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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Our tendency to conceptualize our own mental activities in terms of subject-object relations and of the inner-outer dimension has been noted, as has the evident ease with which we project these notions inward and outward to explain all manner of creation and change, stability and intractability. We have an ancient heritage of thought about essence and appearance, form and matter, about the necessary as universal and the contingent as variable. These ideas are so interwoven and so deeply entrenched in our intellectual tradition that it is difficult to think in other terms. Attempts to find alternative ways end up being complicated and obscure, thus only contributing to the conceptual inertia they are challenging.
– Susan Oyama, The Ontogeny of Information
Mutations have always appeared when the prevailing consciousness structure proved to be no longer adequate for mastering the world. This was the case in the last historically accessible mutation which occurred around 500 BC and led from the mythical to the mental structure. The psychistic, deficient mythical climate of that time presented a threat, and the sudden onset of the mental structure brought about a decisive transformation. In our day the rationalistic, deficient mental structure presents an equal threat, and the breakthrough into the integral will also bring about a new and decisive mutation.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever Present Origin, p294
At the moment of mutation, a previously latent aspect of the world is not just set free; its release reveals for a few decades a more intense radiance of origin.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever Present Origin, p295
The original articulation of the purpose of our gatherings, ‘moving the edge of collective intelligence’ was adequate at the outset of our journey of exploration. Over the years, however, the term ‘collective intelligence’ has been used to describe many things by different people, and none of those truly corresponded to our shared experiences. Accordingly, we toyed with terms like ‘collective wisdom’ (including the heart in our intelligence) and ‘collective leadership’ (stressing the aspect of shared leadership), but none of these really fit either. It took some years before we settled on the term ‘collective presencing’, building on the name given to the work pioneered by Otto Scharmer, with the difference that our work gave much greater attention to the specific dimensions of the inner, the subtle and the collective.
It is no longer a secret that a paradigm shift is ongoing in our world today. The mutation described by Jean Gebser (see quotes) is much more profound than most people imagine. It is not simply a next step in our development, which will call for some training – as challenging as that may be. Rather, it is a radically new way of perceiving life and reality in general, which influences the totality of our thinking, feeling and behaving, grounded in a different place than we are used to. Firstly, this movement transcends paradoxes, dichotomies and dialectical thinking. In the West, we tend to understand polarity as dualities, opposites or antinomies whereas the Asiatic view tends to experience it as complementaries, correspondences and interdependence. We are now heading towards an embrace of these ‘opposites’ or ‘paradoxes’, integrating them into a totally new view and – just as important – into corresponding new practices.
The current chapter serves as a transition from a Circle of Presence to a Circle of Creation, the term we have coined to denote the collective entity that practices collective presencing at its fullest potential. There is a world of difference between learning to be present in a circle of people (the practice in a Circle of Presence, with all that it entails in terms of clarity on 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: to transition from a Circle of Presence to a Circle of Creation is to make the very paradigm shift that is currently embroiling humanity at this time. Here we look at some of the facets of that shift, and seek to offer a glimpse of what life could look like on the other side. Taken together, the practices that reflect this shift suggest the emergence of a new human capacity: a collective and shared sensing, ‘insighting’ and generating capacity. I speak here not of a new, unified ‘We’, or ‘we-field’ where our egos love to belong, but of a uniquification-in-diversity (term from Bonnitta Roy) of being human and being alive on this earth.
I hope that by offering some distinctions and being as precise as possible about the differences, I can shed more light on what is and becomes possible. By sharing the bigger picture, I envision that people will be able to recognise the next step they want to take, that they will now be able to integrate what had previously been beyond their view. Just as reading books and interviews by Otto Scharmer and many others, and attending numerous Art of Hosting training sessions allowed me to garner the practices and language for what I was – and we were – experiencing, so I now wish to contribute to this field of knowledge and practice.
The dawning of Integral Consciousness
As predicted mid-way through the last century by Jean Gebser, integral consciousness is emerging in humanity at this time. In his fascinating book The Ever-Present Origin, he offers many definitions of integral consciousness, calling it an a-perspectival consciousness structure, “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.” With the dawning of this consciousness, the artificial structures and boundaries of dualistic thought become transparent, allowing us to ‘see’ beyond them and invite life to present itself to us more directly, putting us on the path that leads out of the maps and into the territory.
This kind of integral consciousness affords us fresh insights into our world, illuminating some of the collective shadows 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 today’s Western world, every aspect of our society is founded on dichotomies that split the world into mutually exclusive parts, which we then organise our lives around 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 (currently considered to be the most advanced form of our cognitive and 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: the synthesis takes us each time 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 mental map and into the territory of life itself. 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.
Through the practices of a Circle of Presence, as described in the previous chapters, we come to realise that our understanding and thinking need to align with our body and our subtle, animal senses – and then we practice life accordingly. Living in the territory, unconditioned by old maps and models, novel 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 and individuated individual becomes the condition that offers the requisite diversity needed for a totally present and generative group space.
- Time and space are interwoven more deeply, more seamlessly into our overall experience in novel and subtle ways.
