Participatory Spirituality Conference

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Project to hold a first conference on Participatory Spirituality, in the fall of 2010, or the spring of 2011

Just an idea at this stage:

Potential Participants

  1. elizabeth husserl <[email protected]>
  2. [email protected], Mushin
  3. [email protected], Lawrence Wollersheim [1] [2]
  4. John Heron, [email protected],
  5. Jorge Ferrer <[email protected]>,
  6. Gregg Lahood, [email protected],
  7. Akasa, [email protected],
  • CIIS is the home of many participatory thinkers, such as Brian Swimmer, Richard Tarnas, Charlene Spretnak, Robert McDermott, etc.


  1. John Heron proposes New Zealand
  2. Jorge Ferrer propoes CIIS or Esalen

- Larry writes: Regarding CIIS--- a great venue. There are a few profs over there like brian swimme who might join in as well. Also could provide some housing at our SF center for poorer attendees and we could also use the center for after conference socializing.


  • proposed is Fezter Institute, via Eric Nelson


John Heron: building on Mushin's comments under Topics below.


(1) In small groups people take turns to express what they mean by "participatory", by "spirituality", and by "participatory spirituality". And then each group co-creates an integration of the individual expressions, honouring both similarities and difference of meaning. The integrations are shared in a plenary session. This whole process could be repeated one or more times, each time with a different mix of people. This exercise can be done in three ways:

(1a) The expression of meaning is in terms of presentational knowing, by means of mime/movement'/gesture/dance, graphics/painting/scultpure, sound/song/chant/percussion/music, story/myth/drama/poetry.

(1b) The expression of meaning is in terms of propositional knowing, by means of the intellectual use of words and concepts.

(1c) The expression of meaning is experientally declarative, in terms of actually doing a participatory practice. But this really takes us over into the next section.


(2) In small groups those who are moved to do so take turns (a) to describe an innovative participatory spirituality (PS) practice which they regularly do (except for 2c below), (b) then to invite all in the group who are moved to do so to try out the practice, (c) followed by some sharing and feedback. This could be repeated with a different mix of people, once or twice, with summary reports in a plenary session. The PS practice can be of three kinds.

(2a) An individual solo first-person practice in spiritual relation with self, people, nature, culture, events, the cosmos, subtle realms, etc.

(2b) An intentionally mutual and relational second-person practice, in which two or more people co-create a spiritual relation with each other, with other people, nature, culture, events, the cosmos, subtle realms, etc. This is an innovative practice regularly engaged in by the person who describes it .

(2c) A third-person PS practice used by other people out in the wider world. This is an innovative practice described by a person who only knows of it by study and hearsay, and has not engaged in.

NB: The separate Meaning (1) and Practice (2) exercises could be integrated into one basic exercise.


(3) The conference is an informal, unfolding, collaborative inquiry, to some significant degree co-designed and co-managed by those attending it. It seeks a workable and practical integration of deciding for others, deciding with others, and deciding by oneself. It is open to a free movement of the spirit between, that is, to the spontaneous emergence of co-creative enterprise between people in terms of: conference practicalities, sharing of PS practices, outreach plans, intellectual dialogue, non-discursive aesthetic presentations of meaning, ceremony and ritual, deep communion.

(4) The facilitation/chairing of the conference rotates to some significant degree among those attending.

(5) Everyone at the conference is a keynote contributor.

(6) The conference is committed to the consummation and grounding of participatory beliefs in participatory practices, both epistemic (transformative experiential knowing) and sociopolitical (participatory decision-making), and affirms the interdependence of these epistemic and political dimensions of participatory spirituality.



I'm contemplating these questions in regard to the proposed participatory spirituality (ps) conference.

  • First of all, and this might be a question we'd like to inquire into with the conference:

What is participatory spiritualty? What do mean by participatory, and what by spirituality?

  • And then, because meaning in my understanding cannot go without embodiment in some kind of practise:

What processes, rituals, ceremonies and practices would further a participatory spirituality? (And maybe, "which ones have to be unmasked as running counter to it?")

