The field of systemic constellations introduced the concept of ‘systemic conscience’ to the world. Systemic conscience is a systemic awareness of the system as a whole that will ‘use’ any member of the system – and most commonly the most vulnerable one (typically children, in the case of family systems) – to signal that someone or something that belongs to the system (the family, organisation, company, etc.) is not included in it. One way of understanding this is as the whole of a system’s field ‘using’ people to make something visible. We can extrapolate this notion of ‘systemic conscience’ to the field of the future, the field of potential. Otto Scharmer talks about “the future in need of us.” This can be seen as a similar dynamic – not, this time, to heal something from the past, as in typical systemic constellations, but rather, a field of potential that calls on different people to bring it into actuality. In this regard, participants in a Circle of Creation are in service of a greater, systemic purpose, as set out in 7.1, Collective Calling.
In one of my encounters with Bonnitta Roy, she came up with the – at that time – startling question: What are people for? This question landed home and stayed with me for quite some time. It arose from the awareness that so much of what we humans think is uniquely human is actually inherited from our animal anticedents. This being the case, what precisely do humans bring to the whole? What is the legacy of humanity that can bring all the rest of life forwards? There is much that humans can do, that (we assume) plants and animals cannot: we can self-reflect, manipulate abstract concepts, create something beyond ourselves, question something and be in not-knowing… But are these mostly conceptual capacities really our only unique contribution?
In recent years, the reality of a collapse of (Western) middle-class society – something that will fundamentally change our mainstream way of living – has been sinking in, a little more every day. In this context, the ability to hold an inner alignment, to stay present, centred and grounded in ourselves – instead of escaping into panic, powerlessness, distraction or denial – is crucial. We will be able to hold presence and awareness in the face of any kind of collapse only by being in circles (communities, teams, organisations, collectives), by staying in connection with each other. Without this shared and collective consciousness, we will tend to fall back into all kinds of regressive behaviours and be unable to achieve innovative insights and generative action. I think no one can imagine what the world and our daily life will look like in a few years from now. We will need each other for support, to rebuild the fabric of the collective and allow truly creative ideas come to fruition.
Not falling into old patterns is not the ultimate purpose here, however. It is simply a condition for doing the work. In the practice of Collective Presencing, it is the collective sourcing that brings in knowing and insights that we cannot access individually. Beyond the insights, aligning wider and deeper, we can collectively sense what potential is ready to manifest through us, because we add the awareness of here-and-now. This is what brings forth generative action. I sense that this is (part of) humanity’s evolutionary path: to learn to be in this collective practice that is – and leads – to generative action.
This seems to me to be one of the things that we, as humans, can add to life. In the meantime it can also allow the regeneration of much of what we have damaged and destroyed. I believe this is how humanity and life on the planet will move into the next phase of possibility. Collective practice, as it is emerging through the many experiments of We-spaces, teal organisations and ecosystem awareness, is essential for all the potential that wants to manifest. We are, collectively, in that birthing or pre-birthing process right now.
What seems unique to us as humans is the ability to design processes that invite co-creation and lead to life-affirming action. We see this in the building process that Christopher Alexander has been experimenting with, which leads to qualities like beauty and harmony. We recognise it, too, in any good permaculture practice, as it generates food while supporting more wildlife, building more resilience, and so on. The practices of the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter, too, are in essence about co-creation, both within the hosting teams and within the groups of participants. It is clear from these three examples that it is not about following rules, plans or formulae. It is an iterative experimental practice. They are all about co-creation with what is present, and at the same time the design process leads to novelty, beauty and adds more of life to what went before.
Fields and fields
As we have entered more and subtler sensing and awareness, the word ‘field’ shows up, as if by itself. Many people use this word, in different contexts, meaning different things. The best definition I have found is this: a field is a space in which an energy is held.
Like a physical field, we call something a field when we ‘see’ the boundaries around it. Otherwise we call it ‘nature’. So a field – in the energetic world – is to be seen not as a separate ‘thing’, but as a space of awareness in which an energy is held that we throw a loose boundary around so we can talk about it and sense into it. Just like individual people – whose boundaries, in the Western way of thinking, are quite fixed – fields have boundaries. But they are not forever immutable. As with individuals, the qualities and boundaries of fields will change due to many encounters with other energies, whether manifest or not.
