Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at the moment. — Eckhart Tolle[i]
Of all the things I have learned over the years, I can think of nothing that could be of more help to anyone than living in the now. It is truly time-tested wisdom. To live in the present is what we mean by presence itself!
Creative Interchange makes us know that we can fully trust the “now” since a) we’re born with that fundamental learning and transformation process that resides within us and b) living Creative Interchange from within in the “now” is how we’ve transformed ourselves from baby to infant, to toddler until we were ready for the Kindergarten and beyond. Living Creative Interchange from within and in the now is like making love. We can’t be fully intimate with someone who is physically absent or through vague, amorphous energy; we need close, concrete, particular connections in the “now”. That’s how our human brains were and are wired. Not surprisingly, Creative Interchange is what changes the human mind since it cannot change itself.
Yet, as practitioners of meditation have discovered, the mind mostly does two things: replay the past and plan or worry about the future. The mind has been thought to be bored in the present. So it must be re-trained to stop running backward and forward and to be fully ‘present in the present’. This is being fully aware; awareness being the condition underlying the CI characteristic Authentic Interaction. Indeed, awareness makes the interacting authentic.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.
Non-dual awareness opens our hearts, minds, and will to actually experience Creative Interchange in the now. Ultimate Reality cannot be seen with the dualistic consciousness of the mind, where we divide the field of the moment and eliminate anything ambiguous, confusing, unfamiliar, or outside our comfort zone. Dualistic thinking is highly controlled and permits only limited seeing. It protects the status quo and allows the ego to feel like it’s in control. This way of filtering reality is the opposite of pure presence.
We learn the dualistic pattern of thinking at an early age, and it helps us survive and succeed in practical ways. But it can get us only so far. Becoming self-conscious at the expense of being self-aware undermines our capacity to be authentic and compromises the quality of our interacting using the Creative Interchange Process. Not surprisingly all religions at the more mature levels have discovered another “software” for processing the really big questions like death, love, infinity, suffering, the mysterious nature of sexuality, and whoever God, the Divine or the Force is. Some people call this access contemplation, some meditation and others mindfulness. It is a non- dualistic way of living in the moment. Don’t interpret, just observe (contemplata).
Non-dual knowing is learning how to live satisfied in the naked now, “the sacrament of the present moment” as Jean Pierre de Caussade called it[iii]. This awareness will teach us how to actually experience our experiences, whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us. Words by themselves divide and judge the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is. Words and thoughts are invariably dualistic; pure experience is always non-dualistic.
As long as you can deal with life as a set of universal abstractions, you can pretend that the binary system is true. But once you deal with concrete reality – with yourself, with someone you love, with actual facts – you find that reality is a mixture of good and bad, dark and light, life and death. Reality requires more a ‘both/and & different from’ approach than ‘either/or’ differentiation. The non-dual mind is open to everything. It is capable of listening to the other, to the body, to the heart, to the mind and to the will with all the senses. It begins with a radical yes to each moment.
When you can be present in this way, you will know the ‘factual reality’. Of course, you will still need and use your dualistic mind, your consciousness, but now it is in service to the greater whole (i.e. the ‘Creative Self’) rather than just the small ego (i.e. the ‘created self’). The Original or Creative Self is aware and conscious, the created self is mostly only conscious.
There is, in the context of living in the now, an additional distinction to be made between intention and attention. The core of human freedom is choosing (intention) and determining where one’s attention is (will be) focused. Most daily routines involve our attention being on ‘auto-pilot’. Autopilot is our unconscious daily habits, rituals and routines. Self-consciousness has been developed at the expense of self-awareness. Living in the now is living mindful. Mindfulness is sometimes characterized as “open or receptive attention to and awareness of ongoing events and experiences” [iv] with attention understood as “a process that continually pulls ‘figures’ out of the ‘ground’ of awareness”[v] an being mindful meaning “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.”[vi]
Organizational Management of Change involves teaching people this and that, an accumulation of facts and imperatives that is somehow supposed to add up to transformation. The great wisdom teachers know that one major change is needed: how we do the moment. Then all the this-and-that’s will fall into line. And how we do the moment is, to me, continuous living Creative Interchange from within.
