Five Actions to Save GAIA. Otto Scharmer

Read the translation to Chinese here

GAIA Journey Rachel Hentsch Spadafora

“The GAIA journey really is about deepening our connection to ourselves, to each other, and to the place we are living in — our mother Earth.” Otto Scharmer.


GAIA. Image: Presencing Institute

GAIA is mother Earth in Greek mythology but is also an acronym for Global Activation of Intention and Action, which is an initiative of Otto Scharmer and the Presencing Institute.

According to Otto Scharmer, “GAIA is an impromptu global infrastructure for sensemaking, for leaning into our current moment of disruption and letting this moment move us toward civilizational renewal.

COVID-19, like any disruption, essentially confronts each of us with a choice:

  1. to freeze, turn away from others, only care for ourselves, or
  2. to turn toward others to support and comfort those who need help.

That choice between acting from ego or acting from ecosystem awareness is one that we face every day, every hour, every moment. The more the world sinks into chaos, desperation, and confusion, the greater our responsibility to radiate presence, compassion, and grounded action confidence.

GAIA offers a journey for change-makers, leaders, and citizens from all sectors, systems, and cultures — a journey that will culminate in a virtual Global Forum, multi-local and multi-regional, in July, co-created among the participants and focused on the transformation journey of the next decade.”

“GAIA’s infrastructure invites you to join with your whole Self. It is designed to be accessible to all, whether you joins from home while in self-quarantine or in concert with friends and fellow change-makers in your local organization or community.” (1)

Almost anyone can participate in the GAIA Journey; it is a free program that is offered at the current moment in four languages: English, Spanish, German, and Portuguese.

The Launch of the GAIA Journey

Collage of social media posts

GAIA Journey was launched on Friday 27th March 2020. According to Rachel Hentsch, Communications Lead at the Presencing Institute (PI), these were the day’s numbers:

  • convened over 5000 people in 5 zoom sessions throughout the day;
  • offered three sessions in English, one in Spanish and one in Portuguese;
  • managed by a tech ops team of 25 people (to handle hosting and the seamless integration of 4 zoom rooms into one single virtual space);
  • has behind it a global team of 50 people from across the world, who have risen to the occasion, sprung into action, co-designed (in less than ten days), and are helping to deliver this 14-week journey.

Rachel explains further the work that the PI team is doing in the GAIA Journey.

“This is the work we have been called to do. This is the moment we have been preparing for. All of us.”

She also quotes Otto Scharmer: “What we are trying to do here really is to bring a state of listening together more deeply and more intentionally into this moment. To pay attention to what is emerging to our own experience, both at the individual level, but also at the collective level.” (2)

The Power of Acting From the “Coeur” *

u.lab1X, u.lab2X, GAIA. Three + programs-One team

I have been a practitioner of Theory U since 2015, and I have been evolving professionally in that field, mostly guided by Otto Scharmer’s vision. The original EDX course, u.lab. Leading From the Emerging Future, which Otto teaches each September from MITx, has grown in five years to a multiplatform that runs several programs all year round, with a thriving community of 100.000 practitioners from all over the world. In 2018 Otto launched u.lab2X. From Prototype to Eco-System Impact, to complement and potentiate the original program. It convenes 300 high-performance teams from all over the world in a four-month English language journey.

The growth of Theory U as a consciousness-based systems change methodology has been organic and impressive. Nevertheless, GAIA is the living proof that when a leader walks his talk, is coherent, has a vision, is surrounded by core and extended teams that are willing to go all the way, and everyone acts from their “Coeur,” miracles happen.

One of the core principles of Theory U is stated in another paragraph below. “When we face disruption, we have a CHOICE: 1. We can either turn AWAY/CLOSE DOWN or 2. We can TURN TOWARDS/OPEN UP.”

The planet is facing the COVID-19 disruption, and Otto and his teams have turned towards and opened up. GAIA, which runs in parallel to u.lab2X, was ideated and launched in ten days in four languages and convened 10.000 people from all over the world. Everything has been done on the shoulders of the same core team, supported by a large group of volunteers from across the globe who rose to the occasion.

