Co-Intelligence Wakes Up in a Fertilizer Factory
Ever since I was a child, I wanted to make
the world a better place. I was raised in a progressive family
and participated actively in the political and cultural intensity
of the 1960s. For two decades, I worked with numerous organizations
bent on saving the world through political action, personal transformation
or both. But I became increasingly frustrated with their dysfunction
and combativeness. My efforts to change them and to build bridges
between them were largely fruitless. Still, I carried on in my
activist efforts, not knowing where else to turn to help remedy
the tragedies of civilization.
Then came the cross-country Great Peace March
for Global Nuclear Disarmament, a true watershed event in my life.
The peace march -- a mobile tent city of 400 people walking across
the U.S. -- was an exercise in daily interdependence and direct
democracy. I suddenly found myself living lessons I had learned
from ancient spiritual traditions and the leading edge of science
-- that we are all connected; we are all co-creators of the seamless
fabric of life.
The more I reflected on this, the more it seemed
to me that our social and environmental problems arise from our
behaving as if we are separate from each other and nature.
The march also opened my eyes to the fact that adversarial activism
fails to take interconnectedness seriously -- and that social
change work grounded in interconnectedness looks very different
from what many activists are used to.
And then I saw something that transformed my
world. I began to sense larger, deeper forms of intelligence that
we are all part of, that we are all co-creating, and that flow
I remember the day I had my first inklings
that intelligence might be more than how smart each of us is individually.
It was in early June 1986, three months into the Great Peace March.
We had embarked from Los Angeles in March 1986 as a dramatic mobile
public relations event with a cast of 1200 marchers and staff.
Two weeks later our parent organization, ProPeace, went bankrupt,
abandoning us in the Mojave Desert. 800 marchers went home. 400
of us stayed. Somehow, we managed to reorganize ourselves and
walk across the country, united only by our compelling vision
of global nuclear disarmament and our determination to reach our
Our leadership could not have been more tenuous,
conflicted and diffuse. Our governing councils had virtually no
power to enforce their decisions. By all traditional logic, the
whole operation should have just fallen apart and blown away.
There was no way it should have been able to work or survive.
But it did. And in the process, it became an extraordinary crucible
for personal and collective learning and transformation.
The fertilizer factory
Among the scores of life-changing incidents
on that peace march, one day in particular stands out in my mind:
After three months on the road, our mobile
community had become deeply divided. Some marchers were adamant
that we should all march together to make a good impression and
attract positive publicity. Others wanted to walk at their own
pace, strung out along the road, attuned to the beauty of nature
and stopping to chat with farmers and schoolchildren. Advocates
of each approach saw the other approach as a threat to the march's
peace-making mission. The situation started to get nasty. People
threatened to leave the march unless they got their way. Then
a simple miracle occurred.
Somewhere in Colorado, a heavy late-after-noon
storm drenched us as we tried to pitch our multicolored tents
in a soggy field near a fertilizer factory. The storm became
a deluge. Hundreds of us retreated into the smelly, cavernous
confines of the factory. As we stood there dripping and jostling,
joking and complaining about our lives, we noticed a couple of
marchers setting up a microphone and portable speakers. When
the makeshift sound system was ready, they suggested we use this
time to speak from our hearts about the issue that divided us.
So we did that.
Taking two minutes each, we shared passion and perspective with
one another for more than two hours - weeping, cajoling, steaming
and sweating in the muggy fetid air. Quite unexpectedly, as we
talked and listened with great intensity, the answer to our problem
began to emerge. We knew we had fully heard one another when
the answer became as obvious as the rain on the sheet-metal roof.
All of us realized what we would do for the
next few months: we would walk together through the cities (where
there were rushing crowds, traffic, and media) and strung out
in the countryside (where farmers and children had time to talk
and nature had time to be beautiful). It was so simple, and it
handled all our concerns.
On cue, the storm subsided. We dispersed into
the glistening dusk, a healed community ready to continue on
our path together.
As I headed across the flooded campsite to
my tent, my mind was racing. I realized that something amazing
had just happened, something so subtle I had almost missed it:
In spite of all our talking, we had not made a decision. We had
just stopped talking when we knew.
"The March Mind"
In the months that followed, we were orches-trated
by our newly shared understanding. We called it "city mode/country
mode." Like iron filings arrayed by a magnetic field, each
of us manifested the orientation of the whole with nobody policing
it. We even understood why a few marchers marched to a different
drummer, and we did not hassle them about it.
I had never before been in a meeting like the
one that generated this alignment. Nobody had been in charge.
It was as if we had become a single sentient being, "The
March," and our diverse thoughts and feelings had become
the thoughts and feelings of this single but ambivalent March-mind
wrestling with its problem. Increasingly, as the meeting unfolded,
I had heard other marchers voice the thoughts in my head and the
feelings in my heart. I had begun to sense us all sailing on a
river of meaning that we had called up from our collective depths.
It carried us to exactly the place we needed to go.
"Let us put our minds together..."
Five months later the march was over. November
leaves twittered in chilly gusts as we said tearful good-byes
and our last Maryland campground slowly emptied. Only a few dozen
tents remained when I headed home, with my life and my awareness
profoundly changed. I was haunted by an inchoate vision, an inkling
of possibility I could not quite put my finger on.
I can't shake the feeling that I'm witnessing
a metaphorical dawn, that the darkness is giving way, that in
the next few years I will see the edge of the sun and know that
we, as a planet, have made it.
In the decade since then, I searched intently
for the path I knew was there. In 1992, I was browsing through
Jerry Mander's In the Absence of the Sacred, when a quote
leapt off the page. It was from Oren Lyons, Faithkeeper of the
Turtle Clan of the Onandaga Iroquois, describing traditional tribal
councils. He said, "We meet and just keep talking until there's
nothing left but the obvious truth." That was it! That was
what had happened to us on the march.
I wondered: What is it that the Iroquois have
known about for centuries, that I only "discovered"
on the Great Peace March in 1986? Why don't we do it more often?
As smart as we are individually, we are so seldom intelligent
together. Brilliant, angry activists get in one another's
way. Powerful nations squabble themselves into oblivion. Once-successful
organizations shrink and vanish, unable to respond to change.
Further investigation led me to see that these
tragedies have something to do with our using intelligence in
isolated ways, for our own ends, engaging only a piece of ourselves.
I realized that "truths" we find with our individual
smarts are inevitably partial. But I also saw that we can
transcend that limitation. The answers we need lie in our own
wholeness, and in our interconnections with each other and the
world. Maybe if we were to take our wholeness and interconnectedness
seriously, engaging our full selves, together with each other
and the world around us, we would discover wiser, greater truths
and saner, more joyous ways of living. And we could co-create
a better future together.
In the beginning, my search turned up a variety
of ways that we can use to work together better in our groups,
organizations, and communities. As I continued the process, I
began to discover that there are ways that we can begin to apply
these principles to our larger political processes as well, in
order to begin to create a truly better world for everyone.
The more I learned, the more I discovered that
thousands of people are holding pieces of this emerging puzzle.
I was determined to understand how their many approaches and insights
fit together. That exploration has produced this book. It has
also changed me, profoundly. Now I do believe I see the edge of
the sun. We have not made it yet, as a species. But, finally,
I know that we can.