or perceive something — however vague or subtle it may be — we are also able to become conscious of that perception, right in this moment, provided we allow it time and space in which to unfold. We need only slow down and let our subtle sensing reach our consciousness; or perhaps it is the other way round: we can let our attention and awareness reach out to our subtle sensing. Or better still: let our subtle sensing and our awareness synchronize, or come into coherence. In this way even really novel thinking can emerge.
Philosopher Eugene Gendlin has named this kind of inner subtle sense the ‘felt sense’, and has developed a process for attending to it, called Focusing. This process guides your attention to the vague feeling, which itself knows quite exactly what words or expressions fit or fail to express its essence. Based on this Focusing practice, Gendlin developed a 20+ step methodology called ‘Thinking at the edge’, specifically for the purpose of achieving new, theoretical insights based on this felt sense. While we do not follow his defined steps, we do invite everyone to become aware of their felt sense and take the time and effort to (learn to) articulate it for the benefit of others.
Subtle sensing is not only a sensing into objects of substance, distinct and separate elements; it is also a sensing of connections, of atmosphere, of relationships, of that which is in between — some would call it energy. For our Western mind, this involves withdrawing somewhat from our default way of seeing, taking distance from objects, from matter, and instead looking with a broader view and softer focus, and noticing what is happening in the relationships and energy exchange.
Some people use the word etheric sensing, a form of perception based on sensing the energetics of people, places, animals, plants and so on. They see it as a resonance in the etheric levels, and therefore primarily related to life force. This is probably also the reason why people can more easily access or notice their subtle sensing when in nature. My explanation for this is that nature has no agenda, it just is. There is only the life force present; no thinking/ideas and none of the big emotions that humans tend to have, which might block the flow of life. In nature, the predominant presence is the subtle life force so that is what we resonate with.
All experiences happen in real time and our bodies are always involved: pleasant and unpleasant experiences; small and big events; ordinary and exceptional things, even (day) dreaming or a sudden insight. None of this could have any effect on us if our bodies were not involved.
Expression is a big part of our embodiment. To express my perspective in this book, I must speak it or write it down – I could even try to dance or draw it. Regardless of the medium I chosoe, it will always involve my body in some way. Experience and expression are inextricably linked with our physical bodies. I repeat: experience and expression always involve our physical bodies. This ineluctable truth seems often to be forgotten in the mental discourse on so many topics. The process that we are – we are not a clearly defined thing but a process that is ongoing – happens in and through our bodies. It is our very physicality that makes all of our experiences, indeed our whole life, possible: the sensations, the emotions, the thoughts, the subtle feelings, the inner knowing. All of it.
To be human, to be alive, is to be in a physical body. It cannot be otherwise. That’s essential – at the core. Somehow it must have some deep value for life itself. The body makes it possible to learn from experiences, because something has in-form-ed the matter of the body, and the learning has made an imprint. It seems that we are now in a time where we are invited to learn more from the subtle experiences we have too.
Our thinking, our body’s intelligence, our inner knowing, our emotional intelligence… let’s be clear that these aren’t separate. They live in a constant dance of mutual influence: from the inner lived experience or from the so-called observer outside, they are one big flow. This constantly changing interplay actually constitutes the whole of who we are. It is only for the sake of clarity that we separate them out and make distinctions — the reason why science came into being in the first place. But never forget that it is ‘for the sake of clarity’ and not because ‘it is’ like that. Don’t mistake the map for the territory!
Subtle sensing is a finely tuned noticing of bodily perceptions, it is a perception of energy flows streaming or blocking. It can take the form of an experience in your body, when you suddenly realize that you ‘know’, because it is something you can sense, you have received it in your whole body, thinking, feeling, sensing, all included. If you are not embodied — not present in your body — you will miss some or all of the ongoing subtle sensing about your self and your environment. It doesn’t mean you can’t have any subtle sensing. Many people who are good at sensing energies outside them, in the environment, aren’t good at sensing what is going on inside themselves.
Although there are many differences in people’s capacity to sense into the subtle, we can generalize that most people need some silence, some slowing down, some standing still to be able to perceive what is happening on this subtle level. If your attention is not focused on your subtle experience, then you are basically moving too fast (as is the norm in Western society) — and this is not a natural rhythm. In nature, there is a time for speeding up and a time for slowing down. Our culture, in the industrialized world, seems to be constantly in springtime energy, where fast growing happens with no time to harvest the fruits, let alone to be in the deep rest of winter, waiting for the next thing to be born.
