Experience does not occur in the clothing of verbal phrases. It involves clashes of emotion, and unspoken revelation of the nature of things. Revelation is the primary characterisation of the process of knowing…. Revelation is the enlargement of clarity. It is not a deduction…
– Alfred N. Whitehead, The Aims of Education and Other Essays
In our little Flemish women’s circle, we spent much time on the level of the emotions, peeling away the layers of the onion to reach an open mind, open heart and open will. Over time we noticed that, as we became better at clearing the interpersonal field between us and keeping it open for longer periods, other domains became accessible. Our initial intention had been to look into the relationship between women, femininity and spirituality. Through experience and with much trial and error, this intention opened into a growing awareness of interrelatedness and complexity.
Inspired by the prospect of building and sustaining a container to hold the fire of difficult conversations, as described by William Isaacs in his book Dialogue, we started experimenting with a collective contemplation exercise. At the time, we called it ‘collective meditation’, but really it was more of a contemplation, because we would place a question or a topic as the focus of our attention and listen for new insights. In the awareness of our shared, energetic container we would use our subtle sensing to catch fragments of answers, information or insights that might emerge. In the beginning this sometimes felt threatening to our identities, as ‘weird’ ideas or images would come up. But it was very exciting and it awoke in me a resolve to dive deeper and understand better exactly what was going on.
We learned, step by step, to rely more on the information coming from the subtle levels and integrate it with our more habitual ways of knowing. To begin with, we didn’t always share the information we each received personally, for fear of being thought stupid or weird, only to find out later that it truly was a missing piece of the whole.
This collective contemplation started somewhat like a meditation, in silence. Unlike typical group meditation, though, we were all fully aware of being together in a shared silence with a shared purpose. In the silence we held our mutual connection and interrelatedness in our awareness, together with the question we had put in the middle. At first, the silence served to bring us into the present moment, as in regular meditation. In that silence, there seemed to be “only energy and no words”. But we discovered that we could speak from that connected, deeper subtle space. It felt as if the words were spoken ‘through us’, without any prior processing by the mind, arising instead straight from, in and as the experience. As in Whitehead’s quote: the speaking was a revelation, it offered a clarity of insight that was not yet present in our memory banks.
We are so habituated to using language and speech to exchange in conceptual space that we hardly ever speak from direct experience – except in those rare instances when we hurt ourselves and say ‘ouch!’ as an expression of pain, or when our delight in a favorite dish brings forth an ‘mmmm!’ We noticed that there was something to discover when speaking was directly linked with insights arising from inner knowing. It is an expression emanating directly from a subtle gut feeling instead of sharing thoughts and concepts; words seem to issue through the mouth from a deep source, not from the mind. Sound can have a healing quality, and what I am pointing to here is speech, communication still imbued with that kind of quality, whilst using words to articulate new insights.
Language has become a separate human realm and/or a map of reality and there is a destructive and manipulative potential to it – words can deny, words can control. Most of all, the essence of the experience and the inherent relationships in it are lost. Labels and concepts blind us, distorting our perception of reality and the way we interact with it. We sacrifice immediacy, intimacy and vulnerability. Speaking ‘about it’ removes us from the experience itself. Speaking ‘words that come through’ is more energetic and vibrational; it leaves us with a primary experience rather than taking us off into the realms of abstract cognition and intellect.
The sharing of personal stories also has that quality of immediacy and intimacy. We all feel touched when sharing is genuine and open. The story and its related feelings can be understood by the heart without needing to be processed through concepts and labels. Such direct communication holds a healing quality – for the speaker through the sharing and for the receiver through listening and witnessing. As we continue in this immediate sharing, it becomes possible for our words to come from ever deeper layers, for us to say things we never imagined before, as this way of being together opens up our experience into new realms of being.
We came to call this experience of immediate shared insight ‘sourcing’ – as if speaking from source, from that place of infinite potential that is always present but that we tend to forget in our habitual way of living and thinking. We invite participants in the circle to speak to and from the middle so as to increase the likelihood of speaking from that subtle place, rather than sharing concepts or addressing what someone said before. One feature of sourcing is that it is free from conceptualisation. Words spring directly from experiential awareness in the moment. Follow one’s own words as they appear and refraining from attributing any kind of meaning to them allows us to go further and deeper on this path of discovery.
Sourcing can only happen when one is in both inner and outer alignment at the same time (Bonnitta Roy calls this internal congruence and inter-subjective coherence). Sourcing is sensing into the subtle realms; it is about perceiving subtle, energetic levels of reality where the boundaries of the normal fall away. We are able to sense and distinguish what will come next, just as we can lick a finger and hold it up in the air to feel where the breeze is coming from. The here-and-now moment is always entangled with its inherent potential, with what can become manifest next. This is not the same as ‘knowing’ the future, as it is not yet formed. But there seems to be a field of possibility or potential, and we are able to sense into it.
It is not easy to source instead of thinking, in the sense of juggling with preformed thoughts, memories and concepts – an activity which is so deeply ingrained in our minds and habits. We tend to think first, then speak, or simply repeat something we have said before. In the practice of sourcing, we are invited to speak directly from the (subtle) experience, instructing the mind to notice the experience without processing it in conceptual space. So we work with our present phenomenological experience –what is happening Now – and stay as close to it as we possibly can, whilst observing it and articulating it to the best of our ability.
