Thanks to Doug Nathan for pulling these experiences out before my eyes where I could see them, and thanks to my community for teaching me that no matter what I say as an individual, that I’ll be supported and loved. 

Consciously studying my own and close others’ self-organizing groups has changed me and just keeps on changing me. One of the biggest, scary-to-say-out-loud changes for me is that now I consciously move in the world from three different places of self-recognition and can imagine a fourth place. I use metaphors here because the experience goes beyond what words can convey, and I use fish metaphors because I come from a family that loves fish.  

Places of self-recognition: 

  • My individual self (fish)
  • My self-organizing groups self (school of fish)
  • My self-organizing community self (river)
  • My self-organizing planet self (ocean) (Frankly, this one is still more imagination than reality for me, but I figure if Maya Angelou and His Holiness the Dali Lama can pull it off, then it’s within our grasp too.)

This summer, I learned that as I move through life, regardless of what happens in the moment, I always have a choice. I get to choose how to experience and see what’s happening. Will I opt for my individual perspective? Will I think from the effective-multi-perspective of my close, trusted and respected others (my self-org groups)? Will I recognize what my community as a whole would say and do? I didn’t use to have these options. I used to have just one perspective: my individual perspective. 

I’ve learned that moving into, through, out, and back into these places doesn’t mean that I give up what I was at the previous place. One place isn’t better than the other. If it was, I figure, the less-useful-perspective would eventually disappear. But that doesn’t happen. So they aren’t stages. They aren’t steps in maturity from which a lucky few get to look down onto others. They are landing points. They are places where consciousness can sit, view itself and the universe, and make sense of itself. Each one is what I already am and awareness of myself at a new place just adds to the perspectives and options that I have available to me as I move through the world. Today I imagine that all human beings have landed their consciousness at these places, at least for a moment. 

Through no insight or skill of my own as an individual, I stumbled into spending extended periods of time within self-organizing groups. These groups gave me the courage and time to finally notice that such a thing as self-organizing community exists. The more conscious I grow of my self-organizing community, the more I am able to simply float along within it, as it, releasing the burden of my individual worries, most days. The more individual worry I release, the easier it is to experience that these places—fish, school, river, ocean—are available to us all the time. I’m not an expert at this; I’m a learner. Everything I learn today, I learn from/within/as my community. I’m sharing what I know of these four perspectives now, because it’s never been more clear that my own life, work, freedom, and joy are directly connected to yours—to that of my community.   

The Fish Place: Being an Individual  

If you were raised to recognize yourself as an individual, I don’t need to tell you what moving through life as an individual can feel like these days, but here are a few of my own experiences: 

  • Experiencing wonder, surprise, and delight
  • Making mistakes, being hurt by them, fearing making more mistakes, and pulling away from situations in which (and people with whom) I might make mistakes
  • Living in my own head, in the past and in the future, to the point that I miss a good deal of what’s happening around me and also misconstrue what’s actually happening around me
  • Struggling to make sense of the world around me and what’s happening
  • Making snap, not-well-thought-through judgments and decisions
  • Experiencing fear, disconnection, anger, destructive conflict, isolation, exhaustion, overwhelmed, depression, and frustration to the point that they seem to stop me from moving forward

The School of Fish Place: Being a Self-Organizing Group


As part of a self-organizing group, I get to practice—in a safe environment—moving in and out of my individual self and my group self. These groups demonstrate to us that we can be more and do more as collectives than as individuals. I get to practice becoming something more than my individual self and practice letting go of my individual self. The words in the following table describe the experience of moving in and moving out of an individual self and a self-organizing group self.

[table id=1 /]

The River Place: Being a Self-Organizing Community

With enough experience moving in and out of my self-organizing group selves and individual self, something new happened this year. I began to experience my “self” as a place within which my self-organizing groups and my individual self exist. I call this the self-organizing community self. This is something that I both experience within my own being and also that I experience as part of my actual communities (which I’m suddenly aware of in a much more concrete, real way than in the past when “community” was just a word and not a lived experience). 

This place is new in my awareness and experience, so forgive me if what I say here seems rough. As my self-organizing community, I am: 

  • Aware that community purpose is my individual and group purposes
  • Able to deeply value the community—including the people I don’t know personally within it—demonstrated by:
    • Showing up grateful and ready to learn
    • Listening first and often
    • Forgiving rapidly
    • Not feeling the need to attack other perspectives or to defend my own, recognizing that multiple perspectives are needed, welcomed, encouraged, and accepted in the community—my own and others
  • Able to trust all the individuals and groups within the community (whether I know them all personally or not) and many of the groups and people connected to the community
  • Noticing remarkable flexibility, agility, resilience, and grace all around me as a common occurrence and one day noticing that I myself can move in the world the same way
  • Allowing fear, disconnection, anger, negative conflict, isolation, exhaustion, overwhelm, depression, and frustration to be momentary flickers of their former selves, most days
  • Staying in the current moment (being the current) most of the time
  • Experiencing synchronicity as an everyday sort of thing and able to see more connections and opportunities than I could imagine
  • Receiving absolutely everything I need from the people and groups around me and being fully aware of this and grateful for it
  • Experiencing my old boundaries collapsing, regularly, and surprised by how little I’m worrying about it anymore
  • Daily giving thanks for the wonder within our individual selves, the courage within our groups, and the wisdom within our communities

The Ocean Place: Being a Self-Organizing Planet


As an ocean self, I suspect that one: 

  • Feels free and at peace regardless of circumstance
  • Spreads peace and freedom everywhere you go and with everyone you meet
  • Recognizes everything experienced as an important, necessary part of your own wholeness
  • Feels connected to everyone and everything
  • Leads with complete trust
  • Communicates with minimal or no words at all, for example through smiles, hugs, jokes, laughter, physical comedy, tears of gratitude, and stunning openness and honesty

I’m basing these bullets on the presence and actions of remarkable groups and people all over planet earth, not myself. I yelled at three people, two cats, and a dog last week long before I realized I had a choice in the matter. I appear to have quite a long way to go to be able to consciously move from this fourth place, but I’m starting to imagine it as a possibility, which I think is the most important part. Some may see this fourth place as an ideal, for example, as God or a god-like state that we humans should aspire to. My perspective is a little different. I see all four of these places as part of the wholeness that makes life work. After all, fish don’t just need rivers and oceans. Oceans and rivers need fish.