We know from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) that different people have different preferences in the use of the physical senses in perceiving the world. They either habitually rely on visual cues, or auditory, or kinaesthetic (external touch and inner feel), taste or smell. The same is going on at the subtle level. Some people ‘see’ on the subtle level and are inspired or learn through imagining or holding a vision, others ‘hear’ some truth ringing or only dissonance, while others ‘know’ for sure that something is not aligned. It is good to know which kind of channel or subtle sensing has your preference, and not to fall into the common trap of believing that ‘seeing’ – as our culture is so visual – has more value or holds more truth than the other (subtle) senses.
Full embodiment, so needed to be flexible and in flow, can be inhibited or blocked as a result of past experiences (mostly in childhood). Your characteristic way of doing things, the frequently recurring themes in your life, the things that you hate or always fall in love with, are like stuck patterns that developed for the purpose of survival. In the present moment, though, they prevent you from being flexible in your response to what is happening in and around you. What many people don’t realize is that not expressing, holding back, withdrawing — when it is a habitual response — is also a survival pattern. It influences the body and its capacity to express freely.
In all these cases, the body blocks free expression and falls into a habit, not from a consciously made choice but as a ‘remnant’ of past experiences. Because there was too much pain for the body to process or for the mind to make meaning of, and no context or support to hold it all, the emotion and its spontaneous, bodily expression (like laughter, crying, anger, dancing, reaching out etc.) retreated underground, into what we call the unconscious, beyond the reach of our normal, everyday mind. Once these past experiences are brought back to the surface, restored to the world of current time-and-space, our understanding (mind) of who we are changes and expands, and the flexibility and breadth of our channels of expression (body) grow. Some painful experiences from early childhood (trauma) can be accessed and healed only through the body (in trauma healing where resonance and trust provide a safe context to do so), because no mind or memory had yet developed at the time when the painful event(s) took place. In such cases, working through the emotions, as in regular therapy, is not sufficient.
The practice of sensing in daily life
As I had been trained in Emotional Bodywork and gone on to become a trainer myself, I had learned a lot about where I was blocked in my own expressions, and how to become free and flexible again. It was a huge clearing of the emotional baggage still stored in my body. As I drew ever closer to the world of subtle sensing – while trying to distance myself from all the new age hype around it – I made up some exercises that I did a lot, and still do. Paying it attention and constantly practicing, my capacity for subtle sensing grew enormously, especially in relation to the environment and the future.
One of these exercises was ‘sensing my place’. Entering a big room full of chairs, whether at a workshop, a conference or a restaurant, I would use my subtle senses to choose my chair. I tried not to think about it, or search for familiar faces, but go fully with an inner sense. Sometimes this led to fascinating encounters!
Another exercise is ‘what is next?’ I am a keen gardener, but I don’t plan my work. I go with whatever I have energy for. Of course, this is guided by what the seasons require, but it often happens that the one thing that my mind was sure I was going to do that day while I was still in bed, didn’t get done until the following weekend or even later, when my energy was finally aligned with just that task. I have learned to trust this so deeply that, for instance, after nearly 3 years in my current home, I gave up pushing myself to buy and plant fruit trees — normally something you do at the beginning of tending to a new property. Instead, I just trusted that there was a reason why my energy wasn’t taking me there. It finally dawned on me that this probably had to do with building up more compost in our heavy clay soil so that the saplings would have a better habitat to start in. Now that the trees are finally in and thriving, my suspicions have been confirmed.
This exercise of ‘what is next?’ is a good preparation for what we will later describe as ‘following your soul’s calling’. It is following your energy, but on a greater scale than a project like your garden. Now you start applying this subtle sensing to your professional life and your life as a whole! It becomes an exercise in ‘what is mine to do?’ and ‘what is the minimal, elegant, next step?’
All these little exercises — and you can invent your own — help us to be more embodied, more present with what is really there. All in all it helps us to be more in the flow and to sense whether we are in or out of alignment, both inner and outer.
Please read my own comment below, where I posted a piece of writing by Bonnitta Roy, who is way better at explaining what I mean to get across here!
In the autumn of 2005, the late Finn Voldtofte sent out an email calling for volunteers to join a team to host a gathering called Moving the Edge of Collective Intelligence. I had first met Finn a few months before in Devon at the Kaleidoscope Café gathering — a retreat for practitioners of World Café and Art of Hosting, where we had experimented with what Finn called ‘listening to the middle’. I knew at once that I had to be there.
