In those moments when awareness succeeds in being at one with feeling, sense, movement and thought, the carriage will speed along on the right road. Then man can make discoveries, invent, create, innovate and ‘know’. He grasps that his small world and the great world around are but one and that in this unity he is no longer alone.
– Moshe Feldenkreis
Articulating the subtle
The occurrence of the present being transformed by the future occurs in the creation of new language. You do not create the new language. The new language (of the future) creates you in the present from the future and the inconceivable transforms into the conceivable in the process of your transubstantiation (the future transubstantiating the present).
– Yasuhiko Kimura – Facebook 29 november 2012
I have already talked about ‘sourcing’, and ‘collective sourcing’ as collective embodied revelation. It takes some courage to learn to voice our subtle sensing, because we have to overcome our conditioned assumption that this is not ‘real’ or ‘true’ or ‘useful’ information. At the present juncture, though, I wish to give some attention to a next step that follows on from the subtle sensing: the precision of language and making (subtle) distinctions. Perhaps because of our discomfort, we tend to use sloppy language, as if trying to hide what we really want to express. But as in the concept of Felt Sense and the practice of Focusing described by Eugene Gendlin, we do have the capacity to be extremely precise in both what we sense and how we articulate it. Becoming more explicit, and perhaps using words in uncommon combinations or inventing new expressions, improves the quality of our communication and the collective wisdom of the whole – just as we have done in writing this book and articulating the finer differences in this collective and subtle landscape.
John Hegel has described in multiple blog posts that tacit knowledge, which is often the knowledge formed by and in new experiences, is best accessed through long-term, trust-based relationships. It is exactly this tacit knowledge that we need to be very specific about: taking time to name, to language, to find the right words and concepts.
Wherever this communicative engagement is actualised, it is manifest in a poetic order – an order of poetic revelation – that unfolds alongside the causal order. This poetic order, or order of meaning, exceeds the causal order but in no way contradicts it.
– Freya Matthews
Quote from participant:
I love this process because we bring night consciousness into the daylight, it is just so valuable to have words and language for many different things. I love to be in this kind of generative conversations, where this deeper layer actually gets to the surface, or we push or pull it to the level of awareness.
For some, the articulation of a deep sensing is a real challenge, as Judy said: “the words are almost not there – I can’t quite grab them”. In particular, giving language to the inner sense in a way that can be received and taken in by other people might be a big hurdle. Still, it is both necessary and important to get into the detail of the articulation and tease out the subtleties until the sensing is clear for others (and yourself, too) because what becomes known through us when we take the care to articulate carefully is part of the life force. It is actually an interweaving of the individual and the life force; of the subtle sensing with the precision of the mind to find the right form of expression.
In this way, a group using Collective Presencing as its core methodology could become a new version of what we now know as ‘think tanks’. This could help leadership on different levels and in different domains of society to sense into what is going on and what is the next step to take. Collective Presencing is a practice for accessing what is in the spaces between the elements, and what is emerging between and through them. Because it is whole-bodied, it accesses more and deeper than conventional thinking groups. If we want fully integrated, alive, embodied organisations, this is a practice to make it work.
Questions have been raised: When is it appropriate to have this level of collective sensing? When and in what conditions is it useful? What does it really look like when applied in a business context? How to scale up from a little ‘sensing team’? There are big hidden assumptions beneath these questions, as if business is the biggest context and scaling up is the best way to move forward. I would turn it around and ask: how can business fit into the wider picture of taking care of the earth and all living beings? As I learned from Walk out, walk on, in complexity, it is not scaling up that will do the trick, but rather scaling across,
If we allow ourselves to dream, we can imagine presencing teams being hired to help people and organisations with all manner of wicked situations and problems. As outsiders, their role would be not to do the sensing themselves but to invite participants into these practices, step-by-step. The different practices are powerful in themselves and by using them, participants will themselves learn to make the fine distinctions first named and articulated by the team.
Quote from participant:
It is happening in this call, for me I am taking very practical things out of it. Noticing this is the context in which I want my thinking and being to be in, as we take the organization to the next level. Almost too good. Feels kind of dreamy. Wow! That I could act in the world from this container is like a huge release; something about not doing it all yourself; because I put my deepest level of trust in our collective. It feels energising and I could act with a different level of clarity and confidence in my intention. It is not about giving over or being a puppet, but really resting in this level of intention and holding. And I love the dance we are in – how we are applying it, challenges on the ground, kind of action learning.
Continuous collective inquiry
Continuous collective inquiry, in groups of different sizes, is a crucial capacity and practice for dealing with the complexities and turbulence we are confronted with these days. It is an essential tool and element of being resilient for groups of people; being able to sense into what might be a next step that is coherent both inside and out. Long-term planning needs to be replaced by collective sensing into the possibilities right now, combined with constantly keeping an eye on the feedback coming from the bigger system (or life) we are dealing with. I remember vividly the question Christopher Cooke raised in a gathering of Spiral Dynamics practitioners: How capable is humanity of dealing with intense, rapid change? Looking at it in that way, at that moment the future looked bleak to me. Right now I feel more confident, thanks to the practices that we have discovered and practiced.
Dave Snowden, in his Cynefin framework (briefly touched upon in 8.4), makes helpful distinctions between simple, complicated, complex, chaotic (and unordered) situations. Planning can work in simple and complicated situations, when there are simple and ordered straightforward relationships between cause and effect, but in complexity we first need to probe– try out a few things – because the linear causality doesn’t exist. Once we have done that, then we can sense the impact of our action on the system and figure out how to respond with a next step. Our deep sensing capacities in the collective inquiry can be very helpful in figuring out what to try out first and also in the sensing phase, as it integrates more dimensions of knowing.
