Collective Presencing: Four Years Later

Four years have passed since the first article on Collective Presencing was published in Kosmos Journal, with three more following in the next issues. At that time, the framework was ready, the outline was clear, it was coherent enough to offer into the world. Since then, the big lines haven’t changed, but my understanding of what the new paradigm is about has deepened enormously. My new book Collective Presencing is still in the process of being published, but a website regularly releases parts of the book Now is a good time to look back and point out the elements of deeper understanding that have come forward since Kosmos published the series (2012-2013).

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There Is No Circle Being

Collective Presencing is foremost a practice for groups of individuated individuals—people with the ability to stay present in many situations and on many levels—merging their collective discernment and wisdom in service of a collective inquiry. We can distinguish two phases in the development of this group capacity, from a circle of individuals gathering around a theme of inquiry into a genuinely collective presence able to engage in generative collective action in service of life and evolution. It can be regarded as a new capacity evolving in humanity at this time.

The first phase is a process of deepening and widening alignment that brings the individual members of the circle into an embodiment of their own authentic selves (deepening), on the one hand, and into a growing awareness of complexity and interrelatedness (widening) on the other. When enough members of the circle are able to be present on all these levels, they are able to reach authentic collective wisdom. But more is possible and the circle can move into a second phase, continuing the process of deepening and widening alignment, taking it to a place that most of us are unfamiliar with: an experience of the subtle dimensions that our physical senses cannot apprehend.

We wrote then: “The capacity to be present on all these levels is now woven together in a shared field of attention where the collective can become an entity in itself. All participants in the group now speak and act in coherence with that entity, still related with the inquiry in the centre.” As with all new discoveries, we thought something special was going on and, used as we are to linear and materialistic thinking, we thought we discovered a new ‘thing’, this ‘entity’, which we named ‘the Circle Being’ (copied from another group, the Circle of Seven). I know now that there is no being, no entity, no new thing. What is new though is that we can practice and embody a shared awareness of our connectedness, our interweaving. Every meeting of the group is a continual dance of alignment of unique individual perspectives into a collective intention that can deepen and broaden the coherence of the field of inquiry. In that process, we learn to hold the intensity, the disturbance, the not-knowing-yet that are invoked by a seemingly impossible question.

There is a palpable energy in the room when each participant is completely present and open and has her awareness on the whole of the group and on what clarity arises in the middle. There is no entity that gives us this clarity, what is alive is not coming ‘out’ or ‘from’ the centre, but as we each are holding a piece of the unknown puzzle, at some point the whole picture of the puzzle becomes clear to all. No new thing is there or is created—it is us who, together, expanded our awareness long enough to let life happen.

Leaving Dualistic Thinking Behind

In this practice, transitioning from the first phase to the second, there is a chasm to cross: the same paradigm shift that embroils humanity at this time. How to move from a simplistic, dualistic, and linear worldview to one that fits the complexity of dynamically evolving living systems?

Last year, I was shocked to see the early signs of Europe closing its borders to people trying to come in. In my mind, it was not possible that we, the West, would do such a thing. Later, I realized that the myth of linear thinking and step-by-step progressing had been ingrained in me: the line of evolution was a straight one, where ‘our’ values would be taken over by more and more people, leading us in a linear fashion to more and more awareness globally. In contrast with my conceptual understanding of the difference between simple, complicated, and complex situations, I was holding on to this simplistic belief!

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Complexity, or any living system, does not change in a linear fashion. It can evolve in all directions and we cannot predict the relationship between the many causes and the myriad effects. Only in retrospect, we can see which events led to the current situation.

In all complex matters—think of any of the global problems we face—we can only try out and participate (fully). There is no right or wrong, no good or bad. My example shows that understanding complexity in a cognitive way is different from embodying it.

Engaging in this group practice, where we all try and learn to become at ease with this complexity and the process side of our collective insight(ing), we train ourselves to embody this stance in life. We now see dynamic processes everywhere and we begin to recognise just how short language falls in conveying the richness of the phenomenological flux that is our ongoing experience.

So-called opposites such as inside/outside, self/other, personal/impersonal, body/mind, society/nature, and us/them lose their meaning as such. Partnership is now understood as a mutual influence that goes in all directions and through all dimensions. We extend beyond partnership with humans only and into mutual relationship with everything that exists: co-creating with nature, with place, with the social field, with the subtle realms, with the field of potential—all the while realising that boundaries exist as membranes of connection and that influence can go all the way up and down, left and right, in and out, through the individual and the collective, back and forth.

What Are Humans For?

In the 4th Kosmos article we spoke about ‘weaving our selves back into nature;’ pointing to more than sustainability or even ‘having a relationship with nature.’ We understood it as coming to terms with and fully ‘re-membering’ our animal nature. So many elements of Collective Presencing—the embodiment, subtle sensing, intuitive right timing and natural rhythm; being an intrinsic part of a tribe or a collective; energetic sensing of place and space; collectively knowing what is next to do; a natural synergy of nurturing and leadership—belong to our deepest nature and are part of our heredity from our ancestors in the animal realm.

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If these features are all present in animals, then what are humans for? I had no answer to this question when it was first presented to me and it was quite startling actually. These days I would name the core human capacities: the reflective ‘I’ (the identification of the self), the capacity to witness, and the conscious ability to create.

Four years ago, we wrote this: “Where the eye of judgment inflicts wounds, the eye of witnessing brings healing as it moves beyond, to essence. The more of life we can witness together—especially pain, death, and disaster caused by collectively and culturally held assumptions—the greater is our capacity to unconditionally embrace and contain everything that arises.”

In view of what we see happening in the world these days—think of any ongoing problem, locally or globally—witnessing, fully seeing with no emotional attachment, is not a simple thing to accomplish. It is easy to see that a lot of current hate speech and war crimes are actually emotional and animal fight responses, although with human-made machinery and articulation. The reflective capacity is absent; the feeling of belonging to the human race is not there—only the belonging to my tribe, group, party, nation. It is my belief that we need collective practices of awareness and witnessing to collectively hold the turbulence, pain, and confusion of these collective unconscious dynamics.

The practice of Collective Presencing starts with acknowledging what is. It calls us to be fully present to all that is—perceived difficulties included. It offers a much wider and deeper view, seeing the opportunities implicit in the present, building on what came before, choosing to focus on what else is possible, and opening to and fully participating in what is emerging. There is a constant opening up in many directions and to many dimensions, to the possible next unfoldings immanent in every moment-of-now.

Doing all this with a shared, collective awareness, focused on the ever-present process of enacting more of our (human and other) potential makes it possible for the collective future to be different than the past. I hope. I believe.

Other Articles in the Collective Presencing Series

Collective Presencing – Part One: A New Human Capacity
Collective Presencing – Part Two: The Circle of Presence: Building the Capacity for Authentic Collective Wisdom
Collective Presencing – Part Three: Embracing a New Paradigm
Collective Presencing – Part Four: The Circle of Creation: Building Capacity for Generative Collective Action in Service of Life
Collective Presencing: Four Years Later