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 Women Moving the Edge – part 5
Download this article: Baeck 5.2 A New Human Capacity as beyond paradoxes 09:17
The Spirit shall look out through Matter’s gaze
And Matter shall reveal the Spirit’s face
And all the Earth becomes a single life.
– Sri Aurobindo; Savitri. A legend and a symbol.
Now that my question about holding space had found a provisional answer, I embarked on a deeper quest to explore the big concepts ‘spirit’ and ‘source’. Why was it that in our women’s gathering we rarely ever talked about ‘spirit’, but spoke of ‘source’ instead? I delved deep within to uncover the core qualities and functions of both concepts as I understood them in my body and through my experience. This was no easy task, because so many concepts and ideas in our language are made to separate, while I was looking for synergy and interweaving. To get more clarity, rather than thinking and reading ‘about it’, I resorted to my more familiar tools like drawing and contemplation.
On a blank sheet of paper, I wrote the words ‘Spirit’ and ‘Source’. I tend to see Spirit as somewhere high out there, while I experience Source as something deep within. So Spirit went at the top of the page and Source at the bottom. It is worth noticing my use of language here: I ‘see’ Spirit ‘out there’ and I ‘experience’ Source ‘within’. While it was possible that this distinction was valid only for me, other people were also prepared to go along with it, so I let it stand as the basis for what followed.
If Spirit lives at the top of the page and Source at the bottom, then the real world is in the middle. I use ‘real’ here in the sense of space and time: the manifest world that we see and know in its three or four dimensions. This is the world of our senses and experiences, the world of incarnation. Now, how was I to understand the interaction between these three: Spirit, Source and the manifest world?
My contemplation showed me the movement from the manifest world towards Spirit as a way of taking some distance from an experience, to witness, think and reflect about it; to gain more consciousness and awareness; also, the ability to capture the world and life with language, symbols and concepts. By contrast, the movement upwards from Source to the manifest world seems to originate in a huge space of potential, transiting through layers of ever denser energies, until the potential takes a form and manifests. In Gaia’s Quatum Leap (p130), Marko Pogacnik speaks of ‘source’ as life force “through which the fabric of creation is continually enlivened”. The reverse movement, sensing from the manifest world into Source, is the capacity to sense what is coming, what is possible and what has life in it. More specifically in terms of our practice here, it is sensing what is about to happen but not yet here. If we consider the latest scientific discoveries in quantum physics, my image might not remotely resemble how it works; nevertheless, it was enormously helpful to me in understanding a lot of situations.
Returning to my paper, my next step was to draw a circle connecting Spirit and Source, because to me, somehow, they inhabit the same realm. Somewhere they are one; perhaps together they are ‘the One’, or perhaps they share the same origin. I can envision Spirit and Source as the first couple that came out of the One, whatever that is (which is beyond the scope of this book to define). The first polarity arose with this pair. Related pairs are: light and darkness, yin and yang, inward and outward, masculine and feminine, and so on. “The One is inclusive of unmanifest and manifest, the being and the non-being, the before and the after, all present now.” This quote comes not from a renouned guru or philosopher, but was a reflection by one of our participants in a Women Moving the Edge gathering, after representing ‘The One’ in a systemic constellation. (see more about this practice in chapter 8)
Back to holding space… In a nutshell, when holding space I connect in and through my body with the subtle energy dimensions, with the potential that is able to unfold. In my drawing, therefore, ‘holding space’ is another layer between Source and the 3-dimensional world. But, as with many failed experiments with non-authoritarian education, something is missing here if we want to see this potential actually coming into being. Holding space asks for its counterpart at the same level on the side of Spirit. Some structuring energy is required to balance the vastness and openness of holding space. That structure is provided by keeping our attention on the intention or purpose. This focus or intention must not be closed or fixed, however, or there will be no room for unfolding, emergence or birthing of the new. The best articulation I have found for this activity is ‘staying in inquiry‘.
On my paper, I now draw a circle connecting Staying in Inquiry with Holding Space. It’s looking good, but I’m still not satisfied. The distance between the two outer circles feels too great. How does Source become Holding Space? How does Spirit become Staying in Inquiry?
In the movement towards the manifest world, what is Source providing? What is its first discernible level of manifestation? When I contemplate the trajectory towards manifestation from the perspective of Source, I experience a vast ocean of possibility. That makes a lot of sense: Source provides the material world with an infinite reservoir of potential. What, then, is Potential’s counterpart on the side of Spirit? How does Spirit show up in the world of manifestation? I am inclined to name that ‘Consciousness’. With this notion, I could now draw the third circle, between the first two. The resulting image struck me as highly revealing. Later we started naming this the Spirit-Source model and I continued to delve deeper.
Before looking into this model, I want to state explicitly that it does not aspire to be an accurate representation of reality. Wiktionary says: “’Model’ has many meanings, one of them is: A simplified representation used to explain the workings of a real world system or event.” I don’t claim to have found the truth with my model, although it continues to help me understand how emergence can come about, and what its essential elements are. You might find it helpful too.
