Collapse of the Heroic, Rise of an Alternative


In Sacred Demise: Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse, Carolyn Baker writes, “If the heroic [myth] is over, then what is the alternative? In a word, surrender.”

“Surrender” feels like a part of the answer. It invites us beyond the preeminence of the individual ego, as does another of Carolyn’s themes, “service.”

In his engagingly titled essay “Out of Our Ego Houses and into Collective Intelligence,” Andrew MacDonald points us towards a related alternative as we face collapse — one in which the individual re-joins group life in a way that is different from our long-distant tribal origins.

MacDonald notes that we evolved in groups for our survival and benefit:

“Communal life — our tribal past — valued the group over the individual. We left our communal past to put the individual’s benefit (and especially material benefit) before the common good, in the process losing much of our memory of community.”

“In this time of rapidly approaching limits we need the gifts of both community and individuality to deal with what we’re facing…. Both the threat and the solution present themselves to the collective, not just to individuals.”

MacDonald believes there’s a taboo against reacquainting ourselves with the “groupness” in our nature. We defend against losing our individuality. “But when individuated individuals move back consciously into a group they can become aware of a group mind, a collective intelligence.”

He gives us a flavor for what it’s like returning to a tribal mind while retaining our individual awareness: “There’s an impression that ideas or impressions are coming more rapidly and coming out of the group, not just from this or that individual. Things emerge within the one and the many of the group.”

I’m fortunate to have tasted the experience of groupness. For eight years in the late 1970s I lived in a household-sized heart community we called “Journey Inn” (pun intended). Our “group mind” emerged over time in our weekly meetings. Inspired by Findhorn and using communication tools from est and group work, we learned to atune to that group presence/mind in this experiment in shared living, as well the groups, celebrations and vision quest projects we undertook.

We’d sit in our meetings, stopping at times to silently listen and “feel into” a question or idea or stuck feeling. I learned to trust that whatever thing showed up for anyone might contribute to the shared creation — which often didn’t coalesce until everybody showed up with their part (especially the weird or seemingly off-the-wall sentiments).

That “group mind” took on its own identity. What I experienced wasn’t just a collection of our individual egos, but some kind of integration into a shared mind or beingness.

(Side note: It’s so hard to talk about this because our language of inner landscapes is impoverished. Not surprising in an outer-oriented heroic culture).

(Side note: I imagine this development of group mind is happening in many intentional communities around us.)

I’ve also experienced “group mind” in a corporate work setting. For months, three of us brainstormed and designed computer software concepts. We got so engaged in the creative process that the ideas arose fast and furiously. Looking back, no one was quite sure who came up with some particular brilliant insight: it arose from the collective process. It didn’t matter. The process engaging us mattered more than individual egos getting much attention. It was incredibly enlivening, satisfying, and at times astonishing. Nothing new-ageish about it.

(Side note: this process was also in distinct contrast to the prevailing culture around us, where I watched a lot of bright minded egos laying out their pet ideas and defending their turf while analyzing and criticizing others, in the classic competition fostered by our civilization.)

While at Journey Inn I was privileged to live with a dyad who called themselves Paramilana. (When required by the outer world, he was called Param and she Milana.) Their shared single name reflected their functioning as one being. Sure, they disagreed at times, their egos getting honed down as always happens in committed relationships. But sensing how they worked, I felt their dyad was a newly-emerging mode of human “beingness.”

I’m privileged to experience this dyadic unit with my partner Robyn. As a scientist, she is not particularly interested in “woo-woo” stuff she can’t directly experience. But early in our relationship she named those moments when, as a dyad, we experienced a “something”, a presence or knowing that went beyond we two as individuals.

Sometimes we talked of it as a third partner in our relationship. Robyn dubbed it “The Two.” Over the years synchronicities and validations and goose-bump moments affirm to us that “The Two” is still alive and well. It’s often shows up, for example, in our service through Peak Moment TV.

What qualities or aspects do these experiences have in common? They might provide clues for how to cultivate or encourage the “group mind” more broadly.

