The Sanskrit word EVAM contains E which means something like ‘space’ and VAM which is like a point of focus. The best way to think of this principle initally is like the movement of a single drop released into a bowl of water. First there is nothing, just still water, then a single, central drop. This is VAM. The movement and pattern then spreads outward into the surrounding space. This is E. When the movement reaches the edge of the bowl, the ripples bounce back again. Or if the bowl is huge, or like a vast lake, the ripples just continue spreading out into space.
This whole movement – the spreading out in space from a single point, and the returning back to centre is what is represented by EVAM principle. Ripple is not a perfect translation of the whole movement, but it gives the general idea.
Thinking again of the acorn which we used as an example of centre. The acorn, as a seed, falling at a certain time in a certain place is like the initial drop. Gradually from that point, come shoots, roots, and slowly they spread over time and space as the tree grows. In fact if you look at a tree from above, you can see it does look circular, with the branches radiating out from the trunk as a central point. Even the rings inside the trunk represent the same idea – each year another ripple grows outward. Not only that, but if you could see a tree with all its roots, you would see that from the initial acorn, growth has radiated above and below, as well as outward – thus in every direction.
The striking of a gong is another example. From the first precise striking, waves of sound move out into space. Eventually their energy either dissipates (‘was that a gong I heard?). At the same time the sound also echoes back from walls and other boundaries in the room creating resonance.
The ripple principle in groups and organisations:
In terms of people and organisations we might say that in some way one’s central purpose and core values are in the end what radiate out into the world through action. This is one reason why in Centre Edge we pay great attention to authentic purpose and gaining confidence in acting from the heart. Often many of us are conflicted. Competing notions or aspirations may seem to compete for centre stage. Personally we experience this as inner tensions of one kind or another. And thus our overall action and communication in the world is weakened. We say one thing, mean another and do yet another. All of this can be explored in terms of how a central essence naturally radiates out and is expressed – more or less clearly – in the world.
We can start to see how the same is true for groups and organisations. In Centre Edge we pay close attention to things such as founding visions and inspirations. In a real sense the first moments of an organisation contain the essence that then radiates out into the world perhaps over decades. Often large organisations have lost touch with that essence somewhere along the way. There is considerable value in recognising that even a vast complex multinational organisation is inextricably still linked to, and ultimately a manifestation of some original, essential quality.
Once we grasp this idea and see how it relates at every level and to all types of systems, we can explore questions of alignment, conflict and cohesion between different groups and teams. In part we do this through considering how each sub group expresses a radiation of its own central or essential qualities, while simultaneously having to interact constantly with other systems or fields each with their own. It can be helpful to think of complex systems, or areas of conflict, in terms of ripples on a pond during a rainstorm. The very same simple ripple dynamic is playing out, creating apparent disturbances as boundaries overlap, and interact. Remembering that activity around a boundary is always emotional, it is no surprise that complex social systems almost inevitably contain underlying emotionality of one kind or another.
The ripple principle in moment to moment experience:
Another useful application of the universality of the ripple pattern is to consider that our minds and attention naturally work like this. A lot of productivity research for example makes it clear that we are most productive when we combine periods of attention and periods of letting go and relaxing. Many creative people and innovators make discoveries in the space of letting go after a period of sustained attention. This is the same principle as ripple – a focused attention / point followed by letting go as the movement spreads out into space. It is a modern illusion to think that the more we focus attention and activity the better the outcomes. In fact this principle tells us that a dynamic balance is needed at every level. Meditation itself works this way. It is not unusual for westerners to be very concerned with focused attention but not very good at relaxing and letting the mind do its thing according to its own rhythm (while still maintaining a relaxed awareness). Because it relates both to how our minds work and how situations naturally unfold, it can be useful to design any sort of event or activity with this principle in mind.