A Supportive Group Environment: The Field of Dynamic Peace Part 1

By Lisa Capa

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

From Essential Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks

I believe that we are standing on the threshold of
a new understanding of the collective dynamics of consciousness
and a new way of working with the awesome forces that are generated
when people work together in a group.

From The Living Classroom: Teaching and the Collective Consciousness
By Christopher Bache

 

In my last blog post, I wrote, “To nurture one’s vibrancy, to abide in and to create from the supportive field of Dynamic Peace, this is the implication of Big Life and the leadership imperative of Dynamic Peace.”

“What do you mean by ‘the field of Dynamic Peace’?” people ask. This blog post is my response to that question. While I move back and forth between experiences, personal reflection and external resources (e.g., academic content, other blog posts) in order to respond, I admit that I don’t have a definitive answer to this question. Rumi points to the mystery of such a field when he writes, “Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.” And yet, all I have are human constructs in the form of ideas, theories, and hypotheses to try to describe the profundity of connection and support that such a field appears to contain. I believe it is a mystery worth trying to articulate.

THE ISLANDWOOD EXPERIENCE

I begin with an experience similar to the ones we can have during Dynamic Peace learning community meetings. I do this because for me this experience was influential in the formation of the Dynamic Peace organization, because it is a wonderful example of a group experience that I can then relate to the field of Dynamic Peace, and to show that this type of experience is not exclusive to Dynamic Peace.

It was February 11, 2011. The time had finally come to facilitate an exercise with my students that I had spent the last two weeks designing. I was alone in the art studio setting up for the 5pm class.

The art studio, nestled in the forest of the 250-acre Islandwood campus on Bainbridge Island which was previously Suquamish tribal lands, is a 1,300 square foot circular room with a polished concrete floor, straw-bale walls, and a large soapstone fireplace.  The studio, chilled by the winter weather, was beginning to heat up from the fireplace and the clanky overhead heater. The burning cedar wood intermingled with the faint tangy smell of crayons and pastels.

For the main class exercise, I set up the chairs into two circles—one small inner circle of 5 seats and an encompassing outer circle of seats. I went through my class design notes several times as I pondered, “Is this main exercise going to work? What happens if this falls flat? Will I know what to do to keep the dialog going?”

Close to 5pm, the door to the studio opened, bringing in a rush of cold air and students eager to get warm. They noticed the double circle configuration of chairs. “Where do we sit?,” one of them asked.

For the first 45 minutes of class, I engaged students in a couple of preliminary listening activities to prepare them for the main exercise.

“In this next exercise we will engage in an hour-long dialog in which you will get the chance to practice what you just learned and what you have been reading with regards to deep listening skills,” I said.

“The topic to be discussed is about the recent events in the Arab Spring movement. The questions that will start off this dialog are: From a leadership perspective, in what ways might the US support what is happening? What is your role? How does what is happening relate to what is happening in your life?

“Only those in the inner circle can speak. One person will speak at a time. To come into the inner circle, someone on the outer circle puts their hand on the shoulder of someone in the inner circle. That person will get up when ready and go to sit in an outer seat while the person who tapped them on the shoulder will sit in the inner seat. Only four inner chairs are to be occupied. The fifth chair represents silence,” I said.

Students self-selected who would sit in four of the inner circle chairs. Everyone else, including myself, sat on the outer circle.

“Take a moment to center yourself,” I said. The sounds of shuffling feet, laptops being put away, and talking trailed off as the students settled into their chairs. Shoulders released in relaxation, eyes gently closed, breathing in and out emerged as the main forms of movement. I felt nervous and calm at the same time.

After a couple of minutes of basking in this space I said, “Let’s look at these slides first, then after a moment someone in the inner circle can begin.” The PowerPoint had images and texts extracted from Huffington Post, Comcast news, and other online news sources. They summarized the sequence of recent events that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt the day before.

“This topic is very close to my heart. I’m happy for the uprising and I’m scared for my family and friends who are living there,” began Gamal[1].

I was a bit anxious about how this dialog was going to begin but happy that Gamal started the experience. He was Egyptian and because of him, I chose the topic of Arab Spring for this dialog.