The way we worked was quite radical, in that we offered no structured, predefined programme. As the hosting team, we started the convening and hosting process through regular conference calls, the full notes of which were openly published on the internet. In that way, anyone considering participating in the gathering could follow the preparatory process and even comment and contribute beforehand.
The entire gathering, which took place in Denmark in March 2006, was a quest in search for this collective intelligence (or collective wisdom) that was bigger than the sum of the individuals. Finn called it The Magic in the Middle. We struggled and strained for a glimpse of this evasive magic. When the hosting team finally relinquished all attempts at facilitating a programme or design, we finally found ourselves inside this collective magic for about two hours! And indeed, it was magic! The true spirit of dialogue — as the ‘meaning flowing through’ the conversation (from its Latin root) — was palpable. Whatever anyone said fitted right into the flow of unfolding meaning. I knew and recognized this kind of meaning-flowing-through from experiences in my small women’s group in Flanders (Belgium), and some of the others could refer to similar experiences in other contexts. But most of the participants had no idea of where to go or how to get there.
Were we presumptuous to think that we could move the edge of consciousness itself? Was I arrogant to think that I could be of value to such a gathering and such an inquiry, and even to offer myself as part of the organizing and facilitation/hosting team? Maybe so, but I know that Moving the Edge of Collective Intelligence set me on a path. One inquiry lead to another, and to this day it hasn’t stopped.
One of the participants in the Moving the Edge gathering was Judy Wallace, a lady from the Boston area who was working on a master’s thesis on collective intelligence for her study in conscious evolution. She showed up at the gathering, knowing some of the people on the hosting team through her research work. She would become the co-initiator of Women Moving the Edge with me. This book could not have been written without our experiences in the thirteen gatherings between 2007 and 2012.
By the end of the year, Finn Voldtofte was dead, after a sudden illness and conscious dying process through which he hosted and inspired his friends, loved ones and colleagues. Finn was an important teacher to many of us and Women Moving the Edge and much of this book were born from seeds he planted.
Chapter 1. I and Myself: Being Present
This is part 1 of chapter 1, named: I and Myself: Being Present. Only later will the implication of the different chapter names become clear. To explain it here at this stage would be too onerous, so let your self be guided through the parts and the chapters, until we reach the point where the explanation has its rightful place.
1.1 Beginning of the New Beginning
My lived action research
I didn’t do a PhD when I was at university; I wasn’t interested and I held the belief that I wasn’t smart enough. In retrospect, though, I can see that for the last decade or so I have actually been living a big action research project. It turns out that I formulated my first research question in March 2004, right after a professional partnership came quite suddenly to an end and left me in a void.
Here is what I wrote (in those days, not yet being linked into any international networks, I still wrote in Dutch): “Writing a book? Is that it? It touches me somehow… stretching myself to connect everything with everything. OK, if a book needs to be written, then I will, and I will do the research with love and enthusiasm; but I don’t want to worry about my finances, let that be organized without much effort.” I subsequently forgot all about the question and this commitment, at least consciously, but from that day on, the heap of handwritten notes, printed papers and small articles on my desk kept piling higher and higher, and I knew something would need to happen with it.
I made a first attempt in May 2007. I tried to make sense of my notes and of the many experiences I had already had by then. I started an article entitled A Story of Imagining the Future, based on the draft chapter by Otto Scharmer Twenty-Four Principles and Practices of Presencing for Leading Profound Change, the final version of which would be published in his book Theory U. I never finished that article. The final sections were just signposts and the last notes never made it to the keyboard. I looked around, on the internet and everywhere, to see who out there was writing or experimenting with the next level of intersubjective space. Nowhere could I find anything describing the potential I had experienced. That was when it started to dawn on me: I had to write this book myself!
Early in 2008, I shared with my friends: “I have to start writing – about all this knowing and wisdom. I have to do it in a way that integrates different styles. Not only a personal story or an academic research paper, but a fusion. I don’t know where all this is going, but I’m going to start anyway.”
After moving house in the autumn of 2008, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I spread out all my notes on the floor of my new living room so that I could see the whole. I managed to cluster some notes around themes, but the whole didn’t show itself! I would sit with it, stare at it, but my normal capacity to see patterns seemed to be failing me. The children who regularly visited my home kept telling me I should clean up the mess on the floor. Finally, after many weeks, possibly even months, feeling rather frustrated and following guidance from my mentor that “things weren’t ready yet”, I did just that.
