And because time as such is coming to an end and is being supplanted by time freedom, any temporal projection ‘forward’ is illusory and illusionary.
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-Present Origin, p296
Calling in the potential by living it
Excerpt from my blog:
I feel a lot of juice in the collective silence that is waiting, expecting… when we are together in the not-knowing-yet. It feels like making love with the potential of the future. Just like in lovemaking you are totally open, ready to be surprised, and not exactly knowing how it will be this time. Being in love with this future potential, moment by moment, seems to me the best definition of being alive – and it is basically the core practice of our gatherings!
In most cases, learning to walk and run happens from the experience of falling forward with grace. In these times, this image helps me. I feel myself tumbling forward in the saying of yes. Falling forward in the availability of shifting consciousness, and how it changes the game. Learning to find my legs.
‘Calling in the potential’ is the best way I have found to enunciate the concept, and the embodiment, of this constant awareness of being in relation with potential, with source, with origin. This includes the ongoing awareness of the space between where we are now and the potential for innovative manifestations. We started out by naming it ‘calling in the future’, but this invited the temptation to see it as a linear extension of what is now, overlooking the complexity involved. Besides being aware of our relationship – our interrelatedness and interwovenness – with people, with places, with nature, subtle timing and so on, we have a sense and an awareness of the not-yet-manifest that is waiting to be born. We are putting love in the middle between ourselves and the next possibility, loving this space of in-betweenness, this bowlful of potential. It also means suspending both judgment and ego patterns when we are informed by source and a next step becomes clear. It is not that we are calling or inviting ‘it’ in, as if it is somewhere ‘out there’ and we call it to come ‘over here’. The potential is here, in us and all around us, always.
Fundamentally the future is present. … these are the right people, this is the right place, the right time, and the right process.
– Barrett Brown
The by-line of Women Moving the Edge was ‘to move the edge of consciousness’. That is no small purpose! It was clear from the outset, that if we wanted to move the edge, we need to invite the future in. We did this by organising the gatherings and fully immersing ourselves in a new way of being together. We were inviting people not to a nice get-together, but rather to step into a field, into a way of being and doing that holds the potential for the future. Somehow, we were seeking to create a disconnect from our starting point, by jumping into the future and then building a bridge back into the present. If we just move step by step from here and now, we are in danger of getting more of the same, more of what we already have and do and are. But if we take the time in the here-and-now to inhabit the space of our full potential – and what is embodied in the field – we can invite that potential right into the here-and-now, opening the field to all that is possible.
I know, from the countless therapy sessions I have conducted, that even though most presenting problems stem from situations a long time ago, healing happens in the present moment. How can we apply this insight to change and transformation relating to the future? If healing takes place in the now because we access the past and the present in some kind of field that is beyond time and space, might the same not be true for the manifestation of future events? This prospect invites the integration of the ‘time freedom’ Gebser refers to. I cannot claim to fully understand this, let alone embody it, but I sense that I am drawing ever closer.
Quote from participant:
We co-create a container that is then impregnated by our inquiry. And then we sit and wait the time it takes for everything to cook. Then we birth out patterns, or forms, into the world. – Helen
You might remember that I started writing this book in earnest in a beautiful place in Greece, called Axladitsa-Avatakia. It was described as “not a retreat centre, or another seminar centre, but a home where we live the future; a place of living wholeness, as an example for how we will need to live in the future”. Each year the women who stewarded this place organised an ‘Immersion’ gathering, inviting participants to live wholeness, to live the future now. Similar to the Women Moving the Edge, it created a focal point in space and time where people could gather around an inquiry and become, together, ‘a landing strip for the future’.
Inviting – invoking
When working with ritual and ceremony it is easy to fall into rather rigid attachment to specific forms of being together, of what needs to be said and done, when and where. I no longer remember where I picked up the distinction that can be made between ‘ceremony’ and ‘ritual’. Ceremony is when you live as nature does, in natural flow and reverence for life. Ritual is when you want to invoke the energy of ceremony with the intention of connecting with life.
The way circle is practiced in collective presencing – the quality of attention those present hold for each other, for the place and so much more – most resembles this quality of ritual. Our ultimate wish is to blend with life’s energy in all its dimensions, so that living the sacred becomes everyday practice. Thus, despite the attention, care and artistry we devote to it, we don’t want to make it into something special. We create the simplest possible form that can invite in the poetic response from the world. Letting go, having patience, setting aside our opinions and judgments – all these can be seen as part of the ritual that allows us to bring ourselves into closer alignment with life.
The process of finding and articulating the right question for the collective inquiry can be seen as the current form of the ancient practice of invocation at the beginning of rituals. In this process, those involved sense more deeply into the potential they have been drawn in by. Articulating this with precise wording allows the collective felt sense to be named. This is the intentional space into which a wider circle of participants will then be invited. It is a very specific field, a bounded enclosure resonant with our shared intention, into which we invite more of life. Exactly what this ‘life’ consists of can be named however you choose – whatever fits for you in this regard: a poetic response from the world, elemental beings, subtle energies, other realms, beyond the veil… anything goes, depending on your cosmology. In the collective here-and-now we invoke a seed of potential which we coax into the manifest realm through our aliveness, our being on the edge together.
The naming and the reaching out are the active part out of this process. But surrender is also required: letting go of any planning and control in order to be receptive for the information life offers regarding your invocation. This combination of agency and surrender invokes a quality of interpenetration between realms so that the universe can operate coherently across dimensions. I must confess to feeling some (socially conditioned) awkwardness as I write about this. I think it has to do with the false belief that we exist only in and on the material plane, even though we all can and do sense much more, both inside and outside ourselves: we exist also in the inner depths and the outer vastness.
Quote from participant:
The awakened human is like a multidimensional nodal point, anchored in the physical realm and receptive to contact from other realms, on condition of actively reaching out and inviting in. – Helen
Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, in Alchemy of Light, speaks of co-creation with the forces of life, with the archetypes. This is another notion that points us to a much larger context of being and creativity in which we are constantly immersed. If, when we articulate our guiding question, we are in collective resonance with life, then life will respond. Nothing else is possible. So it is that, when we listen for ‘what wants to happen’, we hear nothing more nor less than the whispers or echoes of our own deeper intent. If we understood this more deeply, we could so much more easily and wisely manifest new systems and products that truly serve our well-being.
Non-material life, in whatever form we conceive of it, cannot not answer an invocation – or so the mystery schools teach us. The subtle realms are fascinated and attracted by the physical, and will always show up when invoked. It is therefore important that we invoke not mischief, but what is healthy and wholesome for the greater whole.
As an illustration, many years ago a group of us conducted a systemic constellation where we called this kind of energy the (Jedi) ‘Force’. We laughed when it presented itself in the exercise, but for me it held a huge lesson. After some cumbersome movements in the constellation around an issue on the scale of Europe, we ended the constellation and did a debrief. The man representing the Force said “You didn’t ask me for help! I could do anything!” “Such as what?” I wondered. He replied, “Like anything! Bringing you to the moon or anything!” And yet, it had simply not occurred to any of us to ask this force for help! As humans, we are so accustomed to seeing ourselves as the pinnacle of creation that we ignore the other energies present in the universe that also deal with creation. All we have to do is invite them in!
At this juncture, we can extrapolate from ‘being held by the group’s field’ (chapter 3 I and Us) to a larger scale: the group-in-here-and-now needs to learn, and gradually embody, the truth that it is held in and supported by an even wider field. We live at a time when we are invited to relinquish our sense of being isolated (and alienated) beings in a strictly material universe, in order to make room for the mystery of creation. Through our intention we can invoke that which is relevant to the transformation of now. We don’t have to make it happen. We don’t have to come up with the newness ourselves. We simply have to offer our own consciousness as a vessel, as a gateway into this space and this moment, for all that is swarming in the liminal space that we have assumed for so long to be empty.
Interweaving and interpenetration
In terms of the implicate order one may say that everything is enfolded into everything.
– David Bohm
Can we stay in the practice? Can we bridge the gaps between the habitual and the new ways? Can we navigate through life holding both a glimpse of the new and the frustration of falling back into old habits or failing to lead the others into the new? Practice is to be in that state that bridges human and cosmic worlds, big nature and minute nature. It is so much vaster than the human realm, vaster than the question of whether we will make it through the coming transition with our Internet, hot running water and soft towels intact. One of the core assumptions of Neuro-Linguistic Programming is that the solution space is larger than the problem space. In order to bridge the gap between the one thing and the other, we need to be in a space which contains and transcends both ends of the spectrum as a much smaller feature of the landscape in the larger space. This means that we can take our eyes off the ball, so to speak, realising that the challenges we face are less of a big deal than we tend to think. Instead, we can approach things in a natural, paradigm-bridging way that can shift the field without effort, because the practice is about connecting into a much vaster space.