Just as no one knew they needed an iPhone or tablet before these devices appeared on the market, continuous collective inquiry is not something that people feel they need and think to ask for. Nevertheless, when people start engaging with it in their work and life, they find it resonates deeply. We didn’t ‘invent’ Collective Presencing starting from a need or problem; rather, we encountered it from the angle of potential, from a shared collective felt sense of what might be possible. Constantly being in sensing, inquiring and reflecting mode is a way to stay connected to the unceasing unfolding of life.
Quote from participant:
I see that sensing into the subtle, sensing each word as it comes, I begin to feel the timeless space of fullness and resonance vibrating in me, in these very delicate slowed down moments. I am challenged and yet called to trust that my experience is one beyond this time and space dimension, or at least a taste of it. We, as humans, are learning to move into the multi-dimensional; beyond, and yet just beside, the space/time home we now know as life here on Earth.
In these circles we open a space for this future potential. We have an embodied experience outside of time and space (place), and yet we are all very present here. It is holding this contradiction that opens the new frontier – to collaborate and participate with the subtle – to reach new clarity in right timing and right place to generate the new.
Groping in the dark
Excerpt from my blog:
And suddenly I saw how conversations and gatherings are conceived, live and die. Like human beings, coming up from a wide and infinite sea of possibilities; live for some time and then retreat back. By our willingness to listen to the next question, we call the next gathering and conversations into being.
Quotes from participants’ conversation:
To me it’s always amazing, this sensing into what is the next question – like we want to look beyond the edge, but we’re not there yet… It’s really like – groping in the dark… I like it! Because I feel something will emerge. – Ria
The groping in the dark reminds me about the night consciousness we talked about last time. It’s exciting to think about the potential. – Judy
In Nowhere– an inspiring and unique collective of organisations and businesses in the UK – they believe that great questions (they call them Breakthrough Questions) allow us to venture into the unknown where true innovation happens. They have the power to unlock the creative potential of people, teams and businesses. Working with such questions is essential if we wish to shape a sustainable future. According to Nowhere, these questions have three specific qualities:
- you alone don’t know the answer
- it keeps you awake at night; it genuinely holds your interest
- if you did know the answer it would change everything
In part 7.1 on Collective Calling, I described the process we used to find the guiding question for the next gathering. As you might remember, the process is by no means linear. Starting the conversations with a check-in, through the dialogue that follows we sense deeper into the unmanifest potential that can come through the gathering in a few months. This is what we try to listen to and glean information from, in order to language the calling question.
Quote by participant:
If we were asked to hold hands and lean over the edge and to bring back the question that is just beyond our sensing … what would it be? – Helen
The process of articulating this next question is like a swirling around. Each person present has to speak what is coming through, without knowing if it is meaningful or not; only in the end we can see if it was a fruitful contribution. It is a lot about holding the not-knowing-yet, but when you get the hang of it, and can stay present and grounded, it becomes a process of amazement and joy. We are collectively sensing in the deep dark waters and suddenly we come up with a coherent articulation that has resonance. The awe and joy tell us we are in real generative space!
It can be hard work to stay long enough in the not-knowing-yet until the resonant articulation presents itself. And yet only once this stage is reached can the question serve in the gathering, team or project. And then, at some point the energy disperses. This specific inquiry comes to its end, the cycle is completed. We would all go our own ways, taking the experience and the unfolded meaning with us. Some of the meaning would ripple out, seeding other conversations, but this gathering was over. At other times, the question is still alive after a meeting, but mostly we have gained some new insights – consciously or not – and a new cycle can start. I understand this also as a non-attachment to form, making it easier to release this form, this event, thereby making space and opening up possibility for a subsequent weaving of threads of potential.
So far in my experience with teams looking for something new – be it in business, government or elsewhere – I have not encountered much appetite or skill for finding a real, resonant question to work with. People don’t seem to see the value of the question as a means of seeking for new solutions, let alone envisioning setting aside time to sit in circle to find such a question, which feels like groping in the dark! Still, as Nowhere has made clear: for real innovation to be possible we have to ask these breakthrough questions. Otherwise we stay mired in the same frame of thinking; and no new insights can emerge.
Leadership and continuous collective action research
But continuous collective inquiry is not enough! The inquiry needs to become action research, where we are not just inquiring through inspiring and generative dialogue, but also starting to act in the world, together, and then taking the responses to these actions back into our inquiry. Just as we need to keep all our senses open to gather novel insights in the dialogue phase, so too must we have a clue about what kind of prototypes make the most sense and how we can understand the feedback from life.
The action research approach ensures that the collective insights arising from the inquiry are made into actionable steps – doing something very physical in the 3-dimensional world. The group can then sense into the impact of their action on the system under consideration, reflect together on what this actually means and sense into what steps to take next. This cycle iterates over and over again.
A study by Barrett Brown shows that the higher the complexity of worldview or meaning making system of the designer or change agent in sustainability initiatives, the more successful a change initiative will be. He looks at the later stages in the action logic system (Cook-Greuter, Loevinger, Torbert): from Strategists, to Alchemists to Ironists. Comparing role, service and design approach between the different stages, his findings are quite revealing. Briefly, the role of the leader is seen first as ‘to catalyze’, then ‘to create conditions’, then ‘to hold and wonder’. The perspective on service evolves from being of service ‘to’ others (personal meaning), to service ‘on behalf of’ (trans-personal meaning), to ‘serve as spirit itself’ (unitive meaning). The principal design approach morphs from ‘operating on systems’, to ‘dialoguing with systems’ to ‘designing as the system’.
It is this latter (ironist) stage – where we collectively ‘hold and wonder’, where we ‘serve as spirit itself’ and where we ‘design as the system’ – that I have tried to describe in the different elements of the Circle of Creation. By being in and from and as the new paradigm ourselves, and acting differently in this way, combined with the rigour of research, we will be able to have some impact in large-scale complex change programs. Not in a linear and planned way, but something quite radically different.
We know from Chaos Theory that the initial conditions of a complex system are critical to what will emerge from it. This is why we take such great care of all the conditions described so far. The rigour of research, the constant collective reflection and learning are just an extension of this care.
