We can choose to operate from a closed mind, closed heart, and closed will, or we can choose to operate from an open mind, open heart, and open will. Accordingly, our actions give rise to a social field of self-destruction (absencing) or of collective creativity (presencing).
When we face situations of disruption personally, organizationally, and in our larger systems, and when we try to bridge the three divides, i.e., realize the Sustainable Development Goals in our respective communities, how do we make change happen? What is the inner core process that allows us to respond from the appropriate level of positioning?
There are three different responses to disruption that are playing out in all sectors and systems in the present moment:
Response 1 | Muddling through: downloading (maintaining the status quo), doing nothing.
Response 2 | Moving backward: This second response says that the system is broken and that we need to orient ourselves backward. This response is much more radical than muddling through. It connects to the felt sense of frustration. But it operates on the closing of the mind, heart, and will, i.e., the amplification of prejudice, ignorance, hate, and fear. The five main behaviors of this cycle include:
- Denial: Not seeing what is going on.
- De-sensing: Being unable to empathize with others.
- Absencing: Losing the connection to one’s emerging future self—that is, getting stuck in the rigid identities of the past, getting stuck inside one’s ego boundaries: Me First!
- Blaming others: The inability to reflect on one’s own role. Blaming others deepens and hardens the dynamics of “Us vs. Them” and keeps us trapped in an architecture of separation.
- Destruction: The outcomes of this cycle result in the destruction of nature, the destruction of trust and the undermining and destruction of institutions that keep our societies together.
There is a cycle of destruction and self-destruction observable in many systems and sectors of our civilization today. In most global systems today we collectively create results that (almost) nobody wants.
Response 3 | Moving forward: leaning into the unknown to co-sense and co-create the future. This response is perhaps the most important and least familiar. This response attends to disruption by leaning forward into the unknown, by sensing and actualizing the future that wants to emerge. To do that you need three critical capacities: listening and curiosity (an open mind), empathy and compassion (an open heart), as well as confidence and courage (an open will). If you face a moment of disruption and you lack these critical capacities, you are easily thrown into the space of absencing—that is, into a self-reinforcing dynamic of separation and destruction.
Both cycles co-exist in society today. We know both of them well from our own behavior. They are separated only by the degree of openness in our minds, hearts, and wills as we respond to disruption.
So, what are the conditions that determine whether a person or community activates the field of absencing or presencing? Whether we collectively enact a social architecture of separation or connection? In essence, the difference is about a shift of the heart on the level of the individual and the collective.
Presencing, the blending of sensing and presence, means to connect from the Source of the highest future possibility and to bring it into the now. Presencing happens when our perception begins to happen from the source of our emerging future. The boundaries between three types of presence collapse: the presence of the past (current field), the presence of the future (the emerging field of the future), and the presence of one’s authentic Self. When this co-presence, or merging of the three types of presence, begins to resonate, we experience a profound shift, a change of the place from which we operate.
Presencing, Crossing the Threshold into the Field of the Future
The Presencing stage of the U process happens when you connect with your highest future possibility in the now. When practitioners reach this stage of the process, they have already gone through a series of learning experiences that allowed them to open their eyes, hearts, and minds. Specifically, they have developed the capacity to “see with new eyes” their surrounding reality, experiencing it with an “open mind”. Above all, they have learned to turn the object of their observation back to themselves, attending to their reactions to what happens to them, suspending these reactions, and redirecting their attention to what they are going to do with what happens to them. Furthermore, they have also learned to feel empathy for others, “opening their hearts” to people who are and think differently from them. Moreover, they have stepped out of their own bubbles, going to the places of the most potential, often located at the margins of the system.
Likewise, they have acquired new “State of the Art System Sensing” capacities, to use the intelligence of their bodies to sense the “Social Field”. With these new capabilities, practitioners “open their wills”, which gives them the “Action Confidence” to step into the “Field of the Future”.
The Presencing stage of the U journey is a threshold. Theory U practitioners, to cross it, have to quiet down their Voices of Judgment, Cynicism, and Fear, let go of old patterns of behavior and be humble enough to ask two fundamental questions to themselves, “Who is my Self?” and “What is my work?”
In the same way, Presencing is also a “Gap” that separates the descending and the ascending arrows of the U process. It is a place of profound reflection and insights, where the “Emerging Future” breaks up the soil above it and finds the light.
When you deep dive into the Gap and cohabitate a space of Presence with a group of people, the whole group gets a new perspective of life. After that experience, nothing around you has really changed. But when you walk out of that experience, you are a different person altogether, and that makes all the difference because, at that moment, you are the personification of Presence.
- Otto Scharmer