Wisdom is not the gathering of more facts and information, as if that would eventually coalesce into truth. Wisdom is a way of seeing and knowing the same old ten thousand things but in a new way. I suggest that wise people are those who are free to be truly present to what is right in front of them. It has little to do with formal education. In fact little children, who have not encountered formal education yet, are always wise!
Presence is the one thing necessary to attain wisdom, and in many ways, it is the hardest thing of all. Just (try to) keep your mind receptive without division or resistance, your heart open and soft and your will aware of where it is at its deepest level of feeling. Presence is when all three centers are awake and open at the same time!
Most organizations decided it was easier to use doctrines – and obey laws created by management guru’s – than undertake the truly converting work of being present. Otto C. Scharmer identifies in his book Theory U three levels of deeper awareness and the related dynamics of change. “Seeing our Seeing requires the intelligences of the open mind, the open heart and open will.”[vii] Paraphrased in Creative Interchange language: ‘Seeing our seeing’, which I call Process Awareness, requires the intelligences of the Open Mind (Left hand side of ‘our’ Butterfly), Open Heart (body of ‘our’ Butterfly) and Open Will (Right hand side of ‘our’ Butterfly):
- Seeing with an open mind is ‘Awareness’ (i.e. non-colored or naked consciousness) that is able to change our Mindsets, (i.e. colored consciousness);
- Seeing with an open heart is seeing beyond the mind (feeling – butterfly body): this is also seeing one’s own part in maintaining the old and in denying the new;
- Seeing with an open will unlocks our deeper levels of commitment to which we ‘surrender’ in order to imagine what is needed, although the ‘what’ may be far from clear – Otto C. Scharmer calls this presencing;
- The ‘how’ of the transformation is effectively doing what we’ve just imagined through presencing; transforming means living Creative Interchange fully from within. Creative Interchange being the Meta process of all transformation and learning we’re all born with.
Mindfulness is about how to be present to the moment. When you’re present, you will experience the Presence. But the problem is, we’re almost always somewhere else: reliving the past or worrying about the future.
Living daily Creative Interchange is crucial in helping us live in the now. It takes constant intention and attentive practice to remain open, receptive, and awake to the moment. Intention has been defined as “a process that (a) carries motivational impetus, (b) specifies a future goal and (c) increases the likelihood of subsequent information processing that serves that goal.”[viii]
We live in a time with more easily available obstacles to presence than any other period in history. We carry some of our obstacles in our pockets now notifying us about everything and nothing, often guided by algorithms we don’t understand and that are far from being transparent. And let’s be honest: most of our digital and even personal conversation is about nothing. Indeed about nothing that matters, nothing that lasts, nothing that’s real. We think and talk about the same things again and again, like a broken record. Pretty soon we realize we’ve frittered away years of our life, and it is the only life we have.
We have to find a way to more deeply experience our experiences. Otherwise we’re just on cruise control, and we go through our whole life not knowing what’s happening. Whether we realize it or not, the energy of Creative Interchange (Yoda calls it The Force) is flowing through each one of us. When we draw upon this Source consciously, our life starts filling with what some call coincidences or synchronicities, which we can never explain. This has nothing to do with being perfect, highly moral, or formally religious. It has everything to do with living mindfully in the now.
I wish someone had told me all when I was young[ix]. I would still have been transforming my mindset, but this time in a whole different way – and what’s more all the time; in other words, a Continuous Improvement of my mindset through Creative Interchange (which I sometimes label CI2).
Life is what happens to you, while you are busy making other plans.
