Michael Jones Pianoscapes

   Artfull Leadership: Excerpt

The Social Architecture of Leadership
Michael Jones, Pianoscapes.2006

This excerpt is part of a chapter in Artful Leadership: Awakening the Commons of the Imagination. The chapter offers a general exploration of the commons and its role in creating a renewed sense of place and connection in our communities and organizations. As in other chapters, this exploration takes the form of a dialogue with John, a successful senior leader with whom Michael enjoyed many conversations on long walks in a lakeside park near his home.

Making Wholeness Visible

The root of the commons is found in communities of gift exchange (Hyde, 1979). And the basic structure of a gift community is a tripod. That is, for the gift to increase it needs to pass from one person to the next to a third. If the gift is offered to only one person it might best be called a transaction — a form of barter or exchange. But when it is passed through the second to the third, a circuit emerges, creating a space where the gift is transformed. It is the presence of the third that ensured the stability of gift communities for thousands of years. It also ensures the stability of the commons.

When the gift returns to the gift-giver — and the gift always returns — it does so in a form different from the way it was first offered. However, when the third interaction is absent the emphasis nearly always centers on transactional processes such as the give-and-take found in teaching, discussion or debate. As the circle of gift exchange grows in size, there is also a corresponding increase in the value of the gift itself. This sense of belonging, interconnectedness and shared value accounts for the vitality of gift exchange and the enduring nature of the common space. As Lewis Hyde, who writes beautifully about gift economies says, they grow the more they are used. So while they may need material goods to function, the gift economy's real wealth- generating capacity derives primarily from a social commerce of the creative spirit."

So when the space opened by the third becomes present, alchemy happens and transformation is possible. The attitude engendered by the continuity of gift-giving is quite naturally one of humility in the presence of something larger than ourselves. It is this yielding to the spirit of otherness — including an ongoing process of differentiation and deepening integration — that ensures the fertility of the imagination and invites more wholeness into the creative field.

So in the commons the alchemy of the third is found in wholeness. This suggests that when the question arises in those beginning the practice of the commons, "Is this a commons?" it may be answered by sensing how much wholeness is present and actualized. And because wholeness is invisible, we know it primarily through its effects. For example, we may know we are in the presence of wholeness when we feel ourselves to be deeply heard, perhaps because there is sufficient stillness amongst us to allow what we say to be fully received. Or suddenly we sense that our voice carries new clarity and strength, and those with us can hold strong voices without fear. Perhaps we know it because we feel whole and complete, and there is a warmth in us that lets us engage the deeper subtleties of meaning and connection. Often there is an accompanying, heightened trust in ourselves and others, so that we can move with grace and ease from a reliance on memory and past knowledge to the forming of new insights. Or we know that wholeness is present because we feel involved and engaged, that is we feel that we have a home here; the essence of our gifts has been taken in and embodied by the whole.

Most important, it is the sense that the part of us that has felt orphaned in the world has now been taken in by the commons. This makes room for us to find our own thinking, and follow our own feeling in a way that is free from any need for defensiveness or self-deception. This in turn makes the fuller experience of wholeness possible. Furthermore, to be in the presence of wholeness is to acknowledge that it cannot ever be replicated; it comes to us as a gift and in a moment that is unique and unrepeatable.

The freedom, humility and respect invoked in the commons invites a step-by-step progression towards the commons becoming more and more as it was designed to be. That is, as the commons emerges, participants focus less on trying to set an agenda and more on allowing each moment to complete itself with a sense of clarity, insight, simplicity and ease. There are a few other practices that help to deepen this attitude and also invite in wholeness in such a profound way.

Articulating the Field
The commons is a listening field within which we may reawaken to the longing, wonder and belonging from which all new life begins. It offers a remedy for the isolation, loneliness and absence of meaning that have become the sickness of our time. It does so by reacquainting us with a living language - of words that convey more than statistics, facts or hard truths - so that we might again find our own relationship with the roots of language.

