Our process in
Conference on Organisational Spirituality: "Living
Spirit – New Dimensions in Work and Learning
". Sponsored by the Human Potential Research Group (founded by John Heron
in 1970), University
of Surrey, 22-24 July 2002. Keynote Speech on 24 July. Second edition
for publication, revised from the audio transcript.
1: the divine
2: the three ways
in educational theory
am a great believer in alternative education and research centres, and I have
been involved in founding quite a number of them in my time: New Paradigm
Research Group; Co-counselling International; Institute for the Development of
Human Potential; International Centre for Co-operative Inquiry; South Pacific
Centre for Human Inquiry, etc. Even within academic institutions the centres I
established were strongly countercultural. The Human Potential Research
Project (as I christened it) here at the University of Surrey, and the
Education Department (and the Research Council for Complementary Medicine) of
the British Postgraduate Medical Federation at the University of London, were
radically alternative in ideology and methodology.
Peat, the physicist and polymath, was a neighbour of mine in Italy. He wrote
an adventurous book on Blackfoot physics funded by the Fetzer Foundation, also
an important biography of David Bohm (Peat, 1996, 1997). Peat had an online discussion group with a number of senior
people in science and art. One of the topics that came up was whether
established academic institutions were places where significant radical change
- toward what truly constitutes the generation of human knowledge and learning
- can really occur. It was
strongly suggested that alternative institutions will play a vital role in
empowering this kind of change. It
was an interesting debate and I contributed to it, particularly about one of
the big issues, to wit, that established academic institutions – with the
exception of an honourable minority - have an inveterate attachment to the
unilateral assessment of undergraduate and postgraduate students.
Such institutions claim that it is their job, their duty and right, to
assess unilaterally whether students have acquired proper and adequate
knowledge. In other words, students do not participate in the assessing
process: their work is judged entirely from without.
I think this kind of unilateral assessment does several things. It certainly
keeps control over a sea of anxious students, who are seeking to conform to
institutional norms of valid knowledge in order to get their degrees. It
certainly exempts staff from any acquiring any of the wide-ranging
interpersonal skills required for educating whole persons. Above all, it keeps
in a socially dominant place the Aristotelian account of human nature, on the
basis of which universities were founded in the Middle Ages: intellectual
excellence, theoretical and applied, is the highest end of man (but not woman,
according to Aristotle) (laughter). By and large universities still
sustain that model, with the inclusion of women. They're about intellectual
excellence in the pursuit of knowledge, and the secondary and incidental
function of the intellect is to control and keep in order our emotions and
interpersonal behaviour. Students are left to sort out all those supposedly
subordinate domains in an ad hoc way in their extracurricular activities.
is not to decry the extraordinary achievement of tertiary institutions of
learning since the Middle Ages. But unilateral assessment, and intellectual
excellence as the supreme educational goal, tend to perpetuate each other. Unilaterally assessing students looks much more acceptable
and persuasive if you're dealing with purely intellectual propositional work.
However, while it seems to be plausible here,
I do not think it really is.
a comprehensive model of learning, three things go together and are to be
practised concurrently: learning the content of a discipline, learning how to
learn, and learning to assess how well you have learned. Thus means a
significant element of student self-direction in choosing content and learning
methods, through setting up learning contracts in collaboration with staff.
Also a significant element of student self-assessment in choosing criteria of
assessment and applying them, also in collaboration with staff. Staff as
culture-carriers need to pass on to their students not merely the content of
knowledge, but a progressively developing proficiency in self-directed
learning and self-directed assessment of that learning (Heron, 1988)
A comprehensive model of learning further includes the
application of an extended epistemology. This means integrating into the
learning process at least four basic ways of knowing, not just the one
intellectual/conceptual/propositional way. First we have experiential knowing:
by meeting/encounter/engagement with people, places, processes and things –
that is, by participation in the being of what is present – a process which
I regard as fundamentally spiritual, and as the ground of the next three.
Second there is presentational knowing: by intuitive grasp of the meaning of
the patterns and forms of nonverbal imagery, as in the various arts, in
immediate perceiving, in memory and dreams.
Third we have our very familiar propositional, conceptual knowing,
mediated by language. And fourth there's practical knowing: knowing how to do
things, manifest in a whole array of skills and competencies – spiritual,
psychic, aesthetic, intellectual, political, interpersonal, emotional,
technical, clinical, etc.
There is more, for a comprehensive model of learning is
integral, holistic. This means the four ways of knowing and learning are
mutually supportive and enhancing: the soundness of each one is interdependent
with the soundness of the other three. So
the quality of your intellectual learning is affected by the quality of your
engagement with people, places and nature; by the quality of your grasp of the
significance of nonverbal imagery, in perception, memory, imagination,
visions, dreams, and your artistic productions; by the quality of your skills
in diverse areas of internal and external life. Thus your intellectual
education is a manifest of your personal, interpersonal, ecological and
practical growth, grounded in your open participation in the being of what is
present (Heron, 1992, 1996a, 1996b,1999).
integral account of learning puts an end to the Aristoelian doctrine of
intellectual excellence as the supreme educational end. For it suggests that
the primary outcomes of education are transformations of your
being-in-connectedness - essentially the unfoldment of indwelling spirit - and
the range of competencies and skills which manifest this.
And that the presentational and propositional outcomes of education are
grounded in those more fundamental kinds of change. Within
this integral model, it becomes morally and spiritually dubious to
suppose that you can unilaterally assess someone else's personal-spiritual
development as a ground for their presentational and propositional learning.