The next ten minutes passed with platitudes, academic rhetoric, and the occasional heart-felt disclosure. There was a nervous silence in between disclosures. All the while the clanking of the overhead heater abruptly started and stopped.  I felt uncomfortable, but I held back and did not say anything.

Eventually, the students began sharing a bit more from the heart. The silent periods during this stretch of time felt like brief moments of communion.

After a period of more intimate disclosures, the room came alive, not with loud voices or movements, but with a visceral feeling of calm and a welcoming thickness in the surrounding air that connected us. The double circle of chairs felt like it dropped several feet down into the earth. The dialog flowed into even deeper disclosures followed by silences that held us like shepherding hands ushering us into more deeply connected spaces. While only one person spoke at a time, the disclosures felt like they were coming from the same source—like a single thread surrounded by many threads that together come from the same tapestry. The cycling heater became simply part of the ambient sound of the environment; the smell of the burning cedar, an incense blessing the sacred.

At 6:50pm, I got up from my seat in the outer circle and sat in the “silence” seat. “What you just experienced is a process you can use with others to help facilitate dialog about important issues in your community and in your organizations,” I said. “It is a way to get to the heart of what people are feeling about an issue. Listening, one of the most important ingredients in this process, is a powerful leadership tool, and it is a skill to fine tune over your lifetime.”

We sat in silence for a moment to help in the transition from this sacred space. We then did a short group debrief, cleaned up the room, walked out of the studio into the forest, and made our way to dinner.

One of the students later wrote about the experience,

I didn’t find much of the substance from the content….to be revelatory, but the experience and effect of the exercise was amazing. There was so much attention and patience. Time seemed to stand still. There was an entirely new and intoxicating energy in the room, even for someone as defensive as me. Please understand me, I respect everyone there, but Egypt is such a complicated situation that it’s easy to drift into vagaries and platitudes. I certainly contributed my share, as well as a real dud of an attempted transition. But when I left the studio I almost floated to dinner.

I had been teaching this group of students for 5 months prior to this specific class. After class, I talked with several students about their experience. There were similarities in how they described the experience, mostly about how that dialog felt different from others they had had: deeper, more intimate, and more energized. I also experienced these things and was surprised at the effect. The dialog was clearly a bonding experience—we had all traveled to a deeper connective space together and some of us had shared a profound sense of how different it was.

The topic of Arab Spring[2], regarded by some as the beginning of a major world reconfiguration[3], was unquestionably substantive and important, but did not appear to be the thing that had seemingly transported us to this interesting space. I have no doubt that practicing deep listening contributed to the experience, but something else was also happening. The quality of the experience seemed to be supported and deepened by something not visible. What could it have been?

IROQUOIS LONG BODY AND QUANTUM PHYSICS

One way to look at the Islandwood experience is to consider the indigenous wisdom of the long body (Islandwood was originally, after all, Suquamish tribal lands). According to researcher William Roll, the long body is “an Iroquois term that refers to the tribal body, and embraces living members of the tribe, ancestors, tribal lands and objects.”[4]

This worldview asserts that there is an interconnection between all things in the natural world, tangible and intangible. According to the Iroquois tradition, a person is contained within a field that connects him/her to related people and other related physical things. The Iroquois’ concept of the long body can also be found in other Southwest tribes such as the Hopi, the Navajo, Laguna Pueblo, and Zuni Pueblo.[5]

Fritjof Capra, physicist, systems theorist and deep ecologist, points out that quantum physics shows us that we should not think of the things in the world, from subatomic particles to people to mountains, as “independently existing elementary units” but as the possibilities of interconnections.[6] These interconnections can be present regardless of distance and time. [7] [8] Indigenous knowledge and cutting-edge Western science agree that an interconnection exists between sentient beings and other material things regardless of distance and time.