From the beginning of time people have been aware that the spoken word can transform life experience in ways that no written words can. We also know that the words that transform most are often spoken out of the need of the moment, and so are formed on the tongue as we speak. It is this spontaneity of speaking - in words that are subjective and qualitative - that so often reawakens our deep sense of longing and wonder, just as it has from the first times humans came together to talk.

When we demythologized our world in favor of the different power of the more "practical" intellect, the evocative power of language as an expression of the gift was largely lost. Language became comprised of prescriptions for human conduct rather than as a source of inspiring the human spirit. In fact, we became so distant from this evocative power of language that we began to mistrust it. Because it had become an instrument for furthering self-interest, it was no longer seen as trustworthy as an instrument for articulating the truth of the moment or the Word.

In the presence of the commons, however, those that have received the gift of speech quite likely may say in disbelief, "Did I really say that?" We may also kneel in gratitude for what has just been given. We might also be a little uncomfortable, perhaps feeling that we said too much or that we haven't really earned the right to speak. But the commons is primarily for language making, for the purpose of creating a vibrant and living language that helps us not only interact with our world but to also transform our place in it.

Leading From Behind
In the Quaker tradition there is a practice of following the leadings of the moment. This is also the leadership practice followed by the commons. The intent of the commons is to free us from prescribed action in order to connect with an organic impulse that can lead to a more cohesive basis for acting.

"And we can only connect with this impulse by going slowly," John broke in to finish my train of thought.

"But slowly means different things for different people," I said.

"You mean my slow is your fast!"

"Yes," I laughed. "I noticed that watching you drive out here in your Porsche! But seriously, in this context it means going slowly enough that you are guided not only by an arbitrary schedule of needs but rather by what feels natural and true. This includes noticing where we are stuck or unclear, and staying with this awareness without trying to force the issue or push things through."

"I guess to do this," John said, "would mean that we must admit that we don't always know everything."

"Exactly," I replied. "And this may also explain why the commons gradually disappeared. We thought we no longer needed what it might teach us. Science gave us the false sense of assurance that we had penetrated life's most puzzling mysteries. But as David Orr (Orr wrote an essay titled Slow Knowledge which is explored earlier in the chapter) suggests, each problem we solve inevitably leads to other problems that are larger and more complex than the first. The practical intellect is no longer adequate. We need instead to learn to remythologize our world; to acknowledge the larger mystery of being and dwell together in creation as we consider all that we don't yet know."

"So," said John, "in the world where there is a constant drive for solutions it sounds like the commons is a kind of place of last resort - a place where we can be with our not knowing."

"Yes. And not knowing can be liberating in that it opens us to a deeper forward moving impulse that connects us to an infinite world of possibility. That is, as soon as we 'know' with certainty it sets us on a course of action - one in which our focus shifts from process to outcomes, and present-moment awareness is replaced with expectations of the future. This often impedes this forward movement. And what connects us t most directly to this natural forward movement are our gifts more so than our trained skills."

"And in the transition to outcomes something is lost," John said. "I know this from my own experience, when I start focusing primarily on a goal my vision constricts. I think most of us are also much more familiar with living in a world of intention than in one of open attention."

"Yes. Exploring how to be with the moment instead of trying to figure out what to do with it is a subtle but important shift, and one that can determine whether the spirit of the commons stays alive. This is why 'leading from behind' and noticing what latent capacities are emerging rather than being certain of the way and convincing others to follow is crucial to leadership in the commons. It helps a whole community be with the not knowing and acknowledging it as a legitimate place to be. In it, we follow the leadings and notice what is being offered rather than push for solutions, answers or closure."

"I know what you mean," John said. "I often talk about the importance of listening for the space between, but in reality there is a part of me that pushes to get to the other side. Even though I acknowledge that confusion and uncertainty are a part of learning, I want to get through things rather than dwell on them. I'll accept confusion but not for very long."

