Recap of DoTS #8: Heart Intelligence & Making Systems Visible

Jan 27, 2020

On January 23, 2020, Arawana Hayashi was Otto Scharmer’s first special guest speaker of the decade for DoTS Episode #8 on the topic "Reshaping Systems Change - Inventing New Social Arts and Awareness-Based Social Technologies".

On Thursday 23 January, our DoTS series kicked off the decade with a dialogue around Social Presencing Theater (SPT) and the Social Arts featuring Arawana Hayashi, who has led the development of the SPT body of work. Thanks to the SPT practitioners who at the time of the session were on a research retreat with Arawana, this episode also included real-time demos of the stuck practice and a special Collective Resonance Process, done for the very first time.


New Social Art Forms

Otto started off the dialogue with a reflection on the original intent of the Presencing Institute co-founders: “To blend science, consciousness, and profound social change by creating new social technologies that would help change-makers to bring their intention to full realization.” He highlighted that this intention had been prompted by the observation that “we live in a world of profound disruption and change, where we see an amazing knowing-doing gap.” He then went on to say that the way to bridge this gap -- this “disconnect between head and hand” -- is through “activating the intelligence and the knowing of the heart.” He continued:

“The only way to do that is to invent new social art forms that help us do so, not only on the level of the individual, but also on the level of the collective.”


Meditation Movement Art

Otto then introduced Arawana and asked her to share about her own personal context. With a smile, Arawana said: “I was born in Chesterland, Ohio, east of Cleveland -- real country!” Thinking back to her childhood, she reflected that neither of her parents might have “wanted a dancing daughter,” having been raised by her father, a second-generation Japanese from Hawaii, and her mother, who came from a German-Swiss farming family that had been in America for several generations. Yet, dance is exactly where Arawana’s life path took her, trained as a dancer with the ballet and later on in contemporary dance.

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Arawana became interested in "improvisation and how groups of people made things together. How does that happen? That collectively we can create something that can communicate something about the society we live in.” In 1974, this exploration connected her to Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, where she encountered Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche’s teachings on meditation.

“And that became a focal point of life, this connection between art and space and openness -- open possibility. How compassion and wisdom could be expressed through an art practice.”

Arawana engaged in this work in schools and with projects on racism in the US, and eventually it led her to the Shambhala Institute for Authentic Leadership, where in 2003 she met Peter Senge and Otto. “From there on it’s been this co-created process of bringing the more meditative movement art and now co-creating with our colleagues what could be useful in terms of systems change.” 


Making Something Significant Visible

When asked to explain what SPT is, Arawana responded: “Perhaps we could start with the name -- Social Presencing Theater -- which, quite frankly, I read about in the book Theory U.” Even though the concept had already been coined, the practice had not yet been developed at that time. Therefore, Arawana started co-shaping SPT by trying “to get a sense of what it was that could be possible for us to engage in.”

Started with the name, the first aspect Arawana highlighted was Presencing, which she described as “some combination of being present and being a sensing being. Not only what we see and hear, but how our perception is resonant in the body. How this sense of body knowing is a profound intelligence.” She remarked that:

“the Presencing part is bringing this sense of mindfulness and awareness to this moment of our experience, which can be fresh and doesn’t have to be dictated by our habitual patterns.”

She then touched on how the Social component of SPT refers to the collective element, emphasizing that in the development of SPT practices, “most of our reflection has been: How does this work in groups, in teams, in organizations, and in social projects?” Finally, the Theater element refers to the root of that word, meaning: “A place where something significant is visible.” And as Arawana points out: 

“The body is visible, our groups of bodies are visible. We form ourselves into social patterns, social shapes, social sculptures - and these are very communicative.”

As she reflected on SPT practices, Arawana shared: “We’re using this ordinary sense of what it is to be a human being, and shifting away from: ‘I think this, I think that, I like this, I like that, I learnt this.’ We’re letting that rest a bit, and seeing: What does the body say about all of this? What does the heart say? What does the belly say? What does the space say? Our relationship with one another. So we’re shifting our attention.”

