Holistic Governance

Applying communication skills
developed through personal growth work
helps improve governance at many levels

One of the articles in Governance (IC#7)
Originally published in Autumn 1984 on page 14
Copyright (c)1984, 1997 by Context Institute

The Maidens are the directors of the Marina Counseling Center in San Francisco, and also the coordinators of the Project for Holistic Governance. In this project, they have sought to combine insights from psychology with some of the best working models for governance. What they have found provides more tools for going beyond the tragedy of raw power anarchy.

WE WOULD LIKE TO SHARE some current illustrations of governance as a healing tool drawn from the field research and action research of the Project for Holistic Governance. As a project, we study and share how groups of individuals can work together in ways that further the evolution of both individuals and their organizations. We see that a new kind of society can only be introduced through methods which fit its essence. With that aim we conduct research and offer educational programs, consultations and publications. Our plan here is to focus on tools and strategies we have found effective through direct experience at individual, couple, family, organizational, national and supranational levels.

The Individual In the human organism, each of us is aware of increasing ability to listen to aspects of ourselves – body, feelings, mind, spirit or inner teacher, warrior, fearful one, lover critic. Each of us has our own interior set. Progressively we recognize and come to accept and integrate the values that each offers us – to govern ourselves in the fullest sense.

Psychosynthesis, Meditation and walking are examples of activities that often bring us into closer touch with ourselves, our needs, and our capacities for expression. Though we don’t customarily consider that through them we’re engaging in governance, each enables us to tend, care for, guide and implement our lives in action. Each time we follow the cycle that allows us to recognize a difficult behavior or conflict, discover its want, penetrate to its deeper need, and accept the gift it offers, we have the opportunity to free energy held at one level for use at a higher level.

The Couple As a couple we have needed sensitivity to our growing edges in both individuation and relatedness. One way we combine inner and relational learning is through our practice of beginning each morning with meditation and individual time with our journals. Usually journaling is a dialogue in which we write responses to five or more questions:

1. How are you, body?

2. How are you, feelings?

3. How are you, mind?

4. Given this state of affairs, what do you see, Clerk? (While Clerk captures for us the quality of the focalizer of a Friends (Query) meeting for business, whose job it is to listen to all points of view and to state the emerging needs and consensus as those become apparent, others will find a Director, Chief Executive Officer, or similar figure to represent the energy of the observing and willing mobilizer of action.)

5. And then, this time going deeper: How are you, Self?

Issues may arise in dialogue with the emotions, for instance, that bring forth a hurt child or satisfied achiever. The mind may hold a perfectionist or a Taoist philosopher, or both! Directions may emerge from the Chair of the Board. Often higher Self offers unexpected wisdom. What has come we share together, sitting side by side, both giving mutual attention to what each of us has written. Often viewpoints, questions and levels of understanding emerge that seldom rise to the surface in day-to-day conversation.

It’s a strategy, we could say, for keeping us clean and current both as individuals (strengthened by sharing with a loving witness) and in our relatedness. As a tool in governance it focuses on decisions that need to be made, issues that need to be addressed, considerations related to different options. As we communicate observations or feelings evoked by sharing, we deepen awareness, understanding, meaning, shared visioning, commitment and synergy in our capacity to both collaborate and individuate.

Families When we work as co-therapists with couples or families we give attention to the subpersonalities each member brings – rebel, savior, truckdriver, adventurer, smoother, bitch. We want to introduce tools for cooperative governance in relationship, tools based on win-win collaboration rather than win-lose collusion or co-illusion.

Across all cultures, Basque anthropologist Angeles Arrien points out, collaboration is furthered by openness/honesty/integrity; trust; sharing/spontaneous communication; and cooperation. Collusion is carried out through closure; control; withholding/rehearsing/censoring; and competition.

Cross-cultural Ingredients of
Collaboration and Collusion

 Win-Win  Win-Lose
 Openness, honesty, integrity  Closure
 Trust  Control
 Sharing, spontaneous communication  Withholding, rehearsing, censoring
 Cooperation  Competition

One way we may work is with symbolic drawings each person creates of their inner "many parts." When those are shared, ways for other family members to recognize and understand each other’s wants and needs are brought out into the open (including acknowledged behaviors and often humorous names). When that happens, trust grows. Both inner trust and trust between family members grows through taking constructive risks. Communication between couples or children and parents becomes more spontaneous, and seeds for cooperation are sown and watered.

