From Lock-Down in Paradise – Letter to the World

How extraordinary, is it not, the way Mother Gaia has gained our attention at last? Such a tiny, subtle flourish to settle this gentle, CoVid blanket onto us and bring our braying, jangling civilisation into a moment of suspension. Neither a natural cataclysm, nor the black death; simply something as fatal as it needs to be but no worse; something that can make us realise so quickly how absolutely, short-sightedly fragile and unsustainable our collective living arrangements have become, while still allowing us to experience our fabulously rapid and deep-going adaptability and capacity to pull together and change course as a species.

From what little I can see from my local bubble and my echo chamber of remote connection to family and friends all over the world, we are all exactly where we need to be – which is not to say we’re necessarily enjoying it. That, too, is extraordinary, is it not? I invite you to appreciate the ways in which that is true for you.

One corner of paradise

Lock-down in paradise

My own circumstances bring me cause for gratitude every day. When the lock-down became imminent, I was in Vietnam, preparing to travel to a gathering I had been looking forward to for months. Instead, my soul’s homing imperative brought me to ground just in time: I needed to be home, where my feet could touch the land that has claimed me. This smallholding in rural Flanders where I now find myself, locked down in paradise in spring time; in close proximity with my small community of four humans on an acre of relatively biodiverse natural abundance, in a village with no shops within walking distance, still able to victual ourselves with largely seasonal, locally produced, often even organic food supplies. Thrown together day in, day out, we are tending our relationships more mindfully than before, noticing how little we really need and which of those things (and people) we are deprived of that we really value and miss. The land we steward together has never looked more tended and loved. We are tanned, healthy, well-nourished and relatively at peace. The one blight on my horizon is being forcibly separated from my Beloved.

I spend a lot of time online, mainly in collective zoom calls with my various networks and communities, and in one-on-ones with near and dear absent ones and souls seeking my witnessing. With the new norms of physical distancing taking a toll on our oxytocin levels, I notice how we are starting to get creative in how we connect in virtual space, recognising the surprising power and potential of our non-local energetic capacities to stimulate soothing physical responses in our bodies. This is NOT the magic of technology, methinks – just technology facilitating the awakening of a latent human capacity, if we choose to pay attention. Notice how the act of reaching out our hands to the edges of our video frames, as we gaze at a flat screen full of boxes holding human heads and shoulders all doing the same thing, can evoke an eruption of goosebumps and a surge of expansive warmth that explodes out from the heart. I can even engage in tantric practice with my Beloved, in lock-down half way around the world. The thing I miss most of all is his kiss. Being able to breathe the same air, directly, and feel contained in his embrace. That starts up a powerful, physical surge of longing in me that I don’t know what to do with… And that’s a key part of the story I want to tell with this letter.

Burning off karma

During this time of suspension in paradise, too, I find my nose being continually rubbed into my own shit. All my ancient wounds and traumas are being paraded through my system in a seemingly endless bucket list of things to heal. It’s one of the ways in which I know that I am exactly where I need to be. A chance comment, circumstance, thought or perceived slight triggers a disproportionate emotional reaction and I’m yanked into the Underworld. So I have made this my central practice for as long as this situation endures: I follow the thread of disturbance and pain wherever it leads me, and I surrender to what I find. Soon I discover that the subtle thread of present discomfort is attached to the string of a pattern of similarly discordant threads reaching out from the past; tied in turn to the rope of some childhood trauma; itself lashed to the hawser of family and ancestral wounding, shackled in turn to a massive, corroded and slimy coiled chain of shared pain-grief-horror-rage-despair-brutality-fear arising from the depths of the collective unconscious. This is the regular pattern: it happens every time. The intensity mounts faster the more I practice, and I soon find myself panting and blowing like a woman in labour, completely absorbed in the sensations of the crescendoing, descending torrent scouring through me, ripping away and flushing out anything in my system that isn’t an organic part of who I essentially am in this moment. Mercifully, the more I practice, the more quickly this process runs its course and the faster I recover. Sometimes I will have two or three waves of this in one day, some days I get a respite – or at least I think so, until I’m caught unawares by the next onslaught.

Burning off karma

My Beloved sent me a quote from a book we are both reading, that placed my experience in context: “I saw that the generations born in our period of history had been deliberately configured to precipitate an intense cycle of collective purification. The poisons of humanity’s past were being brought to the surface in us, and by transforming these poisons in our individual lives, we were making it possible for divine awareness to enter more deeply into future generations.” (Christopher M. Bache, LSD and the Mind of the Universe: Diamonds from Heaven). One thing is becoming crystal clear to me: we live in an infinitely intelligent, ensouled universe and humanity would be greatly helped and comforted if we could but awaken to that truth.

The future we do not want

Which brings me to the main purpose of this letter to my human family. After the disaster of Fukushima in 2011, Bob Stilger spoke words on behalf of the Japanese people: WE HAVE BEEN RELEASED FROM A FUTURE WE DID NOT WANT. The insight offered to the Japanese nation by the Fukushima disaster is now being made available to humanity as a whole in this Great Pause. The forced interruption of our addictive, numbing and brutalising busyness is allowing us to take stock of the way in which our globalised civilisation is hurtling towards a future that none of us want. There is a great deal of conversation going on already, in all my networks and, for sure, everyone else’s networks too, about how we don’t want to go back to business as usual (despite the imminent onslaught of advertising and political and media gaslighting that will try to convince us that that’s exactly what we do want, as soon as the lock-down is lifted) and about what we want the ‘new normal’ to look like. Many are already busier than ever, at their computer screens, zooming with their peers around projects and prototypes for changing the world.

Still Point

I was recently gifted two days of migraine. I took the opportunity to practice my practice, and followed the pain where it took me. It took me to a place of utter stillness, and then deeper and deeper, through a portal like a black hole and out into the infinite expanses of The One. Just stillness, pristine presence, and aloneness. The unfathomable loneliness of The One for whom there is and can never be an Other. I was given to understand that the impulse at the heart of all creation is an unbearable longing that prompts The One into a continual, spontaneous and exuberant process of self-differentiation, multiplication, complexification into The Many that we experience as ourselves and the world around us, all the way out to the farthest reaches of the universe and all the way in to the quantum field. All born of the fabric of The One, and all drenched in that same primordial longing for communion and self-knowledge.

Still point

My sense is that it is still premature to be seeking to design our future. Before we head back into activity – even activity to build the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible – we would be well advised to learn how to find and access our individual and collective Still Points and practice spending time there as a matter of course.

The path of longing

As we turn towards contemplating the future that we want, then, let us be inspired by the example of The One. Since that migrainous encounter, I find I when i tune in and return to the Still Point, The One remains available. Yesterday I asked for guidance. The response I received is what has prompted this letter.

At the root of Creation lies Longing.

For Manifestation to unfold with ease,

it must hold the Integrity

that arises from the wellspring

of our deepest Longing.

Imagining a “solution”

to satisfy that longing

will foreclose the future

into something that resembles the past,

because all we can imagine holds the blueprint

of what we have already experienced.

Let us then tell the story

of the path that brought us here to this moment

as an echo of the whispered longing

that brought us to our birth.

This is how we can keep our lives on track

and our undertakings in integrity

with the power at the root of creation.

In other words: before we start ‘designing’ and ‘building’ out of our limited conceptions, let us begin by tapping into our deepest longings. We can do this by taking stock of our lives, by exploring the depths of our own lived stories in search of that throbbing, aching longing and what it tells us about our truest heart’s desires.

I’m not going to share my life story with you here. The relevant pain points touch directly into the lives of others whom I prefer respectfully to leave anonymous. If you’re curious, you can read my personal fairytale here. When I tell my life story in this way, these are the longings I find:

  • A longing for relationship, connection, true intimacy

  • A longing to be seen, witnessed, appreciated for who I am

  • A longing for love, support, holding, guidance and accurate mirroring

  • A longing to spontaneously and fully express my life force, my love, my gifts

  • A longing for the sacred, the numinous, the ultimate; for the Good, the True and the Beautiful

  • A longing for simplicity, for nature, for balance in all things, for enough

  • A longing for a picture big enough to make sense of all the dimensions of my experience.