They are first responders in the effort to turn this mammoth of a crisis into the most exceptional opportunity for transformation that humanity has experienced since the Renaissance. I am not exaggerating. In an article I wrote in 2016 about political disruptions, I mentioned how the Great Plague of Europe gave rise to The Renaissance. I recently rewrote the article to frame Theory U as a tool to respond to COVID-19.

GAIA Live!

When I entered the Zoom room of GAIA’s opening English language session, I saw Antonio Moya-Latorre playing a Scherzo on the piano. Then, Antoinette Klatzky opened the event showing the impressive numbers of GAIA. Otto Scharmer followed her.

The GAIA numbers

Five Actions

Otto Scharmer

Otto began, “allow me to share five sentences with you and then guide you into a little moment of stillness so that we can move on a conversation together. When I thought about what is really clarifying over the last few days, these five sentences came to my mind.

  1. We are all connected. We are many. We are one.
  2. We change the system. Our behavior matters: it impacts the system.
  3. When we face disruption, we have to be AWAKE.
  4. When we face disruption, we have a CHOICE: We can either turn AWAY/CLOSE DOWN, or We can TURN TOWARDS/OPEN UP.
  5. The future we ENACT is determined by the inner place from where we act.

He explains them further.

1. “We are all connected. We are many. We are one.”

It is self-evident.

2. “We change the system. Our behavior matters: it impacts the system.”

We all knew that from Systems Thinking, and now it is apparent to everyone because it affects all of us. We need to change our own individual behavior to collectively deal with the situation.

3. “When we face disruption, we have to be AWAKE.”

Not only individually, but also collectively. When we look at the different responses (to Coronavirus) of Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, their collective response took a few days. Here in the USA, it is taking six to eight weeks.

4. “When we face disruption, we have a CHOICE:

We can either turn AWAY/CLOSE, or We can TURN TOWARDS/OPEN UP.” Our Ignorance, Hate, and Fear cause us to turn away and close down. Whereas, activating our Curiosity, Compassion, and Courage, makes us turn towards and open up. That is what we are practicing here. The GAIA journey is about practicing a deeper state. It is a capacity that we need to practice individually and collectively. We live in that tension, which intensifies as we speak.

When we face disruption, we have a choice. Image: Presencing Institute

The GAIA journey is about reaching in towards a deeper state of Open Mind, Heart, and Will, not only at the level of the individual but also of the collective.

Reimagining our civilization, creating:

Reimagining a new civilization. Image: Presencing Institute
  • New learning infrastructures, Whole Person, Whole System,
  • New democratic and government infrastructures that make Democracy, Direct, Distributed, Dialogic,
  • a shift in the economies from Ego-centric to ones that are Eco-system awareness, serving the wellbeing of all.

That is the collective action dimension of reimagining our civilization.

A Collective Journey

The collective journey. Image: Rachel HentschSpadafora

The GAIA journey starts in that spot of Sensing and Staying with. Where we connect with our deeper levels of resonance and then move with what is beginning to emerge. This all occurs at the level of the individual and the level of the face to face relationship. But also on the collective system level.

So, the GAIA journey really is about deepening our connection to ourselves, to each other, and to the place we are living in — our mother Earth.

5. The future we ENACT is determined by the inner place from where we act.

That inner place from where we operate is defined by “turning toward and opening up, or turning away and closing down.” That is true individually, but also at the collective level. The investigation of that inner place is one of the most important activities of our time.”

The Show Goes On

After that explanation, Otto guided us through a deep mindfulness session where we “seeded the intention” that we wanted to bring into the GAIA journey.

1st Breakout Session

The meeting continued with a breakout session where they divided the audience into groups of five people who proceeded to have conversations about their intentions. Then we returned to the main Zoom room to share back our intentions and have a larger group discussion.

Some Intentions from the Audience

To be a conduit of healing. To re-engage with Liberty. A group of people with whom we can nurture. It’s all connected and can now come together more than ever. I hope we can feel together with the better future, “our heart knows. “ Stay in connection and believe in transformation. Always remember: The HEART is where HEAven meets earth. To create Rooms to listening to each other with social presencing Theater to get in contact with deeper sources of knowing. Moving food and farmers into a position of being held as holy. To support communities, to host and hold spaces for listening and dialogue.

