Recently I gave a presentation to about 220 people about the origins and theory behind The Grove Consultant International’s Team Performance System (TPS). I did it on my 80th birthday, May 29, as a first part of what we at The Grove are calling the “Sourcecode Project.” Its focus is to explore our foundational understandings about how groups and organizations work that can provide a stable basis for our collective future. While many are experiencing massive amounts of change (not to mention AI, climate change and rising authoritarianism), there are some things that don’t change as much, and might provide navigational guidance, much the way a gyrocompass does for a ship in the fog. The ideas underlying the TPS are those kinds of ideas. They have guided The Grove’s methodological and tools development since 1977 when the company began.

Here is a link to a full video of the presentation on The Grove’s You Tube Channel if you want to experience it first hand. I gave it using a new streaming studio I am creating that allows for good storytelling through a teleprompter camera, tablet work, writing on PowerPoint, and integrating actual work on a wall. Now I’m using text. During the Zoom talk I told the story of my ten years of development conversations with Allan Drexler, a true expert on teams. I also shared the story of how Arthur M. Young’s Theory of Process shaped my own understanding of process and provided a template for our eventual Team Performance Model. And twice during the talk I opened up to questions, using real paper and an easel as shown here to support the interaction. I noticed how being freed from the presentation technology of PowerPoint let my stories come alive. Here is a picture of the questions that Joran Oppelt and Erik Rolland, my two Grove colleagues, harvested from the chat. I noted them on large sticky notes. tp-questions

I’ll let the video answer some of these questions if you want to dig into this topic. Here I want to use writing to answer some of the questions that didn’t get a response. I start with some application questions.

To what extent is this model also valid for teams in Start-ups/ scale- ups?

If you appreciate this kind of model as a framework and each challenge as a kind of “lens” of perception, then you can look at anything and get insight. The model illustrates the most fundamental elements of teaming on the left and the levels of higher performance possible on the right, but does NOT imply that teams go through the challenges in precisely this order. It’s designed to show a default process, since many times beginning with fundamentals is a smart way to go. But some teams jump into Commitment or Implementation well before understanding that is foundational for these to be resolved. The arc of process can help a person look at any level of scale.

How does a team flow through the model when the teams that have “churn” in team membership, i.e. people going in and out of the team on a regular basis?

In my experience having a common language in an organization is even more important if there is a lot of churn. And having a visual model that can be explained easily also helps when new people join.

I believe Is there any thought around translating the model into other languages?

The full system is available in German through TMS Zentrum. The model has been translated into other languages as well, mostly in books like Meryem LeSage’ts Manager Intuitive in France.

How do you navigate different levels of sense making with leaders and teams (and how they use these tools), and meeting them where they are? 

The system is designed to provide a basis for exchange and inquiry about what people perceive looking through each of the seven challenges. Leaders with more developmental understanding will see a lot more. Different levels will also have different kinds of practices available for meeting the challenges. While the “resolved” and “unresolved” keys to each challenge are written generically, arguing with them is the best way to get people to talk about how they personally understand the challenges at whatever level they work. Keep in mind that “teaming” is shaped by culture, and culture by language, and the variations are significant. Having a starting point for engagement that takes a systemic perspective from the beginning is the purpose of the TP System and quite helpful.  

How might we make a case with groups for using graphic charting on paper on walls– it can be viewed as outdated and suspect?

I love this question, and another that wondered how I made the case for using graphics with Allan. Since humans have trouble keeping more than 4-5 things in mind without some kind of visual support, most people see the value right away, if you simply use charting without making a fuss about it. But a way to frame this in a more contemporary way is to say something like “let’s talk informally at this point to support our being more personal and creative. I’ll just take notes here on this chart. We can type it all up later.” This is more difficult in applications like Miro and Mural, which bias toward typing, but the drawing functions do work pretty well if you learn how to use them. In any event you need to be convinced of the value of slowing down and thinking more deeply, which is what handwriting allows.


What definition of trust do you use? How much is that definition provided or is it created by the clients?  May have missed that earlier.

