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Leadership, Group Process & the Play of Consciousness

By Jenny Devine

This article is part two of a two-part exploration of group process in professional development. Read Part One here.

At its essence, group process is about the experience of the participants, individually and collectively.

Consciousness is that part of us that can “do” this experiencing; that is aware and present to the reality of life. Thus, if we were to scale human consciousness we would observe that at higher levels of consciousness an individual has greater objective insight into their human experience – the interiority of their inner world including beliefs, feelings, thoughts, triggers, reactions, dreams, desires etc as well as insight into others and the world and universe around them; that which it experiences through the senses, as well as intuitively.

Conversely, at the lower end of the consciousness scale, we would observe individuals with much lower levels of insight into their own and others’ experience as well as the external world. Sometimes we refer to this as people being “caught” inside the lens of their own stories or limited belief systems rather than being able to view themselves/others/universe from an objective, curious and more detached state of being.

At Play CoLab the very core of what we do, working with each small group over a period of several months, is to support our participants to get a shift in their level of conscious awareness and thus a shift in the depth of their experience. Why is this our core focus? Because research conducted by leadership and adult development experts tells us that consciously mature leaders are the only ones capable of adapting to and leading us successfully in this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.

Initially, my co-facilitator and I worked very hard at this process of conscious transformation for our participants and felt deeply responsible for each person’s shift – or sometimes lack of a shift – as we perceived it. We had noted that when several members of the group were committed to developing their conscious maturity it could have a significant impact on the group and we were determined to increase the “success” rate. Being involved in the awakening of human consciousness is tremendously exciting and who could blame us for wanting more.

But at some point, a realisation dawned on us: that the “more” that we were seeking for our participants was never going to eventuate from such things as greater effort, more hours, sharper content or more clever techniques. You see consciousness is a notoriously nebulous and slippery thing to be playing with and we soon realised that everything that we required for the success of our programmes – and more – was already there. It was in the room with us. It was in ourselves and in our participants. To access it though, was counter-intuitive to the usual striving of the egoic self, none more so than our own egoic selves. Nevertheless, we had to quickly learn to play a very different game than we had ever played before. We had an unshakeable sense of knowing that the prize we were seeking – the conscious transformation of ALL the members of the groups – could only be accessed in the ways of being we hadn’t previously given the highest priority to: the not knowing, the letting go, the surrender, the trusting, the allowing.

The greatest challenge, of course, is that all the above listed ways of being are foreign territory for our old friend, ego, which spends its entire fear-based existence striving to know, to understand and to be in control. It survives on external validation and accesses its sense of knowing from external sources. (Thus, the importance for us and our participants in mercilessly – yet paradoxically, compassionately – deconstructing our living set of conditioned belief systems we call ego).

Nevertheless, as we forged ahead with this focus, we observed that rigidity, righteousness and fixed viewpoints started to soften and inevitably we become witnesses to a softening, an opening, a spaciousness where previously there had been impenetrable walls. It is in this space, we came to understand, somewhere in the natural flow, where consciousness itself is able to meet us.  Now we frequently experience groups where everyone, including us the facilitators, is in a process of deliberate maturation and the impact, collectively, is nothing short of transformational for all of us.

The experience of being in such groups is extraordinarily uplifting. These individuals are strikingly present to each other. The “connection” in the room is immeasurably powerful, almost palpable. A sense of lightness of being is pervasive, as is humour, warmth, curiosity, deep respect and dare I say it- love. As would be expected in such a group, vulnerability is increased and therefore risk. We play on the edge and call each other out when one of us falls into old conditioned ways of being. Additionally, my co-facilitator and I observe unexplainable synchronicities and events occurring within individuals, the groups and ourselves that leave us bemused and, at times, astounded.

We could attribute all this to the fact that each individual has a sharper focus on not only who they have been – including old beliefs and stories – but their current state of being. This includes their inner dialogue and emotional state as well as sharper insight into their effect on others. Also present is an awareness of the person and life they are choosing to mature into. These individual transformations converging into a collective setting would logically give us a rationale for the potency of such group experience.

Except we know there is something else, the “other”, I referred to earlier. There is, without a doubt, an ineffable aspect of consciousness itself that is at play. By consciousness itself, I refer to the greater or ultimate reality, that which is real, natural- what some would refer to as the ground of all being. This notoriously difficult concept to explain has usually been left to the domain of philosophers, spiritual mystics, meditators or indigenous cultures to try to articulate based on their experience of it. They describe it with terms such as oneness, “isness”, beingness and all-knowing.

Science too, specifically the field of quantum physics in the last century, has bridged the consciousness-spirituality gap by acknowledging the presence of consciousness. Several quantum physicists have come to the realisation that there must be a conscious reality inherent in the building blocks of the universe, the world of sub-atomic particles. In effect, these scientists believe that below the level of the quantum lies a deeper, innate intelligence. American physicist David Bohm, a close colleague of Einstein coined a term called the “implicate order” whereby he believed guiding “pilot waves” oversaw each subatomic process.

We know that the more “awake” or consciously aware a human being is, the more likely it is that they can sense an awareness of this greater reality, that is, a reality that can be experienced beyond their intellectual capacity. Paradoxically, this greater reality appears to be experienced within as well as without in times of mental stillness. Sometimes the human experience of it is described as the life force or living essence. In Chinese this is “qi” or ch’i, in Hindu and yogic philosophy, prana, and in New Zealand, Maori term it “mauri”.

The most striking aspect of our groups is, without a doubt, the collective oneness that, at some point, begins to replace the group of individuals who together set out on the challenging journey of development. Bohm believed that “deep down the consciousness of mankind is one. This is a virtual certainty because even in the vacuum, matter is one and if we don’t see this, it’s because we are blinding ourselves to it.”

The reality of the presence of consciousness for those who are consciously maturing, eventually becomes quite difficult to ignore. However, when it is occurring within groups of “awakening” individuals who morph into a collective entity it becomes impossible to ignore. Increasingly we are humbled and in awe of the ineffable play of consciousness. Do we have a deep understanding of it? Not at all.  Do we practise being present to it? Indeed. Do we use it to our and the advantage of our participants/groups? Absolutely.

Never has the need for the awakening of leaders been greater. In the process of this, even on the smallest scale, the barriers that separate humankind begin to diminish and a collective presence emerges.

As the recently deceased Barbara Marx Hubbard once commented,

“Small islands of coherence can shift the whole system to a higher order”.

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