For it is at the heart of this kind of development that what authenticates it
is a spiritual authority that lies deep within each person. Indeed if staff
run a course that requires a certain amount of spiritual development, and
unilaterally assess students’ spiritual outcomes, with the possibility of
spiritually failing people, then they have simply re-created a contemporary
version of the inquisition. Assessment
in such a course can only properly be collaborative with staff, with a strong
component of student self-assessment.
So unilateral assessment becomes profoundly problematic
when you get into the deeper reaches of human nature and incorporate them into
the whole learning process. I
don't know whether universities and other tertiary institutions are going to
rise to the challenge of truly integral learning and survive - because of
their inability to relinquish their final unilateral dominance, their absolute
power to control the knowledge market. Their
capitalization of knowledge says
“We are the people who know who knows: we say who has got the knowledge
and who hasn’t”. And it is
precisely this kind of capitalization which is rendered obsolete by the
alternative centres, which are better called networks, of the emerging peer to
spirit in peer to peer processes
what is irresistibly coming forward, through peer to peer processes, is the
democratization of human knowledge – participative collaboration in the
generation and dissemination of knowledge – in a way that has never occurred
before. It’s the outcome of a potent marriage between radical
ideology and advances in information technology. Consider the free software
movement, launched by Richard Stallman, which produces software such as GNU
and Linux. Tens of thousands of programmers are co-operatively producing the
most valuable knowledge capital of the day, software. They are doing this in
small groups that are seamlessly co-ordinated in the greater worldwide
project, in true peer groups that have no traditional hierarchy. This movement
involves four kinds of freedom: freedom to run the program for any purpose;
freedom to study how the program works, and to adapt it to your needs (access
to the source code is a precondition for this); freedom to redistribute copies
so you can help your neighbour; and freedom to improve the program and release
your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (access
to the source code is a precondition for this).
wireless LANs – local area networks, that could also be called learning area
networks. In Hawaii a peer to peer wireless network covers more 300 square
miles. It’s free: anyone who wants to link up can do so at no charge. All
you need is the right equipment and a password.
All over the island people are tapping in: creative collaboration goes
on among high school teachers, among wildlife regulators, and others.
Similarly in the the Bay area of San Francisco there is is also an extensive
low cost wireless network, used by citizens for all kinds of peer to peer
In cyberspace information and knowledge can be generated
anywhere and made accessible everywhere. Already millions of people are freely
producing and exchanging information on the web. This massive amount of
informative interaction between random equal citizens is an emerging
counter-ballast to market culture of all kinds. As we get more and more
overlapping and intermeshed wireless local area networks that are free - in
terms of both liberty and cost – and avoid central servers altogether, so
that no-one capitalizes on any of it, then the dominant market culture is
severely compromised. This is
already happening on a very wide scale in the music world with the general
public downloading millions of songs, a process which is untraceable and
immune to legal challenge with the use of the new peer to peer technology. And
in the video world, people are re-editing and freely re-distributing Hollywood
movies, to make them more true to the original story-line. My reference for
the last three paragraphs is Bauwens (2003)
is a very wealthy Japanese electronics company, doing a 3 trillion yen a year
business in mobile phones. They have got a major research centre in silicon
valley in California and I had a long talk with the American who runs it. The
company is into third generation mobile phones and speculating about fourth
generation mobile media devices. They currently dominate their particular
market. The bosses in Japan want to keep control of it so that they can
continue to make an enormous amount of money.
The manager of the research centre is, however, very forward thinking.
He’s telling the bosses that it is no good supposing they can go on with
their capitalist control of the market. He’s saying that they've got to
accept the democratisation that is spreading rapidly on the web, to face the
fact that there will be an increasing number of these peer to peer wireless
LANs all over the place; and that the most the company can hope to do is to
say to them “Look, if you contract with us we can provide you with expert
resources and services that will facilitate your interactive autonomy”.
He’s urging them to humble themselves, and realise that they will
only survive if they take account of, and offer specialist services to, the
rising tide of peer to peer electronic autonomy-in-co-operation.
But the Japanese bosses are not having it: they don’t like it, and
are having difficulty in hearing it. I think they would be wise to listen
It is only a matter of time before the prevailing
academic marketing of knowledge by tertiary institutions - selling to students
institutionally validated knowledge-claims - becomes similarly challenged.
Within the next hundred years, the rising tide of peer to peer civilization
will surely bypass those who continue to try to control and market valid
knowledge. This is a looming threat to all established institutions that
insist on the unilateral assessment of students. The crisis is now, but there
is little evidence that the academic capitalists are any more alert to the
challenge than the electronic capitalists in Japan.
Years ago there used to be a free university in
Amsterdam. My daughter participated in it for about a year. This was a group
of students practising autonomy-in-connectedness, hiring external staff on a
contract basis, so that staff hierarchy was authorized by student autonomy and
co-operation. This was a harbinger of things to come, before the birth of the
internet. Now knowledge and information is everywhere accessible, and the
signposts are already well marked out. Human beings are spontaneously getting
into interconnected networks, which give birth to, and nourish the creative
interdependence between, individual autonomy and social co-operation. It’s
the prescient vision of Kropotkin (1842-1921) starting to manifest sooner than
any of us expected: a society of free voluntary associations, spontaneously
arising, united within and without by mutual agreements, decentralized and
self-governing, awakening the constructive powers of the masses.
is the grip of a humanly inappropriate degree of control which characterizes
the current dominant world order: the control of commodities and services by
large corporations; the control of valid knowledge by academic establishments
like this and others. It’s a sort of control that is out of tune with the
emerging civilization, simply not with it.
