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Coherence: Connecting in Beingness


An excerpt from my forthcoming book, Coherence: Cultivating Group Magic, hopefully coming in 2024.


Being part of a group experiencing coherence is a peak experience, both mystical and alchemical. There is something so incredibly connecting about it. And it’s a connectedness far beyond finding commonalities and that sense that I fit with another person. It is touching the Divine, communing with the Kosmos, and confirming that I’m not alone.


I have been part of a healing circle for several years, meeting virtually by Zoom, and I am confident that we often move into coherence. When the eight of us meet, we usually open with a meditation practice that concludes with us all turning on our video feeds and gazing deeply at each other. When I’m leading the practice, I invite the group to gaze deeply into each other’s souls, moving far beyond the surface and physical presentation of the person and connecting with each person’s highest, most authentic, infinite self.


We recently discussed this practice as a group. And together, we marveled at how quickly and intensely we connect (and re-connect) with each other despite not being physically located in the same place.


“It's very, very powerful, and when I am gazing [at] somebody, there's an immediate felt sense of connection. Where I'm seeing them very deeply and in this unconditional love kind of feeling, I actually feel their energy. I physically feel their energy coming from them,” one group member, Janice, a new Earth group leader in Texas, shared.


A coach and writing group facilitator, Lisa, continued, “I feel when I look in people's eyes, I'm met with this love. I'm recognizing the truth of being in each person. It’s elevated, and it's calm. And I feel like my eyes relax, my body relaxes.”


“It's not something that I'm doing. It's just happening,” Ron, a Unity minister who leads a congregation in Pennsylvania, explained. “We start out connecting with our eyes and the love that I see, and we just go from one person to the next. And the boundaries are very clear. There are these little boxes [in Zoom], and then what starts to happen the further we go into it, the boundaries start to blur. And this light and energy starts to swirl from one person to the other. And it's just the most amazing thing—the boundaries are blurred somewhat. They're still there, but they're blurring, and this energy, this latent Love and Light, is flowing from one to the other.”


The group is powerfully connected at a profound level. We sense that we are providing each other with support, which fortifies us for the work we do in the world. We all bring each other up higher. While we don’t always agree with each other inside the circle, per se, we have a beautiful appreciation for how we all see the same thing from different perspectives. No one is right or wrong.


My senses are heightened in the circle. I am aware of my somatic responses and tuned into my heart's intelligence. Just as Lisa explained, my body relaxes. My heart opens. I’m lighter, happier, more content, focused, and clearer during these experiences. My sense of what is real changes because I’m no longer grappling with fear, lack, and smallness; instead, it’s all love and abundance. It is expansiveness.


But there’s even more to it. After Ron talked about the energy that he sees moving around the screen when we gaze at each other, Rebecca, an Albuquerque author, chimed in.


“The same thing, Ron,” Rebecca continued. “I see energy going around me and then around each person like infinity symbols. And we're all just connected in this like big infinity loop. It is so cool that you just described it almost the way that I experience it.”


And this is not unusual for our group. During our sessions, we choose an intention and then meditate on it. After the meditation, we tell each other what happened for us. Quite often, more than one person will see, hear, and recall experiencing something similar inside the meditation. It is light-filled and otherworldly.


Yes, deep connectedness can absolutely happen virtually. I, as well as some of the other members of the healing circle, believe how we experience our connectedness is easier in Zoom. Wild, right?


Have you ever experienced coherence? Whether it’s just a feeling of an intense connection, or if it’s like what Ron and Rebecca expressed, a shared experience, chances are, if you’ve experienced it, you know you’ve experienced it. If you haven’t, I hope this book will bring you closer to the phenomenon and provide additional information and preparation for the possibility of coherence.


In 2021, I set out to study coherence in small groups. I wanted to know what it was like and how they were able to do it. I ended up facilitating small groups in a day-long session that was designed to move them toward coherence. To study the phenomenon, I loaded the deck recruiting small groups who came from the same organization, so they shared a common language, and who had some form of spiritual practice, which was mediation for most participants.