The experience the students and I had at Islandwood could be interpreted as a version of the long body experience. I had been with these students for five months teaching them about leadership through the perspective of personal development. More specifically, I taught tools and processes to help leaders step outside of their limiting ego and respond more from a part of themselves that is compassionate, peaceful, grounded, and centered. While we were only 5 months into an 18-month leadership curriculum, the ability of these students to stay more engaged in this way was beginning to emerge. As a result of this type of personal growth, which at times was difficult and humbling, the students and I had a bond which created a tribe-like feeling. Even though we felt connected in what felt to me like members of a tribe, the dialog exercise started off as if we had recently met—disclosures were awkward and more superficial. Then, as time went on, a shift happened that cannot be explained by simply becoming more comfortable with each other and/or more comfortable in doing the exercise. It appears to me that we, or at least some of us, opened up to something else that was present in the room—possibly our long body. Instead of each of us engaging in the exercise from our own individual selves (our small body), it was as though we tapped into the vibrancy of something bigger—that “intoxicating energy” which consists of the union of all of us, the classroom, the burning fire, the sound of the heater, the surrounding forest, and possibly more. We became one with the living systems and sacred space surrounding us. It supported us to recognize our union, allowing people to share from a deeper place within their heart and to respectfully listen to others.

I did notice, as time went on, that this feeling of a field-like phenomena that resulted in more union and aliveness would periodically appear, in varying degrees of intensity, with that group of students and with groups of future students, and that experience seemed to fuel profound transformation in their personal development as well as mine. What I mean by “a field” is a nonmaterial region of physical influence extending in space and continuing in time[9]. For example, the Earth’s gravitational field is not a material object, but it is unquestionably present—it keeps us from floating off the Earth, it affects the movements of other planets and celestial bodies, it influences the growth of plant roots, and more. Similarly, the electromagnetic field is not a material object and its influences are important in our life. The physical effects of these fields can be measured, but the fields themselves are not directly observable through our senses. The field-like phenomena in the classroom is similar in its simultaneous intangibility and reality but is a field of a different kind.

How can such a field help to facilitate personal transformation?

The Living Classroom

Two years after the Islandwood art studio experience, I read a book that helped me to understand what may have been happening to me and my students. Christopher Bache, previously a professor of Religious Studies at Youngstown State University and the director of Transformative Learning at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, wrote a book called The Living Classroom: Teaching and Collective Consciousness. In this book, Bache combines scientific research with personal accounts of 30 years of classroom experience to explore the dynamics of collective consciousness that can occur in a classroom. In this context, what I mean by collective consciousness is a group of seemingly separate individuals whose consciousness connects to form a larger whole—a field of consciousness.

What Bache hypothesizes is

This capacity to couple with other minds [in a classroom], when combined with developments in contemporary physics, suggests that there is a preexisting wholeness underlying individual consciousness, an innate collective potential that can be activated and brought forward. The class field is a form of collective consciousness that holds our individual minds in communal embrace.[10]

In other words, there is potential in a classroom for a field-like phenomena to occur that holds in union those involved. This is similar to the Iroquois long body. Bache further observes that this holding helps to facilitate personal transformation. According to Bache, this phenomenon is enhanced when the teacher is engaged in a spiritual practice (e.g., religion, meditation, yoga) that has the potential to awaken deep levels of the unconscious.[11] To Bache, a “spiritual practice is about cultivating an experiential opening to the larger patterns in life and the deeper roots of one’s existence”[12] and that it is about systematically engaging the constrictions within one’s heart, mind, and body that keep awareness trapped within the narrow, repetitive cycles that constitute the private self and allowing one’s being to relax into its deeper currents and its innate purity, eventually opening to the crystalline clarity that is the ever-present context and source of all experience.[13]

Since 1999, I had been involved in intentional practices that contributed to unearthing and understanding aspects of myself that were previously ignored by my conscious mind, a process which helped to free me from the internal “noise” of my limiting assumptions. Also, these practices were helping me to gain more clarity about the nontangible aspects of reality. By 2011, when the Islandwood experience happened, I had engaged in 12 years of intentional awakening. I’m not sure to what extent my “spiritual” practices factored into what happened in the art studio experience and subsequent class experiences, but I do feel that the clarity gained from the practices helped me to be more present to what was happening in class, to be less reactive to challenges that presented themselves, and to engage with the class and the experience in a way that nurtured an openness in engagement.

