7.4 Collective Sourcing

When we are ready to begin again, from that place we interpret as origin, the place of elemental principles and primitives out of which we are born – something curious happens.
– Bonnitta Roy – Born in the Middle (part2)


Sourcing as collective

Some participants in our first Women Moving the Edge gathering felt very uneasy when we announced early on that we (Ria and Judy as the hosting team) would stop offering content or structure as we had done at the start. Our guiding question was present and clear, the circle practice was known and practiced, that was all the structure we provided. Even Judy, my co-host, wasn’t totally sure this would work out, but I felt confident that the minimal structure was just right to let some magic happen. As hosts of this collective inquiry we knew how to guide the process, but we were by no means experts in the topic, nor did we hold answers to the guiding questions. Actually, the question was a real one for us and we had invited others to join us in the inquiry fully intending to learn from their contributions.

Being in a continuous collective inquiry – and all three words are essential here – is not something you can learn to do from reading a book, nor can it be taught with a presentation. A Circle of Creation is a deep-dive learning situation, around both the practices of circle, sourcing and collective presencing (all of them) and, of course, the content related with the question. In this collective learning space we help each other to experience, recognise and name the process, the practices and its elements. In this way we learn on many different levels, because we immediately reflect on what we experience.

This learning by immersion reminds us of how the old crafts were taught and learned: in a guild, by doing, over and over. By practicing the skills and understanding that there is always more to learn, more to refine, more to understand. Another beautiful model for this immersion is the way a martial art such as aikido brings students old and new together in the dojo. Older students learn as much from guiding their less experienced fellow practitioners as they do from their teacher.

Sourcing was treated extensively in part 4.34. I spoke of how it feels to take your first steps in speaking from this inner knowing, and how the most essential element is to speak from the potential that is present but not yet realised. When we start practicing this in the Circle of Presence, we come to see that collective wisdom is like a puzzle. At first you see only your own piece, then through the dialogue you begin to glimpse a bigger picture that your piece is part of. Finally, everybody is amazed together as the bigger picture emerges into clarity. In collective sourcing, as we practice it in the Circle of Creation, the boundaries between you and me, between cognitive knowing (as in knowledge that already existed in my head) and subtle sensing (or intuition), between chronos and kairos, between feminine and masculine, between’…’ and ‘…’ – all these dividing lines have disappeared. As we leave all kinds of dualities behind and are no longer bound by the dialectical mind, what we come to see is a truly novel picture.

What gives the experience such a different quality is that this happens at the same time for all involved. This energetic quality is as different from everyday awareness as the meditative state. In collective sourcing, we are in a kind of altered state, all together. It is not actually meditation, rather a collective contemplation and inquiry into a topic and a question that speaks to us all. How can I be still as nature, whilst continuing to act as a conscious human being, at the same time as being together with all present in this group? How can we all be still as nature and act as a conscious ecosystem? When we pierce through the veil of the dialectical mind it becomes very clear, alive and joyful!

Through the Circle of Presence process, we have worked to remove all kinds of blockages and are now no longer guided by our conditioning and habitual responses. In itself, this is already an achievement. When we make the leap to a Circle of Creation, we use our capacity to be present to its fullest, recognising that knowledge and insights are created also in this moment. Distinctions between data, information and knowledge fall away as all are tossed into the mix to create novel insights, all the while stirring the pot with right timing and right place. The culture of Women Moving the Edge, as it is now translated in the practice of Collective Presencing, is a strong invitation to live as close to your authentic impulses and inner knowing as possible, because they are all contributions to the whole. Through this collective practice, acknowledgment, recognition and acceptance – of each other and our gifts and contributions – come quite naturally, almost as a byproduct, but are deeply touching and life-affirming. The final experience is one of being fully alive, in the moment, together with real novel insights and seeing the next steps to action. It feels joyful to drop all boundaries, all paradoxes, all dichotomies – things our minds are so good at – to just be part of life itself.

