“If we take man as he is, we make him worse. But if we take him as what he could potentially be, then we make him capable of becoming what he can be.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre
It is time to revisit the four movements – noticing, accepting, honoring and living what is – as our focus expands from ourselves to the others; the next step in the widening balance just described. Here, the authentic self that has integrated subtle sensing with all other forms of knowing comes into communication with other human beings. As we have seen, awareness of the process of projection and the ability to see and uncover shadow parts in ourselves is crucial to this step. The intention is for communication with the other(s) to be free from emotional charge, so that no pain is triggered back and forth, allowing us to relate easily and be with one another without projection and (excessive) protection. We become free to listen both to what is really present within us and in others and to what is emerging through us.
1. Noticing what is – in relationship: listen to the inner being of others
The core quality and practice in this first movement is listening: listening with attention, listening between and beyond the words, listening from inner silence. Most people alive in the Western world have not been taught to listen for deeper meaning, nor to hear the essence of what our interlocutor is seeking to convey. We have been trained in conversation-combat: discussion and debate. Noticing what is in relationship means listening to the other with full attention and observing the other beyond, behind and between the spoken words. In so doing, we are not listening closely to the specific words that are spoken, but rather seeking to fathom the meaning they hold for the speaker and sensing the subtle inner reality from whence the message springs. It is listening without thinking about a counter-argument for winning the speaking-match. It is listening without prejudice. It is listening with the deep respect that everybody deserves and that we all hope for when we engage in a conversation.
I can highly recommend Bill Isaacs’ book Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together, especially the chapter on listening. Reading it helped me understand why listening matters so much. The book also expands on how you can learn to listen first to yourself and your own reactions, and to the thoughts running through your head. Learning to listen also means learning to discern between what is actually spoken and the interpretations we immediately attach to what we hear. There is so much to learn!
In our Flemish women’s circle, as psychotherapists, coaches and trainers used to giving advice and ‘helping’, we had to teach one another just to listen, witness and be present to what the others were sharing. Starting out, what proved most difficult was listening without giving advice or trying to fix anything. These were the habitual patterns we had to overcome. Over time we learned to trust the deeper power of witnessing and realised that offering a clear, open mind for the full experience of the other and her communication created a relational dynamic that we had been oblivious to at the outset. Observing and acknowledging the other person and his message carries the flavour of our intertwining as fellow human beings. In this quality of listening, some aspects of this interrelatedness became apparent to us.
2. Accepting what is – in relationship: see the other’s authentic self, integrate my shadow parts
Through deep listening, you come to see the other as another human being, with his or her own history, failures, unique qualities and specific viewpoints. Continued deep listening inevitably brings you to real acceptance. Many times different viewpoints and related projections on others are the stumbling blocks where projects fail or just drag along without lustre. Accepting what is in relationship means recognising your projections and judgments and integrating your own shadow parts. It goes one step beyond suspending your thoughts about others – setting your beliefs aside for a few moments – and implies an opening of the heart. It is an unconditional accepting of this other human being in front of you; not the cold, so-called objective: “I notice what you do/say”, but a peering beneath the surface where the essential, authentic self of the other can be glimpsed.
To be able to see a person as a whole being, we must learn another central element in the practice of dialogue: respect. Respect is not a passive act. To respect someone is to look for the springs that feed the pool of their experience. The word comes from the Latin respicere, which means “to look again”. Its most ancient roots means “to observe”. It involves a sense of honouring or deferring to someone. Where once we saw one aspect of a person, we look again and realise how much of them we had missed. This second look can let us take in more fully the fact that here before me is a living, breathing being.
– William Isaac; Dialogue, p.110
It is not the other who causes my anger, sadness or frustration. These emotions and related ideas and opinions are mine. They might be triggered by the actions or words of the other, but they already existed in me before this actual moment; they spring from my (unconscious) memory, not from what is actually happening in the here and now. To open my heart for my own deeply held patterns (my shadow) is generally not an easy thing to do. It seems easier to blame others than to take full responsibility for my own feelings, viewpoints and actions. It is tempting to make the other responsible so I don’t have to change.
The underlying mechanism that needs to be transcended here is projection. We see in the other something we don’t like, perhaps even can’t stand. If looked upon, this is a part of ourselves that has not yet been integrated, that we don’t want to embrace as part of our own humanness. The first movement is to become aware of my projections (observe what is). The next is to decide to withdraw from the projection (suspend my own emotional reactions), and then finally to return to my own inner balance (own the unconscious parts of myself). This requires me to extend my awareness to the subtleties of what is going on between me and the other, and to refrain from sweeping seemingly innocuous issues under the carpet. If these things are not named and shared, not brought into the light, they will grow in their own way and probably burst to the surface in a much uglier way. Honour these parts as they emerge from the shadows and the process will greatly contribute toward mutual understanding and trust.
This deep acceptance of our own downloading has major consequences in terms of how we put our feelings and ideas into words, how we talk with each other. The art lies in sharing our feelings without interpretation – particularly without making assumptions about the inner state of the other(s). Accepting what is in relationship, means sharing and naming the obvious, nothing more. I call this emotional maturity: this is my perspective, it is my pain. I hold it by and in myself and do not blame others for having caused it. Operating in this way allows us to settle deeper into compassion and love.
Accepting what is in relationship brings a deep realisation that the other is more than his or her habitual patterns, just as I am. A deeper layer is revealed that goes beyond the wounds, the shadows and the patterns of survival. We can contain the other gently, the way a wise village treats its 2-year-olds: it does not smack them, humiliate them, chastise them. It holds them respectfully and returns to the adult business. This is how we have to treat each other. It is as simple as that.
I can peer through the wounds into the deeper truth that dwells inside my partner, just as it dwells within myself. Accepting what is in relationship means paying attention to this deeper layer, this essential self of the other. It does not mean engaging with the wounding – that would need to happen in a therapeutic setting. Nevertheless, our attention can be placed on this deeper reality of the other whenever we need to in service of the overall process. The point is to connect on an essential level, where we are all human beings.
Another way to describe that quality is unconditional love — non-judgment. My interpretation of the conditions that allow a shift to take place is that you take something that’s in you, and you put it out there. It could be some kind of block in you, some kind of energy. You have lots of stuff around it: judgments, spins. You don’t like it. But when it comes into the circle field, we witness it lovingly just as it is. The power of witnessing unconditionally does something. Suddenly, the situation is looked at and blessed, and maybe it’s not as bad as you thought! ………. My belief is that your essential self is there, present with you. If you talk to me, and I start being judgmental of you, I can still engage with that essential part of you. That takes me out of my judgment of your personality. It works!
– Interview by Otto Scharmer with the Circle of Seven.
