And because time as such is coming to an end and is being supplanted by time freedom, any temporal projection ‘forward’ is illusory and illusionary.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, p296
Calling in the potential by living it
Excerpt from my blog:
I feel a lot of juice in the collective silence that is waiting, expecting… when we are together in the not-knowing-yet. It feels like making love with the potential of the future. Just like in lovemaking you are totally open, ready to be surprised, and not exactly knowing how it will be this time. Being in love with this future potential, moment by moment, seems to me the best definition of being alive – and it is basically the core practice of our gatherings!
In most cases, learning to walk and run happens from the experience of falling forward with grace. In these times, this image helps me. I feel myself tumbling forward in the saying of yes. Falling forward in the availability of shifting consciousness, and how it changes the game. Learning to find my legs.
‘Calling in the potential’ is the best way I have found to enunciate the concept, and the embodiment, of this constant awareness of being in relation with potential, with source, with origin. This includes the ongoing awareness of the space between where we are now and the potential for innovative manifestations. We started out by naming it ‘calling in the future’, but this invited the temptation to see it as a linear extension of what is now, overlooking the complexity involved. Besides being aware of our relationship – our interrelatedness and interwovenness – with people, with places, with nature, subtle timing and so on, we have a sense and an awareness of the not-yet-manifest that is waiting to be born. We are putting love in the middle between ourselves and the next possibility, loving this space of in-betweenness, this bowlful of potential. It also means suspending both judgment and ego patterns when we are informed by source and a next step becomes clear. It is not that we are calling or inviting ‘it’ in, as if it is somewhere ‘out there’ and we call it to come ‘over here’. The potential is here, in us and all around us, always.
Fundamentally the future is present. … these are the right people, this is the right place, the right time, and the right process.
– Barrett Brown
The by-line of Women Moving the Edge was ‘to move the edge of consciousness’. That is no small purpose! It was clear from the outset, that if we wanted to move the edge, we need to invite the future in. We did this by organising the gatherings and fully immersing ourselves in a new way of being together. We were inviting people not to a nice get-together, but rather to step into a field, into a way of being and doing that holds the potential for the future. Somehow, we were seeking to create a disconnect from our starting point, by jumping into the future and then building a bridge back into the present. If we just move step by step from here and now, we are in danger of getting more of the same, more of what we already have and do and are. But if we take the time in the here-and-now to inhabit the space of our full potential – and what is embodied in the field – we can invite that potential right into the here-and-now, opening the field to all that is possible.
I know, from the countless therapy sessions I have conducted, that even though most presenting problems stem from situations a long time ago, healing happens in the present moment. How can we apply this insight to change and transformation relating to the future? If healing takes place in the now because we access the past and the present in some kind of field that is beyond time and space, might the same not be true for the manifestation of future events? This prospect invites the integration of the ‘time freedom’ Gebser refers to. I cannot claim to fully understand this, let alone embody it, but I sense that I am drawing ever closer.
Quote from participant:
We co-create a container that is then impregnated by our inquiry. And then we sit and wait the time it takes for everything to cook. Then we birth out patterns, or forms, into the world. – Helen
You might remember that I started writing this book in earnest in a beautiful place in Greece, called Axladitsa-Avatakia. It was described as “not a retreat centre, or another seminar centre, but a home where we live the future; a place of living wholeness, as an example for how we will need to live in the future”. Each year the women who stewarded this place organised an ‘Immersion’ gathering, inviting participants to live wholeness, to live the future now. Similar to the Women Moving the Edge, it created a focal point in space and time where people could gather around an inquiry and become, together, ‘a landing strip for the future’.
Inviting – invoking
When working with ritual and ceremony it is easy to fall into rather rigid attachment to specific forms of being together, of what needs to be said and done, when and where. I no longer remember where I picked up the distinction that can be made between ‘ceremony’ and ‘ritual’. Ceremony is when you live as nature does, in natural flow and reverence for life. Ritual is when you want to invoke the energy of ceremony with the intention of connecting with life.