This can feel awkward, like going against the grain, but – as in every aspect of life – practice helps! Over time I have noticed that my capacity to easily and accurately discern whether something feels ‘right’ or ‘aligned’ has grown. It can be about very small, even mundane things. But suddenly I ‘know’ it, with a certainty that encompasses my heart, my body and my mind. These are not solutions that come through a thought process. They have the quality of revelation, without being in any way out of the ordinary: it is just that I now know what to do, when or whether to write that email, what to reply, what to decide. In the past, I would have needed much more time and contemplation to reach that space of inner and outer alignment.
So, yes, practice helps. We can develop this inner knowing, this sense of coherence and knowing-all-at-once that is an embodied experience. We can practice sensing the potential that is surfacing into manifestation. The first few times I experienced such insights, I remember finding it so strange that I felt some trepidation about sharing them, judging them weird and new-agey. Since then, it has becoming a familiar habit that is an integral part of how I relate with the world and with life in general.
Quote from participant:
I’ve been in a great space the last week. Next to no internal dialogue – quiet, at rest, an in-body experience. Really being cocooned, safe in my body, life, work, cosmos, and belonging. Finding this week I just have to show up, being empty and listen. Then something speaks through me and I can shut up again. It’s an intense experience and hasn’t faded away at all. – Helen
The Experience of Sourcing
Here follows a description of the different phases we have identified that can help in learning how to shift our habit from thinking through the head to sourcing though our whole being.
Crossing the threshold
For the habitual ways of being of the default Western mind, it can feel quite scary to start to rely on sourcing in many different areas of life – even though the intention is not to replace cognitive knowing, because that is included. It can often feel like being on the edge of a deep precipice – we might pitch into the void! And yet many of us feel a compulsion, a strong pull to go there. Something seems to be calling us, and when we follow the call, it feels good!
From my notebook:
If I release myself
into the Earth system,
then my mind releases itself into it also.
Not the witness,
but the mind.
Then I can be in wonder with everything that is.
Then what comes up is not ‘mine’, but is Life itself.
– April 2009, Greece
Quotes from participant:
I struggle with how much of me, the ego self, should be present. And yet I know it is to be the self, beyond ego, who engages. Somehow I am not free yet, not free enough to be there without ego attachment to the outcome. And letting go, moving beyond the edge, the leap into the unknown brings so much uncertainty, so much fear; it is beyond any trust I can find within me. … Something in me knows this holds unlimited potential and yet I cannot seem to make the leap.
And yet I know that beyond the ego self is the Self, the one who has no fear, no past or future, no need for anything, except to be in fullness, in now, and to emerge. No need for comfort as there is no fear.
In this space of shared experiment and practice, there is only one rule or principle to follow: everything that is shared is ‘the right thing’. I put this in inverted commas here, as there can be no right or wrong in these matters, just the act of trying and seeing where it leads. Unavoidably, your ego-as-habitual-pattern will hit the wall of doubt and uncertainty: Am I going to say the wrong thing? Will it sound stupid? Will others think I’m weird? At those moments, it is good to remember the rule: everything you share is OK and good enough to try.
At the same time, stay as aware as you can of where you are speaking from: am I downloading the same old thing? Is there some subtle judgement? Am I speaking ‘about’ something? Am I sharing a personal story? Am I sensing a potential, trying to name a new pattern? If we feel the pull to speak more from source, to articulate the potential we are perceiving, it doesn’t matter what we are sharing because we have to keep on trying. Some agreements and shared practices can help us to reach this next level: the use of a talking piece, the principle that everything that is shared is OK… and just keep on practicing.
Quote from participant:
After once touching into speaking from the middle, I would forever want to return there, to that incredible and liberating power of knowing. To that little worn groove in consciousness, that is now a bit more familiar. The possibilities are so vast. The opportunity to shift consciousness even in a small way is so attractive energetically. It is as if consciousness is calling, magnetising me and us to answer, to listen, to sense into, to be present, to co-sense, and to co-presence. Once knowing this experience it becomes a capacity that must be utilised, that must be put into service.
Surrender and trust
Many times women describe the feeling of the sourcing experience as being like giving birth. There is something that needs to be expressed, birthed or manifested, although there is no point of reference to steer by and the outcome cannot be anticipated beforehand. Some describe it as “something from somewhere else came through me”. It is an active surrendering to the intangible: trusting the impulse to speak, trusting that the words will come, trusting the colour to pick, trusting the image to follow… trusting something that is not first formed in your conscious conceptual mind, because you know through your subtle awareness that something wants to be expressed. I imagine that this is what every artist has to learn; this is what life is asking from all of us.
