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The Art of Emergence: Working with Leaders Towards Healing and Wholing
Yes, I know “wholing” is not a word. But, it should be. Here’s my definition —
To whole (verb)//hōl//: the process of making or coming into wholeness again; to put the pieces back together. e.g. Unlike Humpty Dumpty, it is possible as human beings to whole.
I use the term to refer to practices that bring the fragments of our self, and our fragmented perspectives, into coherence and connection again…practices that move us from partial vision, partial truths, and partial realities to wholeness. In shamanic traditions the practice is called “soul retrieval.” Something happens that is too much for a person to handle and so a part of their soul leaves and must be retrieved at a later date if the person wants to avoid illness and dis-ease. What is healing if not, wholing?
How do we become fragmented (fall from Grace)? Trauma. No one is immune. We’re born into a fragmented world/view that we call “normal.” This is built on a foundation of collective trauma. In order to survive, we begin adapting to this fragmented reality by becoming fragmented ourselves — we learn that some parts of us are unwelcome here. We feel shame and begin to hide what’s real for us. Even before that, the unhealed and fragmented states of our ancestors are wired into our nervous system, part of our genetic material. This is generational trauma. Then there is the process of growing up, adapting, relating, being here. For everyone this process is unique and more or less intense — this is personal trauma.
Ideally, the process of becoming an adult is a process of healing and wholing. We find ways to understand and re-integrate the parts that were too much for our younger selves. We get help from those who have walked before us and know the path. We find ways to expand the psyche to include our mistakes, transgressions, “faults,” and wounds. In that process we become more whole and we have more capacity to respond to life, to others, and especially to challenging situations from a place of clarity. We can be fair, grounded, open, honest about what is arising. We can also help others heal because our process helps those around us. More whole people makes a more whole field. That is the way we change culture…and probably the only way.
Right now, we have a crisis of leadership because we have a lot of un-whole people running the show. We can’t fault those people…they played the game as it was meant to be played. But, we can do better. And we must.
We have a system built from a wounded, fragmented collective psyche that rewards unconscious, fragmented actions. It’s winner take all. As more people wake up and do their own healing work they begin to see that they can no longer participate in such a system. It’s out of integrity, it’s wrong. The system cannot whole itself, but the people within the system can and are. As more and more do, the system will slowly change. I used to think it could shift. At this point I believe it will collapse. Maybe it has to in order for a new system to be built from the healing and more whole collective psyche that is finally emerging on the planet. We can build a new system that is more whole only from a whole perspective. These whole people are who we need to lead now.
If you’re still with me then you can see that what I truly believe is that the healing has to be at the individual level. It must happen in each psyche. And we do this healing together, quickly, to process (and thereby change) the collective consciousness.
Quickly is important here — not urgently, but with speed and immediacy. Trauma is what numbs us, keeps us complacent or confused or resistant. We have to pull ourselves through the inertia of the trauma in order to reach a critical mass of awakening, healing and wholing now. In order to build a new system that is more whole.
Whole is awake, enlightened, alive and in service to Life. Whole is less shadowed, less unaware. Whole is clear and certain. There is a bias in the universe towards wholeness because the Universe is whole unto itself. In a healthy organism, when you cut your arm, there is a natural process of healing that happens with or without your participation. You can help it along by tending the wound and keeping your immune system healthy and resting…but the work is done by something beyond us. This something can be called on, trusted, to make all of our wounds whole. And we can help it along by not resisting it. Call it Light. Call it Nature. Call it Spirit. Call it the Ancestors. Call it the Feminine. Call it Life. Or don’t call it anything…just be in the Mystery. We have so much help available to us when we open up to receive.
I love working with people one-on-one. And I love the power of community and group work. Both are essential to coming into wholeness. The fragmentation happened in the relational space and it’s where our healing will happen, too: in relationship with each other, all living beings, and the world. We are always in that relationship anyway — interconnected — doing it consciously is taking responsibility for our role and place in the great web of Life.