Allan and my definition of trust is embedded in the “keys”—Mutual respect, forthrightness, and competence. Jack Gibb feels that trust arises from people being authentic with each other, beyond roles and requirements. However, I would bias toward getting the team involved in answering the question themselves. We often teach about this by having small groups share about their best team experience, and then generalize about what cuts across the stories. Trust is always present and there would be good examples of what it means.

Can you please clarify again the AEIO descriptions?

AEIO are names for the four levels behind the model. In some ways these are four levels of “reality” or four worlds of perception. ATTENTION is imaginary, in that it is only “real”  inside our light sensitive nervous systems. ENERGY can be felt directly, but not always consciously. Its reality is its intensity, force, and direction. But these are not objective realities. They are sensed. INFORMATION is symbolic—words, images, or numbers, and the patterns of connection within display formats, grammars, and data frameworks. This reality is shaped by the rules of language, but always subject to interpretation and connotation arising from personal experience. OPERATIONS refers to the reality of the physical world and the infrastructures we count on. It includes our use of time as governed by timekeeping devices. It is objective and subject to cause and effect. Arthur M. Young liked to distinguish these mathematically  by the levels of constraint that is present in a physical sense. Level IV, the “O” is 3D constrained. Level III, the “” is 2D. Level II, “E” is 1D constrained,  and level I, the “A” has O constraint.

I have a comment and a request. I’ve used David’s model for 40 plus years and have found that conflict increases as you approach the turn. This has been valuable in working with groups and I’d appreciate his speaking to it.

Constraint increases with materialization of any project, and constraint can lead to conflict. One colleague, Sam Kaner, calls the turn the “groan zone” for this reason. But some people get more energized as things begin to materialize and feel conflicted earlier if things aren’t heading toward some kind of realization. The Tuckman model of teaming—Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing— suggests that a kind of conflict comes earlier. So much of this is dependent on context that I wouldn’t say it’s built into the model. Allan and I argued about this and chose the word “Trust” as the key second step. Constraint increases but not necessarily conflict. A lot depends on the maturity of the people involved.

What’s in the spaces between the balls? Are they liminal spaces?

I hadn’t thought of that but it feels right. Although this question suggests that the balls are actual spaces that have some constancy and coherence as entities. In a team experience that plans meetings and activities that correspond to the different challenges, the in-between times would be liminal periods, since it is a real shift to go from recruiting a team to figuring out plans to going for a budget. And there can be liminal times when implementation falters and the team is thrown back into reconsidering the basics on the left side. Seen as lenses instead of “spaces” the liminal idea isn’t so key.

How do you see artificial intelligence impacting this type of work?

This question invites me to understand what the questioner means by “this type of work.” If this means being conscious of group processes then AI is going to jump all of us into being more conscious (hopefully). At the same time I don’t underestimate human being’s attraction to certainty, especially the certainty of logical, validated, answers provided by real authorities. The impact of AI will have a lot to do with how much authority these tools gain. Will we trust Waymo in the future more than human drivers? Will we trust AI financial analysis more than our CFO’s and accountants? AI could be very helpful as a kind of librarian regarding best practices, and could even be programmed to become culturally sensitive about variations. But will it be a partner in our teaming or be  a bully whip for people who are trying to get others to produce more? I don’t think the need to cooperate and understand our workmates will decrease.

I love this model because it supports the dynamic nature of agility and change that is constant.  How do we overlay the change management model?  And, how can we make both  more visible in the model?

Overlaying mental models is like a musician blending two types of music. Each has its biases and flavors. If you know both, then overlaying can be very stimulating and creative, especially if you remain clear that these are not really “models” in the sense of describing how things actually play out, but are “frameworks” for understanding, and asking questions, and observing. I think the TPS would yield a rich amount of insight brought to bear on a change management challenge. Likewise change management tools can help inform how to sustain team performance after the change. 

David, are you in contact and exchange of ideas  with Otto Scharmer about the (in my eyes obvious) connections between the TEAM PERFORMANCE MODEL and the Theory U?