The way circle is practiced in collective presencing – the quality of attention those present hold for each other, for the place and so much more – most resembles this quality of ritual. Our ultimate wish is to blend with life’s energy in all its dimensions, so that living the sacred becomes everyday practice. Thus, despite the attention, care and artistry we devote to it, we don’t want to make it into something special. We create the simplest possible form that can invite in the poetic response from the world. Letting go, having patience, setting aside our opinions and judgments – all these can be seen as part of the ritual that allows us to bring ourselves into closer alignment with life.
The process of finding and articulating the right question for the collective inquiry can be seen as the current form of the ancient practice of invocation at the beginning of rituals. In this process, those involved sense more deeply into the potential they have been drawn in by. Articulating this with precise wording allows the collective felt sense to be named. This is the intentional space into which a wider circle of participants will then be invited. It is a very specific field, a bounded enclosure resonant with our shared intention, into which we invite more of life. Exactly what this ‘life’ consists of can be named however you choose – whatever fits for you in this regard: a poetic response from the world, elemental beings, subtle energies, other realms, beyond the veil… anything goes, depending on your cosmology. In the collective here-and-now we invoke a seed of potential which we coax into the manifest realm through our aliveness, our being on the edge together.
The naming and the reaching out are the active part out of this process. But surrender is also required: letting go of any planning and control in order to be receptive for the information life offers regarding your invocation. This combination of agency and surrender invokes a quality of interpenetration between realms so that the universe can operate coherently across dimensions. I must confess to feeling some (socially conditioned) awkwardness as I write about this. I think it has to do with the false belief that we exist only in and on the material plane, even though we all can and do sense much more, both inside and outside ourselves: we exist also in the inner depths and the outer vastness.
Quote from participant:
The awakened human is like a multidimensional nodal point, anchored in the physical realm and receptive to contact from other realms, on condition of actively reaching out and inviting in. – Helen
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, in Alchemy of Light, speaks of co-creation with the forces of life, with the archetypes. This is another notion that points us to a much larger context of being and creativity in which we are constantly immersed. If, when we articulate our guiding question, we are in collective resonance with life, then life will respond. Nothing else is possible. So it is that, when we listen for ‘what wants to happen’, we hear nothing more nor less than the whispers or echoes of our own deeper intent. If we understood this more deeply, we could so much more easily and wisely manifest new systems and products that truly serve our well-being.
Non-material life, in whatever form we conceive of it, cannot not answer an invocation – or so the mystery schools teach us. The subtle realms are fascinated and attracted by the physical, and will always show up when invoked. It is therefore important that we invoke not mischief, but what is healthy and wholesome for the greater whole.
As an illustration, many years ago a group of us conducted a systemic constellation where we called this kind of energy the (Jedi) ‘Force’. We laughed when it presented itself in the exercise, but for me it held a huge lesson. After some cumbersome movements in the constellation around an issue on the scale of Europe, we ended the constellation and did a debrief. The man representing the Force said “You didn’t ask me for help! I could do anything!” “Such as what?” I wondered. He replied, “Like anything! Bringing you to the moon or anything!” And yet, it had simply not occurred to any of us to ask this force for help! As humans, we are so accustomed to seeing ourselves as the pinnacle of creation that we ignore the other energies present in the universe that also deal with creation. All we have to do is invite them in!
At this juncture, we can extrapolate from ‘being held by the group’s field’ (chapter 3 I and Us) to a larger scale: the group-in-here-and-now needs to learn, and gradually embody, the truth that it is held in and supported by an even wider field. We live at a time when we are invited to relinquish our sense of being isolated (and alienated) beings in a strictly material universe, in order to make room for the mystery of creation. Through our intention we can invoke that which is relevant to the transformation of now. We don’t have to make it happen. We don’t have to come up with the newness ourselves. We simply have to offer our own consciousness as a vessel, as a gateway into this space and this moment, for all that is swarming in the liminal space that we have assumed for so long to be empty.
Interweaving and interpenetration
In terms of the implicate order one may say that everything is enfolded into everything.
