To be committed means we are willing to make a promise with no expectation of return;
a promise void of barter and not conditional on another’s action.
In the absence of this, we are constantly in the position of reacting to the choices of others.
The cost of constantly reacting to the choices of others is increased cynicism and helplessness.
The ultimate cost of cynicism and helplessness is we resort to the use of force.
In this way the barter mentality that dominates our cultures helps create a proliferation of force.
The use of force is the essence of the past we are trying to transform.
Commitment, the antithesis of entitlement and barter, is to choose a path independent of reward.
It is a choice made in the absence of reciprocity.
This is the essence of power.
– Peter Block, from Civic Engagement Series
Here we are. We have made the leap, jumped into the river of our deeper calling. We are in a space of Open Will, where sometimes what we feel called to do makes little sense in the culture that surrounds us, but we will try to do it anyway. Other people might not understand what it is we do, as we create a unique offering to the world and to life, as a unique person – a ‘coherent and dynamic multiplicity’ (a concept borrowed from Trish Nowland via Facebook).
There is joy and contentment in the simple everyday pleasures of life; doing practical things and meeting people with pleasure and warmth, almost devoid of any mental content. Being at ease with the mundane tasks of life in all their simplicity provides an unexpected opening into more presence and generative capacity. I empty the busy mind so typical of the denizens of Western society, creating space for a silence that lets me listen to life. What comes through is what I am truly curious about and what I deeply long for.
Go where the juice is – The practice of living from soul
In creativity, origin is present.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-present Origin, p.313
Living from soul is in essence only expanding the notion of becoming present, as described in the Circle of Presence, to every moment and every area of your life. It includes fine-tuning where you need to be going – or not. Many projects and events are interesting and could be somehow related with your life’s purpose. The clue is carefully calibrate your sensing so that you only engage where you really need to be and can truly learn or contribute.
Even in daily life, you can practice orienting yourself much more directly, sensing moment by moment: what am I called to do next? Is going to the birthday party of a dear friend really the right thing to do? Do I feel energised by the prospect? Or should I stay true to my energy level and appetite and work in the garden instead? We all need time to slow down and listen within to be able to make these fine discernments. What has juice for you most likely includes being more creative than is usual in our programmed mainstream lives. What is your natural way of being? Do you even know? What does it mean to be in your own flow, connected with your own energy and spontaneous impulses? When I talk of impulses in this context, I don’t mean impulses that come from our habits (in my case that includes snacking on too many cookies and chocolate). Most often what blocks us from following these authentic, spontaneous movements is fear, doubt and habit.
For some time I held the question: “How do I stay out of the way so that life can happen through me?” One of the clues is: go where the juice is! Don’t let a lack of imagination hold you back, but keep on sensing what is life-affirming and what isn’t. Keep your senses open to where you are energising (or saving) the old system and where you are creating the new, in whatever way, big or small.
Through this practice, you come to a very different relationship with your own volition, as if you were now somehow coupled on to a different locomotive. Your will is no longer fuelled by your personal (habitual) wants in the same way as before. Rather, you just want to spend your time being and doing what you were born to be and do! If we attend carefully to our inner impulses and subtle energy levels, we can listen ourselves into disclosure, as our deepest being begins to peek out from under our ego entanglements, our judgments and frustrations, our wanting-to-do-it-right.
This is my understanding of the notion ‘non-dual’; not a non-duality where we merge or become submerged in an amorphous whole, but being so utterly absorbed in embodied, creative expression that all gaps have fallen away. There is no sense of clock time and you are just happy with what you are doing. You are immersed in what is now arising in your unique being, with the playful energy of a child moving effortlessly from one activity to the next. Young children always go where the juice is for them, and we are now invited to remember that energy and reintegrate it into our adult lives.
In a way, we just become naturally who we are. That might seem pretty ordinary and nothing special, but it is unique! It becomes possible to be present with life, and not just with the world. The voice of our ‘monkey mind’ is no longer constantly prattling, so the natural self can be heard. This process seems to be easier to detect when we are in an easeful setting or a natural environment, and our identity or personality has subsided to a low profile. The challenge is staying as close as possible to this natural self, even when we are in an environment that pushes us in another direction. After a while, we stop wanting to go there because it doesn’t have enough life in it.
Live in not-knowing-yet
To live an emergent life is to be guided by your inner knowing and sensing, and by life’s feedback in response to what you have done. Understanding this feedback is not always easy, as there can be many ways to explain or understand an event. Which interpretation to choose? Which is ‘right’? Sometimes we just don’t know, no matter how deeply we try to listen. At such times, we have to live for a while in a state of not-knowing-yet; we try a next step and notice what it brings. Staying in the not-knowing-yet in a conversation is difficult enough (more on that later), taking it on as part of your day-to-day life is something altogether different!
Excerpt personal diary:
“Here I find myself, at the bottom of the U, letting go… and oh, the ego wants so badly an image, an idea or a project but no, nothing comes. So this is the experience, not because it takes you by surprise, but because you decided to live in this way… nothing to hold on to… sometimes it feels like a deep and big black hole, an emptiness… oh my God!”
