State of the Art Systems Thinking. GAIA Journey

Helio Borges
11 min readMay 3, 2020
Generative scribing of GAIA’s week 5 Social Field, according to Olaf Baldini. Presencing Institute

“State of the art systems thinking is blending systems thinking with systems sensing and is focusing on making systems and communities see and sense themselves…” Otto Scharmer


Antoinette Klatzky opened the 5th-week Inhale session of the GAIA Journey. “In some ways what we are doing is coming together to align and come to terms with, and begin to see and sense what is going on in our world. With this Inhale we are moving in into the space of possibility. We know as Einstein said, that we can’t solve problems using the same type of thinking that created them. We can’t continue to be the same way as we were before.”

INHALE. Image Presencing Institute

“In this first month, we were kind of listening together, dropping into this deep listening space where we found out what was going on with each other. Now we are moving into this space of deep resonance. So when we hear a bell ring we see and understand why is the bell ringing. And then, we feel the bell ring inside ourselves. At this moment when we drop in, we really have to drop in into the body, drop-in into a sense of what still sings in ourselves, what still is moving in us. We are still in the beginning phase of the GAIA Journey.” Next, she gave the floor to Otto Scharmer.

The Arc of the GAIA Journey. Image Presencing Institute.

State of the Art Systems Thinking

“I want to double click on the middle stage of the process that Antoinette shared with us and introduce three terms that maybe will be helpful for us, not only in this session but also for the upcoming weeks, for the part of the GAIA Journey that is still ahead of us. They are Social Fields, Social Arts, and Awareness Based Action Research.”

Unearth What is Coming into Being — Animated Scribing by Jayce Pei Yu Lee

Social Fields

“Social Fields are basically social systems seeing from within. While social systems usually take an outside view on human behavior, like a third-person view, what a camera could report, for example. Social Fields look at human behavior both, from outside and from inside, from a first-person perspective, but also from a second and third-person perspective. Here is a model about what a social field perspective looks like.”

Iceberg Model of Systems Thinking. Presencing Institute

“The Iceberg model basically says that symptoms on the top level here in terms of practical results show the things you want to change. That requires us to redesign and reframe these qualities of relating, by which we mean patterns of thinking, conversing, and organizing. In order to do that, we actually need to pay attention to and also cultivate and change the deeper source conditions from which we operate. The quality of the soil, of the container, the inner conditions from which we operate.

Basically what a social field perspective says is that the deeper source conditions from which we operate, give rise to the qualities of relating, the patterns of thinking, conversing, and organizing, which then produce practical results. So, in order to effect profound change is not enough to react to the symptoms here at the top level, or to redesign the patterns of behavior immediately below, we also need to change the deeper source conditions. That is basically what this perspective says.”

Social Arts

“The question on the table, of course, is how. How we do that. What we have found is that to do that well, you need to develop new methods and tools. One of the most powerful tools we have found has to do with social art practices. It is one leverage point to investigate these deeper aspects of change: systems change, collective change, and personal change. The second thing we found is that you really need to investigate these tools in an extended context of science that we refer to as Awareness Based Action Research, that blends third, second and first-person research methods.”

Awareness Based Action Research

“ABC is focusing on bending the beam of scientific observation that usually looks at reality as something out there, in a way that allows us to also include our own interior condition, our own way of enacting the social system that we see out there.”

Bending the Beam of Scientific Observation. Presencing Institute

“What does it mean bending the beam of scientific observation back on to our own behavior, back on to our own selves? It means that we help communities and systems to sense and see themselves. To look into the mirror and to see our own collective shadows. Last time when Danya Cunningham spoke about structural violence and structural love, it was a powerful example of looking into the collective mirror and see our own paradox enacting these shadows. That is basically what state of the art systems thinking is doing.”

Dayna Cunningham. From Structural Violence to Structural Love. Presencing Institute

“State of the Art Systems Thinking is blending systems thinking with systems sensing and is focusing on making systems and communities see and sense themselves, by which we mean integrating all three of these levels: Source Conditions, Quality of Relating, and Practical Results. To see how the results that we enact arise from these relational and deeper source conditions.”