I recognise these longings as mine. There might be some that resonate with you, dear reader, and I do not doubt that you will have some longings that my life experience has not yet prepared me to embrace. My heart’s desire is that you will feel invited to join this inquiry, sink into your own story and place your longings into the centre of the imaginary circle of all those who have appetite to join it. Imagine a pool in which all our longings can co-exist and nuance and transform each other.

What would a world look like in which everything that was designed and built by humans was tested against criteria informed by a living pool of our deepest and most potent longings? What would a human culture look like in which our participation was focused on fulfilling the longings of every person on Earth, in a way that Mother Gaia and all her other children, too, could rejoice and participate?

What longings would your story add to my list? If you would be interested in joining a virtual circle where we experiment with taking this practice further, please ping me in the comments.

Posted in Aquarian practice, Emergence, healing, Manifestation, Storytelling, transition | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter: A glimpse into the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible

This article first appeared in the spring-summer 2016 issue of Kosmos Journal.

The quality of our conversations makes our world what it is. How we talk to each other determines whether we walk away from each other and prepare to fight for our separate interests, or hold fire, stay together and open up into a future of mutual understanding and brighter possibility. Conversation is an art that can be practiced at any scale, from ones and twos to thousands, on timescales ranging from minutes to days to permanently ongoing.

This article is an introduction to a body of practice and a growing global self-organising network that I feel holds a crucial piece of the puzzle of how to start to embody the new story of the civilisation that we deeply intuit is possible, and that human hearts and souls long for. The ‘Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter’ is a participatory approach to life where personal practice, dialogue, hosted collective inquiry and co-creative innovation support the healthy unfolding of human life on Earth in the complex conditions of today’s world. It is especially effective in those situations and contexts where the complexity is such that our habitual resort to ‘predict and control’ just makes things worse, and we barely dare to admit that we don’t know what to do. The pattern of this practice spans the personal and the collective, the local and the global, the inner and the outer, the visible and the invisible. Its domain—the place where it thrives—is the complex reality of living systems, the sweet spot between chaos and order where resides the co-creation of the truly new. Its ethos is a love of wholeness, a delight in the aliveness of diversity, a fierce and radical inclusion of everything that shows up in the world.

An example of co-creation in action

Mike speaks

Mike speaks. (Photo by Hans Stockmans)

“Imagine you have everything set up for the next five years, and then suddenly it all goes wrong. You end up losing everything. One day you lose your money, on other days you lose your friends. Finally, you lose the safety of your home. You have lost it all because your society has gone wrong. And so there is nothing left to do but leave, to go somewhere else. That’s when you discover that wherever you go, people are afraid of you. After a long and difficult journey, I arrived in this country. In the 4 months I have been here, this is the first place I have found where people have the courage to meet strangers without fear. Thank you.”

The speaker of these words is a young Syrian man called Mike. He is speaking into a large and diverse circle of people in a historical manor house deep in the rural hinterland of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. He has been brought to this place and this circle by a string of synchronicities, in response to his own heartfelt request – and that is another story.

So what is this circle of people doing together in this place? And, as I allow the shivers to run through my body on receiving Mike’s story, why am I not surprised at the magic in this room? We are more than 70 people, from three continents and 14 countries. Our ages range from 14 to 70. We come from different cultural and historical backgrounds and social and financial circumstances. Most of us did not know each other when we arrived. We have been together in this place for two days already and this is the morning of the third and last day of our gathering. Each of us has chosen to be here in response to the call of a question that matters to us: “What if it were up to us to embody a society where everyone and everything can thrive? Where I can accept and celebrate your culture and values without having to devalue or sacrifice my own?”

This question arose from a collective inquiry among a handful of people living in Belgium and in search of more satisfying ways of relating to the diversity that is an inescapable fact of life in today’s society. In language, culture, politics, ethnicity, creed, age, profession, role, personal history – the ways in which we differ are infinite. Wherever we look, we see chasms to be crossed, bridges to be built: how can top-down meet bottom-up? How can we engage with all stakeholders? Integrate successive waves of refugees? Reach out across the gulfs between generations, faiths, languages, worldviews and cultures? How can we invite all these differences into an appreciation of our abundance, instead something to fear?

And what is the point of gathering to inquire into such a vast question when we are, relatively speaking, so few? What difference can it possibly make to the turmoil pounding against the borders of Europe and frothing into its heartland to disrupt our quiet lives? The point is: to learn together. We are here together for three days to learn and practice the Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter (also called the Art of Participatory Leadership): a body of methods and practices to help us stay present with these questions in our daily lives, in ways that can transform our experience, individually and collectively. This is a practical approach to building the capacity for a different way of being together that is essentially participatory and co-creates collective intelligence, where we talk with each another, and not about each other. These practices help us to bring forth action (and non-action) based on the best collective wisdom present in any human system.

Learning gatherings like the one described here have been taking place throughout the world, on every continent (except Antarctica), for almost 20 years. No one has counted how many there have been. Each one is unique. Each one finds some new way to innovate, always building on and bringing forth the shared practice and models of the Art of Hosting, which is in essence a pattern for co-creation.

Foto 07.02.16, 10 25 21

Loaves and fishes manifesting as tea-time

As an example, in this gathering in Belgium we added two experiments related to the aspect of embodying the new society. Firstly, instead of buying in the catering, we ‘hosted’ the kitchen: we invited in a team of volunteers to participate by preparing our meals (Syrian Mike was a valued member of the kitchen crew). The result of that experiment was a bit like the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. We wallowed in a veritable banquet of exquisite, organic, vegetarian dishes at every meal, with a budget that came in below the estimate and debouched upon half a barn full of unused ingredients to give away. The second experiment was the ‘shared economy’. Learning how to embody the society where all can thrive also means finding new ways to relate to money and value creation. We therefore deviated from the convention of charging a standard fee for the gathering (also offered as a training) as a transaction, opting instead for a learning experiment to discover what the future holds for communities that can work well with economy, currency, value and generosity, bringing relationship back into the exchange. This took the form of a cooperative, responsibility-based calling in of the resources needed to make the event possible, where the community as a whole—and not just the organising team—held the financial responsibility. That experiment resulted in a rich exploration of the shadow and light of our diverse relationships with money, meaning and value. The budget and finances (including the diverse fees asked by the hosts/trainers) were held in full transparency and we ended up with enough of a surplus to offer a financial contribution to each of the volunteer members of the kitchen crew (who had asked for nothing). We also came away with some co-created principles that our community wanted to use to determine its economy – principles that can (and will) travel out into the future beyond our group and context. I see such experiences as prototypes for the ‘circles of creation’ referred to in the series of articles on Collective Presencing I co-authored with Ria Baeck.

Given the timing and context of this learning event, the choice of ‘calling question’ was very deliberate. Our three days together taught us much about what it takes to embody that society where everyone can thrive. In fact, by practicing the patterns of the Art of Hosting, we co-created it in microcosm at the same time as we talked about it. Together we confirmed that it is possible to design processes which create a ‘safe container’ where people can show up in their diversity, their vulnerability, their authenticity, their curiosity and their creativity. Within that container, sharing our stories allows us to see each other in our humanity, beyond gender, history, culture, place of origin, rank/status, occupation, etc. When we meet in our humanity, diversity is not a threat but an opportunity: our differences are our wealth, what allows us to thrive in the complexity of life.

Café in full swing

World Café in full swing (Photo by Damien Versele)

So what is this Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter?

The Art of Hosting has been described in many different ways. This makes perfect sense, since it is a multi-faceted, continually evolving set of practices, models and perspectives. One way to think of it is as an ongoing inquiry into how to create collective intelligence and collective wisdom, and what happens when it becomes emergent – when deep conversation and cross-pollination bring novel insights and new shared meaning.

Another way of describing the Art of Hosting is as an iceberg. What appears first to the eye is a palette of conversational methodologies and approaches, many of which (Circle, Open Space Technology, the World Café, Appreciative Inquiry) were ‘invented’ elsewhere and are beautifully stewarded by their own communities of practice. One thing that all these methodologies have in common, though, is that while they mimic natural, spontaneous conversation, to do so effectively they must be skilfully invited, designed, hosted. The art lies in knowing when to use each, in service of a worthy purpose. The Art of Hosting takes the basic architecture, principles and processes of these methods and mixes, matches and adapts them to meet the needs of whatever context it is serving. This weaving and blending is our art form.