To create and maintain a consistent level of collaboration is a high form of art. Angeles Arrien’s research shows that in all cultures there are common requirements for maintaining relationship:

1. Mutual "reaching out"

2. Mutual "receiving"

3. Communication which is consistent both verbally and non- verbally at three levels: I want; I feel; and I am willing. Each is an essential key to negotiation. One or two without the others is incomplete and ineffective.

4. Responsibility

5. Respect – willingness to look again

6. Share time together

7. Shared meditation, thought and memories.

As can be seen, these components apply to the maintenance of any relationship from the most intimate to the supranational. What we create in our most intimate relationships we know through hands-on experience is possible. To the extent that we create collaboration in our homes, we strengthen our capacity to carry it to our workplaces, our state and national governments, and international relationships.

And of course we teach our children by our actions. The year the Project for Holistic Governance was begun, Kathi and Milenko Matanovic shared a concern. They had noticed Anne doing research on the values of consensus in group life, while attempting to maintain her own standard of order in a household with teenagers. Clearly something more inclusive was needed. To begin, evocative word cards went on the refrigerator door – Sharing, Cooperation, Responsibility, Goodwill. As family meetings gave space and invitation for each of us to ask the others for what we wanted, we not only met more individual needs; we surprised ourselves at what we could create simply to make all our lives more fun. It was then that each Wednesday supper ushered in International Night. Each week we chose to create a meal together (using a UNESCO cookbook at first) from another country and to share whatever music, poetry, or observations we could find, including friends and visitors.

Organizations Later on, in our work with organizations, we observed difficulties in workplaces. We saw groups of people deeply committed to shared visions who parted, whose groups dissolved. The root issues often seemed to arise out of centralization of power, limitation of communication, and win-lose decision-making – issues that also disrupt personal, couple and family balance. We began to wonder what tools individuals and groups might regularly use to avoid those pitfalls.

A circle of consensus is the strongest tool we’ve found so far. We have modified its use along the way to create an interplay of consensus choice and decentralized initiation, implementation and follow through. With a group of interns we use that combination to stay in creative, supportive touch with one another and to jointly manage a successful transpersonal counseling center. Our basic structure evolved to meet our needs. Since it could be adapted to other group enterprises we’ll share how it works now. We meet weekly for group supervision and "evolutionary check- ins," our way of staying in touch with next steps and challenges in our personal as well as our professional lives. Once a quarter we take most of a day to be together away from our workplace to focus on whatever seems needed. Last quarter we included time at Muir Beach, building sandcastles and bas-relief sand sculpture for fun, dancing in celebration. We discovered touching metaphors for our group process in our sandplay. Then we shared a ritual of preparation for the baby that two of our married interns were expecting. During the birth labor in mid-May, we meditated. It is an ongoing ritual for us to enjoy young Jordan’s presence and his new developments as we share our check- ins.

Once a month we have a meeting for business, committed to decisions that involve all of us as well as to discussion and celebration of reports from cluster groups. Clusters take responsibility for making choices into actions and completed accomplishments. For our purposes we have nine such subgroups: Environment, Finance, Intake/Reception, Outreach, Supervision and Training, Internship Structure and Selection, Educational Programs, Nuts and Bolts (Systems). Each intern is usually part of two clusters, and the clusters mobilize the work commitments of the group.

Twice a month we have professional trainings that we arrange to extend our learning. We allow time following trainings for our own discussion, reflection and integration on what we have learned. After a recent training on child abuse, for instance, that process led to a commitment by two interns to follow-up training and to begin a group for clients. We also allow another monthly meeting for process or development of what is needed. One such meeting led to a group commitment to create jointly a special series of public presentations on children and parents in which each of us would both present and support the presentations of everyone else through input, presence and feedback.

Another time, each of us worked with large paper and colors to create our own symbol of healing. When we put all our symbolic drawings in the center of our circle we found connecting links between them. As we shared elements of similarity and difference our sense of strength and capacity as a group grew. And we did what we had seen Basque children do at the completion of a classroom project that each had contributed to – we danced and sang a song one of us created. Ritual and affirmation are important celebrations of contributions each makes to the whole – essential in healing and governance.

There is a lot of informal consultation and support in the group, but the regular meeting time is currently only four hours weekly. Any group procedure is revised when it is time for a change. The refrigerator door remains a nexus for communication.

