Worldwork & Deep Democracy

Worldwork is a revolutionary and transformative method of working with group and community processes to create sustainable change. This approach can address issues in both small and large groups and has been applied to such realms as community building, organizational development, diversity awareness in schools and universities, police training, and severe conflict situations.

The practice and philosophy of Worldwork combines aspects of many disciplines, including physics, psychology, spiritual traditions, and art. It is a cross-disciplinary approach that, as its founder Arnold Mindell states, helps to connect “transpersonal experiences with mundane reality, spiritual service and political activity, Eastern selflessness and Western rationalism, dreamwork and bodywork.”


Central to Worldwork is both the philosophy and methodology of Deep Democracy, an awareness that goes beyond the concept of power to the acknowledgement that all levels, layers, and aspects of “reality” are necessary for wholeness. As most know, democracy is based upon citizen power, that is “demo-kratie” in Greek, and is clearly a step further in consciousness beyond dictatorship. But even though democracy is a step, it does not always work well in the sense of reducing violent conflict because while it teaches about sharing power it does not teach about relationship, which goes beyond power. The next step beyond power is developing more sustainable contact with others and the ability to work with one another.


The philosophical aspect recognizes that every group has a consensual reality (i.e., a set of assumptions, beliefs, and perceptions that is viewed by the majority as real, issues of rank and power, facts, history, etc), as well as another dreaming reality or dimension that is ordinarily unseen yet lies behind the known consensual reality. This dreaming dimension includes the complexity of deep feelings and dreams hidden within more overt forms of communication. Traditional group facilitation tends to focus only upon consensual reality – that with which the group identifies and consents to as real – thus missing other important aspects of communication. 


The method of Deep Democracy invites a trained facilitator to use her or his awareness to notice, value, and follow all of the people and parts of a given group in consensus reality as well as noticing and valuing the more dreamlike expressions and feelings of a group. In this way, Deep Democracy brings power and attention to us, the people, as in ordinary democracy, and at the same time heightens our power of awareness to notice and flow with the various levels of consciousness that arise in communication. Only when all dimensions of reality are recognized and acknowledged does the wisdom of the group emerge.


Worldwork, like all of Processwork, is based on the idea that the process of each individual, relationship, and group interaction contains its own inherent wisdom. When an individual facilitator or team is trained to use their awareness to follow and unfold the unique process of each person or community, that wisdom reveals itself most fully. Even within the most intractable conflicts, there is a depth of meaning and wisdom, hidden within what otherwise might seem like intolerable events.

Every group, community, or nation has a “Consensus Reality” – the view of the world that it defines as real and to which most people give consent as reality. In addition, there is a “Dreaming Reality” that permeates group life but about which people do not generally agree. This dreaming realm consists of all the background feelings, hopes, visions, dreams, body signals, roles, and spirits that pervade and strongly influence a group’s atmosphere, but which are rarely focused upon consciously. 

Worldwork sees both realities as two crucial sides of a coin that turn again and again during the course of any community process. In fact, these realities are not distinctly separate but embedded within one another. Neither reality alone is enough to deal with group tension and social change; both are needed. When we use awareness to follow the flow of change and interaction as it winds through consensual discussions and the dreaming background of community life, issues deepen, and potentially new and sustainable resolutions can be found. In this way, Worldwork contributes to the healing of the historical split between these two seemingly disparate worlds.


In addition to generally recognized group facilitation skills, Worldwork awareness requires access to another level of awareness, the Process Mind. This can be thought of as a force-field-like power of interconnectedness analogous to magnetism or gravity that organizes experience and gives rise to everything within it; an organizing intelligence. As Arnold Mindell, the originator of Worldwork explains: “I don’t believe we need more powerful leaders. What this planet needs are team creators: individuals with a soft skill – access to the Process Mind – who can help all of us work together by relating more deeply to one another and to all parts of the system. Imagine co-creating teams not just from your circle of friends but with individuals, groups, and nations that don’t like either you or each other! We need people who are as attached to the earth’s core as they are to people, animals, and plants – people who can work with relationships at all levels.”

Usually, facilitation focuses on solutions and social system change. But sustainable relationships are equally or perhaps more important. To achieve such relationships, some of us need to learn how to facilitate and be elders who can feel more deeply into the various sides, and various roles inside of themselves and outside in group processes. Such elders can turn conflict into fluid and creative relationships where people understand and work together.


The news is full of polarities as defined by our present consensus reality which depends upon the culture, people, and country. Thus, the outer opponents may be one country against another, or one people against another. What is not so obvious, is that there are always a few people who are able to feel into all sides. And what also is not so obvious is that present day conflicts are based to some extent upon unworked out, undiscussed historical issues, which people prefer to forget instead of process. This is understandable, everyone wants to avoid pain, but we need more than this avoidance.

The state of the world is a “state”, that means a frozen picture, which is supposed to be based upon whatever a group considers the good or bad “guys” so to speak. However, when we begin to process things inside ourselves or in organizations or groups, suddenly people realize, they often are not just frozen, but quietly feel a bit like the other side. 


In Worldwork group processes evolve in phases. Recognizing these phases as an expression of the field as it shifts, and changes deepens understanding of the group’s current state and helps to clarify what interventions might be most useful during various aspects of the process. When someone realizes this as a facilitator, she or he can sometimes switch roles, and become more fluid, and help create a more aware community. When this happens, this fluidity allows for solutions, and relationships beyond any one resolution. For more on phases of process see Arnold Mindell’s book, Conflict: Phases, Forums, and Solutions: For our Dreams and Body, Organizations, Governments, and Planet

Take a Deeper Dive into Worldwork here 

This summary was researched, written and edited by Hélène Ramos and Lili Vassiliou.