Ground For Innovation

Otto then invited Arawana to share some examples of how SPT is applied in context. She started with work done in various school settings, in which teachers and students were encouraged to embody where they felt stuck in the education system through social sculptures, including all the "external issues and internal hesitations" related to it.

"They get an opportunity to embody that and see with each other how these things can be moving and changing, and how their own situation is a ground for creativity and innovation."

Students and Teachers in L.A. - 2017

Arawana also elaborated on work around the 4D mapping of wider systems and local contexts to collectively see patterns, realities, and places of possibility for prototyping. Finally, she shared how new SPT performance methods are being co-developed and research into social arts methods is being conducted with SPT practitioners, with the guidance of colleague Ricardo Dutra. The research explores different archetypes and questions such as "How do we measure social field shifts?"

"Many of us practitioners are applying SPT practices and sense of what it is to live with the three bodies: this body, the earth body, and our social bodies."


The Wisdom in the Stuck

Otto then transitioned the session into its more experiential segment, saying: “Often the problem with systems thinking is that it’s stuck in the mind, the thinking part, and it’s missing the systems sensing. A way of getting direct access to that is through the two practices that Arawana will lead us into.”

Arawana then introduced the group of practitioners in Denmark, at the Vaekstcenteret, who demonstrated the stuck practice. Slightly different from usual, as the practice often centers around an individual stuck and body, this time practitioners were asked to sense into one of two other bodies: the Earth Body or the Social Body.

Arawarana: “What does she feel like right now? What is it that the Earth body feels like? And that is what we are going to start with as our sculpture 1.”

“In any stuck situation, there is always embedded in that the healthy, moving, growing, wisdom-filled being. So when we say stuck, we’re not saying 'Oh, this is bad and let’s get rid of it,' we’re saying 'Let’s listen more closely, let’s feel more intimately into that', because hidden in that is what we call the sculpture 2, or what the sculpture 1 actually wants to move toward. Stuck is not sustainable, and movement is what is living.”

After sensing into the Earth Body, practitioners were asked to sense into the Social Body, tuning into: “What is our global social citizenry, our global social being? What does our collective being feel like right now? And what would it want to move to? What is naturally emerging, if we’d just stop thinking about it.”

“Just tracking moment, to moment, to moment experience. Not thinking about where it wants to go, she’s feeling: what does the body feel like doing? Until she gets to a place where she feels that she can rest. And that’s her sculpture 2.“
Arawana: “Just tracking moment, to moment, to moment experience. Not thinking about where it wants to go, she’s feeling: what does the body feel like doing? Until she gets to a place where she feels that she can rest. And that’s her sculpture 2.“

After five practitioners demonstrated, Arawana gave instructions for everyone in the session to do the same in their breakout groups:

  • Each participant starts with picking a theme (planet earth, collective social body, or current personal stuck);
  • Each participant then does a Stuck, Sculpture 1→ Sculpture 2; and 
  • After each person did their sculpture, share observations and resonances (“I saw, I sensed, I felt”).

Arawana provided some extra guidance, saying: "take a moment to realize that this body is situated on the Earth body," ensuring everyone that "there is no right or wrong way. It’s a personal expression, of course, but it helps to think in this ecosystem size and awareness."


No-one is Stuck By Themselves

After everyone came back from their breakout sessions, Otto introduced a new Collective Resonance Process. This process involved the SPT practitioners in Denmark setting up a group sculpture 1 and then sensing and moving into a collective sculpture 2, while participants tapped into their resonance with what they witnessed.

