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
Reflecting on the guiding questions we used in our little Flemish circle (How do we … out of deep respect and love? How can I respond out of love even if I don’t like what you said? How to show respect to others even when I am in a hurry?) I came to wonder: Why don’t we ask these questions every day and in every situation, instead of only when we are in a circle or a workshop? Even more importantly: Why don’t we live up to the answers that our hearts whisper silently all the time? Why is it more difficult to act on these answers about how to be present – especially when we work and live together – than to read about it or talk about it to our friends? There is a big difference. Everybody feels it. It is because we are involved, with our whole being. We cannot hide. We cannot be our so-called normal, conditioned self any longer. We have to change. The new paradigm in the world, the change in our organisations, more respect embodied in our relationships – all these demand the transformation of myself, of our selves. Nothing less will do.
This chapter describes how the four movements of observing, accepting, honoring and living what is apply to my relationship with myself. The next chapters will expand through the process of outer alignment, where we find a growing balance with the people and context around us. This process of alignment within – I and myself – will uncover the realms of subtle sensing and inner knowing inside your self. They have always been there, but haven’t been in the spotlight. This subtle art of inner alignment gradually gives access to more authenticity, until you are able to shift from your default, conditioned and habitual way of being towards acting in authenticity and flexibility, wherever you are. Authenticity here implies the mind and body integrated, being and knowing in synergy in all kinds of ways. Becoming your own instrument, fine-tuning it and learning to hold your own melody.
You might wonder why we go to all the effort of uncovering this inner realm. In today’s world, strong energetic, human containers (groups, teams, families, organisations) are needed to hold complexity, chaos and turmoil, to provide a sheltered space where individual members can share their stories and be vulnerable. For this to be possible, we need individuals who are strong containers in and by themselves. That means people who take full responsibility – in the sense of ‘response-ability’ – for their emotions, their body’s energy fields, their thoughts, the power of their own will; people who can contain themselves, who can witness all this at once, even when the emotional and energetic charge is very high. This is why this science and practice of inner alignment, of becoming present, is so crucial in these times. Through this practice we discover and hold our unique melody and keep singing harmoniously in the choir, even when a lot is happening all around.
Later we will see how individual, personal authenticity can evolve further, towards living your soul’s calling. It has become clear to me that the increasing complexity of life will not lead to some kind of oneness, some level or form that fits all. Rather, it invites us to express more of our unique ways of being, to become ‘an exemplar’ as Bonnie (Bonnitta Roy) would say. As we each learn to do this, grounded in our own voice, then the practice of choral improvisation becomes possible – learning to sense and ride the shifting patterns emerging from the middle.
Referring to his focusing process from the felt-sense, Gene Gendlin says: “This authenticity is defined not by its outcomes, but by its kind of process.” This applies here in the same way. The process of inner alignment, applied to my personal self, has no final destination. It is not about finding my authentic self at some point in time and then I am done, the journey is over. No, we will see that the unraveling of our mental conditioning goes on and on; the unfolding of our unique ways of expressing our self never ends. We will approach levels of ever more refined energy, and we will become sensitive to the life force coursing through us.
On the surface, it looks as if we know a lot about ‘I’, the ‘me’ that I present in the world every day. Never before in history have we heard this little word ‘I’ with such frequency. But who is this ‘I’, really? How much am I aware of what is really going on inside me? Is my attention as grounded in my subtle senses, my physical sensations and my feelings, as it is in my thoughts, ideas and beliefs? How often do I realise only after the fact what it was that I was actually feeling or sensing? These questions are linked with what Otto Scharmer calls the ‘blind spot of leadership’. Most disciplines of therapy, personal development, coaching and mentoring beckon us inwards with our attention, to witness the deeper layers of this entity we call ‘I’. And it is always a dis-cover-y. What we uncover in this process is the fullness of who we really are. We embrace and integrate the more subtle meanings that are hidden within us, and step by step we come to inhabit our unique self, shedding the conditioning that has been there since childhood or that we borrowed from society. What remains is a self that is transparent, vulnerable, radiant and full of energy: our authentic self.
As Yasuhiko Kimura stated online: “Authenticity is etymologically and existentially linked to authorship and authority. To be authentic entails being the author of your own life based on your own inner authority, free and independent of external authority in the matter of thinking, knowing, and acting. Self-integrity and self-honesty are built into authenticity.” I couldn’t put it any better.