Emergence of Collective Wisdom
My next question was: When I am holding space for the highest potential, what is it for? What is the real purpose of holding space? Why would anyone do it? Slowly it dawned on me… Ah! I am holding the possibilities because I want them to manifest. It seems obvious in hindsight, but at the time I was thunderstruck. In essence, then, holding space provides a supporting energy or attention that bridges between Source and the real world: it is Holding Space for a Potential to Manifest. That is what parents do for their children, and it is what we do when we host conversations and change processes in groups. Equally, it should be a core competence in leadership teams dealing with complexity and uncertainty.
The next question to arise was: What is the counterpart on the side of Spirit? I wanted my model to be balanced; simple, beautiful and elegant like a good mathematical formula or excellent programming code. Not having any clear distinctions myself for this part of the model, I turned to a male friend for help. We concluded that the basic purpose of Staying in Inquiry is: for Inspiration to Show up.
In this way I saw how Source and Spirit work together in synergy to create new life. If we hold space so that potential can manifest, and if we keep the inquiry open for inspiration or innovation to show up, then these two interweave in co-creation and emergence will happen.
Emergence is the manifestation of something really new, the novel that never existed before. An example of emergence from science is what happens when hydrogen and oxygen atoms are combined; it makes water. The wetness of water is found in neither hydrogen nor oxygen, it emerges from the interaction of the two; it is an emergent property. The scientific concept of emergence is now finding its way into mainstream conversations, but is not always well understood. In the realm of collective intelligence and wisdom, we talk of emergence when connections have been made between different elements – like different insights from diverse participants – that lead to a totally new feature or insight. A potential that was not known or even possible before, has come into existence, and we notice an innovation in products and/or processes.
In real life, even in intentionally designed group situations, emergence seems too messy and chaotic for many people to feel comfortable with – there is not enough order or control, things are too unpredictable. Although what emerges actually is some form of order, it is not any kind of pre-determined – or even pre-existing -order but something that is too complex for us to grasp in the moment it is happening. It is not until after the event that we can discern patterns that have formed and become visible. Emergence does not spring from external structures or controlled order, rather, it can be facilitated (but not guaranteed) by creating a strong energetic container (holding space for potential to manifest) while staying focused on a core question that holds an intention or purpose. This is when new and unforseen connections can arise from the chaos and emergence can come through. In some circles, this way of working is known as ‘walking the chaordic path‘. There is little that is tangible to hold on to: this holding space expresses itself only through a few guidelines or principles and is basically done in the intangible, subtle or energetic space.
Chris Corrigan, a Canadian colleague from the Art of Hosting network, says: “Emergence is what happens when everyone leaves from the party with something that nobody came with.” He points to one of the conditions in a group that makes emergence possible: the interweaving and cross-pollinating that happens when people enjoy being together and engaging with each other, like at a party. What emerges is what I call ‘collective wisdom’ – a wisdom that is not the sum of constituent elements, but a weaving and bringing together of the intelligence and wisdom present in the members of the group. While this is already a welcome outcome, the emergence of generative, collective action is something more, as we shall see in the second part of this book. It requires greater alignment, more deeply into ourselves and more widely out into our context.
If our purpose is truly to let collective wisdom have its way, this model of emergence can inform us in designing meetings and strategic change processes. In addition to having a clearly articulated purpose that is translated into cogent guiding questions, the processes we design must include and support the holding of the space. In essence we need formats and approaches that can illuminate the potential that is present in the room and bring it into expression. While the skills of deep listening and true dialogue are crucial, this model clearly shows that listening to all the diversity, allowing all the voices to be heard and holding the energetic space are not enough on their own. Of equal importance is the open inquiry around the purpose that calls our attention and guides us to innovation. (more on emergence in chapter 7)
Ongoing spiral dance between Holding Space and Staying in Inquiry
Wisdom is a love affair with questions; knowledge is a love affair with answers. The questions are there, not to be answered, but as a guidance.
– Julio Olalla, on video.
There is an ongoing dynamic, coil-like, involving the level or depth of Sourcing and the level or depth/height of Consciousness (or Spirit). We can access the full depth of the potential in service of manifestation and generative action, only to the extent that we can articulate a clear and lofty intention or purpose. This explains the importance of finding powerful guiding question(s) and clearly naming the shared purpose. Just as the tallest tree has the deepest roots, the higher the consciousness from which our question is voiced, the deeper the level of sourcing it will invite and the deeper and more subtle layers of information to which it will grant access. This field that grows wider through many cycles generates authentically new wisdom.
Quote from participant:
I know this feeling of having a deep sense of something that wants to happen and then your mind goes to work and fills it in. I’ve learned to just hold it. And when things don’t align, to just see that my idea is not aligned, or not right timing yet, or whatever. At least in me, sometimes it is a lonely thing. I feel some loneliness in just holding the sourcing of it, knowing something wants to happen. And sometimes it takes years of just holding that potential. – Ria