In the autumn of 2005, the late Finn Voldtofte sent out an email calling for volunteers to join a team to host a gathering called Moving the Edge of Collective Intelligence. I had first met Finn a few months before in Devon at the Kaleidoscope Café gathering — a retreat for practitioners of World Café and Art of Hosting, where we had experimented with what Finn called ‘listening to the middle’. I knew at once that I had to be there.
The way we worked was quite radical, in that we offered no structured, predefined programme. As the hosting team, we started the convening and hosting process through regular conference calls, the full notes of which were openly published on the internet. In that way, anyone considering participating in the gathering could follow the preparatory process and even comment and contribute beforehand.
The entire gathering, which took place in Denmark in March 2006, was a quest in search for this collective intelligence (or collective wisdom) that was bigger than the sum of the individuals. Finn called it The Magic in the Middle. We struggled and strained for a glimpse of this evasive magic. When the hosting team finally relinquished all attempts at facilitating a programme or design, we finally found ourselves inside this collective magic for about two hours! And indeed, it was magic! The true spirit of dialogue — as the ‘meaning flowing through’ the conversation (from its Latin root) — was palpable. Whatever anyone said fitted right into the flow of unfolding meaning. I knew and recognized this kind of meaning-flowing-through from experiences in my small women’s group in Flanders (Belgium), and some of the others could refer to similar experiences in other contexts. But most of the participants had no idea of where to go or how to get there.
Were we presumptuous to think that we could move the edge of consciousness itself? Was I arrogant to think that I could be of value to such a gathering and such an inquiry, and even to offer myself as part of the organizing and facilitation/hosting team? Maybe so, but I know that Moving the Edge of Collective Intelligence set me on a path. One inquiry lead to another, and to this day it hasn’t stopped.
One of the participants in the Moving the Edge gathering was Judy Wallace, a lady from the Boston area who was working on a master’s thesis on collective intelligence for her study in conscious evolution. She showed up at the gathering, knowing some of the people on the hosting team through her research work. She would become the co-initiator of Women Moving the Edge with me. This book could not have been written without our experiences in the thirteen gatherings between 2007 and 2012.
By the end of the year, Finn Voldtofte was dead, after a sudden illness and conscious dying process through which he hosted and inspired his friends, loved ones and colleagues. Finn was an important teacher to many of us and Women Moving the Edge and much of this book were born from seeds he planted.
Download the article: Baeck 1.2 How Women Moving the Edge started 10:15
This is part 1 of chapter 1, named: I and Myself. Only later will the implication of the different chapter names become clear. To explain it here at this stage would be too onerous, so let your self be guided through the parts and the chapters, until we reach the point where the explanation has its rightful place.
1.1 Beginning of the New Beginning
My lived action research
I didn’t do a PhD when I was at university; I wasn’t interested and I held the belief that I wasn’t smart enough. In retrospect, though, I can see that for the last decade or so I have actually been living a big action research project. It turns out that I formulated my first research question in March 2004, right after a professional partnership came quite suddenly to an end and left me in a void.
Here is what I wrote (in those days, not yet being linked into any international networks, I still wrote in Dutch): “Writing a book? Is that it? It touches me somehow… stretching myself to connect everything with everything. OK, if a book needs to be written, then I will, and I will do the research with love and enthusiasm; but I don’t want to worry about my finances, let that be organized without much effort.” I subsequently forgot all about the question and this commitment, at least consciously, but from that day on, the heap of handwritten notes, printed papers and small articles on my desk kept piling higher and higher, and I knew something would need to happen with it.
I made a first attempt in May 2007. I tried to make sense of my notes and of the many experiences I had already had by then. I started an article entitled A Story of Imagining the Future, based on the draft chapter by Otto Scharmer Twenty-Four Principles and Practices of Presencing for Leading Profound Change, the final version of which would be published in his book Theory U. I never finished that article. The final sections were just signposts and the last notes never made it to the keyboard. I looked around, on the internet and everywhere, to see who out there was writing or experimenting with the next level of intersubjective space. Nowhere could I find anything describing the potential I had experienced. That was when it started to dawn on me: I had to write this book myself!
Early in 2008, I shared with my friends: “I have to start writing – about all this knowing and wisdom. I have to do it in a way that integrates different styles. Not only a personal story or an academic research paper, but a fusion. I don’t know where all this is going, but I’m going to start anyway.”
After moving house in the autumn of 2008, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands. I spread out all my notes on the floor of my new living room so that I could see the whole. I managed to cluster some notes around themes, but the whole didn’t show itself! I would sit with it, stare at it, but my normal capacity to see patterns seemed to be failing me. The children who regularly visited my home kept telling me I should clean up the mess on the floor. Finally, after many weeks, possibly even months, feeling rather frustrated and following guidance from my mentor that “things weren’t ready yet”, I did just that.
