Shift Happens: Collective Consciousness Part One

Have you ever noticed that the way it feels to be in a group shifts as the group becomes more familiar? When a group first comes together, there often seems to be a general agreement that people will express themselves only in the most formal ways. As time goes by, this relatively frozen state begins to thaw. Over time, it becomes clear that it is okay for people to express themselves more deeply. Finally, everyone gives each other permission to express warmth for one another and perhaps even become friends.

This shift in our experience results from a shift in the “collective consciousness” (a.k.a. the “Social field” in organizational speak). Noticing the contrast which occurs as this shift takes place is one way we can experience the presence of a group’s collective consciousness.

Like individual consciousness, collective consciousnesses pertain to deeper and more shallow levels. Recognizing this difference is important because this level of group consciousness has everything to do with what the group can accomplish.

Deepening the group consciousness when it first comes together, before the norms are set, is relatively easy. Often the group field deepens on its own. Sometimes simply mentioning, “Hey, we have formed a group” will have a slight deepening effect. However it happens, this shift in the social field is governed both by what the group does and by the individual consciousness of those who make it up.

In general, as the social field deepens, the group environment becomes increasingly hospitable and the way it feels to be a part of this group becomes more enjoyable. The same is true of the way it feels for group members to be in their bodies. And little by little, listening to others becomes more and more natural and it becomes easier to know what needs to be said, and importantly, what doesn’t.

Silence too begins to transform: As the social field of a group deepens, the experience of silence, when noone is talking, transitions from being awkward and anxiety provoking to being deeply nourishing and hospitable.  This shift in the way a group collectively experiences silence is one of the clearest ways to tell that the social field of a group you are part of may be ready to enter into deeper discussion.

There are many benefits of taking conscious steps towards deepening the social field of the groups we inhabit. For example, as the field deepens, the group’s ability to think creatively increases. So too does its ability to process conflict. And participants, having felt like themselves, can depart more profound meeting encounters feeling energized rather than depleted, lowering incidents of burnout. Also importantly, as a group’s social field deepens, so too does its ability to effect personal and social transformation, giving rise to an important axiom: depth of field begets depth of impact.

For these reasons, groups engaged in community change initiatives would be well served to invest a little time each meeting in deepening their level of collective consciousness.  Tune in next month for some easy (and not so easy) steps you can take to make this happen.

As always, thanks for reading and for all you do.


simon dennis