I am not in touch directly with Otto Sharmer although I have recorded sessions with him  about Theory U back at MIT in the 1990s when it was developing. There are some key differences. Suggesting that the “turn” is a smooth slide through, as the Theory U graphic implies, doesn’t yield as much insight for me as seeing a real “bounce,” a true turn in direction. But this is a matter of graphic preferences. Another difference is putting thinking above heart in the model. I appreciate that people come into many situations needing to “download what they know,” which is often informational, and don’t open to the heart until later. But I think the heart comes in earlier even if unconscious. Having Will at the bottom is interesting, since one of the graphic confusion in the TPS is flattening the torus pattern, and not seeing that having our consciousness (or will) come in at the point of greatest constraint at stage 4 is how the turn happens. I like the fact that the TPS is resonant with the arc of evolutionary process as described by science.

I learned from you, David, that the TPM is much more than a model: It’s based on a philosophy of the universe and a key to unlock universal power within a team/organization! What do you think, David: Why is the “toroidal pattern“ and the theory of process hardly received and taught? Is the time not yet ripe? Too “esoteric“ in a scientific and materialistic world???

As I said in the presentation I think the answer is in the question. It is hard to underestimate how much we are attached to materialism and materialistic explanations. However this all seems to be coming into question in our era of professional political mud wrestling and linguistic and social media free form bearing little relationship to objective fact. Our breathing follows a circulating, toroidal pattern. So does the Earth’s gravity field. Compression and expansion drives our machines. Maybe this idea is too basic.

Few models subsume materialism and consciousness as the elemental concepts. Please comment.

At the heart of this challenge is the evolution of ways of talking and representing all the four levels of “reality” that function like separate languages. Most of the words that point at these things have layers and layers of associated meaning. This problem is one of the things I like about Young’s representations using visual, geometric angles and patterns to hold the distinctions. They aren’t so overloaded with interpretation.

With the current pressures in business (and possibly the expectations around AI) it seems that leaders are moving away from this people-centric view to more of a production mentality……are you experiencing this as well? If so, do you have thoughts around this “boomerang” effect?

It’s possible that there is a general trend although I have no personal data to validate it. My own bias is toward the value of taking people seriously and that is the kind of world I’m hoping to support in my work. I’d keep doing that in the darkest of times I believe.

I would be curious to hear how facilitators that use the survey (like me) share the results? Do they share all results/a part/at what stage in the process (for example prior to/during/after/partly during a team development session?

Generally the survey results are shared with the team leader ahead of time, if there is one and especially if there are questions about the leader. It isn’t helpful to have them surprised in a team improvement meeting. Then the results are shared in the session. Reading and discussing the survey after being oriented is part of how the learning soaks in.

Question:  what are the “precursor” questions a team or a leader needs to ask before using this process model?

The TP Model could be introduced any time a group news some common language about teaming. The four page brochure has enough information to get conversations started. I’ll sometimes use this for an initial, intuitive diagnosis by asking a team where the current focus of attention is on the model. A precursor to using the survey would be to make sure that there are not problematic issues that require real discipline or even changes in assignment. We encourage clients to handle these things before a team improvement meeting.

For more information please check out The Grove’s Team Performance services at this link.


Sometimes guidance just appears. No warning. It happened to me at the end of a three-day Leadership Transformation Workshop in Minnesota, in the last five minutes on a Friday to be precise. I got up to go to the table in back where I had my journal and almost fell over. My left leg felt like it had gone completely asleep. I was helped back, sat, and realized it wasn’t asleep. It just wasn’t connected any more. I had had a stroke!

Stroke2024Thirty minutes later after a drive to a nearby emergency room I was in a CAT scan and found that I had a half inch long hemorrhagic bleed (stroke) on the surface of my right, central cortex, near my left side motor controls. I could feel the skin on my leg. I could move it with my big muscles, but I was not in control of it. Needless to say, I was on my back at 30 degrees angle the next two days, awakened every hour for a complete check on my cognition, eye movements, hands, leg lifts—all through the night.

I’m happy to say that this was a “small” stroke. I was released Sunday at noon and flew back to San Francisco, with referrals from the neurologists there and complete records. A second CAT Scan and an MRI did not detect anything else. No cancer. No clots. No aneurisms. No progression. And they saw I could make it around with a walker already, which they provided from my trip home.