What follows is the description of the four movements – observing, accepting, honoring and living what is – that we described in general in chapter 1.4, now applied to the process of becoming more present with and aligned within myself. In this process of inner alignment of I and Myself, we focus our attention on our inner being, our inner landscape and we prepare ourselves to open up to embrace and integrate all that we discover inside.
1. Observing what is – in myself: Opening to the full experience of my inner being
Being open to the full experience of myself and observing and acknowledging what is, must include the physical level of my being; because that is – as a matter of fact – the ground of my self. I focus my attention on my internal experience: the physical sensations in different parts of my body, the feelings and emotions that arise with differing degrees of intensity, and the subtle sensations (that we described before) that are also there. Most Westerners are not used to giving attention to their bodies and the wealth of information that the body provides. I have had many clients over the years who would answer “nothing”, when asked what was going on inside, in their bodies. To acknowledge the body is to notice its signals, and to take this bodily information seriously: using the information derived from seeing, feeling, hearing and intuiting as equally valid and complementary to the information provided by our thinking.
The physical body is, on the one hand, a storehouse of old memories and, on the other hand, a very good receptor of subtle signals from the fields around us – and of course much more. Therefore, we must first become good inner listeners, inner observers, to be able to discern what is old and comes from memory, and what is truly in relation with the here and now. The importance of body awareness for the grounding of wisdom cannot be overstated; it is in and through the body that we can check our level of being present.
The aim of the first part of this book is to arrive at collective wisdom. As in any team sport, the training and awareness of the body is not the ultimate purpose, but is in service of the team playing as a whole. In the end, it is in my body, as a container, that I can hold the energies of feeling, thinking, chaos, wisdom and so on. Only in this way can I really contribute to the collective wisdom of a group. If you want to expand your awareness in this field, it is both good and necessary to have a body-awareness training or practice – such as aikido or other martial arts, tai chi, yoga, dancing, any kind of meditation, walking or other practices that use the body as the point of entry.
2. Accepting what is – in myself: expanding my self-image and integrating my subtle inner experience
We can summarise the movement of accepting what is on the personal level as the witnessing and suspending of our habitual ‘this is me’ and accepting that there is more to it. Most of our actions – and thinking – are literally re-actions: repeating the same thoughts and actions. Otto Scharmer calls it ‘downloading’. Downloading happens not only in thinking, but equally in feeling, speaking and action. It applies, too, to our self-image. This doesn’t change easily. We hold onto a consistent self-image; we believe that we stay the same and we use this self-identity as something to rely on. The first step is to recognise that this is what we are doing: downloading, repeating old patterns. Only then we can open up to something new.
Accepting what is in myself means focusing our attention on widening our view on and of our selves, realising that we are more than the habitual form that we identify with. If I sit with my self for a while, and expand my observations inwards, I will notice that there are also other, more subtle signs in myself that don’t really fit with my habitual way of looking at myself. Maybe I got a hunch that something was going on with my friend, but I greeted her in my usual way, without really paying attention. Maybe I was more deeply hurt than I had first realised and shared with my partner. Maybe I intuited that there was something strange going on in that organisation, which could have informed me better from the outset if only I had paid attention. Maybe a clear vision came to me in a team meeting, but I didn’t dare to voice it.
Accepting what is in myself means taking all these subtle signals as just as valid – at least worth checking out and taking into account – as my normal, default ways of seeing my self. We then come to a point where we widen our idea about ourselves, first to admit, and later to integrate our unique way of sensing the subtle into the definition of who and how we are. We open our hearts for more of ourselves and in the same movement we have more acceptance of the unique contribution of every human being, and even beyond.
3. Honouring what is – in myself: Deepening my self image and connecting with my inner gifts
Honouring what is in myself means not just accepting (“OK, it’s true that I noticed that”), but also owning these so-called deeper sensing parts of myself, these deeper layers that I have mostly been hiding away. It’s about achieving full congruence – or at least intending to – between what I share with others, my self image and my deepest experiences.