Surrendering to these subtle impulses calls for us to commit to courage and honesty; the courage to give up control and let go of the known path, and the honesty to give form and expression to the impulse sensed from within. This is in no way a conscious choice made beforehand about what to say or do. Rather, it is an experience of inner compulsion; an impulse from life itself, not from any habitual pattern. It is not uncommon to feel yourself quaking, to feel resistance and yet know you are going to do it any way. The experience holds the paradox of being aware of some particular consequences of your choice whilst at the same time feeling you have no choice. There is a strong invitation not to hold back, because life is asking me to do just this. Nothing more and nothing less. If I am true to my deepest self, this is something I cannot not do. It is a deep commitment to the whole of life. This is living in the energy of the archetypal Fool of the tarot deck: it looks as if stepping forward will lead to death, and yet not stepping forward will lead just as surely to another form of death. It is all or nothing. You can’t do it just a little bit, just as you can’t be a little bit pregnant…
In the experience of our circles, I would often invite women to continue speaking after they had put down the talking piece. My subtle sensing told me that they had stopped talking when the ideas in their mind were exhausted, but before the real sourcing had begun. They thought everything had been said and wanted to stop their contribution right at the moment when I sensed the sourcing could start. They were so close! In reality, they had come to the end of what was already formed in their minds before they started sharing, and then stopped. I would silently hand them back the talking piece and they would sit with it for a while, then begin to articulate stories and impressions from a deeper place of as-yet-unformed insight.
There is a clearly perceptible difference between the urge coming from our ego-as-habitual-patterns and the impulse coming from source. We all recognise the moments when stuff just wants to fly out of the mouth. This is habitual ego material with an emotional charge behind it, and this charge is often difficult to stop and reflect upon. By contrast, articulating from an impulse arising from the alignment of body, feeling and mind, is quite different. This impulse too can have a certain energetic force to it, but it comes from the subtle realms and, because there is an inner silence present at the same time, we can easily choose not to share it, thereby maintaining our flexibility. Of course, when the tendency of our ego-as-habit is to hold back, the very expression of this subtle urge is in itself a novel behaviour. The simple practice of noticing what is going on in our bodies – emotions, feelings, subtle sensing – is extremely valuable here: stay in the body, keep sensing and speak when moved, but otherwise keep quiet.
Quote from participants:
One learning for me was: for the first time I trusted myself. I trusted that my ability to discern or decide to speak or to ask was OK. The little mind game was there for a split second, but then I could go on. It was a big awakening to trust my inner knowing.
What is calling me is a relatively new appreciation of the unseen forces that are ours to discover and work with. Until the past few years my training and life had made me almost wholly dismissive of anything that wasn’t available for analysis. My left-brain is well developed, and I am enthusiastic about linking its abilities to the intuitive and spiritual sides of myself. Moving the edge means taking a leap beyond the conventional wisdom. It means going beyond my own sense of limitation; though I want to remain humble in my assessments. It means stepping off of solid ground and trusting that I will land in a safe place.
For sourcing to happen through you, you need to stay tuned to your body, to be open to all your senses, the subtle ones included. More specifically you need to be open to receive: some kind of impression, an elusive knowing, a certainty, a weak signal, whatever might come through. You need to reach a point where you trust your senses as much as you trust your thinking. I repeat: as much as your thinking! Your subtle sensing is crucial, because this is how you discern whether or not you are aligned, both within and without.
This is why sourcing feels so different than coming from a more ‘normal’ conceptual space of ideas, thoughts and suggestions – all from memory, from what has happened before. I cannot describe it better than one of the participants of the Women Moving the Edge gathering of spring 2009: “I have a strong felt sense of when I am on the edge. I have a somatic experience of where the awareness comes from. In these moments I experience myself as fully contributing, fully of service and the small self disappears or when present shows up in such stark contrast to the moment, that it hardly makes sense. I feel vibrations and much energy flowing through me, but completely and utterly grounded. My deepest desire is to grow into this being a truly embodied state, where I spend much more of my time.” (Cari)
One great benefit of alignment – alongside the fact that no internal dialogue is ongoing, the mind is quiet and the body at rest – is that it is an in-body experience. You feel safe in your body, in your life, in your work, in the cosmos; you have an overall feeling of belonging to life itself. All you have to do is to show up, be centred and present and listen, within and without. Should something want to express itself through you, then you follow that impulse and give it some form. It’s a subtle yet intense inner experience that becomes more recognisable with practice. When we are aligned and balanced, and focus our intention on a certain question or issue, we can picture ourselves as an empty channel or tube. This channel seems to act as an attractor for relevant information to come in.
Quote from participant:
Ideas, like tiny tendrils of smoke, are fed into your awareness. You are learning to recognise them for what they are, to give them space and articulate them, act on them. This attracts more. You have now amplified your listening by joining circles of other listeners. The focus of your listening attracts threads of potential that resonate with your intent. It is important for you to understand that when you listen for ‘what wants to happen’, you can hear only the whispers or echos of your own deeper intent. – Helen
The alignment and coherence I am describing here relate to the three perennial virtues of Truth, Beauty and Goodness . Ever growing attunement – in all directions – brings us closer to truth or wisdom, creates more beauty and is experienced as good for all and everything. There is a sureness we feel in the body as we reach deeper into these virtues. We all recognise clarity, presence, beauty when we encounter them… they bring us to a place of inner stillness and awe. So, too, can we learn to recognise this energy when we are sharing it together. Somehow it is palpable and we know it.
