Spirited Work was an experiment in open space organization
which began in 1999 at the Whidbey Institute on Whidbey Island, Washington—one
hundred acres of woods and trails, with new and recycled buildings for
meeting and living. We met face to face each season until the summer
of 2005 and were linked in an on-line learning environment. It was a
pioneering experience of emergent organization.
Our intention was to be an open space learning community of practice,
dedicated to serving the evolution of earth, spirit and the human future.
The heart of our practice was the one law of Open Space Technology:
take responsibility for what you love. And we applied the essential
principles of OST: Whoever comes are the right people; Whatever happens
is the only thing that could; Whenever it starts is the right time;
When it’s over, it’s over.
To align ourselves with the energies of natural world, we practiced
Angeles Arriens’ Four Fold Way. (Arriens’is a cultural anthropologist
who gleaned these principles from her cross-cultural studies of aboriginal
people.) Each season, we focused on an appropriate practice: Winter:
Show up and choose to be present; Spring: Follow what has heart and
meaning; Summer: Tell the truth without blame or judgment; Fall: Be
open, not attached to outcomes.
We organized ourselves according to the patterns of Open Space Technology—patterns
which are fundamental to human relationship: Meet in a circle; Begin
gatherings in silence in order to honor and open to spirit; Establish
an open marketplace so individuals can offer whatever they are guided
to share—and the emergent field can show up; Honor and welcome
the “stranger” (or the unexpected!); Reflect on our learning;
Practice dialogic conversation in order to hear and respect all voices
and ways of relationship. Our on-line environment, provided by Big Mind
Media, replicated the patterns of Open Space Technology, allowing conversations
and projects to continue as long as there was energy for them.
Our company included a wonderful diversity: corporate folks, educators,
artists, writers, musicians, computer wizards, architects, chefs, builders,
consultants, students, preschoolers. Their ages ranged from 1 to the
mid-80s. Over 300 people participated, with a consistent core of about
35. We were international: including people from India, Australia, the
Bahamas, Canada, Europe, Taiwan, Israel, Northern Ireland, Ireland,
England, Africa, Vietnam, Colombia, Denmark. We welcomed whoever showed
up, whenever they showed up.
In the course of six and a half years, we experienced
and witnessed individual lives transforming. The collective itself transformed.
In Open Space, a higher order intelligence—the life force or gnosis
which animates everything—takes shape and form with a minimum
of constraint. Thus, Just-in-Time organization actually played out:
exactly what was needed; exactly who was needed; emerged at exactly
the right time, and ended when that form was no longer useful. When
the time came to lay down Spirited Work itself, in July of 2005, we
declared it “over”, and celebrated!
Spirited Work functioned as an incubator. People self-organized to
work together on projects, research, or long-term conversations and
learning. Some of the projects spawned include: SalmonPeople;
Global Citizens’ Journey; Integral Wellness, a systems approach
to Health; Practice
of Peace; Radiant
that Matters. Books were written: The
Trance of Scarcity, The
Power of TED, Spirited Food: A Cookbook for All Seasons.
Our forms of governance emerged from noticing what’s up? They
were simple and reflected our needs. A voluntary circle of “stewards”
convened and cared for the daily life of Spirited Work.
We learned that conflicts or resistance were a signal of something
new wanting to happen—and all that was necessary was to open to
what that was: by asking a question, initiating a conversation in the
marketplace so that those who cared could deal with it on behalf of
the whole, remembering “Whoever comes are the right people, and
everyone here cares as deeply about this as I do”.
On a practical level, Spirited Work was a gift exchange—a true
community. Money and the activities of our daily life were a transparent
and open part of our whole process. We paid for expenses by sharing
costs. We gifted additional resources so all who wanted to attend could
do so. We also made financial contributions to the Whidbey Institute
for capital improvements.
We learned that what Open Space Technology promised actually happened—with
ease, joy and verve. And the results were tangible-- at Spirited Work,
in our workplaces and in our daily lives.
As Spirited Work evolved, there were several key opportunities
to learn about collective wisdom.
(1) Dealing with money: issues came up on several
occasions as people who cared about Spirited Work’s material
life sought to enact our principles of sharing costs while providing
for all those who were called to participate. As differing opinions
collided, someone would call for silence and/or ring a bell, and from
silence, wisdom would emerge.