Beneath these methodologies that appear as the tip of the iceberg, we find the invisible scaffolding, attitudes and practices that allow the whole thing to float. Underlying everything are the basic assumptions that make up the Art of Hosting world view. Foremost of these is the awareness of human organisation as a complex, living system: just as living systems exist everywhere in nature (bacteria forming colonies, ants creating an anthill, complex ecosystems adapted to different climates, etc.) so people and organisations are complex living systems as well. In other words, they are intelligent, creative, adaptive, self-organising, and meaning-seeking. This is why participatory practices are so vital today: because they enable everyone to participate and be empowered. The innovation that humanity needs to get us out of the trouble we are in grows out of the dance between chaos and order, in the cross-pollination and new linking of ideas, experiences and insights. Conversations do, indeed, matter, because wise action (and non-action) emerges from the shared meaning we create together. (See also my article Evolutionary Entrepreneurship, engaging the collective will.)

The power of practice

Out of this view of the world as a living system springs an attitude to life not as a quest for knowledge and understanding, but rather as a practice of participation – a sacred search for the wicked questions that will open us up to experience more of life, more of our own depth, more of the mystery of the other and the magic of what we can create together, in service of Life. At the heart of the Art of Hosting lies what practitioners call ‘the four-fold practice’. The word ‘practice’ is prime here: we are learning together, one conversation at a time, to identify and strengthen the muscles of awareness that will allow us to develop mastery of a key social art form of the future. (The Art of Hosting provides a perfect portal into the practices of Collective Presencing).

  • The first dimension of this practice is that of developing personal presence as the basic instrument of participation. Presence is that quality of authenticity, vulnerability, confidence and courage which allows me to stand in the midst of intense emotion, to tolerate not-knowing-yet without rushing to fix anything, to be comfortable with silence, to work in service of purpose bigger than my ego. The practices that can support the emergence of presence are many and varied to suit all tastes: yoga, dance, martial arts, meditation, prayer, psychotherapy, time in nature, tantric sex, art, music – the point is to commit to regular practice and apply it here and now!
  • AoH_BE_08-02-2016_HS-032_LR

    An aid to good dialogue: passing the talking piece

    The second dimension of practice is participation. On one level, this means practicing engaging in good conversations, in dialogue with deep listening. At a deeper level, we find in every waking moment an invitation to participate with all of life. Practices within this domain include active listening, dialogue, asking powerful questions, owning one’s own projections, expectations and assumptions, clarifying intentions, cultivating curiosity and opening to nature.

  • The third dimension of practice is hosting conversations. This is the domain of the methodologies that are the most obvious hallmark of the Art of Hosting. Beneath the surface, we learn the art of creating and holding a container in which people can have deeply meaningful conversations—even in a 2-day conference with 800 participants. We learn to ‘set’ the conditions that will allow a group to settle into collective presence, and to hold that space through the confusion of leaving familiar territory so that new order, fresh clarity and deeper relationship can emerge. Such conversations are much more likely to happen in the presence of clear intentions, a powerful calling question, a compelling invitation, good design, skilful framing, and the presence to hold space for emergence. One of the central tenets of the Art of Hosting is “never host alone”. This is not work for the solitary hero – “it takes a field to host a field”. It takes many years to master these subtle arts of collective interaction, and that is another reason why we call it ‘practice’!
  • The fourth dimension of practice is community. It is one thing to go to a training and learn the basics of the hosting practice. If we are to sustain our learning and keep our practice alive and growing to transform ourselves and our environment, we need to stay connected to other practitioners: we need a community of practice. The traditional way of ‘controlling the quality’ is to create an organisation or association that sets the standards. But to give emergence a chance, we share our knowledge through collaboration and conversation, without any formal hierarchy. In a way, this practice of community—this community of practice—is the culmination of dedicated practice by many people in the other three domains.

An emergent pattern of the New Paradigm: viral community

Within a little over a decade, the Art of Hosting community has grown from a handful of friends experimenting and sharing ideas together, to a global, self-organising network of many thousands, with new members joining all the time. For most people, the entry is through a three-day training like the one described above. For many, it is life-changing. There is no central institute rolling out cookie-cutter training seminars. Indeed, there is no licensing, trademark or copyright (other than a creative commons copyright for the co-created open-source companion guide), no organisational structure, staff or headquarters, no financial expectations or agreements. Each learning gathering is unique, called forth by a need in a local context and brought into being by the efforts of a few local practitioners, usually supported by one or more very seasoned ‘stewards’ of the Art of Hosting pattern, who might come in from another part of the world and who safeguard quality and protect the integrity of the DNA of the practice.

The people who attend these local training events come from all walks of society – local government, NGOs, schools, businesses, social workers, local community activists of all flavours, and just plain people who care to make the world a better place and are hungry for deeper human connection. Typically, in obedience to the injunction never to host alone, new practitioners then call in their local ‘mates’ to support them in applying the practices of Art of Hosting in their own contexts, where those practices begin to spread and transform what they touch. This is how local self-organising communities of practice have popped up in countless locations around the globe, allowing practitioners to support and deepen their practice together, and growing as ever more souls are touched by the practice and themselves call for training so that they, too, can immerse themselves in these patterns.

And then comes application: the practice in practice! Often a specially designed event is called for in a specific field, so as to engage with the full diversity of real stakeholders – examples include both food and finance in the UK, education in Lithuania, healthcare in Columbus, Ohio (USA), young people in Nova Scotia, business all over the place. In other cases, the Art of Hosting practices have taken root in a community or organisation and begun over time to transform it from the inside, stitching together the dynamic and healthy ecosystem that lives in potential within every space of human endeavour, despite the boundaries that tend to fragment us. Examples of this are Kufunda Village in Zimbabwe, the city of Columbus (Ohio) and the European Commission (now spreading to the other EU institutions) in Brussels. Stories from these and other contexts can be found at

All of these local fields are connected through a global, self-organising network that supports collective learning through a mailing list, online forums, a growing resource library and informative website.

In conclusion, what emerges

Over the years that the practice of the Art of Hosting has been developing and spreading, certain patterns consistently show up at different levels of scale:

  • Individuals step into their personal leadership to champion what they care about.
  • Teams increase their capacity to take wise action in complex situations.
  • Communities and organisations embrace more diversity, reconnect with their purpose and manifest more of their potential.
  • Globally, healthy, collaborative ecosystems of diverse communities and organisations emerge, seeking ways forward that benefit the whole.

I am writing this at a time when humanity is facing perhaps its ultimate challenge, as it is called to evolve away from our instincts of fight/flight/freeze towards our new capacities of witnessing, articulating and generating from conscious intention. The Art of Hosting Conversations that Matter offers a very effective training ground for building these new capacities. May we together fulfil our potential!

Diversity flows

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What are the practices of a Learning Village?

Statenberg manor

As we prepare to move into our second iteration of the International Learning Village at Statenberg Manor in Slovenia, I have revisited my notes from last summer to distil some thoughts that can help us to start from a more intentional place as we gather to take up where we left off in August 2012.

The following is simply a list, in no particular order, of the practices I observed us developing during our time together last year.

  • Generosity – At the heart of Circle Practice is the injunction: “offer what you can, and ask for what you need”. Dropping beneath the often disturbing conversation about money, last year we learned how important it is to openly express real appreciation and recognition. Many of us who live in the capitalist West have forgotten this, used as we are to close our transactions with an exchange of money, which tends to preclude the opportunity to build the relationship further. Living in the spirit of inquiry in the Learning Village offers us an abundance of opportunities to explore how generosity in both giving and receiving can deepen and broaden the web of interrelationships that form the basis for true community.
  • sacred fire

    Keeping the sacred fire – The presence of an ‘indigenous’ culture carrier last year allowed us to experience the extra dimensions that some lineage and ritual can provide. Regardless of the tradition that is practiced – in our case it was Pawa’s Nuu-chah-nulth lineage from the west coast of Vancouver Island – we entered collectively into a shared sense-making grounded in the practices of offering to the spirits of the land and place, the directions, the ancestors. The ‘grandmothers’ of the community stepped up explicitly to the practice of holding space for the gathering and offered sessions of deep sensing every morning in circle, in the presence of the flame that burned all the time that the community was in Open Space, open to all who wanted to attend. These turn out to be alchemical moments in the cauldron together: if we cook together for long enough, some wisdom will infuse into the stew.