According to Alain Gauthier, who has been looking at collective leadership for many years, the word ‘lead’ originates from the Indo-European root ‘leith’, which means to ‘go forth’, to ‘cross the threshold’, or even to ‘die’. He asks: What threshold must be crossed before something new can emerge? What if leadership, in ‘crossing the threshold’, meant:
- facing the unknown with openness and trust
- sensing what is emerging by being present to what is
- participating creatively in a wider field of knowing and doing, giving voice to an evolutionary impulse
- taking self and others to where we have never been before?
Peter Hawkins also points out that we need to develop effective leadership teams. He is talking not about typical, traditional heroic leaders, but about effective collective-leadership teams which are more than the sum of the individuals. He adds that we don’t know much about how to develop these! It stands to reason that these new types of teams need a new and crucial competency: a new research methodology or technology. The practice we have been describing in such detail here needs to intentionally evolve and we need to ground it in practical application.
Quote from participant:
The dynamic of action is about a question that is brewing and unfolding in the midst of life; the learning as a challenge to our own epistemology. The phenomenon of being in the learning process itself – for the sake of wholeness – for the sake of death or dying, or story, or the land, or how we constellate ourselves; be able to create in that phenomenon those things we have yet to language. We are observers and participants of the phenomenon, at the same time. – Mary
Share emergent practices and patterns
Quote from participant:
As Helen was talking I remember this trilogy about the steerswoman. Their role was to go into unknown territory and map the territory. She had to pack her backpack with food and a compass etc. There were steersmen, but they were rare. The gathering place of the steerswomen was the Archive; the sacred place of maps of the unknown. … The greater point of the myth is the quest for the greater knowledge, and to bring it back and share it with others who can’t go there. – Edveeje
Quote from participant:
What I love is that we are looking at the meta-patterns, about how to develop these practices that we haven’t quite looked at before. What happened last time, what could happen this time? We’re touching into things that we haven’t given voice to until now. I think it’s important and interesting that we are exploring and moving that edge. – Judy
The concept of emergent practices comes from the work of Dave Snowden. In his Cynefin model, he states that there is no such thing as best practice, or even good practice, in a complex environment. There is no way to do things in the ‘best’ way, because in a complex system too many variables can change quickly, unexpectedly and often. It is not even possible to have ‘good’ practices – these are only possible in complicated situations where experts can figure out a few alternative ways of doing things. Relating with the future or with potential falls squarely in the complex domain, and new practices and insights emerge along the way. The point is that only when we really grasp that we are part of the wider system, the ecosystem of planet earth, will we understand that publishing and spreading these practices and patterns is part of our job. It is not just for our own purpose, our own team or organisation that we are learning, it is for a much wider audience and ecosystem!
It is often the knowledge formed by new experiences that provides early insights into the changing world around us. As the ever-changing core team of Women Moving the Edge, we were fortunate to have installed the practice of directly transcribing our conference – collective note-taking. In this way, the tacit knowledge that we built over the years could be accessed through our long term, trust-based relationships and was articulated through the many conversations we had in the different hosting teams. Throughout our numerous phone calls and the different gatherings, we could constantly pull up threads from previous conversations, recognise patterns and connect dots that hadn’t been linked before.
If we can see all our own and each other’s work as experiments and probes into the wicked questions of our time, we can see the value of being able to learn from each other – finding some validation of the patterns we have noticed ourselves and seeing the wider meta-patterns popping up in different places. When we are busy with our own projects we tend to forget that we are all part of a bigger system in which all these try-outs have their place. We forget that any living system learns through the feedback it gets. Can we remember that writing about our own experiment – successful or not – is feeding the whole ecosystem? This is the only way the wider ecosystem can learn! When we do this collectively and consciously, we are building a new kind of competence in the area of shared meaning making.
With this book and its related website, time has come to share Collective Presencing with the wider world. I have taken all the material and patterned it in my unique way, feeding it back into the wider field. I imagine that by doing this the field is strengthened, deepened, broadened, becomes more substantial and more universal. Happily, I see this awareness of harvesting – sharing out the nuggets of our learning – growing in many more people: just take a look at what is shared on Medium these days!
I have learned something else too, by sharing some of the patterns that I saw early on – even before I could see the whole map. When I showed these maps, incomplete as they were, people got excited! I was surprised by the buzz in the room. This was another expression of the synergy: the capacity to articulate the patterns in combination with the holding and the silence. People seem to be hungry for explanations and teachings when integrated with experience.
Beyond all this, it is important to share our patterns and practices because this is how we are building the commons – the field of shared knowledge about what is possible in a process of shared inquiry – that is open for anyone to consult, use, re-work, build on, create with.
Theory and practice of change
Change happens in the transition from potential to actual, not from one actuality to another.
– Maria Pachalska & Michel Weber (Eds), Essays in honor of Jason W.Brown
It might be clear by now that the model-theory we used in the Women Moving the Edge gatherings was not about bringing change in from ‘outside’, but about providing enough of a container and a guiding question, so that life could then manifest as new insights and novel initiatives. Somehow, when working on projects or with organisations, the old linear idea of how change happens easily slips back in. As if we can ‘do’ something, as if we can make change happen. We can’t! We can only provide some holding and some guidance. If people don’t want to change, they won’t – certainly not because of us or our beautiful practices. We need to be very careful to keep this foundational theory of change constantly in our minds. Our focus is on how to let life unfold in life-affirming actions. What is it that this project wants next? Can we explore with our clients from a place that is deeper that where they habitually speak from?
In complex systems – all these systems we’re working with: individuals, organisations, business, large systems change – you never, ever know beforehand how an intervention will be taken in by the internal organisation of this being. We can only hope that if we intervene from our highest centredness, groundedness and awareness, and in alignment with life, that something life-affirming for the system will ensue. We believe that a collective awareness that is more aligned inside and out, aware of more interpenetration and interweaving, will source actions and manifestations that are also more aligned. What we currently see in the world is a fragmented consciousness that manifests incoherence in so many ways. Let’s at least try to create greater coherence.