They didn’t measure my psyche, of course. That is outside the purview of most modern medicine. Although staff at Health East’s University Hospital ICU, where I was sent, by ambulance, after the initial scan in ER, was uniformly comforting and caring, they were not “measuring” the larger impact. The therapist was more focused on the exercises I should do repeatedly. They did keep asking me my name, date of birth, and if I remembered why I was in the hospital.

I’ve lived my life gifted with immense curiosity and this experience has me fascinated. If I were massively crippled, I’d probably feel differently, but I just came in from a slow walk around my neighborhood two weeks later and am feeling pretty good. But my mind is whirling. What does it mean to have a stroke?

  1. I now know that merely saying this word shakes people up. It covers so much and is so common, that everyone has some connection. It is a big deal. Our staff at The Grove and my kids think it is a big deal. So does Gisela, my partner and wife. No flying or driving until I get cleared by the neurologist I meet with tomorrow. Everyone at the University Hospital said that this isn’t a repeating kind of thing, especially with a person with normal blood pressure and no hypertension.
  2. I also know that my body knows how to heal. My brother, John, who has practiced reflexology, muscle testing, and applied kinesiology for as long as I’ve been facilitating, came over and completely checked me out. He was amazed at my progress, aided by a lot by moving around like a Tai Chi practitioner. I figured my right leg knows how to move. Teach the left. Rock back and forth. John agreed and encouraged my movements. I also kept imagining I was in Avatar hooking up to one of the flying dragons. My leg’s nerve endings reaching up. My brain coming down. Both eventually reconnecting.
  3. I have discovered that there are many many tinier muscles that bring stability to a leg, and it isn’t so clear how to reconnect them. Why does my left leg seem to snap back instead of just bending back? I feel like I’m on some kind of plateau in recovery. The leg feels weaker, although I didn’t hurt it in any way. Maybe the neurologist at Kaiser, who I see for the first tomorrow, will have some ideas.
  4. I know that situations like this have cascading effects, and this is no exception. In my case my ability to hear high frequencies has been declining and is now gone. My hearing aids compensate, but not enough to hear the soft, mumbled words of a person with a high-pitched voice. In an echoey room or sketchy zoom connection I miss key words. This isn’t acceptable if your job is to record what people say visually (and accurately). The room in Minnesota was a real struggle in that regard. I’ve been concerned for a while, but it took the stroke for me to say “enough.” Gisela agreed it was truly time for me to stop facilitating meetings and that she and The Grove team could take over the remaining work on our books. Fortunately, since she has become CEO of The Grove the team is growing again and are managing beautifully. Our clients have been wonderfully accepting.
  5. So, I not only had a real physical stroke, small though it may be, I have retired from a kind of work that I’ve done for 52 years, if you count my doing the first Group Graphics workshop at Coro in 1972. That is like having a professional stroke. And I am now experiencing truly liminal space. The “recovery pattern” is not clear. All kinds of things are possible. For the first time in years and years I don’t have to carry the responsibility for payroll. I don’t have to schedule my life around big meetings. But my psyche is busy trying to re-establish itself just like my leg. “You could start a You Tube channel.” “You could write a new book (it’s already mostly written).” “You could work on that novel you discovered you wrote in 2006 (and wasn’t bad).” You could conduct Vision Labs at your own home.” “What about executive coaching?”
  6. The biggest insight is that I need to take some time to experience myself in a completely new way. I’m suspecting that much of my adult life I’ve been guided by programming that is very deep and has a lot to do with how that little baby back in Two Rock initially encountered the world, and what I thought would work to keep my parents in touch with me, and what was okay and not okay regarding being myself. Ooops. You mean I learned to repress things to please my parents? But what things? And was getting attention for being an amazing artist and craftsperson what I really wanted, or a substitute for something else, like nurturing love? It’s helped that during this recovery time I’ve had time to continue reading Gabor Mates’ The Myth of the Normal. (If you want to understand the stress of our times it is a must read.)

I’m posting this piece in my blog because I think those of you who really care about awareness and facilitation and helping people get through life would appreciate knowing what a colleague like me is going through at a true turning point. I suspect I will look back on this event and this time as a gift, even if it just appeared out of the blue.


giselasqureThis September Gisela Wendling became CEO of The Grove Consultants International, the comp20-dsatdellafattoriasmallany that I began in 1977 as Sibbet & Associates, and led through its incorporation as Graphic Guides, Inc. in 1988 and then the name change to The Grove in 1993. I want to share some reflections about our succession process, which is guiding me into the wonderful territory of life change.

