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John Heron

This paper, inclusive of some participants’ comments, also appears as Chapter 19 in Heron J., Sacred Science: Person-centred Inquiry into the Spiritual and the Subtle, Ross-on-Wye, PCCS Books, 1998

Report status A study. Place and yearTuscany, 1996.

Spiritual focus Generating an inquiry-based theory and a method of self and peer spiritual awakening.

Subtle focusGenerating subtle practices that support spiritual awakening.

Sociopolitical focus Injecting an inquiry-based theory and a method of self and peer spiritual awakening into the prevailing culture, and creating a sub-culture of people intentionally inquiring into this kind of transpersonal social change.


Twenty experienced co-counsellors, including fifteen co-counselling teachers, from the UK, USA and Holland, joined me in Tuscany, in the summer of 1996, to inquire into the possibilities of making a spiritual account of human nature central to the theory and practice of co-counselling. These co-counsellors were all members of Co-counselling International (CCI), a federation of self-govering co-counselling networks from several countries worldwide. Co-counselling, a form of peer self-help psychotherapy, was developed from a mixture of influences, including dianetics, in the 1960s by Harvey Jackins, who called it re-evaluation counselling.

Jackins developed his Re-evaluation Counselling Communities (RCC) with an increasingly authoritarian and dogmatic hand and RCC has now degenerated into a rigidly controlled cult. CCI split off from RCC in1974, and has since then successfully sustained and developed its blend of autonomy and co-operation, both within local networks and with regard to international activities.

However, the theory of human nature which CCI has inherited from RCC is entirely humanist, and in recent years there has been a growing concern within CCI, especially among co-counselling teachers, to explore ways of introducing spiritual ideas and practices both in the basic training and in national and international workshops for trained co-counsellors. Following discussions I had with teachers at a CCI teachers workshop at Harlech, Wales in 1995, I proposed to run a basic co-counselling five-day training based on a spiritual paradigm.

What in fact I did, over the first two and a half days, was to present selected parts of a radically revised theory and invited participants to explore parts of a radically revised practice. This was offered as a provisional working hypothesis, in a spirit of inquiry. The discussion of theory and the feedback on practice both led to a considerable modification of my launching ideas. The final two and a half days was an entirely free form co-operative inquiry into participants’ own ideas about spiritual transformations of theory and practice.

What emerged out of all this, for me, was a fully revised account of my provisional model for a self and peer process of spiritual awakening and development. I offer it here as the primary outcome of my inquiry with the teachers, and as a stimulus to further inquiry along these lines.

I call this approach co-creating, since while its origins lie in a revision of co-counselling, the revision is so radical that a different name for the result is appropriate. What follows is the text of the manual which I circulated to participants a few weeks after the end of the inquiry gathering.

Theory and method of co-creating


The purpose of this little book is to make clear to myself, and to others who may be interested, what kind of self and peer development I want to practise.

I call this method ‘co-creating’, since this term best indicates what it is that I believe in. It is a peer method, with people working in pairs, each person taking a turn as the creator, who is busy working in one or more fields, and as the co-creator, who is supporting the creator according to a contract the creator has chosen.

What is presented here is a working hypothesis, grounded in a variety of personal and shared experiences. This working hypothesis is provisional in form, and is in principle open to revision, amendment and correction as a consequence of further experience and reflection. There is nothing immaculate about this little book.

Some people may want to use this presentation to clarify what their own approach to self and peer development involves. If you are one of these, I offer the book as a stimulus to the clarification of your own theory and method, and I offer my support in your work. I hope you will feel free to adopt or adapt any of my ideas that are valid for you.

Others may want to try out this method as it is presented here. If you are one of these, I suggest you find an interested colleague, then each take your time, dip into the book and gradually get the feel of it. See whether it really speaks to your condition, or not. If it does, when you and your co-creator are ready, work with it in a mood of sacred experiment, adapting it to make it work for you, and feeling free always to be true to your own inner prompts. Use the method as a form of co-operative inquiry, and when you have got well into things, take time out every once in a while with your co-creator, and any others who are exploring this approach, to review and revise its protocols in the light of your deepening experience. To you too I offer my support in your work.