Some months later, in March 2009, I was involved in hosting a gathering called Edge of Collective Sourcing, in a remote and beautiful area in Greece. Preparing for the gathering, the hosting circle decided to create a document reflecting our current understanding of what Collective Sourcing was about (more on this later). This became an article of a few pages that I copy-pasted the day before the gathering, to hand out to the participants. It marked another small step towards more writing. During the gathering, I was asked to return to this beautiful place later in the spring to take care of its animal residents – two dogs and a cat – while its human residents were traveling. This was tantamount to being offered two weeks of retreat time for free! I accepted with alacrity, recognizing that it was finally time to start the ‘real’ writing. This was when I made the first outline of this book, starting from that short article.
My first research question, back in 2004, had been: 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?
At that time, I also formulated a few other thoughts:
– Being radical and consistent in translating the concepts of Oneness, the participative universe, the enfoldment of the implicit order into day-to-day reality.
– A community of people as a complex adaptive system, on the edge of chaos: what does that mean?
All these questions came to find an answer in the practices and models you will find in this book.
The story of how this book finally came into being itself illustrates one of its main themes. We are – as I was – able to sense a potential that is wanting to come into manifestation. By offering that potential our attention, it can indeed become possible. Exactly how – and when – this happens will depend on a multiplicity of circumstances, not least of these being our ever more heightened and refined ability to align ourselves, within and without, ever wider, ever deeper.
Integrating science, consciousness and sourcing
Words are sacred.
If you get the right ones
In the right order
You can nudge the world a little.
Adapted from Tom Stoppard – The Real Thing: A Play
Over Christmas and New Year 2007, I was offered some retreat time in La Gomera. I wanted to use this opportunity to sink down into deeper space in myself than I had ever done before. I sat for many, many hours, by myself on the bench in the little garden with its orange, lemon and avocado trees, sensing and writing in my dairy. One of the hurdles I had to overcome was how to blend two different energies within me.
I wrote: “This is not theoretical writing. I am used to writing ‘from the inside’, accessing my inner wisdom through writing, regarding important questions and issues. This means that my mind is not holding any ideas before the words flow out onto the paper. But here and now, I want to convey some of that inner wisdom to you, to others. So now there is knowing in my memory, and yet I still want the freshness of accessing new inner wisdom too. Can I stay in touch with the inner wisdom and still write a coherent piece, that makes sense to people who want to read it? It seems like mixing oil and water. Being a physically centred person, the integration first needs to happen in my body, in my own energetic system. Writing from inner knowing has no time lapse; I know what it is only once it is written down, not before. Writing from memory goes the other way round: first knowing, then writing. Difficult mix. But women are known for being good at multi-tasking, so there must be a way…”
I did not yet know, at that time, that this blending was not just mine to do. As yet I had no inkling that I was at the outset of a long-term collective action research project that would unfold through many gatherings. These lived experiences were the first layer of the mesh that would weave together with individual and collective reflection on the question, all mixed in with moments of recognition and resonance in myself as I delved into the content of books and articles written by others.
Another diary fragment from the Gomera retreat read: “You need to find a new language that integrates science, consciousness and sourcing.” I might as well say this up front: the way I use the term ‘sourcing’ in this book has nothing whatsoever to do with the concept of ‘sourcing’ as it is used in the business world! My kind of Sourcing – meaning a lived experience of accessing information, a lived and embodied inner knowing – will be another important thread in this book. Through continuous reflection and ongoing collective inquiry over the years, some practices and patterns have revealed themselves to us, and these are offered here in stories, descriptions and maps.
During the cycle of gatherings in the container of Women Moving the Edge – which turned out to be a 5-year action research project – we experimented and learned a lot about dimensions of life which are either not much valued or simply not seen by mainstream Western society: the inner, the subtle and the collective. Our collective inquiry first required, then obliged us to articulate, to make distinctions, to describe – to find a language for the subtle differences between the different elements of the nebulous, intangible, inner and collective ways of knowing and sensing. It called on us to embody, integrate and seek the synergy of analysing, articulating and teaching with what came to us through inner knowing, subtle sensing and collective inquiry.