Some months later, in March 2009, I was involved in hosting a gathering called Edge of Collective Sourcing, in a remote and beautiful area in Greece. Preparing for the gathering, the hosting circle decided to create a document reflecting our current understanding of what Collective Sourcing was about (more on this later). This became an article of a few pages that I copy-pasted the day before the gathering, to hand out to the participants. It marked another small step towards more writing. During the gathering, I was asked to return to this beautiful place later in the spring to take care of its animal residents – two dogs and a cat – while its human residents were traveling. This was tantamount to being offered two weeks of retreat time for free! I accepted with alacrity, recognizing that it was finally time to start the ‘real’ writing. This was when I made the first outline of this book, starting from that short article.
My first research question, back in 2004, had been: What are the basic, universal, archetypal, human principles for living and working communities of the future? Not for the sake of community per se, but in order to create places where everyone and everything – including the Earth – can develop optimally, in order to bring about paradise on Earth?
At that time, I also formulated a few other thoughts:
– Being radical and consistent in translating the concepts of Oneness, the participative universe, the enfoldment of the implicit order into day-to-day reality.
– A community of people as a complex adaptive system, on the edge of chaos: what does that mean?
All these questions came to find an answer in the practices and models you will find in this book.
The story of how this book finally came into being itself illustrates one of its main themes. We are – as I was – able to sense a potential that is wanting to come into manifestation. By offering that potential our attention, it can indeed become possible. Exactly how – and when – this happens will depend on a multiplicity of circumstances, not least of these being our ever more heightened and refined ability to align ourselves, within and without, ever wider, ever deeper.
Integrating science, consciousness and sourcing
Words are sacred.
If you get the right ones
In the right order
You can nudge the world a little.
Adapted from Tom Stoppard – The Real Thing: A Play
Over Christmas and New Year 2007, I was offered some retreat time in La Gomera. I wanted to use this opportunity to sink down into deeper space in myself than I had ever done before. I sat for many, many hours, by myself on the bench in the little garden with its orange, lemon and avocado trees, sensing and writing in my dairy. One of the hurdles I had to overcome was how to blend two different energies within me.
I wrote: “This is not theoretical writing. I am used to writing ‘from the inside’, accessing my inner wisdom through writing, regarding important questions and issues. This means that my mind is not holding any ideas before the words flow out onto the paper. But here and now, I want to convey some of that inner wisdom to you, to others. So now there is knowing in my memory, and yet I still want the freshness of accessing new inner wisdom too. Can I stay in touch with the inner wisdom and still write a coherent piece, that makes sense to people who want to read it? It seems like mixing oil and water. Being a physically centred person, the integration first needs to happen in my body, in my own energetic system. Writing from inner knowing has no time lapse; I know what it is only once it is written down, not before. Writing from memory goes the other way round: first knowing, then writing. Difficult mix. But women are known for being good at multi-tasking, so there must be a way…”
I did not yet know, at that time, that this blending was not just mine to do. As yet I had no inkling that I was at the outset of a long-term collective action research project that would unfold through many gatherings. These lived experiences were the first layer of the mesh that would weave together with individual and collective reflection on the question, all mixed in with moments of recognition and resonance in myself as I delved into the content of books and articles written by others.
Another diary fragment from the Gomera retreat read: “You need to find a new language that integrates science, consciousness and sourcing.” I might as well say this up front: the way I use the term ‘sourcing’ in this book has nothing whatsoever to do with the concept of ‘sourcing’ as it is used in the business world! My kind of Sourcing – meaning a lived experience of accessing information, a lived and embodied inner knowing – will be another important thread in this book. Through continuous reflection and ongoing collective inquiry over the years, some practices and patterns have revealed themselves to us, and these are offered here in stories, descriptions and maps.
During the cycle of gatherings in the container of Women Moving the Edge – which turned out to be a 5-year action research project – we experimented and learned a lot about dimensions of life which are either not much valued or simply not seen by mainstream Western society: the inner, the subtle and the collective. Our collective inquiry first required, then obliged us to articulate, to make distinctions, to describe – to find a language for the subtle differences between the different elements of the nebulous, intangible, inner and collective ways of knowing and sensing. It called on us to embody, integrate and seek the synergy of analysing, articulating and teaching with what came to us through inner knowing, subtle sensing and collective inquiry.