1. A person is a citizen of the cosmos, a cosmopolitan in the original sense of the word.

2. The embodiment of a person in this world is a challenge to express her or his cosmopolitan life and consciousness, individually and socially, in a context of biological survival within our planet’s ecosystem.

3. Meeting this challenge of the human condition generates a deep and subtle body-mind tension which is a form of cosmic or spiritual amnesia, self-forgetting.

4. A person’s primary distress is the subtle pain of this cosmic amnesia, the sense of alienation from the cosmic playground and from the locus of divine life within.

5. When persons notice their coming into being, remember and reclaim their status as cosmic citizens, with expanded awareness and inner attunement, they disperse their primary distress, the body-mind tension of spiritual forgetting.

6. When whole societies of people are in a state of spiritual amnesia, primary distress and its attendant tension go into overload and burst out as interpersonal hurt, face-to-face wounding. This is secondary distress, of which there is great deal on our planet.

7. There are two other consequences of widespread cosmic amnesia within society, and they interweave with the primary consequence of face-to-face wounding. They, too, are forms of displaced primary distress.

8. The contracted awareness of cosmic amnesia and loss of inner attunement is a choice made in response to the challenge of human embodiment; and it is a choice which generates the cycle of pain.

9. The sequence is: I forget, choose not to notice my continuous genesis, and contract my being, then I feel primary distress; when this accumulates I displace it into exchange of interpersonal hurt, and then this contracts my being more.

10. These two different kinds of contraction lead to two complementary kinds of healing, and the first kind of healing is the foundation of the second.

11. Primary contraction, cosmic amnesia, has a historical dimension and a present time dimension, and the latter is more basic.

12. It follows that the self-perpetuating cycle of interpersonal hurt, while it is strongly reinforced by past history manifest as current habit, is not here and now primarily caused by it.

13. The basic form of interpersonal hurt is the victim-oppressor dynamic, and this dynamic is fundamentally always an exchange, a two-way process.

14. A person, in the very act of coming into being now, is a co-creator of their being in their universe and their immediate setting.

General application

The purpose of this section is to outline four broad areas for the application, the living, of the theory, four ways of putting it to the test of lived experience. I think all these four ways need to be concurrent, interweaving and supporting each other, and the first is the most basic, the foundation of the other three.

1 Awakening to cosmic citizenship Choosing to remember who we are, opening up fully to our cosmopolitan status, our coming into being now, and dissolving primary distress.

2 Emerging with full self-esteem and interpersonal regard Healing face-to-face wounding and interrupting the self-perpetuating cycle of exchanging interpersonal hurt.

3 Co-creating a self-generating culture Working in interrelated networks to generate alternative sub-cultures and to disperse the restrictive impact of conventional social taboos.

4 Becoming an artist in living Choosing embodiment as a canvas for personal and shared symbolic expression of the meanings we give to, and find in, our co-created cosmos; and so recovering from the divisive, alienating use of language.

Application within co-creating sessions

Co-creating sessions are one-to-one, on a reciprocal basis, each person taking a turn both as the active creator and as the supportive co-creator.

1 Participating in free attention This is the foundation practice for both creator and co-creator.

2 The powers of free attention Unrestricted free attention that is everywhere appears to have at least four major powers, if given an opening by persons to do so. These are four powers to which both creator and co-creator, for their different purposes, can be responsive.

3 Human foci of free attention There appear to be at least three main foci or centres in the embodied person, where the four powers of unrestricted free attention can manifest in the creator to enhance and further his or her work.

4 Balance of awareness The creator’s session seems to go well if there is a balance between expanded awareness, that is, being open to the wider reaches of unrestricted free attention, and focal awareness, that is, being open to how free attention is at work in one or more of the three main human foci.

5 Four forms of awareness The creator in a session can enter four forms of awareness, doing creative work in a balance of the first two, and being blocked in a coagulation of the second two.

