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 and more detailed as we, along with David Sibbet, Gisela Wendling, Karen Buckley, and Philip Bakerlaar share our ideas and experiences about and with fields. We are also investigating the work of those who have explored social fields before us like Mary Parker Follett, Kurt Lewin, Pierre Bourdieu, David Bohm, Lynne McTaggart, and Otto Scharmer. The following piece is an adaptation of writings and conversations between Alan and myself.
As noted in previous posts, Alan Briskin and I think of a “field” as a dynamic, living series of perceptible and imperceptible 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, as well as 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.
I am writing about fields because experience leads me to believe that increasing our awareness of and ability to influence and learn from fields, along with applying what we know about collaboratively creating change, positions us to better handle the multiple, interacting crises we face individually, collectively, and globally.
In two previous posts, I described personal fields and social fields. Here I will explore the Noetic Field. Why should you pay attention to fields, especially if some of them are imperceptible? Because they affect us, particularly the personal and social. They influence what we feel, think, do, and say, usually outside conscious awareness. The noetic field also affects us while also being a source of deeper and broader wisdom.
Never Mistake the Finger for the Moon
Physicists tell us space is not empty and that particles, atoms and molecules, communicate with one another across space and time. Some suggest that everything is made of undivided energy that has the desire and capacity to experience and know itself. Others see consciousness as a universal feature of the cosmos.
Spiritual and religious leaders around the world speak of god, spirit, love, the supernatural, the mystical, the transcendental, universal mind, and more.
Longtime meditators describe experiences of interconnectedness and spaciousness within and around them. The philosophy of Daoism is based on the concept of the Dao as “the impersonal and unnamable force behind the working of the universe.” (Eva Wong)
In rituals, indigenous peoples have embodied experiences of places and beings beyond the ordinary.
This inquiry has been going on for generations. To what are all these beliefs, words, and experiences pointing? They might be fingers pointing at, helping us see the moon. However, as the Buddhist tale advises, don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss “all that heavenly glory.” In other words, you will miss the noetic balance.
Might there be a field beyond the personal and social fields described in my previous posts that we experience but find hard to describe? I begin with my personal experiences of what I now think of as the noetic field and perhaps started me on the path of noetic field research.
Experiencing Ineffable Noetic Fields
Walking up the steps out of the glare and heat of the afternoon sun into the dark, cool porch of Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth de Vaison, Roger James and I pause and open the swinging door into the narthex. Staring at the altar over the long row of aisles, our feet stop. I stand enveloped in a wall of, for lack of a better word, energy that immediately brings tears. I turn to my right and look at Roger. He too is in tears, stunned into place. I whisper, “What is this?” The sensation continues as we walk slowly along the central and side aisles. It feels like an all encompassing and vibrating presence. What was it that we had experienced? Returning there a few years later, I experienced this presence again, walking down into the apse. The shaking and tears subside after about a minute as another tourist walks down into this ancient space.
This presence reminds me of the one I felt as a child in the forests of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. Alone with soft pine duff under my feet and dappled light among the trees, I felt a part of something larger than myself. It was comforting, often joyful. I made up songs, danced around, and explored.
I didn’t have language for moments like this then nor for the ones that followed. Now I believe they are part of a noetic field. Describing this field seems more challenging than personal or social fields. One can talk about the personal field in terms of body sensations, emotions, thoughts, and physical movements. In the previous post I explained how the personal field is both affected by and affects the social field. For example, being in a room when people are being open and friendly as opposed to one in which people are closed and combative.
Defining the noetic field is more difficult because we experience this noetic field quite subjectively while the experience of it is quite universal. Each of us experiences it in individual ways.
Did my two personal stories bring back to you any moments in your life in which your awareness expanded and you sensed a connection with a larger interwoven whole, along with a feeling of humility, awe, and wonder? You might have felt vibrations in or around your body, or a sensation of peace and spaciousness inside, or “seen” yourself and the space around you filled with light. There are so many ways in which one experiences this field. Many have these experiences more often than they admit. Are you one of them?
What Are “Noetic Fields?”
Alan and I conceive of the noetic field as being imbued by an intelligence found in nature and the cosmos. Noetic derives from the Greek word nous or noesis that foreshadowed our contemporary understanding of the quantum world. Forces most relevant in this field include patterns, both current and historic, involving harmony and balance, disruption, flow, reciprocity, resonance, and coherence. This type of intelligence is transpersonal, meaning it deals with states of consciousness beyond the limits of personal identity and transrational, referring to the experience of phenomena occurring within the natural universe where information and experience does not conform with typical cause and effect structures.
