In the summer of 1995, six women gathered
in a circle in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Their ostensible task was the development
of a program for women who were going through changes in their lives.
Following their first meeting, they gave up their images of noble purpose
for the sake of others. No matter how hard they tried to create an event
for women in transition, they kept being directed into their own life
stories to find out what it would be like to unfold the next phase of
their lives from deep within themselves and the field of their circle.
Though they were dedicated to service, their own healing needs at that
time overshadowed what they sought to do for others. This circle, now
known as the Circle of Seven, has been meeting for four days three times
a year for the past eight years. The seventh place represents the presence
of the Great Spirit and provides an occasional space for an invited
Four years after the circle's inception, the original
intent resurfaced. The inward- looking cycle turned outward, and the
women were ready to share the gold of their experience.. This coincided
with a maturing of their professional lives. Satisfaction for them had
ceased to lie in the heroics of changing organizations; more fulfilling
was passing on the sensitivities and orientation toward leadership they
had learned to the next generation of women who carry a dream for a
healthy and integrated world.
They believe that the premises and approaches they
used are foundations for creating a world aligned with life's creative
impulse, generosity, and deep design. Their experience confirms that
integrated people, both men and women, are the inspiration for an integrated
society, and that the field evoked by their presence and the work they
did together in the circle has the capacity to hold and transform their
lives, and the lives of those to whom they are connected.
The women who created this circle are: Barbara Coffman-
Cecil, Anne Dosher, Glennifer Gillespie, Beth Jandernoa, Leslie Lanes,
and Serena Newby. This interview is with the first five of these, as
Serena was ill.
This conversation is part of a series of interviews
that Otto Scharmer conducted with leaders who are learning to navigate
into the future, deliberately aligned with life's deeper patterns. In
his study he found collective intelligence integral to wise leadership,
thus chose to interview a group experimenting in this area.
Circle Work: A 21st Century Movement
in the Making
Circle: Circle of Seven
Otto: I am interested
in seven topics—your story, your experience, the conditions that
allow the circle experience to be present, the source from which this
presence unfolds, how you consciously build the container that allows
this to happen, how you cultivate the capacity for sustaining it, and
the practical results that have emerged for you in your professional
and personal lives.
Charging the Container
When you begin the circle work,
what do you do first?
of my beliefs is that we always rediscover how to begin. It's not as
though we do exactly the same thing every time.
Having said that, our first
concern is to create a charged container in which we can work. We have
to get enough “charge” so that our experience becomes visible
and tangible. That is the first thing.
think about it slightly differently. It takes moving or dropping through
different levels of experience and being to “charge” the
container—for example, what we did at the beginning of this interview.
We lit the candle. We ritualized the space by ringing the Tibetan bowl.
And we went into silence together. The silence is deference to a larger
pattern of life unfolding.
Then we have an experience
together. We open the space through one person working something in
themselves, or two of us doing something challenging or deepening together,
or all of us participating in a meaningful or ground-breaking conversation.
The space gets charged sufficiently
so that we can experience what Otto is describing at the bottom of the
U model, which he is calling the Nameless. But what we experience at
the beginning of our time together evolves. It’s not necessarily
the content which is the key to a deepening space, rather our positioning.
It's about noticing our initial experiences that let us drop into a
the seed quality of the whole at the beginning. That's what you did
very consciously upfront. Right at the very beginning, you have the
nutshell version of the whole. There is something done upfront that
is a microcosm of the whole, which intentionally creates a small version
of the whole at the beginning.
and it starts before that. It even starts before and before (circular
gesturing), and it requires attention to notice the nutshell—what
is wanting to emerge.
It just intensifies, and then fades and intensifies. I don't know if
we should start talking about it now, but it seems to me that a lot
of what we do and how we are together is embedded in a much larger context
than when we actually sit together in circle together.
When we do sit together in
circle, it's a concentration of what we're doing all the time with one
another anyway. The circle gathering will just intensify our broader
experience together. When we meet in circle, we concentrate, or condense…
and then we concentrate more. Then we find ourselves dropping into a
It seems to me, though, that
one of the questions, Otto, that you were asking was about how we sustain
this. For me, we sustain it because we are always in each other's lives.
We’re connected in a deliberate way.
When we gather, it simply intensifies
that relationship and, therefore, the experience. So in a way, the nutshell
that you're describing isn't only present when we meet. It's just present
differently. Does that make sense?
Otto: It does.
I thought it might be useful to begin the conversation with describing
the “what”: how the phenomenon you talk about shows up in
our everyday life.
remembering how this circle emerged. There was something about a co-creative
entry into life that it provided for me. That's not a belief; it's a
knowing. I remember how the circle helped me, during [my husband] Guy's
illness and death. At the time Guy was dying, Serena called, the two
of you [other circle members] called, and while you didn't consciously
know Guy was dying, at some level you did know. That wasn't planned;
it wasn’t rational. It was an example of energetic knowingness
that happens when we’re all connected in the field.
I heard you just describing was evidence of the collective field that
we share, where people were moved to call when they picked up that something
special was happening, like when Guy was on his way out.
So the "what" to
me is the collective presence. You ask, How do you create those conditions?
Well, that's what our circle's been experimenting with for the past
How does this show up in our
everyday lives? Well, Anne gave a good example.
I have to go back before there
was ever any collective presence. We each came into the circle with
an individual level of discipline, awareness, or understanding of our
own connection to whatever that "what" is that you’re
referring to. I think you have to have that before you can have a collective
presence, because they go hand in hand. You learn about that as you
sit in circle. But there's something about having an individual, inner
discipline that is part of the "how" of allowing a collective
presence to form.
you could each share a story that exemplifies the "what."
could start with something very recent that might be an example. This
circle has grown other enterprises, inspired other . . .
. . circles?
other circles, practices, or projects that we've taken on. One of those
is called "Coming into Your Own," which is a program for women
Four of us were going to run
that program, and we invited Anne to be our Elder, because Serena, who
usually plays that role, couldn't come to that particular program. Only
later did we begin to realize the significance of how life or the field
seems to conspire in some way to make something happen for reasons we
are not yet aware of.
At first, Anne said she couldn’t
come. But then the event she was booked to attend was cancelled, and
it seemed as though the whole field had colluded in some way to create
Anne being with us at that particular event, which included a large
group of other women. As it turned out, we later realized that the 10th
anniversary of her initiation as an Elder in women’s circles occurred
during that program, as did her 80th birthday. This is such a good example
of how the field works in ways that we can't plan, but in ways that
later enter our awareness.
It seems to me that we respond
to an impulse, and the impulse is part of something far larger, which
later on makes sense. This, for me, is an example of what we're describing—how
the field operates.
thinking of an example that's a little different and more personal.
In one of our sessions a while ago, we decided to have a conversation
about menopause. We decided to explore more deeply how it had affected
and was affecting our lives.
One of our circle practices
consists of inventing processes on the spot that seem to address whatever
an individual might be wrestling with, or sheds light on how this fits
with what is going on in the larger world.
A particular process we invented
for me was having people play different parts of me so that I could
keep stepping back to discover a part of myself I was not familiar with.
During that session, I discovered what I would call my inner wisdom
It felt so present, so real,
as though it were in a cave inside me, as if there were a special place
inside me from which insight and understanding came. It was opened in
the circle gathering, and I stood in that place and expressed myself
from that internal place.
I had never seen or discovered
that place before, but it seemed that my experience of it was something
that had always been there, but wasn't meant to be accessed or opened
until this time in my life. Because of the group’s capacity to
respond, create, and generate a process together for me, I was able
to discover a place in myself that, ever since, is the place I go to
when I'm looking for wisdom. That came out of our deep inquiry. It wasn't
just a heady inquiry; it was an inquiry into our bodies and a willingness
to create new processes, practices, or activities.
So one circle phenomenon is
our willingness to experiment and create new processes.
Since this process, I find
that I make wiser choices. I have a larger perspective. For me, that's
a story of a powerful thing that's come out of our work and continued
in my life and lives with me all the time.
Otto: I noticed
that when you were talking about that place, that your hands moved to
this place (indicates chest area), around the heart region. And when
you then said, "Me," you also pointed to there (same place).
Can you describe some elements of that experience? How do you know whether
you're operating from a normal identity or from this deeper authentic
place? How does it feel different?
I slow down a lot when I'm in the place of deeper knowing. I try to
be aware of my bodily sensations. My breathing is slower; the world
seems to slow down and so do I. The sensation is in my heart region.