6 The work of the creator Here are some suggestions about how you, the creator, might proceed with a session. Also before your work begins, choose what kind of contract you want with your co-creator and let him or her know. See no. 11 below, for the three contracts. Before your session begins, generate together with your co-creator a sacred space, a shared field for both of you in your different roles to access (see no. 1 above and Teaching point no. 1 below).

7 Co-creation fields These are the different fields the creator can range over during a session. I call them co-creation fields since they are generated in the context of a co-creating contract. The creator is familiar with them for the purposes of self-direction and of openness to wide-ranging inner prompts. And the co-creator also, so that she or he can make relevant interventions, when that is the contract chosen by the creator. Both the creator, and the co-creator when making active suggestions, have in mind the field skills proposed in sections 8 and 9 below. What follows is a sketch: co-creators will elaborate it further in practice.

As I said above, the soundness of a prompt is marked by the fact that it comes when you are inwardly relaxed, and is accompanied by an unmistakable subtle liberating release of energy. You may then want to reality-test the life-prompt and work out in a more rational way what seem to be its implications. The issue you take to this place will usually be quite specific, occasionally it may be very general. Be open to a response which says, effectively, ‘It’s up to you’.

8 Field skills for the creator Here is a range of simple common sense skills for the creator when working with the different fields.

9 Field skills for the co-creator These apply to the co-creator who has a contract to make suggestions to the client (for contracts, see no. 11 below).

10 The role of the co-creator The basic role of the co-creator is to generate and sustain, together with the creator, a shared field for accessing the four-fold power of universal, unrestricted free attention. This power is then focussed both in the work of the creator and in the creative support, silent or spoken, of the co-creator.

11 Co-creating contracts The creator chooses and states a contract for the co-creator’s support, before starting his or her session. The creator may change the contract at any point in the session. There are three basic contracts.

Teaching points

When doing a training in co-creating, the following pointers seem to me to make good sense.

1 Sacred space Offer plenty of exercises in creating a sacred space, a shared field for accessing the powers of unrestricted free attention. I would offer these exercises first of all for the whole group, where they are more powerful, and then invite people to try them out in pairs, as training for opening sacred space in one-to-one co-creating sessions.

2 Fieldwork and inner prompts Offer several exercises in which people first learn the repertoire of fields and then learn to ground themselves in their enteric brain, the belly-mind, the psychic and spiritual womb below the umbilicus, and open to its prompts about working within a field and moving between fields.

3 The regression field After exercises in fieldwork and inner prompts, I would have an in-depth training in regression, catharsis and spontaneous insight, for healing the memories of interpersonal hurt. Creators would be trained to be self-directing in this work, using back-up contracts from the co-creator. This would be a very important part of the training. And it would be set within the wider context of spiritual awakening and multiple fieldwork.

For an account of cathartic methods, see Chapter 7 in my Helping the Client (Sage, 1990), always remembering that, in co-creating, these methods are primarily for creator self-direction and only secondarily for co-creator intervention. See also mine, and others’, co-counselling manuals.

4 The co-creating community I would propose that a co-creating community is not only a network of those who have co-creating sessions and attend local, national and international workshops. It is also at the same time a network of those implementing together a self-generating culture. This I defined earlier as working to generate alternative sub-cultures and to disperse the restrictive impact of conventional social taboos.

5 Political know-howA co-creating community would also be aware and imaginative about how its facilitators and organizers balance hierarchy (deciding for others), co-operation (deciding with others) and autonomy (people deciding for themselves) in its various meetings, workshops and activities.

6 Inquiry reviews A co-creating community would also want to have periodic review meetings, locally, nationally and internationally, at which the theory and method of co-creating is confirmed and deepened, or disconfirmed and amended, in the light of ongoing experience of its use.

June to December 2008: South Pacific Centre for Human Inquiry. A group of eleven field-test a comprehensive update of the peer self-help holistic development method of co-creating. For three new basic update maps see MAP 1MAP2MAP3 (pdf files).