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Going With The Flow: From control-based hierarchies (fear) to energy-based flows (love)

April 29, 2016

The other weekend I had the pleasure of co-hosting a Hackathon/Inquiry with a group of millennials, domain experts, media specialists and cultural catalysts.  The Inquiry being hacked was:

How to Catalyse the Necessary Shift in Human Consciousness’.

I would like to share insights and learning gleaned from this Hackathon about the art of orchestrating and hosting space for a flow-based output-focused Inquiry to successfully emerge.

First of all though, let’s briefly touch on what we mean by a ‘shift in consciousness’ and why an Inquiry into this is necessary, timely and important.

I am reminded by what the playwright, political activist, poet and first Prime Minister of The Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel famously said when addressing US Congress:

‘Without a global shift in human consciousness, the catastrophe towards which this world is now headed will be unavoidable.’

Havel said these words back in 1990, yet they just as – if not more – relevant, timely, urgent and true today.

And what do we mean by a ‘shift in human consciousness?  Surely this can mean lots of things to lots of people?  In essence, what we are meaning here is our relationship with ourselves, each other and the world around us; a shift from an essentially fear-based, control-based, individualistic, reductive, separating, polarizing logic towards a way of perceiving, attending and relating with life that is more authentic of who we truly are as human beings and of how life really is beyond the jaundice perspective of our ego-eyed squint.

ways of knowing

This ‘shift’ may be a subtle and fleeting alteration in how we chose to perceptive and engage with the moment in our midst, and it may also be a life-changing eye-opening transformation in our lives that profoundly effects our sense of place and purpose in this world.

In my experience, this ‘shift’ is often both a temporary alteration or frame-shift that enhances the quality of our relationship with what is occurring around and within us, and also an unfolding emergence of a more permanent frame-shift deepening of our relationship with life: with our career, with our everyday encounters, with our nearest and dearest, and with the wider kinship of our more-than-human world.  These frame-shifts (regardless of whether they are fleeting or continuously unfolding) come with a felt-sense of ‘being in the flow’, whereupon we feel more alive, more aware and alert yet also more relaxed and receptive to ‘what is’. Our judgemental ego-mind eases its grasp while becoming porous to a more soulful, graceful, expansive experience of the moment.

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The plethora of crises facing our humanity today find their origins in a dominant ‘ego-awareness’ that encourages an overly extractive, materialistic, individualistic, anthropocentric, competitive attention to form in us. It is this way of attending that creates the fear-based, control-based, siloed thinking underpinning our plethora of problems today. This out-of-kilter ego-dominance creates a sense of separation in us; a sense of ourselves being separate ‘I’s struggling for survival in a dog-eat-dog world; enter the logic of ‘Social Darwinism’ underpinning our dominant socio-economic logic today.  This out-of-kilter awareness corrupts our true nature and undermines the potential for greatness we humans hold (love, adaptiveness, sociality, receptivity, responsiveness, reciprocity, creativity, emergence, acceptance, trust).

The crises our humanity now faces will only be solved by dealing with root causes as well as down-stream effects. Hence, the urgent need to shift our relationship with life – a profound shift in our worldview, our conscious awareness, and our everyday perception of each evolving moment.

dark-side-of-the-moon

So – with that in mind – a group of us came together for a weekend to hack ways in which we could catalyse this necessary shift in consciousness.  It was ‘hoped’ that in the process of us all getting together, exploring such a topic in a convivial, open-hearted way within a congenial environment, that some of us may experience first-hand this shift in consciousness or experience of ‘flow’. Hence an embodied experience of what it felt like to engage, explore, experiment and collaborate in an open, self-organising and authentic way may act in-itself as a catalyst for some of us to bring this shift in consciousness into the work, activities, hobbies and relationships beyond the workshop itself. And so, we learn as we do, we experience as we ideate and prototype.

From the feedback I have received from the participants I have engaged with since the workshop, it would seem that that ‘hope’ was realised at least for some of the participants.

‘A truly wonderful weekend shared with a diverse group of kindred spirits. Being a part of the weekend greatly nourished me and provided important insights for my work in this space.’ – Participant feedback

There were a number of learnings taken-away from the weekend, some of which relate to the organisation, facilitation, skills and role types needed to make for effective outcomes of complex issues within short time frames. A report compiling our learnings will be produced in the days ahead. What I would like to explore here, however, are the insights gained around what encourages a tuning into a ‘flow state’ in the midst of fast-emerging group dynamics. I noticed in myself times when I was ‘in flow’ and when I fell out of flow, and how that altered by perception of what was unfolding and also altered the quality of my interaction and co-participation in what was unfolding. I also sensed this ‘tuning-in’ and ‘falling-out’ of flow amongst different participants I engaged with at different times and during different contexts throughout the weekend.