3. Honouring what is – in relationship: deepen my heart to common humanity
Honouring the other, even as she says something that ignites some anger or sadness in me, is a core awareness skill that we need to develop together. Our learning process has taught us that any disturbance between two people in a group needs to be voiced and named – though not in any aggressive or critical way, but as a neutral sharing without interpretation, applying the witnessing and listening described above. Keeping the interpersonal field between all members of a group clear is a very fundamental aspect of the group’s evolution.
Learning to see the other as more than his or her personality; to see his or her essence, even when we are in conflict, feel irritated or frustrated by each other, can feel like a big commitment – too great a commitment, even. Actually doing this is quite different than engaging in discussion about it. The other is not wrong, is not to blame. Clearing the interpersonal field means assuming full responsibility as I share my own emotional charge. No projection. No blaming. It means leaving all responsibility for the emotional charge of others with them. No projection. No shaming.
It takes time for a group or team to practice and learn this – much longer, in my experience, than any of us would like or expect. The art is to be able to sink deeper into your own heart, where connection takes place at the level of our shared humanity, where you and the other are peers. It means seeking connection at that level even when it seems that the process is going nowhere, the others are way off track and the purpose of the inquiry looks far out of sight. It helps to remember that the process is in service of the group and its purpose, not just for the sake of emotional sharing as such.
It is particularly important to look out for a common but rarely recognised phenomenon that Bonnitta Roy calls “projection into conceptual space”. People can get triggered by what somebody else is saying or stating, without being conscious of the emotional component of their experience. This emotional charge then gets translated into conceptual thoughts and arguments. Thus commences the subtle or not-so-subtle conflict, discussion or debate; connection and awareness of our shared humanity are gone. No relationship can grow or be built in this space of boredom, which is just a repetition of old habitual patterns: downloading in its purest, most lifeless form.
Sometimes honouring what is in relationship requires us to address the issue that the other is blind to – just as my friend did for me – not in a blaming way, but from a deeply human connection: “I see you as a human being, just like me.” Naming the blind spots does way more than just eliminate the negative: as members of a team, naming with and for each other what is limiting or holding us back can be profoundly opening. In a Circle of Presence, naming the blind spots helps us to come to that place of vulnerability, which plays such an essential role in building trust. As we shall see, it helps people to show up in their full magnificence.
Engaging the heart connection in the relationship is crucial for accessing the subtle, collective field of awareness. Unless our hearts are connected in the deeper sensing, the portal to authentic collective wisdom and emergence cannot open. By now, it might be clear that this is an impersonal love that has no attachments, no judgments, no requirements or expectations. Unlike the default form of love in relationships, which usually either pushes or pulls, this unconditional love has a quality of holding and letting life unfold.
One commitment we’ve had is to keep the field clear in all our one-on-one relationships, even when we’re not together. We work at it. I assume it’s like being in a marriage. If you’re really doing the relationship well, you work at it. Very few collectives commit to that. It’s not that we’re so interested in the personality level in the end. My perception is that working the personality level is a prerequisite. There’s always a threshold to cross when we’ve misunderstood and misjudged one another. We could tell a lot of stories about things we’ve been through to return to true relationship. There’s commitment at an essential level that’s a big enabler for the collective field.
– interview by Otto Scharmer with the Circle of Seven
4. Living what is – in relationship: appreciate and invite diversity in any relationship or event
When you live-what-is in yourself and truly honour-what-is in relationship, you start to become aware of the truly vast diversity present in humanity and therefore also in any group or team. This diversity must be acknowledged without getting stuck at the stage in the process where we discover that “We are all the same, how nice!” To truly bring the diversity alive means inviting and accepting different ways of sharing and expressing.
In our Flemish women’s circle, little by little each of us uncovered her own unique contribution to what we were about: one of us would propose a dance, another would invite the others into a constellation exercise, introduce herself with some writing or poetry, or initiate a little ceremony. It enabled us to get to know more of each others depths and to reveal ourselves more authentically. Later, I learned that diversity goes much, much deeper. Some people’s gift is to surface disturbance, while others sit quietly and offer an essential reflection afterwards… I had, and still have, so much to learn about this diversity of gifts. Moreover, as we continue to practice sharing these modes of expression that are so rarely allowed to surface in our mainstream culture, we are given an unprecedented opportunity to experience unknown human richness inside ourselves too.
This practice of living what is in relationship sheds light on an aspect of that mysterious phenomenon that Otto Scharmer, in his Theory U, calls Open Will. Just as I have no part in choosing what my true and unique gift will be (rather, it is uncovered), neither do others. Just like me, they too are in a process of coming to grips with what is their authentic, essential expression in this life on earth. We are together on this journey of discovery, to gain a little more understanding of this greater Will that lives through us.
When we are able to understand and embody this dance of holding the other and myself in full awareness at the same time, we can begin to understand our own unfolding as a journey in relationships, removing us from the notion that we exist as separate beings. Once we reach this point, we viscerally recognise the way every encounter with someone who is different enriches us, and vice versa. This is when we fully appreciate others who hold different points of view or who express themselves in radically different ways.
Isaacs, William; Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
In the first chapter we described the process of becoming ever more present to ourselves, in all our nuances and fullness. This unfolding authenticity as a process of inner alignment, is accompanied by another alignment that extends from our selves out to what is around us. Exploring this inner and outer territory, we are building a map, piece by piece, that describes alignment on both vertical (inner) and horizontal (outer) axes. Eventually this voyage of discovery will give us two maps, but for now we will content ourselves with starting the first one, the map for the Circle of Presence.
A Circle of Presence is any group that has as its purpose to learn, individually and collectively, to grow more present to its collective wisdom. This presumes a capacity in each member of the group to be present with oneself, with others, with the group, and also with the potential that is not yet realised. Awareness on all these levels helps build our capacity to attain authentic, collective wisdom in service of actions that are unique, authentic and balanced in the world. In the second half of the book, we will describe how this awareness and consciousness can be expanded even further, both inwards and outwards, through the practice of a Circle of Creation.
In the previous chapter we distinguished and described different levels or layers in the movement of inner balance and the unfolding of authenticity: observing, accepting, honouring and living what is. As we now extend our awareness beyond ourselves to include the ‘other’, we find that these four verbs apply to this outward movement too. In our lived experience, of course, these layers are all co-arising, intertwined and interwoven. It is one thing to draw a map, but quite another to actually live in the territory! The map can help us now and then, but it is in the practice of daily life that we learn to embody both deeper authenticity and widening balance.
This process of outer alignment will result in an experience of balance, which extends to include the world around. We can differentiate several widening movements, from I and Myself, to I and You, through I and Us, to I and Potential. Again, these different domains are not areas with clear-cut boundaries; we simply separate them out in order to gain some clarity. The overall development here is a growing awareness that whom and what we relate with is much more complex than we had ever imagined.