I commend to you the paper, cited above, circulated by Michel Bauwens,
“Peer to peer: from technology to politics”. It
provides a useful overview of peer to peer developments as
technological paradigm on the internet, as distribution mechanism, as
production method, in manufacturing, in politics and social change, in
spirituality, in knowledge generation.
Living spirit in the dawn of the age of immanence
I believe all this really shows
is the newly emerging power of the human spirit, the dawning age of divine
immanence, of the indwelling spirit that is the ground of human motivation. I
think that living spirit is active within us, the very deep source of all
human aspiration, both the will to live as a distinct individual, and the will
to live as a universal participant – the will to be one of the creative Many
and to be engaged with the creative One.
These profound impulses have for the past 3,000 years been
predominantly subordinate to the authoritative control of religious
traditions, teachers and texts which have promoted spirit as primarily
transcendent. And where these impulses have been emancipated from such control
they have been reduced to secular status. Secular modernity has delivered huge
gains in terms of relatively autonomous ethics, politics, science, knowledge
generally, and art. Yet it has
championed the autonomy of the isolated Cartesian ego, separated off from the
world it seeks to categorize,
codify and manage.
do think this is the century of the spirit that is living deep within: the
self-actualizing tendency of Rogers (1959, 1980), Maslow (1970), Gendlin
(1981), embedded within the body-mind; the bio-spiritual experience of grace
in the body of McMahon and Campbell (1991); Jean Houston’s entelechy self,
the ground of one’s being, the root self whence all our possibilities emerge
(Houston, 1987); Washburn’s dynamic ground of
libido, psychic energy, numinous power or spirit (Washburn, 1995);
Wilber’s ground unconscious, Eros, spirit-in-action
(Wilber, 2000a). Instead of
appealing to the spiritual authority of teacher, tradition and text, an
increasing number of people respond co-creatively with this divine dynamic
moving within. Spiritual authority is found in the exercise of a deep kind of
inner discrimination, where human autonomy and divine animation marry. Nikolai
Berdyaev (1874-1948), in the great tradition of European personalism, with
which I align myself, was on to it with his affirmation of human personhood as
manifesting the creative process of spirit. For he defined spirit as
self-determining human subjectivity engaged in the realization of value and
achieved in true community. He used the excellent Russian word sobornost to
name such a community: it means diversity in free unity. Berdyaev also had a
wonderful vision of the impending era, which he called the third epoch.
The third epoch is the epoch of divine-human co-creation of a
transformed planet, transformed persons, transformed social relationships
into my conceptual system, Berdyaev’s account means that living spirit
manifests as a dynamic interplay between autonomy, hierarchy and co-operation.
It emerges through autonomous people each of whom who can identify their own
idiosyncratic true needs and interests; each of whom can also think
hierarchically in terms of what values promote the true needs and interests of
the whole community; and each of whom can co-operate with – that is, listen
to, engage with, and negotiate agreed decisions with - their peers,
celebrating diversity and difference as integral to genuine unity. Hierarchy
here is the creative leadership which seeks to promote the values of autonomy
and co-operation in a peer to peer association. Such leadership, as in the
free software movement mentioned earlier, is exercised in two ways. First, by
the one or more people who take initiatives to set up such an association. And
second, once the association is up and running, as spontaneous rotating
leadership among the peers, when anyone takes initiatives that further enhance
the autonomy and co-operation of
other participating members.
autonomy of participants is not that of the old Cartesian ego, isolated and
cut off from the world. Descartes sat inside a big stove to get at his cogito,
ergo sum - I think, therefore
I am – and while his exclusively subjective self provided a necessary
leverage against traditional dogmatisms to help found the modern worldview, it
left the modern self alienated from the separated world it commands. The
autonomy of those who flourish within sobornost, by contrast, is an
autonomy that is rounded and enriched by a profound kind of inner animation,
that develops and flourishes only in felt interconnectedness, participative
engagement, with other persons, and with the biodiversity and integral ecology
of our planet (Spretnak, 1995). This
is the participatory worldview, expressed also in the extended epistemology I
mentioned earlier on: our conceptual knowing of the world is grounded in our
experiential knowing – a felt resonance with the world and imaginal
participation in it. This epistemic participation is the ground for political
participation in social processes that integrate autonomy, hierachy and
co-operation. What we are now about is a whole collaborative regeneration of
our world through co-creative engagement with the spirit that animates it and
us. For just a few of the many contributors to the participatory worldview
see: Abram (1996); Bateson, 1979; Berman, 1981; Ferrer (2001); Heron, 1992,
1996a, 1998; Merleau-Ponty, 1962; Skolimowski (1994); Spretnak, 1991; Reason,
1994; Reason and Rowan, 1981; Tarnas (1991); Varela, Thompson and Rosch,
Living spirit in educational practice
As I said earlier, I'm certainly a great believer in
alternative education and research, both without and within established
institutions. So here are some of my modest attempts to work with living
spirit, with two examples from within the
establishment, and one from without. I started the Human Potential Research
Project (HPRP) at this university in November 1970. I set it up as a
relatively autonomous entity within the then Centre for Adult Education -
which at that time was an extramural department.
