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 Reflections on the Evolution of Collective Wisdom
From the experience of Spirited Work: 1999—2005

By Anne Stadler

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.

Opening Night
The Feast

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 Networking; Journalism 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.

New forms:
Four streams seem to be evident at this writing:

(1) Evolutionary 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, and meaning.

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.

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