It is my hope that the description of the journey, the concepts and the maps, the language and practices you will find in these pages will invite you into a new way of being human – a wider lens onto a much broader vista of what we, the human tribe, could potentially be. This book is written as an unfolding story: not everything is revealed at the beginning, more is shared as you read further and subsequent steps build on earlier ones. More theoretical parts and models are included too, so that the whole of who you – and we – are can relate with the material provided. Maybe it will call you to something beyond…
Blending individual and collective knowing
A central theme of this book is the unfolding capacity and competence that we see in what we here call ‘circles’. Circles can be teams or groups of any kind, bringing together people motivated by a shared inquiry. Because all the experiences in this action research have been collective ones, I have had to find a balance between writing the book myself, as a solitary activity, and incorporating the collective wisdom and knowledge generated throughout the journey.
To achieve this, I reread all the notes taken during the preparation of over 20 different gatherings: i.e. almost 200 conference calls, with a different configuration of people hosting each gathering. This wealth of input provided me with a lot of language, many quotes to put flesh on the bones of this book and its message. I also trawled through the many blog posts – again more than 100 – that I and other participants had written during and after the actual gatherings, as a way of weaving in the wisdom of the different collectives.
At one point, while the book was slowly taking shape, a small circle came together for regular conference calls to feed back ideas and comments as a way to enrich the content and clarify underlying patterns. This proved to be especially valuable, insofar as they afforded a more precise understanding of the different elements implied in real, generative creation. To ensure full congruence, in these calls we used our own practice – the deeper circle practice – so that the book and all that is related to its message should have the same integrity when it moves into the world.
This phase of the research — reading through these 350+ documents, all related to Women Moving the Edge and other such gatherings — took me a long time. It felt like dissecting a lived experience full of meaning and full of the wholeness of life, cutting it to pieces in order to make another kind of wholeness: an overview and patterns that would make sense for readers who had not shared the experience.
And still, reading this book is not the experience! It offers you a glimpse of what is possible, together with some guidelines, practices and maps in case you want to try it for yourself or use it to evolve in what you are already doing. Hosting or facilitating processes of this kind calls for mastery in different domains. The easiest way to achieve such mastery is to apprentice to the practice, to become a committed practitioner. This is a practice of both method and process, with more emphasis on the latter than we are used to, because we see their interconnection. That’s why this learning works best through immersion in the lived experience, again and again. And then some more.
Practice as embodied intention
It is important to understand that the Women Moving the Edge gatherings were always a practice. They were never a product that we could or would sell. At some moment, I became intrigued by the power of regular practice; be it the practice of hospitality in a B&B, the year long practice of karma yoga in an ashram, my own life practice of gardening and creating beauty and abundance… Practices of this kind really do something on an energetic level. Any visible impact is the tip of the iceberg.
Practices are embodied intentions – or they become so over time if they don’t start out that way. They leave a deep energetic imprint on our selves and our surroundings; on places, on nature and on people. The gatherings were an invitation to more women to experience the practice of collective inquiry and collective sourcing. Many have found it of tremendous benefit in their lives. What we learned and developed together became the practice we now call Collective Presencing.
This book brings to the practice its missing half: the framework, the overview, the step-by-step breakdown, the distinctions, the theory. Together, the practice and the theory form a whole, in which each can inform and enhance the other. Together, in synergy, they belong to the new paradigm that is unfolding and taking shape, each day a bit more, throughout the world.
This book charts the parts and the capacities, and describing the experiences that point to the formation of sentient collectives (circles, groups, networks, organizations). We have noticed that (any) action is far better informed when natural rhythm and right timing are attended to, allowing the collective, generative process to unfold. In these pages you will find practical advice that will make this collective practice more understandable and concrete, supporting its application — the practice itself — and pointing to what it makes possible in the world.
Today, we understand our practice as a collective inquiry into what it means to follow and manifest the new life force that is pulsing through the cosmos right now. The very fact that this practice is collective is part of the new, emergent pattern that is coming through.
Download this article: Baeck 1.1 Beginning of the new beginning 10:15
To write authentically about any territory, such as ‘art’, one has to go there – to take a dive into that gap, plunging toward the territory as deep and as far as one can let oneself go. To extend the metaphor, we have to dive for as long we can hold our breath – which is the suspension of making convenient interpretations for as long as it takes to touch bedrock. And then – and only then – are we qualified to report back. What was it like? How deep did you go? What did you discover? Did you touch the face of the Muse?
– Bonnitta Roy, The Gap, the Map and the Territory, 2006
In this book you will find none of the gloom and doom scenarios that crowd so many books, articles and websites these days. I prefer to dispense with these and focus instead on what is possible. The quest narrated here centres on how we can rediscover the sense of wonderment in life and participate in the radiance and magnificence of all that is. Ourselves included. Our work included. Others included. Everything included.