The psychologist and creative expert Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi defines flow as:

‘the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.’

Standing back from the weekend activities, I am left with the sense that learning to cultivate this flow-state within ourselves amid complex fast-emerging explorations is the vital life-blood for any co-creative venture whether a hackathon, open space exploration, Swarm, Inquiry, future-search workshop, brainstorm, and such like.

In other words, the ability to ignite, nourish and sustain this ‘flow state’ in ourselves and others is foundational to the success of our new ways of working in all our enterprises and communities. And there is a self-reinforcing loop here, as while the various de-institutionalizing approaches for collaborative self-organising explorations (such as open space, art of hosting, world cafes, swarming, sharing circles, constellations, collaborative inquiry, etc.) aid this ‘flow state’, it is the quality of the ‘flow-state’ within ourselves and our co-participants that really allows these approaches to sing.  The over-arching environment helps the flow, yet our own flow co-creates the environment.

jungle4

While much has been written about the structures and approaches of these emergent collaborative approaches, less has been conveyed about cultivating the sweet spot of ‘flow’.

I tentatively offer some tips that might help us develop a sense of flow first in ourselves, and then helping cultivate a state of flow amongst our co-participants:

  • Self-awareness: noticing our mind-set, how we are feeling, and how we are perceiving. By constantly checking-in with ourselves we cultivate our sense of when we are flowing, when we are feeling drained, when we are being carried along by others enthusiasm, and when we are fully receptive to ‘what is’ emerging around and within us. We are then in a position to take a conscious step to either enhance, deepen or transform our perspective, in-so-doing allowing for a more authentic embodiment of the moment. This also helps us engage with any feelings we may be having – mentally, emotionally, somatically – and inquiry into what is going on for us. This may help us gain perspective on our inner critic, and notice when judgements not just form but begin to dominate our perception, and catch ourselves when we feel disappointed, defensive, deflated or over-inflated by our perceptions of another’s interaction. With this self-awareness, we can consciously decide whether to reflect on these changes within us and either go with them, or let-go of them, or take a quick breather by leaving the discussion for a few moments so that the feelings can have some space to be honoured within ourselves before we respond.  This way we notice when we are ‘reacting’ rather than ‘responding’ to what is emerging, and we also help minimise the moments when we drift out of flow, aligning ourselves with our own receptivity and responsiveness as soon as possible. Getting caught up in reactions can take us out of flow, as can getting caught up in our own inner-dialogue, judgements or projections.

 

  • Time to reflect: building on ‘self-awareness’, it is important to ensure we give ourselves adequate time to pause and reflect every-so-often throughout the day. This can be a blend of structured time specifically put aside for personal reflection and also for each participant to be our own master in terms of assessing when we need to pop outside for a short walk and breath of fresh air, stretch and move about, or find a quiet space to sit alone for a while.  There is plenty of neuroscientific evidence these days pointing to the importance of our brain having ‘down time’ for insights to emerge and better decisions to be made. These moments of reflection also allow for moments of renewal and rejuvenation. This helps renew our quality of attention and intention amid busy, fast-moving and complex discussions.

 

  • An attitude of gratitude: when we have a mind-set of gratitude it is easier for our ego-awareness to permeate with our deeper soulful grace, and in turn, it is easier for us to open up and relate with others in a more collaborative, non-combative, empathic and authentic way. As our receptivity improves, so does our responsiveness, and in turn so does our reciprocity – our ability to meaningfully contribute both through the mere quality of our presence and through our direct input. We can cultivate an attitude of gratitude by practicing mindfulness (for instance, a daily practice of meditation, or re-minding ourselves during a discussion of our felt-senses in our body or the sensation of breathing in and out through our nostrils, for instance). And we can regularly remind ourselves of many of the things in life we take for granted which we should be grateful for (the fresh air we breathe, the sun that nourishes the plants we eat, the amazing sun rises and sunsets every day, the roof over our heads, the hot showers and baths we have, the fresh drinking water in the tap, the privilege of being able to engage in heartfelt discussions with a sense of passion and purpose, the gift of our colleagues being here and committed to actively taking part in this discussion.) In regularly reminding ourselves of what to be grateful for, we help cultivate an attitude that opens us up to life in a friendly, receptive, accepting way. It may also help us be more compassionate of others who may be feeling tense, hostile, pressured or ego-eyed amid heat-of-the-moment discussions.