“That is precisely what we try to move towards with the GAIA Journey, that we are thankful that in this session we are joined by Arawana Hayashi. She is a co-founder of the Presencing Institute, and the originator of a new social arts form that we call Social Presencing Theater, which she will introduce to you with Manish Srivastava, who is a core team member of the Social Presencing Theater Group. We are also joined by Eva Pomeroy from Concordia University. She is in charge of our GAIA research team, and also a member of the Presencing Institute.”

GAIA Journey Action Research

Eva Pomeroy spoke next. “I have been doing the GAIA research, gathering quality data from the survey and focus groups. It helps us to understand and see what’s happening in GAIA as it unfolds. It helps us to surface and make visible some of the invisible dimensions of change. What we do is to bring it back here to the team. To see if it resonates, see what reflects what you are experiencing as a group, but also as individuals to all of us who have our own individual and personal experiences in GAIA. That we can at the same time see the whole that we are part of. We have many more people willing to participate in the focus groups than we have groups, which is wonderful. But you will have another opportunity to take part in the next research, of which you will find out in the next Social Presencing Theater practices that we will experience a little later in the session. Now what we will do to share some of the research with you is to bring some of the voices from the focus groups. Thank you to everyone who made that sharing possible.

Voices from the GAIA Journey. Presencing Institute

I would like to have one more piece from the focus groups. It brings something from the social field, which is what “early-stage action” looks like. Hannah asked her group: “Instead of asking how do we get the economy back to normal, we could ask, what would be like to create an economy that contributes to wellbeing for all?” By asking that question, she changed the nature of the conversation, opened up some other conversations, and showed some quality about herself and her work. It is a beautiful and very realistic example of what first step action looks like.

Small Groups Session

Next, Antoinette gave the instructions for the small groups' session in which the attendants would hold a conversation answering the following question. What micro-changes if any are you observing in yourself? Perhaps is the way that you are listening or the questions that you are asking?

I was directed to a small group with the following persons: Mc Allum Alison from South Africa, “I have let go of my need to control things, and the things that I thought I need, I don’t need them anymore. I miss the outdoors”. Francesca from Italy, “I focus on being more helpful, I sense that need when I lead groups online. I am more aware of my feelings, accepting them”. Irene Anyango, “I am more aware of what is going on within my body, within myself, than I ever have before. I now exercise and cook during the time I used to spend in traffic jams”. Helio, “I feel that I am living in two spaces simultaneously. The physical space, where I feel trapped, and constrained by forces beyond my control, and a virtual space where I have the opportunity to expand myself and to use my gifts for the wellbeing of all”.

Social Presencing Theater

Arawana Hayashi spoke next. “I’d like to start the session sinking more into our body, a little more of embodying presence and then moving on to our Social Presencing Theater practice. Let’s focus on being present, to be aware of our particular spot on the planet, of our connection with Mother Earth, to our spot on her that we call home. To feel our strong back growing up from Earth, uprighting it. To feel the upper part of our head, and its connection with the openness, the vastness of the sky, the cosmos, where everything is possible. To feel our bodies breathing in and out. To feel how our bodies join the serenity of earth and the openness of space. To feel our heart, the sadness and tenderness of it, when so many of us are losing their health, colleagues, and family members, and other kinds of stress, and adjustments we have to make. To open our heart to that feeling to those around us and expanding it out to others as well.”

Arawana Hayashi’s body shapes

“Let’s be conscious of our body shape at this moment and move our body to another shape, leaning on something, stretching, moving into a second shape. What does it feel like? On our back, our hands, the muscles of our face? Let’s move to another shape. What does it feel like? Embodiment is a feeling, it is acknowledging the body’s intelligence, its capacity as a sensing organ. Another shape more. It doesn’t matter what is. Now, please move to another shape very slowly, attending to the feeling of the movement. It ends in another shape. It begins, you feel the shoulders, you feel the back, it continues, maybe the weight of your body shifts and it ends and rests.”