These pages describe a body of work that has emerged from a practice of action research, not in a context of academia or Fortune 500 companies, but rather from small circles of women with a deep commitment to attend to Source. Accordingly, I can refer to no Big Names: it was just us. It wasn’t even me – although I am the one writing this book, because I was always the one most eager to understand what is behind and underneath our experiences. No, it is about the principles and the patterns of our collective inquiry.
The book started out as an article supplementing ‘Theory U’, as developed by Otto Scharmer, because, inspiring as I found his framework, it didn’t seem able to accommodate what we had been living in our many women’s gatherings. The practice that we came to call Collective Presencing seems to tell us something about evolution itself, about a new human capacity beginning to emerge, and about the new paradigm that we see and feel unfolding through us. The framework I found that best fit our experiences was Jean Gebser’s description of the mutation of consciousness, written half way through the previous century. The book in your hands seeks to articulate how we can live in the new Epoch that is dawning during our days.
What our collective experience adds to conventional understanding and knowledge chiefly concerns the inner, subtle and collective dimensions at play in our lives and work. Our wish is to balance the diverse and manifold ways of knowing, to invite them to co-create in the world. In stark contrast to ‘mainstream’ culture, we cultivate a practice of deep attention to discerning and embodying the individual’s unique contribution to life – another way of articulating Scharmer’s concept of ‘Open Will’. Another novelty will be to apply all this to teams, groups and circles – the collective as it shows up in daily life.
Unpacking our learning lead us to develop a framework illuminating the differences and distinctions between Circles of Presence and Circles of Creation. While the former will allow groups to achieve collective wisdom, the latter goes much further, embracing and integrating the inner, subtle and collective energetic realms where a group of people can enter a truly collective, generative space.
You don’t need to know anything about Theory U or Gebser’s framework to understand what is written here and to be able to apply it. More crucial is the practice of Circle work, in all its depth and humility.
A New Human Capacity
This new human capacity is emerging neither as change within a level of context, nor even as a transformational change to a new and higher level and/or context. It is much more than that: it is a real turning point, a paradigm shift… a mutation in consciousness, as Gebser named it.
Bonnitta Roy emphasizes the difference between development and evolution. She states (online, within the Magellan courses): “… machines can develop well beyond our capacities, because they can run an unlimited number of operations in unlimited time… but they cannot and will never be able to evolve. To evolve, someone will have to pull the plug, and install a new operating system, according to a new paradigm.”
She goes on to ask: “Do we live as if the whole purpose of evolution is to get up to human? Or: Do we live as if human is one of the stages in a greater cosmic story? What we really believe out of these scenarios makes a big difference!”
When I speak of a new human capacity, I see it as part of an evolutionary jump, a sudden leap in human capacities. I’m not at all sure where this will lead – for humanity and all that is alive. I can only share my personal take on it, after many experiences and much pondering, including my own deep intuition and sensing.
As much as anything else, this book is an invitation to live consciously with and in evolution itself. To do this, we are forced to embrace more of who we are, where we came from and what we can be, both individually and collectively. Therefore we need new practices, new organizing patterns, new competencies, new language, and so on. In general, we need to discover, activate and embody a new human, collective capacity. A capacity that sees – and embodies – the world also in terms of organisms, ecosystems, energies, dynamic balance, relationships and emergence instead of only focusing on individuals, planning, organizations, problems, order and the like. This novel capacity invites us – again and again – to hold the tension of not-yet-knowing, while tuning into the questions that really, deeply matter.
This new capacity will help us to create in and from complexity – perhaps even chaos and collapse – and will call forth from us a new way of being and doing. Our main centre of gravity will shift from ‘I, being an individual human being’ to ‘human collectives aligned with life all around’. This new capacity shifts us into an identity that is of service to and through the collective – whatever that is and can become. We – the women and men whose journey is described here, and others besides – have been innovating and prototyping a new collective practice, articulating how the new paradigm could be lived. We are weaving a new story field, and this is one of the stories that resides there.
How you can read this book
This book contains story, explanation and description, maps and models. You can skip one or the other form, but by taking them all together you will more easily see the texture and weave of this new tapestry. The stories are mostly snippets of experience excerpted from the project Women Moving the Edge. The explanation sets more flesh on the bones, as an attempt to make our distinctions and patterns somehow comprehensible. Each chapter will close with a systematic overview. All the chapters, taken together, build up to two maps, which are useful as guiding material.
Download this article: Baeck 0.0 Introduction 10:15