One cannot merely follow the timetable we have set for our influence on the world, we must also honour and respect the infinitely more complex timetable the world has set for itself. That timetable is the sum of the thousands of independent timetables of an infinite number of natural, historical and human actions.
– Vaclav Havel
“As Way Opens” is a reference to the old Quaker saying that we should “proceed as way opens” after patient, prayerful waiting for Spirit to move in the world, and open or reveal the way forward.”
– from As Way Opens Birthing Services web site.
What if it is easy?
I would love to live
Like a river flows
Carried by the surprise
Of its own unfolding
– John O’Donohue
This title, this question, is bound to be misunderstood. It is a real challenge for the Western-trained mind! The question does not imply that we should always seek the easiest way, with the least effort and no perseverance. Rather, it says that if things don’t flow easily, then something, somewhere, is not aligned, not in coherence, not in the creative flow. What if it were possible to live always in the ease of an unfolding, natural way?
In our journey of ever widening coherence, we have reached the point of articulating the We-in-here, which can be described as a subtle interweaving with the context we find our selves in. Over time and through different experiences, the notion of ‘connecting’ has expanded substantially for me. Connecting doesn’t only occur with other people. In-here includes the place where we are, and the planet, nature, animals, the stars and the more subtle realms: whatever we are able to sense and relate with. My concept of ‘connecting’ has also had to expand from a linear back-and-forth between an entity here and an entity over there, to an understanding of interweaving and interpenetrating. Both expansions on the concept make the picture more whole and afford us a more embodied understanding of the widening coherence that is possible for all of us.
Widening our awareness in this way, to include the more-than-human world while being in a well-connected circle of humans, seems to make it easier to connect more deeply, to intensify that experience and awareness. The skills of subtle sensing and our growing awareness of complexity and interrelatedness serve here in sensing phenomena like natural rhythm and alignment with the whole of the context we find ourselves in, including the Earth, the invisible and the intangible.
What if it is easy? points to a simplicity that results from a deeper alignment and wider coherence. It is not a simplicity in cause-and-effect. We don’t fall into the trap of making things simplistic – we know full well that we are dealing with highly complex matters. The coherence we are pointing to is not what we normally understand as ‘perfection’ or ‘perfect harmony’. The Dutch Centre for Human Emergence http://www.humanemergence.nl/ once described it as ‘effortless simplicity’ – one of the characteristics they identified in their action research on Turquoise practice (as part of the Spiral Dynamics framework). What, indeed, if a non-linear, emergent life flows easily? What, indeed, if a non-linear, emergent shift is easy?
What if it is easy? builds on trusting the whole systemyou are in.In one of our gatherings, we closed with the inquiry and the challenge of learning how to be in this generative flow even when dealing – collectively – with practical day-to-day tasks. This is where the real trust in each other, in a natural rhythm and in the collective alignment comes in. Do we dare to flow? Do we trust the interweaving when it comes to practical things like doing dishes, preparing meals and cleaning rooms – and beyond to actions in the outside world? Here, I am evoking the practice of reconnecting to the patterns of Life, and of speaking, acting, moving from that connection, rather than relying (solely) on organisational structures and planning. It comes down to inviting embodied awareness of coherence and generativity into our daily and professional lives and contexts. This is how we envision moving and dealing with our complex issues collectively: not by pushing, pulling or rushing, but by seeing what unfolds naturally when we collectively tend to a clear intention. A wise lesson you also find in the I Ching: “act only when you can move gently and innocently, and all will be well”.
From Native American and other indigenous cultures, we know that the concept of ‘relationship’ means connectedness with everything on every level. One of the highest compliments you can give in this culture is: “he takes care of his relations”. This refers to connectedness to all of life: to people, rocks, clouds, wind, water, Earth. The purpose of your life, then, is to be a positive influence on your relationships. The prevalent Western ‘me’-orientation is absent and the habitual ego-self becomes almost invisible. What comes into focus instead is the effect of that self on everything that it is connected with – people, plants, a space, a breeze, a flower; the effect of my intention and my actions on everything around me is what is most important. Relinquishing our human-centric perspective brings us into an equal and co-creative relationship with other intelligences active in our planetary sphere. Most likely, it will take a long time before we can truly understand their nature, or indeed our own evolutionary role in Gaia’s unfolding. Nevertheless, we humans are all indigenous to this Earth. This embodied understanding is crucial for our capacity in We-in-Here.
Some people are born with unique capacities to sense and communicate with these other-than-human intelligences that seemingly operate from other dimensions. Indigenous cultures have always seen this as natural. Only the Western-influenced world has denied their existence or seen this capacity as freakish. I believe everyone is born with this capacity, and we can exercise it like any other kind of intelligence. However, it seems that each person is unique in the how and what of their capacity to receive information from the subtle. No two people manifest exactly the same knowing. When we leave aside all competition about what is ‘right’ or what is ‘true’ and move toward collaboration and co-creation, this awareness is crucial.
What if it is easy? closes the gaps between the individual and the collective, humanity and nature, tangible and intangible, chronos time and kairos time –because, quite simply, there are no real gaps. Our default thinking here in the West makes us believe that the gaps are real, although on closer inspection they don’t seem to be there. It really can be easy! If it is not easy, then something is out of kilter in our alignment, in the coherence and in the process of generativity, either with the people, or the purpose, or the timing or the place…
Quote from participant:
As you were speaking about the creative tension, I was also nodding to myself about how I feel and experience that in my own life. How I am holding a lot of that kind of tension as well. When it is unconscious, there can be a lot of unpleasant acting out, general dysfunction. When holding consciously, then the whole question of right timing comes into play, knowing when is the moment of release. – Helen
It will be implicit from our subsequent discussion that this incarnation will differ in kind and essence since it must manifest itself not ‘in time’ but in time freedom, and will be transparent.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-present Origin, p297
Time freedom is being freed from time and thus free for the spiritual.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-present Origin, p299
Some time ago somebody asked me “Busy?” – instead of the classic, meaningless greeting: “How are you?” – in a tone of voice implying that busy is good, and the ideal state for all of us. I answered: “No, I’m not busy.” He stood bewildered, didn’t know how to respond, or how to take my comment… No, I’m not busy. I don’t like to be stressed, so my schedule is not fully booked. Nevertheless I am doing meaningful things all the time and I am engaged in many, many projects and conversations. I enjoy what I do and over time things just fit snugly in my schedule and flow well.