  • Harvesting

    Inviting in the subtle dimensions – our community turned out to have quite a few ‘Aquarian shamans’: individuals sensitive to subtle energies and the teeming life that goes on behind the veil of surface appearances. In the Learning Village, everybody is invited in to subtle sensing: no one person has the whole picture, but each one is encouraged to speak what he or she senses into the middle – even if you don’t know what it means: somebody else might hold the key.

  • Passion and responsibility – life in Open Space can manifest its full potential only when each person participates fully: bringing their unique passion and individual responsibility as a contribution to the whole. This is when we truly learn what it means to live by the Law of Two Feet: my most authentic contribution is to be fully myself at all times, and to live the fullest expression of that truth.
  • Community – is a side-effect of the Learning Village. The foundation is learning to host myself.
  • Contribute by being yourself

    Conscious intention – Speaking our intention makes the implicit explicit – and life goes more smoothly when we do this. Good intentions can lead to unexpected consequences, especially when left implicit. Those unintended consequences can offer great opportunities for learning, but only when made explicit. So in the face of misunderstandings and disagreement, we examine our assumptions and speak them in the name of shared clarity.

  • Protect a minimal structure – last year someone offered this wisdom: “Lock everything you think you will need inside your house (with the key), then check later to see whether you still need it.” Collectives have a tendency to want to keep tweaking and adding refinements to the group norms, that then crystallise into rules. We learned last year that the minimum structure of Open Space was all that was needed. All other attempts at refining and improving gave us opportunities to reclaim our passion and responsibility for our own two feet, to reclaim our own judgements and expectations, and to LEARN our next lesson.
  • Hosted learning – having learning as the purpose of the village and our reason for participating allows us to release our judgements about what is going on. Hosted learning provides both witnessing and container. The field calls out my behaviour.
  • Celebrate connection

    Hosting with Place – last year we recognised some of the many ways in which the manor of Statenberg, the neighbouring village and its natural surroundings hosted the community and contributed to its wellbeing. Place is very present to intentional gatherings of humans, and when we explicitly invite and invoke the place to participate, it shows up in remarkable ways. As we move around the space, we can notice small details that give us pleasure through their beauty and evanescence – the way the sunlight falls on a stone, the butterfly that lands on my knee just as I speak a profound insight. This little miracles of cosmic presence are amplified when we share them with each other.

  • Hosting diversity – in a Learning Village, some folks want to innovate, whilst others want to preserve. We live in creative tension, understanding that the Art of Hosting – the common core of our learning community – has some basic foundational patterns that define its identity.  Last year we learned that being in community is like ‘homeopathic broadband’ – it amplifies whether or not I am connected to myself. In a diverse community, settling down can happen in one place (in the men’s circle, for example) at the same time as wildness is happening somewhere else (around the fire)… At the core, this is about hosting diversity: how do we allow it all to be there? The introverts, the people who hate being here, the people who aren’t ‘joiners’? We learned that the stronger the centre, the further the diversity can spin out the fringes without fragmenting the whole.

    Butterfly meetings

  • Recognising roles – the very fact of identifying the different roles, elements and functions that show up in our community enriches its complexity. Last year we witnessed the emergence of a number of roles, and naming and claiming them made their practice more intentional: there were historians who made meaning; map-makers who saw what we were doing and how it affected the whole; hosts who stewarded certain inquiries on behalf of the whole; harvesters who captured and represented our village life in colour and form; shamans who sensed the subtle and offered sacred ritual. And there were intentional apprentices to each of these roles: we come to the Learning Village to build relationships so that we can identify those who can mentor us in our development. The role of mentor earned special attention, because it comes with some baggage, so some etiquette is needed. Mentorship is invited by the mentee. The mentor does not teach, she holds up a mirror: as the mentee, the invitation is to witness me, and to bear witness to those parts of me that I do not yet see. It goes without saying that the mentor also learns.
  • Butterfly meetings  – those chance encounters around the ‘official’ sessions allow for synchronicity to play its full part. In fact, the whole gathering is one big butterfly meeting, and understanding this can help to open our eyes to the way the Kosmos shows up and participates.
  • Holding space

    Holding space is a core activity in any Open Space context. Seen from the outside, it looks a lot like ‘doing nothing’. In reality, though, it is an intentional practice that demands full presence: when the space is not held, the subtle container of the minimum structure that lends the community and its conversations overall coherence is weakened, and everyone feels it. Last year, because we were in Open Space for five whole days, we invited all members of the community to step in and hold space on behalf of the whole when they felt called to do so – no need to be a member of the hosting team, in other words. Although space holders don’t participate in sessions, they could be seen taking pictures, bringing fruit snacks to the different groups, and even walking in the local village! At the end of the session, the space holder would share with the whole community what he or she had witnessed or learned from that perspective.

  • Harvesting is an act of generosity towards the whole, capturing moments of meaning and weaving them into a coherent picture that enables the community to witness itself. The presence of some truly gifted graphic facilitators last year brought inestimable value and gave villagers of all ages the opportunity to learn new skills and contribute in unexpected ways. Photography, poetry and prose produced a number of artefacts that have outlived our time together.
  • Celebrating love

    Celebration – the very fact of coming together as a village that learns is a happening worthy of celebration. Our friendship, our differences, our children, our longings, our passions, our creativity and good will – the fact that as human beings we are coming together because we choose to co-create the future our hearts tell us is possible, rather than staying at home and surrendering to the dismal prospects that await us if we carry on ‘as normal’. And so, as a learning village, we practice the art of celebration at every opportunity: celebration is in the knowing of it.

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Woven back into Nature – leopard in the long grass

I remember the moment, at a Women Moving the Edge gathering in 2008, where the truth percolated through to me (for the first time in my adult life) that magic is real. It felt as if every cell in my body suddenly became fairy dust. Fizzing and tingling and luminous. Obviously, this was not a ‘discovery’ but a ‘re-membering’. Not a remembering of something I have known, but a re-membering into what I had forgotten I belonged to. That first time, the experience was fleeting. It didn’t long survive re-entry under the stifling blanket of social consensus, where the very word ‘magic’ is seen askance. I squirreled the knowledge away in my safe inner sanctum, like a sacred virus contained in a slow-release capsule.

So what is it that I belong to, that I had forgotten? The short answer is ‘Life’. The longer answer discerns some strands or dimensions – specifically ‘space’ and ‘time’ – that we tend to look at as physical properties of the universe, but which I am now discovering as entities with their own presence, intelligence and willingness to engage with me as I allow myself intentionally to be woven into the fabric of the kosmos.

Spot the robin

In recent years, I have been discovering kinship with different ‘segments’ of nature’s population. From one day to the next, for example, I started to notice birds. Each time I look out the window or step out of doors, my eyes are instantly drawn to birds. I have an all-at-once knowing of where the birds are in my immediate vicinity, and it is as if my boundaries snap out to embrace everything that is between those birds and the surface of my skin.

The greatest impact to date, though, has come from the trees. I’ve always loved trees, but I know the exact moment that ‘trees’ became psychoactive beings in my world. I happened to be at a wedding at Chaudfontaine, and a huge and ancient plane tree literally summoned me to come beneath its shade and stand against its trunk. You see me, so I call you to me. It is time for you to learn from the trees. The gates of my heart flew open and the membrane of my skin dissolved into music. A few hours later, a massive cyclone blew through Belgium.

tree-dimensional space

Its path took it right through Ransberg, where it uprooted one of the two walnut trees on the land I am stewarding. I learned of the devastation the next morning, seeing photos Ria posted on the Dorpsstraat blog. Just seeing that tree in a photo was enough to bring a flood of sensation and information washing into me. Since that time, I have come to know trees as knowledge bearers. It is as if ‘tree’ is a globe-embracing dimension of being and knowing that fills the space above and below the ground. Since the other grand old walnut tree on our land fell, silently and gracefully in the night of 21 December 2012, I have known the truth that every tree that ever stood on earth yet stands and shares its being and its knowing through the ether. This ‘tree dimensional space’ is permeable, intensely alive and aware, intimately interwoven with every aspect of the natural ecosystem both physically and in the subtle realms. It is full of story, sensation and light – and seamlessly compatible with the human sphere, provided the human psyche intentionally invokes contact.

