Towards the end of the recent Apprenticing to the Earth gathering, we came to the realisation that our community had not been whole. Throughout our gathering, energy had been leaking out. Repeatedly, individuals brought in discomfort and vulnerability, and for some reason it vanished into a black hole. Somehow, the space wasn’t safe for expression of our inner dissonance, and so the individuals feeling disturbance either stayed away or showed up without being fully present. All this despite the beautiful, deep space that had opened up during or storytelling circle on the second day.
By speaking about this aspect of our gathering, I intend no criticism of the group, of the hosting team, or any of the individuals present. Our gathering was what it was – the only thing it could be – and it was a precious and perfect experience just as it was. And part of its uniqueness was this ‘tear in our field’, as Maria named it. This, too, I feel called to witness. In it, I sense there is potential for much learning.
On the last day, I called an open space session about “Truth” – about speaking our truth from an authentic space, and what the conditions are that allow us to do that. Not surprisingly, we didn’t get to the bottom of it, but it stimulated a whole cascade of reflections that have been working in me ever since.
As a species learning to live in a radically different place with itself and the planet, it’s a topic we really need to get to grips with. If we don’t, whatever the new patterns we weave into the new social tapestry, they won’t be quite ‘real’ – they’ll be fundamentally flawed from the outset, infected with the unfinished business of the dying era. Since it’s not our intention to forge a phony path into the future, we had better heed these warning signals.
So what is it that’s so important about speaking our truth from the heart? In my experience, this truth is often uncomfortable to speak (because it’s often outside the accepted social discourse), and to hear (for the same reason). But it’s when we voice our truth that things begin to shift.
We live in a ‘yes’ culture, where dissenting voices aren’t really welcome. And yet, in our hearts, we all carry ‘No’s’ that are crying out to be spoken. We’re often thankful when some brave soul takes the risk and speaks the unspeakable – like the little boy in the story of the Emperor’s new clothes. But what happens next is crucial. How does the disturbance land in the group? Is it acknowledged, opened out, explored by the collective? Or is it, perhaps, acknowledged and then ‘parked’ as not relevant to the purpose of the gathering? Or is it, perhaps, greeted with silence, and then glossed over as if it never happened?
As we step into the intentional practice of the new Aquarian patterns of co-creation and self-organisation, we are having to face the growing complexity of what it means to be mature, self-actualising individuals living and functioning within meshworks of interdependent collectives whose relational health is pivotal to the wellbeing of our society and our ability as a species to play our real role as part of Gaia’s own complexifying metabolism and place in the whole.
In this context, part of what we need to learn as individuals is how to discern when the disturbance we are feeling is part of our own process, and when we are picking up the subtle signs of a disturbance in the group, or in the wider system. Because this is such a complex and subtle affair, it is helpful – at least while we are learning new ways of being together – to have moments of collective sensing as a group, when we specifically invite individuals to speak any disturbances they are feeling. In some more innovative settings, space is made at the beginning and end of processes to allow for this to happen. I rarely see it happening during the process itself – but perhaps that’s because I’m not moving in circles where that is practiced… I suspect, though, that this is partly because we just don’t give ourselves the time to attend to our relationship at the same time as we are pursuing our task, whatever that happens to be. Failure to attend to this subtle sensing of the health and wholeness of our system can result in our screwing up our work. So it really is worth making the effort.
Disturbance is pointing to what’s under the surface. It calls for collective illumination of what’s hidden. Some individuals are really gifted at this subtle sensing, yet they often end up functioning as lightning rods: all the negativity in the system gets dumped on them, and they find themselves ostracized or scape-goated. In an organisation, they can be the ones that end up as burned-out ‘social cases’ – the casualties of the system – when they could be our greatest assets.
When we turn away from the disturbances, we miss an opportunity to bring in more of our wholeness. Let us, then, embrace disturbance as the portal to our next level of wholeness. Let us incorporate the practices of working with disturbance as an integral part of our toolkit for hosting in the future. Let us welcome the shadow into our gatherings, as part of the alchemy of radical joy.