The pace that Western society lives at these days is profoundly unnatural. People seem to be living in a ‘trance’ – running on and on and on in perpetual motion. Many people see this as normal, but it is not! I call it a collectively shared illusion that life has to be run at (very) high speed. There is something fundamentally unnatural about the pace at which we race around in today’s world. Our relationship with time and with the importance of everything we (think we need to) do is quite out of sync with reality.
Why do we conform to this mainstream rhythm, even when we don’t like it? What if, instead, we were to hold this question in our focus: How can we weave ourselves back into nature? How can we live with natural rhythms and cycles, slowing down with the winter, perking back up with the spring? It is all the doing that seems important, and leaps to the eye, vision-centred as we are. Though the moments in life that touch us deeply and have the greatest value – like a beautiful sunset, a moment of deep friendship, a sudden insight – arise more from a quality of being than (only) doing. The whole point about ‘being’ is that it is invisible if you don’t look for it.
Speaking to friends and family, trying to explain how to live in a different relation with time, is really countercultural – they mostly don’t get what you are pointing to. Globally, though, we are beginning to see a countermovement manifesting in the form of slow food, slow money, etc. The slowing down is there to rebalance us and help us to rediscover our own natural rhythms. The crux of slowing down is not to always act slowly. It is about being present and going with a natural rhythm. It is being in sync with our own individual energy level, but also being in alignment with the context (human and non-human) we are in.
A natural rhythm might not be slow at all – remember the ‘act in an instant’ that relates with the bottom of the U (see Scharmer’s Theory U). But ‘headless-chicken syndrome’ is widespread: no time to stop and sense, people are in permanent crisis mode, no time for reflection, always heading for the next thing in life. In this regard, we need to fine-tune our capacity to distinguish between what feels alive, easily flowing and connected to the source, and what feels (over-)enthused, addicted to intensity and always rushing. It’s important to stay centred in sensing what wants to happen, and to distinguish this from the Western habit of always being on the move.
We-in-here translates as a disciplined practice to first take the time needed to sense, to access our inner knowing and to carefully discern what is right action in this moment. It comes more quickly and easily with practice, but you cannot dispense with sensing at every step. If we look around at the world in this light, we can all see what happens when we don’t do that. Sure enough, things can go quickly if they are aligned, but subtle discrepancies can be important so we need this capacity for discernment to prevent us from falling into this (Western) blind spot. ‘Act in an instant’ is not so much about speed as about a deeper inner knowing that this is the right thing to do right now.
Excerpt from my blog:
It amazed me throughout the whole day how easily things would flow, how naturally we made transitions from one way of being together to another. Like M. and I walking down this road, and at a certain moment, not talking about it, not checking watches, not agreeing about it, we just turned and walked back. This is a quality of alignment that is really dear to my heart. As someone said later, Kairos and Chronos come together.
As we slow down, we learn to live in both Kairos and Chronos at once. We release ourselves from planned time and allow ourselves to inhabit a more unstructured time-space, never letting go of our intention. As we hold this awareness in us, this specific kind of knowing and consciousness becomes embodied in us and we can stay present in the ‘fast-forward’ world in a more conscious and grounded way.
Natural rhythm, together with intention, then replaces what we currently know as planning, which too often happens only on paper in organisational multi-year plans or to-do lists at home, only to be overwritten by what actually happens in the natural unfolding of life. It strikes me that so many people – myself included – have a wrong idea about how much time it takes to get things ‘done’. It seems that we are all bad at this, as if we take our wishes for reality, not counting the time it takes to bring ideas into manifestation.
Quote from participant:
I just so want, would love for the masculine to take a holiday and not make plans for a while. Not try to solve the issues for a while. It feels like a crazy, outrageous thing to ask. – Lisette
Tending to a natural rhythm also implies letting systems die that no longer support life. This seems almost inconceivable in our traditional organisations and institutions. They exist and we expect them to endure for all eternity. I spoke before about conscious closure as an important part of the natural cycles of life, including death and birth – a natural rhythm. Living in alignment with a natural rhythm means that the old can die without regret, making room for whatever comes next to emerge and fall into place. Conscious closure gives space for a new way of being and understanding to take a form that we don’t yet know.
As my notion of connection has changed over time, so too has my idea of time. Time is no longer a series of linear blocks that follow on from each other, from history into the present and out into the future. Time for me now is more an experience of all-and-everything-moving-into-the-next-experience, the next moment of the unfolding future.
The biggest challenge I notice in We-in here is combining the practice of trusting the natural rhythm withbeing in a group. Living in a natural rhythm might be known to some, but we really have no clue – or experience – of how to be and do that in a group! What will happen in a group if we all speak, move and act naturally? Fear of chaos easily kicks in. Still, if we look at nature – where no planning happens – we see coherence and beauty all around. So the question here is: how to be in mutual relationship with all of life, the other members of the group, even including our neighbours!? How can we have a collective experience of being natural, wild beings, in deeper relationship with the land and natural rhythms?
Weaving ourselves back into nature and (co)evolution
I remember quite well the moment when I realised the enormous difference between identifying as ‘a citizen of the world’ on the one hand, and as ‘an inhabitant of the Earth’ on the other. Since recognising this difference, I notice more and more how few people actually see the Earth at all – they live only in ‘the world’. Often there is confusion, and people use the two words interchangeably as if they mean the same thing. How strongly the man-made structures, systems and organisations of this world we work and live in are embedded in our notion of reality! How difficult is it to feel part of nature instead of (or as well as) feeling part of the world? We are so used to living in a world built on concepts and ideas that have been translated into stuff and structures. But ‘this world’ has become separated from the Earth and the fullness of Life.
