Collective presencing – Building capacity for Generative Collective Action in Service of Life (4 of 4
Kosmos’ collective presencing series – part four
first published in Kosmos magazine, Autumn/Winter 2013
some ideas have evolved or changed since then!
Ria Baeck and Helen Titchen Beeth
As we journey towards the Circle of Creation, our starting point is a collective with all the capacities learned in the Circle of Presence—at ease with reaching collective wisdom together. Our journey onward will see us moving into the world of potential and generativity—and ultimately of creation in action—without relinquishing the presence and awareness we have achieved so far, but spreading the nets of our collective inquiry further, wider and deeper; opening up in ever more directions and to ever more dimensions; culminating in a truly shared and generative space where ever more of life can happen through us.
Development towards the Circle of Creation takes the deepening and widening movement of our awareness from the first phase further. The deepening process of unfolding authenticity we saw in the circle of presence continues as one of unfolding generativity, as my capacity to observe, accept, honour and live ‘what is’ now encompasses ever more subtle layers of existence, bringing with it the simultaneous experience of my unique calling and the total interweaving and interpenetration of my being with all of creation. The widening process gradually expands out across space and time to embrace ever more complexity, ever vaster vistas of time and space, ever greater potential. Each successive wave of widening both demands and calls forth distinct capacities, which can be developed through the practices we enumerate in this article.
Journey through the Soul’s Calling
Having stabilised as a Circle of Presence, living with open mind and open heart is now second nature to us. Quite naturally the opening of the will follows as an expression of the soul. Since it is impossible to define something as intangible as the soul, we must content ourselves with giving an impression through multiple descriptions: the origin, the causal impulse; that deeper and expanded self that radiates as Source, springing from the eternal, beyond the borders of life and death, an extension of being that resonates beyond time and space; my own unique expression of the Divine.
Finding my soul’s calling means learning to discern what is uniquely mine to be and do, following a fleeting, often barely perceptible longing. I instinctively recognise the vibrational shift when every part of who I am and all of what I do comes into integration and alignment. People who have made this journey report that they uncovered their soul’s calling nestled just beneath their deepest trauma. Despite the nameless dread that often protects this hidden treasure, the reward is a familiar feeling of deep homecoming. What feels so normal and obvious is simply my uniqueness. As I shed layer upon layer of old conditioning, I learn to witness the subtle resistance or leanings towards grandiosity that are my personality’s response to this new driver in my life. I learn to own all my projections onto ‘the system out there’ and to refrain from blaming and judging it, and I come to recognise myself as a fully empowered agent of creation. Finally, my soul’s calling expresses itself through an ever richer interweaving of my life, work and passion: I enjoy an emergent, authentic life brimming with vibrancy and energy.
My soul also carries the imprint of the potential that I alone can manifest as my life unfolds. The form through which my unique potential manifests will depend on my capacity to listen deeply, and on the dance of my intention and attention with the subtle (and not-so-subtle) promptings that reach out to me from the different realms of existence: material, subtle and causal.
The practices of living from soul bring their own rewards:
- go where the juice is – I keep my senses open to what is life-affirming, sensing moment by moment: what am I called to do now? After taking each minimal next step, I reflect on the feedback from life. Like a dancer moved by my ecstatic muse, I follow the energy of what is really going on under the surface, revelling in the ‘paradox’ that being in my own inspirational flow is how I serve the greater whole.
- allow emptiness – as a servant to my soul’s calling, I am a donor, not of my organs but of the container of my consciousness. Before I can donate it, however, my container must be empty – of judgements, of desires and expectations, of inner commentary of all kinds. Again we find a paradox to transcend: giving up my freedom of choice I find the deeper freedom of not having to choose. Creating space for emptiness, I am available for life to happen through me.
- participate fully in life – this means surrendering to the higher, to the deeper, to the innermost… It implies unswerving commitment to living the truth of my ever-unfolding soul’s path, which is also the commitment to living awake, moment-by-moment, to the minutiae of daily life. It is the commitment to live fully, to let everything in, to feel and hold, to be transformed, breath-by-breath, by that which comes to my senses, and to express my gifts in abundance, holding nothing back.
- cultivate community – although my soul’s path is intensely personal, I cannot follow it on my own. We exist only in this interconnected whole that is evolving all together, which is why I cannot develop in isolation. I need a firm collective ground that holds and nourishes me, from which to draw the courage to walk off the path of convention and blaze my own trail. The presence of others who live from a similar source of inspiration allows me to realise ever more of my potential.