"Yet it may be that confusion and uncertainty is our new reality," I said. "What the commons offers is the opportunity to make a place for a new intelligence to guide us — one that we would not have been as open to if we continued with the same certainty we had about things in the past."

"For example, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny, upon reflecting on his work with keyboardist Lyle Mays on one of their most adventurous collaborations, said that what made the most difference for both of them was that they forced nothing and followed everything. In the past when an idea came they would look at each other and ask themselves if it was worthwhile or had merit. Only if the answer was 'yes' would they give it their attention. But on one project they accepted everything as worthwhile, no matter how insignificant or puzzling it might be."

This also serves as a rule of thumb for leading from behind. To be open and accepting of whatever comes is an instruction in learning to trust in life's natural forward movement. The reward is that by being open to the changing form of things we become more and more like ourselves, made as living examples of change itself.

Process is Content
The next principle of the commons follows from the last. To lead from behind, following the direction of emerging creation, means that the spirit of the commons usually unfolds from the process itself. That is, the primary influences that shape the commons do not come from the outside in, but rather from the inside out. As a generative space the commons is not designed to be or do anything outside of what unfolds within the structure itself. This is not to impose an arbitrary rule on the commons, but rather suggests that whatever is imposed on the commons will likely turn out to be not as rich, unique, original or as memorable as what unfolds from within the structure itself.

To be open does not necessarily mean "anything goes," as there may well be suggestions or guidelines — a social infrastructure — that ensures that there is both safety and boundaries for those who participate. But these are often set as possibilities to consider rather than as rules to enforce so that there is not too much "sameness" among those who join in.

"So," John said, "With the kind of perception you've been describing I'm assuming that we'd be able to see some of the deeper layers of intention beneath the surface of things, — which would be extremely useful. I'm also hearing you say that we'd be able to sense the context and direction for the next step, which must take an inordinate trust in the process."

"Yes," I said. "What makes it even more challenging is that when the process itself is equivalent to content, the seeds for the unfoldment often appear at the last possible moment, and so are rarely obvious when we begin."

"As I've been understanding it," John said, "the focus is not so much in what we bring to the commons but how present we are in it. In this sense the commons serves as a practice field for perceiving complexity doesn't it?"

"That's well put," I replied. "Although I don't want to give the impression that the content of conversation in the commons is irrelevant. In practice we may bring insight from anywhere, even though we don't know how exactly it will fit. What is interesting is that when participants feel at ease they are likely to sense and follow the seeds of possibility in increasingly accurate and complex ways, which further builds confidence in participation. If the atmosphere is tense or critical it is going to be hard for anyone to sense what is needed."

"I see," John said. "All of this sounds almost too good to be true. What happens when there are differences of opinion?"

"It's true that no issue is entirely black and white. There will always be shades of grey. The pacing of the commons encourages us to move beyond arbitrary and simplistic points of view. Because when these are pursued honestly they will usually lead to insights that are greater and more complex than the sum of the positions in the room. So a working premise for the commons is that we are not our positions."

"I suppose," John replied, "that if we're going to participate in the commons we might as well assume the virtue, as it were, to accept that we're in this together and need to cooperate in order to accomplish something that none of us could do by ourselves."

"Yes. And this insight, as obvious as it might sound, is key to forming a commons space — it fulfills a human promise that we cannot fulfill on our own. Sometimes we may feel encumbered by the presence of others and would prefer to push forward by ourselves, but the underlying premise here is that we cannot do this independently. The complexity we are engaged in needs not only others but a clear reverence for 'otherness' — including the inherent 'mystery' of the other — to hold together the fine web of complexity that makes up the evolving nature of our world."

"And," I added, "there is also a very fine line between differentiating the field and complicating it. In fact, whatever we bring into awareness is easily complicated, particularly if interventions are introduced that communicate a sense of impatience, tension or force."

