My intention in writing
this paper is that it be a helpful guide to others who wish
to encourage and evoke the emergence of collective wisdom whenever
In this paper I will share with you some
of my journey of learning and the kind of thought processes
and actions I engage in as I prepare for a gathering where there
is an explicit or implicit need for collective wisdom to emerge.
THE FIRST YEARS…
In March of 1975, I was sitting in the auditorium at Gunn High
School in Palo Alto, California listening to a series of speakers
explore the territory of Parapsychology in a University of California
Extension seminar that I had helped to convene. The last speaker
of the day was an elfish looking physician/scientist and author
with a wry sense of humor, by the name of Irving Oyle. Slowly
and unerringly, he wove the wisdom of many traditions together
- Jungian psychology, eastern philosophy, quantum physics, chemistry,
poetry – on and on he went creating a web of coherence.
As he spoke, one sentence leapt forward, perfectly designed
to pierce MY individual consciousness and forever change my
“Consider that reality may be crystallized thought,”
he said with an impish twinkle in his eyes.
Having heard the words, there was no way to go back. No way
to “un-hear” them. They had forever penetrated my
carefully nurtured mid-western certitude about “how things
are” and how they “should be”. “Consider
that reality may be crystallized thought…” - continued
ringing in my ears, refusing to leave me alone. I’ve been
“considering it” for the past 29 years. At first,
it was a thread that I followed as I moved along the path of
my life – like Ariadne’s thread – taking me
deeper and deeper into the labyrinth, first of individual reality
and later in my life of collective wisdom and collective reality.
At some point, it grew to be many threads - one leading here,
another calling there and others first sensed only intuitively
which became “visible” much later. Eventually, a
tapestry was woven of these many threads that was strong enough
to hold all of me and that has become the ground from which
I work. This is the story of that journey. I remember those
first years and the excitement and terror of “considering.”
I didn’t want reality to be crystallized thought –
at least not MY crystallized thought. Or maybe it could be “my”
thought on the good days and everyone else’s thoughts
on the bad days. It was the beginning of truly taking responsibility
for ALL of my life and for confronting my own death –
the death of the small “I”. That “I”
within me railed against the journey I was on. That “I”
didn’t want to take responsibility for creating the reality
I experienced. Anger emerged again and again.
I remembered Elizabeth Kubler-Ross speaking about the five
psychological stages of death. First, denial, then, anger followed
by bargaining, depression and acceptance. I went through them
all. And the insistent gnawing inside of me, demanded I continue
the journey – wherever it might lead, and at times, oblivious
to the cost to myself and others.
The journey continued.
I found myself thinking, “If our thought
is a lens which - in a real way - creates the reality we experience,
how might that “truth” be used in groups to foster
healing, to foster wholeness?” And now I would add - to
foster the emergence of collective wisdom?
Photo by FireHawk
In this seed paper, I will use a design
to describe aspects of what I have discovered, learned and experienced
in my life journey walk about enabling the emergence of collective
wisdom, about evoking healing and wholeness in any situation.
Think of the design as four radiating
spokes of a wheel or a circle. You can start anywhere on the
wheel. What matters is that you go all the way around the wheel.
These four spokes are not isolated territories but aspects of
a larger dance of wholeness that are always in dynamic relationship
with each other much as four dancers might move about a dance
floor – always in relationship to one another, first one,
then another taking “center stage,” creating new
patterns at each moment in time.
Imagine a circle- like a map with North
at the top, South at the bottom, the East on the right and the
West on the left. In the SW is Intention. In
the NW is Creating the Container. In the NE
is Beauty and in the SE is Attending
to the Present Moment. Encompassing it all - is The
Circle. The elements of this design will be addressed as the
The story continues…
“Consider that reality may be crystallized thought.”
I began to think about applying the ideas I was exploring to
my professional work as a Continuing Education Specialist at
University of California Extension/Santa Cruz - organizing interdisciplinary
conferences and symposia around what at that time was variously
called “the paradigm shift, holistic healing, the nature
of human consciousness and the nature of reality.”
It was through listening to The Tao of Physics author, physicist,
Fritjof Capra that I understood that separateness from the quantum
perspective is an illusion, created by the particular set of
lenses we use to perceive something.