Quote by participant:
Building on that – the dance, the shifting of focus from something minute and detailed to something huge, and then linking that with our individual stories, sometimes what we bring into the circle is a detail, something very small, and sometimes what we bring in is overarching, overwhelming, and the collective is then called to flow, to dance between, to stretch from the minute and tiny to the planetary… – Nina
It seems as if we are bridging the gaps: the gaps between the individual and the collective, between the subtle and the manifest, the tangible and the intangible, the ordinary and the divine. If we really take this to heart and understand that intention and attention are at the core of creating – that is like bridging the gap between mind and matter.
Excerpt from my blog:
As in lovemaking, a lot of what is going on between the two partners is not only physical, but includes many subtle movements and exchanges of energies. What we understand now more and more in our exchange here is that we can create our reality in a love-making with the subtle dimensions. You could even use the concepts of interpenetration, of embracing… at least we participate, from our three-dimensional space, in the other dimensions – and in return these more subtle dimensions influence us and this dimension of space and time. It becomes impossible to know where one dimension ends and another begins; again like in good lovemaking where you can’t remember who started which move or who initiated what. Most likely there are no clear boundaries between dimensions anyway, not even between people or things, as we all are formed by our exchange and living together with others and all that surrounds us. – Ria
Next: 9.4 Wild and magic – WMtE part 9
If you are looking for a pdf of this section, just send me a message!
The field of systemic constellations introduced the concept of ‘systemic conscience’ to the world. Systemic conscience is a systemic awareness of the system as a whole that will ‘use’ any member of the system – and most commonly the most vulnerable one (typically children, in the case of family systems) – to signal that someone or something that belongs to the system (the family, organisation, company, etc.) is not included in it. One way of understanding this is as the whole of a system’s field ‘using’ people to make something visible. We can extrapolate this notion of ‘systemic conscience’ to the field of the future, the field of potential. Otto Scharmer talks about “the future in need of us.” This can be seen as a similar dynamic – not, this time, to heal something from the past, as in typical systemic constellations, but rather, a field of potential that calls on different people to bring it into actuality. In this regard, participants in a Circle of Creation are in service of a greater, systemic purpose, as set out in 7.1, Collective Calling.
In one of my encounters with Bonnitta Roy, she came up with the – at that time – startling question: What are people for? This question landed home and stayed with me for quite some time. It arose from the awareness that so much of what we humans think is uniquely human is actually inherited from our animal anticedents. This being the case, what precisely do humans bring to the whole? What is the legacy of humanity that can bring all the rest of life forwards? There is much that humans can do, that (we assume) plants and animals cannot: we can self-reflect, manipulate abstract concepts, create something beyond ourselves, question something and be in not-knowing… But are these mostly conceptual capacities really our only unique contribution?
In recent years, the reality of a collapse of (Western) middle-class society – something that will fundamentally change our mainstream way of living – has been sinking in, a little more every day. In this context, the ability to hold an inner alignment, to stay present, centred and grounded in ourselves – instead of escaping into panic, powerlessness, distraction or denial – is crucial. We will be able to hold presence and awareness in the face of any kind of collapse only by being in circles (communities, teams, organisations, collectives), by staying in connection with each other. Without this shared and collective consciousness, we will tend to fall back into all kinds of regressive behaviours and be unable to achieve innovative insights and generative action. I think no one can imagine what the world and our daily life will look like in a few years from now. We will need each other for support, to rebuild the fabric of the collective and allow truly creative ideas come to fruition.
Not falling into old patterns is not the ultimate purpose here, however. It is simply a condition for doing the work. In the practice of Collective Presencing, it is the collective sourcing that brings in knowing and insights that we cannot access individually. Beyond the insights, aligning wider and deeper, we can collectively sense what potential is ready to manifest through us, because we add the awareness of here-and-now. This is what brings forth generative action. I sense that this is (part of) humanity’s evolutionary path: to learn to be in this collective practice that is – and leads – to generative action.
This seems to me to be one of the things that we, as humans, can add to life. In the meantime it can also allow the regeneration of much of what we have damaged and destroyed. I believe this is how humanity and life on the planet will move into the next phase of possibility. Collective practice, as it is emerging through the many experiments of We-spaces, teal organisations and ecosystem awareness, is essential for all the potential that wants to manifest. We are, collectively, in that birthing or pre-birthing process right now.
What seems unique to us as humans is the ability to design processes that invite co-creation and lead to life-affirming action. We see this in the building process that Christopher Alexander has been experimenting with, which leads to qualities like beauty and harmony. We recognise it, too, in any good permaculture practice, as it generates food while supporting more wildlife, building more resilience, and so on. The practices of the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter, too, are in essence about co-creation, both within the hosting teams and within the groups of participants. It is clear from these three examples that it is not about following rules, plans or formulae. It is an iterative experimental practice. They are all about co-creation with what is present, and at the same time the design process leads to novelty, beauty and adds more of life to what went before.
Fields and fields
As we have entered more and subtler sensing and awareness, the word ‘field’ shows up, as if by itself. Many people use this word, in different contexts, meaning different things. The best definition I have found is this: a field is a space in which an energy is held.
Like a physical field, we call something a field when we ‘see’ the boundaries around it. Otherwise we call it ‘nature’. So a field – in the energetic world – is to be seen not as a separate ‘thing’, but as a space of awareness in which an energy is held that we throw a loose boundary around so we can talk about it and sense into it. Just like individual people – whose boundaries, in the Western way of thinking, are quite fixed – fields have boundaries. But they are not forever immutable. As with individuals, the qualities and boundaries of fields will change due to many encounters with other energies, whether manifest or not.
Our Western-trained awareness has been one of fragmentation, of knowing facts and things with clear boundaries. The practice of Collective Presencing bends our awareness increasingly to what exists in between the facts, in between the people, in amongst all of life. This is why we speak of fields, but because there are many different fields – regions of awareness – to sense into and to talk about, some distinctions might be useful.
Rupert Sheldrake defines a field as ‘a region of influence’. Social, cultural fields are shaped by what has come before and expressed through strong habits/rituals – like the founding myths that give coherence to a collective cultural or organisational field.
When Otto Scharmer says “we need to learn from the future”, I understand this as meaning that we need to be in conscious relation with the field of potential, and sense what exactly out of this field is most likely to come to manifestation through us. Again, the field is not a thing, and neither is the potential! It can be seen as regions where our attention can go and notice something, but if we turn our attention away, there is just a big soup of energy – with us included!
Through our different gatherings, we came to see that there is a collective field, a collective potential or possibility, that we were all sensing before we gathered. Almost as if it ‘exists’ in itself, but again, it is not a thing! It is a possibility, a potential that we resonate with – where others do not. It is not we individuals coming together who then create ‘this field’ between us. The field, with its huge potential to manifest newness, was probably guiding us, inviting us, attracting us, seeking resonance with us, to come together in the first place. Again, it is not a question of which ‘caused’ the other. Resonances seem to happen, probably bubbling up out of life itself, traversing both manifest and unmanifest realms – and again, there is no boundary between the two! The field of potential is in need of us, embodied human beings, to make it visible, tangible, manifest. It is only through us that the potential can be embodied and can result in generative action that can actually change something fundamentally.
The field of unmanifest potential that we can collectively listen and sense into can be distinguished from the social and inter-subjective field that we hold among us (I and Us). Depending on where we put our attention, we can notice different sensations in each of these regions. We can see each individual in the circle as holding a pole of awareness, being in inner alignment. In between the poles – and in the awareness of it – the field of potential becomes tangible. It is a practice of multiple awareness to do this collectively, for collective purposes.
All these distinctions and attempted explanations still leave us with many more questions… This is life on the edge!
I’m interested in this field thinking. In groups we expand this thought process to contain you and your life as a full process, not just parts and bits. How can I think and feel you as a field? Not just as a personality but all of your life at once? Is there a possibility of this and how can we expand our thinking into this field thinking in a company or institution, a global process, a group, whatever.
