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Our process in this place

John Heron

International 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.

Living spirit in educational theory

Living spirit in peer to peer processes

Living spirit in the dawn of the age of immanence

Living spirit in educational practice

Living spirit in terms of a broad map of participatory spirituality

Questions and answers

Figure 1: the divine

Figure 2: the three ways

Living spirit in educational theory

I 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. 

David 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.

Now 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.

This 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.

In 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).

This 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 peer age.

Living spirit in peer to peer processes

For 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).

Consider 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 purposes.

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)

There 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 attentively.

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.

It 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

What 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.

I 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 (Berdyaev, 1937).

Translated 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.

The 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, (1991).

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.

The 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).     

Those 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.

After 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.

This 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.

What 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.

Living spirit in terms of a broad map of participatory spirituality

Spiritual 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).

This 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.

The 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 training. 

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.

The 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.

To 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 enlightenment. 

The 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 being.

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.

I 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 autonomous-co-operative discussion.

It 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 deal more.

To 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 fire.

Primary 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)

Questions and answers

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?

M.        The question is this: Is there a danger of the kind of flat land where some sort of quality is lost?

J.          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) (applause)

M.        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?

J.          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 hetook 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).

Buddhist 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. 

When 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.

The 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.   

The 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.

There’s 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.

M.        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?

J.          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.

Let 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 applause)  

Figure 1: the divine

Figure 2: the three ways



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