It is also crystal clear that, given the level of awareness that large-system change work calls for – holding the space, facilitating the process, sensing the current need of the system-organisation, getting to know the individuals, the business, the industry – consultants and facilitators doing this work are on the edge of how much they can hold. When there are so many levels and dimensions to attend to, no one person can hold them all. Because of this complexity, we need teams who can hold all these elements together, who are themselves an example of how team alignment can be different, where we are not delivering a product but stepping into a process of co-creation with our clients.
The work we envision here is eco-systemic in nature. Such hosting teams – as Circles of Creation– are at the core of any ecosystem approach. Only this kind of format and methodology will be able to hold the space and the inquiry for what is next in this vast field. It is the power of the carefully crafted intention and the guiding question, mixed with the human contributions and connections, that make an ecosystem work. The rest we leave to life.
I also want to link back here, within this frame of theory of change, to the concept of conscious closure. Organisations and businesses, too, are ever-changing, complex evolving systems, while most people – founders in particular – seem to assume that they (should) exist for eternity. One of our participants, Cari, went through this process of conscious closure and noted: “There were ego attachments to my income, and my job, and yet it was remarkably easy to let go of (the organisation). If this is meant to die, it is meant to die. I am not attached to it being alive, but instead sensing what wanted to happen there. The loyalty for me was to something bigger than the organisation – not to the organisation but the soul, something larger.”
Next: 9.6 Life as love in action
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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 No Brand. No organisation. WMtE – part 5
Download this section: Baeck 5.2 A New Human Capacity as beyond paradoxes 09/17
Experience does not occur in the clothing of verbal phrases. It involves clashes of emotion, and unspoken revelation of the nature of things. Revelation is the primary characterisation of the process of knowing…. Revelation is the enlargement of clarity. It is not a deduction…
– Alfred N. Whitehead, The Aims of Education and Other Essays
In our little Flemish women’s circle, we spent much time on the level of the emotions, peeling away the layers of the onion to reach an open mind, open heart and open will. Over time we noticed that, as we became better at clearing the interpersonal field between us and keeping it open for longer periods, other domains became accessible. Our initial intention had been to look into the relationship between women, femininity and spirituality. Through experience and with much trial and error, this intention opened into a growing awareness of interrelatedness and complexity.
Inspired by the prospect of building and sustaining a container to hold the fire of difficult conversations, as described by William Isaacs in his book Dialogue, we started experimenting with a collective contemplation exercise. At the time, we called it ‘collective meditation’, but really it was more of a contemplation, because we would place a question or a topic as the focus of our attention and listen for new insights. In the awareness of our shared, energetic container we would use our subtle sensing to catch fragments of answers, information or insights that might emerge. In the beginning this sometimes felt threatening to our identities, as ‘weird’ ideas or images would come up. But it was very exciting and it awoke in me a resolve to dive deeper and understand better exactly what was going on.
We learned, step by step, to rely more on the information coming from the subtle levels and integrate it with our more habitual ways of knowing. To begin with, we didn’t always share the information we each received personally, for fear of being thought stupid or weird, only to find out later that it truly was a missing piece of the whole.
This collective contemplation started somewhat like a meditation, in silence. Unlike typical group meditation, though, we were all fully aware of being together in a shared silence with a shared purpose. In the silence we held our mutual connection and interrelatedness in our awareness, together with the question we had put in the middle. At first, the silence served to bring us into the present moment, as in regular meditation. In that silence, there seemed to be “only energy and no words”. But we discovered that we could speak from that connected, deeper subtle space. It felt as if the words were spoken ‘through us’, without any prior processing by the mind, arising instead straight from, in and as the experience. As in Whitehead’s quote: the speaking was a revelation, it offered a clarity of insight that was not yet present in our memory banks.
We are so habituated to using language and speech to exchange in conceptual space that we hardly ever speak from direct experience – except in those rare instances when we hurt ourselves and say ‘ouch!’ as an expression of pain, or when our delight in a favorite dish brings forth an ‘mmmm!’ We noticed that there was something to discover when speaking was directly linked with insights arising from inner knowing. It is an expression emanating directly from a subtle gut feeling instead of sharing thoughts and concepts; words seem to issue through the mouth from a deep source, not from the mind. Sound can have a healing quality, and what I am pointing to here is speech, communication still imbued with that kind of quality, whilst using words to articulate new insights.
Language has become a separate human realm and/or a map of reality and there is a destructive and manipulative potential to it – words can deny, words can control. Most of all, the essence of the experience and the inherent relationships in it are lost. Labels and concepts blind us, distorting our perception of reality and the way we interact with it. We sacrifice immediacy, intimacy and vulnerability. Speaking ‘about it’ removes us from the experience itself. Speaking ‘words that come through’ is more energetic and vibrational; it leaves us with a primary experience rather than taking us off into the realms of abstract cognition and intellect.
The sharing of personal stories also has that quality of immediacy and intimacy. We all feel touched when sharing is genuine and open. The story and its related feelings can be understood by the heart without needing to be processed through concepts and labels. Such direct communication holds a healing quality – for the speaker through the sharing and for the receiver through listening and witnessing. As we continue in this immediate sharing, it becomes possible for our words to come from ever deeper layers, for us to say things we never imagined before, as this way of being together opens up our experience into new realms of being.
We came to call this experience of immediate shared insight ‘sourcing’ – as if speaking from source, from that place of infinite potential that is always present but that we tend to forget in our habitual way of living and thinking. We invite participants in the circle to speak to and from the middle so as to increase the likelihood of speaking from that subtle place, rather than sharing concepts or addressing what someone said before. One feature of sourcing is that it is free from conceptualisation. Words spring directly from experiential awareness in the moment. Follow one’s own words as they appear and refraining from attributing any kind of meaning to them allows us to go further and deeper on this path of discovery.