"I can see that," John said. "And I can also see how complications arise when we get ahead of the process itself. Either we lose the thread of connection and meaning — the golden thread that we spoke of earlier in poet William Stafford's work — or get impatient with the process. But as you suggest there is a forward movement to things and they will continue to unfold below the threshold of our own awareness even when we no longer sense that anything is happening among us."

John continued. "I believe that it would help if we considered all our engagements in generative processes to be fragile. This is partly why I've been thinking that I need to bring a more subtle intelligence to the processes I've been involved with."

I smiled. "Yes, it is strong but our connection to it is sometimes weak. We really are investigating a new aspect of human consciousness here, aren't we? It's much more fluid, refined and fragile than anything we've been accustomed to. So if we hold this as a practice field, and not as something that only succeeds if we achieve something in a traditional way, then much more will be possible between us."

John took a deep breath. We walked slowly for a while as he took this in.

"In part," he said, "I think it's fragile because we have to take much more time in waiting and listening than in acting when we are engaged in commons work. Thinking of the people I work with, I know this is likely to cause an enormous sense of frustration if we equate waiting with a loss of or waste of time."

"Yes," I said. "To engage the commons we must often stand up to the violence of our own nature, including our impatience and despair."

"Given this," John said, "how do we trust our careers — or lives, for that matter — to this kind of awareness, especially in a world that hardly ever respects deeper inquiry? And in what I'd call an age of entitlement, where time is somehow our property, how do we actually give ourselves over to a process whose outcome seems so much outside our control, and for which there is no guaranteed return?"

"Good questions," I said. "First it is helpful to create parallel processes so that we don't overload the commons space. For example, the commons doesn't replace operational meetings. It can, however, enrich them by having a process where, by moving further 'upstream' back from the action, there is an opportunity take the time for a deeper consideration — for slow knowledge to do the things that fast knowledge cannot."

"Makes sense," John said.

"Furthermore, even when people feel the impulse for change, it almost always comes with a healthy resistance to change — even if it doesn't freely show itself up front. A commons space makes a place for it and widens our lens of perception so that we may, at the least, acknowledge its presence. We do this by listening together without judgment upon what is coming into awareness, acknowledging its presence and staying with it in a way that does not require it to change."

"Which probably lets change come a whole lot easier," John said.

"Yes. And we need to be open all the way through this process, as it tends to lead to a deeper restructuring of awareness than anyone might predict. Something is already functioning below our radar, so while nothing may appear to be happening at one level, everything may be happening at another."

"Fascinating." John said, " I remember reading that Brahms once said most of his music composing did not occur while he was in his studio, but while he was outdoors taking his regular daily walks. He would get the process started and then the rest unfolded on its own."

"Exactly. A conversation in the commons works in a similar fashion. It is like a musical composition. We get it started and then there is this ongoing elaboration, both conscious and unconscious, that unfolds as we go."

John's eyes brightened. "It is iterative, isn't it? We bring ourselves to the commons and at the same time the commons comes to us, each amplified in the presence of the other."

"That's it, precisely. It's in that space between seeing and being seen where wholeness lives. And this leads us to another principle of the commons."

Catalyzing the Space
Like a garden that can support many diverse species of plants, the commons is most fertile when its multiple and unique centers interact with one another, each creating a dynamic latticework of spaces between. Such gathering places appear most naturally in spaces that appeal to the perennial human attraction to nourishment. This may take the form of soup kitchens, farmer's markets, neighborhood bars, food courts, cafés, country stores or front porches. These are the modern equivalents of the village greens of times past. These common places fulfill our natural appetite and the attendant desire to belong to something — a physical space, a group, an idea — that catalyzes something outside of and larger than ourselves.

"You could say that nourishment tends to convene," John said.

"Yes. We hunger for this kind of space in part because it is deeply ingrained in our nature. Often we are disappointed, however, because the modern equivalents of the commons do not satisfy our real appetite. These substitutes are either too superficial or too goal-oriented, which doesn't allow for a real space of authentic, neutral and free connection — nor does it encourage us to reframe our questions and think in new ways."