Our beliefs, my certainty of things being “this way”
literally created the bounded lenses of perception through which
I experienced over and over the “reality” of my
beliefs. If I changed my beliefs, I changed my experience, my
Photo by FireHawk
OF INTENTION AND CONSCIOUSLY CREATING THE CONTAINER IN WHICH
THE PEOPLE GATHER…
Sitting in a weekend long est training, I first experienced
the impact that the focused, intentional awareness of those
who were supporting the training had upon the experience of
the larger group experiencing the training.
I wondered what would happen in the events and conferences
I was creating if we began to pay attention not only to the
things that were done (and said) but to how they were done and
to “who” was doing them, to the consciousness behind
the “doing”. What if our intention were that the
educational form be an embodiment of the ideas being explored?
I began to pay attention to what I now call “The
Conscious Creation of the Container.”
I was working with a wonderful team of young women and men
who were game to try almost anything. So experiment and play
we did – pushing ever outward and inward the boundaries
of the traditional, university-level, educational experience.
Some things may seem obvious –
such as if you wish to facilitate the emergence of collective
wisdom from the center of a group of people, there must first
be a container. Without boundaries, without a conscious container,
there is no center through which wisdom can emerge. The basic
form of container that I work with both literally and figuratively
is the circle. The circle is the oldest symbol I am aware of
for Oneness or Wholeness.
And I’ll speak to other things
which may not be so obvious but which have become the ground
for all of my work – no matter how different the outer
forms or circumstances of the work may be.
My deepest intention is always
to serve, to encourage healing (in the meaning of fostering
wholeness) and to embody love.
I realized over time that by setting
a clear intention for each gathering, for each day – I
unleashed an energetic field which then drew the outer physical
manifestation of that intention to me as I simultaneously was
making my way towards “it.”
As an aspect of Creating the Container, we learned about,
what many years later I would come to call – “taking
the people into our hands.” Caring for them at many different
levels and in many different ways. Coming into a personal relationship
with them – even though at times there were 1500 of “them”
gathered for a weekend symposium.
All of this was in the distant days before computers and e-mail
made communication easy and instantaneous. “Taking the
people into our hands,” meant many different things. We
made sure they had directions to where they were going, compiled
a list of places to stay for those spending the night, gathered
the names of restaurants so they could easily choose where to
eat, worked out parking with the various cities in which we
met. We sent them a letter of welcome with all of the information
you’d like to have but wouldn’t even know to ask
if you hadn’t been to a particular place or event before.
On the day of the event they were greeted warmly (sometimes
with wildly-colorful signs and flags and enthusiastic people
as they took the freeway exit into Santa Cruz) and treated to
food and drink that the team had gathered, arranged with love
and with a focus upon beauty. There were always people the participants
could go to if an issue needed resolving. While all of this
may now sound like standard or perhaps not-so-standard corporate
procedure, it was a new ground for a university level, educational
The same level of intentional caring we showered upon others,
we shared among ourselves. We always gathered the entire team
of staff and volunteers together before the event and spoke
to the essence of the event, to our intention for this specific
event and to our individual parts in it – to their importance
and to the importance of our individual and collective frames
of awareness or consciousness upon the outcome of the event
We rented large beach houses and housed the speakers/teachers
together for the duration of the event – be it for two
days or two weeks. Early on we learned that what happened or
didn’t happen during the event itself was greatly impacted
by the informal time the speakers spent together and the relationships
they formed with one another.
We always brought in plants and flowers if they weren’t
already present. We consciously chose specific music to play
during the breaks and before and after the event began and ended.
Over time, that evolved to having live musicians join us.
We thought about the different learning styles and structured
our programs to honor those different styles. Speakers were
chosen for their ability to speak to both sides of the brain.
On and on it went. Whatever we learned at one event we would
apply in the next. All of this occurred as a part of “taking
the people into our hands.”
Today - to me, each gathering of people
is a sacred gathering.
Photo by FireHawk
The circle is the container. Our individual
and collective intentions are the lightning bolt, the sparks
which organize the energy within that container into a coherent
wholeness – whose meaning is unique to each individual.
