Open Source Spirituality & The Emerging Spiritual Commons

Over at the P2P Foundations blog we are having a conversation about the principles of open source spirituality instigated by Michel Bauwens. In the course of this conversation some things have become clear to me and I hope to show here a draft of what an Open Source Spirituality could be, and how that could lead to something that might be called Spiritual Commons.

According to the Wikipedia, Open source is a development methodology, which offers practical accessibility to a product’s source (goods and knowledge)… The open source model of operation and decision making allows concurrent input of different agendas, approaches and priorities, and differs from the more closed, centralized models of development.” And for spirituality Wikipedia offers us this meaning, Spirituality, in a narrow sense, concerns itself with matters of the spirit, a concept closely tied to religious belief and faith, a transcendent reality, and one or more deities. Spiritual matters are thus those matters regarding humankind’s ultimate nature and purpose, not only as material biological organisms, but as beings with a unique relationship to that which is perceived to be beyond both time and the material world.”

The aim of an Open Source Spirituality (OSS) is the aim of any spirituality, to develop a relationship to what can be called our ultimate nature and purpose, our deepest root, or the ever-present origin (TEPO) as John Heron calls it in his longer critique of what gave rise to the above mentioned conversation. So if we follow the Wikipedia’s open source definition and take the product to mean spirituality then in order to move towards an OSS a “practical accessibility to its source” is required. Which means that we need to first get clear on what exactly is our personal spirituality’s source code. If I were a practicing Buddhist, for instance, my source code would encompass the 4 Noble Truths, awakening from the “sleep of ignorance”, the Noble Eightfold Path, and what is most important, what I personally believe and act according to.

So taking a First Step in OSS entails to figure out and openly state what is the Spiritual Source Code (SSC) that the person participating in this endeavor is using.That in itself might already be a challenge, as different people have different talents, and for some it might be hard to verbalize and/or state their spiritual source code in written form to be shared in the Emerging Spiritual Commons (ESC), but there are other ways: a movie of a dance that expresses it, for instance, or a mind map, or a sculpture, or a hyper-textual mesh-work or whatever might be possible in this regard.

Taking John Heron’s ideas into account I would think the purpose of Open Source Spirituality to be “to support an Emerging Spiritual Commons.” I moreover envision this ESC to be composed of people practicing their basic beliefs – what John Heron calls Code 1: one’s basic beliefs and practices. The principles that guide the emergence of the spiritual commons, it’s Prime Directive can therefor not be about the “content” of some Code 1; it’s Prime Directive must be about the socio-cultural ecology needed to create enough trust amongst participants so that they can be open about both the content of their Code 1 and share how they practice it.

The Prime Directive of the ESC is in all likelihood also an expression of the insight that any real-life practice of spiritual principles (sense-co-creating, meaning-guiding principles) is worth sharing and learning from. Since the Prime Directive helps to co-create the ecology that fosters flourishing relationships between people implementing their Code 1, and since creating an ecology is a process of/in mutuality, most likely the Prime Directive incorporates encouraging people to find out and live according to what is true and authentic for them, and to share this in an atmosphere of deep respect.
I refrain from formulating the Prime Directive so that it is wide enough to take in anybody of ‘good will’, and at the same time I write what it is about to indicate where its boundaries might be.

To ‘open source’ something means to put it into a language that is shared with a larger group of peers who can than contribute to this ‘project’ as they please. So certainly any Open Source Spirituality worth this name needs to co-create a “Meta-Code A” which ensures maximum flexibility and ‘space’ for different Code 1’s. Meta-Code A would be an incarnation of the Prime Directive as guiding principle of research and expression.
And even though there is the Prime Directive it is also clear that, paraphrasing John Heron, “it is neither a prescription, nor even a recommendation, for any other node or person, but a contribution to the commons pool of experiential data, which others may find of interest. Then it is simply up to them whether or not they integrate in any way any part of it or the whole of it, within their own Code 1.”

Within the Emerging Spiritual Commons there would be a “library”, as a participant in the conversation, Simon, suggested; a library that functions as the main “memory” or maybe even as the DNA of Open Source Spirituality over time.

To conclude, I couldn’t agree more with John Heron, when he says, “This allows for varying degrees and kinds of hybridization, cross-fertilization, between different nodes.” He seems to be using the terminology of nodes within a network where I would prefer terms coming from the idea of constellations and ecology – all phenomena come in constellations or patterns within an ecology of influences.

And finally it seems important to realize that even using the terms “Open Source” in connection with “Spirituality” is already a language of concepts influenced by recent developments in ‘net-culture’.

Basics of Truly 21st Century Spirituality

An interesting new conversation has started up on a year old blog entry of mine called, “An Amazing Question” and this afternoon I was interviewed around the topic of ‘pluralistic spirituality’ – so I guess it’s worth to look at some of these matters again.