There is – or there need to be – no contradiction between the two. It is about living in the interface nourished by both, being in between. ‘Connecting with the Earth’ can have unfortunate New-Age connotations, but I mean this in a very real way. We do not live in an exclusively man-made world. We are fundamentally part of the living Earth, which remains the world’s wider context. The Earth is our progenitor! As Alan Watts said: “The Earth peoples, (like an apple tree apples)” It is because the Earth is alive that humans have come forth. Are we aware of this scientific fact? Really?? Most citizens of the West behave like typical white tourists in Kenya: just visiting. It feels as if a huge part of humanity has become tourists in our own home, without ever really connecting to this living, life-giving planet.
The rise of humanity was no random evolutionary accident. Of all species on Earth, only we humans have developed the consciousness that makes it possible to dissociate from our natural surroundings, to experience ourselves as differentiated and separated. It is this sense of separateness that has brought us to the brink of catastrophe. This moment in time is dawning like a critical rite of passage that humanity needs to traverse. What lies beyond is an awakening to the realisation that humanity is not separate from Earth. Nobody is. Ever.
Sarah Whatmore, professor of environment and public policy at Oxford University calls it “more-than-humanism”. Man is not the measure of all things. In our journey of growing awareness of interweaving and interpenetrating, after connecting the lost bits within ourselves and connecting more deeply with each other, the next step is to return to a reciprocal relationship with the Earth, to “allow myself to grow into the soil.”In one of our gatherings,it dawned on us that our guiding question held the new insight into this: the need of the Earth is not only a problem, it is an invitation to become fully ourselves. It is sometimes called ‘a relational turn’, having an intimate relationship with the natural environment as with one another.
… the integration of nature-environment-indigenous cultures with the ‘new age’ or ‘green’ phenomenon is not merely a descent to ‘pre-’ forms of consciousness, but it is a return to ancestral roots, in order for the new consciousness to evolve. It is truly something deeper that is evolving through us – through phenomena like ‘the re-enchantement of the world’ (to use Bhaskar’s term) or as Eisenstein says ‘we are falling in love again, with nature’ – these are not ‘regressions’, but the important prior steps to the new.
– Bonnitta Roy (online, link no longer exists)
Maybe ‘weaving ourselves back into nature’ is still too small a notion. Perhaps the wider context is that we are weaving ourselves back into co-evolution. I felt very humble when I truly realised how we, as human beings, co-evolved with all that is around us, visible and invisible. We are so used to thinking of ourselves as at the top of the food chain, immutably and forever. But humanity is an inherent part of evolution and we co-evolve with the Earth, just as a certain butterfly has evolved over time to feed from a specific flower. In this regard, we humans are quite small and equally at the mercy of these greater forces.
It is this deeper and wider awareness that ultimately ties us humans back into nature and the Earth as a whole. It is a relatedness – interweaving and interpenetrating – that goes way beyond the concept of sustainability. A notion that comes closer is ‘thrivability’ – when and where all that exists can thrive. True partnership with Earth or with nature is nothing other than using our free human will to choose consciously for this overall balance, instead of going with the prevailing paradigm of separation and fragmentation. We do have the free will to choose ever more balance, in and on all levels of existence. When we weave ourselves back into nature, into Earth, into Life, we are the conscious part of that ecosystem, and onlythat. Being the conscious element in the whole in no way implies that we are the most important! Step by step, we arrive at a lived experience of the oneness of humanity-as-a-whole with Earth-as-a-whole.
Bonnitta Roy redefines sustainability and thrivability as integrating our animal nature back into our daily lives. She calls this one of the major human shadows: we are unaware of just how much we have inherited from our animal ancestors. We consider to be exclusively human – and therefore intrinsically superior – many of the features that are actually found in the animal realm: altruism, the experience of bonding, taking care of each other, the ability to play, and many more. When we allow our actions to be grounded in the wisdom of co-evolution, they will be regenerative in nature, nothing else is needed. Remembering the Earth as our true context and connecting back to her offers a next level of wholeness.
One capacity which have we inherited from our animal ancestors is an effortless connection with all of nature. For many of us this capacity is buried beneath layers of cultural conditioning, but it is still there. We are all indigenous in some way. Embedded in our DNA is the knowledge of how to live in resonance with the land, the animals, the stars and the wind. Some call reconnecting with this capacity ‘re-wilding’. David Abram (author of The Spell of the Sensuous and Becoming Animal) makes the point that we have lost that wild side and we need to reclaim it. This goes far deeper and wider than just noticing and respecting nature, beyond just coming into relationship with a place. He points to an embodiment of this wildness, this core quality of freedom and spontaneity, that relates to the archetypal, the instinctual and the natural. We are mostly blind to how domesticated we are and how deeply ingrained our social conditioning is. The wild harks back to the wonder of our childhood, the joy of walking barefoot, the release of getting totally drenched by the rain, the awe of looking over a cliff, the aesthetic arrest of a majestic sunset.
In everyday society, being wild – behaving in ways, which depart from the cultural norm – holds many negative connotations. Often, though, if we are not blinkered by our cultural lenses and shackled by our social conditioning, ‘doing something wild’ is a very ‘common sense’ thing to do. We needto reconsider and reevaluate this notion of wildness. Being wild does not mean being crazy or out of control, although our conditioning tells us to fear ‘it’. Isn’t thatcrazy? Being fearful of nature… of our own true nature?! How do we dissolve the barriers in our own minds that keep us feeling apart, separate from a direct and transformative relationship with wild nature? It is our own wildness that breaks through all of that.
Quote from my blog:
We dived deeper, trying to understand what is ‘being wild and natural’– as is part of our guiding question.