Much as a dream symbol can have many meanings. I believe it
is our job to help create the container and to foster the clarity
of intention of each individual present.
We never knew what would happen and trying to “gently
and firmly create and hold the container,” became as exciting
and alive as surfing the edge of a wave or riding a roller coaster.
It became a formal practice ground for me and continues to be
so to this day. Describing the scientific rational for what
we were doing and why to other faculty members or to the local
medical board was at times like “walking the plank.”
We were never sure when we might fall off the edge or the plank
be withdrawn. I remember clearly a physician telling me that
the idea that our thought could influence the functioning of
our body in any way was heretical hogwash. The idea that separateness
is primary does not die easily.
Containers (in which the people gather)
are both outer physical forms and inner disciplines which, when
worked with consciously, can foster the emergence of individual
and collective wisdom. An outer container might be a hotel meeting
room, a grove of trees, someone’s living room, a table
at a restaurant, a medicine wheel, a work team. The inward containers
are the various disciplines and attitudes which foster the emergence
of wisdom – the principles of Bohmian Dialogue, the talking
stick, the wisdom council, meditation, an appreciative stance
The greater the mastery at creating
and holding both inner and outer containers, the greater the
probability that collective wisdom will emerge.
Photo by FireHawk
SETTING ASIDE THE SMALLER “I”
I remember the moment in my journey when I realized I had to
choose, to decide whom it was that I served. The 70’s
and 80’s were heady times. Everything seemed to be changing
and we were flying high. The programs we were creating at UC
Extension became a magnet – drawing nationwide interest.
Reporters from various national magazines and newspapers began
calling, wanting to interview so and so or to attend one snippet
of a conference and then write about it as if that one piece
were the event as a whole or as if that “piece”
were the most important. We, on the other hand, were attempting
to learn to focus upon the whole, to see beyond the parts (exciting
as they might be), knowing that the wisdom from the whole that
emerged each time was greater than just the sum of the individual
I felt like a protective mother bear – each major symposium
was my child and needed to be carefully tended and nurtured
until it was ready to emerge in the outer world. It’s
gestation needed to be respected. And since all of the events
were (in one way or another) about the reality of wholeness
and designed as a whole – it seemed out of integrity to
me with the essence of our exploration to invite a reporter
to come in and listen for an hour and then write his/her story
about a particular part. And yet the siren-like lure of national
attention beckoned enticingly.
Sitting at my desk one afternoon, talking with a reporter,
I realized I needed to decide in that moment both whom I served
and what I saw as the essence of my function. It was time to
choose. The inner answers came quickly: “I serve the light”
a voice inside me said; and at its essence, I hold the function
I perform in enabling these gatherings – as sacred.
Reaching that clarity and making that choice made life simpler
– not easier, but simpler. The response to each reporter
was the same.
You are welcome to attend and write whatever you choose –
but ONLY if you attend the entire event. That guideline served
I tell that story because it reminds
me that setting aside the smaller “I” (as best we
can at each moment in time) is a prerequisite to the creation
of a sacred container. I have come to understand that all of
life is sacred. All gatherings are sacred. One of our responsibilities
is to remember the sacredness in each moment, in each individual,
in each setting and to call others to also remember.
Photo by FireHawk
We give a great deal of attention to
the creation of the container – no matter where the gathering
or what the form that it takes. We take the same care in preparing
for a meeting of the parents of our daughter’s high school
volleyball team as we do for the creation of a Summer Solstice
(In the 80’s, I left the University and
began a deeply inward journey of learning with several teachers
that eventually brought my inner and outer worlds into alignment.)
Photo by FireHawk
BEING AWARE OF THE ENERGY OF THE
Many years later, I was at a gathering at which the Iroquois
elder Paula Underwood was present. We had been having a discussion
about time management and someone asked Paula about her perspective
on time management. Paula began by saying that first of all,
her people didn’t pay attention to “time.”
That from their perspective, “time” was an illusion
(just as separateness is an illusion). She went on to say that
she had been taught to pay attention not to time- but to energy.
How is the energy moving? Is it stagnant? Is it alive and vibrating?
Is it filled with tension? What is the sound of the energy?
Is it flowing smoothly?