As John and I reflected on the design of a commons space, we reviewed a meeting we had organized for his senior leaders to rethink their plan for regionalization. As with his earlier retreat, instead of conducting the meeting onsite or in a hotel we scheduled it in a restaurant. It had large, south-facing windows, a wide selection of hanging plants and an open kitchen where food was being prepared as we set up the meeting. We also brought in a piano so that we could create a space for deep listening and reflection. The simple shift in venue, combined with the aromas of food cooking, music, conversation and abundant light changed the way leaders considered restructuring their organization. The setting served as a metaphor for taking the raw ingredients of organizational charts, policies and procedures — the mechanics of the organization — and transforming them into a more resilient living structure.

"In the future," I reflected, "leaders will need to be designers of space — places that are welcoming, stimulating, comfortable and inviting. In other words, they need to be sensual. Too often we select spaces based on convenience; these spaces tend to be utilitarian and do not inspire real engagement."

"I so agree," John said. "Using your earlier analogy, it's like seeding plants in poor soil with inadequate care and attention and expecting them to flourish."

And this leads to another of the rules of thumb for the commons: The commons always emerges around what is most nourishing and alive. It arises spontaneously in meeting spaces and around subjects or questions that satisfy our essential hunger to belong to something that engages us, while allowing us to be at ease. These are the spaces that uniquely hold our interest, be they invitations to sit by the fire, to be more in touch with music and art and nature — whatever might open new channels of insight and thought. They invite us to suspend what we know and join in a process that awaken us to a new world of possibility.

What contributes to strengthening these centers is giving attention to both the aesthetic design and the intensification of the spaces we create. These are spaces that are more people centered than building — centered. The aesthetics of these places help make it attractive and livable. Such a space may include water fountains, art or sculpture. Also music, stories or plays add texture and dimension. Such places also typically offer benches and chairs to sit on, but are organized in such a way that they naturally draw people to conversation rather than isolate them from one another.

"It's interesting that we picked that restaurant to meet in," John said. "It was small in comparison to a hotel's meeting space, for example. I remember we were concerned that it would disturb the group, because they are accustomed to more space. But you are suggesting that it is actually more helpful to draw people closer together — almost uncomfortably so — so that they can deepen their connection with one another."

"Yes. And to discover the patterns that connect us with a place it is helpful to ask, what feels right and alive about this space? What elements seem to contribute to its sense of aliveness? And perhaps most importantly, which element, if it were taken away, would we miss the most?"

"And yet I notice," said John, "how many so-called beautification projects don't work. I believe it is because the beauty in them is imported, and is so obviously contrived. I think it would be far better to look out for what is already working and build on that."

"Indeed. The commons frequently forms naturally on street corners, in parks, between buildings — anywhere that people want to gravitate together. Wherever wholeness already exists, people will naturally go; the best development of a commons space is to build on or intensify what is already working.

"And," I added, "the word intensify is interesting in this context. Sometimes in the interest of efficiency we spread people and functions around in whatever spaces happen to be available, and the power in them tends to dissipate before it can accumulate. An additional problem with this approach is that it works against people's natural tendency to want to be in close proximity to one another, as they do in markets and food courts. Such places have built-in natural attractors such as food, sensation, silence and sound rather than just a sense of obligation to go to work. We could call such spaces where people willingly congregate 'hubs of intensification,' because intensity is a natural byproduct of such gathering. This is a phenomenon that cannot occur when structures, functions or people are widely separated from one another."

"That's exactly what we wanted to address with our regionalization program," John said. "Our structures of communication were too widely separated and people were far too spread out. The restaurant setting gave us a feeling for what we were striving for. Once we had experienced something different in microcosm we saw how we could create a similar template in our organization, one that had the same feeling of closeness about it."