“That little practice was an introduction to a Social Arts method that we use at the Presencing Institute as a way to make our systems visible, as Otto said earlier, and that can include our own body-mind system. Which we make visible to us because it is a whole system.”

“We don´t separate the mind, from the heart, or the body. My colleagues and I at the Presencing Institute, are conscious of this holistic being. We are one coherent, genuine person. We make this system visible to others as well.”

Stuck is a Treasure

“Let´s do this together. I am going to stand, and I invite you to do so. Please think of a question in your life which is a challenge. It can be an obstacle, a question, or a challenge, an area of your life where you feel stuck. This practice is the “stuck practice”. My invitation is to consider it as a treasure. Think of something that you are trying to create and it is not quite moving forward.”

Sculpture 1

“In my case, this is how it is coming for me (she adopts a position, sculpture 1). Just make a shape that expresses the sense of being stuck in your life right now. While in that shape, say a couple of words to yourself. In my case, I will say touching out. They can describe something or a little feeling, just stay with your shape. That shape is not sustainable. Stuck wants to move. So, let stuck, your shape, start to move. Feel your back, your hands, your legs. Keep moving slowly until your body reaches a resting place. In that new shape, please say to yourself another word, or two, or a little phrase. In my case, the word is contained.”

Sculpture 2

Turning Challenges into Creative Insights

Manish Srivastava speaks next. “This little practice I do it on a daily basis, and it has helped me to transform my challenges into creative insights. Now, in the breakout groups, we are going to practice it with others because you don´t practice it for yourself only, you are witness to other people´s journey, giving them your resonance, and that is something really beautiful, to be able to be in service of somebody else. He then explained further the stuck instructions, so that the attendants could practice it on the break out rooms.”

Stuck Activity. Presencing Institute

We were four people at the breakout. Karen from the Netherlands, Asley from Turkey, Hannah from South Africa, and Helio from Venezuela.

Karen: sculpture one, “holding back”, sculpture 2, “letting come”. Hannah, “I moved into a different kind of stuck”. Asley, sculpture 1, “too heavy”, sculpture 2, “feeling capable”. Myself, sculpture 1, “trapped”, sculpture 2, “another vision, wonder”.

Then Manish guided us into a resonance of the stuck exercise. It consists of drawing the two sculptures and reflecting them in two or three phrases.

Helio’s Resonance

Social Resonance

Otto thanked the SPT team and invited everyone to participate in a social resonance. “We started the session with the concept of the Social Fields, with the level above the water line and the deeper layers. What we did experiencing Social Presencing Theater was exploring some of the deeper layers. Obviously that´s a beginning. But you can investigate more into it by doing the Social Solidarity practice. Now we move to Berlin where Olaf Baldini has been capturing the process using the method of Generative Scribing, which is another social art form that has been developed by Kelvy Bird and co-pioneered by Olaf.”

Olaf begins explaining the graphic that he had drawn. “I tried a new method which was to start with a black canvas and then taking layers off, so things began to emerge from the canvas. When all the people went through their sculptures, they were changing the space around them, creating a new body here.”

Otto. Thank you, Olaf, what you say brings to my mind something that Arawana has said every now and then, which is her idea of three bodies.

We have our small body, the physical one, and there is a big body, which is planet earth, and there is a third body. The third body is the Social Body that we collectively enact, and that is really, what we mean by the Social Field.

Olaf Baldini explaining his Generative Scribing from the session

“That really is what you captured there. What we are going to do now is a visual resonance process in two steps.

  • The first is to see and sense individually the image, allowing it to penetrate into your mind and heart.
  • The second step is to share the resonance in the chat by using the sentence structure I see, or I sense, or I feel.”

I invite you, the reader, to do the visual resonance that Otto invited us to do during the GAIA Journey’s live INHALE session Grounding in the Body in Times of Crisis.



Helio Borges

Executive & Team Coach & Mentor. Cultural Transformation Change Agent & Consultant. Twitter: @hborgesg. Instagram: @heboga. FB: helio.borges.35. Uriji: @hborges