– Thomas Hübl, in Beams and Struts
Quote from participant:
My sense is of being an instrument of the future unfolding, of playing my notes/chords to call in harmonic synchronization. Everything becomes less and less personal, slowly taking one step at a time. Moving into the impersonal, the fleetingly impermanent, the seemingly impermeable; and yet as each new horizon appears, I permeate, and am permeated, interpenetrated. As an embodied human presence born of and into an older system, the resonance of the new plays in me seeking the way along the frontiers of evolution. – Judy
Who is holding system-wide potentials?
In the third chapter we talked about what we understand as holding space, its main function being to hold the space open for the potential to manifest. In the global Art of Hosting network, we have noticed a pattern in working with complexity, that we articulate as follows: “It takes a field to hold a field.” In practice, this means that when seeking collective intelligence and collective wisdom through conversations with large groups, you need a (hosting) team that itself uses its collective wisdom. This cannot be done by a lone expert. But what about system-wide – and even world-wide – potential? Is anyone holding the space for potential at these scales, other than (or even) the powers that be (the 1%, the establishment)?
There are many individuals acting out on the world stage – just look at the massive outpouring of emotion before and after the Brexit and the Trump votes. We would do well to restore some kind of balance and collective grounded presence, both to sense into what actual inquiries and guiding questions are essential system-wide, and who are the groups and teams who will (can) hold the potential on these larger scales? What kind of group can keep the space open and not collapse into default thinking or emotional patterns – and then live up to the new insights and generative actions that come into view?
Quote by participant:
I would like to speak to the re-patterning of energy. It is really important to see the whole big context we are in now. It is a pattern interrupt; it is no longer for us to do business as usual. Part of what we need to be doing is holding the container in which the energetic pattern can reconfigure itself. Because there will be a certain amount of chaos and as we know from hosting – that is part of what holding is about, to keep a sense of containment, of calm, while all hell breaks loose. We don’t need to do anything in any particular way, but we have to hold the space in a more harmonious way so that re-patterning can happen. – Helen
Many of you, reading this book this far, have heard the story of the Imaginal Cells – the early butterfly cells in the pupa in its cocoon that need to find each other in order for the butterfly to take shape. If we extrapolate from this metaphor to global or system-wide scales, we can ask: What is this cocoon, and who is holding the cocoon while the imaginal cells find and organise themselves to become the butterfly?
Some of us have been living and working with the practice of Collective Presencing, and have manifested small projects in this way. It seems that we are now asked to do so on much larger scales. What skills and capacities are needed to do this? It is one thing to hold the acquisition and renovation of a house and land in this way, for example. It is something quite different to hold a generative space for a country, a region, a local educational system, let alone even wider, more global systems. So much more is at stake, so much more is active in the field, so many more emotions flare up, so much more collective trauma is unconsciously held. In a way, it seems that all of that (emotional) movement needs to be held in a much, much greater emptiness and deeper emotional steadiness – the way a mother embraces and contains an overactive child.
Quote from participant:
At this time there seems to be a huge movement of groups of people searching for mature ways of being together and taking responsible action together. I feel that is a true movement towards cultural maturity. Perhaps we are trying to transform the ‘happenings’ of the 60’s and 70’s and the congresses of later decades into the councils of the emerging future. – Marianne
Maybe it is too early to do this on such a scale. We do see it these days on the scale of organisations and businesses, as this example testifies. How Brian describes their way of working strongly relates to much of what is described in these pages. He states: “The decision to love is also a paradox because one is committing to the person as they really are and to their highest potential — unconditionally accepting and valuing what is while also serving what wants to be. In some traditions this is expressed as “I love you just the way you are, and we have a lot of work to do.” This is essential in developmental work: to start honestly where we are and simultaneously to work to see and unlock the potential that could be.” This is a perfect description of what I have called holding space!
Being able to hold space on such a wide and comprehensive scale is a huge invitation – and challenge – for the people willing to do this collectively. The capacity to hold steady and stay present includes the ability to witness pain and ugliness on very great time scales and across huge territories.
Here is a recent quote by Jordan Hall, pointing to the relevance of Collective Presencing on a wider scale, right at this time when so much seems to be going the wrong way:
“By yourself, you can’t think non-linearly. This isn’t your fault. Individual human beings cannot think non-linearly. Only “collective intelligences” – those agents of “inter-subjective consciousness” – can. To put it more simply, we implement and do things as individuals. We innovate as tribes. And the world we live in today — the world of the 21st Century — is a world of continuous innovation. ….
The conflict of the 21st Century is about forming a Collective Intelligence that can outwit and out innovate all its competitors. The central challenge is to innovate a way of collaborating and cohering individuals that maximally deploys their individual perspectives, capabilities, understandings and insights with each other.”
Collective Presencing has the potential to become a practice for global governance. Holding space on this level is holding the meta-perspective of the species in the universe. What does a balanced governance look like in daily life, when it is in service of the greater whole?
World Soul – Anima Mundi
This inquiry leads us to the notion of ‘world soul’ – the English equivalent of the Latin ‘Anima Mundi’. Wikipedia says:
“The world soul (Greek: ψυχὴκόσμου, Latin: anima mundi) is, according to several systems of thought, an intrinsic connection between all living things on the planet, which relates to our world in much the same way as the soul is connected to the human body. The idea originated with Plato, … He wrote: Therefore, we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence … a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as: “the soul of the world; a power or spirit supposed to be diffused throughout the material universe, organising and giving form to the whole and to all its parts, and regularising the motions and alterations of the parts. Therefore we can say that it is akin in meaning to ‘cosmic order-generating (i.e. syntropic) energy’.”
The following memory might be an experience of the World Soul – or at least related with it… In the preparation day for the Women Moving the Edge gathering in Holland, I was sensing deep, deep energetic layers of reality. I understood that we were re-weaving the holes in the fabric of the collective connection. These holes were like tears at different places in the energetic fabric. They came into being because our lives, thoughts and actions have been so fundamentally fragmented for so long, without there being enough people holding strong enough intentions to keep this energetic fabric alive. I realised in that moment that we need many of these collectively-held intentions to be able to reweave and repair what has been torn for a long time.
What if the World Soul is the ‘field’ that is guiding us collectively? What if all humans – and all beings on the Earth – are there to bring the potential of the World Soul consciously into manifest form?
Excerpts from my blog:
Silence settled in, and we were all listening inwards to our next impulse, like in the exercise Karen had offered us the day before. The impulse that came up in my body was to bow. A very deep bow, so deep I ended up lying on the floor with my hands turned upwards in receiving position. I explained to the others that I wanted to bow deeply for the mystery that is the World Soul (that I had recently encountered in Return of the Feminine and the World Soul, by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee). Later on, Karen, our London guest, did just the same, but she didn’t use any words, which made it even more powerful as a statement.
I came to understand some more of what this World Soul means. Connecting in with it, this living substance of the Earth, is how right timing and right place can be sensed and discerned. …. Collectively we became more aware that there is nothing ‘to do’, nor even anything ‘to get’… it is all about surrendering and aligning to Life, whether we related to it as our individual Soul or the World Soul.
In a way, the very fact that we find ourselves more and more often in groups of people who sense they have something to do together – as we described in Collective Calling – could be seen as invitations from the World Soul, calling us – the humans – to rise up into full possibility. Again, let’s not fall into the trap of imagining us over here and the World Soul somewhere over there! We can indeed attune to the field of potential on such a large scale, and it can inform us and we can inform it. It is interweaving and interpenetration, from the individual all the way up to the Earth. The potential of the Earth, with humanity as an inherent part, cannot come alive without our doing our personal, individual parts and doing our very unique collective parts!
What if the need of the world – all our man-made constructions – is an invitation to all of us to become who we really are? To reach our highest collective human potential? To come, as humanity, into right relationship with the Earth?
But the old, aboriginal idea of how are we to live – and when I say aboriginal I don’t mean Australia, I mean wider than that – is actually the dreaming of a human being; the logos, the intelligence of a human being, can only go so far. Then there comes a point when you actually need to get dreamt by the land itself. Now that sounds rather esoteric, but actually it’s been a common policy in tribal groups all over the world for thousands and thousands of years.
– Martin Shaw, Myth and transition interview
What seems to be important here is the fluidity of our witnessing capacity. We are invited to shift the boundaries of our attention and move from a tree to an ecosystem to a leaf, to a membrane, to the planet… As the boundary shifts, so does the subtle energy, so does our relationship, so does our inner experience of our own size and shape. It all shifts as we shift the boundaries of our attention. So it’s the elasticity and the fluidity that seem to become more important. It’s a kind of dance that brings us into a very active, dynamic, co-creative relationship with what we’re witnessing.