As much as our ego-as-habitual-pattern might be afraid of sourcing, there is another part in us that will rejoice in the feeling of being on that edge, at least after some practice. Over time there is a greater sense of comfort in this new space. To be on the edge – the edge of not- yet-knowing how to proceed or what to say – is also to live in anticipation of what is going to emerge. It is exciting, creative, joyful – a vibrant feeling! To me, it reminds me of when I was a child, knowing that something pleasant was going to happen. It has not happened yet … but the surprise will show up at any moment! I guess this is the feeling of really being alive – and more even than that, it is being at home in life as it unfolds, ourselves included. The energy says “Lets do it!”, like children deciding to embark on an adventure beyond what is normally permitted by their parents, to end up with an experience that everyone enjoys.
Sourcing and similar concepts
At the beginning we live most of the time in the physical world. Then the subtle world becomes equally real. So does the unformed. In the end the unformed actually becomes our home.
– Thomas Hübl
Of course this capacity we call sourcing is not something we have invented. Other, similar concepts come pretty close to what we mean by it. I have tried to clarify the differences between sourcing and concepts like ‘intuition’, ‘felt sense’, ‘inspiration’, ‘imagination’ and ‘presencing’. They all say something about the capacity and process of reaching with your attention into the energetic, subtle levels of reality. In one way or another, they all imply that there are forms of knowing, insight or revelation that originate not from the conceptual mind but from somewhere else. All these forms of knowing can be part of sourcing, depending on the intention and other elements.
Intuition is a word more commonly used to express that we know something before it happens or without anyone having told us; we just know, without the proof of ‘objective’ reality. In a way, it is tapping into the subtle layers of reality, be it something as yet unmanifest or, perhaps, something that was previously unconscious. There is no strict distinction between these two, when we use the word intuition. Sometimes intuition might be sourcing, sometimes it is not. What is the same in both is a direct, immediate apprehension of something, through a multi-sensory awareness in combination with intellect. Sourcing is very much an action, a directing of the attention to what is coming into being; it is a verb, a process. It is not a capacity that you either have or you don’t; it can be trained and practiced.
Felt sense is a term coined by Eugene Gendlin. He explains: “A felt sense is not a mental experience but a physical one. Physical. A bodily awareness of a situation or person or event. An internal aura that encompasses everything you feel and know about the given subject at a given time – encompasses it and communicates it to you all at once rather than detail by detail. Think of it as a taste, if you like, or a great musical chord that makes you feel a powerful impact, a big round unclear feeling. A felt sense doesn’t come to you in the form of thoughts or words or other separate units, but as a single (though often puzzling and very complex) bodily feeling.”
He developed the process known as ‘Focusing’ to unravel the felt sense in people and get to its clear meaning. A description by David Rome: “When we first notice a felt sense, it does not have a specific ‘aboutness’ yet. It is non-conceptual. But as we use the Focusing process to be with and listen to the felt sense, it may come into clearer focus (hence the name Focusing) and it may ‘open’ in a way that gives us fresh understanding of our situation. At that point—which cannot be rushed—we can begin to try out concepts on it, begin to inquire what it might be ‘about.’ But the felt sense itself is always primary, not the conceptualisation, and the practice of Focusing involves repeatedly letting go of conceptual activity and returning to the body sense.”
If you want to learn more about the clues your body offers, getting acquainted with Focusing is highly recommended. It is guaranteed to enhance your subtle sensing capacity. Gendlin also developed a process called Thinking at the Edge, which builds on the felt sense and Focusing, with the aim of building a conceptual model out of your felt sense.
The difference between Focusing and sourcing is, in my definition, that sourcing is a felt sense about an unmanifest potential: it taps into layers of energy that have not yet come into physical manifestation. Like Focusing, it is a verb and an activity, but sourcing guides your attention to the unmanifest layers of reality, it is getting a felt sense of the future through the potential present in this moment. This is not about ‘any’ future – because many people have an intuition about what is going to happen, for example, to a relative, or that someone is going to call them on the phone. No, sourcing relates to possibilities that have not existed before, potentials that arise between the question that is central to the inquiry and the deepest source.
Sourcing is different to how channeling works for some people. While sourcing, you are very present to the here and now. If you are not aware of what you said, or if you channel information that has no bearing on you personally, then I would not call that sourcing. Sourcing is bringing your attention to the unmanifest that is calling to take form and then speaking and expressing from that place. It is building a conscious partnership with this potential and the future. It is not ‘channeling some information’ and then going back to your ‘normal’ life. Sourcing is a life-changing activity, because it will gradually lead you to live closer to your own potential and integrate more of this deeper knowing. In the terms of Otto Scharmer, sourcing is being in a generative conversation with life; in the terms of Jean Gebser, it is living more from Origin.
Quote from participant:
With sourcing I am putting words on… I’m trying to find words – and they are mine – that fit with what I am sensing. There is something that I’m sensing and then I fit words to it. The articulation of the words came first, my mind was following the words. … sourcing is something that comes through and I have to put the sentence together as it emerges and it feels like it won’t make any sense until it comes out of my mouth. Sourcing feels like it is being formed as it is coming through. I use the word channeling… as this felt like it was already there. In channeling I have a sense that something is speaking to me, instead of me sensing into it.
Sourcing might be very similar to inspiration, in the way artists understand it. The painter facing the white canvas or the writer confronting the blank page also have a felt sense of what they want to bring into manifestation – without yet knowing what it will look like. They link up with a future form, and need their ideas and concepts to get out of the way so that the artistic process can happen. Their trained artistic skills can then be put in service of the emerging form. The way we use sourcing here is to guide us to new wisdom and novel insights, to applications that will help us in the emerging world, that will help us to see the opportunities for the future instead fixating on all the problems and decay.