Seeing this complexity is becoming aware of omnipresent interrelatedness; a deeply embodied understanding that there is never one ‘single thing’, but always – and really always! – mutual relationship. There is an ongoing influence back and forth; I can’t separate myself from my relationship with you, with the group I am in, or with the potential that we hold together. We are distinguishing them here in the interests of clarity, but in life this is just not possible. Of course, mainstream Western thought, rooted in the assumptions of an objective, scientific paradigm, has separated many ‘things’ out, only to recently arrive at the insight that life in general needs to be described in terms of complexity, chaos, networks and embeddedness in systems.
The movement of widening our balance can be seen as ever expanding waves of attention. First we must ease ourselves out of our rigid patterns and habitual boundaries (Chapter 1: I and Myself) before we can really connect with the other(s) (this chapter: I and You). This relational field needs to be mastered before I can live, love and respect on a group level (chapter 3: I and Us). In turn, we need some practice on this group level before we can start to live – together – in real emergence (chapter 4: I and Potential). Later we will see that authenticity and balance can extend deeper and wider, beyond the human beings we are with and out into the material world and into other realms, where authenticity becomes generative creativity and balance becomes coherence. But let’s not jump ahead!
We can see this widening of balance, including ever more in the process, as trusting the invisible ‘in-betweenness’ of all that exists. This trust in the subtle experience of that which is neither visible nor tangible, but which nevertheless influences us, helps us to learn to be at ease with surrendering to new insights, seeing new patterns and coming to an authentic collective wisdom. If we remain grounded in the thing-ness of our selves and others, we miss out on the relationships, the interrelatedness and the myriad other information streams that are constantly at work in our relational field. It is a stretch for our Western mind to shift our attention from the objects we perceive to what is happening inside and between them, but like everything else, this can all be learned and trained.
Balance as a process of widening awareness
As is our habit in the West, my personal process of awakening awareness started with myself, through the practice of meditation, emotional bodywork, different types of dance, circle work, and so on, all to learn about the deeper layers and possibilities in myself. This was all very much ‘me’-focused, at least in the beginning. I cleared many blockages and became freer in my expression and the quality of my life improved. Then something intriguing happened.
A ten-year relationship had just come to an end, and with it a 3-year experiment in a kind of co-housing project. I had prepared myself well for the next autumn and had planned for some evening workshops and weekends in Emotional Bodywork, which I had already been offering for a few years as a therapist. My plan was to build up my practice and to let go of my unemployment benefit. Despite all this forward planning, not one of the courses I was offering had enough participants, and I had to cancel them all. Now what? Finding myself with a lot of time on my hands, and intuiting that the universe was trying to tell me something, I meditated and contemplated to sense into what I was supposed to do.
One afternoon, as I was lying on my sofa groping for clarity, it dawned on me that, while Emotional Bodywork was excellent work, it was no longer mine to do. So what then? A faint inner signal told me that there was something with women, with spirituality… not clear, not sure… and off I went into a deep memory of being burned at the stake! Such a deep embodied, embedded fear that if I truly dared to speak my truth, I would be burned at the stake! My god! I was not at all prepared for the emotional clearing I had done on the level of my personal life to have this as an outcome! A new chapter was opening, this time a more cultural and collective one, and again there was pain to acknowledge and transform. It didn’t feel fair: was this the reward for all my hard work? I didn’t like it!
While I am no ‘true believer’ in past lives, as I have seen such stories used in unhealthy ways, nevertheless I cannot dismiss this intriguing, intense and embodied experience. I prefer to think – as I have learned to do from other experiences – that once we have cleared ourselves of personal traumas, more collective and universal ones will present themselves to us for healing. It is only through individuals taking on this job of expanded consciousness that cultural and age-old suppression can be brought to light and resolved.
This experience launched me into the process of coming together with women in circle, eventually culminating in the Flemish circle, and later the Women Moving the Edge project. Equally important, it taught me something about collective, energetic fields. It was clear to me that this was not solely a personal memory relating exclusively to myself and my story (regardless of whether past lives were involved). I had touched on a collective memory that was speaking through me, making me aware that ‘I’ was not an entity with a separate existence. I was more entangled in other systems and fields than I could ever have imagined.
In our little Flemish women’s group, we naturally expanded towards bigger fields to embrace. As I have already mentioned, we spent a lot of time disentangling what was whose in the field of emotions, triggers and pain. But next came an awareness that the group as a whole was also something to attend to if we wanted to plumb the depths of our collective wisdom. I am referring here not to the classical concept known in social work and facilitation as ‘group dynamics’, but rather to what we might call the ‘group field’ – the inner and subtle awareness of the complexity that is any group.
As our inquiry deepened and we experimented with what was unfolding, we focused more on our subtle and collectively aligned wisdom, and how we could stay open and surrender to it, instead of sticking to pre-made plans and known procedures. We started to ‘learn from the future’, as Scharmer would call it. These days, I prefer to call it ‘engaging with the present potential’. In our habitual linear thinking, we project the future as a straight line from the present. But the potential – or what Gendlin calls ‘the implicit’ – is right here, in every moment of the here-and-now.
I would like to offer a more detailed preview of what lays ahead in this process of widening balance, a process of aligning with what we see as outside of ourselves. We started out from ‘I and Myself’, which was described in the first chapter. Now we move out, allowing our awareness to embrace more of all we are related to and inter-related with.
I and You
Focus on: the inner being of the other
Open to: connecting
We have all learned ways of dealing with a wide range of situations. We know how to shy away when needed, to get furious, to get what we want, etc. As we described in Shadow and Gift, these are our survival patterns, our habitual and unconscious ways of relating with others. My patterns differ from yours, sometimes they are opposite, but they all have one thing in common: we don’t really relate with the other in the here and now. We tend to see others as enemies, as ‘really’ different, as ignorant, as stupid, as too this or too that…. alternatively, we don’t even notice the differences and expect everyone to be just like us.
It’s a big thing to really grasp the notion that ‘everybody has her own truth’, not just as a concept, but to really allow it to penetrate us until we embody in every instant as a lived reality. Whenever we are touched in a vulnerable spot, our defense mechanisms – our fight-or-flight survival patterns – automatically kick in and the value we want to live by (‘respecting different views of reality’, for example) flies straight out the window! Time and again, instead of going for another round of conflict or the mistrust that creeps in so easily, we need the courage and the consciousness to choose to open up to this other ‘I’ and seek a way of connecting that actually works to keep us in constructive relationship.
Once I can see through my own patterns and reveal the hidden parts of myself, it becomes much easier to see or assume these hidden places in the other and be open and respectful with them. After all this other person is just as human as I am, only with a different expression, a different colour and a different shape. Observing what is means just that: seeing the other as another human being whom we probably don’t know at all. Every act of every other person contains a subtle, more hidden aspect that we are likely not aware of and don’t even think about. Just as we can open to the full experience of ourselves, including our subtle senses, in the same way we can open to the inner, subtle self of others. How does this other really feel? What is she aware of that might be quite foreign to me? How does the subtle self of the other expresses itself?