In matters of finding commons space we often discover that more emerges than is made — something innovative and surprising often appears when we recognize what is already present. A natural step that follows in this process is to consider how to allow each of the emerging parts to evolve in its own way. If more is needed, then we can look at how to introduce more elements from outside.

Creating an Impersonal Fellowship
"Taking this idea that more emerges than is made," John said, "I think of that old story about Michelangelo, who said he could sense the figure in the uncut stone; his job was just to chip away the marble until it appeared."

"Yes," I said. "To be in the commons also involves, like with Michelangelo, the ability to strip down and clear away; it is the skill of simplification, of removing unnecessary clutter so that we can discern what is trying to happen naturally. And we do this best by listening into ourselves as well as into the commons space."

John thought about that for a moment and added, "This is why my own journey of personal transformation has been so important. It has connected me to my core essence — the gift of who I am, behind the clutter."

"And it helps to meet each other in an 'impersonal field," I said. "This is not an indifferent field, but is more of a neutral setting where we can pay attention to that which is forming as much as to what has already been formed — and to which we are likely somewhat attached."

"Which means that we need to be discerning with regards to how much we introduce from outside this place of commons," John said. "I know how much more adept we are at filling space than emptying it."

"What makes the commons unique is its simplicity," I said. "It is simple because it is natural. It is free of complication because it is as yet 'unclaimed' by any group or philosophy. It is a blank canvas. But there are many who would like to tell us what that picture ought to look like. And those pictures are being written on many canvases that were once blank and filled with potential. How easily we can be enclosed in demands and perceived needs and fail to discover how to make a common life — one based on respect and equanimity — with one another."

"What I see," John said, "is that each action narrows the field of possibility; by moving in one direction it closes other choices."

"I agree," I said. "By holding the commons as a space of impersonal fellowship we are free to follow a course of inquiry based on the collective sensing rather than according to personal need. This requires discipline to keep our own impatience with the process from pushing us in one direction or the other."

"I understand," John replied. "As you were underlining, by staying close to our collective sensibility we can bring into awareness what is forming rather than only what is formed."

"Right. And as before, there are some questions we can ask that will keep us moving forward together. They include: What are we uneasy about? What are our inklings and urgings? What is drawing our attention? What are our edges, and can we describe them? What feels fresh and new? These questions and others help us become more aware of our 'impersonal field.' To speak from this awareness before it becomes personal — that is, before it becomes processed, filed and catalogued as part of our own personal history — is how we can build a common life together."

"This means," John said, "that we will be more successful meeting around the edges of our awareness rather than around our certainties."

"Yes. Our certainties often represent one of the weakest parts of the commons structure."

"Weakest? How so?"

"By weak I mean 'not much energy.' It's like trying to have a conversation with someone who already has all the answers, when it is the doubts and uncertainties that move us forward. Such vulnerability brings us into true fellowship with one another so that we become more than our individual personalities. This means that we listen to the unfolding of the whole without trying to make things personal. By keeping our attention focused on the flow of our inquiry we create a collective presence that may yield perceptions without precedent."

"We make it personal," John added, "when no matter what is said we find ourselves responding by saying, 'Okay - now let me tell you what happened to me!"

"Yes. This pattern brings everything back to the personal. It also clutters the space with reporting on events, which draws our attention away from sensing the emerging patterns of the whole.

"In a sense," I added, "think of how conversations might go if we were free to speak with no expectation or need of a response."

"That would be truly remarkable, and it would radically change the patterning. For one thing," John laughed, "I would be less distracted by thinking about what others were thinking. It would also slow my own thought process, which would free me to follow the thread of my own perception — not as a reaction to the other but from what was arising in the listening field itself."

"That's it! Then your words are free to resonate with what you are really hearing and you can follow this until it settles, without someone immediately picking up on it."

"I noticed that occurring in one of our meetings," John said, "when you suggested that we sit with what we heard and only speak when it felt natural to do so. That was remarkable, because we so rarely seem to act naturally. It is almost always according to need or expectation."