It feels like a deep, open, dark, yet illuminated place. It also feels
strong, yet fluid, and different from the normal place from which I
operate. When I say "normal," I’m referring to my mind
and my thinking, deciding, trying to construct and make things happen,
rather than listening to what's wanting to happen.
So when I go here, I have an
experience of listening to feelings that are inside me that have valences
to them. A valence means that my experience, instead of feeling thin,
feels full. It’s more a feeling that my mind and my heart live
in a kind of physical centeredness. I feel as though I've filled my
whole body, rather than just my head. There's a sense that I'm more
present in my whole body.
I also have a sense of something
feeling more ancient, a bit like a place that is older than me. It feels
like something larger than me that I'm calling on.
you talked about the mind a few minutes ago, you were pointing to your
head, and then you were pointing to your heart region. Then in the last
moment, when you spoke about " something else," you were pointing
behind your head.
it feels as though it comes through me. Maybe that's why I'm pointing
behind me. I'm larger than my body, and I feel that larger space. I
feel as though I fill out a whole space that is larger than my body,
and I'm accessing all the wisdom that's available to me, both in my
particular personality or spirit. I'm accessing something that comes
Otto: So when
would this experience occur?
I stop to ask myself what is really wanting to happen here, I'm listening
to the wisest part of myself. That's what comes from me. I feel larger;
I feel something coming through me.
But it also feels like something
in me. It's matching up with something. I also feel it coming down,
as though it comes here (points behind head), through the back of me,
and then matches up with my whole center. All the chakras, if I can
use that language, start feeling open or connected.
you would have that experience as part of the circle also?
remember the first time when I found that place as I was standing in
the circle, and I can access it again. Immediately, I can call up that
experience. All of a sudden my body fills out, and I feel connected.
Then I start seeing things I don't normally see. Or I feel my capacities
to be calmer, more present. I know things that I don't normally know.
would be an example of knowing things that you normally don't know?
may have a question about what to do in a process that I might be working
through in the circle. I may think, “Whoa. I have no clue what
to do here.” That's when I will step back into that knowing place
I mentioned. I will ask that place for help. After that, a new and different
awareness seems to show up.
But it doesn't necessarily
show up in me. It may show up out there. All of a sudden, someone will
speak and suggest something obvious that we need to do. I know then
to trust what is happening and to go with it.
said you have learned to access that place in yourself anytime. So do
you do what you just described? Do you picture the circle situation
or bring it into presence through your memory?
I have to do is have that image, and then I can go there.
Otto: So the
circle is actually, so to speak, a channeling system. It allows you
to connect with that source.
I would say that. And not just in this experience, but in many experiences.
A lot of what we do is to create a ritual space, and after a while,
suddenly something deeper starts to come through.
you were speaking, I realized that my experience is very different from
yours—how you describe your work in the circle and what you access
because of it.
I know that for me, it's always
a struggle to let go of my individual container and to release myself
into the whole container. In a similar way, it's a struggle, or it always
takes effort and discipline to release myself into, for example, an
intimate encounter, a sexual encounter, or close encounter. This may
not be true for others, but for me it's so hard to release my personal
boundary and relax into the circle.
It takes a huge amount of inner
work and letting go for me to do that. If it weren't for the charged
space that we create together, I don't know that I would be able to
do that. Even to do the kind of work that we’ve been describing—the
one-on-one work or opening myself in the circle—is really hard
So I draw on the memory living
in my own body about how I opened the last time. Some of that's from
the circle, and some from other experiences. But there's something about
the struggle to open that is mine to bring into the circle, which I
think helps create the circle field.
I feel as though, when I release,
there's more present. But I probably hold out more than others. We've
never really talked about this, but it feels accurate. Each of us works
differently with how we let go into the collective. Each time, it requires
crossing a threshold. For me, it does, every single time. It even begins
with resistance to meeting that I have to navigate in myself every time.
It's a different resistance each time. After we had been meeting for
a longer period, it got easier. But I still had to navigate it every
time at that threshold.
were the other elements of this threshold or thresholds? Because you
have been down that road often, maybe you have made some observations
about the nature of the challenges that you face.
feel as though I'm going to die if I let go into the circle. So I have
to notice and be okay with the feeling. Now I'm quicker at noticing
the feeling, instead of just resisting.
So I notice it, and then I
do things to help myself open. For instance, if the circle is in our
home, preparing the space helps me let go into it. If it's at someone
else's home and I have to cross the threshold and enter, it's much harder
for me, because I haven't been part of the preparation cycle.
If I've been home and opened
from being in a home space, it's not as difficult. If I have travelled
immediately beforehand, or working hard, I’ve kept myself in a
close and protected container; it’s more difficult for me to open
Even talking about it now is
hard for me. Navigating the territory of having been out in the world,
managing everything coming at me when I'm working, and then to come
into the circle—which I have to do quite often—is very hard
for me. And I have to really pay attention and spend time alone beforehand
to be able to let go.
Then there's more letting go
that's needed when I have to receive feedback from people. I remember
a little while ago we were meeting at Serena's, we all gave each other
feedback. Leslie gave me four pieces of feedback in a row. There was
so much coming at me that I wasn't prepared for and wasn’t open
enough. I just said, "Stop! That's enough! I don't want any more
I had to do that to protect
myself, because I wasn't in an open enough space and hadn't been in
the circle long enough to be able to receive that. So I know from having
experienced it often that I hold my heart quite closely. Opening takes
me more time than someone like Beth ,who lives in that space much more
So releasing into the whole
is not self-evident for me, even though I've practiced it many times.
I always need to experiment with more ways to open. If I'm not vigilant,
I stay defensive for quite a long time. Then my contribution to the
collective suffers. Our field doesn't generate as quickly, partly because
want to appreciate what you just shared. I love how you articulated
that. You really opened into this circle with Otto here.
struck by the words, "I feel as though I’m going to die."
I do know that experience exactly. How would you describe that? How
does the story continue?
story goes like this: there's fear, because there's a boundary that
has to be stepped over. Traversing that boundary is what I imagine it
must feel like to die. I won't be who I am now when I cross the boundary.
So if I'm not who I am now,
what will I be when I cross the boundary? Who will I be? Because I don't
know who I'll be, it's very frightening, because I can't protect myself.
I become vulnerable. I'm frightened, because I have to step over something
that has kept me safe in a way that's familiar.
Otto: So what
I usually step over the boundary, although sometimes I step only a little
way. If I step all the way, it's such a relief to have taken the step.
I feel freer. Somehow I didn't know beforehand that I would feel freer,
even though I've done it before.
It takes a lot to do that.
Just as in a sexual encounter when the boundary blurs between two people,
you think you're going to lose yourself. You think you're going to lose
yourself in the other person, and initially it may be very nice. But
after a time, once the two of you start differentiating again and individuating,
you've still got to navigate that boundary again in a different way.
When everyone's done that, we have this collective presence in a different
way. We have a new being. We have the presence of the Circle Being.
My experience is that, until I've done that, I don't experience the
Circle Being. After that, it's beyond me as an individual. I don't matter
so much as an individual anymore. Yet I'm more of an individual at the
Building the Container
me, what just happened was you going over the boundary here. If I were
to describe this energetically, as you started to speak, your voice
was higher. You were speaking quickly and breathily. As you pushed into
what's on the inside or what's on the other side of that threshold,
your rhythm and the pacing changed. Your voice tone dropped. And the
energy moved from here (pointing at head) to here (indicating chest
I bet Otto feels as if he belongs. I feel that he belongs.
you feel like I belong?
something about the quality of authenticity and genuineness that creates
an opening and therefore allows the quality of the collective presence
What I saw happening was a
risk taken. The story I told is about a risk. There often has to be
a risk in order for the collective to show up. The risk can be one person's,
two people's, or all of ours, but there has to be some kind of risk
or vulnerability for crossing the threshold that you're talking about.
I felt the whole space shift. Because you took a risk, it shifted the
space for all of us. Maybe there are a lot of different thresholds.
So, Barbara, was my attribution that you found it easier to cross that
kind of boundary accurate?
Feeling the Essential Connection
different for me every time. You described a more steady resistance,
leaving what I call the personality level to drop into something that's
deeper and less personal. Sometimes I have a big block like that.