I have given the trees blanket permission to permeate me, permanently, and now I am tree sister.  When I walk outside I feel how their fabulous coherence heals and cleanses my own aura, unknotting all the pockets of dense attachment and stress, bringing me to wholeness and rest. When my father died suddenly last new year’s eve, within 15 minutes of learning of his death, with the shock of it coursing through my body, my feet took me out into the street. Instantly, all the trees in the neighbourhood were leaning in to me, sweeping through me, swiftly, surely, firmly, settling my trembling nerves, restoring my coherence, connecting me to the place that knew the truth of my father’s soul-vacated body.

Leopard in the long grass

Just as the dimension of space is alive and aware, so, apparently, is the dimension of time. I have been struck a lot lately by the way timing is showing up as an active protagonist these days. Right Timing appears like an angelic force, omnipresent as I learn the rules of this delightful new game. Where in the past I might have been tempted to force things, now I just accept them: aah OK, it’s not the right time. This creates a different stance in life – I’m no longer succumbing to the ingrained human habit of thinking about what I want to do or achieve in life (or even just ‘today’). Instead I feel much more like wild nature – like a leopard in the long grass. All I have to do is be a leopard in the long grass and dinner will show up. What I need to thrive is given to me – it’s not that I have to go and kill something: dinner simply shows up and is absorbed – the meaning is different: the lower life form is somehow absorbed into the more complex one.

Just having Timing showing up as a protagonist in the cosmic unfolding brings everything into a completely different place… Instead of thinking, I am listening. Not only with my ears, but with my whole being. All my judgements and expectations become like the buzzing things that inhabit the sun-drenched heat of the plain, as the leopard sits in the long grass, perfectly still, alert and alive. Even the prosaic and down-to-earth context of the work place becomes just another stretch of long grass for me to leopard in…

Learning this new game feels a little like stepping out of the map and into the territory. Through the back of the wardrobe into the world where space and time, nature and past-present-future are living presences that interact with me. Instead of an unconsciously held map created by my mind, I am empty mind and presence in the landscape, alert and listening to see what shows up, suspending judgement and waiting to see what wild nature, as helen, responds to. What leopards do when dinner shows up. What’s the natural thing that happens? What is my natural mode of expression in the territory, when I step away from my conditioning?

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In Memoriam – an Integral life in the Navy

In memory of my father, Commander Roy Titchen, who passed away suddenly on new year’s eve, I am republishing a post initially published on my old blog back in November 2006. 

photoMy parents have been visiting, and a fascinating story leaked out from my dad while we were cooking the porridge. My mum couldn’t see what all the fuss was about – but she didn’t realise I had never heard this story before.

My dad used to be an officer in the British Royal Navy, and in 1962-3 he was posted on HMS Jaguar as the weapons engineering officer (WEO). It just so happened that he also had an experienced, mature assistant for training, so he wasn’t as occupied as he might have been with the guns, cannons, torpedoes and whatnot, especially in peace time.

The ship was on its tour of duty for a year, with a crew of 200. They visited Gibraltar, Malta, Jordan (Aqabah), Kenya (Mombassa), South Africa, Mauritius, the Falkland Islands, Uruguay (Punta del Este) and Tristan da Cunha.  A floating community with not a woman on board (except for a minor incident off Punta del Este, involving a storm in the middle of a cocktail party, where half the crew was ashore and half the shore was on board and the ship had to move back out to sea before it had time to ditch all of the Uruguayan beauties).

Roy portrait webOf course, there are plenty of jobs to do in a community where nobody gets to go home after office hours. My jaw dropped as my dad explained to me that he was also responsible for the wardroom food and finance (but not the wine – that involved all sorts of tedious auditing…). Rather typically (for my dad) he also made it his business to write his name and the date in the dust on the walls, as a message to the steward, who was somebody else’s responsibility.

He was also Education Officer, teaching maths and science (the Supply Officer taught English) to the sailors who were studying for their ‘O’ levels. And Sports Officer, organising and playing cricket, tennis, rugby, football and hockey. Wherever the ship put into port, he refereed rugby matches between the local clubs at weekends.

When he left the UK, he took with him a pre-production model of the very first Moulton bicycle, famous for its small wheels and rubber suspension. The ostensible purpose was “climate trials”, but of course the real reason for taking a revolutionary prototype bicycle on such a journey was to see whether it was sailor-proof… Dad (a 17 stone rugby player) must have looked like an elephant on a tricycle. But he rode that bike out every time he went ashore, and the postman used it in the dockyard to collect the mail.

Talking of the absurd, as the cherry on the cake, my dad played the portable organ (“the collapsible pandemonium”) at church services on Sundays. Not to mention having to play the role of counselor to the men in his charge… The only thing I bet he didn’t do in this amazingly integral life, was meditate… “I did too!!” he replied, grinning: “I examined the backs of my eyelids, horizontally on my bunk after lunch every day!”

The more my dad talked the further my jaw dropped. I guess all the officers on that ship had a similar variety of roles. I find it hard to imagine any employer these days being able to rely on such versatility in their staff: the unions would never allow it. But then, perhaps that’s life in the forces for you. I would certainly like to think that the challenges facing humanity as we head into our common future on spaceship Earth will force us to expand our personal repertoires and look around to see what all else needs doing.

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Weaving from the collective womb space

Harvest from a women’s circle Brussels, 26 May 2012

In the evening of a beautiful, sunny day in Brussels, we were eleven women – ranging in age from 24 to 50+ – who answered the call to gather in circle, an almost monthly occurrence these days. The question or theme of our shared inquiry becomes more emergent with every gathering. In the beginning, Nina and I would sit together in our shared office a few days before and sense into what was ‘in the field’. This time, we just trusted that the theme calling for our collective attention would present itself at the right moment. And so it did. In the morning of our gathering, during my morning session of online presencing, I stumbled on a piece written by Filiz Telek, one of our dear sisters from Turkey, and instantly knew this was what was asking to be seeded in our field. This is the extract I read into the circle:

“I noticed something powerful during my recent journey along the Aegean: women are in creation! There is a very powerful creation energy infusing our world right now. I am not suggesting this based on any 2012 prophecies or astrological forecasts; I am claiming this based on what I see with my own eyes and the stories I hear. Most women in my life who have been in deep sensing and listening over the past few years are suddenly manifesting their dreams and visions – by stepping into their new callings, building partnerships, creating new initiatives. Everything that might have seem a little crazy, even impossible in the past is now manifesting full on at a very quick pace.

And this isn’t just any creation. This is the Feminine in creation! and it goes like this:

”I know the structure of the ceremony. I know that but when I go in to do the ceremony I have no idea what direction it’s going to go; I know nothing. Even to the songs that will come, even to all of that. Everything is just allowing something to come in. You prepare this place and you allow. It’s a very very new experience every time. You go inside and you allow those things to open out, like a flower. And you don’t know what direction this petal’s going to go or where that petal’s going to go.That’s the mystery, that’s the beauty, and it’s from within. Just like today – everyday is a new experience. That is Feminine power.”
Pansy Hawk Wing, Pipe Carrier

When I read these words, I get it.

This is a different kind of creation than we have witnessed in the past. This is a creation welling up from within women, from our wombs – the divine empty space that holds life -, from our longing hearts, from our intuition, from our hips, our finger tips and singing mouths and dancing limbs…This creation comes not through strategies made in sleek boardrooms, sterile labs, not for the insane growth of production for the sake of profit, not to control or exert power over a certain group of people. This creation comes from love of life and love of children (of all beings), from the instinctual urgency of a fierce mother to protect life, from the longing to be in harmony and flow with the natural world. This is a creative force far beyond our imagination and comprehension, sprouting and blossoming deep and wide in every direction.

This is Great Mother, Sacred Feminine manifesting through women (and men) in the world, creating and regenerating, mending the web of life. She is showing up in dreams and images, in songs and stories, and urging us to remember what we are in service of.

I remember. So do You.

It’s time to dream a new dream,
it’s time to create a brave new world.”

I announced my intention to Filiz (on Facebook) to share her words with our circle. She responded “I’d love to hear what you weave from the collective womb tonight, please share! I’ve been feeling the call of the womb wisdom ♥”.