Arawana prefaced this process by saying: “One of the reasons we call this a Social Art is because art is so communicative on this resonance level; it’s heart-opening. And it is something in which groups of people go through some kind of transformational experience. We collectively go through something that is shaped by the music, or by the images, or by the story and in the end we have a different kind of collective knowing. In a way, we’re going through the same kind of process here.” She added:  

“No-one is stuck by themselves; we’re all in these large systems, these alive systems, these moving systems.”

The instructions for the process were as follows:

  • Look at the movement from Sculpture 1 to Sculpture 2, and connect with it;
  • Chime 1: connect through stillness with your feeling;
  • Chime 2: the collective resonance starts, unmute yourself and say one sentence about what has come up for you. Use the structure: “I see/I sense/I feel”;
  • Chime 3: again stillness, let go & connect to the emerging, connect to what you feel called to do;
  • Chime 4: collective resonance/sharing round 2;
  • Chime 5: end of resonance process. 
As the practitioners were moving into their group sculpture 1, Arawana remarked: “They’re looking for their own shapes and for how they fit together as a collective.”
As the practitioners were moving into their group sculpture 1, Arawana remarked: “They’re looking for their own shapes and for how they fit together as a collective.”
Group Sculpture 2

 Some of the resonance that came from participants:

I feel the longing to connect

I sense a need for connection, but disconnection

I sense movement

I see connection and rhythm

I feel very warm in my heart

I feel connected

I feel gentleness in my fingertips

I feel strength in the willingness to be with what is

I see support

I feel reconnection with intention

I see people leaning on each other

I feel kindness

I felt hope

I feel relief

I see an emerging alignment

I feel concern for the lady in the bottom right

I see space in the middle


The second round of resonance felt more like the start of a generative dialogue: 

I felt a sense of a desperate need for trust. Each of the individuals were seeking each other. I reflected on the speed with which people find clarity in the system.

I felt a need for more inclusion.

I felt a really strong need for solidarity.

I felt something like connecting beyond the fear of being or thinking different.


Moment, to Moment, to Moment

Otto closed the Resonance Process and invited Arawana to share her final reflections. She started by saying: “I have so much appreciation for the process and the heartfeltness of people.” She continued: 

“What we’re looking for is a particular quality that has awareness and openness. It has heartfeltness and care, this sense of care for the world, but also action. SPT has enabled many of us to act in our teams and in our projects with a little bit more tenderness of heart, sense of space of not-knowing, and a little more courage to just step forward when we really don’t know what will happen -- and then to being able to reflect.” 

Responding to this question of whether or not we need to practice so very slowly, Arawana acknowledged that there are different paces, and that sometimes people might certainly fall into a posture or make more rapid movements. However, she pointed out that:

“We do stress the sense that it’s moment, to moment, to moment. So we boycott the quickness of mind to come up with the next thing. We try to boycott that by really staying with ‘What does my back feel like? What do the shoulders feel like? Where is this other person? Are they closer, are they further? Do I feel like I should turn a little bit, or turn away, or fall to the ground, or stretch up? This is the kind of creativity that comes from non-conceptual knowing.”


Heart Gestures

Otto then invited Kelvy Bird, who had been scribing the entire session, to share her reflections: “There are two things that always strike me when I’m working with Arawana. One is the inseparable connection between the knowing and the not-knowing, and between the unknowing and the knowing. It’s just this kind of infinite loop.” Secondly, she remarked that scribing for sessions with Arawana always brings up the image of eyes in Kelvy’s work, quite unintentionally, as it did in this session as well.

Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge - Kelvy's scribing image for DoTS 8


To close the session, Arawana asked everyone:

“If your heart now could make a gesture, what would that be?”


Some of the beautiful responses can be seen below.

Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge - Heart gestures in response to Arawana's question


Watch the recording of this episode:


DoTS episode #9 will take place on 19 February at 10 am EST / 4 pm CET. The session will feature special guest speaker Angel Acosta on the topic of “Collective Healing: Facing 400 Years of Slavery & Structural Violence”. For more information, keep an eye on the DoTS announcement page.