Journal with the flow

Or, better, go with a deeper flow, as in collective presencing

Again I've missed two days journalling, from what I intended at the start of the year to be a daily practice. This time I think I'm starting to learn something which is not exactly new, but newly at the front of my awareness.

Here's the essential lesson I believe I'm learning. It doesn't work for me to journal to order. It's no good saying to myself, tomorrow I will write about … whatever it is. I've tried that a few times now, enough to conclude that it doesn't work. Why? because journal writing, as opposed to, say, writing an academic paper, needs to be more spontaneous – more from the heart – if it is to feel connected and be worth reading, and indeed worth writing.

It should not be surprising that, again, I turn back to Quaker meetings and (these days) to collective presencing to make sense of this. In a Quaker meeting, you just don't, ever (well, nearly) come prepared with something so say (which we call ‘ministry’). It makes no sense. Ministry (standing up and speaking in the silence of a Quaker meeting) is something that you do specifically when you feel the Spirit leading you to do that. Fine, by the way, to change the word ‘Spirit’ to something that fits your world view better. The important thing is that it does not come from the ‘left brain’, planned and full of ego or conscious pre-planning. If anyone speaks in that way, from their conscious ego, you can usually tell, and often it falls flat. Though, to be fair, also often, despite the lack of attunement by the speaker, it can still be surprisingly meaningful and significant to others, though rarely in the way imagined by the speaker who planned it. Such are the ways of the Spirit.

Much to my delight, time and time again I am seeing evidence that the same truth, the same reality, is present in Collective Presencing sessions. It is most clear when each individual lets go of their conscious, planned intention, and allows their words to come from the place beyond their conscious intention – that is when each person's words start tuning in to something greater, beyond what anyone was imagining.

I've been involved in weekly Collective Presencing sessions every Friday, and yesterday's was such a clear reminder of the truth that if you let go of your expectations (or even sometimes if you don't) then what happens is really not what you expected. Often it is delightfully better. I came to the session with a troubled mind, dealing (at second hand, not directly) with a social media minor meltdown, with people having been upset in various ways. Perhaps I expected that I would be troubled during the session, and maybe to receive some solace from others, or simply from the sense of acceptance and inclusion. But no, instead I felt wholly and thoroughly warm, connected and caringly present with everyone. Most people seemed to be resonating with a similar note, and that seemed to wash over, to support and hold the one or two who were troubled in some way.

But later, yesterday evening, I was telling myself that I would be writing that “tale of two worldviews” that I was imagining two entries ago, particularly as I had already put it off. But no, it just wasn't there. So instead of writing something like this, which I could have done, I wrote nothing. In retrospect, I don't find that a good choice!

What I did do was to indulge my curiosity about the term ‘steel man’ in argumentation, or indeed in dialogue, as that describes what I was intending to do in the follow-on from my earlier entry, all around the same social media fallout that is still a great cause for my concern. The term has a curiously obscure history. In Wikipedia, ‘steelmanning’ is given a short note as part of the straw man article. There is an entry in the Wiktionary. Everyone who uses the term means the same thing, but there is no clear identification of who initially coined it. Several people refer to Daniel Dennett as a possible source, and he outlines that concept well, but apparently not actually using that term. I haven't seen any quotation from him using the term itself, at least, before it appeared as a known thing, at latest around 2011. The concept and practice have deep and old roots, of course – the idea wasn't invented by Dennett. Here are some of the references I've found, up to 2012.

So, back to my own prospective attempt at steelmanning. (Though I'm not really happy with the gendered nature of the term (or indeed ‘straw man’, ‘steelpersoning’ sounds very awkward and artificial. Perhaps ‘steel figuring’?) I decided that I don't want to publish anything on the topic before consulting privately with some of the protagonists. So I will refrain, at least for the time being. I did do an initial version of ‘steelmanning’ the group position, alongside a sketch of what I believe might be common ground between the two sides, which if you know me you are welcome to ask about.

Ria was asking me about whether I really wanted to write about that topic in that way. I suppose I feel it to be a kind of responsibility – something that I can do, which could possibly help, as I'm in the sort of position where I might be able to help. But on reflection, what I really want to write about is more about collective presencing as a way forward.

It might not make a lot of sense out of context, but I'd love, somehow, to persuade people that if they could just use the practice of collective presencing, or something close to that, they wouldn't get themselves into this mess in the first place. As I see it, there is even the possibility of getting out of the mess by including people from opposing sides of an argument in a well-held collective presencing session – though they would need to be familiar with the practice before doing that.

The people who have been in our Friday session feel like friends to me, even though I have never met most of them. They are people I have come to trust, because, through entering into the spirit of participation in that practice, they have shown their vulnerability; their responsiveness; their care; their presence. I can easily imagine welcoming them into our home; hanging out together; smiling and laughing together. There isn't time to do that with everyone you meet, of course; but why not start with some of the people you feel you might trust, you might get to know better, you might work with?

It is certainly worth a try. And it's worth journalling with a similar sense of presence.

Topics: Collective Presencing; Journal writing

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