This blog post sprang from a conversation between George Pór, Matthieu Kleinschmager and Helen Titchen Beeth in Brussels in September 2008. The conversation was prompted by our shared passion for capturing the essence of conversations that we have participated in so that they can have a longer life and a greater impact than just the fading memories and flip-chart sheets of the original participants.
Understanding that many of the ills in the world have arisen as a result of the conversations that should have been had but weren’t, there is a growing interest in the art of hosting conversations that matter. In today’s globalised world, where impacts and consequences of all kinds can spread rapidly across the planet for good or ill, there is a sense of urgency about how to capture the essence of our most important conversations so that they can be more widely dispersed. Like beneficial seeds – that can be sown in hearts and minds hundreds and thousands of miles away from the place of the original conversation and weeks and months and years away from its time – the fruits of our collective inquiry into questions of relevance to human thriving should be spread far and wide.
Every time we share our view of a conversation after the event, it is as if we are throwing a pebble into the pond of human culture. The ripples move away in all directions, not stopping in the boundless
noosphere until they encounter ripples from other conversations. It is in the beautiful resultant interference patterns that arise when different conversations meet and connect that the next level of conversation is born. This is the source of emergence, where new connections are made.
There is nothing quite so wonderful as participating in a conversation that changes us. The very fact that we are different when leave is a form of harvesting that has a huge impact. Because we are changed, our subsequent words and deeds are different than they would have been if we had not had the conversation. So this is a harvesting that practitioners of intentional conversation attend to: how to create the container in which we can be metabolised and transformed together.
But that’s not enough. It’s not just the fact of talking together – it’s the fact that we’re talking about something that matters to us, about something that exists in the world in some way. If we want to change our societies, if we want to unleash human potential beyond our destructiveness and survive the next 50 years, if we want to open up the prospect of another 100 000 years of human flourishing on planet earth, then we need to learn how to connect up our conversations and move into wise action inspired by our new-found collective clarity, rather than just let them turn to dust and fall through the floor-boards.
Heartfelt call from the future in need of us
What would it be like to live in a future in which our conversations are connected? Where all our social institutions – schools, business, government, even the military – were designed to enable and facilitate the emergence of the best in each of us, individually and collectively, designed for the blossoming of human and social potential? That’s not such a far-out fantasy. The ancient Greeks had that kind of society, so it’s clearly a potential that’s deeply embedded in the human psyche. It’s true that they didn’t bother much about their women or their slaves, but today we are living at a new turning of the spiral and we are wise enough now not to leave people out of our connected conversations.
If we step into that future, in our mind’s eye, and look back towards today to see the trajectory that brought us there, we can see that these connected conversations can happen because most of us are powerfully equipped with a deep – not just intellectual – knowledge of an integral way of relating to self, others and technology. We have the tools to cultivate and disseminate our personal and collective knowledge gardens… and gardening in this future society has become an attitude not only to the natural world, but to the built world and the virtual world as well. In that world, the work of the knowledge gardener is seen as sacred, because it is serving our communities and serving evolution.
At the heart of the work that will bring us to this future society is our work on harvesting meaningful conversations. Already, through the internet in particular, we can see what happens as ever more conversations are joined, as the community of engaged and active virtual conversationalists create and straddle an ever-growing multiplicity of conversations rippling out across space and time. What is the ultimate purpose of all the conversations we are having? What if we were all having different manifestations of the same conversation? What is the deeper pattern that we are trying to surface?
An evolutionary perspective
This is where the evolutionary perspective links in. Even if we don’t believe that evolution has any ultimate stage or goal, it nevertheless moves in a clear direction. In the case of the evolution of the social world, we can see – particularly if we take a giant step back so that we can see the sweep of social history since our earliest days as homo sapiens on this planet – that it is moving towards ever greater complexity and compassion. So the type of society that is asking us to help it come into being is a vision – not a purpose – a future possibility that we feel attracted to. What if the pattern that connects all our conversations is this question: “What is the future that attracts us?” And what if our ongoing inquiry around variations of this question – and the action we engage in as a result – is the way in which we are co-creating that future already, now?
It is useful to remember that evolution is the way things get done around here. It’s that simple. It’s not something we have to aspire to. It’s the way things happen and have always happened. It’s the way the big bang developed into the beacon of human consciousness. We might not be the only conscious beings in the universe, but the fact that we are conscious is a rare and precious thing. And what’s happening now is completely changing the evolutionary game: we are now conscious of our consciousness. So all of a sudden we are conscious of evolution, we are conscious that what is evolving is our consciousness itself, and a small percentage of humanity has now reached a stage where it is intentionally engaged in the conscious pursuit of the evolution of consciousness.
So it’s important to keep this perspective in mind: evolution is happening anyway, but now humanity is volitionally involved. And from now on, the only way that evolution is going to happen on planet Earth is if we say “Hey, let’s do this!”