When there is no clarity, perhaps you have to wait a little longer. There are times when we have the merest hunch about the next, tiny step; at others our inner sensing might know exactly what the next step should be. There are yet others when we just try it out, we probe and reflect afterwards on the feedback we got from the system, from life. Lived in this way, life becomes more like a dance, following the energy of what is really going on. The point is to see life as a journey into the unknown, an ongoing unfolding without a destination or a fixed plan with a certain outcome. In short: we learn how to become a participant in life, instead of being in control.
At the moment of taking the leap, there is often a clarity of new insights and ways of being, seeing and taking action. Most people find it very difficult to bring this clarity back into everyday life, however. After the illumination, we tend to fall back into our habits. How, then, to integrate the new insight into daily life in a coherent way? If we listen to our call, we go through many trials, which we can see as purification or rehearsals to be able to respond to the call. Remaining in this state of not-knowing-yet in an environment where everyone is continually asking you when things will be done (When will your book be ready? Is the renovation of your house finished? What have you decided?) is not possible on your own. You need a firm collective ground that holds you and can provide you with the strength and courage to stay with it. Having some friends or a circle, and having practices that support you to live this new consciousness is of utmost importance.
Don’t believe in money
For many, taking the step into actually living an emergent life means quitting the ‘one job’ that brings a predictable sum of money into the bank account every month. This brings us face to face, straight away, with the hurdle of financial security – and with it, security in general. For many people, this is the ultimate reason why (they think) they cannot follow what life is telling them to do. During several Women Moving the Edge gatherings, the money system (how it is organised) and its related capitalist culture (the values that go with it) were part of our inquiry. We learned a lot about it and I would like to share some of that here.
Life has more in store for us than just ‘a job’. Everyone has a call from deep within – be it in a job or in self-employment or something altogether different. The soul’s call is alluring when we start to pay attention. In principle we all have the power to choose whether to answer Yes or No. To be at peace with saying Yes to what our soul holds in store for us, we need to expand our story beyond the mainstream narrative around security, finances and how the current economic system works. The current core assumption seems to run something like this: “I need to make sure that I make enough money for my survival and my living.” Note the emphasis on ‘I’ and ‘my’! I have learned that this loop – I and money and survival, back to I – is much too small; too small for the soul and too small for the soup of life and the multitude of networks and influences we live in. If we take the leap and trust more in life, resources – not always in the form of money – can show up from different sources. The loop expands to include all kind of types and sources of support. I see more and more people whose professional lives resemble a patchwork, with different kinds of paid work mixed in with unpaid projects and resources coming in from different, even unplanned sources.
Money has become our mainstream illusion of safety, next to trust in big organisations and in ‘the system’ as a whole. However, as many people all over the world have already discovered since the start of the current financial crisis, things can change quite quickly and dramatically. In the West, the capitalist system is deeply ingrained in our culture, so that we believe that this is really how it is and it cannot be changed. Many years ago, I found out for myself that I could not think outside the box when it came to money, although I could do so with many other topics. I had to read a book (The Future of Money by Bernard Lietaer) to truly realise that our financial and economic system is built on concepts and ideas with a certain intention in mind, and not on what is real, in terms of life-affirming or life-generating goods and services. If we were to change the design of these systems we could and would create very different results.
At one of our gatherings, all of this was packed into a single sentence: “Don’t believe in money!” As this line wove itself through our conversation, it became clear that the problem is not money itself, but the myriad unconscious assumptions that are intricately intertwined with it: security, survival, identity, the list is long. After reading Lietaer’s book, I became more determined than ever not to let a perceived scarcity of money (which is nothing more than a feature of its design) come between me and my life, between me and what I sense is mine to do when listening to my inner call. This has meant trusting (or trusting more than before) in all the networks and resources around me, and ultimately in the very mystery of life. It boils down to an interweaving of my individual, unique life with what is unfolding throughout the rest of life, in evolution, in the universe in general. The ways in which life will support my needs will emerge from this mystery of full participation and ‘being in the soup’, not only from my organising and planning.
Since the moment when the link was broken between money creation and real gold, the financial system has morphed into a ‘conceptualisation of money’, where there is no longer any link with tangible goods and real wealth. This conceptualisation – called derivatives and many other obscure names for complicated fabrications – is a feature of a complex society, and it might even be a harbinger of its impending collapse. The monetary system is a man-made construct, a bubble that will probably burst sooner or later.
Many people find it difficult to talk about money, whether it is setting a price for a service provided, or stating an amount that you want to offer or give. Is this not a mirror of the bigger system? Because the economic and financial system seems so complex, so enormous and overwhelming, we would rather just not think about it, withdraw or hold back, or try to solve it all on our own. From early on in our series of gatherings, we sought to unravel this difficulty. We began to see how the combination of unconscious capitalist culture and (catholic) religion induced us not to talk about money – at least not openly. There is uneasiness, even taboo, when we step outside of the tacit contract of ‘paying-as-transaction-and-then-we’re-done’ and seek to enter instead into a conversation and a ‘relationship-that-includes-talking-about-money’. We are just not used to it, and all manner of murky entangled topics creep (unconscioiusly) into the scene.