Once we can start to bend a curious gaze towards this diversity and recognise that we are, quite simply, different, truly authentic relationship becomes possible. Our habitual ways of reacting hide aspects of ourselves that have never been fully in the light; some of these are very beautiful, related to being fully alive, while others seem quite dreadful, but really that is just the outer layer. This is true not only of me, but of all the other people I engage with. These shadow aspects that the ‘I’ wants to hide are essential to our true authenticity. Within their shell they conceal a pearl of wisdom and great vision. Can we discern and recognise this in others? Can we relate directly with this deeper layer and leave the habitual patterns for what they are? Are we able to see the gift others bring to the table? Can we truly accept and honour the other?
In this process of widening our awareness to others, we begin to appreciate that our individuality is not clear cut and separate, and that we live in a world of intricate interrelatedness. As we hold both ourselves and the other in full focus at the same time, we become increasingly aware of ourselves as an embodied flow of experiences. Our idea of ourselves as a process of becoming expands into a relational mode of becoming. This process will be described in detail in next section 2.5.
I and Us
Focus on: the group field, the inner collective
Open to: holding
Any collective, be it a team, a family, an organisation or a nation, is formed of a number of people, but it is much more than just the sum of those individuals. It is shaped by the relationships between all, by the mutual influences constantly ongoing, back and forth, at lightning speed. Just because these most often go unnoticed by the conscious mind does not mean they are not influencing what we say and do. The number of possible one-on-one relationships can be calculated by a simple formula (sum=Nx(N-1)) and the result is always much higher than expected. And this sum does not yet take into account the small subgroups forming and influencing each other whenever the collective has more than 4 or 5 participants.
The English language does not (yet?) have a word to describe this web of relationships, this awareness of interrelatedness, these invisible and subtle dynamics at play beneath the surface. The best term seems to be ‘field’, as it evokes a spatial entity beyond the boundaries of myself, and beyond what is happening between me and one other person. Here, we use the notion ‘group field’ to denote the inner dimension that seems to be present in any kind of group, to which our Western world pays scant attention. We distinguish between ‘group field’ and the much more widely recognised ‘group dynamics’, which point mainly to common emotional patterns that occur in group settings. My point here is that, alongside these emotions, there are always subtle energies present that we can learn to detect, to trust, amplify and nurture.
Our Western individuality can find it a challenge to set aside our personal preferences and motivations, to intervene and contribute in sole service of the well-being of the group and its purpose. Doing so does not mean regressing to a childlike state of as yet undeveloped personal identity; nor less does it mean falling into a victim style of conforming to the implicit group norm. Rather, we are pointing here to the next stage in consciousness: from dependent, through in-dependent, to inter-dependent: I need all of you, and you all need the best from me. Only if I offer my full potential can the group achieve its highest possible results. In those moments when my area of knowledge, skill, passion or expertise is at play, I am the leader. In the next moment, you take the lead in another topic or for another task, and we all know and trust this. Leadership circulates throughout the group, not according to a pre-determined schedule, but because we are a leaderful group. Through each fully participating, by sharing the overall response-ability for manifesting the group’s purpose, we are all leaders. (further description in chapter 3)
I and Potential
Focus on: emergence
Open to: surrendering
In previous versions of this matrix, I called this area ‘I and Evolution’, but I now think that it is more accurate to see it as the relation between myself and that which can become manifest, the potential that is present and waiting to be grasped and brought forth. In order for this to happen in a group setting, we need the capacity to be consciously present to all the previously described domains: what is going on in myself, in the other individuals, in the field, and where are we regarding the intention and purpose of the group – all at the same time. Through attending to all of this, we can begin to glimpse what is wanting to come to the surface and can start working with it.
There is a special kind of trust involved in this process of widening balance in the world. In highly complex situations, there is no one ‘right’ thing to say or do. How, then, to choose a certain action? The art is to stay centered and open, trusting that sooner or later the next nugget of potential will open and become accessible. Basically, it is about trusting that we are able to connect with unmanifest potential, consciously and intentionally.
In order to be able to listen to the future, to the unmanifest that is knocking on our door, we need a deep inner stillness. Stillness that is beyond being quiet or without noise; it is a centered state that is not engaged in any kind of habitual story. This inner centering allows us to become aware of the subtle energies that point to more potential and its possible manifestation. Accessing the collective wisdom that is held in any kind of group is a collective practice that requires adequate group silence. This means not only individuals refraining from speech, but also a group-connecting-in-silence reaching out – or opening up – to subtle, collective wisdom.
We focus here on the emergence of that really novel insight or idea that has never existed before, and that could only spring up in the midst of our collective witnessing and connection. It requires us to perceive all phenomena – everything that is happening in the room, within us, around us and in the wider field – without judging them with our habitual minds as not valid or not meaningful. It requires us to take them at face value; to acknowledge, accept, honour and live them.
Back in the days of our earliest experiments, we needed much training, courage and willingness to voice our own sparks of wisdom. Sharing your inner knowing, your unique perspective, your subtle impulse regarding the issue and the question at hand is key to achieving the unique collective wisdom of this particular group or team. But recognising the information held by others as wisdom is equally important. Emergence is a lot about ‘connecting the dots’, so if you fail to value your own dot, or disregard the dots that others have brought to the table, you won’t see the patterns and the new meaning that is arising, and emergence will not win through.
Shadow does not exist by itself, it is cast, by a real physical body. … shadow is shaped by presence. Presence comes a priori to the flaws and absences that we say cast a shadow… shadow is a beautiful, inverse, confirmation of our incarnation. Shadow is intimated absence; almost a template of presence. It is a clue to the character of our appearance in the world. It is an intimation of the ultimate vulnerability, the dynamic of being found by others, not only through the physical body but by its passing thoughts and acts; and even its darkening effect on the world of others; shadow makes a presence of absence, it is a clue to ourselves and to those we are with, even to the parts of ourselves not yet experienced, yet already perceived by others. Shadow is not good or bad, only inescapable.
– David Whyte; from Readers’ Circle Essay, Shadow
Becoming present in and with our self, as described in the first chapter, really isn’t that hard to do. It invites an embracing of the subtler sensing in ourselves, and the barriers to doing this turn out to be far from insurmountable – only somewhat countercultural here in the West. Expanding our awareness to the outside, to the pro-verbal other, we get into the area of relationship. We will see that becoming more present and aligned in this domain asks for something else, something that can be hard to accomplish – at least, so it seems.