… untamed, but with a structure…
… listening, tuning in to oneself…
… intangible, but present…
… beyond articulation…
… so alive, but like a whisper…
Listening to the land
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 in an interview
From my Greek friends – both named Maria – I learned that the Greek language recognises an element of the soul called Kaimos. “Unfortunately”, they say, “English seems to have no equivalent to describe it. It is a longing of the soul to be reunited with our land and sea.” I recognise this from my own experience. When I was without a home of my own for several months, I noticed a deep longing for a piece of land I could have a relationship with over a longer time – even if I only rented it. I am a gardener – ‘by nature’ or the result of 200 years of professional gardeners in my ancestry – and during those months I became very aware of my longing for a simple life on the land.
I have already spoken of the reciprocal relationship between humanity and the Earth, between people and the places where they live. The question of which came first is not applicable. People and place, humanity and Earth, have evolved together and will continue to do so. In reality, there is no separation outside our rational mind that sees two different ‘things’. What is core, inescapable, is the relationship. There is a constant mutual influencing of people with their families, communities and culture, and of people with the places where they live and work, just as the landscape influences the people and their culture. The Western idea of separateness is an illusion. Listening to the land is a practice that can be learned and honed over time. It is one example of how we can weave ourselves back into nature.
How does one set about coming into relationship with a piece of land, with this place?First of all, it means tending it, respecting it, giving it attention and care. When I visit other people’s homes, my first impulse is to step out into the garden, to look around and see the place – witness the life that is there. Giving are can be expressed by doing a myriad of small things: tending the plants, removing the pieces of glass and plastic you find around the place, bringing some flowers into the house, sowing some new vegetables, planting a new tree or shrub, walk around in the region. Tending to the details and the beauty is essential. I have done many such simple things in every place and garden where I have lived. Such gestures give me a grounding place to start my journey of living there. There is profound value in this simplicity. At the very least, you feel grounded.
When I first heard of ‘listening to the land’, I wasn’t sure exactly what it referred to. At that time, I wasn’t aware that I had been doing this all my life: really noticing this particular piece of land, this garden, this field. Sensing what it is calling for: this path should be here, so that it flows with the slope of the land; the resting place should be there, under the tree that will provide some shade in summer; at this spot, the soil is better for this type of plant; this spot is always in shade, so the ferns will thrive here. Evidently, the power of witnessing does not apply solely to encounters with other human beings. We can extend it to the places and nature around us.
As you start to practice this kind of witnessing, you learn to recognise the subtle field of a place. Some places have distinctly different energies than others. We can sense this in homes and public buildings, and it is the same kind of energy we can notice on different pieces of land. A good friend of mine, born and raised in Switzerland, needs rocks beneath her feet to feel really at home. People who have been to sacred places know that these hold a vibration that can be quite strong and tangible. Many of us will recognise this phenomenon from visiting churches or other age-old places of prayer.
Quote from participant:
From the constellation (around a conference about the state of the world), which for me turned into a constellation about the state of the Earth – this experience of being neutral with the Earth, just noticing – that was the nourishing factor for her (= Earth). That was reinvigorating her immune system. It became so quickly about us humans, and what we need to do and how we need to organise ourselves – how much is it ‘I want to do it’ and how much is it ‘something wants me to be with it’? – Lisette
At a gathering called Powers of Place, I was struck by something one participant said: “places are witnesses”. And indeed, so they are! They store the energy of what people do, both positive and negative, and hold that energy over time. We do leave an imprint on the land, whether intentionally or not. Later, if the imprint was life-enhancing, we can benefit from this stored memory. If, by contrast, the land has hosted painful historical events, we might need to relate with the pain and grief held there. In this awareness of interconnectivity between people and places, again, the qualities of deep listening and mindfulness are crucial. If places are witnesses, we better relate to them in a conscious and respectful way.
From the many stories told at that beautiful gathering, we realised, too, that places invite or call us. On the people side of the co-evolution, we can relate and co-create (or not) and thus leave an imprint (both manifest and energetic) with our actions. We are called to walk the land, to listen, hold and witness every feature of the place that draws us. When we ‘land’ in a place in this way, we enter into a conscious commitment between humans and Earth. Thus, our intention can ‘activate’ a place, which can then become a conscious partner in co-creating. The place is given a seat in the circle of life, and is indeed honored as the very seat of the circle. In this way, there is an interaction between containing and being contained. We are invited to be contained by the place – it holds us – but it wants us to reciprocate and contain it.If places are calling us, then people can listen, respond and co-create. Without place, without context, without story, without consciousness, without clearly-stated intent, there is nowhere for a creation to land.
For many, being in nature puts us in contact with the sacredness of life. Stepping into conscious relationship with any place – whether natural or manmade – also links us to this sacredness. This conscious relationship with the place where we live restores to us the experience of being rooted, at home, belonging – just like animals and all of wild life. This relationship is not just to this particular place but to the planet itself, the home of humanity and so many other beings, both incarnate and intangible. When we engage in this conscious relating, we can sense which life-affirming actions will heal and restore the place or enhance its inherent qualities. It will bring us to our next level of balance and resonance.
My relationship to the land where I live is mostly a solitary one, as I like to wander through the many details of what needs and wants doing in our garden. Yet this action research project was about the collective, as we were trying to understand this We-in-Here. Our penultimate Women Moving the Edge gathering challenged my limiting beliefs in this regard. We had previously used the metaphor of all being empty tubes: if we then connect with each other we have a bigger tube that can capture resonance and insight on a bigger scale. What, then, if we were to do this in connection with a place?