Moving from ‘financial transactions’ to ‘relational exchange’ requires a radical shift. And what might happen if we were to put the unfolding of our soul’s calling (and its related competences and capacities) in the middle of the exchange – not even what we have done or offered, but how we are serving life with our true authentic gifts as they surface bit by bit? When we change the conversation in this way, and begin to exchange thus in a wider web of relationships, interdependencies and intimacy, then something magic starts to happen. I see true wealth as an abundance of life force; that seems a far better definition than “wealth equals money”. In these new terms, what is meaningful to exchange seems to be our true gifts, and not coins or bits of paper or electronic numbers. What if everybody were to follow their deepest passion? Wouldn’t the outcome be that Earth, and all life on and around her, would thrive?
In addition to the many other gaps (or polarities, or contradictions) we already construct, we tend to make many gaps when money is involved: a gap between those who have more money and those who have less, a gap between what is paid for and what we actually love to do – the list is seemingly endless. One of the core principles of circle practice is “offer what you can and ask for what you need”. This practice regularly runs into difficulties when what you offer or need is money. Something holds us back from restoring money to its rightful place in the circle of life, along with everything else. There is a deep-seated assumption of separation when it comes to money. How to close this gap? How to weave ourselves back into the mutual exchange of life, money included? A simple illustration of how resources flow can be seen in how flowers give their nectar to the bees and the bees carry the pollen to other flowers, thereby creating more life in an interwoven web of interrelating. When we weave ourselves back into the seamlessness of natural life, we can attract a sufficiency of what we need; it might be money and it might be other things money can or can’t buy.
After many conversations with organising teams and people in business, the clue to creating seamless ease and flow seems to be maximum flexibility around money. I understand this to mean being able to trust when there is less money, and being perfectly able to be happy with a simple life, but being equally able to charge business-rate fees for your work when the context you are in calls for that. Being flexible means being ‘respons-able’ in all kind of situations regarding prices, fees, offerings, gifts and so on. When we can do this, all the various elements related with money in our culture are disentangled from the sums in your bank account: security for later, survival, wealth, identity, savings etc. If we can achieve this, we can live with money in full freedom.
Feeling called, being a caller
In a self-organising network, nothing happens unless someone steps up, opens a conversation and makes something happen. Our world might not (yet) be a self-organising network, but if we relate with life and the planet, instead of with the world, then we are always already in one! One example of a natural and organic globally structured self-organising network without any hint of formal organisation is the Art of Hosting network. From years of observing this network in action, we have come to understand the power and necessity of being a caller to make this work. There seems to be a specific leadership role in calling something into being, be it a new organisation, a novel way of working or the realisation of some new potential.
A caller is someone who feels something needs to be done, who makes the first move and invites others in . Being a caller does not mean doing it all on your own. A caller is not the leader in the classical sense. Rather, he or she probably has the shortest line to the soul of the organisation or the heart of the possibility. In the beginning, when things don’t yet have any shape or form, the caller is essential. If the caller steps out at the beginning of the process, the whole thing will collapse. We could say that the caller holds, on an energetic level, the full potential of what can become possible.
Sometimes we see a few people or a small group stepping up as the caller for a certain project. Together they hold what can become possible over time. Being the caller does not mean that you know it all from the start – rather the opposite! The calling comes from a deep listening, both inside and outside in the world. Then, at a certain point people feel they have to do something, they have to speak up, they have to initiate. They take a first step in a journey that is always into the unknown. There can be long periods of not knowing, because in the messiness of life we are not in control and cannot plan multiple steps ahead. When you are the caller, however, there are certain things you can and need to do: you set the frame, the vision, the values, the quality, the guidelines. While you cannot know exactly how it will go and what it will look like, nevertheless, you hold the walls and the foundations – the potential of the whole project. How the details will unfold over time depends on so much more: the interweaving with other people, synchronicities on all kind of levels; we get some clues, meet the right people, hear about the right book and then magic can happen.
In one person’s words, being a caller is like “a breakthrough in being responsible and getting for myself that there isn’t anyone else (any more). It’s no one else’s fault if we are not doing things the way I want.” I myself complained for a long time that I was always the one that initiated new projects and wanted for once to join a project that someone else had started – until it finally dawned on me that initiating novel projects was what I had to do, that this was my contribution to the whole. That was the end of my complaining, when I finally surrendered to this greater Open Will. On the one hand, it feels great; on the other hand it can be intimidating: “Oh shit, I’m leading this!” If I am an acorn I cannot resist growing like an oak, and there is no use complaining that I am not a daisy in the meadow. It is here that Scharmer’s ‘voice of fear’ shows up in its many different forms: fear around scale, around empowerment, around taking leadership, around… (fill in your own). More and more people across the world are realising that they can step up and that nobody else (not politicians, not business leaders or any one else) is going to do it for them. The key seems to lie in forming a new relationship with our soul’s purpose and stepping into our fullness, naked and courageously intimate with life. Because, just like all life, my highest self is participatory.
As was spoken in one of our Women Moving the Edge gatherings: What if following your passion/bliss/joy/pleasure were the way, and creating the new world were a by-product? Life is happening anyway, whether we participate fully or not.
Wisdom consists in doing the next thing that you have to do, doing it with your whole heart and finding delight in doing it.