My guides and teachers have taught me the principles of healing and helped me recover my innate capacity for self- knowledge and self-compassion. My communities (not just one) hold me accountable and teach me where my blind spots are. They’ve all taught me what’s foundational: No one can do our healing work for us. We heal ourselves, but we can’t do it alone. We need each other in the process.
There is a famous saying by the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh: “The next Buddha will be a Sangha.” The sangha is the spiritual community; the community of people who have your back and value growth. What he’s saying is this: we are each other’s teachers now. The age of “the sage on the stage” is over, the next era (and it is already here) of spirituality will be collective and communal. We will learn in groups, grow in groups, and heal in groups. In essence, we will become more whole not just as individuals, but as a collective organism.
I call my practice, The Art of Emergence. The premise is this bias of the Universe towards wholeness and healing. With my clients — individuals or groups––I create the conditions for the healing to happen. This requires radical presence, subtle awareness, and enough trust to surrender to what wants to happen or what’s already happening. I show up with these qualities and when the client or group joins me there, magic happens. This is the art of emergence.
The only agenda is a movement towards more light, more energy, and more life. What emerges is something we couldn’t have foreseen or planned. The path there often takes us through the dark, through chaos, through dissolution and disillusionment. Having the fortitude and precision to move through what arises from the shadows is part of the art.
Over the years, I have learned through experience how to cultivate these conditions and how to make a space where that which is ready to be seen and healed can come through and be held until it feels whole. I share these principles now in case they can help you in your process. I have learned these principles from teachers, friends, plants, and direct wisdom transmission. They are not all, they are not a complete program, five is arbitrary, but useful…
Start with what’s most alive.
Feel, don’t tell.
Give wisdom the space to work.
There’s nothing “out there” that’s not “in here.”
Ask: What’s not being included?
Start with what’s most alive.
First things first, throw out the agendas — all of them; the bullet-pointed ones and the hidden ones — and start with where the energy is.
One of the most insidious maladies of the modern era is how we measure the value of an experience and our obsession with “productivity.” Fuck that. We are much more productive — in the sense that we produce things of real value and meaning— when we work with the flow of energy rather than against it.
We need to let go of our tight hold on the reigns and our need to control outcomes. This is very tough with most corporate clients. People are so fearful of being seen as wasting resources or time. The sense of scarcity is palpable and oppressive.
When I am facilitating a group process, I’m much more interested in the “calling questions.” What called the group together? Why did the people in the room feel compelled to come to this gathering. What do they need from the meeting? Often, you can’t know that until you get the people in the room. So we gather and we start with what is most alive for the people in attendance. When you start there, you are working with the energy that’s present rather than trying to bend the group to your will or to some predetermined agenda.
Working one-on-one with people, I find that they commonly come to a coaching engagement because they feel “stuck” and have ideas about what it is they should work on. In my experience, “goals” are frequently coming from our already-wounded places. They arise from negative beliefs we hold about our unworthiness as we are, our insufficiency, or the need to live up to others’ expectations. I’ve found that goals often hide deeper desires and creative impulses.
Goals often arise out of a desperation to eradicate or change the symptoms of a deeper wound or conflict. If we address the source of the problem, the symptom disappears and so do the goals!
When we start with what is most alive within.an individual or a group, we let the energy of the body, the life force, tell us where it wants to move. We start with what has the most charge and we often get to the parts of us that need attention, that are ready to be healed and made whole. This liberates us. We stop focusing artificially on things we think we need to fix (on the mental or egoic levels) and relax into the ground of our being where everything feels more clear, doable, available. Radical ideas emerge, we feel alive and become unstuck. The whole picture becomes clear and the best next step presents itself naturally.
Feel, don’t tell.
There is so much wisdom in the emotions. They move through the body and are perceived by the heart, not the head. In our current culture, we’re overly dependent on the mind and the stories it tells us about what seems to be happening to us. How about what’s happening in us?