I had a burning desire to gain clarity on what coherence was exactly. There was no standard definition of what it was, because most of the writing on coherence was either focused on facilitating coherence experiences or talked about what it is conceptually. One concrete outcome of my study was a definition of coherence:


Coherence is a group-level phenomenon wherein members experience a collective shift into a heightened state of connectedness marked by a quieting, slowing, and calming of the group climate, an activation of an enlivened intersubjective field, and a calling forth for members’ best selves resulting in an acceptance and celebration of differences among members. The shift is aided by skillful means, and members can process and make sense of the experience through somatic, emotional, spiritual, and creative ways of knowing. Coherence experiences are often accompanied by individual and collective awakenings.


For those of you who have heard the term coherence bandied about previously, you may wonder how individual coherence relates to how a group experiences it. Indeed, coherence is only sometimes a collective term. The HeartMath Institute, for example, works with internal coherence related to heart rate variability and the entrainment of the body’s oscillating systems. Dr. Joe Dispenza has popularized the term by discussing coherence as something that happens within individuals to shift them into resonant, heart-full states and as a collective experience when a group of people is in individual coherence.


If you’re familiar with Dr. Joe’s work, my view on coherence complements his work. I continue his inquiry into what happens when groups come together in coherence.


The term coherence, in the context of this book, describes the communion of two or more people. I like how Robert Kenny[1], an experienced organizational consultant and facilitator, discussed coherence:

When the group reaches a certain level of coherence, generally there’s some higher level of order that comes into the room and it’s very noticeable to people. It’s like something has shifted. People stop fighting for airspace and there’s a kind of group intuition that develops. It’s almost like the group as a whole becomes a tuning fork for the inflow of wisdom.


An entire book on being in coherence by Drs. Olen Gunnlaugson and Michael Brabant[2] includes a well-spring of chapters on facilitating and being in coherence experiences from a long list of experts. They discuss their experiences as cultivating shared well-being and optimized collective energy as an outcome of attuning to heart intelligence and trust and resulting in a feeling of everything just falling into place. What’s possible is heightened creativity and new potential.


But coherence is also a paradox. Typically, groups come together with competing agendas and different histories. They have varying degrees of comfort with vulnerability and openness, yet these factors are usually needed for a group to shift into the phenomenon. In other words, getting there can be challenging. They might also find that the intense connection is difficult to maintain and sometimes challenging to return to once it does happen. Researcher Dr. Lyle Yorks[3] detailed a study he did with small groups who were moving in and out of something akin to coherence. He found that they were not able to sustain a deeply connected space.


And while some groups may try and try to enter an altered field together, others stumble into it with no effort at all. Those accidentally coherent groups could find the experience baffling and may either not want to return or find it impossible to do so. The bottom line is this: a group can set an intention for coherence, but their efforting will not allow them to shift into a cohered state. Coherence is more about beingness and allowing.


Often used interchangeably, coherence and cohesion are not actually synonymous. Cohesion is one of the most researched topics within the group dynamics field of study and is a term used to describe a group, often a workgroup, experiencing interrelatedness and a sense of “group-ness,” i.e. that sense that we belong together.


Coherence, conversely, takes group cohesion further, resulting in oneness and non-duality wherein the individuals within the group join energetically and in consciousness with other members, creating one whole. While cohesion is undoubtedly a necessary element of group and teamwork, particularly in the business environment, coherence is a transformational experience for both the individual and the group. It will probably not involve driving toward a goal or any particular outcome.


One of the keys to coherence is the group members involved and their availability and openness to experience something together they might not understand, be able to name, or control. In my experience, it is all heart, pure love, rushing energy, and elation, which may or may not be comfortable to contact. Even so, words don’t adequately capture it. It’s through the experience of sharing space with others who are also entrained in coherence that the actual essence of the experience becomes evident.



 

[1] Kenny was quoted by Craig Hamilton in a 2004 article in EnlightenNext, the title for which was Come Together: The Mystery of Collective Intelligence. [2] Cohering the Integral We-Space: Engaging Collective Emergence, Wisdom, and Healing in Groups, edited by Olen Gunnlaugson and Michael Brabant (2016, Integral Publishing House) [3] Adult Learning and the Generation of New Knowledge and Meaning: Creating Liberating Spaces for Fostering Adult Learning through Practitioner-based Collaborative Action and Inquiry in Teachers College Record, volume 107, issue 6 (2005).

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