 

  • Cultivating our connection: to continually re-member and re-vitalise our connection with life (our ground-of-being within and all around us) is to continuously renew and enrich our attention and intention. Amid the cacophony of our everyday complexity and chaos, there is a stillness right before our noses, an all-pervasive stream of grace flowing through everything all the time. Our ability to connect with this innate wisdom within and all around us can be enhanced through bodywork, stretching, dancing, Yoga, Qi Gong, T’ai Chi, controlled breathing, and the like. Undertaking such exercises between intense discussions helps ensure our life-force is flowing freely through us. Bringing our awareness into our body movements and body sensations helps reduce the dominance of our thinking-mind, which can easily hasten its grip amid complex, fast moving discussions. I was reminded of the immediate beneficial effect stretching and moving in a conscious way has on my own ability to be in the flow when we undertook some gentle Qi Gong and dance movements before commencing the second day of our hackathon. Dance as an embodied activity has the added benefit of helping us relate in pairs and as a whole group. After these gentle movements I felt so much more alive in my body and clear in my mind, helping nourish my flow throughout the next session, and other participants also feedback about their sense of a deepening group awareness emerging from this practice too. (For more on embracing an awakened way of attending see this short clip.)

 

  • Embracing love and forgiveness: by regularly remembering to open our hearts and minds up with love and forgiveness, we ensure any fears, judgements, tensions, projections, etc. forming in us are allowed to be experienced, released and let go of, so that they do not start to take-over our attention and undermine our relation with ‘what is’. There is ample neuroscientific evidence pointing to feelings of fear and negativity creating a downward spiral of effectiveness and resilience. As we become more stressed or tired, we become more irritable and also more susceptible to habits of thinking that dwell on threat and risk (as our ‘ego awareness’ becomes more heightened and less permeable). With this, we become more short-tempered, preoccupied, start focusing on the negatives of the situation, start to critically judge others more and have less control over our emotions. With this ego-heightening we become even more overly sensitive to cues in our environment (such as a smirk from another, or someone interrupting us, a hesitant tone in another’s voice, or a distracting noise outside, etc.) and allow them to create a reaction inside us, seeing these things as forms of threats. This leads to us becoming more defensive and deflated or more aggressive and reactive.  Time and again, scientific studies show that people who have a more positive mind-set are more resilient in these times of perceived threat – they are better able to deal with setbacks and thrive in challenging times of tension and heated discussion. By noticing and nurturing our positive emotions we do not deny our negative ones but start to learn to keep things in perspective and learn to catch ourselves when we are slipping into a reactive, fear-based mode as opposed to a less judgemental, more open, expansive, creative and playful mode. Learning to nurture this love-based mind-set while noticing and keeping-in-check our fear-based mind-set is the important foundation of learning to stay in-the-flow amid challenging situations.  While most of us can maintain flow with ease when engrossed in our passion, the challenge for us as catalysts for change is to maintain this flow in challenging and testing situations, otherwise we find ourselves tuning-out in the very situations we ought to be giving our best.

‘It was an incredible weekend, and filled with amazing conversations with the most fascinating people!’  – Participant feedback

Such close-knit, intense discussions over short time frames always provide rich learning for the individuals involved and for the wider framing, context and facilitation for future Inquiries. There is much myself and others have taken away in terms of co-hosting and co-facilitating an environment that nurtures and sustains co-creative exploration, ideation and prototype building.

Over the course of this particular weekend we were blessed with a wonderful venue and wonderfully creative, diverse yet ‘in tune’ participants.  There is much that has not been mentioned here, for instance, the barefoot walk around the UK’s one-and-only herb garden Enneagram, the depth of heartfelt sharing around the fire in the evening, the first-rate hospitality and nourishing food throughout the weekend, and the kindred-spirit friendships formed, as well as the rich generative discussions that went in to the night.

‘Just what I needed in my life right now – thank you so much for inviting me and holding the space.’ – Participant feedback.

Thank you to all those who took part, and also to my co-host Peter Hawkins of Renewal Associates, and co-facilitators Anton Chernikov, Max Jeffery and Chris Hardy.

Giles Hutchins is speaker, adviser and author of the newly released book Future Fit

‘A treasure-trove of approaches, methods, models and living examples of ways of creating the regenerative organization of the future.’ Peter Hawkins, Professor of Leadership, Henley Business School and author of Leadership Team Coaching and many other books

‘If you are one of today’s leaders who feels the pull toward shaping our emerging future for a better humanity, this book will be your guide.’ Gina Hayden, Co-Founder of the Global Centre for Conscious Leadership

Hutchins shows us how to navigate unchartered waters through awareness, personal gnosis, and authenticity. And when Hutchins says – ‘Let’s get practical’ – he lives up to his promise. He reveals how to deal with volatile times ahead by responding with natural creativity, innovation, collaboration, reciprocity, conviviality and empathy. If I was to choose one guide to cross the Rubicon with into the future business world – it would be Giles Hutchins!’ Kingsley L. Dennis PhD, author of The Phoenix Generation: A New Era of Connection, Compassion and Consciousness

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