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What are the images and metaphors that have arisen during the course of this Collective Wisdom Initiative?
By Carol Hegedus

Over the past months since I have been involved in this Collective Wisdom Initiative, I have made careful notes of the many images that have arisen. These images were articulated during phone calls, contained in written materials, and/or mentioned during a meeting in September 2002 at Essex, or in personal conversations. Last fall, Sheryl Erickson distributed a folder of pictures that she had collected that spoke strongly to her about Collective Wisdom. At that time, Sheryl articulated the importance of having many images around this topic rather than a single 'logo' or guiding image. Each of these various images offer dimensions and subtle aspects of the greater wholeness of this very large notion.

The following lists are images and metaphors that have arisen during the course of this work and offer insight into the nature of Collective Wisdom. How do these images help form our awareness? How do inanimate objects -- patterns on a rug, in a tile, in a liquid dancing up like a crown --help us to know the hidden wholeness? What are the images and metaphors from the Collective Wisdom Initiative that have been guiding the work of each of the individuals working within this Fetzer Institute sponsored initiative? And most importantly: does becoming aware of these images reveal qualities that we inwardly know and can actually live out of, and thereby, increase the probability of having an experience of collective wisdom?

I define imagination as the path between the experience of an event in our life, and our response and action in the world. It is that inward path of creativity that moves from the 'formless' and manifests as form outwardly in the world.

We are all creative and imaginative beings and our actions and re-actions in the world are shaped by our unique experiences. Listening to the language we use, attending to the metaphors spoken, and talking about inner images that arise during the course of anything we do, can become a practice or discipline that offers deeper insights about the nature of whatever we are involved in. Questions, metaphoric language and imagery that are articulated may be an indication that a group is moving into resonance - a quality of the energy associated with arising collective wisdom.

Inquiring into images requires a different way of thinking than we generally do. It requires listening to what the image has to say about the topic. This is what Carl Jung called 'symbolic thinking.' It offers a different perspective than we might normally have and can give us great insights about more subtle qualities and a wealth of understanding.

For the purpose of this initiative, I have categorized the following images in a way that is meaningful to me. Because of our differing life experience, the reader may see qualities that I don't see and may put them into different categories. It is critical to remember that the literal image is not what really matters - the energy the image carries is what is important. Some images might fit into several categories -- these carry energies that seem more universal to the various aspects of the work. What energy the image carries depends on our connection to it. How we respond to these images depends on the experiences we have had in our life. I suggest that you select a few specific images from the list that have meaning for you and hold them in your mind's eye; notice your experience. What energy do these images carry for you? What is the image saying to you?

Images of the group: The following images are about the nature of groups. They carry an energy that communicates the tension involved in balancing individual identity with the group identity - being one individual among many. There is a sense of beauty in the way things relate to each other. There is also a feeling of something forming, of not yet being completed or fully formed or predictable. The energy of possibility and potential is present.

  • Art form of the future
  • An affinity grouping, a collective brilliance and chorus in the field
  • Beach stones
  • A feather dancing in the wind
  • Sprouting fern fronds curled and beginning to unfold
  • A statue with 3 people intertwined

Images of the individual within the group: Several aspects particularly stand out in these images of the individual within a group. There is a quality of searching, looking, and a sense of discovery of something that has not been known before. The malleability, flexibility, and elasticity of each individual's potential energy are present. We feel the tension between our singular nature and the group experience and a larger world. The quality of being neither 'this nor that' - not singular, not group - stands out.

  • Centered on the edge
  • A single point of light and sound
  • We are all guides
  • A Sacagawea coin
  • An acorn
  • Two men leaning over a bridge rail, intently watching the water below
  • Raw pigment
  • A soft lump of white clay
  • Pioneers of change
  • A rubber band

Images of a Collective Wisdom: These images of a Collective Wisdom really communicate the relationship between beauty and wholeness. Incredible mystery and Divine order is enfolded within. They all seem to carry the largest sense of potential but also bring up issues of the magnitude of what is required in the collective and some fear around being totally lost within the vast space. There is some conflict in this energy as it both draws in and pushes away simultaneously.

  • Alex Grey's 'Universal Mind Lattice'
  • A remarkable picture of a close-up of a milk drop splash
  • A whirlpool
  • Minute crystals within a lump of coal
  • A close-up of a giraffe coat
  • Electron micrograph of beryllium-iron alloy
  • Several raw pigments combined into a single pile in the center
  • Spirit at the center

Images of the process of this inquiry: There are many images connected to water and movement in the process of this inquiry. And, symbolically, water usually means a connection to the unconscious, to the mystery. There is a quality of searching and exploration while being guided by spiritual forces. A quality of stillness and quietness seems to be a part of the holding of these spiritual forces.

