Kosmos’ collective presencing series – part three
first published in Kosmos magazine, Spring/Summer 2013
some ideas have evolved or changed since then!
Ria Baeck and Helen Titchen Beeth
In the first two articles in this series (one and two), we introduced collective presencing as a new human capacity emerging at this time. The first article described a journey of individual and collective deepening and widening through a set of practices that can, over time, allow us first to achieve collective wisdom and later to become generative of more life. The second article took a more detailed look at the first phase in the process: what it takes to become a Circle of Presence. We promised that the next article would treat the next phase, the Circle of Creation. On deeper reflection we came to see that the transition to the Circle of Creation represents such a paradigm shift that some wider context is needed before we broach that subject. This article offers that.
We had intended to devote this third article to the Circle of Creation as the collective entity that practices collective presencing at its fullest potential. But there is a big difference between learning to be present in a circle of people (as in the practice in a Circle of Presence, with all that entails in terms of clarity on personal emotional issues and the like) and becoming truly co-creative and generative in and with life itself. The difference is not superficial— indeed, there is a chasm to cross: transitioning from a Circle of Presence to a Circle of Creation is making the same paradigm shift that embroils humanity at this time. This article looks at some of the facets of that shift, and seeks to offer a glimpse of what life could look like on the other side.
The Dawning of Integral Consciousness
As predicted by Jean Gebser mid-way through the last century, integral consciousness is emerging in humanity at this time (1). With the dawning of this consciousness, the artificial structures and boundaries of dualistic thought become transparent, allowing us to ‘see’ beyond them and inviting life to present itself to us more directly, putting us on the path that leads out of the map and into the territory.
The ‘construct-awareness’ offered by integral consciousness affords us fresh insights into our world, illuminating some of the collective blind spots that threaten to draw global civilisation into a spiral of destruction. We see that, as a result of the hyper-rational, dualistic worldview that shapes the dominant culture in the Western world today, every aspect of our society is founded on dichotomies that split the world into mutually exclusive parts. We then organise our lives around the parts as if they were real. We see this reflected everywhere we look: in spiritual and religious traditions founded on the split between light and dark, good and evil; in scientific and professional disciplines sundered from each other by classifications, which have ossified into nigh-on unbreachable barriers; in architecture and lifestyles that seek to protect human society from incursions by ‘wild’ nature, and so on.
Dialectical thinking (actually considered to be the most advanced form of our mental intellectual capacity) sees reality as a tension between thesis and antithesis, to be resolved by means of a synthesis. This conceptual reasoning has a major pitfall: each time the synthesis takes us to a higher level of abstraction, moving us away from the experiences of life itself. The synthesis then becomes a new thesis, reaction to which creates a new antithesis, requiring further abstraction to reconcile the tension in a fresh synthesis. Many centuries in this mental paradigm have done more than enshrine the idea of ‘progress’ as our highest social ideal. So mired are we in dialectical thinking that we now even see evolutionary change in these terms.
The dissolution of artificial boundaries that accompanies the emergence of integral consciousness opens out into a space so different that we scarcely have the words to describe it—indeed, we begin to recognise just how short language falls in conveying the richness of the phenomenological flux that is our ongoing experience. So-called opposites such as inside/outside, self/other, personal/impersonal, body/mind, society/nature, us/them, global/local, singular/plural, figure/ground, before/after, lose their meaning as such—and since such polarities bear no more relevance, the very concept of ‘perspective’ drops away. This brings a whole different meaning to the aphorism “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” As I/we step into this ‘a-perspectival’ space, the world is transformed, and so is my/our experience of it. I/we step out of the map and into the territory. The shift is fractal: the pattern repeats at every level of scale, from the personal to the global, inner, outer, visible, invisible, singular, plural, past, present, future.