Your centre of gravity has now shifted from being ‘in your self’, within the bounds of what you name and see as your identity, to being in a creative, dynamic and generative space – somewhere ‘in between’: between me and you, between all of us, between humans and animals, between human and nature… There is no more gap between… gaps have disappeared. There is no more ‘relationship with’, but more ‘relatedness’ – and even that does not do full justice to the experience… it is full participation in life. One piece of embodying this awareness came with my own realisation at one point “that there is nothing important any more that I can source on my own. Sourcing needs to happen in and for the collective. My development on my own has reached its limits. The collective now provides the learning edge.”

It is a difficult move for our dualistic minds, our conditioned ways of thinking, even our language. We each need to go through a process of truly not-knowing-yet. Again and again. It is not like learning to ride a bicycle, where once you have ‘reached’ this generative space, you ‘have’ it for the rest of your days. No, next time, in other circumstances, with other people in the circle and another inquiry in the middle, you will need to creep again to the brink of not-knowing-yet, or else you are not generating something novel but just repeating something you have seen before. This is a tendency that slips in quite easily, as our minds tell us ‘we have been here before’. Nevertheless, today’s collective sourcing has a different starting point than yesterday’s. What changes over time is our level of comfort with being in that place of not-knowing-yet, where boundaries dissolve and life is fully present.

It is important to differentiate between collective sourcing and the experience of flow frequently described by sport teams or jazz combos. What is the same is the feeling of being in a flow and being (part of) one big organism or whole. The difference lies in being conscious of this experience and able to translate the feeling, the inner phenomenology and the inner insights into language to express it to each other. Collective sourcing is being in a flow of meaning and understanding together with others, uncovering more of the potential and speaking and articulating it as the flow is unfolding. In collective sourcing, there is no ball, there are no players moving, no music is played. Instead there is a dynamic dialogue and a shared meaning that emerges from the practice.

In the practice of collective sourcing, people become like tuning forks, as all sense into the collective field, the potential, the resonance, the creation of something that was not there before. This is a finely-tuned form of collective knowing that we are just beginning to develop. When we come together in this emergent and generative way, the possibilities of our conversations seem unlimited. We are not trying to create an emergent system, nor are we talking about it. Instead, we become a truly conscious, intelligent and wise whole. In order to really innovate, we must use new ways of accessing information, knowledge and wisdom. Collective sourcing strikes me as a central and necessary skill in this innovation process.

By now, the distinction between collective sourcing and reaching consensus or consent in a group should be quite obvious. Consensus and consent mean that a decision is reached once there are no longer any (major) objections from the participants in the conversation. In collective sourcing, through our unique individual contributions, we collectively start to reach innovative insights and see new pictures arising. The group operating in this way does not form a unity, but becomes a coherent multiplicity. In a way, there is now a collective field that we call ‘ours’, instead of ‘mine’, but it has not glossed over our differences – rather, it has used them to the fullest. In the same way that we, as individuals, have become a coherent multiplicity in life, work and passion, so too can the group become a coherent multiplicity. In my view, the Quakers have kept this collective practice of sourcing alive through many generations (although they use different words and concepts), stating very clearly that what they do is quite different than reaching consensus. (1)

Collective embodied revelation

Sourcing is a direct, unmediated experience articulated in language. Applied to insights and the speech act, it amounts to a verbal articulation that is not first or fully processed in the mind before it is spoken. It is an embodied experience. This is the dance of a truly generative dialogue and collective sourcing. Everybody’s attention is on ‘what is emerging’, and on ‘speaking from there’. It is a deep state of collective inquiry.