In our Western culture, our subtle sensing has for the most part been in the shadow; it has not been allowed to be (fully) present. For this reason it still holds a certain gem-like quality: because it has had to hide in the dark and has not been permitted to be visible it is loaded with a heavy emotional charge, which conceals the beauty of its essence. We will be amazed! By opening up to this subtle shadow we find a precious gift: our individual way of sensing, our very own contribution to understanding more of what is going on, our unique gift to collaboration and co-creation.
As mentioned before, we all have a preference – or a natural priority – as to which faculty our subtle sensing manifests through most. For myself, I am very kinaesthetic, so I sense lots of things right in my body, as an ache, as a certain pressure, as a sense of constraint in certain areas of my face, as a quality of deep opening in my lower belly. I’m very physical, very much here-and-now, and I want to walk the talk right away. And sometimes I just know, with a sense of total alignment between my head, my body and my subtle senses. This knowing has a certain quality of ‘this is it’, without any trace of a doubt. But I hardly ever ‘see’ things, or ‘hear’ information. I feel it, or I know it. For others it is different. The point, in honouring what is, is to be grateful for your own way of accessing subtle information and not to try to do like others, or to compare your unique way with theirs. I have a friend who took some years to understand and accept that her ‘instant-knowing-just-like-that’ was no less valuable than the clear and detailed images that could be perceived and described by others.
4. Living what is – in myself: Sharing and expressing my unique gifts
After honouring my deeper self the only possible next step is living and expressing myself, as I am, subtle sensing included. I share my thoughts and emotions, I share the subtle clues I perceive, I share my wildest dreams and my deepest aspirations. Alongside sharing through language, I also show my unique form of creativity: my dance, my models, my poetry, my deep insights, my inner knowing, my sensing, my theory, my cooking, my disturbance, my flower arranging … I am no longer stuck in downloading, I am free from any compulsion to conform to a certain type of identity. I am aware of my gifts to the world, I can now show up as an authentic person.
Ode to a Cloud
Changing shape before your eyes,
Holding its shape so lightly,
Willing to die for love of the whole
Who is this ‘I’ who holds its shape so tightly,
Clinging to form as though it’s all I know.
Would we were like clouds
Willing to be known only for a moment
– by Wendy, participant in WmtE2, Nov.2007
The experience of inner alignment
Quotes: (from conference call, as preparation for the first WMtE gathering, 6 May 2009)
Judy: “When I am connected to my body then there is also a heart connection; and the mental is still there. Then I am being as a human in a more integrated place; a fine-tuned sensibility, a way to sense into, and being fully present. When I feel really aligned, all of that is there, including what I sense in my body; and often there is a vibration, which is very physical. Vibration, a kind of pulsing, that is the signal to me that I am there.”
Eugenie: “Sitting in silence. I feel exactly what you feel. Plus I feel a lot of heart energy. Energy flowing through my body. Also feet and hands, I feel the ground that I sit on. I also feel the energy in my body. I am very open in my heart, very clear in my mind, through all situations. Feeling alive, sexy without seducing, very aware of the power of giving birth, giving life, creating life through my body.”
The ultimate purpose of this chapter I and Myself is to reveal what else is possible if we open ourselves more deeply and widely – for ourselves. It is a journey of many thresholds and little and big jumps into territory that sometimes seems frightening, because we go beyond our Western belief of what is right or true or valuable. We integrate more of our subtle and animal nature by acknowledging that we do sense a lot that in daily life is neither shared nor talked about. Still it is there, we all have the capacity to do it; we are hard-wired for this, and yet the capacity has not been used, let alone trained and practiced. The outcome is that we dis-cover our true self, digging it free from under the conditioning. The reward is being and feeling more alive and present throughout our whole life.
The next chapter moves from becoming present to I and myself, to becoming present to I and relationships. We are widening the scope of the field in which we can learn to grow our awareness and our presence. We will again use the same four sub-movements (observing what is, accepting what is, honoring what is and living what is) and gradually build a whole map (part 4.7) that will reveal what all this can lead to: building capacity for collective wisdom. Not just collective intelligence, but authentic collective wisdom; more on the difference between these concepts later. (part 4.2)
Since this book is inviting you to explore the possibilities of Collective Presencing, it is easy to understand that first of all we need to strengthen our individual capacity to be present. For our purposes here, subtle sensing and embodiment lay the foundations on which we will build further capacities which I will describe throughout the rest of the book. What is important to understand at this stage is that the practice in daily life is not so much a state of being present. Rather, we are really talking about an ongoing process that becomes refined over time and is, seemingly, never ending.