If we integrate here the piece of knowledge from quantum science called ‘Schrödinger’s cat’, whereby the act of observing and intention ‘collapses’ the probablility waves of the electron into behaving as either a wave or a particle in its actual manifestation, we could say in simple terms: the intention influences the potential, because when the probability collapses into one manifestation, the other probabilities vanish.
Maybe what we are in need of right now are many groups who can hold collective intentions and collective fields of potential, who can, together, hold the World Soul and its other possible manifestations. This could be an alternative, another Earth-wide, world-scale intention, to counterbalance the groups and individuals currently holding the neo-liberal intention on the economic and political scene. It seems to me that if we can hold it Earth-wide, including the man-made world, all of nature and the subtle realms, our intention could be stronger than theirs as we invite more forces and energies to co-create with humanity. We are then not manipulating, but holding strong collective intentions for the good of the whole. We are in conscious co-creation with the other intelligences in the cosmos that we assume also have the highest benevolent aspirations for what they can get their arms around.
What if collectively holding the space for the unmanifest potential of humanity is a new form of governance, the next form of ‘doing politics’? This points to the big difference between the government of (parts of) the world, and governance of the eco-system of the Earth. It is beyond ‘being citizens of the world’ – how we have been thinking of ourselves, which has so severely limited and reduced us. It is about being, collectively, ‘inhabitants of the Earth’ – a very grounded way of being. Doing politics has a lot to do with power and domination, while governance of the Earth has to do with nurturing and stewarding, very alive, very embodied, very close to the ground.
Have we ever done this before? No.
Is it a big challenge? Yes.
And still, nothing stops us from trying, iterating and learning!
Doing this consciously and intentionally will change our common understanding of what it means – could also mean – to be alive. It seems to me that the purpose of being alive as a human being is the creation of the possible. Being alive as humanity then means becoming active players in this ecosystem with and in and on the Earth. As Brian Swimme points out, this is the first time in history – in evolution – that the human species has become a geological force. It is quite impressive to realize that, and to use our power to create in a generative, instead of an extractive, way.
Next: 9.3 In love with life’s potential
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When one takes up an intimate science with life, everything is found to be a field of relationships, both nested and open – patterns that weave in love, wonder and joy, that course as rivers in a floating sea of becoming. All relations are constellations of other relations, greater and smaller, without diminution of the ties that bind or the spaces that allow. The heavens are a mirror to the myriad constellations operating below, the tiny ways that a single word, gesture, or touch makes differences that the universe hears. A stone among many is but a relation in a constellation of relations, that once were a mountain, a great pressure, a star. Nothing can be ordered without the other, all the way around the mulberry bush. The overall effect is not of parts aligned by their mere comings and goings, but of the growth of one body capable of enormous feeling.
– Bonnita Roy, Facebook, 28 May, 2013
Organic beings and environment, however, interweave.
– Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, What is Life?
Messy coherence is the essence of managing complexity.
– Dave Snowden
In the Circle of Presence we described the movement of outer alignment as a widening of balance. Our journey didn’t stop at that point, however, but kept on going, teaching us that restoring balance is too small a concept, because we saw it as concerning only humans. Here in the Circle of Creation, we are in a process of integrating ever more subtle aspects of outer alignment. In other words, a growing awareness of the constant interweaving and interpenetration going on all the time, a wider embrace than the growing awareness of complexity and interrelatedness referred to in the Circle of Presence. ‘Coherence’ captures this notion better than ‘balance’.
Recalling chapter 5, where we described the journey of transitioning from a more linear paradigm to a more organic one, we realise that this is not about a conceptual understanding of complexity. Rather, it is about consciously embodying and living complexity in all aspects of life, a practice which ultimately leads to a truly generative life. This is no longer about ‘being in relationship with‘, or even ‘being related’. It is an awareness of ‘constant becoming together’ – a constant interpenetration and interweaving that can scarcely be articulated in our subject-object pattern of language.
People engaging in a Circle of Presence learn to navigate in four domains at the same time: observing/witnesssing what is going on in the self, consciously participating in the process with others, observing what is going on in a group and stepping up as leader when necessary and appropriate. All these levels of conscious participation are needed. Building on these capacities, we now take them further in a Circle of Creation, the purpose of which is not (only) to become present in a range of situations but also, through collective inquiry, to actually live life and work in a radically different and novel manner. We are now building on our capacity to operate from a place of authentic collective wisdom in service of action that is unique, authentic and coherent with the world, including ever deeper levels of our selves and as well as time, space and more subtle aspects of life. Thomas Hübl names this evolutionary practice in a question: “Which is the ‘doing’ that we are all connected to?” It is indeed a practice to become a conscious collective or group that is aligned with time and space and with its own intention. Our field of attention is forever widening and expanding, holding multiple dimensions at once.
This process of widening coherence is similar to what happens in a Circle of Presence: the process of inner alignment (in the vertical axis on the map) blends with another alignment that extends from the selves into what is around us (horizontal axis). We move from feeling more in balance with the people in our group to an experience of being in wider coherence with the world around. In a Circle of Creation, too, we can distinguish a number of widening waves, from I-in-Now through We-in Now and We-in-Here to We-Now-Here-and-Potential. Again, these different domains are not areas with clear-cut boundaries, but we separate them out for the sake of clarity.
Focus on: my soul’s calling
Open to: subtle interweaving in my self
Following the maps, and building on the capacity named in the chapter on I and Myself, we naturally seem to come to a point where openings to a truly authentic self manifest in more and different forms than we could ever have imagined. There comes a moment when we can more clearly discern the leitmotif in our life and understand the deeper purpose behind many widely diverse experiences. These seem to converge and weave a life that is not driven by mainstream standards or models, but feeds on the sparks of our own inner creative powers. Often this manifests in what I call ‘patchwork professional lives’, where we engage in many different projects, probably in different partnerships, perhaps combining different professions. This might look chaotic to outsiders, but to us it makes total sense because we clearly see the underlying pattern.
In this process of coming to grips with our soul’s calling – the best name I have found for it – there is a danger that our egos will play their last tricks with us. Some of us play it too small (It is not possible that ‘I’ should do this!), others play it too big (I have a special mission in life and everyone should know about it.) Even when we have overcome this hurdle, we might still tend, when confronted with big social challenges, to project our frustrations onto ‘the system’ (the hierarchy in large organisations, the way parts of society are organised, the government…). The invitation here is to participate fully in life without letting anything from ‘outside’ hold us back from doing what is ours to do.
Doing this will often mean taking a bold leap that results in that interweaving of life, work and passion. In such an arena, the typical notion of work-life balance is obsolete. We live and enjoy a very emergent life, with many projects – paid and unpaid – that speak directly to and from the soul.
Focus on: the collective calling
Open to: subtle interweaving within the collective
By now – as if this journey were linear! – we will have recognised that there is no real separation between I and us: I need the collective to be able to live life fully, just as the group needs my unique contributions and capacities in order to realise its full potential. We recognise that we belong to groups of people who feel called to the same purpose or intention. Building on the awareness and consciousness of all present, an amazing flow can be reached in which each can shine in their own unique way.
This collective flow seems like a magic undercurrent buoying up meetings and gatherings in such a way that the spark of life is ignited in many participants – a sacred crucible that births the innovative insights and answers so needed in our complex and ever-changing environment. At the same time, we need to train our patience muscle and learn to hold a great deal of intensity before we reach this point of collective grace. In the practice of collective sourcing, when we are all aligned within ourselves, we can encompass with our collective attention a much vaster field than we could ever manage alone. The circle itself becomes a much larger conduit, with an exponentially amplified potential for sourcing and inspiration. This is possible on condition that we learn to see the group as an ecosystem of which we – and everyone else present – are an integral part.
Focus on: subtle place and time
Open to: subtle interweaving with context
Living in this constant awareness of the unfolding of life requires us to collect the diverse intelligences from everyone present. The practice of fusion involves a complex journey of unlearning, letting go of our complicatedness in order to find the simplicity of the elegant next step. When consciously living in an evolving dynamic system, we understand that we can only sense and know that one single next step. This allows us to live collectively and continuously in the present moment. If this minimal, elegant next step is informed by and through our collective insights, how much more present would we be to life, to ensure that the next step we take is a wise one?
In the language of Theory U, moving from the bottom of the U up its right side, bringing our novel ideas into the world of manifestation, our Western-trained minds are strongly conditioned to fall back onto our planning and project management skills. How can we stay in awareness, and even expand our attention to the context and the time we are in, without getting caught up by the urgency of mainstream action orientation?