– David Bohm
Can we stay in the practice? Can we bridge the gaps between the habitual and the new ways? Can we navigate through life holding both a glimpse of the new and the frustration of falling back into old habits or failing to lead the others into the new? Practice is to be in that state that bridges human and cosmic worlds, big nature and minute nature. It is so much vaster than the human realm, vaster than the question of whether we will make it through the coming transition with our Internet, hot running water and soft towels intact. One of the core assumptions of Neuro-Linguistic Programming is that the solution space is larger than the problem space. In order to bridge the gap between the one thing and the other, we need to be in a space which contains and transcends both ends of the spectrum as a much smaller feature of the landscape in the larger space. This means that we can take our eyes off the ball, so to speak, realising that the challenges we face are less of a big deal than we tend to think. Instead, we can approach things in a natural, paradigm-bridging way that can shift the field without effort, because the practice is about connecting into a much vaster space.
Quote by participant:
Building on that – the dance, the shifting of focus from something minute and detailed to something huge, and then linking that with our individual stories, sometimes what we bring into the circle is a detail, something very small, and sometimes what we bring in is overarching, overwhelming, and the collective is then called to flow, to dance between, to stretch from the minute and tiny to the planetary… – Nina
It seems as if we are bridging the gaps: the gaps between the individual and the collective, between the subtle and the manifest, the tangible and the intangible, the ordinary and the divine. If we really take this to heart and understand that intention and attention are at the core of creating – that is like bridging the gap between mind and matter.
Excerpt from my blog:
As in lovemaking, a lot of what is going on between the two partners is not only physical, but includes many subtle movements and exchanges of energies. What we understand now more and more in our exchange here is that we can create our reality in a love-making with the subtle dimensions. You could even use the concepts of interpenetration, of embracing… at least we participate, from our three-dimensional space, in the other dimensions – and in return these more subtle dimensions influence us and this dimension of space and time. It becomes impossible to know where one dimension ends and another begins; again like in good lovemaking where you can’t remember who started which move or who initiated what. Most likely there are no clear boundaries between dimensions anyway, not even between people or things, as we all are formed by our exchange and living together with others and all that surrounds us. – Ria
Next: 9.4 Wild and magic – WMtE part 9
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If the whole presences within its parts, then a part is a place for the presencing of the whole… a part is special and not accidental, since it must be such as to let the whole come into presence. This sociality of the part is particularly important because it shows us the way to the whole. It clearly indicates that the way to the whole is into and through the parts. It is not to be encountered by stepping back to an overview, for it is not over and above the parts, as if it were some superior all-encompassing entity. The whole is to be encountered by stepping right into the parts. This is how we enter into the nesting of the whole, and thus move into the whole as we pass trough the parts.
– Henri Bortoft 1999
The Circle of Seven
What follows are snippets of Otto Scharmer’s interview with the women of the Circle of Seven in 2003. This interview was part of the Dialog on Leadership research conducted by Scharmer. This particular interview disappeared from the original list of interviews, but is still online.
“What if there was a function that needed to be fulfilled at that time, rather than a destiny for certain people to be together? And it landed on us. It could have been other people. As though life were seeking out an open, eager group that could work this one out, probably as part of what is needed now in the evolutionary pattern of the world community.”
“We began listening for what we were actually supposed to do every time we were together. In every moment, the dedication was to sensitivity, perception, accuracy of expression, and actual fulfillment of the never-ending unfolding of next steps. We used whatever came to us – invitations to meet people, hunches about where we needed to meet together on the Earth, extemporaneous ceremonies that presented themselves to us, arising crises in our families, books that fell into our laps – as the material we metabolised together. That became the whole point of the exercise.
“It was like paying attention to what the ‘partner’ in the Great Field was inviting us into next. We used the name, the Great Partner. It wasn’t primarily about personal ‘initiation’. We were being initiated by invitation from the Partner, as a collective. I’ll never forget when I first understood that. Paying attention, then, became the discipline – collective attention not only to what we imagined we were about, but to what was really being asked of us together.”