One block for me is if I have
a heartache about someone in the room or something in the relationship
field is unclear. I don't believe that our group is primarily about
personal healing or relationship healing, but if the field is not clear
because of personal things, that registers very deeply for me. I have
to push through that to open the doorway in myself. For example, there
were unclarities for me last time when all of you were in South Africa.
I was hurt by our communication. I felt as though I made a lot of overtures,
and nothing came back. I was working hard on joint projects that I didn't
feel were understood or supported. So until I could voice that and reconnect
at a more essential level, it was hard for me to let go into the circle.
It’s as though we have
relational issues that need to clarify and shift into something more
fundamental. I think it's true of all relationships, that there is a
personality dance that happens, for better or worse. Yet there's a more
fundamental note that is the being-to-being connection.
I just couldn't find the fundamental
note. To me, the main reason for working that personality level is so
we reconnect at that essential level.
Keeping the Field Clear
One commitment we've had is
to keep the field clear in all our one-on-one relationships, even when
we're not together. We work at it. I assume it's like being in a marriage.
If you're really doing the relationship well, you work at it. Very few
collectives commit to that.
It’s not that we're so
interested in the personality level in the end. My perception is that
working the personality level is a prerequisite. There’s always
a threshold to cross when we've misunderstood and misjudged one another.
We could tell a lot of stories about things we've been through to return
to true relationship. There's commitment at an essential level that's
a big enabler for the collective field.
think one reason that I have craved this kind of space is because of
an internal sense about how life unfolds. I believe that there is a
design, that things are being orchestrated all the time by the larger
If nobody gets in the way with
their own agendas or our personality scenarios, then a possibility can
fulfill itself. Once we get over the threshold, there's a certain richness—a
collective listening capacity that is humbling. It's unimposing and
therefore the kind of experience that you were talking about, Beth,
When the richness is present
we can brings different situations to life in it. The reason we activate
a representation of the issue at hand, as opposed to just talking about
it, is that doing it brings the energy of the situation into the room,
as opposed to having an intellectual conversation about it. Enactment
of some kind brings real-time energy into the room.
The Power of Collective Listening
There is the example of Liz,
a woman whose life was fractured, with family in one place, her spiritual
life in another, and friends scattered all over. She’s a very
passionate and complex person. She had an impulse to integrate her life,
to experience wholeness of being. So in the circle, I didn't want her
to talk just about that. I wanted her to pick up objects in the room
and place them in relationship to one another to represent her life
and to indicate the different energy streams that were shaping the different
parts of her life.
So we cleared a space on the
floor. She used some rocks and other objects that were in the room as
symbols of her life.
had granola mix with raisins for snacking!
So it became real, as opposed to just a description. It was symbolic.
The energy comes into the room very directly when you're working with
symbol. And ritual intensifies the field. So that's one way of getting
out of your head. Once Liz got her life spread out on the floor, we
all just held the process she was working with as it developed. We weren't
trying to change her or do anything. I just asked her, “How would
you like your life to become more connected?”
She took the dish of raisins
and intuitively started making connecting lines between different pieces
of her life. It came from her heart, a desire. Again, we didn't analyze
it to make any big deal about it, but it was just held with sanctity
and blessing. Later on, within two months, she broke out of a very stuck
place and took a trip.
drove across the country.
without even knowing that this happened, she exactly followed the lines
that she had drawn.
the rocks with the raisins.
California to New York.
when she got to New York, her parents had organized a family intervention
to reconnect with her, which was a surprise. It involved all her siblings,
her parents, and two therapists. They had convened because they wanted
to connect with Liz again.
What we realized was that she
had set the whole pattern symbolically in the circle, as though there
was something already present that wanted to come through. It needed
expression, and then it could manifest, which it did, exactly.
What I call "unfoldment"
is trusting a sense of what to do. You can set a predetermined pattern
at some level. It's life's urge for movement. Is this making any sense?
me connect it, Barbara, because that was the birth of the symbols process
that you have been through, and the one I use. That was discovery.
have an example, too, a very quick, personal one. I've always struggled
with my father about money and power. He has always used money for all
sorts of reasons to control people and situations. I felt stuck in my
use of money and in my relationship with my father, because very often
he had made promises to me that he hadn't kept with respect to money,
starting when I was very young.
I asked the group whether I
could invent a process whereby I would work this territory with my father.
So I set up a photograph of him, a big pile of money, and various other
symbols representing all the factors in the picture. Then I spoke to
him very directly as if he were in the room. It was a very difficult
process for me, because I had so much feeling coming up in me. I loved
him, and I felt as though I were betraying him.
But with the support of the
circle, I was able to say things to him in that process and move money
around in particular ways, which changed everything for me. When I went
back home, my father gave me a huge—for him—sum of money,
the first time in your life.
It shifted everything for me. The block that I had with him lifted as
a result of bringing what had been inside me, outside me in symbol form.
How the field held me as I
worked was very important. It seemed to rearrange everything inside
me. My attribution is: In the process, I worked with what was inside
me in the arena of the circle, and it changed my experience “out
there”. But I couldn't change the pattern until I'd represented
it here, in mini symbol form.
I had done that process alone or with a single coach, I don't think
it would have carried what it did. But the group knew how to witness,
to hold, and to do it on behalf of the larger field.
not that we were trying to get her father to give her money. It was
us loving her, loving her father, and her painting a picture of exactly
what was so. And then letting go. It's a blessing. Then life will use
that, if it's a pure offering, to move through into a more whole place.
One hallmark of this circle
is the ability to offer things to life for the greater good. The field,
in a way, becomes a symbol of a greater knowing.
Being a Portal to Universal Patterns
think the reason this is touching to me is because we carry an awareness
that the details of our lives are portals to bigger patterns.
are very careful not to manipulate though.
get more money, get better relationships, fix your own life. That does
not wash in this circle!
this helpful, Otto?
I heard you describing three different conditions. There is a field.
The field is already there. That’s an assumption, right? Or the
collective presence is already there. Now, the question is, how to activate
that? What you both described is three different conditions or perspectives.
During the past few days, when I was at the Dalai Lama conference, people
talked about first person and third person.
Third person is observation
from outside. First person is introspection, looking into my own experience.
Now, what you describe is third person, first person, and second person.
So first person is the person who does the symbols process. Third person
is actually the representation of that situation in some constellations
of symbols that allows us to look at that from a different stance.
Then the last perspective is
the second-person knowledge, that is, the unconditional witnessing by
the surrounding community. With regard to that, how did you describe
the quality of intention on behalf of life?
quality of witnessing or holding that we're talking about here is personal
identification with source in the circle. Something like: the eyes through
which you see, the heart through which you feel, the ears with which
you listen are not personal.
What I'm picturing right now
is that, when something starts to happen, when something is coming to
focus in the room, then I feel that the circle knows how to back into
the power of the field.
So there is very little projection
onto the situation. There is little intent other than opening to what
life wants to have happen right then. There's sensitivity without manipulation.
A spirit of blessing. And a deep trust in the quality of that presence.
way to describe that quality is unconditional love -- non-judgment.
My interpretation of the conditions that allow a shift to take place
is that you take something that's in you, and you put it out there.
It could be some kind of block
in you, some kind of energy. You have lots of stuff around it—judgments,
spins. You don't like it. But when it comes into the circle field, we
witness it lovingly just as it is. The power of witnessing unconditionally
does something. Suddenly, the situation is looked at and blessed, and
maybe it’s not as bad as you thought!
allowed to shift into something else.
The Circle Culture
Three conditions of collective listening
Otto: So there
is layering in what you describe, right? The first condition is a suspension
of the projection of the judgments. You described that as part of your
threshold experience. In your story, it was the same thing. So suspension
of judgment and unconditional witnessing are one condition.
The second condition is clearing
the horizontal space by unconditional love. When I interviewed Peter
Senge a couple of years ago, he talked about love in terms of “showing
up and being present.” That was his definition of love. Showing
up and being present. Fully present with.
And the third condition maybe
has to do with having the trust that the presence, or whatever you name
it, is going to show up and do the work.
The focus of energy drops out of the head and into the heart in the
room, because the opening usually happens when somebody's heart really
a footnote to that. When we talked on the way home about our experience
with the Dalai Lama, Katrin [my wife] described a similar experience.