HPRP had a purely extramural focus. As a matter of political prudence, in
those early days, we made no attempt to attract intramural undergraduate or
postgraduate students, but if they happened
to get wind of us and turned up for our workshops, they were welcome. So our
publicity went exclusively to the general public and professional groups in
the surrounding community. Through the first year I ran a programme of weekend
Human Relations Training Laboratories. I facilitated the unfolding dynamic of
each experiental group based on a few simple and basic ground-rules to which
everyone had assented. The idea was that participants would acquire new
intrapsychic and interpersonal awareness, insights and skills. My guiding
definition of love, for professional faciltitators and helpers, was “to
provide conditions within which people can in liberty determine their own true
needs and interests in co-operation with others who are similarly engaged”. It's a definition which again points to the interdependence
of autonomy and co-operation, facilitated by the hierarchy of a benign
facilitation which reminds people of the full implications of the ground-rules
to which they have agreed.
So that was the underlying precept behind that first year
of experiential learning. The next year, I added a twenty week, one evening a
week, co-counselling (peer self-help psychotherapy) training course.
I ran it as an experiential inquiry; and in fact it was a precursor of
the co-operative inquiry method which I developed fully some years later. In
the third year, I started working with the medical profession, training
experienced GPs to become trainers of young hospital doctors entering General
Practice. When the senior GP
course-organizers first approached me about a course, I said they should only
work with me if they were interested in my educational model: the programme
would be co-designed by the organizers, the participants and myself,
negotiating to include our various concerns and interests; and that my
concerns included not only this participative decision-making, but also a
significant element of experiential learning using structured exercises of
various kinds. They nervously agreed to the model. The course took off and
became powerful experiential learning arena, especially through the use of
role play to differentiate between faciltitative (you tell me) and authoritative (I tell you) interventions in the GPs’
relations both with their trainees and with their patients. In those days most
of the GPs couldn’t really tell the difference: every initial attempt to be
facilitative got compulsively skewed into an authoritative form (e.g. “Don't
you think that what you really ought to do with this patient is…”) (laughter).
courses went on for some time and were a great success, a breakthrough in
medical education. As a result, after seven years with the Project at Surrey,
I was head-hunted by the British Postgraduate Medical Federation (BPMF) of the
University of London for an extremely anomalous appointment as Assistant
Director to organize, run and innovate within, their Education Department. It
was anomalous because it was unprecedented for someone with no medical
background to fill such a senior position at the top of the academic medical
hierarchy. I realized that this was an extremely hazardous prospect. I
accepted the post on condition that I could write my own job-description, with
signed assent to it from the Federation. This was to be my contractual
protection, because I knew that once I started to innovate, all hell would
break loose (laughter).
So the Education Department within the BPMF was, like the Human Potential
Research Project within the University of Surrey, an alternative education and
research centre. The program of courses I put on was so radical, by
conventional medical education standards, that some non-participant doctors
were outraged. But a high percentage of the participating doctors were
liberated into new vistas of thought and practice, and medically empowered in
a patient-centred way (Heron, 1984). The courses had interrelated themes:
medical education as the facilitation of whole person learning; medical
practice as the facilitation of whole person healing; emotional competence and
interpersonal skills in relating to patients/staff/colleagues; in-depth
personal development as a foundation for professional development; revision of
the ethical and philosophical assumptions on which modern medicine is based.
the first few years at the BPMF, I launched a co-operative inquiry – and by
then the method was fully developed - into whole person medicine for sixteen
experienced GP's. This ran for nine months and we met every six weeks for a
long weekend to review and reflect on the innovations of medical practice
applied in the previous weeks (Heron and Reason, 1985).
Prior to this there was a preliminary weekend at which we worked out a
provisonal model of whole person medicine. It included a statement about the
integration of body, mind and spirit. When it came to planning the third
six-week action cycle, one subgroup said “Look, our model includes this idea
of integrating body-mind-spirit, but what does this mean in practice in the
NHS in our consulting room?”. So they contracted to try out different sorts
of spiritual intervention for six weeks and review and revise them at the
subsequent reflection weekend. Another
sub-group elected to look at power-sharing with patients. This, it seemed to
me, was also another way of engaging with living spirit. It was fascinating
the things both sub-groups tried out. It was indeed living spirit at work. Some doctors found that if, at an appropriate time in the
consultation, they could just pop in a simple question like “What do you
think about prayer?” or “When you're ill where does religion figure in the
experience?”, then a new depth of authentic relationship and healing
potential could be opened up. A
doctor once asked a patient of the Islamic faith about prayer and found out
that this man spent so many times a day down on his knees praying, that extra
light was thrown on the aetiology of his presenting knee problem (laughter).
Patrick Pietroni and some of the other doctors participating in our inquiry
went on to found the British Holistic Medical Association.
Now both these alternative education centres, within the
universities of Surrey and London, offered no university diplomas,
certificates or degrees for any of their courses. I chose this as a matter of
deliberate policy, for both universities would have insisted on unilateral
assessment as a non-negotiable precondition for granting any university
qualification. And such assessment was incompatible with the kind of in-depth
whole-person education which these centres practised. So in 1977, in London,
five of us founded the entirely independent Institute for the
Development of Human Potential (IDHP), to run two-year part-time courses,
integrating experiential and theoretical learning, and offering a Diploma in
Humanistic Psychology, awarded on the basis of the rigorous practice of self
and peer assessment by students trained in the method throughout the course by
the course facilitators.