Some three years earlier, prior to meeting Paula, I had begun
an eight and a half year apprenticeship with a mixed-blood Native
American couple to learn an ancient body of Earth Wisdom Teachings
–oral teachings that were created and passed on by indigenous
people who observed and studied life around them. The intention
and design of these teachings is to foster wholeness and balance
in each moment - with all of life. It was an intensive training
demanding “not less than everything” as my teachers
were want to remind me over and over again.
There were many aspects to the training. One of the primary
ones was in learning to “read” and work with energy,
with the individual and collective energetic fields that comprised
the web of life in which all life exists. It was as a result
of this work that I began to experience myself as integrated
within nature rather than separate from it. I learned to connect
to the energetic source of life and to create from and with
One of the greatest gifts I’ve
received, is learning that the wisdom that is needed for ANY
issue or circumstance is always available in the present moment
– if we open to source, to one another, to all of life
and… patiently and firmly continue to “live in the
Our culture is a problem-solving culture.
We rush to find a solution, sometimes at great personal and
collective financial cost and effort. We’re not taught
to live in the question - stretching ourselves – opening,
opening, opening to life, until the needed answer or response
simply and obviously “appears.”
Developing the ability to “live
in the question” reduces stress enormously. “I”
-don’t have to know everything. “I” - don’t
have to have every answer. “I” - simply need to
connect with source, create the container, hold a clear intention
or question – and listen to what emerges from the people
and life around me. “Work” becomes a joyous, exciting
experience. I never know where “the answer” will
come from. It doesn’t always emerge from other humans.
Sometimes the “answer” I seek is triggered by a
song playing on the radio, a sign on the freeway, words spoken
by a friend who has no idea that I’m holding a particular
At other times, the “answer”
comes from something seen or heard while walking in the woods,
or sitting at the beach, from the way light dances in the forest
revealing form and function in beautiful and inspiring ways.
Life simply responds – providing what is needed at this
And if it doesn’t, I continue to
hold the question trusting that everything comes in its own
timing and knowing that responses that are forced are often
less than the needed whole responses to a question.
WHAT IS NEEDED (to foster wholeness and balance in this moment)?
I learned to hold this question in the forefront of my mind
much as humans held physical shields in front of them for hundreds
or thousands of years. What is needed in this circle of people
right now to foster wholeness and balance? I ask this question
of myself when I gather with my family in the morning. I ask
it as I wait in line feeling my own impatience or that of those
around me. I ask it in every meeting I am in. I ask it as my
daughter’s volleyball team looses in the semi-finals game.
I ask it when a discussion becomes cantankerous.
There are many forms to the question that help me more clearly
distinguish just what “might be needed.” I might
ask: Is the energy alive and vibrant and moving? Is the vision
clear? Are the people truly present to all of life? Is there
a sense of freedom and playfulness present? Is our purpose and
intention clear? Does something need to be healed or addressed
before we can all move forward? Are we in harmony with the larger
rhythms of the day, the season, this cycle of life? Do we have
a clear plan? Do we need to shift the way we’re working/being?
In the same way that “living in
the question” makes life much less stressful, learning
to pay attention to and shift energy creates an ongoing experience
of aliveness in each moment and things seem to get done - effortlessly.
One of the ways I experience energy is as a river that is flowing.
When a group of humans are gathered, it is my responsibility
to pay attention to that flow, to ensuring its continuing flow
and to helping us get out of the eddies or quagmires when we
inevitably get caught. This is a different focus than “getting
the job done.” By focusing upon the energetic field and
responding appropriately, the job “getting done”
simply happens within the context of the flow of the river.
From one perspective, the answer we seek
or the work that needs to be accomplished is already there or
already done. It is held within the river of energy, and if
we flow with the river, we discover that which we are seeking.
It has been there all along – waiting for us.
Learning to be present to the moment and to what was needed
in the moment was difficult for me. It’s still a challenge!
I discovered that I couldn’t truly know what was needed
in the moment without first of all being truly present to the
moment – not dreaming or worrying about the future or
wishing I were in or regretting the past. Wanting to be anyplace
else but RIGHT HERE. Three of my years of training were with
an intense focus upon learning to be in the present moment,
to access the wisdom of the past that is available in the present
moment and to then speak to what was needed in the present moment
from the ground of being truly connected with life. You might
say I needed a great deal of remedial work in this territory!