Some Context

The Grove Consultants International, as many of you know, was early in the business of visual facilitation. We called the method Group Graphics® and found that strategy consultants who wanted to differentiate loved the process and propelled our work at Apple, General Mills, Federal Industries in Canada, General Electric, and Bongrain. Because no other consultants were working this way, we could use our methods as a calling card. People remembered us whenever we facilitated meetings.

We added a teaming practice in the 1980’s after Alan Drexler and I co-developed the Drexler-Sibbet Team Performance ModelTM and its related survey. This has grown into its own business, with many tools, workshops, and licensees.

In the 1990’s The Grove grew rapidly with large, multi-year engagements with National Semiconductor, Hewlett Packard, and Mars, Inc. We developed large-scale Storymapping, and in the mid-nineties, Ed Claassen as our COO collaborated with me and the team to develop the Grove’s Strategic Visioning (SV) process and Graphic Guides.® These are the large graphic wall templates which are now ubiquitous. Again, we were one of the first to popularize this way of working. We conducted SV processes all over Silicon Valley as the Internet gained speed. We moved to our Presidio offices in 1998.

Visualization, teaming, and strategy guided us during the rocky 2000’s. The .com crash, 9/11, and then the great recession in 2009 impacted our company and the scale of projects clients would consider. But all three of our service areas continued to deliver results. After 2009 we moved to re-emphasize our origins as the Visual Meetings Company.

But life intervened. In 2013 my wife Susan died of cancer, after 46 years of marriage. Laurie Durnell and Bobby Pardini took over co-leadership of the company as I dealt with this enormous change. I was supported by my close friend Rob Eskridge, my counsellor Chayim Barton, and a dear colleague Gisela Wendling. Gisela’s life-long interest in change and Rites of Passages allowed her to help me hold Susan’s passing as a potential transformation. And it was. To our surprise, we fell in love and were married in 2016.

In 2014 Gisela joined The Grove as VP for Global Learning and senior consultant and we co-developed our Designing and Leading Change program to bring forward her work and take the Grove’s work to a new level. We also began the non-profit Global Learning & Development Network, or GLEN. While we could not have anticipated the pandemic, our focus on change and working virtually allowed us to pivot quickly to on-line workshops and direct help for our struggling client leaders. We could also see their organizations coping with the increasing impacts of climate change, economic ambiguity, climate migration, wealth gaps, political polarization, and many other challenges. Change was in the air.


Having Gisela at The Grove transformed our work and renewed my interest in consulting. She led a master’s program in organization development at Sonoma State after receiving her doctoral in human and organization systems and development. We co-authored Visual Consulting: Designing & Leading Change with Wiley after a successful Visioning and Change Alignment process at UC Merced. The integration of dialogue, visual practice, change management and use of self, began to define a new approach.

This fall Gisela decided after a week-long silent retreat in Holland and a short vacation in Belgium, to step up to the role of CEO and lead The Grove into a new era. Her passion is to help leaders and their teams “Realize Visionary Futures.” Her becoming CEO is coincident with the publishing of her new book, The Liminal Pathways Study. We collaborated on the design and illustrations, but the creative vision was hers and I followed!

Living the Liminal Pathway

Gisela’s Liminal Pathways Change Framework (LPF) re-envisions the archetypal three-phased process of Rites of Passage as identified by the French anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep. Phase one is Separating. Phase two is the Liminal or “In-Between” phase. Phase three is Integration. Gisela’s framework highlights the inner and outer dynamics at play in each phase and the sequence of turning points that occur over the arc of a complete process. It is this process that is now unfolding for me.

I have let go of the formal position I held. I must also let go of large meeting graphic facilitation, involving our growing network of associates who are good at this. A year and a half ago, we let go of the Presidio offices, which we hadn’t used for three years during the pandemic to move into the warehouse where Grove Tools, Inc. run by Thom Sibbet as President, had a spacious upstairs office.