  • Mapping the field
  • Movement of gifts
  • Low tide runoff
  • Doorway, threshold
  • Journey of discovery
  • Sailboats
  • Sacred gifting
  • Lewis and Clark's journey
  • Holding the whole
  • Holding all in gratitude
  • Holding all concerned in Love
  • Holding all concerned in Light
  • Attunement to flow
  • An emerging living system
  • Squinting your ears
  • Being drawn back to the ocean
  • Holding the wave
  • Large boulder in the center of a flowing stream
  • Listening to the ocean, the stream
  • Spiritual holding
  • Bridging
  • A broad net
  • An organic flow
  • Truth waits patiently
  • Creating a spider web

Images of the process of moving into Collective Wisdom: There is a bit of a paradox in the nature of these images. There is tension between what is 'form' and the 'formless' nature of this process. There is a quality of excitement and sense of discovery and risk also present and of being in that 'in-between' state. Another quality has to do with methodically working and moving while connecting to spiritual forces.

  • Living the wholeness
  • Moving out on the edge of the wave.
  • Holding the whole
  • Threading beads
  • Candlelight
  • Contracts of the heart
  • Journey of discovery
  • Nailing Jell-O to the wall
  • Working with the invisible
  • Suffocate in the cognitive
  • Collective forces
  • Doorway, threshold
  • Working in the shadow
  • Collective resonance

Images of the outcome/products of this initiative: The collective energy of the images of this section feels very large and unwieldy. The energy can't be contained or categorized at this point. Anything is possible and the focus is on transformation, taking a large view, and being open to explore new territory.

  • A firefly, lighting up every point, every person it touches, leaving behind a blessing
  • Collective forces
  • Retooling of the tools
  • Beauty as a reflection of wholeness
  • Connecting the dots
  • A steady stream
  • Symbols that go beyond language
  • An acorn squash
  • Dance of the nonverbal
  • A piece of quartz crystal
  • Artifacts that provoke, invite
  • Boldness of action
  • A map
  • A signature quality
  • Fall harvest
  • Weave the fabric of a strong and compelling community
  • A mosaic of what is forming
  • High stakes

A Final Note:

I'd like to close with a puzzling observation concerning these images. I have invited a few people to do a brief imaginative experience where I ask them to invite an inner image that speaks to them of collective wisdom. We 'receive' the image rather than 'think' of it and this image comes quite quickly. It may be a feeling in the body, a picture in the mind, a memory, color, sound etc. What is an image of their relationship to this work? What is an image that gets at the nature of collective intelligence, spiritual wisdom, or the process of getting there? (The reader may like to pause at this point and ask themselves these questions. Briefly journal about whatever feeling, picture, memory, color, etc. arises.)

Each time I have asked for these inner images while we were in a private conversation, the respondents gave a clear sense of the individual within a larger group, a larger culture. They felt connected, hopeful, secure, and surrounded by others and their 'collective' group is very large and diverse. They clearly know this place of wholeness. But the images seem to be of a larger order than many of the images that arise when we are actually participating in a collective experience. Why might this be so? What are the implications of this observation? Is there something about the collective experience that inhibits us? Can becoming aware of our inner images help us to overcome our inhibitions and actually realize a collective experience?

Perhaps this section on the images that arose during the course of this initiative offers an illustration of how to work with images and metaphors that arise during the course of your individual work in the world. I hope that it prompts a larger, inner conversation within the reader's imagination, between others as they participate in groups, and within the larger field of inquiry into Collective Wisdom. Listening to the images and metaphors that are articulated in the normal course of conversation within our family life, our work environment, and every situation we encounter within ourselves or within our relationships with others, offers an opportunity. How do our innermost thoughts, memories, feelings, emotions, mental pictures, inner sounds and other inward sensations guide us in our response to others, to ideas, to our own thoughts, or outer actions? How aware are we to these inner dimensions? What might change in our relationships and in the collective experience if we were able to increase our personal sensitivity to this inner, imaginative domain? What are the guiding images 'under the surface' in our communities and our current culture? How might we enlarge and expand and imagine more whole, common images that better serve our communities and the world? What might change in our organizations, our communities, or society if we were to live out of common images of wholeness?

Comments, questions either via "Comments", below or to:
Carol Hegedus
540 S. Stoner Ave.
Tucson, AZ 85748
(520) 546-0116

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