- Being alive 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 pairings of opposites, 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, we now – also – 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 mind-boggling. One defining characteristic that could help to apprehend the new paradigm might 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; actually directions and dimensions fall away entirely. We extend beyond partnership with humans only and into reciprocal 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 and learning can go all the way up and down, in and out, through the individual and the collective.
Another characteristic of the new paradigm could be articulated as a focus on and an openness to potential and generative actions; seeing and experiencing all of life as a process. The narrative of today’s mainstream society is one of problems and solutions, where the present is a problem and the cause is (in) the past. It shows us a world of turbulence and complexity that we must somehow navigate and seek to guide to our human 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 and strangers 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.
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 in 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 neo-liberal capitalism) 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. The loss of diversity that would result from the imposition of a monolithic human culture would preclude any further ability to evolve!
In the practice of a 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 of our world 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 so-called ‘disturbance’ shows up and so-called ‘strangers’ enter the room. We can learn how to embrace difference through empathic conversation, but we need to take our conversational skills one step further and learn to engage in deep, generative dialogue. Ultimately we need to practice, again and again, 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 many 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! Beyond sympathy and even empathy there is a sense of love that is accessible and that is the only thing that counts in journeys of joint creation. 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 – I see it as 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 inquiry and 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.
It is important to recognise and to remember that we remain in this collective inquiry throughout the whole process of whatever it is we are inventing. It is like a design process which does not end when the first prototype has taken shape. The inquiry continues and deepens from one prototype to the next. Too often, we see a group of people going deep into an inquiry process, finding a new perspective, idea or solution, only to fall right back into business-as-usual to bring the innovation to manifestation, all the while forgetting that implementation and scaling are also steps in the process that need innovation and novel application.
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 in shifting roles – sometimes master, sometimes journeyman, sometimes apprentice – as all practice the skills present in the collective, at whatever 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, rather, they emerge by themselves as a collective knowing what to do. This will be hard to recognise for someone who has not yet experienced it, but once you have, you long for this magic in the middle to happen again. In searching for the emergent, we can get only a coherent, collective sense of the one next, minimal step that is aligned and resonant with the whole, and that becomes possible only when we use all our faculties of knowing, together.
Beyond Humans and Nature – by unique contribution to life
Integrating humanity and nature in ourselves 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 to 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.
The future that our hearts tell us is possible — the future that is not a mere continuation of the past – comes from heeding your 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 the individual personality, shaped as it is by individual programming, is indeed unique, arising as it does out of personal history, it actually cloaks the deepest, truest self more than it expresses it. Once we learn to live from our deeper core, responding from that place to the call of life, the personal becomes impersonal – all the while remaining utterly unique. In fact, the more unique you get, the greater your 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.
I think the difference is that, when I hear colleagues talk about this in other settings, there isn’t necessarily the dimension or intention of serving life. It’s more about serving the team, serving the organization, or serving whatever goals or outcomes are important. So for me, this other dimension makes the circle work differently.
– Otto Scharmer interviewing the Circle of Seven
Might this not be a feature of more integrated people and groups that we can measure our actions by how much we are serving and generating more life, including our own unique gift that we bring?
Weaving ourselves 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 unique to us as humans. It is part of our heredity from our ancestors in the animal realm. 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 – and 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 capacity to generate, inherent in the new paradigm, can be seen as a natural interplay or synergy of the masculine and feminine archetypes. Each and every one of the facets described above constantly interweaves with and interpenetrates the others. Masculine and feminine are sometimes used as a fixed polarity, where the one has specific qualities which the other has not. However, in order to support and reflect life, which is constantly becoming, creating, generating, the synergy of all masculine and feminine energies and capacities needs to be deeply embodied within each of us.
In the mammalian world, we can see a natural co-existence of leadership – in the sense of taking a stand and clear action – and nurturing qualities. In the Western world these qualities have been assigned or linked to different genders. For some reason, at some point in time, the main feature to develop and evolve became individuation, whereby human beings have become more aware and conscious. This process has supported the development of our capacity to reflect and conceptualise and our agentic behavior. We seem now to have reached a point where we are becoming conscious that this capacity and behaviour is out of balance with the relational qualities that we also have and are now desperately in need of. Real creation – creation that serves life – is possible only when we inhabit the whole scale of qualities and energies. The state of our world today is in need of the insights and knowing that can be brought to the table by this new balancing and deeper integration.
Probably because they have received less attention and accordingly lower value, the qualities and skills related to the nurturing side of being human are less well articulated in our daily lexicon. These have to do with, for example, inner ways of knowing and subtle sensing, the value and importance of community, the practice of ‘organic’ organizing and more. There is a shared belief – quite unconscious for most people – that these values, these ways of knowing and living are somehow less valid and significant than those related with leadership and agency.
If we wish to achieve a deeper integration and synergy of all our capacities, we need to find the language and the distinctions to precisely and clearly articulate our nurturing aspects. Sensing the subtle layers of reality, knowing what is going on in the inner dimensions of a situation provides essential information when addressing any complex question. It is time to offer this wisdom in a gentle and precise way.
I could wish there were a single word to describe the growing capacity to generate – by which I 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 collective 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.
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.
 Freya Mathews – On Desiring Nature, Indian Journal of Ecocriticism, 3, 2010, 1-9
Next: 5.3 No Brand. No organisation. WMtE – part 5
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