Being present as becoming present
The process of understanding what this book is really about began long before I ever had the faintest notion of writing it. It started in my small Flemish women’s circle, called the FiveStar, a training ground for what would eventually lead to the project Women Moving the Edge. We were rather unconscious of the deeper purpose of our joint journey, but we had some guiding questions like: How do we do… (take your pick), so that it is done out of deep respect and love? How can I respond out of love even when I don’t like what you said? How to show respect to others even when I am in a hurry? These questions could be applied to hundreds of different situations, and through collective searching and reflecting we found many answers. We also became wiser and more compassionate.
Reflecting on it later, I came to see that we learned an enormous amount about the process of becoming present. Here, I want to draw your attention to the process side of becoming present. In daily life the point is not so much about being present, but about how to become present (again) once we have lapsed back into our default mode of reacting. In other words, how do we widen our perception and become present to more of what is going on in life? For now, we will start with the common, every-day understanding of being present: being present to your own thoughts, emotions, sensations and becoming mindful of these. Later, we will expand this process to an ever-widening scope, to include becoming present to relationships, then to groups, then to unmanifested potential. This is about becoming present to life in its totally, not in theory but right down to the bottom of real, messy, daily life.
I have noticed in my own experience that becoming present is not something you learn in an instant, nor is it a skill like riding a bike or swimming – once learned you can do it forever. Rather, it is an ongoing process of alignment that seems to go on and on, spreading out in all directions! First of all, this process shifts my understanding of myself as a thing, a ‘something’ with clearly defined boundaries, something that really is separate. Instead, I begin to see and experience myself as a process, an ongoing flow of experiences, in an ongoing exchange with whoever and whatever is around me. Well do I remember my Systemic Constellations teacher, Johannes Schmidt, repeating like a mantra in his workshops: “I am a process!” (and not a thing). This notion resonated with me and over time it wormed its way deep into my inner being. There is a lot of confusion about this ‘I’. Although we experience it as consistent throughout the long concatenation of moments that make up our lives, what seems to endure and stay the same is not a thing, nor does it have clear boundaries. Rather, it is a coherence found throughout the throng of our experiences, like a red thread that has great meaning to our selves.
I trust that by now it is clear that being present equates not with sitting still on a cushion – although the practice of meditation can be very helpful in learning to become more present – but with a capacity to be flexible amidst all that arises, including the capacity to sense the impulse or the movement of what comes next… Alignment with ‘what is’ gives us a power of action, of movement, which is different than ‘power over’ or control. Think of the Aikido master who uses the energy of his assailant to propel him away in the next move.
The process of inner alignment: unfolding authenticity
Just as we discover that this ‘I’ is not a thing, so we learn that being present is not a state that, once reached, is forever attained. It is an ongoing process, a movement into ever greater balance and coherence, deeper and wider, inner and outer. Over time, we noticed that we can distinguish a process of inner alignment and a process of outer alignment. In this chapter we focus on the inner alignment – we will turn our attention to outer alignment later on. We see this competence of inner alignment as an unfolding process that leads to ever more authenticity. Authenticity is defined here as your unique way of acting and relating with your self and the world around you, without any residue of emotionally-charged preference or attachment. Authenticity can also be defined as the unique quality of a particular relationship, or the unique flavor of a group or team.
The ongoing process of deepening our authenticity in an embodied way also opens our selves up to the capacity of sourcing: receiving information from an inner well of knowing. When practiced with other people, equally present and authentic, it enhances our capacity for collective wisdom and generative action. More on all this later as the story unfolds.
My whole journey in reflecting about the experiences in our little women’s circle started with my enthusiastic discovery of the U-process. (At that time, neither of the books by Otto Scharmer, Presencing and Theory U, had yet been written). Failing to fit our experiences into his model got me to thinking more deeply and, step by step, I started developing my own framework. I am well aware that I have not reinvented the wheel; many of these steps, layers or movements are part of existing practices in the field of personal development, group dynamics, etc. The novelty of my approach lies in using this sequence of movements in ever widening spheres of life, building up a coherent framework that can be used to deal with the challenges of our time and the generation and creation of the new.