– Helen Luke, www.applefarmcommunity.org
It might be obvious by now that living an emergent life in resonance with your deeper calling is an act of what Otto Scharmer calls ‘open will’. In other terms, we could say you have landed in the stream of evolution and, in full awareness of that, you surrender to it. If we engage in life in this way, our normal kind of decision-making apparatus simply no longer applies. The ‘Getting Things Done’ approach is not geared to this kind of generative living. I have to let go: surrender my calling, my life path, my will, and relinquish everything to life. That means leaning into the mystery, as you would lean into a wind tunnel, trusting you won’t fall on your face.
Living in Open Will, you allow yourself to be guided by those unique inner prompts, calls and synchronicities. You no longer worry about having some kind of over-arching strategy or label for your role. You go with the promptings of your gut and all the other feedback from life. Sometimes you say yes to something and later you have to pull out because the inner message has changed. Life wants us to be well, so if what you are doing feels heavy in any way, then it goes out the door. This doesn’t mean that anything can come and go on a whim, because often your soul is insistent and requires quite some long-haul persistence. You learn to be present to the call moment by moment.
There seems to be a paradox in letting go of our habits and known strategies, letting go of our free will only to then surrender ‘to being used’ by something else! That is exactly what Open Will is about. The good news is that life only wants you to be you, your ordinary self, in your own unique way. This simplifies your life in some way, because all that remains is what really matters.
I need you because of us
Following this path, you inevitably reach a point where you need other people who also live from this place of inner inspiration – not just for encouragement and support, but also in order to realise (even) more of your potential. I well remember the moment when I realised that I could no longer evolve on my own. In this practice of participating fully in life, I need others with whom to share and express more of what I am able to see and do. I need a collective (a group, a team – whatever you call it) to be able to go deeper into myself, to become more of who I am; not in the personality-habit sense, but in order to shed ever deeper layers of those habits and reveal more of what is latent in me. We need each other – I need you, because of us.
In a morning meditation, Les realised: “… how being in this circle calls me to be no more and no less than fully present. ‘It is not up to me…’ meaning: ‘I don’t have to do this by myself, I’m part of the collective’, and ‘it is totally up to me….’ meaning: when I’m not present (and coming from a known story), the full resonance potential of the group doesn’t manifest.”
In our Women Moving the Edge gatherings we often repeated one of the agreements of circle practice: “Ask for what you need, and offer what you can.” This is a splendid agreement that can help make every group into a leader-ful one; everyone is invited to take responsibility for their own needs and passions and to offer their stories and gifts in service of the whole. Over time, though, we realised that there is more beyond this paradox of need and offer. As one woman put it: “No person alone can follow their own soul’s calling.” If we are on the level of soul, my need seems to be an offer, or at least an invitation to others. “I need you” then becomes an expression of interdependency, and the whole thing flips: the gift of my need becomes an invitation to others to be or become more fully who they are. The gift of need as invitation – my Western-trained personality is still trying to come to grips with this.
Quote from participant:
When this idea about need was present at Women Moving the Edge, it wasn’t about ‘neediness’ at all. It was about needing and inviting the other to be fully who they are, at the deepest and widest level; for that person to be appreciated and wanted for being that. It was about authentic interrelationship and interconnectedness in a way that we don’t often relate. For a soul to be needed as a soul is a huge opening.
In the Art of Hosting network we have a frequently-quoted saying: “It is kind to ask for help. The one who cannot ask for help, can not be trusted.” This saying comes from the Nuu-chah-nulth tribe of first nation people on the Pacific West Coast (Canada/Vancouver Island). The word that covers all of this is ‘Aphei’. These people hunted whales with harpoons, so it was clear that if a tribe member took on a task that was bigger than they could manage on their own, they endangered not only themselves but everyone else on the hunt. While the saying speaks about the importance of relationship in community, it is equally true for all of life. We need to stand together. This is what we need, this is what we can offer: to stand together in our soul’s calling, because it cannot be done on our own. We are so much more together than alone. There is beauty when we recognise, acknowledge and articulate the ways in which we need each other.
Quote from participant:
I have had this image recently of there being a Helen-shaped-(w)hole in the cosmos. My job now is to unwarp myself. My conditioning, upbringing, education, survival strategies have warped me away from my authentic original shape. Until I can massage myself back, re-find my authentic original shape, I am not quite fitting in the cosmos. That whole feeling of there being a Helen-shaped hole as a place where I slot, where I fit seamlessly, and where I belong, is not a solitary place. There are others in proximity, in closeness. When we come close together, it is easier for each of us to step into who we really are, nothing more, nothing less. We cover more bases. It’s the diversity we have together. We only exist in this interconnected whole. This whole is evolving together, that is why I cannot evolve on my own. I am really sensing the limits of our language here. It doesn’t speak this language of interconnectedness; subject-verb-object never speaks of the reciprocity.
In chapter 7 we will explore in depth the power and practice of witnessing, seeing each other as we really are – the soul who recognises another soul, because a full integration of our soul’s calling requires the recognition (through others) of oneself as “exemplary of our authenticity” (words from Bonnitta Roy).
I need you, because of us.
I need you, because of the web of life.
