Friday, April 30, 2010


What is it about getting together with people that makes things more powerful than doing stuff by yourself?

I'd love to explore this question with a few really experienced groups who could help me go deeply into this question, and I think the first group I'd like to talk to today are the Goldman Sachs executives. Now there's a group of people who together made a tremendous impact, that, by themselves they may never have dared to attempt. I speak of course of the recent exposure of GS's successful intention to structure financial investments that had the primary purpose of making money for the executives. (This as opposed to what I believe their publicly stated purpose was, that of structuring financial investments that offered the investors a means to make a reasonable, profitable return in the market.) Now what is it that's in play with something like this Goldman Sachs revelation, that makes bigger things happen than the sum of the parts?

I'm titling this entry Sangha, which is a word I borrow from the Buddhist tradition. Buddhists use this term to refer to the third element of the three foundational components, or "jewels" of their worldview. The first in this trinity is Buddha, or in my way of thinking, the Truth, the essence of everything, beyond words or images, what permeates and binds it all together. The second, the Dharma, is the law, the teaching or way of it, how we experience this unseeable truth. The third, Sangha, refers to the community that comes together around this Truth and supports the teaching and seeing and living out of it. So Buddhists, like most other gatherings in fellowship, see the community as equally important to the truth itself and the expression of it before our eyes. There's something about "whenever two or more of you are gathered" in the name of X that amps up the energy. We feel it, we feel supported and sustained by it, we learn from it. And if it's too rich for our blood, we'll even be driven out by it. But what is it?

There are as many examples of this sangha effect as there are interests and directions we go in. Anyone who has found success with a twelve-step group can tell you about the sangha effect. Political parties with a clear core principle know about this. Every successful business has leveraged the ability of a collection of people to come together and brainstorm, collaborate and invent something bigger and better than what existed in any of their heads independently. Which brings me back to Goldman Sachs. I can't begin to understand or explain what the heck they invented, but I do know that it was bigger, more complex, and wildly successful relative to their true goal, that intention to make the groupthink inventors involved an obscene pile of money while the making was good. I think it can't be helped. When you invite a bunch of the brightest and most money-oriented people in the country, maybe the world, to get together to run something, they will place their own monetary success as their highest intention, and they will build the business to serve that. I mean, what good is a big pile of money if it's not yours? This doesn't mean it has to all take the short route to hell in a handbasket. The long and selfish view says that you structure products somewhat reasonably, to keep the customers around and thus the money rolling into the executives pockets for a long, long time. The Goldman Sachs guys got caught going after too much too fast in a season of steep peaks and valleys. But this is beside my point. It was the deeply shared highest intention that they fostered and grew together that made it all get so big.

And this brings me to the main driver of the value of sangha, for good or ill. Whatever the true intention of a group is, if it's deeply held and felt, will be exponentially enhanced with the addition of each person who shares the intention and joins the effort. What you want, if you place your highest intention toward this, will be given in spades when you join your energy in that direction with the energy of others. The more purely each of you desires this, the more powerful the effect for all. I think there's a best-selling book about this: The Power of Intention. I haven't read it, but I'll guess that there's something in there about coming together with others to underscore and support the successful achievement of your intentions.

This all feels like an interesting description of the effects of intentional community, but what's at play really? The best way I can think to describe it is in-tunement. My husband is a musician, and he has described to me how stringed instruments will produce "fatter" sounds when they are well-tuned to each other. There are more overtones created when the strings are all vibrating in a super-complimentary fashion, which create a much richer sound effect. And so it is with any effort. When there is heartfelt agreement on a direction, when there is very clear alignment among individuals, then there is a richer experience, a "fatter" vibration.

I was talking to a friend recently about all of this, particularly about what happens to this power when you're away from the group. This may be familiar to you, this sense that you can absolutely feel what's powerful and shared and even feel the courage and strength to move in a new direction when you're with the group. And then, when you're back in your "regular" life, the sense of empowerment goes away. Actually, let's hope the Goldman Sachs guys were experiencing this sense of loss in the dark hours of some mornings, wondering if it was a good goal to align themselves with, this goal of slurping up as much money as possible, knowing full well that there has to be a loser for every winner in the money game.

Thinking back to the in-tunement concept, two things. First, there's the question of highest intention. I might have a strong pull in a given direction, but if there's any roughly equal force that runs counter to that desire, I'm going to have to work through the battle of these forces settling out a winner. I'll have to see clearly what the opposing forces are within me, and I'll have to work through what I really, truly want as my heart's deepest desire. And in the meantime, no matter how strong the group energy is, no matter how much it's supporting my own intention, when I'm alone, that battle will still need to ensue until the last man is standing. Secondly, in my experience with this, it can take some time for  intention to demonstrate its permanence. I've been pumped up about this and that over the course of my life for short periods, but many times once I was away from the group energy of it, the excitement faded. Turns out whatever it was, I didn't want it that bad.

I don't mean to sully the term sangha here with so much base comparison to political parties and Wall Street shenanigans. Sangha is that gathering of people who have located the highest intention of all hearts, to live as truth. For me, sangha is the sweet, sweet gathering of those whose highest intention is aligned to the highest expression of life, known and expressed in each moment. This is an unavoidably enriching and deep learning community, those who come together to learn how to "love well." This is the last instruction always given as we're released from silent retreat with Open Gate Sangha, one of the communities I sit with as often as I possibly can. The teacher for this group, Adyashanti, gives us this final teaching each time and advises us to live it out to our final breath, since there's no end to the exploration of that instruction. Love well!

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