Quote from participant:
We can sit in a circle and source together; can we now come together and source with the Earth more explicitly? Life on Earth depends on us learning how to do this. If we don’t, life on Earth will not withstand what’s coming, with climate change, and with the systems being knocked out of sync, there are too many perfect storms waiting to manifest simultaneously. – Helen
Was I willing to step into a deeper understanding of how land and humans interpenetrate each other? Going beyond respecting the environment, to a lived awareness of the co-creation that needs to happen between the land, and the stones, and us as human beings? Could we infuse stones and land with new memories? New information? It sounded pretty far out to me. And yet it seemed like the natural next step to take, and so that is what we did.
We were called to visit the landscape in the south of England, most particularly the stone circle at Avebury. In years before, I had visited this little village inside the huge circle of massive stones, both on my own and with friends. Each time I visited, – out of the blue – I had started to cry. Surely that place held some energy that stirred some of my own inner strings; totally unconscious to my mental mind! Now we were visiting with a collective intention of – somehow – recoding the stones for the time we are living in. We had no plan, no map of where to go or what to do, just a strong intention, which had emerged from our collective sensing in preparation for the gathering. As we tried to decide where to go and ‘do our work’ after lunch, it was clear that there was no alignment between us. We could find no agreement or coherence at all. And so we each went our own way, about the little village and among the stones. I understood that we all had to sense more deeply, beyond any imprints from eons back in history. This was about here and now, and I had to clear my sensing organs from the imprints of earlier memories. At some point later on, we were finally able to come together and collectively place the building blocks of our collective co-creation with the local landscape. It was both impressive and intense!
We can only listen to the land effectively when we are willing to listen to all of ourselves. There might be times when we are unwilling to do this because it threatens our social persona. Of course, we will never know for sure if our ritual in Avebury really did move something in the desired direction of more balance and coherence. I do know that it shifted the awareness of all present in a fundamental way. On that day, the sense of interrelatedness with stones and landscape, with the memory of times forgotten, was etched permanently into each of our beings.
Quote from participant:
When I move out into nature – which I feel more and more I need to do now – when I just go out into my garden, or look out the window, I feel so held, and so part of the whole, and so belonging – but not (just) belonging to humanity, but belonging to nature. And I find that when I step out of that, and step back into ‘the world’, that’s when it’s possible for me to feel lonely, and/or alone, And that’s where it’s possible for me to feel alienated, or to imagine feeling alienated, and to imagine other people being alienated, or feeling alienated from others. But the moment that I shift my witnessing onto the natural realm, it’s like the boundaries fall away and I just become part of it. And I feel welcomed and belonging. That’s just an amazing discovery for me – to have become conscious of that. It’s made a big difference to me. – Rachel
A poetic response
Quote from participant:
I am haunted (in a mystical way) by our encounter with the Forest. As I think more about it, I realise that the stillness of the group held me in its consciousness and that was why I could maintain an empty mind state for so long. By myself in the garden or just on my deck, I’m less effective at holding emptiness.
Most important to me was the realisation that the altered state of consciousness of ‘forest’ is full and thick with communication, but in a different frequency and vibration. The art form of ‘tuning’ will one day be taught in schools. It is our nature and within our ability. Intention – stillness – focus – presence.
Did you notice also how the vibration of ‘forest’, being made up of many individual frequencies (like a musical chord as opposed to a single note) had a broad, full quality? – Les
In the meantime, an article by Freya Mathews reached my desk (The World Hidden Within the World). That’s where I got the concept of ‘interpenetration’. She evokes a poetic order, next to the causal one, which is about meaning – not in opposition to cause and effect, just next to it.What I read was stunningly aligned with our own recent experiences and the general direction we were moving in with Women Moving the Edge.
She starts by describing a 5-day gathering she had attended at a place of power in Australia. The Symposium, she says,“unfolded via a logic of synchronicities. A set of initial conditions had been put in place to provide the framework but the event was, within that container, largely self-determining: what happened at one moment suggested what should happen at the next, and the structure of the entire event was highly recursive: each happening or offering fed back into, and inflected, everything else that was happening. The upshot was that a complex and elaborate poetic invocation took shape organically in the course of the five days, and this seemed to elicit a complex and elaborate poetic response from the world.” … “This is possible if your cosmology is one that does not draw absolute distinctions between the internal and external aspects of things, accepting reality as “irreducibly psychophysical” in character– a forever changing and unfolding pattern of movement that is as much psychic as physical.”
Freya’s inquiry lead her to wonder whether “if one somehow managed to slip under the psychic skin of the world and ‘enter’ its subjectivity, one would experience the ‘outside’ as ‘inside’. If one stepped inside the world, in this sense, the trees and grass and rivers would no longer appear as external to oneself. They – along with oneself – would now be experienced as internal to the psyche of the world.”
She continues: “One has only to surrender one’s subject/object mind-set – where this encompasses all discursive thinking (discursive meaning ‘marked by analytical reasoning’) – and relinquish one’s discursive goals and ends, in order to be borne along on its fast current. When this occurs, a path begins to open up in the midst of the phenomena.”
And: “To experience the world from within is to experience it as a field of communicative meaning, meaning that draws us from one encounter to another.”
From my blog:
I noticed how my labeling – ‘a blue heron!’ (including exclamation mark!) – removes me from this being; installs a distance between him/her and me. I tried to move closer, paying a lot of attention not to make too much noise while stepping on fallen branches and leaves. Still, I was in ‘separation mode’. Then I decided to ‘do’ nothing. I sat still for quiet some time, not ‘trying to take a picture’, but just me sitting here and the heron sitting over there.
I was very happy with this scientific and academic articulation. In accessing information from the subtle levels, I have often noticed that people tend to fall into hyperbolic, stilted or pseudo-mystical language. Me, I want a language – and also an engagement and relationship with this information – that is more matter-of-fact. Not too excited about “oh, I got a message!”, and not doubting it either, but simply taking it at face value as an expression of the experience of interpenetration. Just as we can go inside and forever fine-tune our minds, emotions, body sensations, inner sensing, the same seems true when applying our subtle sensing outward, into the inner dimensions of others, nature, the Earth or the universe. It probably relates with the wildness we mentioned before, the primal connection we inherited and which still lives on within us. A certain aptitude is needed, though: the ability to surrender our defenses and suspend a reductionist worldview that says “this is not possible”.