She said, "I feel that he loves everybody in the room. He would
Several Voices: Yes,
was her primary experience of that impersonal love.
language I use -- and people tell me it's accurate -- is that there
is a blessing that comes with impersonal love. It's the impersonality
of the love. Your personality doesn’t overlay the situation. And
I do think we as a collective somehow manage to simply hold that impersonal
level. We have no attachment, no requirement, no judgment.
third condition has to do with a certain direction of intension. What
is that exactly?
of it, I think, is what you pay attention to. I'll use “B”
as an example, on a personal level and on a family level. B has struggled
a lot with lack of confidence in different ways. Even in the middle
of B's work on lack of confidence, it is not what I see in her. I see
through that wound to the truth of her. So it's where I place my awareness;
the placement does the work.
For me, her father would be
one of the most challenging people in the world if I weren't operating
with this kind of awareness. He's ultra-conservative. But I have made
a commitment to seeing her father as a very heartful man. I will not
back off that. So I have to make corrections in myself. It's a discipline
of attention that has to do with how I see the people who are described
by others in the circle.
appreciate what you're saying, Barbara. We have an agreement to see
the essential self that we call the no-mess-up clause. No matter what
one of us does, she can’t mess up as far as the others are concerned.
We include our families and our friends in this, too.
include our close relationships, political figures, and others we want
to support. But we're very aware that the quality of attention and the
way we hold things have creative power.
Otto: So the
intention is placed on . . .
. . the essential self. Maybe it's a little bit like knowing that people
are not their personalities. Knowing that we have wounds, shadows, and
struggles. It’s not that we don't have to deal with them or confront
them, but we pay attention to them in context.
fundamental connections aren't about wounds and shadows. But we do deal
with these darker elements if they come up. We don’t back off
shadows or conflicts if they appear.
But I think we have a shared belief that one of the greatest forms of
service to people is to see their essential selves -- that somehow through
my seeing that, they experience more of themselves.
Figure: Three Conditions
of Deep Listening and Holding
The holding practice
we have a dominant circle practice, it has to do with holding. We frequently
talk about holding, and I think we all know what we mean by it. My experience
is that usually I go into an altered space when my work is in focus
in the circle, and being witnessed.
I'm doing things with the
symbols, and I'm saying things that I would never normally think of
saying. I'm in a very different state and very different space than
I would be, as you said, if I were expressing myself without being witnessed.
I'm held by the group deliberately,
which has to do with witnessing, loving, and being fully present, which
is not trivial.
agree with that.
has to do with holding and really paying attention to what’s going
on in the middle of the circle. For example, when we first arrive for
our circle meeting, we might put pictures of our families on the table,
pictures of people who we know are struggling, or perhaps a symbol of
the Middle East. Whatever it is that we want to have held by the group
and blessed during the process, we'll describe and put on the table
at the beginning.
As important matters come up,
we might add them in symbol form to the collection on the table. At
the end, we might each say, “I have something that I'd like held”
or, “I'd like this intention held,” when we check out before
closing the circle. It could be a simple thing like, “I'd like
to write a letter to my brother to really connect with him deeply, and
I'd like you to hold me as I do that, until the next circle.”
Or, “My parents are ill.” Or we may really want to hold
a particular politician or event that we think is valuable.
One of your questions was
about sustaining. We sustain the intention and the energy of that person's
intention by the practice of holding during the time that we’re
apart, after the circle breaks up. This is a practice of continuing
to hold the field that I think we're not fully aware of. It’s
been developing since we began the circle.
we dive further into that, it seems to me that what you’re describing
as “holding” is something different from empathic listening,
right? With empathic listening, I get lost in the other person. I move
into all the sentiments and all the trouble. But you have a rather different
gesture, which is that you are partly inside the other. You are present
with the other, not just an observer, but at the same time, you are
also consciously witnessing.
Collective Second Person
Wilber makes the distinction between I, we, and it. It strikes me that
what you describe is yet another perspective: the second person plural,
that is, unconditional witnessing by a collective.
What I heard you describe is
how unconditional witnessing by a collective works in terms of a nonjudgmental
stance and in terms of the open heart. That places the attention toward
what's becoming - what's coming into being. It's the evolving self,
not what's already there.
Otto: It would
be fascinating to inquire further into the idea that this is not just
an individual practice. I know it is an individual practice from interviewing
others, but it's also a collective practice. It is the foundation of
circle practice. It also strikes me that this is something that you
could activate even if you're no longer in the same space and time.
one more piece that has to do with our framing of how you recreate the
world. The world is recreated through this practice. Change happens
through this practice, but it's change that isn't manipulated. It is
change that is evoked from the inside out.
Transformation through holding (listening)
you have a dedicated field like this that's sustained over time, then
you can experience the effect of sustained collective attention on things.
Trust comes because there's trustworthy action that you keep experiencing
over and over. I think it's a developed trust that comes from an experience
of how life, or the field, works on things that have been held in that
way. We can tell you many different stories about how this has worked.
Now we laugh about it. We're not so tempted to manipulate. We're not
trying to fix things.
We don't have great ideas for
other people. We’ve developed a program of mentorship for young
women leaders that's built around these practices. We know that a collective
way of seeing and affirming each young woman is going to allow her to
shift into a deeper level of who she is and how she shows up in the
Otto: We just
talked about you developing a collective capability here. Could you
say whether or not you operate in this collective field or in your individual
capacity? How would you know? How can we get our arms around this collective
second-person capability? One way to approach that question may simply
be to share one or two more stories about that. I, for example, could
Otto: At one
point, my wife and I ran into some serious issues in terms of not operating
from that deeper place. Things gradually became worse, and then there
was a turning point. But we didn't even notice that it had happened.
So our best man and best woman
[from our wedding] sat together with us, and we described the situation.
They listened to us with an open mind, an open heart, and an intention
to help. It's not that we hadn't talked about it before, but now it
was attended by this quality of listening.
but they were not just any observers. They asked because they cared.
They probed, and some different aspects came out as we talked, not exactly
the same aspects as before, but similar.
After the meeting, you could
have said, “So what?” But afterward, maybe six or eight
months later, we noticed that things had changed. We were actually beyond
the turnaround. We were way beyond, but we did not notice for quite
That moment when our best man
and best woman sat with us was definitely when things began to shift
on a very subtle level. They dedicated their listening to what the reality
was and to the future, to the deeper aspects of our unfolding lives.
They did not let go of that or give up.
So that’s a very vivid
example of what you spoke about.
example's a very good one. My view is that people can do this on purpose.
If they practice doing it and get good at it as a group, if they can
sustain it for long enough to see results, they can influence the outer
Now it's embodied for you,
and you know that happened. This is what we have been experimenting
with for the past eight years.
Otto: My example
was relationship, right? So this does not apply just to individuals
but also to social entities, collectives, and relationships.
might say that their standing up for you at your wedding in the first
place is the beginning of holding a container for you and your wife.
You spoke your vows and your intentions in a field attended by friends
and family. To varying degrees, both the officiants of services like
weddings and the people who stand up for and witness their friends have
some conscious awareness of what they're doing.
relationships are more likely to flourish and to unfold if they are
held in a larger field, particularly if they're held consciously in
a larger field and cared for or blessed consistently over time.
Naming the World
listening to your story, the interesting question for me is, how might
people be helped to recognize what is happening in their lives and relationships
more quickly? What I heard was that you took a long time to recognize
what was going on, Otto.
in the circle, because we're attending, we can recognize what’s
happening sooner and begin the conscious work with it.
something is actually embodied, it’s easier to see and talk about.
You can see how the patterns work. It's very important to be able to
describe how a particular pattern works and to find words for it, which
I think is part of the reason we’re called to do this work. We’re
doing it purposely on behalf of many people, with increasing discipline,
awareness, and skill.
reminds me of Paolo Freire, the great community organizer, and his Conscientus
Assessione process, in which he taught people to name their world. Once
they could name their world, they could take the next step, which is
core to what we do.
does it mean to name your world?
worked with people who did not have a language by which they could name
and, therefore, see the world they lived in, so they could never change
it. He was a great critical pedagogue and educator in Brazil, who worked
with the poor. Often the poor had no way to name the causes of their
poverty, and the result was what Freire called “internalized oppression.”
think that that applies here. What you're trying to do, Otto, is help
us name the circle world we can no longer see clearly, because we are
in it. I'm not sure you can teach this, but we can learn it if we're
put into a learning situation in which you're helped to experience it,
recognize it, and name it. Then it's learned because it’s seen.
Otto: I would
say that both the symbols process and your true stories are naming processes.
lot of what we do is to name.
