“We are all at once composition and composer.”
Some of you know that Alan Briskin and I are working on a book about “fields.” I have written several previous posts about them. The map to this territory is becoming clearer, more detailed as we, along with David Sibbet, Gisela Wendling, and Karen Buckley, share our ideas about and experiences with fields. We are also investigating the work of those who have explored fields before us like Mary Parker Follett, Kurt Lewin, and Otto Scharmer. The following piece is an adaptation of writings and conversations between Alan and myself.
As noted in my previous post. Alan Briskin and I think of a “field” as a dynamic, living series of perceptible forces emanating from multiple sources inside and around us that influence how we feel, think, and behave. Field phenomena include everything from how you feel with good friends, to social customs and group norms you might take for granted, to conflicts that arise among competing factions. When we think of them in this way, fields are everywhere within a person via interactions of brain, mind, heart, and body activity, as well as among people, ideas, social institutions, and physical forces. As you can see, fields are networks of interacting relationships, some more evident than others.
They usually influence us outside of our conscious awareness. Through these posts and ultimately in our book, we hope you and others will become aware of them and their impact. The ability to be aware of fields, their presence, emergence, and dynamism, is a crucial skill for intentionally and skillfully perceiving, leading and interacting with others. To help us become more aware and discern how fields influence us, we are exploring three types of fields: personal, social, and noetic. I describe the personal field in this blog and will address the social and noetic fields in future posts. Please stay tuned.
The Personal Field
The personal field is shaped by biological, psychological, and relational forces specific to an individual. These forces include the brain and nervous system along with emotions, memories, and the specific sense of a “me” as distinct from others. The personal field is the inner space from which we operate. It is also the venue through which we perceive and interpret internal forces as well as those in the social and noetic fields. We exist in an individual field within larger fields that possess their own influences and energies.
You have likely had the experience of going to a concert (or a meeting, or a family gathering) in a particular internal state of mind and body and felt it shift in relation to the music, (or to what your colleagues or family are saying and doing). The power of a piece of music, or the tone and gestures of others shape the social field and in turn shape the personal field. The reverse is also true. You influence the social field with your personal field, through facial expressions, emotions, even with body chemicals such as pheromones emitting through your skin. You also influence the space and energy around you through your words and actions, by describing how you feel or what you see and hear. “I’m feeling more and more enthusiastic as each of you shares what you will do to make this transition successful.”
Intimacy with your Personal Field
Rumi tells us that “the breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you, don’t go back to sleep.” The personal field also has secrets to tell us. We invite these “secrets” to reveal themselves when we pay attention to what’s going on inside us and not ignore our inner process. Let’s use the Four Process Flows* to explore the personal field now.
- Awareness: What are you paying attention to right now? These words or something else entirely?
- Energy: How are you feeling? What are you experiencing? Energetic, tired, open, spacious, constricted? What emotions are you experiencing? Happy, sad, glad, mad, scared, anxious, disgusted?
- Information: What thoughts, images, or memories are arising in your mind? What might they mean?
- Operations: What is going on in your body? Tingling, pulsations, resonances, constriction, holding? What’s going on in the space around you? Does it feel open and spacious? Closed or cramped? Quiet or noisy?
Finally, ask yourself, how resonant or in conflict are these flows inside you? Familiarity with the personal field asks us to pay attention to what is living inside us moment-to-moment.
There are three reasons for becoming intimate with one’s personal field: (1) being aware moment-to-moment; (2) increasing personal agency; (3) accessing the “secrets” in the field.
- Moment-to-moment awareness. Intimacy with our personal field increases sensitivity and ability to listen to the living moment, what’s driving our behavior.
A client was feeling pressure to get through her “To Do” list. Her mind was racing as she frantically tried to multi-task. She was getting nowhere except more frenzied and frustrated. I asked her to take a few minutes to notice her breathing and body sensations. She sighed and described how rapidly her heart was beating and sensed that her whole body was vibrating with what she called “tension”. After a brief pause, I asked what emotions might be connected to these sensations. After saying she felt frantic and frightened, she was surprised to notice that she also felt sad. After sitting with this for a moment, she said, “I feel really sad and scared. My husband was recently diagnosed with a serious illness.” As she stayed with all of this, she said, “I don’t like these feelings. I’m running around like crazy to avoid them.” She paused and tuned into the space around her. She added, “It seems everyone around me has also gotten crazy. Are they mirroring me?”