Place and Time, too, are aspects of life with which we are intimately connected and we can learn to extend our attention into these dimensions of our reality. This is how we weave ourselves back into nature and the whole of Earth and life, rediscovering natural rhythms and understanding the powers of a particular place. Greater outer alignment gives us more sensors for the whole system, for right timing and right action, for a sense of what fits.
We-Now-Here and Potential
Focus on: full generativity
Open to: full intimacy with all of life
“What if we ground in a reality that is emerging, always moving and in multi-dimensional and multi-vibrational ways?” This question that came out of a WMtE gathering in the summer of 2011 captures quite well the essence of the last column in our map. If you observe a truly creative group process, life is indeed like a soup with many ingredients that flavour each other. It is a soup that holds a lot of potential, as it isn’t a finished soup that can no longer be changed. It is a soup that is always in becoming, as we are with it, with many surprises, synergies, synchronicities and creative twists. The future is in no way a linear extrapolation through the present from the past. Rather, it is potential coming into manifestation – through our shared attention and intention – in many new forms.
When we are steeped in this paradigm, as we embody it more and more, we start to love this potential, this not-yet-formed mystery, including the phases of not-knowing-yet and other intense moments, because it feels so alive! If all participants in a group own this capacity, then art, play, love and co-creation aren’t far away. We are grateful for the ordinary and in love with the potential. The synergy that shows up leads to a truly generative space where life’s potential manifest in forms, actions and insights never seen before.
Next: 9.1 We-Now-Here and Potential
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Chapter 4: I and Potential: Collective Wisdom
This chapter started out called ‘I and Evolution’, then became ‘I and Future’; ‘Evolution’ and ‘future’ are such all-encompassing concepts, though, that they just aren’t specific enough to serve in concrete situations. However, as I gradually gained clarity about what we were really inquiring into and relating with, I came to see that we are expanding our awareness not from ‘here’ to ‘there’, in a straight line from the present to the future, but rather from what is already manifest to what is possible. That which is possible, the potential, is present right now. It might not be visible or tangible to our gross sensory organs, but it is nonetheless perceptible to our subtle sensing. If we, as a group or team, were able to integrate this subtle knowing with all the other means of knowing at our disposal, we would be astounded by the wisdom we collectively hold.
4.1 Development, evolution and participation
History has not reached a stagnant end, nor is it triumphantly marching towards the radiant future. It is being catapulted into an unknown adventure.
– Edgar Morin
Our world is getting bigger, complexity is increasing, chaos is spreading. Nowhere are quick, easy answers to be found, nor can we rely on the past. What is asked from us to deal with all this? Or is ‘dealing with’ the wrong verb here, implying that something bad or difficult is happening to us, imposed from outside? Perhaps it is more appropriate to speak of ‘engaging with’ or ‘participating in’. It seems that we humans are being gently – or not so gently – nudged, asked to grow: to embrace more, increase our collective capacity to navigate complexity, access deeper places of inner ground, grow our roots down deeper than we have done so far, embrace more of our environment, open up to emerging novelty, learn from nature and listen to the future… the possibilities are endless.
Are we learning from nature and from the future?
Or are we engaging with nature and with potential?
Or are we participating in nature and in potential?
Or are we participating as nature and as potential?
The subtle differences between these four sentences contain worlds of difference. As we move through the chapters of this book, we are leaving behind the separation and fragmentation that still dominate mainstream Western thinking and speaking. As this action research has unfolded, it has sunk in ever deeper that separation – between humans, between subject and object, between ideas, between human and non-human – is simply not how reality is. Of course, there is continual influence back and forth, but not in any linear, causal way. Which is not to say that what came before has nothing to do with what comes after. What is perceptible at the level of subtle energy does bear some relation to what becomes manifest (or not). The intention that we set has some influence on how things turn out. But it is only in retrospect that we can see which chain of events led to the outcome we got.
The two mayor parts at the heart of this book, Circle of Presence and Circle of Creation, depict an ever-expanding movement of integration and association, inside and outside, across two dimensions (on the map, not in reality!). We have seen how the vertical axis represents our inner alignment, where body, mind, spirit and soul move into ever greater resonance and alignment with one another. The horizontal axis spreads out around us in all directions, as we connect with others, our neighbors and our so-called enemies; where we are conscious of our environment and act accordingly; where we can feel connected with the moon and the stars; where we know that the health of our physical body depends on so many different bacteria. It is the line of interconnectedness, and it leads to balance and harmony with wider circles all around us.
But life cannot be grasped as two dimensions and little boxes depicting next steps, like in these maps. Life didn’t start as an ‘I’ and then moved outwards from there – quite the opposite, most likely. The I-identity takes time to establish itself, but then assumes dominance as the core or essence of what life is about. In reality, ‘I’ is just a node – albeit a unique one – in a whole ecology. My model and description only starts there with ‘I’ because I grew up in the West, not because it is the most real or has more importance or validity. The ‘I’ is just a starting point in this whole web called life.
I have always seen change within the framework of development. That might be the influence of my background as a psychologist, and later grounded in Wilhelm Reich’s basic theory of Character Structure, which was the backbone of the psychotherapy training I did in the 90’s. Later my theory of change integrated living systems theory, where systems are always seen as ‘complex adaptive systems’. I used to prefer the notion of ‘complex evolving systems’, as I had never seen a system return to a prior status quo after the so-called disruption had ended. There was a time when I was taken by the concept of ‘intentional’ or ‘conscious’ evolution, but I later learned that there is a danger in seeing evolution as a step-by-step linear journey. That would be tantamount to conflating evolution with our linear ideas of ‘progress’, with lower and higher, more and less evolved people, cultures, animals and so on. Now I have settled on ‘complex dynamic systems’, where the notion of a back-and-forth dynamic is more inherent.
There are no fixed points in people, nature, or systems – nowhere. There is always some form of unfolding, something that is different than before, for better or for worse, depending on our perspective. We have many names for it: development, evolution, transformation, change. There seems to be a never-ending vista of possibilities, a fathomless ocean of potential, wherever we look, all the way up and all the way down, and in all directions around us. How do we engage with this potential? Are we aware of it when we talk about development or evolution? What if engaging with this potential is what it means to participate in life? To participate as life?
In this connection, it is helpful to train our minds and bodies to perceive systems and systemic dynamics. Because we are ourselves complex systems, we are always part of complex dynamic systems – indeed we constantly live embedded in a multitude of them. Change in one part of the system will influence many levels and many other nodes at the same time. And yet I still see a danger in the way ‘systems thinking’ often shows up in the world, with its neat diagrams showing feedback loops back and forth, without fully appreciating that we, who are looking at it, are all also part of it, in it – that it truly matters how we participate in it, how we participate as it.
As I see things now (and who knows how I will see it by the time this book is published) we are not participating in something, as if we could step in and out of it like a swimming pool. Rather, we participate as nature, as life. Whether we believe we are participating fully or not, it is still life happening – life doesn’t really care. And yet there is always more potential that can be manifested, sooner or later – although maybe not now. Somehow it is about how we let life happen in and through us, instead of somehow blocking it. This is not a passive ‘let life take over’ attitude, but an active letting go of our habitual patterns in order to engage with and in the ongoing unfolding of our individual and collective potential.
Engaging as the future or as potential means we cannot plan our goals and push on until we have attained them. Engaging with what is possible means sensing what wants to be born, questing for what has the most life energy, sensing which seed is ready to sprout. We can cultivate this inner knowing of what is to unfold. It might be clear, then, that the future is not in some way already written and ‘decided’, just waiting for us to uncover it. To engage with the future is to understand that we are participating in it, embodying our part in its potential. The very act of bringing our attention to what is unfolding, listening deeply for the novelties that are revealing themselves, is a creative force that will influence what is coming into manifestation – but not in any linear way. We can then understand ourselves as co-creators in this synergy with all of what is in and around us.
Next: 4.2 Circle of Presence
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Chapter 3: I and Us: Circle Practice
The move from the I and You of the previous chapter to the I and Us dealt with in this one is easy to understand and to make. To remind us of the larger context: we are extending outward in the process of aligning, becoming increasingly aware of the complexity of life and the interrelatedness of all that is in it. In any group there are constantly multiple relationships unfolding, back and forth and in all directions, both visibly and invisibly. To realise the full potential of such a collective, and to access the collective wisdom available in the group, we need to acquire another skill: that of becoming aware of the inner dimension, the inner collective, the inner plane of a group – for lack of a better word, the group’s field.
