Sensemaking and Dark Moon Reflections

"Sensemaking": the process by which people - usually multiple people - give meaning to their collective experiences.

The term arises from social psychology and has subsequently influenced organizational development, education, leadership development, disaster management and other spaces who have actively engaged in how do we collectively make meaning out of uncertain, complex and even chaotic experiences. As Weick, who brought the term to organizational development, argued, "The basic idea of sensemaking is that reality is an ongoing accomplishment that emerges from efforts to create order and make retrospective sense of what occurs" (Weick, 1993: 635).

Even without climate change, our world and our lives are complex enough that we are in continuous need of sense-making. In a climate-changing world, these "sense" - the pattern and the way that we create that pattern in everyday discourse and behavior - is changing. The most basic structure around which all else - the weather, the elements - are changing.

How do we engage with such ongoing uncertainty and complexity? How do we make sense of it - not only as individuals, but as collectives that impacts our actions? For those of us engaged in spiritual quests, how does the complexity of the changing world and our listening for the direction of the Holy Spirit intersect, enabling us to know our purpose, define our intentions enough to clarify our actions into the "next right thing"?

Sensemaking has been heralded as an intrinsic part of that process; it is central for growing anticipatory communities. Ongoing reflective processes done in community significantly increases all of us to sense what patterns are emerging, and what are changing. Organizations might do this on (at least) a quarterly cycle. For cultural-change makers, it is critical to engage outside of our own organizations: we need to be sensing the shifting patterns at both superficial and deeper levels in communities that are outside of our current work.

That is why we are hosting regular sensemaking sessions using the lunar cycle. Of course, one could use almost any temporal cycle to do this. I use the lunar cycle because I have found that following the lunar cycle helps me more closely connect to the cycles of nature regardless of where I am. As an eco-theologian that is (obviously) important to me. For well over a year, I have held a personal practice of deep reflection on the Dark Moon, looking back over the previous lunar cycle, and sensing into how Spirit is leading me. This has been an immensely fruitful process - it is actually what led to me creating and offering meaning making patterns based around cyclical time. For me, an ongoing question that I bring to my own reflection is: “What am I being taught” What is spirit teaching me in this segment of time?”

In these regular gatherings, we create a brief summary of the last reflection which I post here. In our last conversation, the moon herself was a significant topic of conversation. How much do we really know about how lunar cycles effect our emotions, our bodies, and our society? How much does it differ for men versus for women? Some, but not really a lot, of research has been done to answer these questions using western science, which historically has been influenced by a highly disenchanted and white masculine agenda which does not consider such questions worthy of their time and energy. Certainly different cultures have different wisdom to offer, and folk tales abound. I encourage people to track their own emotions, and for women to track their own menstrual cycles, and see for yourself what you are experiencing.

As an archetype, the moon, which in many cultures is feminine, has many faces, waxing and waning. The sun, often associated with the masculine (though there are many exceptions to this), is far more linear, offering the same thing every day. We all have each energies within us.

Part of the discussion revolved around how do we engage with "serious emotions" - those times when we just want to break down and cry and those times when we are side-step our emotions for a period of time. We acknowledged the critical role of the darkness, symbolized in the dark moon: it is a place of rebirth. Not allowing ourselves to go into darkness, not replenishing, is dangerous for ourselves and for those around us. One of our participants, herself calling from the other side of the world, reflected on her experience of working in China and other Eastern countries and in the West. Yin gives birth to yang, and yang gives birth to yin. In the West, we tend to just focused on yin, on the outward breath, without giving time for breathing in. There needs to be a balance. East has tended to go in and reflect which can lead to complacency instead of movement. East needs West; West needs East.

As a group, we acknowledged and together mourned the many ways we are seeing the ache of our planet's suffering, from massive loss of forests to plastic. How long will we be in this sleep? Too often, we suppress the emotions. We need to return to our center and trust in what we see, in our own instincts, and reconnect in order to not kill the mother. What is "enough" knowledge to make a difference - to turn thoughts into actions? Perhaps it is not only a question of translating thinking into doing but to integrate our feelings and our being-ness into informing our thoughts (especially those which harken towards complacency) as well as our actions.

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