  • Which then leads to the question:

Can we validly say anything about what ps is if we are not actually practicing it? And even further: Does ps have a meaning outside of some - however rudimentary - practice?

  • All of this leads to this question about the conference:

What are the principles a conference on ps needs to adhere to to be truly called participatory?

  • On a more personal not, but probably relevant as well, is the question:

What would an 'open sourced spirituality' be? Does it simply mean to define the instructions one is following in pursuing 'spirituality' as an outcome and make them public? And isn't spirituality in a real sense already about the "Open Source"?"


John Heron

"The following sketch - which at present I am sending only to you - may be totally inappropriate for the realization of your dream, in which case please erase it without further ado. [The arguments against the sketch is that the proposed event is a long way away for Europeans, and that it is for a small number of people. The arguments for it is that it is held in a place of participatory relevance, and the small numbers will allow for intimate and intensive discussion, co-creation, and shared participatory experience both epistemic and political.]

So here goes:

The only conference I can warm up to the idea of "organizing" would be a mini-conference, either as a happening in its own right, or as a prelude to some much larger event (which I would not want to organize). It would have the following provisional features:

1. It is, subject to further consultative revision, titled "Participatory spirituality and the emergence of the global commons".

2. It is held in March 2010 or more likely March 2011 for at least six days in the Studio at the South Pacific Centre for Human Inquiry here in New Zealand, on the top of a hill looking out over the open country north of Auckland. March is a pleasant month in the southern summer. The busiest holiday months are January and February, after which more visitor accommodation is available. The Centre has been for ten years the focus of participatory spirituality practices, including the work of the ongoing inquiry group, which has met here every fortnight throughout the whole period. This has generated a distinctive participatory presence of place.

3. It is for a maximum, plus co-hosts Barbara and me, of 24 people, the first 24 to make a firm booking from a list of appropriate participants drawn up by Michel in consultation with a small quorum of his own choosing. This maximum is determined by the size of the Studio. I suggest a minimum of 14 (plus co-hosts) to make a viable event.

4. The co-hosts, in consultation with Michel and the quorum, draft a provisional outline of conference topics and methodology. The methodology outline integrates (1) deciding for others (hierarchy), deciding with others (co-operation), and deciding for oneself (autonomy); and also (2) an extended epistemology of experiential, imaginal, conceptual and practical ways of knowing. The outline of both topics and methodology is subject to participant co-operative approval and revision/reconstruction at the outset of the conference and as proceedings unfold. The whole event unfolds as an informal, emergent, collaborative inquiry.

5. The infrastructure logistics are self-organized by participants. They book (via the internet) their own accommodation and subsistence in the seaside (Pacific Ocean) town of Orewa, with its broad sweep of beach, and where there are motels, restaurants and supermarkets. They arrange shared car hire for getting to and from our Centre - a 15 to 20 minute journey each way. They also shop for and bring food daily for a shared and co-prepared lunch. The Centre will provide light refreshment - teas, coffee, etc. We have used this approach for previous international events, and it works remarkably well.

6. There is no fee for the conference, other than a small charge of NZ$ 50.00 per person, to cover light refreshments and the use of facilties in the main house and cottage (toilets, ktchens, living rooms, etc.)."

Point 7:

The sketch envisages that all the people who are notified about the event are already established as having something valuable to say about their areas of participatory work and interest. Thus all participants who eventually attend are keynote contributors.

This breaks down the traditional distinction between keynote speakers and the rest of the attendees... Everyone present has a key note to strike (and this is a more basic reason than available space for keeping the number of people attending small). There are, therefore, no attendees who pay a fee to cover the expenses of keynote speakers. Travel and accommodation costs need to be funded either by those attending or by some external grant-making body.

So far, in hosting several international collaborative inquiry type events for people of peer status, we have found they have been willing and able to be self-funding, but there is no reason at all why external funding could not be sought. Indeed, it would be good to establish a precedent for such funding.

If it cannot be found and if self-funding is unacceptable, then it may be appropriate to be less participatory and revert to the traditional maxi-conference of keynote speakers/presenters and fee-paying attendees, although I do think this is a somewhat disempowering format. In any event, that will be for someone else to organise.