I would like to start by sharing another story, one which contributed greatly to my understanding of what might be possible in circles tended in this way.
3.1 What is holding space?
The unmanifest realm contains all that exists and all that could potentially exist. Elementary particles manifest from this place then vanish back into it. The whole of the physical world constantly vibrates in and out of the unmanifest realm.
– Brian Swimme, Nature and Eros lecture (Tunitas Creek Ranch, CA: September 9, 2011).
In the summer of 2007 I accompanied a dear friend in Denmark on what he called a writing retreat for himself. I expected that we would enjoy our habit of deep and inspiring conversations over breakfast and dinner together. He would then dive into his writing and I would be free to do my own thing: reading, exploring the neighbourhood and enjoying the beautiful nature. Soon, however, he announced that his writing practice would best be supported by fasting and that he would show up for neither breakfast nor dinner. I continued doing what I fancied, but missed the good conversational company and was wondering: What am I doing here? I still felt good about it, but why exactly was I there? I could read books and explore nature anywhere and at any time! Why here and now? After holding this question for a couple of days it dawned on me: I was holding space for my friend and his writing. I noticed a clear relief in my body when I realised this. After the five days, as we were driving home, I shared my insights with him and recognised what an intimate thing it is to offer to hold space for someone. It made me wonder…
A few weeks later in a phone conversation with another friend, I told him I was holding space for him and others as they engaged in large-scale strategic, systemic work in the world – not always easy. I explained to him that this strategic work within a huge bureaucracy was not mine to do, but that nonetheless I had something to do with it: I was holding space for it. As I spoke these words, I was astonished to find tears welling up in my eyes. Articulating this inner knowing had stirred up some deep sadness.
For a long time I had been holding the question: What am I really doing when I hold space? I had noticed that many facilitators and hosts nodded their heads in recognition when we spoke of holding space. They/we seemed to understand what we meant by it, but I had never heard anybody explain it, nor could I find reference to it in books. The experiences recounted here made me aware of certain aspects of it, and I realised in that moment on the phone with my friend that this capacity of holding space needed languaging: words and distinctions to make it visible in the world. Another friend called it ‘grandmother’s work’, which was a nice metaphor but not a useful distinction.
The next important experience came in a training seminar, where an awkward situation revealed to me that holding space, for me as a woman, was not something I did in the cognitive sphere of the mind, but was essentially something that I accessed in and through my body. This realisation was very grounding for me, as if I had finally landed in my right spot. From the response of other female participants at that seminar, it transpired that this was not just my unique individual experience, but something that many women resonate with.
Nevertheless, the question remained, although now in a slightly different form: what am I actually doing when holding space, in and through my body? Some years earlier I had realised that I could sense what would happen next in a group process or systemic constellation, and that this was alien, weird or simply not possible for others. I also came to recognise that this sensing of what would happen next was quite different from the visions of the future experienced by others. My friend at the time was clearly years ahead in seeing what would become possible in the future, but he had no (trained) sensing organ for what might be the first next step in this unfolding, and so he was quite unable to discern where best to invest his energy, with much frustration as a result.
Having been in this years-long inquiry for myself, and looking back at our experiences in the gatherings of Women Moving the Edge, it dawned on me suddenly one day that we never spoke about ‘Spirit’, but would always use the word ‘Source’. It intrigued me as to why this was. Upon reflection, I discerned that Source – at least for me – points to the depths, to something deep inside, while Spirit seems to encompass something high above, with an eagle’s view… Hmmm… I began to draw on a sheet of paper to flesh out these insights.
Totally focused on my quest to understand this difference, I first apprehended that Source can be seen as ‘unmanifest matter’ – a potential that can materialise or not, depending on a host of circumstances. And so the answer to the question I had been holding for many months began to emerge. When I am holding space I connect through my body with the unmanifest potential of the person, group, place, project or gathering that is my focus. This was it! Holding space is shorthand for holding the energetic space in which the potential of people or groups or projects can unfold and enter the reality of time and space.
This holding space is only possible from a state of emptiness and a deep inner stillness. Without this, the potential cannot be embraced free from attachment. Of course we do not perceive this unmanifest potential through our physical senses; rather, it is an awareness of the subtler, energetic levels. We can learn to become aware of and choose to open our subtle senses to intentionally connect with this potential in service of that what wants to or can become manifest.
This intuition was later confirmed in a conversation with two dear friends about their joint project. I explained that they, as the callers or initiators of the project, would always be the ones who held the deepest and widest wellspring of possibilities. Even if they eventually expanded their core group, as they were thinking of doing, they would continue to be the callers. Other people could join and become very active in the project, and if they left the project would endure. However, if the initiators both withdrew their energy and attention, the whole project would die. In my understanding, and according to the little model that was emerging, the new collaborators were not holding the space as deeply; they were more about bringing the project alive. In further conversations, the three of us articulated that the ‘callers’ are holding the source-point of a project. (There will be more on the practice of being a caller in chapter 5).
At a training seminar in the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter, the question presented it self to me: “If a small group were to sit in silence, what influence would that have on the collective?” As it happened, and somewhat unexpectedly, many others where interested in this question. We spent what time we had together not ‘talking about it’, but practicing it directly. First there were 3 or 4 women, then 7 or 8 of us sitting in silence, with 10 minutes at the end to share our reflections and learning. I noticed at this particular seminar that people were invited to be in silence on many occasions. We were a big group, and some had to sit on cushions in an inner circle due to lack of space. I noticed that people would deliberately choose to sit near the centre in order to hold space for the rest. It seemed that a pattern was emerging and consciousness about it was growing.
Holding space and place for the unfolding of what is possible looks rather passive on the outside: you are essentially doing nothing on the visible plane. And yet this holding is active; it takes a certain presence, awareness and attention. You are giving care in both the physical and the energetic dimensions. The physical attention can be seen in the careful tending to the space and in the quality of the invitation to a gathering. The energetic attention is of course subtler by nature. Still, as people enter the room they feel that there is a connectedness and a depth in the space. They notice the difference, enjoy it and are sometimes even reluctant to leave.
Generally speaking, I realised, women have a natural tendency to hold space for people, places and projects. This reflects their capacity to literally hold space in their bodies for unborn babies, something they do unconditionally without knowing what this budding human being will look like or how its life will unfold. This capacity to hold a safe space in which the full potential can emerge seems to have been forgotten in the West, at least outside the domain of the family. In business, politics and organisational life, we (even those who do it naturally and automatically) are still unaware that this skill exists and is needed.
Some people seem to have this innate ability to hold. It is a fine quality of moving into a vibrational resonance with what is present and what is possible. It is not exclusively women who do this intuitively, but very many do and are happy when we articulate it and give it words. I have no mainstream ‘scientific’ way to verify this, but the fact that the female body has a womb – an empty space whose function is to hold and manifest potential – could explain why so many of us do it spontaneously.
Holding space is by no means always easy. In contexts of collective inquiry where there is potential conflict, where people are triggered into personal, emotional content, or caught up in giving advice or getting their point across – in short, wherever there is downloading – it can be hard to stay present to the potential. In such conditions, it can be a challenge to hold steady in that place of acceptance and support. At such times, someone needs to keep the energy and attention of the collective on both the intention of the inquiry and what can become possible through the conversations. Bringing in a question that evokes the intention and/or the potential (although without expectations) can help to shift the conversation to a more generative space.
Holding space springs from a different quality of being than engaging in the conflict or debate. It can create a very different atmosphere, and at the same time it builds (on) our capacity to become present and aligned within. By tuning into and staying attentive to the intention and potential, we broadcast this frequency out from ourselves to others. In this way we invite other participants to inquire and speak from the same space, frequency or alignment. We offer each participant an opportunity to reach for their greatest potential in the here and now. Holding space is both holding the unmanifest potential and holding the tensions in the process of inquiry. Depending on your perspective, it is holding the space open for the best possible outcomes and the greatest possible participation, at the same time. It implies absolute trust in both the process and the people.
Harrison Owen, the inventor of Open Space Technology, says that holding space “dates back at least to the first shamans”. The practice and skill of holding space is not limited to gatherings, training seminars and workshops, although facilitators of such events are to some extent aware of this quality they can bring in. I have learned that holding space is also used in other contexts: dance, psychotherapy, spiritual groups, and so on. The Quakers have a ‘vibes watcher’ in their meetings. Holding space also applies to mundane situations we find ourselves in every day. Wherever we are, we can be present to what is possible, in a benignly detached way without emotional engagement, expectations or fixed plans. We are just holding the potential; holding the space for wherever we are and for whatever is emerging.