Over time we realised that there are many ways of experiencing and understanding the subtle worlds. There are those who communicate with nature spirits, others speak with angelic beings, or devas or the archetypes. Again, ‘communicating with’ is still too dualistic, with us over here and these energies over there. That’s not how I experience the interwovenness of all that exists. When you hit the level of resonance with any of these subtle energies, it touches you, it changes you. In no way is there a subject ‘in here’ and an object ‘over there’. Life interpenetrates all of it without any borders to speak of. In that resonance with life, with the life force – even when there is work to tend to and a lot to take care of – it can feel effortless.
Quote from participant:
I sense that the individual and collective journey down the U is a clearing, a refining, a purification, and letting go of the not-needed, including the small self, into the birthing of the presencing process so that, in the most expansive (deep and wide) level of continuous inquiry, we can reach a vibrational frequency where the other-than-human community are invoked into co-presence. They tentatively and attentively await this level of human integrity, of individual and collective authenticity, that can be the fertile co-creative birthing ground for the larger community of beings (human and other) to call in together the future potential. It seems that only once this level of finely-tuned and refined co-presencing in us is well cultivated and stable, do the other realms begin to play. We need to have bodies and be grounded in the manifest realm in order to do this work. – Helen
As I am not a poet, writing about this poetic response does not come easily to me. Below you will find a compilation of (snippets from) blog posts written during the 13th and last Women Moving the Edge gathering, which was centered around this question:
What if we could experience being natural, wild beings in a collective,
in deeper mutual relationship with natural rhythms and cycles of the Earth?
I recommend you read it slowly, as you would read poetry…
The bird knows we are in this together
On Saturday afternoon we had a most remarkable time. Already the morning had been so rich that I was flabbergasted with the rich content that had been shared.
We talked about language and words….
… hearing the birds respond to each other… so many languages going on that we don’t understand…
… and words are limiting… yesterday’s way… just a handle… easy to let the sacred slip away…
about the yearning, the longing not to be cut of from the natural rhythms,
about the courage to speak from source,
about being vulnerable and still trusting.
We dived deeper, trying to understand what is ‘being wild and natural’’ – as is part of our guiding question.
… untamed, but with a structure…
… listening, tuning in to one self…
… intangible, but present…
… beyond articulation…
… so alive, but like a whisper…
And what is ‘a collective’?
… a safe holding in order to be wild…
… to imagine the unimaginable, the undefined…
… where the future is born…
Being natural and wild in a collective, is giving space for each orbit.
(as the electrons, quarks etc. in a molecule)
But there was way more to unfold!
There had been a story shared about an encounter with a morning dove, with the realisation ‘the bird knows we are in this together’; another story of a deer leading the human to show its little ones; and a meeting with a fern in an experience of total unity.
Then pain came up of being misguided into the belief in fragmentation, the belief in a chasm, the betrayal of higher and lower…
We relate to the words, the concepts…
Instead of relating with the being itself, with respect. L. shared this with her tears and said: “I have to remake myself; my mind sees it, but my cells don’t know…”
The cells would know soon enough…
We took a long lunch pause to let this rich content sink in and let it digest a bit. We were mostly in silence and on our own. We reconvened on the screened-in porch. In the morning we had gathered in the living room, then the sun had called us out in front of the house after the break, but by noon it had already become too hot!
The porch is a bit long and narrow for a circle of seven chairs, we were sitting more in an oval, than a circle. Not much was spoken… long stretches of silence unfolded…
The morning had brought the realisation of the importance and simple act of “I see you”, which brought back the deep realisation from a constellation in a previous Women Moving the Edge gathering, where the representative of Earth has said: “The simple act of witnessing me, is amplifying my resilience.”
In the silence I was musing on all of this.
What if we remove fixed boundaries and witness the essence?
What if we replace identity with uniqueness?
Authenticity doesn’t seem to need a fixed boundary to be in a relationship or in resonance…
This was all going on in my thinking, but energetically, in my body, a shifting was going on, a recalibration in my cells and energy system to our new understanding. I had to lay down to let the energy doing its thing.
B. called for movement, felt a need to stretch her body, as if her body needed to expand. She invited all of us to do the same. The circle disappeared in silence and each of us was following the energy in her body as naturally as we could… some silent, some little noises made, some deeper breathing, some responding to sounds of birds and insects outside.
Again it was silent for a long time. Eventually, we ended up sitting and lying in a half circle, all facing outwards, in total connection, communion, resonance with nature around us, so present and close, with only the veil of the porch screen.
There were tree frogs telling a story,
then they were listening.
We were listening,
then listened to.
Witnessing going on in all directions.
I could sense ‘the collective’ of the forest becoming almost tangible – more present than the individual trees.
Because we were, as a collective, witnessing the whole?
It was magic.
It was amazing, fascinating and not anything I had experienced before. We were all in awe of what happened.
We came into rapport with nature,
as embodied human beings.
We reconnected with our indigenosity,
we wove ourselves back into nature,
the fragmentation undone,
the bridge re-established.
We became wild again.
The wild is what is
Because of the constellation lunch was late and we reconvened halfway the afternoon, back on the porch where we had this incredible interweaving with nature the day before. Judy invited us to check in, but we were silent again. Sitting in a half circle we were all facing outwards, with nature filling half of the circle.
Back to the overall question of our gathering: What if we could experience being natural, wild beings in a collective, in deeper mutual relationship with natural rhythms and cycles of the earth? Important insights came up.
The wild is what is.
Simple sentence, but with profound implications.
The wild is what is.
This tied me back to the importance of witnessing; the noticing, the seeing of what is present – including the being seen, and being witnessed. As someone summed it up: In resonance the wildness is present.