Most of the things we do are naming.
taking what's inside collectively and bringing it to the outside.
your relationship with your wife, the awareness and naming came as you
were witnessed. I also think in a lot of the work that we do, whether
it’s meditation, dialogue work, engaging in an organization, or
doing work in the community, we're doing the same kind of thing –
witnessing, seeing, naming, learning, and then changing.
I haven't been aware of it
in quite this way before. Now I feel as though my work is much more
grounded and more powerful. I can access the circle work and bring it
more into the world.
your own work, you can have people step into different energies and
consciously name what they see from different energetic or archetypal
perspectives. I think that really teaches people to hold the situation
and to hold each other. There's something transformational in that process.
I find when I bring this approach into teams, organizations, or courses
that I do, things shift much more quickly than usual.
I think the difference is that,
when I hear colleagues talk about this in other settings, there isn't
necessarily the dimension or intention of serving life. It's more about
serving the team, serving the organization, or serving whatever goals
or outcomes are important. So for me, this other dimension makes the
circle work differently.
quality of intention is different, but then so is the openness of the
heart, right? That's very difficult to accomplish. And the same applies
to being nonjudgmental. Just saying nothing doesn't mean you're not
Your Essential Self is Present With You
have a belief that works for me. My belief is that your essential self
is there, present with you. If you talk to me, and I start being judgmental
of you, I can still engage with that essential part of you. That takes
me out of my judgment of your personality. It works!
I thought you liked my personality!
me, the point is that we are creative beings; therefore we can evoke
or create…or both. In a way, I create Beth. We co-create each
other, because of how we see each other. So in the circle, we co-create
the circle together because of how we see each other and what we are
seeking to do.
comes back to what I said at the beginning—that there's something
individual that happens for each of us, and then there's a shared creation
that also happens. It's all going on inside me, but there's also something
we do that we agree on that makes it a collective.
Evoking the Presence of the Circle Being
Otto: I am
still not quite clear on the exact difference between individual second-person
and collective second-person.
Here are two examples. When
you told your story, somebody said, “Well, it would not have been
the same if just one other person had been attending to it. It was the
collective group attention that created the difference.” Now,
is that always the case? Are you saying it takes more than one person?
If there had been only one other, would that have been enough? That's
the first question -- where does the collective begin and end? Is it
one additional person, or is it two or more?
The second question is, Can
you tell the difference experientially? When you listen to me, can you
tell, “Well, now I am listening to him one on one, and now I'm
listening to him from our group vehicle of attention?”
both questions are good. I hadn't thought about it that way.
notice that I hear you differently from how I usually hear you, as we
sit here in this circle. I hear what you're saying in the context of
how we relate here, rather than in the context of us being in Boston
with other colleagues, with the Global Institute folks, or even just
you and I. There's a different quality. I'm hearing what you're saying
in new ways. And I'm seeing you differently; you're showing up differently,
although you're still Otto, and you still do some of the same things
and make the same gestures. But what's being evoked in you is different
from what I see being evoked in other settings.
may be my own attribution, but here’s how I experience work in
the circle, if I'm the one who's doing the work, being witnessed, or
assisted by another person. My experience is that there's a thickness
in the atmosphere of this circle—an enabling presence—that
allows me to go deeper than if, say, Beth and I were working only with
I see more. I see more of myself.
I see more of what I'm working with. I don't know whether that's because
of the skill levels in the group, or whether it's because of the quality
of attention, or a combination of both. But my experience is that I
see more; I experience more of myself.
We do sometimes work one on
one together. But at those times, for me, very little shifts. When we
work in the circle, though, more shifts for me. I would attribute that
to the quality of the atmosphere or the quality of the container.
I feel like a bigger person.
I feel fuller in my own being. And I feel empowered or enabled in a
particular way. I feel seen. I feel the focus of attention is refined;
that it’s nonjudgmental, and loving. And I feel the presence of
the Circle Being, which is different from the sum of the individuals.
So I can't really describe
it any differently than that. When it's not there, I know it. It takes
a little time for the Circle Being to be invoked. When it is present,
thre’s a different quality to my experience. I feel, through the
agreement we have together, I have permission to be my fullest self.
I can be wise
Otto: As the
witness or as the one bringing content for examination?
others have that experience too?
like to answer your question, “Does it have to be one or two or
three other people?” I would say that I have the experience of
being the one held by one person and also that of holding only one person.
Some major change, shift, or
transformation can happen by the power of witnessing or holding. But
I think it depends on the quality of that holding, the quality of the
atmosphere. Certainly, if it's a bigger circle, there may be more power,
but not necessarily. I do think it can be done with one person, and
that the most important factor is the quality of presence.
think it's like that quote from the Bible, “If there are two or
more gathered together in one place, with one accord in one place .
Otto: In my
am I in the midst of them. And I don't mean that in a Christian sense.
I mean if two or more are gathered in the name of love, then another
presence is evoked and there is intensification.
I open, I know that there's a larger pattern, and that there is a world
beyond form. There is something that informs the form world. I have
great deference and reverence for that.
You used the word "channeling"
earlier, Otto. I think it's a very appropriate word if it can be framed
in a way that isn’t sensational. That can occur when there is
an awareness of the greater will of life, which is beautiful, coherent,
and ever present. When that can come through, it has a big effect on
I have two ways of contacting
that “greater will.” I used to lean on one of them. I was
part of an intentional community, which is why I think I became addicted
to the collective. It helped me open to the greater field and the greater
pattern. When I opened, that became my reason for living, because I
had a direct experience of the greater pattern and the greater world,
and the textures and feelings of that.
But now I've been able to develop
the personal discipline to actually open into an absolute myself through
meditation. I've come to see that there is a different quality of opening,
depending on whether it’s individual or collective. It works in
a different way, but both are openings.
Calling the Circle
we call the circle, I know that we are held in and part of what I call
the Great Field. In calling a circle, we are co-responsible for that
which has been called from the Great Field. Yet to me, the partner in
the Great Field can always be called upon. The moment that I participate
in calling the circle, I'm lighting the sacred fire and entering the
stillness. I have a prayer that I will be co-responsible for that small
part of the Great Field of all that is, and that, as humans, we are
offering to be co-responsible for.
My experience -- and this could
come from a different culture, upbringings, and experiences –
is that the individual moves into the background. That of which I am
now a part -- the collective pattern -- moves into the foreground. I
can sense it immediately and see it in energetic terms. That great presence,
which is the field of all life moving, is available to us. I think we
call on that in this circle.
The Small Group is the Unit of the Future
Research has shown that seven
is the perfect number for a small group. I have a totally different
experience when I'm sitting in solitude, in groups of 12, or randomly
sized groups. I sit in many circles and I'm really quite convinced that
the small group is the unit of the future. In the small group, individuals
move into the background and the collective being comes into the foreground.
We are learning to hold the small field of the circle as a place in
which we intensely live our lives and learn things.
you say a little more about what you mean when you say, "We create
a place and then I am co-responsible."
you agree that there is a great field that moves throughout creation?
that when we call a circle, we call it with others. For example, we
started with six or seven women. When we did that, we made conscious
the fact that we became responsible for this small field. That’s
what we would call an act of co-responsibility.
you all share?
act of co-responsible calling doesn't set tight boundaries. It says
that this field, which is delicate, energetic, and collective, is not
just the sum of six or seven people. It immediately becomes something
larger when the collective is called. It’s as though the song
of the collective appears.
Do you remember, Barbara, that
I was asked to sit as an Elder in that difficult group? The group got
quite stuck, even though we had wonderful practitioners there, and the
team came and asked me what to do. I said, “What you can do is
send a voice to the partner in the Great Field, and ask for words and
insights that will move this group.” So they did that, and an
amazing operational field evolved.
[We broke for the evening, reconvening in the morning with an
untranscribed conversation about “how we were doing” from
Otto’s vantage point. Otto confirmed we were on track and should
trust our own instincts as to what was trying to happen step-by-step.
A suggestion came to start the day with an experience of yielding to
the surrounding field, resting in it as a point of origin for the day’s
Moving into presence
Locating Your Collective Identity in the Great
is the distinction you mentioned between the first, second, third fields?
describe the fields briefly. Rub your hands together a little bit. Put
your hand and arm out as far as you can, palm facing toward your chest.
We’re feeling for different qualities of atmosphere, like a graduation
of thickness or shifting sensation in your hand. Move your hand slowly
toward your body and notice if you feel any edges or different energetic
rings as you come in.