In the Circle of Presence, we come to realise that understanding and thinking need to align with the body and our subtle, animal senses—and we practice life accordingly. Living in the territory, unconditioned by maps and models, knowing arises from direct experience, and the entangled body/mind is re-membered as the creative faculty through which new realities arise. The full potential of collective presencing, as it is enacted in the Circle of Creation, widens and deepens the embodiment of this new paradigm, presaging a transformation in every aspect of our experience:
• Being a unique individual becomes the condition that offers the requisite diversity needed for a totally present group space.
• Time and space are interwoven more deeply, more seamlessly into our overall experience in novel and subtle ways.
• Life is being present to the pulse of what is unfolding now, instead of a repetition of past habits.
Where dialectical reasoning creates new mental syntheses from opposite pairings, we are now able to perceive the actuality and phenomenology of life as it unfolds. Instead of understanding the world in terms of static structure, now we see dynamic processes everywhere: the dichotomies of dualistic thought morph into the generative orders underlying the continual becoming of all that is. Even time is liberated from its unidirectional progression from the past to the future, revealing the seamless and eternal dance of the fruit and the seed, whereby the potentials of the future generate the actualities of the present at the same time as the actualities of the present realise the potentials of the future.
The potential implications of such a paradigmatic shift for both the individual and the collective are mindboggling. One defining characteristic that could help to apprehend the new paradigm could be named as interpenetration and/or interweaving. The concept of partnership (meaning relationship between equals) is considered ‘state-of-the-art’ practice in participatory and sustainability circles; one thinks of partnership between people—stakeholders, businesses, public-private-civil society, men and women, universities and businesses and so on. In the new paradigm, partnership is to be understood as a mutual influence that goes in all directions and through all dimensions. We extend beyond partnership with humans only and into mutual relationship with everything that exists, however we wish to parse that out: co-creating with nature, with place, with the social field, with the subtle realms, with the field of potential . . . all the while realising that boundaries exist as membranes of connection and that influence can go all the way up and down, in and out, through the individual and the collective.
Another characteristic of the new paradigm is its focus on and openness to potential and generativity. The narrative of today’s mainstream society is one of problems and solutions, where the present is a problem and the cause is the past. It shows us a world of turbulence and complexity that we must somehow navigate and seek to guide to our ends. The new paradigm offers a much wider and deeper view, seeing the opportunities implicit in the present, building on what came before, choosing to focus on what else is possible and opening to what is emerging. This calls us to be fully present to all that is—perceived difficulties included—allowing it all to participate in the arising of the novel. There is a constant opening up in many directions and to many dimensions, from a present sense of aliveness in ‘this is what is,’ to the possible next unfoldings immanent in every moment-of-now. Our attention and intention are focused on the ever-present process of enacting more of our (human and other) potential. Here are some examples of how life unfolds in the new paradigm, what it might be like—and what it entails—to live there.
Living in the New Paradigm
Beyond Us and Them—by Circles of Expanding Diversity
One difference between a Circle of Presence and a Circle of Creation is the wider meaning of diversity of who and what we invite in. Inviting more diversity runs counter to the unifying trend we see unfolding in the current paradigm: a pattern of inexorable cultural hegemony whereby the dominant culture (let’s call it white Western Anglo-European humanism), maintained by global neo-liberal capitalism and backed by military industrialism, forces more and more people and cultures to capitulate to its values which, of course, represent only a tiny fraction of the sum total of human experience. In the cultural conflicts simmering and exploding by turns all over the planet, we see the truth that cultures are incommensurable: they cannot be judged relative to each other or reduced to common denominators. Yet the loss of diversity that would result from the imposition of a monolithic human culture would preclude any further ability to evolve!
In the Circle of Creation, the meaning of diversity changes, and that with which we can claim kinship and partnership expands beyond culture, gender, even species. We can begin to embrace and express more of our nature than just what we have come to think of as human—much of which we have actually inherited from our animal nature: the capacity to play and bond, our energetic sense of place and space, our instinctive inner knowing about timing and rhythm, a natural synergy of nurturing and leadership and so much more. This is the diversity we must weave ourselves back into if we wish to navigate the complexity we live in with ease and grace.