Our Western-trained awareness has been one of fragmentation, of knowing facts and things with clear boundaries. The practice of Collective Presencing bends our awareness increasingly to what exists in between the facts, in between the people, in amongst all of life. This is why we speak of fields, but because there are many different fields – regions of awareness – to sense into and to talk about, some distinctions might be useful.
Rupert Sheldrake defines a field as ‘a region of influence’. Social, cultural fields are shaped by what has come before and expressed through strong habits/rituals – like the founding myths that give coherence to a collective cultural or organisational field.
When Otto Scharmer says “we need to learn from the future”, I understand this as meaning that we need to be in conscious relation with the field of potential, and sense what exactly out of this field is most likely to come to manifestation through us. Again, the field is not a thing, and neither is the potential! It can be seen as regions where our attention can go and notice something, but if we turn our attention away, there is just a big soup of energy – with us included!
Through our different gatherings, we came to see that there is a collective field, a collective potential or possibility, that we were all sensing before we gathered. Almost as if it ‘exists’ in itself, but again, it is not a thing! It is a possibility, a potential that we resonate with – where others do not. It is not we individuals coming together who then create ‘this field’ between us. The field, with its huge potential to manifest newness, was probably guiding us, inviting us, attracting us, seeking resonance with us, to come together in the first place. Again, it is not a question of which ‘caused’ the other. Resonances seem to happen, probably bubbling up out of life itself, traversing both manifest and unmanifest realms – and again, there is no boundary between the two! The field of potential is in need of us, embodied human beings, to make it visible, tangible, manifest. It is only through us that the potential can be embodied and can result in generative action that can actually change something fundamentally.
The field of unmanifest potential that we can collectively listen and sense into can be distinguished from the social and inter-subjective field that we hold among us (I and Us). Depending on where we put our attention, we can notice different sensations in each of these regions. We can see each individual in the circle as holding a pole of awareness, being in inner alignment. In between the poles – and in the awareness of it – the field of potential becomes tangible. It is a practice of multiple awareness to do this collectively, for collective purposes.
All these distinctions and attempted explanations still leave us with many more questions… This is life on the edge!
I’m interested in this field thinking. In groups we expand this thought process to contain you and your life as a full process, not just parts and bits. How can I think and feel you as a field? Not just as a personality but all of your life at once? Is there a possibility of this and how can we expand our thinking into this field thinking in a company or institution, a global process, a group, whatever.
– Thomas Hübl, in Beams and Struts
Quote from participant:
My sense is of being an instrument of the future unfolding, of playing my notes/chords to call in harmonic synchronization. Everything becomes less and less personal, slowly taking one step at a time. Moving into the impersonal, the fleetingly impermanent, the seemingly impermeable; and yet as each new horizon appears, I permeate, and am permeated, interpenetrated. As an embodied human presence born of and into an older system, the resonance of the new plays in me seeking the way along the frontiers of evolution. – Judy
Who is holding system-wide potentials?
In the third chapter we talked about what we understand as holding space, its main function being to hold the space open for the potential to manifest. In the global Art of Hosting network, we have noticed a pattern in working with complexity, that we articulate as follows: “It takes a field to hold a field.” In practice, this means that when seeking collective intelligence and collective wisdom through conversations with large groups, you need a (hosting) team that itself uses its collective wisdom. This cannot be done by a lone expert. But what about system-wide – and even world-wide – potential? Is anyone holding the space for potential at these scales, other than (or even) the powers that be (the 1%, the establishment)?
There are many individuals acting out on the world stage – just look at the massive outpouring of emotion before and after the Brexit and the Trump votes. We would do well to restore some kind of balance and collective grounded presence, both to sense into what actual inquiries and guiding questions are essential system-wide, and who are the groups and teams who will (can) hold the potential on these larger scales? What kind of group can keep the space open and not collapse into default thinking or emotional patterns – and then live up to the new insights and generative actions that come into view?
Quote by participant:
I would like to speak to the re-patterning of energy. It is really important to see the whole big context we are in now. It is a pattern interrupt; it is no longer for us to do business as usual. Part of what we need to be doing is holding the container in which the energetic pattern can reconfigure itself. Because there will be a certain amount of chaos and as we know from hosting – that is part of what holding is about, to keep a sense of containment, of calm, while all hell breaks loose. We don’t need to do anything in any particular way, but we have to hold the space in a more harmonious way so that re-patterning can happen. – Helen
Many of you, reading this book this far, have heard the story of the Imaginal Cells – the early butterfly cells in the pupa in its cocoon that need to find each other in order for the butterfly to take shape. If we extrapolate from this metaphor to global or system-wide scales, we can ask: What is this cocoon, and who is holding the cocoon while the imaginal cells find and organise themselves to become the butterfly?