Can we live as the Earth?
What if the need of the planet, of Earth,
is an invitation to all of us to become who we really are?
to reach our full potential?
– excerpt from blog
Our tendency to conceptualize our own mental activities in terms of subject-object relations and of the inner-outer dimension has been noted, as has the evident ease with which we project these notions inward and outward to explain all manner of creation and change, stability and intractability. We have an ancient heritage of thought about essence and appearance, form and matter, about the necessary as universal and the contingent as variable. These ideas are so interwoven and so deeply entrenched in our intellectual tradition that it is difficult to think in other terms. Attempts to find alternative ways end up being complicated and obscure, thus only contributing to the conceptual inertia they are challenging.
– Susan Oyama, The Ontogeny of Information
Mutations have always appeared when the prevailing consciousness structure proved to be no longer adequate for mastering the world. This was the case in the last historically accessible mutation which occurred around 500 BC and led from the mythical to the mental structure. The psychistic, deficient mythical climate of that time presented a threat, and the sudden onset of the mental structure brought about a decisive transformation. In our day the rationalistic, deficient mental structure presents an equal threat, and the breakthrough into the integral will also bring about a new and decisive mutation.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever Present Origin, p294
At the moment of mutation, a previously latent aspect of the world is not just set free; its release reveals for a few decades a more intense radiance of origin.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever Present Origin, p295
The original articulation of the purpose of our gatherings, ‘moving the edge of collective intelligence’ was adequate at the outset of our journey of exploration. Over the years, however, the term ‘collective intelligence’ has been used to describe many things by different people, and none of those truly corresponded to our shared experiences. Accordingly, we toyed with terms like ‘collective wisdom’ (including the heart in our intelligence) and ‘collective leadership’ (stressing the aspect of shared leadership), but none of these really fit either. It took some years before we settled on the term ‘collective presencing’, building on the name given to the work pioneered by Otto Scharmer, with the difference that our work gave much greater attention to the specific dimensions of the inner, the subtle and the collective.
It is no longer a secret that a paradigm shift is ongoing in our world today. The mutation described by Jean Gebser (see quotes) is much more profound than most people imagine. It is not simply a next step in our development, which will call for some training – as challenging as that may be. Rather, it is a radically new way of perceiving life and reality in general, which influences the totality of our thinking, feeling and behaving, grounded in a different place than we are used to. Firstly, this movement transcends paradoxes, dichotomies and dialectical thinking. In the West, we tend to understand polarity as dualities, opposites or antinomies whereas the Asiatic view tends to experience it as complementaries, correspondences and interdependence. We are now heading towards an embrace of these ‘opposites’ or ‘paradoxes’, integrating them into a totally new view and – just as important – into corresponding new practices.
The current chapter serves as a transition from a Circle of Presence to a Circle of Creation, the term we have coined to denote the collective entity that practices collective presencing at its fullest potential. There is a world of difference between learning to be present in a circle of people (the practice in a Circle of Presence, with all that it entails in terms of clarity on emotional issues and the like) and becoming truly co-creative and generative in and with life itself. The difference is not superficial – indeed, there is a chasm to cross: to transition from a Circle of Presence to a Circle of Creation is to make the very paradigm shift that is currently embroiling humanity at this time. Here we look at some of the facets of that shift, and seek to offer a glimpse of what life could look like on the other side. Taken together, the practices that reflect this shift suggest the emergence of a new human capacity: a collective and shared sensing, ‘insighting’ and generating capacity. I speak here not of a new, unified ‘We’, or ‘we-field’ where our egos love to belong, but of a uniquification-in-diversity (term from Bonnitta Roy) of being human and being alive on this earth.
I hope that by offering some distinctions and being as precise as possible about the differences, I can shed more light on what is and becomes possible. By sharing the bigger picture, I envision that people will be able to recognise the next step they want to take, that they will now be able to integrate what had previously been beyond their view. Just as reading books and interviews by Otto Scharmer and many others, and attending numerous Art of Hosting training sessions allowed me to garner the practices and language for what I was – and we were – experiencing, so I now wish to contribute to this field of knowledge and practice.
The dawning of Integral Consciousness
As predicted mid-way through the last century by Jean Gebser, integral consciousness is emerging in humanity at this time. In his fascinating book The Ever-Present Origin, he offers many definitions of integral consciousness, calling it an a-perspectival consciousness structure, “a consciousness of the whole, an integral consciousness encompassing all time and embracing both man’s distant past and his approaching future as a living present.” With the dawning of this consciousness, the artificial structures and boundaries of dualistic thought become transparent, allowing us to ‘see’ beyond them and invite life to present itself to us more directly, putting us on the path that leads out of the maps and into the territory.
This kind of integral consciousness affords us fresh insights into our world, illuminating some of the collective shadows that threaten to draw global civilisation into a spiral of destruction. We see that, as a result of the hyper-rational, dualistic worldview that shapes the dominant culture in today’s Western world, every aspect of our society is founded on dichotomies that split the world into mutually exclusive parts, which we then organise our lives around as if they were real. We see this reflected everywhere we look: in spiritual and religious traditions founded on the split between light and dark, good and evil; in scientific and professional disciplines sundered from each other by classifications which have ossified into nigh-on unbreachable barriers; in architecture and lifestyles that seek to protect human society from incursions by (wild) nature, and so on.