And we truly did weave from the collective womb.

In the centre of Nina’s circle, there is always a bowl of Angel Cards ready to unveil the synchronicities present in the space. Just as we began our sharing, I picked the card ‘Synthesis’. By the time of our check-out, I really had something to synthesise: the fabric of wisdom collectively woven in our invisible womb space that evening.

It starts with some key words and phrases, born from sentences uttered by the different women during our check-in around what brought us to this circle, and afterwards, around the feminine in creation and what that evoked in us:

The account I weave here arises as a synthesis through my own filters of the conversation that unfolded among us. Gossamer threads were spun out into the centre, upwellings of intuition offered in from the rim, amplified and interwoven as the talking pieces were taken up and returned to the middle.

Shape and sound

Sound was present, frequency, harmony, resonance and vibration – the bell rang often, for silence to allow things to land and settle in every heart. We evoked the quivering thrum of our souls’ stirrings as they resonate in sympathy with calls coming to us from the world. We illuminated the process of learning to be played by the kosmos, so that our unique harmonic can join in the universal symphony of life and evolution, recognising that nobody else can bring what is uniquely ours to offer and be.

Memory was present – or more exactly, forgetting. The way our hold on the details of past learnings and experiences can desert us, leaving us as an empty vessel, a content-free zone, a womb available to bring forth the mystery into manifestation. Such forgetting can feel scary – content and facts are so prized in our society – but it can also be liberating: an irresistible demand to be present to what resonates in the NOW.

These are the moments when we know that life is living us on behalf of the whole. That we are pregnant with something that is growing in our depths, without our having any clue as to what it will be, until it is ready and ripe to emerge. This is the feminine way – it’s the same with our babies. We have no idea what they will look like, or who they will be, until they leave our bodies after nine months inside. And even then, during the years of their childhood, we patiently witness their ever complexifying unfolding, not yet knowing what they will become (always assuming we are sufficiently awake to refrain from corralling them into replicas of our own worldview).

And letting go was present, together with its shadow twin letting come. We let go of our preconceived expectations of how life should be, our fear of others’ judgement, our archetypal social and familial conditioning. We let come our deepest, most authentic yearnings and desires, our spontaneous impulses and the primal promptings of our souls, of our places, of our peoples.

Weaving these threads into fabric, I see that we have been evoking and exploring the conditions for living our uniquely creative lives. When I see what we have brought forth together from our centre, I know that this must travel and take its place in the expanding conversation that is co-creating Filiz’s Brave New World.

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Evolutionary entrepreneurship – Engaging the Collective Will

Here’s an article I wrote for Kosmos Journal back in the autumn of 2008. It still seems topical.

This article gives a brief overview of what needs to happen if we— individually and collectively—are to wisely and effectively engage in shaping the future of our planet and our species. The community of evolutionary entrepreneurs has a rich toolkit of models, maps and approaches to work with, but they can be effective only if we deeply understand the habits of the living systems in which we use them. The guidelines set out below come from the distilled wisdom of the global community of ‘hosts of conversations that matter,’ as I understand them through the filters of my own experience as an evolutionary entrepreneur working inside the European Commission in Brussels.

As humanity awakens to an unprecedented collective awareness of the challenges and opportunities facing our species and our planet, the term ‘entrepreneur’ begs to be redefined. Entrepreneurship is typically associated with starting and running businesses. Most definitions of the term on the web refer to innovation, risk and business. But I think it goes deeper than that.

A living system participates in its neighbour’s development

While some entrepreneurs are motivated by the prospect of personal gain, others are driven by a desire to make the world a better place. An evolutionary[1] entrepreneur is someone who is willing to dedicate his or her life to fulfilling a collective need. But something essential that underlies the whole enterprise remains unspoken in all these definitions.

The word ‘entrepreneur’ comes from the French verb meaning ‘to undertake.’ A commitment to action is involved—a determination to manifest a vision and to bring something new to society in the broadest sense. When we think about entrepreneurship in this way, the concept can expand to embrace a much wider population—potentially every man, woman and child on the planet. This kind of entrepreneurship doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with business at all.

If we want to be evolutionary entrepreneurs who survive the acid test of natural selection—if we want our undertakings to take root in the world and thrive, to truly make the world a better place—then we need to understand what game we are playing, and the environment we are playing it in.

Entrepreneurship is about will. ‘Will’ is a word that doesn’t exist in science. Science sees our actions, but not what fuels them. Will is a phenomenon that we typically associate with the invisible interior of individuals and collectives. We cannot see it—only the outcomes of the actions driven by it. We could even see entrepreneurship as a driving force of evolution now that humanity is awakening into fuller consciousness of its own evolution.

At first sight, entrepreneurship is all about individuals. It is the individual will with a vision of change that starts the ball rolling. But the change can only happen if the will of the collective is engaged. How can we maximise our chance of making that happen?

Properties of Living Systems 

Collective sense-making

We start by understanding that as members of the human race living on planet earth, we are embedded in multiple living systems. Any aspect of society or the economy that we care to engage with counts as a living system. As entrepreneurs, that’s what we have to deal with. Understanding the properties of living systems[2] can inform us about what we must learn and what we must become if we are to succeed.

  • A living system pays attention only to that which is meaningful to it, here and now.Just because we have a vision of new possibilities doesn’t mean the rest of the world ‘gets it’ or cares. As part of the living system, our first step is to become aware of what has meaning to that system. To achieve this, we learn to live with an open mind, an open heart and an open will.

    A living system accepts only its own solutions

  • A living system accepts only its own solutions. If we wish to provide a solution to any of the world’s problems, then the parts of the system that are part of the problem (as sufferers or perpetrators) must be drawn into designing a solution that they will all be happy with. To achieve this, we must learn the art of participatory leadership—how to lead others into participating actively in their own future.
  • In nature, a living system participates in its neighbour’s development. An isolated system is doomed. The bigger the context we can get our arms around, the greater our chances of creating sustainable improvements together. To achieve this, we must learn to collaborate.
  • All of nature, including ourselves, is in constant change. Sometimes when we are trying to ‘change the system,’ we despair at how unchanging things seem to be. Perhaps we are looking through the wrong lens. Isn’t it just as valid to see the world in constant flux? When we do this, our work becomes lighter. To achieve this, we learn to let go of our habitual ways of seeing. We look at the way things are changing; instead of at the way they are not.
  • Nature seeks diversity—new relations open up new possibilities. How easy it is to succumb to the temptation of working only with ‘like-minded’ people. This leads us into ‘us-and-them’ thinking and compounds our difficulties. Rather than closing down when confronted by those who oppose our ideas or who hold critical attitudes that trigger our defense mechanisms, we can instead think of them as our precious teachers and open up to what we have to learn from them. They help us see flaws in our ideas and help us to bring to conscious awareness our shadows—detrimental patterns that are hidden in the unconscious.
  • Nature is not intent on finding perfect solutions.Even the best battle plan lasts

    Who we are together...

    only until the first shot is fired. Then ‘life happens.’ We are learning to be available, moment-by-moment, to dance with what is arising now.

  • Who we are together is always different and more than who we are alone. The next Buddha will be a collective. Evolution is marching on. Human consciousness is awakening to itself, to its own evolution, to its being an organic part of a larger whole, and finally to an embodied experience of this larger whole. As we enter this new stage of individual/collective awakening, we are being called to practice a new life-form composed of groups of mature and well-balanced individuals merging their collective intelligence as a circle being. Our practice as individuals is to deepen our self-knowledge, accept ourselves, accept the contribution we have to offer, and to fully and completely live who we are. The whole cannot be complete until the parts are fully individuated. We build ‘circle beings’ by sitting together in circle and sensing into the middle, by engaging in continuous collective inquiry about our shared purpose.
  • Living systems cannot be steered or controlled – they can only be teased, nudged, titillated. I work inside a very large living system and every day I watch ‘management’ try to steer and control it. But the system just doesn’t want to play. Instead, everybody ends up feeling frustrated and disempowered. We can influence a system in a wise direction only if we are an acknowledged part of the system. If we try to work on the system from outside and don’t see ourselves as part of the system, then although we can provide environmental stimuli, we cannot determine how the system will respond. As entrepreneurs on the lookout for evolutionary opportunities in the system we learn how to tread the fine line between chaos and order—the space where living systems self-organise.