Some of us have been living and working with the practice of Collective Presencing, and have manifested small projects in this way. It seems that we are now asked to do so on much larger scales. What skills and capacities are needed to do this? It is one thing to hold the acquisition and renovation of a house and land in this way, for example. It is something quite different to hold a generative space for a country, a region, a local educational system, let alone even wider, more global systems. So much more is at stake, so much more is active in the field, so many more emotions flare up, so much more collective trauma is unconsciously held. In a way, it seems that all of that (emotional) movement needs to be held in a much, much greater emptiness and deeper emotional steadiness – the way a mother embraces and contains an overactive child.
Quote from participant:
At this time there seems to be a huge movement of groups of people searching for mature ways of being together and taking responsible action together. I feel that is a true movement towards cultural maturity. Perhaps we are trying to transform the ‘happenings’ of the 60’s and 70’s and the congresses of later decades into the councils of the emerging future. – Marianne
Maybe it is too early to do this on such a scale. We do see it these days on the scale of organisations and businesses, as this example testifies. How Brian describes their way of working strongly relates to much of what is described in these pages. He states: “The decision to love is also a paradox because one is committing to the person as they really are and to their highest potential — unconditionally accepting and valuing what is while also serving what wants to be. In some traditions this is expressed as “I love you just the way you are, and we have a lot of work to do.” This is essential in developmental work: to start honestly where we are and simultaneously to work to see and unlock the potential that could be.” This is a perfect description of what I have called holding space!
Being able to hold space on such a wide and comprehensive scale is a huge invitation – and challenge – for the people willing to do this collectively. The capacity to hold steady and stay present includes the ability to witness pain and ugliness on very great time scales and across huge territories.
Here is a recent quote by Jordan Hall, pointing to the relevance of Collective Presencing on a wider scale, right at this time when so much seems to be going the wrong way:
“By yourself, you can’t think non-linearly. This isn’t your fault. Individual human beings cannot think non-linearly. Only “collective intelligences” – those agents of “inter-subjective consciousness” – can. To put it more simply, we implement and do things as individuals. We innovate as tribes. And the world we live in today — the world of the 21st Century — is a world of continuous innovation. ….
The conflict of the 21st Century is about forming a Collective Intelligence that can outwit and out innovate all its competitors. The central challenge is to innovate a way of collaborating and cohering individuals that maximally deploys their individual perspectives, capabilities, understandings and insights with each other.”
Collective Presencing has the potential to become a practice for global governance. Holding space on this level is holding the meta-perspective of the species in the universe. What does a balanced governance look like in daily life, when it is in service of the greater whole?
World Soul – Anima Mundi
This inquiry leads us to the notion of ‘world soul’ – the English equivalent of the Latin ‘Anima Mundi’. Wikipedia says:
“The world soul (Greek: ψυχὴκόσμου, Latin: anima mundi) is, according to several systems of thought, an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet, which relates to our world in much the same way as the soul is connected to the human body. The idea originated with Plato, … He wrote: Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as: “the soul of the world; a power or spirit supposed to be diffused throughout the material universe, organising and giving form to the whole and to all its parts, and regularising the motions and alterations of the parts. Therefore we can say that it is akin in meaning to ‘cosmic order-generating (i.e. syntropic) energy’.”
The following memory might be an experience of the World Soul – or at least related with it… In the preparation day for the Women Moving the Edge gathering in Holland, I was sensing deep, deep energetic layers of reality. I understood that we were re-weaving the holes in the fabric of the collective connection. These holes were like tears at different places in the energetic fabric. They came into being because our lives, thoughts and actions have been so fundamentally fragmented for so long, without there being enough people holding strong enough intentions to keep this energetic fabric alive. I realised in that moment that we need many of these collectively-held intentions to be able to reweave and repair what has been torn for a long time.
What if the World Soul is the ‘field’ that is guiding us collectively? What if all humans – and all beings on the Earth – are there to bring the potential of the World Soul consciously into manifest form?