Entering Liminal Space

I am now deep in liminal space. I want my next moves to come from my deeper self. Already new rivers of interest are arising and flowing together but I am resisting being rushed. I asked for a vision this summer on my vision quest on Mt. Shasta and the takeaway was “constancy.” This is a different calling.

It is clear that I will be focused this next year in support as The Grove team responds to a new leader. Gisela is deeply appreciative of our historic ways of working and is visually very astute. The change work is proving to be an integrating approach. But the complexity of the post-Covid hybrid world is considerable and finding the best responses is challenging. Leaders of change need support as do their teams. I believe with Gisela’s leadership we can provide it.

At the same time, I’m fascinated with the way this liminal time is affecting me. I find myself feeling vulnerable, the way I did early in my career. I am also feeling full of all the capabilities that have developed over the 52 years of work all around the globe. In my field I would be considered an “expert” at process design and visual facilitation. But more and more I feel that my ability to connect broadly across many disciplines, organizations, and cultures may be more important than knowing how to use visualization. I’m asking myself, “What is the role of an elder?”

Working with The Light

Years ago, a workshop by Michael Meade provided a seed of insight that has been growing in my liminal space. Being an elder, he said, is the process of making a shrine to the spirit as the body falls away. And it is the blooming of my spirit that has my attention these days.

Another teacher, Dr. Niek Brouw, a Dutch somatic practitioner I and colleagues worked with in the late 1990s, defined spirit as our ability to handle light. It is reflected in our spine, the neurofibril optic trunk line that holds our bodies in coherence and connection. The idea of working with light itself has my attention. It is the work that our teacher Thomas Hübl invites.

This month Netflix brought out a short mini-series on Anthony Doerr’s amazing book, The Light We Cannot See, a story about Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl at the end of the war who intersects with a young German soldier in the French town of Saint-Malo as American troops freed France from the Nazis. The light within is as vast as the light in the world, he writes, and this young woman, is connected this way. It guides her in incredible acts of bravery broadcasting coded coordinates through readings of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea that were instrumental in final days of the war.

I find myself moved by this story, and the need for using my inner light to guide me in this next phase, and for The Grove’s inner light to grow stronger as we move to support leaders who are daring to bring about visionary changes. I have a growing feeling that the confusion and incoherence of our times cannot be met just with logic and neatly arranged symbols on paper but needs the connection of people who share a vision of a world where people respect each other across differences and, and in Gisela’s words, are “empowered to be free and have choices.”

As I wait for my new direction to emerge, I stand by to respond to those who are responding to our broadcasts, who believe that authoritarianism and overcontrol is not a solution. I am recasting my understandings of graphic facilitation as a chance to embody differences and hold space for movement, evolution of the practice, and emergent insight. I’m wondering if returning to the origins of this work and teaching our new understandings might again transform the field.

My mentor Michael Doyle, co-founder of Interaction Associates and one of those bringing facilitation to organizational work in the 1970s, said as I began The Grove. “You can compete and defend, or you can share and lead.” I’ve followed his advice and carry it with me to this next phase. Stay tuned.




I’ve spent my adult career working with the way in which people symbolize their understandings of themselves and their organizations in words, images, metaphors, and mental models. My western mind was schooled in the idea that being clear and cogent is a supreme value. For years I assumed my primary job is to help people make sense out of complexity with my visual facilitation and information design. parmenides

A Brief Look at Reality


Kingsley is a scholar of Greek language. His book is a brilliant reinterpretation of poems by Parmenides and Empedocles, two men who have been credited with some of the first articulations of the value of modern rationalism. However, Kingsley believes interpreters of these works got them wrong, amplifying elements that supported a rationalist argument and subordinating elements that presented other, more radical ideas.