Sourcing embraces more than imagination. I know quite a few people who take the vision formed in their mind’s eye as real, and are unable to sense whether that vision is yet ready to surface into manifestation. They might get a sense of future possibilities, but they are too removed from the here-and-now to sense what is the first step to take towards it, leaving them frustrated with themselves and with others, because their vision is not taking form. Sourcing is connecting with the energetic field of something coming into manifestation. It is sensing ‘what wants to happen’, not what I or we dream of.
Lisette made the distinction clear: “In sourcing I use my whole body, including the first and second chakra – sensing how it feels there. With intuitive vision I look from the third eye (sixth chakra): clear seeing.” (Lisette meta 09092) We can see and we can dream in a way that is not related to insight; but the combination of seeing the bigger picture and connecting with this inner knowing is quite powerful. When we source, there is a deep, aligned knowing and words will find their way if we trust and allow it to happen. Most likely those words will ring true also for the others present. We are often surprised at what we have said and the reaction it causes in the group.
In relation to precensing, sourcing is what we do when we reach the bottom of the U in a more direct sense. We have dealt with the voices of judgment, fear and cynicism and we can reach with our awareness to the deepest point. Part of the contribution this book makes to the field of Theory U and similar approaches is to show how sourcing can happen simultaneously in many people, how we can go ‘through the eye of the needle’ at the bottom of the U as a collective, to get direct access to a wider field of possibilities. As distinct from the whole sequence described in the principles in the book Theory U, it is more like what Scharmer describes here as the third possibility: “The U process can be applied to practical situations in three different ways: as process, as a set of field principles, and by operating from the presence of source.” The latter he describes as “… as connecting to and operating from the presence of your deepest source, that is, from the bottom of the U. At this level, even the scaffolding of the principles falls away. The connection to this source level is articulated in the three root principles: intentional grounding, relational grounding and authentic grounding. I call them root principles because they relate to and support the other 21 remaining principles like the root system of a tree relates to the visible parts of a tree. They establish a foundation to evoke the presence of a social field – an intentional grounding that serves the whole; a relational grounding that connects to the collective body of the social field; and an authentic grounding that connect you to your essential self as a vehicle for the emerging future.” (Theory U, p436)
These three grounding principles are related to the Inner Alignment (authentic grounding) and Outer Alignment (relational grounding) explained in the previous chapters. The intentional grounding relates to the guiding question that is in service of the whole and where the sourcing is applied.
Some more inspiration…
In his ongoing inquiry into the foundations of reality, Bohm (1980, 1993, 1994, 2003) came to see what he called “unbroken wholeness” as the fundamental reality. He describes “thought as a system” in a way that shows it functioning by limiting, or measuring this unbroken wholeness, correlating with the epistemological field. Bohm used this frame to point to what he referred to as insight, or that which comes from outside or beyond the system of thought, in our framework the ontological dimension. The “event” of insight, coming from the ontological dimension, impacts the system of thought, or epistemological field, in a manner that fundamentally “re-hardwires” it, leading to greater coherence with reality.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View, p4.
Their way of seeing had to become whole for the wholeness that is ever-present to reveal itself in the normal and natural; for the place of grace, that ‘secret place’ is ‘where we have always been’, in the normal and the natural. We just need a new way of peering into the normal and the natural. We need a new kind of view… we are suggesting that the experience of wholeness arises through the view from wholeness.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View, p9.
Bohm (1980) says that: There is in this mechanical process no inherent reason why the thoughts that arise should be relevant or fitting to the actual situation that evokes them. The perception of whether or not any particular thoughts are relevant requires the operation of an energy that is not mechanical, an energy we shall call intelligence. This latter is able to perceive a new order or a new structure, that is not just a modification of what is already known or present in memory. For example, one may be working on a puzzling problem for a long time. Suddenly, in a flash of understanding, one may see the irrelevance of one’s whole way of thinking about the problem, along with a different approach in which all the elements fit in a new order and in a new structure. Clearly, such a flash is essentially an act of perception, rather than a process of thought, . . . though later it may be expressed in thought.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View p.51.
This “act of perception” is distinguished from the system of thought, indicating a kind of intelligent perception in which “the brain and nervous system respond directly to an order in the universal and unknown flux that cannot be reduced to anything that could be defined in terms of knowable structures”.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View, p53
“Primary knowing” arises by means of “interconnected wholes, rather than isolated contingent parts and by means of timeless, direct, presentation” rather than through stored “re-presentation.” “Such knowing is open rather than determinate, and a sense of unconditional value, rather than conditional usefulness, is an inherent part of the act of knowing itself,” said Rosch. Acting from such awareness is “spontaneous, rather than the result of decision making,” and it is “compassionate… since it is based on wholes larger than the self.”
As (Eleanor) Rosch told Otto (Scharmer), all these attributes–timeless, direct, spontaneous, open, unconditional value, and compassionate–go together as one thing. That one thing is what some in Tibetan Buddhism call “the natural state” and what Taoism calls “the Source.