Sourcing can only happen when one is in both inner and outer alignment at the same time (Bonnitta Roy calls this internal congruence and inter-subjective coherence). Sourcing is sensing into the subtle realms; it is about perceiving subtle, energetic levels of reality where the boundaries of the normal fall away. We are able to sense and distinguish what will come next, just as we can lick a finger and hold it up in the air to feel where the breeze is coming from. The here-and-now moment is always entangled with its inherent potential, with what can become manifest next. This is not the same as ‘knowing’ the future, as it is not yet formed. But there seems to be a field of possibility or potential, and we are able to sense into it.
It is not easy to source instead of thinking, in the sense of juggling with preformed thoughts, memories and concepts – an activity which is so deeply ingrained in our minds and habits. We tend to think first, then speak, or simply repeat something we have said before. In the practice of sourcing, we are invited to speak directly from the (subtle) experience, instructing the mind to notice the experience without processing it in conceptual space. So we work with our present phenomenological experience –what is happening Now – and stay as close to it as we possibly can, whilst observing it and articulating it to the best of our ability.
This can feel awkward, like going against the grain, but – as in every aspect of life – practice helps! Over time I have noticed that my capacity to easily and accurately discern whether something feels ‘right’ or ‘aligned’ has grown. It can be about very small, even mundane things. But suddenly I ‘know’ it, with a certainty that encompasses my heart, my body and my mind. These are not solutions that come through a thought process. They have the quality of revelation, without being in any way out of the ordinary: it is just that I now know what to do, when or whether to write that email, what to reply, what to decide. In the past, I would have needed much more time and contemplation to reach that space of inner and outer alignment.
So, yes, practice helps. We can develop this inner knowing, this sense of coherence and knowing-all-at-once that is an embodied experience. We can practice sensing the potential that is surfacing into manifestation. The first few times I experienced such insights, I remember finding it so strange that I felt some trepidation about sharing them, judging them weird and new-agey. Since then, it has becoming a familiar habit that is an integral part of how I relate with the world and with life in general.
Quote from participant:
I’ve been in a great space the last week. Next to no internal dialogue – quiet, at rest, an in-body experience. Really being cocooned, safe in my body, life, work, cosmos, and belonging. Finding this week I just have to show up, being empty and listen. Then something speaks through me and I can shut up again. It’s an intense experience and hasn’t faded away at all. – Helen
The Experience of Sourcing
Here follows a description of the different phases we have identified that can help in learning how to shift our habit from thinking through the head to sourcing though our whole being.
Crossing the threshold
For the habitual ways of being of the default Western mind, it can feel quite scary to start to rely on sourcing in many different areas of life – even though the intention is not to replace cognitive knowing, because that is included. It can often feel like being on the edge of a deep precipice – we might pitch into the void! And yet many of us feel a compulsion, a strong pull to go there. Something seems to be calling us, and when we follow the call, it feels good!
From my notebook:
If I release myself
into the Earth system,
then my mind releases itself into it also.
Not the witness,
but the mind.
Then I can be in wonder with everything that is.
Then what comes up is not ‘mine’, but is Life itself.
– April 2009, Greece
Quotes from participant:
I struggle with how much of me, the ego self, should be present. And yet I know it is to be the self, beyond ego, who engages. Somehow I am not free yet, not free enough to be there without ego attachment to the outcome. And letting go, moving beyond the edge, the leap into the unknown brings so much uncertainty, so much fear; it is beyond any trust I can find within me. … Something in me knows this holds unlimited potential and yet I cannot seem to make the leap.
And yet I know that beyond the ego self is the Self, the one who has no fear, no past or future, no need for anything, except to be in fullness, in now, and to emerge. No need for comfort as there is no fear.
In this space of shared experiment and practice, there is only one rule or principle to follow: everything that is shared is ‘the right thing’. I put this in inverted commas here, as there can be no right or wrong in these matters, just the act of trying and seeing where it leads. Unavoidably, your ego-as-habitual-pattern will hit the wall of doubt and uncertainty: Am I going to say the wrong thing? Will it sound stupid? Will others think I’m weird? At those moments, it is good to remember the rule: everything you share is OK and good enough to try.
At the same time, stay as aware as you can of where you are speaking from: am I downloading the same old thing? Is there some subtle judgement? Am I speaking ‘about’ something? Am I sharing a personal story? Am I sensing a potential, trying to name a new pattern? If we feel the pull to speak more from source, to articulate the potential we are perceiving, it doesn’t matter what we are sharing because we have to keep on trying. Some agreements and shared practices can help us to reach this next level: the use of a talking piece, the principle that everything that is shared is OK… and just keep on practicing.
Quote from participant:
After once touching into speaking from the middle, I would forever want to return there, to that incredible and liberating power of knowing. To that little worn groove in consciousness, that is now a bit more familiar. The possibilities are so vast. The opportunity to shift consciousness even in a small way is so attractive energetically. It is as if consciousness is calling, magnetising me and us to answer, to listen, to sense into, to be present, to co-sense, and to co-presence. Once knowing this experience it becomes a capacity that must be utilised, that must be put into service.
Surrender and trust
Many times women describe the feeling of the sourcing experience as being like giving birth. There is something that needs to be expressed, birthed or manifested, although there is no point of reference to steer by and the outcome cannot be anticipated beforehand. Some describe it as “something from somewhere else came through me”. It is an active surrendering to the intangible: trusting the impulse to speak, trusting that the words will come, trusting the colour to pick, trusting the image to follow… trusting something that is not first formed in your conscious conceptual mind, because you know through your subtle awareness that something wants to be expressed. I imagine that this is what every artist has to learn; this is what life is asking from all of us.
