There is a way that nature speaks, that land speaks. Most of the time we are simply not patient enough, quiet enough, to pay attention to the story.
— Linda Hogan, Native American author and poet
Look deep into nature
and then you will understand everything better.
— Albert Einstein
I recently participated in the Summer 2008 Presence Walkabout hosted by Glenna Gerard, renown for her work in the field of dialogue (Dialog: Rediscover the Transforming Power of Conversation, with coauthor Linda Ellinor). This Presence Walkabout was “intentionally focused on exploring the frontiers of collective consciousness and the ways in which our relationship with Land invites and facilitates this experience.”
The program’s invitation drew a delightful collection of diverse colleagues, 3 men and 4 women, and a couple of ‘virtual participants’. We quickly discovered our deeper shared interests and concerns: the personal and collective evolution of humanity and our love of Life, our love of the Land and of the Earth, our concern for these and for the state of the world—and who we are within it.
These shared concerns and passions emerged into view as we explored the initial questions proffered by Glenna:
- What is consciousness?
- What does it mean to ‘be conscious?’
- What models of consciousness might inform our inquiry?
- What is it for a group to create and experience a “collective” consciousness?
- What practices might a group develop to nurture such a state of awareness and intelligence?
- What role might the awareness of such a collective consciousness play in today’s emerging political and business world?
Our inquiry into collective consciousness was deepened by the by the demanding beauty of Northern New Mexico. Each day of our seven included an excursion into a landscape of enchantment, and non-religious but intentional invocations of its presence into our personal and collective consciousness. Glenna’s leadership, grounded in the land as it is, made these invitations of awareness artful and appropriate and without pretension. A meditative walk in the surreal Plaza Blanca setting near Georgia O’Keef’s Abique, a labyrinth walk, a visit to a pueblo ruin, a medicine wheel, circle listening… such ceremonies of calling intention into presence became gifts of simple ritual appreciated by all.
The embodiment of appreciation and gratitude rose early into our presence as practices to deepen our inquiry, as did the simple and yet profound practice of simply placing questions into the center of our circle without defaulting to a cultural need to respond or answer them. We also cultivated a practice of speaking into the center of our circle. The intention being that the contribution of one’s voice arise out of a listening to the deep-silence—a field of presence greater than the individual. Each voice thus held potential revelatory meaning and wisdom sourced from deeper than the speaker’s personality.
Also personally appreciated was the emergent recognition of “the requirement to support and maintain the integrity of the individual…as necessary to the constellation of the collective.” This bit of wild wisdom is also inherent and vital within the Aspen-Body Wisdom material that plays me, as is indeed are the themes of collective consciousness, collective intelligence, collective wisdom, somatic consciousness and embodiment….
Each of these themes, and their inherent tensions and polarities, might well begin and end with the question, “What, or who, is the self?” Honoring this question and the polarities of tension between the individual and the collective, I have written elsewhere that Self-Love is a radical political act; this too is a timely bit of the Aspen’s wild wisdom.
The relevance to this Walkabout’s focus of collective consciousness is that the Aspen grove is the largest known individual life form on the planet, and the most widely dispersed tree in North America. Its abundance is largely due to the tree’s strategic cloning behavior off its root system.
This reproductive investment in shared rooting is a strategy for thrivability subsequent to forest fires; what is an environmental disruption and eco-shock for many others species can actually stimulate aspen’s root system into procreative sprouting. Entire mountainsides and landscapes of aspen trees that are in reality “one organism,” are witness to the strategy’s success.
Thus, a walk among the aspen trees may literally be a walk inside the ‘body of an organism.’ Yet one can look out upon that forest and perceive the leaf, or the tree, or the grove…as a self, as an individual, or as a collective consciousness.
This perceptual agility regarding the dimensionality of the ‘self’ only broadens and deepens as one considers the biological and symbiotic relationships of other mutually interdependent organisms, including squirrels, butterflies, birds, grasses, bacteria and fungi… just for starters. The medicine that aspens work within me, and that they offer us, is this mythic and ecological perspective of our own biological and ecological self-nature, indeed the very nature of our collectively interwoven consciousness.
In the ectomycorrhizal symbiosis between fungi and trees, the fungus completely ensheaths the tree roots and takes over water and mineral nutrient supply, while the plant supplies photosynthate. Recent work has focussed on…the role of mycorrhizal fungi in connecting individual plants to form a ‘wood-wide web’.
— Verena Wiemken and Thomas Boller, Ectomycorrhiza: gene expression, metabolism and the wood-wide web
I suggest we are more like this “one biological entity” forest, this “wood-wide web” of connectivity and consciousness, than we are dissimilar.
The interwoven consciousness and ecology and history of New Mexico’s enchanting landscape, within which our walkabout was embedded, informed our inquiry into collective-consciousness the way Aspen groves carpet entire flanks of the local Jemez and Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The Ojo Caliente River, whose banks we met upon, did not divide the land but tied us to the mountains further north and to the Gulf of Mexico further south. The Rio Grande River we rafted connected us to the Rocky Mountains and the dynamic juncture of continental tectonic rifts and plates, and to the 4.5 billion year old fine vintage water in our own bodies. Highway 285’s ribbon of black asphalt tied us to people passing through, some from across distant oceans and speaking languages, that like English, are not native to the local Pueblo peoples, whose ancestors once lived and migrated across the soil we now sat and talked upon.
Like these resilient native people, we too looked to the yet older “first peoples” of the Cottonwoods and Willows, to Ant and Spider and Beaver and Raven and Snake…to see if we too might hear their indigenous voices and songs amidst our own. Each of us heard their singing in our own way, as we too heard our own and the chorus of our collective as well: each in our own way.
How could it be otherwise, but that we live and listen life, as a verb—each in our own way? And that we are also informed by and inform the collectives of community we are embedded within. These communities are the weavings of our relationships, whether we weave them unconsciously or choose to risk a tapestry of conscious relationship to them, to life itself.
Relationships are, after all, The Language of Life. We are each embodied living walking talking eating burping digesting desiring fearing loving sleeping and… yes…waking and awakening…paradoxical individual and collective selves. It is the nature of the self, and of the Self. As individuals, our self is woven of a collective consciousness the way a forest floor is woven of a mycelium web, a wood-wide web of symbiosis and reciprocity.
And as we weave our web of listening and perception…so too are we reciprocally woven. That human conscious arises out of and is embodied within this wood-wide-web of the starry universe implies that to consider our collective consciousness outside of the other than human landscape—is to diminish what it is to be human. This reciprocity is the nature of the consciousness of the world soul.
The only question that now comes to mind is this: “How consciously shall I (we) live this multiplicity and dimensionality of rooted Oneness, these wondrous lives we are embodied and embedded within?”
I for one am confident of the wild collective consciousness, the wild intelligence and wisdom that live within us, that is available to us, that flows in an unbroken linage from the birthing of the cosmos into me and into you. I am also confident that if we but risk opening ourselves to deep listening, if we but open ourselves to the wild resiliency of this heritage, we can and will create a world of our conscious desires rather than the shadow world of our unconscious fearing.
The choice is ours…for the claiming.
Selected Additional Resource Links:
This list became so long that I’ve moved it to a separate post. See Collective Consciousnesss, Wisdom and Intelligence Resource Links. Please feel free to suggest additons or to add your own in the comments.