This process of inner alignment – part of the overall process of becoming present – is about finding the resonance between all the faculties of our self: thinking, experiencing, noticing, feeling and subtle sensing. Using the words of Scharmer, it is “an opening of our mind, our heart and our will”. In the practice of Collective Presencing, we give extra attention to the finer, subtler and more internal experiences, which are very much denied or overlooked in our mainstream society. To get to a deeper inner alignment, to become ever more present, we also need to be open to the subtle signals in our lives. These don’t normally thump on your door, unless you have already repressed a barrage of weaker signals and life presents you some kind of wall for you to smash into. The alignment of these layers in our self is an ongoing invitation to eliminate our inflexibilities as we discover them; doing so makes us more unique and uniquely creative.
Four movements in unfolding authenticity
If we look more closely at this process of inner alignment – becoming ever more present to the inner dimension of our experiences – we are able to articulate different steps, levels, layers or movements. In the messiness and complexity of life’s unfolding, though, they don’t come in nice, clear steps, one after the other. These steps can be distinguished from each other as we reflect on the process, but they are not separate in our daily actions and lives. On occasions, they might happen all at once, while at other times it seems to take ages to integrate one more.
What follows is a description of four levels, or movements in this process of inner alignment that I have found to be present in our daily experiences. You will meet these levels again throughout the book, applied to different contexts and scopes; the narrative will lead to two maps offering an overview of it all. Applied to different areas of life, these four layers always describe a process of deepening authenticity that reveals itself in a process unfolding over time.
The four movements are: observing, accepting, honoring and living ‘what is’. Each calls forth into presence a deeper layer of respect, awareness and love, both for your self and in relationship with others and the wider context. Greater inner alignment always manifests as more authenticity and much greater flexibility of action and thought, greater response-ability. Inner alignment re-establishes relationship and embrace on the inside — either between the different, disowned parts of your self, between your inner self and the inner selves of others, between the different participants in a group or with the inner dimension of the future and the possibilities it holds.
All four movements of unfolding consist of two sub-movements, both of which are needed in this process. One can best be summarized as focusing our attention; for the other it is essential that we open ourselves more. We will see that the combination of these two movements, focusing and opening, can better describe the fullness of the experience than either one on its own.
Observing what is – Open Mind
Focus on: here and now
Open to: full experience
The process of becoming present starts with observing or witnessing what is actually happening. This means observing without any judgment of what we are noticing. It means suspending any kind of judgment; a non-engagement, where we take some emotional distance from what is happening. This is the core of the now widely known mindfulness practices: to experience but not to judge, just observe and witness. No good or bad, just noticing what is.
Wanting or needing change – wherever that might be – always starts with acknowledging what is; which is, at the same time, acknowledging what is not. This action of observing and acknowledging is a big and deep movement of focused, but open attention. In our Western world, we are mostly very far from being in touch with what is. Most often our attention is absorbed in our thinking: the storage place of our ideas, our prejudices, our memories, our beliefs, our hopes, knowledge received from other sources, etc. Simply put, our default attention mode in the Western world resides in the mental space, oblivious to how many emotional and subtle perceptions are behind, underneath, below or next to what is going on in our minds. Our attention is rarely with the totality of what we are actually experiencing, right here and now.
The core purpose of mindfulness training is to coming to grips with the fact that we can guide and direct our attention. It doesn’t need to be stuck in mental thoughts or in emotional upset; we can decide to place it elsewhere and not attach to what seems so intriguing – and true! People who practice meditation learn to master much of it, although some use it to dissociate from the body and so don’t embody it (enough) in their day-to-day life. They sometimes lack the skill of witnessing the bodily side of the here and now.
We can learn to extend observing what is from myself to the other(s) and their internal, subtle reality; further out to their manifest or subtle contribution to the group’s purpose and even beyond as we will see later. It is, all in all, an opening to the full experience on all levels of experience.
Accepting what is – Open Heart
Focus on: widening
Open to: trusting subtle experience
Next comes the inner movement of accepting what is, really embracing what is, right here, before our eyes or inside us. Accepting what is is one small movement beyond observing and acknowledging. It is a widening of our identity, because accepting means integrating something we had left outside us before. It is an action of embracing more of who we are, widening our range of what we define as reality or what is possible. Accepting is a movement in the heart that follows once our minds have been opened and judgment has been suspended; although it can also be the other way round. The widening of our metaphorical boxes can go on and on. As far as I can tell from my own experience, there seems to be no end to it. Real acceptance is an opening of the heart space — an aspect of what we call love.