institute was launched by the initiative of David Blagden Marks, the second
director of Quaesitor, the first growth centre in London, indeed in Europe. A
year after the launch, David, a single-handed transatlantic yachtsman, was
tragically drowned in a severe storm when crossing the
Irish sea, after setting sail on the basis of a highly inaccurate
weather report. As we reeled from this tragedy, I took the rudder and became
chairperson of the IDHP for a period as we refined our educational ideology
and method. The IDHP is still going strong, with current couses in process,
and its twenty five years of educational pioneering were celebrated by four
articles in Self and Society
in 2001 (vol. 29, no. 2, June-July). It has consistently affirmed, among other
things, the following: experiential learning, in the spirit of inquiry, as the
ground of multi-faceted integral learning – personal, interpersonal,
political, spiritual; emotional competence as a prerequisite for facilitative
skills (the interdependence of personal and professional development); the
intentional and empowering interplay of hierarchy, co-operation and autonomy
in the relation between facilitators and participants, and in the unfolding
of course dynamics; the
application of self and peer assessment as the sole basis of accreditation.
is so important about self and peer assessment and using it as a basis for
diploma accreditation, is that it affirms to society at large that the
validating authority for personal-cum-professional-cum-spiritual development
lies primarily within the depths of each individual person, where that person
is profoundly engaged with other persons in the developmental process and
where that person is within an educational culture that
promotes the cultivation of integral learning and self and peer
assessment skills. Autonomous
self-assessment is set in a context of rigorous peer assessment and
institutional training. The autonomy is interdependent with peer process and
institutional hierarchy. This interacting triad of autonomy, co-operation and
hierarchy (Heron, 1999) is a theme that runs through my whole talk, and is,
perhaps, a key to the dynamics of the emerging peer to peer world.
spirit in terms of a broad map of participatory spirituality
development fully considered is, in my view, the same thing as participatory
action inquiry into the immanent depths, the transcendent heights and the
situational immediacy of the human condition. And in this total arena,
pre-eminently, the ultimate authority is within. Benjamin Whichcote
(1609-1683), the Cambridge Platonist, got it precisely right when he said,
“If you have a revelation from
God, I must have a revelation from God too before I can believe you” (laughter).
Once the impeccable spiritual logic of that statement is grasped, then it is
clear that the external authority of a teacher, a text, or a
tradition rests on a prior internal authority, projected outward.
And once such projection is fully withdrawn, then we may have peer
dialogue with teacher, tradition and text – as co-inquirers - but we never
surrender to them. Final spiritual authority rests in that extraordinary
interaction between inner divinity and personal autonomy.
And this in wise dialogue with our peers, so that we can refine both
our critical subjectivity and critical intersubjectivity (Heron, 1998).
These comments set the scene for having a look at the
little map (figure 1 below) which is projected on the screen here, and which I
currently use for my own personal spiritual inquiries. I also use it for the
launch of what I call experiential journeys of opening, before a co-operative
inquiry into the spiritual and the subtle. This map is a provisional template,
it carries no external authority, it's just an authentic adventure in my mind
(Heron, 2002). Do not project and hide your own internal authority within it (laughter).
whole thing is a model of the divine. I differentiate between the divine,
which is everything on this map taken together, and spirit - which is the
bipolar vertical line. At one end of this line is spirit as transcendent
consciousness: the unborn, the uncreate, beyond all name and form, beyond all
manifestation. At the other end is spirit as immanent life: the radical ground
of our autonomy and motivation, indwelling animation, the divine impulse
within, primal shakti, the ultimate root of our will to live as
as an individual and our will to live as a universal participant.
Here the horizontal line is creation, the realm of
manifestation. At one end is the phenomenal manifest, by which I simply mean
the visible universe, nature and society. At the other end is the subtle
manifest: parallel and complementary realities - what you see opening out at
the end of the tunnel in a near death experience, the realms Monroe visited in
his out of the body experiences (Monroe, 1972), what Siegfried Sassoon
portrayed in his evocative poem:
I looked on that prophetic land
Where manifested by their powers
Presences perfected stand
Whom might and day no more command
With shine and shadow of earthly hours.
I saw them, numberless they stood
Halfway toward heaven, that man might mark
The grandeur of their ghostlihood
Burning divinely in the dark.
Indigenous cultures know all about the realm of the
ancestors and it's relevance to every day life. In New Zealand there is still
an extant Maori culture aware of this relevance; and a discriminating minority
of the pakeha (European settler) population are learning to understand there
is something important going on there.
circle on the map is, for anyone contemplating it, his or her immediate
present social and physical situation. So for us here, it is our process in
this place. From my perspective, this circle of a person’s present social
and physical location is the primary locus of human spirituality. The circle,
indeed, is local divinity, the integration of the spiritual and the manifest
here in this situation where we are. This means that relational forms of
spiritual practice, to do with the relation between persons and the immediate
environment, and between persons present in the situation, are fundamental,
central. Purely inward and individualistic forms of spiritual practice, such
as certain kinds of meditation, are, I believe, secondary and supportive.
Many traditional forms of spiritual practice are inward
and individualistic, concerned with opening to spirit as transcendent
consciousnesss. They are a splendid legacy of the spiritual traditions of the
past three thousand years, whose theologies have been focused first and
foremost on spirit as transcendent. They
will have a life forever. But to continue today to make these practices the primary
route to spirit is, for me, a misplaced allegiance to the spiritual values of
a rapidly receding era. All on their own, they tend to have two effects:
firstly, to inflate the local divinity of our process in this place to
absolute divinity, that is, to inflate the human view to the God’s eye view;
and secondly and relatedly, to lead to inappropriate authoritarianism in the
political management of spiritual community and of spiritual education and
My map suggests (figure 2 below) there are three
interdependent divine ways: the way of engagement, the way of enlivenment, and
the way of enlightenment – three interacting modes of integral practice.