Three Questions That Are Calls to Action

Otto summarized some of the intentions and continued, “connecting with the current moment more deeply, noticing our own response, realizing that when systems fail, we the people, need to rise, the appreciation for the healers on the front lines, and that now we live in a moment where each of us is willing to connect with our own healing capacities toward others and to our own selves.

Any kind of moment of disruption comes with the need to ‘let go’, but it also comes with gifts. Like the connection to our own life intention at that particular moment, which allows us to reconsider what is truly essential to our life to continue our journey forward. To truly connect with what is essential and really connect with what we are called to let go.

What is it, when you look at your experience in the current situation that calls you to let go. What are you noticing about your own response, and what is it that you feel that wants to emerge to yourself in your own context, but also to us as a larger global community? I have three questions for you:

— What am I being called to let go of?

— What am I noticing about my inner state and response?

— What is beginning to emerge now?

Otto invited us to meditate in those three questions while we listened to Antonio Moya playing Debussy’s Claire de Lune in the piano.

Some Responses from the Audience

What am I being called to let go of?

Image: Presencing Institute

Do less, be more. Longing to slow down but still as busy. Giving up the illusion of security. I have to let go of the idea that I have to find my calling, it will find me. Let go of control, judgment, fear, depression, inertia. No longer the need to conform to a system that I do not like. I got the call to let go of my fear of taking action on the cause of the vulnerability and the heart. The need to be in the Intellect & to fix. My ego.

What am I noticing about my inner state and response?

Image: Presencing Institute

The courage to connect deeply to ourselves, to others. I am ready to take more risks and feel more courageous. I sensed synchronicity in our feeling and perceptions, and the connection is evident.

What is beginning to emerge now?

Image: Presencing Institute

Learning to TRUST the unknown. The future shows up in all our daily actions. It is there already. Everybody does his/her best. The feeling of calmness and anticipation. A newfound gift in the collaboration in technology and humanity. To be more playful, expansive. More birds are singing in my city. Everything I have gone through in my life has prepared me for this moment.

Otto’s Comments

What I am noticing is how much of what has been said resonates with the experience that brings us here. Letting go, surrender, the healing journey we are in together, the connection to nature. Lauren talked about, “Everything I have gone through in my life has prepared me for this moment.” I think that is exactly true for me; I feel the resonance there. But I also feel the resonance for us at the collective level.

Social Image Resonance

Visuals: Olaf Baldini

Then Otto invited us to observe and meditate on the illustration that Olaf Baldini had drawn of the session, and express what we saw, sensed, and felt.

Some of the reflections using: I see, I Sense, I feel

I feel alarmed. I sense the potential for wholeness. I see a world in fire. I sense love and community. I sense hope. I feel we have a choice. Opportunities. I sense the greatness of heart — the sacred, joyful that is everything. Healing. I see dropping down and arising. I see brightness emerging from the center of the image. I sense Gaia’s attempt to heal itself. I see grief and chaos. I see some light. More light than dark. I see despair, unity, choice, a grieving planet. I sense connection, empathy, and acceptance. I feel pain, fear, hope, and the need to act thanks to what I feel.


There is no conclusion because this is an ongoing story. To be part of that story and to help shape a new future for all of us, go to any of the following GAIA links:

More information on our GAIA landing page (

UPDATE: because the first time slot was sold out within the first hours, we have added two extra timeslots per date, plus time slots for communities in other languages.

  • English speakers book your seats here.
  • Spanish speakers can sign up for sessions here.
  • Portuguese speakers can sign up for sessions here.
  • German speakers can sign up for sessions here (alternative dates!)
  • Dutch speakers can sign up for sessions here (alternative dates!)

I express my deep thanks to Otto Scharmer and Rachel Hentsch Spadafora for their confidence in letting come into the GAIA effort an army of volunteers who are acting from their hearts to make this effort possible. “Everything we have gone through in our lives has prepared us for this moment.”

*Coeur means Heart in French, but it is also the root word of Courage and Core (Center).

(1) Presencing Institute, (2) Rachel Hentsch Spadafora



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Helio Borges

Helio Borges


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