When we invite diversity into our shared inquiry, this diversity is not restricted to the different views, ethnicities, ages and backgrounds of the people we have called in. To become a Circle of Creation we need not only to be fully present (with thinking, feeling, sensing and reflecting), but also to see the invitation inherent when disturbance shows up and strangers enter the room; we need to engage in deep, generative dialogue and learn how to embrace difference through empathic conversation; ultimately, we need to understand how to speak and live generatively—all the time, with all the people around us and with everything else that exists.
Being fully present in a co-creative endeavour is in itself an expression of love. In cultivating the capacity to be in co-creation with a lot of different people, rather than seeking to be just with like-minded souls, we discover an astonishing truth: you don’t need to like everyone, but you can love them all! (It’s not sympathy but empathy for others that counts.) We speak here of unconditional love, not entrammeled by the attachment we usually associate with that emotion. The love at play here is not the energy of missing someone, or preferring one place, person or situation over another—it is the connective and energetic fabric that encompasses all that is in life and alive—even beyond the boundaries we associate with death. This kind of love seeks to be of service and flows through us, not from us.
Beyond Knowing and Feeling—Through Collective Sourcing
As we learn to experience ourselves as embedded in the continuous process of creation rather than separate from it, and as we step away from our mental models and into direct relationship with what is and what is unfolding, we open up to a wholeness of knowing that weaves mental and conceptual clarity with subtle sensing and, above all, with the implicit, tacit understanding, our felt sense, that comes to us through the body before we can access it with the intellect. All practices of embodiment allow us to more fully and strongly experience that all-at-once knowing that embraces information coming from our inner states and feelings as well as our thinking and noticing from the living world around us.
Whereas we start to practice this wholeness of knowing in a Circle of Presence, in the Circle of Creation we expand it into a continuous collective inquiry. When we see life as an unfolding of potential into an ongoing flow of actual events and experiences, it is natural to stay in inquiry about what is the next thing that becomes possible. In our Circles of Diversity and in life as a whole, we are continually and unquenchably curious about what is next. It is simply how we consciously, intentionally and voluntarily live our human evolution. To remain in constant collective sensing, inquiry and reflection is to stay connected to this eternal unfolding. We learn by experiencing, immersed in the fullness of life, and immediately reflecting on our learning so that we can apply it to the next step and iteration.
Because our inquiry is collective, we help each other experience, recognise and name both the process and its elements as these unfold—never forgetting the role of language as a descriptor of our experience, an evoker of experience in others, not a true depiction of reality. As we invite ever more diversity of experience and expertise into our circle, we find ourselves constantly shifting roles—sometimes master, sometimes journeyman, sometimes apprentice— as we practice the skills present in the collective, at whatever our level of mastery, acknowledging that there is always more to learn, more to refine, more to understand.
Guided by an inspiring question, one which challenges our assumptions and invites us to novel thinking, our inquiry is not closed until some novel understanding—a sudden, collective ‘now we know’—has been reached. This communion in novel attention has a specific flavour to it, a kind of shared stillness that coincides with a shared felt sense: decisions are not taken, they emerge by themselves as a collective knowing what to do. This is hard to describe when you haven’t experienced it, but when you do, you long for this magic in the middle to happen again. In searching for the emergent, we can get a coherent, collective sense only of the one next, minimal step that is aligned and resonant with the whole and that only by using all our faculties of knowing, together.