Each way involves the polar dynamic of opening up, and manifesting in action;
and the manifesting, I believe, consummates the opening up. First, there is
the way of engagement with situational presence, with the divine evident here
and now as our process in this place. This means opening to the spirit of
relationship in this situation, opening to the reality that connects. “Only
connect” wrote the novelist E.M.Forster.
root practice of this engagement simply exercises our innate capacity for
feeling the presence of places, people and other entities and processes.
Through this capacity of the spiritual
heart we enter directly into a sense of interconnectedness with the
presences in our world. We feel communion, resonance, attunement, the reality
of the go-between spirit in the mutuality of relationship. Corrrelative with
this is the practice of opening to the seamless process of perceiving:
noticing that there is no gap between seer, seeing and seen; between hearer,
hearing and heard; between toucher, touching and touched; between us, the
world we image in any sensory, and extrasensory, mode and the imaging process.
perceive a world is to feel, to participate in, an ongoing interfusion of our
being and other beings, through sensory and extrasensory imaging, an
interfusion which reveals the distinctness
of each within the interactive
communion and mutual enfolding of all, and which is also enriched,
enhanced and extended by practices on the way of enlivenment and the way of
business of communion and seamless perceiving is not something to be
constructed and manufactured. It is more a matter of uncovering and noticing
what is already going on as an innate condition of our being-in-a-world. We open fully and equally to inner
and outer experiences, while letting go of any tight conceptual grip upon
them, and at the same time abandoning any compulsive emotional grasp of them.
Then we enjoy their seamless marriage within the circumambient embrace of
When it comes to action on the way of engagement, the great adventure is
that of participatory decision-making, which integrates autonomy, co-operation
and hierarchy: people co-operating in groups discussing and deciding actions
to transform their personhood, their society and their planet. In this
practice, each person moves between and integrates three positions: autonomy
– being clear what I genuinely need, want and wish for, what my
idiosyncratic preferences are, in relation to the matter being discussed;
hierarchy - thinking on behalf of the whole group and the wider community
within which the action will be embedded; and co-operation – listening to,
empathising with, and negotiating agreed decisions with, my peers, decisions
that integrate diversity, difference and unity.
think this process manifests living spirit. It is a profound spiritual
practice: exhilarating, liberating, and challenging participants with the
discomforts of ego-burning. There may be a lot of ego-burning early on in the
history of a peer to peer group, and then a co-operative dynamic emerges,
incorporating an elegantly and spontaneously rotating hierarchy or leadership.
In this dynamic, there is a period of sharing of idiosyncratic
autonomous needs, interests and viewpoints, then one person comes up with an
integral proposal that resonantes strongly with the group. This process
continues on with the hierarchical luminosity moving around to different
people, each of whom sheds practical integral light on the preceding chunk of
seems wise to allow for periods of a greater or lesser proximity to chaos and
confusion. The strongest version of this idea comes from complexity theory,
which asserts that complex systems need to get to the edge of chaos as a
necessary precursor to re-integrating at new levels of order. At this edge,
fixed assumptions are rattled, ego burns up; then a new order dawns. If a
group doesn’t deconstruct sufficiently, it won’t reconstruct in a fresh
space of learning and awareness. This applies to radical inquiry groups,
rather than to everyday management groups. However, while it is a plausible
principle, I wouldn’t want to make too much of a rule of it in any context.
What is clear is that the kind of sophisticated spiritual
skill in participatory decision-making, which I have outlined, has a huge
claim for attention on our planet. And many precursors are afoot. There is
co-operative inquiry (Heron, 1996a), and related forms of participatory action
research going on in various parts of the world (e.g. Reason and Bradbury,
2001; Reason, 2002; Yorks and Kasl, 2002). There is the peer spirit circling
of Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea, based near Seattle, and affirmed by them
as a spiritual practice (Baldwin and Linnea, 2000). This is a fine model of
the integration of autonomy, co-operation and hierarchy in group discussion
and decision-making, and is being practised in many different contexts in the
USA. The Green Party of Utah (2002) have put out a useful account of consensus
collaborative decision-making, and make the point that the process, the
practice, is as important as its outcomes. And there is, of course, a great
return now to three divine ways suggested on my map. Second, there is the way
of enlivenment, opening up to and manifesting immanent spiritual life, divine
animation moving the bodymind and all creation. The associated spiritual
practices, which we have explored through co-operative inquiry both in the
centre in Italy and now in New Zealand, are charismatic opening and primary
theatre. Charismatic opening is the simple and radical process of opening up
the bodymind and its primary energies - through improvised gesture, posture,
alignment, movement, rhythm, vocal sound and declaration - to the indwelling
empowering presence of divine animation. This can be experienced as an
all-consuming, all-sustaining, all-creating everywhere active experiential
theatre extends charismatic opening to respond creatively to the promptings of
indwelling life, giving dynamic form and voice to one’s immediate relation
with what there is; to explore, reveal and affirm in nonverbal and verbal ways
one’s primary, original relation with creation. I’ve written about primary
theatre in Chapter 8 of the fifth edition of Helping the Client (2001);
and about charismatic opening in Chapter 12 of The Complete Facilitator’s
Handbook (1999) – which also describes in detail its application to
facilitation as a relational form of spiritual practice. And this application,
together with its extension into all sorts of of other social roles, manifests
charismatic enlivenment in daily action.