— John Lennon
There’s no way for the mind to control living in the now trough living Creative Interchange from within. Indeed, the Creative Interchange Process cannot be controlled and happens when the required conditions are met:
“Creative Interchange creates appreciative understanding of the diverse perspectives of individuals and peoples. It also integrates these perspectives in each individual participant. Thus commitment to Creative Interchange is not commitment to any given system of values. It is commitment to what creates deeper insight into values that motivate human lives. It creates an even more comprehensive integration of these values so far as this is possible by transforming them is such a way that the can be mutually enhancing instead of mutually impoverishing and obstructive.”[x]
According to Wieman, Creative Interchange should not be sought directly. When it occurs, it will always be somehow spontaneous. Commitment to Creative Interchange means that one will always seek to provide those conditions that are most favorable for this kind of interchange. So living Creative Interchange from within boils down to providing the conditions so that Creative Interchange can thrive. My mentor, Charlie Palmgren undertook in the period 1966-1972 the task of discovering what some of these conditions might be. He has found four mental conditions that facilitate and enhance each of the four Creative Interchange characteristics. Those conditions make the interacting authentic, the understanding appreciative, the integrating creative and the transforming continual. These conditions are, awareness (mindfulness and trust), appreciation (heartfulness and curiosity), creativity (playfulness and connectivity) and commitment (steadfastness and tenacity).
As we’ve seen in part I, most of the time the mind can only do two things: replay the past and plan or worry about the future. I’m not arguing that those two things are per se bad; I do argue that those two are mostly obstructions to living in the now.
Replay the past often leads to shame or guilt; those are two major forms of negative reaction to one’s self. Shame is the feeling that “I am not OK”, guilt is the feeling of having done something bad. Shame and Guilt are two elements of the Vicious Circle[xi], which ultimately leads to hiding in one’s mental model; one’s mindset is blocked and becomes what the Buddhists call the “monkey mind”.
Mental models are the images, assumptions and stories we carry in our minds of us, other people, organizations, institutions and every aspect of the world. They are the colored spectacles through which we see the world. Mental models determine what we see because they immediately interpret the reality we see and present that interpretation as reality. Mental models are ‘mental maps’ and all these mental maps are, by definition, flawed in some way. Differences between mental models explain why two people can observe the same event and describe it differently. Mental models (part of the left side of the ‘Butterfly’ model) ultimately shape how we act (the right side of the ‘Butterfly’ model) and thus the outcome.
The concept of Mental Model has many synonyms like Frame of Reference and Paradigm to name two of them. I prefere to use the synonym Mindset. Because mental models are part of our consciousness, our Mindset – below the level of awareness – they are often untested and unexamined.
One of the core tasks in Living in the Now is bringing mental models to the surface, to explore and to talk about them with minimal defensiveness – this helps to see the qualities of our ‘colored spectacles’, appreciatively understand their impact on our lives and find a way to re-form the glass by creating new mental models that serve us better in the world.
Two types of skills are central to this endeavor: they are reflection (slowing down our thinking processes to become more aware of how we use and form our mental models) and inquiry (holding conversations where we openly share views and develop knowledge about each other’s assumptions).
Anthony de Mello SJ urged us to ‘wake up!’[xii] Living Creative Interchange from within gradually transforms our minds so that we can live in the naked now, the sacrament of the present moment. Without some form of reflection, we read life through a preferred and habitual style of attention. Unless we come to recognize the lens through which we filter all of our experiences, we will not see things as they are but as we are.
Zen Buddhist masters tell us we need to “wipe the mirror” of our minds and hearts in order to see what’s there without distortions or even explanations – not what we’re afraid of is there, nor what we wish is there, but what is actually there. Creative Interchange’s Process Awareness is a lifelong task of mirror wiping. “I” am always my first problem, and if I deal with “me,” then I can deal with other problems much more effectively. I have to stop my ‘monkey mind’.
“Our monkey mind (an ancient Buddhist term) naturally prefers to scatter our attention hither and yon, but the whole purpose of Buddhist practice is to tame the mind, to calm the monkey in our head, and to be fully present to what we are doing in each and every moment.”[xiii]
Process awareness is the inner discipline of calmly observing our own patterns—what we see and what we don’t—in order to get our demanding and over-defended egos away from the full control they always want. It requires us to stand at a distance from ourselves and listen and look with calm, nonjudgmental objectivity, in other words: being fully aware and waken up! Otherwise, we do not have thoughts and feelings: they have us! A clear mirror allows us to simply see the reality of what is.