It is not possible to experience collective sourcing or collective insighting when your main focus or identity point is in conceptual space. There needs to be an alignment between head, heart and body – your subtle sensing capacity must be turned on, without any emotional attachment at all. Mushin Schilling wrote: “with some people this happens naturally sometimes, then there is ‘silver in the air’ and a mutuality is born that arises as joyful creativity going nowhere… and, not needing to go anywhere, it sometimes also goes to places/spaces that are almost like a revelation.” It is this collective capacity for revelation that we call collective sourcing. Francisco Varela and others have stressed that cognition is always an embodied action, but with sourcing and collective revelation the process of speaking and articulating is also a fully embodied in-the-moment experience. Collective sourcing is always a subtle balance because we are interested in a certain topic and question – which engages our curiosity and conceptual minds – and yet we still need to be without attachment to any specific outcome.

The subtle-level resonance that we experience in collective sourcing is far beyond the group or mass flow or consciousness that we observe in football stadia, or our own sense of pride, for example, when someone from our country has won an Olympic medal. The collective coherence to which we are pointing here relies on the depth of awareness of the individuals present in the group. Coherence in the group, created through shared inquiry, makes a deeper resonance achievable, building on the individuation and uniqueness of the individual, and makes an emergent field possible. The Heart Math Institute has much to say about resonance, vibration and heart coherence.

Bonnitta Roy states (in a Facebook exchange): “… I would say the resonance remains at the animal (subtle energy) level. The subtle-level resonance is like being swallowed by a field, immersion, oceanic – the gestalt of being is fore-grounded. The love feel is like being grounded in the gestalt, but now completely enthralled by the differences, the nuances, the detail, the outline, the ornament, the tiny bursts of creativity that set alight a moment in time, and dance from here to there… a kind of tickling, twinkling of numinous stars – it’s the detail that is awakened, every nuance, every smell, every pitch and tone, hue and timbre… becomes alive.”

Further, Bonnie says: “In the theory of generativity, the ‘we’ is always grounded at the prior level of common ancestry….. Which means, for humans, the ‘we’ is in the subtle-animal realm… The postmodern ‘search’ for ‘we’ is a projection of the rejection of our animal inheritance – we don’t need to estabish a ‘we’ – we are evolutionarily guaranteed this deep inter-beingness. When we reject this (by repressing nature, our animal nature) we begin the long, tragic project of domination.”

And more: “… what emerges with humans is the reflective ‘I’ (the identification of the self)… which opens the possibility for love of other. Other types of resonances are not reliant on the individuation of self-other, so it is not possible to have the same kind of ‘love’. So you see, it is exactly the self, that ultimate sense of separation, engendered by its own reflexivity (that same self that seems to close the door to real subjective resonance), which offers the possibility for a new morphic field to emerge.”

Quote by participant:
I am beginning to understand that what we are calling ‘collective sourcing’ might be tapping into the source of the unmanifest impulse resonating deep in the core of the cosmos. – Helen


Collective Sourcing as Generative Conversation

In his book Theory U, Otto Scharmer gives two models or maps: one about types of conversation and one about related types of listening. I have found these immensely valuable in my work with people, because the maps help them see how they listen and talk and also how they can improve these skills. From these models I learned the difference between empathic listening and conversing and generative listening and conversing. In the book’s images, you see how the boundary of the I, of the self, becomes fully open and almost disappears in a generative conversation. By participating in such a conversation, you are changed by it. In this way it is generative for all involved.

Generative is for me what has ‘more of life’; it seems to be about creating, realising more of the inherent potential. It is also generative in the sense of radical innovation or breakthrough, which is different than incremental or distinctive innovation. Sometimes it is also re-generative, in the sense of healing and eliminating blockages that prevent life from flowing to its fullest.

A generative conversation flow is to be depicted not like a canal, but more like a meandering river. In a generative dialogue, questions have no pre-existing answers and there is no one line to follow. Rather, we walk different paths to finally come to a new insight and next steps at the end, having found many other valuable insights on the way. A generative conversation is a truly creative process: since there is no linear thread to follow, one line of thought will spark another and will later be woven in with what was said earlier, and so on. The core of the challenge – as in creating a work of art – is to arrive at something powerful and interesting without knowing exactly how it will come about or what it might look like. To create a work of art, the artist must journey through a phase of sensing, seeking, reaching… and sensing and seeking some more… until the final product emerges at the end. It is impossible to predict either the process or the final form of the artwork. (using some language from Jeff Barnum)

At one moment, we called collective sourcing a sacred conversation. ‘Sacred’ in the sense that we give it all our attention as something that is very precious to us.


