I am just returning home from a four-day retreat with the Evolutionary Leaders, a “supergroup” of leaders within the New Thought movement begun by Deepak Chopra and the Association for Global New Thought. Joining me was Marianne Williamson, Jack Canfield, Jean Houston, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Andrew Cohen, Gregg Braden, Bruce Lipton, Lynne Twist and 40 other luminaries.
As part of this group, in late July I led a group intention to heal the Gulf oil spill, both as part of the ELs and also on my Intention Experiment site. I suggested that participants send an intention to assist the technicians at BP in their efforts to cap the oil leak and that, no matter how one felt personally about the BP, it was important to send positive intentions to assist their efforts as the solution to the Deepwater Horizons spill lay in their hands.
Recently, our group heard from a group of political activists, who were dismayed that 1) we were suggesting that thoughts and intentions could change the course of events and 2) that we were misleading and ignoring the vast number of people harmed by the oil spill and 3) we were encouraging people to let BP off the hook.
The letter was written in strong language. After I’d got over my initial response – taking it all too personally – I realized how helpful it had been because it clarified my thinking about what exactly activism means.
What is activism?
Our usual definition tends to think of activism as working for some sort of outward change; activists are big ‘doers’, who work tirelessly to change some aspect of the social or political landscape. I knew one such political activist, a fellow called Al Lowenstein, who single-handedly led the Dump Johnson movement in the 60s, after President Johnson escalated the Vietnam War. By engaging in a lot of doing, in this case, tirelessly crisscrossing the country, speaking at universities, Lowenstein ensured that Johnson didn’t get a second term.
For more than 20 years with my work with What Doctors Don’t Tell You, I’ve been battling against the orthodox medicine and the pharmaceutical industry, to promote more holistic choices in health and healing. In that role, I am very activist in that I engage in campaigning journalism and encourage our readers to resist orthodox forms of medicine that are harmful or unproven.
Toward that end, I ‘do’ a lot — debating with doctors or in round-table discussions on television and speaking at conferences and events, and I’ve even led a protest march on Parliament, here in the UK.
However, my work with intention is also activist in an even broader sense. In our large group Intentions Experiments we’re trying to ‘do’ something important – to heal the world in some way. To that end we elect a number of targets with some philanthropic implication; thus far, in experimental settings we’ve attempted to make food more plentiful, purify water, and create peace in a war-torn region.
Of our 21 experiments, 18 have produced positive, significant effects. So we’ve begun to demonstrate that thoughts indeed can be a form of activism, in the sense of being able to affect and even improve something in the world.
Nevertheless, there is also something else going on here.
Besides the fascinating results we’ve achieved to date, the most interesting phenomenon is the effect upon the participants in our larger studies. In our large on-line experiments we have many reports of ecstatic experiences – an overwhelming and palpable sense of oneness. I’m fascinated by this experience and how each of us, with our separate computers dotted all over the world, can simply come on the website and feel a sense of connection with other people sharing an experience thousands of miles away. I’m also interested in the long-term effect of this connection.
As you may know, September 2008 I ran an experiment with 15,000 participants from 60 countries around the world, examining whether ‘group mind’ has the power to lower violence and restore peace. The plan was to have readers all over the world join forces on our website to send peace to a particular war-torn area — in this instance, Sri Lanka.
More love for strangers
In a survey I conducted of participants after completion of the experiment, some 46 per cent of our participants noticed long-term changes in their relationships with others after the experiment. The group experience apparently helped them to feel more love in general, whether they knew the recipient or not.
Although more than a quarter either felt more love for their loved ones or for people they normally dislike or argue with, a larger percentage — 41 per cent — felt more love for anyone with whom they came into contact, and 19 per cent found they were getting along better with perfect strangers.
In fact, when asked with whom relationships most improved, one of the largest groups – 38 per cent – said they noticed the biggest change in their relationships with strangers. The experience of connecting with thousands of strangers gave many people the ability to be more accepting of people they don’t personally know.
This type of powerful bonding can occur in a single day. During weekend workshops, when we divide the audience of attendees into small groups of eight, and ask groups of complete strangers to send loving thoughts to each other during my workshops, we’ve witnessed powerful stories of emotional or physical healing among both the senders and receivers, and I’ve written about them before.
By way of example, Marsha had developed an opacity in one cornea, largely blocking the vision of one eye. The following day, after her group’s healing intention, she claimed that her sight in that eye had been 80 per cent restored.
But even more significant than healing effects is the powerful effect of community. During these workshops, strangers begin resonating together as one; for instance, in Holland at a recent workshop, I discovered that many of the groups reported having the exact same visualizations during their group intentions.
In one group, which concentrated on sending intention to a woman with a bad back, she and a variety of members of the group all imagined the same inner vision: her spine being lifted out of her body and infused with light.
The feeling of oneness reported by the members of the workshops and the Intention Experiment community is an example of the resonance effect of pure connection. The simple act of belonging and spontaneously giving within a small group of strangers is so powerful and so satisfies our deepest sense of ourselves that it heals both the healer and the recipient.
The crises we face on many fronts, including Deepwater Horizons and BP’s response, are symptomatic of a deeper problem than greed or an overreliance on petroleum. They are simply a measure of the vast disparity between our definition of ourselves and our truest essence.
For hundreds of years we have acted against nature by ignoring our essential connectedness and defining ourselves as separate from our world. We’ve reached the point where we can no longer live according to this false view of who we really are.
Coming together in a vast group intention is a revolutionary act. It is transformational because it shows us that all of life exists in a dynamic relationship of cooperation.
It acknowledges the cutting-edge scientific discoveries in many disciplines demonstrating that individual things are far less individual than we thought they were.
It demonstrates that a drive for cooperation and partnership is fundamental to the physics of life and the biological makeup of all living things,
It affords us a glimpse of what it really means to be human, of the broad reach of our human potential.
It provides us with a radically new view of the relationship between living things and their environment.
It reminds us that whenever we interact with another person or group of people, we display a deep and automatic impulse to connect.
That kind of thinking, to my mind, is a whole lot of doing.