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