“The fact is that every combination of people will have their own blueprint or possibility. One group can’t copy the signature of another group, just as an individual can’t become someone else and fulfill who he or she uniquely is.”
“Deep circle work is still a primary baseline of experience of finer dimensions, other frequencies, and a realm or source that is as real to me as this physical world. But it’s not my only teacher. It was a teacher and still is a teacher. I hold it as a primary vehicle for what I came here to do, because I believe that this circle cares for the world in a way that has a critical influence. There’s no proving that one way or another, but I know it’s true. That’s a really, really big thing for me. It’s part of that function that fell on us.”
I was so happy to find this interview and read these words, because they articulated some of the experience we were exploring. They affirmed that we were not crazy, not wandering down a road that had no meaning! Here was Otto Scharmer interviewing the ladies who formed this circle as part of his worldwide interview process to sense into what was ahead in the world of leadership. I loved it so much that I wrote them an email expressing my wonder and excitement. As life has it, I happened to meet two of them on several occasions over the next years.
What indeed, if – as the women of the Circle of Seven suggest in the first quote – there were different potentials, possibilities, existing in life on this Earth that needed more than one fully unique person to be present at the same time, in order to access a collective inner wisdom? I am not speculating here about whether there actually are such things as collective soul-prints – basically that doesn’t matter. However, I do see very many complex issues and problems that call for deep co-creation between different unique human beings who can access their inner knowing and put it to use in service of a larger whole through collective inquiry. Once you have learned to speak and live from your own unique soul’s calling, you can start to apply the practice in a collective context. Collectively, you are then able to reach out, through your own soul, to the collective soul level – at least this is easier and clearer when your own soul is available to do so. This also works the other way around: practicing collective presencing will enhance your clarity about your own soul’s calling.
From our own experience during the years of the Women Moving the Edge inquiry, we noticed that we were in service of ‘something’ – a potential, a possibility – that wanted to come into manifestation through us. Although it was a loose project, with different participants at the different gatherings and sometimes more than 6 months between gatherings, there was nevertheless a deep coherence that evolved through us, through our collective and full participation. I will write more about this later, but from our experience we can state that the potential that is now accessible in this time of upheaval and renewal can only manifest through collectives of fully present human beings. If we are not aware, if we fail to pick up the signal pointing to the existence of something else that is possible, then that particular potential might remain a lost opportunity.
Art philosopher Etienne Souriau speaks about instauration (in French: ‘l’oeuvre à faire’) referring to the way an artist is ‘invited’ or ‘called’ by the material to make the artwork. Instauration asks the question: why am I here on Earth? This relates to the individual soul’s calling. But what if there were something like collective instauration? ‘Faire exister la verité – ici!’ Bringing the truth into being – here! Obviously, for very complex situations the truth cannot be seen by one person alone; we are in need of many eyes and inner sensing organs to see more perspectives on the truth, more of the whole.
The practice of invitation
Once you have heard the whisper of a collective call and become part of a calling team, it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming the committee that will decide who will be invited and who will not. This is the trap of business as usual, the trap of linearity. We learned along the way that we were neither in charge nor in control of who would show up to participate. We always sent an open invitation to different global networks, and were sometimes quite surprised by who showed up. After some time, I learned to drop my inner judgment about who was supposed to come or not, and instead became keenly curious about what each of these women had to bring.
Sending out an invitation is an authentic opening to other human beings, not a means to earn money. We open the circle to people and we request their presence and participation in the circle practice, just as this is requested from those of us who are inviting. In essence, this is a gesture of equality and trust. An invitation to engage in a collective inquiry with an evolutionary intent can have no emotional strings attached. When you invite, you invite the whole being, with all the consequences that entails for both the inviter and the invitee. What you are inviting into is ‘full participation’ (more on this below). You are inviting the other to bring their full selves into the context of the collective inquiry, without reservations. This requires you to relinquish all thoughts of ownership and desire to control the outcome. (See more on this in section 7.5, Disturbance as Invitation)
For this reason, it is important to be crystal clear about the intent of the gathering (more below). What you intend will shape your invitation, and that will influence who shows up. It can seem that the intention, the potential, has its own agenda, which will define who shows up and who will contribute to the wisdom gathered in this specific event. This is a form of the Open Space Technology principle describing what happens when we live in a self-organising system: who ever shows up are the right people.