The practice of full participation together

Stepping into a collective inquiry, as an essential part of the practice of collective presencing, requires our full self. In the previous chapter we spoke about full participation in life, as a practice in the leap from learning to become present to living from your soul’s calling. Now, the same is asked from us – all participants together – but this time in a group context and for a larger purpose: in service of the collective soul that is calling. Instead of relying on large-scale change programmes to steer the direction in which the world is going, it seems we are also called to learn, in this next phase of evolution, to truly participate in life. Intentionally participate, not with our egoïc wills and wants (for convenience, habit and comfort), but – from a physically anchored body and a free will – lending our unique capacity, skills and gifts to create collective containers that can allow, invite and awaken spirit in body and matter in different ways.

Full participation requires both a high quality of attention and a clear intention; it means being fully present and embracing responsibility for the whole endeavour. Being in a group or a team with this practice builds on all the levels to become present and put all that into service of the collective inquiry. Rather than each individual body being driven by a separate, habitual will, we allow our bodies and minds to be informed and inspired by an understanding of the whole – coming not from a projection of the conceptual intellect, but directly from the whole.

Full participation together is everyone tuned in, connected directly with life as it is happening in the moment. This is being and becoming in the way that nature is and becomes; there is nothing between me/us and life/source/origin itself! We are all fully aligned in body and soul – or at least we try to be – and our minds don’t dominate, but are part of the alignment. We speak and act from an inner, individual and shared, collective silence; that is our contribution to life right now.

Collective Presencing points to the possibility of participatory collectives consisting of both humans and other sentient beings. Joining a Circle of Creation is a generative process of shared becoming, where a group can be defined as ‘a coherent and dynamic multiplicity’, just as we have learned that individuals can be seen as a dynamic multiplicity (see chapter 6). Yasuhiko Kimura talks about ‘a dynamic multiplicity in and as ultimate simplicity.’ We learn together what Thomas Hübl calls “the competence of movement or the deep participation in the creative process”. Mastering this creative process presupposes a lot of capacities that we will talk about in the next parts of this chapter.

Source/origin/ life is essentially collective. It is already there. The question is whether or not we really participate in the potential it holds. Do we participate in this depth of life, or are we restricting ourselves to participation in the mainstream collective story? Collective Sourcing seems like the next version of collectively participating in life. Fully. The paradoxical aspect seems to be that full participation comes from a place of stillness and not from longing, expectation or willful force. We sit in the void together, sense into what is possible and has potential. It is a practice for any group, team or community seeking to evolve.

Once, I captured it this way:

Collective body wisdom
From stillness and presence
Wait for the next impulse
We know exactly what to do!

In this way full participation is different than collaboration, where we can work together in a pleasant and fruitful way, but which leaves out parts of ourselves and parts of life as a whole. Dancing with life, with source in this way might be what Ken Wilber names the causal body, “a great formlessness out of which creative possibilities can arise” (2). I leave it to Wilber experts to confirm whether this is what he meant, but I like his description!

In this practice of collective sourcing we grow accustomed to the interplay between the individual and the collective, and between the different places that we, as members of the circle, can speak from: are we speaking from the individual, habitual self or as a mouthpiece of the centre or potential? How well developed is our capacity to distinguish these? It might feel like another edge, but we can only try: “Participate as you can, right now.” The capacity for subtle sensing gets refined as we do this work, and as we practice this collectively we learn from each other. We learn to sense more easily when we are coming from source, and also to recognise when others are speaking from that space. The more we practice this collective sourcing the more refined our sensing becomes.