In our little Flemish women’s circle, we would spend a lot of time figuring out or cleaning up the relationships between us. After all, we were all psychotherapists, so that was what we were trained for and experienced in! Our purpose was very clear: we wanted to come to a point of continuously open awareness with no emotional attachment at all. But, oh boy… how difficult was that!? Was it not ‘the other’ who was unfriendly, inattentive or harsh? Was it not ‘the other’ who was wrong and didn’t see things in the right way? Was it not ‘the other’ who hurt me? It was sometimes a long, tough ride to clear the space of our projections onto one another and return to a point of open heart and unconditional love. We spent hours and days on this work of untangling emotions, judgments and projections. Clearing the space of projections didn’t mean that we would always agree with what the others did or said, but – as Rumi said – there is a field beyond right-doing and wrong-doing and that was were we wanted to meet.
When we want to learn to become more present in relationship with others, we can’t skip the topic of shadow, which is, for many, related with the concept of ego. A deeper understanding – in the sense of a lived experience and real embodiment, not just a cognitive knowing – of this crucial piece of psychology would solve many conflicts in our daily lives, as well as on many larger scales, even globally. The expression ‘doing shadow work’ points to this being a process: simply put, it involves recognising hidden aspects of ourselves in order to re-integrate them into our sense of ourselves.
Here, too, we will apply the four movements of inner alignment: observing, accepting, honouring and living what is – only this time in connection with an outer alignment, like on a horizontal plane, with others.
Ego isn’t bad. Neither is shadow.
In a lot of spiritual literature and personal development work, the ego is to blame and one should at all costs avoid acting from there. In some networks and communities, this is accepted as a core truth and one that is deeply ingrained in those subcultures – although people don’t have a clear, shared definition of exactly what an ego is and is not. Having practiced for decades as a psychologist and a professional psychotherapist, I have developed a more nuanced view on ego that goes beyond just judging or blaming it and seeking to eradicate it.
In this world of time and space – the realm where we actually live, and which is probably different than the realm our souls came from – we all need an ego in order to grow up. We need a vehicle, a structure that enables us to be here on Earth and in our society, to ground ourselves in and deal with the context in which we live. This structure is our unique way of dealing with the world around us; after all, ego means ‘I’ in Latin. So there is a healthy and necessary aspect in this kind of ego building; it allows us to deal with the physical and social world, it is a healthy sense of self. It is primarily a drive to do all sorts of things and to express who we uniquely are. I learned a long time ago that people who haven’t developed enough of this kind of grounding need ‘ego-strengthening therapy’. So we see ego as a sense of self, a locus of selfhood. In short, we can’t get rid of ego, nor should we. But… and…
In the journey of growing up, some parts of our selves get rigid and ossified. Patterns or habits are formed that were initially needed for our emotional and/or physical survival. They were formed long before we began consciously acting in the world, while we were babies, toddlers and small children. These habits become ingrained in how we think, in what we feel and in how we act. They account for a substantial part what people tend to call ‘personality’. Because they are charged with a great deal of unconscious emotional energy, these patterns are sealed or blocked. For our purposes here, I call them habitual patterns. Often, our sense of self – what we call our identity – is closely enmeshed with these patterns of behaviour. This explains the confusion between ‘ego as sense of self’ and ‘ego as habitual patterns’. Despite what it may look like it at first glance, these patterns are not what defines us; they are not our essence – far from it! They are survival patterns, and were needed for survival in our own unique context. Now that we are older, as adults we can learn to disentangle our identity from them. We are vastly more than these patterns of habit.
If you notice that you are not flexible in your ways of dealing with others and life in general, then you are – in the language of Scharmer – ‘downloading’. In my psychotherapeutic language, you are acting out of your habitual survival patterns. This is the shadow. It relates with Scharmer’s concept of the blind spot: not realising where your thoughts and actions originate from. The personal shadow is that part of us that was not allowed to live in the full light, not invited to be expressed and so, because nothing else was possible, it retreated into the shadows – what psychology calls the subconscious. Later in life, we are fully convinced that it is the other who carries this shadow, not us. They are angry, not me! He hurt me! She didn’t listen! The litany is endless. Our shadow parts are fully out of sight of our own eyes and so we project them onto the other(s). Later in the book we will see that, beyond the personal shadow, there are also cultural shadows and even shadows at the level of humanity.
To do shadow work is to take the projection back. This means we need to re-integrate something back into our healthy sense of self. Most likely, we feel some shame or guilt around whatever it is, it is hidden somewhere deep down inside us, we are not even aware of it. The shame originally arose because our childish, spontaneous, lively expression was met with some kind of negative response: we might have been ridiculed, blamed, not seen in our needs, not allowed to express ourselves or punished for being who we were. Because the expression came and felt totally natural to us at that time, the only ‘explanation’ for this negative response we got as a baby, toddler or child, was that there was something wrong with us. Better to hide that part in the future! Thus is the shadow born. Habits are installed and become ever more ingrained over time.
As adults, we now need a high dose of inner sensitivity and courage even to begin recognising our shadow part(s). This is quite difficult because, as we said, it is completely hidden to our own eyes and there is a tendency to avoid it – at least the strong and painful emotions that are connected with it. After recognising and acknowledging it for our selves, the next step is to allow it out of the closet and to share it with others. When we can do that, what we see is nothing awful or shameful, simply a hurt child who only needs some care, some space and attention to be welcomed and recognised. That’s it. In this sharing and expression – that wasn’t possible in childhood through a lack of support – the re-integration of the shadow part is done and we become more whole. This re-integration process also has a huge influence on how we look at others: we become more humble, because we realise how blind we were to our own ‘stuff’; our hearts can stay open to them, and we can see them as fellow human beings with their own characteristics, wounding, patterns and gifts.
Leadership begins when we stop blaming others or making excuses. Leadership is not a role, it is an attitude.
– Peter Hawkins, www.now-here.com/talks/talks/necessary-leadership
One dark winter evening, I was on the phone with Geert. We had seen each other a few times over the last months and I hoped a partner relationship was sprouting. “You always want to be the boss.” he said. I immediately felt a contraction in my stomach. “Oh, my god, here we have it again!” flashed through my mind. I knew it too well. Many times my women friends and a previous partner had tried to explain that, on many occasions, I would put myself outside of the mutual relationship and behave as if I knew better or didn’t have needs like others did. I knew there was ‘something’ in this, but I didn’t understand it at all. However, being trained as a psychotherapist, it had dawned on me: this is my shadow!