So wildness is not how we normally picture it: being wild like a wild lion in the bush, or being wild as drunken youngsters at a music festival. No, being wild is being indigenous, in mutual relationship with all aspects of what exists around us. It is being in resonance with all of life – the proverbial plastic bags included.
The wild life
This was our last morning together. The sun was still present, with the promise of more summer to come. We spoke to the question: What do we now know about being wild and natural beings? Here a list of insights mentioned in our collective:
- gift the time of listening to yourself
- deep listening – a kind of attunement – a kind of anchoring in – is becoming one with the whole
- every cell, every nerve can listen for the subtle cues to bring us into balance, into wholeness
- show up open and ready – and not exhausted – for this kind of listening, for collective presencing
- in listening to the middle, something more is possible, it is a totally natural way of accessing information and knowing. This capacity gets amplified in the collective and that has a lot of juice for me; and juice feels wild!
- unwinding from the stories of history in my body
- see and acknowledge also the pain, witness it, is necessary before the new can come in – harmony is not shutting pain and ugliness out
- witnessing is not hard to do!
- it is possible to act focused and aligned without a plan, on true course
- the wild and the natural is seeking us, wanting a mutual relationship; the dissonant will then fall aside
- ‘they’ – seen and unseen – were looking at us
- everyone is welcome to the circle, no matter how open or not.
- Thank you for showing up as who you are
- I see you – Eye see you.
- The gifts of the wild are: the field, the seeing, the being seen.
- Reclaiming the word ‘wild’, in a grounded sense – coming from a place of stillness and gratitude – it takes you on your path.
And there was more!
After the break we gathered again in our favored spot, the screened-in porch. More information wove itself together around the future and this piece of land that had hosted us so well and profoundly. The information was offered from messages received during the night, from books, from experiences a long, long time ago… and the tapestry woven was magic and very meaningful for the owner.
The last messages came through…
Something is excited that we are starting to get it.
There is a flow between us here and the trees there.
Seeing and being seen.
There is a shared flow and joy.
There is so much more. You don’t know how big this is!
Open and receive.
I have been in-formed.
It is not about self.
Being as mycelium.
The wild is emergent.
Next: 8.4 The next, elegant, minimal step
If you are looking for a pdf of this section, just send me a message!
In the map of the Circle of Presence, the vertical axis relates to a process of inner alignment or unfolding authenticity, during which we learn to become present, freeing ourselves from layer upon layer of conditioning and mainstream ways of behaving and thinking. This process of becoming present and opening ever more to the subtle layers of reality is a never-ending journey with no final destination.
Once we are able to be present – at least most of the time – in the areas set out in the first part of this book, we continue to move towards ever more subtle awareness, particularly in those areas of life that we previously assumed to be pretty much static and fixed. I have found it fascinating to discover just how much fixation and rigidity we can release around how we know what we know and what we are able to know. From our shared experience we can confirm that it is possible to reach an immediate, embodied knowing as a collective; not as pieces of a puzzle that come together to show the full picture, but in a way that generates new knowing – a picture that never existed before.
Seen from another perspective, we can say we are able to close ever more of the gaps that seem to exist in our mainstream (Western) way of thinking and acting: gaps between body, mind and soul; between me and us; between us and them; between nature and humanity; between now, the past and the future. It is still a stretch for me to really, deeply understand and accept that time and space are really in us, rather than us walking through (linear or spacial) time and space. What I experience of natural rhythm and right timing are in any case pointing me in that direction. Who would have thought I could think differently about time? It seemed like such a ‘real thing’!
This capacity to notice ever more subtle layers in our experience brings us ever closer to the core process of knowing inside ourselves. Knowing does not just happen in our heads, but starts deep inside us, in unconscious realms of the brain, heart and body, moving through layers of affect and emotion, to finally result in knowing something (the act of cognition). The more we have cleansed our inner layers of personal and collective conditioning, the closer we get to a clear and immediate knowing that is aligned both within and without.
The process of subtle inner alignment: unfolding generative capacity
The concept of generative capacity is quite new to me. Nevertheless, in the ongoing process of living life more consciously, it seems to me that there is something beyond learning to become authentic, in the sense of shedding our conditioned thinking, feeling and doing. Life and consciousness don’t stop there. The purpose of life is not to be authentic and present, but to be – truly – alive! To participate, to be ‘in the soup’. The subtle inner alignment described here is a movement to close all the gaps, to be seamlessly co-existent with the flow of life. This alignment builds on the presence and mindfulness described in the first part of this book, and moves it deeper and wider into the core of being alive as a human being – as humanity – on Earth. Being fully alive has a generative quality: the embodiment of the ongoing ability to arise afresh as life in every moment, instead of just repeating what went before. Creating is more than remembering, it is not adding a fresh coat of metaphorical paint. It points to a vibrant quality of absolute, naked awareness: in awe at the simple facts of life and in love with what comes next in its unfolding.
The dictionary defines ‘generative’ as: relating to the ability to create or reproduce. Generative in the sense of ‘the ability to create’ means to bring into existence, as God created the universe. We, too, create our reality moment by moment, and we either repeat what went before or we are able to add something new to it.
Parents would not say they had generated a child, nor would they say they had created one. Rather, they made love and, consciously or not, had the potential to welcome a child into this world. What if we were to look at life and manifestation in this way? What if we deeply understood that, if we want the next thing we create to be alive and vibrant, adding to the thrivability of all, it will come into existence through our being in love with what is possible, however big or small. It is being in love all around, all the way up and all the way down: in love with ourselves, with whatever this particular group or gathering is about, with ‘the problem we are tackling’, with this place and space we are in, with this moment in time and everything that is arising in it… How different it would be than staring blindly at so many of the current complex problems present in the world!