According to Kingsley, Parmenides’ insights were actually rooted in mysticism and practices of prophet healers in an iatromantis tradition. They practiced “incubation,” entering dark caves and enclosed rooms for days, until their sense relented, and they could receive direct transmissions from the goddesses, in their case the Goddess of the Underworld Persephone and the Goddess of the Outer world, Aphrodite. The entire first part of Parmenides’ seminal poem describes being taken to the underworld by daughters of the Sun, pulled in a chariot propelled by “longing,” a Greek work that meant purpose or passion. Upon meeting the Goddess, Parmenides is given instructions or “laws” and told to bring them back as stated to his people. This kind of transmission is what the prophet/healers in Velia did, and the communities were organized around these transmitted laws. Nothing could be further from trusting in rational thinking. But subsequent scholarly interpretations projected on Parmenides the idea that he, of course, must have worked all this out in his own mind, and not very well at that by their standards of poetry.

Kingsley also argues that the scholars who interpreted Parmenides had no understanding of the practices of magic and mystic transmission as understood by the iatromantis people, in which coming at important issues sideways and full of trickery was central. Their primary Goddesses were apparently the same way, and very accustomed to sharing their deepest truths stated as contraries, and riddles, with things stated as truths most likely not being true.

This kind of pretzeled “logic” challenged my western mind, but Kingsley’s writing hit a receptive channel for me, especially when he continues to explore how Empedocles insisted that what he called “Strife” not “Love” is the doorway to awakening. He appeals to “mad strife” as an essential quality to embrace for the awakened mind.  Oh my, I thought, now I am in trouble.

Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was seen as the binding, connecting force of our awake world. Is not Love of superior value, just like clarity? It is the power of love to seduce and attract and bind things together. Love blinds us and needs Strife to break the trance and bring us back to appreciation of what is going on behind our stories, dreams, and visions. We need the goddess of the underworld, Persephone as well. This “mad strife” is not the madness of a persons whose neurology and physiology are, but the divine madness of someone who realizes that the trance of our ordinary lives is a sham, and no longer “believes.” It is the crack in our certainty and knowing that lets in the divine awareness.

Might you suspect that my reading this book conjunct with my Vision Quest might have some impact on my receptivity to Kingsley’s line of inquiry? And might you suspect that I have been experiencing strife with the pandemic, Ukraine, and radical shifts in organizational practices around planning and meetings, the heart of The Grove’s work. Could it be that my deeper knowing is encouraging me to reach out to this strife and embrace disruption and unclarity as doorways to insight?

davidatifvp2019Is Visualization Both Integrative and Disruptive?

One of the first shoots of insight to spring up from reading Kingsley is a reflection on the extent to which my visual facilitation practice is reflecting both Love and Strife. The Love part is easiest. People love well done graphic capture, for the most part. It is seductive to look at the way that visualization can help make sense of things, reduce confusion, and help people see their relationship to the larger whole. I and many others are writing many books plying this river of perception. But is this all that is happening?

I know that visualizing people’s spoken words in written text and image is affirming and appreciative, but at the same time experientially disruptive in ways that aren’t always apparent. Not only are the characterizations reflections of the recorder’s, not the speaker’s filters of perception, but they are also VERY partial. At my fastest I can only get 1/8 of the words as most, and of course only a fraction of the imagined imagery.

But this practice is also disruptive in a more subtle way. Looking at anything from a whole systems perspective, which is what a roomful of visualization allows, is not the usual way people make sense of things. Most people perceive their organizations and work from the point of view of their specific jobs and interests, and within narratives that become polished into certainties by repetition. Rarely do people get to “see the whole.” And of course, the room full of graphics isn’t the whole, but merely a pointer at the greater complexity. If all stakeholders and external drivers in any situation are accounted one would be facing a real mystery about what causes what. But just the attempt to take a whole systems view is disturbing. It suggests that the arc of our internal narrative is limited and perhaps even wrong. People’s nervous systems resist this sort of understanding.

When I was developing visual practice during my years with the Coro Center for Public Affairs, I facilitated a business program for managers to understand what was going on in the city. We would take one specific decision, like the decision of the Board of Permit Appeals in San Francisco to approve the Transamerica Pyramid, then outside the Zone for tall buildings and close to Telegraph Hills more cozy neighborhoods. We interviewed some 48 people involved, usually in their offices, and kept pursuing the same question—why was it approved? Trust me, we could not arrive at one story, or even why this very uneconomical design was chosen. We conducted this exercise around 3-4 other key decisions and had similar experiences. Clear narratives were consistently incomplete.