Journey through Collective Purpose
A Circle of Creation comes into being for the sake of its purpose and intent. It is as if an unmanifest potential – something that wants to happen – reaches through the veil to attract the attention of a group of souls who are listening deeply in service of the whole. The circle arises not from the wish or plan of certain people to be together, but because there is a function and potential that can be fulfilled at this time, and life is seeking an open, eager collective that can work this one out.
The practice of circle described in the Circle of Presence is now taken much deeper. While the focus is not on the members of the circle, relationship is core: friendship, trust and deep sharing, authenticity and genuineness are the ingredients of the open container, alongside the shared inquiry and the potential it holds. The interweaving of these elements allows the quality of the collective presence to shift: a palpable, energetic resonance where all limiting, deeply held assumptions have been shed and novel insights can start to emerge.
The focus at this stage is on discerning and serving the collective calling, and the practices promote interweaving in the collective:
- Intention: Where we focus our intent is where things manifest. When consciousness is fragmented, what manifests is incoherent. We have learned that through careful sensing in deep circle practice we can collectively align our intent around some unmanifest potential that wants to come through, in service of greater coherence. Like the banks of a river, the intention – most often expressed through a guiding question – helps to delineate the mystery at the heart of our inquiry, whilst allowing the collective to stay in uncertainty until insight dawns and things fall into place. The process of finding the guiding question is an exacting task that requires time, great precision and alignment of the Circle holding the inquiry. In the case of Women Moving the Edge, for example, we have seen that this is a fractal of the process of each gathering itself: a circle process, not knowing what wants to emerge, yet trying to get a sense of what it might be. Once the question is found, it is simply a matter of inviting others into the container formed by the circle process and the guiding question.
- Invitation: the more complex the ramifications of purpose, the greater the diversity the circle must contain. Opening the circle to others, requesting their full participation, is a gesture of equality and trust and the invitation must have no strings attached. What you are inviting into is participation – inviting the other, and your own self, to step fully into the shared inquiry, without reservations. As the inviter, you must relinquish all notions of ownership of and desire to control the outcome. It is therefore of critical importance to be crystal clear about your intent, formally and explicitly.
- Full participation in process: at this stage, awareness grows that we are participating not only in our own lives, but in a larger purpose – a collective calling, a shared inquiry. This demands a high quality of attention and the intention to be fully present and take full responsibility for the whole endeavour, speaking and acting from a shared inner silence, both individual and collective. This collective is like a puzzle: the unreserved offering of each member’s unique gift, sourced from the soul’s calling, is a precondition for the circle to come to a level of generativity where that one unique thing can emerge that only this group of people can contribute, on behalf of the whole, right now and right here.
- Witnessing is a core practice of the Circle of Creation. It is a co-presencing whereby the deepest aspects of ourselves see and acknowledge the deepest aspects of the other, and vice versa. Where the eye of judgment inflicts wounds, the eye of witnessing brings healing as it moves beyond, to essence. The more of life we can witness together – especially pain, death and disaster caused by collectively and culturally held assumptions – the greater is our capacity to unconditionally embrace and contain everything that arises. As the stakes get higher, more presents itself to be held and there is more to be present to. Collectively holding the turbulence, pain and confusion inherent in the life process with consciousness makes it possible for the collective future to be different than the past. Witnessing serves to honour the old that is passing away, at the same time as midwifing the emergence of novel potential into form. This subtle, flexible, fluid, non-judgmental awareness is not passive: it is a gift that humans bring to the Kosmos.
- Collective sourcing is sensing together into what wants to spring forth from the subtle energetic levels of reality that lie beneath the plane of manifestation. To enter this space, all participants must release any expectation, attachment to outcome, or sense of urgency. All must refrain from jumping too quickly to conclusions or being satisfied with what we already know, in order to hold open the sense of possibility until collective clarity arises from the generative space in the middle. Inevitably, we will experience the discomfort – even anxiety – of not-knowing. Every new inquiry invites a raw, fresh moment of letting go. Holding this collective not-knowing builds on the ability to sit – and live – in the void with no clue of what is next; to hold ever more intensity in the body, without escaping into habitual patterns or re-actions. It is an active, engaging and open waiting until an inner and outer alignment arises in all participants and in the whole. Collective sourcing takes time – and a fine sense of timing. It is important not to harvest the fruits of our collective insights until they are properly ripe. It goes without saying that collective sourcing entails deep listening and silence. The listening is embodied and calls on all our senses, as we tune in inside ourselves, into the collective container, into the unmanifest potential, into the heart of the land. The silence is deeply intimate and intensely alive. It is not an absence of words but the restful freedom of being present and available to listen for the next impulse.