Excerpts from my blog:
Silence settled in, and we were all listening inwards to our next impulse, like in the exercise Karen had offered us the day before. The impulse that came up in my body was to bow. A very deep bow, so deep I ended up lying on the floor with my hands turned upwards in receiving position. I explained to the others that I wanted to bow deeply for the mystery that is the World Soul (that I had recently encountered in Return of the Feminine and the World Soul, by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee). Later on, Karen, our London guest, did just the same, but she didn’t use any words, which made it even more powerful as a statement.
I came to understand some more of what this World Soul means. Connecting in with it, this living substance of the Earth, is how right timing and right place can be sensed and discerned. …. Collectively we became more aware that there is nothing ‘to do’, nor even anything ‘to get’… it is all about surrendering and aligning to Life, whether we related to it as our individual Soul or the World Soul.
In a way, the very fact that we find ourselves more and more often in groups of people who sense they have something to do together – as we described in Collective Calling – could be seen as invitations from the World Soul, calling us – the humans – to rise up into full possibility. Again, let’s not fall into the trap of imagining us over here and the World Soul somewhere over there! We can indeed attune to the field of potential on such a large scale, and it can inform us and we can inform it. It is interweaving and interpenetration, from the individual all the way up to the Earth. The potential of the Earth, with humanity as an inherent part, cannot come alive without our doing our personal, individual parts and doing our very unique collective parts!
What if the need of the world – all our man-made constructions – is an invitation to all of us to become who we really are? To reach our highest collective human potential? To come, as humanity, into right relationship with the Earth?
But the old, aboriginal idea of how are we to live – and when I say aboriginal I don’t mean Australia, I mean wider than that – is actually the dreaming of a human being; the logos, the intelligence of a human being, can only go so far. Then there comes a point when you actually need to get dreamt by the land itself. Now that sounds rather esoteric, but actually it’s been a common policy in tribal groups all over the world for thousands and thousands of years.
– Martin Shaw, Myth and transition interview
What seems to be important here is the fluidity of our witnessing capacity. We are invited to shift the boundaries of our attention and move from a tree to an ecosystem to a leaf, to a membrane, to the planet… As the boundary shifts, so does the subtle energy, so does our relationship, so does our inner experience of our own size and shape. It all shifts as we shift the boundaries of our attention. So it’s the elasticity and the fluidity that seem to become more important. It’s a kind of dance that brings us into a very active, dynamic, co-creative relationship with what we’re witnessing.
If we integrate here the piece of knowledge from quantum science called ‘Schrödinger’s cat’, whereby the act of observing and intention ‘collapses’ the probablility waves of the electron into behaving as either a wave or a particle in its actual manifestation, we could say in simple terms: the intention influences the potential, because when the probability collapses into one manifestation, the other probabilities vanish.
Maybe what we are in need of right now are many groups who can hold collective intentions and collective fields of potential, who can, together, hold the World Soul and its other possible manifestations. This could be an alternative, another Earth-wide, world-scale intention, to counterbalance the groups and individuals currently holding the neo-liberal intention on the economic and political scene. It seems to me that if we can hold it Earth-wide, including the man-made world, all of nature and the subtle realms, our intention could be stronger than theirs as we invite more forces and energies to co-create with humanity. We are then not manipulating, but holding strong collective intentions for the good of the whole. We are in conscious co-creation with the other intelligences in the cosmos that we assume also have the highest benevolent aspirations for what they can get their arms around.
What if collectively holding the space for the unmanifest potential of humanity is a new form of governance, the next form of ‘doing politics’? This points to the big difference between the government of (parts of) the world, and governance of the eco-system of the Earth. It is beyond ‘being citizens of the world’ – how we have been thinking of ourselves, which has so severely limited and reduced us. It is about being, collectively, ‘inhabitants of the Earth’ – a very grounded way of being. Doing politics has a lot to do with power and domination, while governance of the Earth has to do with nurturing and stewarding, very alive, very embodied, very close to the ground.
Have we ever done this before? No.
Is it a big challenge? Yes.
And still, nothing stops us from trying, iterating and learning!
Doing this consciously and intentionally will change our common understanding of what it means – could also mean – to be alive. It seems to me that the purpose of being alive as a human being is the creation of the possible. Being alive as humanity then means becoming active players in this ecosystem with and in and on the Earth. As Brian Swimme points out, this is the first time in history – in evolution – that the human species has become a geological force. It is quite impressive to realize that, and to use our power to create in a generative, instead of an extractive, way.
Next: 9.3 In love with life’s potential
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