I’ve been leading groups for almost thirty years, and being part of them for longer. Watching how they move has been the focus of my working life.
More recently, like most of us, I’ve been paying attention to what’s happening globally with the kind of fascination I might have for watching the tower of Babel falling, or the Titanic sinking, or fungi devouring an over-ripe fruit.
My team in Copenhagen, who are producing a workshop with me there in November, asked me to work with the theme of ‘Surrender’ as a way to navigate the troubled times we live in. I agreed, believing that surrender is at the heart of what’s being asked of us.
Looking for an image to illustrate the theme, the one above of starlings in murmuration popped out intuitively. I sat looking at it for a while and found two pieces of a jigsaw falling into place with each other — what I’m seeing globally, and what I’ve noticed in groups of dancers over all these years. I found myself wondering whether we’re actually far more like starlings, or the shoals of fish who do the same thing, than we realise.
When a group of humans get moving on the dance floor, what happens over days spent together is that we fall into resonance. There’s a natural coalesence towards unity. Not that we all begin to move in the same way — it’s more subtle than that — but there’s something in the air, a kind of love of each other and being human together which feels good. Like, really good. There’s a willingness to lead and follow simultaneously, so seamless that it doesn’t feel like either, and that’s true of me too as the ‘leader’. I am tracking what’s happening in the group and the way I steer things is a moment-to-moment midwifery of that emergent happening.
Like everything, the level of resonance goes in cycles of course, with phases of dissonance where everything seems to be falling apart and none of us, including me, quite know where to turn. But if we navigate those times by staying true to the trouble between us in a creative way, giving everything to the dance, we come through it more alive, more connected, more in love than we were before trouble came among us. This phenomenon is so consistent that I have come to have great faith in it, and not shy away from difficulties so much as to be curious about them and what seeds of love and learning they might contain.
Gazing at the extraordinary image above, recognising that way of being on the dance floor — this way of all moving in sync that feels like magic when you’re part of it, and looks like magic when seen from afar in the flight of starlings — I found myself wondering if that is what’s happening globally. I wonder if it could it be that the human race, over vast periods of time, behaves just like these birds? Could it be that the seemingly hapless way in which we are creating an ecological collapse, which looks set to cause us untold suffering, is in fact our collective murmuration, and even that there’s a wisdom in it? That in spite of our personal experience of appearing to walk individually chosen pathways, in fact, in the long view, we are driven en-mass by collective forces that are far deeper than those conscious choices? What if all the conflicting differences in our personal perspectives and choices cancel each other out, leaving a collective movement pattern that is heading remorselessly towards something we would never consciously choose individually, but is nevertheless exactly where we need to go as a species?
I believe it may be so. Maybe the troubles we find ourselves in — which are only just beginning — will bring us to our knees, obliterating the hubris of thousands of years of fighting with our world and each other, and forcing us to feel the pain our of our humanity. Maybe we will manage to be dancers, as we humans all are deep down, and come through the pain more alive, more connected and more in love with the world and each other than we have ever known. Maybe we are creating the precise circumstances that will compel us to give in to the truth, and in that surrender we might find ourselves anew. Maybe, rather than there being something ‘wrong’ with where we’re heading, despite the overwhelming grief of the thing, maybe there’s an instinctive collective wisdom that is driving us towards a scale of catastrophe that will break down exactly what is holding us apart. That we need to fall apart in order to come together.
In my own personal path through life, again and again I find that I have to come to a point of not knowing how to proceed, where all seems lost, before I can break through to see a new horizon.
That’s how it is in the groups I run too: we go through crises that are deep enough to have the experience of hopelessness and confoundment, not knowing how to go any further, and only then do we break through to a new depth of loving.
Breakthrough requires breakdown.
Maybe this is what we’ve been collectively moving towards for millennia, without really knowing it, just like a flock of starlings. Surrender is not something we can do. It comes as a kind of grace. It is an undoing, a not-knowing, a willingness to align our will with something bigger than us, and to be taken by that.
Watch the starlings…