We first understand that we cannot work alone. When we identify a need that is sensed in the system, we seek out others who sense it too. Even when we come together with others to find a solution, until we find a clear sense of collective purpose, nothing will move. But regular meetings to explore the situation in search of solutions will deepen the relationships in the group and help us clarify the principles that will govern how we pursue our purpose. A cohesive group with strong trust and a clear sense of collective purpose can move mountains. This is where the collective will becomes engaged.

We first understand that we cannot work alone

Once the purpose and principles are clear, new people will tend to be drawn into the group. The process experienced so far then needs another iteration. Each time new people come in, they need to go through the process of gaining clarity of purpose and buying into the principles (or adapting them). This helps understanding and engagement. We are building a living system that is creating its own solutions—concepts, organizational structures, products and even practices come later, almost as a by-product of the functioning living system. Living systems self-organise.

The stereotypical image of the entrepreneur as a rugged individualist, going it alone against all the odds, seems partial when seen from this perspective. Rather, in this densely enmeshed living system that is the planetary ecosystem, I see the Cosmic Will moving through the collective to the individual and then back to the collective [3]. As evolutionary entrepreneurs, we are coming not from a place of unconscious ego activation but from a place of deeply open will. We are not implementing our own individual vision, as much as sensing into the whole. We are rooted in our individual perspective within the living system, that is also conscious of the larger system and sensing into how it can fulfil it’s highest potential, for the good of the yet greater whole of which it is itself a part. The life path of each of us, embedded in our own unique place in the collective and endowed with our own unique gifts, equips us to play a unique role. Being an evolutionary entrepreneur means stepping up and undertaking to play that role with our full commitment. It means being who we were born to be.

Mastery Comes through Practice

How do we learn the skills and ways of being in the world that will lead us to mastery of evolutionary entrepreneurship? Through practice. A wise teacher of mine recently said that the highest a human being can attain is to become a ‘practitioner’ of something. The purpose is to cultivate an attitude of mind and a way of being. Four helpful intentions for daily use on an individual or collective basis are: (1) Stillness, (2) Inspiration, (3) Service, (4) Devotion/Gratitude. In martial arts, the place of practice is called the ‘dojo’. As evolutionary entrepreneurs, I invite you to start up a dojo in your neighbourhood today.

Informed by these understandings of the properties of living systems in an evolving universe, we can increase our impact by joining with others to create communities of practice. As cohesive communities of practice, we can reach out to other communities of practitioners in other neighbouring fields. We can then form systems of influence in which evolutionary entrepreneurs become nodal points of integral consciousness that can join with other civil societies, public and private actors to hold the field for global transformation.

[1] I do not use the term ‘evolutionary’ here to mean development in any pre-determined direction. Rather, I use it as an epithet to describe ‘entrepreneurship’ in its broadest context as something that engages—directly, consciously and with intent—with the living system, for the good of the whole.

[2] I first came across this articulation of the properties of living systems in the writing of Margaret Wheatley.

[3] When I speak of Cosmic Will, I am not necessarily suggesting that there is such a thing ‘out there’ with an independent existence. Rather, it can just as easily be seen as something that we co-create together as we consciously engage in this participatory, collaborative dance, creating intricate and beautifully functioning feedback systems that then become a trait of the Grand Living Field that embraces all things.

Posted in Aquarian practice, art of hosting, Emergence, organisational transformation | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Women move the Edge again: 20-23 April 2012, South Devon, UK

You are invited, as women, to move the edge of consciousness, through collectively inquiring into this question, from the presence of Source:

If land and stones hold a memory and radiate it out through the ages,

dare we open as a portal to re-member and co-create with Earth,

to sound a new vibration – a new song – for the future to come?

Avebury stone circle

The theme of this gathering is strongly related to Place. We will be gathering at beautiful Hazelwood House, itself a place with presence, and we plan to visit Avebury and environs to bring our collective inquiry alive in a place of real power.

For more information, please see the save-the-date invitation (pdf).

For an insight into our collective inquiry that has brought us to this question and these places, feel free to look at the notes of our hosting calls on the Women Moving the Edge Ning site.

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Principles for harvesting transformation from conversation

Autumn harvest

This post is dedicated to men and women everywhere who hunger for the new while feeling entombed in the old. It is was inspired by a recent 2-day inquiry among 30-odd practitioners of participatory leadership at the European Commission on how to effectively harvest the fruits of the collective conversations we host in our very structured, hierarchical and non-participatory context.

As I was writing this piece, I found I couldn’t let it go out into the world without  placing it in a context that just keeps gets broader each time I revisit it. This document has been open on my laptop for a few weeks, sharing the screen with a stream of news about worsening chaos and fear in Europe. My view from inside the EU institutions shows me a very large collection of gifted, well-educated and well-intentioned men and women at a complete loss to know what to do to make things better.

The EU’s deepest calling at this time in history is to lay the foundations for a global society that works for all humans and all life. As Simon Anholt put it in a recent keynote address at the European Parliament, simply ‘reforming’ our multilateral institutions would be tinkering at the edges. If we were to design them now, from scratch, they would be so radically different that the idea of reform seems ludicrous. To start with, they wouldn’t be institutions. “It wouldn’t be large rooms full of fat bald old men in suits arguing about national sovereign interests.” It wouldn’t be just governments – it would be all stakeholders, including religions, including corporations. It would be a network, peer-to-peer (not top-down)… But how on earth could such a phenomenon emerge from the belly of the bureaucratic, hierarchical dinosaur that the European institutions have always been?

And yet, it seems to me that I am witnessing exactly the embryonic beginnings of the kind of thinking and doing that might spawn the new world order. They are sprouting out of the practices of participatory leadership grounded in the hosting of meaningful conversations among stakeholders. These practices are starting to spread like an algal bloom into different policy areas, DGs and even institutions. But the movement is still fragile, and it is struggling for breath in the fundamentally hostile environment that is a command-and-control hierarchical political structure that has lost its way.

Harvesting together

To return to our collective inquiry about how to build on these hope-giving conversations, one of the outcomes I most wanted (having hungered for this focused inquiry for quite a few years already) was an articulation of some of the underlying principles from which intelligent and effective follow-on would arise as a natural consequence. The question I was holding was:

What are the principles which, if practiced, will naturally lead from meaningful conversation to wise action?

We ended up working on this question in different ways over the two days (Appreciative Inquiry in triads, group clustering in plenary, collective meaning-making in a smaller group, then conversation in an Open Space session, and finally allowing even more to emerge through illuminating that harvest during a convergence café). The inquiry continues, and here is where we are so far.

Inescapably, this offering bears my stamp. That is because I was the one who felt called to champion the question, at our gathering and beyond. And because I am the one who feels called to voice these principles on behalf of the whole. I am also aware that my illumination of these principles is voiced for people who are called to function inside a hierarchical context, where the unconscious ‘parent-child’ dynamic is so strongly prevalent.

Open Space Agenda

One thing that surprises me is that none of these principles is overtly about ‘harvesting’ – at least, not about the surface-level activity of capturing the fruits of our conversations. To me, they read more like a sort of manifesto for freeing up our minds to serve our hearts… I notice, too, that all these principles are interconnected – facets of the same story. And so I trust that they resonate with a deeper truth that is serving us in our longing to bring healing to our organisation and enable it to move into true leadership on behalf of the whole at this time rich with challenge and opportunity for true renewal.

We act on real need, we invite real meaning, we acknowledge (only) real constraints, we serve deep intention

In the traditional, hierarchical way of doing things, it is very easy to be lured into going through the motions, staying with the forms and procedures, playing office. Even when calling in participatory processes, there is a tendency to skim the surface and shy away from probing into the deeper malaise that lies beneath our frantic busyness and pretences at professionalism and ‘realism’. Failure to connect with deeper meaning and invite people to get real with each other leaves us frustrated, dissatisfied and disheartened, wondering whether we are wasting our time.

This principle invites us to dig in our heels and do the real work. To sit together with the callers in the organisation, whoever they may be, and open up to what is real, and what is underneath. To identify what it is we need to help us stay grounded in the face of what scares us, and to go for what brings us the deepest YES! And, if there is no will in the calling field to go to that place, we need the courage to say No to a hosting request that will do nothing but cheapen our work and undermine our credibility as hosts of healthy transformation.