– online source: http://a-spot-for-thought.blogspot.be/2009/09/analytic-knowing-v-primary-knowing.html
Gebser says “… contemplation is the mode of mystic perception, …”
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-present Origin. p24
Gendling speaks about ‘natural knowing’, about ‘natural understanding’:
“At first it brings one’s attention, not to new clarities, but rather to something muddy, a murky body-state — a felt sense. It may seem as if it were something private, merely an inner feeling-tone. But the subjective side is not private. When explication comes, it shows that a felt sense is all about the world.”
He talks about ‘dipping into’ a Felt Sense and then ‘explicate’ it. “Explicating changes I, and leads to renewed dipping and another change-step, and another, to more and more experience.”
“Our bodies imply every next bit of our further living. An action can explicate this implicit further living, and can carry it forward.”
– Gendlin, Crossing and Dipping. http://www.focusing.org/gendlin.html , p6-7.
George Leonard coined the term Focused Surrender while working on The Silent Pulse. He noted that every episode of grace or ‘perfect rhythm’ described in the book involved the unlikely marriage of trying and not trying, of zeroing-in and letting go. It appeared that both focused intentionality and the surrender of ego were necessary for experiencing existence at such a fundamental level and creating what often appeared miraculous….
There’s no question but that ego has great power, but it also has limitations. If we entertain the notion that the universe somehow already contains all information, all possibilities, and that each of us is a context of the universe from a particular point of view, then we might say that to create a sharply focused, vivid image of what we are seeking serves to ‘tune’ our being to that precise possibility. But that’s not enough. The striving, the ego still gets in the way. When we surrender, relinquishing the ego with its limitations, we open the way for grace, news from the universe, a direct connection with the divine…
– George Leonard, Michael Murphy, The Life We Are Given
In the first chapter we described the process of becoming ever more present to ourselves, in all our nuances and fullness. This unfolding authenticity as a process of inner alignment, is accompanied by another alignment that extends from our selves out to what is around us. Exploring this inner and outer territory, we are building a map, piece by piece, that describes alignment on both vertical (inner) and horizontal (outer) axes. Eventually this voyage of discovery will give us two maps, but for now we will content ourselves with starting the first one, the map for the Circle of Presence.
A Circle of Presence is any group that has as its purpose to learn, individually and collectively, to grow more present to its collective wisdom. This presumes a capacity in each member of the group to be present with oneself, with others, with the group, and also with the potential that is not yet realised. Awareness on all these levels helps build our capacity to attain authentic, collective wisdom in service of actions that are unique, authentic and balanced in the world. In the second half of the book, we will describe how this awareness and consciousness can be expanded even further, both inwards and outwards, through the practice of a Circle of Creation.
In the previous chapter we distinguished and described different levels or layers in the movement of inner balance and the unfolding of authenticity: observing, accepting, honouring and living what is. As we now extend our awareness beyond ourselves to include the ‘other’, we find that these four verbs apply to this outward movement too. In our lived experience, of course, these layers are all co-arising, intertwined and interwoven. It is one thing to draw a map, but quite another to actually live in the territory! The map can help us now and then, but it is in the practice of daily life that we learn to embody both deeper authenticity and widening balance.
This process of outer alignment will result in an experience of balance, which extends to include the world around. We can differentiate several widening movements, from I and Myself, to I and You, through I and Us, to I and Potential. Again, these different domains are not areas with clear-cut boundaries; we simply separate them out in order to gain some clarity. The overall development here is a growing awareness that whom and what we relate with is much more complex than we had ever imagined.
Seeing this complexity is becoming aware of omnipresent interrelatedness; a deeply embodied understanding that there is never one ‘single thing’, but always – and really always! – mutual relationship. There is an ongoing influence back and forth; I can’t separate myself from my relationship with you, with the group I am in, or with the potential that we hold together. We are distinguishing them here in the interests of clarity, but in life this is just not possible. Of course, mainstream Western thought, rooted in the assumptions of an objective, scientific paradigm, has separated many ‘things’ out, only to recently arrive at the insight that life in general needs to be described in terms of complexity, chaos, networks and embeddedness in systems.
The movement of widening our balance can be seen as ever expanding waves of attention. First we must ease ourselves out of our rigid patterns and habitual boundaries (Chapter 1: I and Myself) before we can really connect with the other(s) (this chapter: I and You). This relational field needs to be mastered before I can live, love and respect on a group level (chapter 3: I and Us). In turn, we need some practice on this group level before we can start to live – together – in real emergence (chapter 4: I and Potential). Later we will see that authenticity and balance can extend deeper and wider, beyond the human beings we are with and out into the material world and into other realms, where authenticity becomes generative creativity and balance becomes coherence. But let’s not jump ahead!
We can see this widening of balance, including ever more in the process, as trusting the invisible ‘in-betweenness’ of all that exists. This trust in the subtle experience of that which is neither visible nor tangible, but which nevertheless influences us, helps us to learn to be at ease with surrendering to new insights, seeing new patterns and coming to an authentic collective wisdom. If we remain grounded in the thing-ness of our selves and others, we miss out on the relationships, the interrelatedness and the myriad other information streams that are constantly at work in our relational field. It is a stretch for our Western mind to shift our attention from the objects we perceive to what is happening inside and between them, but like everything else, this can all be learned and trained.
