Posts Tagged ‘Otto Scharmer’

I am no expert yogini…but I do love yoga.  I love yoga because it is slow and gentle on my 42-year-old body.  I love yoga because as I perform the stretches and breathing I acquire flexibility.  I love yoga because it is fundamentally an act of mindfulness.  When I practice yoga no matter how I try to stay focus on my breathing….my mind always stretches itself into my relationships.  Yoga moves me  from the deepest place of my human body to the farthest recesses of my relationships.

When I engage my ashtanga yoga practice, I am primarily interested in places of resistance.  Muscles that have recoiled because of my length of time in an office chair or my sudden day-long cleaning frenzy.  My ashtanga yoga practice is influenced by Melanie Fawer who was a student of the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.  In her DVD Mysore Style Ashtanga Yoga, Melanie will calmly encourage careful and daily practice.  She explains that while many believe they will never attain certain poses or positions, that if one practices each and every time they are given the opportunity the pose and position will come.

The physiology of the body is the foundation of her promise.  There are two types of muscles, extrafusal and intrafusal.  The extrafusal muscles are what we most often imagine as muscle fibers.  The  intrafusal are also called muscle spindles and they run parallel to the extrafusal fibers .  Intrafusal are also called stretch receptors.  These receptors are the primary pathways for how we perceive our body’s position and movement.  If muscles are jerked and stretched quickly, it is the stretch receptors that cause the muscle to contract or recoil in response.  However, stretches that are held for prolonged periods allow the stretch receptors to adjust and decrease their signals to recoil.  The result for the faithful practitioner is greater flexibility.

Some have said that relationships are what a lot of  leaders think about when they are alone.   There is  rehearsal in the mind about how the leader or the other person behaved.  Leaders think about how individuals within relationships might have behaved or otherwise responded differently.  Some say that good leaders are different because they will think not about what the other person SHOULD have done to make the leaders life or job easier.   Rather good leaders think about how their own responses could have been modified.   In essence, good leaders take a situation or moment of their lives and imagine stretching, twisting and breathing into it as many different ways as they might imagine.  Suspending a voice of judgement, good leaders effectively  remain more open to even the most complicated and resistant of relationships.

If our physiology is of divine design….perhaps there are clues there for our spiritual lives as well.   I grow weary of feeling recoiled and tight against all that is complicated in my life.   I am at least the leader of my self. Can I be a good leader for myself?  Can I stretch my spirit through complicated resistance and enjoy an oxygenated, purposeful peace?

Otto Scharmer in a recent global classroom experience of  the Presencing Institute, reminded us that it has been said, ….if we wonder what our purpose is in life, we can find the answer by going to the places of greatest resistance.   I am sure this involves a stretch.


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For months now, my brain spins with a thousand thoughts.  Impatiently and somewhat lethargically, I am reading:

A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman

Theory U by Otto Scharmer

Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed  by Bruce Epperly

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Skloot

The Open Source Church by Landon Whitsitt

The reading feels like gorging at the finest of buffets with no real meal plan or digestion.  Week long  Sermon preparation feels like an attempt to make a 30 minute connection at La Guardia.

My busy brain definitely needs a meshing mindfulness.

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I am preparing for an online class the  Presencing Institute  with Otto Scharmer‘s team.  This will be a global classroom that is considering leadership and mobilizing society for more creative change.  Fundamental to Scharmer’s thesis is that there are at least four kinds of listener.

  •  The 1st kind of listener is what Otto calls the downloading listener.  This sort of listener takes in information that confirms and affirms their habits and judgements.  When we have the experience that someone is talking about what we already know…we are in downloading mode.
  • The 2nd kind of listener is the factual listener.  The factual listener, contrasted from the downloading listener, is attending to the facts and details as informants and possible replacement parts for what the person had previously understood.  This, Scharmer notes is classically how science listens and investigates novelty.
  • The third kind of listener is the empathetic listener.    The empathetic listener makes a deep connection with the person they are listening to.  At some point, they forfeit their own point of view and imagine what it is to be in the shoes of another.  We are no longer observing another’s life but we are feeling it with our compassion.

All three of these types of listeners were familiar to me.  Scharmer’s description of each was a nice summary and reminder.  However, it was the fourth type of listener that really pulled my attention.  This fourth type of listener is what Scharmer he Generative Listener.   It is this mode of listening is the most profound possibility for each of us.  For in the listening to another person, we become a different person.  We are so profoundly affected that we begin to imagine ourselves and our own possibilities differently.

In the first form of listening, we  as leaders might try to develop a plan that will fix the people in our lives or the situations in which we find ourselves.  After many futile efforts in my own life, I1 have come to believe that God does not intend me to fix another.

When we are listening at level two  we may try to apply our new information in a competition mode.  So that either we know more than another or so that we can strive toward greater accomplishment with the new information.

When we are listening at level three we may find that we no longer want to fix someone.  However, it is necessary for us to adjust ourselves in order to be in relationship with what we now imagine and understand about them.  Pity can be at work or the need to explain another to ourselves or company.

But what happens when we listen at level four?  It seems that level four might make use of all the practiced multitasking that each of us do each day.  That we allow there to be a place in our innermost self where our work, our family, our agitation, our appetites our sense of self are all in dialogue with one another even when we are seemingly in conversation with only one person.  Isn’t it amazing how, in certain conversations, we have revelations and new understandings?    We feel a bit transformed but can’t explain how or why!

Scharmer’s ideas are very new and interesting to me.  Do any of you readers of this blog have experiences with the generative level of listening?

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