Then I began to think about the extent to which I would using visioning to lure people into a sense of connection and mutuality and move past the strife and disruptions. How many of my clients were using nice pictures to create an illusion of coherence and ignoring real problems with their people? How often was I listening only to Aphrodite?

My partner Gisela Wendling’s recent study of her Liminal Pathways Change Model and liminality has drawn me into looking at the value of the confusing, in-between times when something truly new can enter, what she calls “the crucible.” That inquiry is another post but helped amplify what Kingsley was saying.

liminal-path-model12notextI’m doing more of this with colleagues. Recently two of my friends and GLEN colleagues, Alan Briskin, and Mary Gelinas, have been writing a book about Three Field Awareness. They are working to integrate research in the areas of personal, social, and noetic fields, and of course interleaving their own long practices. Mary is deeply engaged in somatic work, taking the language and deep patterns of our embodied knowing seriously. Alan has been studying collective wisdom for years. These matters defy easy representation. I have been working with them to see if there are some ways to visualize these concepts without falling into the trap of being inappropriately “clear.”

Mary, Alan and I are all experienced collaborators and know what when we hit a rough spot in our thinking we don’t dig into our individual “rightness,” but simply bring up what arises spontaneously, waiting until the bells chime in our inner minds. The results are, in our experience quite remarkable. It is as though we are being guided. What appears are often simple images and associations, and often metaphors. In one session we wondered how we could possibly visualize everyone having personal fields generated by our bodies, minds, and individual senses and at the same time being immersed in social fields that have intensity and flow and shaping concepts about how to work and be? Somewhere in our improvisational talk the image of starlings emerged. We immediately went and searched on-line and before we knew it, we were looking at dozens of pictures of the incredible formations starlings create in the “murmerations.” We got shivers. The idea will probably survive the editors.

Large flock of starlings in the blue sky

Can working with imagery in a deeper way happen more in groups? How do we practitioners guide people to beyond clarity to movement and emergence? I know there is something about hand created drawing that encourages this kind of accidental wisdom. And are visioning sessions really mumerations? Is there higher consciousness? Can we accept what comes through these portals?

Is the Universe Conscious?

A third seed is taking root. It arises from Kingsley’s exploration of what the word “longing” meant to the Greeks. It seems to imply an inner orientation of what some might call the soul. He wrote that to the Greeks it also meant purpose.

Arthur M. Young, whose Theory of Process has been my operating system for years, once said he wished he had called it a Theory of Purpose but shied away from that because he wanted to bridge to western science, which was more open to understanding something more tangible. As a physicist he was fascinated that the quantum theorists, who began to see light as the most fundamental of all elements in the physical universe, called photons a “quantum of action”—something whose spin held potential that could be realized as it took on direction as a fundamental force—an electron or proton. He suspected that these scientists had quietly opened the door mystics had longed entered. Light, it seems, does not have boundary, weight, and length. Some students of bioluminescence suspect light might be the way cells communicate, quite beyond chemical interactions. Others appreciate that the principles of “non-locality” may mean at this level all things are much more interconnected that we have any appreciation for.

What if our rational language and crisp, visually “clear” graphics are actually barriers to deeper forms of communication?

One of my visual consulting colleagues, Vivian Wright, was a very successful internal guide at Hewlett Packard during the days when the HP Way was alive with founder energy. She said that her work was 10% design and 90% prayer. I asked her what she meant. She says she would set up group processes, and then sit aside and hold the whole group in her inner imagination, seeing them emerging and creating and aligning. Was she holding purpose at the center of her work and using her inner imagery to affect the field?

As a minister’s son I was taught to pray for others, holding their image in my mind. I am reluctant to use that word now in secular settings but suspect that simply opening to and trusting the light and holding images without knowing why or how, may be a form of prayer. Is it possible that this is the gift of disruption, letting the light of purpose come through? Can we learn to see the light in others, and imagine that they too, whether they know it or now, are part of a larger field of consciousness.

I know the practice with blogging is to be short and sweet, and have three or four takeaways, but I’d rather show up in my present condition and share what is emerging, rough as these thoughts are. I let myself get “whacked” by Peter Kingsley. I think it is nice to have that happen at an age when I’m tempted to think I know things.