Balance as a process of widening awareness
As is our habit in the West, my personal process of awakening awareness started with myself, through the practice of meditation, emotional bodywork, different types of dance, circle work, and so on, all to learn about the deeper layers and possibilities in myself. This was all very much ‘me’-focused, at least in the beginning. I cleared many blockages and became freer in my expression and the quality of my life improved. Then something intriguing happened.
A ten-year relationship had just come to an end, and with it a 3-year experiment in a kind of co-housing project. I had prepared myself well for the next autumn and had planned for some evening workshops and weekends in Emotional Bodywork, which I had already been offering for a few years as a therapist. My plan was to build up my practice and to let go of my unemployment benefit. Despite all this forward planning, not one of the courses I was offering had enough participants, and I had to cancel them all. Now what? Finding myself with a lot of time on my hands, and intuiting that the universe was trying to tell me something, I meditated and contemplated to sense into what I was supposed to do.
One afternoon, as I was lying on my sofa groping for clarity, it dawned on me that, while Emotional Bodywork was excellent work, it was no longer mine to do. So what then? A faint inner signal told me that there was something with women, with spirituality… not clear, not sure… and off I went into a deep memory of being burned at the stake! Such a deep embodied, embedded fear that if I truly dared to speak my truth, I would be burned at the stake! My god! I was not at all prepared for the emotional clearing I had done on the level of my personal life to have this as an outcome! A new chapter was opening, this time a more cultural and collective one, and again there was pain to acknowledge and transform. It didn’t feel fair: was this the reward for all my hard work? I didn’t like it!
While I am no ‘true believer’ in past lives, as I have seen such stories used in unhealthy ways, nevertheless I cannot dismiss this intriguing, intense and embodied experience. I prefer to think – as I have learned to do from other experiences – that once we have cleared ourselves of personal traumas, more collective and universal ones will present themselves to us for healing. It is only through individuals taking on this job of expanded consciousness that cultural and age-old suppression can be brought to light and resolved.
This experience launched me into the process of coming together with women in circle, eventually culminating in the Flemish circle, and later the Women Moving the Edge project. Equally important, it taught me something about collective, energetic fields. It was clear to me that this was not solely a personal memory relating exclusively to myself and my story (regardless of whether past lives were involved). I had touched on a collective memory that was speaking through me, making me aware that ‘I’ was not an entity with a separate existence. I was more entangled in other systems and fields than I could ever have imagined.
In our little Flemish women’s group, we naturally expanded towards bigger fields to embrace. As I have already mentioned, we spent a lot of time disentangling what was whose in the field of emotions, triggers and pain. But next came an awareness that the group as a whole was also something to attend to if we wanted to plumb the depths of our collective wisdom. I am referring here not to the classical concept known in social work and facilitation as ‘group dynamics’, but rather to what we might call the ‘group field’ – the inner and subtle awareness of the complexity that is any group.
As our inquiry deepened and we experimented with what was unfolding, we focused more on our subtle and collectively aligned wisdom, and how we could stay open and surrender to it, instead of sticking to pre-made plans and known procedures. We started to ‘learn from the future’, as Scharmer would call it. These days, I prefer to call it ‘engaging with the present potential’. In our habitual linear thinking, we project the future as a straight line from the present. But the potential – or what Gendlin calls ‘the implicit’ – is right here, in every moment of the here-and-now.
I would like to offer a more detailed preview of what lays ahead in this process of widening balance, a process of aligning with what we see as outside of ourselves. We started out from ‘I and Myself’, which was described in the first chapter. Now we move out, allowing our awareness to embrace more of all we are related to and inter-related with.
I and You
Focus on: the inner being of the other
Open to: connecting
We have all learned ways of dealing with a wide range of situations. We know how to shy away when needed, to get furious, to get what we want, etc. As we described in Shadow and Gift, these are our survival patterns, our habitual and unconscious ways of relating with others. My patterns differ from yours, sometimes they are opposite, but they all have one thing in common: we don’t really relate with the other in the here and now. We tend to see others as enemies, as ‘really’ different, as ignorant, as stupid, as too this or too that…. alternatively, we don’t even notice the differences and expect everyone to be just like us.
It’s a big thing to really grasp the notion that ‘everybody has her own truth’, not just as a concept, but to really allow it to penetrate us until we embody in every instant as a lived reality. Whenever we are touched in a vulnerable spot, our defense mechanisms – our fight-or-flight survival patterns – automatically kick in and the value we want to live by (‘respecting different views of reality’, for example) flies straight out the window! Time and again, instead of going for another round of conflict or the mistrust that creeps in so easily, we need the courage and the consciousness to choose to open up to this other ‘I’ and seek a way of connecting that actually works to keep us in constructive relationship.
Once I can see through my own patterns and reveal the hidden parts of myself, it becomes much easier to see or assume these hidden places in the other and be open and respectful with them. After all this other person is just as human as I am, only with a different expression, a different colour and a different shape. Observing what is means just that: seeing the other as another human being whom we probably don’t know at all. Every act of every other person contains a subtle, more hidden aspect that we are likely not aware of and don’t even think about. Just as we can open to the full experience of ourselves, including our subtle senses, in the same way we can open to the inner, subtle self of others. How does this other really feel? What is she aware of that might be quite foreign to me? How does the subtle self of the other expresses itself?