In order to develop his hypothesis, some of the research that Bache refers to includes quantum mechanics; Rupert Sheldrake’s concept of morphic fields[14]; Dean Radin’s work on consciousness and psychic phenomena[15]; and Ervin Lazlo’s work that weaves together quantum mechanics, post-Darwinian biology, cosmology, and consciousness[16] [17] [18] [19]. I list some of the research that Bache refers to here to point out that these group field phenomena are experienced by others, have warranted research in the academic world, are on the cutting edge of Western science (although long accepted by indigenous people), and are something to pay attention to when unlocking the potential of a working group of people. That said, how does all of this relate to the field of Dynamic Peace?

THE FIELD OF DYNAMIC PEACE

The Dynamic Peace learning community meetings often have a similar feel of connection and energy to the Islandwood classroom experience. We refer to our regularly scheduled Dynamic Peace meetings as learning community meetings. We meet for purposes of doing work together that helps to further the organization’s mission in the world, and for purposes of the individual personal growth that occurs while learning to work together. While it is not a usual class learning experience, people in our community take a learning stance in our work together: everything we are doing is about learning. We are learning about what works best to help us in furthering our mission. We are learning about ourselves: what reactions do not serve one’s self, and how does one move past the reactionary nature in order to help raise one’s vibrancy[20]. We are learning how to work and communicate with each other more effectively. Bache indicates that what he hypothesizes can apply to not just a classroom situation but to “persons gather[ed] in well-focused collective projects.”[21] Our gatherings are similar in intent to the gathering of a classroom that Bache writes about, hence the field of Dynamic Peace is similar to the classroom field that may occur.

According to Bache,

Three key ingredients must be present for these fields to emerge as potent forces in the room: 1. Collective intention focused in an emotionally engaging group project. 2. A project of sustained duration. 3. Repetition of the project in approximately the same form many times.[22]

To help facilitate the focus of a group intention and to contribute to the importance of repetition in the emergence of a field, when we have a Dynamic Peace learning community meeting we have a format for the meetings that we follow each time. Basically, we begin with an attunement (which I explain next), a discussion of a meeting topic(s), and then a ritual closing. From attunement to ritual closing, the meeting takes place with everyone sitting in a circle.

Our group attunement is initiated by anyone who feels called to facilitate it and is usually done by more than one person. The attunement process we use is based on the practice of Focusing. It is like a guided group meditation. An attunement “helps people get started listening to themselves, and helps them be more open to listening to others as well.”[23]

The last part of the attunement is a check-in. We have everyone, one at a time, optionally respond to a question as a way to get everyone’s voice into the room. Usually the question is a soft lead-in to the focus of the meeting. This attunement is our way of bringing everyone into their body, into the room, and into union. The attunement especially helps each person to intentionally let go of what is currently occupying their mind that may not be relevant to our gathering and to be more present in the moment. For example, I have walked into a gathering with thoughts on my mind about what I need to get done that week. While people are talking, my mind could be busy thinking about strategies for dealing with my to-do list. An attunement helps me to pause that internal conversation and bring my focus to what is happening in the room.

With regards to the importance of a project of sustained duration in the emergence of a field, we have been regularly meeting since August 2014. In the beginning it was just a couple of us. Even when it felt like the interest in our organization was waning, we continued to meet on a regular basis. Usually, our meetings consist of working on projects of various lengths together.

As I wrote earlier, Bache indicates that, when a teacher is engaged in a spiritual practice (e.g., religion, meditation, yoga) that has the potential to awaken deep levels of the unconscious, this also contributes to the presence of a supportive field that helps facilitate personal transformation. David Martin wrote in our blog that membership in our Dynamic Peace learning community includes a person having “a sincere personal practice for developing inner peace.” This personal practice can be thought of as a spiritual practice. Instead of just one person in our learning community being engaged in a spiritual practice, all involved are engaged in some sort of spiritual practice independent of their involvement in the learning community. The practices of Dynamic Peace, like an attunement and Focusing, also help to develop inner peace. Additionally, the added intent and action of each Dynamic Peace member striving to achieve inner peace helps us to “invite” in the field of Dynamic Peace.