I’m going to describe
my experience. There’s one ring that sits out about as far as
I can reach. And then there’s a middle range between 10 and 18
inches from my chest, and then I hit something that feels of denser,
inside that ring. I feel three rings. Does anybody feel anything different
as you try this?
My experience is such a gradual shift that I don’t feel an edge.
you feel a change as you come in through?
but not an edge.
I’ve come to know is that, during my meditation, I actually project
my locus of identity into the third field, which is what I am referring
to as the outer sphere around us—where life’s rhythms, and
innate design are intact. The inner rings are characterized more by
our personality and ancestral stories.
It’s why, when people sit in certain meditation postures, their
hands often rest on their knees in contact with the third field.
I just relax my being, my body,
into the clear third field. The third field holds the universal pulsation
and pattern of life, or Great Field. So meditation can locate us more
in the Great Field. I’m interested in intending together to locate
our individual and, thus, our collective identity in the Great Field.
like that. That’s a great experiment; let’s go for it.
[10 minutes of
silence followed, then each spoke of his or her experience. The atmosphere
in the room softened and slowed down.]
had an experience of being like a satellite dish. Then I realized that
my attention, in a way, is always like a satellite dish. What am I turning
my attention toward? What am I opening up to? When my awareness is raised,
I can open up to other frequencies or possibilities, information, and
understanding that I have not known were accessible.
I felt like I could have gone
on for much longer this morning; we could have had 40 minutes of silence.
I noticed was a gentle pulsation. The field had quality to it. I felt
myself relaxing my own heart rhythm and breath. These functions were
relaxing into that larger field, letting a slower wave inform my presence.
I was feeling the field holding me … breathing me, actually. And
interestingly enough, one thing that came to my mind was “What’s
going on at the WTO? “
The alliance between the poor nations and the swell of protest that’s
been happening there. It wasn’t that I was trying to think about
it, more like I was feeling the larger current moving through everything.
Aware of some pervasive undercurrent, I felt connected to the bigger
As that situation in Mexico
came to mind, it felt significant to me, from a place of witnessing,
not judging or rooting for the underdogs. I noticed that there’s
a lot going on right now that seems affected by a deeper force pushing
through. Events feel shaken up.
In a way, I was resting in
a deeper trust that life was having its way with the whole world. That’s
what I feel like this morning. I also feel, in a more immediate sense,
the rightness of our being together in a more aware and open way. This
particular combination of people just sitting here feels really precious.
interesting. I felt urged to call Serena and bless her into the field
[she was absent due to illness]. And then Zimbabwe came into my awareness.
I was supposed to go there this fall to support some bold people in
life-affirming communities. But Harare was too dangerous to visit. So
I had to bless these courageous people. The State Department had said,
“Do you want to put your whole board at risk by being there this
time?” So now I blessed them all again.
Serving the clearing
Otto: It strikes
me that the quality of the collective field here can be described as
a clearing in the woods. It has a vertical dimension and an openness.
And it is held by a surrounding outer or horizontal boundary. It’s
a holding space for the emergence of a new impulse.
you talk about following an impulse, it feels related to what you said
about an incubator, a place where there’s an intention to develop
capacities to pay attention to life’s intent. Being true to that
intent within the boundary of this dedicated time together defines what
the Circle of 7 does. We use our own storylines, situations, and connections
in service to that emergence. We’re not here for ourselves. I
trust that what comes in the flow as “my” challenge or seemingly
personal situation has meaning beyond me. Though it is personal, it
is respectfully placed in the clearing because we trust it also relates
in some way to broader factors that need clarification or realignment.
this has something to do with finding the stillness in a wider sphere
that’s a little outside of personal stillness. There is a personal
stillness: I can get still and my world will be still. But maybe there’s
a stillness that is the bigger field stillness. That is a silent revolution,
carrying a spiraling pulsation—order to chaos, chaos to order—that
feeds the whole system. Life is about order and chaos. Nature shows
us that. I am actually starting to see this spiral going. It’s
coming to me now.
Painting pictures of circle presence
like to invite each of you to draw two pictures showing how you experience
your relationship to: (a) a normal group that you might experience in
a meeting at work or in your community, and (b) a developed group such
as the Circle of Seven.
[5-10 minutes of silent, individual artwork]
Should we have a gallery tour?
We could each describe our pictures. Who wants to go first?
A field from which creation stems
1a. Picture of normal group
experience in a meeting
The first picture (1a) is like
entering into a group that you’re with for the first time. What
I have drawn here in yellow is the Great Field to which we are connected.
Surrounding each person are themes, identifications with emotional patterns,
their bodies, and their beliefs. To varying degrees, those things are
barriers to their experience of the Great Field and, therefore, barriers
to their connection with the person next to them, who is also connected
to the Great Field. They both have so many overlying structures that
they don’t really experience oneness and connectedness. The connectedness
exists, but it’s not necessarily experienced and that’s
why people get into fights, wars, and stuff like that.
1b. Picture of the Circle
of Seven experience
By contrast, I would describe
the second picture (1b) to be more the experience of what happens when
you’re together for a while and you start shedding these separate
identities. Maybe you even go into the practice of feeling the field,
as we did at the beginning of our session today, where we put our attention
on the field, so that it can be magnified in our experience.
So what we’re assuming
is that this field is all over. We’re connected to it. It’s
within us, around us, and bigger than us. By putting our attention on
what may seem very intangible at first, we begin to have our own connection
to that field. We soon find that this is the location of kinship with
each other and then, beyond that, truly coherent creation.
The clearer the individual
connection with the field, the clearer the collective connection and
therefore collective creation. That’d be my take.
Being seen and witnessed as essential self
2a. Picture of a normal group
experience in a meeting
Circle: In my first picture (2a), I thought about a
particular new group working together on health care reform. I remember
walking into a meeting. Now, my normal stance coming into a newly gathered
group is to hold the disparate members, gathering them into myself and
I feel as if everybody’s
got their own little bubble around them—their identity. So I’ve
drawn what they’re walking in with in different colors. In a way,
we already have something larger that we’re about, but we don’t
know each other; we don’t know if other people are really about
the same thing. So there’s distance between everyone.
2b. Picture of the Circle
of Seven experience
In the second picture (2b),
there’s an impression of the unique gift of each one’s inner
presence or essential self. What I see happening is more of our essential
selves coming through, and at the same time, we’re becoming more
differentiated in our thoughts and contributions. We are experiencing
more of our lives more fully as a result of being seen and witnessed
both for who we fundamentally are and for our personality structures
and points of view.
In my experience of working
at our highest, I put the same color as essential self on the individual
and the collective levels. This basic presence is an aspect of the Great
Field. But, at the same time, we are all different, so I’ve also
used different colors.
In my experience, there’s
a circle around us, permeating and holding us all. That energy informs
us if we are receptive, affecting our understanding, our feelings, and
our whole expression. Coming though us individually, in a collective,
light is shed on complicated challenges, usually characterized by a
basic generosity and a comprehensive view.
When I leave this circle and
do my professional work, I bring the continued strength and substance
of this space that we’ve created. I take it everywhere I go. I
feel stronger in all those other places. I think people in my work environment
feel a sense of their own presence and power as they come into contact
with something we’ve experienced here. They, in turn, go out and
take that kind of experience to others.
is a high resonance in that picture with experience, don’t you
think? The essential core connects fluidly to the little microcosms
on the periphery. You captured many elements in that picture by linking
the outside microcosms—the third space—with the living center
of this Circle Being.
We all come into this circle surrendered to the field
thing that’s common in these drawings so far is that because of
our experience in this circle, we enter other circles with a consciousness
of holding them with the same attention we have learned here.
we do that when we go into other circles, but when we’re in this
circle, we surrender that kind of holding and let ourselves be held
by the field itself.
Circle: We all come into this circle surrendered to
other words, we enter less developed circles on behalf of the field.
agree. It doesn’t have to do with agenda or expectation. It has
everything to do with quality of field and quality of presence.
3a. Picture of a normal group
experience in a meeting
I drew my relationship to a less mature field (3a). The way it came
out is that this group (the fragmented or inexperienced group) is the
center of clearing, rather than the more conscious collective. The incoherent
group of individuals has actually pushed the field back so much that
it has separated itself from an integrated life pattern, not unlike
I’m describing the clearing
as opposite to how we did before. Because of strong personality factors,
personal agendas, and egos, the new group has separated itself from
the larger pattern of possibility.