Many of the stories our mind tells us are a smokescreen. Because we don’t want to feel, we try to think our way through life. The energy jumps up into the head and starts to spin tales to distract us. How can we really know what is going on if we ignore important signals from the psyche? Many of us have been ignoring the feelings so long, we no longer know what we’re feeling. That’s ok. It’s good to notice. That is a starting point.
There’s also the added dimension that feelings have been delegitimized in our culture of data and reason — for generations. We ask people to present evidence for what they intuit. Data and reason are wonderful and have their place in the smooth functioning of things. But, this is a dangerous prejudice. We inadvertently teach children that what they feel and sense are less important than what they know with the mind. No, no, no. This leads to a society of disembodied people. When I can’t feel myself, I can’t feel you…and when I can’t feel you I can’t trust you. This is a big problem we have.
Many people no longer trust their own feelings and intuitions. We must learn to listen inwardly and to trust what we hear. And then also to voice that with confidence. We have to learn to be our own advocate. When I work with individuals we listen and learn to identify the inner signals. I empower people in their intuitions. And when I work with groups I often run interference when “the voice of reason” rears its head seeking certainty where there truly may not be any.
When I work with people, we pay a great deal of attention to what’s happening in the body. I will often stop client as they’re speaking when I feel what they are saying is not exactly aligned with what they’re feeling. This incoherence is a clue. We will unpack and explore the emotional charge in their stories so we can get to the truth of what’s happening. Our time together is a place to include more of their experience. This is the key to real and lasting transformation. And to finding a power and conviction that is sourced internally, rather than externally.
Give wisdom the space to work.
The modern addiction to busy-ness prevents us from being fully present in our bodies, in our lives, with colleagues and loved ones. People often complain about not being heard or seen, or being in conflict with others who blame them for not listening or seeing their point of view. It’s epidemic. One of my teachers calls this “the culture of absence.” Our participation in it is consent.
When we are absent in our engagement with others, we tend to fall into shadow play. This is one of the things I see most often in poorly facilitated groups: the shadow dynamics hijack the program. The results can range from mildly stultifying (that meeting that just drags and you leave feeling depleted) to wildly irresponsible and damaging (that meeting that needs to be cleaned up after for weeks).
We lose track of what’s happening and say things we don’t mean. We also reinforce the shadow in others and miss the chance to be of genuine service. We jump to solutions and answers too quickly and then get locked into wrong thinking, wrong perception. Mistakes—born out of ignorance—happen. Not only is this destructive and habitual, it can feel lonely, isolating, and incomplete.
When I work with individuals and groups, we put a stop to this disease of absence by slowing down and presencing what’s happening. We give ideas, feelings, and challenges space to move. Sometimes, this is all that’s needed to bring new energy and fresh perspectives into the room.
Space helps us identify underlying issues or feelings we hadn’t seen; allows important memories arise; and opens up the possibility of being surprised where we thought we already knew the answer. This is all wisdom. Wisdom needs space to work its magic.
There’s nothing “out there” that’s not “in here.”
The biggest misperception in the modern human experience is that there is a world “out there” that I am separate from. This is a terrifying proposition: that it might be me against the world, me against them, me against you. When we have this view (and most of us do from time to time) we can’t see clearly, we feel fear, shame, blame, guilt, overwhelm. Without the ability to return to a sense of fundamental Oneness, an awareness of the interconnected nature of all phenomena, we cannot get it right. We operate in a limited sense.
The tendency of a group to scapegoat and place blame elsewhere is problematic. The first thing I do when I hear complaining is listen for the underlying concerns and feelings. What is really being said? And then I ask participants to reflect on how they might be contributing to the situation. There are many ways to gain perspective: from role play to constellation work to deep empathy exercises.