Consensus Through Attunement As we developed a worker-owner cooperative with a group of professional psychotherapists and health practitioners two months ago, we focused on guidelines for governance. One of those is stated: "We agree to consensus through attunement as the method for reaching decisions which affect the cooperative as a whole. When the unity that we know exists is not immediately apparent, we agree to three ’rounds’ if needed of attunement, sharing and sensing together. Attunement in practice means that each of us focuses quiet attention on our inner self or essence, asks the question which is before the group for decision, holds that question in the light of group purpose and vision and listens for response. A ’round’ consists of aligning with self and group, putting the question, listening within and sharing simply, without embellishment. Consensus is acknowledged when each of us agrees to a simple statement of what we have ‘sensed together’. That statement is then minuted by the recorder as an agreement or choice and we proceed to act on it."

Queries Another tool for health maintenance that we use is a set of questions for group members to ask themselves and to raise within their groups. We have experienced the model of Quakers, who have been using "Queries" rather than rules or dogma for more than three centuries to guide individual and group examination of action in relation to values. Following their lead, we created a set of queries (see end of article) for working transpersonal groups. Quaker queries address an area of concern each month and thereby complete a cycle of examination each year. Our queries have four categories representing four laws of consciousness and action shared by David Spangler during his time at Findhorn: Love, Truth, Cycle of Energy Flow and Anchoring.

When we consult with people or groups who want to explore the use of queries we ask them to imagine a group of their choice, attune or align with their inner knowing and then to give attention to a segment of the queries, one question at a time. We encourage active asking and receptive waiting to a wide range of response – imagery, words or phrases, vignettes, a body sense, recollections, and visions of possibilities. All hold messages. As these are shared in a group it becomes clear that each person holds a piece of the whole. Each time that is rediscovered there is healing as well as group building for effective action.

Two further findings about the use of queries: First, each group needs to develop its set of queries to empower appropriateness and commitment through their own authorship. Second, once a group has created a useful set of questions, it requires revision at intervals, in order to keep up with current areas of concern. These findings are linked in memory with an ancient reminder from Confucius:

Governing by the light of one’s conscience is like
the pole star which dwells in its place, and the other
stars fulfill their functions respectfully.

Nations Governance at a national level can benefit by application of principles introduced at the individual, family and organizational levels. Michael Gigante has written a powerful dissertation on the synthesis of the nation.

As one part of his research Michael interviewed a sample of people who agreed to be led in guided imagery into the experience of national subpersonalities. He explored three polarities: industrialist-environmentalist, militarist-pacifist and chauvinist-human rights advocate. Through imagery each participant was guided into identification first with one and then the other pole, and a number were invited to explore the integration of the apparent opposites. In each imagery session experiential awareness of the subpersonalities was deepened to allow exploration of overt behavior, wants, needs and underlying qualities and values. Participants spoke of the experience with gratitude and the enthusiasm of discovery. Even when they felt strongly attached to one pole, their understanding, depth of empathy and compassion for the other grew.

At both national and supranational levels, Michael Gigante gives us another model to consider. He notices that three levels of governance operate simultaneously. There is a level of governmental action where policy is determined, laws are passed, money allocated and decisions made. At the level of politics, issues and polarities become evident. Overt behaviors and wants erupt in conflicts of interest, power struggles, lobbying and intra and supranational squabbles. Our national understanding and awareness usually stops here. There is another level of psychological causation, a deeper level of governance behind the level of politics, where unfulfilled needs, higher aspirations, connection to one’s life purpose and Self are the acting motivators. Michael gives us a method to bring these needs and motivators of our national and supranational subpersonalities to light. His study also demonstrates a way to expand consciousness and empathy for other views, through teaching the capacity to see from another perspective.

We spoke with A. T. Ariyaratna, founder of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in Sri Lanka, who has built community demonstrations of this practice (Sarvodaya – the awaking of all, Shramadana – to give human energy). Inspired by Gandhian ideals of truth, nonviolence and self-reliance and the example of American Friends Service Committee workcamps in Europe, he laid the groundwork for local self- help organizing that includes an experiment in participation across both caste and religious divisions.

Similarly, in the town of Mondragon in the Basque region of Spain, Don Jose Maria Arizmendi, a working priest concerned about conflict between his parishioners, saw the need to include the awareness and interests of both owner and worker in one consciousness. We observed the development of industrial, service, educational, financial and consumer cooperatives that grew out of his vision. Mondragon-style cooperatives show both the highest profit margin and the lowest unemployment rate in Spain. They continue to proliferate and to increase employment, health and educational opportunities. Both the Sarvodaya Movement and Mondragon cooperatives accomplish their objectives through building corporate structures which require shared economic and governing responsibility and build in social concerns for the quality of personal and community life. Both invite their participants to a larger view.

When one steps to that point of overview and becomes a compassionate witness, then one can see both polarities and know their behaviors, wants, needs and deeper offerings through personal experience. It is an added benefit that in the same process people also learn more about who they are as individuals and so increase their freedom and personal effectiveness.