It is my hope that the description of the journey, the concepts and the maps, the language and practices you will find in these pages will invite you into a new way of being human – a wider lens onto a much broader vista of what we, the human tribe, could potentially be. This book is written as an unfolding story: not everything is revealed at the beginning, more is shared as you read further and subsequent steps build on earlier ones. More theoretical parts and models are included too, so that the whole of who you – and we – are can relate with the material provided. Maybe it will call you to something beyond…
Blending individual and collective knowing
A central theme of this book is the unfolding capacity and competence that we see in what we here call ‘circles’. Circles can be teams or groups of any kind, bringing together people motivated by a shared inquiry. Because all the experiences in this action research have been collective ones, I have had to find a balance between writing the book myself, as a solitary activity, and incorporating the collective wisdom and knowledge generated throughout the journey.
To achieve this, I reread all the notes taken during the preparation of over 20 different gatherings: i.e. almost 200 conference calls, with a different configuration of people hosting each gathering. This wealth of input provided me with a lot of language, many quotes to put flesh on the bones of this book and its message. I also trawled through the many blog posts – again more than 100 – that I and other participants had written during and after the actual gatherings, as a way of weaving in the wisdom of the different collectives.
At one point, while the book was slowly taking shape, a small circle came together for regular conference calls to feed back ideas and comments as a way to enrich the content and clarify underlying patterns. This proved to be especially valuable, insofar as they afforded a more precise understanding of the different elements implied in real, generative creation. To ensure full congruence, in these calls we used our own practice – the deeper circle practice – so that the book and all that is related to its message should have the same integrity when it moves into the world.
This phase of the research — reading through these 350+ documents, all related to Women Moving the Edge and other such gatherings — took me a long time. It felt like dissecting a lived experience full of meaning and full of the wholeness of life, cutting it to pieces in order to make another kind of wholeness: an overview and patterns that would make sense for readers who had not shared the experience.
And still, reading this book is not the experience! It offers you a glimpse of what is possible, together with some guidelines, practices and maps in case you want to try it for yourself or use it to evolve in what you are already doing. Hosting or facilitating processes of this kind calls for mastery in different domains. The easiest way to achieve such mastery is to apprentice to the practice, to become a committed practitioner. This is a practice of both method and process, with more emphasis on the latter than we are used to, because we see their interconnection. That’s why this learning works best through immersion in the lived experience, again and again. And then some more.
Practice as embodied intention
It is important to understand that the Women Moving the Edge gatherings were always a practice. They were never a product that we could or would sell. At some moment, I became intrigued by the power of regular practice; be it the practice of hospitality in a B&B, the year long practice of karma yoga in an ashram, my own life practice of gardening and creating beauty and abundance… Practices of this kind really do something on an energetic level. Any visible impact is the tip of the iceberg.
Practices are embodied intentions – or they become so over time if they don’t start out that way. They leave a deep energetic imprint on our selves and our surroundings; on places, on nature and on people. The gatherings were an invitation to more women to experience the practice of collective inquiry and collective sourcing. Many have found it of tremendous benefit in their lives. What we learned and developed together became the practice we now call Collective Presencing.
This book brings to the practice its missing half: the framework, the overview, the step-by-step breakdown, the distinctions, the theory. Together, the practice and the theory form a whole, in which each can inform and enhance the other. Together, in synergy, they belong to the new paradigm that is unfolding and taking shape, each day a bit more, throughout the world.
This book charts the parts and the capacities, and describing the experiences that point to the formation of sentient collectives (circles, groups, networks, organizations). We have noticed that (any) action is far better informed when natural rhythm and right timing are attended to, allowing the collective, generative process to unfold. In these pages you will find practical advice that will make this collective practice more understandable and concrete, supporting its application — the practice itself — and pointing to what it makes possible in the world.
Today, we understand our practice as a collective inquiry into what it means to follow and manifest the new life force that is pulsing through the cosmos right now. The very fact that this practice is collective is part of the new, emergent pattern that is coming through.
Download this section: Baeck 1.1 Beginning of the new beginning 10/15
To write authentically about any territory, such as ‘art’, one has to go there – to take a dive into that gap, plunging toward the territory as deep and as far as one can let oneself go. To extend the metaphor, we have to dive for as long we can hold our breath – which is the suspension of making convenient interpretations for as long as it takes to touch bedrock. And then – and only then – are we qualified to report back. What was it like? How deep did you go? What did you discover? Did you touch the face of the Muse?
– Bonnitta Roy, The Gap, the Map and the Territory, 2006
In this book you will find none of the gloom and doom scenarios that crowd so many books, articles and websites these days. I prefer to dispense with these and focus instead on what is possible. The quest narrated here centres on how we can rediscover the sense of wonderment in life and participate in the radiance and magnificence of all that is. Ourselves included. Our work included. Others included. Everything included.