“Othering” is a big problem that arises from a traumatized culture. It’s hard to see that the thing we hate in the world wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t in us. In this beautiful 3-min video, Maya Angelou takes us all to school on this point. In it she says:
“I’d like everybody to think of a statement by Terrence. The statement is ‘I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.’ If you can internalize at least a portion of that, you will never be able to say of a criminal act, ‘I couldn’t do that.’ No matter how heinous the crime, if a human being did it you have to say, ‘I have in me all the components that are in her or in him…Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.”
In the art of emergence, I consistently hold the view that we are part of an interconnected, dynamic system. We are ONE. That way we can return to it together and look at situations as the constellations they really are; not isolated actors and incidents. We can tune into the energetics of the whole field, the role of all the participants, and the responsibility we hold for what is unfolding. This is also the gateway to compassion and the healing remembrance of the bigger picture. This leads to better decisions and solutions that incorporate the needs of the whole. Win-win is only achievable from this view.
Ask: What’s Not Being Included?
When I am running a session with a group I listen closely for what’s not being said; looking for perspectives that are not at the table; and watching for taboos (Shhh! That’s just not done here!). There’s an old saying that 80% of what happens in a meeting is unspoken. I don’t know how you would ever measure that, but there is some truth in it. Body language, power dynamics, and incoherence within the group are all “tells” for what’s really going on.
When I am working with an individual in a coaching context, I’m listening for the omissions…what they forget to tell me, or what they say, but gloss over quickly. When I sense an inconsistency or a “hole” in the story, I know there’s something missing and it’s important. Speeding up is also a way to hide something that is carrying the charge of fear, shame, guilt, or grief. I ask a lot of questions and I frequently ask people to slow down.
For the most part, high-performing people speak with a lot of conviction about their experiences. They’ve learned that this is important to getting ahead. Appearing to be indecisive or hesitant can make you obsolete. Consultants are the worst! I know because I have been one and I did this. They’re paid to have answers and so they always do — even when they have no clue. Ironically, (post-consulting) I’ve stumped and impressed rooms full of these people by answering an inquiry honestly with the simple words: I don’t know. It’s just not done.
All of this is important because it means the signal-to-noise ratio is higher the more important the people in the room think they are. If they think of themselves as people who have the answers then they will have answers come hell or high water! This superficial certainty is a distraction from the real truth of what’s happening and it can really lead the group off track. People act like they’re understanding each other when they’re really not. People act like they agree when they don’t actually know what they think.
In a group there are often people who are literally quiet. These people often have a lot to say but can’t or won’t participate in the group dynamics. Sometimes these folks are more introverted or soft-spoken. Sometimes they’ve been burned for speaking up and they’re shy to put themselves out there again. And sometimes they are deeply frustrated or disillusioned and have checked out. Over time and with experience, I’ve found that bringing these voices into the room can offer a wealth of important information. The people who are frustrated and silent are often that way because something they care deeply about is not being considered.
When I am listening to an individual or a group I am listening to the content (what’s being said) and also the process (what’s happening but not being verbalized). This gives me a chance to intervene and bring forward aspects that have been hidden. Most often, I find this surfacing of the tension in withholding leads to a great sense of relief in the group and also to genuine insight.
If you would like to explore what healing and wholing can do for you, your organization, team, or group…reach out. I’d love to work with you.
I bring to our sessions years of experience as a student and teacher of Mysticism: yoga, Advaita Vedanta and Sanskrit, Tantric Buddhism, and the Western esoteric schools. My beloved teachers have included Hugo Cory, Thomas Hübl, Lama Marut, Dr. John Churchill, Sarah Drew, Swami Prabuddhananda, Quanita Roberson, Gabriel Roth, Nicholas Janni, Robert Thurman and the wisdom of plants, dreams, the planets, and past masters. I also have decades of experience in the corporate world as an executive, a futurist, facilitator, and strategist. I understand business communication and culture and have coached executives and their teams across a variety of industries.