One of the simplest ways I move into the present moment –
if I discover that I’m somewhere else – is by focusing
upon my senses. I pay attention to my breathing. I listen to
the sounds around me. I feel the caress of the wind upon my
face or the gentle softness of the clothes I wear upon my skin.
And then having reconnected with the now, I continue. It’s
like reconnecting with an old friend.
Photo by FireHawk
All of my medicine training occurred in ceremony. Daily life
became a ceremony – a sacred circle. It is September of
1992. I am attending the first weekend of a six-month long teaching
ceremony on The Council Process. The ceremony is held in a 60
foot medicine wheel high in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It begins
early in the day, before sunrise and continues long into the
Over and over again, each time we leave the medicine wheel,
my teachers rake the wheel, creating a new beauty. (By this
time, I think I know a lot about creating space in which the
people can gather. I know what it takes to create flawless,
powerful gatherings. It takes a lot to impress me.) I’m
impressed! Much more importantly, I find myself deeply moved
– touched in an inexplicable way by the beauty being created
with each turn of the rake, with each touch of their hands.
I have never witnessed such attention to beauty nor had I ever
been the recipient of so much beauty. Like the words “consider
that reality may be crystallized thought” which many,
many years earlier had pierced my consciousness – forever
changing me, experiencing the attention to beauty which again
I experienced as being done – just for me – opened
my heart to a wider reality.
It was the beginning of the thawing and unbinding of my heart
which enabled me to experience yet a deeper reality and wisdom–
the reality and wisdom of beauty, the reality and wisdom of
truly respecting all of life. Not just being polite, but actually
respecting something/someone in every cell of my being. I was
to encounter the fierce discipline which accompanied my journey
of learning about beauty and respect later in my training. For
now, I was overcome by the beauty and the obvious attention
to detail that surrounded me.
I remember much later in my journey asking
my teachers “How do you foster the experience of sacredness?
How do you evoke and enable the experience of being in “the
shimmering?” as we called it so that people can remember
their connection with all of life, with that energetic river
that contains Everything.
Their response surprised me. “Pay attention to beauty.
Create beauty everywhere.”
What is it to create beauty everywhere,
I wondered. I was to learn that beauty always has a wholeness
to it. In its myriad forms, each manifestation of beauty has
a perfection, each is somehow complete. So that in creating
beauty, I am creating wholeness wherever I go.
The outer beauty is mirrored by our inner
beauty. We do not perceive that which is not already within
us. So by creating beauty, by surrounding humans with beauty,
we remind ourselves of our own wholeness and beauty. In my experience,
when I am surrounded by beauty, I open and relax into a deeper
state of being. The surface entanglements which sometimes plague
humans when they come together are powerfully mitigated by large
doses of and expressions of beauty.
Every gathering, every ceremony, every
meeting we are responsible for, always has a central place of
beauty – an altar – whether we outwardly call it
that or not. It represents and anchors the center, the sacred
space from which the wisdom we seek emerges. We often use flowers,
candles, a bowl of water.
At other times we gather items which
have a special relevance or meaning to the group we are working
with. We’ve had toy caterpillar tractors and hard hats
in the center of the circle as well as computer chips or stuffed
animals. It matters not what the items are.
What matters is the loving gathering
and placement of the items in the center. Trust yourself. Invite
others to bring items for the center as well. Share the significance
of the items you’ve brought with one another. The “altar”
serves as a focal point for our consciousness.
The imprint of beauty – alters
That long ago moment of being pierced by beauty in the medicine
wheel will always stay with me. I felt so cared for, so loved
and treasured. I realized how seldom we as humans go out of
our way to create beauty for one another or even for ourselves.
Creating beauty has become another of my daily practices.
This story has not ended. It continues unfolding. Snaking its
way around obstacles, moving onward – growing in its understanding
and hopefully growing in its wisdom.
May it be of service to you.
May every thought – be beautiful.
May every action - be beautiful.
Beauty before me. Beauty behind me.
Beauty to my left. Beauty to my right.
Beauty above me. Beauty below me.
Beauty All Around.