It will not have escaped you that there is a paradox here. Evolution is happening anyway, but it won’t happen unless we engage in it. So what is this about? As we awaken as individuals to an awareness of our own consciousness, it seems that we are also becoming aware of the evolutionary urge awakening as us. As we now intentionally engage – through practices of all kinds – in our own conscious evolution, we are drawn by an irresistible urge to sit in circles and inquire together. I see this particularly strongly in the community of practitioners of the art of hosting meaningful conversations. Not only do we convene conversations for others who wish to do things better in their lives, we also sit together to inquire into what it is we are doing as we do this. This is intentional learning and evolving. We have understood that our social world, and its entanglement with its natural surround, has reached such complexity that a single mind, however powerful, cannot hope to make sense of it. Although we don’t have a collective sensing organ or a collective brain, we are nevertheless drawn together to do this collective learning which enables us to know things together. Seeking ways to enable our entire species to know things and learn things. That’s the pursuit that we’re in now.
In many ways, the central task of our journey to learn how to connect our conversations is to build a collective sensory organ. The collective sensory organ that we are becoming is a soft system – another name for it would be our collective knowledge ecosystem. This ecosystem does not reside in the hardware alone – so it’s not about computers or software or data. Rather, it consists of at least three complementary and overlapping networks – a network of people (friends, colleagues, members of our community); a network of knowledge (all the ideas and inspirations we are generating in our conversations); and lastly, the network of tools, software, processes, protocols, tags, taxonomies, folksonomies, etc. that support the other two. This sensory organ is guided by our intention and our attention, individually and collectively, and includes all the tools and processes we use to guide, capture, organise, portray and share our conversations.
What I have described above is a description of the external dimension of this collective sensory organ – what it might look like from the outside, where we might find it and what physical evidence we might find that it exists. But being part of this collective sensory organ also has an inner dimension – what it feels like as a person to be participating in this organ. In my personal experience, we must come to this work empty of our own thought and personal agenda if we are to be fully available to serve as the eyes, ears, lips, tongue and epiglottis – and heart and lungs – of the collective and the mysterious ‘middle’ that is seeking to emerge through us. And when we are moved to speak, it is perfectly possible that we won’t remember what we have said – certainly not well enough to repeat it.
The universe speaking to itself
Herein lies part of the importance of having people harvesting what others are saying. And in this perspective, we might even venture to say that the role of harvesters is to capture the messages of the universe as they are spoken through others. It also helps us to answer the question “what is worth harvesting and what not?” In the end, it comes down to this: What is the place I am talking from? If I am talking from a personal place of ego, then the chances are that what I am saying is not worth harvesting – at least not from the evolutionary perspective. But if the place I am in allows the universe to talk through me, then this is definitely worth harvesting.
Which brings us to a most promising question: What is the capacity that we need to develop as harvesters to sense where the pearls are coming from?
The most obvious answer to this question brings us right into another of the practices of hosting great conversations – a focus of much fruitful inquiry in its own right: This is precisely why we hold the space. The deepest practice of space holders is to be in that space of sensing the universe. Together we build the field – this is the universal gravy that we’re all lumps in, and together good conversation hosts can make it really strong. It’s a kind of collective satsang. Rather than going and sitting at the feet of the enlightened guru who gives off a vibrational frequency that everyone else is then entrained and elevated by, in a good conversation the source of the field is not at the centre, it’s at the periphery. The space holders are creating a container around – a field throughout – and people are then invited into that field, where they will themselves naturally aligning with that field, with each other, increasing the likelihood that the universe will feel invited into the conversation and have something meaningful to say.
This is how the three practices and disciplines – holding space, hosting and harvesting – are unified. What do we harvest? The universe as it speaks through people. In order to do that, we must be in alignment with the universe. Many members of the global hosting community explicitly engage in practices which help to get into that space – all different ways, some physical, some cognitive – of deepening:
These are the practices I am aware of – there are bound to be plenty more. Please add to the list by commenting on this blog.
Intention and attention are key
Throughout the hosting process – through the calling, the inviting, the preparation and design, the hosting and the harvesting – intention and attention are key. At the very highest level – and it’s so good to be quite conscious and explicit about this, at least within the core team hosting any process – the intention is to capture – no, to be – the wisdom of the universe. Let’s be bold here in restating this: the intention behind the art of hosting essential conversations is, for the duration of the conversation, to be the wisdom of the universe. Outrageously pretentious? Hardly. Because what could it ever be, if not us? It’s not something that is happening out there, it’s something we are co-creating together on the evolutionary edge. It is we who are enacting it. As for our attention, there are two sides to this: where are we attending from? and what are we attending to? Again, at the highest level, where we are attending from is that space of total alignment, and what we are attending to is that space of total alignment. So it’s the universe attending from itself to itself.
This might all sound very daunting and inaccessible, but the good news is that as we are learning how to create this field, and how to hold it, it’s probably true that everybody can learn. And so the next stage of this inquiry might be: what are the conditions that must be in place in order for this level of harvesting and space holding to happen? What simple practices will most rapidly spread this capacity to the largest number of human groups and communities, so that so that the wisdom of the universe can be embodied by the whole?