Once we can start to bend a curious gaze towards this diversity and recognise that we are, quite simply, different, truly authentic relationship becomes possible. Our habitual ways of reacting hide aspects of ourselves that have never been fully in the light; some of these are very beautiful, related to being fully alive, while others seem quite dreadful, but really that is just the outer layer. This is true not only of me, but of all the other people I engage with. These shadow aspects that the ‘I’ wants to hide are essential to our true authenticity. Within their shell they conceal a pearl of wisdom and great vision. Can we discern and recognise this in others? Can we relate directly with this deeper layer and leave the habitual patterns for what they are? Are we able to see the gift others bring to the table? Can we truly accept and honour the other?
In this process of widening our awareness to others, we begin to appreciate that our individuality is not clear cut and separate, and that we live in a world of intricate interrelatedness. As we hold both ourselves and the other in full focus at the same time, we become increasingly aware of ourselves as an embodied flow of experiences. Our idea of ourselves as a process of becoming expands into a relational mode of becoming. This process will be described in detail in next section 2.5.
I and Us
Focus on: the group field, the inner collective
Open to: holding
Any collective, be it a team, a family, an organisation or a nation, is formed of a number of people, but it is much more than just the sum of those individuals. It is shaped by the relationships between all, by the mutual influences constantly ongoing, back and forth, at lightning speed. Just because these most often go unnoticed by the conscious mind does not mean they are not influencing what we say and do. The number of possible one-on-one relationships can be calculated by a simple formula (sum=Nx(N-1)) and the result is always much higher than expected. And this sum does not yet take into account the small subgroups forming and influencing each other whenever the collective has more than 4 or 5 participants.
The English language does not (yet?) have a word to describe this web of relationships, this awareness of interrelatedness, these invisible and subtle dynamics at play beneath the surface. The best term seems to be ‘field’, as it evokes a spatial entity beyond the boundaries of myself, and beyond what is happening between me and one other person. Here, we use the notion ‘group field’ to denote the inner dimension that seems to be present in any kind of group, to which our Western world pays scant attention. We distinguish between ‘group field’ and the much more widely recognised ‘group dynamics’, which point mainly to common emotional patterns that occur in group settings. My point here is that, alongside these emotions, there are always subtle energies present that we can learn to detect, to trust, amplify and nurture.
Our Western individuality can find it a challenge to set aside our personal preferences and motivations, to intervene and contribute in sole service of the well-being of the group and its purpose. Doing so does not mean regressing to a childlike state of as yet undeveloped personal identity; nor less does it mean falling into a victim style of conforming to the implicit group norm. Rather, we are pointing here to the next stage in consciousness: from dependent, through in-dependent, to inter-dependent: I need all of you, and you all need the best from me. Only if I offer my full potential can the group achieve its highest possible results. In those moments when my area of knowledge, skill, passion or expertise is at play, I am the leader. In the next moment, you take the lead in another topic or for another task, and we all know and trust this. Leadership circulates throughout the group, not according to a pre-determined schedule, but because we are a leaderful group. Through each fully participating, by sharing the overall response-ability for manifesting the group’s purpose, we are all leaders. (further description in chapter 3)
I and Potential
Focus on: emergence
Open to: surrendering
In previous versions of this matrix, I called this area ‘I and Evolution’, but I now think that it is more accurate to see it as the relation between myself and that which can become manifest, the potential that is present and waiting to be grasped and brought forth. In order for this to happen in a group setting, we need the capacity to be consciously present to all the previously described domains: what is going on in myself, in the other individuals, in the field, and where are we regarding the intention and purpose of the group – all at the same time. Through attending to all of this, we can begin to glimpse what is wanting to come to the surface and can start working with it.
There is a special kind of trust involved in this process of widening balance in the world. In highly complex situations, there is no one ‘right’ thing to say or do. How, then, to choose a certain action? The art is to stay centered and open, trusting that sooner or later the next nugget of potential will open and become accessible. Basically, it is about trusting that we are able to connect with unmanifest potential, consciously and intentionally.
In order to be able to listen to the future, to the unmanifest that is knocking on our door, we need a deep inner stillness. Stillness that is beyond being quiet or without noise; it is a centered state that is not engaged in any kind of habitual story. This inner centering allows us to become aware of the subtle energies that point to more potential and its possible manifestation. Accessing the collective wisdom that is held in any kind of group is a collective practice that requires adequate group silence. This means not only individuals refraining from speech, but also a group-connecting-in-silence reaching out – or opening up – to subtle, collective wisdom.
We focus here on the emergence of that really novel insight or idea that has never existed before, and that could only spring up in the midst of our collective witnessing and connection. It requires us to perceive all phenomena – everything that is happening in the room, within us, around us and in the wider field – without judging them with our habitual minds as not valid or not meaningful. It requires us to take them at face value; to acknowledge, accept, honour and live them.
Back in the days of our earliest experiments, we needed much training, courage and willingness to voice our own sparks of wisdom. Sharing your inner knowing, your unique perspective, your subtle impulse regarding the issue and the question at hand is key to achieving the unique collective wisdom of this particular group or team. But recognising the information held by others as wisdom is equally important. Emergence is a lot about ‘connecting the dots’, so if you fail to value your own dot, or disregard the dots that others have brought to the table, you won’t see the patterns and the new meaning that is arising, and emergence will not win through.