Someone drew a circle that left me out,
But love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took them in.
– Edwin Markham
Over the years of practicing the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter, I have learned much about the art of invitation. In the beginning, I invited from the personality level, with quite some emotional strings attached. In my case, that translated as a feeling of trepidation about approaching people with ‘my stuff’. Later, I learned to invite more from a soul level, sending the invitation out far and wide into the universe so that it could reach the ones who needed to come. Living from my deeper calling, I can now reach out to others just to sense if this particular invitation resonates with their unique calling or not. You could say we are inviting people energetically from our heart, but the most important point is that we are issuing an open invitation and not looking for a specific outcome.
The first form that the collective calling takes is the collective crafting of the invitation by the hosting team. When we are doing this, we are actively sensing what this specific gathering will be about. We then send the invitation out from that potential, and from the unique beings that we are. We try to come as close as possible to this potential and to articulate the invitation from that place, because that will invite the other participants in. An invitation emanating from a collective alignment can release a resonance and an answering alignment in those invited – how the call manifests for them in that moment.
Inviting people in this way makes sure that you invite in diversity. In the case of Women Moving the Edge, we had women of all ages from a wide range of backgrounds and professions; many showed up without even being able to articulate clearly why they were coming, but with an inner knowing that they had to be there. Still, these were mostly white, Western, middle-aged women, although curiously enough we twice had a young pregnant woman in the circle.
Inviting people into a collective inquiry is quite different than inviting them to participate in a workshop or a meeting. This specific inquiry is happening because you and others feel a call to engage in it. By sending out an invitation you are asking if others want to join this shared inquiry. This is another version of “I need you because of us”. My/our need to gain clarity in this particular topic is an invitation to others to join and participate. We need each other – in presence and uniqueness – in order to co-create. Our need or our invitation is like a gift to others to be and to become more of who they are.
Intention as guiding question
Long before we articulated this whole journey as an action research project, we knew that being in a continuous collective inquiry was important, because we were always curious about what was coming next. In the Art of Hosting practice, the very first conversation with a client expressing interest to take a participatory approach with their team or stakeholders is always about clarifying the ‘real’ purpose of their wish or plan. As Toke Møller, one of the elders in this global network, would say: “Clarity of purpose is the invisible leader”. In the kind of collective inquiry we have in mind here, ‘purpose’ is to be understood not as ‘goal’, but rather as ‘intention’. We always worked with an intention articulated in the form of a question, pointing to a potential that can manifest only when we all put our best selves into the mix. This guiding question will act as a riverbed to guide our collective inquiry; it will somehow – loosely – set the boundaries and scope of the field of potential that we can collectively sense into.
Stated as a question, the intention becomes a lightning rod for the collective inquiry that the circle always is. For every Women Moving the Edge gathering, the first step would always be sensing into the guiding question around which our collective inquiry would take form. As the hosting team, we would spend a lot of time collectively sensing into it, through a series of conference calls. We were meticulous about ensuring that every member of the team felt happy that the question was articulated just right. Only then were we satisfied and sure that we were all aligned to the same inquiry, the same shared purpose – maybe to the collective calling?
The articulation of the question comes from the level of soul – at least to the best of our ability – so that it speaks of a deep potential and is not just a surface-level expression. Just as the poet who knows that the word he is trying on in this specific line in the poem is not the right one and keeps searching until he finds the perfect word in the perfect sentence, so we sense together into the wording of the question that will guide our next inquiry.
In the many hosting calls running up to the actual gathering, finding and articulating the question is the major work. This is the biggest part of the preparation work. For the hosting team, it means going through the process – which the participants will also go through later – of not knowing what wants to emerge, leaning in to grasp at least some sense of what it is about. We must go through this same process for every gathering, and once we hit the bottom of the U, there is a collective sense of “This is it!” Sometimes it can take a long time to gain full precision and to check whether the question is truly inspiring and uplifting. After this work is done, it remains to send out the invitation to others to enter the container formed by the circle process and the guiding question. Then more of life can happen.