Dialectical thinking (currently considered to be the most advanced form of our cognitive and intellectual capacity) sees reality as a tension between thesis and antithesis, to be resolved by means of a synthesis. This conceptual reasoning has a major pitfall: the synthesis takes us each time to a higher level of abstraction, moving us away from the experiences of life itself. The synthesis then becomes a new thesis, reaction to which creates a new antithesis, requiring further abstraction to reconcile the tension in a fresh synthesis. Many centuries in this mental paradigm have done more than enshrine the idea of ‘progress’ as our highest social ideal. So mired are we in dialectical thinking that we now even see evolutionary change in these terms.
The dissolution of artificial boundaries that accompanies the emergence of integral consciousness opens out into a space so different that we scarcely have the words to describe it — indeed, we begin to recognise just how short language falls in conveying the richness of the phenomenological flux that is our ongoing experience. So-called opposites such as ‘inside/outside’, ‘self/other’, ‘personal/impersonal’, ‘body/mind’, ‘society/nature’, ‘us/them’, ‘global/local’, ‘singular/plural’, ‘figure/ground’, ‘before/after’ lose their meaning as such — and since such polarities bear no more relevance, the very concept of ‘perspective’ drops away. This brings a whole different meaning to the aphorism “We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” As I/we step into this ‘a-perspectival’ space, the world is transformed, and so is my/our experience of it. I/we step out of the mental map and into the territory of life itself. The shift is fractal: the pattern repeats at every level of scale, from the personal to the global, inner, outer, visible, invisible, singular, plural, past, present, future.
Through the practices of a Circle of Presence, as described in the previous chapters, we come to realise that our understanding and thinking need to align with our body and our subtle, animal senses – and then we practice life accordingly. Living in the territory, unconditioned by old maps and models, novel knowing arises from direct experience, and the entangled body/mind is re-membered as the creative faculty through which new realities arise.
The full potential of collective presencing, as it is enacted in the Circle of Creation, widens and deepens the embodiment of this new paradigm, presaging a transformation in every aspect of our experience:
- Being a unique and individuated individual becomes the condition that offers the requisite diversity needed for a totally present and generative group space.
- Time and space are interwoven more deeply, more seamlessly into our overall experience in novel and subtle ways.
- Being alive is being present to the pulse of what is unfolding now (instead of a repetition of past habits).
Where dialectical reasoning creates new mental syntheses from pairings of opposites, we are now able to perceive the actuality and phenomenology of life as it unfolds. Instead of understanding the world in terms of static structure, we now – also – see dynamic processes everywhere: the dichotomies of dualistic thought morph into the generative orders underlying the continual becoming of all that is. Even time is liberated from its unidirectional progression from the past to the future, revealing the seamless and eternal dance of the fruit and the seed, whereby the potentials of the future generate the actualities of the present at the same time as the actualities of the present realise the potentials of the future.
The potential implications of such a paradigmatic shift for both the individual and the collective are mind-boggling. One defining characteristic that could help to apprehend the new paradigm might be named as ‘interpenetration’ and/or ‘interweaving’. The concept of partnership (meaning relationship between equals) is considered ‘state-of-the-art’ practice in participatory and sustainability circles; one thinks of partnership between people – stakeholders, businesses, public-private-civil society, men and women, universities and businesses, and so on. In the new paradigm, partnership is to be understood as a mutual influence that goes in all directions and through all dimensions; actually directions and dimensions fall away entirely. We extend beyond partnership with humans only and into reciprocal relationship with everything that exists, however we wish to parse that out: co-creating with nature, with place, with the social field, with the subtle realms, with the field of potential… all the while realising that boundaries exist as membranes of connection and that influence and learning can go all the way up and down, in and out, through the individual and the collective.
Another characteristic of the new paradigm could be articulated as a focus on and an openness to potential and generative actions; seeing and experiencing all of life as a process. The narrative of today’s mainstream society is one of problems and solutions, where the present is a problem and the cause is (in) the past. It shows us a world of turbulence and complexity that we must somehow navigate and seek to guide to our human ends. The new paradigm offers a much wider and deeper view, seeing the opportunities implicit in the present, building on what came before, choosing to focus on what else is possible and opening to what is emerging. This calls us to be fully present to all that is – perceived difficulties and strangers included – allowing it all to participate in the arising of the novel. There is a constant opening up in many directions and to many dimensions, from a present sense of aliveness in ‘this is what is’, to the possible next unfoldings immanent in every moment-of-now. Our attention and intention are focused on the ever-present process of enacting more of our (human and other) potential.
Here are some examples of how life unfolds in the new paradigm, what it might be like – and what it entails – to live there.
Beyond Us and Them – by circles of expanding diversity
One difference between a Circle of Presence and a Circle of Creation is the wider meaning of diversity of who and what we invite in. Inviting in more diversity runs counter to the unifying trend we see unfolding in the current paradigm: a pattern of inexorable cultural hegemony whereby the dominant culture (let’s call it neo-liberal capitalism) forces more and more people and cultures to capitulate to its values – which of course represent only a tiny fraction of the sum total of human experience. In the cultural conflicts simmering and exploding by turns all over the planet, we see the truth that cultures are incommensurable: they cannot be judged relative to each other or reduced to common denominators. The loss of diversity that would result from the imposition of a monolithic human culture would preclude any further ability to evolve!