Surrendering to these subtle impulses calls for us to commit to courage and honesty; the courage to give up control and let go of the known path, and the honesty to give form and expression to the impulse sensed from within. This is in no way a conscious choice made beforehand about what to say or do. Rather, it is an experience of inner compulsion; an impulse from life itself, not from any habitual pattern. It is not uncommon to feel yourself quaking, to feel resistance and yet know you are going to do it any way. The experience holds the paradox of being aware of some particular consequences of your choice whilst at the same time feeling you have no choice. There is a strong invitation not to hold back, because life is asking me to do just this. Nothing more and nothing less. If I am true to my deepest self, this is something I cannot not do. It is a deep commitment to the whole of life. This is living in the energy of the archetypal Fool of the tarot deck: it looks as if stepping forward will lead to death, and yet not stepping forward will lead just as surely to another form of death. It is all or nothing. You can’t do it just a little bit, just as you can’t be a little bit pregnant…
In the experience of our circles, I would often invite women to continue speaking after they had put down the talking piece. My subtle sensing told me that they had stopped talking when the ideas in their mind were exhausted, but before the real sourcing had begun. They thought everything had been said and wanted to stop their contribution right at the moment when I sensed the sourcing could start. They were so close! In reality, they had come to the end of what was already formed in their minds before they started sharing, and then stopped. I would silently hand them back the talking piece and they would sit with it for a while, then begin to articulate stories and impressions from a deeper place of as-yet-unformed insight.
There is a clearly perceptible difference between the urge coming from our ego-as-habitual-patterns and the impulse coming from source. We all recognise the moments when stuff just wants to fly out of the mouth. This is habitual ego material with an emotional charge behind it, and this charge is often difficult to stop and reflect upon. By contrast, articulating from an impulse arising from the alignment of body, feeling and mind, is quite different. This impulse too can have a certain energetic force to it, but it comes from the subtle realms and, because there is an inner silence present at the same time, we can easily choose not to share it, thereby maintaining our flexibility. Of course, when the tendency of our ego-as-habit is to hold back, the very expression of this subtle urge is in itself a novel behaviour. The simple practice of noticing what is going on in our bodies – emotions, feelings, subtle sensing – is extremely valuable here: stay in the body, keep sensing and speak when moved, but otherwise keep quiet.
Quote from participants:
One learning for me was: for the first time I trusted myself. I trusted that my ability to discern or decide to speak or to ask was OK. The little mind game was there for a split second, but then I could go on. It was a big awakening to trust my inner knowing.
What is calling me is a relatively new appreciation of the unseen forces that are ours to discover and work with. Until the past few years my training and life had made me almost wholly dismissive of anything that wasn’t available for analysis. My left-brain is well developed, and I am enthusiastic about linking its abilities to the intuitive and spiritual sides of myself. Moving the edge means taking a leap beyond the conventional wisdom. It means going beyond my own sense of limitation; though I want to remain humble in my assessments. It means stepping off of solid ground and trusting that I will land in a safe place.
For sourcing to happen through you, you need to stay tuned to your body, to be open to all your senses, the subtle ones included. More specifically you need to be open to receive: some kind of impression, an elusive knowing, a certainty, a weak signal, whatever might come through. You need to reach a point where you trust your senses as much as you trust your thinking. I repeat: as much as your thinking! Your subtle sensing is crucial, because this is how you discern whether or not you are aligned, both within and without.
This is why sourcing feels so different than coming from a more ‘normal’ conceptual space of ideas, thoughts and suggestions – all from memory, from what has happened before. I cannot describe it better than one of the participants of the Women Moving the Edge gathering of spring 2009: “I have a strong felt sense of when I am on the edge. I have a somatic experience of where the awareness comes from. In these moments I experience myself as fully contributing, fully of service and the small self disappears or when present shows up in such stark contrast to the moment, that it hardly makes sense. I feel vibrations and much energy flowing through me, but completely and utterly grounded. My deepest desire is to grow into this being a truly embodied state, where I spend much more of my time.” (Cari)
One great benefit of alignment – alongside the fact that no internal dialogue is ongoing, the mind is quiet and the body at rest – is that it is an in-body experience. You feel safe in your body, in your life, in your work, in the cosmos; you have an overall feeling of belonging to life itself. All you have to do is to show up, be centred and present and listen, within and without. Should something want to express itself through you, then you follow that impulse and give it some form. It’s a subtle yet intense inner experience that becomes more recognisable with practice. When we are aligned and balanced, and focus our intention on a certain question or issue, we can picture ourselves as an empty channel or tube. This channel seems to act as an attractor for relevant information to come in.
Quote from participant:
Ideas, like tiny tendrils of smoke, are fed into your awareness. You are learning to recognise them for what they are, to give them space and articulate them, act on them. This attracts more. You have now amplified your listening by joining circles of other listeners. The focus of your listening attracts threads of potential that resonate with your intent. It is important for you to understand that when you listen for ‘what wants to happen’, you can hear only the whispers or echos of your own deeper intent. – Helen
The alignment and coherence I am describing here relate to the three perennial virtues of Truth, Beauty and Goodness . Ever growing attunement – in all directions – brings us closer to truth or wisdom, creates more beauty and is experienced as good for all and everything. There is a sureness we feel in the body as we reach deeper into these virtues. We all recognise clarity, presence, beauty when we encounter them… they bring us to a place of inner stillness and awe. So, too, can we learn to recognise this energy when we are sharing it together. Somehow it is palpable and we know it.
As much as our ego-as-habitual-pattern might be afraid of sourcing, there is another part in us that will rejoice in the feeling of being on that edge, at least after some practice. Over time there is a greater sense of comfort in this new space. To be on the edge – the edge of not- yet-knowing how to proceed or what to say – is also to live in anticipation of what is going to emerge. It is exciting, creative, joyful – a vibrant feeling! To me, it reminds me of when I was a child, knowing that something pleasant was going to happen. It has not happened yet … but the surprise will show up at any moment! I guess this is the feeling of really being alive – and more even than that, it is being at home in life as it unfolds, ourselves included. The energy says “Lets do it!”, like children deciding to embark on an adventure beyond what is normally permitted by their parents, to end up with an experience that everyone enjoys.