Witnessing the ‘we’

For me, the ‘novelty’ actually is a result of dropping some hidden assumption that has limited thought – and the experience of that produces recognizable energy states (‘highs’)… and when the plug is pulled, then all these insights flow naturally (logically)… … when people share simultaneous insights – it is usually because they discover together, the shared (previously hidden) limiting assumption. And then all the insights just fall into ‘sight’, simultaneously.
– Bonnitta Roy, Facebook exchange

Collective sourcing and collective presencing can be regarded as a new human practice and capacity the hallmark of which is a specific quality of attention and energy, shared by most or all present in the group. This is why in the early days we called it a Circle Being, as our dialectic minds tried to grasp this new experience and objectify it by putting it into some kind of conceptual box. What actually becomes tangible is not a separate being or thing but the shared awareness that we are related all the time in all directions and dimensions – interpenetrating and interweaving – and that we already were, even before we realised this and laboured under the false assumption of separation. Thomas Hübl (3) names it well as he seeks to incite a group “which is not just a collection of ‘I’s”, but “a We without a Them.”

One subtle aspect in the practice of witnessing lies in the choice of what one witnesses, and whether one names it or not. The fact of witnessing something brings it into awareness in a new way, because our attention draws an imaginary boundary around it. That which you put a loose attention-boundary around comes into existence in a way that it wasn’t before. Then, when you remove the boundary by shifting your attention away, it winks out of existence again and returns to how it was before – just as the wave sinks back into the ocean. In collective sourcing you remain aware of the weave of connections, of the space in between. Your identity is less in or on the self, your center of gravity is in the ‘field’, with the connections or the interconnectedness. When we listen in this way, we speak from what is between. It is about going beyond the imprint of being separate.

We can pitch our attention at different levels. As we pay attention to our interpenetration and interweaving, the we becomes present. Listening as an individual requires one to focus one’s attention in a particular way and at a particular level. Being a collective doesn’t mean that we are all listening in the same way or at the same time. It has to do with resting the attention on the collective field of which we are all part, and which we can tune into at any time. The original confusion that had us making a separate object out of it (the ‘circle being’) arose partly from the fact that there really is a perceptibly different energy in a group when everyone has dropped the illusion of separation. The air seems to acquire a certain thickness and slowness. We create what we give our attention to; when we witness and articulate it, it seems we give it a minimal structure.

Quote from participant:
Through in-the-moment accessing of source – in moment-to-moment emergence – this collective we begins to express on this plane of matter, through the larger we. A wholeness of presence in the collapse of space-time opens a glimmer of the mirage on the silver glistening and shadowy sea of the vast unknown. It is as if we drop our fishing lines together, there at the edge. We wait, listen, sense, and together we experience a larger NOW, eternal and yet fleeting, an emergent way of knowing, of inviting the wholeness of potential to be present in our midst. – Judy

From all this, it follows that, in my view, there is no ‘higher We’ that needs a capital ‘W’ (although that is the term Thomas Hübl uses in his current work). Simply enough, it is about dropping the boundaries that we have come to see as natural and real, until we experience all fixed and closed boundaries dropping away. This gives rise to a very different embodied experience on many levels, and we then live and ground ourselves in this manifest form of non-duality, even in everyday life and in inquiries about mundane matters and challenging problems. In this regard we come close to the potential of true dialogue seen by David Bohm as “transforming culture and freeing it of destructive misinformation, so that creativy can be liberated.” Bohm is quoted here by Terry Patten in his paper (2013) Enacting an Integral Revolution. How Can We Have Truly Radical Conversations in a Time of Global Crisis (p.19). Patten goes on to say that Bohm’s injunctions to “suspend assumptions, opinions and judgments, to participate honestly and transparently, and to stay connected to others’ participation are the foundational practices that make possible the ‘higher intersubjectivity’.”

There is a tendency to describe this specific energy in terms of ‘an energetic body’ or ‘pulsing as one’, but we must remain vigilant to prevent dialectic thinking from slipping back in, by stating that there is ‘a body’ or ‘a field’ or ‘a thing’ outside ourselves. The other slippery slope that might lure us to fall back into dualistic thinking is a longing for ‘oneness’, whereas the experience of collective sourcing actually sees, knows and experiences the diversity at work in all its uniqueness (whilst appreciating that unity is where we all come from!).