(2) Evolving self-governance: At the end of the
first year, Spirited Work Convenors opened their circle to everyone
who wanted to take responsibility for the whole. Taking responsibility
for what you love, and living according to the Four Fold Way became
a daily practice for many as the community dealt with personal and
collective growth issues. As practical questions arose, they were
addressed in the marketplace by those who cared about them, and as
they were articulated to all, the wisdom of the collective asserted
itself as a felt sense of inner peace and calm. Absent that, they
again reappeared in the marketplace.
(3) The natural world was our teacher: We had an
astrological reading for Spirited Work. And starting about 2002 we
had a reading for each seasonal gathering. Many times we walked in
the woods, listened to the animal world, noticed quantum flirts from
the deer and other beings we shared the land with. Often, a question
would arise such as “What does the natural world tell us about
human self-organizing systems?” and we would walk the land to
observe, then sit together under the trees to receive and share the
wisdom. So our collective wisdom was consistently enriched by our
alignment with the cosmos, with the planet and other beings.
(4) The purpose of the collective: Starting as a
community of practice for personal and collective service in the world,
Spirited Work’s purpose shifted after a Buddhist monk came for
one season in the fall of 2002. After he came—ostensibly to
learn about Open Space Technology, Spirited Work “graduated”
as a collective presence. A changing circle of people meditating on
SW’s higher purpose came into being—both at face to face
gatherings and in between. In Fall 2003, the explicit declaration
of intention to be an enlightened collective emerged—opening
the way for the easeful passing of the old form of Spirited Work (summer
of 2005), and the emergence of new forms.
Four streams seem to be evident at this writing:
Salons: Stewarding a movement for increasingly conscious social
systems/enlightened communities (Peggy Holman, with Michael Dowd,
Tom Atlee and others);
(2) Evolving the co-creative conscious collective (Anne Stadler with
Marilyn Overcast, Mark Jones and others);
(3) Developing an Integral Spirituality (Fritz and Vivienne Hull);
(4) Integral Wellness: a systems approach to healthy communities and
health care organizations l(Mark Jones, Candi Foon and others)
A report on evolving the co-creative conscious collective:
The second year of Spirited Work, I posted “Thich Nhat Hanh
says: “The next Buddha will be a collective.” What would
that be like?” Since that time, what began as my question has
become my intention.
David Bohm’s work has been central to my understanding of universal
order. He posits an implicate order (which I would call spirit or gnosis)
and an explicate order (which I would call the material world). He proposes
that there are three realms of “reality”: matter, energy,
So far in my experience, action in alignment with collective wisdom
happens through meeting in circle (physical or imagined), practicing
individual and group meditation, deep listening, receiving and acting
from guidance. Certain forms of Self-organizing such as Open Space Technology,
Appreciative Inquiry, World Cafe and Dialogue offer seamless means of
transforming resistance and opening to life force or spirit. Collective
practical action results as just-in-time leadership and form emerge
with ease. Collective wisdom is received guidance which provides meaning.
It is met with a palpable sense of profound peace and lightness—felt
collectively as well as individually-- and a recognition of “yes”.
Taking responsibility for what you love and living from inner guidance
orients your individual intention toward what spirit (or the implicate
order) wants to happen. As divine guidance manifests within each individual,
all collective relationships are elevated to higher levels of vibration/consciousness/wisdom.
A relationship circle is the receiving/transmitting dish for the emergence
of collective wisdom via individual receivers.
When individuals receive conflicting information and resistance is
present, this is simply an invitation to open more deeply: inquire into
what each is receiving, and open to the new possibility. Stewarding
Spirited Work, we would find ourselves arguing about how to deal with
some difficult issue. We learned that ringing a bell and/or simply being
silent was exactly what was needed. Miraculously this opened space,
and whatever came next was wisdom which resolved the issue.
I am now involved with the Fluency Center for Transformation and Spiritual
Evolution. We’ve been guided to practice similar means of Self-organizing
in the moment to moment evolving of our collective life. We’ve
also been guided to harmonize our collective practice with the hinge
times of the Mayan Calendar (see Carl Johan Calleman’s work),
and certain astrological moments—so that we are living in harmonic
alignment with the larger evolutionary field.
My current experience is that the more harmony/resonance there is between
one’s inner practice, the means of group organization, AND the
cosmic path of evolving consciousness, the more collective wisdom is
available to all. It manifests synchronistically, bubbling up in many
places, via many voices.
So far, I have learned that the co-creative conscious collective is
a radiant network, alive in the implicate as well as the explicate order.
It takes form as people live fluently and consistently aligned with
divine essence, collaborating in a gift exchange of appropriate relationships
whenever, wherever, and however, they are called to do so.