So here I am, rather like an alien to this group. I’m out here.
I’m doing my darnedest, but in actual fact, I feel like an alien.
probably everybody here does.
The more anybody has identified with the field, the more they’re
going to have a [split] experience in a group that is operating as “every
person for themselves,” with no ear to life’s input for
the sake of the whole. It’s a familiar win/lose dynamic.
3b. Picture of the Circle
of Seven experience
In the second drawing (3b), there’s
no clearing because we haven’t pushed back the influence of the
third field. I’ve flipped things around. What this represents
is the effect of the field happening everywhere. We’re not special;
the field is creating everywhere that there is openness to it.
It’s hard to see, but
each person has a spiral going up and a spiral going down representing
his or her own opening in consciousness. I think both our own personal
practices and deliberate development of certain collective practices
keep expanding our vital connection to the Great Field.
Sitting within this larger
field is our collective field. There is a unique chemistry to our configuration.
We’ve called that the Circle Being, which has its particular shape,
color, and character. It’s a little different now with Otto’s
presence folded in. Though not very bright in the drawing, this is the
new thought and creativity that comes out of the center.
a little hung up on your reference to being an alien. When I go into
situations that are foreign to me, isn’t there always the larger
field influence somewhere that I can access if I want to, whether a
group is in touch with it or not?
would agree that’s true. You are the connecting point to a deeper
flow. But I do note that, in order to honor where those people are,
I may express myself in a different way.
going to a costume party or something? Putting on something?
exactly. For me, it’s being multi-lingual and respectful. I believe
that everybody’s connected to the field, but may not be aware
of it. I think collectives can sometimes create a bubble that is separate
from the field, creating a self-affirming consensus reality and operating
very arrogantly and destructively from those assumptions.
The Presence of the Circle Being
Otto: So when
you say the “Circle Being,” is that just a concept with
no reality behind it—just a label? Or, does it denote a living
will give you an example. We have friends who come here to initiate
new directions or projects in the circle. I’m thinking of Lexi,
for example, who felt drawn to call together a circle of younger women,
based on her mentorship work with some of us. She knew that if she sat
in our circle, not with us as individuals all gathered together, but
in the presence of the Circle Being, that her seed for the young women’s
circle would grow. So the Circle Being acts on the potentials.
There are many things that
people have placed in this circle to be cared for by the action of the
field. Sometimes, though, when we sit together, the Circle Being is
not present. It is a palpable presence.
can you tell?
a change in atmosphere. My ears ring; things slow down; time changes.
A quality of depersonalization sets in, and I am urged not to speak
casually. I speak when I’m moved by a larger presence that needs
a voice. There is always a bit of a mix, but overall it jump-shifts
into another zone. Sometimes we note, “We’ve dropped into
Here’s a conjecture,
something I’m testing now as background causation. I assume part
of the reason you came here, Otto, is that you’ve been moving
with the same phenomenon that is moving us. I feel that there are conversations
between higher selves that are happening around the planet. It’s
as though there’s another layer of interaction going on, even
with people we have not yet met. This presumes we have descended into
this earthly dimension from a realm where we are in full expression,
and a design of connection is fulfilling itself.
projected a part of ourselves into this physical world. So, when the
conversation “drops,” I suspect that a quality of interaction
between our higher selves is finding its way into form in this dimension.
regard to the Circle Being, for me, there’s a difference when
we’re all present. There’s a shift when we are intentionally
together as a whole circle. Yesterday all of us were together, except
Anne, planning an upcoming program. Then Anne arrived and everything
was different. So there’s something about us actually coming together
as an intact circle. There’s a shift in the atmosphere. It feels
as though something larger than our normal relationships at work.
When we first met, it felt
as if this group had some kind of destiny together, though we were unclear
about what it was. I wonder if we made a promise to assemble at a higher
level, and here we are eight years into fulfilling that promise.
always interested me that when we made the decision to define ourselves
as a dedicated circle of 7 [delineating a limited, constant configuration],
many other women wanted to be in the circle. I believe when we came
together, we dedicated ourselves to the task of learning what a circle
is, over time, and how it is designed to function in its deepest sense.
The precision of a committed purpose and defined boundary seems to have
ignited a proliferation of other circles.
feel that our first meeting as a circle could have been configured differently
and still provide what it seems to be providing in the world.
if there was a function that needed to be fulfilled at that time, rather
than a destiny for certain people to be together? And it landed on us.
It could have been other people. As though life were seeking out an
open, eager group that could work this one out, probably as part of
what is needed now in the evolutionary pattern of the world community.
why many women said to us, “I want to be part of this,”
or, “I feel I should be part of this.” Maybe they could
have been. Sensing the same call, these women created their own circles
and have in turn spawned others. I note that every variation, like a
fractal, has its own signature.
really important, Otto, in terms of your communicating anything about
the circle. The fact is that every combination of people will have their
own blueprint or possibility. One group can’t copy the signature
of another group, just as an individual can’t become someone else
and fulfill who he or she uniquely is.
Forgoing Images for the Truth of the Moment
commitment did you make to keep the field alive and the connection to
the Circle Being?
started with an image about what we should be. It was a grand idea;
we were going to initiate women everywhere into the fullness of who
were asked to do that by one of the founders of the Mankind Project,
an initiation program for men. In the end, we admitted we needed to
sort out our own transitions. So we let go into the obvious next step.
Our dedication became fulfillment of the possibility for this group
as it showed up in each encounter.
We began listening for what
we were actually supposed to do every time we were together. In every
moment, the dedication was to sensitivity, perception, accuracy of expression,
and actual fulfillment of the never-ending unfolding of next steps.
We used whatever came to us – invitations to meet people, hunches
about where we needed to meet together on the earth, extemporaneous
ceremonies that presented themselves to us, arising crises in our families,
books that fell into our laps – as the material we metabolized
together. That became the whole point of the exercise.
was like paying attention to what the “partner” in the Great
Field was inviting us into next. We used the name, the Great Partner.
It wasn’t primarily about personal “initiation.” We
were being initiated by invitation from the partner, as a collective.
I’ll never forget when I first understood that. Paying attention,
then, became the discipline—collective attention to not only what
we imagined we were about but to what was really being asked of us together.
Practices and practical results
like to follow up on your notion of practices. The presence of the group
is not just something that happens when you meet three or four times
a year, but it’s something you consciously and intentionally relate
to every day. I would like to hear how or if that is the case.
personally don’t have a routine of bringing this circle to mind
regularly. But I can attest to the impact of the circle on my everyday
life, in terms of the quality of my presence at any moment. Also, I
learn a lot about myself in the circle. Honest feedback and disciplined
reflection help. For example, I’m more aware of how my shadows
impact in the world.
Commitment to Keeping the Field Clear and Open
thing we have mentioned before is keeping a clear and open field with
each person. That’s a rigorous discipline. We pay attention to
static and blocks, and clear them as best we can. That’s a commitment
to the circle that works out one to one, in every combination, in gatherings
and between. It always feels risky, because these friendships matter
so much. But in the end, honesty and courage maintain the essential
clarity of the field. We’ve each learned a lot about what it means
to take responsibility for our end of whatever disturbance comes up.
That personal, inner work is a discipline.
When this circle began, I didn’t
have a meditation practice. My primary, palpable experience of opening
to another frequency came through the rhythms of the circle and the
deep qualities of listening we had learned. I now have other ways to
open, primarily through my own forms of meditation. I am learning how
these two modes of shifting energy fit together. The interplay between
these two disciplines is very interesting.
I hear you saying is that, in your own journey, the circle has been
circle work is still a primary baseline of experience of finer dimensions,
other frequencies, and a realm or source that is as real to me as this
physical world. But it’s not my only teacher. It was a teacher
and still is a teacher. I hold it as a primary vehicle for what I came
here to do, because I believe that this circle cares for the world in
a way that has a critical influence. There’s no proving that one
way or another, but I know it’s true. That’s a really, really
big thing for me. It’s part of that function that fell on us.
just had another thought after what you said. When I am in other circles,
I feel as if I represent this Circle of Seven in a certain way. I definitely
feel this when I’m doing Millionth Circle activities [the Millionth
Circle is a non-profit, which supports the proliferation of life-giving
circles around the globe]. When I’m across the world facilitating
circles, or when I’m sitting in a circle in this country that
was inspired by our own, I am carrying our Circle Being with me. That’s
when I feel it.
circle often comes to me from other people, like from my brother, who
we have held in the circle for years. My two brothers, who have very
challenging lives, will be the ones who will say, “Thank your
circle. This is what’s happening. Tell them this is what’s
happening.” Because they’ve been held through really rough
times, even though most of you have never met them. They know they’re
not judged for what they’re going through, that they’re
loved and held regardless and that they will blossom and grow and make
mistakes. They keep saying, “Please tell your circle, this is
what’s happening. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Often I’ve said to people,
“We brought you into our circle because I felt that you could
use some blessing and some special attention.”
have been central in our circle.
our precious children. Also, if there is a piece of professional work
that needs something extra, I might say, “I’ve got a team
working with a particularly tough problem. Would you hold this?”