This calling question would always be mentioned in the framing of the gathering, right at the start. It would also be written (beautifully, with illumination) on a flipchart and visible to everyone throughout the time of the gathering. There is power in formally and deliberately speaking the intent: first of all as a reminder to all present of our purpose in coming together (some participants don’t remember the exact articulation of the topic); secondly, clearly articulating the intention seems to have influence on the subtle layers of reality, thereby helping to make the intention manifest.
Practitioners of collective presencing believe that it is important – always and everywhere – to clarify the intention of any gathering, call or event. Why is intention so important? It seems that by setting an intention, and then speaking and articulating it, we make an energetic connection with the potential implicit therein. As if intention and potential are different facets of the same whole. It will be clear by now that speaking the intent and inviting into collective inquiry is quite different than setting an agenda or offering a detailed plan of action (which will tend to lead to disagreement, sometimes even argument and conflict). The guiding question acts as a boundary or membrane, framing the scope of the inquiry and its attendant conversations. Beyond that, there is a high level of not-knowing-yet what will arise from the collective inquiry.
Quote from participant:
When I was participating in Women Moving the Edge, it wasn’t until I was driving home that I realised: There wasn’t really any agenda!! Only holding the possibility, and how absolutely powerful that is. Plugging into the divine, the collective…. whatever the heck it is called!
The ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the self nor of the other: the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.
– David Whyte from Readers’ Circle Essay, “Friendship”, 2011
In the global networks of practitioners of practices like Art of Hosting, the World Café and Open Space, people don’t hesitate to name friendship as the element that makes it possible, even easy, to access the deeper levels of emergence. Bill Torbert also talks about ‘friendship as developmental force’ – as opposed to business, which is cloaked in too many layers of lesser awareness. He describes an ‘alchemist work party’, a gathering of consultants who each have their own (small) business – most likely all people who have found their unique gift and calling. This particular form of friendship does not imply that we interact with each other every day or every week. Rather, it means that as professionals or fellow practitioners we share on such a deep personal level – again and again – that trust, respect and friendship inevitably ensue. I always felt some unease in naming this element of friendship, because it was not the same as the friendships I had 20 years ago with my women friends. What, then, is different?
Being together in a group using the circle practice over a longer time, or with people who practice circle regularly, there grows a level of basic humanness with each other that strongly resembles how friends are together: gentle and near. We deeply know and understand that nobody is perfect, we see the flaws in each other and in ourselves and still we stay in relationship, sharing our stories and our vulnerabilities and co-creating together. We stay together in the conversation, even when things get difficult and nobody knows what will be the next step. As in all friendships, we see the uniqueness of each participant and there is no need for us to all be the same or think alike. There is a deep trust in each other’s motivation to be in this shared inquiry or journey; we acknowledge that everyone is doing their best and wants to contribute to an outcome for the good of everyone involved. As Chris Corrigan stated it: “Friendship is an emergent property of good relationship and good collaboration.”
Another difference with ‘normal’ friendship is that it is coupled with a shared awareness and consciousness. The resonance of friendship includes assumptions about what life is about, what time we are in and the importance of hosting ourselves, or the art of becoming present (as described in the Circle of Presence). Added to a normal friendship is a deep shared trust in the unfolding of our future story; we all (hold an intention to) come from origin or source and we are all invited to live more and more into the unique beings that we are. There is an inner knowing that we are in a radical transition time on Earth and we all want to learn and spread the requisite skills for this journey. An essential ingredient is the shared practice of being perpetual learners and constantly reflecting on where our actions and thoughts originate. This makes for open minds, wide open hearts and innovative creations. Taken together, all these dimensions make it possible to land quickly on the same wavelength (even if we haven’t met before) and to step into a collective inquiry – a collective calling – for the good of the whole.