We know from the work of midwives and doulas that birth outcomes are improved when there is someone present during the birth process who is there to hold space for the woman giving birth, alongside the midwife, who is there for the baby. We are gradually coming to understand that this is equally true for teams and organisations. What if this quality, this tending of the energetic space, were acknowledged as important in any new endeavour? Surely it would improve the quality and outcome of any project. Later in the book, once all aspects of the Collective Presencing practice are laid out, we will build on this strategic aspect of this new human capacity.
In order to avoid any confusion arising around this new concept, and in the interests of creating clear distinctions, it is important also to specify what holding space is not. I remember a story of a woman who spent many years ‘holding her sister’ through many challenging situations. All those around her could see that this kind of holding was no longer the right thing for her to do. The space she was holding for her sister did not arise from a place of stillness and centeredness; rather, she was stuck in a rut and could not respond in any other way. She was not able to say to her sister: “Do it!” or “Move on.” In her case, then, this holding space was not a capacity but a habitual pattern that she was unaware of and unable to relinquish. How sensitive is our understanding of what to hold and what not? Of when to hold and when to let go? Echoing earlier chapters: how flexible are we in our responses?
Holding space is always about keeping open the possibility for potential to manifest, be it in people, in seminars, meetings and events, in teams, in companies, and so on. Sometimes the holding is more passive, like an open hand: being present, supporting, giving attention. Sometimes it is more active, giving a clear signal or impulse: now do it yourself, give it a try. Always being like an open hand is too much of one flavour, and can let a situation stagnate without realising its potential. In this case, the holding gets blocked in a kind of waiting… waiting for the thing that we hope for, but that will never happen unless someone acts. Sometimes withdrawing the holding and support and trusting in the strength and resourcefulness that is present challenges the one being held to dig deeper into their actual power that was there all along.
In our Western culture, the expectation that the potential should manifest immediately blocks a natural unfolding. There is too much pressure to get things done, to take a step right now, even when it is not yet clear what the real purpose is or what action is aligned in time, space and context. Holding space needs to happen without any expectation of a specific outcome, reward or recognition; it is offering a space to unfold, and is not necessarily focused on tasks as such. Much of what good parents do is exactly this: sometimes supporting, sometimes challenging, but always open to the response and sensing what is aligned with the potential of this particular child.
This capacity to hold the whole and hold space for unmanifest potential has been attracting more attention in recent years, and is starting to surface more into awareness (in the West). Because it is part of learning how to consciously and intentionally manifest, alongside actually practicing holding space, it is equally important to name and articulate this skill. It needs to be included as a foundation stone to enable every project that is set up to develop in a natural and organic way. We have noticed that once this invisible activity has been illuminated it is more easily seen and recognised by others who have never given it attention before.
In the first chapter we described the process of becoming ever more present to ourselves, in all our nuances and fullness. This unfolding authenticity as a process of inner alignment, is accompanied by another alignment that extends from our selves out to what is around us. Exploring this inner and outer territory, we are building a map, piece by piece, that describes alignment on both vertical (inner) and horizontal (outer) axes. Eventually this voyage of discovery will give us two maps, but for now we will content ourselves with starting the first one, the map for the Circle of Presence.
A Circle of Presence is any group that has as its purpose to learn, individually and collectively, to grow more present to its collective wisdom. This presumes a capacity in each member of the group to be present with oneself, with others, with the group, and also with the potential that is not yet realised. Awareness on all these levels helps build our capacity to attain authentic, collective wisdom in service of actions that are unique, authentic and balanced in the world. In the second half of the book, we will describe how this awareness and consciousness can be expanded even further, both inwards and outwards, through the practice of a Circle of Creation.
In the previous chapter we distinguished and described different levels or layers in the movement of inner balance and the unfolding of authenticity: observing, accepting, honouring and living what is. As we now extend our awareness beyond ourselves to include the ‘other’, we find that these four verbs apply to this outward movement too. In our lived experience, of course, these layers are all co-arising, intertwined and interwoven. It is one thing to draw a map, but quite another to actually live in the territory! The map can help us now and then, but it is in the practice of daily life that we learn to embody both deeper authenticity and widening balance.
This process of outer alignment will result in an experience of balance, which extends to include the world around. We can differentiate several widening movements, from I and Myself, to I and You, through I and Us, to I and Potential. Again, these different domains are not areas with clear-cut boundaries; we simply separate them out in order to gain some clarity. The overall development here is a growing awareness that whom and what we relate with is much more complex than we had ever imagined.
Seeing this complexity is becoming aware of omnipresent interrelatedness; a deeply embodied understanding that there is never one ‘single thing’, but always – and really always! – mutual relationship. There is an ongoing influence back and forth; I can’t separate myself from my relationship with you, with the group I am in, or with the potential that we hold together. We are distinguishing them here in the interests of clarity, but in life this is just not possible. Of course, mainstream Western thought, rooted in the assumptions of an objective, scientific paradigm, has separated many ‘things’ out, only to recently arrive at the insight that life in general needs to be described in terms of complexity, chaos, networks and embeddedness in systems.
The movement of widening our balance can be seen as ever expanding waves of attention. First we must ease ourselves out of our rigid patterns and habitual boundaries (Chapter 1: I and Myself) before we can really connect with the other(s) (this chapter: I and You). This relational field needs to be mastered before I can live, love and respect on a group level (chapter 3: I and Us). In turn, we need some practice on this group level before we can start to live – together – in real emergence (chapter 4: I and Potential). Later we will see that authenticity and balance can extend deeper and wider, beyond the human beings we are with and out into the material world and into other realms, where authenticity becomes generative creativity and balance becomes coherence. But let’s not jump ahead!
We can see this widening of balance, including ever more in the process, as trusting the invisible ‘in-betweenness’ of all that exists. This trust in the subtle experience of that which is neither visible nor tangible, but which nevertheless influences us, helps us to learn to be at ease with surrendering to new insights, seeing new patterns and coming to an authentic collective wisdom. If we remain grounded in the thing-ness of our selves and others, we miss out on the relationships, the interrelatedness and the myriad other information streams that are constantly at work in our relational field. It is a stretch for our Western mind to shift our attention from the objects we perceive to what is happening inside and between them, but like everything else, this can all be learned and trained.
Balance as a process of widening awareness
As is our habit in the West, my personal process of awakening awareness started with myself, through the practice of meditation, emotional bodywork, different types of dance, circle work, and so on, all to learn about the deeper layers and possibilities in myself. This was all very much ‘me’-focused, at least in the beginning. I cleared many blockages and became freer in my expression and the quality of my life improved. Then something intriguing happened.
A ten-year relationship had just come to an end, and with it a 3-year experiment in a kind of co-housing project. I had prepared myself well for the next autumn and had planned for some evening workshops and weekends in Emotional Bodywork, which I had already been offering for a few years as a therapist. My plan was to build up my practice and to let go of my unemployment benefit. Despite all this forward planning, not one of the courses I was offering had enough participants, and I had to cancel them all. Now what? Finding myself with a lot of time on my hands, and intuiting that the universe was trying to tell me something, I meditated and contemplated to sense into what I was supposed to do.
One afternoon, as I was lying on my sofa groping for clarity, it dawned on me that, while Emotional Bodywork was excellent work, it was no longer mine to do. So what then? A faint inner signal told me that there was something with women, with spirituality… not clear, not sure… and off I went into a deep memory of being burned at the stake! Such a deep embodied, embedded fear that if I truly dared to speak my truth, I would be burned at the stake! My god! I was not at all prepared for the emotional clearing I had done on the level of my personal life to have this as an outcome! A new chapter was opening, this time a more cultural and collective one, and again there was pain to acknowledge and transform. It didn’t feel fair: was this the reward for all my hard work? I didn’t like it!
While I am no ‘true believer’ in past lives, as I have seen such stories used in unhealthy ways, nevertheless I cannot dismiss this intriguing, intense and embodied experience. I prefer to think – as I have learned to do from other experiences – that once we have cleared ourselves of personal traumas, more collective and universal ones will present themselves to us for healing. It is only through individuals taking on this job of expanded consciousness that cultural and age-old suppression can be brought to light and resolved.