“Noetic” turns up in interesting places. Alan Briskin’s investigations led him to the Greeks. He wrote, “Fundamental to the noetic field is the concept of nous, the Greek word that appears in ancient Greek texts and specifically in the Socratic Dialogues. Socrates describes nous as a self-regulating, cosmic intelligence found in nature and in ourselves as part of nature operating for good ends (harmony and coherence.)”
Helané Wahbeh, director of research at The Institute of Noetic Sciences, also traces the term back to its Greek roots. “’Noetic’” comes from the Greek work noesis, which means inner wisdom, direct knowing, intuition, or implicit understanding.”
William James, 1842-1910, considered the “Father of American Psychology”, believed that mystical states of consciousness had a noetic quality, that people experience them as states of knowledge and insight into deeper truths that “carry with them a curious sense of authority…”
Mystical states, according to James, also had three other qualities: ineffability, meaning they defy adequate description, they must be experienced directly, they cannot be transferred to another. How well I know. I still try ineptly to describe the experience of sitting in a “beehive” (a Clocháns, a drystone hut) at a Gaelic monastery founded between the 6th and 8th centuries on Skellig Michael, an island off the southwest coast of the Republic of Ireland. This experience occurred long before it was used for the filming of the final scenes of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” where Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) lived in self-imposed exile.
In addition to being noetic and ineffable, James described mystical states as transient, that they cannot be sustained for long. Roger and I experienced this field’s impermanence soon after our time in the cathedral in southern France. Finally, mystical states feel as if we are “grasped and held by a superior power” and the memory and significance of their messages remains. James called this third quality passivity or surrender. My childhood experience of interconnectedness in the forest did feel like I was being held by something much larger than myself.
Working with similar ideas and etymologies, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), a French Jesuit priest, scientist, paleontologist, theologian, philosopher, and teacher, used the term “noosphere,” to capture his experience of the universe as an evolutionary process, moving to greater levels of complexity and consciousness. For him, a noosphere or layer of thought or consciousness encircling the earth, results from this evolutionary process.
A colleague pointed out a playful way to think about “noetic”. In French, nous means “we” and when you separate these letters, it comes to “no us,” meaning it is all bigger than us.
All these interpretations of “noetic” point to experiences of revelation, deeper truths being revealed to us.
Opening Up to and Inviting the Noetic Field
How might this occur? We have already seen in previous posts how we can learn from and manage the personal field by observing what we are paying attention to, being aware of feelings and emotions, noticing thoughts, images and memories arising in our mind, and by perceiving the overall felt sense of what’s occurring inside us. Unveiling the social field in groups and in larger, encompassing fields can be approached with a series of questions to help guide us. Some included in the previous blog were “Are you aware of what the group is focusing on or ignoring? What are you sensing in the space around you? What are you and others aware of about the context in which you are operating?”
But what about the noetic field? Can we manage or unveil it? We can certainly learn from it. It seems to be more of an opening up to or inviting in than managing or unveiling it. We learn from it when we notice synchronicities, pay attention to dreams, read poetry, walk labyrinths, and listen to certain kinds of music. We create opportunities to experience the noetic field when we expand our awareness, spend time in nature, balance stillness and activity, participate in ceremonies, and inquire humbly into what arises in personal and social fields as well as wonder what deeper truths live underneath the surface of things.
Facilitating a difficult board retreat, I felt energy coming towards the left side of my body from one of the directors who was silently sitting against a wall. Even though he hadn’t said anything, I turned to him and from someplace in me these words came out, “I hear you, Michael.” He got up, walked to the front of the room, and disrupted the unhelpful social field the group had been creating. This opened subsequent conversations that led to significant decisions.
The mechanisms or processes through which we perceive and are part of the noetic field remains a mystery to many and are hotly debated among scientists and scholars. One possibility is the quantum world that we know exists. According to physicist Federico Faggin, we can say that it is the realm where “communicating conscious entities exist.” If quantum fields are conscious entities, and we are and live in quantum fields, is this how we are part of the noetic field? As the research and discussions carry on, we learn about it by experiencing it.
I appreciate the perspective of a legendary physicist, David Bohm (1917-1992) when he wrote, “We are internally related to everything. Consciousness is an internal relationship to the whole.” My personal experiences and reading leads me to interpret the noetic field as an intelligence or consciousness that is a feature of a cosmos that perpetually lives inside and around me and all of us at all times.