Third, there is the way of enlightenment, which does not
mean here a path to any final end-state, just an ongoing practice calling for
integration with the other two ways. This practice opens to transcendent
consciousness: we disidentify from any kind of manifest form into
uncreated, unborn spirit beyond all differentiation - the simple, liberated
space of awareness. I find that this liberated space eventually always gently
and warmly disavows the disidentification and settles down around the cosmic
and psychological content which it both includes and transcends. A classic Tibetan practice is attending to everyday
awareness as such and opening to its intrinsic continuity with the free
attention of the universe, the great crystal mirror of cosmic mind within
which all things are reflected (Govinda, 1960). A related practice, championed
by Ramana Maharshi on his sacred hill in south India, is opening
to transcendental subjectivity, inquiring inwardly into the origin of
one’s everyday “I” and finding it’s source in the all-encompassing
divine “I am” (Gangaji, 1995). It is interesting to note that transcendent
practice can be integrated with the immanent practice of charismatic opening
and its application in social roles. This yields their potent dynamic unity
within the situational present (see figure 2).
The model of spirit in my map is bipolar: there is
influence upward from immanent life, divine animation; there is influence
downward from transcendent consciousness, divine mind. But the relation
between the up-hierarchy and the down-hierarchy is one of parity. They are
interdependent - mutually fructifying in a marriage of differentiated equals.
And the site of their marriage, with each other and with the manifest realms,
is the situational present, our process in this place. It seems to me that
human collegiality is the consummation of this marriage: persons in dynamic
co-creative relation with each other, with divine animation and divine
awareness, integrating autonomy, co-operation and hierarchy in transforming
their way of being in their interrelated sensory and subtle worlds. (Applause)
M (Member of audience).
A lot of my learning has come out of a model which you're going away
from, the guru model, where there's a figure of great authority and personal
attainment, such as Ramana Maharshi. I left that model because it felt the
right thing to do, and I've been more involved in the collaborative side of
things that you're suggesting. Yet somehow I still haven't quite found the
edge of learning or the power of learning that I found before. But I don't
want to go back to what I was using before, or in any way instigate that kind
of thing myself. Does that ring any bells?
J (John Heron). Can
you refine the qestion?
The question is this: Is there a danger of the kind of flat land where
some sort of quality is lost?
A sharp answer is: Only if you keep projecting it out somewhere. If it's flat land and you feel there's no qualitative
authority around, then in my view that means there’s still some residual
unprocessed projection on to past authority figures.
If you look at my book, Sacred Science, I explore the notion of
projecting spiritual authority outward in different ways at different stages
(Heron,1998). The guru tradition fostered this projection and made a virtue of
it – the guru is your Self – and this has indeed powerfully enabled a
certain kind of spiritual development on the way of transcendence. In fact,
historically, in the long age of transcendent religions, now fading, almost
all spiritual development of the human race has been a function of projecting
authority onto tradition, teacher and text. Today, however, I think we’re at
a cross-over stage, learning to withdraw the projections and ground own our
autonomous authority within the way of immanence. It’s partly to do with a
dynamic paradox of the information age. It provokes all sorts of spiritual
teachers to get out there and claim their market share of projections. But the
more authoritative teachers there are, the more it becomes obvious to the
seeker, first, that he or she needs to exercise great inner discrimination in
choosing between them all; and then, of course, that this very inner
discrimination is precisely where the true guidance, splendour and luminosity
lies. It seems to me that if your projection is only partially withdrawn, then
of course it's not a flat land out there, it's a no mans land. So check in and
see whether you’re still harbouring a hidden residue of strong spiritual
projection. How can it be flat land, how can it be no mans land, how can
it be - unless I've prostrated myself into a flat position? (laughter)
I find what you are proposing to us, what you are reporting to us, is a
process we're already engaged in very loosely. My question is actually similar
to the previous question. Where in all this is the discipline of development? Is it the discipline you've described for group
transformation, in a way the opening of the heart of the group, rather than
bringing through the paramount clarity of spirit?
Look, it's wonderful stuff, but don't let’s be too fooled by the
“paramount clarity of spirit” of luminous teachers within the transcendent
traditions. Even Wilber acknowledges that
there can be “nondual sufficiency which leaves schmucks as it finds them” (laughter)
and the “stone Buddha” practitioner, proficient in sustaining formless
awareness through discipline and attention to the guru, but whose emotional,
interpersonal and sexual life is just a mess (Wilber, 2000b).
Take the brilliant Tibetan Buddhist
tulku Kali Rinpoche, much renowned in Europe. In
his later years he took to
himself a secret sexual consort, a young Scottish woman of 22, June Campbell.
Now middle-aged, she has after many years come out about this past
relationship in her book Traveler in Space, and about the persistent
role of misogyny in sustaining monastic patriarchy (Campbell, 1996). The tulku
presented himself to his followers as celibate throughout the sexual
relationship with Campbell, which he in no way publicly acknowledged. When she
protested that maybe they could be open about it, an aide told her that in a
previous incarnation his holiness had also had a consort who made a similar
complaint, whereupon he cast a spell upon her and she died (laughter).
mysticism is in many ways magnificent, I've learnt a huge amount from it. But
if you look at the attitude of traditional Buddhist mystics they both want the
divine female principle in their theology and mystical symbolism, but the
human woman they abuse and treat like trash, as Campbell makes clear. It's an
unbelievable degree of dissonance and hypocrisy.
the brilliant Tibetan teacher C.Trungpa first came to Europe, to a community
in the north of England, he bedded and wedded a sixteen year old woman. He was
found drunk, lying prone on the bathroom floor, intoning mantras into the
tiles. So they kicked him out and he went on to the USA, where set up the
famed Shambhala institute. There he died of alcoholic poisoning at the age of
47. His immediate successor died of AIDS, having infected several other
members of the spiritual community.
dramatic spread of Zen and Tibetan institutions in the USA has led in many sad
cases to the sexual exploitation of young followers of both genders and severe
financial irregularity, with no proper accountability, and both western and
oriental teachers were involved (Crook, 1996).
