Self-Portrait

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Dan Booth Cohen

Hidden Solution
Needham, Massachusetts, USA

(781) 718-7158
(781) 559-8442 fax

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What is an underlying question that gives form to your work or interest in this field?

In the 20th century humanity gained the knowledge to unleash explosions to incinerate entire cities; how can we now achieve the wisdom to survive this knowledge?

What is your personal experience of collective wisdom in groups?

I have had a diverse 30-year professional career. At one extreme, I was a strategic planning consultant to the Director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the Carter administration. My assignments included a white paper that presented the first rationale for the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars) and a 30-year global strategic forecast that anticipated the U.S. military’s invasion of Iraq and Iran. Here, I saw firsthand how the political forces that exiled Robert Oppenheimer were applied to enforce a debilitating kind of collective blindness upon the group of people charged with inventing ever more potent nuclear weaponry.

At the other extreme, I walked the length of the West Bank (Palestine) on a Christmas peace pilgrimage to Bethlehem alongside Father George Zabelka, the Jesuit priest who had been the Chaplain to the plane which dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima. After arriving in Bethlehem our group spent the entire night reading prayers for world peace that had been collected over the course of the entire 5,000 miles pilgrimage route.

For the past 10 years, since selling my consulting company to a Fortune 1000 firm, I have trained and worked as a group facilitator teaching transformation, peace, and reconciliation. Collective wisdom is the centerpiece of my practice.

What is it about the work in this field that excites you and connects you to your own deepest self?

The groups I facilitate focus each process on a single individual’s pressing personal issue. The issue can be anything from an organizational concern to a matter of life and death. Since 2003, I have been working with a group of “lifers” in a Massachusetts prison. We have worked with many issues that connect each of us to the depths of human experience.

Some examples include, “I have had no contact with either of my two daughters for 30 years. To this day, whenever I think of them, it breaks my heart.” “After 25 years in prison, I am up for parole. How can I ask the State for mercy if I cannot forgive myself?” “I’ve only spoken to my brother twice in the past 15 years. Both times we starting arguing almost immediately and he hung-up in anger. How I can heal my relationship with him?”

In each case, our group found a powerful healing movement for these questions. So powerful, that the first man is now in regular contact with his daughters (and grandchildren he didn’t know existed!), the second man reports he can carry his guilt with dignity, and the third man has a caring and loving relationship with his brother.

Each time a group accesses the external field of collective wisdom, it touches my heart deeply.

Please provide a brief storyline or snapshot of what brought you to this work.

During the years when I traveled to Germany and Palestine as a peacemaker, I experienced a series of serendipities and synchronicities that shook and finally shattered my belief that everything can be adequately explained in mechanistic, materialist, positivist terms. The final blow that brought down the edifice of belief in a universe that is empty and does not care occurred in Jerusalem on a cold rain swept night in January 1984. This is when I stood on an empty street, getting soaked through to the skin, arguing with a playing card laying face down at my feet. I was living in a rented room in Bethlehem and had bicycled 10 miles to Jerusalem to eat dinner with a childhood friend. After the meal, I walked back to my bike. As I was unlocking it, I saw a single playing card face down on the sidewalk.

Six months earlier in Boston, I was walking across the Common in the company of a young woman I was trying to impress. There was a spray of playing cards on the path, tossed away by one of the 3-Card Monte dealers that practiced their trade nearby. I reached down to the ground with a flourish and plucked one card from the rest: the Queen of Hearts. My trick worked. A few weeks later, it happened again in another part of Boston: Jack of Diamonds. That October, I was in Cambridge, England and saw a single playing card face down on the sidewalk. I picked it up: Queen of Diamonds. A few weeks later it happened again in Amsterdam: King of Spades. Then again in Nürnberg: Jack of Hearts.

By the time I saw that face-down playing card by my bicycle in Jerusalem, my conviction that such serendipities can only result from blind coincidence was ready to topple. I stood over it, afraid to pick it up. I was frozen, paralyzed by the prospect of experiencing a watershed moment (or not). As I stood there, rain seeping in through the seams of my jacket and running down into my underwear, the voice of the playing card spoke inside my head, “Why do you make God’s angels do card tricks?" The voice spoke in annoyed tones and went back and forth with the internalized voice that represented me. It offered a deal. “One last time, find magic from a single playing card face down on the sidewalk. But in return, you must promise never to invoke half-feigned disbelief in the face of mystery.” After debating with myself for an eternity, I accepted the deal, reached down and picked up the Queen of Hearts.

I had heard the same stern voice before, months earlier on the first morning of this trip upon waking in a traveler’s hostel in London. After a frighteningly intense and vivid apocalyptic dream, the voice spoke firmly and succinctly as I lay semi-awake in a strange bed on a different continent from where I had woken the day before. It said: “If you want to be holy, you must give up sex and language. But your job in this lifetime is not to be holy. Learn to be human.”

My experiences with the face-down playing cards did not lead me to embrace any mystical creed. Rather, my stance towards countless such experiences with serendipities, synchronicities, telepathy or clairvoyance has always been as an enchanted agnostic, one who is open to mystery and skeptical of explanations.

How would you like to be available to others in this field?

I am always interested in making connections with other kindred spirits. I especially welcome invitations to work with groups interested in deepening their understanding of peace and reconciliation and healing their own most painful relationships.

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