In the practice of a Circle of Creation, the meaning of diversity changes, and that with which we can claim kinship and partnership expands beyond culture, gender, even species. We can begin to embrace and express more of our nature than just what we have come to think of as ‘human’ – much of which we have actually inherited from our animal nature: the capacity to play and bond, our energetic sense of place and space, our instinctive inner knowing about timing and rhythm, a natural synergy of nurturing and leadership and so much more. This is the diversity we must weave ourselves back into if we wish to navigate the complexity of our world with ease and grace.
When we invite diversity into our shared inquiry, this diversity is not restricted to the different views, ethnicities, ages and backgrounds of the people we have called in. To become a Circle of Creation we need not only to be fully present (with thinking, feeling, sensing and reflecting), but also to see the invitation inherent when so-called ‘disturbance’ shows up and so-called ‘strangers’ enter the room. We can learn how to embrace difference through empathic conversation, but we need to take our conversational skills one step further and learn to engage in deep, generative dialogue. Ultimately we need to practice, again and again, how to speak and live generatively – all the time, with all the people around us, and with everything else that exists.
Being fully present in a co-creative endeavour is in itself an expression of love. In cultivating the capacity to be in co-creation with many different people, rather than seeking to be just with like-minded souls, we discover an astonishing truth: you don’t need to like everyone, but you can love them all! Beyond sympathy and even empathy there is a sense of love that is accessible and that is the only thing that counts in journeys of joint creation. We speak here of unconditional love, not entrammeled by the attachment we usually associate with that emotion. The love at play here is not the energy of missing someone, or preferring one place, person or situation over another – I see it as the connective and energetic fabric that encompasses all that is in life and alive – even beyond the boundaries we associate with death. This kind of love seeks to be of service and flows through us, not from us.
Beyond Knowing and Feeling – through collective inquiry and sourcing
As we learn to experience ourselves as embedded in the continuous process of creation rather than separate from it, and as we step away from our mental models and into direct relationship with what is and what is unfolding, we open up to a wholeness of knowing that weaves mental and conceptual clarity with subtle sensing and, above all, with the implicit, tacit understanding – our felt sense – that comes to us through the body before we can access it with the intellect. All practices of embodiment allow us to more fully and strongly experience that all-at-once knowing that embraces information coming from our inner states and feelings as well as our thinking and noticing from the living world around us.
Whereas we start to practice this wholeness of knowing in a Circle of Presence, in the Circle of Creation we expand it into a continuous collective inquiry. When we see life as an unfolding of potential into an ongoing flow of actual events and experiences, it is natural to stay in inquiry about what is the next thing that becomes possible. In our circles of diversity – and in life as a whole – we are continually and unquenchably curious about what is next. It is simply how we consciously, intentionally and voluntarily live our human evolution. To remain in constant collective sensing, inquiry and reflection is to stay connected to this eternal unfolding. We learn by experiencing, immersed in the fullness of life, and immediately reflecting on our learning so that we can apply it to the next step and iteration.
It is important to recognise and to remember that we remain in this collective inquiry throughout the whole process of whatever it is we are inventing. It is like a design process which does not end when the first prototype has taken shape. The inquiry continues and deepens from one prototype to the next. Too often, we see a group of people going deep into an inquiry process, finding a new perspective, idea or solution, only to fall right back into business-as-usual to bring the innovation to manifestation, all the while forgetting that implementation and scaling are also steps in the process that need innovation and novel application.
Because our inquiry is collective, we help each other experience, recognise and name both the process and its elements as these unfold – never forgetting the role of language as a descriptor of our experience, an evoker of experience in others, not a true depiction of reality. As we invite ever more diversity of experience and expertise into our circle, we find ourselves constantly in shifting roles – sometimes master, sometimes journeyman, sometimes apprentice – as all practice the skills present in the collective, at whatever level of mastery, acknowledging that there is always more to learn, more to refine, more to understand.
Guided by an inspiring question, one which challenges our assumptions and invites us to novel thinking, our inquiry is not closed until some novel understanding – a sudden, collective ‘now we know’ – has been reached. This communion in novel attention has a specific flavour to it, a kind of shared stillness that coincides with a shared felt sense: decisions are not taken, rather, they emerge by themselves as a collective knowing what to do. This will be hard to recognise for someone who has not yet experienced it, but once you have, you long for this magic in the middle to happen again. In searching for the emergent, we can get only a coherent, collective sense of the one next, minimal step that is aligned and resonant with the whole, and that becomes possible only when we use all our faculties of knowing, together.