Accepting what is is being open to becoming more flexible in what we are able to and allow ourselves perceive. It takes account of the subtler layers of our experience. Sometimes we have to dig a little deeper in ourselves to be able to notice these layers, or need to come to a stand-still for a while. Oftentimes it is a movement of embracing what had previously been filtered out as meaningless or unimportant.
Accepting what is, is a movement of the heart. It is (re-)connecting with the true wholeness of our self, others, groups and the whole world in which we live and function. This re-connection is intrinsically healing, because it brings us back into connection with more of who we are. We move beyond the fragmentation and remove the blockages preventing life from really happening. Accepting what is, we start to feel more of the web of interconnectedness, and to experience more deeply our intimate implication in a greater whole that holds us.
Honouring what is – Open Heart
Focus on: deepening
Open to: moving beyond
Honoring what is calls us to drop even deeper into the movement of our hearts. It goes further than accepting — not only do we accept, but we open up to respect what is. We understand in our hearts and minds what our experience means for the fullness (and mystery) of life and honour it in this way. If there is real acceptance in our hearts – of myself, of the other, of the group as a whole, of life in its fullness – then we are ready to honour it fully. Honouring what is, is a deep integration of our physical, mental and emotional layers. You could see it as a deepening of the accepting movement; not just in our minds, but also into the fullness of our hearts and our being. Honouring what is asks for an engagement or commitment: to show oneself fully, to learn to let the other be fully him or herself. It is an embodiment of the acceptance, which shows through in our deeds.
Honouring what is requires us to engage more deeply in communication than is our usual habit. This deepening is a devotion to connecting with these deeper, more vulnerable layers of myself, and extending out to connect with the deeper layers of the other(s) and of the greater whole in which we work and/or live together. This devotion, this honouring, this bowing to what is brings us to a constantly unfolding authenticity in how we are relating.
If I acknowledge and accept that what I feel and think is only ‘my’ truth or ‘a’ perspective, and that what the other person thinks or feels is ‘his or her’ truth or just ‘another’ perspective on reality, and if I can accept both as really and equally valid in the face of the overall reality, then we are challenged to suspend our default frames of feeling, thinking, and willing. Our hearts are asked to expand and embrace more than before. If we can do that, we have more freedom at our disposal and something greater seems to be possible; we come closer to some collective sense or shared meaning.
Living what is – Open Will
Focus on: sharing and expressing
Open to: living authenticity
The three former movements culminate naturally in living and celebrating what is. This means giving form and shape to the deeper inner alignment in our way of being and doing right here and now. It means sharing and expressing all layers of our experience: the physical, the mind, the emotions and the subtle experiences. One form of expression that we – in the western middle class – know very well, is speech. But talking, even when done respectfully and carefully, is just one aspect of life and cannot express all of it. Conversation alone does not constitute authentic living. Imagine being in an intimate partnership where our only form of engagement was talking…
The Open Will, as named by Otto Scharmer, points in the direction of ‘beyond our own, small will’. In the beginning it can feel like sharing and expressing beyond our comfort zone. Sharing what feels like the vulnerable stuff: the inner knowing, the little hunches that might or might not be valuable, that might be judged; offering my poem in a context that normally doesn’t invite this; bringing flowers to the office because I like them and they help me to be who I am. Fully participating with all we have and are is not our default way of behaving, and yet it is these different acts that truly show our unique ways of being. We have received these small (or great) gifts from nature, from birth; now it becomes a conscious choice to share and express them, bring them to the table where we sit. It is not through our own small will that we have created these unique gifts, rather, it is an act of surrender to recognise that life gave them to us and it is an act of choice to show and share them.
Wherever you look in the world: real communities eat together, they sing and they dance together, they share in rituals to mark important moments in life, they work together, they talk; in short, they create their own culture. Every group that wishes to come to its own authentic, collective wisdom will, gradually, create its own culture. In this living what is, where every individual participates fully through his or her own expression, what this group or community is about becomes visible to others, through what people do and don’t do.