Sourcing and similar concepts
At the beginning we live most of the time in the physical world. Then the subtle world becomes equally real. So does the unformed. In the end the unformed actually becomes our home.
– Thomas Hübl
Of course this capacity we call sourcing is not something we have invented. Other, similar concepts come pretty close to what we mean by it. I have tried to clarify the differences between sourcing and concepts like ‘intuition’, ‘felt sense’, ‘inspiration’, ‘imagination’ and ‘presencing’. They all say something about the capacity and process of reaching with your attention into the energetic, subtle levels of reality. In one way or another, they all imply that there are forms of knowing, insight or revelation that originate not from the conceptual mind but from somewhere else. All these forms of knowing can be part of sourcing, depending on the intention and other elements.
Intuition is a word more commonly used to express that we know something before it happens or without anyone having told us; we just know, without the proof of ‘objective’ reality. In a way, it is tapping into the subtle layers of reality, be it something as yet unmanifest or, perhaps, something that was previously unconscious. There is no strict distinction between these two, when we use the word intuition. Sometimes intuition might be sourcing, sometimes it is not. What is the same in both is a direct, immediate apprehension of something, through a multi-sensory awareness in combination with intellect. Sourcing is very much an action, a directing of the attention to what is coming into being; it is a verb, a process. It is not a capacity that you either have or you don’t; it can be trained and practiced.
Felt sense is a term coined by Eugene Gendlin. He explains: “A felt sense is not a mental experience but a physical one. Physical. A bodily awareness of a situation or person or event. An internal aura that encompasses everything you feel and know about the given subject at a given time – encompasses it and communicates it to you all at once rather than detail by detail. Think of it as a taste, if you like, or a great musical chord that makes you feel a powerful impact, a big round unclear feeling. A felt sense doesn’t come to you in the form of thoughts or words or other separate units, but as a single (though often puzzling and very complex) bodily feeling.”
He developed the process known as ‘Focusing’ to unravel the felt sense in people and get to its clear meaning. A description by David Rome: “When we first notice a felt sense, it does not have a specific ‘aboutness’ yet. It is non-conceptual. But as we use the Focusing process to be with and listen to the felt sense, it may come into clearer focus (hence the name Focusing) and it may ‘open’ in a way that gives us fresh understanding of our situation. At that point—which cannot be rushed—we can begin to try out concepts on it, begin to inquire what it might be ‘about.’ But the felt sense itself is always primary, not the conceptualisation, and the practice of Focusing involves repeatedly letting go of conceptual activity and returning to the body sense.”
If you want to learn more about the clues your body offers, getting acquainted with Focusing is highly recommended. It is guaranteed to enhance your subtle sensing capacity. Gendlin also developed a process called Thinking at the Edge, which builds on the felt sense and Focusing, with the aim of building a conceptual model out of your felt sense.
The difference between Focusing and sourcing is, in my definition, that sourcing is a felt sense about an unmanifest potential: it taps into layers of energy that have not yet come into physical manifestation. Like Focusing, it is a verb and an activity, but sourcing guides your attention to the unmanifest layers of reality, it is getting a felt sense of the future through the potential present in this moment. This is not about ‘any’ future – because many people have an intuition about what is going to happen, for example, to a relative, or that someone is going to call them on the phone. No, sourcing relates to possibilities that have not existed before, potentials that arise between the question that is central to the inquiry and the deepest source.
Sourcing is different to how channeling works for some people. While sourcing, you are very present to the here and now. If you are not aware of what you said, or if you channel information that has no bearing on you personally, then I would not call that sourcing. Sourcing is bringing your attention to the unmanifest that is calling to take form and then speaking and expressing from that place. It is building a conscious partnership with this potential and the future. It is not ‘channeling some information’ and then going back to your ‘normal’ life. Sourcing is a life-changing activity, because it will gradually lead you to live closer to your own potential and integrate more of this deeper knowing. In the terms of Otto Scharmer, sourcing is being in a generative conversation with life; in the terms of Jean Gebser, it is living more from Origin.
Quote from participant:
With sourcing I am putting words on… I’m trying to find words – and they are mine – that fit with what I am sensing. There is something that I’m sensing and then I fit words to it. The articulation of the words came first, my mind was following the words. … sourcing is something that comes through and I have to put the sentence together as it emerges and it feels like it won’t make any sense until it comes out of my mouth. Sourcing feels like it is being formed as it is coming through. I use the word channeling… as this felt like it was already there. In channeling I have a sense that something is speaking to me, instead of me sensing into it.
Sourcing might be very similar to inspiration, in the way artists understand it. The painter facing the white canvas or the writer confronting the blank page also have a felt sense of what they want to bring into manifestation – without yet knowing what it will look like. They link up with a future form, and need their ideas and concepts to get out of the way so that the artistic process can happen. Their trained artistic skills can then be put in service of the emerging form. The way we use sourcing here is to guide us to new wisdom and novel insights, to applications that will help us in the emerging world, that will help us to see the opportunities for the future instead fixating on all the problems and decay.
Sourcing embraces more than imagination. I know quite a few people who take the vision formed in their mind’s eye as real, and are unable to sense whether that vision is yet ready to surface into manifestation. They might get a sense of future possibilities, but they are too removed from the here-and-now to sense what is the first step to take towards it, leaving them frustrated with themselves and with others, because their vision is not taking form. Sourcing is connecting with the energetic field of something coming into manifestation. It is sensing ‘what wants to happen’, not what I or we dream of.
Lisette made the distinction clear: “In sourcing I use my whole body, including the first and second chakra – sensing how it feels there. With intuitive vision I look from the third eye (sixth chakra): clear seeing.” (Lisette meta 09092) We can see and we can dream in a way that is not related to insight; but the combination of seeing the bigger picture and connecting with this inner knowing is quite powerful. When we source, there is a deep, aligned knowing and words will find their way if we trust and allow it to happen. Most likely those words will ring true also for the others present. We are often surprised at what we have said and the reaction it causes in the group.