These pages describe a body of work that has emerged from a practice of action research, not in a context of academia or Fortune 500 companies, but rather from small circles of women with a deep commitment to attend to Source. Accordingly, I can refer to no Big Names: it was just us. It wasn’t even me – although I am the one writing this book, because I was always the one most eager to understand what is behind and underneath our experiences. No, it is about the principles and the patterns of our collective inquiry.
The book started out as an article supplementing ‘Theory U’, as developed by Otto Scharmer, because, inspiring as I found his framework, it didn’t seem able to accommodate what we had been living in our many women’s gatherings. The practice that we came to call Collective Presencing seems to tell us something about evolution itself, about a new human capacity beginning to emerge, and about the new paradigm that we see and feel unfolding through us. The framework I found that best fit our experiences was Jean Gebser’s description of the mutation of consciousness, written half way through the previous century. The book in your hands seeks to articulate how we can live in the new Epoch that is dawning during our days.
What our collective experience adds to conventional understanding and knowledge chiefly concerns the inner, subtle and collective dimensions at play in our lives and work. Our wish is to balance the diverse and manifold ways of knowing, to invite them to co-create in the world. In stark contrast to ‘mainstream’ culture, we cultivate a practice of deep attention to discerning and embodying the individual’s unique contribution to life – another way of articulating Scharmer’s concept of ‘Open Will’. Another novelty will be to apply all this to teams, groups and circles – the collective as it shows up in daily life.
Unpacking our learning lead us to develop a framework illuminating the differences and distinctions between Circles of Presence and Circles of Creation. While the former will allow groups to achieve collective wisdom, the latter goes much further, embracing and integrating the inner, subtle and collective energetic realms where a group of people can enter a truly collective, generative space.
You don’t need to know anything about Theory U or Gebser’s framework to understand what is written here and to be able to apply it. More crucial is the practice of Circle work, in all its depth and humility.
A New Human Capacity
This new human capacity is emerging neither as change within a level of context, nor even as a transformational change to a new and higher level and/or context. It is much more than that: it is a real turning point, a paradigm shift… a mutation in consciousness, as Gebser named it.
Bonnitta Roy emphasizes the difference between development and evolution. She states (online, within the Magellan courses): “… machines can develop well beyond our capacities, because they can run an unlimited number of operations in unlimited time… but they cannot and will never be able to evolve. To evolve, someone will have to pull the plug, and install a new operating system, according to a new paradigm.”
She goes on to ask: “Do we live as if the whole purpose of evolution is to get up to human? Or: Do we live as if human is one of the stages in a greater cosmic story? What we really believe out of these scenarios makes a big difference!”
When I speak of a new human capacity, I see it as part of an evolutionary jump, a sudden leap in human capacities. I’m not at all sure where this will lead – for humanity and all that is alive. I can only share my personal take on it, after many experiences and much pondering, including my own deep intuition and sensing.
As much as anything else, this book is an invitation to live consciously with and in evolution itself. To do this, we are forced to embrace more of who we are, where we came from and what we can be, both individually and collectively. Therefore we need new practices, new organizing patterns, new competencies, new language, and so on. In general, we need to discover, activate and embody a new human, collective capacity. A capacity that sees – and embodies – the world also in terms of organisms, ecosystems, energies, dynamic balance, relationships and emergence instead of only focusing on individuals, planning, organizations, problems, order and the like. This novel capacity invites us – again and again – to hold the tension of not-yet-knowing, while tuning into the questions that really, deeply matter.
This new capacity will help us to create in and from complexity – perhaps even chaos and collapse – and will call forth from us a new way of being and doing. Our main centre of gravity will shift from ‘I, being an individual human being’ to ‘human collectives aligned with life all around’. This new capacity shifts us into an identity that is of service to and through the collective – whatever that is and can become. We – the women and men whose journey is described here, and others besides – have been innovating and prototyping a new collective practice, articulating how the new paradigm could be lived. We are weaving a new story field, and this is one of the stories that resides there.
How you can read this book
This book contains story, explanation and description, maps and models. You can skip one or the other form, but by taking them all together you will more easily see the texture and weave of this new tapestry. The stories are mostly snippets of experience excerpted from the project Women Moving the Edge. The explanation sets more flesh on the bones, as an attempt to make our distinctions and patterns somehow comprehensible. Each chapter will close with a systematic overview. All the chapters, taken together, build up to two maps, which are useful as guiding material.
Download this section: Baeck 0.0 Introduction 10/15