Journey through Subtle Space and Time
As the awareness of the circle widens, in addition to the threads of collective purpose, we begin to interweave the threads of deeper context. At this stage in our evolution, the human being – with all that we have learned, developed and become on our journey to individuation, separation and fragmentation – falls back onto the surface of the planet: into actual, real, natural context. Exactly Here and exactly Now. While our consciousness is in no way bounded in space and time, we are called to ground that consciousness in our bodies, in the physical place and the actual time where our life unfolds moment by moment.
When we – the authors – reached this stage of the journey, we found that our inquiry had shifted from an exploration into a living practice that opened out into a new realm of questions and into the whole of life itself. As our subtle sensing became more refined we found ourselves not ‘in relationship’, but ‘interwoven and interpenetrated’ with a much larger whole, encompassing the more-than-human community. Listening ever more deeply, we learned to attune differently to time and place and to start to co-create with(in) it.
The features that characterise this stage of our journey include:
- Wholeness of knowing – as we reach ever more inwards and outwards with our subtle senses, we come suddenly upon a collective clarity of knowing that integrates and interweaves all the senses and modalities, all the ways in which we know. Our embodied, collective ‘felt sense’ has become a portal to a mycelium of hyper-sensitive, hyper-connected knowing that stretches to infinity. We rediscover something that we have tended to forget: that all our knowing is rooted in the tacit, and that much of our communication arises through resonance – a cellular, bodily aliveness to different levels of vibration in and around us. In a Circle of Creation, our speaking and doing is not linear, it spirals and meanders, all arising from a ground of shared silence, guided by the collective inquiry. Language, models, concepts, ideas and distinctions interweave with the tacit knowing, each enhancing the other. It is crucial that I allow my knowing to be as fully present as the knowing of others, so that the circle’s knowing can be whole. Through this integral knowing, we are closing gaps introduced into our perception of reality by our default dualistic mode of thinking: gaps between the individual and the collective, humanity and nature, tangible and intangible, chronos time and kairos time.
- What if it’s easy? Part of our work as members of the human species is to reclaim our innate wildness and weave ourselves back into nature: to reconnect to the patterns of life, to learn to speak, move and act from there, and to invite that connection into our daily living. When we do so, time becomes an affair not of minutes and hours, but of natural rhythm and right timing. Place is no longer a matter of property we can own, but erupts into our understanding as land that holds the memory of what has happened before. As we re-enmesh ourselves in this way, life starts to flow effortlessly. If it does not, we know for sure that we have somehow stepped out of alignment. When this happens, it behoves us not to struggle or despair, but to look for those elements of our lives that are seeking to come into greater alignment, for the sake of the whole.
- The one next, elegant, minimal step – with the dawning of constant awareness of the interweaving and interpenetration going on at all levels, deep and wide, the good old Action Plan becomes a thing of the past. As if we humans could ever know it all and orchestrate the world according to our wishes. Being collectively Here and Now means that we can only ever sense the next small step to take. It doesn’t seem like much, but we have learned that it works fine! There is elegance and simplicity in it, and perfection was never a game of life anyway. As we travel this unfolding of steps, it is most often in retrospect that we realise the coherence of what has emerged, which can add a deeper meaning to what we have done – as has happened with our adventure of Women Moving the Edge, which has debouched on the practice of Collective Presencing.
Journey through Collective Potential
The whole point of Collective Presencing is to be present to life and to sense into the potential – ultimately of life itself. Learning to do this collectively, guided by our shared intention and inquiry, brings us to a radically different way of relating to the future. We are not so much ‘learning from the future’ (Scharmer), as somehow being in love with what is possible, sensing into it, leaning into it, one small step at a time, becoming this potential as the manifestation of real life. As Scharmer puts it: “there is a field of potential in need of us”, and that is exactly the focus of this collective practice. It is one thing to hold and sense into my own individual potential and my own unique gift, but it is quite another to do that on behalf of larger systems: organisations, cultures, regions, communities and nations – indeed for the whole of our Earth with all its inhabitants, both visible and non-visible: Gaia. The times are calling forth groups of men and women to be of service in this way, on behalf of the whole, so that humankind can learn to create more beauty and well-being with, and for, all of life.
As we pursue the interweaving and interpenetration ever deeper and wider, we come to realise that life is an unfolding, creative event that we can learn to participate in, more consciously and intentionally, together. This journey has brought us – the authors – to a point where we live life as continuous action research, in a dance of constant learning with the abundance of feedback from each step we take – in a reciprocal relationship with a living universe. Far from being dry and heavy academic research, it is an irrepressible curiosity about what more is possible, mingled with a radical amazement at the outrageous exuberance of what is. This, again, is no paradox, but simply two facets of life. Seeing existence as making love with the potential that it holds brings us to a life that radiates energy (and love) in all directions, with an inexhaustible capacity to generate more!
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