In the beginning the field was not as palpable; I could barely feel it. But over time, as our group has worked together, the field feels more present and more accessible, although sometimes more palpable than others. I can go into a meeting feeling like “Wow, I don’t want to have this meeting. I’m tired.” But much of the time now after a meeting I feel more energized and happier than I did before the meeting. This experience is also felt by others who attend the meetings. This reminds me of what the student wrote about the Islandwood experience in that he “floated to dinner.” He felt lighter and lifted after that class experience. It seems that connecting to the field of Dynamic Peace has a similar uplifting effect, and, over time, this effect happens more regularly.

CONCLUSION

While the Iroquois long body, quantum physics, and the collective consciousness field of a group of people helps me explain the phenomenon of the field of Dynamic Peace, in my heart what I celebrate most about this field is the mystery. While I may be able to know some aspects of this field, there is much about it that is a mystery to me. This mystery is somehow comforting, much like how watching the twinkling stars in the sky gives me comfort at the same time it fills me with awe.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the Big Life experience. Is the field of Dynamic Peace Big Life? Sometimes as I touch into the field of Dynamic Peace, the feelings I get of awe, wonder, and longing are similar to the feelings I get when I touch into Big Life. But feelings are just feelings, so I can’t say for sure that Big Life is the field of Dynamic Peace. For now, I’m content sitting with the mystery of what this field really is, what are all its gifts, and what is its mysterious elusiveness.

In future blog posts, I’ll explore possible origins of the field of Dynamic peace, what could account for this growing presence of this field over time, and what are possible benefits of such a field.


[1] Name has been changed.

[2] The discussion topic of Arab Spring had not been shared ahead of time with the students. They entered into this exercise not knowing what topic we were going to have a dialog about.

[3] Leonid Grinin & Andrey Korotayev (2012) Does “Arab Spring” Mean The Beginning Of World System Reconfiguration?, World Futures, 68:7, 471-505, DOI: 10.1080/02604027.2012.697836

[4] Roll, W. G. (2008). Psi and the long body. Australian Journal of Parapsychology, 8(1), 6.

[5] Williams, B. J. (2007). Pueblo parapsychology: Psi and the longbody from the Southwest Indian perspective. Australian Journal of Parapsychology, 7(2), 134.

[6] Capra, F. (1997). The web of life: A new scientific understanding of living systems (pp. 31-31). New York, NY: Anchor.

[7] Schrödinger, E., 1935, Naturwissenschaften 23, 807.

[8] Megidish, E., Halevy, A., Shacham, T., Dvir, T., Dovrat, L., & Eisenberg, H. S. (2012, October). Entanglement between photons that never co-existed. In Frontiers in Optics (pp. FTh2C-4). Optical Society of America.

[9] Sheldrake, R. (2009). Morphic Resonance: The Nature of Formative Causation (p. 108). Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

[10] Bache, C. M. (2008). The living classroom: Teaching and collective consciousness (chap 4). SUNY Press.

[11] Ibid, p. 40.

[12] Ibid, p. 24.

[13] Ibid, p. 25.

[14] While Bache did not refer to the following book directly, Bache did refer to Sheldrake’s previous work that eventually culminates in the following book which was published after Bache’s book: Sheldrake, R. (2009). Morphic Resonance: The Nature of Formative Causation. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press.

[15] Radin, D. (2006). Entangled minds: Extrasensory experiences in a quantum reality. Paraview Pocket Books.

[16] Laszlo, E. (2009). The Akashic experience: Science and the cosmic memory field (Original ed. edition). Rochester, Vt: Inner Traditions.

[17] Laszlo, E., & Abraham, R. H. (2003). The connectivity hypothesis: Foundations of an integral science of quantum, cosmos, life, and consciousness. Albany: SUNY Press.

[18] Laszlo, E. (1995). The interconnected universe:: Conceptual foundations of transdisciplinary unified theory. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing Company.

[19] In order to not make this blog post too long, I save an explanation of how the work of these researchers manifested and how they all connect for a future blog post or maybe a book.

[20] I write about vibrancy in my blog post titled “The Leadership Imperative of Dynamic Peace.” Vibrancy includes the qualities of aliveness, vitality, and dynamism.

[21] Bache, C. M. (2008). The living classroom: Teaching and collective consciousness (p. 42). Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

[22] Ibid, chap. 2.

[23] Cornell, A. W. (2006, September 5). More about using Focusing in a group setting [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://focusingresources.com/2006/09/26/september_5_200/

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