Essence and Fields
Journeys for the Well-Intentioned: Part 3
A note, with homage to Stephen King, to my Constant Reader: Struggle is essential to growth, and disruption precedes it. These journeys for the well-intentioned are not designed for passive consumption; they are invitations to question what you think you know and why you know it, to explore your own thinking and watch yourself along the way. The value is in the journey. Only you can decide which path to travel.
If you haven’t read Part 2, continue from there before coming back to this one.
Consider, if you will, a moment or two in your life, perhaps one from your childhood and one more recent, when a greater whole that nests you urgently called for your growth, your becoming. Maybe it was the loss of a partner or a parent. Or an important customer in crisis. Maybe it was the birth of a child. Or of a business. Maybe extreme weather wreaked havoc on your community. Or maybe a global pandemic sent you scurrying to source household essentials. Regardless, pick a few events and take note of the greater whole that required your growth. Now, as you reflect on those events, how were you thinking about them? How were you processing life in those moments? That’s an unusual question, isn’t it? While we might later recall our thoughts or feelings of some pivotal moment, how often do we examine our thinking process in those moments? Make a few notes and then see if you can discern a deeper pattern that influenced how you went about your sensemaking.
(Ok, take a moment to rest here. These aren’t simple questions, but the further you can peel back the onion, the move valuable your insights will be.)
What have you discovered about you and how you process life? If you distill your functioning to its core, what pattern emerges? Are you always seeking to discover connections? Or to venerate life? Maybe you organize complexity. Or hold space for life to unfold.
(Of course, it’s none of these.)
What I hope you’ve gotten a sense of through this short reflection is essence1 — that you have your own way of functioning in the world, towards a purpose that becomes you, producing value for your greater wholes that can only come from you. And while others might think and act and be in ways similar to you, their essence is not the same as yours. Essence is the durable, irreducible core of any living whole — you, me, your family, my business, our community, even Earth itself.
So what? Everyone is special, right? This isn’t exactly news to the well-intentioned. Where we struggle, however, is truly seeing that diversity. Managing that complexity can feel overwhelming, and it’s tempting to reduce people to a set of types or categories so we can cope. It’s done with the best of intentions, to elevate beyond one-size-fits-all solutions, to recognize that not everyone sees or experiences the world the same way that we do. And yet. In so doing, we never quite connect with anyone completely, like applying a “best practice” to a novel context — it’s not necessarily bad…but it’s not great, either. Where does this show up in your life? It might be subtle, but we can sense this disconnect if we focus our attention, if we attune our whole self to the task. As with wholes, essence isn’t so much seen as experienced.
(Let’s see if we can travel farther down this path.)
Have you ever walked into a room of people and things felt…off? Maybe the tone and timbre of the conversations were flat and dull. Or entirely too animated. Maybe people were looking everywhere but at each other. Or maybe nowhere at all. Recall a specific instance when your Spidey-sense tingled and make a note of it.
Next, consider not so much a moment but a person or a group of people such that when you’re with them, magic happens. Any kind of magic — deep conversations, new ideas, keen insights. The only requirement is that it’s recurrent with this person or group and it’s noticeably more…intense than with others.
For both scenarios, what was the effect on you? What changed in your behavior and in your thinking? Describe the experience.
(I’ll wait for you to catch up, because the articulation of your reflection will be more valuable than quickly reading through the rest of this journey.)
How did you describe it?
Here’s an image for you to test — walking into those rooms or being with those people feels like being on an uneven landscape with hills and valleys. You can, of course, move about freely, but the shape of the field2 will bias you towards certain kinds of thinking or doing. You can move counter to that bias, but it’ll be hard work, like walking up a steep incline covered in loose gravel. Have you ever experienced something like this? A meeting with co-workers? A conversation with a distant but not distant enough relative? Of course, you have. We all have. And as members of the well-intentioned — we tend to be a stubborn bunch — we’ll keep slogging up that hill if the work is important enough, if the change vital enough. Yet for every action we take, the opposite reaction seems to manifest and keeps us from making much progress up our now Sisyphean hill. Conversations turn into games of chicken — who will blink first and give up, so the other can claim “victory”.
And here’s the thing — it is Sisyphean. It is futile. At least when operating against the bias of the field. But as you reflected earlier, sometimes the field seems to be working for you rather than against. We experience those moments like an easy stroll, a gentle descent. We certainly feel better in those moments, but pause and ask yourself — does meaningful change happen in those moments? Are we challenged? Are we creating ripples that lead to greater diversity and vitality for those systems we seek to serve — our greater wholes — and for ourselves? Or are we content to simply surround ourselves with familiar landscapes?
Let’s say we could choose to build a field, what would it look like? Since this is our third journey together, you probably have a sense of what I might choose: one that requires we struggle, one that requires our collective development — our collective growth — to succeed. And yet. While we have all experienced being in fields, what sources them? How do we recognize their biases? And most importantly, how do we reshape them to invite greater consciousness?
(Do you have a theory? Take a moment to consider these questions. No easy strolls here! Do your own work before we continue together.)
Here’s mine: Fields are sourced and powered by our essence; they emanate from us. When we are conscious of our essence and work to express it in the world, we can connect with the essence of other wholes, of other living systems. When we experience the essence of another whole — when it enfolds into our own being, interpenetrating with our own essence — that’s when we can become agents for mutual actualization of potential.
(It’s that missing piece I alluded to in our previous journey. It’s the addition of this essence-to-essence connection that reveals the nodal points for exponential change.)
(You’re sensing a but, right?)
It is simple. But it’s not easy. While I believe that essence sources the fields we experience, those fields can be modulated by two things — our personalities and our level of mental energy. Personality acts like a filter, obscuring the essence at the source. The level of mental energy we bring influences the effects we can achieve. Bring vital mental energy, and everything looks like do or die, fight or flight, us or them. Bring sensitive mental energy, and everything turns into a problem with an “obvious” solution to get things back to “normal”. Bring conscious mental energy, and everything shifts — essence not types, nodes not scale, potential not problems, nestedness not connectedness, wholes not parts. The landscape — the field — shifts, too. When the field shifts, it invites everyone it touches to shift, too.
(Ok, pause here, because we’ve arrived again at the moment of choosing.)
What did you notice in you as you joined me on this journey? Did you get lost? Did you argue? Did you nod your head in smug agreement? Why? What has shifted in your thinking? Finally, consider the value of this short reflection. What has it produced? What is the value of understanding essence when it comes to our interactions with other living wholes? What kind of field are you producing? Is it working? How do you know?
If you made it this far, thank you. This was an invitation to continue our journey of knowing. Knowledge never quite gets it done. Leave a comment and let me know what this was like for you.
Continue the journey with the Interlude: An Instrument for Transforming.
Originally published on Medium.
Sanford, Carol. The Regenerative Economic Shaper Perspective Paper — Part 3.