* None of these groups were constellated around a leader. They go beyond the heroic myth by being expressions of a “We.”

* Purposefulness. Egos in the service of a larger purpose, but not subsumed. (Side note: personal awareness, emotional healing, confidence-building, were actually accelerated and quickened in these group-minds.)

* Commitment. It takes persistence and trust to keep working at it when the personality differences and bumps inevitably hit. At Journey Inn especially, we learned to keep showing up with vulnerability and honesty, even when the ego’s preference was to close off in defense or stage an offense. Over time our trust in each other allowed us to let our ego’s warts be exposed by others, and thus for healing and transformation.

* Valuing feelings and intuitions, not just thoughts. It’s a different approach to quietly listen to “what is emerging among us” and to trust that this weird thought that I pick up on might be an essential element whose value wouldn’t emerge until it was shared with the group. It’s like picking up sensations in the shared group “body.” With my co-journers I learned to feel when there’s aliveness and vitality energizing a group, and when the energy is sluggish or everybody wants to go unconscious — because something has gotten stuck.

*Gender differences. The groups I experienced were predominantly women. The few men involved were able to soften their egos and become equals in the group-being or creative process. Perhaps our difference in subordinating the ego to the group is linked to the different gender expressions under stress: men tend to strike out alone (the hero), while women tend to bond (build cooperative relationships). So far in my experience, it’s somewhat rare to find such men in a culture that promotes male ego dominance. (Side note: there’s that “surrender” Carolyn Baker speaks of.)

(Side note: the dynamics of gender in engendering “group mind” and the contributions of women at this time could fill a whole other essay).

As Carolyn Baker points out in Sacred Demise, civilization is a manifestation of heroic consciousness. I wonder whether its origins might be in a partial disconnection from nature needed for the successful hunter to kill his prey. Also — and more importantly — competition for a mate favors those who are most aggressive in both the human and animal worlds. Over the millennia this disconnected ego-consciousness has expanded to conquering, dominating, exploiting and now destroying the very life force and environment on which all life depends.

Following Einstein’s maxim that “a problem cannot be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it”, it would appear that the problems of civilization’s destruction of the planet cannot be solved by heroic consciousness — our problem-solving methods are born of disconnection. Like putting huge contraptions in the sky to reflect back the sunlight to cool the planet! No, we can’t get to a post-civilization world using the heroic mind.

In Sacred Demise, Carolyn Baker roots around in heroic culture’s cellar, bringing to light those qualities devalued by civilization, elements we may need to meet collapse. Andrew MacDonald digs just as deeply. Call it surrender, service, group mind, collective intelligence, cooperation. They all point us in another direction, these qualities of rough Shared-Being shuffling towards Bethlehem to be born.


  1. This piece reminds me of a blog entry I wrote last month called “Slouching Towards a Great Convergence”.

    In it, I note that there are a number of (often) global initiatives arising to react the eco-crisis; a viral spread of common sense as it were.

    Thanks for all your great work!

  2. Gordon M Shephard says:

    I think that Ernest Becker, in his book “The Denial of Death,” has a lot to say regarding this subject. While it may be true that Western culture has placed the individual above the group, Becker might suggest that it is precisely this paradigm that defines what it means to be part of the group, that is, the group that places individuals first.

    In his examination of the thought & writings of Kierkegaard, Becker also speaks deeply of surrender, of acceptance of the basic animal, mortal nature of human beings. Becker argues that it is in an effort to ensure some sort of “immortality” that people subscribe to “group think,” that they follow “heroes,” that they accept and live thoughtlessly within their culture.

    And it is in times like these, when the “immortality” of the cultural paradigm is in doubt, that people start thinking about alternatives. Unfortunately most people will simply look for new heroes.

  3. Tom, most of us don’t have experiences of healthy community, or often even healthy relationships. All of us in civilization are wounded, living in cages. But there are wider possibilities, and I think the first step is perhaps being open to them. I don’t think we can make heartful community happen (in fact at Journey Inn we emphatically did not call ourselves a community — until years later).