"And that brings us back to the gift," I replied. "We each carry the gift of our own presence in a unique and beautiful way. The commons helps us see this gift more clearly. It does so because ultimately the purpose of the gift is twofold — to help us to shine and at the same time illuminate the common space to make it whole. In fact it is by calling out the gift in the other that the commons renews and refreshes itself and its long-term sustainability is ensured."

We had walked to the edge of the beach and now stepped carefully through the cedar bush. The aroma of fresh cedar was so intense that it was almost difficult to inhale. As our senses adjusted, however, it filled our nostrils with a richly pungent odour that mingled with the damp earth beneath our feet. The path narrowed for a time and we walked in single file, stepping over old logs and mossy outcrops of rock. The wind had come up again, but it moved the leaves quietly. The silence was broken only by the sound of waves breaking on the shore a little further ahead. We stopped at the same moment to listen. These times of pause had become one of the unexpected treasures of our walks together.

A Company of Strangers
To serve the commons is to be willing to hold presence with the unknown. As we explored earlier, the commons is based in this experience of impersonal fellowship, one founded upon a sense of shared respect and hospitality with others who are "strangers" to one another. (Palmer, 1992)

In this respect the commons is not a community, because a community — no matter how inclusive — tends to define itself according to who does and does not belong. Instead, the commons represents a "company of strangers" joined together in a mutual journey of discovery.

To ensure this presence of "strangeness" a commons is often not complete until at least three and ideally four generations are together in the room. This brings the culture in and ensures that there will be different perspectives than we are accustomed to.

"When I think of it," John said, "many of the meetings that have led to my own transformation have been with strangers. It is a unique relationship in that people share neither history nor an anticipated future together."

"In the company of strangers," I said, "we are able to speak freely with no agendas to overshadow the time together. Yet in our quest for 'intimacy,' or simply to achieve results, we often avoid strangers, including," I added at the risk of sounding a little mysterious," the stranger that is ourself."

"I agree. In my company we gravitate toward the same people time after time. I realize how little we welcome strangers in our midst. If we can't meet the stranger in our community then we also will be reluctant to meet the stranger in ourselves."

With the decline of the commons we have turned away from strangeness. With this has come a fear of otherness as well. We may not want to take the time to develop a connection with someone with whom we do not feel at home. Nor do we want to take a risk with someone when the outcome is not guaranteed. And yet when we take this stance, we miss the opportunity to recognize how the power of holding strangers as equals within the larger body of the human community is a form of home in itself. It releases an energy of potential that will not arise in any other way; that is, it does not arise when we are trying to move towards others to help them or against others to compete with them, because when the relationship involves being either over or under another, this potential for real connection is often lost. The gift of authentic expression lies in this space between two or more who respect one another in a spirit of true equanimity.

Because individuals are strangers to each other in one dimension, they are free to draw deeply from the depth of conversation and shared insight that arises in response. That is, since no one is expected to assume a personal obligation or commitment or rigidly advance a particular point of view or position, each is liberated to direct his or her full creative energy to the questions that arise. By allowing for this sense of distance there is also a safety and, with it, the feeling that we won't be overburdened by additional obligations to keep up the relationship outside the boundaries of the commons itself. What this means in practice is that the commons represents a moment in time, a moment which is enriched when our full attention is given to it and not dissipated through directing our attention and energy to creating long-term relationships or community or other forms of emotional bonding.

By engaging with one another in this spirit of "impersonal" reciprocity and with the purpose of uncovering deeper realities for thinking and action — while at the same time remaining strangers to one another with regards to background and the intimate details of our lives — the commons concentrates our mind on this possibility of a new kind of interpersonal discovery. It is one that is furthered by asking not what we do, but who we are, where we belong, what we see and how we feel.