That’s what I shared with him, immediately and on the spot, and I asked if he was willing to describe to me – in full detail – what it was that I did and said that made him come to this conclusion. And he did. To this day I am grateful that he made the effort to explain it all to me. That evening it finally dawned on me how my shadow expressed itself in my life. Emotionally, it was very unpleasant and extremely intense: a real dark night of the soul. I curled up on the sofa under a blanket and saw the many, many instances in my life where I had indeed taken myself out of the equal relationship and – very hidden and secretly –saw myself as knowing better, being wiser, more developed, having more clarity and so on. In this way I distanced myself from my best friends, again and again. This behaviour was totally in contrast with the values I espoused and truly thought I lived by! It felt like watching a real horror film. Every scene called forth fresh tears and I wept from the bottom of my heart because of the unintended outcomes and the distance I myself had unwittingly created,. After some hours I fell asleep on the sofa; I had finally come to grips with the feedback that friends and partners had been trying to give me for over 10 years.
When I dared to feel that far into my inner depths, I found that I always thought of myself as knowing better, as knowing more, as having more personal growth than others. Acknowledging this felt deeply painful. I had a mother who had always put her self above her own pain and needs. She had shown me a (catholic) definition of love that looked as if it was ‘beyond selfishness’, but what I got was a mom who wasn’t really present, who hid her needs and her vulnerable parts, even when she was very sick and dying. Only when I was able to share this part of my childhood with my best friends, acknowledging and really accepting (not judging) the mistrust I had in others and the pain of my childhood, could I integrate my own needs into my sense of self. Through this episode, my secretly held opinion of “I know better”, changed into a conscious knowing that “sometimes I know something that others don’t”. The gift of authentic leadership, now in a more humble form, became discernible in me. Welcoming our selves, our projections and our pain – instead of judging them or feeling guilty or ashamed – is of utmost importance when dealing with shadow material.
At the level of embodiment and emotional energy, in this process of reclaiming the parts of our selves that have been concealed in our subconscious we need to learn to hold a lot of emotion, much of it painful. Taking back our projections will always open up some blocked, unexpressed emotions from a long time ago. You are invited simply to accept these emotions and their expressions as yours; feel the pain and cry; feel the anger and shout; feel the sexual energy and dance; feel what you missed and share your needs. If we are not at ease with doing this, the shadow material will stay were it is – in the shadow – and will keep on pushing us into our habitual patterns of reaction. Again, this calls for ongoing practice: any kind of practice that trains our ability to hold energy and/or intensity will help us not to be taken off guard when these emotions seek their natural expression in the sharing with others.
Wherever and whenever you notice that you are inflexible and always react in the same way – when you are downloading – this is part of your repertoire of habitual patterns that you may want to change. Most likely it is your partner, your friend, your colleague or (your) children who will point out your shadow to you. Because, as we have said, we ourselves are blind to it. Most, if not all, people will at first defend this part of their habitual self by saying “this is how the world is” or “this is how I am” or “that’s not true!” It takes a big dose of self-awareness to suspend this defense, ask for more explanation and look deeply inside. It is worthwhile, however, because the gift is in the trauma. In other words: your shadow will reveal your unique contribution to life, the unique ways in which you are called to express who you truly are.
It is so easy to blame others – or circumstances – for what is not working well or for ‘causing’ your deep emotions. But unless we can act flexibly (having a broader repertoire of responses than just blaming or making excuses), we are basically stuck in our patterns and not present. When I say ‘flexible’, I really mean flexible: having a wide range of options to choose from: we can use humour, or we can play it the other way, or we can choose to not answer… above all, we don’t take it personally. Instead of having a single, habitual reaction, we have a range of responses, depending on the circumstances. There is always – and I do mean always – a way of opening yourself to other ways of dealing with any situation, even when it really, really looks as if you are right and the others are wrong; or when the circumstances really do seem to be the cause of your suffering. There are always more and different options for how you can act and respond – instead of reacting and downloading – that are healthier and cause less suffering to yourself and others.
From my experience in many groups and gatherings, I am surprised by how little most people understand this process of projection and the concept of shadow. They keep on blaming ‘others’ for their own emotions, or use them as excuses. Those ‘others’ can be a real multitude of actors: their partners, the system, the hierarchy, their friends, the facilitator, the teacher, their children, the design, the neighbours… We would be well advised to lend an open and attentive ear to the feedback coming from our closest friends and partners, look at it, and contemplate it… let it sink in, even ask for more specific and detailed examples. Look and listen for recurring patterns in the feedback you get from different people. They are all offering you something you can learn from and it will enhance the quality of the relationships in your life.
I want to state this very clearly: doing shadow work does not mean getting rid of something bad or wrong about you! Many people understand shadow as something that is to blame, but the truth is that this hidden aspect of your self actually holds an essential gift of who you are. In my dark night of the soul, the crucial point was not to get rid of the mistrust and bossiness towards others, but to integrate the more vulnerable, needy and equally human part in myself. In my story, the essence was not that I got eradicated my habitual pattern of creating this gap with others deep in myself; rather, it was about recognising and sharing my own needs and longings, and acknowledging my pain that my mom had always kept her vulnerable part away from conversation and communication with me. Shadow work is simply about integrating something in yourself that has been prevented from living fully in the light. The purpose of doing this work is to become more whole, and to be ready to express and share your full self with others and the world.
When you notice lingering shame or guilt around certain part(s) of your self, you are not looking at this part as it is. Instead of witnessing, observing or acknowledging, you are downloading and judging. It is good to realise that every human being – without exception (as far as I know) – has shadow parts. So there really is nothing special about yours, although it usually feels like that: I have a secret, ugly part that I have to hide, otherwise others won’t accept me. This is the childlike belief that persists, with no grounding in the reality of today. The point now is to accept these parts in yourself, by yourself. Then you are ready to share them and be open about them: that is the re-integration.
This aspect of becoming more aligned and present in all relationships is not easy. It asks for a deep commitment to consciousness, again and again, over and over, in all manner of situations. The hurt child will hold on to its survival pattern and is scared to drop it for fear of not belonging or not surviving! The commitment can be seen as a heroic journey. As Thomas Hübl said in an interview (with Sergio Baroni on YouTube): “We need to be a hero of our own consciousness.” Once you have realised that all your inflexibility and charged emotions are yours (including the so-called positive, highly-charged emotions like falling in love), there is a huge release! No more fighting, discussing, blaming, hoping, trying to get something, holding back, expecting… All that liberated energy becomes fully available to create something, and is open to an ever-expanding vista of possibility and opportunity. The rigidity is gone, and others are seen in a new light: just as they are, as authentic human beings, nothing more and nothing less.