This experience launched me into the process of coming together with women in circle, eventually culminating in the Flemish circle, and later the Women Moving the Edge project. Equally important, it taught me something about collective, energetic fields. It was clear to me that this was not solely a personal memory relating exclusively to myself and my story (regardless of whether past lives were involved). I had touched on a collective memory that was speaking through me, making me aware that ‘I’ was not an entity with a separate existence. I was more entangled in other systems and fields than I could ever have imagined.
In our little Flemish women’s group, we naturally expanded towards bigger fields to embrace. As I have already mentioned, we spent a lot of time disentangling what was whose in the field of emotions, triggers and pain. But next came an awareness that the group as a whole was also something to attend to if we wanted to plumb the depths of our collective wisdom. I am referring here not to the classical concept known in social work and facilitation as ‘group dynamics’, but rather to what we might call the ‘group field’ – the inner and subtle awareness of the complexity that is any group.
As our inquiry deepened and we experimented with what was unfolding, we focused more on our subtle and collectively aligned wisdom, and how we could stay open and surrender to it, instead of sticking to pre-made plans and known procedures. We started to ‘learn from the future’, as Scharmer would call it. These days, I prefer to call it ‘engaging with the present potential’. In our habitual linear thinking, we project the future as a straight line from the present. But the potential – or what Gendlin calls ‘the implicit’ – is right here, in every moment of the here-and-now.
I would like to offer a more detailed preview of what lays ahead in this process of widening balance, a process of aligning with what we see as outside of ourselves. We started out from ‘I and Myself’, which was described in the first chapter. Now we move out, allowing our awareness to embrace more of all we are related to and inter-related with.
I and You
Focus on: the inner being of the other
Open to: connecting
We have all learned ways of dealing with a wide range of situations. We know how to shy away when needed, to get furious, to get what we want, etc. As we described in Shadow and Gift, these are our survival patterns, our habitual and unconscious ways of relating with others. My patterns differ from yours, sometimes they are opposite, but they all have one thing in common: we don’t really relate with the other in the here and now. We tend to see others as enemies, as ‘really’ different, as ignorant, as stupid, as too this or too that…. alternatively, we don’t even notice the differences and expect everyone to be just like us.
It’s a big thing to really grasp the notion that ‘everybody has her own truth’, not just as a concept, but to really allow it to penetrate us until we embody in every instant as a lived reality. Whenever we are touched in a vulnerable spot, our defense mechanisms – our fight-or-flight survival patterns – automatically kick in and the value we want to live by (‘respecting different views of reality’, for example) flies straight out the window! Time and again, instead of going for another round of conflict or the mistrust that creeps in so easily, we need the courage and the consciousness to choose to open up to this other ‘I’ and seek a way of connecting that actually works to keep us in constructive relationship.
Once I can see through my own patterns and reveal the hidden parts of myself, it becomes much easier to see or assume these hidden places in the other and be open and respectful with them. After all this other person is just as human as I am, only with a different expression, a different colour and a different shape. Observing what is means just that: seeing the other as another human being whom we probably don’t know at all. Every act of every other person contains a subtle, more hidden aspect that we are likely not aware of and don’t even think about. Just as we can open to the full experience of ourselves, including our subtle senses, in the same way we can open to the inner, subtle self of others. How does this other really feel? What is she aware of that might be quite foreign to me? How does the subtle self of the other expresses itself?
Once we can start to bend a curious gaze towards this diversity and recognise that we are, quite simply, different, truly authentic relationship becomes possible. Our habitual ways of reacting hide aspects of ourselves that have never been fully in the light; some of these are very beautiful, related to being fully alive, while others seem quite dreadful, but really that is just the outer layer. This is true not only of me, but of all the other people I engage with. These shadow aspects that the ‘I’ wants to hide are essential to our true authenticity. Within their shell they conceal a pearl of wisdom and great vision. Can we discern and recognise this in others? Can we relate directly with this deeper layer and leave the habitual patterns for what they are? Are we able to see the gift others bring to the table? Can we truly accept and honour the other?
In this process of widening our awareness to others, we begin to appreciate that our individuality is not clear cut and separate, and that we live in a world of intricate interrelatedness. As we hold both ourselves and the other in full focus at the same time, we become increasingly aware of ourselves as an embodied flow of experiences. Our idea of ourselves as a process of becoming expands into a relational mode of becoming. This process will be described in detail in next section 2.5.
I and Us
Focus on: the group field, the inner collective
Open to: holding
Any collective, be it a team, a family, an organisation or a nation, is formed of a number of people, but it is much more than just the sum of those individuals. It is shaped by the relationships between all, by the mutual influences constantly ongoing, back and forth, at lightning speed. Just because these most often go unnoticed by the conscious mind does not mean they are not influencing what we say and do. The number of possible one-on-one relationships can be calculated by a simple formula (sum=Nx(N-1)) and the result is always much higher than expected. And this sum does not yet take into account the small subgroups forming and influencing each other whenever the collective has more than 4 or 5 participants.
The English language does not (yet?) have a word to describe this web of relationships, this awareness of interrelatedness, these invisible and subtle dynamics at play beneath the surface. The best term seems to be ‘field’, as it evokes a spatial entity beyond the boundaries of myself, and beyond what is happening between me and one other person. Here, we use the notion ‘group field’ to denote the inner dimension that seems to be present in any kind of group, to which our Western world pays scant attention. We distinguish between ‘group field’ and the much more widely recognised ‘group dynamics’, which point mainly to common emotional patterns that occur in group settings. My point here is that, alongside these emotions, there are always subtle energies present that we can learn to detect, to trust, amplify and nurture.
Our Western individuality can find it a challenge to set aside our personal preferences and motivations, to intervene and contribute in sole service of the well-being of the group and its purpose. Doing so does not mean regressing to a childlike state of as yet undeveloped personal identity; nor less does it mean falling into a victim style of conforming to the implicit group norm. Rather, we are pointing here to the next stage in consciousness: from dependent, through in-dependent, to inter-dependent: I need all of you, and you all need the best from me. Only if I offer my full potential can the group achieve its highest possible results. In those moments when my area of knowledge, skill, passion or expertise is at play, I am the leader. In the next moment, you take the lead in another topic or for another task, and we all know and trust this. Leadership circulates throughout the group, not according to a pre-determined schedule, but because we are a leaderful group. Through each fully participating, by sharing the overall response-ability for manifesting the group’s purpose, we are all leaders. (further description in chapter 3)
I and Potential
Focus on: emergence
Open to: surrendering
In previous versions of this matrix, I called this area ‘I and Evolution’, but I now think that it is more accurate to see it as the relation between myself and that which can become manifest, the potential that is present and waiting to be grasped and brought forth. In order for this to happen in a group setting, we need the capacity to be consciously present to all the previously described domains: what is going on in myself, in the other individuals, in the field, and where are we regarding the intention and purpose of the group – all at the same time. Through attending to all of this, we can begin to glimpse what is wanting to come to the surface and can start working with it.
There is a special kind of trust involved in this process of widening balance in the world. In highly complex situations, there is no one ‘right’ thing to say or do. How, then, to choose a certain action? The art is to stay centered and open, trusting that sooner or later the next nugget of potential will open and become accessible. Basically, it is about trusting that we are able to connect with unmanifest potential, consciously and intentionally.
In order to be able to listen to the future, to the unmanifest that is knocking on our door, we need a deep inner stillness. Stillness that is beyond being quiet or without noise; it is a centered state that is not engaged in any kind of habitual story. This inner centering allows us to become aware of the subtle energies that point to more potential and its possible manifestation. Accessing the collective wisdom that is held in any kind of group is a collective practice that requires adequate group silence. This means not only individuals refraining from speech, but also a group-connecting-in-silence reaching out – or opening up – to subtle, collective wisdom.
We focus here on the emergence of that really novel insight or idea that has never existed before, and that could only spring up in the midst of our collective witnessing and connection. It requires us to perceive all phenomena – everything that is happening in the room, within us, around us and in the wider field – without judging them with our habitual minds as not valid or not meaningful. It requires us to take them at face value; to acknowledge, accept, honour and live them.
Back in the days of our earliest experiments, we needed much training, courage and willingness to voice our own sparks of wisdom. Sharing your inner knowing, your unique perspective, your subtle impulse regarding the issue and the question at hand is key to achieving the unique collective wisdom of this particular group or team. But recognising the information held by others as wisdom is equally important. Emergence is a lot about ‘connecting the dots’, so if you fail to value your own dot, or disregard the dots that others have brought to the table, you won’t see the patterns and the new meaning that is arising, and emergence will not win through.