And so I thought that it might be helpful to state some of the basic premises I’m coming from in this regard:

  • The universe (Kosmos) does not have a center (or ground or basis or what-have-you)
  • There is no beginning (Big Bang)
  • The universe (Kosmos) does not have a goal (that we could possibly know about)
  • The universe (Kosmos) does not make sense (we do)
  • Spirit and matter are two (of an unknown number of) ways of interacting
  • Gurus, masters, enlightened beings, etc. are not authorities by reaching the level or state they’re on/in but by the grace of us (you and me) bestowing authority and trust upon them.
  • Consciousness and unconsciousness relate to each other like a tree’s crown and roots (connected by the trunk)

Present day spirituality is mostly (actually almost entirely, but not quite) structured vertically – like a pyramid: at the top are the realized, enlightened, etc. and at the bottom are the (very) unenlightened masses; the goal/aim of a spiritual life is to get as close to the top of the pyramid as possible, and once you ‘made it’ help those below to rise.
Almost all of the vehicles (organisations) of spirituality do have a ‘feudalistic’ organisational structure where the (enlightened) person at the top is both worldly and spiritual leader and decider; usually advised by a ‘court’ of ‘far advanced’ students/disciples.

This is the basic ‘reason’ why real collaboration between the ‘spiritual stars’ (as I called them in some of these comments) will not happen, just as it is hard to imagine Kings and Queens coming to a realistic collaboration – they put their kingdom at risk.

Because of the feudalistic and often authoritarian social structure of spiritiual groups and movements – however benign they flesh out their activities in the world – no real dialogue can happen, and true dialogue is the basis of authentic collaboration. True dialogue is only possible if we reckognize each other as deeply and intrinsically equal; and if it is to become real collaboration in any sense that I can see (I’m not talking about cooperation which can also happen in vertical social relationships) we not only need to trust, honor and be utterly open to each other, we must also be willing to be convinced by the other and change our behaviour according to our (now reformed) convictions.

I know, I’m making this awfully short, but nevertheless I have concluded from seeing matters this way that:

  • The traditional and modern vertical spiritual paths offer no real solutions for the challenges humanity is facing in this Century
  • These paths are our heritage and as such can help in developing a healthy sense of ego (in the sense of “it’s me”; not in the misunderstood new-agey way of ‘repository for everything we can think of as obstacle inside ourselves; obstacle to ascending to the pinnacle of being human)
  • Traditional spiritual paths only reveal what they teach about reality before it is experienced (ask a Buddhist medtitator if ever he has a vision of Virgin Mary; or ask a Christian Mystic if he sees the Buddha or Shiva or some such in his meditation); traditional and modern spiritual paths are really co-creating the “basic, deep truths” that they think to have independent existence.
  • 99% of the spiritual paths are vertical in nature, and vertical paths and structures have helped manouevre us into the state we’re in world-wide; put in a different way: there is no reason to believe, that these paths offer any possibility to have the kind of change we need on a world scale.

All of this together has led me to let go of those paths and move on what I’ve called cooperative spirituality in the beginning to drop that term in favor of pluralistic spirituality, it is similar to what John Heron has named Participatory Spirituality or what can even be called P2P-spirituality.

  • It’s basic governance structure is the circle of equal and unique individuals.
  • It’s teaching structure is ‘mutual apprenticeship’.
  • It’s practise is – when done with others – consentual and ‘we-full’.
  • It’s practise from an individuals perspective is guided by non-judgemental openness and a ‘holding of the space’, an intense presence, so that who and what is can unfold its authentic way of being.
  • It is embracing imperfection.

It seems those are some basic premises that can be mentioned now; over time it might become clearer as more of us are practising and dialogue about that…

Participatory Spirituality

Michel Bouwens, founder of the p2p foundation (whose blog is really a must follow, I think), has written a short commentary on one of the most influential books in my life: John Heron’s “Participatory Spirituality”, a book that I would recommend to everybody who believes that we need to go from a teacher-student relationship to one I’d call “mutual apprenticeship”.
And it is a very practical kind of spirituality John Heron is all about; by practical I mean, for instance, this:

“You are also invited to appropriate and adapt any of the author’s ideas and integrate them in any way into any form of expression of your own spiritual vision. The author lays no claim to intellectual property rights with regard to the content of this book. ” (Now if we talk about conscious capitalism: Is this it?)

Anyway, here is Michel’s commentary:

I have followed John Heron’s development for the last few years, after reading the earlier Sacred Science. After the period of state-supported mono-religions, after the Reformation, after the era of the mixing of world religions and the emergence of authoritarian cults, we needed something completely different.A bottom-up, peer to peer, way to search for truth together. Jorge Ferrer provided some of the theology, Heron provided the practice of cooperative inquiry, but here in this volume we finally have both elements together, a theory and a practice. I therefore have no hesitation in calling this a landmark book. What could be more important for an individual than the spiritual search for meaning? What could be more important for a civilization than the ability to do this in a democratic and participative way. The demand was there, but until reading this book, we were largely groping in the dark. No more.