Quote from blogpost:
We speak of ‘holding the shadow’ and ‘loving the dragons’, but it became clear that to understand what this really is about, we have to sink deeper into ‘the koan of the shadow’. The shadow is not what we think it is, the koan will help us see what it really is: because it is not dark and it is not a thing. It is like clouds casting a shadow, but the cloud isn’t something to touch or to hold, you can just walk through it! Instead of the shadow there is an Intense Beauty! Can we live in the Direct Light, not putting anything between our selves and the Light? (May 2009)
Quote from participant:
Because if I don’t acknowledge the ugly inside of me, if I don’t acknowledge the destructive force, then there’s a part of me that doesn’t rise enough, you might say – that isn’t awake enough. There’s a wakefulness in recognising that there is an enemy. And this doesn’t happen to be an outer enemy. And the thing to do with enemies is not to kill them. The thing to do with enemies is to transform them. So the transformative outer dynamic perhaps comes from a thousand tiny steps of internal transformative dynamic. And they’re not the same. – Marianne
Shadow work is a deep and essential part in the process of inner and outer alignment that we are describing in this book. Before you can relate in an authentic way, you have to notice and deal with your own inflexibility and heal the unconscious parts of yourself that are related to that. I have noticed that a lot of people take the word ‘authentic’ to mean expressing your emotions with the implicit or explicit expectation that the other will or should change; they now have a free ticket to lay their emotional charge on others and to go beyond the polite social self. On the contrary. relating in an authentic way, as we construe it here, means that you take responsibility for your own emotions, without expecting the others to save you from them, to offer healing, or to change how they are or how they express themselves. In this way, you have created a response-ability in how you deal with your environment, and you are no longer dependent on how ‘the other’ is doing or not. Relating in an authentic way means that you can share your emotions as yours, in all their vulnerability, when and where appropriate.
In this response-ability, while one part entails staying out of your own shadow parts, it is just as important not to engage with the habitual patterns of others. In the end, of course, it comes down to the same thing and the same questions: can we deal with the others in another way? Are we sufficiently centred and flexible to come up with a novel take on how to deal with this experience?
Habitual patterns also exist in the form of ‘always being nice’, ‘always taking care’, ‘always being challenged to defend or explain’, or ‘always taking too much responsibility’, and hundreds of similar (more ‘positive’) patterns. If we are able to stay out of our survival patterns, and refrain from engaging with the patterns of the other, implicitly or explicitly we are inviting him or her to also come to a different place of engaging in the communication between us. If we are not triggered into our own form of downloading, we offer a space free of emotional charge where the other can quieten down and slowly start to understand that something new is going on.
Getting mired in the habitual patterns of others is what often sucks the life out of us. We get tired of the conversation, which always seems to go in the same direction. There is no real life in this downloading, it is just one more survival strategy engaging with yet another habitual pattern. It has not the quality that can bring us to a deeper understanding of each other, let alone to being fully alive and generating something novel together. When you can hold of your own and others’ patterns as described here – without expressing your emotional charge and/or engaging with the emotional charge of others – the experience is similar to those good moments as a parent, when your child is angry and you can hold its emotion without reacting by answering back with an equal charge of anger. You don’t take it personally. Not reacting in your habitual way, you are response-able.
The point of discernment is always: are you flexible in how you react? Can you do something else or answer in a different way? People who are always nice and polite need perhaps to learn to say: “Please Leave!” People who tend to react in an angry way need perhaps to learn to say: “Sorry.” You can check with yourself: do you have a wider repertoire of ways of acting? If one way doesn’t do the job in the relating, can you do something else? And something else again, and yet something else, without losing your own centre? Do you have different ways of engaging with the situation: humorous, emotional, rational, wacky? Can you offer a question that breaks some shared, unconscious assumptions? Can you do something totally unexpected that takes the conversation to a different level, until you find something that works in this moment, for this relationship?
The gift is in the trauma
There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious.
– Carl Gustav Jung; Alchemical Studies, Collected Works Vol.13, par 335, p.265
From my story, that night on the sofa, when my friend explained to me in detail how I would distance myself from him and seek to dominate, I learned an lot about leadership. Not the bossy kind of leadership that takes authority by some kind of force, but rather a leadership that establishes itself because it is recognised by others as helpful and wise.
I don’t remember where I picked it up, or even if I invented it myself, but the expression ‘the gift is in the trauma’ holds so much value. I know for myself how recognising and integrating my wounded childhood feelings – my mother who kept her vulnerability far away from others, and from me – did away with my inner survival pattern of “I know better.” As a toddler, I knew inside that something else was possible; that relationships and community could be different than how I experienced them with my mom and in her family at large. So, yes, I knew something! But of course, nobody asked me, so I kept it a secret inside for many, many years.
I can see, in hindsight, that my whole life has moved around this topic of leadership, assuming responsibility in different situations, many times initiating new groups and initiatives, while my own vulnerability stayed more or less remote from it all. Because our lives revolve around our deepest trauma, we have seen and approached it from many different angles, from every imaginable perspective, so that after some 20, 30 or 40 years we have become an expert on the topic! At least, if we manage to disengage, step-by-step, of the emotions of hurt that are entangled with it. Working through these emotions and bringing in some consciousness allows us to uncover the gift that is hidden in there. In chapter 5, where we will dive into our soul’s calling, we will build on this unique flavour that each of us brings to life.
Sharing these deep feelings is what creates deep relationships. The quality of our vulnerability is first of all a gift to our own self, but it is also a gift in our relationship with the other(s). If this quality is present in a group’s process, true friendship can arise and we will create a collective space where we are in flow, instead of being hindered by our habitual patterns of defending, blocking, withdrawing and the like. In this shared vulnerability, we open up more, something pours through the cracks of the no-longer-needed identity/personality, and then there is a wider space to embrace and radiate more of life itself.
Next: 2.4 Widening balance as a process of outer alignment
Download this section: Baeck 2.3 Shadow and gift 04/16
Companioning is about being present to another person’s pain;
It is not about taking away the pain.
Companioning is about going to the wilderness of the soul with another human being;
it is not about thinking you are responsible for finding the way out.
Companioning is about honoring the spirit;
it is not about focusing on the intellect.
Companioning is about listening with the heart;
it is not about analyzing with the head.
Companioning is about bearing witness to the struggles of others;
it is not about judging or directing those struggles.
Companioning is about walking alongside;
it is not about leading or being led.
Companioning means discovering the gifts of the sacred silence;
it is not about filling up every moment with words.
Companioning is about respecting disorder and confusion;
it is not about imposing order and logic.
Companioning is about learning from others;
it is not about teaching them.