Digging deeper into his own experience of this phenomenon, Terry Patten writes (p17): “Emile Durkheim (1915) famously asserted that religion originally arose as a way for people to experience themselves as bigger and more alive in the intersubjective field of a group entering into higher states of consciousness.” I guess we are finding a new form of the religious impulse that fits with our current time and its challenges; and it is actually helpful in finding new insights that will lead to innovative solutions.


More on holding space

In a shamanic journey during on of the Women Moving the Edge gatherings, an image came up for me: Women sitting cross-legged and connecting energetically with each other, through their womb space. The intention of this exercise was to envision what is beyond the edge, to look into the jump off point. Where others saw a flock of birds, I saw this circle of women holding between them an energy field appearing as white fabric. To begin with, the fabric looked quite loose, and then as the journey unfolded it became more taut and firm. I related this back to an address by Larry Merculieff, a native elder from a tribe high in the Bering Sea, evoking the outer womb space that women need to create from their own sacred womb space inside; otherwise nothing new will be possible in the world; as a space where the new can be conceived.

We have already seen that holding space is about holding a container in which the potential can unfold. Doing this consciously and collectively we can embrace deeper and wider in the field of possibility; we can weave a more expansive fabric that spans more of a collective potential. To me, this is what the elder is speaking of. I doubt whether only women have this capacity – I have seen several men hold space well. And yet, in general, there seems to be a difference between ‘average men’ and ‘average women’ when it comes to having this capacity.

We are not sufficiently aware of the power of our collective thought forms, our collective intention, our collective attention. Striving to connect with the new when alone can be challenging. In our experience, when we do it collectively, forming a web, the channel of the new is easier to connect with. It’s not ‘just’ imagination. In this way any collective can become a safe holding space in which to be wild, to imagine the unimaginable, the undefined, where the future gets born… In response to the guiding question, a deep desire seems to awaken, opening an awareness that transcends prior ‘old knowing’ (which, because it is ‘past’, has moved from ‘now’ into a brain-data file). Through stillness, an expanded and uniquely new possibility is accessed, which is then synthesised to form a response that in some way takes into account the entire group field.


Distinction between collective sourcing and collective presencing

In its shortest definition, sourcing is a way to access information straight from source or from the unmanifest potential and articulate it right away. Collective sourcing, then, means that all the participants in the group do this, in a shared inquiry with the same guiding question. The complex practice of Collective Presencing goes beyond this one element of collective sourcing to transcend the boundaries of time and space, integrating our animal senses and our being-as-nature. Mushin wrote: “this we-fullness is of utterly humanimal character; as if, when we go through a collective rite of death (and you know that it can feel that way; actually in my experience it was the only way), we get reborn as a collective humanimal with a spirit speaking Sutras and dancing Dervish. Or something similar.” More on this in the following chapters.

The ultimate purpose of collective presencing – and a Circle of Creation – is achieving a more creative and generative life for everything and everyone, where everything and everyone can thrive. It is not just about feeling good, or learning to be present (the latter being the purpose of a Circle of Presence) – it is part of the new story for humanity – the evolution of culture.

(1) Morley, Barry, Beyond Consensus. Salvaging Sense of the Meeting. Pendle Hill Pamphlet 1996
(2) Brown, Barrett C.; Conscious Leadership for Sustainability: How leaders with a late-stage action logic design and engage in sustainability initiatives. Summary of research, excerpted form unpublished Ph.D dissertation, Fielding Graduate University, Santa Barbara, CA, 2011. (p228)
(3) Patten, Terry, Enacting an Integral Revolution: How Can We Have Truly Radical Conversations in a Time of Global Crisis? Integral Theory Conference, 2013 (p 23)


Next: 7.5 Holding not-knowing-yet
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