We practice right timing: if it’s not easy, it’s not now – or it’s not ours to do.

Harvesting hand

We instinctively know when the time is not right. When our work will flop like a failed soufflé if we go for it now. And yet the culture of our organisation (and most big organisations) is blind to anything but its own all-consuming agenda.

Often we are called to rustle up a process in too short a time, with no thought for follow-up and no space to dig for the real purpose. Worse still, the hierarchical caller wishes only to delegate preparation to the hosting team and is not prepared to make him/herself available for preparation meetings. In this context, it takes courage to say ‘No’, but the same applies as for the previous point. This work needs spaciousness. It needs time to get to the core of things.

Meanwhile, there is always preparatory work to do for when the right time comes – and all our work can and should be seen in this context: as preparation for GO! Building trust, clarifying purpose, taking those small, invisible actions that transform culture and bring us one step closer to liberating the (inner and outer) structures that are holding us back.

We support each other’s authenticity, trust our instincts and go where there’s joy

Working as core teams brings trust and courage

Whenever we are working in mainstream society, we are working within a system of indoctrination and acculturation that supports ‘the way things are done around here’. That makes a pretty powerful – albeit unconscious – field. To make any headway in such a field, we need to be creating pockets of coherence that are held in a strong enough container that we don’t implode under the pressure of systemic inertia that we are operating in.

That means working as core teams, building the intimacy, trust and safety that enables us to tap into our individual and collective power and inspiration in the face of incomprehension, fear and resistance.

We dare to be as curious as the cat

What do we really have to lose? … actually, we stand to lose everything if we don’t dare do things differently!

What’s the worst thing that could happen if we follow our hearts and act on our deepest YES? Can we just try it and see? Where can we harvest the courage to experiment without asking for permission? Perhaps we should stop taking ourselves so seriously? What happens when we think the unthinkable? When we challenge all our assumptions about what is possible?

We work on behalf of the whole

Raw materials for this post

Sometimes it’s not participatory leadership that’s needed, but something else. What happens when we expand our vision to embrace a larger context? Paradoxically (in relation to the previous principle), what would happen if we started to take ourselves more seriously, daring to speak for the broadest perspective? How do we put our arms around the whole system, not just the parts that agree with us? How can we open up to ever greater vistas of wholeness.

We make the implicit explicit

Just as there are always deeper layers of purpose to unearth, so our disappointments and frustrations can reveal unexamined assumptions, help us to clarify roles, accountabilities and boundaries. This requires us to be willing to sit with our tensions for long enough to articulate what they are pointing to. It also requires us to step up and speak what we have learned in contexts that might not be expecting it. Sometimes it means calling out that the Emperor is naked.

We work with the power of “us” – we don’t focus on “them”.

Principles of Open Space

This principle is connected with the wonderful principles of Open Space Technology: whoever shows up are the right people and whatever happens is the only thing that could have – given also the timing and the context we are working with.

So much energy is wasted on the “it’s not us that’s the problem, it’s them” and “somebody should…” conversations. When you make a snowman, you don’t start with the snow on the other side of the field. You start with what’s at your feet. When we start change – even systemic change – we start with whoever is in the room. If the next step needs a decision from someone who is not in the room, then let’s invite that person in. What will it take for that person to become one of ‘us’? And if we tell ourselves it’s not us who have to change, but some ‘other’, then we might as well all go home.

In a hierarchical organisation, this can feel very tricky, because the disempowering ‘parent/child’ mechanism creeps in so easily. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with hierarchy – it’s everywhere to be found in nature. But healthy hierarchy is about different levels of scope and reach, not dominance. The higher up you are, the further ahead and around you can see and think (in theory) and the more resources you have to allocate; the lower you are, the closer you are to the power to actually change things, make things happen on the ground. Bring the two perspectives into a circle together and we have both.

We work to liberate structures: there is no BOX!!

No box

We are so often encouraged to “think outside of the box”, to be creative and think thoughts that have not been thought before, to come up with world-saving insights that will get us out of our collective stuckness. But in reality, the liberating realisation is that there is no box.

Part of our work in hosting meaningful conversations is to create a space where everything can be questioned. Where the assumptions held by the Mind can be tested and validated – or discarded – by the Heart. Where deeper truths can be unearthed, examined, espoused by the Will that then guides our steps to do work that makes sense, unhindered by the strictures of rules and procedures.

We have reached a place in our collective human history where we need to wake up. It’s time to change the game we’ve been playing for centuries – or, quite literally, die.

Waking up to the damage we’ve done, to the beauty that is already lost forever, isn’t going to be comfortable. I am curious as to whether the principles enunciated here can be helpful in keeping us on track when the going gets rough. Right now, for those of us privileged enough to recognise how privileged we are, there is still time to strengthen our community muscles before things start to get ugly. Will we use it wisely?

Photos by Dirk Stockmans

Posted in Aquarian practice, art of hosting, peer to peer, Storytelling | 6 Comments

Intimacy in complexity

In the context of some discussion around organisational transformation (… like, er, does it really ever happen?), someone over on the London Integral Circle list recently suggested that perhaps friendship is more ripe for transformation than organisations! He was referring to a recent interview with Bill Torbert, from which it transpires that “after a lifetime and career in personal and organisational development is he choosing to spend his latter years in small friendship communities of inquiry rather than trying to liberate the workplace”.

This preference resonates very strongly with me, too, and it got me to thinking about the power of friendship and intimacy, and what it can achieve that simple ‘collegiality’ cannot.

What I and my close colleagues are finding is that in the great complexities of today’s organisational life (which – at least in the case of the European Commission – is supposed to be dealing with the complexities of the real world), the normal standard of professional relationship just can’t hack it.

In order to navigate complexity with any kind of success, collective wisdom is needed (deep and accurate sensing from multiple perspectives). That means accessing aspects of being and knowing well beyond the cognitive capacities that are accepted and valued in traditional hard-nosed organisational contexts. And for that to be possible, TRUST is indispensable. So it is safe to say (and I see it every day, wherever I travel in this very large organisation full of highly educated, intelligent individuals of all European cultures) that without the capacity to nurture deep friendship with whoever you happen to have to work with, individuals will not be able to turn any part of their organisation into something that is truly effective in the world.

Holacracy gets around that problem in a number of connected ways – that’s not my focus for this post, but briefly, through having its governance/steering done through integrative decision-making, by double-linking its hierarchical circles, and by insisting that each circle, and each role within each circle, be self-governing – by some mysterious alchemy, the output of this cocktail is TRUST.

However, another interesting phenomenon arises when you step into deep friendship with colleagues. It soon becomes impossible to happily strive together to do things that don’t make any sense. Most of our organisations today are in the business of monetising aspects of life that people once used to be able to do for themselves – cooking, sewing, singing, making music, reading, writing, growing food, having relationships, rearing children, caring for aged parents, walking – thereby reducing the towering potential of humanity into ‘consumers’ on the one hand and ‘experts’ on the other, with no real need for community and ever less ability to relate to each other without the intercession of money and contracts.

There are times when my small team of close colleagues and I are reduced to stunned silence because, no matter how hard we try, we cannot find any satisfying sense or meaning in the work we are doing. At least, not the work we are paid to do. All of it is basically aiming at reducing humanity to conditioned slavery and mindless consumption, while turning our natural, spiritual, cultural and social capital into money, inevitably destined to flow into the hands of the richest – these days that means the banks and the heads of big corporations. It’s not what we thought we were signing up to when we joined the European institutions to serve the European ideal.

So where does that leave us? A nice paradox. It leaves me realising that my true work is exactly to learn how to restore authentic friendship in these impoverished professional environments, so that we can start to question whether we want to be engaged in these shatteringly meaningless passtimes, or whether we want to cultivate our collective wisdom and gradually steer ourselves away from the precipice, taking as many others as possible with us. Perhaps this is another germ of the revolution that is happening, now, among citizens in many different countries – Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Greece, Spain, Israel, India – just not wanting, any more, to blindly feed the mindlessly destructive mechanisms powering our civilisation.

Posted in organisational transformation | 2 Comments