In relation to precensing, sourcing is what we do when we reach the bottom of the U in a more direct sense. We have dealt with the voices of judgment, fear and cynicism and we can reach with our awareness to the deepest point. Part of the contribution this book makes to the field of Theory U and similar approaches is to show how sourcing can happen simultaneously in many people, how we can go ‘through the eye of the needle’ at the bottom of the U as a collective, to get direct access to a wider field of possibilities. As distinct from the whole sequence described in the principles in the book Theory U, it is more like what Scharmer describes here as the third possibility: “The U process can be applied to practical situations in three different ways: as process, as a set of field principles, and by operating from the presence of source.” The latter he describes as “… as connecting to and operating from the presence of your deepest source, that is, from the bottom of the U. At this level, even the scaffolding of the principles falls away. The connection to this source level is articulated in the three root principles: intentional grounding, relational grounding and authentic grounding. I call them root principles because they relate to and support the other 21 remaining principles like the root system of a tree relates to the visible parts of a tree. They establish a foundation to evoke the presence of a social field – an intentional grounding that serves the whole; a relational grounding that connects to the collective body of the social field; and an authentic grounding that connect you to your essential self as a vehicle for the emerging future.” (Theory U, p436)
These three grounding principles are related to the Inner Alignment (authentic grounding) and Outer Alignment (relational grounding) explained in the previous chapters. The intentional grounding relates to the guiding question that is in service of the whole and where the sourcing is applied.
Some more inspiration…
In his ongoing inquiry into the foundations of reality, Bohm (1980, 1993, 1994, 2003) came to see what he called “unbroken wholeness” as the fundamental reality. He describes “thought as a system” in a way that shows it functioning by limiting, or measuring this unbroken wholeness, correlating with the epistemological field. Bohm used this frame to point to what he referred to as insight, or that which comes from outside or beyond the system of thought, in our framework the ontological dimension. The “event” of insight, coming from the ontological dimension, impacts the system of thought, or epistemological field, in a manner that fundamentally “re-hardwires” it, leading to greater coherence with reality.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View, p4.
Their way of seeing had to become whole for the wholeness that is ever-present to reveal itself in the normal and natural; for the place of grace, that ‘secret place’ is ‘where we have always been’, in the normal and the natural. We just need a new way of peering into the normal and the natural. We need a new kind of view… we are suggesting that the experience of wholeness arises through the view from wholeness.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View, p9.
Bohm (1980) says that: There is in this mechanical process no inherent reason why the thoughts that arise should be relevant or fitting to the actual situation that evokes them. The perception of whether or not any particular thoughts are relevant requires the operation of an energy that is not mechanical, an energy we shall call intelligence. This latter is able to perceive a new order or a new structure, that is not just a modification of what is already known or present in memory. For example, one may be working on a puzzling problem for a long time. Suddenly, in a flash of understanding, one may see the irrelevance of one’s whole way of thinking about the problem, along with a different approach in which all the elements fit in a new order and in a new structure. Clearly, such a flash is essentially an act of perception, rather than a process of thought, . . . though later it may be expressed in thought.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View p.51.
This “act of perception” is distinguished from the system of thought, indicating a kind of intelligent perception in which “the brain and nervous system respond directly to an order in the universal and unknown flux that cannot be reduced to anything that could be defined in terms of knowable structures”.
– Jonathan Reams and Bonnitta Roy, Wholeness lost / Wholeness regained: A Process Model View, p53
“Primary knowing” arises by means of “interconnected wholes, rather than isolated contingent parts and by means of timeless, direct, presentation” rather than through stored “re-presentation.” “Such knowing is open rather than determinate, and a sense of unconditional value, rather than conditional usefulness, is an inherent part of the act of knowing itself,” said Rosch. Acting from such awareness is “spontaneous, rather than the result of decision making,” and it is “compassionate… since it is based on wholes larger than the self.”
As (Eleanor) Rosch told Otto (Scharmer), all these attributes–timeless, direct, spontaneous, open, unconditional value, and compassionate–go together as one thing. That one thing is what some in Tibetan Buddhism call “the natural state” and what Taoism calls “the Source.
– online source: http://a-spot-for-thought.blogspot.be/2009/09/analytic-knowing-v-primary-knowing.html
Gebser says “… contemplation is the mode of mystic perception, …”
– Jean Gebser, The Ever-present Origin. p24
Gendling speaks about ‘natural knowing’, about ‘natural understanding’:
“At first it brings one’s attention, not to new clarities, but rather to something muddy, a murky body-state — a felt sense. It may seem as if it were something private, merely an inner feeling-tone. But the subjective side is not private. When explication comes, it shows that a felt sense is all about the world.”
He talks about ‘dipping into’ a Felt Sense and then ‘explicate’ it. “Explicating changes I, and leads to renewed dipping and another change-step, and another, to more and more experience.”
“Our bodies imply every next bit of our further living. An action can explicate this implicit further living, and can carry it forward.”
– Gendlin, Crossing and Dipping. http://www.focusing.org/gendlin.html , p6-7.
George Leonard coined the term Focused Surrender while working on The Silent Pulse. He noted that every episode of grace or ‘perfect rhythm’ described in the book involved the unlikely marriage of trying and not trying, of zeroing-in and letting go. It appeared that both focused intentionality and the surrender of ego were necessary for experiencing existence at such a fundamental level and creating what often appeared miraculous….
There’s no question but that ego has great power, but it also has limitations. If we entertain the notion that the universe somehow already contains all information, all possibilities, and that each of us is a context of the universe from a particular point of view, then we might say that to create a sharply focused, vivid image of what we are seeking serves to ‘tune’ our being to that precise possibility. But that’s not enough. The striving, the ego still gets in the way. When we surrender, relinquishing the ego with its limitations, we open the way for grace, news from the universe, a direct connection with the divine…
– George Leonard, Michael Murphy, The Life We Are Given