    You already are hearing what you need: Trust. Ask. Imagine it opening in your life. Imagine what it would feel like to be in a trusting and trustworthy small group that values your honesty and your feeling-self.

    A new world is possible. You are making it, creating it…as are others.

  4. Tom Frededricks says:

    Thank you Janaia, for this posting. As i read it, i recognize areas of myself that are “sensitive” (as in too tender to touch, like inflamed around this subject). Not having a memory of a healthy community, altho I remember Journey Inn, I’m at a loss as to what a new step would be for me. (and then) I hear you say “Trust” . OH MY. (can I really?)

    Definitely, end of the heroic seems correct for these times. An interesting thread to follow. Thanks

  5. Tom Frededricks says:

    Thank you Janaia, for this posting. As i read it, i recognize areas of myself that are “sensitive” (as in too tender to touch, like inflamed around this subject). Not having a memory of a healthy community, altho I remember Journey Inn, I’m at a loss as to what a new step would be for me. (and then) I hear you say “Trust” . OH MY. (can I really?)

    Definitely, end of the heroic seems correct for these times. An interesting thread to follow. Thanks

  6. Helen & Chloe, I share your disillusionment with our more “ordinary” ways of working together, mostly from our heads, and often running roughshod over the unspoken agendas and emotions. I haven’t dived into it, but I know there are people exploring/facilitating more skillful groupwork that includes all dimensions of who we are. A big part, surely, is learning to quiet the ego.

    Andrew, thank you for your essay which inspired my response. I hope we see more people working from that deeper place inside.

    Kenneth, beautiful. Buddhism seems a very rich source to draw from. Are there particular practices employed in groupwork?

  7. Kenneth Tomlin says:

    Hi Janaia,

    The “Tao te Ching” I believe is expressive of the surrendered consciousness: “Of the mediocre leader it is said ‘He has done this.’ Of the great leader it is said ‘We have done this.'”
    Buddhism, with its philosphy of the empty self is excellent for rehearsing the mentality that allows the best voice in the moment to speak.
    Rather than reinventing the wheel of co-operation, many pracitices of co-operative endeavour await ready to hand.

  8. Janaia, I hear in your experiences with Journey Inn, your work culture, and moments with Robyn, the echo of what I’ve often experienced in high-functioning groups, a visceral sense of presence that’s more than the sum of our parts. I’m touched that you see the “survival value” of this presence in our time, as I do, and . . . I’m in there with you.

    I’m working on an initiative to create an “open source” exploration of how we might build more of this into our culture. It’s here:


  9. Thanks for this entry, Janaia! For me, it was a great reminder about the vital importance of human connection to any attempt to formulate a response to the “peak moment” we’re living in.

    In formulating our own extremely ambitious plans, Chloe and I have tended to focus on the other two legs of the “chair” of self-reliance: first, how to get our food, shelter, water and warmth happening sustainably, and second, how to harness appropriate technologies to keep drudgery to a minimum and open up possibilities for a post-scarcity society.

    In this flurry of research, learning, decisionmaking and problemsolving, it is easy to overlook the vital social aspect of sustainable living. Hard as it can be to accept, self-reliance on an individual scale is almost impossible. The level of expertise needed in order to master all the skills, be acquainted with all the information, possess all the stocks and equipment necessary to live completely independently forever: well, it would take a lot of money and space, and to pull it off you’d need to have endless personal physical and mental energy, and not really need sleep, I reckon!

    Far more efficient (and rewarding!) to harness the power of community. But how to do community well? We have been so disillusioned by committees, by the backbiting, shiftiness, bullying or even simple stuckness that all too often seems to manifest in group behaviour.

    It’s great to read about examples of how it can be different, and it’s particularly enlightening to consider the impact that the “hero complex” has on communitybuilding.

    Thank you so much.

    Helen and Chloe


  1. […] Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse, Janaia of Peak Moment TV explains how Carolyn Baker sees the emergence of civilization as co-evolving with the heroic consciousness, […]

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