Beyond Humans and Nature—by Unique Contribution to Life
Integrating humanity and nature goes beyond being ‘sustainable’ or ‘living within the limits.’ As much as this is needed, it does not weave us humans back into nature, nor reconcile us with the animal nature we have inherited from our evolutionary antecedents. Co-evolving, in this context, means that we know our place as humans in a world that is more-than-human and more-than-visible, recognising and accepting that we influence it and are influenced by it. Again it is the interweaving that we need to become aware of. Fully accepting that we belong in the commonwealth of life on Earth means that we experience nature’s life systems—animals, trees, places, etc.—as being imbued with psycho-activity as well as physicality; with subject status as well as object status. And this, in turn, means that we encounter the living, more-than-human world in a reciprocal way, embracing the poetic and intensely intimate and personal responses that spring from our engagement with a psycho-active universe. (2)
The future that our hearts tell us is possible—the future that is not a mere continuation of the past—comes from heeding our own soul’s calling and how that calling responds to the call of life. A living and active relationship with that call brings each of us to live our own unique expression as our best, and only possible authentic, contribution to the whole of which we are an inalienable part. While our individual programming is indeed unique, arising as it does out of our personal history, it actually cloaks the deepest, truest self more than it expresses it. Once we learn to live as our authentic self, responding from that place to the call of life, the personal becomes impersonal—all the while remaining utterly unique. In fact, the more unique we get, the greater our contribution to the whole. In the new paradigm, being of service—as an individual woven into different human and more-than-human collectives— seems to be what life is about. Beyond the tensions of ‘me’ and ‘we,’ serving the whole brings fulfillment beyond imagining.
Weaving our selves back into nature also means coming to terms with and fully ‘re-membering’ our animal nature. So much of what the circle of creation is about—the embodiment, subtle sensing, intuitive right timing, natural rhythm; being an intrinsic part of a tribe or a collective; collectively knowing what is next to do— belongs to our deepest nature and is in no way alien to us as humans. It is part of our heredity from our ancestors in the animal realm. The collective task before us now is to understand humanity’s unique contribution to planet Earth: we are the beings who see Gaia’s beauty; who have the capacity to stand radically amazed at the extra-ordinary of the ordinary and the diversity of creation; who can know ourselves happy.
Throughout evolution, humans have shaped the Earth and the Earth and all living creatures have shaped us. This is just as true today and will be no different in the future. The more conscious we are of how we all—humans, animals and Earth alike—belong to life itself, and how we can co-create the next form together, the more beauty and delight there will be. Part of our unique role is to revel in the feeling of it.
Beyond Masculine and Feminine—by Creating and Generating More of Life
The generativity inherent in the new paradigm can be seen as the natural and exuberant interplay of the masculine and feminine archetypes. Each and every one of the facets described above constantly interweaves with and interpenetrates the others. But masculine and feminine are another dichotomy, another high-level abstraction achieved by subsuming specific qualities of reality. They do not reflect life, which is constantly becoming, creating, generating.
Beyond the collective wisdom that can arise from a Circle of Presence, a Circle of Creation spawns the possibility to generate more of life’s potential; both in the sense of re-generating—replenishing what we have taken and reconstituting what we have damaged— and in the sense of creating something novel that has never existed before.
By ‘generativity,’ we mean creation through discovery and discovery through creation; again the interweaving: we cannot tease them apart. As we lean together in collective inquiry into the realm of unmanifest potential, as we fall in love with the possible future, that which we ‘dis-cover’ gets created. Our inner knowing confirms that what we create is in some way already here: the future potential and possibilities are present, ready and available to be engaged.
The potential that we each uniquely hold needs an active engagement and participation through our unique contribution, in service to something larger than our individual or collective goals—in service to life itself—in order to manifest coherently. Living and creating from this deeper level of soul and kosmic connection, we experience spontaneous upwellings of delight and gratitude because what and how we create adds to the beauty of life. We become radically amazed by the diversity and radiance of all that is, our selves included. Living in this way, we are freed from attachment to the notion that life is only about seeking happiness or getting rid of pain, free to live life as an unfolding creative event, seeing the wonder in the most mundane encounter and being available to serve life at every moment.
Acknowledgement: The authors wish to express their gratitude to Bonnitta Roy, whose work on post-dialectical thought has offered us a framework for the experiences and patterns gathered through our collective action research.
(1) One definition given by Gebser of integral consciousness, which he calls the a-perspectival consciousness structure, is “a consciousness of the whole, an integral consciousness encompassing all time and embracing both man’s distant past and his approaching future as a living present.”
(2) Freya Mathews, “On Desiring Nature,” Indian Journal of Ecocriticism, 3, 2010.