As she non-judgmentally acknowledged this, she felt a shift in her body. It felt calmer, and she stayed present to her feelings without being overwhelmed by them. After another pause, she decided to re-evaluate her list, removing items that were not appropriate for her to handle and considering whether they were worth doing at all or whether she might delegate some of the tasks. In her frenzy, she had taken on things that were not in her wheelhouse of responsibilities or abilities.
As her breath continued to slow, she also realized she did not want to bring that frantic energy into her home. Being sad and scared, sure. Those made sense and would be important to tend and talk about with the whole family. Doing this might just help them clarify their intentions and decide how to best support her husband and each other.
This client experienced the personal field’s ability to tap and integrate multiple ways of knowing what is going on inside her and through her body, mind, thoughts, and feelings. It is the art of being a clear mirror of oneself to oneself. As French philosopher Simone Weil observed, “it is a fault to wish to be understood before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves.”
In an ensuing conversation, this client noticed that the office environment seemed to have shifted along with her internal state. She and everyone else were still working hard but not in a frenzy. As Arnold Mindell noted, “Every feeling, thought, movement, and encounter is simultaneously an inner and outer event.”
- Increasing Personal Agency. Understanding what is going on inside and outside increases our personal agency, i.e., we can make conscious choices about what we think, do, say, or feel rather than being driven by forces of which we are unaware.
To influence what is going on inside us, i.e., what is influencing our feelings, thoughts, and behavior, we first need to notice that we have a personal field. I imagine that you have had the experience of sensing the inner field of a friend or colleague even when they are not saying anything. You might have asked something like, “Are you okay?” Or perhaps reflected what you sensed. “You seem chipper today. Are you?” Or “You seem like you might be feeling sad (or angry). Are you?” And if they answered positively, “Do you want to talk about it?”
In those moments you are sensing their personal field. You might be more accustomed to sensing and tending to the fields of others than you are your own.
Carl R. Rogers once shared a very helpful observation. “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I can change.” We can’t change by judging ourselves or by trying to control our thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, we are often unaware of what is going on within and we function on automatic, outside of conscious choice. Following Rogers’ insight, we start by noticing what’s going on with a kind curiosity, like my client, and notice our body sensations, including our breath. We can check to see if any emotions or thoughts are associated with these sensations. Finally, we can stay with them long enough so a deeper understanding of what is going on emerges and we experience a “shift” in the body.
- Access the Personal Field’s “Secrets.” In addition to what is going on inside, attention to the personal field also lets us know what is going on around us because it often mirrors the forces in surrounding situations. Usually, people are blind to these forces and how they are affecting them. You can use the personal field to make them explicit, at least to yourself.
In a meeting with a subset of a leadership team my body began to constrict. We were planning a strategy session for the entire team the following week. They described the conflicts among several members of the group. I silently wondered whether they might also be feeling constricted anticipating the meeting, unsure of how to plan it so that it would be productive.
I took a moment to ground myself in my body, deepen and slow my breathing, and invite a spaciousness inside myself. As I did this, the pace of the conversation slowed a tad. They spoke with greater clarity about what they wanted to accomplish. The pace quickened again when they talked about the behavior of some of the team members. An idea popped into my mind. I wondered aloud whether it would help if a few of them would periodically “go to the balcony” during the meeting to watch and provide observations on what they were seeing and hearing in the group as a whole. Two eagerly agreed. Their observations during the meeting (e.g., when half the group did not speak for 20 minutes and those who did speak primarily criticized ideas) helped the group be more constructive and productive than they had been in previous meetings.
When we invite “secrets” in from our personal field, new ways to proceed can emerge, including ways to influence it and the social field. We develop a sensitivity to the social field through developing a sensitivity to our personal field. Too often we either ignore or dismiss the “secrets” living in our personal field. They are always there. We just need to invite them in and listen.
One word of caution, some of you reading this might receive too much information from what’s going on around you. You might be too permeable to the environment. This is another reason why becoming familiar with and witnessing your personal field is important. Being able to observe what is occurring inside you helps you retain awareness and make conscious choices about where to place your attention. In other words, you are semi-permeable. You can receive information without losing your ability to observe what is going on.
Some might perceive personal field awareness as one aspect of applied psychology, accessing the unconscious, or the same thing as practicing mindfulness and paying attention moment-to-moment. Becoming intimate with the personal field includes both while also being a broader, deeper, and more nuanced way of perceiving and operating in the world. Deepening awareness of one’s interior landscape is a way to directly experience life moving forward inside us and work with its complexity, dynamism, and possibilities.
*The Four Process Flows were adapted by David Sibbet from the work of Arthur M. Young.