Beyond Humans and Nature – by unique contribution to life
Integrating humanity and nature in ourselves goes beyond being ‘sustainable’ or ‘living within the limits’. As much as this is needed, it does not weave us humans back into nature, nor reconcile us with the animal nature we have inherited from our evolutionary antecedents. Co-evolving, in this context, means that we know our place as humans in a world that is more-than-human and more-than-visible, recognising and accepting that we influence it and are influenced by it. Again it is the interweaving that we need to become aware of. Fully accepting to belong in the commonwealth of life on Earth means that we experience nature’s life systems – animals, trees, places etc. – as being imbued with psycho-activity as well as physicality; with subject status as well as object status. And this, in turn, means that we encounter the living, more-than-human world in a reciprocal way, embracing the poetic and intensely intimate and personal responses that spring from our engagement with a psycho-active universe.
The future that our hearts tell us is possible — the future that is not a mere continuation of the past – comes from heeding your own soul’s calling and how that calling responds to the call of life. A living and active relationship with that call brings each of us to live our own unique expression as our best – and only possible authentic – contribution to the whole of which we are an inalienable part. While the individual personality, shaped as it is by individual programming, is indeed unique, arising as it does out of personal history, it actually cloaks the deepest, truest self more than it expresses it. Once we learn to live from our deeper core, responding from that place to the call of life, the personal becomes impersonal – all the while remaining utterly unique. In fact, the more unique you get, the greater your contribution to the whole. In the new paradigm, being of service – as an individual woven into different human and more-than-human collectives – seems to be what life is about. Beyond the tensions of ‘me’ and ‘we’, serving the whole brings fulfillment beyond imagining.
I think the difference is that, when I hear colleagues talk about this in other settings, there isn’t necessarily the dimension or intention of serving life. It’s more about serving the team, serving the organization, or serving whatever goals or outcomes are important. So for me, this other dimension makes the circle work differently.
– Otto Scharmer interviewing the Circle of Seven
Might this not be a feature of more integrated people and groups that we can measure our actions by how much we are serving and generating more life, including our own unique gift that we bring?
Weaving ourselves back into nature also means coming to terms with and fully ‘re-membering’ our animal nature. So much of what the Circle of Creation is about – the embodiment, subtle sensing, intuitive right timing, natural rhythm; being an intrinsic part of a tribe or a collective; collectively knowing what is next to do – belongs to our deepest nature and is in no way unique to us as humans. It is part of our heredity from our ancestors in the animal realm. Throughout evolution, humans have shaped the Earth and the Earth and all living creatures have shaped us. This is just as true today and will be no different in the future. The more conscious we are of how we all – humans, animals and Earth alike – belong to life itself, and how we can co-create the next form together, the more beauty and delight there will be – and part of our unique role is to revel in the feeling of it.
Beyond Masculine and Feminine – by creating and generating more of life
The capacity to generate, inherent in the new paradigm, can be seen as a natural interplay or synergy of the masculine and feminine archetypes. Each and every one of the facets described above constantly interweaves with and interpenetrates the others. Masculine and feminine are sometimes used as a fixed polarity, where the one has specific qualities which the other has not. However, in order to support and reflect life, which is constantly becoming, creating, generating, the synergy of all masculine and feminine energies and capacities needs to be deeply embodied within each of us.
In the mammalian world, we can see a natural co-existence of leadership – in the sense of taking a stand and clear action – and nurturing qualities. In the Western world these qualities have been assigned or linked to different genders. For some reason, at some point in time, the main feature to develop and evolve became individuation, whereby human beings have become more aware and conscious. This process has supported the development of our capacity to reflect and conceptualise and our agentic behavior. We seem now to have reached a point where we are becoming conscious that this capacity and behaviour is out of balance with the relational qualities that we also have and are now desperately in need of. Real creation – creation that serves life – is possible only when we inhabit the whole scale of qualities and energies. The state of our world today is in need of the insights and knowing that can be brought to the table by this new balancing and deeper integration.
Probably because they have received less attention and accordingly lower value, the qualities and skills related to the nurturing side of being human are less well articulated in our daily lexicon. These have to do with, for example, inner ways of knowing and subtle sensing, the value and importance of community, the practice of ‘organic’ organizing and more. There is a shared belief – quite unconscious for most people – that these values, these ways of knowing and living are somehow less valid and significant than those related with leadership and agency.
If we wish to achieve a deeper integration and synergy of all our capacities, we need to find the language and the distinctions to precisely and clearly articulate our nurturing aspects. Sensing the subtle layers of reality, knowing what is going on in the inner dimensions of a situation provides essential information when addressing any complex question. It is time to offer this wisdom in a gentle and precise way.
I could wish there were a single word to describe the growing capacity to generate – by which I mean ‘creation through discovery and discovery through creation’, again the interweaving: we cannot tease them apart. As we lean together in collective inquiry into the realm of unmanifest potential, as we fall in love with the possible future, that which we ‘dis-cover’ gets created. Our collective inner knowing confirms that what we create is in some way already here: the future potential and possibilities are present, ready and available to be engaged.
Beyond the collective wisdom that can arise from a Circle of Presence, a Circle of Creation spawns the possibility to generate more of life’s potential; both in the sense of re-generating – replenishing what we have taken and reconstituting what we have damaged – and in the sense of creating something novel that has never existed before.
 Freya Mathews – On Desiring Nature, Indian Journal of Ecocriticism, 3, 2010, 1-9
Next: 5.3 Women Moving the Edge – part 5
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