Because I know you’re with me when I walk in there; I feel held.
I feel something is stronger in me; there’s something of the Great
Spirit working through me. At some level, I think my clients feel it
How Do You Hold the Collective?
do you as a circle practice this holding of specific people and other
the beginning of a session, we may describe a situation or put a picture
of someone who needs to be remembered in the center. We often close
a circle and ask for different intentions or people to be held. We stay
in touch with each other in between about what’s going on. Even
if, for some reason, we aren’t in touch, we each sustain a loving
awareness of that which has been put in our care.
very interesting how other people want to be held by this circle. I’m
going to Washington on Thursday to be with the First Nation elders at
the Vigil for Peace on the Mall. And behind that is the little group
that had the vision. This is the eleventh year of that huge celebration
on the mall. I’m very honored to go and be with First Nation elders.
Sharon said thankfully, “You’ll be coming with the blessing
of the Circle of 7.”
Then there are the Foxes, a
new circle of highly placed Democratic women who have given up on politics
as usual. They have determined that their calling now is to put a loving
field under the Capitol; they want to learn how to introduce that field.
It’s wonderful. I will be going into that circle with the blessing
of the Circle of 7. I’m never alone.
The theory of change: Shifting the fields of attention
think our attention is the greatest gift.
Otto: So the
underlying change theory is reshaping the world by shifting your attention,
by creating loving fields of attention.
Otto: I think
we’re designed to envelop crisis situations in fertile fields,
out of which a new reality can emerge.
inspiration doesn’t come from trying to change the world. It comes
from doing what comes out of my own love and my own connection with
the Great Field.
[We lingered in a full, quiet
Would you like your work and
your life to be held?
In Summary, the Circle in Action
[What follows here is a real-time
demonstration of the qualities of the circle described in this text.]
Otto, I have a real-time consideration. I’m wondering if you’d
like you and your work to be held by this circle?
the question you ask showed up in my mind as well. I always have rational
reasons why I do something, and then afterward I find out why I really
did it. So this may be part of the real reason for this time together.
[Otto was quiet for a long
The answer is yes.
I ask you a question? Is there some place in your life scenario where
our attention might rest? It could be a generalized thing, where we
simply think of you, or it could be something more particular, a hope
or dream or deeper tension playing out. Could we find the best leverage
point of attention to help you fulfill your longing?
I think about my work, I realize it’s not something that is separate
from me. That’s the territory where I am already connected to
all of you. The real work for me is to make this field of change more
accessible to fellow travelers all over. I think of the work as the
emergence of a new global movement. It connects the most personal with
the most universal or global.
You said you think about it
in terms of a function, that there’s a function that we play.
That’s how I feel. You might hold me, through placement of your
attention, on truly serving that function we have described in many
The second is not to fail in
the face of the challenges. I feel I am going through an eye of the
needle in my own life, in the next one or two years. I can feel it.
What’s beyond, I don’t know. It has a tangible part, which
is finishing this thesis book. It also has an intangible part. What
would help me enormously as I go through this transition period in the
next year or two is to have your presence and focus on movement in the
right direction and on not getting stuck.
you said that your insight from being in the presence of the Dalai Lama
this week was that you needed to “refine and focus your life and
your work.” Those are your words. I wrote that down because I
felt that somehow we might offer to hold you in that. It felt like a
direct transmission from the Dalai Lama.
that speaks right to the essence of what I tried to say. That’s
maybe the more precise way of saying it now.
said this. I don’t think there are any coincidences. I think we
somehow are in a great, synchronous wave in the field. But, as Glennie
said, the field configures and we agree. I don’t think it’s
a coincidence that you’re here.
experience of what seems like coincidence or synchronicity is just a
natural occurrence when one’s in tune with the Great Field.
when it happens only once in a while in people’s lives, it’s
because there are lesser degrees of being in touch with the field. Otherwise,
it’s just what life is. It all fits together in ways that make
sense. Again, it is not predestination, but it just fits.
holding your deepest intention to face your roadblocks, to deal with
the distractions, and to keep bringing yourself back. I heard your deep
commitment and your longing to really live that. I want to say yes,
to do it very consciously and stay in touch with you.
you. I know that you know how much that means to me.
feel like a guardian of some deeper mission, something that you came
here to do. I know only bits and pieces, but somehow it relates to accurately
portraying or unveiling something that is pivotal in the world right
I see you as having both the
brilliance and positioning to inspire a social movement and also the
wherewithal of an open heart. This is a very rare combination. I will
care for the unfolding of your intimate relationship with the undimensional.
It seems you have a certain destiny stream that flows out of that intimacy
into the world. I will hold your fulfillment of both those levels as
they inform each other.
said that what’s before you feels like going through the eye of
the needle. That image stayed with me. There’s a gate in the old
city of Jerusalem called the Eye of the Needle, which is very narrow
and low. Getting though the gate meant unloading the camels and donkeys,
taking off all your packs, and getting on your knees. That’s the
image that I’m holding of your voyage, your pathway into the center
of the city, into the center of yourself.
aware of the time. Perhaps the ending time is near.
am feeling a larger presence in the room. I don’t know what to
call it—the Circle Being, the field, the sacred, whatever. I’ve
really loved the rich, deep silence together. I feel a new level of
commitment and responsibility in the world. It feels to me like the
opening of doors. I feel empowered, stronger, excited. I feel the power
of aligned intention.
filled with gratitude yet again, another reason why we can trust the
way unfolding life orders itself. I feel a great heart present. This
group is a wise circle of heart. I too feel the expansion. I feel very
respectful of what’s been entrusted to all of us.
I feel the Beauty Way chant in the room.
please say the words.
||In beauty before us may we
In beauty behind us may we walk.
In beauty above us before us may we walk.
In beauty below us may we walk.
And in beauty all around us may we walk.
It just had to be said. Beauty
is the harmony way in the Navajo tradition.
I want to give you this symbol. It is a poster commemorating November
2nd as a World Day of Circles of Compassion. It comes from the Geneva
Women’s World Summit Foundation; it’s the very thing that
you’re seeking to magnify, written in four languages—a symbol
of what we’ve been talking about—covering the world.
you. I am a little overwhelmed. I don’t say that lightly, because
of all the gifts I have been receiving intellectually, in terms of the
interview, which is really important, and even more, what happened in
the past hour. That means more to me than words can say, particularly
because I know that in my situation, at times I really am alone, and
yet the function needs to be played. I couldn’t do otherwise.
A third element I’m moved
by is arriving squarely in one’s purpose. We are here together
for the first time, and yet, it feels as if this is exactly how we were
meant to converge, something we intended long ago. And now we’re
[Again, quiet descended.]
you are one of the “heralds.” Have you ever thought of that?
The announcer who delivers a message. That just came to me. Maybe you
need a shield; maybe this is the shield. [Anne held up the poster of
the Circles of Compassion] The heralds always, as you know, had shields.
On the inside of the shield, facing the herald, is an en-abyme, a French
term for “greatest depth.” Do you know about this? I’m
the only one who knows anything about heraldry; that shows how antique
I am. On the back of the shield, there is a polished, smaller shield
that the herald may look into in order to assure himself that he is
totally congruent with the message. It’s called the en-abyme of
the shield of the herald.
I don’t know where this
is coming from. Obviously, at some time, I studied heraldry. I see you
there with this beautiful shield depicting the Circles of Compassion,
and you’re helping us tell the story; you are heralding that which
must come if we are to have a future. Then I thought you needed a shield.
So, now you’ve got one.
If you are interested
in programs which are born of this circle,
or would like to be in touch with us, our contact information is as
PO Box 366
Ashland, Oregon 97520