– By Alan Wolfelt
Next: 2.3 Shadow and gift
Chapter 2. I and You: Authentic Relationship
2.1 Mainstream and shadow
We were sitting at the table in my living room and Johannes – my teacher in Systemic Constellation Work – stood up and walked to a corner of the room. He was going to show me daylight consciousness. He pointed right in front of him and said “this is my goal and I shall go towards it.” Then he moved forward, eyes open and focused on the point he had just indicated. Next he showed me night consciousness. He returned to the corner, turned his back to me, covered his eyes with his hand and walked backwards, slowly but steady, sensing where to place each next step. This, he explained, is night consciousness: sensing where to go, without seeing where you are going or even knowing what is your real destination or purpose. You can’t believe how recognised I felt by this explanation! He had described exactly how I had living my life during recent years. This whole scene unfolded as a possible response to a particular issue in my life that, as far as he could tell, I could deal with only through night consciousness. He related it to the feminine aspect, the moon, darkness, etc. There was nothing I could really ‘do’ about my issue. “When you look at somebody with day consciousness, ” he said, “you see who you encounter. With the feminine, you approach them with your back, not with your eyes open.”
Years later, in a systemic constellation I had asked for, there was ‘something’ I had to face, before I could go on with my leadership work. I knew it related to Johannes’ comments. In that constellation I looked it in the eyes and welcomed it into my life. To this day I still don’t know what it was/is really about. Many times my body has a clue that something is going on, while my mind as yet knows nothing. Often when I go to training events or gatherings, I’m not clear in my mind about what I want to learn or why I am exactly going. I’m there because I sense I need to be there. I go there ‘with my eyes closed’; I go to learn something and to contribute to the inquiry. My analytical mind doesn’t know what, but my subtle intelligence knows more.
It took me a number of years to get to real clarity and inner balance regarding these differences. The daylight mode of consciousness is much more widespread, and if your natural preference works the other way and you have a preference for night consciousness, you can end up feeling excluded, ignored, shamed. It is important to recognise that different people have different ways of knowing, different perspectives on the whole that forms what we call reality. One is not bad, the other is not good; they are just different and we can learn to respect them all, and maybe even understand them.
Regarding preferences and differences (in people born in the West) here are some quotes and stories from other authors:
Figure and Ground
In his book In Over Our Heads, in the chapter on Dealing with Difference, Robert Kegan says:
“I have been told that when American POWs from the Vietnam era were first released, nearly all performed the same two first acts after being flown to Wiesbaden, Germany; they took showers and called loved ones. But the men were far more likely to shower fist and then to call loved ones. The women were more likely to call loved ones first and then to shower. The difference is not necessarily that the men are more selfish and care more about their own bodily comfort than about their loved ones. The men could well have felt what was most important to them was to talk to their loved ones, but they couldn’t do what they most wanted until they had cleansed, or psychologically restored, a self that could even be reconnected to their loved ones. The difference is not between ‘selfish’ and ‘altruistic’ – both groups may have been doing first what they needed to do to restore the self, and both, in that sense, could be said to be ‘selfish’. The difference is in how the self is made whole. For some, the self is restored by itself and is not until then capable or fit for precious connection. For others, the self is restored in and through connection.
“Once again I would repeat that this is not a normative or hierarchic difference. It is a difference in fundamental ‘orientation’, or what I am here calling ‘style’. …. it is important to see that this is not a matter of dichotomy or polarity, as if people favor either separateness or connection, but one of figure and ground.”
Reason and Feeling
In his book Radical Knowing, Understanding Consciousness through Relationship (p.12), philosopher Christian de Quincey says: “As these women explained it to me, they felt most comfortable relating to the world through their feelings, whereas the men in their lives typically used reason as a basis for communication. Many of these women had spent years in relationships where they felt that their husband, boss, teacher, father, or brother had used the power of intellect to invalidate their feelings and in so doing, dominated them; these men and women were experiencing a clash of worldviews.” And he adds: “It’s not that one way of knowing is right or better than the other – we need both reason and feeling for getting on with the complicated business of living.” (p13)
And I fully agree when he states: “We should be careful not to generalize or to stereotype genders. Not all women use feeling as their primary mode of consciousness or communication. And, of course, women can be just as rational and intellectual as men. Similarly, not all men are unskilled in the ‘arts’ of feeling, either. Furthermore, feeling-based consciousness is not always so gentle or nurturing.” (p13) And he goes on to tell a story demonstrating this point.
Justice and Care
Carol Gilligan, in her research and book In a Different Voice, found that girls are not inferior in their personal or moral development. Rather, they are different to the ‘normal’ male standard. They develop in a way that focuses on connections among people (rather than separation) and with an ethic of care for those people (rather than an ethic of justice). She writes: “… the moral problem arises from conflicting responsibilities rather than from competing rights and requires for its resolution a mode of thinking that is contextual and narrative rather than formal and abstract. This conception of morality as concerned with the activity of care centers moral development around the understanding of responsibility and relationships, just as the conception of morality as fairness ties moral development to the understanding of rights and rules.” (p.19 my italics)
Different spiritual paths
Angela Fisher, interviewed by Hillary Hart in The Unknown She. Eight Faces of an Emerging Consciousness, says : “Men’s journeys are of course towards themselves, but at the same time they seem to journey away from themselves, leaving their bodies behind. They master their instinctual nature – which is an expression of the body in the world – and transform these energies. Most of the practices given in all kinds of traditions are designed to assist this process. They are easy to recognize, emphasizing ascetic trials like fasting, physical endurance, and controlling sexuality. And we consider these as general spiritual practices, not recognizing that they might be inappropriate for women. Women often don’t need these practices, because they stay where they are; their connections within life, within the created world, provide the ground for their transformation. ….
Working with men, you can push them… You cannot do it with women like that. Women lose connection to life and their physical body. They need the container of being connected to life. And in this container the whole transformation process takes place.” (p28-29)
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, a master in a certain Sufi path, writes in The Return of the Feminine and the World Soul: “For example, the masculine mind thinks linearly. It’s goal oriented – there’s a problem, we figure out how to solve it. Masculine consciousness is quite focused. The feminine consciousness, on the other hand, is relational. It looks around and it asks, is nature focused? Is a squirrel, say completely focused on being a squirrel? No. The squirrel makes a relationship to everything around it and in the midst of all those patterns of relationship it knows where the nut is, and it knows how to leap from brand to branch to get the nut. And feminine consciousness, by its very nature, works in the same way; it feels all these different patterns of relationship and how they work together.” (p40)
Two types evolving
You might wonder why I write here about feminine and masculine, or even gender differences. Many of the practices and distinctions that I am going to make further down the road somehow have to do with these differences. My intention is not to point out differences between genders, but to show how some energies, patterns, or ways of knowing have taken centre stage in our society, while other energies or capacities have been more hidden or not (or less) developed.
One of the themes running through this book is the rediscovery of those qualities, energies, competences that do not receive enough attention or recognition in mainstream western society. The goal is to re-integrate and fuse them all in order to live life more fully and enjoy our full potential. Co-creating the new, or living in the generative space is only possible once we have fully integrated what is more mainstream with what is needed to complement it (what is in the shadow). That’s all that is needed; not more. What is more in the shadow, what is more in our awareness? Let’s bring it all centre stage: we need it all.