The real gift is to be happy and content, even when we are doing simple tasks. When we can see and accept that every single act of creation is just this and thus allow it to work its wonder on us, we have found true freedom and peace.
Plan about the future often leads to either knee-jerk reaction (or jump to conclusion-action) or worrying about the future. One should plan about the future while living in the now, making sure that what we see is what there is and not what our mindset tells us what there is. In this phase we have to – like toddlers – embrace ambiguity and stay long enough in testing our consciousness through awareness, until we have appreciatively understood reality. Appreciative Understanding being the second characteristic of Creative Interchange. Living in the now is appreciating the choice to interrupt one’s unconscious “autopilot’ thinking, saying and doing.
Once we have appreciatively understood reality we can start to open our heart in order to really feel it and to ponder if we want to transform that reality, if undesired, in a new, more desired one. If this is the case we’ll use Creative Integrating – the third characteristic of Creative Interchange – to imagine and create a plan in order to realize this desired reality in the near future. All ideas that pop up have to be reason- tested using skills to break down polarized thinking and other barriers to creativity. Through greater spontaneity (nobody’s idea is shot down) and connectivity (we connect and built on each others ideas) we enjoy greater freedom to integrate what we creatively experience through our relationships into our expanding individuality – to constantly evolve into the infinite potentiality of our being. This progressive, creative integration works at the individual level as well as the relationships level, constantly changing our individual and collective mindsets for our marriages, our work teams, our organizations, our communities and our societies. Once our plan is ready we reason-test the plan itself to make sure that we have the resources and approach to execute it and, finally, we have tot decide to go ahead.
During the transformation of our reality we have to live in the now permanently. We have to be aware of the process of transformation, which is the fourth characteristic: Continual Transformation. During this phase our commitment supports tenacity of intention to and attention on the repetitions required for neuro-networking the brain in order to establish new habits and ultimately a new mindset. Process awareness ensures that one is not only aware of what one is doing, but also how one does this. In addition it makes sure that one is aware of the extent to which, what and how one does, is congruent with the terms of the Creative Interchange process. In its simplest form Process Awareness is a dual awareness. A portion of the awareness focuses on the task (what is done) and the other part focuses on the process itself (how it is done). In our mind this process is Creative Interchange. So the Process Awareness skill can monitor what you say and do, identify and evaluate what others say and do, monitor how the team members are living the Creative Interchange process and most of all identify if you yourself live or hinder that living Process. The latter means too that through Process Awareness you are aware of the functioning of your personal Vicious Circle and is often called self-awareness, beautifully painted by Albert Einstein’s quote:
“The superiority of man lies not in his ability to perceive,
but in his ability to perceive that he perceives,
and to transfer his perception to others through words.”
Process Awareness is also linked to the concept transcendence. You certainly have heard once following expression: “Being in the world and not of the world.” In this context, being in the world means that you identify yourself with your thoughts, feelings and behaviors and being of the world suggests that you are nothing more than a conglomerate of your experiences and actions in this world, in other words nothing more than your created self. Being of the world means that we conform to that world. Being in the world urges us to go beyond conformity to transformation, in other words to transform ourselves towards our Creative Self. Being in the world means that we choose for transformation of the mind, in other words that we choose for Creative Interchange. Something that is transformed is something that is changed. The prefix ‘trans’ means “above and beyond”. We are to become above and beyond the standards of this world, not in the sense that we elevate ourselves in lofty status above everybody else, but that we are called to a more excellent way of life. In other words, we are to transform towards our Original or Creative Self. Not being of the world means that you can observe the world from a distance. One is, so to speak, above the world and can therefor observe the world without being effectively concerned. Being capable of both is an ideal I’m striving for.
This way, the created or adaptive self – a by-product of the Vicious Circle – is of this world. This self is a unity created from the mix of experiences, perceptions, roles, images, games, demands and expectations and so on. The Original Self is not of the world. The Original Self is beyond the world being with both feet in the world.
