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 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.
To Learn More: David Sibbet and I are offering our workshop on Growing New Fields of Awareness again with updated material Dec. 14-17, 2021 and we’d love for you to join us. Please see workshop details here. The following piece is a collaboration between Alan and myself.
When you read the word “field,” what comes to mind? A meadow surrounded by a wooden fence with horses grazing in the distance? Fields of vegetables in tidy rows? Perhaps a baseball, soccer, or football field with athletes playing competitive games? Or you might think of a particular area of study like biology or history as a field. You could also think about the exciting electromagnetic fields that precede thunderstorms.
Might there be another way to think about a field in a way that allows it to expand beyond a space or a place in which things occur into something less visible but still perceivable. For example, what is your experience when you enter a room where people are arguing or where they are laughing hysterically? How do these two settings affect how you feel? How do you describe momentum in one of your projects or meetings? Moving like the fabled tortoise or hare? You might experience them as emotional, relational, or energy fields.
We think of “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 government policies born of competing factions. Within fields, networks of interacting relationships occur among visible and invisible forces. 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.
What occurs within a field is influenced by the field itself and shaped by external forces and the energy within it. In a planning meeting at a financial investment firm, people were pleased with the momentum building in the room as they generated promising solutions to a series of challenges to their business. They were getting increasingly creative and animated, building on one another’s ideas. The room was alive with energy. Unannounced, the CEO stepped into the room and, in a critical tone, said, “Sounds like you’re having too much fun in here. You’d better come up with some failsafe solutions to this crisis.” He walked out and closed the door. The field in the room shifted as people fell silent. The rest of the meeting was somber and slow. They began challenging one another’s ideas in a somewhat combative tone. Even when they noted the shift in the room, they were not able to regenerate their enthusiasm.
In that room, the fact that fields are not static phenomena but are constantly being created and re-created was evident. Fields are a dynamic set of relationships involving emotions, physical movements, behaviors, and beliefs. We can talk about a field as a thing constructed but let’s not lose sight of a field as a process, constantly changing through the nature of interactions within and among people and their situation.
Four Important Things to Remember about Fields
- Fields exist inside and around us. You have experienced them but might not have been aware of them.
- Fields affect us. They influence the feelings and sensations in our bodies as they evoke emotions and thoughts. In this way they significantly impact what we think, say, and feel and thus our ways of knowing, leading, and working with others.
- Fields influence us outside of conscious awareness, precluding our ability to perceive and make choices about how to influence them. The most telling single thing about fields is that they are invisible to those who live in them without expanded awareness. Developing field awareness enables us to perceive them and be aware of their influential process.
- Fields are malleable. We can choose to alter them on a personal level if we are aware of them. The body, including the brain and the mind, is the primary vehicle through which we perceive and affect fields.
Micro and Macro Fields
Micro and macro experiences are the stuff through which fields develop. The micro level builds upward into the macro from the totality of each person, their relationships to other persons, and the group’s relationship to their environment. The macro level flows downward from institutional forces and historical patterns of relationships that replicate themselves and are re-generated at the micro level. At the macro level, there are natural dimensions (climate, geography, other species, etc.), cultural dimensions (group norms, beliefs, rituals, traditions, etc.) and transcendental dimensions (cosmic, infinite, religious, intuitive, spiritual, etc.) that impact individual experience and the experience of social interaction. Recent discussions of trauma serve as a good example. There is no such thing as individual trauma in isolation, but rather individual trauma in the context of intergenerational, ancestral, and cultural traumas. Trauma is replicated at the micro level but is always a function of larger forces of the macro.
To develop our ability to influence fields for good and not be victims of or implicit contributors to destructive fields, we need to expand our awareness of fields, their impact on us, and on the groups, organizations, and communities of which we are a part. To expand your awareness of fields, here are a few ways to begin.
- Start noticing them. We perceive fields through our bodies and brains. Tune into your body sensations and notice the vibrations, images, thoughts, ideas, feelings, and emotions along with any meanings attached to them. Ask yourself, “What’s going on ‘in there?’, meaning inside yourself.” You can learn more about how to do this by exploring the work of Russell Delman.
- Practice expanding your awareness to include what’s going on inside you and around you. Include all the phenomena arising in your moment-by-moment experience. When we are aware of multiple phenomena a clarity or knowing can emerge. Think of this as your Wisdom Body. Observe and hear people’s expressions, tones of voice, and words. Is there a pattern that mirrors what you are sensing inside you? Or are you sensing something beneath the external phenomena?
- Consider how you want to impact the field. Do you want to contribute to its current direction or disrupt it? The CEO in the story certainly disrupted it. But, if he was conscious of his impact, would he have seen it as a contribution? Probably not. One way to impact a field is to describe what you are seeing. Working with a diverse stakeholder group on a gnarly water policy issue, I began to feel anxious as they started to finalize their recommendations for the decision makers. I asked myself if I was feeling anxious or was the group? My body let me know that I was not in fact anxious so I considered that it might be them. I noticed that they were interrupting one another and talking more quickly than usual. They sounded more aggressive and some of their brows were furrowed. I shared this observation aloud and asked what they thought might be going on. One of them said, “I think we might be afraid that our recommendations aren’t perfect!” The group laughed and then their pace slowed as they listened to one another attentively as they had previously done. They agreed on the final recommendations and congratulated themselves for their work.
We are living in times that are thoroughly challenging and altogether potent for change. Developing the ability to nudge fields towards something constructive and life giving seems like a good thing to be able to do.