Creating Spheres of Disinterest
The greatest challenge for the commons is that it is taken captive for other purposes. What sustains the commons is not self-interest, or other-interest, but disinterest. Disinterest is not indifference or a lack of interest but rather the suspension of self-interest including the promotion of a dominant point of view in order to create anew. The commons exists at the threshold of emerging — and often competing — interests. The beauty of the common space is the sense it can hold it all — that the potential of the moment is unprecedented. Entering into it without expectation conveys the sense of its newness. So to engage it fully we need to hold the commons as a neutral space.

John looked out on the lake from where we sat in the shade of a tree by the shore. "Neutral space is the easiest to conceive of," he said, "but the hardest to find. It is very challenging to suspend our interests."

"Because the commons does not belong to anyone," I said, "it belongs to everyone. Letting something unfold naturally in a spirit of equanimity can only occur when there is a shared investment in which no one person holds the sole influence in the possible outcome or end state."

"This is the risk, isn't it?" John added. "When self-interest serves as the primary initiating motivator for the forming of the commons, it can also be the primary finishing motivator. That is, as we've discussed, when there is no longer perceived to be a strategic advantage or self- interest to the commons there often is no longer the motivation to continue."

For revelation to be received the commons must be grounded in a different order than self-interest. This is why the true commons now exists at the margins of our society, in places that do not attract a strong economic self-interest. In fact, random encounters and found space are now more likely to occur where there is the least intrusion of interventions that may try to alter circumstances by effort or force. While self-interest is aligned with predetermined goals and outcomes, desires for mastery and issues of ownership or control, disinterest is more likely to arise in situations where the problems are ill defined, the solutions are vague or unknown and the appropriate responses seemingly untrainable.

"We don't necessarily give up," I added, "but we give in. By yielding we move gradually towards a more inclusive and transcendent dimension of being."

"You mean there may be a limit to being smart and clever," John said.

"Yes, and perhaps the commons only seems to emerge fully when the other option is war or devastation of some kind. Then we have no other choice but to look for fresh perceptions — ways of seeing that are not limited to pre - existing certainties."

Set free from previous conditioning and with no common history to inhibit us, we can create our own space of presence and belonging — the wildness of the commons as "a space between" offers a fresh start.

Engaging Wildness
"Wildness," John laughed. "I would say that you have taken me through a wild ride as we've talked about gifts, beauty, spontaneity and voice, but wildness…"

As we watched dark clouds form on the far horizon, John was curious about how this theme had suddenly sprung up, and where it would take us next.

"The dimensions of the imagination we have been exploring have one thing in common," I said. "They are with us but not of us. At least not entirely. They find their home in the larger-than-human world. As such, we may think of them as we might think of wild animals — bold, shy and unpredictable. We need to approach them in a similar way; that is, by assuming that they do not belong to us but rather that we both belong to a world that is at the same time luminous and mysterious.

"It is a recurring theme throughout all of creation, that a portion of the work is through dedicated labor and the rest is through invocation. We need to court the commons in much the same way as we might court a wild animal.

"And," I added, "we have forgotten how to live in a world in which we do not control as much as we co-participate with these larger dimensions of life."

"What this means for us," John said, "is that we need to develop this subtler and more refined intelligence in order to meet this same intelligence that exists as wholeness at the edges of our known world…."
(Michael's conversation with John continues to explore the nature of the commons and how, as it expands, we also expand and learn to stand more fully in our new life.)

* The Social Architecture of Leadership is excerpted from the chapter Awakening Wholeness, Discovering the Commons and a New Centre of Being in Artful Leadership; Awakening the Commons of the Imagination. Pianoscapes 2006. For information, or to order, please write michael.jones@pianoscapes.com or call 866 876 0932

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Bainbridge Island WA. 98110 - 0818 USA)
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Ken Wilbur, The Marriage of Sense and Soul Integrating Science and Religion (New York: Random House, 1998)
Laurens Van Der Post, The Voice of the Thunder (London: Chatto and Windus, 1993) 132

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