So there’s been a massive abuse of spiritual projection within these
kinds of hierarchical spirituality. In the same way, the lid has come off the
Catholic Church. Let’s take the lid off all these things. Don't be fooled by
the august nature of the holiness.
relational forms of spiritual practice don’t appear, at first blush, to be
spiritual simply because of a long habituated cultural addiction to misplaced
transcendence. But once you get into them your realise their elegance and
sweet profundity. My partner Barbara and I, we do a variety of relational
forms of spiritual practice. Let me share one that we use pretty much every
day, and have used over many years. It’s one of the most fundamental, and
it’s about the way we make decisions on a huge range of issues, large and
small, that affect both our needs and interests. We each decide first in
private, without telling each other, what our individual autonomous
preferences are. So we train and discipline ourselves to notice where we
really stand on any issue, to uncover hidden and subtle preferences, as well
as own very obvious ones. Then we disclose these preferences to each other, so
we can co-operate in reaching a decision as autonomous individuals.
If the preferences are quite different, then one or the other or both
of us will find the creative hierarchical position and come up with an
integral third proposal that motivates us both. This practice is rigorous,
it’s a well-honed discipline. It’s also always interesting, because we are
continually learning about each other; and it’s often a lot of fun.
a huge creative rigour and excitement in relational forms of spiritual
practice and at this early stage in the peer to peer age, we know only a small
number of them. There is a great call in the heart to open up to them. I
sometimes get up in the hours before dawn and sit in a LAZ-E-BOY chair and
engage in one of the most individualistic kinds of traditional practice,
opening up to transcendent formless awareness. After an hour so I notice that
it descends gently into the heart, waiting for social action.
I've found what you've said very inspiring especially, and I've heard a
lot of what we've done in these 3 days and with Anita Roddick last night in
particular, as a kind of wave call. In
the beginning Josie said let's consider this as a learning community, and I'm
very much hearing that in what you've said. Everything we need is here in this
room and this group of people coming together can achieve something beyond our
greatest imaginings. Do you have any advice or suggestions?
My advice is coded into my encouragement of peer to peer processes:
co-operate with, and/or receive
support from, peers in autonomous networks, to create alternative centres of
excellence within whatever established institutions you work.
Established institutions are porous,
there are many apertures within their apparently rigid institutional
grids. And the apertures are hungry to have flowers planted in them.
me just quickly tell you how I founded the Human Potential Research Project
here. Believe it or not, it was because of seven senior police officers: they
started it off. In the late
summer of 1970, the Assistant Chief Constable of Surrey Police, who was also
in charge of training, rang the Vice-Chancellor’s
office and said: “Could you please set up a course for seven of my
senior police officers, to improve relations between town and gown”. That
office got in touch with David James, the head of the Adult Education Centre,
and asked him to put on a five day course. David went into shock, got in touch
with me and said: “Could you run the first two days, I know you're doing
lectures for the Royal Institute of Public Administration?” I agreed to do
it. After my two days, there was to be a day with the sociologists, then two
final days with the computing unit, as I recall.
Seven worldly-wise, professionally competent, senior police officers of Superintendent rank came through the door of one of the
smaller teaching rooms in the lecture theatre block, on a Monday morning. I
said to them: “Look, I can give you two days of lectures. But I could also
do something else, which will require courage from all of us: courage from me
because I've never done it before with people of your professional standing;
courage from you because it's an invitation for you to explore the relation
between your humanity and your professional role, through a series of simple
but radical exercises, and to take some risks in the presence of your
peers”. As soon as they heard
the word “courage” they lined up on the edge of the pool ready to plunge
in at the deep end and we were off (laughter). We had an extraordinary
two day journey. They looked at what motivated them to join the police in the
first place, and at what motivated them in the job today. They explored their
unfulfilled ambitions as human beings. They asked themselves whether they were
case-hardened; and what effect their work had on their personal life and
relationships. Each took it in turn to play the role of one of his own
subordinates, giving himself honest feedback on what it was really like to
work under him. And so on.
After several hours of this they staggered out into the September
sunshine spaced out of their minds. At
the end of the five days, after their time with the sociology people and the
computing unit, they had a review of the whole course. I was unable to attend
this, but I was told they went on and on about the educational impact of the
first two days. They even sent a deputation to the Vice-Chancellor’s office
to ask why they had never heard of that kind of education before. Then
I realised that here was an opening. Looking at established
institutions in terms of a hierarchy of social control, the police outrank
universities: if students are revolting, it is the police who wade in with
tear gas and batons, while academic staff are sequestered nervously in their
studies (laughter). If a radical method is commended by the police, a
university must take notice. I said to David James: “If it is possible to
have such a response with senior police offers, this is surely a mandate to
offer this educational method to other professional groups and the general
public”. And so the Human Potential Research Project was born.
As I said, rigid systems are porous: there are always openings, spaces
between the lines of the grid in which you can plant flowers. (Sustained
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