Process Awareness has to do with being receptive to information associated with the task or activity being performed, and to information connected with the Creative Interchange Process while being at work with others (i.e. being in the world) AND at the same time being open to analyze oneself, the internal data that are generated by those actions, without being prisoner of these data (i.e. not being of the world).
If we have successfully transformed ourselves through the transforming power of Creative Interchange (remember Yoda’s Force!), we will have begun to experience (1) an interchange which has as its core authentic understanding and appreciation of the uniqueness of ourselves and others, and (2) how this transforming power enables us to continually re-create ourselves by integrating what we experience from others. Through an ultimate commitment to Creative Interchange we start to transform ourselves and invite others to do so, in the direction of ‘The Greatest Human Good’.[xiv]
As the life of awareness settles on your darkness, whatever is evil will disappear and whatever is good will be fostered. But this calls for a disciplined mind. [However] When there’s something within you that moves in the right direction, it creates its’ own discipline. The moment you get bitten by the bug of awareness… it’s the most delightful thing of the world. There’s nothing so important as awakening. — Anthony de Mello S.J. [xv]
To me awakening is living Creative Interchange from within. I once called Creative Interchange the Sixth Discipline desperately needed by Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline in order to thrive. [xvi] Making Living in the Now through Living Creative Interchange from Within a discipline and thus a habit is to me – believe me, I know firsthand – hard work needing commitment, tenacity and process awareness.
[i] Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Penguin Books: 2005, 2016), 41.
[ii] The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks (HarperOne: 2004), 36.
[iii] Jean Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, trans. John Beevers (Image Books: 1975), 36.
[iv] Kirk, Warren Brown and Richard M. Ryan. Perils and promise in defining and measuring mindfulness; observations from experience. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11 (3), 242-248, https://doi.org/10.1093/clipsy.bhp078 , 2004. 245.
[v] Kirk, Warren Brown and Richard M. Ryan. The benefits of being present: mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84 (4), 822-848, https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1682 , 2003. 822.
[vi] Jon Kabat-Zinn. Wherever you go, there you are: mindfulness meditation in everyday life. New York NY, Hyperion. 1994
[vii] Otto C. Scharmer. Theory U Leading From the Future as it Emerges The Social Technology of Presencing. San Francisco, Ca: Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2009, xiv
[viii] Peter G. Grossenbacher and Jordan T. Quaglia. Contemplative Cognition: A more Integrative Framework for Advancing Mindfulness and Meditation Research. J.T. Mindfulness 8: 1580 https://dio.org/10.1007.S12617-017-730-1 . 2007, 1580-1593.
[ix] I’m publishing this column on my website www.creativeinterchange.be for the sake of my grandchildren, the three E’s: Eloïse, Edward and Elvire, without really knowing what they will do with it. Not pushing them, since ‘grass doesn’t grow faster by pulling at it”. I simply find it my duty to do it, period.
[x] Henry Nelson Wieman, Commitment for Theological Inquiry, Journal of Religion, Volume XLII (July, 1962) N° 3, pp. 171-184, 176.
[xi] Stacie Hagan and Charlie Palmgren The Chicken Conspiracy Breaking the Cycle of Personal Stress and Organizational Mediocrity. Baltimore: Recovery Communications, Inc., 1998
[xii] Anthony de Mello S.J. Awareness, The Perils and Opportunities of Reality, a de Mello spiritual conference in his own words (edited by J. Francis Strout), New York: Image book published by Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 1992
[xiii] Frantz Metcalf and BJ Gallagher. Being Buddha at Work. 108 Ancient Truths on Change, Stress Money and Success. San Francisco, CA. Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc. 2012. 37.
[xiv] Johan Roels. Creative Interchange and the Greatest Human Good. https://www.slideshare.net/johanroels33/essay-creative-interchange-and-the-greatest-human-good
[xv] Anthony de Mello S.J. Awareness, The Perils and Opportunities of Reality.op.cit. 20
[xvi] Johan Roels. Creatieve wisselwerking. Nieuw business paradigma als hoeksteen van veiligheidszorg en de lerende organisatie. Leuven-Apeldoorn, Garant. 2001. 234.