When trying to think something through it helps to think in images, as that can offer another approach to clarifying thought and the relationships among ideas. It’s like translating between languages – conceptual ideas becoming representational, and images and symbols acting as a counterpart to abstract thought.
The reason for this lies in the very definition of image, literally an optical counterpart for an object. Similarly, imagination (from the Latin imaginari, meaning “to picture to oneself”) is an extension of this way of understanding. To the Romantic poets for example, it was a way – though poetic expression – to picture something that was very real to them at the level of Soul, or Spirit. They weren’t making something up, as in our more common understanding of the word. They were making something visible that would have otherwise been ephemeral, but no less real. Images help us capture for ourselves ideas that can be elusive and difficult to capture in words alone.
We recently had a wonderful creative session with our colleague and visual maestro David Sibbet to create the above image (here’s a link to David’s description of our collaborative process).
We wanted to represent the five essential practices of collective wisdom that we’ll be exploring in our upcoming six-session online course Activating Collective Wisdom: Five Essential Practices.
Our imaginations had been captured by the idea of a “gyrocompass” that could always distinguish true north – even in rough seas – no matter where the electromagnetic gravitational forces were pointing. It seemed a particularly apt symbol, or metaphor, for the essential practices of collective wisdom. With “deep listening” at the heart, the needle of “discernment” could serve as a guide influenced by the remaining four essential practices.
Going beyond the image of the gyrocompass itself, we started playing with images that could serve as symbols for each of the practices, connecting them with the directional energies on the circular “wheel” or face of the compass.
In the East, the mythical image of a Dragon was a perfect symbol for us to convey the sense of mystery at the heart of Suspending Certainty. To suspend certainty means to open ourselves to the unknown, to journey into the unmapped territories beyond our current understanding. To enter this practice takes us to a realm where we must question all assumptions and open ourselves to cultivating new and different ways of knowing. The dragon may first appear as an obstacle, but it can also become an ally – its fire-breath burning through the old ways and paving the way to new understandings.
In the South, Welcoming Emergence, the image of the snake resonated as a visual symbol of Welcoming Emergence. In Tantric traditions, the coiled snake sits at the base of the spine, an energy that can be aroused, moving up the spine through the whole body. In groups, emergence is also a coiled energy, that can be aroused by relationship, vision, and purposeful action. Collective wisdom is more likely to arise when we anticipate emergent phenenomena and welcome its appearance.
In the West, our image for Keeping Whole Systems in Mind, was that of the cosmos – the ultimate grand pattern of wholeness of which our planet is but one part. To be aware of the whole system is to engage with life at a meta-level of coherence; each system nested within larger systems. This is both a systems perspective and a cosmic worldview. With this orientation, we are alert to how each system interacts within itself and with other systems. The spiral motif of the cosmos is an archetypal symbol of growth, transformation, and the psychological and spiritual journey we are all traveling.
In the North, the tori gate represents moving through a threshold. When Preparing for the Extraordinary, we cannot dictate the outcome, but if our preparation is true, opportunities will present themselves.
How do we step through a threshold to behold the extraordinary? We prepare ourselves in groups by building genuine relationships with each other and connecting to things larger than ourselves alone. We do this by thinking together, caring for each other, and through wisdom traditions that include ritual and rites of passage.
Our course will be a collaborative exploration of these five essential practices for awakening and activating collective wisdom. If you are drawn to join us, we welcome you, and look forward to the shared learning and evolution of thought we anticipate for everyone involved!
Here’s the link again to learn more and/or register. If you have questions, please be in touch.
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This post was written collaboratively with Alan Briskin, with whom I am co-hosting the upcoming course Activating Collective Wisdom: Five Essential Practices.