It is no accident, as we see it, that cooperatives have grown in a Basque culture where mothers and fathers teach children to begin their day with self affirmations of four qualities: self-trust, self-respect (in Basque respect means a willingness to see again), self-love and self- empowerment. With such an experience of self-esteem, children are spontaneously ready for cooperation. Lessons in their schools are restructured so that each child completes his/her own piece and then brings that part to a group creation, followed by celebration. At Christmas time we watched two and three year-olds focus intently and joyously to scrunch colored paper into "balls," each gathering a pile. Then all gathered in a circle around a cut- out paper tree. Each in turn had the full attention of the group as they attached their decorations. And when all were finished, the whole group sang while celebrating with a circle dance. Such a pattern was followed with different subject-matter in classroom after classroom, each time an affirmation that each part contributes in turn to a larger part.

The Basque schoolchild, the Sarvodayan community project, the Mondragon factory, the counseling center, the family resolving conflict, the couple building understanding – each of us in our own life situation is part of a global (and larger) hologram. Each of us, individually, chooses our next steps in governance (tending, caring for, guiding, implementing in action) and in healing (making whole, well, reconciling, bringing to balance, restoring to vitality) in resonance with the unfolding evolutionary design, be it cell by cell or nation by nation.

We invite you to pause here. If you are willing, come to stillness, align with your own center of being or life intention. Given our experience together, what is your own next step? Imagine the support of all of us for your choice and see yourself carrying it out. Then imagine our joining in the song and dance of celebration together!


Arrien, Angeles, "Cross-Cultural Patterns in Relationship" (San Francisco: Graduate seminar in Anthropology, California Institute of Integral Studies, 1984).

Gigante, Michael, Synthesis of the Nation (Los Angeles: Ryokan College, Doctoral Dissertation, 1982).

Macy, Joanna, Dharma and Development: Religion as Resource in the Sarvodaya Self-help Movement (West Hartford: Kumarian Press, 1983).

Maiden, Anne Hubbell, Governance: Evolving Patterns in Group and Organization Life. (San Francisco: Project for Holistic Governance, 1981).

Miller, James Grier, Living Systems (New York: McGraw- Hill, 1978).

Mollner, Terry, Mondragon Cooperatives and Trusteeship (Shutesbury, Massachusetts: Trusteeship Institute, 1982).

Pacific Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, Advices and Queries (San Francisco, 1983).

Spangler, David, Four Laws of Consciousness and Action (Forres, Scotland: Findhorn Foundation, 1973).

Spangler, David, "Self and Power: An Exploration into Governance" (San Francisco: Project for Holistic Governance, Seminar, 1981).

Whitcomb, Vince Fatherhood as a Rite of Passage (Orinda, California: John F. Kennedy University, Graduate School of Consciousness Studies, Transpersonal Counseling Program, Master’s Project, 1984).

Queries For A Working
Transpersonal Group


Do we accept the beauty and fullness – dark as well as light – of our whole selves?

Do we love, listen, and attend to the parts within us so that our unique expressions are nurtured within the group?

Do we so center our lives in the presence of universal love that we are enabled to move outwardly with confidence and balance?


Is an attitude of experimentation and healthy inquiry encouraged?

Are we open to truth from wherever it may come? Do we benefit from the easy spontaneity and perspective of humor?

Are we free to express tentative questions, visions and ideals and our deepest knowing?

Do we exercise discrimination that sees what is right action in each time and place?

Are group decisions clearly stated and openly agreed upon? Are changes shared immediately?

Are records of allocations of time, money and other resources readily accessible?

When we see error and confusion in our group, do we speak up with clarity in the interest of forwarding group purpose and intention?

Are mistakes welcomed as opportunities for opening to greater light?

Cycle of Energy Flow

Do we contribute a right share of our resources of energy, time and money to the work of the group?

Are differences in individual rhythm and timing and the wholeness of individual lives honored when group commitments are asked for?

Are group rhythms supported by timely arrival at meetings and completion of groups tasks and responsibilities?

Are we mindful of our links and the potential for cooperation with other groups sharing related purposes?

Do we receive and give with equal joy?


Do we hesitate beyond necessity or rush ahead beyond wisdom and readiness to express the group purpose in the world?

Are we sensitive to right place and timing?

Are we receptive to the value of learning unfamiliar tasks?

Do our lives magnetize energy through daily practice of what we know?

Does our behavior clearly embody our purposes?

Are we compassionate witnesses to our own growth as a group?

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