Four movements in unfolding generative capacity
Just as we discerned and described four layers in the process of unfolding authenticity (Circle of Presence), we will now seek to identify similar distinctions in the process of unfolding generative capacity (Circle of Creation). These distinctions are important because they allow us to discern the fine gradations in these new capacities, so we can check if we have acquired them all, if we have forgotten or overlooked one. It goes without saying that there are no steps, no squares, no levels, no boxes in the reality of the soup we are in; we merely make these distinctions to enhance our awareness of it all.
Observing what is – Open Mind
Focus on: here and now
Open to: full life experience
In the Circle of Presence (see map 4.7) you were invited to observe the subtle and inner dimensions of your self, of each other, of the group. I touched briefly on the possibility of sourcing, sharing and expressing subtle inner knowing. Now, in the Circle of Creation, I invite you to expand your observation wider and deeper into the subtle dimensions of life at large, which turns out to be much bigger than ‘the world’ we think we inhabit. It seems to hold much deeper meaning than anything we were taught in school and family. Life seems to be more… alive! Much more alive than anything our Western culture recognises as true, as worth pursuing or as bringing happiness.
If we open our minds, hearts and bodies beyond our inner emotional landscape, we discover ‘the river below the river’: a thread that seems to weave through our lives, nudging and drawing us in directions where our true gifts will be fully available to others and all around. Similarly, groups of diverse and seemingly random people often seem to be called together to act upon a potential that they had not consciously realised was attracting them. Our conditioning might judge or question who is part of the conversation, but we learn to trust that a rich diversity of participation makes for a rich outcome!
If we continue to pay attention to subtle signals, we notice that we can be more or less in tune with nature and our surroundings, and even with time. We might not always understand the synchronicities we see happening, but at the very least these open us up to the realisation that the gap between us and nature is non-existent, and that the boundaries we have placed between ourselves and life are much more porous than we imagined.
Accepting what is – Open Heart
Focus on: widening
Open to: trusting subtle experience
When our minds open for more interweaving and interpenetration (although these words don’t do full justice to the essence of the experience) we can accept more of what is, including all these more or less subtle signals that life bestows on us if we are open enough to notice them. ‘Accepting’ here means trusting these subtle experiences, accepting them in our hearts, mind and bodies. Trusting that this person will contribute something essential, or is here for a reason that I might not be aware of; trusting that what comes to me from my soul’s calling is exactly what I need to speak or do in this collaboration; trusting that synchronicities are valuable signs. This kind of acceptance is sometimes also called ‘radical trust’, because what we trust goes beyond concepts and ideas that we know from the past, to embrace a trust that there is a deeper potential in everyone, in everything and in the process of unfolding. Accepting what is in life means actively relating with these subtle layers, inviting these dimensions to the party of daily life.
Honouring what is – Open Heart
Focus on: deepening
Open to: moving beyond
Honouring what is in this vast subtle realm calls us to open our hearts for the fullness of life itself – including all its horror, ugliness and potential. We do not turn away from what is difficult or hurtful, but witness it all with an open heart. This can indeed be painful at times, but we can bear it because we trust there is more to life than what our eyes can see at this moment, and because we can hold the pain in the collective and not just on our own.
Honouring what is means living life to the fullest in the understanding that life is in us, and in everything around us. It means transcending the boundaries of big systems (like the financial and economic system), cultures, nations and the like –boundaries that have no existence in reality, existing only to the extent we believe in them. In the reality of life itself, national boundaries are – in essence – nothing more than lines on a map. Seeing the unreality of so many aspects of our world does not mean that we do not see and acknowledge the pain held in cultural groups, gender groups and other minorities. These stories of war, suffering and pain can and need to be witnessed if we are to be able to meet as human beings and create participatory insights together.
Honouring the interweaving with the subtle context also means closing the gap with nature and whatever is there to notice in subtle place and time. We honour what is by living a natural rhythm, acknowledging that there is a right timing for everything, and refraining from trying to push or pull reality into an action plan or a strategic timeline. Borrowing one of the principles of self-organisation as it is expressed in Open Space Technology: whatever is happening is the only thing that could have! It is the feedback loop of life in action and we are well advised to take this information into our awareness and let it guide us into more of life.
This noticing and reflecting, constantly learning about what it means to be alive and creating more organisations, businesses, networks that are alive, brings us into a constant and closer relationship with the essence of life. When we live like this, we no longer repeat the patterns instilled in us by our parents or our culture – unless we want to – but we are in an ongoing action research inquiry into what it means to be (more) alive.
Living what is – Open Will
Focus on: sharing and expressing
Open to: living a generative life
Here too, there is one more layer, one movement deeper that brings us to living what is in this world that is now so much vaster and more subtle than we had ever conceived, and we are now so much more intimate with it all. In other words, we have landed in the realm of Open Will, where I enjoy an emergent and utterly unique life, that somehow seems to have always already been there for me to uncover. And yet, if I do not live it to the fullest, it does not exist in reality and will forever remain only a possibility that was never lived and manifested.
In the collective, where every person and all the rest of life participates, we arrive at novel insights and we act on them – here and now – interweaving with the subtle context, the subtle place and time, allowing the next, minimal elegant step to take form. We are now fully in awe of what is, both with the ordinary stuff of life and with whatever potential is ready to move through the veil into manifestation. This is what it means to be in love with life!
Quote from participant:
Yesterday out of desperation with the bad weather, I went to the gym. I was on the elliptical; it is like running in midair. I was going at a good pace, reaching optimal heart rate, etc. After about a half hour I moved into a state of an incredible sense of embodying alignment. I felt as if every part of me, every cell of this body that I inhabit as a human, every cell of my being, was in alignment, in perfect synchronisation. I noticed this, I was in the flow. I really began to look at what was going on. As I continued to move, I closed my eyes to sense more deeply. It was as if my human form, emotions, mind, soul, every part of me was aligned with all that is, the Earth, and the vast cosmic space-time we inhabit. I realised that as I closed my eyes, I can go to that deep place. This is the potential we hold, to be totally aligned, and yet always evolving. We hold that potential of being all that is. – Judy
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.